Fame, fame, fatal fame
It can play hideous tricks on the brain
But still I’d rather be famous
Than righteous or holy, any day, any day, any day
Frankly, Mr. Shankly
The hotel suite was busy with men and women in suits on their phones with televisions on in each room. One man was sitting in a chair looking out the window with a notepad and a mechanical pencil.
“Congressman, sir,” one of the young men said to him, “we think you ought to see this.”
“What? What is it?”
“She’s on,” he stammered. “I mean, she’s on TV. They say she’s going to talk about . . .”
“Yes,” he said impatiently. “Spit it out!”
“Well,” he said. “You.”
“Fuck. Well, where. Turn it on.”
A television announcer voice was yammering on, “and now taking the stage is noted activist, socialist, and wife of ….”
“For Christ’s sake. Jesus. God. Ok. Fuck, well, turn it up. Why do they air this crap?”
The room got quiet and the buzz in the room stopped as they clustered around the television. A woman climbed up to a podium and is greeted with cheers. She pulled the microphone closer and she started to speak.
“Some people say a market will save us. Some people say that markets will set us free. Some people say even more than that. They say, some people, that being free is a market; they are the same, markets and freedom.”
The crowd got loud, cheering and booing.
“Fuck. Ok. Is someone recording this bullshit?”
“Of course,” one of the young staffers said. “We’ve got it.”
The woman, the mother of his child and his continual source of vexation, started speaking again. As usual he felt a mix of fury and admiration.
“Do you feel free shopping for clothes? Do you feel free shopping for shoes? Do you feel free in a shopping mall? Is that when you feel free? Tell me, do you feel free when you pay rent, when you pay your medical bills?”
The crowd shouted, “No!”
“Do you feel free when you get paid minimum wage for cleaning up after people?” she went on in a tone he had grown familiar with.
“Do you feel free when you take three buses to work at your second job so you can feed your family? Do you feel free when they tell you will have to close tonight and open tomorrow?”
He was used to hearing that tone and voice asking, “Are you going to put all this shit on the desk away or should I just toss it.”
The crowd shouted, “No!”
He laughed to himself, thinking about their fights about piles of paper or laundry.
“No,” he said quietly to her on the television. “Fuck, no.”
“Is that what sets us free?” she shouted into the microphone.
The crowd answered, “No!”
“Buying and selling is not freedom,” she said more quietly now. “The exchange of our dignity for survival is not freedom. This is a doctrine that is corrupt; it is a rhetoric that sustains a system that keeps you crushed under a weight of bills, and bullshit. Everyday!”
The crowd cheered.
An older man came in from another room and stood behind him.
“Fuck dude,” he said. “They’re giving her free airtime.”
“Would you just shut the fuck up and listen,” he said twisting to look the older man in the face. “Fuck!”
“Some people say this is what sets us free,” the woman said, building up her rhetorical steam.
“Oh boy,” said the older man. “Here we go.”
“But what really sets us free is connection. What sets us free is community. What sets us free is when we know we can count on each other because we are human, because we are people, not because someone has something to sell us and we need something to buy.”
Someone in the room made a farting noise with their hands.
The Congressman gave a deadly look at the culprit.
“I’ll kill you motherfucker! Stop that!”
He threw his pencil at the offender who, knowing it’s owner’s obsession about his pencils, handed it back.
“Sorry, sorry!” the staffer said. “Jesus.”
“More important,” she continued, “and I want you all to understand this: your labor, your sweat, your work, your blood, your tears, and your heart should not be the price of your survival.”
The crowd got noticeably quiet.
“Are we really just watching this right now?” the older man asked.
“We are free because of what we can give, and we should only take as much as we can give. We know that what we want is that those that have much in our society should not have too much, and those that have a little, shouldn’t have too little.”
Everyone in the room was looking at the television and then at the congressman, who was still holding on to his notepad. It was his line. It was what he had been saying over and over for the last year, the bit about too much and too little.
“You are stronger than some people, than those people,” the woman finished.
“We are those people. We are those people,” the older man said under his breath.
“She just fucking stole our message right there, in plain daylight. Fucking genius.”
“You are stronger than their power. You are stronger than their status. You, here today, have given of yourselves. And that makes a difference. We will win. We will win. We will win.”
There crowd cheered.
“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Turn it off!”
“We have it all down,” a young staffer said. “We’re working on a statement. We have lots of calls asking for comment already.”
The congressman looked out the window. The commentator was talking about his relationship with the woman, about their daughter, about his campaign for President.
“Turn it off,” he said.
“Hey, listen here’s what we’ve got worked up to respond,” the older man said, handing him a sheet of paper. “We’ve gotta go quick on this.”
“This?” he said derisively. “Can someone here set this shit to music? Or on fire? “
“This rant doesn’t reflect the views of people that I represent who work hard every day for their paychecks, save, and strive to get ahead,” the older man read from his copy. “Nothing is free and hardworking people know that. The Congressman has worked hard to create policies that help working people get more value for their hard-earned dollars. As President he will…”
“Stop,” he said crumpling up his copy and throwing it at the television.
He stood up and walked toward the window.
“What?” the older man said following him. “What do you want us to do?”
A younger man stepped toward the two older men.
“We’ve got questions from media about,” he said looking at his phone an investigation about….”
“A bribe?” he said tentatively. “Something about an envelope with cash at a hotel. A lobbyist gave you cash before a vote on the income bill, or something.”
The two older men looked at each other.
“What the fuck?” the Congressman said quizzically.
“They have surveillance video of you putting the envelope in your pocket,” the young man said.
“What the fuck?” asked the older man.
The congressman squinted and rubbed his temples.
“Oh shit!” he said with sudden clarity. “The car!”
“I sold my daughter’s car to a lobbyist friend,” he said. “We met in a hotel and he gave me cash. Jesus this is stupid. It wasn’t a fucking bribe, for Christ’s sake.”
“Someone set you up,” the older man said.
“Dolph, Dolph, Dolph,” he said looking out the window. “Why didn’t I listen.”
He closed his eyes and repeated Young Dolph’s rap quietly to nobody but himself, “The same bitch that claim she love you she’ll set you up. Out here in these streets it ain’t no such thing as love”
He turned around and looked at the older man and holding up his mechanical pencil
“The only thing I trust is this pistol and these slugs.”
“Who’s Dolph?” asked the younger man.
“Shut the fuck up, Donny!” said the older man. “You’re out of your element!”
The older man was now more concerned. He felt himself doing what he often had to do, talk his boss down.
“We have to respond — to her and this bribe bull shit. This kind of aggression can’t go unchecked.”
“What’s the point. Don’t issue anything. Don’t fucking issue anything. Carry on. Do your jobs. I’m going downstairs for a drink. Who wants a drink? Let’s go.”
“You can’t let this go!”
“I can do whatever I want. Just do what we were doing. Ignore this shit. Ignore it.”
He put his hands on the older man’s shoulders and looked him in his eyes.
“You know, before all this, I was going to be a professor. Yeah. Tweed jacket with patches on the elbows. Students would look up to me and say, ‘Thank you Professor!’ and ‘Will the Four Noble Truths and the Five Skandhas be on test next week, Professor?’ Yep. That was going to be my life.”
He looked over the room filled with stunned faces. He put on his coat and walked out.
“Hey,” one of the young staff said to another, “Who’s Donny?”