You know how sometimes you just blunder in to where the action is, and all you can think is “I don’t want to be anywhere NEAR this?” No? You, Friend, were never a Temp.
IN my long four years (almost) of crazy-making, heart-breaking unemployment, I’ve had my ups and downs. Stories that sold, friends who came through, a husband that tries to be patient while our savings dwindle and I get crazier and still more crazy thinking about the career I used to have that I LOVED… and the downs, too. Yes the Downs… weeks and months spent temping at businesses all over Chicago: the investment firm I wrote speeches for, the Japanese bank I catalogued all the art for, the PR firms… Oh, Dear God, the PR firms.
At one such firm, located with an enviable view of just about everything you’d want a view of in this town, I spent the day chewing the insides of my mouth while not one but four Wisconsin State troopers amused themselves telling tales out of school, and taking bets on the future, of none other than Wisconsin’s own deeply (deeply) troubled Governor, Scott Walker. I heard he was on his way at 11 am. Staunch liberal and thinking person that I am, I immediately decided I was going to seize this opportunity to tell him off – a personal “Screw You!” with go-F-yourself-sauce from me, former member of the Middle Class. I had 2 hours to think about this. It may be that 2 hours is too long a time for even the most stubborn of us, or simply it was a case of the dog-and-pony-show’s arrival actually throwing every other thought out of my mind – at any rate, my first instinct when presented with the Boogey Man for All Liberal Children was… pity.
It was the day the recall began. I was watching CNN on the lobby screen while answering increasingly panicky phone calls all morning. The so-called tv journalistas were practically panting over the spectacle of this nebbishy lout getting publicly humiliated in the Heartland. Bonanza! they shouted, through blood-caked jowls. Do I exaggerate? Think back, peeps. In my heart of hearts, I agreed with them… but that’s not the same as rejoicing in the lack of journalistic integrity, is it? No, peeps. No, it isn’t.
And then, like I was attending the Show of the Year for an audience of One, who should blunder in but Himself? He nearly fell in, carrying too much in a bag too small and too closely surrounded by protective professionals for his own gawky stride. He was obsequious, fawning, plainly terrified. He was far too nice to me, the temp receptionist, far too nice considering I don’t vote in Wisconsin. I guessed that this guy, unlike so many other politicians I’ve seen come and go during my days with this firm, never shut the hand-shaking, baby-kissing, vote-counting robot schoolboy part OFF. Good Lord. Can you imagine? He was absolutely out of his league. It was almost sad! And in that moment, I softened a little towards the poor imbecile, because – really – who the hell is ever nice to the Receptionist?
That was around 1pm.
The Troopers and I got comfy; me on my side of the desk, two of them lounging on the lobby sofas. The campaign manager was very excited about getting some big city food – there was place he’d heard of – and named a place that’s literally ON EVERY BLOCK in the Loop. I told them how to get there, and settled in for the weirdest view of history in motion Ever.
Three slick, scowling political hacks arrived. A man who dressed like he thought he was a rock star. A woman who fronts a fake grass-roots organization. A be-suited twerp. The three Moneylenders, as my wretched brain insisted on naming them, the Governor and his paid Brain, and just about half the firm locked themselves into a room not far behind me. Then the shouting began..
I will spare you as much as I can. But not all of it, because, you see, Dear Reader… it doesn’t end with me, typing this. I looked up every name that passed the desk that day. I did as much research as fast fingers, 15 years as a reporter, and Herr Google could accomplish. I heard everything from the Paid Brain telling Walker to just be quiet, to the tear-choked pleas Walker moaned into the phone as he paced past me like a terrified rabbit. It went on until 4pm.
And then I heard the firm’s CEO suddenly rejoicing. And when I say rejoicing, I mean in the almost biblical sense: there were actual whoops and hallelujahs involved. The three Moneylenders left, sneering. Walker went to the Men’s Room; and I just have to share this one small part: on returning, he forgot to bring back the key. I mentioned this to his aid… WHO IMMEDIATELY SCREAMED AT ME. “You are mistaken!” “He did NOT steal the key to the Men’s Room.”
I mention it SOLELY because I couldn’t. Make. That. Shit. Up. The Young Republican Plus One ran to the Men’s room with the other key, and tried to tell me the first key was actually on the table the whole time. You know what? Be a liar, dude, but don’t waste either of our days with the small-time BS, alright? I was actually laughing in this – forgive me! – douche bag’s face when we were interrupted by STILL more screaming. I heard the new VP of the firm, a young, fat, glad-handing sort straight out of Central Casting, explaining that the donors had agreed to the proposal WITHOUT any estimate attached. What does that mean? asked one of the design guys, all agoggle. “I don’t even know,” admitted Fatty. “I’ve heard of it happening, but never thought I’d see it.” Another flurry of phone calls, emails, signatures and faxes and Fatty had even better news: “They say to start at $20,000 a month – and then keep them ‘updated’!” crowed Fatty, doing the finger quotes like a sitcom sidekick or the effeminate secretary in a bad play.
The sneering old roue, the chirpy fake grass-rootser, and the twerp had worked their magic: Upwards of $20,000 a month to buy the Wisconsin Recall, paid to a firm… in Chicago? Couldn’t they find a local firm willing to sell its soul, or is the quality of Evil Doing that much finer in the Big City? I couldn’t guess. I don’t want to guess.
I also never wanted to work there again, so I was ready to type this up pronto…. when stopped by my concerned friends and family. Work has been So. Slow… What if, in writing about this, I lost the only job I could find? I’ve been battling myself for months. You note I do not include the name of the firm or the three Moneylenders (it amuses me to call them that, although I’m sure you can guess it was – none of it! – THEIR money) nor even the incredible account told to me by a decent man about to retire from the police force. I may be neither brave nor smart, but then again, most people following the recall effort (and its most important component in these Post Citizens United days – the money) can guess easily. What’s been less easy for me is the feeling that I was sitting there as an eyewitness to something huge; and cowardice about money kept me from saying so. I haven’t been able to write a damn thing. It’s been absolutely bugging me every day.
So what to do? Well, obviously I’m betting on history. The important thing is that creeps like this – yes, creeps, because you know they don’t have super powers. They’re not gifted. They’re not even impressive as enemies – it’s all pettiness, begging and promises with these people – you wouldn’t wish them on each other, no matter how angry at them you may get! The important thing is: these cretins don’t get to decide for everyone else. No matter how much money they worm their way into spending for their Masters… they will never, ever decide for you or me.
If you know someone in Wisconsin, call them up today. Remind them to stand up for alll of us – because if you believe it will end in Madison, you need to remove your head from your posterior and take a look at the damned map. The Brothers paying for all this union-busting, woman-hating, gay-bashing circus are not going to skip YOUR town. YOU are not so lucky, Friend.
As for the hapless Mr. Walker… Did I pity him when he left the office that day? Yes, but for different reasons. He wasn’t so nice to the Receptionist on the way out as he had been on the way in, when he’d come begging like a beaten dog. And it’s a shame, because if he’s only nice when he’s losing… Well, that’ll sort itself out, won’t it?
The excellent Rachel Maddow, saying – I think – the only things that need to be said.