OK, so it’s 1850. This guy Allan Pinkerton claims he stopped someone from assassinating the president, and the president hires him to do his personal security during the Civil War, which was a very dramatic thing that happened when the South said WE WILL FUCKING KILL YOU IF WE CAN’T OWN PEOPLE FUCK YOU WE CAN TOTALLY OWN PEOPLE THEY AREN’T EVEN PEOPLE THEY ARE BLACKS BLACKS AREN’T PEOPLE and then the South tried to burn America to the ground, which is why racists carry around Confederate flags because I guess it’s easier than wearing a hood and setting a cross on fire to burn Christ to death for commanding you to love with an open heart, or whatever. People like to say the president wanted to end slavery, but it seems pretty clear that by today’s definition he was not an abolitionist but a reformer, and anyway, he was quoted as saying, “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races,” and the 13th Amendment did end slavery, except “as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction,” which might go a long way towards explaining why it is that America has over two million people in prison, why it has privatized prisons for profit, why it is that prisoners are not allowed to vote but ARE counted in the census, thus incentivizing cities and states to build more prisons so that they can have more representatives thanks to the prisoners who cannot vote, and also the labor. Anyway, the South lost, and so the Confederate flag is pretty much just a participation trophy for a bunch of losers who want a trophy even though they lost. OK, so eventually businesses decided that what’s good for the president is good for business and they began hiring the Pinkertons to infiltrate and destroy unions, and they did! It worked out so well that, in 1871, Congress wanted the Department of Justice to start a national detective agency, but instead they just contracted it out to the Pinkertons, who were a private agency that also worked for the government, sort of like when the government hires private mercenaries to go murder people overseas, or in Mexico, or downtown, or wherever. Eventually there was some trouble involving the Pinkertons being used to murder workers, and in 1893 the Anti-Pinkerton Act was passed, which, despite what it sounds like, just meant that Pinkertons could no longer be employed by the United States government and “Sam,” says Eleanor, “This isn’t fun. This is just a history lesson, Sam, and I asked for a story. Why are you just lecturing? Lecturing is not an attractive trait, Sam.” It isn’t! But the thing is, the Pinkertons were used to crush, murder, defame, and destroy unions. Now, unions have done some dumb, corrupt, and horrific fucking things. But the point of unions is to give bargaining power to the worker. And that’s good, right? It’s good that you have a forty-hour workweek and that there’s a minimum amount of money you can be paid for your labor, and yeah, it should be higher, but that’s just because instead of hiring assholes with guns to fuck you over, ownership hires your representatives to fuck you over. This is America. It has so many promises! I cannot even keep them straight! I promise next time I’ll be funnier. I swear to God.
OK, here’s a question. Have you ever been in a weird way because you had maybe three or four outstanding invoices that would each cover rent for a month but not one of them had been paid yet, and it really looked, according to the software you had installed to see if your emails had been opened, like they were just sitting there, unopened? And so have you ever realized, as you opened the door to a bar or fridge, that maybe what you should do is not put INVOICE in the title, and act in the subject and opening lines of your emails as though you are about to do some free work for them, and then they open the promised sample, and look, it is not a sample at all, but an invoice? And then there it is, proof that they have seen your invoice. Have you ever had to basically scam your way into getting paid for the work you already did?
OK, never mind.
Meanwhile, Sam wrote five emails regarding payment for invoices he had indeed submitted but had reattached just in case. One check appeared, on time, like a miracle. Sam proofread four articles and six micro-reviews. Sam took his hand and ran it, slowly, down his whole face. He drank the coldest water the taps would give him. He put glass after glass of it in the fridge. Sam would never go thirsty. So many things in this world would happen before Sam went thirsty. Sam might even get paid before he went thirsty. The sun would go cold and the world would go dark before Sam went thirsty. Sam would get a job before he went thirsty, he would make Eleanor proud before he went thirsty, he would show her the sort of life her sort of kindness should yield with a house and a yard and whatever else it took to make her feel safe and know she was loved before he went thirsty. It would stop snowing before Sam went thirsty.
Meanwhile, the rubber tree plant had six leaves and ten branches at this point, and everyone was really very excited about this. Progress and growth will soon be upon us all, and we will be bathed in such grace as you could not dare imagine. Sam and Eleanor sent out for a banner and a trophy. Your invitation to the party is in the mail, so clear your schedule.
Sam would never go thirsty. So many things in this world would happen before Sam went thirsty. Sam might even get paid before he went thirsty.
The plants in the apartment were, for the record, as follows: Muppet Baby, whose leaves were like fingers the color of fresh grass and who was not currently, but would soon be, dying; Franklin Pierce, who was spiky, and dark, and whose wife suffered from depression, and all their children died, and opposed the abolitionist movement, and, unlike its namesake, this plant was not, and would possibly never be, dying; Mr. President, a small jade plant who was thriving and stubborn for most of this narrative, right up until the end; Guglielmo Marconi the Inventor of the Radio, a real large plant with leaves like a tree made of vines and who was strung with lights and stayed low to the ground by the two low-slung yellow chairs in the living room; several unnamed supporting actors of various sizes and dimensions, all of them in relatively small pots, some with tall stalks reaching to the sky, others low and cranky and threatening death, plotting their cruelties by kitchen windows; Evidence of Alien Life, who started as what looked like an angry pinecone, then one day three tendrils emerged, and the tendrils, overnight or over time, unfurled into hard bright blossoms, and then they kept growing, curling ever upward towards the ceiling, where they made their way to the window, their motives and origins unknown to this very day; The First Lady, who was beautiful, and died that way too; Big Boy, a truly enormous elephant leaf plant whose roots threatened the confines of her brass bucket; and three hanging plants named the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future; and, of course, the rubber tree plant, last seen slowly divesting itself of its worldly possessions, now no longer even discretely waiting for the end to come, but racing towards it, headfirst, like oblivion was a destination you arrive at on your own.
One day, not today, but soon, real soon, each and every one of those plants are going to need to be watered. And nobody will be able to help them. Even though their very lives depend upon it. So just think about that.
Meanwhile, the Pinkerton Detective Agency, those spineless cowards with guns waging war on the working class with every breath they take, still exist, as a division of Securitas AB, a Swedish security company.
When Sam was in middle school and high school, he used to babysit for neighbors for ten or twenty bucks a pop. In college every summer, he worked for minimum wage in a coffee shop selling officially licensed coffee in a chain bookstore, until the summer he worked at an art camp as a counselor and sculpture TA and had one day off a week where he would go with whoever else had that day off to drink rum runners and watch pirates chase after their long-dead youth in dark and cold rooms, and then when he graduated, he got a job as a fishmonger. It was great: he made $10 an hour, forty hours a week, he had health insurance, he got to use the PA system often, he lived with four friends in a five-bedroom in South Philadelphia and the whole house was $1350 a month, then he moved to New York and went to grad school, where he took out $50,000 in loans to cover the second year and another $20,000 to live off of, which he would have to pay back at 9 percent interest and, luckily for him, at a rate dictated by his income according to his tax returns, provided he was making above the national poverty line, which at that time was $10,830 and is today $12,760.
In New York, Sam had a series of incredible relationships that ended, and he dated several women he should have been nicer to, and once he fell in love with a married woman for a summer, which he felt was really weird when you consider the way he spent most of his life eroticizing monogamy, but we don’t really have much of a say regarding who we fall in love with, especially when they really want us to fall in love with them, and obviously it didn’t work out, and then he met Eleanor. At one point, it was no longer, technically, legal to be a poet, and so things got a little weird for Sam as regards to how he could afford to live, and he worked as a nanny, which he loved and which paid pretty well when there were hours to work, and he made maybe $14,000 a year, under the table, working we’ll say nine months out of the year, occasionally picking up some copywriting or editing for various websites that needed to have words on them for people to stare at on their phones for maybe five seconds, then all of a sudden and without any warning, the kids ended up getting older, so they didn’t need him really, and Sam had little to no work, so the mom got him a job doing freelance proofreading and fact-checking, which was great, so long as there was work, and there wasn’t always work, so this was a really weird and inconsistent situation, which is incredibly stressful and usually involves you using your credit card to buy groceries so you can eat, which, let me tell you, is not the best plan in the long term.
In the meantime, productivity is up. The waters are rising. In two weeks, the office will be underwater, and she’ll sail the corporate seas for a new office of a similar or greater height.
Sam’s thirty-three, just like Christ when he died and Roy Halladay when he threw a perfect game and then a postseason no-hitter just five months later, the second no-hitter ever in baseball postseason history, making him the only pitcher in the history of the world to have thrown a perfect game and a no-hitter in the same season. While I’ve been telling you all this, Eleanor is doing the dishes, and Sam is cleaning the bathroom floor, but not as well as he could, and it’s entirely possible Eleanor will say, “Baby, I’m so glad you cleaned this, but can you, next time, try a little harder? Because there’s still stuff everywhere, and I know you’re trying, but if I just have to go back and do it then we’re not doing it together, you know?” And he does know, and he’ll do better, I hope, I hope, I hope!
Eleanor’s at work. Eleanor designs websites. There are so many people in need of websites! You wouldn’t hardly believe how many people need websites! Business is going well. Eleanor should have been promoted by now, but she has a pre-existing condition. They hire a woman with a new title that nobody knows. The woman isn’t an art director, but she isn’t not an art director! She sails upon the corporate sea! There is a knife in her teeth and money in her accounts! She has more than two accounts! It’s crazy!
The newly titled woman takes Eleanor aside! “We can gut them,” she tells Eleanor. “Every last one of them.” Eleanor imagines a life on the corporate seas, side by side with her mentor, this newly titled stranger, who has just appointed herself Eleanor’s mentor. “Do you want to see my business card?” the woman asks. Eleanor has a nodule on her thyroid. Once a year she gets a sonogram and a needle aspiration. In a few months, this, too, will be considered a pre-existing condition, and she will, quite possibly, lose health care coverage. She wonders if Sam can get freelancer’s insurance and if this could cover her if they were domestic partners. Eleanor begins to search the internet, furiously, for several things at once. She makes eighteen websites. Her newly appointed mentor changes the color schemes and removes a widget, then adds two more, which do absolutely nothing. She texts Sam the page and the login and asks him if it works on his phone. It does! In the meantime, productivity is up. The waters are rising. This is what the woman tells Eleanor, over private chat. In two weeks, the office will be underwater, and she’ll sail the corporate seas for a new office of a similar or greater height.
“I love you” is what the script had said she’d said to him, just then, but we couldn’t hear. The curtains dropped. The audience rose from their seats, and filed out, into the mystery of the rest of their lives.
This is fucked, thinks Eleanor. But the thing is, Eleanor likes the work. She’s good at it, and it pays well, and she gets decent tax breaks, and there are good incentives, and they pay for her MetroCard without taking it out of her check, and there are free ballgames she can take Sam to because Sam fucking loves ballgames, and she fucking loves Sam. The world is a sustainable place. In two weeks, the woman chats her. Underwater. Eleanor screenshots this and sends it to Sam. She hits unsend. God bless the unsend button and all its minor salvations. Dear God, prays Eleanor, First off, thank you for the unsend button and all its minor salvations. Really, it’s amazing. I know it’s been a while, but here’s the deal. I’ve been blessed with a good job and love in my life. I make enough money to not be scared of a bill anymore and to try to help others with what’s left over and maybe once in a while take a vacation. And that’s all I fucking want, God! And Sam! Sam’s a good cook and his dick’s not scary and he’s kind. And anyway, I don’t know what to do here, God. The world’s full of people for whom wanting’ll never be enough because they’ll just want more because they can because when they grew up their parents told them they could have whatever they wanted if they just worked hard enough and what they wanted was everything and so they took it, and these people, they’re gonna fuck us all into this corporate police state where we all get black bagged to a basement and they take our lives and then they take all the stuff we got and we don’t get any say because all we wanted was just enough money to not be scared of a bill, and it turns out that was the wrong thing to want. I don’t get it. Or I don’t want to get it, God. I really really don’t. I don’t believe in Heaven because it’s an idea invented to keep the poor working their asses off for nothing at all but the promise that when they die, it’ll all have been worth it. I can’t believe that that’s what you wanted here. I’m not asking for a sign, God. But if you felt compelled, I wouldn’t be upset about it. You know? Anyway. Amen, and praise Your Name. She pricks her finger and makes the sign of the cross in blood. She pushes the pushpin back in the drawing Sam made her that says sadness! in cursive on a banner on a heart cocked to the side. She smiles a bit. Lightning crashes, or the server does. Everyone is sent home early. The trains are delayed.
OK, so it’s 1932. The renegade cowboy and columnist Will Rogers invents trickle-down economics as a joke about the worst thing you could ever do to a person. America misunderstands him like it misunderstands all renegade cowboys and promptly begins to burn itself to the ground.
That’s it! That’s all I have to say about that!
OK, so it’s 1846. I know it was just 1932, but now it’s 1846. The president, having single-handedly murdered thousands of Mexicans to get at their land because he wanted it to be as white as his fucking bones, which you’ll see soon, when he dies, I promise, invents California. But, the thing about California is that California had already been invented as a fictional land populated by black Amazons going as far back as romance novels of the 1500s, and its statehood was precipitated by a revolution of settlers against Mexicans. What I mean to say is that California is a shining example of the great American art of rebranding. But just you wait ’til 1901. Why? Because 1901 marks the most important invention of the twentieth century: vacation.
Sam says to Eleanor, “I don’t know what to make you for breakfast. I’m not good at breakfast. But it’s important. And I don’t know what I’d do without you. I mean I do. I either would have stayed barely employed, or I’d have fled the city, desperately, in the night, or I’d be a live-in nanny, going from family to family, cooking their kids dinners and hiding in a room that wasn’t mine all night. I’d have never put your tits in my mouth, and I’d have never learned to cherish kindness in people. Maybe I’d love someone else, but they wouldn’t be you, so would it count? Probably. But it shouldn’t. Because it’d be less good, without you. Who the fuck wants things to be less good? Who among us wishes life had less beauty and wonder in it? The other night a whole apartment got black bagged and tossed into a van and nobody will ever see anyone in that apartment ever again. The other day a seven-year-old got shot by a cop because the cop thought the kid’s hand was a gun, and they won’t let anyone move the body, so the parents have to walk over their kid’s dead body every day to go to work, and they’re hourly, so. I know that jamming that in there at the end makes it feel poignant, like I’m trying to make a point here. But I just don’t know what else to say sometimes. Everything feels like a lot, all the time. And you’re here. And I made toast. And the coffee’s on. And I love you so very much.” He says this before something really important happens, that changes his life forever. Eleanor says, “Oh.” She says, “Honey,” and she puts her head against him. Outside are the secret police. Did you forget about them? That’s because they’re secret.
When I look at you standing in the doorway like that all rimmed with light like that as I walk up to you like that what happens is that it feels like I love you so much that I can’t breathe. It feels like I love you so much that if I were to let you take my breath away like that then the world’d end right then and there. I think it’s cute that we all always try to keep breathing. That we refuse, day in and day out, to let beauty take our breath away, to have the sky crack open for good and always. It’s cute. It really is.
This was the winter Sam learned how to make buttermilk chicken, it was the winter he decided to get in a fight with Eleanor but she wasn’t home, so Sam couldn’t get in a fight with her, even though he wanted to, and then it turned out that it wasn’t so much that Sam wanted to get in a fight with Eleanor so much as it was that Sam, it turned out, felt a deep and extreme dissatisfaction with the way his life was going, despite the apartment they could afford and the love he and Eleanor had built, this glowing life of theirs, because it was a really good life they had! But still, Sam didn’t have a career, he barely ever had any money, his days dragged on and on while he waited for work to come in and people to pay him for the things he’d done for them, for three years now he’d done everything he could, applied for every job and grant and begged and pleaded for work that he would get and pray to be paid for, every steady job collapsed with the companies that collapsed under whatever it was that we all needed, which was everything, all the time. It was the winter he really finally wondered how long a life like this could last. That was this winter.
Eleanor put her tits in Sam’s mouth. She put her hands around his neck. She closed her eyes until she was in a small room, much like this one, just smaller, and filling, gradually, with light. As the light grew to fill the entirety of the room and then her heart, her body, the whole entire fucking world, she pulled Sam away and looked him in the eyes. “I love you” is what the script had said she’d said to him, just then, but we couldn’t hear. The curtains dropped. The audience rose from their seats, and filed out, into the mystery of the rest of their lives.
Once upon a time, Eleanor took Sam on a vacation. Sam had never been on a real vacation as an adult in that he had never had enough money to pay for the time it took to go somewhere to really get away from it all for a minute. They went into town and remained virtually anonymous, like all tourists. Nobody wants to look at a tourist. They’re the worst. So Sam and Eleanor get some groceries. They repair to the cabin where they discover that it is, suddenly, cocktail hour, so they start drinking. But first Sam brines the pork chops in apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, and hot sauce. Later he is going to slap them in the skillet. Sam wants a drink. Eleanor makes it for him because Sam’s hands are peeling and chopping carrots and dropping them into a pan with butter sitting in olive oil and some maple syrup. Meanwhile, Eleanor puts the rice in the rice cooker, thank God there’s a rice cooker, with a lot of butter and some white wine vinegar. Sam’s reducing balsamic and whisking in some mustard to thicken it into something resembling tar. Outside there’s a field in a meadow. It’s dusk. You can tell because of the smell, of how dusk smells, like a door opening into an unlit room. Eleanor brought Sam here and he’s fixing dinner. He doesn’t know where anything is and it’s cute. He isn’t even getting cranky or panicking because they’ve been working on that, on Sam learning how to accept the world as it is, which is doomed and wondrous. Later Eleanor is going to put some mascara on him so that he looks pretty because his lashes are so long, it is fucked up that his lashes are that long, and he does not appreciate them or do enough with them, he could be the leader of the free world with lashes like that, but here they are, leaderless, waiting on dinner, which will never be ready.
They sit at the table they dragged onto the porch and they eat. When they’re done, night falls all over the place like the future. We zoom out wide, past Sam and Eleanor. In the distance there’s a rumbling of faint-hearted applause, then the clouds burst. Lightning and thunder get shit-faced in celebration. Four wolves jump headlong into the river, and accidentally drown. Nobody sees another wolf ever again. Not ’til the world ends. And anyway, some birds attempt to carry off their bodies under the cover of a natural disaster. Imagine a thing like that. The woods hold their breath.