Friday, September 16, 2011

145/365 -- Playlist Story -- inspired by "We Can Work It Out" by Stevie Wonder

The room smelled of pizza boxes, stale coffee, and sweaty socks, and Senator Johnson was snoring loudly, reclined in his chair with one arm folded over his ample belly and one with his knuckles touching the gray berber carpet at the nadir of each exhale. Senator Wrayworth stared at him from across the wide oak conference table. She tugged on her bright blue jacket front then fluffed her hair unconsciously, while staring daggers at the honorable, snoring, gentleman from South Carolina.

"Have another," said Representative Reilly, a wiry, somewhat dimwitted but reasonably charismatic thirty-year-old, the son of a California dairy owner, seated to her left, who slid a half-empty pizza box in her direction.

"No thank you," replied Senator Wrayworth.

"We should have ordered more sausage," said Reilly, pulling the box slowly back into the orbit of his spidery hands, and actually licked his lips. Senator Wrayworth bit her acid tongue and ordered her mind to be as calm as a glacial lake. Her former life on the stand-up circuit often wanted to burst through in her career in the Senate, but it would serve no purpose here and now. Wrayworth was the only woman on the eight-man comittee: four Democrats and four Republicans.

"We need to get back to the matter at hand," said Wrayworth, in a loud authoritarian voice, but no one listened. The two co-chair chairs were unoccupied. Senator Thompson and Representative Martelli were still off in the rest-room. Wrayworth assumed they were discussing their golf games.

Wrayworth sighed. The others still at the table were Representative Gableman, a former corporate lawyer from Florida, who was engrossed in playing Pig Swap Deluxe on his phone, biting his lower lip during particularly tricky moves. There was also Representative Payne, who was true to his name when he had to interact with anyone who disagreed with his narrow (unsupported by statistical reality) but popular views. Wrayworth thought he looked like an angry squirrel, with thinning, wispy red hair, coiffed into submission with what was probably a full can of hair spray each morning. He was incapable of speaking without exclamation points, and during the majority of the time he spent in the room he stared at Wrayworth, unblinking, at her mouth, which did not unnerve her, because she had spent many nights hazed on stage by hecklers. Finally, on Wrayworth's side of the table was her fellow Senator Long from Oregon. He liked to steeple his fingers, touching the tips to his mouth, attempted to appear profounder than he was at all times, and spoke in convenient soundbites. Wrayworth knew he had more depth and intelligence than he actually used, and was disappointed that he almost never did.

Wrayworth tapped her fingers on the table. Reilly munched, Johnson snored, Gableman worked on his high score, Payne glared at Wrayworth's lips, and Long absently doodled on his legal pad. The wall clock at the front of the room ticked the seconds away audibly, slicing off more and more of the time left until their deadline.

Suddenly the doorknob turned and clicked, breaking the silence like a sledgehammer. Thompson and Martelli re-entered the room, slapping each other's shoulders and mutually guffawing. They chatted some nonsense about a sports game while taking their seats, then sighed at the same time, their conversation finally ended.

"We were discussing the EPA," said Wrayworth, consulting her notes. Thompson sighed again, threw an annoyed glance at Martelli, then swatted Johnson on the wrist. Johnson sat up, opening bleary eyes, but not focusing on anything in particular. "I was saying that cutting the budget by a specific percentage is inadequate to--"

Johnson started violently coughing up phlegm. His face turned red as he fished around his various suit pockets for a handkerchief. He finally found one, and covered his mouth with it.

"Those tobacco lobbyists that have you in their pocket working out for you there?" said Wrayworth under her breath, under the sound of the labored coughing. Finally it subsided, and Johnson returned to half-asleep stupor.

"As I was say, a specific percentage is too vague too--"

"Excuse me, Lila," said Thompson with a smirk. "I think we've heard enough of your specifics for tonight."

"It's like an endless list," added Martelli.

"You need to give it a rest," said Thompson. "Let the big boys handle this one." He smiled broadly, glanced over at Martelli, and they shared a chuckle. Wrayworth nearly swallowed her tongue in order to keep it at bay.

"Sure," said Wrayworth.

"We moved on to the NES, actually. Thompson and I agreed that a twenty percent cut across the board, plus moving of pensions to 401Ks, should shed about thirty million over the next five years," said Martelli.

"Write that down," said Thompson, lazily pointing his finger at Wrayworth's note pad. She laid her pen down on the table, straightening it to align in parallel with the pad. She looked at Thompson with her poker face.

"Where did you get those numbers?" asked Gableman, just as a tinny pig began to squeal out the chorus to "Ode to Joy". He did not even glance up as he thumbtapped rapidly.

"You know..." said Martelli.

"What?" asked Wrayworth, who was ignored. Gableman continued.

"Moving pensions isn't necessarily going to save--"

"We can work out the details, after the fact," said Thompson.

"That's the problem," said Wrayworth.  "I mean beyond our inherent, party line disagreements about policy, we're not actually dealing with--"

"Shall the issue defeat the party, or shall the party defeat the issue?" asked Long, arching an eyebrow dramatically.

Wrayworth sighed deeply.

"We need to--" she started.

"We need to cut the EPA entirely!" exclaimed Payne.

"No--" said Wrayworth, as if mollycoddling a child.

"The EPA is the enemy of capitalism! It dampens the engines of our economies!"

"Don't they clean up toxic spills and stuff?" asked Reilly.

"It is the right of the corporations to do as they need with their industrial byproducts!" shouted Payne. "Who are we to say, 'no, you can't make money because your factory killed some trees'?! A tree is not protected under Habeus Corpus. This is America! Cut it 100%!"

"It would mean we wouldn't have to haggle over the details," said Gableman calmly but tapping frantically.

"Now, now," said Thompson. "We have to give and take with the other side, Fred. A bill that cuts the EPA entirely will never pass the--"

"So?! It would be gesture! A signal to the silent voter that they've been heard!"

"Do you mean deaf voters?" asked Reilly.

"A vote cast is a vote counted," said Long, slowly nodding his head.

"There are consequences, Fred," said Martelli. "As you know, we only have thirty six more hours to come up with a comprehensive plan--"

"Consequences? Consequences?!" exclaimed Payne. "Why, the very future of our great nation is at stake! We must free the corporations from their bondage! We must draft an amendment to the constitution that will permanently ensure that--"

"Shut the fuck up!" screamed Wrayworth. She shed her suit coat and thrashed it against the edge of the table. Then she climbed up, and stood on top of the table, looking down at the other committee members. "Are you kidding me? All of you! All of you are insane!"

"Get off there!' shouted Thompson, standing up in indignation.

"No!" yelled Wrayworth. She kicked the pizza box at Thompson. "You're going to listen to! For once, you're going to listen to me!"

"You must listen before you can be heard," said Long.

"Shut up!" said Wrayworth, pointing a finger at Long. "All of you! I have the floor!"

"We're not on--"

"I said shut up!" Wrayworth started striding across the table, looking at each one of them in turn. "This is what we're going to do. We're going to spend the next thirty six hours going through each of the major projects of each department, and we're going to aim for a 10% reduction overall. Some we'll reduce more, some less, but there will always be a coherent reason for why! From here on out, I'm leading this god-damned committee. You can take the credit, I don't care. Do you understand?!"

A pig squealed. Wrayworth leaned down and snatched the phone from Gableman's grasp and threw it into a corner of the room.

"No playing with toys, no bathroom breaks longer than five minutes, and don't travel there with a buddy. And no falling asleep! Got it?"

No one nodded.

"Got it?!" screamed Wrayworth.

They nodded in unison.

"Excellent," said Wrayworth. "Let's get down to some real work." She did not descend to here chair.
FYI the actual supercommittee is composed of twelve members (only one of which is a woman).

Note to self: title this one "That's What She Said"

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