6. Marx Meets Mozart

May 13, 2010

As they changed over shifts, Rose and Nate always chatted for a few minutes. Nate passing on the tasks of the day, and Rose playing the indifferent, slightly rebellious employee. Occasionally, Nate would take on that role, in his own quirky way, like when he had drawn a stick figure armed with a drill next to the tooth she had drawn on the calendar to indicate that she had a dentist appointment coming up.

Rose had come in that afternoon, bubbling with anxiety and obstreperousness. As she stood in line at the supermarket that morning, flipping through her voter pamphlet, she had seen a magazine nestled between The National Enquirer and Veggie News. Across the cover was a waving banner that stated, “Reforming Capitalism.”

“Honestly, do we really want to reform capitalism?” she pleaded to Nate. “Don’t we just want to get rid of it? Try a different paradigm?” She was pleased with the word; it sounded knowledgeable.

“What else is there?” Nate countered.

Rose was aghast. What wasn’t there? How many forms of social contract were there? Among tribal groups alone, there must be thousands. She was considering the dimensions of Nate’s lack of imagination, when the alarming Bob Winston appeared as if from out of the bin of Mozart CDs.

“Oh, you’re both here!” He ducked between them to stand behind the counter. “What? …What!”

“We’re discussing whether or not capitalism should be reformed,” said Rose. She had twisted her voter pamphlet into a tight roll.

“Oh … Oh!”

“What else is there?” Nate repeated staunchly. “Communism failed.”

“Well, communism …the first few pages of Marx … communism,” spluttered Bob Winston. “We’ve never had communism …The Soviets weren’t communism. Not Marx … Or the Chinese.”

“How about socialism?” asked Rose.

“There hasn’t ever been communism,” repeated Bob Winston with a shriek of laughter. “Not like … if you read …”

“European Socialism … that’s not so bad,” continued Rose. She was ready to go into detail if either showed the least interest in what she was saying.

Bob Winston was becoming more and more animated. “This country … this country … one week you are making a couple of hundred a week,” Bob stepped back into the doorway to the employee’s room and began to wave his arms. “Here … here.” He placed his hand on the wall. It was at just about the same height as Rose: he could have been placing his hand on her head. “One week … and the next,” his hands leaped up expressively and he began patting the doorframe above him. “Two hundred million.” He danced toward them again. “Nowhere in the world like it. One week, two hundred,” his hand floated down to Rose’s height again, “the next, two hundred million,” his hand drifted up over the sign that said We Do Not Play Requests.

“Have you cracked the secret to doing that yet?” Rose asked. “You know, the two hundred to two hundred million thing.”

“Oh, he’s cracked the secret,” answered Nate. “He’s just too lazy to implement it.”

Rose laughed, but not too loudly. Tall, thin Bob Winston, after all, was her supervisor. To hide her insensitivity, she put the voter pamphlet on the counter, where it slowly unrolled itself. Nate slapped his hand down on top of it.

“I say vote no on every proposition,” asserted Nate. From capitalist to anarchist in one sentence. Rose was impressed

“I can’t even keep track of these propositions.”

“Berkeley has Proposition KKK,” Nate said.

“San Francisco,” stumbled Bob Winston, “has two different propositions on the ballot … I mean …that create the exact same thing. I love it. It’s just sort of … Incredible …so … anyway … As one of my closest friends says … he says the thing about America is that … you come to America, you give up your identity. He says that basically. It’s secular. You can work on Sunday. We don’t care, we don’t care,” Bob Winston began backing into the employees’ room, his hands extended in front of him as in prayer. “We don’t care.” He began to inch forward again, hunching slightly, his voice dropping to a level of intimacy. “You make money. We don’t care what god you worship; we don’t care what you look like. All we care about is your paycheck. This is a very radical idea,” he concluded humbly, his eyes lowered.

“Radical good or radical bad?” Rose wanted to know. She was baffled. If she could figure out Bob’s viewpoint, she thought she might be able to understand what he was trying to say. Nate gave her an appraising look and hummed significantly, as if what she was asking was shot with profundity.

“Well, it goes against the grain of most of human history…”

“We belong to the X Clan,” inserted Nate.

“It goes against the real thing,” continued Bob, “of being … of being …”

“Human?” inserted Rose.

“Collective,” continued Bob. “You become collective. Most societies, they become homogeneous and people act like themselves and you trust your neighbors and you know who are. And you and you …” He was sotto voce now, his fluttering hands at rest. “There’s a real collectivity … Here you take all this stuff, you mix it together,” his hands were twirling around each other, “you know, and you preach that everybody is supposed to be equal under the law … I mean it’s just madness.” He burst into laughter. Rose felt her alarm meter rising. “OK?” sotto voce again. “It’s a great idea but you can’t be equal under the law because you have all these … factions.”

“We’re back to groups again,” Nate pointed out. He was clearly pleased. This was a meaningful moment.

“We have more KKK people,” Bob Winston remarked almost simultaneously. It was, Rose thought, a parallel play moment. “And … Minutemen. We have more extreme crazy groups. I mean it’s all … it … you can’t have equal under the law if you have all these extreme crazy groups.”

The intercom beeped into action. One of the door guys downstairs began humming over its tinny, static-filled speaker. Intercom and voice clicked off abruptly.

“Good,” said Bob. “Yes, well anyway …”

Really, thought Rose, he’s a very sympathetic man. He doesn’t want to say it’s bad. Or good. He’s just trying to get by, make the best of it without offending anyone. Although she still didn’t understand Bob Winston, she suddenly had more respect for him. Nate was right when he had called the alarming Bob Winston a saint. 

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