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The Socialist










The Socialist




Calvin Wolf





The Socialist


Calvin Wolf


Published by Calvin Wolf at Shakespir


Copyright 2015 Calvin Wolf





Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.




This book is dedicated to the presidential campaign of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and its supporters.




Discover other titles by Calvin Wolf:


The College

The University

The City

The State

Daylight Stealing Time

Coming soon: The Singularity




Table of Contents


Chapter One: The Corporatist

Chapter Two: The Capitalist

Chapter Three: The Worker

Chapter Four: The Proletarian

Chapter Five: The Deviant

Chapter Six: The Rebel

Chapter Seven: The Plaintiff

Chapter Eight: The Witness

Chapter Nine: The Judged

Chapter Ten: The Unknown

Chapter Eleven: The Progressive

Chapter Twelve: The Socialist

Chapter Thirteen: The Victor

Other Titles by Calvin Wolf

About the Author









The Corporatist




I have two meetings this morning. The first is an intake meeting, where I explain how our tuition insurance works. There’s a new kid who has just moved to town, and his parents have badgered their way into a meeting with me. Sometimes I just wish they would pay out of pocket. They get government vouchers, don’t they?


Everyone gets vouchers, you see. That happened when the government decided to close the public schools. They had grown into big, bloated monopolies that couldn’t teach kids anything. The system needed a healthy jolt of competition, and the good Republicans in Washington gave it in spades. Voucher it all out, courtesy of tax credits. You got a school-age kid? You get a tax credit! Oh, and no more school district property tax. Homeowners and businesses practically came all over the place.


My father was one of the insiders on that bill, and he invested wisely. He knew that the big education companies would get tons of investment once the bill passed, and he bought up stock like a madman. Now he’s super rich. He owns a healthy stake in Educorp, which I work for. I’m a head principal.


No, I didn’t come up through teaching. That was part of the problem with the old public school socialist monopoly – no respect for outside talent! I got my start after Harvard in defense contracting, then health insurance administration. I went back to school for an MBA, then did a stint on Wall Street. The course to get certified as an education administrator was quick – only a semester – because we finally convinced the state that we didn’t need half that mumbo-jumbo.


Part of my job is to sell stuff. I mean, every kid has to go to school, unless they’re homeschooled, but Educorp’s got to make a profit. The government vouchers cover the tuition. Okay, most of the tuition. We had to raise rates to stay competitive, you know? New books, new infrastructure, cleaning staff, et cetera. It ain’t cheap. Congress is supposed to increase the vouchers, but they always foot-drag. Still, kids have to go to school, am I right?


Anyway, sometimes you get parents who don’t want to pay out of pocket. Even with the voucher, they still bitch and moan. That’s why Educorp, and all the other education corporations, offer tuition insurance. I don’t work for that branch, but I’m pretty good at explaining it. I got a bonus last year for helping my school sell more Educorp Edusurance than ever before.


This kid’s an incoming freshman, age fourteen. Mom and Dad light in with the blah blah blah about how they didn’t have much money. But they obviously have enough for Dad to be wearing a name-brand polo shirt, so let’s talk about that. They’re afraid the school’s going to nickel-and-dime them beyond the value of the voucher. “We’re interested in the education insurance, just to be safe,” the father says.


My office is nice, very nice, relaxing as hell, and I always go for the soft sell. I buzz my assistant to bring them some refreshments. I smile and smooth my suit – a six thousand dollar MBA graduation gift – and assure them that my school operates perfectly above board. “But insurance is a nice thing. Life is unpredictable. Let’s take a look, shall we?”


To be honest, you want the insurance. If your kid screws anything up, we make you pay for it. Vandalism, spills, scuffs, worn textbooks, you name it. To be competitive, we’ve got to be ship-shape. Kids are always messing things up, and we’ve got to fix it. And don’t expect us to replace it with the old stuff, like it used to be! You think my staff shops for school stuff on Craigslist? Ebay?


Oh, and we fine the bejesus out of your kid for misbehavior. This isn’t Lord of the Flies. You put my staff through stress, you will compensate us for it. We aren’t running a charity.


“The green package is the starter package. A hundred bucks a month, and it pays eighty-five percent of any unexpected education expenses beyond basic tuition after you’ve reached your three hundred dollar deductible.”


Dad gets upset and wonders what the hell could cost so much money beyond the basic tuition. I have to tell him about sports, extracurricular activities, school trips, class parties, and then any costs for misbehavior or abuse of property. “None of that is covered by tuition?!” he asks, all incredulous. He’s so naïve, and I almost sympathize. Almost.


“Every student is different. We can’t budget for everyone’s unique desires as a learner. Some might want to take band, some might want to be on the football team, and so on. Unfortunately, those activities do cost a lot of money. The insurance limits your exposure. For example, what if the team goes to state? That’s a lot of money out of pocket.”


Mom gripes about school not being this way when she was a kid. “And it only covers eighty-five percent beyond the deductible? What is the out of pocket max?”


The max is twenty grand per year, and I assure her that few people have ever reached that cap. “Ninth grade isn’t that bad,” I say with my trademark smile.


“Are there plans with a lower out of pocket max? And a higher coinsurance?” dad asks.


“Green plus covers ninety percent beyond deductible and lowers the out of pocket max to eighteen thousand. Green star covers ninety-five percent and lowers the max to sixteen,” I say, being helpful.


Mom and dad shake their heads, their eyes shell-shocked.


“Now, the silver plan covers a hundred percent beyond the deductible, but the deductible is a bit higher. And the out of pocket max goes back up to twenty thousand.” I forgot to hand them the laminated card, and so I find it on my desk and hand it over. It goes over all the premiums and coinsurances and out of pocket maximums.


“What’s this about preexisting conditions?” they ask. I have to explain that many students have special needs, which require corresponding accommodations. These accommodations are expensive, and thus have to be compensated for.


“So if my kid is struggling and needs to go to tutorials?”


Ugh. These rubes are sooooo picky. “Well, our teachers must be compensated for their time. Every educator here at Educorp Midtown High School has at least a Master’s degree and a proven track record with Educorp and Intellicorp standardized test results. They can’t well be expected to donate their time.”


“But aren’t they already being paid, as teachers?” Dad snaps.


“Of course, of course. But the tuition vouchers do not cover tutorial times. The going rate is seventy-five dollars an hour.” Mom doesn’t look happy about this, but what can you do?


“Okay, so say we get the most basic insurance package,” Dad begins, sweat beading on his brow. “What happens if we move? My job might transfer me again.”


“You can use your Educorp Edusurance with any school in our network,” I reply proudly. We have operations in thirty-four states and the District of Columbia! In those states, we have high schools in most major cities. But then Mom finds the information on the card about out-of-network costs and nearly shits a chicken.


“Everything doubles or triples!” she cries out. “What if we get transferred to California? You aren’t in that state at all!”


“We have a deal with Intellicorp where you can transfer our coverage to one of their policies. It’s only a one-time payment of five hundred dollars. They operate in California, and in ten other states, too!”


“So you’re in thirty-four, they’re in eleven. What about the other five states?” dad grouses. I neglect to inform him that Educorp and Intellicorp overlap in six states, meaning there are eleven states where neither of us has operations. The Midwest, I think, is this area. But who wants to live there?


“We have a one-time policy cancellation fee of eight hundred dollars,” I say, trying not to mumble. Talk about being tough customers!


Mom and Dad look like they are about to cry.


“Does the voucher cover the cost of uniforms, or lunches?” dad croaks. I calmly explain that we have outsourced those duties to other private vendors. I decide that it’s not the time to mention that, if his kid has a wardrobe malfunction, we give him a whole new uniform…and add the cost to the tuition bill. The clothes are expensive, but very high-quality. And quite fashionable!


“It costs too much,” Mom complains, tears starting to run down her cheeks. I try to turn things around by asking what price you can put on a good education.


In the end, they buy green plus.


The second meeting is some rich old lawyer friend of my parents. Apparently, his youngest daughter is graduating next week and is the only kid of his to go through the new, privatized education system. I think she’s the kid he had with his third wife. She was way younger than the others. The lawyer’s name is Preston. He comes from old money.


Preston comes in looking happy, but I can tell he’s pissed off underneath his veneer. I press the button to have my assistant bring in some booze. Rich old guys love the hard stuff. We do the handshakes and weather and family talk. Then Preston says he’s gotten an unexpected bill and is downright confused by it. He pulls a folded sheet of paper from inside his suit jacket. I think our suits cost about the same amount. Preston once worked in banking, but now is a privatization consultant for some U.S. Senators. He loves sticking it to big government.


“It says I owe nineteen thousand five hundred dollars,” he huffs. “This must be some mistake.” Fortunately, I have anticipated this.


“I understand that it’s an unpleasant number, but I assure you that our accounting department does top-notch work,” I reply, grabbing a martini as soon as my assistant arrives.


“It’s an outrageous figure! I have always paid my daughter’s tuition promptly, and then I get hit with this?! It’s unconscionable!”


The daughter’s an obnoxious little hoochie princess. Lots of vandalism, rule-breaking, truancy, et cetera. The fines have been racking up. Call it senioritis. Rumor has it that she’s picked up a smorgasbord of STDs, too.


“I apologize for the confusion. Did they forget to send you an itemized bill?”


Preston shakes his head and gives me the sheet of paper. It’s got everything listed, and is very easy to read. “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do,” I say, trying to make him know that I’m not the bad guy. I mean, word will get round if I cut this gentleman some slack. My father may be a bigwig investor of Educorp, but they’ll fire me quickly if I don’t make mission. Under capitalism, you have to perform.


“You’re charging me for every class my daughter skipped?! And for those standardized test prep classes?! Why?!” Preston may be a smooth operator in civil court, but he’s losing his cool in here. I press a hidden button to turn on the video surveillance system, just in case he starts trouble.


“I’m afraid that when a student skips, it places additional pressure on the teachers. They have to take time out of class to prepare make-up work for absent students.”


“But at a hundred and twenty dollars per hour?!” Preston seems appalled that our teachers make so much money. But, hey, he wanted to send his daughter to a school where all the senior teachers had Master’s degrees and real-world experience. You pay for quality.


“She did skip seven days of school this last grading period, and that’s forty-two class hours. I’m afraid it’s not an error.”


Upset, Preston demands to know about the test prep classes, and I have to explain that he or his daughter must have missed the fine print. “They weren’t free, sir. After all, the teachers were holding them after school.”


“And what are the charges for ‘additional specialists’?!” he practically roars. His kid is no brainiac, you see, but she wants to go to Yale. When her test scores and grades came back too low back in the fall, he asked for her to be tested for various aptitudes and for us to develop a customized curriculum to suit her needs. We do all that, obviously, but it certainly is not cheap. I guess he didn’t see the full cost until today.


“Sir, the aptitude tests were created and analyzed by outside consultants and contractors. And we split the customized curriculum development half between them and half between her usual teachers. It was a lot of man-hours.”


“But it didn’t help! She didn’t get into Yale!” snarls Preston, now practically foaming at the mouth.


“Yale is tough to get into,” I acknowledge. “But we do have an Educorp Midtown High School networking mixer coming up this weekend that features faculty and admissions staff from several Educorp and Intellicorp universities. She should come. It’s for juniors and seniors.” I know, of course, that she has yet to already be accepted to a college. We hold student transcripts until their bill is paid in full! We’re not stupid.


Wheezing with rage, Preston demands to know how much this event will cost. It’s one of our more marketable events, with student tickets going for a thousand bucks a pop. Hey, you have to spend money to make money! Shaking the right hands can get you into the right college, which gets you the right degree, which gets you the right job.


“But, in light of this unpleasant bill, I think we can halve the price,” I soothe. So now Preston owes only twenty grand even, which isn’t too bad.


“This is insane. Insane!” he roars. “How can you get away with this? I won’t pay it.”


“If you do not pay, I cannot release your daughter’s transcripts. She won’t be able to go to college,” I reply softly. “And I will have to report you for felony theft of service.”


I have done it before, and I’ll do it again. You have to play hardball with some people.


Enraged, Preston opens his checkbook. “There ought to be goddamn regulations on you people,” he hisses. “Nobody should have to pay through the nose like this to you swindlers! They’re children, for God’s sake!”


Well, what price can you put on a good education?




Preston likes to bitch, but we do keep costs lower than they might be. At least, that’s what corporate demands. I look at the clock and realize that it is time to do another HR report for HQ. They’ve been griping at me to increase my use of substitute teachers to reduce overhead costs. While we advertise that all of our teachers have Master’s degrees or better, which is indeed true, we don’t tell them how many substitute teachers are working full-time for us. Educorp spent a whole bunch of money lobbying Congress to increase the allowed percentage of subs on campuses, and the CEO went out and bought a European yacht when the vote went through.


Out of a hundred and twenty teachers, thirty are subs. And one of them, some kid named Panamus, is causing trouble. I check my tablet and see that he’s in the English wing, room 314. It’s lunchtime, so I call him in.


I watch on screen as the little dot leaves the room and starts heading toward the office. The surveillance program is supposed to be for student safety, but I use it to keep track of my teachers. It helps things run smoothly. Or, when two teachers are fucking in the break room, it helps me cut overhead and collect my bonus. Live and let live may have flown fifteen years ago, but there’s a new sheriff in town. You better be here to work, damn it. Schoolteaching isn’t a government jobs program anymore.


Panamus comes in, his face shiny with sweat. I suddenly recall that I had the physical plant raise the temp in the classroom wing by two degrees this week in order to save money. We principals get to keep twenty percent of the savings we generate for Educorp, and I’ve got my eye on a new car. My company car is nice, but corporate won’t go higher than economy plus.


“Yes, sir?” the kid asks. He looks about twenty-seven.


“I hear you’ve been petitioning to be moved into a full-time job here,” I begin.


“Well, that’s true,” he says. He looks nervous. We burn through a lot of subs and have high turnover.


“You’ve been trying to get an exemption for not yet having a Master’s degree?” I scowl.


“I’ll have it in a semester,” he stammers. “I know everything I need to know to teach the students, sir, and I’m just not making enough money as a sub. If I could become a full-time teacher, well, that would really help me out.”


“Our parents demand quality. I can’t break my promise that all full-time teachers have Master’s degrees. We’re in competition with the other corporations: Intellicorp, HumanCapital, Neuron, MindWeb, you name it.”


Panamus looks distraught. “But you’ve been cutting my pay!” he practically wails. “I now get paid by the hour, instead of per day. You’ve been having so many early release days this semester that I’m struggling to pay my bills!”




Let me take a detour here. Yeah, it sounds bad to be cutting worker pay, but we have to play the hourly game now. It’s these new apps, you see. WorkFlow, JobFill, et cetera. They let anyone do hourly work at anything, practically. You sign up, they test your quals, and they approve which jobs you can take. If you’re sitting at home, bored, you can schedule to pick up an hour, or more, at a job you qual. Most college grads can qual for most jobs like secretarial work, manual labor, bartending, cleaning, taxi driving. Pay for a background check, and you can qual for babysitting and running personal errands.


A lot of the young college grads, still young and full of energy, pick up a bunch of extra hours. They work for cheap, even down to the minimum wage. To make sure we can access talent, we have to play the game. Educorp now draws hourly subs through WorkFlow, JobFill, and two or three more apps. Within a few years the apps will all be one company, anyway. It looks great to parents, too – I can fill the campus with hourly workers during drop-off and pick-up. Ground crew, janitors, crossing guards, all that. Parents think their little angels are always surrounded by young, professional, caring employees!


Since the community college became a university some years back, the city’s been chock full of spoiled college kids who can work for cheap for an hour or two at a time. We’re lobbying Congress to drop the CDL requirements for school buses so that we can use these apps to fill our transportation needs. Maybe if we dropped buses for vans, which don’t require a CDL, we could…


Sorry, sorry, back to the kid.




“I’m sorry about that,” I say, and in the moment I mean it. Panamus is about to cry. “I can’t afford to pay subs per day, not when there are people who are willing to work for less, and per hour. The gig economy is tough on everyone.”


Panamus asks if he can pick up more hours, then. I tell him to get on WorkFlow and be watching for gigs as the school day ends. I usually hire janitors and ground crews from four to five and from five to six. “Those are two hours,” I say proudly. “Twenty-three dollars. I’ll make sure you get something easy, like cleaning in the admin offices. They’re not too dirty.”


Panamus nods glumly, and leaves.


I go through the rest of the subs on my roster and then look at our new app, Bids. Those who qual as subs can bid for jobs online, and it looks like some recent college grads are willing to do eight hours a day, for all five days next week, at ten bucks an hour. Using my finger, I replace three older, less attractive subs with three cute young women.


We have an image to uphold here at Midtown High, and parents like teachers who look like they come from a fashion catalog. No doubt their teenage students have an influence! Fortunately, the surveillance program helps me prevent these young subs from being alone with teens for too long. If I have another goddamn teacher sex scandal, I’ll probably shoot myself.


That reminds me – I better check the social networking profiles of these young women. If they’re sluts, they don’t work here. One of the three turns out to be a slut, so I move her back out of the rotation and return one of the old subs to the slot. When the automatic texts go out at six-thirty, they’ll know who got hired.


One young guy on Bids says he’s willing to work for minimum wage in the mornings, for two hours, before starting his Master’s classes, and I replace our crossing guard with him. The young guy is handsome and will make the soccer moms smile. I keep Midtown High stocked with eye candy, and damned if it doesn’t work. The old crossing guard will he pissed, but he’s fat and thirty-three, and he just got out-bid. Competition, you know?


“Hey man,” says a voice, and I look up to see one of my assistant principals. It’s John Gunderson. He’s on his phone, like always, checking his HumCap app. The man is obsessed with his share price. He got incorporated at twenty-three, when he was a senior in college, and his stock’s not doing too hot. I guess it peaked too early.


“Gunderson,” I acknowledge with a smile. I don’t want to get too nice, since most investors will only buy stock in one Education Management prospect at a time. When the rich parents swing by the school, I want them to see me as the dominant one. Gunderson’s gotta know who the real boss is. I’ve gotten eight new investors in the past year, so I’m doing something right. As Gunderson checks his mailbox, I pull out my phone and check my own app. I’m up forty-five cents a share.


That’s an extra nine thousand for my net worth, ladies and gentlemen.


“You excited for the Educorp quarterly report?” Gunderson asks, returning from his mailbox. He’s counting up the receipts from the weekly fines. I don’t care much for Gunderson, but he does bring in revenue from fines. He can hear a curse word from down a hallway. While the rules say we need to speak to the students directly about their misbehavior, we usually just use our tablets to give ‘em a fine. The richer students have set it up to pay automatically from a parent’s account.


Oh, and we’re supposed to call parents about disciplinary infractions and the fines, too. But someone at Educorp decided to make the direct lines to administrators pay lines, so that parents would have to pay per minute to talk to us about their little hoodlums. Genius! Only the wealthier parents are willing to shell out six bucks a minute to prattle to us about their kids. A secret memo from corporate says to call during a time when parents are unlikely to answer, leave a message, and hope they call back on the pay line. This has boosted revenue noticeably.


Gunderson loves the secret memos from corporate, especially since he signed up for stock options instead of a higher salary. Me, I opted for a bigger monthly check. Old habits die hard, I guess.


“I saw Panamus in tears out in the hallway,” Gunderson says. He’s sniffing around, wanting to see if I’m getting a bonus for terminating the poor bastard.


“We’re paying by hour now, and he’s not happy about it. I offered him some four-to-five and five-to-six slots, though.”


“Did he go through Bids? A number of our seniors are willing to work those slots for minimum wage. I heard the superintendent is trying to lobby the state to let us use seniors at a sub-minimum wage. A special minimum wage for teens, you know? Seven bucks even, I think.” Gunderson’s always up on the latest gossip.




The radio has a news report from president Trump. He is proposing to amend the U.S. Constitution to outlaw any use of a minimum wage. “If you’re willing to hire someone to do good, honest work, why should the government be able to tell you how much to pay? In America, we have the freedom to pursue and accept the jobs we want. Bureaucracy should not get involved!”


I turn off the satellite radio and use my smartphone to buy a hundred and fifty shares of Bids, Inc. That app will be smoking hot now, especially since Trump’s got the clout to pass this proposed amendment. It may take a while, but it’s where we’re heading. And when we get there, finally ending the ridiculous minimum wage laws, Bids will a corporate giant. And I’ll have a bigger piece of that pie.


Speaking of pie, I wonder what’s for dinner. My wife should be fixing a nice meal. She doesn’t work, you see. She got incorporated at twenty-four, while she was in law school, but decided to stay home and raise the kids. Her investors were pissed, and some even contacted her directly, in violation of the law, but we have to do what works for us. She threatened to sue the angry investors who called our house, and we got a nice little peace settlement out of that brouhaha.


The investment companies later countersued for a bait and switch, insisting that my wife knew all along that she wasn’t planning on having a full-time career as an attorney. That was true, but they had no proof. A judge threw out the suit, and we got to keep the investor’s money. She still owes them thirty percent of her income, the max amount you’re allowed to sell, but thirty percent of zero is zero.


When I arrive home, I see my kids in the front yard. My son, Max, is looking taller and stronger every day. He should – growth hormone is expensive!


“Hey Max,” I say when I get out of the car.


“Hey Dad.” Max is playing around with a football, tossing it up in the air and catching it. He looks at me and I smile.


“You have a good day at school, champ?” I ask.


“Kids were making fun of me, calling me a science experiment. They said it wasn’t fair that I get to have the growth hormone, that I was a freak.”


I sigh. The injections are expensive, and the other kids and their parents are just jealous. Ever since the government ended all subsidies for health care, people have been complaining. I know that good health is an investment. Automatically, a percentage of my HumCap capital gains go into my health care savings account. Now that the government has gotten rid of those ridiculous bioethics restrictions, I can do what’s right for my family. We need to be the best that we can be.


“They’re just jealous, Max. You know that.” I tell him to go inside and get his daily injection from Mom. We all take injections. Mine help keep me strong and vigorous. I’m forty-eight now, and I might be in the workforce for another thirty years. With all those new college graduates depressing wages, I’ve got to combine experience with vigor. I can’t let Educorp think I can easily be replaced by a thirtysomething.


Max heads inside with his football. The HealthFirst Corporation promises that he’ll grow to be over six feet tall, and I took out a HealthFirst Insurance Policy to that effect. If he’s not over six foot by his nineteenth birthday, the corporation owes me big money. Critics say the stuff they peddle is unregulated, but I’m seeing results. Secretly, I’m wagering that Max gets a football scholarship to a top college. Now that the government has legalized most gambling, I’m thinking about going online and putting down some money to that effect.


I head inside to get out of the May heat. Despite having the best pharmaceuticals money can buy, I’m not about to just stand around outside when the mercury is in triple digits. Maybe it is global warming at work, but I’m certainly not going to say so in front of my friends.


“Love you, cutie!” my wife calls from the kitchen as I set down my briefcase. I walk into the kitchen and see her using one of our countless, disposable, pre-measured syringes to give Max his daily dose of HGH. Max is a tough kid and doesn’t mind the needles.


My phone rings and I take the call in my bedroom. It’s one of my neighbors, Floyd Jenkins. He knows about Max’s HGH treatments and has made some unflattering comments. After the initial pleasantries, he tells me about a new app.


“It’s a new income sharing app, old guy,” Jenkins says. He refers to me as “old guy” since he’s only thirty-seven. “But you can sign up your kids. HumCap’s only for adults, but this new app lets you get investments for your kids.”


I am admittedly interested. Though I have enough money, it would be great to get some more to help Max go to college. All the universities are privatized now, and expensive as hell. Even as amazing as Max is, I worry about him getting into a top school. My wife and I have Ivy League dreams.


“What type of investments? Is it buying and selling shares?”


“No, it’s old school ISA. For athletes. It pays for health products, coaches, gear. The app is just called Trophy. They pay now, help you afford that HGH, and then they get a cut of his college earnings.”


I fume at his mention of Max’s HGH, but I say nothing. Jenkins is a broker, so he knows the inside stuff before it drops. I’ve read about Trophy in the news, but didn’t know it was active. “Sounds like good stuff,” I tell Jenkins, flipping off the phone.


“So, I’m calling because I know some of the people high up at Trophy. The app drops tomorrow at noon. I want to get Max on there,” Jenkins says, oblivious to my bird.


“That’s very generous of you,” I say, my voice kind but my face sneering.


I realize that Jenkins wants Max on there so that he can invest in him. Jenkins knows that Max gets HGH, which is definitely not common knowledge. Right now, HGH is kind of don’t ask, don’t tell at the K-12 level. The whole thing smacks of insider trading, but Jenkins has serious money. I would love a cut of it.


“I’ll put him on there. Just send me the details,” I say. Jenkins knows we have a mutual understanding, and promises to send me an email within the hour. I turn off the phone and grab my tablet. I look up the pay scales for college athletes, and find that Division I football players are now raking in six figures per semester. Everyone loves buying college apparel.


What price can you put on a good college?




Dinner is good and bountiful, and my wife announces that everything at the grocery store was even cheaper than last week. Ever since president Trump opened the borders, costs have been plummeting as competition drives wages lower and lower. Even American citizens are now migrant farm workers, scrambling for pay. With no minimum wage, farm work brings in about six bucks an hour.


“It’s cheap, but is it healthy? I heard that they’re reducing all the cleanliness regulations on produce,” I complain. The lettuce looks okay, but I’ve heard some horror stories. My wife turns on the television and Max and Madison immediately clamor for a popular sitcom. “I’m in education, so I should probably watch the news,” I chide. The family groans, but my wife dutifully turns the holographic display to national news.


A private prison corporation is under investigation again, allegedly for underfeeding prisoners in order to improve their budget figures and boost stock prices. “This is news once a quarter,” my wife sighs. “You know they’re never going to prosecute. Every federal prosecutor and judge has a portfolio with those corporations in it.” I nod because I have those investments as well, though my wife doesn’t know. PenalCorp has been a great stock to own, and the company now has operations in forty-one states.


You can even invest in soon-to-be-paroled prisoners, who are like junk bonds. Many will prove worthless, but a few can make you rich. PenalCorp lobbies hard to ensure that it gets a nice influx of white collar convicts, disgraced pro athletes, and fallen media figures. Enterprising drug dealers are natural entrepreneurs and hustlers, and I usually drop several hundred a month on those stocks. It’s sort of like Vegas.


I don’t tell my wife about investing in the parolees. She wants to renovate the kitchen.


“You’d think those corporations would start to outsource those prisons,” I say, opting to start with my steak rather than my salad. “Build ‘em in Mexico or Southeast Asia. Gotta be cheaper.” My wife looks appalled, but she’s sort of a bleeding heart liberal. She supported those protesters last month who said that family members should be able to see convicts in person, not just via video chat. We’ll let the Supreme Court decide. President Trump just nominated a new Justice two weeks ago, so the Court will probably say video chat jibes with the Sixth and Eighth Amendments.


The steak is delicious.






The Capitalist




My wife and I had sex last night, and it’s all I can think about during this horrible staff meeting. Some teacher, a pretty young thing, is being terminated and the process is not going well. Last night, she let it slip on social media that she was pregnant. Four and a half months. The info worked its way up the chain and the superintendent called me at three o’ clock in the morning.


“You can’t fire me,” the teacher says, teary-eyed.


“You violated the pregnancy clause,” says Gunderson, the suck-up AP. He worships the superintendent, and will do so until the day he gets to usurp him.


“You don’t control my reproductive rights!”


“True, but Educorp doesn’t have to pay for it. You signed an agreement when you accepted the job.”


I take a long sip of Starbucks while the teacher argues passionately about her rights. We’re all corporate-friendly states these days, meaning she doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on. I pretend to pick up a pen off the floor to get a better look at her legs, and she does have nice ones. When she walked down those hallways…


“This isn’t some socialist utopia,” snaps Gunderson. “You don’t get to sleep around and then expect your employer to pay for the aftermath.” She practically shrieks in anger and bolts upright from her chair. The chair slides backward across the carpet and almost hits the wall. I’m shocked.


“Fuck being fired – I fucking quit, you worthless bastard!” she snaps at Gunderson. The Midwesterner’s doughy face is as shocked as mine, but at least I know I look far more handsome. “And the first place I’m going is to a lawyer’s office!”


“Say something!” one of the other APs hisses quietly at me. Fuck. This is my job – protect Educorp. Educorp doesn’t need any more bad press.


“Let’s talk about this,” I say, on autopilot.


“There’s nothing to talk about. I’m pregnant and you’re firing me. Your pit bull here just insulted me and bullied me.”


“Let’s not be too hasty. I think we can find a workable solution.” My business school vocabulary is coming back to my forebrain in fits and starts, neurons coughing up old words.


“Gender equality. The courts say we don’t have to offer anything to a female employee that we wouldn’t offer to a man,” sneers Gunderson, and I snap at him to go get some coffee and cool off. The son of a bitch is intruding on my territory! I can’t tell if he’s stupid or making a power play. The other APs haven’t said anything yet.


Gunderson opens his mouth to protest, to say that he wants to stay, but I make an ice cold face. The AP holds up his hands, rolls his eyes, and departs in a huff.


“Listen, I know that Educorp has a firm line on the pregnancy issue, but we hire many contract employees and temporary employees through WorkFlow, JobFill, and-”


“I have a full-time job. I want to keep a full-time job! I’m not going to let you tuck me into the back to work some menial job just because you don’t want the parents to see a pregnant teacher!”


An AP slides over a sticky note and it informs me that Educorp’s local attorney is on his way.




The lawyer arrives and he’s a schmuck and a half. By the time his imported luxury car oozes onto the faculty lot, I’ve calmed the teacher by promising her a made-up administrative job in the inner offices of the school. “We fill out the paperwork today and nobody knows it’s because you were pregnant. Everybody wins,” I say, flashing a smile.


She glares at me like I’m the bad guy, but I suppose she needs the money. Don’t we all? I intercept the schmucky lawyer and have him draw up the paperwork for a new Education Consultant and Curricular Advisor position. The guy’s not a paperwork guy – he went to Princeton – but I tell him that I’ve gotten the girl calmed down and don’t need him fucking things up. He gets the message and goes into a vacant office with one of the APs.


“It’s not right, what you’re doing,” the teacher tells me.


“Rules are rules,” I say. “We’ve all signed contracts.”


“Yeah, but it’s not like we have a choice. Life happens, and these contracts are made to make you pay for everything. It’s not fair.”


I grin and nod and avoid rolling my eyes at the typical liberal bleeding heart spiel.


“You’re better than this,” she says. Her eyes seem serious.




Lunch is an expense account affair and Gunderson is bitching at me that I was rude to him. “You were out of line,” he snaps. “I was trying to control the situation.”


“Don’t act like a hero. We’re an independent LLC branch. Limited liability,” I sigh. “She wouldn’t have gotten anything even if she did sue. The parent company would be okay. We all would be okay. You were just trying to put on an alpha show.”


Gunderson waves me off and digs into his Caesar salad. The other administrators are eating quietly, hoping for more fireworks. Many check their phones regularly, undoubtedly looking at the performance of their Human Capital Market profiles. Someone takes a picture of their lunch plate and someone else jokes about him putting it on his HumCap profile.


“Hey, your share price might rise if they know you’re eating paleo,” the school’s head guidance counselor quips. “That’s another ten years of making money for investors.” Everyone laughs. Then hushed conversations begin, and eventually work their way around to me.


Apparently, there’s a new app that lets you upload your health stats through doctors. Officially, it’s illegal to use this info in hiring or investing, but people are always finding ways to get an edge. Gunderson gets drawn into the talk and forgets that he’s pissed at me.


“My neighbor was showing me his new Cadillac yesterday and was telling me about that app,” Gunderson whispers, looking around to make sure the waitress isn’t nearby. “Apparently there’s a site you can post the data on. It’s supposed to be to brag to your friends about how healthy and shit you are. Like those old Fitbits, you know? But major investors apparently have an aggregator program that lets them look at this health info and your HumCap profile at the same time. You run more miles, drop more weight, and you sell more shares.”


I smile and nod. Motivated by the talk about selling more shares, my colleagues appear to be abandoning their expensive lunches. Gotta keep their waistlines trim.


I feel my own waistline and, disgusted, push away my entree of shrimp carbonara.




Back at school, I find our local U.S. Representative waiting in my office. He is here to talk government subsidies, and he has brought a gift of fine whiskey. As a major donor, both personally and with the school’s faculty fund, I get wined and dined by this aging buffoon on a regular basis. I wonder how many teachers have an inkling that their contributions go to a Republican?


“Thank you,” I say, accepting the gift. The Congressman smiles and collapses into one of my leather recliners. Did I mention that he was old?


“Liberals are getting upset about you guys raising tuition again,” he complains. “It’s bad publicity.”


“Parents demand quality,” I say sharply, angry at having to be on the defensive. Given how much I bankroll this asshole, why does he always feel the need to bring up the bad news? He is well-paid to handle stuff on his own.


He holds up a book and its cover talks about the Five Pillars of Capitalism. I mentally groan about the upcoming lesson in economics, but keep a grin plastered on my face.


“Competition, my friend. Competition. My colleagues in the House are starting to have second thoughts about abandoning the public school system. You have to help us show them that the five pillars of capitalism work.”


I open the bottle of whiskey and pour myself a shot. I put some in a second glass and offer it to my smarmy guest, who eagerly accepts. Indian giver.


“We’re trying to be more competitive, but it’s tough. Other schools don’t want to cooperate with any sort of partnerships or dual-use programs. The college, now that it’s all privatized, has ended dual-credit. They say it’s unfair to let high school students get college credit for a fraction of the market price. That’s what a lot of parents are bitching about.” I know it’s a lot more than just that, but I feel like I’m being ambushed here.


“We’ve got some important votes coming up in the House, and you’re seen as a good point man for us here in West Texas,” the old politician begins pontificating. He starts waxing eloquent on how I need to demonstrate that the new system works. He might as well name his spiel an initiative and call it Capitalism Works. I nod along and smile.


I make a mental note to try to encourage someone else to run against him in next year’s Republican primary.


“Tuition costs are supposed to be going down,” the old guy complains after he tires of being inspirational.


Deciding to push back a bit, I show him a printout of our operating costs. We’ve had to add a bunch of services and infrastructure, and it was not cheap. “Parents and students demand services. Do they think it’s free?” I complain.


“But you take the demands of the rich parents and make all the parents pay for it,” the Representative protests. “It looks bad on the news.”


“Well, they all use the infrastructure and services,” I sigh.


“Yeah, but they didn’t push for it. Who’s on your board?”


Mentally, I picture the school’s board. Admittedly, it is a bit lacking in diversity, both racial and economic, but what can you do? Not many parents have enough free time to devote to board meetings. We’re a bit heavy on the wealthy stay-at-home mother set.


“We have a diverse range of parents,” I reply, careful to keep my face neutral.




Kids burst forth from the high school at closing time. Many leave in a metallic flurry of late-model cars, trucks, and SUVs. A large mass of teenagers waits for the buses, which we currently run through TransCorp. We used to pay TransCorp a flat fee, but now they get to draft money directly from the accounts of only the students who use the buses. It saves us money and means we need fewer buses.


Students’ new GPS-enabled ID cards mean they get charged per mile, rather than a flat rate, so nobody has to pay extra if they live close by. Oh, and a few students are encouraged to get off at earlier stops and walk a bit further home. Whenever kids get hurt or bug bitten or sunburned because of this we end up being pilloried in the local newspaper by bleeding-heart liberals. Honestly, I think a little bit of walking never hurt anyone. Hell, don’t most of us old people pay good money to go to a gym and walk on a treadmill?


Speaking of exercise, I’m working up one hell of a sweat right now by standing outside with the male APs among the gaggle of bus-waiting teens. Whenever a kid breaks a rule, an AP shouts a warning. If the kid does it again, the AP uses his tablet to levy a fine. Fridays are the most unruly, so we get to raise a bunch of revenue. I watch a few juniors get into a shoving match and two broad-shouldered APs quickly jump in. I know they’re putting on a show for my attention, but at least it means I don’t have to put myself between the angry kids.


Some of the teens are pretty big. While the kids waiting for the bus certainly can’t afford HGH, rumor has it that there are a bunch of controversial substitutes on the market. Gunderson is lecturing a big junior who’s on the football team, and the young man is already several inches taller than the AP. And Gunderson’s a big ol’ Midwestern farm boy. I recall an old episode of a TV show where messing with kids’ DNA could go wrong and turn them from superstar athletes into deranged freaks. I wonder if the intense demand to improve on nature will mess up some of these students.


A bus arrives and kids rush inside, including the big football player. He and Gunderson shake hands and give back pats. I am annoyed at Gunderson’s uncanny ability to connect with the teens, which seems to contradict his overall douchiness. As the gaggle of kids grows smaller with the arrival of more buses, I find an open spot of shade beneath an expensive, transplanted maple tree. From there I use my phone to direct my minions digitally until it’s time to go home.




Max and Madison are waiting for me when I get home, which is nice. Max, teenage surliness already setting in, does not want to tell me what school was like. Finally, he announces that he is learning about capitalism in U.S. History class. “We got a visit from our congressman,” he sighs, completely unimpressed. Son of a bitch leaves our meeting and goes to my kid’s school? Was that planned or what?


Sure enough, Max has a copy of the same book I got from the grumpy U.S. Representative.


“Did you start reading it in class?” I ask.


“Yeah, ‘cuz there was nothing else to do. The teacher turned on the cell phone jammer because some people were being too loud – not me – and the phones wouldn’t work at all!” Now that the schools are privatized, the courts have allowed us to ban or jam phones at will. The latest jammers will disrupt even intra-phone signals, preventing anything but gobbledygook from showing up on screen. Fortunately, teachers’ desktop computers are immune, are are projectors and smartboards.


If kids keep trying to use their phones while the jammers are on, the phones can be permanently damaged. Some kids are thickheaded and have already burned through multiple smartphones.


“So you read a book? I’m impressed!” my wife says sarcastically, emerging from the kitchen with a tray of healthy, nutritionally-balanced snacks.


Max rolls his eyes and ambushes the snacks, trying to claim the best for himself. “Protein,” I growl, knowing he is going for anything sugary. In a little while he will receive his daily injection of growth hormone. I spy the book peeking out of his half-open backpack and snag it.


I flip open the first few pages and have flashbacks of Econ 101 at Harvard coming back to me. Adam Smith. Private property rights. Karl Marx. Surplus value.


Madison grabs some sugary treats, fortified with powdered nutrition, and begins sneaking around the room toward the television. She now knows how to work the TV, and will try to watch cartoons if nobody stops her. My wife is talking to Max, so it appears that I will have to be the enforcer.


“You know the rules, munchkin!” I announce. Angrily, Madison flees to her room.


I flop down on the couch and, ready for the weekend, try to get some app work done to set things up for Monday. I get on Bids, WorkFlow, and Temp to set up the school’s substitute teaching, groundskeeping, and janitorial needs for the week. I hire a bevy of crossing guards, hall monitors, and security guards as well. UberPro, BusRent, and TransPort are given our transportation needs for the upcoming five work days.


To save on operating cash, I offer shares of stock in the school itself. All of this new payment option is done automatically, via app settings, and UberPro and Bids instantly accept two shares of Educorp stock and supply us our weekly demands cash-free. A moment later, I get a message from the head principals of two other Educorp Permian high schools. They’ve used their allotted shares already and want some of mine.


Two for one deal, cash for shares, I text. If they want my extra shares, they need to pay double our inside rate. Otherwise, they can pay the market price. The principal of the other high school in Midland takes the deal, while the one from Odessa does not respond.


Beers on Saturday? Blue Door? Usual time? texts the other Midland-based principal, and I agree.


“So, if the school gets government bonus money, the shareholders get dividends?” my wife asks from behind me. I turn my head and see that she has just given Max his shot. She drops the syringe into our Plexiglas sharps container. We bought a customized one that looks like a piece of home decor.


“I suppose so,” I reply cautiously. It’s been a long day of political battles, and I sense that my spouse is preparing to launch a liberal onslaught.


“So UberPro and Bids benefits from the hard work of the students and the teachers?” she asks, hands on her hips.


“They bought in,” I say. “It’s fair. Their money goes to help the students.”


“I guess it’s private property rights,” my wife sighs. Deciding against any provocation, I simply nod and smile. I make pouty lips for a kiss, but she shakes her head. As she heads into the kitchen, she starts asking about whether or not the CEO of Educorp is compensated with stock options. I know he is, but I say nothing. To avoid the argument, I jump up and grab the furniture polish and its rag and engage the nearest bookcase in a thorough dusting.




It is after midnight when the standardized test scores begin lighting up my smartphone. Quietly, I grab it and sneak out of the bedroom, not wanting to wake my wife. She’s still on a liberal utopia kick, so what I’m about to do will piss her off to no end.


I scan the numbers and begin messaging my leadership team on GhostChat, which guarantees that the messages will be erased within forty-five seconds. I provide the names of the sixteen juniors who will mess up our senior-level exit exams next year.


We need to get them out. Got no state bonus this year, so must trim the fat before next fall.


I’m not surprised when Gunderson messages back first, encouraging us to nickel-and-dime the families hard until they transfer.


Got to get em gone. Preferably out of Educorp schools entirely, but not a big worry. Charter bonus goes school by school, not to corp.


A younger AP named Rush suggests that we check their tuition insurance status.


If any of those juniors are getting tutorials and other assistance paid by insurance, seek to justify preexisting condition. Make families pay out of pocket. Raise the cost.


I remind everyone that we could get sued for that. Gunderson replies that he has a friend who works in health insurance and can give us some pointers.


He can also connect us to their lawyers. Guys are good. Rarely lose. Help company make billions.


I sign off after telling everyone to make sure no trace of our conversations exists on their phones or any other devices. On Monday, as the school prepares for lavish graduation ceremonies for the seniors, we will make sure next year’s graduation comes with bonus checks from the governor.





The Worker




“You son of a bitch,” the father hisses. “You son of a bitch.” He has just been hit with a fifteen thousand dollar itemized bill for tutorial services received by his seventeen-year-old son. The kid has some learning disabilities, nothing serious, but the family has Ivy League dreams and needs to maximize his resume. Tutorials have been routine and in-depth, often with multiple teachers. Two of the teachers have PhDs, which command high hourly fees.


“We were covered! We had the deluxe tuition insurance!” shrieks the mother.


“A routine review revealed that your son’s learning disabilities were pre-existing conditions,” our local Educorp attorney says, his voice trained and soothing. “You either knew, or should have known, of his conditions prior to enrolling at the high school.” Early this morning, we had discovered that the kid’s elementary and middle school records were sufficient to justify our plan.


Scores were low enough to indicate a potential learning disability, but the family did not indicate that he had been tested. So, at eight-thirty, we made the call and got both parents in. I’m wearing my best suit and have had several shots of Disaronno to steady my nerves.


The father, ironically, works for a health insurance conglomerate, and is pissed to hell.


“This is a fraud! A scam!” he roars. Behind me, four APs wait to see if the parents might need restraining. The father is pudgy but quite large, and his fury is building. The mother, in another touch of irony, is stick-thin. She probably gets her diet pills paid for by her health insurance, I think, but it’s probably the Disaronno talking.


“And this comes up only a few days after the test scores come back! How convenient!” snaps the mother, her voice as sharp as her elbows and knees.


“You want us out, right?! Admit it!” Dad spits, his voice frothy with rage and saliva.


“We would love the opportunity to continue teaching William,” I lie. “Unfortunately, our policies mean we can no longer cover his tutorials through Edusurance. If payment is a problem, we have several monthly payment plan-”


The father launches out of the tasteful armchair and lunges at me. His wife is screaming for him to stop, and he barrels into me. We topple out of my chair – I hope it’s undamaged – and land on the carpet. I am stunned. His meaty forearm is on my throat. I cannot yell. I try to hit him, but my arms feel weak. Too much Disaronno, maybe?


He is pulled back by three APs and I can breathe again. As it try to sit up, I see his polished shoe coming straight at my face and




I wake up and see Gunderson sitting in the corner of a white room.


“Oh hey, you’re awake!” he says, his farmer’s face ruddy and cheerful.


“Where am I?” I croak, and my throat feels like the Sahara desert.


“Hospital, buddy. That insurance bastard’s shoe hit your skull in a million-to-one shot. Not a hard kick, but it hit you in exactly the wrong place. You were in ICU for a full day.”


“My family?”


“Getting dinner downstairs. The doc said you’d be out for several more hours. I was just playing on my phone. Want me to call your wife?”


I decide against it, wanting to talk shop for a moment or two. My head feels numb, and I need the numbness to deal with Gunderson. I don’t like that he’s the AP who has come to see me, but I figure it’s only natural. Has Educorp made him interim head principal? Probably. The fucker.


“Don’t worry – we’re probably gonna the shit out of that guy,” Gunderson beams. “But, uh, he has filed a lawsuit or two in the meantime…”


When I press him, Gunderson admits that we’re all co-defendants, as is Educorp, a slew of our subcontractors, and the state itself.


“So, if I’ve been out for a few days, what’s going on with all that?” I rasp.


Gunderson hems and haws, but then admits that Educorp wants to keep things quiet. I start to feel woozy as he talks about “leadership changes” at the school. I am being put out to pasture. Paid a settlement to keep quiet.


“Could you call my wife now?” I whisper, and everything fades to black.




My wife wakes me gently, rubbing my brow with a cool hand. I open my eyes, smile at her, and peer around for my corporate replacement. Fortunately, Gunderson appears to have left.


“They’re cutting me loose,” I whisper. She shakes her head and tells me not to worry. “You had a bad dream,” she smiles. The door to the room opens and Max and Madison come in, elder brother guiding younger sister with a hand on her shoulder. My face is starting to hurt, but I smile bravely.


“Hey kids,” I say, striving for a full voice. Max asks if I’m okay, and nods happily when I assure him that I am fine.


Everyone begins talking, but I can’t think. My mind is replaying Gunderson’s voice, giving me a death sentence: Settlement. Severance package. Letter of resignation. Job placement.


Gunderson’s voice had been as smooth as a politician’s, offering no promises. Educorp could keep things quiet, and try to place me in a “suitable” job somewhere, but only if I left quietly.


My stomach and bowels feel watery. I know what could happen if I don’t roll over and comply. Educorp is great at applying pressure.


“Hey, this place has Netflix Ultra,” Max says, discovering the remote at the foot of my bed. There is a knock at the door and a nurse enters, bearing a clipboard with paperwork. “How will you be paying for your stay?” the woman asks, as if we are in a hotel.


“I’m on Educorp insurance,” I say, and my wife nods.


“I’m sorry, but it appears that your account has been cancelled,” the nurse replies coolly. “Do you have any private policies?”




After my wife and kids go home to get me a change of clothes, Gunderson returns and tells me that I will be retained as a temporary Educorp employee, meaning that I get to keep my health insurance, if I tender my resignation from my post as head principal.


“You sign, and I can tell the hospital staff to re-check your Educorp policy,” he says.


“You’re a real son of a bitch,” I tell him.


“It’s not like I have a choice,” he snaps back. “That fat asshole sued and his lawyers pounced right away. They got wind of some stuff, so Educorp wants to settle. It went down so fast, man!” He continues to babble about the disgruntled father. He almost sounds impressed when he talks about the insurance executive’s legal blitzkrieg.


“His lawyers must’ve gotten to one of the APs. Jenkins, maybe. Or Hotchkiss.” Or maybe you, you goddamn Machiavelli. I’ll bet you squealed like a pig and made the deal to get my job.


I ask for a pen and he hands me a customized, silvery one. I recognize it as the type of pen that Educorp gives to head principals. When I take it, I use my good eye to scan its surface. Sure enough, his name is engraved on the side. Must’ve got it just hours ago.


I sign my name on a lengthy, complex document full of fine print. I don’t read it because it doesn’t matter. There is no way to fight Educorp. Their legions of lawyers have undoubtedly crafted this document to give them an ultimate victory. What do I get? Whatever they will allow me.


Until a few days ago, those lawyers drew up these things when I wanted them to. Live by the lawyer, die by the lawyer.


Gunderson takes the document and, true to his word, gets on his smartphone and calls someone in the regional office, a towering office building in downtown Dallas. I am now a consultant of some kind, making a fraction of my previous salary. I am on a six-month contract. My nemesis leaves the room and I turn on the television, looking to tint my numbness with sitcoms.


In six months I’ll be unemployed. I wondered if I should start creating profiles on all the temp apps.




The doctors declare me ready to go home at eight, and at eight-thirty I’m changing into clothes brought to me from home: a pair of exercise shorts and a hoodie from the local university. “It’s a bit chilly out,” my wife says. She’s trying to be chipper, but I can tell that the reality of my being let go by Educorp is starting to sink in.


She’s thinking about the job market, how it’s intended to get employers the most worker for the least wage. Never thought I’d be back in it.


My wife takes the kids to go bring the car around to the front doors of the hospital. I wonder if we’ll have to sell it, since we’re still making payments on it. Will be making payments on it beyond my six month “consulting” gig. It’s an SUV. I suddenly wonder what gas prices are. With disappointment, I realize that they have probably already taken back my company car.


“Sir, we have an issue with your payment,” someone tells me as I wait. I tell them that my Educorp insurance should cover it, and they tell me that there were some pre-existing conditions. “Your X-rays indicate that you had an old head injury.”


“Yeah, when I was a teenager. Concussion from falling off a rock,” I say, remembering a Boy Scout camping trip in New Mexico. It had been a hot day, and rock climbing had been on the agenda. My hand had been sweaty and slipped off the rock. I’d also broken my leg.


I remembered to put my broken leg on the insurance form when I hired on with Educorp. but I guess I forgot to put the concussion.


“Your insurance company says that your current head trauma has been exacerbated by your earlier injury. It refuses to pay the claim,” the hospital employee tells me.


I am too messed up to deal with this and tell them I will call their offices tomorrow. My wife’s SUV is at the front doors, I can see it through the glass, and I stumble toward it. Behind me, the hospital employee says nothing, letting me flee.


They can let me go, say nothing. They have my address, phone number. They can collect.


The night is chilly, and I start to cry.




I show up at the downtown office at eight. My suit is clean and my tie is tight. I have a bruise over my eye, but otherwise I’m feeling okay. My blood is about forty percent coffee, and I’m about to start sweating bullets.


Got to work my way back in. Work my way up. Educorp will treat me right if I show them I’m still a valuable asset.


The online news had nothing about a lawsuit, but I did find a blurb on Google reporting that Gunderson had, indeed, been made interim head principal. Corporate will give him the permanent job before the day is out. He’ll fire and slash and cut costs to the bone, just like they like it. I walk through the corporate lobby, bright and impressive, and tell the receptionist who I am. She points down a corridor and I head that way, my expensive loafers clicking on polished tile.


As I head down the hallway, it becomes dull and drab, morphing yard by yard. The public doesn’t see this part of Educorp, so no need to spend money on appearance. By the time I make it to the office of my new supervisor, I feel like I’m back in the ‘70s. Most of the decor seems like it was purchased at retiree garage sales. I hear those are a thing now, given that 401(k)s are not holding up for the younger Baby Boomers.


“Hello,” says a thirtysomething drone in a suit as I enter an open office, his voice cautious. He looks slick and his hair is gelled to a sheen. I immediately peg him as a graduate of a flagship university, a former frat boy, with parents who worked white-collar corporate jobs. He has big dreams and is putting in his time out here in West Texas. Soon he’ll be in Dallas or Houston, with a pay raise.


We shake hands and he leads me to my cubicle. My job is curriculum development for the social studies courses of U.S. History, Government, Economics, Sociology, Psychology, and Philosophy. “Parents demand higher scores on the new state tests. If we can show them that we’ve got more curriculum staff, we can better justify raising tuition rates,” my new boss tells me. He takes me on a brief tour of the offices, which includes a small employee lounge and a dilapidated restroom.


“The forms and paperwork are pretty similar to what you did at the school,” my boss says, then introduces me to a coworker. His name is Raul and he will show me the ropes. The boss immediately disappears back into his office and closes the door. Mr. Big Time is done with the peon, I guess.


“I heard about what happened to you,” Raul practically whispers. “Man, I’m sorry.” I can only nod. He gestures for me to enter my cube, so I do. He pulls over his own rolling chair from an adjacent cubicle and begins to show me my job. Raul apparently does the curriculum stuff for English. He mentions that he’s an aspiring novelist.


I have a headache and can’t help but glance at the clock every few minutes.




“They tell us to quit whining, that we got to pick our careers,” Raul says between bites of a tuna fish sandwich. “Like we had months and months to sit around after college and pick and choose. Fuck, I had to go with the first job offer.” Raul graduated in ‘09, he says, at the depth of the Great Recession. He had to go back to school and get certified as a teacher, then landed a job teaching junior high English.


“Eventually I got to do this curriculum job, which ain’t half bad. It wasn’t a pay raise, that’s for sure, but there was no way that I was gonna stay in the classroom after things got privatized. Hell, angry parents were already up my ass over everything as it was.”


Raul swigs some Coke Zero. “And I don’t have to hold lunch tutorials, which is nice.”


It’s my third day on the job, fulfilling my deal with the Educorp devil, and I’m adjusting. I have copies of the Educorp textbooks in my assigned subjects and my web browser is open to WikipediaPay, Google, and the Educorp search engine EduSearch. I’m building PowerPoints, worksheets, tests, and quizzes for teachers, more so by administrator decree than teacher request.


Oh, and parent request. Since parents are paying tuition, they get to request district-made supplemental materials for their students. I just got another batch of parent requests on my Educorp page fifteen minutes ago, and these folks are needy. I take a bite of my Subway footlong and agree with everything Raul is saying.


My boss swings by and demands to know how parent requests are coming along. I tell him how many I’ve finished and he clenches his jaw. “We need a faster completion rate on these,” he says. I try not to glare, even though this punk is more than a decade younger than me and clearly has no experience in the field of education. “I’m working as fast as I can,” I say.


“You can do some of this at home,” he replies. “You have your Educorp login to access your employee page.”


When I nod unenthusiastically, the asshole decides he needs to make a jab anyway. “I know that a lot of administrators get to clock out at five, but teachers often need to work from home. It’s no big deal,” he says with a sharkish grin. I resist the urge to snap at him.


“No problem,” I respond. I’m in no position to argue, especially since my six-month contract is basically probationary. They can cut me at any time, and I have a fifteen thousand dollar hospital bill to pay. Pre-existing condition my ass.


My wife had put my car and our Chevy Tahoe, which was for trips to my family’s mountain cabin, for sale on CraigslistElite this morning. If we’re lucky, the pair might fetch a total of twenty-five grand, which would let us pay off the hospital bill and get me another car. I’m hoping for a used SUV, but that might be wishful thinking.


“I’ll have them done by tomorrow,” I assure with a confident smile, plotting my rise to usurp this slick corporate drone. He nods and heads back to his office, which is an echelon above our musty breakroom.




My wife and I go over the spreadsheet again and again, trying to figure out how to handle our $15,000 in medical fees.


“I’m a lawyer,” she insists again. “We can fight this.”


“Against the insurance company’s lawyers? We’d be crushed.” I know their game: Delay, delay, delay, and drive up the plaintiff’s costs. Even if we had a case, it would exhaust all of our resources to make it to trial. They’ll bleed us dry and then settle for pennies on the dollar.


“We could just not pay,” she says adamantly. “They’re fucking us over with that bullshit pre-existing condition crap.” She has become a lot more profane over the past few weeks. Unfortunately, the dirty talk has not extended to the bedroom. Stress has not helped her libido, though I’m thrumming like a live wire most days.


“It would wreck our credit,” I sigh. We need credit if we’re going to continue funding Max’s HGH treatment. We need to continue Max’s HGH treatment if we’re going to get him a scholarship to a good college. We need to get Max into a good college so that he’s not a thirty-year-old living off of Bids and Temp and sleeping in his old bedroom.


I double-click over to my retirement fund and stare at the numbers. The digits used to seem pretty nice, but have lost their luster now that my income has been decimated. Someone has offered five thousand for the old Tahoe, but my car hasn’t prompted any offers near twenty. Every time I refreshed the page, I saw more and more cars being put up for sale. My wife says someone will offer more, but I doubt they will.


Time to settle. Take the money. Nineteen today is better than the eighteen you’ll get tomorrow. Returns diminish and interest increases. I chuckle at that last bit of mental trivia, and my wife glares at me.


“Something funny?” she asks. She’s trying to be supportive, but she’s getting pissed. By the situation? By me?


“No, sweetie.”


“Then let’s figure this out.”


I set down my tablet and open a bottle of wine from the kitchen. I look over at my office and see papers and books strewn about, the bric-a-brac of my new profession as curriculum jockey. When I was a principal, my home office just for show. A museum exhibit. I feel both anger and pride. I used to only use that computer for porn. Who’d’ve thought it would actually do work?


I snag two glasses and bring them back into the living room. I pour generous glasses and drink mine quickly, hoping to feel the buzz of alcohol. I have always relished that feeling, though nowadays more than usual. My wife grabs her own glass and also drinks deeply.


Max and Madison are asleep and I wonder if I can talk my wife into a blowjob.


We talk and decide to leave my retirement account alone. We’ll sell the cars and dip into my dwindling savings to buy another vehicle for me. I go to Craigslist and CraigslistElite and begin shopping and selling. Someone texts me and offers to sell me drugs. Someone else sends me a dick pic.


The hospital bill is due in three days.




My wife traded her SUV back in at the dealership for a four-cylinder sedan and I purchased a “gently used” Honda Ridgeline from a man named Gomez or Gamez at a seedy used car dealership down by the interstate. An independent mechanic said that the Honda was in good shape, so I made the deal. My old Tahoe and my European import had gotten me nineteen thousand in two Craigslist sales, both of which I finalized in the parking lot of a Walmart.


I managed to snag the Ridgeline for sixty-five hundred, leaving me eighty-five hundred for my hospital bill. I used my phone to move some savings to checking and then sent the payment to the hospital, paying the charge in full. As soon as the payment went through I dialed their billing department.


I listen to bureaucratic babble for a bit, and then I press her over whether or not the bill I received earlier is the final tally. “Is that the full amount?” I demand thrice. Finally, she admits that I might receive an additional invoice from a consulting neurologist. What the fuck?


“I never spoke to a consulting neurologist,” I explain, striving for calmness. I announce who my doctors were.


“Sometimes, sir, additional doctors are requested during or after surgery to consult.”


Looking out the window, I am livid. “The hospital should cover the cost. I was told precisely what my bill was, and that is what I will pay. Not a penny more.” She begins to protest, and I end the call. My heart is pounding. Who knows how high this extra bill could be. A thousand? Two? Five. My stomach lurches, and I fight back the urge to vomit.


Raul swings in on his rolling chair, his arms gripping doorframes and walls while the chair wheels squeal. “You okay?” he asks.


“Fuck no. The hospital might send me an additional bill. They say other doctors may have ‘helped’ with my surgery. After I got kicked in the face by that insurance guy, you know?” Raul nods. He offers me a candy bar, a gesture of camaraderie, and I accept. We bitch about health insurance for a while, lowering our voices when we hear sounds that suggest our boss is out and about.


“If you wanna make some more money, Educorp just posted some new jobs in and around the district,” Raul says. I suddenly remember what day it is – annual “culling” and rehiring day. If your quals don’t measure up, Educorp policy is to search for a replacement. If they don’t find one, you get an extra six months to earn your way back into corporate’s good graces. If they do find one, you’re out on your ass.


I turn to my computer and look at Educorp’s new job offerings. Bingo. A path upward. As Raul goes back to working on English worksheets for high school juniors, I begin polishing my resume. I’m gonna tear the job market a new one.





The Proletarian




We end Max’s HGH treatment on a hot day in late June, the mercury reaching triple digits before lunchtime. My wife and I decide not to tell him why, or mention anything at all. “Let’s not burden them with what’s going on,” my wife says, referring to the children. Madison wants to know why she can’t go to the same summer camps as last year. How do you tell your daughter that you can’t afford to send her to camp?


I digitally sign the document cancelling the next order of syringes and crack open another beer, letting myself mope through the Saturday.


My job search is going nowhere, and I just don’t understand it. I’ve got a great work history, impeccable credentials, and inside experience. I expected my cell to be ringing off the hook, but it’s been silent for weeks.


“You need anything from the grocery store?” my wife asks, keys to her new compact car in her hand. I shake my head, and she herds the kids out the door. Left alone, I brood. Ignoring the urge to chug the rest of the beer and open a third, I swipe my tablet awake and begin my exhaustive job search anew.


There is a lot of low-level stuff, entry-level jobs for young people. A few low-level management jobs, but nothing substantial. It’s an insider’s game, I finally acknowledge to myself. Angrily, after putting it off for weeks, I grab my phone and dial an old contact in corporate.


“I’ve applied to tons of management positions in Educorp,” I complain as soon as the cautious pleasantries are concluded. “And I haven’t gotten one fucking interview!”


My old buddy is quiet. He eventually talks about the job market being tough.


“I’ve been with Educorp for years,” I hiss. “Years! I know the business, and I’m local! How many local applicants have my resume?!”


He hems and haws about seeking outside talent as well as the excellent resources that already exist within the community. I roll my eyes as I imagine him, looking much the same as when I met him in Educorp’s new employee training seminar, reading off a laminated card of corporate-ese. “We want to make sure we find the optimal fit for each applicant,” he beams.


“I’m not some twenty-three-year-old fresh out of college, you jackass,” I say, intending it as a joke. It comes out harsher than I expect. I doubt I will be friends with this man for much longer. My social capital is crumbling.


“I know that,” he laughs, but the mirth is curt and tired. “Just trying to help you out.”


“Look, let me lay it all out there. I need a higher-paying job. You heard how I got screwed over at the school? Educorp’s got me slingin’ worksheets and PowerPoints in a curriculum job at the downtown office. Half pay, practically. Five months left on a six month contract. I’m a skilled executive, damn it, not a curriculum geek. Why am I not making any headway with the open executive positions?”


My friend does not want to talk over the phone. Instead, he tells me to meet him for lunch.




“You can’t just work your way up,” he says over a bottle of Corona at the Mexican restaurant. “It ain’t like it used to be in our parents’ day. And if you mess up, you’re shot for life. Everything stays on your record.”


I’m sweating bullets, and it’s not from the spicy salsa.


“So what can I do? I thought Educorp was gonna settle with the insurance guy. How long before that whole thing blows over?”


My friend shakes his head. “I don’t know, man. It could be a while. I asked around and I heard that the case could come back up at any moment as long as criminal charges are still on the table. The father acted a fool and someone called 911, so he could be prosecuted. If he does get prosecuted, he’ll bring up the money stuff. You could be a witness.”


“If I’m a witness, doesn’t it hurt Educorp’s case if they busted me down to private?” I ask, hopeful.


My friend shakes his head and looks around. The restaurant is crowded, it being a Saturday and all, but most of the people around are young and ignoring us middle-age codgers. High school and college kids free for the summer. I suddenly remember an old Demi Lovato song, something about being cool for the summer, something about sex. Being stressed and poor sucks for your sex life.


Seeing no Educorp employees, my friend finally speaks. “They’ll pin it all on you. You would be the fall guy. They would say that all the money stuff and the cost-cutting and the tuition-gouging was your idea.”


“But that’s a fucking lie!” I practically shout, and a few patrons look over. My friend angrily shushes me.


“That’s how they’ll say it, and they’ll say it with a team of high-priced lawyers. And a team of highly-paid tech guys wiping all communications from their end. And a team of witnesses who will say it was you, the head principal, who did this.”


I knew John Gunderson would say whatever they wanted him to say for a mere Christmas bonus.


“So what can I do? I need money. If I try to leave Educorp, I’ve got to provide Educorp references, which won’t work. Is there a way to move up within the company? What if I promise to keep quiet?” My voice is desperate, but I can’t help it.


My friend sits back and thinks while drinking more beer. He’s a smart guy, he really is, and Educorp hired him straight out of business school. Stanford. Hungry, I eat a fajita while waiting for him to process.


“It’s tricky. You could talk to the DA and ask him not to press charges against the insurance guy, the father. That would make this whole thing blow over. Or, if worse comes to worst, you could always sue Educorp.”


I nod, excited at hearing the possibility of a path forward. But sue Educorp? For what? And how? Seeing my hesitation, my friend presses on as he douses a taco with pico de gallo.


“You could sue on the grounds that Educorp ruthlessly presses its employees to break the law to boost revenue, and structures its policies such that the employees are caught in a Catch-22. If the employees fail to break the law and boost revenue, they are fired. If they break the law and are caught, Educorp can always say that they were acting independently. That’s gotta violate a ton of labor laws.”


My head starts to swim and he asks me if I’ve kept all my employment paperwork. I nod. Looking around again, he reaches into his hip pocket and slides a phone across the table to me. It is a prepaid smartphone.


“I have one of these as well. My number’s the only one that’s preset in there. You just text that preset number if you want to go forward against corporate.”




I see Gunderson through the glass walls of the conference room, smiling with the other head principals as they begin their summer inservice. It’s basically a booze-fest, but the state requires a certain amount of professional development. Since Educorp handles its own pro dev internally, the principals and APs pretty much get to do what they want. Corporate has a wing that offers state-required pro dev to other education companies, and that part they play strictly by the book. Cash bonuses go to principals who help teach it.


Gunderson sees me watching him through the glass and immediately looks away. I’m sweating through my polo shirt because corporate keeps our cubicles in an eighty-degree wing of the building. Walking past the conference room, I can tell that the fat cats are enjoying plenty of air conditioning. Most have kept their blazers on, and they all look crisp and cool.


I make it back to my cube and see my phone, which I left sitting on my desk, all lit up.


My June paycheck has been reported to the Human Capital Market, and my share price is dropping like a stone. A few investors have messaged me directly, wondering what has happened. I read the messages and decide not to reply. Any answer will either be unsatisfactory or be completely disbelieved. My market value is plummeting.


Silently, idly, I check Educorp’s stock. At least my investment in Educorp is up. Four percent this week, to be exact.


“You okay? You look pale.” Raul is there, his new office chair gliding silently across the cheap carpet.


“You get a new chair? It’s quiet.”


Raul laughs and wheels back to his cube. He returns with a can of WD-40. “Jerry-rigged it. It would take months to get a new chair, and it’s not like they’d approve it, anyway.”


We talk about HumCap and I tell him about the collapse of my share price. Despite my anguish, Raul reveals that he’s been at junk status since he was thirty. “Each privatization reform that passed the legislature knocked a full twenty percent off my price,” he says, eyes reminiscing. “I was on the up and up. Now I’m worth about the same as a college junior. Hey, at least I got a sweet car out of my IPO. Sumbitch runs like a beast, so I don’t even mind that investors get twenty-five percent of my take-home. No car payment for me!”


This breaks the tension and we talk about cars for a while. I tell him about getting my Ridgeline and he praises me for trying to live simply. “Having two vehicles was wasteful, man. Especially a Tahoe. Global warming, you know? The Ridgeline’s got a V6, which means less gas.”


I go back to working on charts and graphs about Congress and the differences between the House of Representatives and the Senate. Some are going to teachers, but some are being custom-made for rich kids. I have to take the kid’s old test, find what the kid did wrong, and re-make the notes and handouts to highlight and bold everything that the kid needs to learn for a re-take. If the parents pay an extra fee, I’m supposed to make an audio recording for the student’s convenience. A video costs even more, and extra still if they want an enthusiastic, trained actor to do it. SNL did a funny bit about that a few weeks ago, with porn stars.




I hit junk status by the time I get home for the day, courtesy of news out of Washington saying that private sector education providers can now hire any and all college graduates as temporary teachers, with state licensing needing to occur only within the first three years of teaching. Three education providers, including Educorp, are now bidding to provide the nationwide teacher proficiency exams to all colleges and universities. At a red light, I briefly allow myself to hope that Educorp will put out a highly-paid job opening for this purpose.


As the light turns green, I get a phone call. I answer it, and it’s my wife. She is sobbing. Test scores for little kids are back, and Madison’s school doesn’t want her any more.




The man sitting across from me is a former colleague, a head principal from back when I also held the title. The man is bland from head to toe, including his name. Corporate must love this guy. I am in a cold, angry fog as he discusses Madison’s test scores. He wonders if the school is the right place for her, and whether the “pacing” might be better at one of the remaining public schools.


By now, the remaining public schools are basically detention centers for the kids the private schools, including Educorp’s empire, don’t want. I never thought Madison and public schools would ever be in the same sentence together. Dumbfounded, I look at her score reports again and again. My wife sobs silently.


“How did this happen?” I ask for the umpteenth time. The principal, whose name is Galt, talks about emotional maturity and metacognition. Though I have been trained in the buzzwords, and liberally meted them out to many parents when requesting that their children seek learning elsewhere, my mind draws a blank. I knew Madison’s grades weren’t outstanding, but I never figured…


“I would like to leave her in,” I say numbly, wondering if Galt can see the sweat stains under my arms. “She likes this school.”


“Madison is a terrific kid,” Galt says, though he doesn’t know. Or care. “But our classes are under intense pressure from clients to move forward on curriculum, and your daughter needs a little bit more time. The public schools are designed to assist with that.”


Galt pulls out a form from a drawer of his well-polished desk and I realize that he has already done the paperwork. This meeting was a corporate formality, a nicetie. Condescend to the parents. The fine print already lets Educorp do what it wants to do. They want to get rid of my daughter, and no doubt charge me plenty of fees to boot.


I had been on the other side of the desk plenty of times, and now I was sickened by myself.


As Galt talks, I slowly pull a prepaid smartphone from my pocket and send a text to an old acquaintance. I’m going to sue. Help me.






The Deviant




The lawyer looks at me, sizing me up. “How much money have you got?” he asks. I tell him that there’s not too much left. He has already received my financial info in an email, but he’s undoubtedly hoping there’s more elsewhere. Perhaps I left something out?


“How much money could you get your hands on, if you have to?”


“Not that much. Fifty grand, maybe. My credit-worthiness took a hit with my HumCap. I’m at junk status now. My income’s been slashed, I’m on a temporary contract, and I’ll be blackballed by Educorp if this suit gets filed.”


This lawyer is a well-known local guy with a good reputation, which means he’s not cheap. This consultation is costing me next month’s mortgage.


But, like most lawyers, his ego is gargantuan. I can see in his eyes that he loves the idea of taking on Educorp. He has read my emails and has, undoubtedly, imagined the reams of press. Smiling, he presses a button on his desk and asks his secretary to hold his calls. “I’m going to stop the billing now, so take your time,” he says. He holds up a small digital recorder and turns it on.


He asks questions and I answer.


I talk about my family, upbringing, and alma maters. Private schools, Harvard, pledging a frat. Damn, I sound like a complete snob. What will a jury think?


I talk about graduating from college at 23, getting started as an office drone with a D.C.-based defense contractor, and then moving to health insurance administration at 28.


“How’d you get that job? Defense firm to insurance conglomerate doesn’t sound like a natural transition.”


“My Dad knew someone who knew someone. It was a pay raise, plus a move to New York City. They wanted an insider from a major defense firm so they could sign a contract with it. With all the government subsidies going to defense contractors, health insurers wanted their cut. Those defense firms bought up all the Cadillac plans.”


I talk about the job and how I helped ink a lucrative deal between HealthGuard and Armor, Inc.


Avoiding the sensitive stuff, I skip over the part about meeting an NYU senior at a bar in Soho and getting her undressed in the back of my Ford Explorer. We became friends with benefits, then started dating. When she went to Yale Law, I headed to campus as well. Three years later, she had a J.D. and I had an MBA. I was 32, and we got married that summer. After the honeymoon, I got a job on Wall Street.


By 36, I felt burned out. My Dad got me an interview with Educorp as an assistant principal down in Texas, where the oil boom was swelling salaries and bonuses.


“Did you have any teaching experience?” the lawyer asks, confused. He flips through his notes, and I roll my eyes. Older people are still stuck on the idea of teaching and education as some careerist, bureaucratic thing.


“No, but I did have plenty of graduate school experience. And I was always a good student.” Now he rolls his eyes. Clenching my jaw, I remind myself that I definitely need to stay in this guy’s good graces. His going rate could bankrupt me fast.


“I’m not gonna lie, that’ll hurt you with a jury. Think about how to brand yourself better,” he says, and insists we move forward.


I go over my starting job as an AP, then getting the bump to head principal at age 40. We talk at length about my job duties, my expectations from corporate, and so on.


Holding up a hand, the attorney stops me and insists that we start a new file. He swivels over to his computer, a fancy all-in-one in a glass frame, and swipes and pecks at the keyboard for a while. When he’s ready for a new file, he presses a button on the recorder and we start talking once more.


“Time for brass tacks. What was the shady stuff that corporate wanted you to do?”


He sees that I am uncomfortable, and he elaborates. “They’re gonna come at you hard and try to say that anything you did that was against the rules was your decision alone, and that they did not pressure you whatsoever. If you don’t come clean right now, you will lose this case. You. Will. Lose. And if I’m gonna take this case pro bono, which Christ help me I just might, I need to be damned sure that you’re not hanging me out to dry.”


I clear my throat and assure the good man that I will tell him the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The glowing red light on the recorder seems to stare into my soul.




“If you know about economics, we try to be as close to a price-discriminating monopoly as we can be. You know, charge every consumer the maximum they’re willing to pay? We were all coached by corporate to wring as much money out of the parents as possible. Education insurance, hidden fees, fines for student misbehavior, tuition increases, extracurricular charges, you name it. To get a look at their financials, we encouraged all parents to apply for scholarships, which are needs-based. We gave out some scholarships, sure, but the gold mine was the financial data. If we had a big fish on the line, we’d bleed him dry.


We kept tabs on the cars in the student parking lot, checked out the cars the parents drove, looked for which kids had the best braces and designer brands. One of the APs kept a spreadsheet on which families were probably good for more money. If a kid had a parent’s credit card already hooked up to automatically pay fines, we would nickel and dime the shit out of him. Anytime anyone complained, we always said ‘what price can you put on a good education?’


The school had all the amenities, too, to squeeze more money. A school store, fancy as any college bookstore, right up front. Most of the poor and middle class kids got plenty of voucher money, and we knew down to the penny how much the government was chipping in. As long as we kept the real payment increases low enough, few parents complained. If they said anything, we blamed the government or suppliers or anyone else.


This stuff wasn’t in the official employee handbook, you know. This was word of mouth from above. Educorp pays for performance and pays bonuses. It’s practically either up or out if you’re an administrator. Help bring in revenue, or they start looking to get you out. There were still a few old school APs, from back when the schools were public, when I joined Educorp. They didn’t like the new system and didn’t last long.”




“How did this go on? The public schools still exist, you know. But they’re like purgatory or something. Or hell, maybe. The city only has three campuses still: An elementary school, a middle school, and a high school. Educorp and all the other providers get to pass off the nonpayers, the troublemakers, and the kids with bad test scores to those campuses. Then the parents stop getting the vouchers. We fight tooth and nail to keep the public schools from getting any more government money. The worse those schools are, the better we look. Parents pay through the nose to keep their kids with us. They know Educorp is a better deal than those last few public school campuses.”




“Hiring and firing? We and Intellicorp work together to hire up any and all talent coming out of the universities. We start ‘em as low-level as we can. Once you hire someone, and they start their career with you, it gets hard for them to leave. We string ‘em along, make ‘em teachers’ assistants, then teachers, then senior teachers, then master teachers. We made a bunch of different grades and ranks and stuff, each with a tiny pay raise, to make employees think they’re moving up fast enough. In reality, we’re willing to spend extra to hire just enough talent to prevent the public schools from getting good teachers. Plus, it makes our stats look good. Low student-to-teacher ratios, you know? Rich parents pay extra for that.


If we do want to let a teacher go, we go out of our way to make ‘em look bad so that they won’t be a win for the public schools if they go that way. Put stuff in their files, you know. I heard rumors that they would even do some honey pot schemes, try to catch teachers fraternizing with each other. You know, pay a female teacher to seduce a male teacher. Blackmail and extortion and all that cloak-and-dagger shit. Teacher gets caught fucking around, gets a note in his file, and now he’s a liability to any other employer. He has no choice but to devote himself to Educorp. They own him now. He’s a slave.


And if they do fire, they make damn sure they don’t have to pay out on benefits. Say goodbye to health insurance and retirement fund!


Do I have any of that on record? Some, yeah. Anything from corporate? Nothing explicit, no.”




My lawyer clicks the recorder off and looks at his notes for a minute, murmuring quietly to himself. Outside, thunder rumbles as a July storm looms in from the north. The seasons have become more extreme over the past several years, for some reason. I wonder what my wife is up to. She doesn’t really want me to be here, knowing how much this consultation costs.


I wonder what Madison is up to. We haven’t told her about her school yet.


“I’ll take your case for a flat fee to cover some fixed costs,” my lawyer says. “It’s not as good as pure pro bono, but it’s the best I can do.”


He quotes me a price of fifteen thousand, which will cover everything from legal research to subpoenaing Educorp executives. He says he can bring in two other attorneys to assist, and both are quite skilled.


“I will file suit against Educorp and your listed supervisors tomorrow afternoon,” he tells me as I struggle to process everything. “Tomorrow morning, you get all information you can from your office computer.”


He pulls a flash drive from a desk drawer and hands it to me. “This thing will become encrypted after its first insertion into a computer, and only I know the password. It holds almost five hundred gigs. You think you need a second one?” I shake my head. The flash drive is bright red and feels cool to the touch.


“How much trouble could I get into for this?” I ask, suddenly very nervous. I imagine myself being bankrupted by a lawsuit. Or, worse, being in a prison cell. I have never been arrested. The closest I’ve been to incarceration is watching reality TV.


“Educorp is Goliath, and you’re David. If you really want to take them down, you’ve got to strike first. When we file, they’ll delete everything and send in the digital cleaners. They’ll delay, delay, delay, and by the time I’ve gotten what I want they’ll have edited it until it’s no longer even slightly incriminating. I need as much data as you can get me before we file, before they have a chance to wipe things clean.”


I’m still scared, and ask my lawyer if Educorp will know for sure how he got the info. He suggests using the flash drive on a computer other than my own. “You don’t like your boss, right? See if you can lure him out of his office for a long while.” My lawyer smiles and announces that he will use one of his own employees for the ruse. A meeting will be set up, under some sort of education industry pretense, and my boss will be busy for hours. If Educorp suspects any corporate espionage, it will be from my boss’s computer.


I wouldn’t mind letting that fancy-suited stooge sweat corporate for a while.


Smiling and nodding, I put the flash drive in my pocket.


“You sure you want to go forward? As soon money changes hands, I’m a bulldog. I’ll tear Educorp a new one, and there will be no going back.”


Fifteen thousand dollars is the last of my liquidity. I leave the office and go out into the lobby, which is thankfully empty. I call my wife and tell her how much it will cost. I ask her if she talked to Intellicorp and whether or not Madison could get in for the fall semester. My wife says no. Public school is our only option, then. The same public schools that Educorp has destroyed. I put the phone back in my pocket and walk back inside the lawyer’s office.


I pull a wrinkled check from my left hip pocket and a ballpoint pen from my right. I sign over the last of my savings.






The Rebel




My boss leaves his office while adjusting his suit and tie, a big smile plastered on his well-lacquered, corporate face. He has an important meeting with a major investor who wants to sink millions into Midland’s Educorp campuses. I know this because my lawyer called early this morning to explain the ruse to me. Technically, this meeting would not be strictly legal, but Educorp loves any chance to get more revenue.


As my boss hurries down the hall, I dart to his door and slip a credit card between the deadbolt and its receiver before it clicks. I ease through the doorway and into the office, quiet as a mouse. As a former executive, I know that a locked office door means you don’t often secure your computer. Redundancy, you know? I have a pair of woolen gloves in my pockets, holdovers from winter, and I slip them on.


Sure enough, the computer is unsecured. No password needed.


I open the apps and thank my lucky stars that my boss has set everything to remember his password automatically. Within seconds, I have accessed his Educorp email. I search for my name, and find several chains of emails. I am tempted to read them, but my lawyer warned me against doing so – it would waste time.


Quickly, I copy and paste, right click and save, and screenshot. My heart pounds as I grab photos and text from various sources. I copy all of my boss’s folders onto my flash drive, which will automatically encrypt after this first use. In my mind, I run over any plausible excuses I might give if my boss suddenly returns, finding me sitting at his desk.


The clock on the wall ticks loudly. I am a felon now, I think. I remind myself that I am doing this for Madison. And myself. And my wife.


Am I trying to get back what I had? Am I trying to hurt Educorp? Revenge? Something new? The files finish loading and I swiftly remove the drive from the USB+ port. Silently, it encrypts itself, protecting me if someone should swipe it from my hand and seek proof of my activities. I wonder if I should find some sort of liquid to pour on my boss’s hard drive, like in the movies. Does that even work?


I slip off my gloves and jam them into my pockets, burying the flash drive. After a second at the door to listen for footsteps, I bolt from the office and let the door click, locked, behind me. I practically dive back into my cubicle, stress sweat forcing its way through my pores.


“Where you been, bud?” Raul asks. He wheels over in his swivel chair and I see actor makeup on his face, a touch he likes to use when he has to record video lessons for rich kids.


“Restroom. Bad stomachache today, for some reason,” I lie. Raul chuckles and regales me with a story about jalapeno poppers and how they once gave him such bad heartburn that he thought he was having a heart attack. “I ended up eating antacids like they were Skittles. Grossest thing ever.”


He wheels back into his cube and begins recording again, apparently creating a lesson about understanding plot and theme. I wonder if the kid whose parents are paying for this lesson will even watch it. As Raul does his best acting, sounding quite enthusiastic and upbeat, my heart continues to jackhammer in my chest. I wait for police officers to show up and arrest me for corporate espionage.


As far as I know, my boss is still embroiled in his meeting with my lawyer’s well-paid actor, eagerly discussing student fees, stock prices, and profit margins.


From the burner phone given to me by my old friend in corporate, I send a text asking for as much data as he can give me, sent to a throwaway email account I created last night. I tell him that I’m all in, and that my lawsuit will be filed this afternoon. Moments later, during which I can scarcely breathe, he responds that he is up to the task.


Give me until after lunch. Tell your lawyer to move fast – Educorp is on the defensive cuz theyre facing other lawsuits. One in Kentucky and one in Rode Island.


I forward all this communication to my lawyer and tell him that I’m going to lunch. I will not be coming back to work. Quietly, I begin to collect my things from my desk, stuffing them into my leather satchel. When my bag is as full as can be, I ignore the rest of the knicknacks and begin deleting files from my computer. In the two months I’ve been working in this cube, I have accumulated a lot of files.


When I finish deleting the files I stand up and prepare to depart with my satchel, making a clean getaway. Instead, Raul is standing there, shocked. “What’s up with your cubicle?” he asks. He is confused, and I look at him with wide eyes.


“Buddy, let’s go to lunch,” is all I can say. It is eleven forty-eight.




“Educorp is kicking my daughter out of her school, so I’m suing the bastards,” I say over a fast food burger. Raul is now an accomplice in today’s deception, and I’m pouring on the emotion and friendship pretty thick. Hopefully, he won’t rat me out as soon as lunch is over and he returns to the office. Fortunately, he seems to be on my side.


“You have my support, man,” he replies through a mouthful of fries. “You got a lawyer yet?”


I tell him that I do, and that he’s taken the case pro bono. Well, sort of. After the fifteen grand, that is. When I whisper the name, Raul is suitably impressed. “I’ve read about him in the local news. He’s got some clout,” my coworker confirms.


We talk about Educorp’s vast legal resources and ponder what their strategy might be. Raul says he thinks they will try to settle out of court.


“Once they know you’re serious about getting into a courtroom, they’ll offer you a check. Will you take it?” he asks. I haven’t thought this far, and wonder the same question. I know I probably will, but I decide to play the idealist. I insist that I will fight for restitution, not quick cash.


“They’ve got a long reach, these guys. They’ll probably track down all of your old coworkers, underlings, girlfriends, et cetera. Anyone who’s got anything bad to say about you, they’ll find it. You really gonna hang tough all the way to being in front of a jury?”


“Hell, yeah,” I reply, my bravado mainly artificial.


“You’re brave. Nobody can say otherwise. And if they ask me anything after your suit is filed, I’ll play dumb. We never had this lunch.”


After another handful of fries, Raul promises to pass along anything helpful he might find or overhear. We dump our trash and wander out into the hot, bright parking lot. Raul will be returning to Educorp’s offices, while I will venture off into the land of unemployment.


“Educorp’s been screwing people over for years,” Raul says, his voice suddenly thick with emotion. “They helped ruin the public schools and they’re bleeding people dry. I work for ‘em because I need a job, but they’re some real sons of bitches. If you ever need anything, you call my cell phone, okay? I may not have much, but I can give you some cash for meals or a place to crash. The media will come looking for you, and I do live a little bit out of town, you know.”


As men, the emotional stuff is not first nature, so we awkwardly circle around and eventually hug each other. We promise to stay strong. I agree to take him up on his offer, should I need it. I promise that, if I win, I would not forget him.


“I hope things go back to the way they used to be, back in the day,” Raul says. “I’ve wanted to get married and have some kids, but I can’t. The economy sucks and there’s no good deals anywhere, not for those of us who aren’t rich.” He climbs into his sedan and cranks the engine. Suddenly overwhelmed by the heat, I shuffle into my Ridgeline and am soon bathed in air conditioning.


I have never been unemployed, and I suddenly panic. I did not have the luxury of time, to talk things over enough with my wife. Is she pissed off? Will she leave me? I cannot believe that I am quitting a paying job in order to sue my employer, one of the most powerful corporations in the United States. Will we end up homeless? My mind starts to think that sending Madison to public school might not be so bad.


Should I call it off? Call off the lawsuit?


Maybe, just maybe, I could call it off, get my fifteen thousand back, and go back to work like nothing ever happened. I mean, I only copied stuff onto the drive – my boss doesn’t know for sure that someone was on his computer. I could redecorate my cubicle and go right back to what I was doing. Madison could go to public school for a year, and then we would figure something out. I would work hard and find another way to rise back to the top.


I can do it. It just takes hard work. This is America, after all. Land of opportunity.


The engine sputters and almost dies, and I snap back to reality as my eye catches the fluttering RPM gauge.


My old car never did that. Did I get ripped off?


I put the Ridgeline in gear and head downtown, to drop off the flash drive. I know nothing will ever be the same again.



“It’s done,” my lawyer says over the phone. My wife is in the bedroom, with the door locked. She wants to be alone. I do not know if she is too angry to look at me, or too sad about the situation with Madison. She is not speaking to me much. I am afraid.


“How did it go?” I ask, not knowing what else to say. I feel like I need alcohol to ebb the stress away, but I resist.


“We filed and they know about it. They are professionals, so they didn’t react much. My source says there was a little bit of fear, so that’s better than nothing. They are already facing other lawsuits, so they have motivation to take this one seriously. Do you want me to send out a feeler and see if there’s interest to make this a class-action lawsuit?”


I say that that’s fine. My lawyer detects the fear in my voice and tries to calm me, insisting that all will be okay. “Take a drink and get to bed early. Take care of yourself and take care of your family. That flash drive you gave me has excellent stuff. My staff is already drawing up lists of people to contact. We should have plenty of favorable witnesses.”


“That’s great,” I whisper.


“Seriously, take a stiff drink and make it an early night. I need you and your family to be well-rested and looking good. The quintessential, all-American family. Image matters, and your image will be in the news as soon as this goes public. A former principal railroaded after he is assaulted by an entitled parent, just to make the company look good? It’s front page stuff.”


I bid my attorney goodbye and turn off my phone. In the kitchen, I pour a tall glass of whiskey and sip it. Max wanders past, looking for a snack, and I can tell that he detects the fear and stress between his mother and me. “Hey Dad,” he murmurs. I greet him and tell him he can have a snack cake. He loves snack cakes.


“You have football camp tomorrow?” I ask cheerfully, and he nods. We talk about football for a bit, and he heads off to play video games in his room, a snack cake in cellophane dangling from his hand. We usually don’t let the kids eat snacks in their room, but I don’t have the energy to argue with him.


My wife comes out of the bedroom and her eyes are teary.


“Do we really need to do this? Is it the right thing?” she asks.


“Yes,” I reply. “Otherwise, they were going to keep screwing us over. You know that.” I don’t know if she knows it, but she hugs me. The hug shows that she knows it. I hug her back and promise her that everything will be all right.


“I have a law degree. I can help,” she says, her voice growing stronger. “I will call the lawyer tomorrow.” I tell her that she doesn’t have to do that, but when my wife puts her mind to something there is no stopping her. She will become part of the legal team, whether they want her to or not. This makes me smile.


“Let’s go to bed,” she says, and we make love for the first time in months.




“You loved the system just fine,” the lawyer sneers, and my palms begin to sweat. I am on the stand and the jurors are burrowing into me with their eyes, all one thousand of them. The jurors are all former teachers and students, jurors whose fates I once held in my hands. How did my lawyer let all of them get on the jury? They’re not my peers. Some of the jurors are eating pizza.


“No, I didn’t love it,” I reply. I look down at my lap and see that I am not wearing any pants. Or underwear, for that matter. I try to pull the bottom of my button-down shirt over my penis, but it doesn’t want to stretch. I look back at the lawyer, and we forget about my penis.


“Then why did you work for years as a principal? You were the boss, the man in charge. And now you want to blame the system? You were the system!”


“Not true! I had so many supervisors above me. It was follow orders or lose your job. I have a family!”


“Did the teachers and students you left in the dust not also have families? You did what you did because you could, and you did not care about who you hurt!”


I am crying now, and the jurors are still eating pizza. A car drives up to my witness stand and parks, and my parents get out.


“What has happened to you?” my father growls after he exits the car. He is taller than me, always taller than me, and I hope he does not notice that I somehow forgot my pants. My mom is suddenly by his side and announces that I can go home with them. “Be our boy again,” she pleads. “We can have Thanksgiving, and it will snow. Just like you always wanted.”


“But they hurt my family,” I say, pointing at Educorp’s legal team. They sit behind a huge, oaken table. One of them is wearing a racing jumpsuit with Educorp logos on it. I didn’t know that the NASCAR guy was a lawyer, too.


My mother says that my family is in the car, and to give up this silly trial. My father threatens to whoop the NASCAR guy’s ass. I look down and see that my shirt has lost all of its buttons and is now flapping open. I wonder if the women in the jury think I have “dad bod.”


“Yeah, get in the car and get out of here!” yells Gunderson from the galley, behind the legion of reporters. “Educorp will find you! They’re in every town!”


Witches from a Disney movie swoop in through the courtroom doors, but I am unfazed. I spy a stapler on my legal team’s table and wonder if I can sneak over there and staple my shirt back together. And borrow some pants.


“Your honor, he stole all the evidence,” the lawyer says, and the judge orders me arrested. I notice that the judge looks like someone I have seen on TV. A wave of bailiffs descend upon me, and they turn into monsters as they grab me.


“No! No! No!” I scream, and I roll and twist and break free. Pantsless, I rush for the jury box, hoping that the myriad of jurors will protect me from the monsters. Surely they will! Humans are humans and monsters are monsters. I dive into the throng of jurors and they scatter away from me like minnows. The monsters are coming and the jurors will not help me.


“Protect the pizza!” someone yells, and I cannot blame them. Pizza is good. Monsters grab my ankles and pull me back down several steps. I grab at the juror chairs but my hands pass right through them. I can’t get a grip!


The monsters spin me around to face them, and they are zombies. Zombies from years past – an old teacher, an old friend, a neighbor from when I was a kid. “You’re bad for America,” they say through rotting death and dead eyes. Their horrifying faces move in to bite, slowly enough for me to see every rotting square inch. I scream, but they hold me fast. A mouth closes over my eyes and




I wake up, drenched in sweat. My phone has been buzzing and chiming, and I see that it is lit up with messages. The entire screen is covered with notifications. My stomach churns as I sit up in bed and grab the phone, awaiting my fate. Educorp is beginning to respond, and they are not happy.









The Plaintiff




Educorp’s chief counsel is a pompous blowhard from back East, with enough lacquer on his hair and face to preserve him for decades. The Internet has told me that he went to Harvard Law and clerked for a federal judge before going into corporate law. His bench full of co-counsels have similar resumes, with only a handful having slummed it at state schools. Someone went to Michigan, another to UT Austin. The company’s resident counsel is a local boy who went away to Notre Dame before coming back home to work as an oil company lawyer, only later being scooped up by Educorp.


The opposing counsel is a veritable football team compared to my basketball team of five attorneys. None of my lawyers have Ivy League pedigrees, but my chief counsel has held his own against the big boys before. The judge is a cranky old geezer who has seen most of the booms and busts experienced by this oil city. Rumor has it that he drinks excessively and is kept on the bench by a complete pharmacy.


My navy suit has been dry cleaned, which immediately wiped out the last of my petty cash. I have been too proud to ask my parents for money, but soon I will have no choice. “Wear a good suit, but not your best,” my lawyer cautioned last night. “You’re middle class now, not an executive anymore.”


My wife has gone back to work as a public defender, putting her law degree to use. She wanted to join my legal team, but the family needs to eat. The city pay is low, but at least the family has health insurance through her job.


The judge reads the charges leveled against Educorp. My case has been joined by four other former teachers and administrators, though the case has been consolidated under my name alone. Intellicorp and MindWeb are watching the case carefully, I’m told, and we might even see some national media. I glance over my shoulder and see that the galley is full of reporters, most of them local.


Then I see a CNN camera and feel my testicles clench.


“Educorp stands accused of malicious fraud, negligence, and violations of state and federal labor laws and antitrust statutes,” the judge drones, reading from his adjustable computer screen. I see a list of implicated laws, though the only name I recognize is the Sherman Antitrust Act from high school economics. Maybe the AP and IB students would recognize a few of the others, I hope.


The legal theater commences and the chief counsel for Educorp, whose voice sounds like a mix of molasses and smooth whiskey, eloquently argues that the charges are merely the agitated fumblings of disgruntled former employees.


I feel like dirt. I am disgruntled. Is that so wrong?


When my lawyer speaks, I am heartened that he also has a dynamic courtroom delivery. Like Eugene Debs, he rips into Educorp and its hidden crimes. Behind me, I can hear reporters typing and scribbling. The jurors seem genuinely interested, and I see a few of them writing on their own, court-provided notepads. There are seven men and five women in the jury box. Three appear Hispanic, two black, two Asian, and five white.


I know both legal teams are busy doing jury analysis, trying to determine which approaches will work better to convince the well-mixed group of citizens. My own lawyer is investing many thousands of dollars on a professional jury consultant from Houston, who has two assistants and a bevy of expensive computers. Undoubtedly, Educorp has thrice the jury analysis capabilities, probably from as far away as New York and Los Angeles.


When I hear my name mentioned loudly, by Educorp’s lugubrious lawyer, I sink lower in my leather-backed chair.




The opening day of the trial makes the headline of the front page. It is the sixth front-page headline I’ve gleaned since July, when my lawsuit was filed. My life has been put through a fine-toothed comb, and I have stopped reading the news as a result. You swipe a credit card

through one coed’s butt crack at a frat party and it becomes news twenty-six years later.


Max and Madison are getting ready for school and rain is drumming at the windows, courtesy of an unexpected El Nino autumn. Though the summer was ungodly hot, the fall has ushered in weather more reminiscent of Portland, Oregon than the Permian Basin. The news says that weather patterns are permanently shifting, with some sort of atmospheric stream now operating further south. California is toast, but West Texas is actually getting more moisture.


“I hate the rain!” Madison announces, zipping up her pink jacket. Max has fallen into a depression because football season is not turning out the way he wants. He’s a freshman now, where things start to really matter. He worries that he won’t make varsity next year. If you’re a sophomore and not on varsity, you can practically kiss a college scholarship goodbye.


“You ready for school, champ?” I ask, and he glares at me. Thunder rumbles in the distance. As Madison goes to get her lunch box, I decide to take the plunge and as Max if kids are talking about the trial at school.


“It’s no big deal,” he insists. My heart breaks a little, because I know how teenagers are. They’re talking mad shit. Being the kid of a fallen ex-principal has to be social poison. At least we’ve kept him in private school, thank God. I try to grin at him, a sign of solidarity, but he ignores me and trudges into the kitchen.


We don’t have as many groceries as we used to.


“When is Mom coming home tonight?” he asks, rooting through the pantry.


“I don’t know, champ.”


“She works too late,” he replies, his voice accusatory. I know it’s true – the Office of the Public Defender has a reputation for being an exhausting grind. I feel guilty and angry, and I bite my lip to keep from snapping at my son. He seems to want to push my buttons, and I’m at the end of my rope.


It’s been so damn hard to insulate them from this trial.


“Yeah, I know. I’ll get us dinner.”


Madison returns with her backpack and we head out into the rain, the front door locking behind us with an electronic beep. Raindrops slash down hard, almost like they are trying to cut. Fate’s judgment. We pile into the Ridgeline, which has been running rough recently, and I make for their schools.


Max gets dropped off first, his Educorp campus immaculate and impeccably well-staffed during drop-off and pick-up times. I squeak and squeal into the line of parents, my pickup’s brakes apparently needing some new pads. A polished Escalade hulks in front of me, raindrops beading on well-waxed body panels. The school’s administration hasn’t made any overtures about Max being better off elsewhere, but every day I nervously expect an Armani-wearing principal to flag me down and approach my vehicle with a guilty smile.


We think Max might be better suited at another campus, the principal would say once I had parked and gotten out of the car. Have you ever considered public school?


Because of the rain, the head principal and his phalanx of APs are safely ensconced in their offices. A few veteran teachers hang out under overhangs, avoiding waterspouts from the roof, while rookie teachers smile in raincoats and galoshes, assisting students and parents. Putting in their time, gonna rise up the ranks. The American dream.


The cars move up some more and I tell Max goodbye. He doesn’t wait for me to finish and instead bursts forth from the vehicle like a wild animal, eager to be away from me. I watch him bound toward the front doors, backpack jostling from side to side against his broad back. He makes it under the overhang with little water damage and darts inside, glass doors hissing open and shut around him.


“Why is Max so mad?” Madison asks from the back seat.


I tell her that he’s a teenager, and that’s just how teenager are. “Well, I’ll never be like that!” she insists, and I smile.


The drive to Madison’s school, a public school, takes a long time. The campuses kept by the ISD are on the outskirts of town, across the railroad tracks. Long ago, the city built campuses out there to try and stimulate some economic turnaround, but it never really worked. When I pull into this line of parents, my vehicle is actually one of the nicer models. An old minivan, its body panels somehow saggy, spurts exhaust in front of me.


“How do you like school?” I ask, hoping she still does. Madison says it’s okay, but that she misses her old school.


I am too afraid to press the issue, afraid that she will reveal that things are bad for her. Then my guilt will be overwhelming. I will cave. She undoes her seatbelt and grabs her things. I tell her I love her, and then she is running through the rain toward the front doors of the school, a lone teacher monitoring the scene.


She makes it inside and I hit the gas, heading for the courthouse.




“Educorp has a policy of adhering strictly to the laws, regulations, and policies concerning recruiting, hiring, promoting, demoting, and terminating personnel,” the lawyer says, holding up the latest version of the Educorp Employee Handbook. On a long evidence table are posters of various sections of the handbook, the letters blown up so that everyone can clearly read the sentences and paragraphs. On paper, Educorp is a model corporate citizen.


“This employer, which has a history of generosity and philanthropy, has broken no laws. The only laws that were broken were broken by the plaintiffs themselves, who are now trying to blame their generous employer for their own wrongdoing. Frankly, this is an affront to the principles of capitalism and private property rights. The entrepreneurs and employers graciously hire job-seekers, only to have those job-seekers turn around and blame them for their own shortcomings.”


This hits me like a sledgehammer.


A book is in his hands now, a leather-bound tome. It is a more deluxe version of the book the old Congressman gave me about the pillars of capitalism.


“Private enterprise. Competition. Private property. Profit motive. Consumer sovereignty.” He points fingers toward the sky, apparently pretending he is Adam Smith himself. “Educorp has helped return the United States of America to the economic ideals of its founders. The reckless attempt to blame it for the shortcomings of its employees is nothing less than the creeping fungus of socialism!”


The jury seems less bored, and a few even sit up straighter in their cushioned chairs.


The lacquered lawyer strides over to a table and grabs a poster made from the text of the employee handbook. “The first rule of Educorp is that no employee shall violate the rules and expectations codified in the employee handbook, and that any employee who is witnessed to be in violation of said rules and expectations be reported immediately to his or her supervisor.” The poster is shown around, and it is damning.


Of course it was in the handbook. I feel a flash of anger. Of course it was in the handbook!


Who reads the handbook? The reams of fine print don’t mean anything when your boss’s word is law. If you complain, they’ll find an excuse to let you go. ‘Not an optimal fit,’ they’ll say. I know this because I have done it before. Sometimes, teachers could be too idealistic for their own good.


I feel the jury and galley eating up the posters as he reads them one at a time, revealing how I violated company policy. The lawyers for Educorp had certainly written quite a literary noose for any wayward employees. I never thought I would be the one hanging from the gallows.




“Adam Smith and Tea Party Republicans would be proud of that last speech,” my attorney says, grinning charmingly. “Fortunately, we figured out that laissez-faire capitalism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” He begins holding up his own posters, which are emblazoned with passages of text from various anti-trust statutes.


“It didn’t take long for the public to realize that what corporations say and how they behave are not one and the same. The same entrepreneurs who gave speeches at philanthropic dinners on the merits of competition were trying to rig the game from behind the scenes.”


He holds up American Tobacco. He holds up Standard Oil. He holds up American Telephone & Telegraph Company. Then, he holds up Educorp.


“Educorp is one of a handful of other private education corporations that have proliferated since the Education Privatization Act of 2018: Intellicorp, HumanCapital, Neuron, MindWeb. Collectively, they control eighty-three percent of the K-12 education market and fifty-nine percent of the post-secondary market. I have no doubt that each of these oligopolists has an impeccably well-written employee handbook. I also have no doubt each of these oligopolists violates their own respective handbooks when they see fit.”


I am pleasantly surprised by my lawyer and his team – the Educorp team looks aghast and the jury seems somewhat interested!


My lawyer holds up employee handbooks from all of the aforementioned corporations and displays them to the jury. Their covers are impressive and glossy.


“You know, I did notice something, though. These manuals do an excellent job of outlining expectations when it comes to interactions with students and parents…but not much when it comes to interactions between administrators and executives. Aside from, you know, the stuff where it comes to hanky-panky.” A few chuckles spring forth, and Educorp’s chief counsel bellows various objections.


I smile when the judge overrules them, declaring that talking about the employee handbooks’ lack of executive expectations is fair game.


“If it’s part of your case, then make it,” the judge warns my lawyer, who responds soothingly and insists that all will be made plain.


It is suddenly lunchtime, and we are dismissed from the courtroom. The respondents leave first, with several Educorp executives surrounded by a legion of attorneys. Cameras click and flash, and a bailiff angry exhorts the crowd to clear the galley. Surrounded by my own attorneys, I try to avoid making eye contact with anyone.




“Consumer sovereignty. Competition.” My lawyer has eaten a hearty lunch and is back on the attack, hoping to make his opening day count. He and his team have evidently decided to take the fight to the opposing side’s statements.


“Educorp follows neither of these pillars of capitalism. They have created a false market.” One of the other attorneys wheels out a rolling white board, stationing it in front of the judge so that jury and galley can see it. With a flourish, my lawyer pulls out a dry erase marker and goes to work, drawing a horizontal line and a vertical line that meet and form a backwards ‘L.’ He proudly announces that this is a supply and demand graph, the basic illustrator of ‘classical economics.’


“The respondents would have you believe that everything is very simple, very cut-and-dried. The corporate officers in headquarters, good conservatives all, would have you believe that it’s all about basic supply and demand. That everything is proportional, that everything is adjustable. That for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Unfortunately, they know that’s all a lie. They know that our client had no choice but to follow orders.” He goes to the board and begins to draw lines and curves, masterfully recreating last night’s practice session.


“Supply and demand have been artificially altered to benefit Educorp and its fellow education providers. The government requires children to be in school, which artificially increases demand. The government also arbitrarily enforces regulations, creating insurmountable barriers to entry that restrict supply. Instead of competition and consumer sovereignty, Educorp has been granted guaranteed power and profit by the state and federal governments.”


My lawyer draws a second supply and demand graph and labels it labor market. “Not only are consumers being gouged on price, but employees of Educorp are being forced into indentured servitude.” He moves the supply curve inward and writes collusion and noncompete clauses off to the side.


“We will explain how Educorp illegally punishes teachers and administrators who attempt to leave and seek other employment within the education sector. Educorp has a track record of manipulating regulations and the market to inflate the available supply of its own potential labor while drastically cutting the supply of labor available to competitors.”


Too boring, we’re losing the jury a lawyer next to me writes on his legal pad.




The next day, we get a Midland University economist to testify.


Hank Hummel is sworn in and explains his background to the jury, courtesy of my lawyer’s skilled guidance. Hummel was a high school economics teacher for years before earning a Master’s of Science in Finance and Economics degree from West Texas A&M. Today, he teaches at the local U and has published two books on economics and government. His second book was about regulation capture and was reportedly well-received.


“Explain this theory, if you would please,” my lawyer says.


“Regulatory capture theory says that the government agencies which are supposed to regulate various industries end up, basically, being controlled by those industries,” Hummel replies.


“Is this happening in the education sector today?”


“It certainly is. When the government decided to privatize K-12 and post-secondary education, it established various guidelines in terms of academic rigor, finance, student services, and school infrastructure and safety. Very quickly, all of those guidelines were adjusted based on appeals and suggestions from the private sector education providers. Educorp being first and foremost among them.”


A murmur can be heard around the courtroom, and my heart soars.


“And you have written about this?”


“Yes, I have. Many articles, most of them editorial, but two were part of peer-reviewed studies. So far, to my knowledge, nobody has been able to successfully argue that regulatory capture is not occurring in most regulated industries.”


“How does this happen? Shouldn’t there be government safeguards to avoid conflicts of interest, fraternization, and the like?”


“There are safeguards, of course, but they are quickly overridden by powerful social forces. There is a lot of social clout wielded by industry leaders. Inevitably, interactions between regulators and industry leaders become less antagonistic and more informal over time. These individuals tend to have similar backgrounds and lifestyles, so there’s a lot of common ground.”


“Have you uncovered specific examples in your research?”


“Oh, yes. With some industries, the CEOs and regulatory heads practically graduated within the same Ivy League classes. There’s also a strong revolving door effect between industry and government, meaning that many regulators were once business executives themselves. Often, they end up regulating their friends. And when you add lobbyists into the mix, things can get quite chummy.”




“You do not have a doctorate degree, do you, Mr. Hummel?” Educorp’s lawyer asks immediately upon cross.


“No, I do not.”


“Then how are you an expert on the economic ramifications of Educorp and its competitors?” sneers the questioning attorney.


“I read a lot of stuff,” Hummel replies with a smirk, and wins a few laughs from the spectators. “Who’s your economist?”


The judge admonishes Hummel to only answer questions posed to him, but Educorp’s legal division looks upset. I immediately wonder if they do not have an economist as an expert witness. Suddenly, lawyers are on their feet and objecting and arguing. It has something to do with the definition of an objective witness, or maybe an expert witness. The judge appears bewildered and jurors are excited.


As I begin to develop a stress headache, the judge orders all the attorneys and Hank Hummel to his chambers. The jury is dismissed and led back to the jury room. Impassively, I sit at the table with a pair of nervous paralegals. Eventually, I start to doodle on my own legal pad. After a few minutes, the judge returns and announces that court with adjourn for the day and begin promptly at nine o’clock tomorrow morning.





The Witness




The opening arguments have been made, and we are now calling our witnesses. My attorneys had assembled a long list of current and former Educorp personnel, but have since pared the list. “We cannot bore the jury to death,” I am told. “We must make our case potent and crisp, with a snap. Everyone knows that Educorp is a big, bloated corporation run by greedy assholes. Most of our witnesses would just confirm that. We only need to present the ones who have evidence that Educorp broke the law.”


Numbly, I have nodded along during the strategy sessions. I have become a cog in this machine, and the lawyers are happily trucking along now that they are getting plenty of media attention. I do not know how much of my cause they believe in, but at least they are playing to win. I am at their mercy.


We sit around a conference table, devouring slices of pizza and guzzling Styrofoam cups of coffee. I am exhausted from the constant stress of sitting in court and being scrutinized by the media. They have invaded my privacy, my past. Every night, my wife and I debate whether or not to pull Max out of school.


When the trial gets vicious, things might get bad for him at his school. He’s a big kid, but I worry about older students bullying him. I worry about him being ostracized. I worry that teachers and administrators will make life hard for him. He should not have to pay for my sins. The guilt adds to my exhaustion, and I sit rumpled in an office chair.


I have stopped exercising, and fast food is taking a toll on my body. My skin is sallow and greasy, and the bags under my eyes are puffy and dark.


“We’re putting you on the stand,” my attorney says. “Hank Hummel did some damage, but he only set the stage. We need to prove wrongdoing.”


I ask when we will begin preparing for my testimony, and I am told that we must prepare immediately.


“But it’s late, and I need to get home. I’m barely seeing my family as it is,” I protest.


“Do you want to win this thing? We need to keep Educorp off balance. Every day that we fail to stick it to them is a day that they get ahead of us. Do you know how many lawyers they have? What you see in that courtroom is like a damned iceberg – there’s a shit ton more that you can’t see. They’re digging up dirt on you and trying to clean up their own.” Maybe it’s a gallon of caffeine at work, but I sense true zeal behind my lawyer’s voice. His breath is a strange combination of Domino’s and dolce latte.


Nodding, I pull out my phone and text my wife that I will be home late. She doesn’t respond.




The media circus has hit three rings by the time I am sworn in. My background is explained in a narrative, much like the time those months ago when I first consulted with a hotshot West Texas lawyer. I tell the jury how I grew up a child of means and privilege, and then went off to an Ivy League university. Was my path in life eased by my highly accomplished father? I have no doubt that it was.


Was it unfair? Yes, but I did not give it much thought at the time. Who does?


“Did you ever feel bad that you worked exclusively in the industries that siphoned the most profits from taxpayer dollars and consumers who had no choice but to purchase your services?” my lawyer asks. He had told me that he would be throwing me some painful zingers, and he needed my emotion and remorse to be real. The question hurts, because I have thought about it before.


“Yes, I felt bad.”


“Then why did you choose to work in those industries? Why not do something else?”


“I needed to work and they were hiring. Or, well, I had connections who could get me in. If I didn’t take the job, someone else would.”


“In these jobs, did you ever violate the employee handbook?”

Sighing, I admitted that I had. I had done the whole smorgasbord: Sex with a coworker, a fellow college grad a mere six months into our first full-time job, plenty of surfing forbidden websites, stealing office supplies. Maybe I left at four forty-five instead of five o’clock several times. I’d done my share of belittling fellow coworkers, and maybe even a bit of drinking on the job when it involved scotch with the boss. Had I always responded ‘promptly’ to work emails? No.


Thankfully, my lawyer allows me to give generalized answers.


“Let’s talk real. What was the expectation about following the rules? No bullshit.” My lawyer is quickly admonished by the judge for the language and told to keep it clean.


“The expectation was to get your work done, don’t embarrass the company, and keep good relationships with your colleagues. Keep things afloat and moving forward, I guess. Get along.”


“What would happen to someone who did follow all the rules?” My lawyer produces the employee handbooks from my prior places of work: Armor, Inc. and HealthGuard. “For example, the rules about…” He proceeds to read.


It is a masterful tactic, and before long jurors and reporters are rolling their eyes about some of the sillier employee expectations put forth by Armor, Inc. and HealthGuard.


“I suppose you would be a social outcast and annoy your supervisor to the point of termination,” I respond.


“So, in your experience as an administrator and executive, what are the rules for? I mean, if good employees aren’t supposed to follow all of these rules, why have them?”


Jackpot! I felt a moment of elation and relief.


“The rules give the company a way to fire employees they don’t like. If nobody can follow all the rules, you can easily find ‘cause’ to fire anyone.” I used air quotes.


“And how do you know this?”


“I saw it done.”


“No further questions, your honor.” My lawyer smiles and returns to his seat. I am sweating now, fidgeting. It is time for the cross.




“I will pick up where your own counsel left off, if that’s all right,” says Educorp’s chief legal beagle. I nod, knowing I cannot protest.


“Do you know that employees can easily be fired for cause by not following all the rules…because you fired them?”


I knew he would ask this, for it was part of last night’s prep. Still, I feel like the wind has been knocked out of me.


“Yes,” I reply.


“How many employees, at Educorp or previously, with HealthGuard or, going further back, Armor, Inc., did you terminate?”


“I don’t know the number, sir.”


“Our records indicate fourteen, over the past thirteen years. Would you say that that is an accurate assessment?”


“It sounds accurate.” I know better than to argue, for Educorp has undoubtedly tracked down and interviewed every single one. I’m sure they would all love to be witnesses for the defense.


“Who was responsible for terminating the employment of these individuals?”


“I suppose it was me.”


“Was the name of any other administrator or executive on the final documents terminating the employment of those fourteen men and women?”


I thought about it. “No, sir.”


“Did you receive any written documentation from your supervisors ordering you to fire those individuals?”


I do like how he sticks to objective, written documentation. Smooth move, schmuck.


“Nothing written. Corporate liked to keep its nose clean,” I say. I expect an admonition or witty rejoinder, but the highly-paid lawyer only smirks.


“Did anyone other than you sign the documents for the HR department indicating that the individual’s employment was terminated?” the lawyer asks again.






The editorial is brutal and analogizes me as a Nazi at Nuremberg, whining that I “was only following orders.” Only, in this case, the conservative pundit says, there were no such orders. I was acting of my own free will.


“That is what we hire executives to do – to execute. To do. To lead. For an executive to turn around and sue his employer for his own executive actions is beyond hypocrisy,” the pundit has written. I am beyond the point of being angry, and am merely numb. I have spent countless hours reading the editorials each day, both liberal and conservative. By now, every major media outlet has begun reporting on my trial.


I am the talk of the town, and there is no love lost. Most of the literati around here are devout Republicans, and my legal team’s tactic of refuting the merits of laissez-faire capitalism has made me persona non grata. I know that I should stop reading the articles, but I can’t. I hear Max coming down the hallway and set my tablet back on the end table.


“Hey, son,” I say, my voice artificially chipper.


His face looks pained, and he finally tells me that people at school have been harassing him. Other students, mostly, but a few teachers have also made snide comments. Max may not be heading for valedictorian or salutatorian, but he certainly knows when the anti-socialist talk is aimed at his father. I curse myself for allowing it to get to this point.


“Do you want to take some time away from school? It’s almost Thanksgiving break, after all.”


“No, Dad. It’s no big deal.” Despite the hell he’s going through, and how angry he has been at me, he still doesn’t want to disappoint me. It both breaks and heals my heart.


“Are you sure? Your mother and I have been talking, and-”


The alarm on my phone chimes, reminding me that it’s time to get Max and Madison ready to head out the door to school. I heave myself off the couch and walk to the foyer closet, where my suit jacket is waiting. My phone chimes again, and I think I’ve forgotten to turn off the alarm.


It turns out to be a text from my lawyer.


A settlement offer from Educorp has arrived.




The morning is chilly, but my blood is hot. I race the Honda Ridgeline through town as fast as I dare, needing to drop my kids off at school and buy some precious time before court. I need to think. At a red light, the engine sputters and I quickly seize my phone from the center console and call my lawyer.


“What’s the offer?” I ask, excitement causing acid to rise up in my esophagus. It burns.


“They will hire you back on, with full benefits, as a curriculum researcher,” my lawyer responds. His voice sounds dejected.


“Researcher? What does that mean?” I am immediately suspicious. The light turns green and I accelerate, keeping my speed slower than before. I need time to think.


“You work from home or in the local office, keeping a low profile. Your salary will be the same as at your previous position as head principal.”


“Huh. When do you need an answer?” He tells me that Educorp wants an answer by the start of court, which is in fifty-one minutes.


“Fuck. I’ll get back to you,” I say. I toss the phone back onto the console and look at Max, who is sitting next to me in the passenger seat.


“Did they offer you a deal?” my son asks, his eyes wide.


“Yes. I get my old pay back, but I keep a low profile as some sort of researcher. Work from home, maybe.”


Max asks if I will take the deal, and I tell him that I don’t know.




“Take the deal,” my wife says. “Do you even have to think about it?”


I can only stutter and stammer, the words not wanting to come. Intellectually, I know that the deal is a no-brainer. It returns to my family the income I had lost and plugs me back into the world of the employed, the world of stability and respectability. My wife could quit her stressful job as a public defender and I could get Madison back into a decent school. We could get Max back on the road toward getting an athletic scholarship. With time, my HumCap share price would recover and we could even get Max back on HGH.


The last several months would be a bad dream, nothing more.


“Well, are you going to call him?” She means my lawyer. “Tell him you’ll take the deal!”


“Let me see if they’ll take Madison back at her old school,” I finally say. I don’t know why I say this, but it buys me time. I have just dropped Madison off at the public school and am parked against the curb on a residential street, surrounded by ramshackle houses. A dog with no collar wanders in front of me on the deserted road. I look through chain-link fences at backyards full of broken lawnmowers and car parts.


This is how the poor live, and I wonder what led them to this sad state of affairs.


I call my lawyer and ask if the deal with Educorp includes Madison going back to her old school. He sighs and says he’ll check. Obviously, he wanted a straight “yes” or “no.”


Not knowing what the answer will be, I start driving again, heading toward the courthouse. I make it back to the highway before my lawyer calls me back and tells me that Educorp will not be able to re-enroll Madison until next year. “They say it’s rules and regulations,” my lawyer says.


“I don’t accept the deal,” I reply. “I’m on my way to the courthouse.”




My wife will probably be sleeping in the guest room tonight. I try to tell her that this isn’t about the money, that it is about the principle. Punny, I know – principle instead of principal.


“They won’t play by the rules. They don’t have to. They’re just buying me off for a pittance, and just for today. Who says they won’t fire me next year, or the year after? Who says they won’t kick Max out of his school, just because?” I ask while she sits in silence.


“Who says they won’t kick Max out of his school anyway, because you won’t take the fucking goddamn deal?!” she explodes.


I know she is right. Why not take the deal for today, and not worry about tomorrow? Tomorrow they can just do what they want anyway, so might as well not fight it.


Valiantly, I try to explain my mental calculus. I tell her that accepting the deal sets a precedent, something they could throw in my face if I ever tried to file suit against them again. “If I settle, and then they expel Max, I can’t go back.” We argue about nondisclosure agreements and the language of any deal. We argue whether or not it will doom the other plaintiffs.


My wife, who has always been the bleeding heart liberal of our union, tells me that she doesn’t care about the other plaintiffs. “You need to think about your family!” she screams.


I try to say something to make her less angry, but I cannot.


She storms out of our bedroom in tears. With dismay, I see that Madison sees this. I see both Madison and Max watch their mother grabbing pillows and blankets and carrying them into the small guest room. Desperately, I want to call my lawyer and beg him to appeal to Educorp. “Tell them I accept the deal!” I want to yell.


For some reason, I can’t bring myself to do it. I can’t do anything. The trial will go on tomorrow, and my marriage will likely crumble. Is it because I care about the other plaintiffs? Is it because I want what’s right for Madison? Why don’t I just take the deal?


I feel emotions I’ve never felt before. I take several sleeping pills and a bottle of wine into the bedroom with me, hoping to numb myself to sleep.






The Judged




“My client is no saint. He is the child of privilege, and grew comfortable playing the system. He worked in the most controversial industries, where profits came easy and the public had no choice but to fund them. Perhaps he was callous and lacked compassion when he terminated the employment of fourteen workers.


But Educorp broke the law. It has broken the law for years. It broke the law when it hastily removed my client from his position without just cause. It broke the law when it removed his daughter from her Educorp campus without just cause or offer of an appeal. Most of its lawbreaking has gone unnoticed because its clients, if you will, lack the means to seek justice. Most of its lawbreaking has gone unnoticed because government regulators are in cahoots with it, consciously or not.


As an attorney, I have drained my firm’s entire savings account in order to hire enough help to deal with Educorp’s vast legal division. I could go into dollars and cents, but I know that everyone in this courtroom can see that this is a case of David versus a designer-suited Goliath.”


A few laughs from the galley.


“Educorp knew what it was doing. They held all the cards. They had the lobbyists, the lawyers, and the remnants of the public schools as a coward’s pressure-release valve. So much for competition and consumer sovereignty!


All the documents we have sought from Educorp and any of its campuses have mysteriously disappeared. All the personnel we have subpoenaed and deposed have testified under the greatest reluctance, and with almost certain perjury -”


Opposing counsel is yelling objections. The judge shushes him and snaps at my lawyer to watch it.


“But exhibits C, F, M, and T are irrefutable evidence of Educorp’s fraud and abusive employment practices. Corporate followed none of its own public documents regarding employee demotion or termination, nor did it provide my client with a required right to appeal, or even due process. The exact same situation occurred with the other complainants attached to this case. Since the beginning of the trial, I have been contacted by local counsel for at least another dozen -”


More objections, and the judge sustains. My lawyer apologizes and continues.


“With the evidence we have presented, and which everyone knows in their hearts to be absolute proof of Educorp’s fraud and deception, we rest.”




It is Educorp’s ballgame, and their strategy appears to be to muddy the waters rather than present contradicting evidence.


They criticize my lawyer’s arguments as nonsense. However, instead of presenting anything to contradict them, they bring in scores of people to testify against me, personally. Former teachers and support staff are sworn in and tell the jury that I was a schmuck, a sleaze, a corporate stooge, and a passive-aggressive tyrant. These witnesses lay the blame for the demotions and terminations I meted out as head principal squarely on my shoulders alone.


“Do you believe that he was acting on orders from above, or in his own capacity?” Educorp’s lawyer asks with a smile. They all say I acted in my own capacity.


Well, they say they believe that I acted in my own capacity. Nothing definitive, nothing objective, but it makes me look bad as hell.


To his credit, my lawyer objects aggressively, insisting that the opinions of disgruntled former employees constitutes no evidence. “How poignant!” snaps Educorp’s chief counsel, glaring at me. “Isn’t that what we’re here about?” I feel punched in the stomach.


The exchange gets all lawyers leaping to their feet, and we almost have a bench-clearing brawl right there in the courtroom. “Everyone to chambers!” the judge howls after trying to shush the bickering attorneys.


With the lawyers squeezing into the judge’s office, I remain in the spotlight. Reporters watch me like a hawk. There I sit, the disgruntled former employee of Educorp, reaping from my own former teachers what I had sown. Nobody will sympathize. I don’t sympathize.


My wife has taken Max and Madison out of school for an early Thanksgiving break, taking them back east to visit her parents. She is not responding to my texts.


At this point, I do not care if I win or lose. I am lost.




“Let’s go over the day of the incident,” Educorp’s lawyer says as I slump, exhausted, on the witness stand. “I have your sworn statement right here.”


We talk about the fateful day I had summoned an insurance executive and his wife to the school to bilk them of more money.


“What was the reason you told them as to why they had to pay more money?”


“I told them that their son’s learning disabilities were pre-existing conditions, which meant they were not covered by their education insurance.”


“I see. Do you recall who sold them on that education insurance?”


“Well, I did. Before the student’s freshman year.”


“At the time, did the parents disclose the student’s learning disabilities?”


“Yes, they did. Well, sort of. It’s hard to remember.”


“And, at the time, did you approve their coverage?”


“Yes, I did.”


The jury absorbs my treachery with silence, as does the galley. I am a complete asshole. Unfortunately, I cannot leap to my feet and point out that the family was quite wealthy and that the student in question would undoubtedly go on to a comfortable career with his father’s connections.


“Ah. And, whose signature would be on both the education insurance contract and the itemized bill you later submitted to the parents in question?”


“Mine,” I sigh. By now, I have admitted to scores of signatures, all of them harmful.


He doesn’t ask me why I did what I did. He won’t give me an opening.




“When Educorp replaced you with Mr. John Gunderson, did you file an appeal?”


“No, I did not.”


“Why not?”


“They certainly did not offer, like they were supposed to. And anyway, it would have been futile to appeal. Given the severity of the incident, and the likelihood of bad press, I was simply grateful that Educorp gave me an opportunity to remain on the payroll and keep my health insurance.”


“Do you realize that employees are required to follow proper grievance procedures through Educorp’s human resources department before seeking legal recourse?”


“Yes. I also realized that such a path was futile as well, and even harmful should I undertake it.”


“And why is that, if I may ask?”


“Intra-company appeals? Arbitration? Anyone who has worked in a large corporation knows that those processes are rigged in favor of management. I knew, without a doubt, that I would lose any appeal or arbitration. Then, they could hit me up for legal fees for the whole process.”


The lawyer is trying to make me look bad, but I feel hopeful: The arbitration argument is fraught with peril. Educorp has tried to get my lawsuit thrown out, but has been overruled. It did not taken my lawyer long to discover that two “independent arbitrators” working for Educorp had developed personal relationships with high-ranking executives. One “independent arbitrator” had even worked in the law firm owned by the brother of Educorp’s CEO.


“You knew the rules, but you chose not to follow them. Is that right?”


“If you say so,” I reply coolly. The lawyer gets in a few more shots, and then releases me from the clutches of the witness stand.




I drink alone in the house, its emptiness allowing me the comfort of drunkenness. The press has been relentless, my family has left me, and everything seems bleak. Days ago, I felt like a crusader, a righteous knight. Instead of opposing me nobly, with its own lance and armor, Educorp has just thrown endless mud in my path. I am not struck down, but stuck down. Mired in muck.


My downfall has been so swift, my fight for justice so long and slow. Laying on my couch with a beer, more warm than cold, I curse myself for not taking the deal they offered.


Underneath the couch cushions, something buzzes. A phone. But whose? I reach down into the crumbs and wrappers of couch litter and fish around for something electronica. I feel a phone and pull it out. It’s the one my old acquaintance at Educorp gave me, before the trial began.


I hadn’t heard from him, and had evidently forgotten the phone. He has only sent me one text, just now. I’m surprised the thing still has battery.


I read the text and my breath catches as I see that he’s overheard some office gossip. Educorp executives are talking about changing their policies, a real public relations blitz, and they are willing to pay me off to end the trial and keep me quiet. Apparently, Educorp’s stock has been a bear recently.


I heard 3 million, full nondisclosure. U take the $ and stay quiet. Corporate may throw in another mil if you move somewhere quiet, where media wont know u.


My only reply is thanks. I don’t know what else to say. After all, it’s just a rumor.


I grab my tablet and check Educorp’s stock, which still makes up the bulk of my portfolio. Sure enough, it’s way down. What a way to add insult to injury – the better I do, the worse my portfolio does. “Reason four hundred why you don’t sue your corporate employer,” I slur to myself. Well, I guess it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have stock options. I check my HumCap profile and see that I’m still deep in junk status.


Suddenly, there is a buy. The notification flashes briefly onscreen, one hundred shares, and my share price goes up a dime. As I try to absorb this, there is a second buy, and my share price rises by another nickel.




The man who kicked me in the face with his heavy shoe is now sitting in the witness box. As their final witness, the motherfuckers from Educorp have the audacity to bring in the man who ruined my life. He seems nervous and is noticeably thinner than when we brawled back in the spring. “Please state your name,” Educorp’s legal mercenary says with a shark’s soothing.


“John Bush,” the man replies. I had almost forgotten his name. It’s an unremarkable name. I sit in my chair and clench and unclench my fists. John Bush walks us through his background. He has worked for GreenShield, Inc., the health insurance conglomerate, for most of his career. His title is gobbledygook, and he describes his position as something of an actuary. He is forty-nine years old.


“Tell us about your son, the one who attended the complainant’s school.”


“My son’s name is Tommy. He’s a great kid, loves sports. Wants to be a lawyer, actually.”


“What about his performance in school?”


“Well, we noticed in elementary school that he was having some trouble reading. We eventually had him tested, and found out that he had ADHD and some personality issues. We got him some prescriptions, got some counseling, and things improved during junior high. Then we got to the high school, and we bought the top level of education insurance. Full coverage, everything. It allowed us to get tutors, tutorials, custom lessons.”


“And then what happened?” The lawyer is practically gleeful.


“I got a call from the school one day. They said we had to pay for all the tutorials and extra services we used. Obviously, my wife and I wanted to know why. We went down there for a meeting, and the head principal and a number of assistant principals were there. I had done everything I was supposed to do, and I was being told that they were considering my son’s ADHD and other issues to be ‘pre-existing conditions.’ I just lost it.”


Everything is silent. I look closer and I can see tears running down Bush’s cheeks.


“So then what happened?”


“I attacked him, I guess. I don’t know what came over me. I’m not a violent person.”


“What were you feeling?”


My lawyer objects, and the judge sustains, but suddenly Bush stands up in the jury box. “I demand to speak!” he yells, like a Southern preacher. It is bizarre. Unexpected.


“Mr. Bush, please sit down,” the judge admonishes, looking surprised.


“No! You want to know how I felt?! I felt betrayed! I felt kicked in the stomach! Kicked when I was down! It was fucking wrong and I knew it!”


“Mr. Bush!” yells the judge. The galley is getting excited, as is the jury.


“I wanted to fucking kill him for what he was doing!” Bush points right at me, and my eyes widen. Fortunately, I don’t gasp.


“Mr. Bush, that is enough!” roars the judge, his own eyes wide with confusion. I could tell that nobody knew what to do. I look around for the bailiff, who is an old sheriff’s deputy with Elvis Presley sideburns. Will he tase him, bro?


“I knew it was wrong because we do the same thing at GreenShield! Exact goddamn thing! We run the same plays, how about that?” he laughs crazily. Collapsing back into his chair, he begins sobbing. Everyone is still and silent.


“I did the exact same thing my whole career! I deserve it! Fate or karma, I deserve it!” Shock overwhelms the courtroom. The witness is confessing his own crimes, and this definitely wasn’t part of any legal team’s preparation. Awkwardly, Educorp’s lawyer approaches the witness stand, trying to rein in his irate and blubbering witness.


“Fuck you!” Bush wails as the attorney gets close. “Fuck Educorp! I know corporate told their principals what to do, and so does everyone else! That’s how the whole thing works!”


“Mr. Bush, I know you’re upset,” the lawyer soothes, his well-lacquered veneer finally cracking. Harvard Law didn’t prepare him for this, I think.


“My wife and I are getting a divorce! My career is shit!” Bush hisses, rising to his feet again. He begins twisting and glaring, challenging everyone. He points at me again. “We’re both getting fucked by the big corporations! They tried to buy our silence! Play nice and keep your head down and it all goes away?! Well, not this time!”


Suddenly, Bush lunges out of the witness box and bounds toward the galley. He rushes toward a well-dressed man in the first row. “I want a word with you, asshole!” he yells at the gentleman, who appears to be about sixty years old. The man does not shrink back in fear, but seems surprised. Fortunately, he is behind Educorp’s massive bench of lawyers. Amazingly, Bush plunges into their midst, determined to get into the suited man’s face.


Instantly, tense awkwardness turns into pandemonium. The bailiff and a second deputy rush in to restrain Mr. Bush, who grabs two lawyers by their expensive blazers. “It’s my right to talk!” Bush hollers. He manages to spin around and grab the fancy man he seeks, his hands on the man’s lapels. The man tries to break free, and everyone is yelling.


“Be cool!” one of my many lawyers hisses to me. My bench remains still and silent. I look at the judge and he is yelling into a handheld radio, presumably for more deputies. Sure enough, within seconds more deputies are rushing in from next to the jury box. The jury is stunned into frozen silence, with mouths agape.


Bush is taken down and dragged out of the courtroom through the door by the jury box, now crying softly instead of yelling.


I need to pee and lawyers are now shouting at the judge and each other. I hear the word mistrial.




“He has prejudiced the jury!” snaps Educorp’s legal beagle. “And nothing he said constitutes evidence!”


“Well, he was your witness!” retorts my lawyer. I stand silently in the middle of a formally-dressed scrum, not knowing what to hope for. The judge is behind his desk, and appears out of his element.


“The shit’s going viral,” a lawyer says from behind me, evidently looking at his phone. I do not know if he is one of my lawyers or one of Educorp’s. Frankly, a lot of them look pretty much the same.


Calmly, the judge looks up from his hands and tells all the lawyers to shut up. He tells me to go home and wait to hear from my attorney. Apparently, there is a lot of stuff to sort out, and it will take hours. I nod silently and a deputy is summoned to escort me to my vehicle.











The Unknown




It is four thirty-six when I hear from my lawyer that the judge has declared a mistrial. Apparently, Bush’s outburst went viral and prompted a media storm that affected the jury. Somehow, someone discovered personal information about multiple jurors and people began sending messages, pleas, and threats to the jurors’ friends and relatives. “We’ve got left-wing and right-wing nuts threatening all sorts of shit depending on how the jury rules,” my lawyer tells me. “The judge has no choice but to end the trial.”


I wonder if Educorp is behind this. After Bush’s outburst, fearing a verdict in my favor, would they use their immense wealth and contacts to cook up some jury tampering? Probably. Hell, since a third of the nation’s kids go to Educorp schools, they can look up info on just about anyone. Better than the NSA, even.


By six-thirty, I’m well on my way to getting good and drunk. I have not heard from my wife, though she has undoubtedly seen the news. Every major network is going full-blast about the mistrial and what it means for everyone. Pundits are talking about education, children, and teachers. Nobody is talking about me, and it hurts.


My phone buzzes and I discover that I have received another email from a well-wisher, a former colleague. In defeat, everyone hopes I am well. None of them, of course, are offering jobs. And why would they? I lost. Not only am I blacklisted, but I’m a loser. Literally.


A voicemail comes in, and I listen as my lawyer talks about filing appeals, seeking a change of venue, et cetera. In my soused state, I cannot bother paying attention. I know that we will not win. Educorp was Goliath, and I was no David. I was nothing but Goliath’s unwanted henchman.


The last of my warming margarita goes down my gullet and I begin wandering around my cluttered home, which has not been cleaned since my wife left. Almost laid low by daily stress, from both the trial and my likely divorce, I have not been motivated to use the vacuum cleaner or a dustcloth. The lawn looks hideous. Fortunately, due to daylight savings time, I don’t have to see it much.


I spy the last of the tequila and margarita mix on the kitchen counter and concoct another drink. Since I don’t have work to go to tomorrow, why not? The drink is lukewarm, but that’s fine with me. After several slugs, more things are fine with me.


The buzz helps make everything okay. Helps you give in.


Don’t give in. Fight it.


Returning to the couch, I grab my tablet and begin looking for job openings. Time to get back to it. I sued and I lost. Gotta get a job. I see my Human Capital profile tab and ignore it, not wanting to see that my share price is worthless. I go to job search engines and begin seeing what’s out there. As long as I’m tipsy, things seem to be looking up. With one hand I hold the tablet, and with another I hold my margarita. Good times.


I search for education and Midland. Angrily, I let out a “blurgh” as I see that Educorp dominates the market. A few positions are open at the public schools, but I ignore them. I type in education administration and Midland and try my luck, hoping for something at the local university, maybe.


Someone is looking for an applicant with education and education administration experience, and I impulsively thumb the button to give the job-poster a call.




I tell the man on the phone who I am and he is silent for a second. “Really? Or is this a joke?” he says after a few seconds.


“It’s really me,” I say, not knowing how else to respond.


“If that’s true, then we would love to talk to you,” he says, his voice eager. “Anytime you can meet is fine for us. We would love to talk.”


“Not like I have anything else going on right now,” I laugh. I ask if I can meet him. I don’t know who he is, but I don’t really care. A job is a job, especially in my state. He begins telling me an address. I recognize it as a big building downtown.


“We’re on the first floor, northeast corner.” I tell him that I’ll find him. Embarrassed, I ask what name I should be looking for on the door. He tells me that it says Progressive Party on the door and that it’s just to the left of the Democratic Party offices.


“We’re across the street from the Republican Party offices, so you can’t miss us. They’ve got the big red elephant stickers on everything.”


Progressive Party? What the hell? Politely, I thank him and end the call. I pound the rest of the margarita and decide that it’s a good night to catch an early bedtime. I am undoing my belt when I decide that I’ve got nothing to lose. I re-buckle my belt and summon an Uber to my address. The app announces that a white Ford Explorer will be at my door in minutes.


What the hell am I doing?




There is a poster of an old guy with wild, wispy white hair on the wall and I stare at it. The guy is familiar, but I cannot place his name.


“That’s Bernie Sanders,” the young guy tells me, noticing my stare. “He ran for president, remember?” I shouldn’t have had that last margarita, because I can barely respond. But maybe being drunk was the only way to get myself here. If the young guy notices my intoxication, he is too couth to say anything. I am, after all, a celebrity now.


Well, if I am the victim of a monopoly giant, I guess I’m in the right place.


“I remember Bernie Sanders,” I say, trying not to slur. I look around the rest of the office and wonder why I have not heard of the Progressive Party before. Given the dilapidated furniture and obviously donated office equipment, I understand why it has not become a household name out here. Across the street, the Republican Party offices are elaborately decorated and have a fleet of new SUVs parked out front. Posters of president Trump adorn the lampposts.


A door to an inner office opens and a guy in his fifties welcomes me with open arms. He is big and jovial and, in my inebriation, I feel an instant friendship. Hell, anyone can be my friend tonight. Christ knows I need ‘em!


“I’m Jim Turner, the local party chief,” he announces, striding across the tiny lobby. He gives me a hearty shake and I try to smile. “I’m glad to have heard from you. We love anyone who can talk education policy with us.” He does not mention the trial, but I know he is going to. I wonder what he’ll say.


“Would you like to step into my office?” he asks, and I join him in a room that looks more like a graduate assistant’s office at a land-grant U than the office of a savvy professional. He offers me a seat in a donated office chair, and I wince when it squeals alarmingly at my weight. To be fair, I have gained more than a few pounds. My pants are tight around my waist, my love handles squeezed by waistband and belt alike.


“I’ll be frank,” Jim says, launching in. “You got a raw deal with that trial. We’ve been watching it on the news every day.” I look around for a television and Jim chuckles. He holds up his phone. “I know, I know. We’re a bare bones operation. No TV yet, but my phone gets six bars.” I smile politely.


“You’ve got an impressive resume, and we would love to have you on our team.”


A job offer? I can practically hear the angels singing, even with all the margaritas in my system.


“We can’t pay much, but we are proud to offer health insurance,” he says. There is a simple pride in his voice, and I dig it. “We take care of our own. Do you know much about us?”


I shake my head and tell him that I’ve been very busy recently. I’m sure he knows that this is a lie, shit everyone says, but he nods as if it is all understandable.


“We formed in 2016, when the Dems went with Hillary Clinton instead of Bernie Sanders. The Republicans went with Trump, which is still a shock.” As he talks, I begin pulling bits and pieces of headlines and video clips from my memory banks. My mind fights off the alcohol as it tries to remember the presidential election, and the cold of the room helps me sober up.


“Yeah, that was a shock,” I agree. Jim claps his hands together and smiles. “I fought like hell for Bernie. I wrote editorials, put out signs, even went door to door. But, in the end, big money won. The Dems nominated Hillary and the Republicans ate her alive that fall. She was a flip-flopper, too many scandals, and all that jazz.”


This being Texas, I clearly recall there being no love lost for the Clintons. I nod along with Jim’s story, remembering the GOP ads from that September and October. The ad about flip-flops was funny. There was a woman trying to compete in one of those “tough mudder” contests in a pair of flip-flops, and failing miserably. Thorns in her feet, she sat down in tears. “America doesn’t need a flip-flopper” was the narration, or something like that. Then it showed a man in some trail runners and said that Trump was solid, unafraid of the mud, or something to that effect.


I did not vote that November. I think my wife did, but I can’t be sure.


“Yeah, I was no fan of Hillary,” I mutter.


“I’m guessing you’re a Republican?” Jim asks, and I shrug. “Usually,” I admit. Suddenly, I have to use the restroom. I ask where it is, and he tells me that it’s down the hall and to the left. I stand up, and suddenly I feel faint. My vision trebles and fades.


“Whoa,” I say, and I feel my foot slip on the linoleum floor. Before Jim can react, I am falling. I feel my head strike the linoleum, and it does not hurt as much as I would expect. “I’m okay,” I say, trying to laugh. Then




He is old but strong, with a sort of urgency keeping him keyed up. I am on a couch, an old one with lots of battered leather. The thing is enormous and overstuffed. Little bits of fluff and thread tuft out here and there.


“Would you like me to call an ambulance?” the man asks. He looks closely at me, trying to ascertain if I am okay.


My head hurts, bad, but I tell him that I don’t want to go to a hospital.


“You lost consciousness, so you better go to a doctor to get that checked out,” the old guy says. I nod and promise that I will. Tomorrow.


“I hear you’re our new education guy,” he tells me, and holds out a hand. We shake hands and his grip is firm.


“I don’t know if I got offered a job or anything,” I say sheepishly.


“No need. You’re in.” He winks at me. “You’ve been in the belly of the beast, son. We need you. America needs you. They need to hear you.”


“Nobody wants to hear from me,” I say, and I feel small. I want to stay on this couch forever, its bulk providing me a defense against the rest of the world.


“You have something to say. The Progressive Party wants to help you say it. A great injustice happened, but you were damn brave it that courtroom. You stood up for yourself, and you stood up for what was right. You fought back, and people need to see that.”


“Thanks,” I mutter. Then the old guy suggests that we take a walk. I don’t know what time it is, but I don’t have anywhere else to be.




Downtown is empty, but the lights are bright. It is cold and I wish I had another drink, something warming like rum.


“I’ve never been to this city before, but the trial brought me here,” the old guy says, starting to walk. “Let’s go get a coffee.”


“Sure,” I agree. Coffee sounds great, even if it’s with a stranger. We begin walking in the direction he points. I don’t know if there’s a coffee shop that way, but I feel like I can trust the guy.


“I want America’s public schools back. You okay with that?” I am surprised and pleased by his forthrightness. For all he knows, I still support privatization. Maybe my beef was just with Educorp for screwing me, not the whole system. But I do want the public schools back, the way they used to be.


“Yeah. I am.” I realize that he knew my answer all along, because he knew that I had kids.


“You have kids. I read all about it, and about you. Unbridled capitalism’s great, unless you’ve got kids. Or until you grow old. Or get sick. How old is your daughter?”


I tell him, and tears spring to my eyes. “It’s all falling apart,” I say, still walking. I sniffle a little, and I am embarrassed to show emotion in front of another man. He puts a hand on my shoulder, and it helps me feel stronger.


“I’ve been around a lot of years. I think you’ll pull through. I can tell. I’ve seen tough odds, and I know what it takes to beat ‘em. In court you were a fighter.”


“Not good enough,” I sniffle.


“Hey, you don’t always win the first time. It took me forever to win my first election. They called me crazy, and worse. But life is long and you learn some tricks. You’re still pretty young, especially in today’s day and age. Your future is what you make it, and I hope you’ll stick with us.”


“I don’t know anything about the Progressive Party,” I protest.


“We’re trying to make things fair,” he replies simply. “And it takes a fight. The system is rigged, and it’s rigged hard. It’s rigged to get the most money out of consumers, and give back as little as possible. Things didn’t always used to be that way, in the decades after World War II, and we’re trying to get back to that.”


I walk silently, thinking jumbled thoughts. Up ahead, there is a homeless man wrapped in a sleeping bag, propped against a Dumpster.


As the old guy and I approach, I realize that I know the homeless man. It’s Panamus, the substitute teacher. I let him go. I fired him. At the foot of the man’s sleeping bag is a cardboard sign, pleading for help. The man’s eyes are blank, past the point of shame. He does not care that we see him in this condition.


I feel ashamed.


“Any spare change?” he asks us gently, his voice humble. The old man smiles and hands him some money. He invites him to come with us to get coffee. I am beyond embarrassed, and I hope that Panamus does not recognize me.


“I’m sorry about the trial,” the homeless man says, revealing that he does know who I am. I begin to weep, and the old man puts an arm around me. He helps Panamus to his feet, and the man climbs, fully clothed, out of his sleeping bag.


“Let’s get coffee,” he says, and guides us along.




Panamus tells me his story over a tall cappuccino, and I suppose it is unremarkable in its tragedy. His descent was fast, but predictable. He couldn’t make enough money from the apps to keep his apartment, and then he got sick. With no health insurance, he lost his car when the hospital took it for payment of his bill. Nowadays, he picks up odd jobs when he can on Workflow, JobFill, and Bids.


“I find enough outlets to keep my phone charged,” he says.


“I’m so sorry,” I say again and again, but Panamus tells me that it was the system and not me. “We were all caught in it,” he says. “You did what you had to do. I don’t blame you, man. I would have done the same thing in your place. I was mad at your for a long time, but at some point I realized that you had your own boss to make happy.”


The old man has gone to get his car from the Progressive Party office and bring it back to us, since I took an Uber here and he wants to put Panamus up in a hotel.


A gentle squeak of brakes out front signals that the old man has arrived, and we look through the coffee shop windows to see a black sedan on the other side of the glass. The license plate is from Vermont. The driver’s door opens and the old guy bounds out, surprisingly spry. He enters the coffee shop and calls out for a large coffee, black.


“Can you two guys help out tomorrow?” he asks, sitting down at our table. “I want to strike while the iron is hot. We’re gonna take the fight to Educorp.”


“Aren’t you retired?” Panamus asks the old man. “I mean, you’ve left the Senate…”


“When the right opportunity presents itself, nobody stays retired,” the former Senator replies. His voice is firm, his eyes twinkling.





The Progressive




I am standing at a podium in front of the old county courthouse, the former Senator to my right and James Panamus to my left. Panamus has been restored to health and vitality by a few nights in a hotel and a much-needed haircut. Though both of us are bankrupt, we have been hired on as professional staffers of the fledgling Progressive Party of America, with offices in forty-seven cities across the United States.


Eager to see the former presidential candidate back in action, a bevy of media is arrayed before us on the unkempt courthouse lawn. The major networks are aiming cameras at us, waiting to hear us speak. A crowd of local citizens is gathering behind them, curious.


I wanted to have a prepared speech, but the man from Vermont said to speak from the heart.


“I was wrong,” I say into the microphone.


“I was wrong, and for a long time I didn’t know it. I was just doing what everyone else did. Go to work, keep the boss happy, make money.”


The cameras are silently recording and broadcasting me to everywhere, and I feel intimidated. But what have I to lose?


“I knew the system was unfair, but what could I do? I never paid attention to the human cost. But then, when the chips were down, I became part of that human cost. A statistic. Educorp tried to sweep me under the rug. They were worried about bad publicity, their stock price. I worked hard for them, but they felt no obligation in return.


They broke the law. I know it, and everyone else knows it. They may be clean on paper, but that is because they own all the papers. They can edit and erase long before the courts come looking. They can manipulate juries, buy off witnesses, and slow down the wheels of justice so much that their opponents give up. We talk about how we love the free market here in America, but a free market requires a level playing field. The field is not level. We don’t have true consumer sovereignty, nor do we have true private property rights. Only the rich have sovereignty, and only the powerful have their property respected.


I lost in that courtroom, and I do not know what I will do next.” My vision blurs with sudden emotion.


“My family has been broken by what happened to me. I have drained all my accounts and all my investments. I can’t pay my mortgage. And the system is rigged to bleed me dry, to offer me no relief. The only prosperity the CEOs care about is their own. They say they care about their shareholders, but I was a shareholder. I just didn’t own enough goddamn shares.”


I hear a few muted cheers from the gaggle of onlookers. Someone says “hell, yes!”


“I am here today to announce that I have taken a position as an education policy consultant with the Progressive Party of America. I would like to introduce everyone to someone I deeply wronged, and someone for whom I hope I can help make it right.” I cede the microphone to James Panamus, who hugs me briefly and then takes my place at the podium. Jim shakes my hand and tells me to follow him down the steps of the old courthouse.


At the bottom of the steps is Hank Hummel, the economics lecturer who testified at the trial. He is sporting a Progressive Party pin on his suit jacket and shakes my hand warmly.


“That was a great speech,” he says. “You know, you’ve got some great public speaking and improvisational skills. Mr. Turner here says that you spoke off the cuff, without a prepared speech. I think you would make a great lecturer at the university, maybe for an evening class.” He hands me a folded sheet of paper, and it is a job listing for an adjunct instructor at Midland University. With my MBA and years of work experience, I meet the listed qualifications for the job.


Amazingly, the job pays by the number of credit-hours taught.


“I’ve talked to MU and they are willing to grant you some flexibility on the degree, since you have an MBA instead of an M.Ed. You could teach some freshman-level business courses, or you could also teach a course in education policy.”


I am flattered, but I decide to be honest and reiterate that I, despite having been a head principal, never actually taught in a classroom before.


“If you think that that was wrong, now’s your chance to go back and make it right,” Hummel says. “Show people you can teach, show them you can be a real educator.” I nod and feel invigorated. I ask when I would be able to begin, and he says in January, with the start of the spring semester.




On the way home, I listen to the news on the radio. Educorp, Intellicorp, and Neuron have just been hit with a round of lawsuits from disgruntled current and former personnel. “In the wake of an unsuccessful lawsuit against Educorp, the declaration of mistrial seems to have stirred up a hornet’s nest,” opines a Fox News pundit. “This current suit against the private education provider is the largest of its kind in history, with some eighty-four individuals alleging breaches of contract and labor law violations.” Intellicorp is being sued by seventy-one teachers and assistant principals, and Neuron is being sued by forty-four.


By the time I pull into my driveway, it is announced that the governor of Colorado is ordering an investigation into all three education companies’ Denver offices, and reports from Massachusetts indicate that a similar announcement may come from the governor’s office tomorrow. The air feels electric, and it’s not just the chilly autumn weather that is making me feel energized.


As I pull into my driveway, I see an unfamiliar car parked by the curb. While I park, a man gets out, and I recognize John Bush.


“Please don’t hate me,” he says as we both climb out of our respective vehicles. Despite being a high-flying insurance executive, he has now been reduced to piloting an older-model Ford Taurus. With my used Honda Ridgeline, we make quite a pair.


Seeing him in court, in the enclosed witness box, was one thing. Seeing him on my curb is something else. Instantly, I feel awkward, sad, happy, and enraged. The man who started this whole thing is here. At my home. Why?


“Can I help you?” I ask, not knowing what else to say. My brow is furrowed and my breath steams in the unseasonably cold air. Behind me, my car’s engine ticks and hisses, as if it is angry as well.


“I just saw your speech on the news,” Bush mumbles, hands shoved into the pockets of a windbreaker. “It was very good.”


“Thank you,” I reply. I wonder if he hates me. I want to know his story. Did he suffer like I have suffered?


“I found your address through my lawyer. I thought I should try to come see you in person, you know. Do the right thing.” I almost laugh. What the hell does he mean by right thing?


The situation is absurd, so I invite him inside for coffee. Hell, it worked for James Panamus and me, so why not?




We relax at my kitchen table, snacking on Little Debbie cakes and drinking cheap coffee. After the initial awkwardness, we begin to bond over our mutual schmuckness. I spent years screwing over parents like him, and he spent years screwing over patients like me. “Why is it like that?” he asks several times, almost chuckling. Thinner than he was during our impromptu brawl, he seems to relish the sugar and carbs of the snack cakes. He inhales a Halloween-themed dessert cake, a leftover from Max and Madison’s stash of lunch goodies, and seems happier by the minute.


I tell him that I don’t know why the system is the way it is. “People need what we sell, and we try to make ‘em pay as much as they can,” I elaborate around a mouthful of spongey sugar-dough. “And the CEOs always say that it’s our duty to make as much profit as possible for the shareholders.”


“That’s a nice cycle, isn’t it? Gouge our customers on their premiums to give a little bit back to ‘em in their stock portfolios!” Bush laughs. “Unless you’ve got a hundred thousand shares, you won’t earn those premium hikes back.”


“Don’t I know it! Only the top execs have enough stock options to feel the fruits of our profiteering,” I explain about Educorp. “I owned hundreds of shares, and my dividends were pathetic. I guess I could have complained, demanded to know why, but who’s got the time?”


We bitch about corporate bureaucracy for a long while, swapping stories about org charts and paperwork and angry clients. We also talk about all the times we pulled strings for a wealthy client or bent the rules to get a signature. The tone goes from happy and nostalgic to morose and ashamed. “We did it for the company, thought we were part of the team, and look where it got us!” Bush snaps.


He straightens up in his chair and pulls out a flash drive from a pocket.


“I came here to see if you and I could get along,” Bush tells me. “I’m so sorry for what I did in your office, back in May. I never should have reacted like that. But I’m not sorry that I’ve left GreenShield. After the way they treated me, I feel like I’m finally seeing clearly.”


“I don’t know if you want to try your lawsuit again, or what. I know I don’t have any documents pertaining to Educorp, but I did manage to download a chain of emails between our bosses about our situation. Very damaging for both companies.” He hands me the flash drive.


I plug the drive into my phone and quickly access the documents. The emails are between an assistant vice president of Educorp and an assistant division chair of GreenShield. Given the poor spelling and grammar, these communications were hastily written. Sure enough, corporate was trying to sweep both John Bush and me under the rug.


Bad publicity could cost percentage of share price, writes Educorp’s Texas-based AVP.


“I asked around and heard that these two corporate titans began talking shop soon after, and they’re about to pass a deal. All of Educorp’s faculty insurance will be handled by GreenShield, but the faculty will have to pay additional fees to cover some of the more common services. It looks good on paper, but GreenShield is good at crunching the numbers and finding the most common but innocuous-sounding services to charge for separately.”


“I wouldn’t be surprised if GreenShield gives Educorp kickbacks for counseling its teachers to accept the additional fees and not make a fuss,” I reply, shaking my head in disgust. “The teachers will pay more out of pocket for their medical care, and the executives will get a bonus for it.”


Bush asks if I will use the emails to try and get something done, and I tell him that I don’t know. “They won in court once, and I doubt that will change. My lawyer and I used up all of our money to fight Educorp, but we just couldn’t compete.” Silent for a moment, Bush drinks more coffee. Eventually, he suggests that we could give the emails to the Progressive Party. “Maybe the old Senator could get some good press from ‘em, fight back against Educorp and GreenShield.”


That’s an idea. That’s something. “If we can’t win in a court of law, maybe we can win in a court of public opinion,” I suggest.


“You busy? We could take it down there together. The rally downtown is over now, so they’re back in their office.” Bush says that that sounds great, and we decide to take my car.




Jim Turner informs us that the former Senator will be headed back to Vermont that evening, but assures us that he will make sure the old guy has a copy of all the emails on the flash drive. As some college kid intern takes me into a side room to tell me more about my new position as an education consultant, Turner and Bush begin talking. By the time I have been explained the parameters of my job, I overhear Turner talking to Bush about a similar position, consulting the Progressive Party on the ins and outs of the health insurance industry.


Stunned, Bush is asking how the fledgling political party can afford this. “There is a lot of anger in America about the stagnant two-party system,” Turner explains. “When our party formed after the 2016 Democratic primaries, when the establishment managed to win despite all of their candidate’s weaknesses, we got tons of individual donations from all over the country. There are millions of progressives, people who want real change, and many can contribute ten dollars here, twenty dollars there. We just need one big break and we can crack the two-party monopoly.”


Bush accepts the job of insurance industry analyst and promises he will help in any way he can, especially when it comes to developing a workable framework for universal health care. “To public school and public health,” Turner says, clapping both Bush and me on the shoulder. “To the radical notion that people who need education and medicine should get it, whether they’re rich or poor.”


That sounds about right to me. Who the hell can say that my daughter doesn’t deserve a good education because her test scores are too low? Who says I shouldn’t be able to go to the doctor because my health insurance hasn’t deigned to cover that procedure, or that medication? Who thinks it acceptable right to profit from people’s pain and misery? “Absolutely,” I say.


James Panamus walks into the office with a sheaf of papers, ready to work on education policy.


“Watcha got there?” Turner asks, clapping his hands on his Santa-esque belly.


“This is research about how governments have justified turning a competitive market into a public good,” Panamus says. “I requested that some of the interns at the library find me some material, and they went above and beyond. Looks like they printed up a whole book for me!” Mere days after being homeless and shivering in front of a commercial Dumpster, the former substitute teacher has just signed a lease on a studio apartment and proven himself to be a genuine workhorse.


“It would be neat if we could get all the supporters of the Progressive Party to buy up the stock of all these corporations. Then we could run those corporations right,” I say. Everyone is silent, and I suddenly realize that they are staring right at me.


“Holy shit, that’s not a bad idea,” Bush exclaims, a big smile on his face. “Let’s start with that.”





The Socialist




My wife texted me that night, wanting to know how I was doing. She had been doing lots of thinking, she said. She had been following everything in the news, and had learned that I had been hired by the Midland office of the Progressive Party. As a liberal, she was interested in what was going on.


I tell her everything and ask if she will be home for Thanksgiving, which is tomorrow night. Maybe, she responds. I am crestfallen, but a minute later she follows up with a single word: Probably :). Suddenly, I feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. Eagerly, I drop the phone and begin cleaning the house like a madman. After weeks of languishing in a closet, the vacuum cleaner and furniture polish are finally put to good use.


As I run the vacuum over the living room carpet, I eye my computer monitor and watch updates rolling in from Progressive Party offices across the country. My idea has caught fire, and what began as a conversation in the small Midland office has been picked up by the national board. Experts have been summoned, and everyone is abuzz. Lawyers, businessmen, accountants, and contacts within the SEC, Department of Commerce, and NYSE have been called into Progressive Party conference rooms.


Everything is very hush-hush, and I feel a crackle of crowd-generated energy emanating into my home from my computer screen.


I finish vacuuming the carpet and put the beast back in its closet. I look over at the couch and see that someone is trying to call me. I hope it’s my wife, but it turns out to be Jim Turner instead. Since I start working next Monday, right after the Thanksgiving holiday, I assume he’s calling about something job-related. For a second, my stomach lurches and I wonder if he’s calling to rescind the job offer. Maybe he thinks I’m a fraud, a showboat.


“Hello?” I say, answering the call despite my wariness.


“Your idea has touched off a firestorm! We just got everything signed off on by the SEC, NYSE, you name it. It’s perfectly legal and good to go, thanks to president Trump’s deregulations.”


“Hey, great!” I reply, my brain trying to catch up. I feel that Turner is on the verge of telling me something big. Really big.


“Starting tomorrow morning, on Thanksgiving, we are going to buy back all the private-sector education providers and health insurance companies,” Turner declares. “Once we have a controlling share in each company, we will turn over ownership to a nonprofit shell company, with each shell company governed by a board of former public educators and health care professionals.”


Whoa. This is heavy. As in hundreds of billions of dollars heavy. Or more. The scale of this grand plan is staggering!


“For a period of time they will be run as nonprofits until they can be re-appropriated by the government. That will take a bit of time, but we already have contacts working on laying the groundwork.”


Stunned, I ask what I can do to help.


“I know you’re not officially on the payroll yet, but would you mind coming down to the office tomorrow to help work the phones? We’re calling in all volunteers who can be trusted not to spread the word early.” I tell him that I will be there.




“We may not have won in court. We may not have won in the voting booths. We have been stymied by powerful forces ranging from the expenses of seeking legal recourse to the entrenched bias of the mainstream media. As real wages have fallen and costs have soared, eroding America’s once-dominant middle class, those who have sought to help their fellow man have been overpowered by the mindless pursuit of profit. The playing field has been made less level, and the rich continue to get richer while the poor continue to get poorer.


Years ago, we progressives lost an election, but started a movement. Even as Washington became more predatory toward the middle class, almost ending the public schools and handing ever more power to the health insurance companies, the new Progressive Party of America began working behind the scenes to bring about real reform. We lost a battle in 2016, but we knew we would win the war. We knew we had to, for America’s continued existence depends on it!


Laws and executive orders from Congress and the White House have overturned decades of labor laws that were the last safety nets of the American worker. We have seen the repeal of the federal minimum wage, the end of publicly-funded Social Security, and the rapid rise of labor deregulation. Wages have fallen and unemployment has soared. But with every bad law passed and every shameful executive order signed, the Progressive Party has attracted the sympathy and loyalty of more and more citizens.


Though the two-party duopoly has fought hard to keep people away from us, calling us socialists and linking modern Democratic Socialism with the autocratic government of the old Soviet Union, today is our day in the sun. Today is the day that we are standing up for what is right, standing up for every American. Today begins a movement that will be ongoing and intense, taking no pause, until all Americans can go to school and get medical care…regardless of ability to pay.


Yes, starting today, the Progressive Party of America will be re-implementing public K-12 education all across the United States, create tuition-free public higher education for all qualified applicants, and finally establish universal health care.


This will not be achieved by legislative action. This will not be achieved by charity. This will be achieved through the mechanisms of laissez-faire capitalism itself, through unbridled private property rights. The Progressive Party will buy out all private-sector education and health insurance companies by purchasing majority stakes in those corporations. We have met with the SEC, the Department of Commerce, and the New York Stock Exchange and have prepared legal teams to prevent these corporations from circumventing the law to prevent our purchase of common stock.


Starting immediately, the Progressive Party will encourage every American to purchase shares of listed corporations and bequeath the shares to us. We also encourage every American to donate money to our new Public Good Fund, all of which will be used to purchase those exact same shares. Information on how to do both of these things can be found on our website, progressiveparty.org. I will personally be putting the last of my 2016 campaign funds into this endeavor, as well as everything left in my personal IRA.


If you want your children to grow up in a better America, where they can develop their mind and keep their body healthy without having to worry about debt or poverty, then please help us. This will be the biggest political battle of our lifetime, and we need everyone involved in the revolution. Everyone can make a difference. Even if it’s just one dollar, we need your help. America needs your help. The children need your help.”


The retired U.S. Senator looks into the camera, his eyes full of emotion and his body trembling slightly. Below his image, a digital banner begins scrolling, showing the dollar amount collected by the Public Good Fund and the amount of stock purchased from the private-sector education and health insurance corporations. At first it is zero, and the Senator holds up his personal smartphone. He uses his fingers on the touchscreen and, within a second, the Public Good Fund has received its first donation of $3,147,683.52.


Automatically, this purchases ten thousand shares of various corporations for Public Good, Inc.


I grab the phone and begin making calls, using a computer spreadsheet to find everyone in Midland County who has donated to the Progressive Party of America since its inception in 2016. Being the heart of Republican country, the list is small…but not nearly as small as one might think. There are more donors in Ector County, and our office covers that area as well. Then I will move on to Martin County.


The spreadsheet is synchronized, meaning that rows will be color-coded as soon as volunteers have completed their calls. A friendly competition is going among us volunteers in the Midland office, with the winner receiving a free lunch from a restaurant from his or her choice. There are a dozen of us in the small office. Hank Hummel, the economics lecturer from MU, who testified at my trial, is to my left on an old land-line phone.


His buddy Hector, an MU police officer, has brought in a portable phone bank from the campus police headquarters. Next to Hector is James Panamus, dialing fervently. Jim Turner is working a separate list, preparing to schmooze the mega-donors. The front door to the office opens and my lawyer walks in, trailed by two college-age interns.


“I figured you’d need some volunteers, so these interns and I thought we might see if you needed a hand,” my lawyer booms happily. “Oh, and I would like to get rid of some shares of HealthGuard.” Jim Turner hugs him and the interns and showers them with praise. He directs them to his personal office and sets them up at his desk, running a phone line across the linoleum.


I dial and talk, hoping that the passion in my voice is contagious. Eventually, I snag a lady who promises to donate a hundred dollars. The very next call connects me to a former oil company assistant division manager, and the gentleman says that he will bequeath four hundred shares of Neuron to Public Good, Inc. “And let me give you some phone numbers of a few buddies of mine. They ain’t too liberal, but they liked the good old days of public schools a whole hell of a lot better than what’s going on right now. Call them in about two hours, after I get a chance to talk to ‘em. I think they’ll be willing to hand over their shares. Or, at the very least, let ‘em go for something like half price.”


After thanking the old oil baron, I wave over Jim Turner and ask if this grand plan includes a policy to buy the desired shares of stock from hesitant owners at below-market price. “It makes sense,” he says. “I mean, those shares might be a big chunk of someone’s nest egg. They may be willing to sell at a loss, but not a big loss.” He immediately gets on his cell phone and calls the national office.


Thirty minutes later, the Progressive Party of America announces that it will buy the shares, in increments of one hundred shares or more, for up to two-thirds market price from willing sellers. By this point, we have raised fifty-eight million dollars from forty-nine out of the fifty states.




I take my first break from the phones at ten-thirty, having secured pledges totaling ten thousand dollars. I have, however, also managed to get pledges for over nine thousand shares of desired stock, the market value of which exceeds three hundred thousand dollars. As we volunteers are working the phones and social media, the national office is trying to dominate television and radio. News comes in that celebrities are lining up to assist, and that buzz is being generated in Washington.


As I grow worried looking at the slow increase in our donated funds, Hank Hummel tells me to relax.


“Hey, it’s Thanksgiving. A day to be happy. And, I have it on good authority that the share price of Educorp is about to get a lot cheaper…”


On the wall-mounted TV screen, which was installed just this morning by Turner and Panamus, a breaking news report arrives from CNN.


“In a stunning turn of events, several major media outlets have just been given documents and emails that were reportedly taken from the cell phone of Educorp CEO William Carson. Carson, who was attending the Educorp trial in Midland, Texas, was caught in a scuffle with witness John Bush, who physically attacked Educorp’s defense team in an incident that witnesses have called ‘bizarre.’ Though Carson never reported a missing phone to the courthouse, someone claims to have gotten their hands on it.


In a surprise move that will undoubtedly hurt Educorp, especially in light of the unexpected hostile takeover bid by the Progressive Party of America, experts have declared that the information reported to be from the CEO’s phone is, in fact, legitimate. Our own analysts here at CNN, and anonymous sources at the FBI, have confirmed that the phone, and all of its contents, belong to William Carson.


The contents of the phone’s hard drive include numerous text messages, emails, and office documents that are, to say the least, damaging to Educorp’s legal defense in the recently-declared mistrial. Currently, these texts, emails, and documents have been spread all over the Internet by persons unknown. We have just tried to contact Mr. Carson for comment, but have received no response from his office.


As I watch the screen, bits of the phone’s alleged contents are highlighted and enlarged for viewers’ convenience. It appears that Carson was demanding that certain files and documents be deleted from Educorp servers. “I knew it,” I hiss. “I fucking knew it.”


I turn to Hummel and ask how he knew this would happen. Smiling, he explains that many people have the new iPhone, and that he was standing close to William Carson when John Bush went rogue. “A lot of arms were swinging around, and people’s phones got knocked out of their hands, including mine and Carson’s.”


He tells me that he had simply grabbed the first iPhone 8 that he saw and put it in his pocket, assuming it was his own. “Later, I found that I still had mine in my coat pocket…and now I had this other one as well! I swiped the screen and there was no passcode required. While playing around to try to figure out whose phone it was…well…” He holds his hands out wide in a what can you do? gesture.


“I’m a reserve sheriff’s deputy, so I went down to the station and waited until one of the lieutenants was out of his office. Then I snuck in there and used his computer’s phone download program to get a look at everything on the iPhone’s hard drive. After that, I wiped the phone clean of prints and took a field trip to Educorp’s offices downtown.” I am marveling at this story, which sounds like a John Grisham novel.


“During the trial I heard plenty of tales of arrogant assholes who work for Educorp, so I found the office of one of these winners and looked to see if he was in. He wasn’t, so I slipped William Carson’s phone into his desk. There were no security cameras, and no prints because I wore gloves. Thank goodness it was cold outside!”


I am impressed and ask how he could get the contents of Carson’s phone to the media without exposing himself.


“When I knew whose phone I was dealing with, I got some brand new flash drives and created some throwaway email accounts. After I got the contents of the phone’s hard drive onto the lieutenant’s computer, I transferred everything onto one of my flash drives. Even if anything can still be found on the lieutenant’s hard drive, I didn’t have to use a login or anything. There are so many deputies around, and no internal surveillance cameras in that wing, so they wouldn’t know who got on that machine in the first place. I took the flash drives down to the public library and used my new email accounts to send those documents far and wide.”


He surmises that William Carson and his team are so busy worrying about federal indictments that they will not waste time trying to figure out who got the phone.


“You’re a regular revolutionary,” I say with a grin. “The Founding Fathers would be proud.”




James Panamus wins lunch and we take him to the Chinese place in the mall, piling into a rented economy car while eager volunteers take our places on the phones. As we press through the crush of Thanksgiving Day traffic, we see unbridled capitalism in full swing. Instead of being at home with their families, people are engaged in rampant consumerism. Last Thanksgiving, I was among their number, seeking the early Black Friday deals. I was desperate to buy stuff I didn’t need, hoping more to beat other consumers than to seek anything of real value.


At the mall, we park far away from the building and walk through a lot crowded with vehicles, shivering against the cloudy chill. “I can’t believe you chose to eat so far away,” my lawyer grouses. “This is the other side of town!” Panamus smiles and announces that he has a plan.


We hit the crowds as soon as we enter the mall and are almost overwhelmed by herds of plaid, down, felt, and leather. Panamus uses his phone to snap pictures of the throngs of shoppers and tells us that he will post them on social media. “The mall and Black Friday deals make a great political statement!” he explains over the roar of the crowd. We make for the food court, for the Chinese place our contest winner requested, but instead he asks us to follow him.


Agreeably, we trail Panamus through the mall, winding among the holiday shoppers, and eventually make our way to a sporting goods store. Panamus heads straight to a section for coaches and grabs an electronic bullhorn. He grabs a pack of batteries by the register and pays for both things with cash. As we ask him what he’s buying the things for, he opens the batteries and powers up the bullhorn.


“Just follow me, and get ready to take video.” Confused, but still game, we ready our phones and follow Panamus to the crowded food court.


Panamus immediately finds an empty table and clambers atop it, brand new bullhorn clutched in his hand.


Silently, we begin to record.


“May I have everyone’s attention please?!” he calls through the bullhorn, his already-powerful voice nicely amplified. For a second I fear that he might be considered a terrorist by the many law enforcement officers at the mall, but then I see Hank Hummel whispering into a lapel mic. As a reserve deputy, he is undoubtedly using the radio to tell everyone on mall duty that the nerdy guy climbing on top of the table is a friendly.


Mall-goers eagerly turn and look, hoping that the guy on the table works for a store and is announcing some sort of wonderful deal.


“My name is James Panamus, and last week I was homeless. I was a victim of Educorp, Bids, WorkFlow, JobFill, and all those other corporations that have whittled down our pay and cut our hours. I lost my job and I became homeless, and nobody tried to help. Over the last few years, all the help has been stripped out of our society. Republicans wanted to make our economic engine lean and mean, unburdened by bureaucracy. Well, it turns out that lean and mean can grind up anyone and spit them out.”


Everyone stops moving, gripping their shopping bags in confusion, surprise, and, just maybe, a bit of shame.


“I don’t know how many of you have been following the news this morning, but the Progressive Party of America is buying back what was taken from all of us. They are buying back our public education. They are buying back our social services. They are going to buy up all the profiteering health insurance companies and finally provide universal health care. And there is not a single one of you here today who would not benefit from that!” His yell cuts through the open air, and I hear a few shopping bags hit the linoleum. Eyes are wide and mouths are agape.


“If you care about your children and your grandchildren, if you care about your mothers and fathers, if you care about anyone who has ever stumbled or needed help, then listen up! I want you to take half of the money you planned to spend here today and donate it. I would love it if you would donate it to Public Good, Inc. to help us buy back our nation, to give us back our public schools and give us public health care, but I want you to give to soup kitchens, to homeless shelters, to charities and to churches.” By now about a thousand phones are focused on Panamus, recording his speech to a hundred different sites.


“I want this to be the last holiday season where you have to worry about how you will pay tuition, how you will pay your health insurance premiums, and whether or not you can afford your prescriptions. I want this to be the last holiday season where you have to worry about whether or not you will still get your Social Security check or whether your boss will still pay you a living wage. I want next holiday season to be one of hope, love, and happiness rather than desperation and stress! The Progressive Party of America wants to make that happen!”


Panamus hops off the table and tucks the bullhorn under one arm. “Okay, now let’s grab some lunch,” he says after clearing his throat. Jim Turner is too shocked to speak. Nobody moves as Panamus weaves through the frozen mass of shoppers and takes a spot in line at the Chinese restaurant. Hank Hummel falls in behind him, eyes still wide. “They’ve got the best noodles in town here, if memory serves,” Panamus says happily.




I don’t know how many people at Midland Park Mall ended up being inspired by Panamus’ eloquent tabletop speech, but I do know that many of them felt inspired enough to post it all over the Internet with gobs of praise. By the time we finish lunch and are on our way back to the Progressive Party office, James Panamus has gone viral. By the time we are back on the phones, relieving our volunteer replacements, pundits are beginning to weigh in. It turns out that #foodcourtsocialism has spread worldwide, with liberals, progressives, moderates, and even conservatives standing atop tables in food courts, restaurants, and public places to support #buyitback.


I am on the phone with a retired doctor in Lamesa, Texas when CNN covers a passionate tabletop speech in the Mall of America. A middle-aged man, a father of three who had been bankrupted when his youngest needed treatment for leukemia, stood atop a table in front of a Burger King and gave what observers called the most powerful speech they had ever heard. Armed with his own bullhorn, the man spoke of being driven broke by health insurance companies and private schools. He spoke of his employer cutting wages for full-time workers because of the influx of college kids and part-timers working through temp apps.


On the spot, a man in a suit climbed atop an adjacent table and, with tears in his eyes, pledged that he was donating his entire portfolio of health insurance companies and education providers to Public Good, Inc. It turns out that the man in the suit was a member of the Ford family. Forty-six minutes later, a member of the Walton family stood on the ledge of a fountain in a mall courtyard and pledged her entire holding of such stocks to the Progressive Party of America.


I am talking with a former Army colonel in Big Spring, Texas when NBC announces that #millionairemutiny is now trending, with a growing number of America’s wealthiest citizens openly supporting Public Good, Inc. As the retired officer pledges two hundred fifty dollars to the cause, a breaking report reveals that Public Good, Inc. has just become the majority shareholder of Medisurance, a health insurance company covering thirteen million people in the northern Midwest.


“Only six hours ago, retired U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate who narrowly lost the primary election to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, announced the Progressive Party of America’s bid to purchase all health insurance and private-sector education corporations in the United States. Now, a first victory has just been achieved: Public Good, Inc., the shell company created by the political party, now owns fifty-one percent of Medisurance, the smallest of America’s multi-state health insurance corporations.


Despite the massive buying going on on Wall Street, share prices of several health insurance companies and education providers are actually falling as released documents raise the specter of federal indictments. Educorp, which just survived a large civil suit in Texas, has seen its share price drop precipitously after CEO William Carson’s phone was found to contain texts, emails, and documents that critics allege to be crystal-clear evidence of fraud and labor law violations. Similarly, health insurance giant GreenShield has seen its own share price plummet after an email chain was released online showing that both GreenShield and Educorp allegedly conspired to hide evidence in the recent civil suit against Educorp.


Corporate executives for many of the companies targeted by the Progressive Party of America have reportedly complained to the SEC about the unorthodox events of today, but our sources in both Washington and New York have confirmed that the activities of the Progressive Party and its subsidiary, Public Good, Inc., are perfectly legal under the new economic reforms approved by the Trump White House. Ironically, it appears that the Democratic Socialists who failed to achieve their dream of winning the White House in 2016 are now able to accomplish their desired reforms through the rules of capitalism itself.”


Jim Turner bustles into the common room and shouts words of encouragement before turning off the television. “It’s great news, but there’s no time to get distracted!” he exclaims. He tells us that a new wave of volunteers is ready to rush in and relieve us, and that those of us who need to go home to our families are more than welcome. Eager to see if my wife and children are indeed coming home, I raise my hand and ask to be replaced. Jim nods and talks into his cell phone, summoning some replacements.




The skies have darkened and day is turning to dusk. “It might snow tonight,” Hank Hummel says, climbing into his Jeep. “You take care of yourself, you hear? I’ll email you the stuff about being an adjunct at the university. After today, there will be even greater demand to have you on staff.” He closes the driver-side door and the Jeep starts with a rumble, its headlights bathing me in an artificial glow.


I climb into my pickup and hold my breath as it chugs and coughs. Finally, fortunately, the engine sputters to life and I can breathe a sigh of relief. It is after four-fifteen and downtown is now almost entirely empty, all the office workers at home and spending the day with family. My stomach twists and my heart flutters, wondering if my marriage will be saved. I try to empty my mind as I drive home, not listening to anything on the radio.


When I pull into my suburban community, where I will probably not be able to live for much longer, I find it hard to breathe. I am nervous, so nervous. My hands are blocks of ice, barely able to grip the steering wheel. When I turn onto my street, I hold my breath as my headlights sweep my driveway.


My wife’s car is in the driveway. and I can breathe again.




It is the first Thanksgiving since I was a child where I do not worry about what my neighbors, coworkers, or supervisors are doing, whether their houses are nicer, their celebrations more extravagant, or their children more accomplished. Max and Madison disappear into their rooms and I hug my wife for a long time, neither of us speaking for ages. She whispers that she is home, and that is all I need to hear.


“I heard you got a job,” she tells me. “Will you be happy there?”


“Yes,” I tell her, and for the first time in a long time I feel completely honest. “I will be happy.” Then I warn her that there will be a pay cut, but that I can make some of it back by working as an adjunct at Midland U during the evenings. “That doesn’t matter,” she says, and we hug again. “I think I’ll keep working as a public defender. It may not be glamorous, but I like it. It feels important to me.”


We make dinner as a team, cobbling together a feast as best we can with what I’ve got in the house. For the first time in years, I do not check my HumCap share price while doing a household chore. I dive into the depths of the pantry and am amazed to find most of the makings of a traditional Thanksgiving. There are cans of cranberries and boxes of stuffing, and my wife expertly sweeps the kitchen cabinets for more.


By the time we finish making dinner, we are exhausted. But, aside from perhaps our wedding day, I doubt we have ever been happier. We call for our children and they come to us. Surprisingly, they have dressed nicely for dinner of their own accord. Without anything having to be said, I know that Max thought of this. Despite all my trial had put him through, the teenager still came through for me. He actually smiles and walks over to give me a hug.


“Pretty awesome stuff you’ve done, Dad. Real brave. Real brave.” He does not ask me questions, and I do not press him on his reactions. He helps put the finishing touches on the table and we sit down to enjoy a feast. We talk about what we want for Christmas. Madison wants snow, and so does Max.


After dinner, we stream some family movies in the living room, enjoying idealized depictions of the holidays until Madison declares that she is sleepy. Max agreeably takes her off to bed and my wife and I head into our own bedroom. It seems that absence really does make the heart grow fonder, and we discover that maybe we weren’t too exhausted from making Thanksgiving dinner after all.




It snows that night, the first time ever for a Thanksgiving snow in Midland, and I enjoy the hell out of the entire inch of it when I see it through my bedroom window. It looks beautiful and new, mysterious and inviting. In the glow of the streetlamp by my front curb, it seems like another world, one with infinite possibilities.


I am up early, before dawn, and I told my wife last night that I would be volunteering down at the office this morning. “You sleep in and treat the kids to a nice day,” I whisper to her before pulling on my jeans and my felt-lined flannel shirt. In the kitchen, I pour myself a giant Thermos full of coffee and sweeten it liberally.


Today is Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. I know that the inch of snow, and the picturesque purity it presents, will soon be ground and melted under the tires of thousands of cars, trucks, and SUVs. Though the deals began yesterday, on Thanksgiving Day itself, today is an even bigger bash. And when the market opens, the Progressive Party will continue its crusade. And I will be a part of it.


As if respecting my passion, the Ridgeline roars to life without hesitation and its wipers sweep off the thin blanket of snow. Some flurries still spiral from the clouds, and I roll down my window to breathe them in. I feel like a kid again! Remembering snow driving from my days back East, I keep the Honda in a low gear as I head downtown. The streets are deserted, with the shoppers still in bed.


Reluctantly, I turn on the news, bracing myself for reports that Public Good, Inc. has been woefully underfunded. I brace myself for failure. A local radio station begins broadcasting CBS news, and I turn up the volume.


“In the biggest day of trading since the horrific stock market crash of 1929, a brand new shell company named Public Good, Inc. has become the third largest U.S. corporation behind Walmart and Apple. That’s right: In less than twenty-four hours, a corporation has gone from having zero net worth to owning more wealth than Microsoft, General Electric, or even General Motors! To the tune of forty-eight million individual donations, some reaching into the millions of dollars, American citizens have supported the drive to make education and health care public goods. From coast to coast, supporters of the initiative could be seen climbing on top of tables, fountains, and sculptures in public places, often armed with bullhorns or megaphones, to-”


Happy, I turn off the news and seek music instead. The parking lot in front of the Progressive Party office is packed when I arrive, and I notice many vehicles from yesterday, including Hank Hummel’s Jeep and James Panamus’ rented Nissan. As expected, Jim Turner’s old pickup truck is there, with a full inch of snow on top. Guy probably slept here, I think to myself. Watching after-hours trading.


Through the windows, it appears that the small office is already bustling with activity. I enter and am thankful for the warmth, probably generated as much by human energy as by the building’s heating system. Coffee and donuts flow liberally, donated by a generous patron.


Panamus quickly tells me that Jim Turner met with several local oil barons last night and, using some mix of political magic and voodoo, convinced the stalwart Republicans to donate a cool million each to Public Good, Inc. “They may not be social liberals, but they’ve had bad experiences with privatized education and the health insurance conglomerates,” Panamus explains. “No love lost.”


I find Jim and ask what can be done. There is more phone canvassing to do, I know, but I also know that time is of the essence. When the weekend hits, the corporations will be able to regroup and stave off our hostile takeover. I overheard someone saying that the corporations in question are actively calling in all of their own investments and spending their own accumulated cash. Share prices are rising again after yesterday’s scandals.


“We’ve shown the world how big of scumbags they are, but profit is profit to most people. They will not divest, even if they know the CEOs and their lackeys are schmucks and fraudsters,” Jim complains to me. “We might soon hit the ceiling of our voter base’s giving capacity. We need a way to get more money into this fight.”


Looking at a screen, I see that we own roughly twenty-nine percent of all the desired mega-conglomerates, still quite far from the necessary fifty-one percent needed to guarantee long-term ownership. “If we can’t accomplish this…” Jim’s voice trails off.


Minutes later, I am included on a nationwide conference call of financial and investing experts who work, or volunteer, for the Progressive Party of America.




“We need to find an untapped source of money to complete our drive to fifty-one percent,” explains a finance professor from UC Berkeley. A lawyer from Delaware, an expert on corporate law, is monitoring the call while analyzing any applicable laws and regulations, searching for any no-go zones. Several liberal-leaning business moguls are listening in and thinking. Someone suggests foreign donors, such as the many progressives and populists in Europe, but that idea is quickly shot down.


“It’s gotta be all-American,” insists the former governor of Maryland, who is serving as the Party’s first chairman.


Sitting in Jim Turner’s office with a webcam broadcasting me to some server, I strive to be of use. I think and think, wondering how more financial capital can be accessed. This hostile takeover must be accomplished quickly, before the health insurance and education conglomerates can make it impossible. Even now, I know they are negotiating with mega-banks and wealthy creditors to get more money to fight for every last share.


Though caught off guard, the corporations are now buying back their own stock, hoping to deny us fifty-one percent. I glance at a scrolling news banner and see that #runtofiftyone is one of many new hashtags trending on social media. As lawyers and businessmen argue and debate, I take a long sip of coffee and nosh on a glazed donut. I try to clear my mind and let something from business school swim out.


On reflex, I pull my phone out of my pocket and check my Human Capital Market share price. Amazingly, I am up fourteen percent over the last forty-eight hours! Instinctively, I clench my fist and hiss a “hell yeah!” Years ago, such enthusiasm among men was usually relegated to sports, but today is a different world. HumCap shares are the new battleground for men. A digital gridiron.


HumCap shares. HumCap shares.


I grab the mouse and click to get into the conversation. “Is it possible to let people leverage their HumCap shares to get more capital?” I ask. “The law allows up to thirty percent income cap, but I know that most Americans are below that. If we could get our supporters to increase all the way to their cap and then give that additional value to Public Good, we might have enough to get to fifty-one.”


For a long while, nobody speaks. I can see sixteen faces in a four-by-four grid looking at me, each beamed from a different city.


“That’s a hell of an idea,” says a corporate lawyer from Denver. He asks the guy from Delaware if such a thing is legal. The lawyer from Delaware asks the Party’s SEC contact, and the contact says he will check. One of the sixteen faces belongs to a U.S. Representative from Oregon, and he says that he knows someone high up in the SEC and will give him a call. Immediately, the Congressman whips out a cell phone and calls someone who answers to “Ronald.”


After long, breathless minutes, Ronald confirms that such a maneuver is indeed legal.


“Then let’s create a plan around that,” declares the former governor of Maryland. “We gotta move fast.”




We go live at eleven-fifteen Eastern Time and urge all of our supporters to increase their Human Capital Market volume to thirty percent of their income, with all proceeds set to go straight to Public Good, Inc. Many of our supporters have never even signed up on the Market, and they sign up in such record numbers that the servers crash thrice before lunchtime. Done working the phones, we all crowd around the wall-mounted television and watch anxiously, silently.


Immediately, we receive an enormous bump in financial capital that quickly turns into a thirty-four percent ownership of the desired corporations. Twenty-eight million young people have signed up for HumCap and given their profits to us. The gesture is so noble that Jim Turner begins tearing up.


Someone orders pizzas and we huddle and wait, watching scrolling news banners and stock tickers and HumCap alerts and SEC and NYSE reports. The media report that Black Friday shopping is actually declining due to our nationwide initiative, with consumers preferring to donate their funds to the cause rather than buy toys and trinkets.


At one o’clock, we are at thirty-six percent. Reports indicate that several corporations, including Educorp and GreenShield, are negotiating with other power players to borrow billions and buy up outstanding stock. The tension mounts. At two o’clock, we hit thirty-nine percent.


At two-thirty, we hit forty-one percent.


People are now working the phones to get news faster than the mainstream media can deliver it. Hank Hummel knows someone in the White House and my lawyer, who has come back to volunteer for a second day, knows someone high up on Wall Street. At three o’clock, negotiations between Educorp and OmniBank break down and we pass forty-two percent.


Three-thirty sees a bump to forty-four percent, and we start to fear that we will not accomplish our goal before the market closes. If that happens, Educorp and GreenShield and everyone else will be able to ink a plan to get the necessary funds and buy back the stock they need.


“We need to get some corporate officers to defect,” I blurt out. “They’ve got big chunks of stock. If we make a deal to bring them on during the switchover, we could get the last four or five percent we’ll still need when the market closes.”


Jim runs to his office to make the call, and through the open doorway I hear him connect straight to the Party chairman. “I’ll do it,” the man says.


For the last hour we sit in silence, with nobody even glancing at their phones. The tickers move slowly, so slowly, and we advance to forty-seven percent before stopping. With only a fraction of an hour remaining, phone calls start coming in to Turner’s office.


“Eighteen vice presidents and division heads have agreed to turn over their stock!” the Party chairman cheers through the line. Silently, we continue to watch the news, hoping against hope. With four minutes left until the market closes, we watch as Public Good, Inc. gains percentage point by agonizing percentage point. At two minutes until close, we come to rest at fifty-one percent.


For a hundred seconds, we scarcely breathe, clenching and unclenching our fists. Was this a fluke? A blip? An error? Will the number drop?


The news banner says that the market has closed, but we refuse to relax. A moment later, a breaking news report comes from the floor of the stock exchange.


“Today may be recorded as the most famous day in the history of the stock exchange. In an occurrence that will be studied by historians for generations, the Progressive Party of America has convinced millions of Americans to buy out all major private-sector health insurance companies and for-profit education providers. It has just been confirmed that Public Good, Inc. now owns fifty-one percent of the voting shares in all twenty-six of the corporations it sought to control. Though appeals will be filed by the corporations, our legal and judicial analysts report that this is, in fact, legal. Public Good, Inc., a subsidiary of the Progressive Party of America, now owns health insurance and education in the United States and plans to turn them into, well, public goods.”


We are cheering, crying, hugging. The news feed changes to Washington, in front of the White House.


“The board of Public Good, Inc. has agreed to meet with the president and his cabinet tonight in order to create a transitional plan for the assets it now owns. As of right now, the website for the new corporation is up and running and we are rapidly learning what it is all about. The president of the board, retired U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, has just issued a press release encouraging calm and insisting that there will be a smooth, efficient transition of ownership of assets. His office has said that, beginning immediately, customers and clients will be able to continue their existing services free of charge. Also, no involuntary layoffs of employees of the twenty-six corporations will occur within the next sixty days, with the goal being that no layoffs occur thereafter. After meeting at the White House, the board will create a team to determine which officers of the twenty-six corporations should remain at their posts, and which should be removed.”


Someone changes to channel to get a fresh news feed.


“Though some corporate officers have indicated that they will step down or take early retirement, others have insisted that they are in favor of the change and hope to remain on board, even at reduced salary.”


A series of corporate officers are seen climbing into limousines and luxury SUVs, yelling that they have no comment. I recognize William Carson, former CEO of Educorp, climbing into a black stretch Lincoln.


On Monday, my son and daughter can go to school, their usual school, for free. My vision blurs through tears and I do not mind.





The Victor




On Monday, full of coffee and sugar, I help begin the transition process in Midland. I meet with all Educorp, Intellicorp, and Neuron administrators at the school district’s run-down central office and invite them on board. Fresh from the Xerox machine are copies of the Midland ISD administrator handbook. “Keep doing what you’re doing,” I tell them. “We’ll get more of an idea of what to do over the Christmas break.” Some are displeased, but most seem happy enough. Privately, after our session, a few shake my hand and tell me that they’re glad I’m back.


The regional Educorp superintendent has taken early retirement, effective immediately, but his assistant is ready and willing to work for the public schools. She was a classroom teacher and department chair before privatization, and is eager to get back to her roots. I talk to her on the phone and the conversation goes well.


Madison is back at her usual school, with her friends and her teachers. Max will never be an artificially-augmented star athlete again, but now he no longer has to be in order to go to college. He tells my wife and me that he won’t miss the daily injections. When I drop him off in front of his school, he bounds in with a smile.


Life is good.


I stand in a small broom closet at the Midland office of the Progressive Party of America and begin moving things around, creating an office. The closet is small, but not too small, and I feel cozy rather than cramped. I have stacks of papers to go over, records to analyze, and people to meet. Though I have devoured donuts, I feel like positive energy is melting away the calories. My desk phone rings and I answer it.


It’s the old guy from Vermont, and we chat a while.


The End





Discover other titles by Calvin Wolf


The College

The University

The City

The State

Daylight Stealing Time

Coming soon: The Singularity




About the Author



Calvin Wolf is a high school social studies teacher and freelance writer living in Texas. He is an alum of the University of Wyoming and Texas Tech University. Wolf currently writes for Hubpages and The News Hub and has previously written for Digital Journal, the Yahoo! Contributor Network, Helium, and Examiner.




































































































The Socialist

In the near future, America's public schools have been privatized and are now run by large corporations. The return of laissez-faire capitalism has created a world of cutthroat competition and cost-cutting, allowing for tremendous efficiency and profits...but at what price? When the head principal of a corporate-run high school finds himself betrayed by the very titans of industry he once served, he decides to fight back. Can one man make a difference against the system, or will he find himself ground under and re-incorporated?

  • ISBN: 9781311109415
  • Author: Calvin Wolf
  • Published: 2015-11-19 17:20:29
  • Words: 42577
The Socialist The Socialist