The Orange Man

The door opens by itself. He doesn’t open doors. They open for him. They said it couldn’t be done, back in the 80s, when he built it, stone by stone, with his own bare hands. And a large team of builders. Not immigrants though – he checked. Soon he won’t have to.

There isn’t a hallway. Hallways are for small people, who need to be led where they’re going. His home opens into a cathedral, into a colossal cavern. He can go wherever he wants. Everything is gold.

The staff don’t talk to him, but they nod a lot. Women, all of them. Men don’t apply for jobs like these, they’re not designed for it. They’re the hunters and gatherers, they need to be out in the open air. The blonde who takes his coat, in the uniform he sewed with his own bare hands, bare hands, the hands that built America, this is what she wants to be doing. She smiles at him. “Good evening, sir”.

You shouldn’t talk to them, it only encourages them. She takes his coat and he walks through the huge room, feet sinking into the carpet. He doesn’t believe in carpet, but carpet says something about a man. “Walk on my wealth”, it says, “I am goddamn rich.” He is so goddamn rich. £3 billion, that’s what they guess at. Idiots. Closer to £10, when you take into account his branding. He pats his hair and smiles. Nobody understands like he does the value of the personal brand.

That bitch, though. That scheming bitch, in her pantsuits. The kinds of things she said to him, he hasn’t heard those kind of things since he was a boy. No one speaks to him like that. Sometimes, his advisers come to him, and advise him (ha!) of people on the internet saying things about him. “Say them to my face!” he retorts, and sends them out of the room. They never come and say it to his face. They’re too afraid.

That bitch though, standing there by the microphone, swaying like she can’t quite manage the size of him in the room, like she can’t quite stand still in his presence. That’s who they think will be beat him?

No one will beat him. No one has beaten him since he was kicked out of school at 13 years old, and that wasn’t a beating, that was an opportunity. He eats bastards like them for breakfast now.

The door to the bedroom opens by itself, or maybe there’s someone there opening it, he doesn’t see them. All he sees is his big bed, his big gold bed, and beside it his wife.

“You did wonderfully, dear!”

“I know.” She picks up his favourite brand of whiskey, pours him a heavy drink. Some men drink vodka, some men drink water. Those men are weak. “Here you go, darling.” She extends her hand to hand it to him, but he walks up close to her. She melts into his touch. She’s afraid of him. Everyone is.

“Do you want me to do it?” she breathes into his ear. This would make most men melt. She has the right kind of body, the good kind, with the long hair. She looks like a woman should look like. Women like this have always gravitated to him, because they understand.

He nods, tightly, and sits in a chair, leaning back. This is the only time he relaxes, and even then, he’s watching. He never switches off. Men never do. Each night he makes her check the light fixtures for cameras. She doesn’t even know what she’s looking for, but it soothes him. She does it naked.

She moves behind him and picks up a brush. It’s gold. Softly, like he likes it (he likes most things hard, she knows that) she runs the brush through his hair. It’s all his hair, despite what the people say, his hair because he paid for it. You can make anything your own if you have enough money. He is so goddamn rich. £3 billion. What a joke. Jokers.

She pins the front down with her palm as she brushes the back, short light strokes, like you’d brush a horse. He’s never brushed a horse, but he knows how horses should be brushed. He can smell her wrist. She smells expensive.

That bitch, though. How dare she, standing there in trousers, raising her eyebrows like she knows something. Well. If a woman can still stand there, like that, when the world knows what her husband did. If not even her husband wants her, then why should anyone else? They don’t, that’s a fact. None of them. They don’t know what they want.

His advisers, the ones he listens to, they’ve told him to prepare for a loss. He doesn’t know how to do that. He’s never lost before. You’re a loser if you admit to being a loser.

Still, though. A man in his position has to think about the jealous ones, the ones who want to get him. They’d be outside the wall, if he had it his way, but they haven’t let him build it yet. They wouldn’t be above twisting things, rigging the polls. Everyone knows it happens. Everyone knows how easy it is.

“Faster,” he says. She gets sore wrists. She’s complained once before. There’s a mirror across from them, gold, and in it he can see her wincing. Weak, just like a woman.

He’d love to be able to fire them. All of them. Just point a finger and yell, “You’re fired”. Everyone loves it when he does that. He’s never lost a damn thing in his damn life, and certainly not to a woman. That nasty woman. She represents all women. The ugly ones.

The thing about women is that it’s so easy to see what they want. They think they’re complicated but there’s nothing complicated about them. They’re easy. And they always come to him first. He’s never chased a woman in his life.

“Faster,” he says, again. “Don’t make me say it again.”

“I could do this all night,” he says, cradling his whiskey in his crotch. She knows that.

The Politics of Selfishness

Originally published here.

My New Zealand was always a political one. My Dad was a member of the now-defunct Alliance party under Jim Anderton, and I was a six-year-old standing on a soap-box, announcing Dad’s intention to speak to potential voters on street corners on Saturday afternoons.

My own face was on the leaflets I got paid $5 to deliver to local mailboxes. His picture was screen-printed, along with his name and the Alliance colours, on the side of our two family cars, and when we were dropped off at school, my sister and I would emerge from the car proudly, politically.

I got told off at school for handing round sheets of Alliance stickers that I’d stolen from my parents’ office. “Politically neutral,” my teacher explained. My friends wore the stickers on the inside of their clothes anyway – they liked the stars. I won our class elections. Later, I stayed with Green MP Jeanette Fitzsimons and her husband in the Coromandel. They had a self-composting toilet and we slept in the barn.

The first time I voted, I did so in my old primary school only two days after my 18th birthday, the same school in which I’d won my own election. I voted the same as my parents did.

I moved to Wellington and attended law school – a fairly lacklustre and uninvolved student, if I’m honest, more invested in my English degree and my difficult relationship to care much about judicial review. But there was no escaping the impressive nature of a law school ensconced in government buildings, the lawns crawling with judges on their way to various courtrooms, the ever-present Beehive squatting above it all. Once, in a sandwich shop on Lambton Quay, Peter Dunne took the last veggie roll in the queue in front of me, and then dropped it on the ground. “Justice,” I thought, even though he still had the lunch he wanted, albeit a little bruised, and I didn’t.

The second time I voted, I wandered, still drunk, down the sunny street from my flat. I forgot my voting card and it took me a long time to fill in my details, my still-new address failing to come to me in the dim repurposed community centre.

Even though politics was an ingrained part of my life, it wasn’t something that struck me as relevant to my wellbeing, except insofar as my father having a job. I knew the parties and their politics at a precocious level as a child, and then I forgot them. My awareness of governmental policy extended to student loan pay-backs and minimum wage increases.

The concept of an apolitical law student might seem like a strange one, but I don’t believe that I was alone – as long as I kept passing my exams, the content and application of public law to my own life amounted to nothing. I was selfish because I could afford to be – because the safety nets of part-time employment, student loans and parents had let me lead a life abstracted from politics. I studied what I wanted to, and I bought what I wanted to. I learnt the intricate details of a legal system, both public and private, that seemed to have no real power over my life, because all the problems I had were solvable. I grew from a child deeply interested in all aspects of politics to a young adult interested only if they directly affected me.

Now I live in London, where neither my working, nor my private life, has anything to do with law or politics. Legislation is no longer a central part of my familial or academic existence, but since leaving the safety of a political framework that works for me, politics have become important again. Starting out in a new industry in a new city, I earn a low wage – and nothing, not even a father on a soap box, will make you more politically aware than treading the breadline. I’m more aware of politics than I’ve been in years – I follow the personalities and proposals of politicians closely – but issues surrounding welfare and pensions are not the ones that grab me, but hikes in mortgages and changes in tax brackets. My politics are selfish, and the policies I care about are the ones that could change my life.

 

There’s not the same proximity to law-makers that there is in New Zealand, but with the heightened sense of hierarchy that exists in the United Kingdom there is a greater feeling both of impact and of alliance. The vague listing ships of left and right that exist as Labour and National in New Zealand are solid and unyielding in their politics here, and one’s political identity does not shift.

Not long after I moved here, Margaret Thatcher died, and on the day of her funeral I left work to join the crowds that lined the route her coffin would take. There were thousands of us – some mere onlookers like me, some expressing their sadness, but the vocal majority sported signs and sang “Ding dong, the witch is dead”. In New Zealand, plenty of politicians have been loathed, but none of them have fractured a country the way this woman had, with her prioritising economic stability over jobs – in such a way that years after her fall from power and retreat from public eye, years into a slow decline into dementia, they still abandoned everything they were doing to smile at her passing coffin.

These gestures, these moments, though, are leftover from a period of political unrest and Thatcherism – these days, there are similar trends in voter statistics to those in New Zealand. In New Zealand’s last general election 77 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds registered to vote – as of February 5 2014, one in four young people living in Britain had not yet registered to vote.  In the 2010 general election, only 44 per cent of 18- to 24-year-oldsvoted. As a general trend, voter participation in developed democracies is gradually sliding downwards, but why? Is it because of what I’ve recognized in myself – that unless a proposed law change directly, negatively affects my quality of living, I don’t care about it?

Politics might be decried as a murky, opaque process, but in absence of outrage, there is apathy. This is the self-defeating nature of democracy – wherein when the equilibrium of contentment is reached, we stop.

The solution to voter apathy, then, might be to stir the pot – which is what I witnessed recently in the UK. The recent Budget announcement by the Conservative/Lib-Dem coalition government was one that was eagerly awaited by social media punters – and rather less eagerly by myself, and the others in my office.

Perhaps the Conservatives knew this – perhaps this was instrumental in their key Budget points. Because, in the end, the most striking point of a speech that included dramatic pension reforms and a welfare cap was the “Beer and Bingo” tax – a halving of bingo duty to 10 per cent and a reduction by one penny in beer duty.

Tweeting out an advertisement that looked like nothing so much as a spoof of his own party, Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps entreated his Twitter followers to “spread the word”. And those hard working people did so, in their thousands, heaping such scorn upon this patronizing missive that all other points from the Budget were over-shadowed.

One can almost put oneself in their shiny leather shoes, those Conservative law-makers constructing a Budget that many would ignore. In between laws and allocations that would affect potholes and fuel duty, the kinds of things that would draw no real media or public attention, and affect Average Joe in only the most fleeting of ways, they decided to chuck in – and then highlight – a couple of boons for the working class. A way to entertain themselves, they might have nodded, and a cheaper way for them to drink, as they do. A couple of shiny things to tide them over, while they awaited reforms that might actually affect the quality of their lives. Brilliant. Inspired.

Shockingly enough, the plan backfired. High-school Orwell was called to mind, at least to literature fans on Twitter, who were quick to spoof the eminently spoof-able advert:

“Bread and circuses” was whispered, then shouted – satiation and entertainment the only necessary requirements for satisfaction? It was hard to pinpoint which element was more insulting.

It’s not just the content of the advertisement that is so patronising – though the assumption that beer and bingo is the way that “hardworking people” fill their days is fairly pointed – but the use of the word ‘they’. That division, that very deliberate line in the sand, between the people who own the houses and make the money – and the law – and those that don’t.  Does Grant Shapps play Bingo? Probably not. Does he drink beer? Probably – but then, he probably doesn’t notice the 1p price difference.

The policy might have been sound, but the pitch was flawed – and yet: suddenly this dry political document that would usually cause a stir only amongst political commentators became the biggest talking point of the day. “Beer and Bingo”, the catchy misplaced mantra, rang out across the internet. Is this what it takes, then, for people to become truly cognizant of political manoeuvring that will one day affect them? A social media slip, one patronising comment too many?

To my mind, though, this was the ultimate example of the politics of if not selfishness, then certainly self. The second people felt like a policy was pitched at them, they took note – and the minute they felt offended by it, they spoke out.

Here’s what I’m prepared to bet on – it felt good to get mad.

It felt good for me to turn to my colleague and ask her if she’d ever played Bingo. Ask if, perhaps, that’s what we should do this evening. It felt good to go to the local pub and find the tip jar – labelled Shapps’ Tax – filled with 1p coins. It felt good to be aware of policy, to be offended and angered, and to bite back in any small way.

The nature of my own political selfishness is that it takes a bursting of my bubble for me to say something, do something, feel something. It’s not something that makes me proud, when I have friends who actively stand up for youth justice when they’re no longer youths, for the 99 per cent when they number among the 1 per cent – it’s a flaw, a big one, born of a political consciousness that never extended beyond my own backyard. But, in London certainly, the combined effects of increasing costs of living, population booms and a weak and failing job market, means that my own backyard will no longer be a safe place to be. I – along with about one million other Londoners – am about to find out what happens when selfishness is no longer safe.