“I can’t pay you.” Brian told Rai with measured empathy, his feet half out of his new leather loafers, exposing a fetching pair of burgundy and navy socks. Fashion is a fruit of wealth, and it was always harvest here at the Union League of Philadelphia.
“I know.” Rai’s answer came quickly because he already knew the declaration was coming. It wasn’t the first time, and likely wouldn’t be the last. And this is what he had signed on for when he agreed to be Campaign Manager. He sat carefully to conceal the seam at the bottom of his weathered brown shark skin suit jacket that was coming apart just slightly after 12 years of weekly use.
“Hey man, I’m getting rid of some old clothes. You’re about the same size. Take whatever you want.”
“Sure.” Rai didn’t care about the humiliation of being 44 and not having money for food or clothes … this was the life of an entrepreneur, or maybe a socialpreneur. That’s the way he thought of this stint in politics. A way to learn about the system – how it’s broken, and how to change it. And he expected his philosophy to be more powerful than temporary poverty. If his ideas really had value, they would prove their power in the real world. He fiddled with the snap on his olive drab canvass side satchel, making it snap rhythmically. As a lifelong drummer, he had an almost involuntary tendency to find percussion instruments in everyday objects as a default activity. The energy of pain and stress seemed to channel constructively in making rhythms.
About 2 years ago Rai attended the PA Society Gala, the state’s convention for its politicos from governor on down. They met at the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan and wined, dined and took victory laps for their recent wins in November. Top shelf liquor, $10,000 live bands, dinners at the finest restaurants … lobbyists throwing parties with premium bars, caviar and fine cigars. After attending the events and accepting accolades as a brilliant strategist and operative for his recent victory with Bobby Po, he retired to an isolated corner of the quiet west lobby of the Waldorf, and slept in a chair, in his suit, so he could attend the second day’s events. Somehow, he seemed to escape notice. And he might have been the only one who knew they were all circling the golden calf, and leaving their constituents in a cloud of palliative hallucinogens that caused them to turn on each other, rather than those reveling in their in self-congratulatory celebrations. There he slept, solitary by night and masquerading as one of them by day. He in a chair in the lobby, and they in their $2500 suites. They weren’t bad people, they just had comfort configurations built on old philosophic technology … and they didn’t understand that.
Now, having failed to receive any professional dividends from his first campaign victory those two years ago, with Bobby Po, now Councilman, he was focused ahead, feeling the brotherhood in this mission with Brian. And even penniless, the satisfaction of working in pursuit of his dreams was, in Rai’s soul, well worth having to secretly sleep in luxury hotel lobbies, missing the occasional meal, and being one emergency room visit from bankruptcy. The divine discontent was disappearing with the money as he went further down this path that, unbeknownst to him, was the beginning of disassembling his comfort configuration and reassembling it into the purest incarnation of himself. Some called it “finding your purpose” or “being guided by the universe.” Maybe it was a little of that and more. Because he had to be able to teach it to others if it were to fulfill him spiritually, and fulfill his purpose.
“Here’s 20 bucks … at least you can get something to eat. Next week we should be in better shape.” Brian was already focusing back on the campaign. It was all-consuming from the moment they got up, watched the news, and heard the last report from the field around midnight about the opponents’ maneuverings throughout the day. Brian Murphy’s day job brought in about $250K, and he was campaigning for Philadelphia City Council, a part time job that paid $120K. Win or lose, he wouldn’t be destitute, but if he won, he would lose the day job and trade financial power for political power.
The two sat, again ironically, in the lap of luxury and power, each on the verge of a relative financial collapse. An exclusive club with dues of $3K a year. Politicos, CEOs and celebrities adorned the posh and stately rooms like the city’s royalty, while its poverty rate was the worst in the top 20 cities against the highest taxes. And there was only enough money for one drink here, or a meal from a diner to Rai’s name. A server carrying wine arrived – a consolation gift from Brian. She placed them gingerly on the marble table. Brian signed a leather-bound booklet and said to Rai – “At least you can have good wine.”
Rai sat contemplating the words that would balance everything in the universe in response. Because it all connected, and it all mattered. He thought about the Zen Master’s refrain – “We’ll see” – but also whether he could improve upon it … “If we don’t create the balance, who will?”
Brian took a sip of his Cabernet and quickly retorted – “Probably Franky Toc.” Brian was consistently sarcastic and not patient when it came to philosophy for such an intelligent creature. Franky was the political boss of the city, head of the Philadelphia Carpenter’s Local 132. They all need to go through him to get elected.
Rai didn’t know how he was actually sustaining – he just was. He lost his health insurance right before he won City Council at Large as Campaign Manager for Bobby Po that two years ago. Po was son of a first-generation immigrant and he had a work ethic like no one else, and it paid off for Po, but not Rai. He didn’t want anything but referrals for his consulting business based on a job well done. It took Po three tries to win an election. His third was with Rai, and he won by 160 votes out of 50,000. He didn’t want a $100K Chief of Staff job as was a standard for Campaign Managers, a commission seat, or any privileged position. He saw that as a dysfunction in the system. He believed in the principle of Iteration even before he conceived it. If everyone attached their livelihoods to an elected official, then they would be overinvested in getting them re-elected. So, their work would be less about actually helping people and more about keeping their situation. He saw this as one of the core bugs in the system.
Rai’s carefully concealed poverty was the sacrifice needed to abide by this principle of Iteration. All the major religions have a theme of salvation coming from some form of self-sacrifice …and here was his … but if his ideas about philosophic technology come to fruition, that sacrifice would be diffused by the citizen body as tiny, less extreme, and sustainable sacrifices by each person, rather than a gargantuan sacrifice by a solitary savior. He called it 330 million saviors. But for now, he just had to sacrifice more, play the dirty game, and get Brian elected … this while he was losing his wife, his house, his income and his savings.
“Cheers!” he said.
“Cheers.” Brian returned, intrigued.