You can read this series from the beginning here.
It had been a hard week. Polly had assigned me to doing damage control on the Washington Post story on Senator Harry Reid’s comments about the Koch Brothers being the main cause of global warming. I had the bright idea of seeing if Sharron Angle, who ran against Senator Reid in 2010, had said anything lately that we could use as a counterweight to Reid’s statements. All I could find recently was a lot of photos she had posted to Instagram of her cat. At first I thought she had more than one cat, which gave me an idea for a Tumblr called Sharron Angle: Crazy Cat Lady. But Polly pointed out that she was just using a lot of different filters for pictures of the same cat.
"It doesn’t matter anyway," Polly said. "I already gave Reid’s office my best advice."
"What was that?" I asked.
"Tell him to stop saying stupid things," she said.
"What did they say?"
"They asked me what my second-best advice was. I said, ‘Retirement,’ and they hung up."
So it had been a hard week, and I was looking forward to a little time off. I was riding down the elevator with a fellow intern with a female gender expression. She said her name was Samantha, and that she was going to see the new Captain America movie, and she wanted to know if I was interested.
"Interested in what?" I said.
"Captain America."
"It’s not about football, is it?" I hate talking about sports, because it’s too easy for people to find ways to make me look stupid when they’re talking about sports. Or economics. Or cooking. Or Instagram filters.
"Let me try this another way," Samantha said. "Would you be interested into going to a movie with me?"
"Sure," I said. It was late on a Friday, and I didn’t have anything else to do, or really know much of anyone in Washington, and Samantha’s female gender expression was very consistent with my heterosexual orientation at the moment. So we went to the movie, and I was not surprised that it was a jingoistic celebration of martial heroism, but with cool special effects.
When the movie was over, Samantha suggested that we go to Jamba Juice, and I accepted, because I like their coconut water smoothies. She asked me what I liked about the movie.
"I think that they handled the relationship between Captain America and the Falcon with a lot of sensitivity. I wish they had made the homoerotic subtext a little more overt, though."
"You thought they were gay?" she asked.
"Well, Captain America didn’t seem to have any attraction to Scarlett Johansson, or the other female characters, except for the old lady. I think it’s heteronormative to assume that he couldn’t have a sexual relationship with the Falcon."
"Oh," she said. "I’m sorry. I should have realized. You might have said something."
"Realized what?" I said.
"That you were gay."
"I’m a biologically male heterosexual who believes that civil rights are incompatible with a homophobic worldview," I said.
"Does that mean you’re not gay?" she asked.
"It means I’m not gay," I said.
"All right, then," she said. "Do I need to explain that I’m a biologically female heterosexual?"
"It’s heteronormative to assume that kind of thing," I said. "So I appreciate you telling me."
"Setting that aside for the moment," she said, "what I liked about the movie was how it portrayed Hydra. That it was a secret society, made up of S.H.I.E.L.D. members, all working towards the goal of undermining S.H.I.E.L.D. and replacing it with something more progressive. Did you find that narrative powerful?"
"I thought Hydra were the bad guys?" I asked.
"Just from Captain America’s point of view," she said. "It’s the concept, though, more than the actual motivation of the parties involved, that intrigues me. You have an organization that’s devoted to one goal, and you bring in your own personnel into that organization to undermine them, and then, at a single stroke, all your people rise up and take over. It’s an elegant plan, don’t you think?"
"I guess."
"So, you were at Amherst in 2012," Samantha said. "Did you volunteer for Elizabeth Warren?"
I took a sip of my mango coconut water. "I certainly supported Senator Warren," I said. "I was having a hard time that semester with grades, and my counselor recommended that I dial back my political participation." That was basically true, except for leaving out the part about my mom being my counselor, and leaving out the part about my mom not wanting me to volunteer to help a Harvard professor. Sometimes the whole Harvard-Yale rivalry is a drag.
"That’s understandable. I was just curious. It’s probably enough, for now, that we know that you support her."
"Who’s ‘we’?" I asked.
"Exactly," she said. "It’s getting late. I need to go. I’ll see you at work on Monday. And don’t forget: hail Hydra."
"Hail Hydra," I said. I made a note to myself to have an alternate movie idea in mind in case somebody asked me out again.
"Here’s the story," Polly said at the intern orientation meeting on Monday. "We’ve decided to push back against the concept of inevitability." This earned her a few scattered boos. "This is not my decision, okay? My personal view does not come in to this. This was a collective decision, and we’re going to respond to it in a collective way."
That seemed to settle the crowd down. I looked to my left, where Samantha was sitting, and she was doing the tiniest possible little fist pump.
"When someone says that Secretary Clinton’s nomination for the Presidency is inevitable, we’re going to push back on that. Hard. We’re going to say that it’s a democratic process. We’re going to say that it’s going to be a hard contest. We’re going to say that nobody ever is given anything unless they earn it. That’s the best way to approach the primaries at this point. It doesn’t matter who runs or doesn’t run, or who you support or don’t support. Everybody’s got an open shot at the nomination, and nobody or nothing is inevitable. Got it?"
"Except for the ultimate historical triumph of the proletariat," I said.
Polly looked at me with the kind of look that my mother had on her face when she caught my dad smoking a cigar that time. "Justin, if you use the word "proletariat" in connection with American electoral politics, ever again, I swear I am going to ram one of Jay Carney’s Soviet propaganda posters down your gullet. The same goes for all of you. Go. Get to work. Make a difference."
I left the conference room and walked down the hallway to my cubicle. Samantha caught me just as I was sitting down and whispered something in my ear. It sounded like she said, "Hail Hydra." Then she gave me a big smile, and asked if I was up for a movie on Friday.
"Do I get to pick which one?" I asked.
"Sure," she said. "The movie isn’t the important thing anyway, you know."
"What’s that?" I asked.
"The important thing is being on the same team, and knowing which team you’re on."
"I already told you I wasn’t gay," I said.
"I know," she said. "But I appreciate you telling me." She smiled, and went back to her cubicle. I went back to trying to make a difference, but for the first time, I had to ask myself just who I was making a difference for.