You can read this series from the beginning here.
It was Thursday morning, and the interns were restive. The glamour had worn off the State of the Union speech. The remorseless winter wind was still biting. Middle-class parents were still avoiding taxes on withdrawals from their 529 plans while poor children worked minimum-wage jobs instead of going to community college. Progressivism was in retreat, and there I was, a sole voice of reason and logic telling the rest of the interns why we couldn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day in the office.
"This was a collective decision by the leadership committee," I said. "We’re sorry if you think we’re ruining your fun time, but we need to take a stand on this."
"What does the leadership committee have against love?" Rebecca asked.
"Nothing," I said. "We have nothing against love. Love is the basis of civil society. It underlines everything we do here. But love is not about greeting cards and flowers and those Cadbury eggs with the weird filling. Love is about helping your neighbor understand his or her–or zir–place in the collective, and organizing towards a bright progressive future for everyone."
"You’re not serious," another intern said.
"I am incredibly serious. Valentine’s Day is anti-multicultural–you know it’s Saint Valentine’s day, right? It is patriarchal in that it is tied up in pre-modern expectations for romantic love. It is incredibly dismissive of LGBT folk. And the commercialism… well, that speaks for itself."
"You’re just jealous because you’re not seeing anyone," one of the blonde interns said. "And you’re taking it out on the rest of us."
"Let’s be careful with the microaggressions," I said.
"Did you ask Emma about this?" she asked.
"I did, and she agrees with me," I said. "She can’t be here today because she’s working on a special opposition research project. But we agreed on what the ground rules for tomorrow will be, okay? No flowers. No cards. No candy. No pink baked goods. No public displays of affection or expressions of cis privilege. You want to do any of that, you can do it on Saturday on your own time. Does everyone understand?"
There was a bit of grumbling, but everyone went to their cubicles and that was pretty much it.
It was late on Friday, and I was trying to get a hashtag game going about #KochBrothersConversationHearts, but I wasn’t getting my usual retweet volume and was feeling pretty sad about it. I cued up the Springsteen album of Pete Seeger covers on iTunes on my noise-canceling headphones, and I was about halfway through "Erie Canal" when I saw Emma out of the corner of my eye.
"Done with your project?" I asked.
"Yeah," she said. "Finally. It was really difficult but I think I’m in a better place now."
"What does that mean?" I asked.
"I think we should go out," Emma said. "Tonight. You and me. Someplace where we can spend some time together."
"It’s the Friday before Valentine’s Day," I said. "It’s going to be hard to find reservations."
Emma pulled her phone out of the inside jacket pocket of her pantsuit, which was a fetching charcoal gray and offset her white silk blouse perfectly. "Are you okay with Moroccan?" she asked.
"I am very okay with Moroccan," I said. I like Moroccan because it’s vegetarian-friendly, mostly gluten-free, and a way to associate myself with Muslim culture in a socially-approved way, but I didn’t see the need to point that out to Emma. "Do you want to go now?"
"Give me an hour and meet me there," she said.
Emma wasn’t wearing her pantsuit when she got to the restaurant. She was wearing a low-cut skin-tight dress that was on the borderline between dark green and black. She had spiked heels and a tiny little purse and diamond-stud earrings. I had always quietly admired Emma’s decidedly female gender expression, but this was taking things to new heights.
"You look nice," I said.
"I look fantastic," she said. "And you should say so. I know you’re trying to be all feminist and everything, Justin, but you should stop doing that, at least for tonight."
"Sorry. You look fantastic. Honestly."
"Let’s eat," she said, and we sat down and both ordered tagine.
"So," I said, "tell me again about this project."
"Opposition research," she said. "What do you know about Jim Webb?"
"Senator, of course. Former Navy secretary. Mounting quixotic Presidential campaign, which makes him a target of opportunity."
"And novelist," she said.
"You say so," I said.
"I’ve been reading his novels," Emma said. "They’re very… vivid in places."
"I had no idea."
"That was the plan," she said. "I would read the novels, and share the more vivid parts–the really sexy parts–with small-town newspapers in the rural South. Letters to the editor, guest editorials, that kind of thing. The idea was to make Webb into a sleazemonger."
"Is it going to work?"
"No idea," she said. "But reading those books have kind of… changed my sensibilities, if you know what I’m saying."
"Oh," I said. "It’s very important not to get captured by anti-progressive sensibilities. I watched Sean Hannity for two weeks straight one time, and I found myself getting really aggressive and dismissing other people’s opinions. It took me a while to taper off."
"It’s not political at all," Emma said. "It’s personal. It’s about how I feel about elemental things like honor, and respect. And love."
"Oh, Valentine’s Day," I said. "It’s insidious. Of course you’re thinking about love."
"No, not at all. Valentine’s Day is about hearts and flowers and all that crap. What I’m talking about, really, is the kind of men this culture produces. The men in Webb’s novels are bold and fearless warriors. They’re not neo-feminist ninnies who waste time talking about feelings and cultural privilege and the latest Sleater-Kinney album. No offense."
"None taken," I said, although I didn’t see why anyone would harsh on the new Sleater-Kinney album. "I see myself as a warrior, you know. For social justice."
"A real warrior would be brave," she said. "A real warrior would be a leader. A real warrior would take his woman back to his apartment and have his way with her."
"I agree totally," I said. "Consistent, of course, with mutual respect and consent. And, you know, we did order the tagine."
I looked into Emma’s eyes, and saw a smouldering fire there, and summoned forth my inner Hannity. "We’re going to need those tagines to go," I said.