Fiction, Vol. 7.2, June 2013
By Monday morning’s end, the torrential deluge of e-mails and phone calls had eased to a steady drip, one that Walton hoped to syncopate with coffee sips and fantasy baseball substitutions for the remainder of the afternoon. If all went well, he would be packing up his bag1 at 4:57 p.m. with the restrained giddiness of a high school student / clock worshiper anticipating the final school bell.
But by mid-day, an unexpected crisis put a damper on things. Walton had received an e-mail from Donald, a co-worker, inviting him to a music festival over the coming weekend. The plan was for the two of them to drive two and a half hours southwest of Prairieville into the middle of nowhere, presumably in their office-mandated Casual Friday attire.
Though Walton could tolerate having a drink with Donald at the occasional Thursday karaoke outing, he wasn’t sure he could stomach an entire weekend with the guy, not to mention being elbow-to-elbow with the types of people who come out of the woodwork to see the same jam band they saw last week. Besides, Walton had already reserved his entire Saturday for watching the fourth season of Breaking Bad on DVD 2. At this point, the prospect of doing anything else was, quite frankly, annoying.
Donald’s e-mail had a 2:18 p.m. time stamp, which meant that Walton would have to at least acknowledge the invitation by the end of the workday. To wait until tomorrow to reply would be foolish; he’d learned over the years to mind the finely tuned internal clock that made him conscious of so many things, like how long he could politely feign ignorance of an office correspondence, or the number of minutes it would take his oven 3 to preheat to 450 degrees.
A line like “I’ll have to check my schedule” might buy him some time, but then again, Donald would probably see right through his thin attempt at self-importance.
Walton resolved to deny himself any trips to the water cooler, the break room, and even the bathroom for the rest of the workday, as they would all mean potential run-ins with Donald. Still, he felt like a sitting duck. He considered faking a stomach flu and going home sick, but unfortunately, he lacked the materials to reproduce the trademark concoction of his formative years: mashed bananas and old spaghetti. Perhaps if he were to escape for a quick smoke break… “Damn it, I never picked up smoking,” he realized aloud with a fierce whisper.
“Waaalt! Hope I’m not interrupting your conversation!”
A startled Walton suddenly found himself gazing up at a familiar, decidedly incendiary grin, which, he figured, had inspired more than one fist to take a crack at it.
“Oh, hey there, Donald… Just, uh, going over a presentation for tomorrow…”
“Yeah, sure you were,” Donald teased.
“Did you have a good weekend?”
“Yeah, man. Went out with that girl from IT – you know, the brunette with the glasses and the really big…”
Upon recognizing that Donald’s Friday and Saturday night conquests would take some time to recount, Walton tuned out and began wondering how he could rephrase the question in the future to elicit a simple one-word answer. But before long, his absent-minded nodding and smiling were interrupted by the question he’d been dreading all along.
“So did you get my e-mail?”
“Yeah, I sent you an e-mail.”
“Hmmm… Don’t remember getting anything.”
“You sure? I sent it almost an hour ago.”
One hour, twelve minutes, and thirty seconds ago, thought Walton. Get it right, asshole. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure I didn’t get anything. Maybe if you send it again—” But Walton saw that Donald’s feet were firmly planted, and that they would remain in his personal space until there was some sort of explanation. “Let me double-check my inbox.” Pause for effect. “Ah, here it is. Good old spam must’ve caught it.”
Donald leaned in and hovered over Walton as he read the entire message aloud. Walton stumbled over the words, his mind dedicating most of its faculties to excuse-making.
“So, what do you think? You in, man? Obviously, you don’t have to give me an answer right away, but I thought I’d pop by and see what you were thinking while it’s still early in the week.” Donald punctuated his breathless line of questioning with a nervous but hopeful contortion of facial features.
“You know what, Donald, it sounds great—it really does. But the wife and I already made plans.”
“Yeah.” The two men exchanged slow, silent nods for what seemed like an eternity, until Walton’s discomfort took the reins and spoke for him. “We’re going on a camping trip.”
“Oh. Didn’t know you were an outdoorsman.”
“Yeah, I’m sure you’ve heard me talking about it—I go camping pretty regularly. But then again, I wouldn’t really call myself an outdoorsman.” In truth, the last time Walton had been camping was before he had quit Cub Scouts as a Webelo; ever since then, all of his knowledge about the great outdoors came from Castaway and Bear Grylls.
“It’s just that Vivian’s been badgering me for a couple months about going.” This improvised addition actually held some truth that Walton could feel good about, even though she’d been asking him for more like the entirety of the six years they’d been married.
“You know, I’m a pretty big camper myself, Walt.”
“Is that right?” Walton didn’t like where this was headed. “I’d guess that we’re probably into different types of camping.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m more into the middle-of-the-woods, absolutely-no-one-around type of deal. Just me, my wife, and the stars. No one else around. At all.”
“I’m with you there, buddy—the middle of the woods is where it’s at. Sounds like we’ll have a good time!”
“Oh…wait, we? I thought you were going to the festival?”
“Haven’t bought tickets yet, bro. Besides, it’s pretty much the same lineup as last year. You don’t mind if I tag along, right?”
“Well, no…but…”—a conjunction of desperation—”don’t you think you’d have a really great time at the festival? I mean, it even sounded like fun to me, so I’d probably go if I didn’t have plans… But since I do, couldn’t you find someone else to go with you?”
“Funny you say that, because the festival producers actually added an identical set of dates next weekend due to the high demand.”
By the end of the conversation, Donald had invited himself and his IT girlfriend along on the non-existent camping trip. Although Walton tried convincing him that all the sites were booked at the campground, Donald remained insistent about the fact that none of the local campgrounds ever filled up, even during summer. So Walton begrudgingly “canceled” the site he had previously “reserved,” and Donald went off to book two adjacent sites just outside Fordston. If that weren’t enough, Walton had given Donald the go-ahead to buy festival tickets for the following weekend.
Defeated, Walton gazed down into his mug for a good minute, imagining that the ripples in his coffee 4 were rolling waves, softly massaging the sands of some exotic beach. He wasn’t feeling particularly thirsty or caffeine-deprived; in fact, he didn’t even like coffee all that much. But he completed the ritual nonetheless, raising and then tilting his mug until the last drip of its contents fell onto his tongue.
Vivian couldn’t have been more thrilled about the lies and cowardice that led to the first camping trip of their married life. Sure, she would have preferred to go without Walton’s co-workers, but sometimes you just have to take what you can get.
On Wednesday evening, Vivian dragged Walton to the REI Outlet in Deer Creek, armed with the dangerous combination of a credit card and a “be prepared” motto. A municipal construction project in the store parking lot forced Vivian to park at a meter a few blocks away, which only solidified the disgruntled furrow in her husband’s brow.
“Isn’t this neighborhood cute, Walt?” she asked as they exited the car.
He responded with an abbreviated hum of indifference, a tactful substitute for the sounds that would’ve come out if he’d opened his lips.
“The brick intersections, the park benches, the landscaping, those fancy awnings…”
Walton closed his eyes and grimaced, shifting his lower jaw back and forth and back again with the odic cadence of his wife’s observations.
“Wouldn’t it be nice to live here in Deer Creek some day?”
He was about to make a snide remark about the state of their current mortgage, but a figure5 in the shadows half a block ahead suddenly caught his eye. Walton reached for Vivian’s left hand with his right, and quickened his step. Left, right, clink, clink, left, right, clink clink.What passed before as a vague, far-away rattling—an old carburetor? (Walt was no mechanic); children playing jacks or marbles? (The younger generation’s love affair with tangible objects had ended a long time ago); maybe a dog behind a chain-link fence, eagerly awaiting his Master? —suddenly announced its closeness, its undeniable intimacy. Louder, louder, eyes straight ahead, louder still, a threatening crescendo of metallic jangling and unintelligible gruffness.
Walton chose this moment to enter the conversation his wife was having without him. Though he opted to ignore her question, he did so with a sudden buoyancy that betrayed his sour attitude. Anything to please his wife for the time being.
“What’s the Deer Creek High School mascot again?” he asked, eyes fixed on the crosswalk ahead.
“I don’t know, Walt—the Tigers?”
“No, that’s Forest Grove.”
“Sounds familiar. That must be it.”
They fell back into silence after clearing the unwelcomed clamor, suddenly aware of the strained nature of their conversation. Walton squeezed Vivian’s hand and flashed her the sort of sympathetic half-smile he usually reserved for funeral visitation queues and acquaintances grumbling about salary freezes.
A few more steps, and they were lulled from their guilt by the REI sign looming above them. Vivian read the slogan “Get outside yourself” as if it were a promise. Walton read it as a threat.
Friday evening rolled around, and Donald and his IT girlfriend, Tiffany, pulled into the driveway just as Vivian and Walton were packing the last of their new camping gear into the SUV6 . Walton had unboxed all of the gear7 the previous night, and spent a great deal of time strategically wrinkling and refolding the canvas items in the dried soil of their garden. He was pleased with the newly weathered appearance of the tent by the time he was finished, but the stubborn shininess of the fold-up chairs’ legs left much to be desired.
“Your equipment looks top-notch, Walt. Impressive stuff,” Donald commented, eyebrows raised.
“Yeah, well, it’s been through quite a bit, but we try our best to take care of it.”
“I’ll say… It’s a shame about the rain. Sure you’re still up for camping?”
There had been a downpour earlier that afternoon. And while the forecast for later on wasn’t exactly abysmal, there were scattered showers predicted throughout the night.
“Oh, we’re definitely still up for it,” Vivian cut in, Wednesday night’s purchases fresh in her mind.
The four piled into the car and started off, a bit later than planned but at a reasonable time nonetheless. Small talk commenced, and it wasn’t long before Tiffany and Walton discovered they had something in common: They were equally delighted about the amount of beer in Donald’s industrial-grade cooler. A recent college grad, Tiffany was eager to prove to the real world that she could still party hard. Walton, on the other hand, simply wished to drown that world out of the equation.
It would take a little over a half hour to reach the Fordston city limits and another ten minutes to get to the campgrounds. With Vivian doing all the driving and Donald doing all the talking, Walton was free to turn his head toward the window and zone out. He wished he were listening to the dullards on talk radio rather than the one gracing his back seat, but keeping the radio at a low volume was, of course, the polite thing to do.
Walton let his eyes glaze over as the car rolled onward, and the forest of billboards became a fuzzy canvas of watercolor swatches, a fragmented rainbow set against the darkening charcoal sky. Gone were Dunkin Donuts and Salty Cove Water Park and Rubies Gentlemen’s Club, temporarily supplanted by generic orange and aqua and flesh-colored hues. Walton waited until they pulled into the campgrounds to refocus, and he was immediately disappointed to see that it looked nothing like the website: the leaves on the trees sagged like strips of soggy newspaper; the pond at the entrance gargled a layer of what appeared to be burnt spinach soufflé; even the dirt, typically too easy a target for aesthetic criticism, looked more fecal than fertile.
Just when Walton thought nothing could make the grounds any drearier, Donald’s unwarranted enthusiasm did just that.
“What are we all waiting for? Time to set up camp!”
Walton typically would have taken grim pleasure in pounding tent stakes into the ground, but the new-fangled tent he and his wife had just purchased didn’t come with stakes—at least not the type Walton was hoping for. He peered skeptically into the plastic bag that came with the instructions, and all he saw was an unwieldy amount of pencil-sized pieces of metal. In his mind, if a stake didn’t have the girth and rigidity to hold down a length of railroad track, it was practically worthless. These things were especially so.
Before long, a thick darkness infiltrated the void between the laborers and their labor, and Vivian asked her slow-moving husband to fetch the headlamp. Walton considered himself more of a relax-around-the-fire person than a set-up-the-tent sort of guy, so he welcomed the opportunity to step away and perhaps waste some time while his wife continued to make progress. Unbeknownst to both of them, Walton had left the headlamp on the edge of the garden while distressing their camping equipment the previous night, so the search was futile.
It took Walton checking the glove compartment for the third time for Donald to finally step in and suggest that they build a fire to provide at least some working light. He and Tiffany had finished setting up their tent long ago, and between beers, Donald had already managed to whittle himself half a walking stick.
Over the course of the next ten minutes, the four of them blindly accumulated a respectable pile of wood from the surrounding forest floor, and Donald began to arrange it meticulously in the site’s fire pit.
“Walt, can you grab the lighter?” he asked.
“Yeah, the lighter. Were you hoping to start this thing by rubbing two sticks together?” They all had a chuckle. Even Walton managed to feign some laughter, despite feeling that the romantic image of Tom Hanks dancing around some remote island bonfire had been ruined forever in his mind.
“Of course not,” Walton murmured. “But we may have a problem… I don’t think I remembered to bring a lighter.” Vivian and Tiffany stopped what they were doing.
“Really?” Donald asked. “You’re not kidding, are you?”
“No, I’m afraid not,” Walton replied, wincing.
“You said you’d bring all the auxiliary gear, and that all we needed to bring was our tent and drinks.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry. My fault… We are only here for one night, though, so it shouldn’t be a big deal.”
“True, but your tent is less than half set-up, and you can’t do that without light. Where are you going to sleep?”
Walton hadn’t thought of this. He cast a shameful glance toward Donald’s and Tiffany’s tent, but Donald’s intense glare told him to not even think about it.
“I guess we’ll sleep in the car,” Walton mumbled. At this, Vivian groaned.
“I don’t know.”
“I thought you said you’d done this before.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“You don’t even know how to set up a fucking tent!”
“Boys, how about we calm it down a notch,” Vivian interrupted. “We can order pizza for dinner, and then—”
“Pizza? Have it delivered while camping?” Donald was incredulous. “That’s like eating cereal at a barbeque.”
“Pizza sounds tasty enough to me,” Tiffany chimed in. “Also, I think you’re all forgetting that cars come with headlights.”
There’s something in this Tiffany character after all, Donald thought, suddenly grateful that she was along.
The pizza (or “pie,” as Donald annoyingly liked to call it) was an unholy amalgamation of oily vegetables and grease-soaked meats atop a thick layer of cardboard. The cheese and sauce were probably in there somewhere too, but Walton certainly couldn’t see them. The first bite, he swore, was an encounter with divinity; every bite that followed, however, delivered him closer to digestive hell.
The group discussed a range of subjects as they guzzled beer around the unlit campfire: their coworkers, the upcoming football season, their bosses, the latest season of Survivor, etc, etc. It was all surprisingly enjoyable to Walton, who nearly allowed himself to forget about the pointlessness of whatever it was they were trying to do out there in the woods. Who needed a TV and couch on a Friday night when you could erect a canvas shelter in the wilderness thirty miles away from home, only to take that shelter down the next morning and drive thirty miles back to your TV and couch?
Once the pizza was polished off and they’d all sucked their greasy fingers clean, the two couples parted for the night and filed into their respective tents. Walton brushed his teeth and then attempted to kiss his wife good night, but she just rolled over and grumbled, “I can’t believe you forgot to bring a lighter.”
Walton awoke sometime later to a suggestively rhythmic rustling in the other tent, and realized with horror that he had to take an urgent dump. As far as he could recall, he hadn’t done so all week, which, he realized, wasn’t normal. Cursing fate’s proclivity for poor timing, he collected his trousers12 , unzipped the door, and crawled into the dewy blackness, staggering to his feet in the direction opposite of the now moaning tent, and toward the dull, distant glow of the campground outhouse.
In the darkness, even silence was amplified, and every minor crackle and crunch in the nearby brush alarmed the now wide-eyed Walton. I could just turn back and hold it in for the night, right? But the churning in his stomach demanded otherwise, and he continued to creep cautiously forward, his arms cocked and ready to fend off whatever critters might be waiting to pounce. There was very little Walton wouldn’t have done at that moment to be in his own bed, where the toilet faithfully lingered a mere seven steps away, and the box of Imodium 13 hung out in the cabinet just above it.
An unexpected noise caused Walton to stop dead in his tracks, though his innards carried on, wrestling vigorously amongst themselves. He had heard something up ahead, something distinctly unnatural. It was quick, sharp—unidentifiable in its brevity. Probably nothing. Gotta keep moving.
He took a few more steps, then heard it again, this time with more clarity. A ringing metallic clatter. He swore he’d heard something like it before, but he couldn’t quite put a finger on the memory.
Perhaps it was just another camper, exiting the outhouse in some inexplicably belligerent fervor, but as Walton slinked closer, he saw nothing to indicate the presence of such a person. What he witnessed instead was somehow more troubling.
A family of ravenous, potentially rabid raccoons (Walton always assumed the worst) was blocking the path to much-needed relief. There was a small dumpster on the side of the outhouse that had been neglected to the point where plastic bags were bulging over the sides and threatening to topple, as a few already had. The raccoons skillfully lacerated the plastic of the fallen few with eager claws and teeth, and began contentedly feasting away at the putrid scraps left in crunched-up Styrofoam bowls and half-empty cans.
Walton groaned both in disgust and frustration, wondering how the hell he was going to make it inside the outhouse. He couldn’t hold it much longer, for this was no ordinary bowel movement. It would be more accurate to call it a bowel revolution, spearheaded by the now beer-soaked slices of grease he consumed before retiring for the evening.
Overtaken by a rash moment of panic, Walton picked up a bulky twig from the side of the path and hurled it into the pack of raccoons. They whirled around in fright, but immediately settled back into their slurping and gobbling, unthreatened by the apprehensive, vaguely round creature before them. They’re like the squirrels at the Grand Canyon, he realized with disbelief. Chillingly unfazed by humanity. He would have to resort to Plan B, which, unfortunately, he hadn’t yet formulated.
Walton pivoted around and around, looking desperately for a savior, until impulse drew him off the path and into the dark forest. He waddled through the maze of trunks with deliberate speed, not even stopping to tie his undone left shoe, further and further, deeper and deeper. And there, in the heart of the forest, stood a massive tower of knotty bark, its roots sprawling out above ground—beckoning, inviting—before plunging into the unknown. Maple? Birch? Oak? Hickory? Walton didn’t know, and honestly didn’t care—this was his respite, his reprieve. He was concerned only with the two broad roots jutting out and away from each other at the base: a throne for a man in need.
Like a desert traveler within the last few meters of a rippling oasis, Walton lunged toward the tree in uneven strides, tugging his trousers downward until they rested at his ankles. He planted his buttocks firmly on the two roots and braced himself for what was to come.
His thighs quaked, and with eyes and hands clenched, he imagined a smoldering mountain—foul, expensive, and loathsome—crumbling, falling, plunging into a bottomless pit. He could feel anxiety itself departing from him. With eyes closed, it was all soundless and clean.
Walton, fully drained, arched his back, rested his head on the trunk, and stared upward through the spidery branches into the soft glow of a morning sky. Birds chirped and leaves stirred, which reminded him that he needed to wipe himself clean.
Walton surveyed the brush in his immediate vicinity, and saw only one patch of leaves low enough and near enough to reach without exerting too much effort. The leaves were relatively small, but they grew in groups of three, so Walton didn’t need to break off too many bunches to do the job.
Afterwards, he pulled up his trousers. He knew that he’d have to return to camp quickly in order to beat the rising sun. He took ten paces in the direction of the path, then paused momentarily. It 14 was breathing behind him. He could feel its low, measured pulse channeling through the ground, but he walked onward, never turning to face it.
Upon getting back to the tent, Walton made love to his wife for the first time in a month and then drove her to a 24-hour diner just outside the campgrounds. Walton devoured a mound of hotcakes and sausage links, while Vivian picked at her scrambled eggs and pale hash browns. They shared a plate of bacon for dessert before ordering a pair of omelets to take back to their fellow campers.
Monday morning delivered Walton back into the thick of it. An army of steel and plastic shells funneling into a pair of lanes and spiraling outward toward a grid of well-traveled avenues. The sun peered out at them from behind the buildings and through the soft haze.
Gripping a breakfast burrito with one hand, jockeying for position with the other, and, naturally, half-listening to British-reported world news, Walton inched his way toward Prairieville, for the moment oblivious to the blistering rash spreading across his skin.
1. Double gusset expandable top-zip portfolio computer case; purchased on Zappos for $215. First bag was sent back using a printable pre-paid USPS label, with “scuff in the leather” cited as the reason for return. The leather from the returned bag was made from the dermis of an Indian cow that collapsed in exhaustion while marching to the slaughterhouse. The workers motivated it to continue onwards by breaking its tail and rubbing chili peppers in its eyes.
3. 30″ freestanding gas range with HeatDoze™ auto oven shutoff and SeAQUAnd Destroy™ self-cleaning technologies; purchased on clearance at Sears for $849.99. Parts manufactured in South Korea, then assembled in Clyde, OH.
4. 33 oz. bag ground coffee; automatically delivered each month via Amazon subscription service for $12.70. At least one-eighth of the beans used for this particular bag passed through the hands of Estuardo Minas, who, at age 32, left his wife and two malnourished children behind to find work picking coffee. He was hired at a wage of $2 a day, which was better than seeing most of his crops wither yet again on the thin-soiled hills above Chixoy River. (His parents had had much better luck farming in the valley below, but they were uprooted in 1978 during the World Bank-funded construction of a hydroelectric dam.) At the end of his first season on the finca, Estuardo received a company housing bill so large that he was forced to return the next harvest season to pay off his debt. Three seasons later, Estuardo would still be indebted to the plantation owners and would disappear during a union organization crackdown.
5. The figure of Richard Brennon, Gulf War veteran, loving ex-husband, and recent HUD Housing evictee. Richard’s company saw little action in Kuwait, but the organophosphate pesticides and pyridostigmine bromide pills issued by the military eventually proved to be just as harmful physiologically as PTSD might have been psychologically. He was also exposed to relatively high concentrations of depleted uranium, but medical care was later denied, thanks to the Defense Department’s refutation of any correlation between uranium exposure and adverse health and environmental effects. Twenty years later, plagued by gastrointestinal issues, hemorrhagic lungs, an ongoing custody battle, and a chronic inability to stay employed, Richard resorted to self-medication and fell into homelessness.
6. 2008 Jeep Liberty Sport 4D with Sunroof, Rear Defroster, AWD, Sirius XM Radio, etc., purchased from CarMax for $20,998 (excluding tax, title, tags, and documentary fee). Assembled in Valencia, Venezuela.
7. REI Half Dome 2 Plus Tent, $219; REI Siesta +35 Double Sleeping Bag, $159; Kelty Dream Eazy Air Queen Bed, $109.95; two REI Comfort LTG Armchairs, $119; Petzl Tikka XP 2 Headlamp, $54.95; two BPA-free Kleen Kanteen 40 oz. Stainless Steel Water Bottles with Loop-Top Caps, $55.90; Leatherman Wingman Multitool, $29.95. At this point, who cares where it all came from.
8. Walton passed over the low-priced generic beans at Jewel, and bought two 28 oz. cans of Bush’s Best Country Style Baked Beans instead, feeling that they needed the kind of bean that would live up to the rusticity of the great outdoors. $2.18 a can.
9. Seeing that he wasn’t Jewish, Walton snubbed the Hebrew National Finest Kosher Quality Beef Franks and reached for the ones next to them on the shelf, which featured a flurry of red, white, and blue stars bursting through the packaging’s bold letters. The meat wasn’t readily identified as 100% “beef” or “pork,” but Walton, a sucker for mysteries, preferred it that way. $2.49 a pack.
10. Two large hand-tossed Super Supreme Pizzas from Pizza Hut, described on the menu as “a feast of pepperoni, ham, beef, pork sausage, Italian sausage, red onions, mushrooms, green peppers and black olives.” $20 plus tax and a tip for the delivery driver.
11. Apple iPhone 4S 16GB Smartphone with 8 MP iSight Camera, Dual-Core A5 Processor, iOS 5, Siri, and iCloud, purchased on apple.com for $199. The box says “Designed by Apple in California,” but doesn’t mention anything about its manufacturing origins at a Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China. Assembly workers there were recently granted the luxury of sitting on stools while on the job, though they’re only allowed to utilize one-third of the seat surface. It is important to maintain the full dexterity of all workers.
12. Vintage, Standard-Fit Chino Acorn Khakis, purchased on Gap.com with a 20% discount promo code for $38.96; because the pants cost less than the $50 required for free shipping, Walton added a fedora priced at $24.95. The khaki seams were sewn by Maricela de Guzmán at the Cavite Export Processing Zone in the Philippines. Recruiters originally wooed her with promises of a high income, so she expected to be able to send money to her parents, but she ended up making less than she needed to cover her own expenses. She started working at the Cavite EPZ in November 2009, three years after laborers went on strike to protest a string of governmental trade unionist killings (64 were murdered between 2001 and 2006). In response to this minor resurgence in anti-sweatshop activism, a group of apparel companies (Gap, American Eagle, Jones Apparel, Liz Claiborne, PVH, Ralph Lauren, Wal-Mart) nobly banded together and sent a strongly-worded letter to the Philippine president. Six years later, Maricela’s pay (less than minimum wage), hours (regular forced overtime), and benefits (none) served as a testament to the power of empty rhetoric.