Now we’re in the thick of it, now we know God himself is on trial, because his representatives on earth are so cunning, lustful, stupid, and wise. These four “novels” compose a suite, a kind of story within a story–within a story–that tells of how the men of the Church have betrayed its promises, and will, accordingly, soon lose their hold on the hearts and minds of the masses. Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” are the contemporary complement (and remember that Geoffrey stole from Giovanni).
Dioneo (Boccaccio’s stand-in) tells the story of the monk and the abbot, the man who, caught by his superior in sexual shenanigans, exposes the boss to the same temptations and, having recorded the sordid results, prevents his dismissal from the monastery and guarantees his future as a cleric. How to succeed in business without really trying. Fiammetta (Boccaccio’s nickname for his real-life lover) follows with a lesson in how to say “No” to a man with superior standing and powers. It ain’t easy. Emilia then explains why charity–philanthropy, we call it, that’s how we dress it up these days–is worse than death without last rites. How so? And then Filostrato the straight arrow tells us stories of men who admitted their sins of greed, who tried to “give something back” (of what they had previously taken from others), having been embarrassed by their own greed. Would that their contemporaries could be so embarrassed, but I’m with Emilia, charity itself is a sin because it presupposes and validates inequality.
Here’s my update, recast as a one-act play with four unrelated middle-aged characters locked down in a Tribeca loft, wondering how or when they’ll ever find freedom from this plague. Dion, Fiona, Emily, and Straithern (he’s a Southerner, it’s a family name) contemplate the present and its likely progeny. I let Emily go last.
INT. Bare loft, lots of light, many couches, huge TV, makeshift but stylish walls, state of the art kitchen. “Friends” without fantasies.
DION: You got a problem? I can tell you how to deal with that motherfucker. You put a wire and a camera on him. I had a boss who was gonna fire me for fucking his secretary, his assistant, whatever you call ‘em these days, but I’d already put a mic under his desk and a camera on his air vent, I could watch him all day long, and I did, and he fucked her constantly, I swear every time she came in with a memo he’d pull up her skirt and do her, and he’d be reading the fucking memo out loud the whole time.
So when he comes to me, that’s funny, when I come to his office on his order, and he says, ‘I have to fire you because you have taken sexual liberties with my assistant,’ I can say, ‘Nobody’s fucked her more than you have, boss.’ What then? What’s he gonna say? Get out of my office! Yeah, but I got an answer, I hand him the tape and I point to the camera, I say, ‘You’re more fucked than me. I stay and say nothing, you fire me and this goes viral, up to you, boss.’ I stayed there another five years. It was a good job.
FIONA: It’s all about outsmarting the producer, staying off the casting couch. When I was married to Jeffrey, I was Hollywood royalty, all the doors opened, every hand was extended, it was magical, intoxicating, but creepy, too. One day I get a phone call, this is when Jeffrey’s out of town, on location in fucking Morocco for God’s sake, a phone call from the biggest of the big, the large Harve himself, he wants to have breakfast, and he’s gotta know that Jeff is gone, and I know what his largeness has been up to, what do I say? ‘Sure, baby,’ I say, ‘my place, at 10:00 AM.’ What’s the part? What’s my stake?
I talk to the chef, it’s a big-ass house, it’s fucking Hollywood, and I talk to the CSA guy who did my last movie, and we figure it out. By the time the large Harve arrives, there are 30 nubile women standing around in various states of undress, each of them equipped with a tray stacked with nova bits, cream cheese, crackers, whatever, they’re practically naked. What’s he gonna do, come after me? Not likely, with that chorus standing by. He offered me the part. What? Oh, a small, silly movie, “When the Bough Breaks,” I played the mother.
STRAITHERN: Well, that reminds me. The rich really are different. Remember when I lived in Nashville, trying to make it as a musician, writin’ songs and shit, playin’ the honky-tonks, hopin’ for the best? Remember those days? I was scheduled to open for Merle Haggard, Merle fucking Haggard, at one of those goofy festivals they have down there every summer it feels like, but at the last minute the sponsor pulls the plug, so all of us nobodies don’t get paid, and we all just bought a car or something because this was a real gig, we were gonna get paid real money. I bought one, anyway.
I dunno, some orange juice company, the CEO’s face was plastered all over town for weeks, and now it’s off. I dunno, some political bullshit I think, about abortion, I really don’t know.
Anyway, I’m sittin’ outside Buster’s drinkin’ a beer and here comes that CEO, all dressed up and no place to go. I say, ‘What happened to your festival, Money Man?’ He stops, he looks pretty spooked, he says, ‘Politics. Were you going to play?’ I say, ‘Hell yes, I was supposed to open for Merle Haggard, you know what that means?’ ‘Yes, I know Haggard’s work.’
‘Fuck me,’ I say. ‘You’d better.’ ‘What were we going to pay you?’ he asks, all polite and proper. ‘Twelve hundred bucks.’ “Here,’ he says, and peels off that much money. ‘I’m sorry I couldn’t do more.’ He felt bad! He tried to make it right.
EMILY: That’s just a load of crap. Charity? Philanthropy? “He tried to make it right”? Fuck him and the horse he rode in on. And you, too, Straithern, you want to beg for their crumbs? I worked for a very rich man, and yeah, they’re different, a guy who threw these huge parties, hundreds of people, all catered, at the end of the evening you got enough leftover food on your hands to feed a small town for a week. He was proud of the fact that he donated it, one way or another, to homeless shelters. He fired me the night I asked him these questions:
‘Sir, I have to wonder about this. These leftovers, why? Wouldn’t it be more, what, reasonable, to make sure that everybody has enough food to get by? Enough of a job, enough money to buy what they need, or what they want? Why should they depend on you?’
My word, he was furious. His face got all red, at first I though he was embarrassed, but no, he was way pissed off.
‘Should,’ he says. “That’s got nothing to do with it. They just do. Like you. You’re fired.’