The Eagle Is Flying
“The eagle is flying,” Darren declares. He’s looking out the window.
I lean over to see for myself. There he is, casually strolling up the front sidewalk. People notice him, recognize him, raise their cellphones for a picture.
He’s wearing a business casual suit with no tie, a blue baseball cap with LOGIC written across the front, and a gaudy American flag scarf draped around his shoulders like a shawl.
He’s a second generation Indian immigrant, a STEM kid who worked as a controls engineer for the auto industry, started his own company, sold it and became a multi-millionaire. He did the whole investment portfolio thing, his most famous endeavor a nation-wide STEM training program.
His name is Alexander Arya. 44 years old and running for president with no previous political experience. Polls have him in 4th place nationally. He’s generating buzz unlike any other candidate.
His flagship proposal is the liberty dividend — twelve hundred dollars a month to every person in the US from the age of 18 till death. He wants to pay for it with a tax on Wall Street and a tax on technology. He’s got some other ideas, too — election day a national holiday, Medicare for all, research on reparations, decriminalization of all drugs and straight legalization of marijuana, modernizing voting, etc.
Campaign slogans wring every possible pun out of his last name, including references to the Game of Thrones character. Of course there’s, “Arya ready?” But there’s also, “Arya thinking?” and “Arya good at math?” and “Arya down for twelve hundred bucks a month?”
I first heard him on Joe Rogan back in February, and was impressed with his practicality and his “Aw, shucks” charm. I consider myself a casual supporter. I like his ideas, even if I know the establishment will never allow them.
This story begins when my boss messaged me earlier this week. I work part time for a podcast studio as a show engineer, picking up hours when I can.
“Can you cover Motor City Monthly this Saturday at the DSC from 4 to 5?” my boss asked me out of nowhere.
“Sure,” I replied.
“Great, we’ll have to get you up to speed on the livestream software because they have a presidential candidate coming in.”
“Don’t worry, it’s not anyone with a chance.”
“Who is it?”
I couldn’t believe it. I was so excited. I knew who this guy was. Maybe I’d get to have a real conversation with him.
Saturday comes and my first glimpse of him is through the second floor studio window. He’s walking down the sidewalk in the aforementioned outfit, smiling presidentially and greeting pedestrians. There’s a twenty-something Wall-Street-looking guy with him, backpack slung over one shoulder.
The studio is located in the Detroit Shipping Company, a start-up behind the Masonic Temple that’s constructed out of old shipping containers. There’s restaurants and bars downstairs around an open-air courtyard where Arya will give a speech later. The studio itself is long and narrow, located in the southeast corner of the building. A long table with ten microphones and a control console consisting of a laptop and soundboard take up all the space. Moving around is a challenge.
The Motor City Monthly host Darren and his co-hosts DeAndre and Jerome fidget nervously as Arya makes his way through the restaurant area downstairs, shaking hands and patting backs and answering questions with quippy, feel-good answers. He’s half an hour late, but no one cares.
Darren can’t believe he actually got this interview. Motor City Monthly is a monthly (duh) podcast broadcast on the Podcast Detroit network, focusing on events and goings-on in the downtown area. It doesn’t have much of an audience yet and doesn’t get big name guests. Darren says he just kept messaging the campaign until they responded. When he found out Arya would be at the DSC for a speech anyway, he saw his opening and went for it. The campaign agreed to appear but it sounded like there was some fishing line to untangle. When Darren got here earlier he mentioned to me they’d changed the interview length on him already several times — first it was a half hour, then fifteen minutes, then half an hour again, and now it was back to fifteen minutes.
“They were like, ‘No offense, but you’re not NBC’,” Darren explains to everyone. “Fair enough.”
Beforehand, Darren informed me that Arya’s campaign had asked if they could use the studio as a green room after the interview so Arya would have a private place to hang out before and after he goes onstage.
“It’s not really up to me,” I say. “But yeah, I guess.”
I text my boss and ask just to make sure. It’s not a problem.
I’m psyched. This is incredible. I’ll be able to talk to him even though it’s not my interview.
Arya enters to the studio with two campaign staff — the Wall Street guy with the backpack is named Bryce. He’s the campaign manager. There’s also a girl whose name I don’t catch who seems to be an event coordinator. Pleasantries are exchanged. I say hi but I’m unable to shake his hand from behind the board, but he sits down and the interview begins.
I’ve prepared everything already, the equipment is up and ready to go. Just push some buttons in SAM and OBS and bring up the pots. Fortunately, nothing malfunctions.
The first thing that strikes me is Arya’s overall vibe. On TV and on the Internet, he’s small and roundish and self-deprecating and quick with a sheepish smile, like a supporting character in a Judd Apatow movie.
In person he has the same gravitas as the owner of the company you work at. He owns shit. People listen to him and do what he says without arguing. It’s amazing how someone can pull this off — have the on-camera personality of a lovable harmless dork with his real Silicon Valley nerd capitalist one lurking just below the surface.
The expressions on his face do not match the practical friendliness in his voice. His eyes give him away — he’ll do this but he doesn’t think it’s worth doing and he has no problem showing us because who the fuck are we going to tell? He stares Darren down over the mic. Darren wilts, stammering his questions out. Arya answers them like a robot.
The interview goes a little long but no one objects. Arya says nothing I haven’t heard before.
Then it’s over and Darren is stammering his thank you’s and DeAndre and Jerome are silently shaking Arya’s hand. The air is filled with that tension that appears whenever someone of importance or authority is in the room. Someone you desperately want to please because they could make your life much easier or much harder depending on what happens.
Pictures are taken. Darren asks if I want one.
“I’m good,” I say. I don’t want to bother him. I want to have a conversation. I want to connect with the guy.
“I feel like I’m gonna cut a track in here,” Arya says, motioning to all the microphones.
Bryce hands him a bag of chips.
“Can you sing?” I ask him, trying to make a joke.
Arya looks like he’s surprised I can talk. He snorts and turns to Bryce.
“He just asked me, ‘Can you sing?’”
That answer makes things weird. I was trying to be friendly. I decide to try again.
“Have you ever been asked that before?”
He doesn’t answer, tears into the bag of chips and eats.
I need to establish a rapport. He’s going to be sitting in here for at least an hour — the speech isn’t until 7, and I don’t want to leave, and probably shouldn’t anyway. Someone needs to watch the studio. And I’ll never get an opportunity like this again.
Darren explains that the studio is free for them to use as a green room. He motions to me and says I’ll be in here but they’re free to use it as long as they need to.
Bryce smiles with too many teeth and ushers him out the door, thanking him profusely.
“I didn’t know I was doing this until this week,” I explain to Arya. “…so, you know, don’t worry, I won’t…”
I mean to say, “…bother you.” but the look on his face makes me stop talking. I don’t finish the sentence. I just gesture with my hands.
“Yeah, man, no problem,” says Arya.
I’m really only trying to be friendly, but Arya is giving off a seriously prickly vibe and it’s making me even more awkward than I normally am.
Darren and everyone slip out of the studio and it’s just me and Arya and Bryce. They discuss the logistics of his speech. Bryce explains where he’ll be standing down in the courtyard, which is overlooked by the second-floor walkways.
“People are gonna he looking down at you,” says Bryce. “It’s gonna look cool but feel awkward.”
“I’m kind of intrigued by this layout,” Arya says, motioning around. “Let’s go take a look.”
Bryce pulls a radio out of his pocket.
Arya goes over to the door and opens it, letting in a cacophony of crowd noise.
“The eagle is flying,” says Bryce into his radio just before they step out.
I have my first epiphany — though it looks like it’s just Bryce and Arya, there is a presence here. A private security presence. Campaign staffers blending in with the crowd. Tough, official-looking dudes in tuxes with sunglasses hang just outside the room.
That’s the bubble, I think. That’s what the bubble looks like.
I sit alone in the studio, mics off. I don’t know if I should stay. I might as well. Arya and Bryce left all their stuff in here and the door locks automatically. They’ll need me to let them in.
A couple minutes later, Arya and Bryce come back and I let them in. They sit on the other side of the studio, talking logistics and punching messages into their phones. The air conditioner hums.
They are aggressively ignoring me, and it’s then that I have my second epiphany — there’s nothing that the successful hate more than someone begging to be let onto their level.
They think I’m trying to get something out of them. Maybe I am. But what? I don’t know. I just wanted to have a real conversation with a presidential candidate I happen to be a fan of. I’m not asking for a job or anything.
The third epiphany — Anytime you want to believe “All men are created equal”, spend time with a famous person. That’s just a lie we tell ourselves for sustainability purposes.
“You guys want me to step out?” I ask after a minute of uncomfortable silence.
Without looking up, Arya responds.
“What, so we can talk trash about people?”
He chuckles, shakes his head, rips open a bag of vending machine cookies.
“Let’s tell him what we really think,” he says to Bryce.
Bryce doesn’t say anything, eyes glued to the smartphone in his hand. The prickly vibes persist.
“That’s what I was hoping for,” is all I can say.
The animosity from these guys is so thick you could poke it with a stick and I don’t understand why. I just gave them an out and they didn’t take it. I’d happily leave at this point.
“No, it’s fine,” Arya says, still not looking at me. “Hang around.”
Outside, the crowd is chanting, “Ar-YA, Ar-YA!”
“Chanting my name in Detroit…” Arya says to Bryce, amused.
“It’s a strange universe we’ve created,” Bryce responds. “But I gotta say, regardless of the outcome or however this turns out — I like this version of 2020 with you in it better than the one without you.”
Arya rolls his eyes, chewing his Famous Amos.
“Dude, without me… fucking shitshow.”
He looks out the window at the gathering supporters. Him and Bryce exchange more logistics and shit-talk the other candidates. Beto’s having a mid-life crisis. Harris is a spoiled, conniving megabitch. Biden’s going senile. Bernie is an egomaniac. Buttigieg is an Amazon plant. Somehow the pathological ruthlessness of America — founded on genocide, slavery for the first 150 years, mass shootings, etc — comes up.
I decide to try one more time.
“Do you think it will actually happen?” I ask him.
His hard brown eyes are on me again.
“Will what happen?”
“The liberty dividend. I mean, do you think people’s lives will actually get better? Based on how pathological America is?”
Arya stares at me for a second. He shrugs again.
“It better, or there’s going to be a million guys hanging around with nothing to do and a lot of guns.”
His demeanor is starting to piss me off. It would be one thing if they politely asked me to leave, but they’re acting like they just want me pick up on their hostility and go away on my own. Fuck that. Have the balls to treat me like a person. I understand if you’re tired or just don’t want to talk.
I try to spark a few other conversations. Fuck these guys. I deserve to be here, too. I fucking work here and I’m doing them a favor by letting them use this place as a hideaway. Otherwise he’d be out there having to entertain the other peasants. It’s not my fault they didn’t prepare for this.
I ask him about the ironic support he’s getting from far-right online groups. He doesn’t think it’ll stick, cause he’s Indian.
“Do you ever get tired of talking to people like me?” I ask.
Arya shrugs again.
“I mean, this’” — he gestures back and forth between us — “…is totally fine, but when people come up to you when you're eating with your family…”
It’s not totally fine. He doesn’t seem to think I’m smart enough to pick up on that. Whatever.
He trails off, holds out the bag of cookies.
“I’m good, thanks,” I say. “Did I hear you say Buttigieg is an Amazon plant earlier?”
“He’s got a lot of people on his campaign who work for Amazon.”
“It’s going to be very difficult to call Pete a man of the people,” Bryce chimes, looking at me like I’m something he banged his shin on.
The conversation attempts are futile and I should’ve known better than to even think these guys would be interesting in talking to me. They’re annoyed I’m in here and now I can’t leave.
Arya and Bryce stand by the door with their backs to me. It’s almost time for the speech.
Another adviser comes into the studio, a skinny Asian guy. He turns around upon entry and his backpack knocks one of the mics off the table.
“Don’t worry,” I say, getting up to fix it. “I didn’t see anything.”
The guy mutters an apology.
The three of them converse quietly. I can’t make out what they’re saying. Campaign stuff.
I sit down again. I really, really want to leave now. I wasn’t trying to be annoying.
A couple twenty-something women wave at Arya from the studio window, giving him “Fuck me” eyes. He waves back with both hands.
My final epiphany sinks in. I’ve been using that word a lot, I know, but that’s what’s happening. The next few paragraphs occur to me in about a second and a half.
Arya’s overall vibe is… coasting. He’s going to be fine regardless of how this turns out. There is no desperation, no general buzz of anxiety that you get off regular citizens who are constantly teetering on the edge of personal or financial ruin. People who know they’re invisible. People who don’t command fortunes and who’ve never had their asses kissed.
Arya exists within true freedom. Freedom to be himself and freedom to walk away. No consequences. He has his own liberty dividend — his investments and the interest they make him.
I keep thinking. None of these candidates are for regular people. None of them are “men of the people”. They are not regular people. They don’t want to be. They either hate regular people or look down on regular people. Regular people are cattle to them. NPC’s. They are costs and obstacles at worst, tools and resources at best.
No one wants to be a regular person. No one considers themselves a regular person. But most people are. Everyone is looking for an excuse to rise above cattle-status.
Arya is playing the game. He’s getting his name out there. Whatever happens will work in his favor, even if it’s just the sale of a few more books or a cabinet appointment or more appearances on cable news. He’s on a comfortable level. He’s made it to the coasting level.
The people who haven’t figured out the game yet? The people who haven’t figured out how to make enough money so the money just makes more money and you never have to sell your body for labor or anything else again? They’re not really people.
In a capitalist economy, you have to earn your humanity by showing you know how to play the game. And the game is played with large amounts of money. Wages are for suckers. Anyone working hourly is a fucking sucker, because there's no way out of that. You’re digging a trench with a spoon.
It was stupid to think they’d treat me with any sort of civility. But I never would have assumed otherwise if Arya wasn’t marketed the way he is.
Arya is marketed as someone who would talk to you. He’s supposed to be something else entirely as a candidate. That’s just his persona, his mask. He isn’t a friendly Apatow supporting character. None of them are. Presidential candidates have been talking about the same bullshit forever. Nothing changes.
Something else occurs to me — Arya’s not even a top-tier candidate. If this is what Arya’s like, imagine what it’d be like sharing a room with Biden or Bernie.
The answer to my question, the one about “Will it really happen?” is no. Because that’s not really the question I was asking. The question is, “Will life get better for regular people, like me?”
No, it won’t. Not unless I figure out how to play the game. Because we can’t have better lives on a collective scale if Arya and his class is to keep living the way they do now. And the fact that I even bothered to ask gives away my naivete and simple-mindedness. It betrays my cattle status. It means I’m not worth engaging with. I am a cow that has learned to speak.
It’s speech time. Arya waits by the door, American flag scarf around his neck and LOGIC hat on. The crowd is chanting his name. There’s several hundred people out there.
“The eagle is flying,” the skinny Asian advisor says into the radio.
Arya steps out the door into a sea of cheers, tough sunglasses tux dudes ushering him through the cattle. Zach and the skinny Asian advisor follow.
I’m left behind in the darkened studio with only padded silence and epiphanies.