Last chapter, Noah sat by quietly while his dad went on a maniacal (and very long) rant about how he's going to help a cabal of government officials seize power and reshape the country to their liking.
You would expect his reaction to this to be something like "Holy shit my dad has lost his god damn mind, Jesus Christ what the fuck I've got to tell someone about this", followed by a bout of hyper-ventilating and hysterical crying. Instead, he just seems vaguely confused and ill at ease.
Noah stopped in the middle of the main hallway and stood there for a while, his head full of unfinished thoughts and that troubling fogginess you feel only when you’ve forgotten where you’re going, and why.
TFW your dad is planning to turn the country into a totalitarian nightmare
This is literally all the reaction we get from Noah for the next two chapters. His dad sends him off to make some mysterious phone calls, and he just does it, without thinking about anything he just witnessed.
The phone calls are all to strange, unlisted numbers and the people who answer won't divulge any information about who they represent, but Noah is just like "WHATEVER MAN, GOTTA DO WHAT MY PA SAYS DOOTLE DOOTLE DOOT DOOT" and keeps going. The book is severely over-playing its hand on the whole "Noah is a sheeple" thing. No one could be this apathetic.
Noah had caught a last name spoken in the background during this final call. It was a Manhattan number, a 212 area code, and the name he’d heard was an uncommon one. He’d also seen it in the newspaper earlier in the day. That call had been to the private line of the most likely nominee for the next U.S. Treasury secretary, assuming the election went as forecast.
Is this supposed to be a mystery? Arthur's dad already said that his proposal for the evil plot was relayed up the governmental chain of command, which I assume means all the way to the higher branches of government, if not the actual president himself.
I mean, it would be mysterious, if the previous chapter hadn't spelled out exactly what was going on in exhaustive detail.
Noah flipped on the blower over the range, lit the cooktop in back, and followed the final instruction on his list of things to do.
Destroy this paper; be certain to watch it burn.
Is this normal? Has his dad asked him to do shit like this before? I don't know, because the book has suddenly become disinterested in Noah's inner thoughts, assuming he actually has any.
For some reason there's a chapter break here even though it's been like two pages and the next chapter picks up immediately where the next one left off. Noah resumes wandering aimlessly through the office.
It was hard to say how much time had passed since he’d been ordered out of the remainder of that meeting. No clocks were allowed on the walls or the wrists at Doyle & Merchant.
Sure, that's normal. Prospective hires probably don't find it incredibly weird and off-putting when they come in for an interview.
(Yet again, there's zero indication that mobile phones exist, even though this book has to be taking place in 2009 at the very earliest, since it's referenced real events that happened that year).
In 1978 an account executive had checked her watch during Arthur Gardner’s heartwarming remarks at the company Christmas party. She’d looked up when the room got quiet and had seen in Noah’s father’s eyes what time it really was: time for her to find another job, in another city, in another industry.
There's no way people would come to work at this company. And the executive would almost certainly have sued him for unfair dismissal.
It was only by His grace that windows were still tolerated, though access to any view of the outside world was strictly confined to the executive offices.
"Welcome to Doyle & Merchant. My name's Steve, if you follow me I'll take you up to where we're conducting the interviews. Oh, and you'll need to leave your watch here. Just...don't ask. Arthur Gardner? No, we keep him away from prospective hires after the Blender Incident back in '88. Yes, there are no windows on this floor. No, the next floor doesn't have any either. Or the next one. Only executives get windows. Hello? Ma'am? Where are you going?"
Noah resumed his stroll and took a meandering right turn, still without a clear destination. There wasn’t a soul in the place, though some would say that in the PR business that phrase always applies.
What exactly does Glenn Beck have against public relations? I can think of much worse professions.
Noah passes a hallway full of the company's past work, which gives Beck and his hovering ghost-writers a chance to take wild swings at all sorts of modern ills. Did you know that boy bands are fake and manufactured?
On a dare, Noah’s father had once boasted that he could transform some of the century’s most brutal killers into fashion statements among the peace-loving American counterculture. And he’d done it; here were pictures of clueless college students, rock stars, and Hollywood icons proudly wearing T-shirts featuring the romanticized images of Chairman Mao and Che Guevara.
This book is bipartisan though.
Noah continues his walk, passing by icons of Big Pharma, Big Tobacco and the Lottery, all of which are bad and wrong. If Noah thinks PR is full of soulless husks and his company spends all day making money for predatory businesses and shallow vanity industries, why is he still working there? Are these even his observations, or has the narration started getting opinionated again?
Last in this section were a few recently developed pharmaceuticals that had required some imaginative new diseases to match them. Drugs weren’t so very different from other products; it was all just a matter of creating the need.
The pharmaceutical industry is guilty of a lot of things, but they do, in fact, make real treatments for real illnesses. Unless Beck is suggesting here that diseases are all fake.
Each of these PR triumphs represented a defeat for someone else, of course. That was simply the nature of the business, of all business really. The whole concept of winning requires that others lose, and sometimes they lose everything. That’s just the way it had to be.
Again: this is (I think?) being framed as a bad thing, but this is how American conservatives actually want the world to work.
Noah had a friend in college, not a close friend, but a self-described bleeding-heart lefty tree-hugging do-gooder friend who’d gone to work for an African aid organization after graduation.
THIS BOOK IS BIPARTISAN THOUGH
Noah's friend ended up disillusioned and heart-broken when the aid she was supposed to be providing got hijacked by warring factions. Noah's take away from this is that the world is too messed up to bother fixing, so he shelved all of his ideals and decided to just look out for himself and not think about anything too hard (our hero, ladies and gentlemen).
By now he’d arrived at an alcove that showcased the truly world-class events and power players, political and otherwise, that the company had helped to invent.
Jesus tap-dancing Christ, get on with the story already. It feels like Noah has been wandering down hallways for a solid month.
Eventually, he arrives at a video (which is playing on a loop on a screen for some reason) of a fifteen year old Kuwaiti girl testifying before Congress about the barbaric actions of Iraqi soldiers in the early 90s. This helped justify...
Wait. That sounds familiar. Haven't I heard the name Nayirah al-Sabah before? But it couldn't...be...
The Nayirah testimony was a false testimony given before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus on October 10, 1990 by a 15-year-old girl who provided only her first name, Nayirah. The testimony was widely publicized, and was cited numerous times by United States senators and President George H. W. Bushin their rationale to back Kuwait in the Gulf War.
Are you fucking kidding me? Not only did Arthur Gardner invent the fucking Che t-shirt, he helped start the Gulf War? What the hell is this bullshit? What is Beck doing here?
A dull headache had begun to pound at his temple, and Noah abruptly remembered where he’d been meaning to go: the bulletin board in the break room. He had to grab the address of that meeting of flag-waving wackos, and then finish his conversation with an attractive but naïve young woman who might need to be straightened out on a thing or two.
YOUR DAD JUST LAUNCHED A SECRET COUP OF THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT, MAYBE YOU SHOULD REACT TO THAT AT SOME POINT.
How is his next conversation with Molly going to go? Will she be like "There's a shadowy cabal out to destroy our freedom!" and he'll go "Oh yeah, I was just in the room with them while they were working out how to do that, my Dad is their leader. But here's why you're wrong!"
The next chapter opens with Noah on Park Avenue, his taxi stuck in bad traffic.
Then he’d become immersed in his BlackBerry just after the ride got under way.
So there are phones in Beckland. Blackberries were still popular in 2010, although if Noah was really on the cutting edge he'd have one of those sweet, sweet third generation iPhones.
As the windshield wipers slapped in and out of sync with the beat of some atonal Middle Eastern music blaring from the radio, the man at the wheel launched into an animated flurry of colorful epithets in his native tongue.
13% through this thing and already getting started on the racism.
“West.” He pointed that way, assuming a serious language barrier, and spoke with exaggerated clarity. “Get us off Park Avenue, shoot crosstown to the West Side Highway, then just take it south all the way down to Chambers Street.”
"Shoot crosstown" is not how I'd speak to someone I assumed didn't understand English very well. If your grasp of the language was shaky, you'd have no idea what the fuck that meant.
Noah says "step on it" and the taxi driver flings the car into reverse and starts careening full-tilt down the road, making Noah's head smash cartoonishly into the divider between the front and back seat (seriously). The book continuously emphasizes how poorly-trained and ignorant and wacky the middle eastern driver is.
Noah braced himself against the roof and the door as the cab mounted the curb and surged forward at a twenty-degree tilt, half on and half off the street, threading the needle between a hot-dog cart and a candied-nut wagon on the sidewalk and the line of incredulous fellow drivers to the left.
THEN TWO GUYS CARRYING A BIG PANE OF GLASS WALKED OUT OF AN ALLEYWAY AND RIGHT ACROSS THE ROAD.
The taxi's hi-larious rampage is finally stopped when they encounter a checkpoint manned by heavily-armed soldiers.
It immediately became obvious that this cabdriver had seen a military checkpoint or two in his former homeland. With no hesitation the ignition was killed and both his hands were raised where the armed men outside could see them. Noah had no such prior experience to guide him.
I haven't even seen an armed police officer in more than a decade, but if I was suddenly surrounded by dudes with assault rifles I think I'd know to raise my hands.
The soldiers shake Noah down for his ID, and the cab driver gets hauled out and roughly frisked (nice try, Glenn, you're not fooling anyone after all the crap we just read). Some limos drive past, and Noah realizes the soldiers are security for the two candidates in the upcoming election.
Times had certainly changed, seemingly overnight, though Noah hadn’t yet seen anything quite as intense as this. Fourth Amendment or not, with all the fears of terrorism in recent years, the definition of probable cause could become pretty blurred around the edges.
"And the cops have been shooting unarmed black people and getting away with it for years, but whatever."
People were getting used to it by now; a law-abiding citizen could easily get stopped and frisked for taking a cell-phone video of the Brooklyn Bridge or the Empire State Building, never mind riding in a high-speed taxicab that had just jumped the curb to avoid a roadblock.
You know, I'm gonna say the taxi driver's actions were legitimately suspicious, if only because he very easily could have killed someone.
Actually, let's unpack that. Notice that we see a middle eastern guy getting manhandled and treated with hostility by American law enforcement (which the soldiers are in this context, for all intents and purposes), but only after he was driving erratically and endangering people's lives. If you wanted to be unkind to Beck (which I do) you could interpret this as him saying that Muslim Americans are sometimes unfairly singled out for suspicion, but only because their wacky foreign ways and child-like ignorance makes them do stupid things. If they'd just Assimilate, everything would be fine and only real-deal terrorists would ever have to worry about the police.
One of the soldiers brings Noah into a trailer parked by the side of the road, where he's greeted by a mysterious woman. Let's see if we can figure out if she's evil or not.
“Have a seat, Mr. Gardner.” She was fortyish, stocky, severe, and clearly wrapped too tight, with prematurely gray hair trimmed like a motel lampshade.
Noah recognizes the logo on the side of the truck as belonging to Talion, a private military company his firm considered doing business with several months back. I'm tempted to say that "Talion" is too obviously an evil name, but every real-life PMC seems to deliberately be trying to make themselves look like a mega-corporation from a cyberpunk story, so sure.
Evil Lampshade Lady asks Noah some invasive questions about where he's going and--displaying a rare spark of intelligence--he asks her if he's being detained. When she says no, he gets up to leave, which is when she pulls out one of Molly Ross's freedom flyers.
“What do you know about this group, Mr. Gardner?”
“Absolutely nothing at all. Like I told you—”
“They have ties to the Aryan Brotherhood,” she said, having begun to thumb through a file folder on her desk, “and the Lone Star Militia, the National Labor Committee, the Common Law Coalition, the Earth Liberation Front—”
Noah questions why the national labour committee is sinister, since "The National Labor Committee is a little shoestring nonprofit that busts sweatshops and child-labor operations." Noah, they're mixing innocuous organizations in with terrorist groups so they can use the latter as a pretext for targeting the former. Which is the inverse of what this book was doing back when we read the conspiracy document, in a neat little meta-twist that the authors were probably hoping no one would notice.
Noah sashays out of the truck and sees the cab driver being manhandled into an unmarked van. The guy is clearly calling for help, but Noah is like "NAH CAN'T GET INVOLVED IN EVERY LITTLE THING AND HE COULD BE A TERRORIST SO WHATEVS".
And besides, he was late for an appointment with a certain young woman who was in dire need of a dose of reality.
You mean like the reality that you know for certain that all of her suspicions are correct?
The way this is written, and the way Noah has previously thought about his upcoming meeting with Molly, are super infantalizing and insulting. He keeps calling her "young woman", which given that she's around the same age as him feels only a step removed from "young lady." It's like he's expecting to walk in, hear her out, and then say "Well slow down there a second! Why don't you sit yourself down and Mr. Noah Gardner the grown-up will set you straight on a few points."
I hope she kicks him in the nads with her tattooed freedom-foot.