Having trouble listening? Download the audio here.
A Tragicomedy in 1 Act Esther Vinny Gensler Warren a boy
A country road. A merkle tree. Evening.
Esther, sitting on a low mound, is checking her phone. It’s dead, but she keeps trying to use it. She gives up, exhausted, tries again. As before.
ESTHER: (giving up again) Nothing to be done.
VINNY: Glad to see you again Esther. Thought you were gone forever.
ESTHER: And miss this? Never.
VINNY: (leaning against the merkle tree) But what is there to miss? You can’t miss the missing man.
ESTHER: (quizzically) The missing man?
ESTHER: Oh. Was he here before?
VINNY: (despondently) No, he wasn’t here. But he was meant to meet us here.
ESTHER: Sure, sure. And the internet will have no more of an effect on the modern world than a fax machine. I’ll believe it when I see him.
Vinny apprehensively takes a piece of paper out of his pocket — a facsimile letter, perhaps from Krugman — and considers sharing it with Esther. But reconsiders and replaces it.
VINNY: He will meet us. He must. We need to close the ticket.
ESTHER: The ticket?
VINNY: The Venmo support ticket. Did you know he complained about it online? Probably via faxes too. (Vinny’s hand crumples the paper in his pockets nervously)
ESTHER: Oh. Can you close it?
VINNY: No, but it escalated to me. Maybe I can help close it. But no matter what I need to meet him. I need to understand.
ESTHER: Understand? What exactly?
VINNY: Why he’s a terroist.
ESTHER: A terrorist?! He’s a sort-of Nobel prize winner, a distinguished author, a famed professor.
VINNY: …and a terrorist.
ESTHER: You can’t be serious.
VINNY: (feebly) I wish I was kidding! But you know that Venmo allows anyone to transfer value freely across the world, so long as they are not a terrorist.
ESTHER: Or a drug dealer.
VINNY: (approvingly) Quite right.
ESTHER: Or on the OFAC Sanctions list.
VINNY: Sure, same thing.
ESTHER: And if you’re a business you pay a fee.
VINNY: Right but that’s in the terms and conditions, which everyone knows.
VINNY: Look what matters is that his Venmo account was closed — because he is a terrorist, according to the support ticket. So I want to know why. What befell him? Why take such a dark turn? Was it shame from his past predictions? Fear of future bad calls? What did him in?
ESTHER: Whatever you say.
VINNY: Well why do you care? What brings you to meet Krugman?
ESTHER: (glancing at her phone, still dead) He owes me.
VINNY: Sure, he owes me too. An explanation.
ESTHER: No not like that. I mean he literally owes me.
VINNY: You? You’re telling me that sort-of Noble prize winner, distinguished author, famed professor, and probable terrorist Paul Krugman owes you?
ESTHER: (embarrassingly) Yes.
ESTHER: (face down, shamefully) No, I paid him. He owes me a book.
VINNY: (recognition, or understanding, seems to dawn on his face) A book you sa–
A terrible cry, close at hand. Esther drops her phone, Vinny darts up. They huddle together in safety.
Enter Warren and Gensler. Warren drives Gensler by means of a rope passed around his neck, so that Gensler is the first to enter, followed by Warren with the rope. Gensler carries a security blanket, and Warren a whip.
WARREN: Onward, Gensler! We have work to do. (terrifying voice) I am Warren! (silence) Warren! (more silence) Does that name mean nothing to you?
ESTHER: Not ringing a bell no, but I don’t follow politicians without hope of winning their party’s Presidential nomination. Is that not Krugman on your leash?
WARREN: (with contempt) This blind oaf? Of course not. This is Gensler. And what a fine fool he is; he can’t seem to tell commodities from securities, can’t distinguish between the real and the rug, he can’t even see that his career has no future. He seems to relish the utter lack of clarity, which serves me just as well. And besides, what he lacks in vision he makes up for in tenacity, but only on my command. (with a deep breath and a bellow) GENSLER, CHOKE POINT. (Warren pulls back on the rope hard, causing Gensler to lose his breath and stumble, before standing upright and staring off into space as if in a trance)
GENSLER: Some of you might be starting off your freshman year of college, others might be entering your final year. I’d bet that most of you are thinking about money in one way or another. Should I join a meal plan or buy groceries? Should I make coffee at home or hit up the coffee shop? I want to take it beyond those topics about your expenses. What I want to talk about is savings. Start saving early, and save often. I know it sounds a little odd. You’re still in college. But just for a moment, if you were to save $5 a week, and you earn maybe 8%. Starting off while you’re at college, you may have $130,000+ saved by the time of retirement at 65. Just from $5 a week! But if instead you waited until let’s say you’re 40 years old to start saving, to get to the same numbers, you’d need about $30 a week. So: start early, save often. And if I may, one other thing, maybe go to office hours.
Gensler folds back into himself, as if utterly spent by pointless rambling. Warren, Esther, and Vinny all stand silently stunned
WARREN: (sighing) He never quite does what you want him to do.
ESTHER: Piss-poor advice I might add.
WARREN: How so?
ESTHER: If you’re $100k in student debt with 10% loans, I mean. And with a degree you might regret. I don’t need $130k at 65, I need $100k now.
WARREN: (with skepticism) Well maybe he meant it for college students without debt.
ESTHER: (laughing) Yeah, I know those kinds of kids, trust me they don’t need to save $5 a week.
WARREN: (suddenly aware) Who are you anyway?
ESTHER: Just a girl who made some bad decisions. Nothing to be done.
WARREN: (suddenly not self-aware) I can’t relate. Gensler and I must be going, anyway, places to be, unregistered securities to fine, rights to wrong, points to choke and so on. (Warren pulls the rope hard again) GENSLER! TO THE WELLS!
GENSLER: (while struggling, mumbling) Just $5 a week. Just $5 a week. I can save it all. For $5 a week.
Warren and Gensler exit the stage hurriedly, to Vinny and Esther’s confusion
VINNY: That was odd.
ESTHER: Yes, quite. Never felt more in danger to be honest, even though I got a vague sense that they were trying to protect us? From things they didn’t even understand. Odd indeed.
Esther grabs a leaf of the merkle tree, traces it back to the root, thinks for a moment before seeing a glimpse of a hash disappearing
VINNY: Anyway, back to your book.
ESTHER: Hm? Book?
VINNY: The book you don’t have. The one Krugman was meant to give you.
ESTHER: Oh, right. Yes well I’m in his introductory economics class, the one at Princeton? And of course, the syllabus demands readings from his textbook. Which, as you might have gathered, is not cheap. The E-Book is $110! I mean, what’s the economics behind Economics, Sixth Edition being $110? They can’t be good.
VINNY: So you were going to buy it from him?
ESTHER: No, I already did! At least, I sent him the money.
VINNY: …how, if I might ask?
ESTHER: How do you think?
VINNY: Right, well, this explains some things.
ESTHER: Yes, Vinny from Venmo, I’m sure it does.
VINNY: …Did you have to write “Economic Terrorism” in the memo field?
ESTHER: Oh I think I did. And shame on you for peeking.
VINNY: It was part of the report! For the support ticket. I wasn’t actively spying on you. So it’s fine.
ESTHER: Well what else was in there.
VINNY: (while shuffling through papers he takes out of his pocket) You know upon further reflection, a lot of these are probably euphemisms for inexplicably expensive textbooks, rather than terrorist activity. Well except the $20,000 he sent to JPow53 for “Hike Rates to Cause Bank Run/Twitter Gaffe Coverup.” That one is definitely drugs.
ESTHER: (facepalm) I don’t think he’s ever going to show.
Boy enters stage, clutching a Motorola Pager from 1995
BOY: Mister and missus? Mr. Krugman sent me—
VINNY: At last! You have seen him?
BOY: Oh no, certainly not. No one is allowed to see Dr. Krugman, not least of all us TAs.
ESTHER: Wait, you’re a TA? Why are you talking like a child?
BOY: That’s really more a question for Dr. Krugman.
ESTHER: …okay. Anyway, what word do you have? Did you bring his textbook? I’m out $110.
BOY: Oh no, definitely not. He relayed to me that under no circumstance can trade commence until the flow of money resumes, which I think means he wants his account unfrozen.
VINNY: (under breath) …terrorist…
BOY: But he did send a message. Which I retrieved after I was paged. (Boy clutches his pager like a cherished toy)
BOY: Dr. Krugman regrets that he cannot meet you under the tree he does not understand, (to Vinny) to discuss technology he refuses to understand, (to Esther) or to trade books that spread misunderstanding. Once again he finds himself in the unenviable position of advising others to fix a banking crisis caused by ideas he and his contemporaries promulgated, and will be rather busy fixing this mess by creating the conditions for another mess a decade hence. He will try to meet you tomorrow if he can.
(mutual silence for an awkward period)
VINNY: …so there it is again. Nothing to be done. Same time tomorrow then boy?
BOY: Of course.
VINNY: And you Esther?
ESTHER: I suppose.
VINNY: Wonderful. (clutching his papers) Good evening to you both, praying for more answers tomorrow.
ESTHER: (gazing wistfully at the sparsely leafed tree) I’d rather have a pirated copy of the textbook, to be honest.
VINNY: No fun in that.
ESTHER: Perhaps not. But what little I know about profit and marginal cost suggests that an ancient textbook of dubious quality is more correctly priced on a torrent rather than a trade.
VINNY: So long as you don’t put that on a Venmo memo field, that’s alright by me.
ESTHER: (smiling) Alright then. Shall we go?
VINNY: Yes, let’s go.
(They do not move)