October 17, 1998

The Grapes of Wrath, 1998

by Gary Krist


FADE IN: A deserted, dust-blown street on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Twilight. Tom Joad, a former mutual-fund manager just released from federal prison, stands in front of the Joad family's luxury 6- bedroom townhouse. The building is in ruins; the double-paned French doors are smashed, and the tattered Ralph Lauren window treatments flutter ghostlike in the howling wind.

TOM (climbing the broken stoop and entering the dark house): Ma? Pa? Anybody here?

VOICE (from within): Who's that?

TOM (lights a candle): Muley? Muley Graves? That you?

MULEY: Why if it ain't young Tom! I thought you was in jail. Insider tradin', wasn't it? You bust out?

TOM (frowning): Out on parole. (He looks around the deserted house.) What happened here? Where's my folks?

MULEY: You ain't heard? They're gone. They been run off the land, jes' like all t'other brokers and analysts in these-here parts. The landlord come to clear 'em off the place two weeks ago, jes' after that hhedge fund gone belly-up and your pa had his margins called.

TOM: His margins called? Why?

MULEY: Oh, Tom, things been bad since you gone away--real bad. Them Japanese banks been failin' left and right, the market in Brazil been gyratin' like some broke windmill, and don't even ask me about Russia. A man can't make no kinda livin' on Wall Street no more. And when it got so your Pa couldn't even swing the prix-fixe at Patroon, he knowed it was time to take the family and go.

TOM: So they jes' up and left?

MULEY: They had to, Tom. Your Pa, he sold the Baccarat and the Christian Liaigre furniture. Then he and your ma loaded up ever'thin' else they owned in the Limited Edition Range-Rover and headed west.

TOM: But what about you, Muley? You was ridin' high last time I heard, what with them call options on Amazon.com and Infoseek and all?

MULEY: Yeah, well, things're different now. Come the Asian currency crisis, my portfolio done took a nose-dive like ever'body else's. Only reason I ain't gone is I got nowhere else to go. So I just haunt this land--at least the part west of Lexington Avenue and south of 96th Street--like some kinda graveyard spirit.

TOM (shaking his head despondently): It ain't right, Muley. You and me and our folks and grandfolks before us been tradin' derivatives on this land for fifty years. It jes' ain't right for it all to end like this--especially just when the Hammacher Schlemmer Christmas catalogues are arrivin'.

MULEY: It sure ain't. It seems like jes' yestiddy we was readin' Cigar Aficionado and orderin' up magnums of Petrus. Not no more.

TOM: So where'd they go--my Ma and Pa? Where'd they head to?

MULEY: To Washington. Lotsa work down there, they say--consultin', lobbyin'. 'Course they ain't payin' but mid-six figgers with no stock plan and nary a year-end performance bonus. But your Pa, he says a man can scrape by on 500 thou per annum if he really has to.

TOM (disgustedly): You cain't expect anybody to raise a family on wages like that. We ain't animals. (Then, turning suddenly hopeful). But I tell you somethin', Muley. Sure, times is bad, but we're gonna get through this. (MUSIC BEGINS TO SWELL.) Mark my words. They cain't wipe us out, they cain't lick us. We're the salt of the earth, keeping this economy goin' with the sweat of our brows--figuratively speaking, of course. (CAMERA BEGINS TO PAN AWAY.) We'll go on forever, Muley, because we're...the people!


Gary Krist's most recent book is "Bad Chemistry."