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Babes In The Woods
Place: Bellevue WA. Year: 2007
I've been listening to the contemporary noise associated with caring for the Earth. What people don't realize is that the planet doesn't give a shit.
It's because I am an ant-human, that I recognize my communal self, and am probably more self-conscious than most people that I don't mind sharing. So it makes no difference to me that I tell you it was in the book Ravelstein that the simple truth became clear to me. Only a fool goes away to the woods. A fool or a bad man. The rest of us prefer each other's company. That doesn't mean that we know how to appreciate or respect each other. That's the fundamental lesson we prove that we have not learned when we start caring about the Earth. I don't mind telling you that I'm not the originator of this idea. It was passed along to me in the best way possible - I found it in my attempt to become a better human being. And in hopes that you might be too, I'm passing it along to you. Free.
You are a reader. I am a writer. We both need each other. Even moreso, I am a blogger. A live writer. I'm not boxed and packaged or storable for a rainy day. This is why we, you and I, are particularly civilized. I thought I should remind you.
People pretend that Microsoft doesn't exist. Microsoft hides itself in the woods. That makes this place a company town like an old mining joint. Bellevue is artificially luxurious and it has the nerve to rise above the trees. In Lincoln Square there are furniture stores on the third floor. Where, in the history of mankind have furniture stores ever been so high in the air? It doesn't have to be practical. Somehow they've worked out a system to get the 2400 beds sold every year down to sea level. Surely the inventory is electronically connected to the showroom. But the point is that you can take the skybridge across the boulevard and be entranced by the glass and steel and light and stone and flowing water and jazz piano by Joe Sample as you gaze at the amazingly rich furniture 40 feet above the traffic in Bellevue. But Redmond is hermetic and the Microsoft buildings are only visible up close. Microsoft people are a people apart. They are in the woods. They stay in Redmond to work into the night. They come out to Bellevue, on occasion, to mingle. But nobody is fooled. Bellevue exists, its furniture stores, its jewelry stores, its skyscrapers and skybridges, because of Microsoft. This is not an organic city. These are hills and woods. Only people with horses belong here, and then only a few.
If you take a shuttle from Microsoft building to Microsoft building, it will be in a Prius. I had to bear that. I hate the Prius. It is a hideously ugly automobile. It defies all of the romantic conventions of automobile design. It has no hips, no muscle, no grace, no grill teeth. It is pretentiously quiet and arrogant with its red and green energy path displays flaunting their servo-responses to the driver's breaking and accelerating. As fast as you can tap your feet, the energy path changes. The mileage goes from 16 MPG to infinity one hundred annoying times per shuttle trip. The driver is in his late 50s. He has a faded tattoo on his right forearm. He was in Vietnam. He drives slowly now, moving slim young men with large foreheads from building to building among the trees. The driver is in his own private Idaho. He grins silently, like his Prius.
People think they are safe in the woods. The woods that conceal the Home Depot and the Town Center. The freeway ends not far from here, and even the car pool lanes are inverted - on the far right instead of on the far left. Everything is special about this place, nobody plays quite enough soccer to rip up the turf, and the valet parking at Building Eight is free. When I went to Building Eight today to get a new chip embedded in my ID badge, General David Petraeus was testifying on Capitol Hill. He mentioned some of the kinds of atrocities, beheading school children and cutting off fingers for smoking, that AQI had perpetrated. There are lots of acronyms at Microsoft, but not many people outside of the military talk about Al Qaeda Iraq. I don't see many people smoking at Microsoft. I wonder what would happen if I smoked in the cafeteria in Building 112 where they sell the vegan pizza.
You don't notice the security around here. There aren't many thickset men with bent up noses and broad shoulders to be found in Redmond. But if you try to use Google Talk or Firefox, you'll find that they behave strangely. IE for the first time you'll realize that they don't work. Everybody is trying to hack into this place, this Microsoft network. So there are various types of expression that are not allowed. Microsoft is a 32 billion dollar company. The management hierarchy is at least 7 tiers deep. Everything has been said about it one way or another, and the new building construction continues. Somehow or another, everybody figures out how to get along with Microsoft. It blends into the woods. The special safe woods.
If a certain portion of the electromagnetic spectrum were found one day to be hazardous to trees, say the spectrum allocated to Wifi or cellphone traffic, the nakedness of Microsoft would become unbearable. But for now we're safe.
Some Indian tribe is in the news because somebody killed a whale. Somebody whaled and somebody wailed. It was on the front page of the local newspaper. The whaler in question said he's not ashamed. A whale is a symbol of the Earth. So long as we have enough whales around, or trees, people leave each other alone. It's only in the cities and the slums when we have to look at each other in the face that we get annoyed and start behaving in our ant-human ways. But under the spell of nature, or with reasonable facsimiles thereof, we get all Walt Whitmany and stare blankly into the uncaring distance. The unwillingness of nature to acknowledge us somehow gives us peace. We think we're OK. Civilization forces us to reckon with each other. Nature allows us to ignore ourselves. It invites us to shut up and empty our minds. Until we get hungry.
The people on the radio keep telling me that we need to establish a relationship with the land and with animals and trees. This is the new religion. We should remember what the seduction is. It is the seduction of hermetic life, of solitude and disconnectedness with civilization. It will make hicks and bohunks of us all. We'll end up tribal, you know. Like the natives who killed the whale. We'd become indigenous and all of our kids would be homeschooled. We'll lose our ability to build skyscrapers, and whatever strange creatures we became, the woods would hide our grotesqueries. When our relationship with the beetles and the endangered species became intimate, when the very bones through our noses have reached sacred meanings, we would be in complete harmony with the Earth. Not that the Earth gives a shit. It never did.
I'm not running away from home. My home is with you. My relationship to you and Microsoft and Petraeus and human history and literature and film and music. That's what I like. If I get stabbed in the eyeball for being a Republican, I like that Republicans will have my back. If I get dissed by a cabbie in NYC for being black, I like that blacks have my back. If I get hissed at a conference for hanging with Microsoft by my old Oracle buddies, I appreciate the rivalry. I know it's the human relationships that count, even if we're no good at it. If I drown in Lake Washington, nobody will care, unless somebody gets sued. If a tree falls on my head in the woods, nobody will care, unless the tree is on the Microsoft campus. I'm not deluded about my relationship with humanity or with nature. I'd rather have a fake relationship, even an antagonistic relationship with people, than some farcical aquatic ceremony with nature.
So all you tree huggers out there. You're not fooling me. If you were real tree huggers, you'd be off the grid and pulling ticks out of your crotch. If you really are worried about global warming and the price of oil, move to Alaska. But if you are within earshot, you're not fooling me. I know you love me more than you love the Earth. I know you're just using the environment as a metaphor. If you were for real, the environment would be using you.