Life at the Origin (0,0)
I have a story about someone much like me, who moved into the center of the hive and found nothing there. Four-lane roads, four-car garages. A happy ignorance of what it means to install a tiki bar, labeled "tiki bar," in your backyard. Next to the tiki bar a transparent plastic ball large enough for a man to stand and walk around inside. Money has no taste of its ownlike vodka, it strengthens and embitters what it's mixed withand the mixer here was a culture of people who had grown up as precocious children, and remained faithful to everything those children wanted.
I had a wife and child of my own. We picked up money that people had dropped on the broad, sunlit sidewalks, and it made a sum. We had enough to pretend. Enough for one or two luxuries. They were for the childwho wouldn't do anything for their child?and we got used to them. It's very convenient to have a daily logbook of feedings and naps and bowel movements, very reassuring to see hospital-grade hygiene practices in action, utterly seducing to be given a scrap of butcher paper smeared with purple paint. Everyone must deserve this. How could anyone ask less to give up one's warm heart during the working hours?
But there weren't any working hours. In a town so saturated with money, I had only to open my mouth and it would start to diffuse into me. I was stunned. Not by the volume, since there wasn't enough to buy anything I wanted; only enough to serve as a conduit to the accumulators, who accumulated by taking over my functions. The owner of my home, the caretaker of my child. Across this difference in voltage ran the current of my life, which was a life without working hours, getting up late, sundazed, though things were expected of me, and I, stunned fish in the sun, did them halfheartedly and badly, and I could never get out from under them, and the bank balance trickled away, and to the pages that are the spirit's bank balance I added very few words, and my feelings were of sidewalks and a garden drying up.
I could have reached for more. I was at the center of the hive! But the hive has no landmarks. Everything is flat, the four-car garages have their doors shut. One needs a social graph, in today's term of art, weighted by income, to see where the corridors converge; and I did put in a few sad evenings schmoozing at genteel bars, but just enough money was already flowing into my mouth to render me useless with pride. I had always thought that if I had any money I would use it to buy autonomy, by which I meant a very high wall. Perhaps a gate, but I'd keep the key. Now with that current passing through me, gasping fish, some walls were easily built indeed. I put the wrong things out, kept the wrong things in.
In two weeks we're leaving Palo Alto, under the same midsummer heat that brought us here two years ago. We are more or less going back where we came from. Some off-season grippe has come through the house, and the fever and pain merge with the disorder of the apartment and cast back over the last years: we have lived an eternity in this heat, among these boxes, grimacing when we swallow. That is the philosopher's eternity, without a time axis. Brahma shut his eyes in Berkeley, a lifetime went by, he opened his eyes in Berkeley again. But you come back altered. We are three instead of two. Our child, born in the Unreal City, citizen of a bad centurywhat we owe her! There is so much to do!
The new place has a yard out back. We're allowed a garden box. Soil, we need soil.
I can help haul dirt. That's one of the things I can do.
We'll bring the garden box!