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March 12, 2010 / Michelle Ferris

Ground Floor

Seattle looks so small from the Black Box. From ground level, it could be mistaken for a big city, but not here. There’s nowhere left to go. The ends of the earth are on each horizon. Just beyond the water, mountains. Mountains on both sides. Mt. Ranier stands proud to the south, much unlike sister Helen who lost her temper. They play a game of hide and seek, immovable players cloaked behind endless falling sheets of nimble cumuli.

S.A.D. probably originated here. Her drug problem explained with three letters comprising one damp acronym. Damp body, damp mind. Quarters of the welfare state decompose her spirit slowly. She’s overdrawn her account again and her garden has been wasted by rot and lack of care. No time. Bills to pay Gotta get up. Her life uses her and returns it to soil. Fodder for the rich.

From the top all this is invisible. Like gum on the bottom of a shoe, it is something not seen but felt. Here it’s all shuffling papers and drinking Starbucks. Meeting clients with breath that reeks of the hard work of thousands upon thousands of equatorial workers. The dreaded Coffee Breath. And you’re out of Scope. For only twelve easy payments of $15,000, you too can have a perception of the business world as viewed through a high-rise office window! But outside the box, industry continues grinding its gears, chewing up and spitting out whatever and whomever it deems necessary.

If you knew your imagination would lead you to try to make your fortune from a drab cubicle at Boeing, you would never have wished for such a thing. Late nights, strained family, stained memos: Not worth it. Should have been satisfied being a Batista – they’re always in need in this café infused culture.

A view, gliding across the industrial district reveals the exoskeletons of preposterous red brontosauruses lifting giant, treasure-filled boxes off the backs of whales and onto land. A gift from the Gods. Disperse it to the needy. Unless it’s full of the needy already, huddling in a suffocating prayer. Steady. Steady.

Can’t make it big without working harder and faster. Have to make enough to afford caring about the important things in life. You’ll Free Tibet and Save the Whales once you have your new Hybrid. Until then, a cursor blinks to remind you time is money. Maybe there is still time to live off tips.

Quarters, dollars drop into the tip jar one addict at a time. Their fix is only a couple minutes away. Glazed and unacknowledged eye contact from across the room sure to grind gears and jump into a conversation of unstoppable momentum. Everything moves faster when caffeinated. Seattle’s economy would crumble without it, citizens curling up into fetal positions in cars, hallways, chairs, elevators, bus stops and restaurant booths for a cry and a quick pick-me-up nap. Helpless to the grounds that lift them. An entire city run on practically beans. And there’s nothing like creating idyllic worlds when you’re high.

Driving under streets and straight over the tops of commuters. Sickening crunches of bone, metal, impossibly large wheels. So nice to have a monster truck in traffic. A sheep bleats behind him, no, a horn, and lifts him from the tail-light daze he had fallen into. No monster truck after all. Sleep-driving is so much more fun. He drinks his coffee greedily and resumes staring over his steering wheel at the rear end of the car in front of him.

Anti-War stickers litter every bumper. Impatient drivers lay on the horns in the sticky sweet marmalade of multicolored vehicles oozing down I-5. Should have caught the bus. I will tomorrow. She tosses her cigarette butt out the window, reminding herself to take out the compost if she ever gets home. Seeing a break in the fast lane, she passes on the right and cuts in. A horn announces the car behind her. Obviously a Republican. Still laying on the horn, bewildered at the lack of a courtesy wave, he gives her the middle finger, a monument to courtesy everlasting. Doubted they even saw it through the rain. He sounded his horn again.

Been raining for days. Iridescent slicks trail for miles beneath horizons of sight. Decals clinging to the sides of rubber boots are the only ones who seem to notice. Dirty puddles run downhill like naughty children to join their mother, Lake Union, decorating her surface with pretty colors. Studies show that fish caught locally have trace amounts of mercury and caffeine. The mermaid doesn’t mind, smiling behind fingers on every coffee cup. Running on empty again. Only a little better than jogging while full.

Proclaim me the epitome! The master of recycling! If only to achieve a moment of warmth. Plant a tree and grow shelter. Change sings a beggars’ Christmas, reciting practiced verse. Spare change, Spare change. Incantations for coins to join the choir. Clustering under eaves, doorways. Layered in whatever dry warmth is available. Abandoned Gore-Tex and fleece, if they’re lucky.

Tents rise under the flood and ebb of the rush hour tides, overpasses carrying ideals over them twice a day. Empty coffee cups tossed overboard, devoid of dreams. He saves it for later. It will decompose in his hand, waiting for their ideals to save him. Five dollars today. It’s enough for a loaf of bread and a cup of Joe. Something has to keep him moving. Kicked out of his dreams to sleep somewhere less visible. He tucks himself behind an apartment complex. A small, dry space between buildings is a blessing.

Her apartment seems to shrink with every move. Organic produce is unpacked and put away. The mail came again. Population Connection. Democracy in America. UNICEF. World Wildlife Fund. Yes on Monorail! Sierra Club. Next time, she promises. As soon as she starts making more money she’ll send help. Resolved with her justification, it all goes in the recycling bin. Mirror mirror on the wall. First day of her second job. Her hand-me-down black shirt is faded, and the zipper doesn’t work on her khakis. The green apron covers it. Eating organic would be so much easier if taxes weren’t so high. Buying guns and roads and stadiums. Key Arena, Safeco Field, Qwest Field. She doesn’t even watch sports. All she wanted was a monorail. It never got built, like so many of her hopes. Fizzled out in the rain.

The fourth cup always leads the fitful waking dreams. Ideals tempered by the American Dream. No one really gets what they want. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle your convictions. Until they’ve been ground into nothing, it’s never enough. But so nice to have a view.

© 2005 by Michelle Ferris

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