Sunday, March 20, 2005

Poccle Now

In the blurry contours of myth, the genesis of the metropolis might occur half-way between the moment where Atalanta swift-of-foot, paused for golden apples and lost her race and the single day and night of misfortune when earthquakes and floods beset the island empire of Atlantis and she and all her warlike inhabitants sank into the earth and disappeared forever in the depths of the sea. And so Poseidon's allotment was returned unto his embrace.

"There are five ways people made their money in Atlanta--cotton, real estate, railroads, banking and Coca-Cola," or so the saying goes. Coca-Cola had a secret formula guarded with all the ceremony of the Ark of the Covenant and had you grown up in these parts you might have wished to inherit original equity shares of the corporation, which multiplied through splits and steadily increasing in value, sustained several generations of those families lucky enough to possess them. There might be newer names in the local feudal hierarchy. We might now pledge allegiance to Cox Communications, to CNN, to Delta Airlines, to Equifax, to Home Depot, to a teeming pulsing vision of Our Way of Life--the right to to global communications, 24 hour news, transportation hubs, retail credit and convenient home furnishings, yet Coca-Cola was still tops. To appreciate the global brand you had to reach a level of abstraction where it's never ever about selling caffeinated sugar water; it's about creating enticing visions of worlds whose inhabitants just happen to consume it.

One day in the final semester of my college career, I found myself at the entrance to the Coca-Cola building, whose exterior does not impress. Even then, the company seat, a graceless concrete box-like relic from the sixties looked out of place among the newer, sleeker towers in the downtown Atlanta skyline. Only the familiar cursive script logo in red neon on the building's side held out the promise I sought--a commission in the service of global economic hegemony.

Drinkin' rum and Coca-Cola
Go down to Point Koomahnah

Both mother and daughter
Workin' for the Yankee dollar
(Andrews Sisters, Rum and Coca-Cola)

I state my name and business and am given a printed name badge at the entrance lobby. Having never before received a name badge for anything other than student ID, I immediately begin to feel important. I am expected. Once I get off on the designated floor, there ensues a wait in a pleasant sort of ante-room, where I am offered my choice of the company libations. The Yanqui dollar might be experiencing its dolors, but the perks of being a merchant princess are good indeed. Possessing no mercantile skills whatsoever, I mentally picture how the VP's plush corner office will look when it is mine.

She must have been in her late forties. She had one of those cutesy nicknames from the fifties, but the affinity with that generation ended there. She was all business. There were two paths to employment at Coca Cola--work your way up from stocking store shelves or get an MBA. She herself was a graduate of Harvard Business School. She suggested some consumer brand companies with college grad management training programs and other contacts of hers who might be able to talk to me about international business. And then, out of nowhere, she said "I'm not one of those women who believes you can have it all. I don't have children. I have a dog and a lake house."

I am taken aback. Have I mentioned having it all? Of course I haven't. I don't have to. Undoubtedly, my face can't help but betray that early twenties attitude--"you may not have been able to have it all, but I who am (was!) young and shall inherit the future and all manner of possibility will; I will never make the mistakes of those who went before me, I will never wind up like so and so and so and so...." The sheer patronizing callousness of such inexperience might be annoying, if you didn't know that sooner or later life would deal it a swift kick in the arse. At any rate, the VP, assured in her accomplishments, was nothing if not helpful and gracious. In time, I came to appreciate her candor.

My daughter wants to know why I pick her up closer to three o'clock and not at two thirty like other people's mommies. All she wants is some of my attention and she has to fight hard for it with two-year old twin brothers, who when they're not having to be rescued from something or other, rotate between trying to destroy each other and attempting to destroy our house. She wants to go to Starbucks and have a hot chocolate. It's not so much to ask. Inevitably at that moment, the journalist from some well-known business magazine calls. He might cover our company, but there's one thing we have to do. We have to convince him that middleware is sexy. I ought to be honest. Darling, middleware is sexy to one group of people--middleware developers and I'm just not sure "talk to me about fine-grained caching you dirty b..." is really going to fly in a broader audience--and leave it at that.

IBM is the only company yet to try and market middleware to a general consumer audience with their "Middleware is everywhere" campaign. Let's be honest. So is oxygen and a lot of other things that nobody gives a damn about unless they were to disappear. So what kind of angle would that give us "A day without middleware?" Ultimately, I fail to sex up middleware enough to get us covered in the hip up-and-comers category in the magazine. I feel tawdry and foolish for having tried. What might really be capturing my imagination at this moment would be the gardens of Bagh-e-Fin, Villa Gamberaia, Suzhou, Sissinghurst, but nobody is paying me to write about that. Tides of work and children pull at submerged self and I dream about the luxury of contemplation and detachment.

The Persian garden was not designed for strolling. The prince was carried in his sedan chair to an open pavillion or to the edge of a pool to meditate, hear music, write verse, or listen to recitations. There the air was cooler than in the desert; the gentle sound of fountains, the slight rustle of branches in the breeze, and the scent of roses and jasmine brought a dreamy joy to the senses. The Most Beautiful Gardens in the World, Alain Le Toquin.

"Want Poccle Now!" one of the two year twin boys is screaming, "poccle" being their way of saying popsicle. At one time perhaps I imagined my children might not have sugary treats, but my husband happens to like popsicles and the twins do as well.

I try to focus on the larger world. The Guardian Weekly writes about the Tsunami and spirituality and the impact of the eighteenth century earthquake on Enlightenment philosophers like Voltaire. Were the inhabitants of Lisbon any more wicked than the inhabitants of London or Paris? I remember learning that Voltaire maintained some incredibly high-volume correspondence. I write nothing these days. I respond to emails. My ever-filling in-box, coupled with my habitual inability to get on top of it, is an existensialist metaphor. A French writer attributes contemporary American foreign policy to our frontier past. He's talking about Manifest Destiny, of course, but he doesn't reference it. Somewhere he uses the word "amerindian," whereas the American politically correct word would be "native american." Word choice interests me, especially in different languages, where things might be expressed more similarly but are not. Is a city a "settlement," with the connotation of bringing light and civilization to the wilderness? There may be some natives who inhabit this wilderness, but they are simply a more exotic form of the local flora and fauna, no doubt grateful for being delivered from their abject state. Or do we call it a "colony?" The French fellow's piece is insightful but, given his country's own baggage, he comes off a bit like a sanctimonious prig. But not an ignorant twit, the unholy union of those two qualities being a most unfortunate event indeed. Nothing so irritating as being taken for the exotic barbarian oneself--"how do they think?" I myself have been wanting to write a piece titled "Whiskey for my men, beer for my horses," based on the Toby Keith song whose jingo-istic vigilante exhortations "You gotta saddle up your boys, you gotta draw a hard line," I find enchanting in a disturbing, ironic sort of way, especially considering the roots of country music. Although nostalgia is a staple there. I am thinking of Merle Haggard's "Are the Good Times Really Over for Good?"

Wish a buck was still silver.
It was, back when the country was strong.
Back before Elvis; before the Vietnam war came along.
Before The Beatles and "Yesterday",
When a man could still work, and still would.
Is the best of the free life behind us now?
Are the good times really over for good?
Are we rolling down hill like a snowball headed for hell?

With no kind of chance for the Flag or the Liberty bell.
Wish a Ford and a Chevy,
Could still last ten years, like they should.
Is the best of the free life behind us now?
Are the good times really over for good?

I wish coke was still cola,
And a joint was a bad place to be.
And it was back before Nixon lied to us all on TV.

Before microwave ovens,
When a girl still cooked and chopped wood.
Is the best of the free life behind us now?
Are the good times really over for good?...

Oh dear, she "who ought to be cooking and chopping wood" is suddenly jarred. The Guardian talks about massacres in Sudan. Apparently Edward Said and Susan Sontag have died, but I can't follow it. I am too distracted by the tribal wars in the living room and the tsunami in the children's bathroom. I'm sure a gulag guide somewhere suggests tactics for breaking down somebody's mind that include depriving them of sleep and subjecting them to random intervals of screaming. Do you become the Manchurian Candidate if you watch too much Baby Einstein, the hallucenogenic fish comes on and then the voice "Nathalie Fleury, Nathalie Mason-Fleury?"...Am I the only one who thinks there's something park-candy-proffering dodgy about The Wiggles, and how they're always so unaturally happy? And why is it that the educational video section at Target has a zillion selections on how to teach your baby to appreciate Shakespeare, how to turn them into a budding musician, how to introduce them to the visual arts, yet there is not one video on potty-training?

And then it happens, homeland insecurity looks at me with loving blue eyes, shakes some fair hair off his forehead, angelic face like a putti, then dives toward me and sinks razor-sharp milk-teeth into my shoulder. Wnen the shock and searing pain die down, blooming into a purplish, rose bruise and the child has been chastized in his turn, he looks at me with hurt, disbelief. How could the one he loves so much and depends on for nourishment scold him thus? What is he thinking? "Mother dearest, I love you so much. It was just a love bite. If I drained you of all your blood, you could lie there so pretty. I'd put you in a glass coffin and you'd never grow old, never change, never disappoint me. You'd be mine, all mine."

In the twilight under the pine trees, demented Southern debutantes sip bourbon whiskey out of sterling silver hip flasks once belonging to their great-grandfathers and the sons and daughters of the provincial bourgeoisie dance to the Grateful Dead's Sugar Magnolia.

Sunshine, daydream, walking in the tall trees, going where the wind goes
Blooming like a red rose, breathing more freely,
Ride our singin', I'll walk you in the morning sunshine
Sunshine, daydream. sunshine, daydream. walking in the sunshine.

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