I love Puget Sound!I couldn’t be happier.He turned away.Without looking back at me he lifted his right hand and indicated with his index finger that I should follow him.As he stepped close, I thought I saw a fine white scar running from his forehead down to his cheekbone, as if he had been in a sword fight and had narrowly avoided having his eye put out.Maybe he had lost an eye.Maybe he was using a glass replacement.He gestured with his hand.What’s that?It was February twilight.We stared through the reflected light to a grassy hill that sloped down into a wooded area at the shore of Hood Canal.Bigger.The Puget Sound?We stared hard for a moment at the hill and the trees and the water.He pulled out a ring of metal keys and used one of them to dislodge something from his ear.The world’s most massive gold mine.It’s so obvious it’s hard to see.He scratched his scalp with his free hand underneath his blue knit cap.Do you know who built the Seattle Space Needle?He looked at me.I had no idea who built the Space Needle.You?Can you guess why I built it?Why I went ahead with the idea even after the city of Seattle dropped it?I shook my head.I struggled to take in the fact that I was standing next to the man who had built the Space Needle.It had simply appeared one day.When Grandma Trudy invited my sisters and me to go and behold it, Mom and Dad made clear to us the gigantic expense this was for our grandmother.She was a licensed practical nurse at Seattle General Hospital and lived way out in West Seattle.It took over an hour and two bus rides to get to work in the morning.After changing bedpans until eight at night, she was back out in the rain to wait for the buses to take her home again, often to endure the assaults of an alcoholic husband.From this hardscrabble routine, she squeezed her daily expenses until she could obey the universal summons and take her three grandchildren to pay homage to a new world colossus.As a child of eleven, I was stunned into silence when I first saw it from the distance, dominating the Seattle skyline.Then I found myself standing beneath it, leaning back to see it whole.Three sets of curving parallel lines swooped up to the sky.The girders themselves were a creamy yellow, as if they were the bones of some giant reptile.But these were not dead bones from the Cretaceous.Seen from below, the vast wheel these girders supported seemed to come alive.The several dozen steel struts packed closely together were a creature’s gills that would, any moment now, commence breathing.A surreal marine animal, far above, ready to lift off and return to its cosmic ocean at the right signal.I had never thought of it as an architectural structure a human could make.I was being forced to take it in.The Seattle Space Needle had actually come into existence because of this guy standing next to me wearing his blue knit cap.So ordinary looking and yet capable of making stupendous events happen, things as impressive as the Egyptian pyramids.I was talking with Zeus.Every great power has the same three components. With his thumb and fingers, he ticked them off.Natural resources, technology, military supremacy.Weyerhaeuser owns more nature than any company on Earth.Boeing is the world’s largest producer of aircraft, military and civilian.In technology, the computers developed here will change the business world.We are heading into an economic explosion bigger than Paris and London and New York put together.I understood next to nothing from your presentation. He held up his palm to stop me from speaking.I have no interest in the past.I came to this event because I want to build the future.I’m looking for leaders.He nodded curtly and severed our conversation.He marched off with torso rigid, a commanding general.Maybe he had a military background.On the far side of the conference room, a custodian vacuumed the dark red carpet.He worked the carpet between the aluminum legs of the whiteboard I had smudged.The vacuum’s racket was a dreary finish to the afternoon, especially in contrast to the promise the whiteboard offered when I first entered.I wanted to avoid the awkwardness of encountering Clapp again, so as he made his way toward the lobby, I went in the opposite direction, exited through a back door, and took a path through the trees to the parking lot.The forest crowded both sides of the road, so with every curve my headlights tore gashes of light into the darkness.Glancing at the white needle of the speedometer and seeing it jittering just past sixty, I pulled my foot off the accelerator.It was obvious I had failed with my presentation.As I drove and remembered my words and the responses from the trustees, I grew even more embarrassed.But beneath the turmoil, there was a mounting excitement.Norton Clapp had laid out his plan, his way into the future.That’s how he started out.Was he challenging me?Had I ruined things with my presentation?I crossed the suspension bridge over a marsh at the center of which a dark river, swollen by the recent rains, flowed swiftly out of the forest toward the unseen Hood Canal, the trees wet and dripping from the rains.I had been convinced my course was a breakthrough to an original relationship with the universe.Without hesitation, they had tossed it on the trash heap.What did that matter anyway?Wasn’t the Space Needle more important than a single course?Wasn’t changing the world with Clapp more important than anything I could do in a classroom?
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