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Volume 3, Issue 1, February 28, 2008
silver man
The Colossal Walden
by Clifford Royal Johns

        As Suzanne's plane glided into O'Hare, she stared out at the Tree. Its wide arrowhead shadow darkened Grant Park and cooled the glare from Lake Michigan. At the bottom of the highest pine cone, 1,300 feet above the asphalt, Suzanne had an appointment in a few hours to meet Walden. Even better, the summons had arrived just before the revelation and commencement of his latest AIN project in Chicago. She closed her eyes, inhaled deeply, exhaled slowly.
        After a moment, she risked a glance across the center aisle. The man continued to stare at her. Turning back to the incoming landscape, she realized she should have smiled at him or at least looked nonchalant. He must be one of the protesters, she thought. She had just completed her architecture degree with an emphasis in Architecture Imitating Nature. At graduation that morning, protestors had disrupted some of the ceremonies by shouting and waving ridiculous placards, one of which stated, "AIN: Architecture Perverting Nature." They hadn't even matched up the letters properly.
        Suzanne considered the Tree the epitome of architectural achievement. With its startling evocation of nature, its immense organic form, it dwarfed the city's skyscrapers ideologically, if not physically. The Tree made a statement like no other building in the world, and she wanted to work for the company that had built it, for the man who had envisioned it, for Walden.
       While waiting in the taxi line, she saw the protester again. He was talking excitedly in a small group of "similar uniques," her name for people who thought themselves distinct individuals and demonstrated it through outward appearance, but ended up all looking the same.
        Entering the taxi, she said, "The Tree," and the system knew where to take her.
        She relaxed into the seat and pulled out her letter. Yes, she had the right day. Yes, she actually would talk to Mr. Walden. She had told everyone that she'd come to Chicago to interview with the premiere AIN company, Colossal Engineering, but the true prize was speaking with Walden himself. He wasn't much of a designer, but he was a marketing genius. He could make people see the future, make them imagine. Walden was an idea man.
        And the public loved him, as did local politicians and even some national celebrities. For his current AIN project, the one he would reveal tomorrow, he had secured permission to build without any of the usual public hearings or building commission meetings. He hadn't even specified what he would build. Genius.
       She relaxed into the taxi seat, folded her arms across her chest, and imagined becoming a partner in Colossal Engineering before she reached 30. She pictured herself walking into her estate in Oak Brook, brick with columns, and greeting her housekeeper, petite with olive skin.
       She had read about Walden's 14-bedroom house that simulated an enormous boulder sitting alone on the prairie. He used a trolley to get around.
        While she rode the elevator up and over to Walden's office, Suzanne saw herself reflected in the polished walls. She tugged at her bra strap and breathed deeply several times. Finally, the doors opened.

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