If you do the new math you don’t get rich quick, but you get rich. First step, ditch things. Lighten your load, get rid of the sofa — real and metaphorical. Make space, wait. Voids fill. Form and formlessness, wanting and not wanting, two sides of a coin, so flip it. This is the reverse riches theory, a paradoxical path to plenty, and it takes us to unincorporated territory.
A forest, deep in a corridor of mountain redwoods, a cathedral of trees. There are so many, so close, that the grandeur of each growth is lost — rugged trunks jutting up to a sky visible only through a mesh of green. Wolf and I drive in reverent silence, dropping our discussion of home economics as he navigates the winding road.
The climb is steep, bends, up and down until it’s all dirt, unpaved. This is where MoreCorp’s map ends, the electronic guide announcing, “You’ve reached your destination.” A deer crosses before us, stops and stares at us as if to confirm, big black eyes, ears standing, gray fur, spry, springy. “Omens,” Wolf says, as it bounds off.
We keep going, slowly, past kats roaming in gangs. Up and down again. Watch out! There’s a ravine, a sharp curve. To my left, I spot a sign, spray painted, lying on the ground. For Sale.
Wolf parks the car at a perilous angle and we get out, walk past piles of waste. There’s not a path so much as suggestions made by jagged rocks. It’s rugged land, rich and green, very verdant, putting the MoreCorp Plus Center Plus Room to shame. Redwoods stand majestic but common as matchsticks, the forest floor littered with lost limbs.
Look past the trash, rotten lumber, rusted pipes, plastic bags, crushed beer cans and broken bottles. Focus on the fragrant air, green and sharp, birdsong, close an eye, perfection. But open it again before you step! Otherwise, you’ll tumble down to the porch.
The cabin is invisible, nestled in a hill, down a narrow dirt walk and uneven wooden stairs with loose slats. It’s modest, naked, bare logs on half of the structure, the other half covered in wooden tiles hanging loose at crazy angles. Partly lodged in the hill, it stands on stilts on two sides, hugged by redwoods all around.
Trees grow under and into the house, which isn’t locked. Green shoots poke through the bathroom tiles and wood walls of a small living room containing a kitchen. Attached is a tiny side room, like a boat turned upside down, just big enough for a bed. Basically, perfect.
The reluctant agent arrives, a stubby middle-aged blonde in double denims and a ripped flannel shirt, sandals with socks. She eyes us skeptically, finds us wanting. “You know there’s no codes out here, right? It’s not soft country. And I don’t have time, so check the back and we’ll talk if you mean biz.“
We do as told. There’s also a bunch of filth hidden below — ancient water heaters, bottles, boxes, busted appliances, and traces of illicit activity in the litter. But we like it, agreeing without speaking that if anyone will bet on not-kids with not-jobs we’ll bet on the deer deciding traffic patterns.
The reluctant agent tells us the owner’s tek startup went bust and now he’s going rogue, doesn’t want to own. The right people can have the place for a steal. So Wolf and I explain ourselves, professionally, and her whole approach completely changes. Now we seem like something, the right people, because MoreCorp.
No matter how many times I emphasize the brevity of our assignment, our tenuous tie to employment at the world’s friendliest company — we technically work for MidCorp and not forever — she dismisses me, saying, “How’s your credit? Go gray and it’ll be ok. I got a guy who can get you a thing.”
By gray she means an UnCorp bank. By thing she means mortgage, which is a heavy load. So why do I claim to be lightening mine? Because this forest acre costs one tenth the price of a tiny cube in Silicon or Metropolis, less than any rent I have ever paid on any continent.
The agent sends us away with instructions. We follow carefully, grateful for the gray people and their ways. Contractors can’t get mortgages, normally, but her guy says a thing, almost no money down, is no problem. The impossible is made easy.
As the exchanges bring us every day closer to paradise, I realize we have to run all this by Hound. What I didn’t realize is that it was the doge’s plan all along. See, in the lore of yore, dogerman winters are magical creatures who paw the quantum. They tug the threads, untangle, make waves, and they pick their owners, rather than the other way around. Then, when the time is right, the creatures lead their people out of hell. They cannot be owned.
When we met Hound in an ani-peni in Metropolis, he was a great beast cowering in a small cage, like us in a way, broke in a tiny cube. He was an impractical choice if we had one but maybe he chose. All we did was not say no.
The big white doge bounds happily out of the car, mouth open, tongue hanging, tail wagging when we reach the cabin. He runs straight down the mountain to the porch where he flops like a boss, revealing who’s in charge. Hound is bringing us home, returning a favor.
We've lived all over, met as wanderers. I'm ready to land and I finally understand why this and not that, all the other places. Here, land is land. Earth, dirt, trees, not a cube suspended in a building crammed into a center made of millions of astronomically priced cubes.
In a pinteresting parallel development, Ampersand Matrix, my not-boss, is also betting on his future. It’s bright enough for a big box in Silicon. We’re both printing papers from banks in a hidden alcove in the Clubhouse and have met accidentally, confessing our coincidental purposes. Ampersand grimaces, waving his financials before me, a thick sheaf. “You gotta think big to be big.”
“For sure,” I agree, though that’s the opposite of my reverse riches theory. "Good plan."
“Yeah. I know what I'm doing. But do you? I plus you and Wolf. There could be trouble.”
Is he hinting at unemployment or worse, a hit? Luckily, anyone coming down to the cabin will be visible, vulnerable, and we can shoot them from the porch — if we had more than metaphorical weapons. I ask, “What trouble?”
He smiles, small teeth, blue eyes shiny. “It’s not done, UnCorp. Isn’t it dumb? No delivery right? Wifi? How will you sell the place?”
“We haven’t even bought it yet,” I remind him. “So selling … well ...” I also don’t fill in details about the vibrant world outside the drone delivery zone, as it’s hard to distinguish between actual intrigue and imagined after disappearances and a suspect death. Maybe my not-boss doesn’t wish me well and shouldn't know too much. So I excuse myself claiming I have work, which he knows isn’t true because he's my not-boss.
We prepare to disappear. I spend all my spare time doing new math and tossing and packing. The caretaker watches us carefully, wary of Hound. But our landlord doesn’t notice the activity as in recent months he has moved on to drugs harder than those he grows for profit and is in another zone.
One 4-day morning in summer while I’m sitting in my slot in the Clubhouse, I get a txt from the guy who confirms that dreams — even those I could not have known to have — do come true. I ping Wolf and we peel out of Silicon, rush up the mountains, collect Hound and set off for the land we call Shaolin, a place we’ve never been.
There is much to do to restore an ancient temple to grandeur, debris to clear. But also, here is discovery — sift the soil, pan for gold, seek and ye shall find. The land is rich. It has secrets, a winding staircase hidden underbrush leading to the creek below.
Wolf and I clean and clear the cabin, the sheds, paint the walls inside and out, scrub, sweat, trudge up and down. We sweep paths, discover new talents. I build fences with woven redwood limbs along the hills, massive bird nests.
On the mountain, Silicon, the Lovesport, MoreCorp, none of it seems real. Maybe because none of it is. Shaolin already looks like a Humble Servant relaxation retreat, so haven’t we won?
The doge looks smug as he watches us work, transforming the crooked cabin. Hound presides with pride, barking at intruding deer, staring at the trees contentedly. But he’s an American doge, ambitious, is big, thinks big, and we are not yet out of hell. It’s too soon to rest on laurels.