Local Opinion

Published on January 14th, 2017 | by Warren Hines


A Year for Symbiosis

“I found a baby raccoon over there,” I explained to a safety worker in a red hard-hat. The raccoon looked completely disoriented, covered in orange mud from the floor of the cleared and grubbed east Texas pine forest. The safety worker thanked me. It’s just what I figured I was supposed to do per the day-long safety orientation seminar. I was working as an inspector and a representative for the steel fabricator at ExxonMobil’s world headquarters in Spring, Texas.

At the time it was billed as the largest job site in North America. I had to have a pass and go through a toll booth to get to the job trailer on site where I worked at the Energy Center. I had done all sorts of grunt-level work on this beast of a structural steel building which was basically three different buildings—none of which looked like they ought to stand up on their own. Real M.C. Escher stuff. One morning I drove in and noticed about two acres of pine forest on the left side of the road had been knocked down. By evening, the earth had been dug out and made into a retention pond. The trees were discarded and taken to a giant burn pile in a nearby lay-down yard.

I parked every day in the south parking garage. One day I walked to the top of the stairs to find a crew waterproofing the top of the garage. They had different colored paints and a giant grid with some sort of pattern roughed out. It was explained to me that each of the two main parking garages would be painted to resemble the aerial view of Exxon’s Australian refinery and their Baton Rouge refinery, respectively. This expense was all so that Rex Tillerson could see it from a helicopter when he came into work.

The project was built on Tillerson’s family land, it was explained to me—he sold ExxonMobil the property. Juan Louis, the safety guy from orientation, told us about a “million dollar tree,” which was an old oak that Tillerson fondly recalled taking naps under while squirrel hunting on the land as a boy. A botanist had been hired to uproot and move the tree to a special location, at the end of what would be a green space between the towers of formed-concrete office buildings. The tree had its own watering system and its branches were wired with light features. I recall looking down on it from a massive cube of steel that sat at the top of the Energy Center. It didn’t even look like a tree anymore—it was a bionic memory of a tree—a testament to what science and frivolity can be afforded with enough money.

The Monday before Christmas, a memo was sent out that there would be a “pop-up” performance by GoofyBoots at the Blues Bar in Greenville. I made my way downtown to catch up with town friends. Everybody who was supposed to be there was there. The place was ours for the evening—a horde of bucks returning to the old watering hole—the scene of the crime. Soon enough the kids we remember being in diapers when the town first belonged to us would come to stake their claim for the duration of the holidays with their sophomore beards, their shit-eating grins and debutantes and naiveté.

For moments, we are able to escape the impending concern about the incoming leadership of our country. I think back to the red-hatted safety guy and his “Nobody Gets Hurt” button—towing the company line—making money to walk around and prosthelytize the Good Word of Safety—just a pawn in Tillerson’s insurance policy game.

“What ever happened to that raccoon?” I asked him.

“They shot it I guess. It was all messed up when you found it,” he replied.

Underneath the ExxonMobil Campus is a series of tunnels—underground bunkers fitted with food and accommodation for the entire staff to live comfortably in the wake of a famine or nuclear war. I grew to become sick with the disconnected exuberance the company leadership seemed to flaunt, and its selective approach to concern with nature—only placing importance on that which held personal significance. It is doubtful that Tillerson, a member of Russia’s “Circle of Friends” understands the symbiosis of nature—how each species of plant and animal depend on one another in the delicate balance of life on Earth. He sure as fuck doesn’t care about the polar bears and doubtlessly will not hesitate to scorch our own habitats if it suits his interest.

“Writers are specialized cells doing whatever we do, and we’re expressions of the entire society – just as the sensory cells on the surface of your body are in the service of your body as a whole. And when a society is in great danger, we’re likely to sound the alarms. I have the canary-in- the-coal-mine theory of the arts. You know, coal miners used to take birds down into the mines with them to detect gas before men got sick. The artists certainly did that in the case of Vietnam. They chirped and keeled over. Nobody important cared. But I continue to think that artists – all artists – should be treasured as alarm systems.”

-Kurt Vonnegut

It is alarming that the current pick for Secretary of State is one of the world’s richest oil tycoons with a sympathetic ear to Vladimir “The Butcher” Putin who has both condoned and ordered the slaughter of civilians, doctors and journalists in Syria and Russia. Rex Tillerson certainly shows by his allegiance to money, pollution and war crimes that he is as apathetic towards the welfare of our environment as he is to the welfare of our society.

Sound off my friends. Do not be distracted by the gas-lighting propaganda that attempts to transform fact into fiction and alienate us from the first precept of our Bill of Rights. Just as there is a symbiosis in the ocean and the forest, in which all entities serve a function—in a free society, we have government, industry, writers and artists. Don’t allow any propaganda to snuff out the function of this symbiosis. Speak freely. Live Free. Happy New Year!

Warren Hines is a writer based in the Mississippi Delta working on his book of travel stories. You can read more of his work here: https://warrenahines.journoportfolio.com/ or follow him on Facebook @warrenhinesmustard. The Local Voice Ligature

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