I’m going in search of cultural Tacoma, not banal and casual Tacoma, but the Tacoma of the grainy, absolute destiny of the waterways. In search of the deep Tacoma of mores and mentalities, and superficial he Tacoma of industrial waste, of motels and spongy surfaces. But to understand it you have to take to its walkways and waterways. You have to completely disappear in your own backyard.
Deep down, Tacoma, with its space, its industrial refinement, its bluff of good conscience, even in the spaces which open it up to liveliness, is only a dead society. The fascinating thing is to travel through as if everyone around you were dead, and that this is the apocalyptic wasteland of the future. It’s a society built around industrial plants, and the military industrial complex. It’s a haven for strict beeworker types, and types who follow orders easily. The conscience of the city is loyal to its anti-nativist roots, whose motto is The City of Destiny, and whose goal is to triumph nature, oust the savages, and claim the land for one’s own.
Tacoma has no history besides that. Unless one were to tell the story of the train, or the papermill, or the dome. But every White Man’s city has a history like that. Perhaps Tacoma’s history is a history of utility. Or utilities–the water and electric kind–for the use of the public. That makes sense,because Tacoma operates as a wide network of wires, pipes, and tubes. Her technology is outdated, and yet she insists she is on edge of development. A director at the courthouse tells me the new city motto is The Most Wired City, to attract new businesses, of course. Only a promiscuous city changes her subtitle to when the tastes of consumers change. Now she is Most Wired. (Journalists did not pick it up. A Google search shows Tacoma, America’s #1 Wired City, but no top ratings come close to rating Tacoma number one.. Seattle comes close at number three.)
But Tacoma will always remain The Most Industrial City. The American gas plant, as seen in this photo, will forever be her emblem. Her motto is still, secretly, “Onward and Upward!”
No, Tacoma should not be beautified. She has a kind of natural beauty, like in this photograph, in which industrial waste and nature’s preserve can live peaceably together, respecting one another’s life-affirming and life-exterminating qualities. Like the Yin and the Yang, sludge and stickerbush learn to live and love one another in harmony. Pure industrial harmony.
There are no pedestrians here. No mimes, no walkers. The most enlivening thing in the city is the graffiti on the walls, that kind of underground explosion of the arts that knows no authority. It respects flavors of the faceless performances, the markup languages of self-proclaiming existence, of endlessly self-evident activities.
This is “downtown”. The cars are larger here. I’ve counted six hummers in an hour, and the ads are more aggressive. This is wall-to-wall prostitution. The lighting is uninteresting, and the density of the concrete is accumulating to a crescendo effect. It’s always like this the closer you get to the center of the cosmos. Yet Tacomans know their city isn’t the center of cosmos. People aren’t as smiley as in other cities: this is the city of commerce. All banks and businessmen. Mostly out-of-towners. Still, no one speaks. Everyone is cubicalized, even on the sidewalk.
Tag cloud: practical, unfashionable, cautious, powerful, deceitful, controlling, highly materialistic, limited in outlook, inhibited.
Every military industrial complex is a police state. At this window you can fantasize about one day being a police officer when you grow up.
Tacoma is completely asexual. Other cities are like women in highheels, or women with librarian’s glasses. Tacoma is none of these femmes. She is young, flat, unimpressive. She is also barren, and yet also seductive. Seductive because she has so many secrets, stashed away in her highrise buildings, those ironic commerce centers which are all planning and no reflection.
Tacoma is not like the green-skirted woman in this picture. Tacoma is a manipulative beast, always pressuring, and always propagandizing to the residents. The banner tells onlookers to “Be a tourist in your own backyard!” And we’re supposed to be tourists by spending wildly in her uninteresting shops and greedy suit-and-tie corners.
But why tour Tacoma? Why wander her streets and ascend her torrid hilltops? How interesting is it to cruise these local, familiar streets, fully grasping the meaning of every roadsign and billboard? Why feed scenery into a hungry one-eyed camera, eager to eat the world one monument at a time?
World Trade Center: flag’s at half-staff because Jerry Falwell died that day.
Why do people live in Tacoma? There is no relationship between them. Except for an inner industriousness which results from the simple fact of living in an innercity suburb. It gives off a sensation of being at once in an innercity, but the ignorance that your city even has something “inner”. This is what makes it a self-attracting universe, which there is no reason to leave. There is no human reason for being here–except for the fact that there are opportunities everywhere.
There aren’t anymore sirens on Hilltop, the infamous “ghetto” area of Tacoma, than here than 6th avenue. The police history archives say that drive-by shootings were a daily phenomenon in the 80s, ranking Tacoma number three in the “Highest Murder Rate On the West Coast” list. That’s how Tacoma learned that being a community was less conducive to crime. Once people began speaking to one another, crime rates fell significantly.
Point Defiance: a daughter and her mother run past me, reminding me of their sleek animalistic faces, ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. Perhaps. Tacoma is the nature preserve within the city. The military industrial complex is nearby. And graffiti crops up inside the nature preserve. What is it trying to say?
Captain Charles Wilkes said, with guns on either side of the sound, him and his men could defy the world, and thereupon called this place “Point Defiance”.
Tacoma gets its name from a mispronounced Nisqually word, Tacobet, meaning Mother of the Waters. The White Man mispronounced and mistreated the people of Nisqually, eventually hanging their chief, Leschi, in 1858. A few years ago a historical court ruled “as a legal combatant of the Indian War… Leschi should not have been held accountable under law for the death of an enemy soldier,” thereby exonerating him of any wrongdoing. The Nisqually and Puyallup tribes revolted against the Medicine Creek Treaty that was imposed upon them, and then ignored by the settlers. It gave 2.5 million acres of land to the settlers, in exchange for reservations, cash payments, and native rights. That was all ignored in 1974. The original Nisqually reservation was rocky, and unacceptable to the Nisqually, who were riverside fishing people. The parts of the Nisqually River they used has since been stolen by Fort Lewis in 1907 and McChord Airforce Base in 1917.
The simple precinct of home is a prostitute for business. There are no children in Tacoma. Or rather, there are no children, yet everyone is a child in Tacoma.