Please read Chapter 1 of 'Painting the Picture' first.
You leave Jill to her tinkering with the washing machine and pick up your $2 coupon from the woman who you assume is Amber.
As you turn towards the door and are about to slip it into your pocket, you notice that it says, ‘good for $2 US or $2.50 EI, so you pause and turning back to the smiling face at the desk you ask, “Amber?”
“Yes; is there a problem?” she asks.
“Oh, no,” you say. “I just am curious. It says here…”
Anticipating your question she says, “If you pay in US dollars, it’s worth $2; if you pay in Ecovillage Ingots, it's worth $2.50.”
Still confused but starting to get it, you say, “Why is that?”
“Because they are worth more,” she says.
“The Ingots?” you ask.
“Yes; they hold their value,” she says, “because they are based on a basket of real goods and services everybody wants and needs whereas the dollar has eroded 25 percent since the Ingots first went into circulation five years ago. The Integral Credit Union posts the exchange rate every month. It’s complicated but basically the basket isn't getting any fuller but the variety keeps increasing and the quality is going up. There’s a sample basket display at the Whole Wheat Grocery that makes it a little easier to comprehend.”
“Where is that?” you ask.
“To the left as you go out the door just past the Eco-Innovation Center.”
“Okay. I was going to head over and get my ticket for the tour anyway so I'll stop at the grocery afterwards and have a look at the Ecovillage Ingot basket.”
“You might want to go there first.”
“Why’s that?” you ask.
“Well, they always have some great free samples. Today they have persimmon jam, pepperjack goat cheese and perennial wheatgrass crackers, all raised and produced on site. You’ll probably want to buy some and that will probably leave you with some change in Ingots that you can use to buy your ticket, which will save you an extra 50 cents.” Your mouth is watering already as you thank Amber again, turn and head towards the door.
Again you negotiate the maze of chairs and tables and then the maze of art pieces and merchandise in front of the live/work studios and the architectural elements in front of the integral design studio. You have a hard time staying on task as you make all kinds of mental notes to stop here and there and inquire about this and that on the way back. Staying focused gets even more difficult as you enter another maze of tables and chairs in front of what must be, sure enough you see the sign ‘Eco-Innovation Center Established 2012’ emblazoned in the art glass transom above the front doors.
Just then you hear a strange noise and look up to see plants drooping over the edge of a decorative white terracotta ledge and a few feet above that a family of little white goats at varying levels of a precipitous green slope, nibbling on flowers and grasses. As your gaze meet that of the closest one, he or she as the case may be, begins to bleat and they all join in the chorus. Someone at a table says, “The tourists feed them on the tour and they see you as a new meal ticket.
“It's that obvious?” you ask.
“Apparently to them it is,” the woman at the table says. Everybody laughs. The goats go back to their eating and you move on through the maze thinking, “There must be 200 people on this little two block stretch of sidewalk. I thought that I read somewhere that St Louis had lost two thirds of its population over the last half century, but it looks as vibrant here as Chicago, London or any other thriving city.”
At last you reach the grocery and sure enough prominently displayed in the front window is the Ecovillage Ingot basket. It is huge, taking up the whole window. It has obvious things in it, like bread, pasta, vegetables, cheese, milk, eggs, honeycomb, flowers, cans of java, bottles of beer and wine, green cleaning and personal care supplies, apothecary items, models of bamboo cargo bikes like the one you saw earlier and homes like the one you notice are attached to the back side of the grocery, as well as scaled down versions of solar collectors, windmills, unidentifiable machines and contractions and certificates like the one you are carrying in your hand for every conceivable community related service.
Directly upon entering to see the sample table which is laid out like a Thanksgiving smorgasbord with a prominent donation jar crammed with US dollars, Ecovillage Ingots and some other, unfamiliar coins and currencies, as well as coupons similar to the one Amber gave you. Seeing the puzzled look on your face, the young man at the counter says, “It’s our version, not entirely a gift economy or barter or currency, but a little of all three with a measure of good old fashioned capitalism thrown in.
With that as a cue, you drop a couple dropnucks and a few lira you carrying around, along with a few pennies, nickels, dimes and a quarter into the jar and help yourself to a sliver of pepperjack goat cheese and a perennial wheatgrass cracker with a little persimmon jam on top.
“Amber sent you up here, didn't she.” the guy behind the counter quips.
“Yeah, she recommended this combination, said if I tried it, I’d probably buy all three.”
“I'll bet she told you that would give you some change in Ingots for the tour, too.”
“Yes, she did,” you say with a laugh.
“And what kind of bill will you be breaking with your purchase?” he asks to the cha-ching of the cash register as he pops it open.
“A ten,” you say, as you reach for your billfold.
“A twenty will give you more change for the market,” he says with glee in his voice.
“Okay,” you say. “But why do you want US dollars if Ingots are worth more?” “It isn’t that we want them,” he says. “It's just that we can't completely do without them yet. Besides, they aren’t really worth more unless you count the discount that some of the merchants get for using them.”
“Why would they do that?” you ask.
“It’s our way of getting you to come back, just like green stamps or coupons, but it benefits us all to keep the money moving. Unlike US dollars that are secretly eroding, Ingots are designed to rust monthly. You have to buy stamps to keep them at their face value until the annual reissue freshens the bills. It’s a lot of work but we think it is worth it to have a transparent currency that values more than money, commodities and technology.”
“How does that work?” you ask.
“The stamps,” he says. “Every time you lick a stamp and stick it to your bills, you promote the arts and preserve the environment and the community as a whole.”
“I still don't understand,” you say.
“Well, I'll admit, it’s a bit complicated. Pausing, he reaches out his hand.
“Fred’s my name, by the way, Fred Meyer, but people around here just call me Teal ‘cause I like to wear these silly teal shirts. Don't know why, but be that as it may.”
“Good to meet you, Teal. Hope I'm not keeping you from something.”
“Don't worry,” he says. “I'll drop the conversation like a hot potato if someone else needs to check out; that's the capitalist in me,” he says with a wink. “Anyway,” he goes on, “purchase of the stamps pays for the Green Edge programs. I should say it keeps the program going. Mostly they are designed to cover costs and are self generated but initial revolving funds come from the development budgets of Green Line projects. Oops, got a customer. Here’s your change.”
“How did you know what size I was buying?”
“Tourists always buy the smallest quantities. You’re going on the tour so you can ask the guide about Green Lining and Green Edging if he doesn't bring them up.
“Okay, thanks for your time, Teal.
“Not a problem, George.”
You think as you're walking out, “I don't think I ever told him my name. I wonder how he knew.”
As you walk back over to the Center, you notice kids running, skateboarding and biking around the courtyard just beyond the entry gates between the Eco Center and the grocery. Some are climbing on the stairs that wind up the side and across the roof of a small geodesic dome structure that is partly overgrown with foliage. Others are zipping down a slide from a platform porch on a treehouse in a medium sized tree next to the dome, which you now notice is labeled as Eco Hut #1. Another younger child is being pushed by an older child on a swing that is hung from a platform. Several others are pushing and pulling a wheelchair transporting yet another child across a suspension bridge that stretches from the landing on top of the Eco Hut to the treehouse. Seeing your alarm, a passerby says, “Don't worry. They do that all the time. It gives them an excuse to use the pedal lift on Lisi’s House to get Johnny up to the roof so that they can bring him down the stairs from the roof.”
By now your head is spinning with questions: What is a pedal lift? Who is Lisi? What are all those cables? “Oh, I see,” you say to yourself, just as someone comes out of nowhere on a bicycle like contraption with wire baskets full of what looks like garden supplies and tools. They appear to be tending the hanging gardens that are arranged in several tiers below the trellises and wind towers that are open to the sky in this area but under glass roofs made mostly of solar collectors and clerestories in other areas.
All you can say is, “I see” as you proceed on hurriedly to the Eco Center anxious to learn more, even though you know you still have two and a half hours before the next tour. You laugh out loud as you realize that you are rushing because you are actually concerned that you might not get tickets before they sell out, and now you find yourself sprinting through the crowd to the Eco Center, pulling the door open and rushing to the long curved counter that looks like it must be the receptionist’s desk.
Out of breath, you pant, “Do you still have tickets for the 10 am tour?”
An older man in a wheelchair says, “Why sure, we almost always do.”
“But Amber said and I just thought…”
“Yeah, I know,” says the old man. “The exuberance of youth. Wish I had a little more of that. Mind you, I'm not complaining. Glad I've slowed down enough to smell the flowers, if I don't say so myself. Well, let me see,” looking at the list. “Oh, wait,” he says. “I guess it's a good thing you're in such a hurry after all. That tour group that was just in here signed up for all but one spot this morning and all but three for this afternoon.”
Handing him your now crumpled and sweat moistened coupon, you apologize, saying, “I guess I kind of messed this up.”
“No matter,” he says. “Will that be dollars or Ingots?
“Ingots,” you say and reach for two bills and a 50 cent wooden token. Raising his eyebrows he says, “I see Amber and Fred have been doing their jobs,” as he hands over the ticket with a little chuckle.
“What's so funny?” you ask.
“Oh, it's just these kids. If they're not talking, they’re texting. People think we're psychic or clairvoyant, but we’re just in constant communication.”
Remembering that Fred called you by your name when you didn't think you had introduced yourself, you chuckle. “I wonder what kind of text message Amber might have sent Fred while you were negotiating that labyrinth of art and humanity out front?”
“Live one headed your way.” or “Fresh meat” maybe, You chuckle to yourself again.
And Bill (you decide his name is Bill) says, “Yeah, Fred can't remember names so Amber probably texted him your name after she sent you up there so he could write it on his hand and not be embarrassed by forgetting it immediately after you introduced yourself.”
Trying out your intuition, you say, “Thanks, Bill.” and he says, “Bill? Where did you get the silly idea I was named that?” Reaching out his hand, “Rufus is my name; refuge is my game. I serve the homeless when I’m not doing this, assist them in finding jobs, housing, what have you. Was homeless myself before this outfit came along.”
“Sorry, Rufus/ My name is George I just was trying something out.”
“Well, you better stick to technology assisted, old fashioned communication. That's my advice.”
“I think you're right, Bill, I mean Rufus.” You both laugh.
Please continue to Chapter 3
Yours in Community,