I briefly considered writing about the society I had discovered beneath the earth in one of my columns. But I thought better of this idea. Ask yourself: what did you think when you read that sentence I just wrote? Pretty incredible, isn’t it? I was sure I would be laughed off the paper and possibly out of town.

If nothing else, you must be rational in the suburbs. You can’t be different in any way. Once, that year, I drove down Northwest Highway in my convertible past a bar. A young man took the time to step out of the door and yell out at me: “Hey Beany, where’s Cecil?” I was wearing a baseball cap and my shirt and thin tie, heading out for a night with my friends. That’s all it takes to be labeled “weird.”

I also had the idea of writing a fantasy about my underground friends. But I feeling that, if I told anyone about the Rootweavers, they would disappear. It felt like they had revealed themselves to me and no one else. It was like the wing of a butterfly that you must not touch, or the fragile creature will never fly again.

The next time I went to see them, I brought a case of Juicy Fruit. I had purchased it wholesale through the drugstore. Every pack was new and unopened, something they had never seen before. A dozen hairy heads crowded around the yellow box wrapped tightly in cellophane. I was close enough to see ants crawling in one head of hair. “We will save this for the Feasting!” said old Lucas, apparently referring to a special day on the Rootweavers’ calendar—if they had a calendar.

It turned out that, in fact, they were much more informed of current events than I was. They got their news from a television someone had somewhere in their world. Whatever news came from the television was transmitted effortlessly, mind to mind. They took me on a trip to see a project they were working on. On the way, riding in the upside down car, Farkus asked me, “Your President Carter, he’s a good man, eh? What do you think of him?”

“He’s all right, I guess. Better than Ford, or Nixon.”

After a silence, he asked, “Who is Roman Polanski? Why does everyone speak of him?”

“He’s a film director,” I explained.

“Oh. They made a baby in a test tube. What do you think of that?”

I had to smile at him. He was earnest, looking up at me eagerly, with the two yellow eyes of a dog clamoring for attention. “I haven’t really thought about it too much,” I said.

“Why do you not think of these things? Are they not important, if they are on your television?”

I opened my mouth to answer, but nothing came out. I only thought about myself and my life. I didn’t think too much about politics, or current events. How could I explain Watergate, and Bobby Kennedy, and Dr. King, and JFK, and all the events of my childhood that seemed to dash all hope in government? How could I tell him that things these days were terribly boring compared to what I had seen as a little boy? How could I explain that everyone my age seemed sick, and tired, and disenchanted, even those who were young and supposed to be full of energy?

“They are important, you’re right,” I said finally. I thought this would mollify him. But he looked up at me, truly concerned. I couldn’t think of anything else to do so I patted him on the head. A bit of dirt fell to the wooden bench. He looked down and seemed satisfied.

The project they took me to see was about ten miles away, beneath the great shopping mall, Woodfield. At the time it was constructed, it was the world’s largest shopping mall. Now, of course, it’s tiny compared to the malls constructed today, some of which are like miniature cities with their own zip codes. Hundreds of trees had been cut down to construct this mall and the ocean of parking lots around it.

After leveling an orchard’s worth of trees, the builders had planted a few weak ornamental trees in boxes in the parking lots. These trees had only a few square feet of dirt around them, and nothing else but concrete and tar. All were dying. The many roots of the huge oaks and elms that had been destroyed were being tied together and woven with these young saplings, then out to the forest preserves where a small forest still remained.

Armies of Rootweavers, males, females, and children, sat cross-legged on the dirt weaving roots together, humming tunes in their heads. The children clung close to their mothers. They had little tufts of hair and not bushy heads like the adults. They all seemed happy and calm and secure. I thought of all the stern-faced humans just ten or twenty feet above, shopping, spending, driving, looking at one another, and not talking. There was so much I wanted to know about the Rootweavers: where did they learn their language? Did they marry? Did they have a leader somewhere?

When you were with them you tended not to think of such things. You just relaxed and observed. I thought they would be around a while, that we had plenty of time to talk. But there was one thing I learned early on in my life: time is always your enemy.

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