A Good Bird

You do not trick an algorithm, you explore it. So said an anonymous commenter in response to a piece I published in The Atlantic. The idea: an algorithm is only a series of responses. It has no goal. You are rolling a ball down a mountain and seeing where—how—the ball ends up.

I made a point to track this commenter down. Feeling I would waste time in paperwork, were I to petition the keepers of the commenting software or federal law enforcement themselves, I hired a group of hackers from Moldova who quietly “went in”—I pictured a long faintly curving hallway—and not only retrieved his identity, for it was a man, but a record of his commenting on birdwatching blogs.

I do not trust birdwatchers.

He lived in a sprawling estate in the Buckhead region—or does one say neighborhood? —of Atlanta, and there was something here, Atlanta/Atlantic, that deepened my worry in meeting him. None-the-less I took the train and rented a horse and made haste through the exploding dogwoods, out along the banks of the Chattahoochee and down through an irritated swamp of cottonmouths. I had paid a premium for my rental and she did not balk.

He came to the door in a finely lacquered suit. I introduced myself and two sword-billed hummingbirds showed us to a windy parlor. He sat cross-legged on a folding chair but in the same instant raised up, for I had raised my own finger to commence the discussion, and removed the chandelier from the ceiling, setting it to the side and adjusting—you could say mellowing—the light on both our faces. I found myself immediately in his debt, and perhaps thusly, trapped, “on the back heel” as it were, and just managed to thank the egret who was pouring our iced teas.

“A good bird,” I offered after she left.

The man took a bite of cracker and slipped the rest into his jacket pocket. He nodded thoughtfully as he did this but offered no words.