More Self-Depreciation

Mike was a senior at the art school when I went there for a semester. He’s very enthusiastic and personable, a really friendly guy. Though I don’t think we ever had the kind of establishing conversation that’s usually the foundation for a rapport, he always greets me warmly when I run into him and we usually have a quick chat.

Ingrid and I were sitting upstairs at the Baltic Room yesterday, when Mike came upstairs and made a purposeful scan of the room. He saw me, waved, and headed over to a group in the corner.

He came over to my table a few minutes later and said hello, we traded quick summaries of our current situations, and he mentioned that he was on his way to see Tenacious D. He told us that his brother had backed out at the last minute, so he had two extra tickets. We declined the invitation and Mike returned to his party.

Ingrid asked me, “Who’s that?” I gave a quick summary and finished by saying, “Mike doesn’t know my name.”

I immediately regretted saying that. It was kind of a put-down, and I was worried that he might have overheard me. Worse, I think, Mike has always been especially friendly to me even though he probably only has a vague notion of me. I return his compliments and his thoughtfulness (regarding the tickets) with aloofness and then when he’s gone, I drop a catty comment at his expense. Not the worst thing in the world, but it’s the kind of little social-gaffe that bothers me about myself.

Wrong, Wrong

I recently fretted about some local store closings. Now I need to make a partial retraction.

I ate at Julia’s the day after it opened, and though I made some half-hearted jokes implying otherwise, I didn’t really miss Eileen’s much. The food was fine. My fellow diners’ scorn for the Liza Minelli posters decorating the wall was all in good fun. Though I tried my hardest I couldn’t bring much of a sense of loss to the surface. I still get a little shock when I see the big friendly windows instead of Eileen’s lopsided brick entrance. I guess I miss Eileen’s exterior more than I do the actual place.

The shelf paper was recently removed from the Green Cat Cafe’s windows and the legal notice on the door was swapped with a friendly note indicating that it would reopen sometime soon. I walked by today and saw a couple of men (including, if I’m not mistaken, the original manager) doing some remodeling work.

Clark Humphrey‘s Obituaries column in the Stranger, sometimes chronicles the closing and movement of Seattle businesses (though this week’s column is all death notices). Humphrey uses his nostalgia for and deep knowledge of Seattle’s recent past to find obscure threads of cause-and-effect that would otherwise go unnoticed.

The Gift Thrift Shop

The Gift Thrift Shop

This little closet-sized shop on Olive Way, one of Capitol Hill’s bigger arterials, was packed with odd wine glasses, porceline figures, and troll dolls. The little woman who staffed the store consistently kept the hours as they were posted on the door, Saturday from noon to 5pm. (I saw her filling in at Fillipi’s Used Books and Records – Seattle’s oldest bookstore & her landlord – next door, a couple of times.)

It has a small place in my personal mythology. The first time I walked by the store eight years ago, I noticed a little perfect round teapot placed in the center of one of the window shelves. It had a masking tape pricetag marked $2. I made a mental note of the store hours and continued with my day. Over the next several weeks I walked past during the store’s off-hours a dozen times, each time reminding myself to stop by on a Saturday. I never made a conscious effort, but the teapot was still there when I happened to wander by on a Saturday afternoon. I stepped inside and paid. I got the teapot home and pulled it out of my backpack – it hadn’t make the trip unscathed, a chip fell off as soon as I set it down. It’s still my teapot, I use it almost every day.


I still give the store a mental nod when I walk by. I peak inside and think, “That’s where I got my teapot.” Now it’s closed, the owner of the store died – not the little old lady who was there every Saturday, she was apparently an employee.

Robert and A.

“I was trying to get to sleep, up front in the driver’s seat, but there was this really hyper guy moving around in the back of the van, keeping everyone awake. A. said that some ice water would calm him down, so he told me to go out and get some. It was about twelve o’clock and I didn’t want to go out there, I wanted to get some sleep. It’s A.’s van though – he’s the boss – so I walked around until I found a place to get water. I got back to the van and the water really calmed him down, he went right to sleep as soon as I got back. I don’t know why.”

“Uh, Robert . . .”


I try to figure out what to say, “Oh, never mind.”
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As If You Didn’t Already Have A Reason

VeriSign sent me a “Domain Name Renewal Form”, odd considering that my domain wasn’t registered through VeriSign. I considered that my host might be in a reseller-relationship with them, but that doesn’t turn out to be the case. An uncritical scan of the form would lead one to believe that their domain’s registrar was VeriSign, that the registration expires two and a half months before it actually does, and that filling out the form is simply business as usual. The word “transfer” is only used once on the front of the form. An uninformed person would only work out the true nature of the form after reading the terms and conditions in small print on the back: “[Y]ou hereby authorize us to transfer the registration of your domain name(s) from your current registrar to VeriSign.” I can easily imagine someone in the accounts payable department of a company quickly scanning this form, vaguely recognizing the VeriSign name, and sending off a check and filing it away.

This little piece of misdirection is pretty mild compared to the neglect and contempt that VeriSign recently offered one of their paying customers.

Standard H Pattern

After the little going-away party for someone I didn’t know, in which I expected to be teased for suddenly appearing with Ingrid (after wandering in the same circles for four years) as a couple (but wasn’t [teased] much because the main group of common acquaintances were a pretty sedate bunch), I drove a stick shift for the first time in eight years, taking pleasure each time I moved into a new gear.

Truer and Truer

Ten Five Anecdotes That, Through Repeated Tellings, Are Truer Now Then They Were When They Happened

  • When I was very young, I saw a monkey climb between the bars of its cage at the zoo into a neighboring cage. Nobody else noticed and I didn’t tell anyone at the time.

  • I once went down to the waterfront in the wee hours of the morning with my friend Marjoree and a film director, expecting to see the sun rise over the water. But the sun, once again, rose in the east.
  • After a nearly sleepless night of taking care of some family matters, I was woken by the start of a festival at the Catholic church next door. Not the start of the festival exactly, the start of the testing of the sound system for the festival. Testing the sound system involved playing the first bar of the same Vietnamese-language unbearably poppy song over and over again. Loud. Loudly playing the first bar of the same loud Vietnamese-language super-poppy song over and over, loudly.
  • At an Amazon party once, Jeff Bezos pumped the keg for me while I was pouring a beer.
  • I sat in a train car with a group of Gaelic-speaking Boy Scouts. They played Pokemon.

Gone, Gone, Gone

The distressing cycle of closings and openings continues.

The Green Cat Cafe is closed. They started operating under new management about a year ago, and my impression was that the new owners didn’t quite get it. They replaced the selection of hoity-toity natural sodas with Coke products, hung a “Vegetarian” neon sign in the window, and practiced the habit of hanging little neurotic notices about nothing in particular on the cash register. I had no complaints though, plenty of the old staff stayed in place that and the menu wasn’t really changed. In the last few months, they’d cut back their hours – closing at three in the afternoon and not opening at all on Tuesdays. The windows are covered with white shelf paper now. I peaked inside where one of the sheets of paper was collapsing – all of the furniture is still there – the little collection of green ceramic cats, the dishes, everything, it’s all there. There’s a legal notice on the front door which seems to indicate that one of the business partners is making some sort of claim against another (though I may be interpreting it incorrectly). That’s too bad.

The owners of Broadway Market are giving Landmark Theatres the boot in favor of a big ugly chain gym. This is simply criminal. The Broadway Market Cinema has been a key part of Landmark Theatre’s middle- to semi-high- brow antidote to the horrible monsterplexes that ave helped squeeze the life out of downtown. Big movies like O, Brother Where Art Thou or Mullholland Drive move here from Landmark’s larger theaters and enjoy months-long runs alongside uncelebrated foreign gems, like Enlightenment Guaranteed or Yi Yi. I’ll give odds that the gym throws in the towel within two years.

Eileen’s is, of course, dead as a doornail. Construction has been proceeding quietly behind the big boarded-up storefront for months. A banner was put up a couple of weeks ago introducing Broadway to “Julia’s”. Today, one of the giant plywood barriers was pushed a little to the side and I had a look at the transformation that’s taken place inside. Big airy windows, light colors, a corner entrance – nice. But I’m a bitter old man, I’m distrustful of these new places. I think I’d be happiest if that storefront remained forever boarded-up. I’d walk by and point out where the sign burned the word “Eileen’s” into the bricks above the doorway, and if you look just so, you can see where the “Ernie’s” sign apparently did the same thing years and years ago. I’d point at the plywood covering the doors and shake my head saying, “Look what they did,” not sure what accusation I’m making or who it’s targeted at.

Two More Things

You know that move where your nose is either a little too dry or a little too wet and you run your finger under one nostril to make sure your nose is still there? Yeah, I happened to be pulling one of those when the groom, my new brother-in-law, came up and introduced himself.

It had been pointed out that Mary’s wedding would be the first time in ten years that my core family would all be together in one place. And there was this moment at the reception when all the brothers and sisters happened to sit down at the same table and we realized – oh hey, here we all are. I made a little joke, apologising for not letting anyone else play with the Mickey Mouse bowling set that I’d opened one Christmas. We decided that we needed a picture. So everyone got out their cameras and siblings-in-law were pulled in and forced to stand behind us. Everyone was getting restless after the first picture was taken, there were shouts of, “Hey, don’t move. There’s one more camera!” Most everyone had had enough as soon as the last photo was taken, and we all wandered away in different directions.


On the trip from the airport to my sister’s house, I looked down at the dashboard and noticed that the odometer had just turned over to 10,000. Why was I chosen to witness this milestone for this anonymous little rental car? Poor Daewoo, no one who cares was there to appreciate this birthday. I grabbed my camera and recorded the sad moment for posterity.

Endless subdivisions of winding roads. Houses, painted the color of dust, look like they’ve grown out of the ground. Palm trees, cacti, orange trees, and lemon trees.

I played babysitter at various times throughout the week. Whenever Natasha was gone, Masha would cry for her mama until falling asleep. I’d sit down next to her and try to comfort her, “She’ll be back soon.” Once when I got up before she was asleep, she ran after me and leaned up against my legs crying. I picked her up, my heart in my throat, and sat down with her in my lap until she fell asleep.

It was a madhouse when my sister Rachel arrived with her kids. There were eight kids running around and wrestling. Chris had a spontaneous nosebleed earlier in the evening; and somehow he became the target of most of the tackles. Seeing three kids holding down a kid with spots of blood on his face and shirt was a little disturbing.

At the wedding reception my Uncle John showed everyone a baseball card with a picture of his grandson on it. “His team was in the Little League World Series. The only team they lost to was the crooked one, with the fourteen year-old pitcher.”

When I was little, Uncle John showed me how to crush a soda can into a perfect little hockey puck. We compared our current crushing techniques, my can turned out more compact, but he’s able to crush his in one fluid motion.

In the car on the way back from the reception, my brother Chris played with my camera, snapping a few pictures out the window. When I got home and looked at all the pictures, I noticed that the three photos he’d taken were pretty much the only good ones from the trip.

I’d gone to Arizona with a little bit of a cough, it cleared up pretty much right away. On the day of the wedding I developed a slightly harsher cough, it got worse after I tried to pack too much into my first evening back home. I had an unlikely theory that it was caused by a reaction to orange juice. But now I’m running a fever and sleeping through most of the day, I guess I caught the bug that was being passed among my nephews and nieces. Ugh.