It snowed last night – Samantha’s first snow since moving from Florida, her first snow ever. I think she liked it.
Driving the speed limit, north on I-5. The landscape is made up of darkness, red tail lights, white painted dashes curving left, and an orange-gray cloud defining part of the northern horizon. A set of lights slowly rises from the ground out by that horizon, first moving straight up, then angling slightly left – a plane taking off at Sea-Tac. The plane has risen high enough for it’s headlight beams to strike the surface of the cloud. The beams lay out a path the plane follows into the cloud, and its lights are extinguished. They flash through twice where the cloud is thin, then disappear. The plane flies out from behind the cloud awhile later, tiny now, reduced to an indistinct clump of lights. . . . The landscape is made up of red tail lights, straight white painted dashes, signs for fast food restaurants, and a cloud reaching out from the north. Rain suddenly splatters against the windows and I turn on the windshield wipers.
I grew up outside of Grandview, Washington. My home was about 11 miles north of Mabton, now the source of the first suspected case of mad cow disease in the U.S. So I’ve been listening to the various NPR stories about the situation fairly intently. This is, after all, the biggest news to hit the Lower Yakima Valley since the Virgin Mary was spotted on the back of a street sign in Sunnyside.
After hearing and reading a number of reports, I noticed that there were several inconsistencies in the facts, at least as far as I understood them. The inconsistencies weren’t being addressed. It was reported that the infected cow was a “downer” (classy term, by the way), so it was sidetracked at the slaughter house. But it was a dairy cow, and would therefore not have been used for meat. Then at one point, part of the slaughtering process was described; the cow’s brain and spinal cord were removed and disposed of before the rest of the cow was processed. One glance at the Yakima Herald-Republic resolved everything: “[Washington State Deputy Director of Agriculture] Brookreson said ‘downer’ cows can legally be sold for human consumption and that Holsteins, primarily a dairy cow, are typically made into hamburger.”
Got it. Cows is cows.
Do you see them?
There were two guys studying the skies a few steps away. I overheard one of them say, “See how it ends there? It’s definitely military.” He noticed that I was pointing the camera at an odd angle and struck up a conversation. “Do you know about the contrails?”
“Uh. No. I guess not.”
“They’re used to control the weather.”
“Yeah.” He pointed at a contrail that was starting to dissipate. “See how that one has started to spread apart.”
“It’s becoming a cloud. Now what happens to water on the ground after it rains?”
“Uh . . . It evaporates.”
“Right, and where does the water go?”
“. . . Into the air.”
“But which direction does it go?”
“Up?” I looked up again.
“Exactly, and what does it become?”
“Right, it sticks to the contrails that military jets have laid out for them.”
“Do you listen to Art Bell?”
“You really should. He’s on at 10:00, on 570 KVI.”
“Where are you from?”
“I’m from here in Seattle.”
“You are? So are we. What area?”
“Oh, we’re from the Kirkland area. We’re ticket agents. We were just down at the game. We’d just finished taking care of all our customers, and the score was something like 19-3. It was such a nice day that we decided to skip the game, and we came down here.”
“It is nice out. . . Uh, I’ll see you guys later.” I started to walk away.
“Okay. Nice talking to you. Hey, what’s your name?”
“So is he.” He pointed at his friend. “My name’s Mark.”
His friend spoke for the first time, “My name is Jeff, too.”
Jeff took a couple of steps in my direction and reached out his hand, which I shook.
“Nice meeting you guys. Bye.”
Mark called out, “Bye. Enjoy your mission.”
Samantha and I were walking downtown at around 6:30 last night and I noticed all the lights on the top floor of Two Union Square blink off at once. Then the lights on the next floor down went out and the top floor lights came back on. The pattern cascaded down the top half of the building, a couple of floors at a time and then repeated itself before the first pattern had completed.
Three years ago, the Eiffel Tower flashed at me in the same way. I’d spent the previous couple of hours trying to contact the friend who’s couch I was meant to be sleeping on that night, at one point standing outside his apartment, calling out his name. Buildings in Paris aren’t wired for doorbells. I’d finally given up and called around to find a bed at a hostel. I was worn down, and was just realizing that the trip was pretty much over. I would go to bed, get up the next morning, and head off to the airport. So I stood there — beside a phone booth, above a Metro station, near the Arc de Triomphe — trying to hang onto the trip for another moment. Then the Eiffel Tower winked at me – a quick flash of sparkling lights zipped up and down the length of the tower. I recognized that that was as good as it was going to get that night, so I heaved my belongings onto my back and walked down the steps into the Metro.
When Two Union Square stopped flashing, I told Samantha about the Eiffel Tower. She’d heard the story before, so I tried to draw it out a little, “Maybe there was someone else somewhere in Seattle, who just saw the Two Union Square lights flashing, and who was also in Paris that time, looking at the Eiffel Tower at the same time that I was.”
We had resumed our walk up toward Capitol Hill. In her left hand, Samantha was carrying a dozen roses that I hadn’t given her. She said, “No. Probably not.”
The first job I had in Seattle was on the twenty-second floor of Two Union Square, a building that shows up here quite a bit. I was a telemarketer for a company that sold Long Term Care Insurance. In fact, that was it’s name, Long Term Care Insurance, Inc. The office was a relatively welcoming place – a nice view, plenty of light, friendly co-workers, and 25 cent candy bars in the vending machines. My job was to cold call senior citizens and try to arrange appointments between them and salesmen. Before finalizing an appointment I had to screen them for health problems that might make them ineligible for the insurance: “Do you walk with a cane?” “Is it a standard cane, or does it have a little platform with four feet at the end?” I was 18 years old, and sounded like it, so I felt that I lacked a certain level of credibility.
I really got a kick out of our floor manager, who’s name I’ve finally forgotten. He was a young energetic, How to Win Friends . . . type. He rattled off a steady stream of his own convoluted motivational slogans, “A carpenter could build a house without an architect, it’s just going to look a little funny.” During my first shift I decided to make a project of keeping a journal of his various aphorisms. But I only recorded two or three quotes. I quit after my second shift. I couldn’t manage to reconcile my class schedule with the job. I offered to stay for the two or three days that remained before classes started, but the manager waved me off.