Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thing #37 You Should Know, But Never Asked Me to Tell You About Seattle

Because I'm lazy, I've decided to serialize my lists of Things I've Learned About Seattle. In no particular order, here is #37...

Everyone is covered in tattoos ... and I mean covered. I have nothing against tattoos, or anyone who has lots and lots of them. It's just that this is something that jumps out at a lot of people who come here from other places. On the East Coast, tattoos are far from unusual, but we tend to have one or two, rather than one or two thousand, and they tend to be on parts of the body that are normally covered when wearing, say, a full-on snowsuit.
I kinda have a crush on the guy who has this tattoo...
Here, the one-upsmanship among Body Art aficionados has escalated into a full-on proliferation on a par with the US-Soviet nuclear arms race.As I write this, I’m sitting in a cafĂ© called Bauhaus, where I’m the only person with less than twelve visible tattoos. What’s amazing is that most of these people seem to be under 25. It’s one thing to cover yourself in tattoos slowly, but if you’ve taken up all the real estate on your skin by age 22, you’re going to want to start over by age 35. At that point, it’s possible—just possible!—that you may not still be into that Emo band whose name is prominently tattooed on your neck and/or eyelids.

Instead of having single, separate tattoos, in Seattle it’s common to have your arm covered in what’s known as a “sleeve,” which means that if you have extra money, you should consider investing in the fast-growing industry of laser tattoo-removal services. I predict they will be doing an excellent business in about 15 years, when the current 20-year-olds move to the suburbs and are trying to get into the local country club and finally realize the irony of those ironic “Fuck Irony!” tattoos emblazoned on their knuckles.

Don't get me wrong. I don't dislike tattoos. I have two myself, but in the Pacific Northwest, they don't count, since a) I only have two b) they're small, and c) they're not on my eyeballs. 

In general, I feel about having lots of tattoos the way I feel about dogs. I like other people's dogs/tattoos of dogs. But I don't feel the need to have them personally. As I type this, I realize that I'm feeling the need to apologize for my lack of Body Art. (Note: Feeling the Need to Apologize for Weird Random Things=Sign #48 that you've been in Seattle just a little too long...)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Gingerbread Train Stations, and other Things Seattle People Like

Gare du Palais: it's to scale, AND it's made out of  food!
Each year, starting around Thanksgiving, the small-city sized Sheraton in Downtown Seattle hosts an annual display of elaborate, so-called “gingerbread houses.” Amazingly, people pour in from all over the Puget Sound Region to gawk at these little carbohydrate palaces. Crowds largely made up of families with young children line up in two separate, orderly lines for as long as 40 minutes to see the “gingerbread” “houses”—which, this year, have almost nothing to do with either houses or gingerbread.
Ironically, the whole thing is somehow-or-another supposed to benefit, of all things… juvenile diabetes. A very worthwhile cause, to be sure. But raising money through literal and figurative monuments to refined sugar seems like a giant “Fuck you!” to kids with diabetes.

“Look, Diabetic Kids!” The candy houses seem to be taunting. “It’s ‘art’ made out of all that stuff that could kill you!  It’s funny, because your pancreas doesn’t make any insulin! Get it?!”

This year's motto could be: "At least it’s not as ironic as using ‘art’ made out of food to raise money for starving people!" But it probably is not.
Sadly, this "Misfits" train station has nothing to do with the punk rock band of the same name.
(Now, that's a gingerbread house I'd wait in line to see...)
The display takes place in the middle of a vast hotel lobby, so it’s not really clear why people are willing to line up to gawk at the confections. You can just as easily see the gingerbread houses by pretending you’re just walking to the other end of the lobby. In fact, if you want to go to the bathroom, you actually have no choice but to walk past the sugary display. But Seattleites would rather pee in their pants than be perceived as People Who Are Not Following Rules.

In 2011, the theme of the display seems to be “Train Stations of the World.” (I know that because the entries are all train stations… from around the world.) Entries include supposedly-edible versions of New York’s Grand Central Station, King’s Cross Station in London, and the Gare du Palais in Quebec. This year, the gingerbread houses in the display are closer to architectural renderings than the kitschy cottages that the name evokes. Train stations? What's next, gingerbread cell phone towers? Gingerbread power plants? Sewers?
 
Gingerbread Public Works (doesn't have the same ring, does it?)
Personally, I like my gingerbread houses to look like something  from a fairy tale dating back to the Golden Age of Misogyny. You know, when candy cottages were always the home of a witch, or some other woman who is rude enough to be unattractive and/or elderly and/or a lesbian, and who is deemed evil because of her choice to live apart from society in a house made entirely out of gumdrops (and because of her choice to be unattractive, of course).

This year's gingerbread train stations resemble the fairytale cottages of yore about as much as a taxidermied horse resembles My Pretty Pony. That said, some of the edible “architectural features” are eerily accurate and lifelike, even if they are made entirely out of Skittles. Most of the decorations rely heavily upon small, colorful candies such as M&Ms, red licorice, and what I can only assume are edible electric lights.

What amazes me is the fact that local families pour out en masse to wait in line--with small children--to see this display. I don’t want to sound like a hater, but if I’m going to wait in line for 40+ minutes, there had better some free (or at least highly discounted) couture items at the end of that line. Or at least something very delicious that I can actually eat.

On the whole, the poor kids forced to bask in the wonder and joy of the “gingerbread” train stations looked like they needed a drink. The parents tried to make up for this by feigning more enthusiasm than the display could’ve possibly inspired in anyone, including people who recently gained the capacity to see after a lifetime of blindness.

“Oh, look, Cody! It’s Grand Central Station!” an exhausted-looking woman in front of a prominently labeled King’s Cross Station said to her young son.   

Cody shrugged. “It’s not like you can eat it or anything.”

My sentiments exactly. Poor Cody.  I wished somebody would give that kid some candy. But, except for the untouchable confections all around us, there was none to be seen.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Things You Should Know, But Never Asked Me To Tell You About Seattle--Part 1

Ceci n'est pas le "Seattle Freeze" (see below)
At a party the other night, I was briefly chatting with a nice gal named Jenny who had recently relocated to Seattle from New York City. From across the room, I guessed that she was a New Yorker, because she dressed the way I used to (or, would have, in the fantasy world where I could afford couture footwear)--in a short skirt, well-accessorized, in purple leather heels with Louboutin's signature red sole. Just a few short years ago, I was in her still-impractical (albeit knock-off) shoes as a recent transplant to the Pacific Northwest. Jenny was still in the honeymoon phase with Seattle, in part because she could rent an entire house for what she was paying for a tiny one-bedroom apartment in the West Village.

“How do you like it here?” Jenny asked.

“Oh, I love it!” I paused. Bit my lip. Looked out at the cold, falling rain. “Except when I don’t.”
                                                                                          
My fellow ex-New Yorker looked worried. “Why is that?”

At that moment, I realized that, as with all the best and most passionate relationships in life, I have something of a love-hate thing going on with Seattle.It takes a few years to get to know a place, so I thought I’d save some time for any of you recent transplants. So, Jenny from the West Village—here are a few things I’ve learned about Seattle, in no particular order…

Everyone claims to be a “foodie.” In Seattle, people salivate over food in the way that New Yorkers salivate over rent-stabilized apartments with outdoor space. You’ll find that every resident of the Greater Seattle Area (perhaps due to some zoning regulation?) is required to have a food blog.  Via said blogs, Seattleites ruminate and obsess over “hot” local chefs in the way that people in L.A. obsess over the celebrities that New Yorkers pretend they’re too intellectual to be bothered to obsess over (but do anyway). Here in the Pacific Northwest, chefs who are even a tiny bit innovative are congratulated and fawned over as if they were toddlers finally using the “grown-up toilet” for the first time. Members of the local media and blogosphere line up to verbally fellate the chef of that new restaurant that exclusively offers, say, "artisanal” sausage made from organic rabbit anuses wrapped in a goat scrotum. Naturally, this will be served with “artisanal” ketchup and “artisanal” Tic-Tacs for desert. 

Let's play "guess the inner organ of beast and/or fowl!" 
(Shhhhhh! No help from the Brits seeking toilet paper holders!!)
The rabbit-anus sausage will, undoubtedly, be plated with a pile of foam that looks like some sort of contraceptive. This will be strangely appropriate, given the orgasmic tenor of the general Foodie response. The anus-sausage restaurant will, inexplicably, be called something like Being and Nothingness, or Baudelaire’s Left Testicle, or otherwise make reference to an obscure poem and/or literary movement that bears absolutely no connection to the food. Nobody will entirely love the place, but Foodies will continue to flock to it, for the same (unknown) reason New Yorkers will line up for hours in the cold to get into douchey night clubs with only one name.

That said, I’ve had some amazing meals in Seattle, sans or avec "artisanal” Marshmellow Fluff. And many of the local chefs really are worth the hype. But, on the whole—and at the risk of having a Seattle Foodie fatwa placed on my life—on the whole, I prefer the restaurants in New York. In Manhattan, there’s a fierce Darwinism to the success of any restaurant; if it’s not good on every level, it’ll last about as long as Charlie Sheen in rehab. Much in the way that nobody’s going to give you a lei at the airport when you touch down at JFK, nobody gives a crap if your New York restaurant is successful. So it has to be very, very good if it's going to stay in business, and it has to be ten times better than just to get a tepid review in Hoy! Nueva York. I always wonder why more of those chefs don’t just pick up and move to Seattle, start calling their food “artisanal,” and call it a day.

A less ridiculous version of the term "Seattle Freeze."
You’ll hear about this stupid concept called “The Seattle Freeze.” You’ll be disappointed to know that this does not involve soft-serve ice cream of any sort (not even the artisanal kind). Here’s the concept in a nutshell: People in Seattle are really friendly when you meet them! But—and here’s the shocker—not everyone who is nice to you at a party will end up being your immediate and lifelong BFF!!  You may meet someone new, and they’ll say, “Omigod, we should totally go check out Baudelaire’s Left Testicle together sometime!” The “freeze” part comes in when--get ready for your mind to be blown!--they don't actually follow through. 

You know where else this goes on? Everywhere else on the entire fucking planet. But when you first move here, everyone will feel the need to take you aside and warn you about The Seattle Freeze, with an urgency normally reserved for issuing warnings about dioxins in the food supply. So, be warned--not about the Seattle Freeze, but about the fact that you’ll have to constantly hear about the effing Seattle Freeze.

Seattle rains. No, seriously. It. Fucking. Rains. A LOT.  People say “you’ll get used to it!” But this is a lie, I tell you! A lie! Unless you happen to enjoy cold, wet, bleak weather that can best be described as “soul punishing,” in which case you’ll absolutely LOVE Seattle weather.

Remember Tolkein’s fictional land of Mordor where it's dark all the time? It's just like that in winter. Mordor was home of the dark wizard Sauron, who created an army of uruk-hai for reasons that were never entirely clear, but probably had something to do with Seasonal Affective Disorder, or "SAD." In winter in Seattle, you, too may find yourself wanting to create an army of monsters who have no back-stories. If so, you’re in the right place, because…
At least, after society collapses, they'll be ready for... something.
The nerd quotient in Seattle is extremely high. If you’re like me, this is an excellent thing. You can like Science Fiction and fantasy with impunity. You can allude to Mordor and uruk-hai, and it’s safe to assume that most people will know exactly what you’re talking about. In New York, my fondness for Sci-Fi and fantasy was something I kept well-hidden, like some dirty little secret. (One of these days, I'll tell you about bringing up Star Trek: TNG at a very tony opening at the Guggenheim; it did not go over well.) Even most of the people in New York who ever saw me naked had no idea that I was a giant, yet deeply closeted geek.

Meanwhile, in Seattle, you can feel free to bring the term “D-20” into the conversation, and it’s safe to assume that your interlocutor will know that you’re referring to the 20-sided die that is used in role playing games including, but not limited to, Dungeons & Dragons. The only problem is that, in Seattle, when someone admits to being a “Dungeon Master,” you may need to ask for clarification as to whether they’re talking about D&D, or if they work in and/or frequent an actual sex dungeon (more on this tomorrow). In the park near my house, grown adults participate in something called Live Action Role-Playing. These people are called LARP-ers, and they dress up like elves and wizards and what-not, and play out elaborate fantasy battles that supposedly take place in Middle Earth (a.k.a., Ye Olde Municipal Park). For me, that’s a bridge to far, but for some reason, I always want to go up to the LARPers and shake their plastic-armor-covered hands. God bless ‘em. On behalf of megadorks everywhere, they’re truly Living the Dream.
New Yorkers playing a LARP version of Frogger...
Seattleites are ridiculously law-abiding. To a fault. This is something that will come as a serious shock to any expatriate New Yorkers, or, really, folks from any other city that isn’t in Singapore. I blame the original Scandinavian settlers, who imbued this region with their excessive sense of order and the rule of law. For instance, jaywalking is treated like a capital offense. On my first visit to Seattle, I found myself at a traffic intersection downtown. When the “don’t walk” sign came on, everyone stopped. Instantly and abruptly, as if they were playing a game of freeze tag in some dystopic teen novel where the loser will be instantly shot and never spoken of again. I looked both ways. There were obviously NO cars coming in either direction, so I set out across the street. 

This is where the story takes a dark turn. Yes … I jayawalked. In the full light of day. My fellow pedestrians just stared, mouths agape. One lady gave me the kind of dirty look normally reserved for child molesters. Here, pedestrians always have the right of way. Okay, technically, this is true everywhere in the country. But in most places, this rule is treated like a quaint anachronism, kind of like those old laws that linger on the books in some states, like, “A landowner may not have sex with his horse on Thursdays!” Not so in Seattle. The sacred rights of pedestrians will be baffling to any New Yorker. Crossing the street in Manhattan is a bit like LARP-ing a game of Frogger. To make matters worse, NYC taxi drivers seem to be permanently involved in an elaborate LARP-ing of Grand Theft Auto.

In Seattle, if you're a pedestrian--even if you're not at a crosswalk--and you look like you might, possibly be considering maybe-someday-eventually crossing the street, cars will just stop. Sometimes, just to mess with drivers, I like to stop on the sidewalk, and just look longingly at the street, and wait for a paroxym of much-resented, but inevitable politeness on the part of the oncoming drivers in the street.

Tune in tomorrow for more Things You Should Know, But Never Asked Me To Tell You About Seattle (and would probably rather I didn't).

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Pundits of Tomorrow....

I haven't written in this blog for a while. It started to feel a little bit weird and lonely to write in a blog that mostly goes unread, except for my husband (Hi, P! Could you pick up some cat food on the way home? Thx!!) and legions of misdirected Britons looking for effing toilet paper dispensers.Sigh.

I'm retiring from writing. It finally occurred to me that there's nothing I could ever possibly contribute to human discourse that would be half as salient as the wisdom shared by Stina and Mossy, "the two talking cats," linked below. Really. It's like listening to Gandhi, if he were two tabby cats. After seeing this, my life has never been the same. 46,328,922 (no joke) viewers cannot be wrong.

As I've said before, my prediction is that in the future, our species will entirely lose the ability to read or write. All  human communications will take place in the form of videos of Adorible Kittehs! I, for one, am ready to embrace that bold vision of what we may become.

Listen. Learn. Transcend.