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).


  1. Seems like Seattle as a culture would be too hipster for just plain old D&D and would playing Fudge or Burning Wheel or the Shab Al-hiri Roach; but then again, if there are actual LARPers present en masse, then they're not too cool for anything.

  2. Hi Chris! Yeah, Seattle isn't quite as "cool" (i.e., douchey) as you may have been lead to believe. I'm still waiting for people to start "ironic" LARPing (like ironic kickball leagues and such)but that might be an Ironic Bridge Too Far.

  3. I really hate to be this big of a nerd, but nerd will out. The Uruk-Hai were created by Saruman. Let the swirlies commence.

  4. Morgan--you're right, and of course I actually know that it was Saruman, somehow just typed in the wrong thing. Oh, the shame!! I think my Geek Card is going to be revoked, or at least suspended. Egads!

  5. I found your blog via your post about Brindle Cat in the Capitol Hill Seattle blog classifieds. I'm also from the East Coast (Syracuse, NY) and I want to send this post to my friends back home because I think that you did a great job explaining pieces of what it's like to be a transplant :)

  6. Hi Christine--thanks for tuning in! Yeah, it's funny how distinct the regional cultures are in the U.S., isn't it? I'm from the South originally, which is totally different from the Northeast and Northwest. I mean, the Applebee's, Taco Bells, and Wal-Marts here are, like, *totally* different! Okay, just kidding. They're not. But lots of other stuff is, for sure.