Just Another Day in West Seattle

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My 2019 encounter in the grocery store with a young man wearing a Venetian plague mask is so uncanny.    Here we are in 2020 and I shop for groceries wearing a plague mask.   Hand-sewn, for COVID19.   It’s all funny in 2020.   I wonder if Venetian plague masks are on-line for ordering?  Here’s my sketch of the incident last year:

April 2019:

It is a lovely spring day.  As I approach Metropolitan Market, I spot girl students wearing sandwich board signs to Save the Wolves.  They want to add me to a list to endorse their cause.  I smile, desist from lecturing that wolves like to deceive girls such as them and belong in fairy tales.

A tall, slender youth strides by.  He wears a long, black leather coat, black boots with spurs.  His face is hidden by a Venetian Plague Mask.  It covers his entire head.

Huh?

Why the mask?  What or who is he hiding from?

This is West Seattle, not Venice.  The 21st century, not the Dark Ages.

Oh wait: maybe I’ve got that wrong.

He walks past the Save The Wolves girls into Met Market.

“Unusual, eh?” I call out to the girls.

“Maybe he is in a school play or something,” one of them says.

“Hadn’t thought of that.”

I had not thought of that.

No.  My first thought, as I enter Met Market:  is this guy packin’?

We live in strange times and what is this guy trying to say or prove with the Venetian Plague Mask, the dark leather coat, the boots?  It’s not Halloween.  Does he have a concealed weapon underneath the costume?   Should I even go into the store?

Maybe I need to lighten up.

I grab a grocery cart, brave going into the store.

Plague Mask peers at me from over a pile of fruit as I squeeze an avocodo.   He turns and walks down another aisle.  The echo of his boots rings in my ears.

Now I have been to Venice but have never been to their carnivals where 16th century Plague Masks are part of the festivities.  To my knowledge, Venetians would not be wearing them to grocery stores.

Again, I wonder:  is this guy packin’?  Will he pull out an AK47 and start shooting?

I better find the store manager.

“There’s a guy walking around here wearing a long, leather coat and a Plague Mask.”

The manager looks at me like I am daft. “A plague mask?”

“You know. Venice. Plague masks. Carnivals.”

“And?”

“Well, it’s weird.  Kind of wonder about him.  Hiding behind a mask.  And his long coat. Maybe he has a concealed weapon.  Just thinking about safety, community.”

“Maybe he’s an actor.”

“That’s what the wolf girls think.”

“The wolf girls?”

“Yeah. The ones that are outside the store.”

The manager shakes his head.  “Lady. Is that the guy?”  He points to the espresso stand.

The young man has removed the Plague Mask.   He holds it in his hand as he chats with the barrista.

“Huh.   OK.   Just another day in West Seattle.”  I smile at the manager and exit.

“Fairy tales,” I declare to the Save the Wolves girls. “That’s where wolves belong.”

It’s All Funny in 2020

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In 1908 in Seattle, a ship called “Corona” launched from downtown Seattle to West Seattle with a full deck of passengers. You can faintly make out “Corona” on the front of this ship which was one among others in the Mosquito Fleet.

The Mosquito Fleet ships were so nicknamed because they were small and quick, flitting from one side of the sound to the other.

While I never sailed on this ghost of the past, I did have a mosquito commute to work on the Sightseer which was pleasant.

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It took only 12 minutes to cross to downtown Seattle and was far preferable to 40-minute bus and car commutes on the West Seattle Bridge.   Less gridlock, less carbon footprints.

Before the Sightseer, I commuted on the Admiral Pete.  Pete was much smaller than the Sightseer.  He was the first water taxi when Seattle re-launched service in 1999.  I used to sit on an open seat in the back and feel the water’s spray against my skin.

But in 2020, things aren’t funny.  We are in lockdown now, with cities across the world in the same situation.

The haunting image of the Italian balcony singers of our Corona days presses me to get outdoors as often as possible.

My husband and I ventured out for a walk to Elliott Bay.  With Purell in our pockets and donning our disposable gloves, we visited the dock where the water taxis moor.

A water taxi was pulling in.   I was curious as to ridership these days, and so I spoke to the ticket taker.  Ridership is down 90%, he said, even though King County is offering rides for free.

Social distancing on the water taxi?  Of course, what was I thinking?  This is the new normal.  It just takes so dang long for me to wrap my mind around it all.

But wait, there’s more!  A few weeks ago, the City of Seattle decided to shut down the West Seattle Bridge for repairs.  There is no timeline for even temporary repairs.  We are in a pandemic and the most heavily trafficked bridge in Seattle is closed?  People are finding alternate routes, adding more time and requiring more patience, as they attempt to get to appointments, buy essentials.

I’d like to say things are funny in 2020.  I’d like to say “bring on the mosquito fleet” so we could all feel salt breezes and avoid gridlock on bridges.

Though I will never feel nostalgic for gridlock, I am nostalgic for mosquito fleets.  But also for bridges — which, after all, were first developed by the ancient Romans.

 

 

 

 

 

Love Rocks!

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Ah, the human spirit!  Witness the West Seattle rooftop dancer at sunset.  Who knows.  Maybe she will start a trend of rooftop dancers just as Italy has its balcony singers to  alleviate the loneliness of COVID-19 social distancing.

Let’s hope that it does not get as bad here as in Italy.  Il mio povero paesani!

In WA State, Governor Inslee and the State Department of Health declared that outdoor activities are recommended, as long as you follow the “social distancing” guidelines.

But how do entire populations stick to guidelines?

In West Seattle, spring fever hit Alki Beach and stirred up controversy.  Social distancing seemed not to be given a thought on March 19.  There were people everywhere, riding bikes, skateboarding, and playing on the beach.  Despite state-wide closures of entertainment, leisure, and “non-essential” services, bike rentals and Alki’s Wheel Fun rentals were still open.

I love bicycling.  I “get it” that all work and no play make Jack and Jill a dull boy and girl.  But COVID-19 is our new normal for awhile.  If we don’t want martial law, we need to behave.

The scene is better at Lincoln Park.  No businesses there, just Nature writ large with its old growth forest and Puget Sound.  Parents, kids on scooters, singles, dog-walkers.  There is a palpable feel of enjoyment, of slowing down and using our senses, smiling at our neighbors (from a safe distance).  Less attention to cell phones, more eye contact.

Wouldn’t it be nice if this became the new normal?

It touches my heart.  Kids are making chalk drawings, writing words such as “Be excellent to each other.”  This is Lincoln Park’s Love Rock:

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Yes.  Love rocks!  Let’s be excellent to each other.   We are all in this together.  We are all struggling to find a new normal.

Aiming Peanuts At The Moon

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When I was 54 years old my Mother died.  She who read to me from Mother Goose, The Elves & Fairies, The Little Engine That Could, Hans Christian Andersen; she who encouraged education and reading books was gone.

The world still feels parched without her.  But my feelings about her have been and will always be confusing.  Her stubborn, Taurus nature was crazy-making.

When I summon her, the words of Dylan Thomas’ poem Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night surface:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
old age should burn and rave at close of day;
rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Did he know Mother personally?  Her death at age ninety-three after soldiering on in a nursing home for eight years was combative, to say the least.  She wandered into the rooms of comatose residents and unplugged television cords.  My sister had to move her to a different nursing home.

We joked that that at least Mother’s cord-pulling was not someone’s life support.

There were other incidents:  She bit a nurse trying to give her a pill.  She hurled bottles of nail polish across the room, set off Emergency Door Alarms. Once, I found her gripping her roommate’s Infant of Prague statue in her bony hand.  The roommate was blind and Mother had pocketed it.  How not to laugh at that irony?

Was the Infant of Prague caper Mother’s attempt to find spirituality?

Having lived her youth in the 1920’s Prohibition era with its gangsters and flappers, she refused to be defined by any institution or person other than herself.

Was she a narcissist?  I think so.

Prohibition did not stop her from getting sick on uncut grain alcohol one night when a shadowy man offered whiskey to her and her sister.  They had been frolicking at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1932.  Luckily, they both made it home to my grandmother’s flat in the morning, grandmother not at all happy to nurse their hangovers.

Later, in the 1960’s, her soapbox deliveries of opinions and stories not only reverberated in my echo chamber but those of the small town of Mundelein, Illinois.  She wrote a newspaper column, Brickbats and Bouquets, for the local newspaper.  Her subjects ranged from her opinions on suburban strip malls, to the divorce of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez, to her praise of bird-watchers.

She encouraged me to write with her when I was a girl.  This snip still rattles in my head:

Hair in curlers, cream on face;
no resemblance, human race.

I picture her slathered in Ponds cold crème, her black hair woven into an antennae of curlers looking like a martian.

It is over a decade since her passing.  I have seen her rage against the dying of the light at an institution that tried to contain her spirit.  I have seen her rage at me and my sister.

She has shown up only a few times in my dreams, but I believe that instead of curses, she blesses me now with fierce tears.

I aim peanuts at the moon.  She would be happy to know just how unforgettable she is.

 

Clay

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Every picture tells a story.  Or does it?

 

Don’t Overthink It

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Let’s face it, anyone can overthink things. Especially when it comes to de-cluttering.

How about going with the heart instead?  Finding the things in your house that spark joy?

That’s right.  Joy.  Pull out all the stops.  Open your dresser drawers, your closets.  Pull out all your clothes.  Pile them on your bed.

You could start with t-shirts.  Does this one spark joy?   Or is it crammed in a drawer that wants to spill out like the Pillsbury Doughboy’s waistline? 

And what about the t-shirt you did not know you even had?  The one a friend gave you — I Heart NY.  Yes, a Keeper.

Can you tell that I have read Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Not only that.  I recently invited a young woman who is working to obtain her Marie Kondo certification over to my house.   That’s right.  A Marie Kondo certification.  Who knew?

I invited the YW to our house, and then told my husband he needed to disappear for the initial consult.

He scratched his head.  Did as he was told.  Wise man.

The YW was prompt, well-organized, neat and sparkly.  She is a former urban planner  who used to work with my niece.  Ah, family connections.  So important.

We chatted, discussed my goals.  “What are your Touchstones,” the YW asked me.

Simple — fun, blogging, writing, book club, creating vintage greeting cards, Fairy Tale Theater, travel, photography, collage.  “These are a few of my favorite things,” I said, channeling Julie Andrews.

We laughed at the vintage cards created from my family’s photographs:

Honey Do Club

The super-focused YW explained the Kondo process.   We started (and have not finished) with clothes, then move on to books, papers and sentimental items.  We agreed to meet every three weeks.

And the husband? I asked her.  

I was hoping to lock him in a closet from the get-go. 

Let me ‘splain:  I do not relish the idea of his dominating the conversation with logic and problem-solving.   I want a deep dive into the heart and intuition of the house and in my opinion women are better at this. 

Then I realized:  Whoa, sister.  We are both the hearth and home.  He is part of this too.  After twenty-five years together, you could say we both fall into the sentimental items category.

I asked the YW about her home and family.  Turns out that she and her husband have two children, six and nine years old.  And they live in a tiny coach house.

A coach house!  When I was single, I dreamed of living in one.  Forget  McMansions.  Give me the garret, the small space.

But this is a family of four and their coach house is only 750 square feet!  She and her husband roll out a Japanese-style mattress every night and pack it up in the morning.  The kids have bunk beds.

They are living the Kondo dream.  Sure hope it works.

I know that me and my sentimental  item will never attain such a spartan lifestyle.  Still, it is fun to dream about a coach house.

 

 

 

Stitch N’ Bitch

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My first hand-stitched book.

Awhile back I attended a conference on how to make hand-made books.   Focus on Book Arts  (https://focusonbookarts.org/)  offered many classes on hand-made books —  how to fold, structure, stitch, and bind, as well as exotic techniques for the more advanced attendees  (Chinese Thread Books, Pop-Up structures for miniature books, Jacob’s Ladder book structure, etc.).

FOBA was a great environment for learning and sharing skills and experience with like-minded “arteests.”  I am still in touch with a few of them.

Thanks to FOBA  (and my independent urge to try new things) I have a formidable stash of content for the inside pages of a hand-made book. My grandfather the Trainman seems to admonish me for not memorializing him yet in a bound book.  He, along with my poems and other family vintage photos that I transferred onto fabric, remain buried in shoe boxes and plastic bins.

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I feel some angst over all of this material.  Why, out of all the FOBA classes that were available to me, did I avoid learning to structure a book to incorporate these scraps from the past?  I have toyed with the idea of  rendering them in PhotoShop and Lightroom and digitizing them into a book via blurb.com.

At some point, I may try that.  But at present,  I have fancy ideas that conflict with the idea of using an on-line service to build this book.

Me and my fancy brain.

My mind wanders back to 1970 and Mrs. Kane’s Home Economics sewing class.  Ah, if it weren’t for those memories, I might have happily enrolled in FOBA’s book stitching classes and by now would have a more permanent memorial to the ancestors.

No … wait. It wasn’t Mrs. Kane’s class. It was the sewing machine that my Father won at a Knights of Columbus raffle, the machine with the bobbin from hell.  It tangled incessantly and I never finished making a basic shift dress.

Oh what a web I weave … it was Mrs. Kane and my Father.

I now have a workable Pfaff sewing machine and make things like curtain valances and pillows. But I still have a love-hate relationship with sewing.

So recently I reached out to a friend I made at FOBA, Jackie, who in my eyes is the Queen of Book Structure and Stitchery.  Jackie covers books in cloth and paper and knows accordion folds, Coptic and long stitches, and even Japanese book binding.  She is a marvel.

“Sure, come over,” she said.  “We’ll each make a long-stitch book.”

I was successful — if you consider six hours of intense neocortex work (“first you fold the paper in half, then you fold it in quarters…after that you create five signature pages…we put them in the bookbinding cradle…watch out for the thread catching in the wrong hole”) to be worth it compared to a few hours of PhotoShop,

Let me get back to you on that.

Though the feather-papered book is very pretty and I want to write poems in its pages, I envision the ancestors in more of a parchment/sepia design.

I’ll probably stitch n’ bitch till the cows come home.

 

 

Saga of an Urban Gardener

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Our saga continues…

Day 2

Is growing a veggie garden worth it?  We have two excellent grocery stores within walking distance of our home:  Puget Consumers Co-Op (aka PCC) and Metropolitan Market.

And why add the extra step of building a cloche for protecting veggie starts when we could just throw them in the soil and forget about it?

Or pave the entire yard with cement.

Such are my rat-scratching doubts on this overcast Saturday.

I bid Blake Goth adieu and walk over to Marguerite’s house.  Marguerite is a neighbor  and master gardener who offers gardening  consultations.

Marguerite’s prize-winning fowl, Betty, is outside her chicken coop pecking at feed.  Marguerite not only raises egg-hatching chickens, she is also a bee keeper and sells honey locally.

“Do we need to bother with a cloche?” I ask her.

“Not necessarily.  I do it to keep veggies starts from getting battered by rain, keeping them warm.”  She advises me to wait until the weather is warmer to plant things and just to rotate veggies every year.

“I use a sharp, steel hoe”, she says.  “It makes all the difference in garden work.  I sharpen it with a mill bastard file.”

“A ‘lil bastard?”

Betty, her prize chicken, clucks and admonishes me.

Marguerite laughs.  “No.  A mill bastard.  To file.  To sharpen.”

I invite Marguerite over.  She surveys our back yard.  “Someone’s been busy digging up sod.”

“That would be Blake Goth.”

“Blake Goth?”

Ooops.  No one knows my husband’s pseudonym.  “Uhhh…I’m keeping a journal.  I call us Jane and Blake Goth.”

“I see.”  Marguerite squints as if she doesn’t see.   She probably thinks I’m crazy.

Before she leaves, Marguerite again advises me  to wait until it is warmer to plant what I want and to add chicken manure to the soil.

When I go inside, Blake Goth is in the kitchen unpacking groceries from PCC.  I mention my conversation with Marguerite and how we’ll need to buy chicken manure.

BG shakes his head, says Marguerite’s chickens are kinda cute and that you had to hand it to her for raising honey bees.  “But I’m sure as hell never wearing a bee suit.”

Did I ever tell him to?

Does he need to cluck at me?

The saga will continue…

 

 

Saga of An Urban Gardener

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Rat-A-Touille Anyone?

A few years ago I visualized a veggie garden for our back yard.

I imagined early girl tomatoes, garlic, strawberry fields forever.   I fancied myself as Mother Earth.  I would plant shallot bulbs, scatter arugula seeds.  Our Lady of Perpetual Garlic would not only provide bountiful salads, but ward off vampires.

We would call this our “kitchen garden,” just a short step from our culinary center.  Even better — I would keep  a journal of our experience.  I gave us the pseudonyms of Jane and Blake Goth, aging yet steadfast farmers straight out of Grant Wood’s American Gothic.

What follows are some of my journal entries:

Day 1.

Cloudy, looks like rain moving in.   Blake Goth is digging out the grass.  I just read tips on seed packets.  Some, not too promising:

Beans are subject to numerous diseases.
Beets are prone to scab.  Make sure the pH level is neutral.
Flea beetle damage reduces radish growth rate.
Beware of carrot fly maggots.  Control by covering rows with insect barrier fabric at time of planting.

We’ll nix the beans, beets, radishes, carrots.  Wonder what the insect barriers are about?

Discover in Sunset Western Garden book that insect barrier fabrics are used to make cloches.

Hmmm…I think Marguerite down the street has a cloche.

I hear Blake Goth tossing clumps of grass into yard waste bin.  He has filled up the entire  container.

The drizzle outside is turning into a downpour.  Good thing Blake Goth wears his GoreTex.

I have doubts.  Is all this work worth it?  We have excellent produce at the grocery co-op up the street.

The other day I bumped into our neighbor Pam.  She mentioned finding holes near the foundation of her house.  Thinks there are rats in the hood.

I told her it’s a good thing house foundations are cement.  The rats would have to be pretty toothsome to chew through that.

Then I told her how we are planting a veggie garden out back.  Mistake.  She said “Ewww…E-coli.”

I asked her “How So?

She went on about the rats, stray cats, raccoons.  How critters could wander into our veggie plot and poop.

Great.

Her warnings from a few days ago still loop in my head.  “The only thing to fear is fear itself,” I tell myself.   “You don’t think produce growers across the world encounter pests?” the voice or reason chimes in.

Blake Goth comes in out of the rain, done digging for the day.  “I don’t understand what you have against grass,” he says.

I don’t have the heart to tell him about E Coli and to undo his work and put the grass back in place.

The saga will continue …

 

Of Robots and Radishes

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My attempt at growing radishes.  Some day this could be us.

Lately my husband and I have been discussing health care directives and disposal of our remains once we leave this wacky planet.

I ask him who in their right mind would want a robot taking care of them in their decrepitude?   I tell him about some old guy in England who uses a Skype on Wheels with a television monitor for virtual visits from friends, family, and healthcare professionals.  Loved ones phone your robot to check in on you.

His take on it?  Might be easier to get along with a bot than with family.

Did he forget Hal from 2001, A Space Odyssey?    Mutinous robots seem scarier to me than mutinous humans – even my Mother, God rest her soul.

In the 21st century we have robots performing surgery in hospitals and robots used in prototypes for self-driving cars.

And how about this? —  servant and playmate robots for the elderly.  The internet is sprinkled with such scenes:  robots serving breakfast, robots lifting person to couch, robots smooched by an old man, robots carrying magazines while an elderly person lounges, robots playing computer card game with old lady.

The human being is the next frontier for the robot.  In fact, some robots look like humans.

But they’re NOT.

We move on to discuss the disposal of our remains.  Specifically, human composting.

He doesn’t flinch.

Me?  I am mortified to read that Washington State is the first state in the U.S. to legalize human composting.  By 2020 we could have a human composting facility five miles from our house.

Do I want to end up in some feed bag for a stranger’s garden?  Do I come back as a radish or beefsteak tomato?

Does he like this idea better than cremation or burial?

He nixes the burial idea, says it is selfish for the dead to take up land in cemeteries and that the world is crowded enough.

He has a point there.  But when it comes to deciding between burial, burning, or composting, I am like “Bartleby the Scrivener”:  I would prefer not to.

As for the robots?  I am not ready to play canasta with them.  Beam me up, Elon!

How do you folks feel about these topics?