TOWOIT #245: Big water. Ocean water.

September 30, 2017… Day 254

I’ve been writing here less, so now I have to type into Google, “Number of days since January 20” so I know how to start off the blog post.

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I’ve just been thinking about Puerto Rico every day. I don’t even know what to say about Trump. Still finding new lows. We just have to pray that we figure out how to come back from this. His comments about the San Juan mayor this morning, just… I really don’t even know what to say. Lin-Manuel Miranda — basically the sweetest, most positive light on the Internet — told Trump he was going straight to hell this morning.

The whiteness of this country is rotten to its very core. I’m not trying to be all white-guilty, it’s just really hard to know how else to react when Donald Trump is slapping us in the face with toxic whiteness every day. It really feels like being whomped upside the head by a slimy dead fish with every tweet and every statement. An actual dead fish. Like, you have sea lice in your hair afterward.

I started the Ken Burns Vietnam documentary, but only got twenty minutes in so far. That was enough to get a refresher course on French colonialism. The moral grossness of colonialism was made pretty obvious. That was on my mind when watching the news coverage of Puerto Rico reeling from the hurricane and the disastrously slow and disorganized federal recovery efforts.

A recent poll showed that half of Americans don’t know that Puerto Rico is part of the U.S. I appreciate people like Rachel Maddow harping on the fact that Puerto Rico (and the U.S. Virgin Islands) are part of the U.S. On the other side of that, we have to also remember and acknowledge that the U.S. is, has been, and will be colonial towards these islands. God.

This led to a note to self: find out more about the Duwamish people. When I think about the Duwamish, I tend to think about the river as a geographical body that has this whole industrial and ecological history. I like knowing about that stuff. The man I’m writing a book about built a boat in a Duwamish river shipyard in 1909.

But at several protests since the election, the organizers have begun by acknowledging that we were on Duwamish land, and that we were protesting with the blessing of Duwamish leaders. The women’s march in Seattle began with indigenous women. I don’t want this to be only lip service, or us non-Native women patting ourselves on the back for virtue signaling. But stating that we are on Duwamish land is one of those obvious, necessary statements like “Black Lives Matter.” We need those kinds of statements more than ever now. I am sorry that I glossed over them before, because they were badly needed before too.

The U.S. is colonial toward its entire underlying landmass. It’s the kind of thing you know, but comfortably ignore, because you are comfortable. That’s all part of whiteness: the gift that keeps on giving.

So when I say, “I hope we can come back from this” about Trump, I realize that we have a lot more than Trump to come back from.

That’s all I have for right now.

Don’t say we aren’t doing:

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Don’t forget this moment:

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TOWOIT #218

August 26, 2017… Day 219

Black Lives Matter rally and march in Seattle.

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A lot of people came out. The BLM events I’ve been to since the election have been really diverse. A lot of different communities were represented — LGBT of all races, Asians, Latinx, black people, people of all races with mobility devices and service dogs, rafts of preppily dressed 13 year old girls of all races, walking arm in arm with their hair in long plaits and ponytails down their backs, old mom & pop white people (not just of the hippie variety), black-clad young scrappers of all races with kerchiefs over their faces.

Waiting for the event to start, I sat next to a middle-aged Japanese man who was making an origami x-wing fighter out of tracing paper, and an older white trans woman in a motorized wheelchair. They seemed to be friends who came there together. I thought they might be a couple at first, but she had a wedding ring and he didn’t. We talked about past BLM events we’d been to, and who we follow on Twitter who is trustworthy and not too “out there.”

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As we sat there, a Native man walked into the middle of the crowd and stood near us. He started yelling at no one in particular about how Black Lives Matter was stupid because it was a black man, Barack Obama, who tried to put a pipeline across tribal lands. The man seemed emotional and possibly mentally unstable. I thought he might have been one of the people who hang out near Westlake Center all day whether there is an event there or not.

He made eye contact with an ethnically ambiguous man with long black hair and started talking to him specifically about historical and present-day crimes against Native people, all the while disparaging black people and their concerns as secondary. The second man listened. When asked, he said he was Chinese and Scandinavian. The angry man said he wasn’t about to blame anything on the Chinese. The Chinese-Scandinavian man kept listening to his rant while keeping his body language firmly neutral.

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Then the Chinese-Scandinavian man shook the Native man’s hand and introduced himself. Without talking down to the guy, he gently explained his own point of view, that marginalized groups need to stick together and that the Black Lives Matter movement isn’t contrary to Native rights.

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The angry guy listened a lot more quietly and respectfully than I expected him to.

When the rally started, the sound system wasn’t sufficient and the crowd struggled to hear what the speakers were saying. What filtered through made it seem like the organizers did not have their most-experienced orators on hand. (This has felt true at almost every rally of every kind I’ve been to since the election, not just BLM — maybe it’s a lost art.) Still, the whole crowd sat quietly and strained to hear all of what was being said. The allyship (if you want to call it that) on display wasn’t “I’ll do this thing for you even though I’m not black, because I’m against racism.” It was far more like, “We all need each other and need to stick together, so thank you for organizing this worthwhile thing and for standing with me against Trumpism.”

As we started to march out of Westlake Center, two black men with loudspeakers seemed to be counter-protesting the rally. They seemed to be talking about black-on-black crime. A young black woman and I looked at each other quizzically. We were on the move and I didn’t get a picture but I saw that their t-shirts read “It Starts With One.” A block later, a scrawny red-faced white man ran alongside the marchers shrieking “ALL LIVES MATTER!!” And then in a crosswalk, two young men of unknown ethnicity and gelled-back hair scoffed at the marchers. “Get out of the street!” one yelled. Mostly people stood and watched. The white people had especially hard-to-read facial expressions. One black man grinned and threw a fist in the air as we went by. When we moved into a more residential area, a houseful of young Asians in cocktail attire whooped and hollered off the front porch of a sedate old wood-framed house.

I was talking to a trans woman as we passed that house and she said, “Most people are for this stuff, they just don’t come out and participate.” She showed me pictures on her phone that someone had sent her — photographs of herself at another BLM march. Someone sent her the photos to say “We know who you are.” A little later, we both noticed a tattoo running the length of a bicycle cop’s forearm. We tried to make out what it was, but could only conclude that it was Latin.

Later, on Facebook, someone posted a photo and the translation:IMG_5683

 

 

TOWOIT #213

August 21, 2017… Day 214

The most charming part of the eclipse in Seattle today:

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The eclipse was good for us today. I made a pinhole projector out of a cereal box. My friend at work made eclipse sandwich cookies–a round flat chocolate cookie and a larger yellow butter cookie, pasted together with marzipan. A bunch of us stood in a parking lot near the office and watched the eclipse with other downtown people. I had a head full of bees, and cracked more jokes than usual. A surprising number of them landed, but then everyone was a little giddy. It’s hard to separate the celebration giggles from the true humor responses sometimes.

Trump is going to talk about Afghanistan soon.

Catching up on yesterday’s Twitter.

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This is brilliant to me:

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I’m sure there’s a way to work in the solar eclipse to that illustration (hood as eclipse viewer?).

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TOWOIT #96

April 22, 2017… Day 93

Science March in Seattle

  • Got a late start, was still waiting for the bus as the rally was supposed to be starting.
  • My dad sent me a photo of very sparse crowd, said it was “small but friendly” — CRAP, I thought.
  • My companion and I talk about how, in our separate public schools, we were either not taught evolution at all or were taught creationism and evolution side by side in science class. My seventh grade science teacher called evolution “a pile of crap.”
  • My dad texts me again that a power line fell across I-5 and the whole freeway was shut down, so that was why people weren’t showing up yet. Everything delayed.
  • It’s a little rainy.
  • Our bus is full of  marchers, we go from the bus to a train full of marchers. Lots of signs. Lots of nerds. One man says proudly to a couple with a “got polio?” sign, “I was born the year the vaccine became available.” I whisper to my boyfriend, “That was so nerdy.” He whispers back, “He’s probably been waiting his whole life to brag about that to strangers, and this was the perfect opportunity. Be nice.”
  • This is a very quiet, woolly, practically dressed crowd.
  • Streams of people from the train to Cal Anderson park. The crowd has gotten huge. Lots of kids. Parents touting IVF making their parenthood possible. It’s a very catch-all day.
  • Over the sound system, someone is saying, “Facts matter. The earth is ROUND. Climate change is not a hoax.” It is really depressing.
  • Someone else tells a “hopeful” story about these amazing 14-year old kids learning robotics and how he asked them if they would rather build a rocket ship that goes to Mars or build technology that will combat global warming. He reports that the three boys said they would build the ship that goes to Mars, but the girl said she’d rather help with climate change, because if we can’t fix things on this planet, we don’t deserve to go to another planet. I don’t think this is a very hopeful story, given my current rage at the patriarchy and all the studies of girls and women falling out of STEM fields.
  • We find my dad. He has already run into my former future stepbrother, who is ensconced in a group of Satanists who are wearing black and red. We do a lap trying to find him again so I can say hi. I’m so busy looking for Satanists that I miss a lot of fun science cosplay that my boyfriend reports to me later.
  • The socialists are here…. Not the Democratic Socialists but the actual socialists…
  • The Cascadia flags are here.
  • We eventually find the Satanists up at the front of what will be the march, in a holding pattern by the Cascadia flags and the guy singing and playing Woody Guthrie songs. It’s hard to know what to say to Satanists other than “Uh, keep up the interesting religious freedom lawsuits, guys.”
  • My dad’s back is hurting from standing around on pavement, so we go look for a cup of coffee and some chairs. We never actually make it back to the march.
  • It feels good to walk back up through the University of Washington campus afterward. Middle-school-aged kids firing off rockets they made out of soda bottles, cardboard and duct tape. A little ways further up campus there’s a bride under some cherry trees getting pictures even though it’s still rainy.
  • That was the March for Science. On the way home we went to Itadakimasu and got Moscow mules, which they serve in pint glasses, and teriyaki chicken.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

 

TOWOIT #49

March 6, 2017… Day 46

This is going to be a blur. It’s Monday. A bunch of stuff happened. I can’t recount it all. Sean Spicer had an hour-long press gaggle off camera. His first audio-recorded press conference of any kind in seven days.

I went to Pramila Jayapal’s town hall after work and learned a bunch about how Congress works. Because I haven’t known what to do since the election, I try to just put my body places sometimes–marches, rallies, meetings. I also try to learn how things work, and sometimes those two things over lap like they did tonight. I learned what kind of things other people in the community are worried about, specifically. The place was packed with a big, vocal, boisterous crowd. It felt like church. It also felt like she was our gladiator. I remember criticism of her before the election. People said she wasn’t the real progressive in the race. She was faux-progressive, they said. Now she is this new congresswoman born unto these crazy times, and she seems to be rising to the challenge. I don’t think anyone is saying she’s not progressive enough now. Also, she talks like a regular person. I scribbled pages of handwritten notes throughout the town hall, so hopefully I will roust myself to backfill some highlights tomorrow (running on fumes).

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I was pleased when Jayapal staffers handed me Agree and Disagree signs. The line to get into the building was three or four abreast and went all the way around the block.
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Not far from where the Jayapal’s town hall was held, this was discovered on a fence and removed by police (this is still satire, for now).
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I’m exhausted, and this person already rounded up for me.

 

Listened to  Ana Marie Cox’s podcast interview with guest Ira Madison III. Ira is black, and he writes about film and television. It turns out I’ve been following him on Twitter for awhile. Ana Marie Cox is white. They seem to be friends in real life, and they had a long talk about race, inter-racial friendships, and what it’s like to be “the black friend.” Ira also touched on Get Out and “white liberal women,” and said something to the effect of how Hillary Clinton just needs to disappear forever, and reiterated a few times that 53% of white women voted for Trump. So this was no great reprieve for white women. But it was a good, warm conversation about uncomfortable things, and how it has to be ok to be called racist. It cannot be the end of the world. If you aren’t being called out for being racist now and again, you probably are too bottled up and not learning and not associating with anyone outside your own ethnicity bubble. And not having frank conversations about race.

I guess I just mention this to say, that it was somewhat cathartic after watching Get Out. 

Khizr Khan, a citizen for 30 years, canceled a trip to Toronto. He said his travel privileges were “under review.”

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Sean Spicer press gaggle, without Sean Spicer:

Continue reading TOWOIT #49

TOWOIT #40

February 25, 2017… Day 37.

Waiting to hear about the DNC election. I have not gotten into this. From what I understand, from what I can tell, Tom Perez and Keith Ellison are both very progressive and would both be very good. I am personally for Keith Ellison because he seems to make the Bernie people happy, and I don’t think there’s enough daylight between him and Perez  to kick up a fuss. Let’s unite behind him if it makes those other guys happy. I am tired of proxy wars. I am tired of feeling like I’m being taken hostage. So in this case, I’ll just say “Let’s go with Keith.” I feel this on a personal, visceral level also — because when I’ve heard radio interviews with Keith Ellison, I find myself warming to him and wanting him to continue. When I hear radio interviews with Tom Perez, I find myself tuning out and thinking about other things. His voice is sandier, lower energy. It reminds me of the adage, “podcasting should burn calories.” If there’s one basic thing I learned from the 2016 election, it’s that we need people who can tell a story. Trump and Bernie both told a story. So, I think Keith Ellison tells a better story, vibrates on a better frequency. Honestly, my whole being just wants to unite behind a leader, and I want this over with, and I want it to be Keith Ellison. We Democrats will ALWAYS disagree with each other and bicker over the details because that is who we are as a people. I don’t expect that to end. I just want this DNC election to be over.

Yesterday at the lake, the sun had a little warmth to it but the wind was cold. A small knot of women in hijab, with their little kids, were trying to have a picnic. The wind was whipping their clothes around, and also interfering with their picnic items on the wooden table. Their kids were running around, jumping in puddles and muddying themselves. It was one of those days when the crows are just everywhere suddenly. Crows were all around in the trees above us, but also on the ground, just screaming and cawing hoarsely. Flapping around a bit menacingly, these big intelligent birds with unknowable motives. So many crows. And really cold wind! And then even the sun went behind a cloud, and the afternoon got colder and darker all the sudden. The whole scene just looked like a bad idea for a picnic. The women were just laughing, just letting their kids get filthy and wet, just enjoying each other and making the most of things. I think I would have admired them in better political climates too. But with all this stuff just thicker in the air we breathe now–I felt grateful to them and their fortitude. Thanks for showing me how to just have the picnic anyway. Thanks for being part of this city with me. 

Kurdish journalist Shifa Gardi died today from a roadside bomb. She was covering Mosul. I’ve been hearing and reading a lot more about Mosul lately, remembering that there’s a whole world out there besides us here in the U.S. If we can all agree that Isis is the absolute worst bunch of fuckers, then the Iraqi troops trying to liberate the Isis-held half of Mosul are the world’s heroes right now. And the people who have been living there in Isis-controlled Mosul have been living a dystopia that we only like to flirt with the idea of here in the U.S.

In the U.S., I know it’s annoying (infuriating?) to people of color to have to witness us (cis, het-passing, vaguely Christian-ish) white people go through a certain process since the election. It goes something like this: “I am tipping into something scary, that feels like the beginning of a new oppression, so now I know that I was freer before and I feel how lucky that freedom was. I can really understand that free feeling as a more tangible thing. But now I also know that other people didn’t have that freedom I felt. They had the oppression. All along. So my freedom that I took for granted wasn’t even real freedom, it was just this illusion that we were all free and everything was fine. Nothing was ever fine. If we aren’t free til everyone is free, then there was never freedom, there was only my own deep deep privilege. And I’m still benefiting from that privilege. Oh my God.” 

Well, that’s some of us anyway.

Evening updates: 

Continue reading TOWOIT #40

TOWOIT #25

February 10, 2017… Day 22

Dizzying array of shit.

Chuck Cooper withdraws his name for solicitor general. Kellyanne Conway’s husband back in the running for that and also for another thing.

Trump talks to China, says he will respect One-China rule

Washington governor Jay Inslee vows “resistance everywhere” approach

Protesters physically blocked Betsy DeVos from entering public school in D.C.

MSNBC reports that White House has confirmed Flynn did talk to Russia about sanctions in December

Mrs. Abe is unescorted in Washington D.C. all day because Melania is AWOL… the awkward handshake and eye roll between DJT and Prime Minister Abe.

CNN: Trump to Dems: “Pocahontas is now the face of your party:”

Trump to Senators at the same lunch meeting yesterday: he went on about thousands of illegal voters being bussed from Massachusetts to New Hampshire, and that  Kelly Ayotte would have won her re-election bid otherwise. Afterward, an FEC commissioner called for Trump to reveal his evidence. She said it was too large and dramatic claim, and that she needed to see substantiation so that she could possibly start an investigation (basically calling his bluff).

On Air Force One today, Trump told reporters  that he knew nothing about the Flynn stuff (16 hours after Washington Post report), but he would look into it. Later Trump issued a statement saying Flynn has his full support.

Trump denies Tillerson his choice of deputy, Eliot Abrams, because Abrams criticized him during the campaign. An insider said it was about absolutely nothing except Trump’s own thin-skin and that Abrams would have been a strong choice for his governmental experience.

White House says it won’t appeal ruling on the travel ban executive order, and then says it will — I don’t know where that landed or will land.

The Stranger reports that every single Republican member of Congress from Washington State is hiding from his or her constituents. A Facebook friend posts a screen cap post from one of them. In it, she tells her constituents to stop reading the news, and “everything will be fine.”

CNN published a very circumspect article headlined “US investigators corroborate some aspects of the Russia dossier” — taking pains to word everything carefully and say that the most salacious allegations had not been corroborated and that CNN had never reported on the most salacious allegations in the first place. Spicer was roundly lampooned on the Internet for calling back, still angry, and still unable to come up with something better than “fake news”!!

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News of ICE raids in at least six states. 160 arrested in southern California. ICE first said reports of 100 arrests in California were exaggerated, then they said it was 160 arrests, but was just part of a normal surge. Reports on the ground at odds with reports from the government. Portland, OR panicking that ICE agents were using the public buses and trains to catch people (TRIMet responded to a tweet, saying that it was just a rumor). chicago tribune reports that a man was deported for tinting the windows of his car. Guadalupe Garcia was deported to Nogales for having used a fake social security number ten years ago in order to work at a water park. These are the crimes and criminals that are being targeted. Rumors of ICE going door to door. Rumors of ICE using people’s children to target them, descending on parents as they pick their children up from work.

I went to a presentation at the public library tonight on immigration and inclusion. It was a collection of short, personal talks by immigrants from all over–including advice from an ACLU lawyer about what to do if ICE comes to the door. The place was packed, lively, party atmosphere. Cookies and juice served. Unruly whooping and hollering for AGOWA Bob Ferguson. The library staffer at the beginning, said “We would like to begin this program by acknowledging that we are on Duwamish land.” She said, “Being inclusive and welcoming is an assignment the library takes very seriously.” Here were some other quotes from the evening that will stay with me:

Continue reading TOWOIT #25

Snow Day, Work Day, Bus Day

December 9, 2016

1.) Morning commute.

It snowed while I was sleeping, and in the morning there was fresh snow on the path, the hedges, the cars, and the branches of the cherry trees that grow halfway under the freeway.

My bus was half an hour late. For the first time in months or years, the people at that bus stop actually talked and laughed with me.

Until today, one of the women seemed to have been making a point of never, ever, not ever making eye contact with me. This morning in the snow, she looked right at me, smiled, and in the course of chit chat, made a joke: “In Seattle, there’s a reporter for every snowflake.” At one point I almost asked her if she’d seen Moana, but then I thought “No, no–too much, too friendly.”

Another guy called King County metro and then shared the information with the rest of us. He laughed and said, “We should have expected this, right?” and then asked if anyone wanted to share an Uber.

When our bus finally trundled up, the driver called out through the open door, “I can’t believe you’re all still here!” That was the friendliest he’d ever been too.

I enjoyed thinking that none of us would speak again tomorrow, but that our silence might be slightly warmer.

2.) Workday. 

I’ve been listening to podcasts at work that are about government, politics, history, and current events. It is all part of the big self-education plan, and I can half-consume a lot of information through my ear buds while I do my work.

But when I need to get away from Trump and the dizzying array of bad news and worse omens, I choose stories that are less sweeping and more specific. I either listen to true crime podcasts, or Mental Illness Happy Hour.

Mental Illness Happy Hour is basically long, informal interviews with people about their life stories. The guests on the podcast have all been through a lot–often abuse, addiction, violent crime–and they still have a lot to work through in their daily lives. But at the time they are giving the interview, they also have a lot of wisdom to share and a lot of power. They’ve all survived and grown to a point where they can own their stories and help listeners by being honest and vulnerable. The show is darkly funny a lot of the time.

This morning I was listening to a MIHH guest talk about how she was followed off of a bus by a stranger, and then raped and beaten within an inch of her life. She survived because the bus driver had thought something might be a little off and had called the police just in case. It made me realize that MIHH is just the flip side of the other kind of podcast I’ve been listening to–true crime stories.

The true crime cases are 90% young women disappearing and meeting terrible ends. It should creep me out but I find it comforting in these grim times, to hear a specific sad tale of how one life was snuffed out. How the universe was extinguished in that case, for that one irreplaceable human being. I enjoy the attention and brain power that the podcast devotes to the details of the mystery, as the narrator circles the empty space where a life once was. There is so much love, just ordinary love, in the voices of family members that are interviewed. It takes my mind off the country, the big picture, myself, the future.

As you listen to the true crime podcasts, there’s often a lot of incidental domestic violence, abuse, and mental illness swirling along the sidelines and in the background of the main story. Today I realized that its only luck separating the MIHH guests who tell their own stories from the true crime subjects whose stories are pieced together by others after they are gone.

Even on the scale of individual lives, far from the sick, theatrical grandiosity in Washington D.C., it plays out like Hamilton: Who lives, who dies, who tells your story.

3.) Afternoon commute. 

After work the snow is already gone, because this is Seattle. It’s still chilly out though, and I start pacing a little on the sidewalk while I’m waiting for my bus. I turn on my heel to walk back the way I’ve come when I hear behind me, “Ma’am! Ma’am!”

I turn around and a black man about my age is bundling up his stuff and preparing to leave a bench. He’s saying, “Come back, you can sit here! I’m leaving!” I feel sad and awkward, because there had always been enough room on that bench for me to sit down if I’d wanted to. He seemed to think I’d taken one look at him and stalked back in the other direction, unwilling to share a bench with him. I say “No, no, I’m just pacing!” But I’m a little ways off from him and I can tell that my voice is getting lost in the sound of idling bus engines. He kind of gives the “roger that” body language you use when you don’t know exactly what someone said but you figure it’s not that crucial.

I go stand halfway up the block from him, and I’m thinking “Oh well, that’s another awkward incident to add to my collection.” He’s still standing near the bench, facing away from me and smoking a cigarette. After a few minutes I think, “Oh what the hell.” I walk all the way up to him and say at close range, “I was just pacing before. That’s why I turned around like that.”

He says, “Oh ok. You have a pretty dimple.” This strikes me as quite generous because in my coke bottle glasses I kind of look like Steve Forbes, dimple or no. Also, this man has TWO deep dimples so it’s like my dimple has just been complimented by a dimples expert. I say, “Thanks, you too!” and scuttle back up the block without engaging further.

Seattle freeze mostly preserved for another day.

Safety

I hope to God that in four years, we will be coming out of this nightmare, but I’m not holding my breath. I’m back here because I don’t want to be silent. As I start to speak up again, it may be halting and loose at first. I’ll describe clumsy circles that trace back over things that people have already been saying everywhere else all over the internet. But I have a responsibility now to have a voice and to use it. This is just the tip of the iceberg of my new responsibilities. Like parenthood when it’s new, the responsibility I feel now is frightening, all-encompassing. But the love I feel for our rights, my family, and the people of my city is also heightened.

I’m not wearing a safety pin. So far, I have only seen that in Facebook profile pictures, and not in real life. I hope that if I see bullying and cruelty, I will do the right thing. I have a decent track record with that.

Several years ago, a bus full of white collar white commuters gaped like stupid fish in my direction as I drew four young men away from a woman who looked like she was trying to disappear into herself. She was smaller and younger than I was, and they had her surrounded, were calling her racial and sexual slurs. After I told them to leave her alone, they spent my whole bus ride harassing me, touching me, poking me, jeering at me, draping their arms over me, and flicking (wrapped) condoms at my face and eyes. The white people on the bus just watched. They saw everything while they acted like they couldn’t see anything.

The young men were black, and the woman was Asian. Did the white people think, it wasn’t their (our) business? Are young black men such boogeymen to them that they are afraid of them? They think they are all serious criminals with guns? They can’t just see them as young people who are behaving badly? I was angrier at the older white people than I was at the young men. None of them had my back. They were cowards.

After several stops of trying to tough it out, I went up to the front and told the white male bus driver that there were men in the back harassing women. He said, “What do you want me to do?” I got off the bus at the next stop. The guys got off the bus behind me, laughing. I hurried up the block and hid in the back of a store. I texted a friend. He said, “If that happened in SOUTH Seattle instead of North Seattle, an older black person would have intervened and straightened them out. That is some white bullshit.”

So let’s at least get over our white bullshit, Seattle. And that also means we get out and march with Black Live Matters like we should’ve done all along.

Coelacanth

I lived in Seattle for a few years in my 20s, in a crappy studio across the parking lot from the coffee shop where I worked. Outside of work, I just wrote and hung out with friends and said yes whenever someone asked me out. Then I crushed so hard on a pedal steel guitar player that I moved to Brooklyn. After several years I wound up in Seattle again.

Not long after I moved back, a customer from that old coffee shop sat down next to me on the 44 bus. I hadn’t seen him in years, hadn’t kept in touch. He was an odd duck, lived alone with his cat, worked from home. There was always the sense that he gleaned a large chunk of his social nutrition each day from our smiles of greeting, the fact that we knew his name, the casual exchange of basic pleasantries. I respected that he was like a creature that lived near a deep sea vent—the solitude and simplicity of his life wouldn’t be for everyone, but he was well adapted to it. This was back when I viewed myself as young and full of possibility. Others as old, limited, gone round the bend. I was a smug, ponytailed angel of customer service.

When he sat next to me on the bus, he didn’t say hello or make eye contact. I was older and thicker and squarer. I figured he didn’t remember me. He was still staring straight ahead when he said, “Did you ever read that book about coelacanths that I told you about?”

I had no recollection of the fish, the book about the fish, or the conversation about the book. My mind was blank except for the way the syllables in the word itself knocked against each other. That I remembered like a song that gets stuck in your head for a whole summer. I laughed his question off and then it was my stop.

Only later did it come swimming back to me: I did read the book. I must have. Why else would I know so much about coelacanths and their rediscovery?

Northbound 16: Friday

Friday afternoon. Crowded bus, and the first person who gets on who can’t find a seat is a very tall, very rangy old man with baggy clothes that hang well on his broad shoulders even though they are the muddied, rumpled, tattered layers of a homeless person who is having a hard time keeping up with hygiene. He smells that way too. His hair is thick and white, and in its dirtiness has shaped itself into a wind-blown pompadour that is rakishly pleasing in the way it looks blasted up and away from his skull. He comes in talking to himself and instead of proceeding all the way to the back, he stops in the aisle about ten feet back and stands there facing the front, one hip jutted, one hand on each rail. He’s just a few feet back from me. The people who get on the bus on the next several stops crowd near the front instead of asking him to move back farther, or trying to move past him.

He’s saying “What’s the matter, Kevin? Are you afraid? What’s the matter, Kevin-faggot, you little squealer, San Quentin isn’t good enough for you, Kevin. Are you afraid of fainting, Kevin? I’ll bash your head in with a baseball bat, Kevin. Ahhh, come on down, Kevin-faggot, come on down.” He has a warm, sandy voice that contrasts with what he’s saying, and he draws out all his words except “Kevin” and “Kevin-faggot” which are quick, staccato, bitten off. The effect is mesmerizing. He sounds like a schoolyard sadist who is really, really good at what he does. Also like a crime boss.

The guy standing in front of him answers a cell phone call and is saying loudly, “Yeah, yeah! Everything’s great! Really looking forward to seeing you guys!” So for a bit I can’t hear what the Dickens character behind him is saying, but I catch a few intriguing words and phrases besides the ubiquitous “Kevin.” These include “Molly Ringwald’s best friend”, “Joe Pesci”, and “the Everett Herald.”

A popular stop comes and a bunch of people press off, including the man on the cell phone. A woman sitting behind me gets up, and tries to politely but assertively squeeze past the people standing to get off the bus. She’s more polite than assertive and there is a long moment when she is standing facing the front and there is no one between her and the man talking to Kevin, who is just a few feet back. I feel nervous for her, anxious that the people in the aisle let her by. I don’t think anything is going to happen to her, I just feel the social claustrophobia of the situation. She glances back at him, then forward, and he takes a step forward just as she manages to sidle past someone and get away.

The tall man is maneuvers to two newly empty seats across the aisle from me. He slants diagonally across both seats, one long leg folded over the other and a foot dangling elegantly out into the aisle. He drapes one long arm across the back of the seat, and the other rests lightly on his knee. He looks like he should be wearing an ascot and smoking a fine cigar, maybe expounding on W.B. Yeats. I lean forward and take a quick look at his face. It is ruddy and weathered with crazy teeth. He looks like he could not be a real person in real life, he is far too much of a caricature. He is a fine-featured actor having a lark in his old age, playing a stereotypical homeless guy. I am separated from him by a stoic young man who is studiously looking straight ahead. The old man across the aisle hasn’t stopped disparaging Kevin and I try to swivel my ears to catch his little phrases. “Heeyyyyy,” he’s saying, and then “Kev-Kev! How many times are you going to lie under oath, Kevin-faggot? I’ll strangle you, Kevin.”

A woman sitting in front of him hands her bag to the stranger sitting next to her and awkwardly moves up past the people standing, to get to the driver as the bus is flying up Aurora. Her voice carries back as she says “This man is being VERBALLY ABUSIVE TO ME! He does NOT belong on this bus!!” The driver hears the shrill urgency in her voice but can’t understand what she’s saying. He brakes and pulls over before we get to the bridge. He says, “What now?” She repeats, “He is verbally ABUSING me!! He shouldn’t be on here!”

A man standing near the front in a black leather jacket, male-pattern baldness, says to both the woman and the driver, “Now, in my opinion, that man is really just talking to himself and not to you.” It’s true. If anyone is being abused, it’s Kevin. The woman is disgusted by the lack of sympathy and struggles back to her seat. She’s in her late 50s, dressed in business clothes. The man behind her keeps talking to Kevin.

Several minutes later she goes up to the front again. The bus has emptied out some, so it’s easier for her to get to the front. She says “He’s saying FAGGOT an awful lot – so I guess that’s just ok now? Saying FAGGOT?”

The man stops talking to Kevin for a few beats and then calls forward in a pleasant voice, “What’s the matter, miss? You don’t know the way to the University of Washington?” The man standing up front in the black leather jacket says nicely, “It’s ok; he’s just talking to himself.” And then the talker says a little defensively, “A lot of people talk to themselves! You know what you can do, man in the leather jacket? You can grow some hair on the top of your head.” This guy is a lot gentler with people in real life than he is with Kevin. He’s leaned out into the aisle to say all this, and for the first time the driver can see him in the mirror. The driver laughs. “OH,” he says, “is that who we’ve been talking about?”

Both the offended woman and the offending man got off at the next stop and went their separate ways on the sidewalk. There’s an exhalation, a murmur—partly because of him, and partly because of her. More because of the general situation. The driver says to the man in the leather jacket, but also to anyone who can hear, “That’s the first time he’s been like that. Usually he just sits quietly, very well-behaved.”

At the next stop, the young man gets up. Before he gets off the bus he turns and says to the driver, “I thought you handled that very well. What’s your name?” The driver says “Uh… Paul?” and the young man, who has turned red, thanks him and nearly falls down the steps of the bus as he gets off.

After he’s gone, the driver says “I didn’t really think I handled it. I didn’t do much of anything.” I say, “Well, you didn’t over-react.” My voice doesn’t come out loudly enough so the driver says to the leather-jacket guy, “What did she say?” Leather jacket says “You didn’t over-react.” The driver smiles at me in the mirror. He is cute, I see now, and I wish I had done more grooming before leaving the house. He says “Riding the bus just means that you’re crammed in with all sorts of people acting all sorts of ways. I have to focus on driving safely. I can’t govern people.”

A guy behind me looks up from his book and says, as if laying the matter to rest, “The guy was just fine. Crazy, yes, but just fine.”

Northbound 16: Thursday

I was just reading Scarlet Witch #4 and thinking how I would definitely disavow that comic immediately if anyone on the bus asked me about it. “Oh this thing? This is terrible.” Situation didn’t come up, though.

At a stop in Wallingford, three older Ethiopian women came on, draped in white  cloth and carrying bundles and roller bags. They filled up the other three seats in my row, the first row of forward-facing seats, and their bags took up the aisle. Then the bus driver—a tall, flat-faced, cornfed white woman with a low ponytail—stood up and said to the six people in the front area, “I’m gonna need all these seats! We have two wheelchairs coming onboard!” The three people on the left were a random assortment of youngish commuters. The three people on the right were a very small, elderly, frail-looking Asian couple with bundles and roller-bags and a tiny girl in red-rimmed glasses carrying a prehistoric diorama larger than herself. All of these people were then standing with all their things, regarding the total roadblock that was the three older Ethiopian women with their many bundles and bags.

What happened next was very slow and mild, with the passengers behind my row, and the three commuters ahead of me just working things out. People got up and shuffled around seats and bags until it just worked out best for everyone. The Spanish-speaking man in a Mariners cap behind me conveyed non-verbally to one of the Ethiopian women that he would just hold her bag on his lap for the rest of the ride, and she was fine with that. A high school kid got up so that the little girl in red glasses could sit next to her grandpa. Someone else stood in the back for several stops, holding onto her diorama.

When everything was finally clear for the wheelchair passengers, the driver smiled at me and said “Busy day!”

Then the people in wheelchairs got on, and both seemed irritated from waiting on the sidewalk in the cold for things to get shuffled around. They didn’t seem to love having such an audience, and they also didn’t seem to want people thinking they were together, like each thought the other was embarrassing to be seen with. But their moods highlighted the calm goodwill of the passengers already on the bus. We have a lot more work to do, and I don’t want to make it sound like everything is rosy for people who depend on public transport. But on that bus on that day, everyone was going to get where they needed to go. No one resented the very young, the very old, the disabled, the culturally different, or the non-native. No one was upset that the bus was starting to run late. And no one was getting left behind.

Third Avenue, Killer of Birthdays

I couldn’t bounce back after thirty minutes of watching the man put on three shirts then peel them off again. I left when the 26 bus finally came, but my birthday had turned into a Tuesday and taken on an air of “surviving til bedtime.”

I can sometimes give myself the gift of a good birthday. For one day, I have this extra casing of well-being, and I walk around in it. It’s like emotional stability tinged with modest (not manic!) joy. It’s like the ability to be the actual distance I am from everyone around me, not crowded on the ground or alone on the moon. It’s optimism; it’s protection from dreary thoughts. It’s a fleeting truce with death. It’s taking pleasure in objects, accepting compliments, and looking forward to future events. It’s the smug, delusional mantle of happiness. It’s what people wear when they buy houses, begin ambitious projects, take this woman to be their wedded wife, decide it’s a good idea to have kids. That’s what I imagine, anyway. By the time I stepped out onto Third Avenue to go home from work, I was feeling like I might really make something of myself after all.

It was windy and gray, and my bus was late. On the sidewalk near me, a man put on three shirts and tore them off. His legs were planted firmly, a little bent at the knee, and his upper body never stopped moving. He danced with all six sleeves of these three shirts: A white t-shirt, a dark gray zip-up hoodie, and a lighter gray pull-over hoodie. He was bare-chested in the cold wind for long minutes as he wrestled with them. He bundled, untangled, folded, and yanked them. He tucked one inside the other, then pulled them apart again. His arms spun out low and high, his back arched and twisted. He put the shirts on backward, upside down, and in every possible order.

He got it right just when I thought he never would. T-shirt, pull-over, cardigan. He looked in the window glass, tipped his head to the side with casual self-criticism, and passed his fingers through his hair. He turned into the stream of pedestrians, hooked his thumbs into the front pockets of his tan corduroys, and walked with arms still, shoulders slightly hunched, and head a little down. He took four steps that made him indistinguishable from everyone around him. One. Two. Three. Four. Then he spun back toward the window glass, peeled off all three shirts as one and hurled them down on the sidewalk at his feet. Then he stooped over them and began to charm the sleeves up out of the heap again, and again he danced with the shirts. He did all of this six times before the 26 came.

At no point did he acknowledge anyone around him, and only the motions strung together and the exposed skin in March made it strange. Chopped into pieces, his movements were normal. Almost normal but not quite, because he was as graceful as a dancer, and because it was vaudevillian, comic, a beautiful little hell. He had not a tattoo or a scar or a blemish on his hairless skin. He was lean, but not gaunt—rock-climber thin with long ropy muscles. His corduroys had fallen down off his hips but the wide elastic band of his black boxer-briefs stayed in place. His hair looked clean. His face looked young. As long as he was trapped in his performance, I was trapped watching him.

As he wrestled with the shirts and whipped his bare torso around in the wind, he moved further down the block. The mass of people moving between us thickened. My eyes stayed trained on him putting on shirts and removing shirts. Other people were just shapes that moved in front of him, moved behind him, blew down the wind tunnel of Third Avenue, slid back and forth, collapsed flat and telescoped back. Every bus but mine came twice, three times. People pooled around me, drained onto buses, and then pooled again. No one was the same, nothing was constant, except me and this man and his need to put on three shirts and then peel them off again. The wind bit through my warm layers and the 26 was never coming. By the time it did, I was emptied out and snowed under.