Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Out of place

I was walking through Pioneer Square at noon trying to dodge the packs of tourists following their Underground Tour guide lemming like, listening raptly to worn jokes about the Seattle fire and the rebuilding of the city back in 1889. Although Pioneer Square is probably my favorite part of the city, I couldn't help but feel slightly annoyed at commercialization of the area (even though the tourists are probably the only thing other than the bars keeping the neighborhood alive).

I was also annoyed that Occidental Park had suffered the indignity of a public art project. A large portion of the trees in the park as well as light poles had been victim of something called a "yarn bombing." An artist was paid essentially to install yarn graffiti in one of the oldest downtown parks. Occidental Park had already been vandalized by the city a few years ago when the replaced the original cobblestones with smooth, modern pavers to avoid tourist tripping and suing the city.

When I first moved to Seattle in 1980 to go to college I walked down First Hill from Seattle University and ventured into Pioneer Square on a Sunday morning.  Having grown up in Boise, I had never really been exposed to a big city. As I made my way along First Avenue I noticed a very old and very drunk man propped up in a doorway in a puddle of urine. As I stared at him with my naive country boy eyes, he looked up, grinned and flipped me his middler finger.

The panhandlers and homeless alcoholics who used to plant themselves on every corner in Pioneer Square are now distinctly missing.  I don't know whether they've moved on because city ordinances or because of the economy. I've notice that some of them have migrated closer to the waterfront and sleep in small camps under the Viaduct.

You would think that after more than 30 years living here that I'd feel more at home in the city. But it dawned on me as I made my way up Jackson Street towards Union Station where I work that I still feel like an outsider. Maybe it is because Seattle is a waterfront city and was often the jumping off spot for people headed to someplace else. I pass the Klondike Museum on Jackson Street and it reinforces that notion. Thousands passed through the city in 1897 headed for the Yukon gold fields of Alaska. I'm sure their impression of Seattle was that it was simply a place to stock up before hitting it rich someplace else.

I moved here under the pretext of finishing college. In reality I just wanted to get out of Boise and be somewhere near the water. In hindsight I should have fulfilled that need to be near water by moving to a warmer clime such as California or Florida. Instead I chose the place that was about as far north as you can get in the United States without being in Alaska.

Don't get me wrong, it is a beautiful city, but it always seems a bit off somehow. It is hard to deny that some of the worst serial killers in history called Seattle their home at one time (namely Ted Bundy and Green River Killer Gary Ridgeway). Maybe it is the rain. The sky is the bluest blue here in Seattle only when the clouds part.

And it's not that I feel any more at home in Boise where I grew up. I've now lived in Seattle longer than I did in Boise. I go back there and I'm a stranger. But here, I still feel more or less like a squatter.

Maybe it is in my genes. In my forays into the family tree, I discovered a long line of farmworkers and day laborers migrating west from West Virginia, Ohio, Kansas, and Iowa. Many made it as far west as Oregon and Washington only to drift back eastward  to Idaho.

Sometimes I think about what it would be like to move elsewhere. Where would I live if I could live anywhere? I never really come up with an answer. Part of it is because my imagination can never quite get past the reality of finite resources. It doesn't do any good to fantasize about living in exotic places because where ever you live you have to have money (at least in my world).  I've never been one of those people who just pick up and move and worry about how you'll make a living once you get there. This is especially true now that I have a family.

I'm not sure what the point of this post was. It started out as a vague rant about tourists and yarn bombing and meandered down the melancholy path of wondering why I'm still in Seattle. But I suppose in the scheme of things there doesn't have to be a point any more than there has to be a reason I'm here in Seattle. When it comes down to it, where ever you end up is where you are.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Someone posted the following on Facebook the other day: "Anyone else not care about Amy Winehouse? Or am I a freak? Or both...." Several people gave the post a thumbs up.

How sad. But I imagine it represents the average response of the masses when anyone they don't really have a connection to dies, especially when that person succumbs to their own self-destructive nature. There is a lot of "tsk, tsk" and "they brought it on themselves." Funny, we don't say that about cancer victims or people killed in auto accidents (unless they were driving under the influence).

It's not that I knew anything about Amy Winehouse other than what I'd read in a few scab-picking articles about her addictive nature. Imagine that. A talented celebrity with a substance abuse problem.

Thing is, humans seem to have all become callous and have lost the ability to be compassionate unless the misfortune they face is close to home. Do you really have to know Amy Winehouse to care that she died so young? I don't think so. Death may be inevitable for us all, but there is still something tragic about it being accelerated and then ignored.

Maybe it is one more of the many wrong things about Facebook. Several hours after commenting that she didn't care about Amy Winehouse, the same person posted a photo of a salad she'd made out of vegetables from her garden. Several people gave that post a thumbs up as well.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Etch-A-Sketch Rasa

Tabula Rasa  (Latin for "blank slate") is the theory that we are born with a brain not unlike the scarecrow in Wizard of Oz and we immediately begin to fill it up through experience and perception. The theory was embraced by such noted figures out of history as philosopher John Locke and psychologist Sigmund Freud.  The primary premise being that we are shaped by our environment.

I can't totally buy into this theory. If that were truly the case, wouldn't all siblings from a family essentially evolve the same? And we all know that isn't the case. I am nothing like either of my brothers (thank whatever power that is). Though both of them would greatly benefit by being more like me. Lord knows the world could use a few less right-wing Republican Christians.

But I digress.

Anyway, I reject the blank slate theory because common sense tells me that mankind could not have progressed as far as we have without some sort of collective consciousness to tap into so that we can build on existing knowledge rather than simply absorb it.  The concept of Tabula Rasa also would suggest we are all born with a level playing field when it comes to the brain and what separates us is not our capacity to learn but on what we are exposed to.

Nothing about the blank slate concept seems to account for differences in IQ. Was their anything about Einstein's environment that shaped his genius? He flunked out of math and worked as a Patent Clerk before developing the Theory of Relativity. How can you ignore that there had to be something programmed in his DNA that allowed him to tap into a greater knowledge pool than most people are capable of diving into. I seriously doubt if the only thing that allowed him to be a genius was absorbing more knowledge from his environment than other people (unless he had really, really blank slate to draw on).

Of course, I may be oversimplifying the whole Tabula Rasa thing. And I don't discount the role of environment in shaping us. I just think something has to be there to begin with other than a blank slate. I lean towards the concept of soul progression drawn from Buddhist thought. I think we are more like a Etch-A-Sketch at birth than a blank slate. And every new lifetime, we get shaken up before a new personality is drawn on our personae. And the older our soul is, the more difficult it is to ignore the lines of our former selfs that are still etched on the screen.

I could ramble on, but I'm drawing a blank.

I crack myself up at times.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Blogs of Note, aren't

I am not sure how Blogger selects its Blogs of Note that appear on the Dashboard when I sign in. But judging from the ones I've opened, it must be a random selection. Because so far, I haven't opened one that was particularly noteworthy.

For one, any blog that promises " inspiration board of beautiful images and the things I love..." is pretty much a digital scrapbook and warrants as much attention as I'd give another junk mail invitation to join AARP.

It's not that I have overly high standards. I've confessed to watching one too many episodes of Man Vs Food and I currently spend way more time than I should watching people shop for homes on the Home and Garden Network. So obviously I am easily entertained. But it takes more than photos of fabric to engage me enough to read a blog.

So what constitutes a blog of note to me? I like reading about people's lives. It seems odd, but over the years I've followed several blogs and became virtual friends with people I've never met based solely on their blog posts and an exchange of comments. I liked their blogs because they were real people writing about real things in an engaging way. Unfortunately most of them stopped blogging because they actually did have lives.

One of the blogs I used to read and enjoy was Mickey Ripped. Mickey openly blogged about his schizophrenia in an amazingly profound and funny way. His was truly a blog of note. But Mickey left the grid and disappeared as so many true blogs of note do.

It is a pity that blogs of the heart disappear while the scrapbooks, dear diary and "I'm really trying to sell you something" blogs proliferate like English Ivy, sucking oxygen out of the blogosphere.

Where's industrial strength Roundup when you need it?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Everyone has one

There is a saying, "Opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one."  It is about as true a saying as I've every heard.

But that is just my opinion...or my asshole. Imagine if everyone spouting opinions as if they are truth had to end their statement with, "But that's just my asshole." Perhaps they'd think a bit more before speaking.

Spouting crap with conviction is particularly a folly of youth. Even my two-year old son will tell me a blue crayon is red and defend his observation adamantly  until he is distracted by a Cheerio or fruit snack.

I write all of this with conviction knowing that I am about opinionated about things a person comes. But I have grown to recognize my opinions as only my opinions. I have also grown to recognize that no one really likes to hear other people's opinions unless they mesh with their own. So you are better off just sitting in a chair muttering to yourself than piping up with your opinion about anything. Then people will think you are a pretty astute and amiable person.

That being said, I imagine it would be a pretty boring world if everyone had the same opinion about everything. There would only be one religion (if there were a religion at all), one political party (if there were a government at all) and one gender (if people existed at all). You wouldn't have marketing or advertising, because there wouldn't be anything to convince people of.  And most importantly, there wouldn't be any assholes.

That is hard to imagine.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Out of my ivy league

Since we've had uncharacteristically sunny weather on weekends this summer, I've managed to spend more time in my own little half-acre woods battling the forces of nature. And although I haven't given up my psychological battle of wills with Theodore, my mountain beaver nemesis, I have focused more of my attention on his vegetation counterpart: an infestation of English Ivy.

The only thing I think is worse than English Ivy and a horsetail infestation (which I battled at the same time I was fighting with Theodore) is a blackberry vine infestation. I have them as well, but they are confined to the outer reaches of my Kingdom and aren't quite as prevalent as the ivy. Ivy is the cockroach of the plant world. It grows everywhere and anywhere and seems impervious to any attempts to get rid of it. At times I am afraid to sit down on the bench in my backyard for fear I'll doze off and wake up covered with ivy.

The sad thing about the ivy that has overtaken much of the slopes in my backyard is that some moron in the past actually planted it probably thinking it would be great ground cover and help prevent the soil from eroding on the slope behind my house that terminates on a creek passing through my property. The irony is that not only doesn't ivy prevent erosion, it likely contributes to it. Plus it does its best to choke out every other form of life in the backyard except for the damned mountain beaver.

I started fighting the ivy last summer soon after we moved into our house. But I concentrated on vines that had crept out of the garden and were cascading over a wooden fence and attempting to choke a hedge that gives us a bit of privacy from a busy street that borders our property. Whoever lived in this house in years past actually installed trellis' on the fence to help the ivy pull itself up and over (as well as through) the fence.

I pulled and slashed and cut my way through what must have amounted to miles of the stuff. It was scary how it had worked its way through the small cracks between fence board to continue its efforts to cover the globe with ivy vines. I was afraid that the fence would collapse once I'd removed a bulk of the ivy. It didn't, but it is obviously the worse for the wear from supporting a ton of ivy for however many years it has been growing there.

The freaky thing about ivy is that even after you've ripped it off from something and separated it from it's main root, it doesn't seem to die. And since ivy is essentially poisonous, nothing will eat them, even a stinking mountain beaver.

After clearing the ivy off my fence, I started pulling it from the slope in my backyard. I have to tell you that it is pretty daunting to approach what amounts to a carpet of ivy on a fairly steep slope worrying that any minute you are going to uncover yet another mountain beaver hole occupied by a pissy little creature made more pissy by the fact that you've been filling in his entrances with used kitty litter and rocks.

Pulling ivy vines up by the root is slow work and it wrecks havoc on your hands. But after several days of cutting, pulling and cussing, I cleared a pretty major swath of dirt. So I decided to make a trip to the local home improvement super store to find some ground cover to replace the nasty ivy I'd ripped up before it began to creep its way up again. And while I'm scanning flats of various types of ground cover, what do I run into for $7.99 a flat?

English ivy.

I'm tempted to put an ad on Craig's List offering people the opportunity to dig up their own English Ivy starts from my back yard for a nominal fee. Hell, maybe I'll even offer to throw in a mountain beaver as a bonus.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Did Barney Google?

That post title will mean nothing to a vast majority of people under 50. And it likely won't mean anything to a vast majority of people over 50 as well. Barney Google was a cartoon character from a comic strip created by cartoonist Billy DeBeck. It was popular in the early 1920s. And it inspired a popular song in 1923 coincidentally called, "Barney Google."  The chorus of the song went like this:
Barney Google, with the goo-goo-goo-ga-ly eyes.
Barney Google had a wife three times his size
She sued Barney for divorce
Now he's living with his horse
The only reason I know this was because my grandmother had Victrola when I was growing up and one of the only records she had was Barney Google. I used to get a kick out of cranking the thing up and listening to the scratchy voice from forty years earlier belting out "Barney Google with the goo-goo-goo-ga-ly eyes."

Ironically, just a few years later I'd be sitting next to my portable phonograph listening to John Lennon belt out "I am the egg man, they are the egg men. I am the walrus, goo goo g'joob." Perhaps John's grandmother had a Victrola as well.

But I digress.

I don't recall ever seeing the Barney Google comic strip. Billy DeBeck died in 1942 and along with him Barney Google. So by the time I heard the song, there was nothing to put it into context for me. I just thought it was a silly song about a bug eyed guy and his wife. It wasn't until the other day that, on a whim, I Googled Barney Google and discovered the story behind the song I'd heard so many years ago (and stuck in my head like a popcorn husk behind my molar).

Another irony here is that Google, the mega search engine that provides the portal for all knowledge, is simply a typo of the word, "Googol." So it has nothing to do with Barney Google or his goo-goo-goo-ga-ly eyes.

Incidentally, the lyrics for the song "Barney Google" were written by Billy Rose. Rose was once married to singer/actress Fanny Brice, the inspiration for the Funny Girl and Funny Lady movies starring Barbra Streisand. Billy Rose was played by James Caan in Funny Lady. James Caan didn't look anything like the real Billy Rose, nor did he have goo-goo-goo-ga-ly eyes.

You've got to love Google, though. It inspires so many of my magnificent digressions.