Archive for July, 2009

For the record

The local temperature reached a crillion degrees yesterday, setting an all-time record high for Seattle and tying the record in several other cities around here. Actually, I think the official high reported by the weather station at Sea-Tac was 103°F, although Cliff Mass’ weather blog has lit up with comments about much higher temperatures reported by people’s car thermometers, measurements he has encouraged his readers to regard with a view to the added heat sweltering up from paved surfaces. Today we expect to set 99°F as a day-record for July 30th.

This much heat doesn't even fit on the chart (see Wednesday bar). Photo courtesy KOMO News.

This much heat doesn't even fit on the chart (see Wednesday bar). Photo courtesy KOMO News.

I just wanted to chime in and say “I was here”. It’s a wonderful thing to be part of an event that the whole city is experiencing and celebrating, especially since the building I work in has a well-functioning HVAC system. In fact it functions so well that even on hot days I often don my fleece while sitting at my desk, and it actually felt good (for a few minutes) to step outside for the walk down Western Avenue to my once-or-twice-monthly lunch at Planet Java Diner on Washington Street, a kitchy and air-conditioned establishment whose proprietor Patty and her daughter Ashleigh know me well enough to know I’ll probably order the Barbecue Burger, a crisp green salad, a cuppa decaf and my own little steel creamer of real half-and-half.* You can see I wasn’t suffering.

Planet Java Diner. Beatin' the heat on Washington Street.

Planet Java Diner. Beatin' the heat on Washington Street.

However, later in the afternoon when I left the office, the heat struck me like a heap of quilts. It was as though I were a bee and someone had suddenly put a large drinking glass over me and sucked all the air out. Even so, the worst of it for me was the bus ride home, and that’s mercifully short.

Home was painless because we have air conditioning. It came with the house. I don’t really like AC as an idea. We never had any AC around here growing up, not in houses anyway. You just sat on the sprinkler or found a leafy bower to hunker down in, or flopped in front of a fan. It seems bizarre to be shivering in my house on the day Seattle is setting an all-time heat record, to be putting on wool socks while thousands perish on the sidewalks beyond the large, closed front windows.

Seattle has a fever.

Seattle is running a temperature.

Maybe I exaggerate, but I just don’t feel completely comfortable being disconnected from what’s “really going on” out there. On the other hand, Angela has had several neighborhood moms and their kidly retinues over during these hot days, and those refugees from older, AC-less homes have been grateful for the respite from their cauldrons. Saving Wallingford lives we are, one BTU at a time. 

*unless I get the French Toast Combo instead, swapping out the bacon for a heap o’ hash browns.

A ghost of First and Madison

There’s a wall on the east side of the 1000 block of Seattle’s First Avenue between Madison and Spring. On that wall is a legend, painted in faded white, that no one can see. It’s likely that no human being will ever see this wall again, because of the particular way in which it has been hidden. I’ve seen this wall and the white painted lettering. I was among the relatively few who were lucky enough to see it when it was uncovered for a brief time a few years ago. The legend is not mysterious or important, or even very meaningful anymore. But up until the time I saw it, it had not been seen by anyone for a hundred years. This is the story I’m about to tell you.

It was a sad day in 2004 when they knocked down the Warshal’s buildings. I had just started working downtown again and was walking past the soon-to-be-destroyed Warshall’s Sporting Goods every day. For much of the 20th century, Warshal’s occupied two buildings on the northeast corner of First and Madison. Unless I am mistaken, the one directly on the corner was originally the two-story Hotel Louvre. The other one, nextdoor to the north, was the Wadsworth Building, an edifice of about six stories.* The Wadsworth Building had actually been registered as a historic landmark in 2001, but that didn’t prevent it from being knocked down to make room for the Hotel 1000.

This is the way Periscopic Map Co. viewed the situation in early 1903.

This is the way Periscopic Map Co. viewed the situation in early 1903.

And down it all came very quickly, in a day or so, all except for the northernmost wall of the Wadsworth Building. The Wadsworth Building was built sometime around 1902 and stood brick-by-jowl with the Schoenfeld Building, the next one to the north of it. Workers on scaffolds had to use caution in removing the bricks of the Wadsworth Building lest they damage the Schoenfeld Building. This took a week or more. As the bricks were slowly removed, I began to see a long-covered-up advertisement or legend reappearing on the Schoenfeld Building’s southern wall.

It said, “Standard Furniture Co.”

Not very surprising, since this legend and many others had appeared on multiple walls around town as businesses grew and changed locations. But I was intrigued. The sign had been entombed for more than a century. I wondered if would be possible to see this particular legend on this particular wall in historic photographs from the turn of the 19th to 20th century. The paint was faded now, but I imagined it blazing white among many such exclamations of the contemporary downtown brickscape.

The same block ca. 2007. Hotel 1000 at the south end, Holyoke Bldg. on the north end, and Schoenfeld Bldg. in the middle. Photo copyright Microsoft Virtual Earth.

The same block ca. 2007. Hotel 1000 at the south end, the red-brick Holyoke Bldg. on the north end, and white-fronted Schoenfeld Bldg. in the middle. Photo copyright Microsoft Virtual Earth.

The construction of the Hotel 1000 took place shortly after I bought a ’40s-era 4×5 Graflex Speed Graphic camera. This is the kind of camera you always see in old movies when the press is snapping photos — it’s a huge thing with bellows. This camera might have been the one that captured Jack Ruby doing in Lee H. Oswald, for instance. It’s unwieldy and once you load the film, you can’t see through the lens to line up or focus your shot. Despite this, it was designed for action photography such as sports and on-the-spot news coverage. I lugged my Graflex down to Madison Street during the winter of ought-four and ought-five, while the wall was exposed, and took a shot, because I knew this view was a rarity that would soon disappear again. (When I told my cousin this story, he likened this wall to Halley’s Comet. Touché.)

First Avenue runs through the right side of this ca. 1901 photo. The white lettering of the Standard Furniture Company is visible just above center. The Colman Building in the lower right foreground is still there, unlike the distant Washington Hotel and the hill it rode in on. Photo courtesy of Paul Dorpat. Click for larger image.

I’ve always been a big fan of Paul Dorpat‘s “Now and Then” articles, which have run for years in Pacific Northwest Magazine and always include an old historic photograph (“then”), a little history of what the view depicts, and his best attempt to reproduce the shot (“now”). He’s assembled many of these essays into a series of books, and on the introduction page of Seattle Now and Then Volume II, which I had bought and read years ago, I found what I was looking for. It’s a panorama of the cityscape shot from a rooftop on Western Avenue. In the middle panel of it can be seen the south wall of the Schoenfeld Building and the legend “Standard Furniture Co.” No photo credit was given nor any other information except that it was taken “ca. 1901”.

Recently I started thinking I should track Paul down and ask him where I could get permission to reproduce that photo for my blog. After all, he lives in the neighborhood. Last week I emailed him asking about the photo. He not only emailed me an electronic copy of that middle panel, but also emailed later in the day with an even better shot that was taken in May of that same year. When I asked whose they were, he said “mine.”, and he went on to say that I could use them as long as I told my readers that he intends to treat of the subject matter in these photos himself someday, when he gets around to it. (Lou, Kip, Marni…consider yourselves informed.)

May 1901. The Wadsworth Building was erected shortly after Major John Millis (or Mills?) took this photo and obscured Standard's legend until it came down in 2004.

May 1901. The Wadsworth Building was erected shortly after Major John Millis (or Mills?) took this photo and obscured Standard's legend until it came down in 2004. Notice that General Arthur Cigars has tagged a few walls in this scene. Photo courtesy of Paul Dorpat. Click for larger image.

Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. I won’t go on frothing at the mouth about it, except to say that I consider it an honor and a privilege, to say the least, that Paul would let me publish some of what he calls his “ephemera” before he does.

The last piece of the story is my own photograph. I took my film holders to Panda Lab, the only place in Seattle that will develop black and white 4×5 sheet film anymore. It was among the very first shots I’d taken with the Graflex, and I wasn’t at all sure it would turn out. With the ubiquity of photography these days, it’s likely there were many photos taken during the winter of 2004-2005 that show the exposed wall. But for all I know, this may be the first publishing of a photograph showing daylight on this wall for the first time in a century. I never got around to printing it, but here is a scan of the contact sheet, dust and all:

The legend lives on.

The legend lives on. This was taken in the winter of 2004-2005. Notice the ghosts of original windows and doorways in the wall. Photo by Matt. Click for larger image.

*There’s an enlargeable photo of both the destroyed buildings that looks to me like it was taken in the ’40s in a Seattle Times article by Steve Warshal, chip off the original block, that was published online in 2007. Note that in that photo the Wadsworth Building advertises itself as the “Geo. V. Heringer Building”.

Update: 30 June 2009

I walked round there today with a digital camera and got a current photo matching the viewpoint of the one immediately above, the final word on this piece, you might say.

Looks like curtains for this particular graffito.

Looks like curtains for this particular graffito.

A hot time in the Heelands

How I could spend all day surrounded by kilts and other clan tartans and not come away with a single decent photo showing one is beyond me.

We’ve been looking forward to the 63rd Annual Scottish Highland Games and Gathering of the Clans at Enumclaw. I’ve a bit o’ the Celt in me on me mum’s side. Mom’s maiden name will here remain nameless, but it is a derivation of the storied appellation of Clan McDougall. If there was a broohaha my mom’s ancestors marched with the MacDougalls and fought under the MacDougall colors. In return the “Lords of Lorn” provided a measure of neighborly security.

If I was a better Celt this sign would have made me hungry. As it was, I imagined a rugby team.

If I was a better Celt this sign would have made me hungry. As it was, I imagined a rugby team.

My family drove down to see “the Games” a few years in a row when I was a teenager and I was captivated by all of it — the tartans, the pasties (pronounced with a short a as in “pasture”), the musicians and storytellers, the games themselves (caber toss, hammer toss, haggis toss, etc.), the girls dancing above the swords, the booths where you can pick up a kilt or a claymore with which to cleave the skull of thine enemies — the whole Celtic enchilada. I once bought a MacDougall tartan necktie, which is tomato red and goes best with a white shirt and a kilt, or maybe a black shirt and a kilt, or maybe even a dark green shirt and a kilt. I never owned a kilt (don’t have the knees f’rit), and so never wore the tie. I also talked to the MacDougall clan representatives and learned that, at the time, the clan was led by a chieftainess, and that the clan’s headquarters was in Oban, Scotland. I was told then that I would be welcome at any MacDougall gathering, and that if I was ever in Oban I should drop by. I never got there.

We thought Mara might be intrigued by girls just a little older than herself performing the traditional sword dances in colorful traditional garb, and so today we borrowed Lily, Mara’s friend from nextdoor (also four years old), and headed south. We’ve had a drought this year. It stopped raining in April, three months earlier than usual, and now we’re heading into a heat wave. The Games take place at the King County Fairgrounds, which I don’t think has a single tree on it. The dance and piping competitions take place in huge, open, fields of grass, the athletic games in a huge, open, field of dirt. By the time we got to Enumclaw the sun was swelteringly hot, and by the time we got from the car to the Avenue of the Clans, Mara and Lily looked as though they’d been marched across the Sahara.

We met up with my folks, who had driven down from their home in Issaquah. Dad was a sport to subject himself to so much walking in this heat, but he came with a shady hat and a good attitude. My mom was excited. She has wanted to get back to the Highland Games for many years, but it has always been the same weekend as the West Coast branch annual reunion (really just a potluck picnic) of my dad’s (English and German) side of the family. For various reasons, the gathering of THAT clan, which has taken place at Matthew’s Beach for the last 15 years or so, was not observed this year.

Not the photo I wanted, but these lads were stepping high, wide and handsome. And they're really girls.

Not the photo I wanted, but these lads were stepping high, wide and handsome.

We arrived just in time to see young girls competing in the sword dances. This is like ballet meets Celtic faerie kick-boxing. The leaping scissory kicks — all performed with arms raised wreathing their heads — seemed impossible in this temperature. I wish I had gotten a photo of it but we didn’t tarry there long. Mara and Lily watched interestedly for a few minutes, but the sun baked us on the bleachers and they began to fidget. And I didn’t get any shots of the marching pipe bands, either. The heat and the crowds, through which it seemed to require both of my hands to navigate even one of the four-year-olds, disinclined me to drag out the camera. I kept thinking I’d do it later, after we’d found shade, food, and the bathrooms. But the quest for these things seemed to take up the entire day as the heat just got worse and we seemed to be moving in slow motion. The crowd was a river of sweat and Royal Stewart plaid flowing by in all directions. It seemed that even the visitors all had their “plaidies” on.

The “Scottish Farm”, usually a shed full of kid-friendly animals, turned out, by dint of a compounded fiasco, to consist this year of a single cow. Fine. We turned to go look at the rabbits (shady, inside, cool less hot), but the rabbits turned out to be a red herring. There were no rabbits. The “RABBITS” sign I had espied was just a permanent sign for the fairgrounds that I had mistaken for something particular to this event. We moved on to something we were anticipating called “the Isle of the Wee Bairns”, which sounded promising but turned out to be just an opportunity for small children to toss the caber. The caber toss is where you pick up a telephone pole , run with it standing on end in the palms of your hands in front of you, then hurl it end over end. In 90 degree heat. I couldn’t see Mara and Lily raising the testosterone for this.

Colin Grant-Adams, balladeer and right regular Scot

Colin Grant-Adams, balladeer and right regular Scot

By then we needed food, so my folks and I got pasties and the girls got hot dogs. While waiting for balladeer Colin Grant-Adams to sing and play guitar, I found the MacDougall clan booth and talked for a few minutes to Martin “Mac” MacDougall, the Northwest Commissioner for the clan, and learned that the clan at large is chiefed now by the niece of Caroline (I think he meant Coline), who was the chieftainess when I used to come to the Games. The niece now presiding lives in London, of all places, but goes up to Oban for special celebrations and ceremonies. She has a son and a daughter. According to a time-honored tradition, the son will accede to the position when his mother passes, but Mac says there is a debate of some heat raging on the East Coast (of the U.S.) because some folks think that the son, a computer enthusiast, isn’t really chieftain material. Mac doesn’t think that it’s really any of our (statesiders’) business. Mac told me also that when he visited Oban, he was fortunate to lay his eyes upon the Brooch of Lorn, which some MacDougall of yore tore from the cloak of Robert the Bruce in a skirmish from which the Bruce barely escaped alive and his assailant did not. The brooch has been a clan treasure for centuries. I found all this interesting and wished I could have chatted longer with him.

We didn’t even get to see the games. We listened to Mr. Grant-Adams for a while, who had the decency to play in a large shady tent. Mara and Lily twirled around to his guitar and lilting vocals and did the hand motions to “Sam the Skull”. Both girls fell and scratched themselves up on the pavement, and after getting Lily’s wound dressed in the First Aid Hut (!) we headed for the parking lot, stopping only long enough to look at some dancing laddies in sailor suits, who Angela later informed me were not lads at all but in fact lassies. All in all, one of the most disappointing outings I’ve ever been on, considering what fun I’d had there in the past. I’m sure the kids loved it, though, and I’m sure my mom was happy to attend this event again, despite the heat. She bought the girls each a flowered hairband with trailing ribbons.

Sadly, my best shot of the day was inside the First Aid Hut. Lily gets a bandaid.

Sadly, my best shot of the day was inside the First Aid Hut. Lily gets a bandaid.

Crouching spider, leaping tiger

Our house is on a hill. Off of the kitchen is a second-story deck that hangs on the high side of the house overlooking the neighbors down the hill and our patio and back yard. Our cats hang out on this deck, enjoying the dulcet breezes of summer evenings.

The orange cat and Tillie enjoying their perch on top of the barbie. Sudden loud noises are apparently the last thing they expect.

The orange cat and Tillie enjoying their perch on top of the barbie. Sudden loud noises are apparently the last thing they expect. Photo credit Angela.

While Angela was in the middle of a sentence tonight, her eye chanced to fall upon a wolf spider of unusually large proportions crawling along the carpet next to the wall, about to enter the kitchen from the living room. Her face contorted and her voice went all gutteral and high.




I saw that her gaze was fixed on a particular spot directly behind me, and the adrenaline began to shoot outward from wherever it comes from into all my limbs. I braced myself for horror unspeakable, maybe the icy hand of Death on my collarbone.

Angela jumped up from her chair, almost by involuntary convulsion, and I turned to see the monstrous arachnid flapping its huge legs as it approached. It was as big as a volkswagen.

“I need a shoe,” I said, looking around frantically, but I was in the cul-de-sac of the kitchen, and we don’t keep any footwear in there. Angela was by the hallway, though, and managed to duck out to fetch a hefty sole. The eight-legged invader came on, threatening to cut me off from Angela’s return route, but she appeared again quickly.

“I brought you two different kinds!” she said, handing over one of her dance shoes and a slipper.

I chose the slipper — more flat surface area, a bit of give for an even slap — crouched low, took aim. You don’t want to muff a shot like this, because these bastards can really haul.

I paused, reflecting on the fact that I was about to terminate a life.

The slipper came down with a sharp, firecracker-like pop. Outside on the deck, our new cat started and fell off the railing. We didn’t see this happen, but no sooner had the slipper slapped the floor and issued its percussive report than we heard a quick and unsuccessful clawing at the corrugated fiberglass deck siding as the cat slid past it and hit the compost bin down below on the patio.

The “orange cat” (as I call him because I don’t like the name he came with which the girls are now using despite the fact that we all agreed to rename him Willoughby) has never been outside the house in the two and a half months we’ve had him. Suddenly he was catapulted into another world. I went down to look for him, and busted him out by the patio furniture. Although the spider did not survive this strange bifurcated event, the cat was fine.

We’ve been breaking out in snorts and chortles all evening over this.

Acknowledgment: The title for this post was Angela’s idea.

Walter, Walter everywhere…

Walter Cronkite has died at age 92. The newspapers are reporting the fact that during his decades anchoring the nightly news he was regularly voted “the most trusted man in America” in opinion polls, and the fact that after President Lyndon B. Johnson watched Cronkite’s reporting of the infamous Tet story, he apparently said “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America” and decided not to run for reelection. They also report that so synonymous with the news is “Uncle Walter” that in Sweden and the Netherlands news anchorpersons are called Kronkiters or Cronkiters.

Walter Cronkite’s voice and visage were  certainly part of my daily childhood experience. He and Harry Reasoner and David Brinkley were the three names I knew practically before I knew any others. But Walter’s name meant something more than the news for me. And I mean literally, his name. I have a memory and it goes like this:

It’s summer, an evening just like tonight. Cool after a hot day. Or — whoosh, the memory alters, and maybe it’s very cold and I have a warm jacket on. At all events, it’s after dinner and I’m standing in the street in front of and a little north of my house. I’m waiting for Bill or Chris to come back out and resume playing, for lo, each child went unto his home and ate of the food there. I remember where I was in the street because in my mind I see the slightly humped band of smoother pavement that crossed the road in front of 1646. There were three of these bands on our street at about equal intervals of 150 feet or so. These oddities in the pavement were there through my early childhood but disappeared sometime in the ’70s when the street was repaved. Now that I think about it, they must have been the result of some digging for the addition or repair of sewer lines.

Anyway, I was standing in the street, on or near one of these little anomalous hillocks, and I was repeating two things out loud, the name Walter and the word “water”. I said them slowly several times, first one, then the other.

“Waaaaaaallllllter. Waaaahhhter. Waaaaallllllter. Waaaaahhhhhter.” 

I had heard Walter Cronkite’s name for the milliionth time as we were finishing up dinner and now I was trying to figure out what made Walter and “water” sound different. I was having trouble doping it out. This was before I could read or write, and I could tell that the two words were differentiated only by something really small, but something very real, too. I remember probing my tongue up toward the back of my teeth while I said Walter, then saying “water” to see how the tongue behaved in that sound. Even preliterate, I could intuit what made a bilabial or a dental or a glottal stop, but the letter “l” is a sonorant and a liquid, and its essence was eluding me because it seemed relative. The sound was not absolute. I hadn’t experienced many things up until that time that were not absolute.

I think I was a pretty spazzy kid, and this memory is proof. Standing in the middle of a street in south Bellevue on a summer evening chanting the name and the element over and over again, trying to understand. If any neighbors were observing this, they must have just rolled their eyes. Again.

Thanks Walter.


The Great Seattle Gargoyle Hunt