Saturday, July 16, 2011

North by Northwest

I've always been drawn to the Pacific Northwest.

Especially the state of Washington and the city of Seattle.

As a eight year old kid, I was fascinated by books on cryptozoology. I used to pour through accounts of Bigfoot encounters and wistfully imagine that one day I would go hiking among those rain forest conifers and come across a North American Great Ape. Then I watched an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man that revealed that Bigfoot was really a robot from outer space, and I lost interest. I didn't care much for space when I was a kid.

As I got older, I started to read some science fiction, and Frank Herbert quickly became my favourite. I burned through many of those Berkley Books paperback editions of his novels, and not just the Dune series. I learned that Frank Herbert was from the Seattle area, and that the sand dunes on the nearby Oregon coast were, reputedly, the inspiration for the series. But I enjoyed his other novels as well, and a few of them had a Northwest setting.

I knew it rained a lot in the Pacific Northwest, and that was fine by me. Unlike most other people, I soon realized, I liked the rain. I still do, even after living for the better part of nine years in Vancouver. It matches the melancholia that I inherited from my Outer Hebridean ancestors. I seem to think better when its raining, and a sublimity sets in that elevates my mood.

One of the first Sports Illustrated magazines that was given to me featured Paul Westphal, who just left the Phoenix Suns to play for the SuperSonics. I knew and cared little about the NBA then, and that hasn't changed over the years, but at the time I knew that the SuperSonics had won back to back NBA titles not long ago.

In the other three sports that I truly cared about at the time, Seattle had made little impact. They didn't have an NHL team then, and its not likely that they ever will. The Seahawks and Mariners were expansion teams in the later 1970s and therefore were simply awful. For some reason I still found myself following them. Before my dear old Dad unknowingly torched them all in a fit of pyromania, I had football cards of Jim Zorn, Dave Kreig, Steve Largent, Curt Warner et al. I don't remember being interested in the Mariners until the late 1980s when Mark Langston was the best lefthander in baseball. The Expos then traded Randy Johnson to the Mariners for half a season of Langston before he moved on to the Angels in free agency. The rest of that sad story doesn't need to be told.

I also knew that Jimi Hendrix was born and raised in Seattle, and that seemed pretty cool to me.

My initial visit to Seattle was in the fall of 1997. Five of us crammed into the Old Idler and embarked from Vancouver on a pilgrimmage to Powell's, a legendary used bookstore in Portland Oregon (this was before ordering books online became a part of my ordinary life). Crossing the border was a bit of an adventure, as the Idler was full of international students, including one from Mexico. The border guard refused to believe that we were entering the US just to visit a bookstore. Needless to say, there was a considerable delay. We stayed overnight at a friend's apartment near the University of Washington. The Huskies were hosting Ryan Leaf and the rival Washington State Cougars, so it was a bit nutty.

I returned to Seattle and Portland the following spring. While the atmosphere inside the Old Idler was vitriolic, as my ex-girlfriend and I were at each others' throats the entire time, the drive back up the Pacific Coast Highway from the San Francisco Bay area was unforgettable. I finally saw the white beaches of the Oregon coast as well as the sand dunes that had inspired Frank Herbert so many years ago.

Over the course of my remaining years on the West Coast, I took the opportunity to return to Seattle, if not Portland, many more times. Unlike Vancouver, Seattle is a port city that makes good use of its downtown shoreline, which I remember as dotted with bars and cafes.

Recently, it seems that I'm more familiar than ever with the daily events of Seattle. While I work each day, I listen to KEXP, a local radio station that allows its disc jockey's to program their own music sets. (Thanks to the Cravat in Van City for that tip).

Oh yeah, and the music that broke out of that town in the late 80s and early 90s was really fucking good.


  1. Fisheye,

    Long time reader, first time commenter. Your blog is really fucking good. I'm impressed by your ability to recall so much minutiae and to be able to coherently contextualize it in order to recreate a moment in time. I have a hard time cutting through the purple haze of my misspent youth to recall anything of significance, although I actually do remember where I was when I heard that Kurt Cobain had offed himself, not that I was bothered by it all that much. Kind of like I remember where I was when OJ was out joyriding in his Bronco.

    Mariners - it's all about Ken Griffey Jr. Supersonics - Xavier McDaniel. Seahawks - no one besides Largent comes to mind. Your ex-girlfriend - a bitch. And for the record, one of my least favourite things to do is to cross over into the USA. There's an endemic paranoia in that country that is most palpable at the border. It aggravates me.


  2. They North west has given us alotta good...I forgive them for Twilight.

  3. I agree with Drew; fuck Johnson's silly claim in the _Journey_ that "diminutive observations seem to take away something from the dignity of writing." What moon-calves they were who ever presumed it could be a dignified act. Johnson at least had enough modernist good sense and Smellie-ness to recognize that "life consists not of a series of illustrious actions... [and that] the greater part of our time passes in compliance with necessities, in the performance of daily duties, in the removal of small inconveniences, in the procurement of petty pleasures; and we are well or ill at ease, as the main stream of life glides on smoothly, or is ruffled by small obstacles and frequent interruption." Thank goodness for the anesthetics of common life, for Sports Illustrated, the Seahawks, the Mariners, the Jimi Hendrixes, the road trips in old and new idlers, the bitchy ex-girlfriends, the KEXPs, the Cravats, the downtown shorelines, the Kurt Cobains, the OJs, and, maybe most of all, America's paranoid style and Dennys's country gravy. Keep peering through those minute windows in your memory and writing about what you happen to notice there, FEL.

  4. Great comments so far. FEL, your mind is a fiery faith filling station broadcasting from a fantastic frequency telling all the doubters to 'get up and get out of my world.'