Teargas, Cocaine & Earthquakes – Tales From The Emerald City

By the end of the year 2000 I had grown bored with living in Iowa City. A voice in my head beckoned me to head west, and I started exploring my options. Finally I settled on Eugene, Oregon. I set up an apprenticeship with a renown glass blower and found a room to rent months ahead of moving. I had just gotten out of a lease and was currently couch surfing and saving up money while working at The Hemp Cat. I just needed a few months to save up and away I would go. Unfortunately, a month later, the DEA raided the headshop as part of Bill Clinton’s draconian drug war tactic – Operation Pipe Dreams. That meant that I was suddenly jobless and would not have the money to execute the plan to move to Oregon. At the same time I did not consider staying in Iowa to be an option, so I took the little money I had saved and bought a bus ticket to Seattle, arriving sometime in February.

My friends Megan and Ajax had moved there a few months earlier, and friends Matt, Dee and Drew Cooper had been there for a year already. That gave me a good roster of couches to surf while I found a job and got settled. Mostly I stayed with Megan and Ajax, who had just gotten married the previous summer and had gone off to start a new life, and had a small apartment in Capitol Hill close to the two Cooper homes. It was a rough start.

Within the first few days I lost my ID, which prevented me from attaining employment. I was able to talk my friend Mike, who was still in Iowa City – but would soon relocate to Portland, into getting me a copy of my birth certificate. That allowed me to get a copy of my Social Security card, which then would allow me to get a new ID. This entire process took a full month and I was almost dead broke by the time I got my new ID. Luckily it was only another week before I landed a job at a bagel shop. Immediately after I finally got everything put back together, a woman knocked on Megan and Ajax’s door. She had seen me coming to this apartment, and recognized me from an ID she had found in the laundry room a month earlier. I thanked her then laughed maniacally as I shook my fist at the universe.

During my downtime I discovered Steele Reserves and did a lot of tabletop gaming, but it was pretty uneventful, and quickly made me a bit unsure of Seattle. The best part was seeing the northwest landscapes that had produced some of my favorite music and film. Waiting for a ferry one day I experienced the scene from a Modest Mouse lyric in which “the ravens and the seagulls chase each other inward and outward’. On the bus ride there I had passed through Snoqualmie, Washington – where much of Twin Peaks was filmed. I splurged one night to go see Caustic Resin, and Brett Netson recognized me from the bands message boards and the CR shows I had attended in Iowa, and pointed me out to the crowd, in case anyone wanted to confront me about the contentious opinions on various subjects I had shared with the band and their fans. Nobody said or did anything, but if they had I am not going to claim I didn’t at least kind of deserve it. In hindsight I realize that the internet was a bad idea from the beginning.

However the time was not entirely without excitement. In fact, during one ten hour period, a whole lot of crazy shit went down. It all started at the Mardis Gras celebration being held in the streets downtown, which Ajax and I attended, since it was free and we were jobless.

During the past two years Seattle had become an epicenter of protest against the World Bank, IMF and other global financiers who were exploiting the people of third world nations. Black Bloc formed (pre-Antifa) to disrupt the economic systems which fed the socioeconomic vampires. In response, the Seattle Police Department, who already had a troubling history of militarism and brutality, escalated their responses to public gatherings. And during the Mardis Gras celebration they were there in full force, decked out in riot gear and looking like some kind of dystopian army of mustachioed battle androids.

Everything was peaceful for several hours. People drank and sang and danced, as well as exchanging strings of cheap plastic beads for exposed breasts, an economic exchange whose rationale has always perplexed me. However the cops were there the entire time, mad-dogging the crowd, and as the night progressed the tension began to increase. Finally, taking cues from the unspoken expectations of  the stormtroopers, the crowd began to get uneasy. At first a few small fights broke out. Then they got bigger, and at the same time, men began groping at the women who were still collecting beads. Things quickly turned ugly, yet the cops did nothing. They just stood by and watched. Ajax and I began breaking up fights and protecting women from attackers and became separated in the process. There were a lot of other good people who came to the aide of those in need, despite risking violence against themselves in doing so. I know I took a few punches that night.

After standing on the sidelines and watching the mayhem , yet doing nothing, when the clock struck the top of a new hour police suddenly pulled out their batons and containers of tear gas, and after employing both, gave us a dispersal warning. I scrambled to get away from the scene, but in doing so only managed to stray further from Capitol Hill, and without Ajax became completely lost. I could barely see as my swollen eyes were still streaming tears from the chemical attack by the Seattle PD. Eventually some guy approached me and asked me if I was okay, and if I knew where I was going. I told him I was new around here and lost, and needed to get back to my friends in Capitol Hill. He told me that I was in luck, he was heading that way, and he would lead me there while avoiding the cops – which he very kindly did.

When I got to Dee and Drew’s place, they told me Ajax was at Matt’s house, and I was supposed to meet him over there. So I made my way there in the middle of the night and arrived to a scene of flagrant cocaine abuse, of which I quickly became a participant. Line after line was cut up and snorted while Kyuss and Orange Goblin blared from the speakers and bottles of whiskey were passed around. We yelled our theories of existence at each other over the music and enjoyed the intense intellectual camaraderie known only to middle schoolers and cocaine users. This went on for several hours and eventually the sun rose on a new day. Once we were sure Megan had left for work, knowing she would be seventeen sorts of concerned regarding the events and behaviors which had filled our night, we went back to their place to sleep.

I laid on the couch for a short time before realizing the futility of slumber, so I got up and began doing some deep cleaning in the kitchen. I worked on that for over an hour as the cocaine wore off and the fatigue set in. I was almost hallucinatory from the chemical onslaught of the night before, which is why when I felt the room shake I thought it was probably just me. But then I looked out the window and saw the skyscrapers downtown swaying, and Ajax jolted out of bed towards the window next to me, and we watched as a 6.8 earthquake shook the world around us. I remember feeling elated and overjoyed by the immensity of the experience. It seemed like the only sensible way for that chain of events to end, and so finally satiated, I was able to get some shut eye.

After a few months in Seattle I got a job at the Wingdome in the University District, where my friend Dee worked. Not long after I got a room in a boarding house nearby and the crew of Wingdome became my people. Carey, a fellow cook and stoner intellectual, became the closest of my friends. Many a night we would start drinking a few hours before closing, and by the time the doors were locked, we would be so drunk we would have to drink ourselves sober for several more hours before we were able to clean up for the night. We had constructed a massive gravity bong which we kept hidden above the cooler, and would hotbox the little refrigerated room with the waitresses help. Carey had a talent for drawing diagrams to express ideas, and somewhere in my keepsakes I still have a few scraps full of squiggles that once explained everything.

I also made the acquaintance of Junior, King of the Ave Rats, and a legend of the Seattle streets. Junior was a middle aged black man who lived with his mom and was obsessed with hip hop and pro-wrestling. He would wear one of those fake championship belts made for children, as he danced in the streets (“kicked the streets ass”) and spanged for money to buy beer and weed. We once talked him into riding giant promotional Red Bull can mounted to the top of a car parked out front in exchange for a pint of IPA. I would sometimes run into him on the streets at night getting hassled by drunken frat boys and come to his rescue, since he had a habit of talking himself into black eyes. My most memorable moment with Junior was a drunken conversation in which he revealed to me that it was his dream to become a WWE announcer, and that he was probably the best person in the world for the job. I strongly agreed with that assessment. After speaking that desire, he got lost for a minute in reflection, and then finally looked me dead in the eyes, as serious as can be, and continued – “Well, that or an astronaut.”

I met all kinds of gloriously different folks in Seattle. I became friends with a gay rugby player, a skateboarding lesbian couple and a magician/artist who was really into juggling crystal balls. I went to a Halloween party of another lesbian couple who were friends that also had Iowa connections, dressed as a used tampon,and woke up on their couch the next day covered in obscenities that had been written on me with Sharpie when I passed out prematurely. We discovered the greatest public access show ever made, Jerkbeast, and would rush home for an hour from wherever we were on Friday nights to watch it. I discovered by a fleeting coincidence that I lived near the area, Ravenna Park, where the events of my favorite recent comic book, Black Hole, had been set. The first boarding house I lived in was being renovated for sale, so I moved to an even bigger one nearby. There were people from 8 different countries all around the world, and we all worked at restaurants representing the cuisine of our nations of birth. Many nights we would all bring home food and drink, and hang around the kitchen talking and teaching each other the language and songs of our people. I saw so many great shows I can barely keep track of them. One night after a show a guy I met told me he was in a band named ‘Tight’ and I proceeded to follow him around heckling him for having such a stupid band name, until my friends finally dragged me away before he kicked my ass. On a trip to the northwest tip of Washington State, I saw the ocean for the first time in my life. And the cannabis there was so much better than the crap available back in Iowa.

Yet I never fully settled into Seattle. There was an air of pretentiousness that permeated everything and I once again set my mind towards Oregon. My friend Mike had since moved there to attend law school, and so I arranged to stay with him for a week and see if I might want to relocate to Portland. I fell in love with it and decided before I even left that I would make the move.

Back in Seattle, things at the Wingdome began to deteriorate rapidly. Hard drugs crept in and at the same time the owner started making changes I was not favorable to. By the end of November, after ten months in the Emerald City, I decided to bounce south to the City of Roses. The decision was made suddenly, and in order to get out of my job and get my paycheck immediately, I arranged to have the manager fire me. Cubby, the manager, was also a friend. He was sad to see me go, but understood, and took part in my plan. A few nights later after closing, we all sat around the counter drinking and listening as he called the owner to tell her that I was being fired for insubordination, and that he would need my final paycheck issued immediately as part of the agreement. It was hard for us not to laugh in the background. Even though I was the best worker, since I stood up for myself when wronged, the owner was glad to see me go and cut me a check the next day. I packed up my few belongings and hopped on a bus and said goodbye to Seattle, even though I often think of it fondly and await the day I might return.

Portland did not work out, but that is another story. Four months later I was back in Iowa City, picking up my life there with great ease. I do not regret that my journey to the northwest was so short nearly as much as I am grateful to have taken those risks and added those experiences to my life. Stability is also monotony, and taking the safe route through life offers little in the way of perspective and personal evolution. Although I will probably leave this world with little in the way of tangible things to show for it, I will have collected personally meaningful and fulfilling experiences that could never be bought with all the money, power, fame and success in the world. Buy the ticket already.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s