There are roughly, on average, eight thousand people per square mile in the city of Seattle. From his top floor apartment on Capitol Hill he can see a million people or more, figuratively, although only his parole officer can see him back. To everyone else in the Emerald City he is virtually invisible, thanks to the Offender Cap strapped to his head which tells others it is illegal to recognize his existence. Despite this, he cannot help but spend his days walking the streets, watching the people who are prohibited from seeing him.
The smell of the cheap, terrible food wafting rudely from Dicks Drive-In makes him long for the inedible fodder. He hasn’t eaten anything except the Offender Rations since his sentence began two months ago, and did not know how he would make it through the remaining two-thirds of his time on nothing but canned casseroles and freeze-dried bread. The turkey terazini is actually passably good, but of course there is only enough of it to have once a week. He tries to take his mind off of food, but the harder he tries, the more he cannot help but imagine the glorious bouquet of aromas which emanate from a cluster of Thai restaurants in the U-District. His taste buds hallucinate the rich flavors of deep-fried tofu smothered in peanut sauce.
As he rounds the corner heading in the direction of Cal Anderson Park, he hears a familiar voice echoing from the direction of the reflecting pools. This is not one of the neighborhoods that his old friend Junior usually hangs out in, but it is not really surprising to find him anywhere around Seattle, given his wanderlust spirit. Dressed in baggy camouflage pants with large pockets and a 2Pac t-shirt, and sporting his toy store-purchased pro-wrestling championship belt, the aging Seattle street character is dancing to headphone music while imitating an announcer who is excitedly recounting details of an imaginary title match. He watches the highly animated man perform his heart out for twenty minutes, wishing he could say hello, before deciding to loop back towards Volunteer Park.
A slight drizzle, the kind which a native Seattle-ite would scoff condescendingly about if an outsider called it rain, began sprinkling down from the mercilessly grey sky as he walks. The barely inaudible pings on his cap are a harsh reminder that just because he is virtually invisible, he is not immune to the icy drops that betray winter’s stubborn influence on this lonely spring afternoon.
He has never considered himself a criminal. It would be a stretch to even call him a scofflaw. This is not because he is particularly reverent about rules and regulations, but because he is almost pathologically terrified of the kind of conflict that breaking them might summon. When it comes to confrontation, he is like a hemophiliac in a room full of razor wire, careful to a fault. He didn’t mean to break the mask law, but here he is doing the time just like some defiant bare-facer.
During last fall’s flu season, a new strain of influenza popped up that was estimated to be one-point-two percent more deadly than the regular variety, and so the mask protocol was reinstated. He had worn his favorite full-spectrum filter mask, the one that looked like a camel’s mouth, out to the bar on the night of his offense. Uncharacteristically, he had gotten so drunk that his friends were able to talk him into singing karaoke. As he stood on the small stage belting out the ridiculous lyrics to Total Eclipse of the Heart, his mask had fallen below his nose. He was too inebriated and preoccupied to notice it had even happened, but several patrons had taken pictures and reported him to Public Health Enforcement. The next day he found himself in the Greater Good Recovery Center being processed as a felon and fitted with the Offender Cap.
By the time he has made it halfway to Volunteer Park, the precipitation has escalated to what locals would allow tourists to call rain without responding with pretentious commentary. He stares at his feet to keep the acidic moisture from stinging his eyes as he walks. There is faded graffiti on the sidewalk and he stops to inspect it more closely, to see if he can discern what the message was that has now been lost to time and exposure. Kneeling down to get a closer look, he can see that it once read, “Courtney killed Kurt” – a common conspiracy theory of Seattle youth even almost three decades since the rock star’s tragic early demise.
He wonders what Kurt would think of the world now. The same kids who had blasted his music while snubbing their noses at authority and tough love were now the same ones instituting and enforcing laws under the unquestionable guise of public health and safety. The generation who shook their fist at the adults in charge while chanting ‘fuck you I won’t do what you tell me’ were now the adults in charge, and they were even worse than their predecessors in the totality of their attempt to control everything. With a grin he recalls the legendary grunge king’s now-ironic lyrics.
“Teenage angst has paid off well, now I’m bored and old – Self appointed judges judge more than they have sold.”
Maybe Kurt had seen this coming, and rather than face his generation’s hypocrisy, he swallowed buckshot while he was still ahead. Whoever had painted the accusation on the walkway was wrong. Kurt killed Kurt. And in hindsight, in light of what the world had become – a prison of toothless milksops, it was probably the right thing to do.
When he arrives back at his apartment he pulls out his prized original pressing of Nirvana’s Bleach and puts it on the turntable, hoping it will transport him to happier times, before the promise of an evolved humanity had died in utero and was delivered stillborn into a civilization that sounds more like easy listening than smells like teen spirit.
“And if you wouldn’t mind I would like to breathe.”