Personal Pieces postsFriday May 22, 2015
Happy Anniversary to Me
I arrived in Seattle 24 years ago today. I'd been bouncing around from place to place since graduating from the University of Minnesota in 1987—Taipei, Minnesota, New Jersey, Minnesota, Taipei—and wanted something new. I wanted the states but not Minnesota (too familiar), nor the east coast (too rushed), nor the South or Southwest (too racist/hot, respectively). Plus my sister was here. Our stays overlapped by a day but she gave me connections; she set me up with her friends.
The nice thing about moving to a new place is how all your senses come alive. Everything is new and thus memorable. I remember my first few weeks well: the long walks in search of a place to live, and a job, and a thing to write on. I remember being surprised by how early Seattle shut down. Taipei was a 24/7 city while Seattle turned off at 9 PM. I was amazed by the lush gardens and landscaping and fresh air but was surprised by how long it took for the city to warm up. It was mid-June and still in the 50s and raining? The fuck? I would get used to Seattle's seasons soon enough. Other aspects of Seattle never warmed up.
A few months after I arrived, I published my first piece in Seattle Weekly, called “All I Want is a Room Somewhere,” about the travails of the Seattle housing search: run-down rooms and shared-housing interviews. But I quickly began to make, if not enemies, at least unfriends. I thought honesty and insight (or “insight”) was a good way to impress, which shows how young I was. I also didn't know how much of an insular town Seattle was; how incestuous.
But I found a place to live, then another, then another. Seattle allowed me time to heal, even as it opened new wounds. There were plenty of opportunities in Seattle in the '90s but I missed most of them. I wrote about that, too, after many of them went away.
It's been 24 years but my view of Seattle hasn't changed much. I still find it a naturally beautiful place that we haven't done much to improve. But it's home. For now. I guess I still feel that, too. “For now.”
My Gay Talese Story
A friend pointed me toward Gay Talese's article in the New York Times today about Selma and its aftermaths, and it led me to relay my Gay Talese story, which has nothing to do with Selma (I was 2 at the time), but which some might find interesting nonetheless.
I think it was 1991 or '92. I'd just moved to Seattle and was working part-time as a cashier at University Book Store when a dapper man walked in and asked to see the store manager. I said I didn't know who that was. I think I was thinking, “General books manager? Personnel manager? Overall store manager?” He started to tease me. “You work here and you don't know who your manager is?” As he was saying this, though, I realized who he was, and he realized I realized. “You're Gay Talese,” I said. “Yes, I'm here to sign some books.” As I led him back to where the managers' offices were, I told him, “I just read your piece in [some university review I've since forgotten]. I liked it.” Then I blushed. Not because he was famous but because I was lying. I hadn't really thought much of the piece. But I delivered him to the General Books manager and walked back to my post, admonishing myself about blushing. I told myself never to blush again. About 10 minutes later, he came back out, and, before leaving, made a point of stopping by my post to shake my hand. Which, of course, made me blush all over again. Lesson unlearned.
Actually there are lessons from this story:
- Always tell the truth, kids.
- If you work in a bookstore and don't know the managers, at least know visiting authors on sight.
I went to see the doctor today for chest pains. Basically, my heart felt constricted. Since Monday, it's kept me up at night, and felt painful whenever I coughed. So you worry a bit.
Turned out to be nothing. Probably a virus, inflammation of the lungs, maybe some acid reflux, exacerbated by asthma.
Since I made the appointment this morning, I went to see the GP on duty, and mentioned that I'd had a stress test a few years ago and did OK on it. She looked it up and said, “More than OK. You were super normal.”
“Above average for your age.”
I like that. Super normal. It almost sounds like I'm really, really normal. I'm so normal I'm super normal.
It wouldn't make a bad modern superhero. Jason Lamb, maybe we should work on that.
The original Super Normal.
Christmas Morning, 1967
Make sure you watch with subtitles on. (If they don't show up, click the “cc” tab at the bottom of the video.)
Save the Game, Pass OTS
Most of my father's reminiscences about the military tend to focus on other subjects—like how being stationed in San Francisco in the 1950s led him to meeting Pauline Kael and her husband at a movie theater. Then there's this, from a conversation we had last year about his early life:
I always thought it was kind of strange how softball influenced my career. Like when I was in the Navy. I'm at ROTC—the Officer Training Program in Newport, Rhode Island. I was about to flunk out because I didn't keep my shoes shined the way they wanted. You know, blah-blah-blah. I didn't get a spit shine. You're supposed to be able to see your face. I thought, “That's ridiculous.”
But anyway, here I am playing softball for the company team against another company team. I was in center field, and I made a diving catch with the bases loaded to save the game for our team. And the lieutenant who was in charge—I'm not even an ensign yet—he came running out and gave me a big hug. And the next thing I knew I was assigned to the admiral's staff.
True story. That's how I got through OTS. By making that great catch to save the game.
For a time, I believe he was thinking of re-upping in the Navy and focusing on foreign languages; but when they reassigned him to something else, ignoring what he was good at for what he wasn't, he didn't re-up. He went to J-school instead.
Bob Lundegaard, star centerfielder, in the U.S. Navy in the 1950s, tooling around Japan with a buddy who wasn't great with a camera.