Tuesday, June 30, 2009

After Hours

Serge. The Initials B.B.

Hint: B.B. = Brigitte Bardot. Super cool. He's just smokin' and tellin' it like it is. If I could switch bodies, it would be with Serge - only I'd be alive now and trolling for 19 year-olds in some former French colony.

If you're wondering what he's singing about, Mick Harvey did a half-decent translation:

Mick's arrangement is better (and less plodding), but I gotta give the nod to Serge. He actually did B.B., so he oughta know. Yeah, she hasn't made a movie since 1973 and she's quite crazy, but back in the day, oh my...

What's the appeal? Uh, beats me...

There's Something You Don't See Every Day!

Don't worry, this guy is very much alive, but just like Belltown's most durable bums, he finds the sidewalk irresistibly comfortable:

OK, I'm familiar with the concept of "dog shaving," but I just don't see it in practice. Ever. So seeing a shaved dog in front of La Vita E Bella at 2nd & Battery is a little surprising. Maybe it's an Italian thing. I'm pretty sure he belongs to one of the owners, because he's there a lot, all shaved and such. Here's a funny story about LVEB: I chased those guys around for months trying to get them to book my trio. Seriously, I was totally stalking them. Finally, they hired us. We played there for a few months. It wasn't the best gig in the world, but it was within walking distance for me, so that made it tremendously appealing. Everything seemed to be going fine but one evening an owner just up and fired us in the middle of the set - in fact, right smack in the midst of one of my solos. Yeah, it was pretty weird. He couldn't even tell us why. He just said it was a spur-of-the-moment decision. Well, no duh. We all packed up, went off to the Two Bells, drank lots of yummy wine and laughed about it, because we were sounding very good at the time of our abrupt dismissal. And that's the only time I've gotten fired mid-gig. The shaved dog reminded me of all that.

Oh My God, Live Jazz! Kill It! Kill It!

Last night as I was returning from my sunset fact-finding mission, I encountered the strains of Duke Ellington's "Black and Tan Fantasy" coming from Buckley's at 2nd & Battery. Sure enough, these guys were playing there:

Let me tell you, even though it's not me blowing there, I'm really overjoyed about this. I firmly believed that live jazz outside of clubs like Tula's and Jazz Alley was extinct. All hail Buckley's for disproving that! And thanks for booking a hot-jazz combo. They sounded really good. Here's the back of the band in action:

From the peculiar shape of the back of the clarinet player's head, I'm 80% sure that's none other than Craig Flory. Although I don't often heap praise on other local sax players (especially tenor players), I have to say that Flory is super-excellent.

OK, it's settled, I'm going there every week. You'll know me because I'll be the guy drunkenly shouting at them to play "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo" or something just as swampy. See you there next Monday!

This Thing Is in my Front Yard!

A metal monster of my very own! And it's right here at 2nd & Blanchard! I can touch it, but I can't drive it.

So poetic in repose an' shit.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Belltown Is a Crappy Place to Take a Picture of the Sunset

...unless you're some creepy rich perv who lives in a scary high-rise. This is from the Olympic Sculpture Park (which ain't in Belltown):

Thank God this fucking day is done. Must. Kill. Feelings. Now.

It's also a Crappy Place to Take a Picture of Mt. Rainier, Two Stadiums, Two Ferries, Two Cranes and a Warehouse

This is from Bell Street Pier (which also ain't in Belltown):

Feelings. Dead. Praise. Allah.

For No Reason at All: The Archstone Garage

The Archstone is a large and unfriendly-looking place. It used to be called the Grosvenor and rumor had it that the average age of their tenants was around 75. But none of this has anything to do with their parking garage at 5th & Vine. It looks like this:

So what, you say? Well, if you get a little closer, the leaves start to pop out, like so:

The thing I like about this is that they could have put up industrial-strength wire mesh or something equally as tough, but they chose leaves - decorative over functional. And it accomplishes the same thing. Plus, it makes that short, empty block seem a little less severe. Here are my two favorite patterns:

Simplicity can be very nice. There's a building along Western Ave. that tries to do the same thing, but with metal people. It's pretty awful.

Check out that Whimsy!

Last night, the Rivoli had a sidewalk barbecue. Some of my neighbors cooked things on the world's flimsiest grill. Others drew on the sidewalk. Here's is my favorite:

Hey you kids, an octopus doesn't meow in French! Why, I never!

I actually roused myself and went down. The gathering was deemed a success by guests and organizers alike. More are being planned.

Welcome Back, Smoker

OK, I know this is supposed be about ugliness, poor planning and general urban craziness in Belltown, but like so many blogs, it ends up featuring its author as a main character in certain vignettes. I am admittedly not the best subject for this, as my life is not as I want it. Sure, blogs feature miserable people all the time complaining about their pathetic lives. Perhaps on some level they enjoy their misery. I do not. I don't like feeling that my one-quarter Slavic soul is filled with stale vinegar and olive pits.

I think that everything went terribly wrong in January. That's when it began at least. That's the month I quit smoking. I had been a gleeful, defiant smoker since my mid-twenties. Only in the last few years did I start to feel like it was killing me. Having smoked so long that I didn't remember what it was like not smoking, I began craving the smokeless life. That was also a great impediment to becoming a non-smoker; it was like creeping into unknown territory and I always felt that I could easily retreat back into the realm of smoke. After many attempts, I managed to quit in January. I haven't touched a cigarette in nearly six months. Sure, I smell better but since then things have been just dire. I won't go into detail, but life has truly sucked. It might be time for me to fall off the wagon.

Except for feeling like I was dying, smoking treated me right. I was never sick and my teeth didn't turn brown. And I was a lot happier. Of course, my girlfriend at the time believed that I'd quit, so I snuck around stealing smokes whenever I could, but that was part of the excitement. I've always felt like smoking was my friend. Over the years, that friendship has gotten a lot more expensive, but what price would you put on a life that didn't suck? It's becoming clearer that smoking is probably the answer. There will be the following drawbacks which will involve the following solutions:

1. Bars and restaurants will shun me.

That's OK, because I won't be able to afford to go out in the first place, what with all the money I'm spending on cigarettes.

2. I'll feel like crap when I hit the elliptical machine at the gym.

You know, the gym is generally not the place to feel good about anything.

3. I'll get hit up by five people every block for smokes.

I'll tell them that the cigarette is not mine and that I'm only keeping it for a friend.

4. I could have a heart attack and die.

You talk about dying alone like it was a bad thing.

5. I'll wheeze.

Wheezing is how cockroaches attract mates. Maybe humans operate the same way.

6. Smoking makes me sweat.

Everything makes me sweat. Yeah, I'm just that charming.

7. Smoking is generally disgusting.

Not when you use this adorable frog ashtray:

OK, I think I've managed to convince myself. I only need to not forget to buy a pack of smokes. That has been a problem these last nearly six months. I would have stayed a smoker if I'd only remembered to buy cigarettes. I did not.

So now that I've charted out my path to happiness, I vow never to mention my recent anguish again. Cigarettes will fix everything. Besides, my troubles have nothing to do with Belltown's hideousness, so all the more reason not to bring them up.

Even though I haven't smoked yet, it feels good to be a smoker again!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Pa-ride Pa-rade

When you're as miserable as I am, one way to cheer up is to hang out with thousands of happy gay people. It didn't work, but I took photos.

A few years ago, the Pride Parade moved from Capitol Hill to Belltown. It really sparked a lot of controversy at the time. After all, Capitol Hill has a thriving gay community and Belltown does not. I don't even think Belltown has a single gay bar. But it does have a fine parade thoroughfare in the form of 4th Avenue, so who's gonna let something minuscule like a complete lack of gay culture stand in the way? In retrospect, I think it was a good idea to come down to hideous Belltown. It greatly increases the visibility of the event, plus it doesn't totally snarl up traffic like the old parade down Broadway did. But today, yes, there was pride all over the place. There was also much, much shirtlessness, but that sort of thing is to be expected. Here are some pictures:

Proud gay rainbow flags...

...proud gay softball float...

...proud gay Vikings...

...proud gay schoolbus...

...proud gay outdoor people...

...proud gay political pandering...

...more proud gay political pandering..."Medved" means "bear" in Russian...

...proud gay bears..."Bear" means "medved" in English...

...proud gay good-time blasphemy...

...more proud gay good-time blasphemy...

...proud femmes...

...proud pansexual Flying Spaghetti Monster, and lastly, what pride parade would be complete without a giant rollerskating penis?

This guy was really tough to photograph because every time he stopped, people would run out of the crowd, hug him and get their pictures taken. Luckily, I have some leftover cell video footage of him from last year's parade - oh, and there's also some dork on a Segway:

It must be nice to be that popular.

So no, seeing all these happy gay people didn't make me gay. It also didn't make me happy. Sorry, it doesn't work that way. I still like girls. Girls don't like me. And that is at the epicenter of my whole predicament.

The Sin of Omission - 2

For decades, so many of Belltown's hardware needs were met by Crawford-Waage, which stood on 3rd between Blanchard & Bell. These folks knew their stuff. I mean, there was a guy working there whose only duty was to keep track of screws. Everybody else was similarly specialized. There were two great things about the store (in addition to their rough wooden floor): 1. No matter how crazy things were outside on the street, the place was always an oasis of calm. The guys who worked there were big and intolerant of craziness and thievery. But there was always a good view out to all that stuff via their two very large front windows. It was kind of like watching it on TV. 2. They rang up every sale on an ancient cash register.

OK, so maybe their selection was a little less varied than your average Home Depot, but it was a great place to pick up a fake Christmas tree (I still have mine) or a fan when temperatures hit 90 for those two days in summer. Plus, if they didn't have it, they could get it. Back in the nineties when apartment buildings were going up like weeds around here, Crawford-Waage did a very brisk business with contractors who needed non-gigantic quantities of certain items. That and their status as Belltown's only hardware store sustained them through the recession of the early 00s. The end came for them about six years ago. I think the two owner-guys simply decided to retired. The store closed and that was that. The one-story, black-tiled building stood vacant for a time, but then, after much renovation, became the world's most unsuccessful reggae club. I think there were a grand total of two shows there before it closed. I'm pretty sure that the place was actually a large-scale weed operation most of the time, so entertaining the world with positive vibrations was not their top priority. After a few months, those guys were off to another front business and the building stood empty.

About three years ago, the wreck ball came down on everything. Decades of service to Belltown was brought down and hauled away in four days. As with the Speakeasy, it was decided that nothing was better than something. And nothing is what remains to this days. Observe:

Pretty bleak, no? Yeah, I'm really feeling that - especially today.

There are no more hardware stores in Belltown. But once upon a time, you used to be able to get almost anything you needed at a place that, when you came in, looked almost empty. That was the beauty of Crawford-Waage.

Let's Call This One "Untitled," OK?

This is the second of 115 short cell phone films that I made last year. This is the view overlooking the Viaduct from 1st & Battery:

The sun may be shining around here today, but I'm in a tremendously bad way. I wish I'd written a longer version of this piano piece, because it suits my mood perfectly. If anything, it should sound more grim. Since the only thing I've been good at this year is being unproductive, I'm not even going to try. This is really going to be a rough day, but I'll attempt to post.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Oh, the Huge Manatee!

This great land's economic implosion has claimed another victim. Waterworks at 1st & Lenora was a place that sold high-end bathroom stuff like tubs, towel racks and sundry other accessories. Every time I'd walk past it, I would tell myself that some busy Saturday I'd go in, take off my clothes and pretend I'm bathing in one of their mucho-expensivo tubs. I never got the chance. They're gone now:

Pardon the ultra-reflecty glass in the photos (which aren't very good, but at least give you the impression of the shop being out of business). Unlike Continental Furniture across the street, Waterworks didn't put up any huge GOING OUT OF BUSINESS!!! signs. Apparently, they went quietly - so quietly that I just noticed that they were gone. You know, everybody would like a regal bathroom with a gigantic claw-foot tub and lots of gleaming towel racks, but with the state of the economy as it is, many of us feel fortunate to be using a dented coffee can filled with rainwater.

Two Days of Peace and Quiet

Well hallelujah, the orange-vests are giving us a break! If I had an actual job to go to, all that jackhammering and noisy heavy equipment wouldn't be so bad. But if I had a job to go to, I wouldn't be able to document Belltown life in microscopic detail. So yeah, it's a trade-off, and each day it seems less of a choice and more of a predicament. In case you're interested, this is what 2nd & Lenora temporarily looks like:

Yes, very trench-tastic. And this is just the beginning of much more very loud stuff. On Monday, it continues, but for now, the sun is shining and all is peaceful.

Thrilling Conclusions

Yesterday afternoon I was out in the wilds of Wedgwood playing backgammon. The last time I encountered this particular worthy opponent, I lost, which was the first time the guy had ever defeated me in a tournament (played to five games). This was mainly due to the fact that he rolled double sixes like nobody's business. I did manage to make it sporting and frighten my opponent somewhat, though, losing 3-5. Yesterday it was a different story. Observe:

I just had to take this picture to taunt the opposition. This is the result from the very first game. I was behind the entire way thanks to a lot of inferior rolls. And so it went until the last roll of the game. Those double sixes really came through for me in a big way. But the drama wasn't over:

This was the even-more-dramatic end of the second game. We were more evenly matched for this contest. To win, I needed at least a four and a one. Failing that, my opponent would automatically win. I got double twos. That was some bare minimal winning right there, folks. From that point on, things got nastier and more one-sided. There were take-outs and double take-outs and near full-on blockades and similar consternation. After almost getting gammoned, I won 5-2. Gosh, I love playing backgammon. You can act like a total crazy bastard and if you lose, you can blame it on the dice. It works out great.

Oh, and if you don't know how to play backgammon, I will teach you.

Friday, June 26, 2009

This Week in Window Boxes

Let's take a look:

Yes, splendid. And now the close-ups:

As you can see, there's been a lot of growth over the last week. Congratulations to the plants! All I do is water them and shoo away the occasional crow that perches nearby - I don't want them getting any ideas. I'm also really glad that the red flax is still blooming. Here's an extended peek:

You know, even though the flowers are all the same color and approximate size, I like them a lot. They're simple and beautiful. And even though some of them are a little old (for flowers), age and beauty are not mutually exclusive.

In Case You're Interested...

The lovely Cinerama is showing Transformers 2. Me, I've vowed never again to see a movie based on a toy. OK, I did see the first Transformers movie, but the circumstances were special: it was 95 degrees outside. Inside the Cinerama it was something like 50. People were wearing coats and sweaters. Like almost everyone else there, I was escaping the heat. I didn't think Shia LaBoeuf was cool, I didn't think Megan Fox was hot, and I didn't think that the film was anything but patently absurd. But golly, was that theater ever chilly! After the show, I rejoined the "hot world" and spent the rest of the day sweating and reminiscing about how cold the Cinerama was. God bless the Cinerama!

Let's See a Picture of a Metal Monster Perched Triumphantly atop a Pile of Rubble!

The people get what the people want:

I took this picture along 2nd Avenue at 6:30 this morning and a funny thought occurred to me based on past experiences in foreign lands. In many countries, leaving rubble out overnight often serves as an invitation for people to haul it away and build stuff with it. Either that or it would serve as an ammo dump for any group of malcontents who would then turn it into more portable pieces and descend on the closest McDonald's, KFC or unfortified liquor store. These things happen in other parts of the world. In this country, we can proudly display our rubble until it is removed, without people crushing their hands and feet trying to drag it away or without it sparking any angry mob action. Ah, what a country we live in! The threat of prison really does keep us in line!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Rubble One Block Away

Gee, I thought the city was going to do this all logical-like. I figured that if they were destroying one lane of 2nd beginning at Bell Street, they would probably move block by block. Wrong! Instead, they've leap-frogged my block at torn into Lenora and all parts south. Baroness von Jackhammer, who I predicted yesterday as visiting that area in a few weeks, is there now going full tilt. Here are a few pictures of the action:

As you can see, they're obviously in the "rubble and anger" portion of the production. Here's von Jackhammer during a brief lull in the von Jackhammering:

So yeah, those question marks from yesterday, remember those? All gone. The street didn't have time to uncover any existential answers. But honestly, does anybody? The answer is no.

And that's how the work goes. Hey, a few days I wrote about the orange-vests and their trench fetish, well, he's more trench porn from the corner of 2nd & Lenora for you:

I hope that turns you on.

Did Somebody Say Something about Ed McMahon?

Oh right, he's dead. You know, he was an inspiration to us all. He showed us that you didn't have to possess any special talent to be famous. Sure, Ed could outdrink just about anybody, but that's not really a talent. About all he had to do for his entire career was stand (or sit) upright, talk and occasionally laugh. That's a hell of a way to make a living. People in showbiz these days seem to work a lot harder.

Ed's passing reminded me that I have his album. No lie; here it is:

It's completely terrible. He can't sing and his sense of tempo is sub-Lou Reed. From start to finish, it's awful. I have many, many other celebrity albums from Terry Bradshaw to George Hamilton to Florence Henderson to Telly Savalas and beyond, but I'd have to say that And me...I'm Ed McMahon is the worst. Compound that with the fact that he's responsible for Sinbad's career and in karmic-reincarnation universe, he's coming back as a hairless cat.

OK, so this doesn't have anything to do with Belltown. Wait, yes it does! I own the album. I keep it in my apartment in Belltown, so both the album and I live in Belltown. There's your Belltown connection. Go in peace.

I Liked It Better the Old Way: The Virginia Inn

I know that change is inevitable. In Belltown, it seems to be a necessity. Every 20 years or so, the neighborhood undergoes a near-complete transformation. We're currently smack in the middle of one of those 20-year cycles. I hope what we get in another 10 or so years is slightly less ugly than what we've got now. I'm not counting on it, though. So yes, I welcome change - especially when it's an improvement on what came before. In the case of the Virginia Inn, I prefer the old version.

Now, I've never been a VI regular, but there was a time back in the nineties when I considered it. It was a cozy place with a ton of colorful, hard-drinking semi-elderly regulars who smoked like chimneys. It was just this very nice little neighborhood bar that had ambiance, intimacy and strong drinks. Then two things happened: first, years before the voter-instituted law, they banned smoking. As a dedicated smoker (until January of this year), that kept me away. Apparently, the colorful, hard-drinking semi-elderly regulars went elsewhere, too. And there went the old-Seattle vibe. Second, last year the VI took over the Billy King Gallery space next door to it and the place went double-wide. Observe:

These aren't the greatest photos in the world, but follow me off to Imagination Land and picture the place at only half the size. That's when it was good. This version is not. I've been there three times since last year's renovation and let me tell you, it's completely different from the VI of song and story. Gone are the intimacy and the ambiance. The place is just too big, bright and loud. The hexagonal tiles on the floor make it seem like one big restroom and the seating is way too far-flung. On top of the terrible atmosphere, everything is really expensive. You're now paying $5 for that $3 pre-reno beer. I'm told that the owner expanded next door because he wanted a larger kitchen so that they could bulk up their meager menu. All well and good, but the food is also really expensive - and it's not particularly super-tasty. My only conclusion for all this is that the VI has slowly geared itself toward luring in tourists. They're always wandering around those parts, either going to or from the Market. Why else would the prices be so high and the atmosphere so neutral?

Yes, it was once dim, smoky, small and slightly intimidating. That's gone forever. And it's really too bad. I'm sad to say it, but the new VI sucks.