Monday, August 31, 2009

After Hours

Zhanna Friske. La-la-la

Once again, Zhanna delivers a soul-less pop gem that is perfectly intelligible for somebody like me - someone who hasn't spoken Russian in any serious way in seven years. Case in point: the first 30 seconds are just her singing the word "la" over and over again. What could be easier to understand right there? Guess what "la" means in Russian. It means "la." The rest of it is like, "Boy, you're driving me nutso. My little head is spinning. Thunder and rain. I miss you, blah, blah, blah." Then it's like, "La-la-la, The stars and waves dance. Never mind the snow and rain. Let's go together, yadda, yadda, yadda." Or some such. I have a feeling that her backup dancers aren't Russian. Why not? No prison tattoos.

Limited Blogging Today!

Folks, I'm off to the Evergreen State Fair way up in Monroe today to take my nephews on rides and watch my sister's horse drill team do, uh, drills. I'll be back in time for After Hours. Remember, it's Zhanna Friske Monday, so expect something blatant from our favorite aging Russian pop diva.

Via Tribunali's Happy Hour: The Verdict

Last Saturday afternoon, I was feeling a little ravenous, so I went over to Via Tribunali to check out their happy hour. It was my first time there, so I didn't know what to expect. The Crocodile was mobbed due to a late-afternoon Harvey Danger gig, but Tribunali wasn't overly crowded. I ordered a $5 pizza (you get your choice of two: cheese or salami) and a Peroni. In other words, the sign did my ordering for me. I thought I'd be hanging out there for 20 or 30 minutes waiting for the pizza to come out, but it arrived in less than two minutes. Obviously, they had them ready to go for all the cheap people like myself. I went with the salami option, and golly, it was really good. The only thing wrong with it was the problem that plagues most "authentic" pizzas: the dreaded soggy center. You know what I'm talking about, right? The outer part of the pizza is cooked, but the center is severely undercooked. It was still delicious and I devoured the whole pie, but I have yet to find an "authentic" pizzeria that confronts this difficulty in a satisfactory way. Oh, and the Peroni was really unexpectedly terrific. You don't usually equate Italians with quality beer, but this particular brand is very tasty. And I got to hear quite a bit of Harvey Danger live while I was there. During their days of fame, I was a total saxophone practice nerd, so I paid no attention to them. But I gotta say, they do play some catchy stuff.

So yes, I highly recommend Via Tribunali's happy hour - if you're fine with no-frills pizza and one kind of beer, as I am. It's good of them to offer those items on special, but it would be even better if they could expand the menu a bit. There are places like Wann up at 2nd & Lenora that have entire happy hour menus. The philosophy usually is that people will come in for happy hour items and end up ordering regular-priced stuff. But you've gotta have more than three items, especially here in Belltown where there's pretty fierce happy hour competition. That's all I'm saying. Anyhow, long live Via Tribunali. Even if they don't expand their menu, I'll hit them up once every few weeks for a yummy salami pizza.

The Ring Report 4

Everybody dies! Folks, the Ring Cycle is over. I'll get to the particulars when I review this beast, but let me say that it was mostly fantastic. I mean, they even had a real horse! That's what you call commitment to the gag. It was a very pretty horse, but like everyone else (except maybe Alberich), it died in the end, too. And speaking of ends, there are three things that they have to show by the time the music stops:
1. Brünnhilde immolating herself on Siegfried's funeral pyre;
2. The Rhine Daughters drowning Hagen;
3. Valhalla burning with all gods and heroes aboard.

These things happen in rapid succession, and in nearly every cycle I've seen, they're done in a very unsatisfactory way. How did this production measure up? Well, you'll just have to read the review. It'll be up in a few days.

Just let me say that I was having a drink after the show and Alberish edged past me. I was genuinely starstruck. The guy absolutely rocked, being all evil and such. It's a very crucial part and he did a great job with it. Funny thing, here I am complaining about the dwarfs being so tall in this production - well, he was actually pretty short. Well, forget that I said anything about that...

Anyhow, the Ring is done. It's my fifth cycle, and I enjoyed this one more than the previous four combined.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Flowerquest: KIRO Gardens

I've said it before, I'll say it again: it's hard to believe that the good people at KIRO TV can tend such nice gardens and show us riveting episodes of CSI: Miami. Where do they find the time? Have a look at what's going on at 3rd & Broad:


More marigolds!

A geranium (and marigolds)!

Many small flowers!

It's always nice to walk by KIRO's rather secluded location just to see what's going on with their flora. In addition to all these flowers, they also have what appears to be the largest rhododendron in all of Belltown. I don't have any pictures of it, but believe me, it's pretty gigantic. Anyhow, enjoy your Sunday flowers and...(see below)

Your Sunday Squirrel

The squirrels have been scarce lately, but this week I happened on one who was very enthusiastic about peanuts. Here is his best photo:

Although he's just waiting patiently for a peanut, he really looks like he's saying, "You fool. My king fu. Is unstoppable." Yeah, he's quite the photogenic tree rodent.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

They Almost Got It - Sort Of...

A few days ago, I reported the sad news that Mama's had gotten tagged by some douche nozzle. Well, the Mama's staff quickly sprang into action to send it to hell. The problem is that they didn't get it all:

Well, they tried, but they will not be free until it's completely gone. I suggest fire.

Here's What the Sidewalk Says

I happened upon this message on the Blanchard side of the Castle. I don't think it's for me, but it's for someone I know. Witness:

Too faint? Let's take it word by word:

OK, so they misspelled "miracle." It happens sometimes. Or rather, it hapens sumtimes. See, it's just that easy to do! So I'm just passing this on to JN and hope she'll figure it out.

2nd Avenue Gets Scraped!

When I was returning from Siegfried at about 11:30, 2nd Avenue was clogged with asphalt removal equipment. They were like some kind of secret army of the night, with guys giving orders and orange cones and lights flashing and large vehicles going every which-way. And yeah, they were really loud, because taking off an entire layer of old road surface is not a quiet process. Today we see the fruits of that labor:

From Bell Street to Denny, there is no more surface. You're gonna be driving on the road bed, brother, until Sweet Lady Blacktop comes to town. That could happen in a short time or a long time. It all depends on the Sweet Lady. When they repaved 4th Avenue in the late spring, it took them about three weeks to get around to it. But that's all water under the bridge now, because 4th drives like a dream. My car absolutely loves it. Let's hope that 2nd Ave. gets some better service. After all, it is a much cooler street.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Ring Report 3

Out of all four of the Ring operas, I'm most ambivalent about Siegfried. On the one hand, you've got sword-forgin', anvil-splittin', dragon-killin' and spear-shatterin' action. On the other, it takes ages for these things to happen. And to top everything off, there's the third act, which takes absolutely forever to finish up and contains some of the worst romantic dialogue this side of Star Wars: Episode II. So yeah, I'm conflicted. The good news is that the guy who played the title role (his name is Stig) took a different approach. Most who sing the part opt to play it boisterous, impulsive, bullying and very stupid. Stig was quite a bit more introspective. It was like he was mildly retarded - and fearless, too. I kind of like this Stig-fried fellow. The dragon was good. He had wings and tusks. Mime continued to disappoint. He never seemed to live the role. Alberich made a special guest appearance. He and Mime threw stuff at each other. They are brothers, after all. I'm starting to believe that Alberich is the most important part in the whole cycle - and it's great for people who are particularly evil, spiteful and bitter.

So it's now three down, one to go. I'm really looking forward to Götterdämmerung. That has none of Siegfried's big-ticket items, but it does feature some ultra-kick-ass music - just under five hours of it.

Sunday: Burn everything!

After Hours

Count Basie. One O'Clock Jump

Here's a nice little version of "One O'Clock Jump" with Basie in front of a small band. It includes the long-dead Wardell Gray, the hard-strumming Freddy Green, the still-living Clark Terry and Buddy freakin' DeFranco. Please enjoy. Sorry about the brief commentary, I'm heading out to catch Siegfried tonight. Wish me luck.

Oh, the Humanity!

I swear to God that the last time I walked past this place, it was still open. That was about a week ago. But look at it now:

Whym is no more. Yeah, that was kind of a dumb name. The really unbelievable thing is that it was open for two decades as Minnie's, offering zero ambiance, so-so food and generally awful service to anyone crossing the threshold. The Whym guys took over, remodeled and within six months, they're gone. Were they that bad? I never ate there, so I can tell you nothing. They say that in the restaurant business, the average establishment loses money for the first three years. So basically, you have to open your doors with a three-year cash reserve. These guys obviously didn't do that. They probably expected the same success as Minnie's - which was pretty inexplicable, given that the former place excelled at nothing but cheap drinks. Well, all the arguments and speculation are moot now. Whym is gone.

The only thing I can say about it was that its sign was an ambigram - it reads the same upside down as rightside up. Observe:

See how that works? It's pretty cool, but it no longer serves any purpose.

Eye Guy Changes His Canvas

I don't know about this. The sleepy eyes look good on buildings, but on utility mail boxes? You be the judge:

These are both along 2nd Avenue. It doesn't work so well, does it? The clever thing about his previous work is that it implies a larger form. This doesn't. What you get here is just an eye on a utility mailbox. Try again, Eye Guy - and use this building at 3rd & Clay:

It needs something to dispel its own blandness.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

After Hours

Modest Mussorgsky. Boris Godunov Coronation Scene

The last few nights at the Ring have turned my mind toward the operatic. I really do dig Wagner quite a bit. The guy really knew what to do with an orchestra. But the funny thing is that it never quite hits home. It never quite creeps into my soul. I can't say the same thing about Boris Godunov. This piece gets me every time. It's like this three-hour-long Slavic dog whistle. There are turns of phrase in both words and music that make me feel that I'm living in the wrong country and that I should move east to cultivate my misery - because everybody knows that you can't be happy in a land of such vast and exquisite tragedy, so you might as well be unique in your own unhappiness. Yeah, that's the Slavic frame of mind I'm talking about: regret, sadness, anguish, cruel fate and much, much weeping.

This clip features not only the best 10 minutes in all of opera, but probably some of the best music ever written. Let's thank Rimsky-Korsakov for his excellent orchestrations. Thanks, Rimsky-Kosakov! The pageantry is excessive and the drama is over the top, but that's what makes it great. The performance, however, is not so hot, as you'll hear. The orchestra comes out of synch with itself and the chorus on several different occasions. The problems take care of themselves, only to crop up later. Things like this are bound to happen with an orchestra and chorus of that size. Also a little suspect is the direction. You get a lot of close-in shots of Boris, but very little of the total action, which is pretty awe-inspiring. Plus, the camera cuts away every time the six boyars come over the top of everyone to sing their bit. But even a flawed version is so much better than most of what opera has to offer.

The role of Boris is sung by the great Evgeniy Nesterenko. He and Ghiakurov are the two best Borises ever. So once again, not to dis Wagner, but this is what really turns me on opera-wise. I'm sure that if he was born a Slav, he would have written something like this.

Oh No They Di'in't

You can do many things in Belltown. You can dine in our restaurants. You can drink in our bars. You can pray in our churches. You can admire our prospects and boulevards. You can climb our trees. You can park badly on our streets. You can insult our women. You can pan our novels. You can ridicule our bad art. You can wrestle our bums. You can puke on our sidewalks. You can let your pets crap in our bushes. You can go bow hunting in our alleys. You can race our dumpsters. You can do all these things and many more, but you CANNOT tag Mama's:

What the hell? This is Mama's, dumbass. It's off limits. Nobody cares about your stupid tag. Where's your sense? In terms of what is not done in Belltown, few things are as verboten as this. The only other thing I can think of is going up to a group of black guys and saying, "Hello, my good men. Can you please tell me where I can purchase some delicious drugs?" Yeah, you shouldn't do that either. But this is worse, because it's going to cost the good people of Mama's money to remove. Nice going, tagger jerk.

McGuire Scaffold-Watch! Week: ???? + 20

As you can see, it still stands. There is a distinct lack of activity there. The dwarf army isn't so boisterous. When the wind blows, you hear a low moaning from the scaffold. Or that could be the audible lamentations of the property owner, who probably has to pay like $10,000 a week in scaffold rental fees. Golly, there must be something seriously wrong with that building!

Coming Soon to the Moore!

I saw these guys on SNL a few years ago. Up to that point, it had been a dismal few seasons of music guests. There were lots of flavor of the month rappers (or should that be "flava of tha month?"), clueless indie bands and pop stars who didn't know how to sing. It was so disappointing, I always found something else to do during the music segment, because usually Weekend Update was worth staying up for. I had never heard of these Keane guys before and I had no reason to watch them, but I found myself there in front of the TV that evening. They were excellent. They sang "Somewhere Only We Know" and with that, they made a believer out of me. I actually stayed up for their second tune. Normally, I dislike emo intensely, but the tunes were so good and the performances so complete, that I made these guys the exception. I later got their CD, Hopes and Fears, and I swear that it's some of the best driving music you can have. When I think about driving the Loneliest Road through Nevada, I think of Keane. I haven't decided whether I'm going to see these guys. They have a new album out, but I'm afraid that it won't compare to Hopes and Fears.

The Ring Report 2

Die Walküre
Lots of gents in bow ties tonight for some reason. Right off the bat, Siegmund meets Sieglinde, they fall in love and immediately get busy. Oh yeah, they're siblings. Not only that, they're twins. That makes it super-double incest. Plus, they're both Wotan's bastard kids. It just doesn't get less icky from here on out. Ovations for Sieglinde's husband, Hunding. He's my kind of thuggish brute. In five Ring Cycles, I can say that his death was the second best I've seen. After he whacks Siegmund, Wotan whacks him. He's just supposed to fall like a bag of cement. He did that very convincingly. The best Hunding-death I ever saw was back in the eighties when he fell forward right on his face. It was fantastic. I'm sure that guy must have lost a few teeth doing that. Following all the god-squabbling, some demands from the goddess of buzzkill, Fricka, some major defiance, and Siegmund+Hunding's demise, the Valkyries rode. It was nothing like Apocalypse Now, but Helmwige was there; so were Gerhilde and Waltraute. They all wear really cool hats. By the way, Brünnhilde is pretty hot in this production. The Valkyries didn't ride horses, as Wagner envisioned them doing. They just crept around this big, fake mountain. Wotan arrives really pissed off, makes a deal with Brünnhilde and sets the mountain on fire. That only took four hours to resolve. You know, it's been a while since my last Ring. I forgot just how long the second act is. Sure, a lot happens, but it does take some time to play out. Oh, and for what it's worth, the Seattle Opera's trombone section is pretty awesome.

Friday: Fearless idiot manchild runs amok in the woods - kills a dragon, finds a girlfriend.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

After Hours

France Gall. L'Amérique

It's time once again for the curious vocal stylings of the ultra-cute France. Yes, I've acknowledged many times in the past that she is a terrible singer, but she can certainly sell a song. And this is no exception. In this tune, she tells us exactly what she's going to do when she visits the U.S. Oh, she's totally gonna buy jeans and moccasins. Moccasins? OK... And she's also going to go to Texas and a drugstore. That's fine. She pledges to do other things, but I didn't understand those too well. Enjoy anyway.

I have no idea who that guy is at the beginning, but he sure isn't very entertaining.

Eye Guy Once More!

Whenever a building is missing a certain "drowsy beast" quality, Eye Guy is there. This is at 3rd & Battery. Witness:

Well, didn't that just hit the spot! Honestly, I like where this is going - just as long as it isn't everywhere.

Welcome to the Neighborhood, Both of Yous!

Recession? What recession?? You know, it's really nice to see new places opening up, especially places I can afford to go to once in a while. So it is with great pleasure that I announce the grand opening of Pita Xpress at 3rd & Bell:

The space they occupy has been lots of things: a stereo repair shop, a video store, a dodgy teriyaki place and an even-dodgier African gift shop. But now they sell gyros, falafel and so on. I haven't been in to look at their prices, but the outside smells fantastic. And that section of Belltown really needs it.

The other place is Petra at 4th & Wall:

I know that I featured this place a while back, but it wasn't open then. Now it is and that qualifies as breaking news. It seems to be very much a sit-down place (they serve lunch and dinner) with real breakable plates and bendable silverware, but I'm sure they do takeout. I'm also not sure what their prices are, but it looks affordable.

So if you get to any of these places before I do, let me know how they are, willya?

This Week at the A.L. Humphrey House

They are truly building at a breakneck pace over there at 1st & Cedar. I think the reason is that there are so many freelance crazy people roaming around this neighborhood and downtown. On my way home from the gym this morning, I passed at least six, all either engaged in intense conversations with themselves, laughing hysterically or shouting at nothing. All in all, pretty typical craziness. Yeah, Belltown needs the Humphrey House. They can't ever fix crazy people, but they can help them be a little less nutso. Here's how far they've gone since last week:

They won't start with the actual floors for a bit, but it looks like the foundation is almost completely done. In the intervening time, the crew can bask in their own achievement.

Hey, have I ever mentioned that I really like the crane they have at the site. Well, I do and here it is:

Call me simple-minded, but I never get tired of seeing it. Hey! Stop calling me simple-minded!!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Ring Report 1

Das Rheingold
The audience smelled of oak with a hint of blackberry. It was a traditional production, but the Rhine Daughters all wore acrobatic harnesses - how they managed to sing, do all those flips and not hurl is beyond me. Alberich was very, very evil - and he changed into the world's cheesiest snake prior to cursing everyone and everything, yadda, yadda, yadda. Wotan might have been sporting a mullet. I wasn't close enough to tell for sure. The giants were surprisingly un-gigantic, but they carried large spears (which actually made them look even smaller), wore billowy clothes and rocked some impressive doo rags. Conversely, the dwarfs were quite big. They did a lot of crouching and also wore doo rags. Niebelheim was dark and slightly disappointing. Loge and Mime were sub-par. Donner and Froh were idiots. Freia was good, Erda was superb and Fricka was a pain in the ass - as usual, she sucked the life out of every conversation. Funny thing: after Fasolt gets killed by Fafner, I could totally see him breathing - fake! At the end, everybody troops across the Rainbow Bridge to Valhalla. I don't know how they did it, but it was kind of cool to see.

Tomorrow: hot brother-sister action!

After Hours

Claire Lepage. Bam bam bam

Never heard of Claire? Me neither. Apparently, she's Canadian. I don't hear a profound and crazy French-Canadian accent, but I'm not a French-speaker. This tune was her biggest hit, which was followed up by "Bang bang," a French-language version of "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)." Believe it or not, Cher did the original version way back in the mid-sixties. This was when she could easily venture into the outside world without frightening children. OK, so we have "Bam bam bam" and "Bang bang." Can you detect a trend? Speaking of trends, notice how that one prominent go-go dancer is wearing what appears to be a yard waste bag? Yeah, back in the sixties people thought that looked cool. Still, you have to admire her enthusiasm. I hope she got paid a lot for dancing on that pedestal.

And Speaking of Western Avenue...

This is their one work of public art:

It stands at the confluence of Western, Elliott & Lenora. And yes, it's a giant inside-out umbrella. At first, I just thought it was kitsch for the tourists, but now I truly believe that it's simply bad art. So many other, more meaningful things could have gone there - things that had more to do with the character of either the Market (just a block away) or Belltown. But no, we get a monumental sculpture of a cheap umbrella. Thanks a million!

Home, Sweet Shipping Container - 2

Ah, Western Avenue, Belltown's afterthought. There's almost nothing to do along it. True, there is that really large and silly nightclub, but hey, even 22-year-olds are pretending like that's fun. And let's not forget the Olympic Sculpture Park. Well, we probably can, because it's not really in Belltown. It belongs to the waterfront. OK, so even though activities and sights are limited, there are lots of places to live. Almost all of these buildings are shiny and new. That's kind of the heart of the problem. For some reason, either by design or chance, most of the architecture along Western Ave. emulates one component of modern life: the shipping container. Its shape might be slightly different from the original and perhaps there's no corporate logo on the side, but the resemblance is unmistakable - people are living in shipping containers. Today's subject is the Avalon at Western & Broad, located right across the street from the building that was first in our series. Observe:

Like I said the first time I wrote about this phenomenon, I understand that Seattle is a major player in the container port game, but I don't understand why so many buildings need to be designed to resemble incoming freight. There's also a cheap, pre-fab look to some of these places that will make the entire neighborhood an eyesore in years to come. Twenty years ago, Western Avenue had beat-up homes and derelict warehouses along it. Now it has these boxy apartments and condos. I actually prefer the houses.

Monday, August 24, 2009

After Hours

Blestyashchiye. A ya vse letala (I Flew the Whole Way)

Has it already been a week since the last Zhanna Friske Monday? Where does the time go? OK, tonight's video is Zhanna with her old group, Blestyashchiye, which translates out to "shiny things," I kid you not. This group was her Destiny's Child before she became the Russian Beyonce, so to speak. This clip has everything: airplanes, gangsters, Mini Coopers and, most importantly, slutty stewardesses. Zhanna is the most modestly dressed of them all. Golly, how unexpected. All of her remaining bandmates would probably get written up if they worked at a real airline. One of them in particular looks exactly like what Sarah Jessica Parker would look like if she were pretty. Anyhow, so there's a whole story going on here. It ends well for the band and their drivers. The moral: never underestimate slutty stewardesses.

Meet Spur

Behold Spur!

OK, OK, so maybe it isn't much to look at, but I assure you that it has the best drinks in Belltown. And the most spectacular thing about it is that it's in my building. That's right, it's part of the 2nd & Blanchard vortex. Isn't that just the neatest thing? The previous two restaurant attempts, Betay Avone and Mistral, both failed, but I think Spur really has a shot at success. It's been open for about a year now, but I was hesitant to go to a place that called itself a "gastropub." It sounds a little gross, like, "I can't come into work today. I have a blockage in my gastropub. My doctor says that it won't require surgery." Even though I've only had drinks there, I'm told by those in the know that the food is excellent. But honestly, the drinks! Oh, those drinks! The ingredients that go into each one sound potentially terrible, but every drink I've had there has been superb. The only drawback to going there is that they don't have a happy hour. Every other place in Belltown does - not Spur. That might change. In the meantime, I'll just go there less often - like tonight. I totally can't wait. It promises to be quite delicious. And yes, it is quite pricey, but it's totally worth it. I highly recommend this place.

SUPER UPDATE: They do in fact have a happy hour! Their very yummy mixed drinks are $6 and they have food specials. Sorry for my ignorance - it's my most appealing personality trait!

This Week in Window Boxes

When I was out on the sidewalk this weekend tending to my stuff, I had the occasion to look up a few times at my window boxes. They still look very nice. The young people would even say that they're "boss" or "rad." Yes, they're certainly beautiful and durable. Let's have a look:

OK, so maybe the red flax is turning into grain, but the middle and left boxes are still blooming with a vengeance. This year's return has been very, very good. They'll keep blooming till October when God will kill them with His change of seasons. They should remain quite beautiful until then.

Coming Soon to the Moore!

Things are back to how they were two and a half weeks ago. It's funny, back in the eighties, the Cult was being likened to the Rolling Stones with alarming frequency. It was a ridiculous comparison, but nevertheless, people who made their living writing about music would often employ it. First of all, Ian Astbury was no Mick Jagger. Secondly, it should be illegal to compare any band to the Stones until said band has produced an album equal or superior to Exile on Main Street. Yeah, that ain't gonna happen. So although they offered a few toe-tapping diversions, the Cult never even belonged in the same arena as Mick, Keith and the gang. That's glaringly obvious these days, as the senior-citizen Stones play the world's largest venues and the Cult is at the Moore.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Via Tribunali - All the Way Down

The other day, the Via Tribunali pizzeria seemingly knocked down an entire wall because they felt like it. Well, there was a plan at work. They were going to install a garage door. This they did - and apparently without a permit of any kind. Way to fight the Power, guys! Anyway, this is what it looks like in the "down position:"

I understand why they did this, but, as I mentioned previously, the alley smells just awful, so when it's hot, you'll have its perfume wafting in. And it just occurs to me that in the winter time those sitting next to it will freeze because it's not sealed or anything. I know that pizza ovens generate a lot of heat, but it's way on the other side of the restaurant. Their customers will freeze.

I dunno, this could be interesting.

Meet One of My Crazy Neighbors

If you're walking toward downtown and you pass in front of the Rivoli, you'll will also pass the El Rey. You know you're there because of all the people outside smoking and acting weird. Everyone who lives there is crazy. Of course, the staff looks after them, cares for them and dopes them up on anti-psychotics. I figure their occupancy is 50 or 60 - that's how many more people would be out on the street if the El Rey wasn't around, because God knows that everybody there is way too crazy to work. Even though they haven't been the greatest neighbors in the world, I still recognize the place does important work.

Walking by the El Rey freaks some people out. Lots of its residents talk to themselves. Others yell at invisible tormentors. Others still panhandle all day long. One woman, who sounds exactly like the crazy cat lady on The Simpsons, panhandled all day, every day, for years so she could buy Ding-Dongs and lottery tickets. Just as I go through my ups and downs with everything in this neighborhood, sometimes I get tired of all the craziness coming from next door. These people are never going to get well. Nobody's going to wave a wand and make any of them sane again. Still, it doesn't mean that at least some El Rey residents can't have meaningful lives.

If there's one thing I've learned in 20 years of living next to the El Rey, it's this: mental illness is not ennobling. Do you hear me talking, The Soloist? Craziness does not make you a better person. Life is hard enough if you're not crazy. It's even harder when you are. But most of my neighbors are fairly unaware that they're nuts. There isn't some noble struggle going on. Whatever awareness to their condition seems to be eradicated by the anti-psychotics. Most always appear to be in a fog. But no amount of medication, can curb pathological behavior. Like I said, the El Rey has its share of pathological panhandlers. There are also mumblers, jabberers, one guy who never says anything - ever, and another guy who always pretends like he's jogging. Those are their pathological traits, however small. Contrasted with high-achieving schizophrenics like Van Gogh, John Nash and Brian Wilson, El Rey residents may seem pretty low-functioning. And some are, but it's just that painting, math and music were Van Gogh, Nash and Wilson's pathologies. That's why they did so well with them - at least for a while. But I digress.

I was just sitting around yesterday, when an El Rey guy spotted my camera and told me to take a picture of him. Meet Peter:

He enjoys smoking, talking to himself and saying weird things to strangers. He's actually a pretty nice guy and he wanted me to tell everyone that he's not a communist. It's just a communist hat. He and the hat have little to do with each other.

Next time you're going by the El Rey, say hi to Peter.

Post-Sale Recap

Today was, as the Germans say, tote Hose - or dead trousers. In other words, nothin' doin'. I only made two sales in three and a half hours, though the last one was to a super-cute first grade teacher. She bought several owl pictures for her class. I wanted to take a picture of her with this matching owl set, but alas, she had a stalker and was therefore quite camera-shy. She also reordered much of my bad art because she claimed that she had OCD. So yeah, it was a weird way to end the sale. None of my neighbors participated today. For them, it's much easier. They've just got a few boxes of stuff. Me, I've got this much:

Hauling the LPs and 78s up and down the stairs is murder, so I have to be out at least a day to make it worthwhile. It really was this time around. Although the LPs sold poorly (who on earth wouldn't want to buy some John Davidson albums??), I did manage to sell off more than 10% of my 78s. I just have to sell another 650 of them and I'll be free!

Now everything goes back to where I got it. The books, CDs and LPs go upstairs to my apartment, the 78s go to downstairs storage and the bad art goes to the boiler room. Wanna see what didn't get snapped up? This:

This is the painting that the Real Change Mama from a few weeks ago claimed was a cat. It's pretty obviously a raccoon, right? Well, it didn't sell this time around either.

For some reason, at least half a dozen people saw fit to tell me how valuable they thought my LPs were. And most of them weren't crazy. It was odd; their whole line of reasoning was that my LPs were old. I couldn't argue with them there, but I introduced the concept of demand to them. None of these records was in demand. Nobody wanted them, so even though all of these titles were no longer being made, they were worth no more than a dollar apiece - just as the 78s, which were even older, were only worth 25 cents each. Even after this whole crash course in economics, one guy, a Real Change Papa, still wanted to buy up all my LPs. His whole plan was to put them on eBay. Yeah, very imaginative. The only thing he said that was standing in the way of taking them off my hands was his lack of a car. Yep, he was all talk. I knew that from the start.

Anyhow, unless I can rig up some kind of ingenious dumbwaiter-like system to get all these records to the sidewalk with a minimum of effort, this will be my last sidewalk sale of the year. By next year, I will have forgotten that each crate of 78s weighs a ton and that most people don't know what bad art is.

Your Sunday Squirrel

This week's squirrel sightings were rare. Luckily, I have enough of a collection that the Denny Park squirrels can go on vacation to Whistler for a few weeks and I'll still be able to post. Here's the latest offering:

Yes, it's a blurrel. They do move around quickly. Here's your proof. It also shows just how slow my camera is.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


In case nobody told you, the sidewalk sale was on today. A neighbor joined me for a time, but mostly it was me all day. Foot traffic was very light, but I still ended up making quite a bit of money. Some very nice people actually showed up at 10:00 sharp this morning to look at my 78s - all of them. They were here for more than three hours and ended up taking home around 70 of my finest offerings. I sold all kinds of various odds and ends, a few records here, a book or two there, even several Mackris v. O'Reilly t-shirts. But the one sale that dominates is the painting of the pink outhouse. Not surprisingly, I called it Pink Outhouse. Here it is:

Yeah, it's just that - a pink outhouse. Some Real Change Papa just had to have it. Who was I to deny him that joy? Yes, I'm suffering some seller's remorse, because this was one of the very first pieces in my bad art collection. It might very well have been the first. I know that I'm selling off most of the collection, but Pink Outhouse has always been a sentimental favorite. And now some other man is seeing her. Take care of her, Real Change Papa. And be good to her. Godspeed, Pink Outhouse.