Sunday, August 5, 2012

Aerial Ikebana

I decide, at around 12:30 p.m., to cut loose of the computer and go for a long walk. My usual preference is to go for a run, but my legs are shot. They need a rest. All the experts on the subject affirm that walking helps the runner’s legs heal because it’s a low-impact exercise that stimulates the blood and loosens tight muscles. Well, we’ll see.

I listen to “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” on YouTube while changing into my running clothes. When it’s over, I click it off. Van Gogh’s bedroom in Arles appears on the desktop background. I’ve always loved this painting. The two straw chairs, the lush red blanket poking over the edge of the bed, the bright yellow window panes framed in green, the planks of the bare wooden floor partitioned by various lines of green, the little table with the blue pitcher and bowl, a towel hanging from a peg on the wall. The various shades of blue on the walls, the bright yellow pillows and sheet and solid wooden bed, soft as mousse yet secure as a mountain. It’s a small room with a feeling of coziness and jubilation. Isolated and private, but connected, in an amiable umbilical of implied domestic charm, with the larger life of Arles outside its windows.

I get outside. It really is warm. I can feel the heat of the sun on my skin, but I don’t believe it. I cannot believe my skin. I’m so accustomed to cold and damp in Seattle, even in the summer, quite often in the summer, most especially in the summer, that if I feel the heat of summer, a real summer, the blaze of sunlight tingling on my epidermal nerves, I remain incredulous. But it is a most pleasant incredulity.

I’m amazed at the amount of scaffolding I see everywhere. There is a mania for remodeling evident in the neighborhood. No one is happy with what they have. No one is ever satisfied. The quantity of money spent is dizzying. Astronomical amounts of money are lavished on real estate. The gracefully curved I-beams of the steel skeleton under construction on the corner of Highland and 2nd Avenue will be worth five to seven million. The Space Needle will be neatly centered in the main window with its view to the south. This will be the home of a one-per-center.

I feel a cooling breeze as I approach Queen Anne Avenue North and hear the roar of the first Blue Angel, who flies immediately overheard. It strikes how weird it is that a show of military prowess should provide a summer entertainment. It is this way every year: Seafair. The chief entertainment of Seattle’s Seafair celebration are the hydroplane races on Lake Washingtion, near Seward Park. That’s too far for me to hear, thankfully. But no one can avoid the Blue Angels. They will be dominating the sky for the next several hours.

On Highland, I pass a man singing along with an opera in a silver SUV parked near Gerard Schwartz’s old house. Schwartz, Seattle’s symphony conductor for 26 years, from 1985 to 2011. I used to pass him on my runs. He’d be out and about weeding, mowing the lawn, or tossing a football with one of his kids. One he was out jump starting a car. I shouted “conducting cars these days,eh.” He gave me a look that suggested it wasn’t the best of jokes. Maybe he hadn’t realized it had been intended as a joke. He’d been besieged by petty disputes and disgruntled musicians in his final days. One can only imagine. The house sold for $3,700,000.

I stop at the Betty Bowen Viewpoint at the very end of Highland Drive to admire the view. I can see Puget Sound, Bainbridge and Vashon and Blake Islands, the Olympic Mountains. A zaftig middle-aged woman to my left also gazes. She looks transported. Her right arm is in a black sling.

I once saw Sam Waterston near this viewpoint. Or at least I think it was Sam Waterston. He sure looked like Sam Waterston. He was gazing out at the Olympics and turned just as I went running by and gave me a broad emotional grin. A Sam Waterston grin. He looked familiar. And then I thought of it a few yards later down the road: Sam Waterston.

On my way to West Blaine Street on 8th Avenue North I pass a Volkswagen “bio car.” What’s a “bio car,” I wonder. I presume it runs on methane or farts or maple syrup or something.

In a large sandbox at the end of Howe Street, a couple sit and draw, totally silent, heavy in concentration.

I get to the always busy and rushing 15th Avenue West, a main arterial connecting lower Queen Anne and downtown Seattle to Ballard. I pass Magnolia Storage, where Roberta and I have a bin full of boxes and books and bric-a-brac. Letters dating back to my adolescent Eocene.

I pass the Brown Bear Car Wash and hear its roar as a black Taurus inches forward on rails. I pass the tentacular sponges dancing and wiggling on a white van for a magazine distributor. I notice the mama bear in the rockery of ferns has three cubs, one of which is smaller than the other two. How did that happen? The bears are, I believe, plastic, but I find this smaller of the cubs puts a strange dent in the continuity of the narrative suggested in this neatly gardened rockery.

I pass a furniture consignment store and notice in the far back of the parking lot some sort of set-up involving Polynesian décor, palm fronds and grass. This is the Psychic Tarot Card Readings site advertised by a small portable fold-up sign on the sidewalk.

I pass Bedrock Industries, glass tile and stone art. I pass a giant billboard for Busch beer with the caption “Head for the Mountains.” I pass the Staples where we bought our computer, the Lighthouse Uniform Company, and Builders Hardware & Supply, a big building with a huge array of doorknobs in the window. Nearby is the walk button for the crosswalk. On the other side is Precision Motor Works and the multi-tiered ramp leading up to the overpass crossing the railroad tracks. I always enjoy running up this ramp. But today I must walk it.

There is a giant gray warship of some kind at Terminal 91, parked next to an equally colossal cruise ship named the Golden Princess. The warship, I discover later, is the USS New Orleans, a high-tech amphibious assault ship which ferries Marines and their equipment to and from war zones. It features two immense pyramidal funnels. The ship is festooned with multi-colored pennants and there are concession stands set up below in the parking lot. The ship must be part of Seafair. And again, I wonder, what’s up with the militarism?

I walk the asphalt trail through Myrtle Edwards Park. This has been a bad year for walking the Myrtle Edwards trail. The city is constructing a bridge connecting West Thomas street and lower Queen Anne to the park, which will be great once it’s completed, but in the meantime the bicycle lane has been shut down and the runners and walkers must share their trail with bicyclists hurtling past like meteors. There are signs cautioning the bicyclists to go slow and use caution. They do neither. I wonder how many walkers have been ambulanced to Harborview thanks to one of these crazy bicyclists.

I have a theory, which is this: there are neurons in the anus and rectum of bicyclists that become activated when the bicyclist gets his or her ass on a tiny bicycle seat. And since the neurons are asshole neurons, they immediately turn the bicyclist into an asshole.

I see the vapor trail of a Blue Angel to the south, a huge diaphanous loop already in the process of slow summery dissipation, just above the buildings of downtown Seattle. Minutes later, four Blue Angels shoot straight up and arc out, creating a sort of aerial ikebana.

I pass a cluster of bare-torsoed tattooed twenty-somethings sitting in the shade of a tree. One of them calls out, “hey dude, there’s a beached whale down there.” I stop. He repeats himself. I tell him he’s kidding. He says no, it’s for real. I go have a look. Below is a small pocket beach. It’s feasible a whale could beach itself down there. Whales do come into Puget Sound and on a hot day like today, with all the Seafair hullabaloo and boats on the water, it’s completely feasible. I tell the kid I see nothing. He elaborates, talking about how they straddled the creature, and I begin to worry these kids might be a little on the psychopathic side, and that he’s going to tell me how they tortured the poor creature. Instead, he proceeds with a far-fetched tale of a fat woman jumping down to the whale from the Space Needle, and I realize these kids are having me on. “Let me guess,” I tell them, “you’re all part of a creative writing class.” One of the men tells me he teaches special ed. Another begins another story I don’t really want to hear about some fabulous mythical bird he saw preening itself in a nearby tree. The Blue Angels roar overhead, just a few feet above us, and I use this as an excuse to break off and go my way.

Toward the end of the trail, a booth has been set up for a DJ, who is playing “Because” from the Beatle’s Abbey Road. It’s gorgeous. I nearly start crying. I can’t believe how beautiful this song is. The lushness of the melody and their voices is stunning. I continue. I stop to gaze down at Mark di Suvero's Schubert Sonata, its circular sublimations and metal petals and curves of rusting steel besmirched a little with pigeon dung. A bit further up the gravel trail and I hear the pounding militarism of a hip hop number and see a group of people doing aerobic exercise, following the lead of a young man and woman. The woman thrusts and gyrates. The music is abrasive, aggressive, corporate. It makes me think of vulgar, highly commercialized acts like Madonna and Lady Gaga. It’s madly assertive and sluttish all at once. Worlds apart from the lush harmonies of the Beatles.

I stop at Silver Platters and buy two used DVDs: School of Rock and Young Adult. We’ve seen both movies at least once. We both really like Jack Black, and Richard Linklater, and were fascinated by the character Charleze Theron played in Young Adult, a ghost writer for young adult novels. She’s deeply unhappy and her return to the middle-class neighborhood in the small Minnesota town where she grew up is an interesting pilgrimage involving homemade bourbon and a cynical but dauntless character named Matt Freehauf, played by Patton Oswalt, who was maimed and partially disabled after being beaten up by jocks who erroneously assumed he was gay. I like the way hurt and personal injury is expressed in this movie, and the way Theron punctures the smug banality of her high school buddies.

I get home and am surprised, as I am every summer the temperature rises above 80, at how cool and peaceful our apartment remains. Roberta gets home shortly after I shower and she makes hoagie sandwiches and we watch Jack Black get a bunch of 10 year olds to play rock ‘n roll.

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