Book Reviews: Post-Thanksgiving

Britannia Volume 3: Lost Eagles of Rome
Having moderately enjoyed the previous two entries in this graphic novel series, I wasn’t against continuing it, as just the idea of a detective in Roman times is pretty awesome. This time he’s searching for the army standards that were lost in battle against early Germans. He’s also got a female sidekick he’s hot for but won’t take advantage of, despite the fact she makes it pretty obvious she’d welcome it.
With so little real estate on each page it’s tough to show detailed detective work, but what there is, is fascinating, especially from a historical perspective.
Storywise, I find it humorous that he’s probably the smartest person in at least Rome if not further, and yet so naïve at the same time. Just about every move he made was the right one at the moment but wrong in the big picture, and he doesn’t get it until it’s told to him. Hopefully by the time the next volume comes out I’ll have forgotten how bad he screwed up so I won’t pity/disrespect him, which otherwise makes him pretty useless.
The art is pretty standard, complimenting the story but not enhancing it.
3/5

Dictionary of Dinosaurs
Colorful though not realistic drawings—some even look art deco—of dinosaurs dominate the pages, with plenty of information and graphics strewn about in the area still available.
Pronunciation, English translation, size—with a human next to it for comparison—when and where it lived, and diet are all included on each page. And it really is a dictionary, with the entries in alphabetical order.
As it turns out, very few of the lizards get drawings; I assume there’s not enough known about most of them to illustrate them accurately.
Alvarezsaurus is certainly one of the strangest looking, though we can figure out how it was named.
Ankylosaurus would look cute and cuddly if it wasn’t for all those spikes.
Bambiraptor does not mean what you think it means.
There’s quite a few variations on the old triceratops.
Giraffatitan’s name speaks for itself.
Ornithomimus doesn’t live up to its grandiose name.
Oviraptor plunders the same things I do.
Pachirhinosaurus sounds badass, but it’s hard to take it seriously when its head looks like a South Pacific god head.
Hmmm, come to think of it, I learned a lot about dinosaurs. . .
3.5/5

Turned On: Science, Sex and Robots
Just like there’s a site for everything on the web, there’s a doctoral dissertation for everything in the libraries of academia, or at least in the sometimes-fertile imagination of grad students. Here’s the proof, a book about sex robots, though the author would kill me if she saw me writing it so simply.
Right away in the intro there’s humor and self-awareness, which is a good harbinger. Actually, the title starts that with a pretty good pun. From there it delves into the ancient history of dildos and vibrators. Not sure what this has to do with the topic, but it’s fun, at least for a while.
As much as I’m enjoying the writing, I’m a third of the way through and the author seems to have forgotten what the book is supposed to be about in her fervor to provide historical perspective.
Getting through this becomes so tough I long for the humorous interludes, my fave being her running a conference amidst accusations of “bouncing.” Every once in a while she’ll sneak in a line like “I watch sex doll porn so you won’t have to,” and it reminds me why I keep reading till the end.
Despite the humor and conversational style, it really is more like a scientific report than anything else. I learned a lot of things, but not so many on the topic. But the important takeaway is that, even if it felt long at times, I enjoyed reading it.
3.5/5

Space Police: Attack of the Mammary Clans
A British police inspector—of which there seem to be thousands today—wakes up from cryo to find himself on an orbiting space station above Earth, with only one leg. There’s some mention of how he lost it, presumably in a previous book, but nothing on why they took his cryo tube or whatever it is from Earth to the space station. Seems like an excuse to have a contemporary detective move into science fiction.
Right from the start it’s trying really hard to be Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. The scene with the microwave is right out of Red Dwarf. {Do I know sci-fi comedy or what?}
Though I’ve traveled through Great Britain a lot, there’s a bunch of Britishisms I’m not getting.
I wish that there was at least one character that isn’t a complete idiot, and that goes for the protagonist as well. Sigh.
This was more silly than funny, not much different than others I’ve read in this genre, except in space.
2.5/5

;o)

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Seattle, Husky Stadium, botanical gardens, reeds, U Dub, University of Washington

Travel Thursday Encore–How to mix pleasure with business–Seattle 05, Day 3, Part 3

Back on the ground, thankfully, I crossed the street to wait for the bus, the surroundings making me feel like I was standing at the edge of some rural town, waiting to go to the next little village. Yet another place in Seattle with a small town feel. On the ride we passed many of my old haunts, like the Washington Park Arboretum, where I took my famous shot of Husky Stadium through the reeds, and the Museum of History and Industry, where I bought a four-way chess set that I think I’ve still never used. Still had plenty of time, so I stayed on the bus till I got to the Ave on the west side and then walked through campus, always a lovely stroll, though not as awesome as the leaf-turning walk during football, or in my case, volleyball and soccer season.

Seattle, Space Needle, lake

Seattle, lake, boat

Seattle, Husky Stadium, botanical gardens, reeds, U Dub, University of Washington

Seattle, mountain, fountain, U Dub, University of Washington

I started coming to Seattle as a kid, and the first time someone mentioned “U Dub” to me, I had no idea what they were talking about. I guess in context to the rest of the sentence it’s easy to see they were referring to the university, but I still wondered why it was called that, until it finally came to me that it must be short for UW–as in “U DoubleU.” Which officially makes everyone here lazier than me, if they can’t pronounce a full letter. Did you know “The Wave” was invented here at Husky Stadium? Almost as good as the tidbit about some local PR guy inventing the “happy face” icon in the 60s.
Finally I had only Montlake to cross, and there was that bridge where I’ve had many a conversation–not exactly the Ponte Vecchio or the Rialto, but fun anyways. Going between the football and basketball–or volleyball–stadiums, I was finally at Husky Softball Stadium, hungry and anticipating a good game.
Which I didn’t get. Not only was getting any food I liked an issue, not only did the Bruins stink up the entire state, but it was more than 80 degrees of hard sunshine and there I was in a heavy jacket, with a hoodie underneath! Had one bright spot where the UCLA team spotted my jacket and waved, but other than that. . .
I always thought UCLA’s softball stadium was beautifully located, surrounded by trees in the middle of El Lay, but U Dub’s has it beat for that amazing view of Lake Washington beyond left field. There aren’t many places where you can catch a game and watch the sailboats between innings.
I understand that most of you aren’t going to be baseball/softball fans, but this game was so putrid I just need to vent. Case in point: the opposing pitcher gives up FIVE walks in a row–the only two runs UCLA scored–and up comes the best hitter, who not only swings at the first pitch but strikes out on an offering outside IN THE DIRT.
There was only one other Bruin fan in the stands, and he was wearing the exact same jacket, which should be no surprise, considering it was given to me by the father of the shortstop, who has an incredibly extended family, and the other guy was one of her numerous cousins. But to their credit the U Dub fans were a happy bunch and didn’t seem to take things too seriously; I certainly didn’t have to dodge any beer bottles. . . this time.
On to my other complaint: the nachos are only served with spiced cheese! Or whatever that yellow cheese-like substance is called. It took a while for me to get over my incredulousness, even went back to my seat to eat my peanuts–gotta have peanuts at the softball game. Finally, hungry as I was, I went back and asked if I could have the nachos without any cheese, more than willing to pay full price. Perhaps they were so happy to finally get rid of me that they took off fifty cents anyway; people in the Pacific Northwest may be closet Canadians.

Seattle, UCLA Softball, softball, U Dub, University of Washington

Seattle, UCLA Softball, softball, U Dub, University of Washington

Seattle, softball, U Dub, University of Washington

Seattle, UCLA Softball, softball, U Dub, University of Washington

Not wanting to walk all the way back up to the Ave after the game, I asked around to see if anyone knew which bus that came along Montlake could get me back downtown. No one seemed to know, so I walked south, hoping the bus signs would help me, lugging all my camera gear as well as the heavy jacket I couldn’t put up with anymore.
At this point I ran into a beautiful green-eyed blonde dwarf, whom of course I asked for directions. She was very nice, and extremely happy, perhaps that someone was talking to her and treating her like an equal, just another person. Unfortunately she couldn’t help me out either, but as you can see, I shall never forget her. . .
Once I got to the southeastern edge of campus, and there’s that fountain I shot so famously above, I decided to screw it and limped my way up the Burke-Gilman trail, converted from an abandoned railway. At least this was a gradual uphill, but I’ve been on it many times I didn’t expect to see any sights, especially without the aforementioned fall foliage.
And then I came across one of the world’s rarest and most elusive natural wonders: a beautiful redhead in a Catholic schoolgirl’s uniform! Excuse me, I have a sudden need to lie down and “remember” that vision again. . .
Okay, I’m back. And no, it wasn’t what you think. . .
Ended up climbing on the same bus I came on–same driver–except now it was rush hour, so I had plenty of time to take in my surroundings and recharge from all the walking. Landed downtown with still about a half hour to spare before my business meeting/dinner, which was far too boring to discuss here.
After that, still in explorer mode, I went down to the waterfront, wandering without destination or purpose, not expecting to find anything new from my previous jaunts through this area. I certainly wasn’t in any mood to see any more animals in the Aquarium, not after yesterday. As it turned out, apart from the cooling breeze, remembering previous jaunts was the best part of the walk, most of them involving a 6’2 babe who shall remain nameless {poor girl, going through life without a name. . . or at least not a pronounceable one, but again, that’s another story}. We walked along these same docks, then rode the merry-go-round, where her legs still reached the floor even when seated on that lucky wooden horsie. Then we ate some ice cream in forty degree weather, watched Mt. St. Helens explode in the Omnidome {since closed}, and played air hockey until we got kicked out for not letting others play. After that incredibly tiring exercise–I could barely lift my arms–we relaxed by taking the harbor cruise, sitting in the biting wind and snuggling while regaling each other with stories of air hockey games past. Doing more walking later, I asked her for a rest, and she laughed, “I don’t need to rest.” to which I of course replied, “Well, I do. Stop being so selfish.” She gasped and left, and I never saw her again. . .
There’s something about Seattle that always surprises visitors: it’s as filled with hills as San Francisco, and that’s after some leveling. Walking down to the bay it doesn’t enter your mind, but coming back up you realize just how steep these hills are. And just as you get to the top of one, you find yourself at the bottom of another.
Back to hotel to vegetate. . . I mean, cogitate on next morning’s meeting, and found my hotel room door apparently closed, but not locked! Careless maids are one thing, but this still shocks me to this day. . .

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: A Poet Should Learn

By Kshemendra around 1150, originally written in Sanskrit, which is beautiful to look at even if you don’t know what it means.

A poet should learn with his eyes
the forms of leaves
he should know how to make
people laugh when they are together
he should get to see
what they are really like
he should know about oceans and mountains
in themselves
and the sun and the moon and the stars
his mind should enter into the seasons
he should go
among many people
in many places
and learn their languages.

;o)

Seattle, from the air, boats, marina

Travel Thursday Encore–How to mix pleasure with business–Seattle 05, Day 3, Part 2

SEATTLE SEAPLANES, the giant sign said, and what else do you need to know? My sign would have read: Fly at the risk of your own sanity. Anyhoo, I walked into the office, which was on a floating dock that didn’t handle waves very well, and told the lady I had called earlier. She said no pilots were around yet, although one was on his way, if I wanted to wait. The huge dog yawning at her feet made me wonder, but around that time said pilot walked in and, after being informed of the situation, cheerfully said he would take me up for the tour, after the standard pre-check.
While he was doing that I looked at all the photos and such in the waiting room, especially the poster from the 1930s with the {deep authoritative voice with reverb} “Rules of Flying.”
Rule #12: If you see another plane near you, get out of the way.
WHY THE HELL ISN’T THAT #1?
The pilot agreed with a chuckle as he came to gather me and my cameras, and then we were in the plane and taxiing into Lake Union.
The previous day I’d been to the observation deck at Smith Tower, and I’d gone up the Space Needle before, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m scared to death of heights, as I said on the overpass. Oddly enough, I’m not bothered by flying in a jet, but on the other hand I can look away from the tiny window and not think about it. Not so on this thing, where most of the front half is window. Luckily I was seated, because I had a full-blown case of jelly-leg syndrome. My stomach was fluttering big time, but of course I couldn’t betray my calm and collected exterior, even to someone I was never going to see again. Eventually I managed to concentrate on taking photos and forgot everything else. . . for the most part. Kinda hard not to be reminded when you’re constantly looking out the windows. . . that’s a long way down. . .
The pilot had the route down after no doubt hundreds of flights, but he kindly told me to let him know if there was anything I wanted to see either closer or again. Since the takeoff was north, we flew straight over Gasworks Park, but unfortunately there was still a big of mist/haze from the morning’s weather, so it was hard to see. I had better luck when we turned east and overpassed U Dub; this was particularly fun for me because I’d done the same thing over UCLA, yet tried not to compare my two favorite schools. The floating bridge was a quick flyby, but it proved to look quite interesting from this perspective.


On the far side of the bridge you get to a real doozy, Bill Gates’ estate. Not only is this thing huge, sitting on the water across Lake Washington in Bellevue, but the pilot plays guide and you hear through the headphones about all the security devices and computer controls the mansion has. I can say with ease this was the most interesting part of the flight.


From there it was a big loop across the southern part of downtown, checking out some interesting buildings, before going over the water and finally turning back at Discovery Park and the Ballard Locks. Unfortunately the mist hadn’t cleared out of this area yet, and there was a bit of glare off the water, but I persevered, managing to get some interesting shots of both places, as well as the shoreline and the estates lining it.

There’s the corn cobs again!



Zoomed by the zoo too quickly to get any good photos, but then we made a loop around the Space Needle, so close I could see the people up on the observation deck without the telephoto. No doubt they were gawking at me too–we were really close. And from the air, the silly rock museum looks like the anorexic Space Needle vomited.

The Leaning Tower of Seattle


Best of all, once we landed and taxied in, the pilot said he couldn’t tell how nervous–scared shitless–I was. Yay!

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: Too Late For A Husband

Anonymous 16th century Vietnam.
The gods DO have a sense of humor. . .

Where were you in the marriage season?
Now all the available men are gone.
You pitch yourself up and moan to the sky,
“O Heaven, O Earth!
Can’t you toss me a little husband?”
The sky pokes out his head and replies,
“You were too choosy when the merchandise was in.
Go home now, we’re all sold out.”

;o)

Travel Thursday Encore–How to mix pleasure with business–Seattle 05, Day 3, Part 1

Officially passing the halfway mark of this long saga–imagine if I wrote so much for a three-week trip! Better yet, don’t imagine it. . .

Stepped out of the hotel and walked over to the big street just in time to see the bus flash past! Oh wait, wrong bus. Phew!
The rain finally fell silently on the beautiful city, truly an emerald city, but no one except some of the tourists minded. It was not a torrential downpour, nor a quick tropical shower. It was like an ever-present sense of wetness, more than mist, but no barrier to a fine walk. As a matter of fact, I’d found that, with the proper company, it was preferable to sunshine.
Being alone, of course, doesn’t help.
And it didn’t last–by the time the bus left me off at the top of the hill, the sun was out again. The weather had a big hand in the rest of the day, but not as expected.
Having planned on places to be today, but no set times, I figured I’d check out a neighborhood I’d never been to, Capitol Hill, and see what the views were like from there. It turned out to be another interesting great neighborhood with too many hills, like Queen Anne, again reminding me of Los Feliz, with all the little new-agey yoga bungalows and coffeeshops. I had no idea this was the gay part of town; there was no outward evidence. I also wanted to see the museum of mysteries, UFOs, and such, figuring it had to be better than the sanitized one in Seattle Center that charges two arms and half a leg, but it didn’t open till the afternoon, and I’m not a patient tourist, so I left the big avenue and turned west, noticing with a cackle that this street was called Republican.
I certainly did not expect to be sitting in a shoe repair shop with a guy named Angel, talking about every subject on Earth while giving snacks to every dog that walked by, on a leash or not. I’ve always noticed that it’s the recent immigrants that want to talk politics the most, and that was no different this time, though I don’t think Angel was that recent. As I was gawking over how many different shoe polishes he had in the store, I asked him what he would recommend for my boots, and after a quick glance he deadpanned, “Shoe polish.” Ha ha, up yours too. But he was fun enough to leave a positive impression for this journal.
With the museum still closed and social and footgear needs attended to, I eventually moved back down the road, already sweating with a combination of the sun and me dressed for rain, still heading downslope on Republican, seeing all the tiny roundabouts with trees on even the small streets; I guess that’s one way to keep the speeds down, and much prettier than sleeping policemen {what they call speedbumps in Spain}. Passed the only theater in Seattle showing Bride and Prejudice, which I never did see. Went into the Broadway market, found nothing I really needed, and walked behind it, where I came to a library. Figuring I would rest up a bit while doing some random researching, I came across some mentions of Tashkent Park, which was a block away, so I went there to rest up a little longer and think of that city, which I hadn’t been to in a long time but was pretty sure I’d be going through on my big trip either later in the year or next year.
After moving north another block, turned west on Roy–hoping it wasn’t pronounced Waugh like some Canadian version of Sade–I came across Kerry Hall–there’s that man again!–which appears to be the last remnants of the old campus of the Cornish College of the Arts. At the time it wasn’t worth much of a thought—I’m surprised I even wrote it down—but I was to remember it the next day when I went to an art museum and saw a fantastic exhibit by one of their alumni. Plus I later remembered it as a setting in a mystery novel. . .
Onward. I headed northwest on Belmont, which was a steep downhill with lotsa nice country-type houses, the kind you occasionally see in Pasadena and such. As a matter of fact, the whole walk along here, with the ivy-covered walls and little statues on the fences, reminded me of the street from Gamble House to the Rose Bowl.
Eventually I arrived at Lakeview Blvd., which when you go southwest becomes a very thin overpass, very high above Interstate 5–did I mention I was afraid of heights? The sidewalk was maybe four feet wide, with cars whizzing by even though it’s a long curve–and very elevated, don’t forget–and the barrier was less than waist high with a tube-like handling area on top. Scaaaary. But even with all that I paused to get some photos, for right across Lake Union was the Space Needle and a particularly excellent view of the monstrosity known as the Music Experience Museum. From here you could tell exactly how ugly it is, looking absolutely nothing like a broken guitar. It was so ugly I had to photograph it, ya know?
Finally got across to firmer ground, this time Eastlake Avenue, which I know well as the route to the University, the bus always going slow enough in one stretch for you to see the massive REI flagship store. But instead of continuing my walk north along this street I cut through the parking lot of the Cancer Cure Center and got on Fairview–not to be confused with the Fairview a few blocks from where I live in Pasadena. I crossed this street as well to get to the lakewalk {since it wasn’t a river, I didn’t know what else to call it. . . okay, we’ll go with waterfront}. There’s a little park and then a floating wood walk past the small marinas, until. . .
Due to the early morning rain, I had planned to go to the softball game first–if it wasn’t called off due to the weather–and then do other touristy things I had in mind, but since I had a lot of time before I had to get to U Dub, and I was right here, accidentally, where I needed to be. . . float plane!
Come back next week for plenty of photos from even higher than the Space Needle or Smith Tower!

;o)

Why Concerts Are Still Worthwhile

My favorite Rush song is Bravado.
But it wasn’t when I first heard it. Sometimes you return to a song years later and it gives you a completely different feeling. But in this case I knew exactly what made me love it after dismissing it so many years ago: the live version, specifically the Rush in Rio DVD.
Perhaps the crowd played a part in it, but there’s quite a difference in musicality. Geddy sings with much more emotion. Alex’s solo seems sparse, more honest, beautiful individual licks that build into a gorgeous resolve. And his outro is Mark Kopfler-esque in its heartbreaking passion.
Taken altogether, the studio version feels sterile and emotionless in comparison, which is a bit hilarious when I realize how much I love the Gregorian chant version.
In a completely different example, Take Flight is my favorite Lindsey Stirling song, just for the music alone but also because it’s easily the most visually exciting track on the Live in London DVD. Even the music video is superb. When I saw the new live version of this song on YouTube, it didn’t look quite as stunning, but it made a difference because I knew I’d be seeing it live in a few months. And indeed, when the show finally got to the Greek Theater and I was in the second row, it was so much more inspirational, special, whatever adjective you’d like to choose.
I will admit I went quite a few years in my late twenties and early thirties without seeing many live shows, until Raining Jane caught my attention about fifteen years ago. From then I’ve been to hundreds of shows in Los Angeles, in places like Hotel Café, Molly Malone’s, Coffee Gallery, and quite a few that no longer exist. Other than an occasional headache when the mix was too loud, I’ve never regretted it. And can you think of a better way to meet your favorite musicians, especially without it seeming stalkerish? Just about every CD I’ve bought in the past 10 years is autographed, and some of those favorite musicians are now friends I have lunch with all the time. Heck, their kids know me!
So this is for all the musicians who think it’s no longer worthwhile to play out, but also to the fans, who should demand their favorite artists show up!

;o)

Seattle, from the water, downtown, Smith Tower, downtown Seattle

Travel Thursday Encore–How to mix pleasure with business–Seattle 05, Day 2, Part 2

Done with wandering, thinking up a plan, I found myself near the University Street entrance to the bus tunnel, where I came across a board of flashing lights eerily similar to the one in Union Station that was shut down because it caused an epileptic seizure {and has since been started again, huh}. A short trip, only a few stops, took me to Smith Tower, which to my surprise I realized I’d never been to.
Can’t believe more people don’t know about this! Most travelers to Seattle go up to the Space Needle to check the view, and never realize the city has an older, more original observation deck. Smith Tower is an almost-century-old and amazingly beautiful skyscraper which when built had been amongst the tallest in the US, if not the world. Now it’s dwarfed by its downtown neighbors to the north, but out here by Pioneer Square it sits alone and majestic, with only the Piazza San Marco Campanile facsimile at the train station keeping it company amongst the clouds.

All by its lonely on the right


Despite being afraid of heights, I couldn’t resist going up for some shots. It’s a completely different feeling than the Space Noodle (Yes, I changed that, I’m funny that way). For one thing, the design of the elevators–each car has a driver!–lets you see the people in the hallways as you zoom past them, which is fun in a voyeuristic kinda way. I was the only person in the elevator, apart from the operator, of course, who started the history lesson, and he didn’t sound bored doing it, either. He told me these elevators were the last manually operated ones on the West Coast, which is kinda fun to know. Some of us are so lazy we can’t be bothered to push a button.
Since a tourist has no need going to any of the business offices, the elevator zooms right up to the thirty-fifth floor, where you come out in a relatively small but very fancy room with a tiny gift shop and plenty of exhibits, but more importantly a wrap-around view of Seattle in its entirely. Suddenly you feel like you’re smack in the middle of Seattle’s skyline, even though you’re actually on one end of it. But that’s okay, because even if you’re not into looking at all the other sky-highs, you can see between them right to the Space Needle, the closest view you’ll get to its disk without being in a plane or chopper. To the east you get a fantastic view of Mount Rainier, while to the west is the Olympic Peninsula and its mountains, islands, and Puget Sound, not to mention the waterfront and the ferry terminal at your feet. And to the south, right below you, is Pioneer Square; if you see a long line of walkers, that’s probably the Underground Tour heading for the stairs. A little further up is the train station and aforementioned Campanile, and if you’re really into cheap seats you could probably watch the football game at Qwest from here. Safeco Field is right there too, but its architecture doesn’t allow for a good look at the playing area, oh well.
Above the windows is a running poster that goes all the way around and identifies all the prominent landmarks. Having been to Seattle many times, I still had never seen what looks to be a red fortress off to the southeast, maybe around the airport. I asked the guy on duty what the hell it was, and he chuckled like he got it all the time, which he no doubt did, and explained that it used to be the Pacific Medical Center–imagine Grey’s Anatomy set there–until it was bought by. . . Amazon!
And then you notice the door that lets you go outside onto a narrow walkway around the tower, and despite the fact the wire mesh cages you in and keeps you from walking on air, it is small consolation to the animal brain that screams, “If Nature had wanted humans to fly, she would have given us tickets!” Still, it’s a lot better taking photos from here than from inside, if you can stand it. I barely could.


Finally back inside, I wandered the exhibits, which if you see them will explain why it’s called the Chinese Room in there. The plaque and/or the guide will tell you the dark carved furniture were gifts to Mr. Smith–who made him money in guns and bullets. . . making them, not committing robberies–from the Empress of China. The very biggest deal of these furnishings is the wishing chair, which has carvings of a dragon and phoenix, which when combined is supposed to signify marriage in the Chinese mythological lexicon. So someone came up with the idea/legend that any woman who wants to get married will do so within a year of sitting in the chair, and uses Mr. Smith’s daughter as an example that the good luck works. Well, I sat in it and I’m still floundering in the sea of love, so if it indeed works, don’t bother, guys. It’s strictly for the estrogen-powered.
Damned sexist chair. . .
After that, wasted some time in the Seattle Mystery Bookshop. Ever since the demise of Killing Time–what a fantastic name for a mystery bookstore!–in the University District, this is Seattle’s best mystery bookstore. Seattle seems to have a disproportionate amount of mystery novels written about it. I mean, how often do you read a book set in Atlanta, or Houston, or even Chicago? {That was rhetorical, no need to list them!} Emerson, Jance, Peirson, and even a few good one-offs.
Close by was a sporting goods store, whose name I can never remember but I visit every time in town, the only place I buy Seahawks gear; I remember one time talking to a large black lady about Brian Bosworth, or Not Worth, as I called him, in the checkout line, but why dredge up bad memories? This time they were selling UCLA stuff! Which reminded me of the time at the U bookstore with that checkout gal, where I asked her if I was safe wearing UCLA gear around town. She said as long as it wasn’t Wazzou. . . or Oregon, which led me to ask the store guy, who told me this story: In 1948, Oregon and Cal tied for the Pacific Coast Conference football championship. When the member schools held a vote to determine which school would represent the conference in the Rose Bowl, Washington voted for Cal and encouraged Montana to do the same, keeping Oregon at home and kicking off the loathing. Considering Washington was successful for decades and Oregon was a perennial loser till recent years, I think the hatred must have been pretty one-sided on the ducky side, but I guess if someone hates you, you tend to hate them back.
Couldn’t find a shoe buffer! My poor boots. . .
Had bought my ticket for the underground tour earlier, but had to wait a few hours till my appointed time, hence the trip to the bookstore and sporting goods and stuff. Got an ice cream at the pizza-by-the-slice place, ate it while watching the tourists and trying to guess their hometowns and countries as they passed by, and finally went inside and had a soft drink while waiting some more, though I knew how it filled up and left some standing, which is why I went in early as I could. Sitting next to me was a hung-over-looking chick–it was three in the afternoon–who begged me to tell her a joke involving sperm; trust me, I could not make this shit up. Luckily I knew one, and now you will know one too. . .
Guy comes into the sperm bank wearing a mask and holding a gun. He goes right up to the nurse at the front desk and demands that she drink that sperm sample on the desk. She refuses, and he pulls the gun up threateningly. . .
So she drinks it.
The guy takes off the mask; it’s her husband, who says, “See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?”
Which sets the tone rather nicely for the underground tour, don’t ya think? You would if you’ve ever been on it and remember their corny, though cute, commentary.
Hint: if you’re from California, do NOT raise your hand when the MC asks, “Is there anyone here from California?” We get more flak than even Texans! He also said that some people got married down there! But because of the generally dingy condition, you shouldn’t wear a big frilly white dress, let alone heels. At that point there was a cry of dismay from the back; she never stood up, but considering the woman who squealed had painted blonde hair and tons of makeup, I’m guessing she wasn’t looking as forward to the tour as she had been a minute before.
You can’t spend any time in Seattle without soon enough hearing the story about how the town burnt down in the late 1880s, then was rebuilt on top of the ruins. Or, as the introducer to the tour says, “The ruins of Seattle are not as old or famous as those of Pompeii, but they’re the only ones we have. A further advantage is that they are right here in town and not across the ocean someplace. The Pompeiians couldn’t have buried their city without a considerable contribution from Mt. Vesuvius. Seattle’s was a do-it-yourself project. . . though Mt. Reiner is close at hand in case we failed to do it correctly the first time.”
As you might expect, large portions of the underground were still inhabitable, and used for all the stuff you couldn’t do legally aboveground, but even that eventually petered out and the whole level was forgotten, until Bill Speidel found it and thought it would be fun to give tours, which are so famous and popular now you need to buy a ticket a few hours in advance to reserve your spot.
Eventually we were introduced to our guide, who turned out to be a funny redhead with incredible blue eyes, dressed in overalls, such a fantastic contrast to the squealing woman just mentioned. She led us outside and around the corner, where our first stop was a triangular parking garage. As we stood there, annoying pedestrians, she explained the history of the area, how it had been slated to be torn down, how it was saved, and how things stood at present. Then she pointed out a fake owl on the upper floors of some of the surrounding buildings, apparently placed there to keep pigeons away, but according to all the white stains wasn’t working so well.
With that part done, she led us across the street to a nondescript door between buildings, where everyone filed down some wooden staircases that reminded me of the line at Disneyland for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Finally we were all gathered in what might have been the lobby of a small hotel over a hundred years ago, with a bar/counter and other remains all around. It was about twenty degrees cooler down there as she continued the lecture, peppering it with plenty of corny jokes—think Jungle Cruise at Disneyland—and stories about the founder of the tour, as well as the politicians of the time. My favorite: “He’d steal tobacco from your mouth if you yawned.”
From there we traveled through tunnels that looked like mine shafts, stopping at various places to gawk at the history left behind and hear more stories. I know I’m not making it sound very interesting, but it truly is, as well as a lot of fun, though maybe a bit tiring if you’re not used to all the strolling and standing.
There was one part that really stood out in my mind: if you walk on the sidewalks topside, you might notice there’s some bubbles of colored glass here and there; she pointed them out before we went downstairs. Well, now we were looking at them in the opposite direction, and she told everyone to yell when they saw someone walk by. So it was really hilarious when one guy did indeed stop and look around to see who was yelling at him.
The end of the tour comes out back in their building, at the gift shop of course. There are plenty of interesting books on the history of Seattle, as well as a few hilarious tomes written by the man Mr. Speigel himself; be sure to use the code word for the discount. And of course you can get key chains and postcards and such, and, believe it or not, Gummy cats. Not as good as Gummy Babes, but interesting enough.
And in case you get to the end of the tour and the guide hasn’t mentioned it, ask about the problem of elevation and the backflow from the toilets in the early days, which leads to a particularly bawdy joke dealing with the “frenemy” relationship between Seattle and its neighbor Tacoma. . .
It was interesting for me to realize–well after the fact–that I had a headache before and after the tour, but not during. . .
Now thoroughly tired, I hiked back to the bus tunnel for another short ride back to Westlake Center, delighted to realize I knew my way through the tunnels and had no trouble remembering exactly where I wanted to go. After the escalator to the Mezzanine Level, I decided that. . . THAT alcove was the one that led to the almost-hidden straight-shot elevator to the monorail platform. Of course there were signs pointing to it, but they only confirmed what I already knew, I swear.
And as the elevator doors opened, I caught a glimpse of the monorail pulling away. Well, there’d be another one in ten minutes, so I went inside the mall, remembering I hadn’t gone through my usual ritual in this place: buying gummy bears. That had to be remedied stat.
Westlake Center, despite being about four floors and airy, is really your typical overpriced mall, the only saving grace being the monorail stop, so I’m not going to bother reviewing this. I did have a chuckle as I passed a display of shades, because I had just read somewhere that people in Seattle bought more sunglasses per capita than any other city in the States, which seems ridiculous at first glance, but now I saw there might be something to it: you buy a pair on a sunny day, and the next sunny day is so far away that you forgot where you put them and have to buy another pair at lunchtime, and so on. Considering the glare off the bay, I could definitely see the necessity, though I doubt many had forgotten lately, since there’s been nothing but sun since I’d gotten here. A friend back in El Lay told me it was raining, which figured, considering how much I love rain and am hardly ever home for it.
As usual there was hardly any line to pay and walk into the waiting area or, as was the case now, right into the waiting monorail. On the trip you pass by these two hotels/condos that look like corn on the cob, except the corn’s been eaten and you’re just left with the ugly-colored cob. What made this funny was that there’s a duplicate hotel next to the Long Beach airport, as well as one pretty damned close to UCLA, and they all look like used corn. I’m sure I’ve got a photo of them somewhere. . .

Corncobs at middle-back

Once arriving, I noticed that, from the monorail platform, Seattle Center looked like the Prater–Vienna, Riesenrad, anybody?–with the little rollercoasters and rows of win-something booths and such.
Quick stop in at the business place to see if there were any new developments before tomorrow’s meeting, or if anyone was so blown away they wanted to see my photos again. Instead I got the secretary eyeing me and claiming, “You look like you slept in your clothes.”
“I napped in them, so technically it’s true.” Hey, I don’t get paid for my looks.
She went on and on about some kind of standard set in this place, which first of all I didn’t care about, since I would never be working here, and second of all, seemed incongruously out of place from someone so low on the totem pole. . . hey, I had to get a totem pole reference in while in Seattle, right? Finally I told her, “Excuse me for speaking–or dressing–my mind instead of following you off the cliff like a lemur. . . er, lemming!”
See, that trip to the zoo HAD been worth it!
More importantly, she flushed and shut up.
After another quick stop at McD’s, mostly out of fatigue than dining preference, it was back to the hotel to rest up and ice my feet, so they wouldn’t swell up and be unavailable for tonight’s fun. I really can’t tell ya what happened for the next two hours, not because I don’t want to but because I don’t remember it. I was pretty out of it.
This time bothering to have an actual sit-down meal, good but not worth writing about, I headed over to Belltown, remembering a previous visit when the whoosh of the monorail in the rain. . . no rain so far, dammit!
Anyway, I’ve been coming to Seattle enough years to see what a change has taken place in Belltown. From slums to a Patagonia store–that’s when a neighborhood knows they’ve made it. Kudos to the people who bought up the buildings before the renaissance.
Too early for the concert when I first got to the place, so I wandered around and found a FedEx, where I went in to get on the internet to catch up on e-mails and such, and to check the band’s myspace to make sure they hadn’t canceled or anything.
Okay, let’s be honest–the concert wasn’t good enough to be blogged about. On to the next day. . .

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: An Anglo-Saxon Riddle

circa 850 AD.

A meal of words
made by a moth
seemed to me
when I heard the tale
curious
and pheomenal:
That such a mite
like a thief in the night
should swallow up
the song of a poet,
the splendid discourse
and its solid setting!
But the strange robber
was none the wiser
for all of those words
and all that eating.

(Yeah, don’t ask me about “pheomenal”; that’s the way it was spelled in the book.)

;o)