I came here nearly three weeks ago house sit for relatives while they travel in Germany and Austria. I came with the best of intentions: work on my novel in progress, read several books. I pictured myself like Hemingway, sans the cigarette and hangover, tapping away furiously at my cousin's dining room table, hammering out a nearly complete draft of my latest mediocre American novel. They don't have cable, so what could distract me?
(play doom music here)
They have Netflix.
Instead of being creative, or even useful, I've been binge watching Arrested Development and Louie, and when I ran out of episodes, started on Portlandia. (I watched a few episodes of Mad. Men, but it was like watching my parents’ generation devolve, and I don't Ike being reminded of the overt sexism of mid century office politics.
Here is what else I have been doing:
I drink a lot of coffee. Hey, it's Seattle. I think I know why this is such a coffee addicted city. It is nearly the end of June and it is 52 degrees outside. Coffee is a necessity to stay warm. Coffee is also needed to keep one awake. In between rare, gloriously sunny days, the skies vary in tone from sidewalk to slate gray.
I am house/ pet sitting, so I'm not totally useless. One of their three cats has bonded with me, and she sleeps with me, follows me around the house and even accompanies me partially on my daily walk. A second cat, Indy has been living up to his name; very independent. And the third cat, Negro (pronounced nay-gro) only approaches when he’s so hungry he will risk tipping past this foreign human. The first night, as I sat on the couch to binge watch Arrested Development season 1, the black cat approached, laid a paw on my thigh and studied my face, as if to say, wait, you're not Jena. He dashed off, and has been a phantom other than to dine and dash.
Jena has a lovely garden, and I have been tending it and even added a few plants to it.
I’m trying to keep the house clean. The housekeeper came the first week I was here, but she won’t be back until after I leave.
I’m also taking out the trash. So what? Everyone does that. In Seattle, trash day is an ordeal. *See notes on recycling Nazis for further explanation.
I went to the movies. Here's what a small world it is; one of my friends from high school, more than forty years ago, has been living in Seattle for twenty-five years. Her house is exactly twenty blocks south of my cousin's. Like most of us nowadays, we found one another on Facebook. The first time we met up, we walked the three miles around Green Lake. A few nights later she asked me to see The Lunchbox, a lovely independent film. See it.
My dearest friend Elizabeth has a friend here who I have met up with for lunch a couple of times. Elizabeth calls us her two favorite people in the world. Cat and I bonded right away, and we ended up spending the day together shopping, having coffee, and browsing Sky Nursery. I bought Jena another plant. Cat and I are now friends, too.
One morning I put on “my bus pants” (Big Bang Theory fans will understand the reference) and rode down to Pike Market to walk around in the rain. I discovered Left bank Books, bought an old copy of a book that beckoned me from the shelves. a thin volume called Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal. I recalled the author's name from something I read about Czech lit. The book is underlined with notes in the margins (my favorite type of book; proof someone else engaged with its text) and a bargain at $5. The woman at the counter remarked, "That’s my all time favorite book."
One cannot visit or live in Seattle without stumbling across bookstores. This is part of the reason I am moving here. Each store I ventured into displayed subtle anti-amazon signs. At Third. Place Books, a sign promised 20% off and free delivery on pre-orders of Robert Galbraith’s, (aka J. K. Rowling) latest Hachette title The Silkworm.
Each day I walk 1-3 miles, occasionally accompanied by the cat for the first few yards. The distance was dependent on weather and my right knee, which I sort of blew out on the flight here, and allergies. I'm kind of allergic to everything in the air here, so I blow my nose a lot. If I run out of tissues on a stroll, the walk is curtailed.
I met my brother and his wife for lunch in Centralia, which is a halfway point between Portland and Seattle, where they forced me to buy shoes at the Nike outlet. Okay, not forced, but their daughter-in-law’s 30% employee discount and the extra 20% sale enticed me to purchase a $100 pair for thirty bucks.
I've looked at properties. Housing is expensive here, so my standard of living will alter from a. Three bedroom house with an attached garage and large yard to a one bedroom condo half the square footage.
I drank coffee. Oh, I mentioned that already. I’ve only had two cups so far today.
I baked cookies and banana oat bread. My cousin Bob, Jena’s father, believes “buying in bulk saves you money,” and shortly before Jena and Scott left for Europe, he bought them fifty pounds of oats from Bob’s Red Mill. Guess what I eat for breakfast every morning?
I took the bus to Archie McPhee, a store where absolutely nothing is necessary. But maybe it is, because the store is filled with ridiculous items like a switch blade comb and rubber octopus appendages. I bought Shakespearean Insult Bandages.
Every day I drive Jena’s pickup truck and get lost, thus finding my way around. I know most of you rely on GPS devices to navigate new places, but I prefer the old fashioned way of getting lost and digging my way back home.
Here's what I love about Seattle so far:
Bookstores. They’re everywhere
Thus, a lot of writers live here.
People read for no reason. On the bus the other day coming back from Archie McPhee’s, I overhead a conversation between two young men about poet Charles Bukowski. We were not near a university.
Except maybe we were. There are several universities and college scattered throughout the city.
Community gardens abound. Near my cousin's house is a lot reserved for city gardeners. It's open for public browsing, but not picking. One shriveled mess of a garden had a sign posted “Please water my garden while I am out of town.” It was apparent this person had either been away for awhile, or nobody else had seen the sign. I fetched a watering can from someone else's garden plot, filled it, and drenched the thirsty patch of land. I was tempted to pick the ripe strawberries, but remembered this was not my garden.
In cafés and coffee houses, friends and strangers share tables, writing, conversing.
The city is socially and environmentally conscious.
*Some may consider Seattleites recycling Nazis, and it IS often confusing to figure out what's trash, what’s compostable and what’s recyclable. In Ohio we toss it all out. (Lately there has been a movement to recycle pop bottles and paper, but Ohio has yet to start charging for plastic bags or providing refunds on glass and plastic.) Here, one has to think about each item discarded.
People dress for comfort, not high fashion. Yes, I will admit, I have worn socks with sandals. A friend of mine recently sent me photographic proof. In Ohio, and most parts of the world, that attire is regarded with looks of derision. In Seattle? Normal.
Nobody has a tan. My ghostly skin looks normal here.
Close proximity to family who live in California, Oregon and Washington, but not so close any of them will drop over at all hours.
Jazz music. Instead of country music indigenous to where I currently live, cafes and bookshops play jazz or blues soundtracks.
No town is perfect, however. Here’s what I don't like:
Traffic. Listening to a book on CD keeps me from having road rage. I always have several handy in case I finish one.
Cost of living. I will be living in less than half the space of my current home for the same amount of money. Today I bought a book called The Cheap Bastard's Guide to Seattle. Since I am one. Retirement income, this may just come in handy.
Most of my friends don’t live here. This will be the hardest part of moving. (That, and driving two cats across the country in the back seat of a Honda Civic.) I have many treasured friends back in Ohio, relationships that have been tendered for years, so I’ll be lonely for awhile once I hit the highway. Yes, I have blood relatives here, but friends are the chosen family.
Overall my list of likes out-measures the dislikes, and Seattle feels like the place I need to live. It feels like home.