Monday, June 26, 2006

Don't wear those to the library, hon

Starbucks. A little girl, three or four maybe, is stomping around the cafe area in rubber flip-flops that some diabolical marketing genius has outfitted with...squeakers, so that each stride produces the shrill tweet of a squishy dog toy. Squeek SQUEEK squeek SQUEEEEK SQUEEEK squeeeeek squeek SQUEEK squeek SQUEEEEK and holy balls, kiddo, whoever got you those really, really detests your parents.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Hi, hi, hi, hi there...

It's the first full day of summer, both calendarically and academically; the Seattle schools let out yesterday. In a shocking departure from the norm, it's bright and sunny outside. I'm working from home, and at high noon betook myself to the Starbucks for an iced caffeine beverage.

Mistake. My localest S'bux adjoins the magnificent burger joint Red Mill, where folks were lined up outside a dozen deep when I sidled through to get at my damn coffee. Not only is the Red Mill pretty firmly beyond even the widest boundaries of Fat Club dining (...sigh), but the place was TEEMING with kids. SO MANY freaking celebratory kids! Don't get me wrong, I like kids, am thinking about picking up a couple to have around the house myself. But maybe not forty of the little buggers, thronging the burger stand, scraping the metal chairs across the concrete outside, flicking limp strands of onion off their burgers into the shrubbery, hollering "I WANT..." at their dazed mothers and nannies. Only 86 days to go, ladies!

The outdoor tables abut the curb, where there are perhaps two parking spaces at that end of the block if you squeeze. One of these was occupied by a dude on a Harley, and as I was threading my way back through the mob, he kick-started it in a purely deafening, terror-inducing BLATT of noise. The entire crowd leapt reflexively, in unison; the kid next to me's arms jerked so wildly that he threw his cardboard boat of French fries skyward like a double handful of confetti. A rain of fried potato strips pattered around us, pelting heads and shoulders as the motorcycle dude roared away and relieved, self-deprecating laughter swept the patio.

Actually, it's hard to find fault with this kind of first-summer day. Maybe I should take the next three months off.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


As Mike noted recently, the end is nigh for the current incarnation of Seattle's Garfield High School. After 84 years of use and abuse, there's little left to save beyond the ornate Jacobean brick facade. The scheduled remodel is intended to gut the building and, presumably, fill it with shiny new fixtures and Internets and drinking fountains that don't corrode your brain cells while you wait.

I graduated from Garfield in 1988, almost precisely a generation ahead of Mike's kids. The school was a limping hulk even then; during my senior year, we enjoyed both an electrical fire and a flood: a main water pipe in the attic burst, one pre-dawn winter morning, and we arrived to find water pouring down the southeast staircase like a fish ladder. The wooden classroom floors warped and buckled under the deluge. If memory serves, Holly and I cut that day, waded off to the Dilettante for coffee, and sat drinking it in the eye-watering teal-blue chlorine warmth of the pool building.

Several folks sent me information and links to the farewell-party-open-house shindig that alumni and supporters were hosting on Saturday, June 10: The Bash Before the Smash! I'll admit, it took me a while to decide. I had fun in high school, sure...I was no prom queen, but I was smart and witty and I got by with the average amount of teen angst I would've had anywhere. For years after I graduated, though, I had recurring anxiety dreams about the school, always the same basic thing: it was the end of the semester, the day before the final, and I hadn't studied or gone to class in...oh, fifteen years. I was in the school, standing in the main hallway, on the checkerboard tile between the trophy cases, and I couldn't find my locker. Night falling, the final coming and COMING on like Tax Day and Christmas, and I'd wander the empty figure eight of the hallways, searching and searching, increasingly desperate as the shadows lengthened. Again and again I'd retrace my steps, start over: left at the auditorium, up to the second floor, past the chem, wait. In the dreams, the building took on the dimensions of an Escher drawing, too: staircases that ended in blank walls, a fourth level I'd somehow never noticed, the walls and floors angling away like a funhouse maze. I never did find the locker, the book I intended to frantically read; I always woke up still lost.

Despite this, yeah, I figured I'd go. Drop in, get the layout straight in my head once more and bid it goodbye. I imagined a handful of people would turn up, maybe.

Holy crap, was I wrong. It was a mob scene, hundreds and hundreds of people milling through the school--a line to get in and sign the register. They'd opened up the soggy playing field to parking, ribboning rough lanes off between the goalposts. I drove in on the dirt track I'd never managed to completely run around, in the mercifully brief time I'd spent in P.E. Inside, I couldn't stop laughing in sheer amazement at the crowd. All around me people screamed and hugged each other, beaming and pointing. Mini-class reunions were staged in different classrooms--'68 over here, '54 over there. Rumors rippled through the crowd: I didn't see him, but others insisted that a 90-year-old member of the class of 1924, the first to graduate from the building, had turned up for pastries in the cafeteria.

Jazz combos jammed and swung in the dingy auditorium named for Quincy Jones. (It's a source of some controversy--the plans call for the space to be stripped and converted into a student commons, and a new performing arts center will be built, but people are freaking out about destroying Mr. Jones's namesake. Just name the NEW building after him, people. Problem solved!) The lunch line dished up hot dogs; the cafeteria was as inexplicably hideous as I remembered, its bright lavender and orange (orange?!) paint untouched. Cameras flashed in every direction, people calling and waving and saying "Jesus Christ, those BATHROOMS." It was uncomfortably warm. The tiny classrooms were magically even smaller, twice as tall as they were wide. The lead-laced drinking fountains were wrapped up in black garbage bags and duct tape.

I saw Dave's little brother Greg (who's thirty if he's a day), with one of his small daughters on each arm and his newborn son in a sling across his wife's body. Apparently the whole family has been exchanging e-mails, trying to decide what statement to make on a Garfield memorial brick. Between the five siblings, there was at least one Wong child in that building for 15 years straight, Greg told me. A dynasty. (And lord, how the administrators must have slumped to the ground in exhausted relief when the last brilliant, prank-mad Wong burst out through those purple doors.) I saw my 9th-grade bio teacher, who kindly pretended to recognize me, in the Marine Science classroom that still smelled like dirty ocean and formaldehyde. He's teaching at another school, now, but "I put up that poster, and that one, and those fish pictures," he said, pointing around the room at decor left untouched for a decade or more. I saw three beautiful black women doubled over, pointing at each other's hairdos in a 1969 yearbook and screaming with helpless laughter. I saw more purple outfits than seemed statistically possible.

Everybody was taking pictures of each other, their old classmates...but I found myself taking photos of the building, actually waiting for the moments when a hallway would clear and I could capture it, empty. At the time I wanted to capture those details, the battered, grimy surface almost obscuring the weird old beauty we'd all taken for granted. It's not going to be here, I kept thinking, this isn't going to be here any more.

I look at the pictures now (you can too, that link is to the set on Flickr) and it's kind of odd, actually. The place was teeming with people, old Bulldogs come home, and I was surprised by how much that moved me. The crowd was so diverse, all colors, all ages, reflecting the atypical racial and cultural stew that was and is Garfield all along, a lucky accident of geography. We milled and mixed and grinned at each other, crowded the tables for sweatshirts and bumper stickers to take home, all of us different, none of us minding. Another beautiful thing we took for granted, once.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Son, she's no lady, she's your wife

So, it's true: Sis and the now official Mr. Sis are no longer living in sin, having been sanctioned in the chambers of a polite, bored judge in mid-May. Yes, it's been nearly a month. I was a little bit busy, Internets, what with wedding prep and post-wedding recovery and trying to keep various branches of the extended family tree from open fisticuffs in the streets. Because weddings first and foremost are a JOYOUS FUCKING OCCASION GODDAMN IT so let's all try to ACT LIKE ADULTS THANK YOU.

Sis and Mr. Sis had planned for several months to have only a simple courthouse ceremony, followed by a nice party for family and friends. They'd scheduled their reception and honeymoon for August. Then they applied for a court date, and got...May 12. This led to some of the most strenuous, extreme dress-shopping I've yet experienced, and culminated in my steering a nearly catatonic Sis around the Nordstrom's shoe department by the elbow, as she murmured sotto voce, "I'mgonnafreakoutI'mgonnafreakoutI'mgonnafreakout." Strappy silver sandals were thankfully applied in the nick of time.

The morning of the wedding dawned gray and cool. Sis and I had arranged beforehand to be professionally tarted up at Habitude in Ballard, with mani/pedis, makeup, and what the spa cards they handed us referred to as "up doos."

Yeah, yeah, it's My Day--just bring me My Goddamn Coffee.

I was a little worried about the makeup application: first, that they would have the gun set on "Whore"; second, because I watch far too many makeover shows, that I would look magnificently fabulous...but would henceforth require a team of trained cosmetologists to follow me around 24 hours a day to maintain my high gloss. The end result, I think, fell somewhere in the middle. It was nice, but with a lot of shimmering shimmery-stuff layers going on. To me, they emphasized the roundness of my face, so that my head looked a bit like an enormous Gala apple. I didn't care for any of the photos of me, so y'all are SOL.

Oh, for God's sake. All RIGHT.

See? Apple. Also, melons, Jesus.

Photos I wish I had: me and Sis at the salon, our hair ratted out like a Phil Spector act (or, simply, like PHIL SPECTOR); Sis on the front walk in jeans and a cowboy shirt, furiously doing the Twist to scuff the soles of her shoes so that she wouldn't wipe out on the marble courthouse floors; Sis and Mr. Sis, getting a first look at each other All Dressed the confines of their kitchen. Parking is difficult downtown; bride and groom carpooled together.

Anyway. I did like my hair--sleek in the front, with this incredibly elaborate Celtic knot woven together in the back. This was secured with 45(!) hairpins--I counted, after the fact--which might explain why my head set off the metal detector at the courthouse. My family laughed and pointed while a bored security guard wanded my Up-Doo.

We spent more time horsing around outside the courtroom (taking faux mug shots, tapping out the Judge Wapner bongo theme) than we did at the actual ceremony, which took approximately eight minutes, paperwork included.

Look at her. You're a lucky man, Mr. Sis.

After a leisurely round of appetizers and multiple exotic cocktails (I believe Mr. Sis had a Blue Hawaii; you go, Mr. Sis!), we returned the happy couple to their humble abode--which their neighbors had festooned with balloons and a Congrats sign that led the rest of the block to believe that Sis was pregnant.

Mr. Sis, Sis, and my nephew Willis.

Other friends brought them a white-trash wedding cake, constructed of tiers of Ding-Dongs and Twinkies. As Mr. Sis noted, this gave their cake an expiration date of 2010.

Ring-a-ding-ding, baby!

So. Reader, she married him. And I can honestly say that I am so happy that these two lovely, beautiful people found and deserve each other...and that I'm lucky enough that now I'm related to both of them. Congratulations, kids. I wish you the happiest rest-of-your-lives.

Seriously, how pretty are they? Mr. and Mrs. Sis, everybody!