Archive for September, 2010

I just Googled the word “subversive”, seeing as I don’t have a dictionary at hand. Merriam-Webster defines subversive as follows:

1 : the act of subverting : the state of being subverted; especially : a systematic attempt to overthrow or undermine a government or political system by persons working secretly from within

Here the usage is assumed to be adjective, but I am using subversive as a noun. I am not looking to overthrow the government – I’m either passionately indifferent or militantly apathetic – not sure which.

Socially, I’m about as bland as you’ll find. I have no tattoos or piercings; own nothing made of hemp; wear argyle socks; enjoy no mind-altering substances other than wine; get coffee mostly from Starbucks; and only
ever pick up a copy of The Stranger to consult my horoscope. It’s amazing I have any imagination at all.

But I do find myself frequently engaging in quite elaborate thoughts of undermining part of the retail economy – specifically the part that revolves around certain holidays. I’ve been in retail for 7 years now, and cannot believe the stuff that people are still buying in this lousy economy, especially at Halloween and Christmas.
It strikes me as one heck of a waste of raw materials, energy and human endeavor – and retailers count on us showing up to buy the rubbish they ordered in order to stay afloat for the next year. Unfortunately, it seems to be all that’s left of our economy – which is why I am currently in this baffling line of work.

Oddly enough, I do not find subversive comfort in modern anarchy, or “voluntary simplicity”, or other anti-consumer movements, or the Green Party, or by shopping at the Farmers Market. These are a bit too predictable.

Instead, I find my previously mentioned Gang Of Three – Mark Twain, H.G.Wells, and Jean Shepherd – to be the perfect antedotes to the pointless energy expended daily so that Americans can have yet another happy Christmas!

This is the time of year that I have fantasies about Christmas being canceled. I wonder what it would take?

I’m saving Jean Shepherd’s Christmas-themed podcasts for that last week running up to the big day – when it will be insane at work. But it just occurs to me that I don’t ever recall one mention of Christmas on the part of Mark Twain – not in anything I read anyway.

As for H.G.Wells, pestilence may very well have put an end to Christmas in his horrific version of the 20th century (where there is no mention either) – but I don’t think it would keep today’s shoppers out of the malls:)

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Bit of a bus ride home, I must say! Not sure what the problem was: sticky throttle, flakey torque converter, lead-footed driver – or all three! Anyway, the bus “kangaroo-ed” all the way from downtown. By the time we reached my part of town, I felt like I’d just endured a rough crossing of the North Sea on a banged-up Sealink ferry from the 1970s. Any longer, and I’d have had to get out and walk. It happens some times:)

As for the sultry, Seattle is “enjoying” a rather rare spell of muggy weather. Current conditions show a temperature of 70F with a dewpoint of 65F. Rather interesting for 8pm at the end of September. Feels like a summer night back on the east coast. It rarely gets so muggy in Seattle even in the summer! The restaurant patios are crowded tonight.

This will definitely be a night to fall asleep to Jean Shepherd:)

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In one hour of being out in public on a Sunday morning….

Decimation of bus service in
Snohomish County
More and more people living in Seattle everyday
Always money for baseball but no money to feed people
Child custody disputes and wrecked marriages
If Washington gets a state income tax we will end up bankrupt like California
Brain lesions possibly caused by a workplace hazard

Lots of loud voices to hear this morning. And then, all of a sudden, I find myself alone – calm and peaceful.

It’s not that I disagree with what I hear
– far from it. It’s not that these things don’t affect me – some of them do.

But, for some reason, I always feel detached from such discourse – as though I am nothing more than a n observer. And I feel invisible. I don’t think anyone realizes how much attention I pay to what is around me.

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A 3-hour loop

I have chosen to live without a car – have been doing so for nine years now. I’ll never claim that it’s convenient, although it is nice not having to worry about tires, mufflers, front ends, worrying noises, leaks and smells, expiring license plate tags, insurance and parking.

It certainly means I take a lot more time over errands. But I have learned to make errands into excursions. This morning, I walked about 15 minutes over to the beach for a latte and a scone. While there, I answered a couple of emails and toured a section of Lake Baikal in Google Earth.

Then I took a couple of buses to a yarn shop. On the first bus I overheard a rather amusing conversation about lousy customer service in a local business. On the next bus, we had a student driver, overseen by the regular driver. The work of driving a bus appears effortless when done by someone who’s been on the job for a while. But when you see a student driver, you realize how much there is to attend to that takes a while to become second-nature. This guy had obviously been having trouble ripping off the transfers – there were a bunch of them on the floor around him:)

I found the staff at the yarn shop enjoying lunch – which was nice because I felt free to browse the store in my own way. I’m a very independent shopper. Occasionally I will request assistance, but mostly I prefer to be left alone. I’m not very good at yarn work, although the poncho I finished recently turned out rather nicely. But I could see myself being drawn into that whole world of yarn. I think it appeals to the geographer in me. A walk around a yarn store is like a tour of the world – and a trip through the history of human civilization. I found something rather nice – a lightweight, lustrous yarn made from bamboo and silk. I plan to make a couple of scarves to complete my winter wardrobe.

As the weather was so lovely, I decided to walk home, and stopped in at a grocery store on the way, buying as much as I could reasonably carry – but enough food to get me through the next few days.

That trip took 3 hours. With a car, I could have done that in less than half the time – but I would have missed out on an awful lot of life:)

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Well, my week had a rather curious ending. I managed to not get dragged into any last-minute catastrophes at work and decided to wander through Sears after I left. I needed a few long-sleeved tops now that fall is definitely here. I was never much of a Sears shopper, but there is one just up the road from my workplace, and it is more than just convenient – I have actually found some nice clothes there at good prices.

I found exactly what I was looking for. As I left, I spotted a 21 bus heading for West Seattle, but couldn’t make it to the bus stop in time. Then a 22 came hard on its heels. I had to run for that but the driver didn’t see me. I was about to give up but decided to flag her down – and it worked:) The bus was almost empty and we made it back to West Seattle on time, in unbelievably light traffic, and with no stoppages or delays for indecisive freight trains or vessels with masts just a tad too tall to make it under the Spokane Street swing bridge without Coast Guard intervention!

I spent a most pleasurable hour over a latte with H.G.Wells, marvelling at his complicated and provocative style that requires that one keep an open mind as one reads – else one could get upset!

My walk home was under the waning of a gorgeous early autumn sunset – and I had to acknowledge that this had been a rather splendid day:)

I had been half-expecting a calamity, for King County Metro has done the unthinkable and messed with the schedule of the 53 bus. For whatever reason, the last trip of the day, which departs Alaska Junction at 4:18pm, will be discontinued after service revisions go into effect October 2. So the 53 service will consist of eight clockwise circuits of West Seattle, beginning and ending at the Alaska Junction, with hourly departures from 8:18am to 3:18pm. Very useful!

It doesn’t affect me. I hardly ever take that bus anymore. I don’t think many other people do other. It can be a lonely job out there driving the 53. But I’m sure there are a few folks who will be steamed. Given the massive budget shortfall faced by Metro, I just wonder why they axed the last trip – and not the whole service altogether:)

Anyway! Time for a cartoon! This one is rather appropriate….

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Sometimes I wonder why I am so happy with the life I lead. After all, I’m
a former professor who was once quite adept at applied mathematics and statistics – yet I’ve spent the last seven years in retail. The work is often maddening, yet I stick with it. The truth is, I have built a rather lovely life around it – one I am disinclined to disturb right now. But despite the mundane nature of the work, I enjoy being an observer on the frontline of our overly-consumer-driven economy. I started my present job the week of the big financial meltdown of 2008 – and it has been fascinating watching the consumer response to the Great Recession. I’m amazed at the ridiculous products that continue to sell in such a bad economy. There are still plenty of people with more money than brains:)

Over the last few months I have enjoyed podcasted audio editions of Mark Twain’s “A Tramp Abroad” and “Huckleberry Finn”. I discovered Jean Shepherd later in the summer, and enjoyed his Twain-like empirical style. Just before coming across Shepherd, I listened to H.G.Wells’ “The War Of The Worlds.” (It’s been an interesting summer on the bus in the morning!)

A few nights ago, I listened to a Jean Shepherd broadcast in which he made fun of predictions made by the science-fiction writers of the 1920s. Yeah – the ideas were pretty laughable to look back on – like the preposterous Martians described by Wells. But I had been thinking about another work by Wells – “The Shape Of Things To Come.” – and felt rather compelled to check it out. I downloaded a PDF version of it onto my e-reader and am just getting into it – but already I am getting echoes – echoes of thoughts that passed through my mind in those months following the 2008 Meltdown.

It’s interesting that these three men are all dead, although Shepherd’s departure is relatively recent (1999), for their words from the past have touched me with an understanding of today’s turbulent and uncertain times – and have encouraged me to have faith in what I am doing.

I am an observer like Twain and Shepherd, but also a dreamer like Wells. Perhaps I need the life I am leading right now, even if it leads to
no obvious outcome or reward. It just feels worth doing:)

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Relaxation came effortlessly this afternoon, despite a very hectic work day.

I rode a bus into downtown Seattle – something I haven’t done lately as I tend to favor the Link light rail. But I decided to go home to West Seattle on the Water Taxi, and the bus goes somewhat closer to the dock. A co-worker was on the bus also and we enjoyed a chat – a chat that continued outside the Ferry Terminal in a rather windy spot. Wind usually annoys me, but today it didn’t. Perhaps I needed it.

We parted company and I went down to Pier 50 where I sat in the pleasant equinox sunshine waiting to board the boat. I have discovered that I cannot read on the Water Taxi, even when it is docked, without feeling queasy after just a minute or two. So I listen to a podcast.

Once underway, I found myself feeling so pleasantly relaxed – almost in a trance state – a state that was not broken when I walked off the boat into another field of gusty wind. I walked all the way to Alki, feeling as though I could doze off at any moment – even though I was walking briskly with great energy.

A friend of mine who works on the port waterfront said the harbor seals had been putting on a display of synchronized swimming!

There must have been something special blowing in the wind today – along with that beautiful full equinox moon:)

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Nothing like it to make me realize that summer is just about done with. It all went by so fast. I enjoyed the first blackberries around two months ago, when the days were endlessly long.

Tonight, I walked home from my bus in the light of sunset. I walked by the bushes that cropped those first berries back in July. They were all done for the year. I passed bush after bush sporting only shriveled remains of the summer bounty. But then I spotted a large patch simply loaded with large blackberries – the late bloomers! They were not as sweet or as flavorful as the berries of a month ago, but they were doing their best to please. I enjoyed several handfuls. They will not be there for long.

I passed a few gardens where tomatoes had been planted. The plants were large and sturdy and a healthy shade of green, and were loaded with large tomatoes – all of them sadly still green. It’s probably too late for them to ripen now. It was just that kind of a summer – a bit halfhearted!

It was a wonderful summer for me though:)

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Musical winds

My evening walk around Alki takes me along a very exposed stretch of the waterfront that is almost always windy. There are railings along the top of the sea wall, and they vibrate in the wind. If the windspeed is high enough, the vibrations can be heard as a low-pitched moan and a higher-pitched whistle – both of which fluctuate with variations in windspeed. During very heavy storms, it as though they make a marvelous, mysterious, magical music that is exhilirating to walk through.

The winds of summer are rarely strong enough to make music – so I haven’t heard it for a while. But this evening, there was the first hint of its return. The orchestra was tuning up for its first autumn performance.

Last autumn I walked along here during an early gale. It was after dark and at high tide, with waves crashing over the railings, forcing me to walk on the other side of the road. The wind was making the most amazing music. I was the only person out walking and had it all to myself. It had been a very stressful day at work – but that walk blew it all away in an instant!

I look forward to its return:)

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Habits and rituals

To say I’m a creature of habit is a massive understatement! I form habits very readily, which is good if it’s something like exercising or sticking with a budget – not so good with certain other things:)

I have just enjoyed a week’s vacation from work – a week during which I did nothing spectacular. I didn’t even leave Seattle. I spent more money than usual, but was very happy with what I bought. I saw my doctor and my dentist, and the news was good from both.

Usually, I am a bit sorrowful as a vacation comes to an end, because the week always seems to have gone by all too quickly. But something is different this time. I’m actually looking forward to returning to work on Monday, even though a mess probably awaits me on my desk:)

I think I’m missing my after-work ritual, and the way I feel when I walk out at 4:30pm, either to come straight back to West Seattle, or catch a Link train to downtown. I enjoy it almost as much on Monday as I do on Friday.

My commuting rituals almost always involve lattes, usually at a Starbucks, but not necessarily. For several years, my workdays began at the Starbucks at Alki, from where I would take the 56 bus downtown. It’s been 4 years since I left that job, but I still occasionally get haunted by that ritual, although that has subsided recently since the place was remodeled. I would usually visit the restroom before getting on the bus. Whenever I go into that restroom I feel as though I have stepped back in time and am on my way to work at that old job. Funny! I’m outside that Starbucks right now and have just noticed what’s painted on the door: Take Comfort In Rituals!

It was about a year ago that I bought a netbook and started going out for coffee after work to use WiFi. That habit really took hold when I started coming home via downtown after the closure of the Spokane Street ramp and the subsequent disruption of my bus commute home. (Yesterday, one poor driver told us he had been delayed a total of 40 minutes by two trains!)

This week, I realized that coffee shops are rather irritating on weekday mornings, while the hours between 4:30 and 6:30 are pleasant and relaxing – and it’s all the more enjoyable after a busy day at work. My evening walks are also more special if I have been at work, and certain podcasts (such as the Saki series I found recently) just seem to lend themselves to being heard on a bus.

It’s been lovely to realize how much these little rituals and habits make me happy – especially as they revolve around working:)

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