We pass this place several times a week on our walks around the lake. As the sign in the alley suggests, it has achieved some measure of acclaim for a twelve egg omelette. Once upon a time it was even featured on the Travel Channel but it was for sale a few years ago and I’m not sure if it has changed hands or it’s just closed right now due to the pandemic.
One of my nephews, eighteen or nineteen years old, literally just loves to eat and I know for a fact that he could finish a twelve egg omelette. He’s a six foot five refillable Greek statue (pizzas, tacos, casseroles, cheeseburgers) with a perfect SAT score, who took a gap year after high school to secretly enlist and graduate from United States Army Basic Training only to find out he wasn’t crazy about the military and he even turned down a spot at West Point (alma mater of Mike “Poophead” Pompeo) in favor of a plan full of complications (this is what happens when you sign on the dotted line for Uncle Sam) at the University of Michigan for fall semester only for the pandemic to cloud that path and now he’s at home during the day with several younger siblings while his single mom’s at work all day. This came to mind a few days ago when we signed the boys up for summer school. It can always be a lot more complicated, I thought to myself.
When the shoelaces come untied you know that’s pretty fast. There’s a lake on the other side of the path from Hermes (because those laces reminded me of talaria). The boys and I have been going for walks around this lake at least twice a week for exercise, usually in the afternoons when they’ve more or less done a yeoman’s job of their school studies. We don’t actually use the path (and this isn’t technically the path, it’s a road which is temporarily closed to encourage social distancing). We make our way along wide-sloping lawns which are fertilized by the highest concentration of Canadian goose turds in North America which makes for a fine, cushioned walk equaled only by the finest Vibram soles. We end up going a little over three miles.
I bring my camera to do pictures, just in case. There’s a spot along our route where the lawns are pinched like an hourglass between the lake and a busy road. The path is crowded so risky and we shortcut into a neighborhood then through an alley behind a greasy spoon where I take the same group of pictures every single day. Oliver Fern loves running, yesterday he was running ahead of us constantly. I could have panned but then I would have lost the stillness of that reflection and let’s face it, you only get so many chances with a seven year old so I got down on my hands and knees in the puddle and counted down….
Spoiler alert: At the end of this account there’s a brief reference to a passage contained in the epilogue of Crime and Punishment which I believe germane to my thoughts herein but which could compromise the enjoyment of readers who have yet to complete that work of fiction.
The past few days beheld some of the more extreme tidal differences of the year that one can readily take advantage of without the use of a flashlight (such as the case in chill November when heading out to the beach at one o’clock in the morning). The boys surprised me Friday with their exceptionally keen powers of observation, spotting shore crabs which were astoundingly invisible to the naked eye (so completely buried in the sand). On the other hand, here was a red rock crab hiding out in just a watery nook in order to elude dangerous gulls, crows and seven year olds. Later, Oliver Fern tenderly cached this poor crustacean safely away from sharp birdbeaks. I haven’t used a circular polarizer in such a long time, it would have resulted in brilliant colors here but I liked the mirror sheen.
We went out again on Sunday before lunchtime, I had a feeling it’d be our last chance (the ebb will get progressively later in the day as the week goes on). It was raining so there were relatively few people, at first. Donning bandanas and masks was necessary only when arriving and departing from the beach.
Finally, I finished Crime and Punishment, it may be one of my favorite books of the year, so far (though damn Doestoevsky or his translator’s constant insulting tropes about money-grubbing Jews). This was my first exposure to classic Russian literature but it was far more accessible than I realized, so apologies if I previously had made it seem as though I was taking on the Latin translation of How to Build a Helicopter, haha! Part of me wants to move next to The Brothers Karamazov (which I realize will be far more challenging) but I’m also pondering Ralph Ellison’s classic Invisible Man. Our family is strongly philosophically aligned with the protests these past two weeks against systemic racism and use of excessive force by law enforcement in the United States but we haven’t yet participated in any actions. Last week I got the boys’ mother’s permission to take them with me up the hill for what I thought might turn out to be a relatively smaller rally on the margin of more aggressive demonstration but I talked myself out of it because I decided I still hadn’t see enough evidence of families with children participating in protests. The pandemic, too. All of the sudden it seems like most of our neighbors have begun progressively stair-stepping their contact with other family members, friends and acquaintances. Even within my own family, thousands of miles away, some of my siblings and their children have begun carefully commingling. The boys and I have eked out such a profoundly insular, cautious existence these past several months that I’ve found myself shockingly unprepared for “regular” life and ordinary urgencies rapidly unfolding around us. In hindsight, my initial myopia at carefully considering the potential consequences of participating in a densely-massed protest, after so carefully socially distancing since March, was shocking to me. What would my reaction have been when the boys and I approached the crowded streets of Pine (or alternatively, the gathering crowd at Seattle Center)? Would we’ve been overcome by the collective fervor, blending heedlessly into the protest? Is it possible the confines of the crowd might have triggered an unexpected claustrophobia? How would the boys have comprehended the swell of humanity and those ominous blockades of riot shields, after so many weeks of solitude? They’ve been so thoughtful and careful all this time, never complaining one single time about wearing a mask or being at home so much. In the end I couldn’t justify the idea of dramatically increasing their exposure to such an unknown virus, for right now. We’re only six months into a global pandemic, for God’s sake. This early it feels like a selfish choice.
While I don’t agree with every demand that local protesters are making right now, that’s beside the point because I’m full of immense gratitude for everyone (particularly young people) who’ve taken to the streets with outrage to engage in civil disobedience (I’m also grateful for those observing and documenting, at the risk of being billyclubbed) and aggressive dissent to get the conversation about systemic racism and other dysfunction inside of law enforcement, rapidly changing in a new direction. I’m bewildered about how we’ll arrive at a working agenda for real reform in public safety (who exactly sits at the table?) but the system is broken and it has to change. I’m getting increasingly wary every day about the confluence of the pandemic with these widespread crowded gatherings, it’s a truly nightmare scenario. Are all of the major blue cities in the U.S. going to turn into 1918 Philadelphia, pretty soon? On the other hand, just a couple of days ago, Adam described a podcast he’d been listening to in which the scholar at the University of Michigan who formulated the idea of social distancing, framed our national crisis as competing pandemics, an idea which has gotten plenty of traction over the last several news cycles: A dangerously unpredictable novel coronavirus versus deadly racism.
I wish we could take a walk around the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, an area of the neighborhood above us (which includes the currently vacated East Precinct of the Seattle Police Department) currently occupied by protesters, to watch for ourselves exactly what’s happening on the ground and see who the cast of characters are. Would it be any less hazardous for just me, than one of my weekly trips to the grocery store? Could this occupation be another Fort Lawton or Alcatraz? Go ahead and laugh at me. Several days ago I dismissed the idea out of hand but I don’t know why. If I truly supported reform, why would I take such automatic exception to what’s happening on top of the hill? I’m not sure what could possibly be more transparent than the tidal wave of mockery which has commenced about the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone. It’s painfully obvious a lot of people want things to stay exactly the same.
At the rather unceremonious epilogue of Crime and Punishment (translation by the much-maligned Constance Garnett), the central character Raskolnikov dreams the world is subject to a terrible new plague that emerges from Asia. In the dream, the microbes are described as being “endowed with intelligence and wit”. But that I could cite one entire page, word for word, so unsettling is Doestoevsky’s arc, here! In Raskolnikov’s dream, people fought and destroyed each other because “everyone proposed his own ideas, his own improvements, and they could not agree”. In the end, there are only a few people who survive.
postscript: I wrote this several days ago but I’ve been struggling with a stupid flare-up of tendonitis in my wrist so I had to leave things for a few days. I think I’ve dramatically improved my ergonomics at the computer with the addition of a few cardboard boxes that are the perfect size, I’m writing in my closet these days as the boys’ mother long since took over the room off the kitchen for her office. It’s not as bad as it sounds- I’ve got a rectangular window with a view of the Cascades (although my neighbor sits in his own window just twenty feet below me and this morning he was sitting in only his boxer shorts and playing with his nuts like crazy while checking messages on his phone, I was prepared to bang on the window when he finally stopped).
Full disclosure, it was about a year ago I started giving increasingly serious thought to beginning a new career and enrolling in training to become a Seattle police officer. It’s something I’ve thought about over time, it got put on ice for a couple years when I blew my shoulder out. But my thoughts on the criminal justice system have been consistent with what I’ve written above. Part of me saw it as a way to “get inside”, leverage some of my life experience, and make a difference in the community. That’s another story for a different time.
There was a sprawling row of dilapidated beach shacks, each one seamlessly hitched by weathered shakes to the other, like driftwood row houses. I chose to isolate this one at the end because the angles of that bump-out were appealing in the way they reminded me of the Swiss-Asian influenced architecture of certain Pacific Northwest bungalows, in particular the flared roof form or peaked gable. It’s really a miracle these still exist given Seattle has sold so much of itself to the highest bidder. Or maybe it’s not, considering when the tide comes in, these bluff-backed cottages are accessible only by use of a rickety boardwalk straight out of a Roald Dahl story. Can you imagine someone in that little room working on the next great novel? Or maybe just reading an old paperback? Most of the shacks seemed thoroughly abandoned, several had sliding patio doors ajar, with insides piled with junk (probably home to incredible-sized wharf rats). The westernmost shack was the only little house which seemed permanently occupied, the resident rested in a chair on the deck, along with a shaggy dog.
Last week after running several critical errands as quickly as possible on my own and returning home to make sure the boys had not toppled everything down in a tidy heap during my absence, to my initial horror the sounds of The Beach Boys blasted from Oliver Fern’s turntable, upstairs! His room is situated at the back of the house, directly above his mother’s temporary office, wherein that present moment she was finessing the morale of a couple hundred high-falutin colleagues, in a video conference. From the kitchen downstairs, the chorus of Surfin’ USA was more than faintly audible through the ceiling plaster. After a mad dash up the stairs, partway down the hall I came to a standstill. In My Room repeated, must have been four or five times in a row. I’m not nostalgic for The Beach Boys, who seem apropos to nothing at the moment but I’ve always loved that song. Oliver spent the rest of the morning in his room, content to be alone, away from the rest of us. Later, the boys’ mother smiled sweetly when I asked her about the music upstairs, which she reported included The Beatles, The Shins, and Count von Count from Sesame Street.