The A-Y-P Exposition

November 10th, 2008

Today the Seattle Public Library released its first online special collection, The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition Digital Collection, containing an impressive amount of material relating to the event that took place in Seattle almost 100 years ago in summer 1909. You can check out the Official Guide to the Exposition, or a map of the Exposition grounds sponsored by the city of Tacoma (motto: “You’ll Like Tacoma!”… hmm). There’s even a scan of a program for a Welsh history association event, which, surprisingly, must have been very popular because the pamphlet is chock full of advertisements!

Another thing that’s pretty cool is this map of Greater Seattle that includes the names of each and every neighborhood and housing addition in the city — and there are a lot of them. Unfortunately, it seems that the names of many of these areas have been lost in time or at least have fallen into disuse. For example, my neighborhood is generally known as the University District, yet in 1909 this larger area was made up of several smaller additions including University Hills, Harrison Heights, and Lake View — none of which I’ve ever heard of. According to this map I live in the University Heights Addition, an area bounded by Brooklyn and 15th Avenues to the West and East, and 45th & 55th Streets to the South and North. Interestingly, there is a remaining vestige of this name in the old University Heights School (now University Heights Community Center) where I buy apples at the U-District farmers market on Saturdays.

We Won

November 4th, 2008


October 6th, 2008

These soldiers in formation were just a few hundred of the countless LEGO minifigs crowding the exhibition hall at last weekend’s BrickCon.

But that was just the beginning of an extensive Scandinavian odyssey stretching across two full days.

It all started at Seattle Center on Saturday morning, where a long line consisting of a mixture of 50% kids, 25% parents, and 25% massively geeky IT workers made its way slowly into the hall. Approximately 700 billion LEGOs awaited those of us willing to brave it. I stood in the shadow of a LEGO-scale Space Needle, which for the record is still pretty tall, then made my way through the other sections of the exhibit. There was the World of Warcraft village, complete with an ice castle; next up was a modern urban Anytown USA featuring a baseball game in progress and a second Space Needle; then we had the Blade Runner-esque futuristic corner, with its two dueling monorails. I kind of felt like a loser, but BrickCon was so worth it.

Later Saturday found me wandering the endless Nordic wasteland that is Ikea. I was, as always, highly impressed by their clever store layout, which forces you to hike three miles in search of that one perfect TV stand… But just when you’re about to collapse into a whimpering heap, the Ikea restaurant appears like an oasis — and it’s filled with yummy meatballs. After a quick recharge you’re up and at ’em and ready to part with even more of your hard-earned Euros.

Sunday’s escapades were a bit less in-your-face Scandinavian, but I would argue that spending time in Ballard counts for something even if it’s only a trip to Fred Meyer for towels and provisions. Additionally, I was lucky enough to have tickets to see Iceland’s second most famous musicians, Sigur Rós, in concert at Benaroya Hall. The experience left me speechless and grinning, clutching a souvenir piece of confetti paper in my fist, and went straight into my list of the top five best shows ever. After all, a couple thousand mesmerized fans can’t be wrong. (I may in fact still be mesmerized.) If you ever, ever have the opportunity to see Sigur Rós you simply must go.

And that was my Nordic weekend.

Overheard in Seattle

April 6th, 2008

An SUV with a very loud stereo drives by outside the store.

Radio Shack employee: Oh, SHIT!
Customer: My eyeballs are rattling.
Radio Shack employee: That must’ve been at least 100 amps.
Customer: If you sell anything that does that, I’ll buy it right now.

Best Albums of 2007

January 6th, 2008

  1. Explosions in the Sky – All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone
    Six more tracks of epic instrumental post-rock from these highly consistent Texans.
    • One great track: “Welcome, Ghosts”

  2. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
    Their sophomore effort wasn’t nearly as disappointing as I feared it would be.
    • One great track: “Keep the Car Running”

  3. Blue Scholars – Bayani
    The best hip-hop duo in the Northwest (and possibly the best anywhere).
    • One great track: “Back Home”

  4. Maps – We Can Create
    Hard to describe but easy to appreciate.
    • One great track: “So Low So High”

  5. Coconut Records – Nighttiming
    If these songs weren’t so dang catchy, I’d happily hate Jason Schwartzman’s self-indulgent new project.
    • One great track: “West Coast”

  6. Rock Plaza Central – Are We Not Horses
    • One great track: “I Am an Excellent Steel Horse”

  7. Stars – In Our Bedroom After the War
    I think the best of their creative juice has been depleted, but Stars can still write a dulcet tune.
    • One great track: “The Night Starts Here”

  8. Maserati – Inventions for the New Season
    Yummy, psychedelic experimental rock.
    • One great track: “Synchronicity IV”

  9. Band of Horses – Cease to Begin
    More of the same, but that’s okay.
    • One great track: “Ode to LRC”

  10. Radiohead – In Rainbows
    How much did you pay for it?
    • One great track: “House of Cards”

Overheard in Seattle

January 3rd, 2008

Man in front of post office: Do you know if there’s a post office around here?

Death of a Murderer

August 28th, 2007

Rupert Thomson’s eighth novel, Death of a Murderer, is something of a departure from his earlier work. Previously Thomson has preferred to set his stories in blurred, dreamlike alternate realities such as Moon Beach, the pseudo-Los Angeles of The Five Gates of Hell whose economy is based on funerals, or the nameless European city where The Insult‘s protagonist finds himself unable to see except, paradoxically, at night. It is Thomson’s skill in treading the line between realistic fiction and outright fantasy — never fully crossing into either territory but always staying within spitting distance — which has earned Thomson the respect and adoration of me and many other readers.

Odd, then, that he’s decided to set his latest novel in a recognizable modern-day England, complete with accurate descriptions of existing roads and highways as well as a cast of characters that can only be described as normal. And, of course, the premise of the story itself is firmly based in reality, inspired as it was by the death of the infamous killer Myra Hindley in 2002. After Hindley’s death, her corpse was placed under 24-hour police protection until the funeral, such was the vitriol of the UK public’s hatred of the woman.

In Death of a Murderer, Thomson imagines what it may have been like to be one of those constables, sitting alone in a hospital morgue with the body of a serial murderer. Sounds creepy, right? We are introduced to Billy Tyler just as he’s being offered overtime pay to do the hapless job. Billy accepts, feeling a mixture of dread and curiosity, and for the bulk of the novel we are treated to a kind of psychological case study of Billy’s reaction to the situation. In the presence of the killer’s body (Thomson never actually mentions Myra Hindley by name) he cannot help but recall certain episodes from his own past, sometimes dredging up memories directly related to the murders and at other times addressing Billy’s lingering doubts about his own moral worth.

The macabre, fascinating subject matter, paired with Thomson’s trademark precise but evocative writing style, makes for a very good read. One reason why this book works so well is that creepiness just exudes from nearly every page. There is a pervasive undertone of death and sadism throughout the book, which is quite obvious at times, as in the passages describing the killers, but more often manifests itself on a smaller, more personal level as Billy explores his past, his feelings about his family, and the recesses of his psyche. Some readers might find the ending unsatisfactory; although we’ve followed Billy into some very dark places, learning quite a bit about him along the way, as he exits the morgue at the book’s conclusion it’s unclear what, if anything, he’ll do next. But I think with Death of a Murderer Thomson has really succeeded in creating a memorable and evocative case study contrasting the dark deeds of a serial killer with those of a simple everyman. I highly recommend this novel.

Overheard in Seattle

June 20th, 2007

Guy #1: Do you know the baker’s son? Do you know the baker’s dozen?
Guy #2: Do you know the muffin man?
Guy #1: Dude, I do. Hey, let’s go get wasted.

Marshmallow Burger Dad

April 29th, 2007

This weekend I had the pleasure of viewing Hamburger Dad — a movie that answers the question, “Is it better to wake up in the morning to find you’ve turned into a hamburger, or a lobster?” Along the way we gain much insight into the life of a newly transformed hamburger. For example, the hamburger cannot drive a car but can operate a TV remote control. Also, the hamburger is the life of the party, perhaps because of his wry, self-deprecating sense of humor and his leniency regarding alcohol use in his home. I won’t spoil the surprise ending of this movie, but suffice to say that Hamburger Dad and his angstful teenager have a very touching father-son bonding moment.

At the end of this odyssey, though we felt a bit disoriented on leaving the theater, my companion and I had the presence of mind to present the filmmakers with a marshmallow burger. Because what else can one do with a marshmallow burger? Certainly not eat it.

Things I’ve Bought That I Love

April 14th, 2007

Say you got together a dozen scientists and told them to come up with the perfect beer. This beer would be light and refreshing but also flavorful. Scientists are a practical folk, though, too, so they will want to add some healthful ingredients to this concoction. Of course the trick is to find something that fits. Chinese medicine has long recognized the antioxidant properties of the goji berry, and since it tastes really good, a scientist-brewer could do much worse than to include goji juice in a beer. Granted, they would probably have to be scientists that tend slightly toward hippie sensibilities. But choosing the goji berry is definitely a stroke of genius, as I recently discovered when I tasted New Belgium Springboard Ale for the first time and I realized it is it. The perfect beer.

I’m not sure if New Belgium referred the secret ingredient selection process to a panel of hippie scientist geniuses, but according to my imaginary world this is the only way such a wonderful beverage could have come into existence. So, if you only drink one beer this spring, make it a Springboard, because it’s only available seasonally.

(With apologies/props to Mindy Ephron.)