I razored the Seahawks sticker off my car

 It’s my protest against Seahawks owner Paul Allen giving $100,000 to a fund for keeping Republicans in control of the House of Representatives. This wasn’t a contribution to influence some principled, individual Republicans–it was a contribution to keep the stinky status quo.

Maybe taking off the sticker was a dumb thing to do. I still love the Seahawks, and I’m excited about Shaquille and Shaqueem Griffin–we got the House of Griffindor in the house!–but I can’t think of any other way to register my displeasure. I suppose I could boycott Allen’s MoPop, or his Upstream Festival, but I need to do something.

Doing something physical helps: when the Seahawks got intercepted at the goal line in the 2014 Superbowl, I punched a hole in a sheetrock wall. Still have a tiny scar, but, I got over the loss way faster than my friends.  A Seahawks sticker is about the only point where Allen’s business interests become tangible–in my little life, anyway.

I don’t know what Paul Allen personally believes; like many CEO’s, he gives to both political parties, and the article I read says he’s supported some progressive things. Culturally, it doesn’t seem like Trump Republicans would be a good fit.

So why support keeping the House in Republican hands? I have to believe the donation is a decision to benefit his business. Maybe he thinks Republicans will win the House. Go with winners–it just makes good business sense, right? However:

He’s supporting climate change deniers. Is his business worth more than the planet?

He’s supporting those who would end Obamacare–is his business worth more than someone like me having a shot at health care?

He’s supporting those who take extreme positions on reproductive rights. The wider abortion debate aside, the Republican House probably includes people who want no abortion for rape or incest–does he agree with those who think the sperm of rapists is sacred? Or is this just another business decision?

He’s supporting those who want to protect the president from investigation. Trump could be criminal, crazy, or even treasonous. Or not at all. The point is, Allen is supporting those who are actively trying to keep the truth from coming out. Guess that tax cut was worth it!

I suppose I unconsciously sorted billionaires into cool and uncool groups–what Bill Gates became on one hand, and what David Koch will always be on the other. Maybe the point is, if you want to be a billionaire, put those business decisions first–ahead of planet, health, women, and country.

Let’s not lie about it, thanks to current campaign finance laws, Paul Allen has a much larger voice in our democracy than I do (rest in peace, McCain-Feingold). My partner and I gave money to some local public radio stations, so we’re a bit tapped out on donations. Still, we just kicked in $12 to a fund to help Democrats take over the House. (Twelve bucks, because Seahawks fans are called “12’s”. )

Know 10,000 people who might like to join us? That’s $120,000. Maybe we can beat Paul Allen at his own game.

Go Hawks–and go 12’s!

P.S.   If you can’t do $12, then maybe $2?  Or, if you want to give more, choose some other amount that ends in 2. I like the idea of the staff at Swing Left scratching their heads in puzzlement–“What up with all these 2’s?” (Plus we could tell if this becomes a thing.)

How It All Began

In the beginning, there wasn’t,
but there wanted to be.

Every flavor of leopard wanted to be.
Even the lazy, who only wanted to be rocks
or electrons, wanted throbbingly to be.

Each grain of sand filed a separate application;
possible dolphins sent impressive resumés.

Waves of want sloshed the darkness.
Darkness striking darkness made sparks,
and First Woman’s hand that wanted to be
grabbed the sparks and stuffed them into

her mouth that wanted to be. Instantly, salt,
garlic, and serrano peppers wanted to be.

The sparks expanding–heating–multiplying
filled to bursting her wanting belly,
but her asshole hesitated, unsure it wanted
to be, because the other non-beings
always made fun of it.

Too late! She exploded like a black plate
in an overheated kiln.

Black shards of her, white sparks
went flying off in pairs, piercing
the non-beings. A shard and spark arrowed
the leopard’s heart and it awoke, stretched,
sniffed the sudden air, alert and hungry.
Grass crashed into existence with a green yell,

then startled by its own voice,
started whispering. A hen wondered

what the hell she was sitting on, but strongly felt
she shouldn’t break it. Only First Woman
didn’t get to be. That made everyone sad—
she had the gumption to grab the fire in the first place.
It was agreed that everyone would exist for a time,
then give back their shard and spark so She could be.
But then the humans, who’d overslept and missed the meeting,

showed up and argued everyone should keep their pieces of Her,
or ok, everyone else can give theirs up and we’ll keep ours.

No dice, said the mice. Besides, we already voted. The humans
stormed out, sniffily made up a language, and wouldn’t share it.
But even the humans have to give up shard and spark until finally
She is reunited. No one knows what next. Does the whole thing start
over? Or will She walk off in search of Others of her kind,

carrying us and all our stories inside Her?

Either TV’s are getting too smart, or my low self-esteem has reached toxic levels

I was cleaning house for a cultured client, with top-notch taste in music and art, who had the Music Choice classical channel on the TV. (It not only says something for Music Choice that he approved of their “hand-picked, no algorithms” playlist, but also for the endless onslaught of digital convenience, that he’s surrendered to it.) The music was accompanied by still photos and “Did You Know” facts about the composers’ and musicians’ lives.

What can be more inspiring than reading about the remarkable achievements of famous composers? Christ, just about anything, when you’re not feeling great about your life. Usually, they just give you the usual “Bartok played Bach before he could walk” stuff, which makes you wonder exactly what useful thing you’ve done with the decades of food and oxygen you’ve extracted from the planet. But on this day, they suddenly turned cruel—or crueler—with some extra comments.

On top of that, there’s scary fact of the cloud-connected TV knowing intimate and obscure details of my life. Or the alternative, which is that I’m hallucinating at work. I’m not sure which is worse.

Anyway, here are a few of the “Did You Know” spots I saw:

Yeah, I know my head is the problem. But do I ask my haberdasher for a tin-foil fedora, or my shrink for a rack of Zac?

Boring Old People

It was the first run of the day, a yellow 2 out of lower Lynwood, right off the freeway, starting at 4am. The first stop was a nice couple, probably early 70’s, we’ll call them Henry and Mabel. The other was a single, “Lauren”, several blocks away, maybe a bit past 60. Being locals, they could, and did, discuss the state of potholes, bingo at the senior center…it was so boring, I started driving faster, just so it could end sooner.

But then the conversation took a turn when they discussed hosting students. Lauren said, “I used to do that, but I stopped after I was raped at knife point by a student.” She talked about that for a bit. I couldn’t help it, I slowed down to hear better.

Mabel sympathized: she had once had a job as a bus driver at a mental hospital, and while driving was assaulted by Jimmy, a huge, freckled, gangly, mostly gentle, but occasionally violent, client of the institution. It was still on the grounds; she got the van stopped, tried to defend herself as best she could, but was choked and sustained a broken arm. The security staff heard her honking and came running.

When Jimmy saw them, he snapped back into docility. “I be good, Mabel. Jimmy be good now.”

“Damn right you’re going to be good,” she said, as the badged apes hustled Jimmy off for an impromptu Rolfing session.

This seemed to have blown the doors of the conversation wide open. Lauren talked about her three sons, all of whom became garbage men:

“Larry had a route that went through a rich neighborhood. He used to make out like a bandit at Christmas.”

“How so?” I asked.

“Oh, some of the rich families would get drunk and fight. And then he’d score a $200 sweater from Nordstrom’s, still in the box, sitting on top of the garbage can. Stuff like that.”

Another son, she said, had a lot of sex with women on his route: “Lonely housewives. He kept a collection of dildoes on his dashboard.”

Part of what makes my life interesting is short-term gullibility. I believed her, though somewhere in the back of my mind I was trying to picture having sex while your truck is blocking the street. Henry and Mabel didn’t have much to say about that story.

Then Lauren got onto a story about a plumbing explosion at a summer cabin: “There was shit flying everywhere, shit all over the walls.”

It was getting a bit weird. And—how did the dildoes fit in (so to speak)? Would you bother with toys during quick sex? Would a garbage truck driver really sport a pastoral tableau of dildoes in the window of his truck? (For some reason, I pictured them in a dashboard display of a meadow, a pond, maybe some toy animals contentedly grazing among them.) And how many women would want to have sex with an on-duty garbageman? I was starting to wonder about Lauren’s veracity, if not sanity. I started driving faster. Fortunately, we were now headed up the badly paved road to the airport.

I tried to steer the conversation towards potholes. Sometimes these old people scare me.

Sestina for Hope Solo

I wrote this poem when I was taking a class in poetic forms from Carolyn Wright. This is a sestina, a 12th century form that uses six-line stanzas, with six pre-chosen words to end each line. The line-ending words change position in a specific order in each stanza; after six 6-line stanzas, there’s a final 3-line send off that uses all six words.

I had been obsessing over what to write about, which six words to use, and I was stumped. I was driving the shuttle then, and I went into a QFC in Bellevue to get coffee. As I was putting cream and cinnamon in my coffee (Starbuck’s dark roast is okay, but Pike has to be heavily doctored), I decided I’d use the model names of six cars in the parking lot as I walked back to the van. They were:


I think the “si” is a sub-model of the Honda Civic, but the Civic nameplate had fallen off. In the poem, “si” used as Spanish for “yes”, as Mount Si (in the Cascades near Seattle, pronounced “sigh”), and as “SI”, the standard abbreviation for Sports Illustrated. I wrote it around the time of the World Cup, inspired by goalie superstar Hope Solo. The broad biographical outlines are correct (career, father, Richland), everything else is–well, poetry.

Hope’s stock has fallen since then, but that’s my fault. Celebrities I praise fall, ones I criticize get canonized (Princess Diana). Anyway, an interesting exercise in randomness.

Sestina for Hope Solo

Before they knock, she opens the door, says “Si”,
steps into the moonlight with her midwife’s bag, limited
English, and the lunar authority of fierce focus.
A room painted with moans: “She will need bravada.”
They wonder: mother or child? Though cavalier
in her motions, as if fixing an old Mustang

up on blocks, still she brings a new mustang
kicking into the world– “Easy, no—powerful, si.”
The birth, or the girl? Her homeless father, Vietnam cavalier,
somewhere captures a bridge for the night. Limited
means–Mom fends off bills with bravada
as much as cash, but she keeps her focus

on her little huntress, her piece of moon. Pull focus
to high school, where she kicks like a mustang,
takes the soccer team to State while in an Olds Bravada,
her best friend Monica gets knocked up, drops out. “Si,
but he loves me.” Hope keeps her world limited
to a 70 centimeter sphere, and if it seems cavalier

the way she leaves Richland in her dust, well she’s a cavalier
by blood. College: she takes a defensive crouch, her sole focus
the threshold of a net. Finds her father’s similar limited
threshold beneath a bridge, the 60’s song “Mustang
Sally” blasting from his tent. Her runs up Mount Si
barely give her the leg strength to enter. But bravada

isn’t needed here, there’s humor and truth; not bravada
but mac and cheese and stories shared, one cavalier
to another. “Your daughter is very beautiful, si?”
–horny Ramon next door, they laugh him away, their focus
only for each other. But the roar and smoke of a Mustang
gunning it under the bridge reminds them time’s limited;

smoke clears, it’s years later, and she knows life’s limited–
he’s dead, and no gold medal, no bravada
can cool the sting. The moon-led mustang
wanders China to Germany, itinerant cavalier,
battle-scarred warrior, world’s best, the focus
of interviews and photo spreads in SI–

and yes, her limited father loved her, the old cavalier,
but Monica’s Bravada is up on blocks, so give the living your focus.
This mustang brings the Cup home to mom–easy, no–powerful, si.

The Chirping War of 1776

The fourth of July is not my favorite holiday. I grew up with fireworks, I’ve been to public displays, and no one has ever talked about the ideals of the country, or read from the founding documents. The Fourth of July, as celebrated, seems pornographic: explosion for its own sake, disconnected from the idea or feeling it’s supposed to celebrate. An excuse to blow shit up.

On the positive side, your local car dealer has revolutionary deals, and has declared independence from high prices!

For all its faults, I feel lucky to live in this country, and last year, listening to the mind-dulling crack and thump of fireworks, I thought I would rebel, and read the Bill of Rights. It helped, a lot. There’s a core of genius and decency to this nation.

Another year, and the Fourth rolls around again. Sigh.

This year I decided to read the Declaration of Independence. Wow. In laying out the case for revolution, before the laundry list of complaints, Jefferson lands a solid left hook that knocks the divine right of kings on its ass. And once again, it worked—I felt grateful and inspired. Maybe next year when the fireworks start, I’ll read from the Federalist Papers. It’s my rejection of our annual loveless humping of the American sky.

Anyway, while doing some background reading on the Declaration, I discovered a fascinating but forgotten part of American and British history: Chirping. Normally, to sail from England to America could take 6 weeks or longer. Thus, the flow of information, as well as people and goods, was quite slow.

Enter Chirping, an ultrafast messaging system that could send short messages, or “chirps,” across the Atlantic in as little as 4 days. How did it work?


Lord Evan Stone had the idea, and money, to set up a chain of a dozen or so relatively stationary ships across the Atlantic, and to train pigeons to fly between them. A pigeon can easily travel 400 miles a day at 50 miles per hour; with a quick transfer to a fresh pigeon, at least 800 miles a day was possible. Of course, messages were of necessity short, and expensive. And several pigeons had to carry the copies of the same message, because even a pigeon can have trouble finding a ship at sea. (The story of how Lord Stone got the birds to do that would be a fascinating article in its own right.) Adding to the expense was the constant need to resupply the stationary ships.

Arriving at port, the messages would then be posted publicly on a large board, unless additional fees were paid for a private delivery service. Of course, people would flock to see the Chirps, as Lord Stone intended: it was free advertising. The curious public clustered around the message board like feeding pigeons, which thus became to be known as Ye Feed. It was said that the Feed messages would travel by rumor just as a fast as by a private courier.

Interesting side note: the Chirps were originally called Coos, as the service was intended for the lovelorn gentry to send mash notes to their distant sweethearts. But as we shall see, the service soon became a channel for political bickering, or “Chirping.” I discovered a Log of Chirps between America and England (and some from France), recorded just after the Declaration of Independence arrived in London. (If King George III often seems to get the last word, it’s because he could afford more pigeons.)

Here is an excerpt:


This Declaration of Independence is the work of Indolent Wretches who can only Lose. I call them Lose-ers. Dolorous!

Too short, did not peruse.

Give me Liberty or give me Death!

Pathetic @Phenry, your bold declaration is naught but the squawking of a pea hen, so I dub thee Squawking Pat.

Some day, following the example of the United States of America, there will be a United States of Europe.

And should my distant heirs inherit my Spirit and Brain, they will surely Exit such an Execrable Union. This @GWashington once begged admittance to my Table, but I could see Foul Termites crawling about his wooden teeth. I said no!

I have never met @rexGeorgeIII, nor begged admittance to any man’s table.

This denial is but more Fraudulent News from the Colonial Nest of Ninnies. Dolorous!

If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice, or representation.

I’ll pay particular care and attention–to your Wherever, Crazy Abigail!

At this point, Lord Stone shut down the service in disgust.

Whale Shark

Call him Whale Shark. But first, let’s talk about her.

She was nerdy-stunning, early 30’s, with dark pinned-up hair and black glasses, clear pale complexion, and a low musical voice from ye faire isle of Britian. First stop of a yellow 2 out of Ballard, about 7:30 in the morning, yet she was as sleepy-eyed as a 3:30 pickup. Not a morning person, but still capable of witty, yet trenchant, pleasantries. I really wanted to talk with her more, but she clearly needed space, so I didn’t push it. Sure enough, she sat in the back row, always the sign of someone who doesn’t want to talk.

(Except for one guy from Everett who went all the way in back, then started a shouted conversation with me over the freeway noise. I finally pulled over so he could move up. I don’t know why, he didn’t have that much to say—I guess I was just tired of being shouted at.)

The other stop, Whale Shark’s, was on Phinney Ridge. “Ridge” is Seattlish for “View”, and “View” translates as “money.” He had the whole kit: two stories of Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains, German cars, the “My Kid Is an Honor Student at Precious Prep” bumper sticker. Dressed in technocrat khaki and an invisible “Smartest Guy in the Room” sweatshirt, he started to sit in the first row, spied her, and switched to the middle row, just in front of her. Wave bye-bye to the wife and kids, champ.

As we pulled away, he tried to strike up a conversation, despite her minimal replies. “Parry” and “deflect” are sword fighting terms that have been drafted into describing conversation, and never has it seemed so literal to me as I watched her fend him off with as little energy as politeness would allow.

He was growing desperate, and started talking about his visit to the Atlanta Aquarium, and their stupendous whale sharks. “Biggest fish in the sea: forty feet long, 20 tons, and you’re right there looking at them. Amazing. I mean, forty feet…”

We were at a red light, and I glanced back in the rearview mirror. She had had enough. With the efficiency of a master swordfighter, she pierced his heart (or loins) with the tiniest of gestures: she closed her eyes. He was frozen with disbelief for a few seconds, then turned around and stared morosely out the window for the rest of the trip.

When we got to the airport, I unloaded her luggage, and she signed her credit card slip. A good-humored look passed between us: acknowledgement of what had happened with Whale Shark, an appreciation on her part that I was letting her be a sleepy morning traveler, without asking for more. And maybe something else, a sense of kindred spirits, an acknowledgement of the conversation that could have been. A special bond, perhaps.

That night, I told Tess the story of the trip, including the exchanged look with her at the end of it. “Oh God,” she said, “you’re as pathetic as he is.”

Whale Shark, my brother!

Securing a Deck Post with Big Ass Bolt

“Howdy folks,” part of me wants to say. “Today we’re gonna talk deck posts, so giddyup lil’ saw horse, yuppie-mai-tai-o-kay.” Something about Home Improvement begs for a grizzled, gruff-but-kind, suspender-wearing sage.

And something in me rebels. Maybe I’ll use an upper-class British voice: “In addressing issues with veranda fenders, it is critical that one first select the correct gin.”

Or maybe Beat carpentry, from Kerouac or Ginsberg: “I have seen the best deck posts of my generation peel from their joists like naked bananas made limp from the yellowblack rot of bad technique, flinging tiki torches and angelheaded ex-hipsters like mediocre meteors across the suburban Bellevue sky into the Nirvanic Void of drained swimming pools, and while the railing is not safe, you are not safe.”

Let’s just let it rip, shall we? There may be some stylistic swerves.

We dwell in Possibility—
A fairer House than Code—
We need not bracket deck posts—
What could—Possibly—go Wrong?

— Emily Dickenson

The Problem

It was 2:30 in the afternoon when I arrived at the bungalow. Her eyes were as cool as the ice in her Gin Rickey. She wore a thin negligee, and with the air conditioner on, I guessed the rest of her must be cool too. Anyway, one of us had goosebumps.

“Come in, Mr. Bolt. I’m Misty—Misty Carrera.”

“The introduction is hardly necessary, Ms. Carrera—I’m familiar with your oeuvre.”

Her eyes flashed hot in anger: “You know nothing of my ovaries. Besides, I don’t do those kinds of movies anymore.”

“You have a problem with your deck.”

“My deck is fine. I have a problem with an inspector—that awful Inspector Pinckney. Follow me.”

I sighed. Pinckney—James “Picky” Pinckney. We went out onto the deck.

“Look, Ms. Carrera, everyone has a problem with Picky. He’d hold up the opening of the Taj Mahal if the acidity of the elephant shit in the alley was off.”

A familiar fedora appeared above the floor of the deck, followed by the rest of his rare roast beef face. “Big Ass—I should have known you’d show up. Sorry I can’t test you for acidity, I left my pH kit at the office.”

She glanced at my butt with arched eyebrows: “Big Ass? You look more like a Titus to me.”

I’ve given up trying to explain—my parents named me Bhigas—a revered name in the old country, something to do with owning lots of land. That which doesn’t kill me.

“Let’s cut to the chase. Something about a dryer vent? C’mon Picky, let the nice lady enjoy her deck.”

“Not a chance. She coulda bolted the post into the wall of the house, but no, she’s got to be cute and let the railing float. But with the dryer vent in the way, there’s no room to screw in a bracket. And you’re not going to find a way around this one, Big. Oh, I’m sorry–I should have said, ‘Ass’.”

This is what I hate most about Picky. I’m the rebel outsider, he’s the stuffed shirt from City Hall, yet somehow he comes up with all the good lines.

Anyway, there it was: a deck post without a bracket, the smoking gun. People think that deck posts break or something, if they bother to think about them at all. But that’s not how they fail. They’re bolted to the rim joist, and they act like a lever—get enough force leaning on the top rail, and it’ll pry the joist off like a pop top on a cheap beer. Brackets create a secure “load path” to an inner joist.

I shook my head. Stoned rail-leaners on high decks, taking in the view. Lots of people have died of the view.

I turned to Misty. “So why not remove the dryer vent?”

“Are you kidding me? I had a hard enough time getting it through the foundation wall, but getting to those quarter-inch hex screws so I could secure the vent cover? I finally had to use my little 90 degree screwdriver without a bit in it—I was just lucky the standard shaft size is also a quarter-inch hex.”

I passed on the obvious joke about a quarter-inch being a standard shaft size. I was impressed—I figured she hired some Joe to do her dirty work. She was tough, and resourceful. More to her than I realized.

“I’ll take a look.”

Picky was smirking. He knew he had me.

It was worse than I thought. It was tighter than—okay, that’s two jokes I’m passing on. Even a 90-degree attachment on a power screwdriver wouldn’t fit. Her trick with the little driver was good, but these were structural screws going into wood, not sheet metal.

The Solution

The way to do the impossible is to do the impossible. If the goal is to tie to an inner joist—just do it. But how? There wasn’t room for much more than a bolt.

Maybe it was the joke I didn’t make about the tiny quarter-inch shaft. Suddenly, I knew what to do.

“Be right back.” I went out my car and came back with a namesake. They were exchanging barbs. She saw me over his shoulder.

“Wow—that’s a big-ass bolt,” she said. He turned to me, puzzled, and then his jaw dropped. He knew. I was packing 24 inches of ¾” galvanized steel—enough to go through the post, the rim joist, and through the next inner joist. The head alone was 3 inches wide.

The bright kids at Virginia Tech had figured out the loads on posts, and it got put into code: 500 lbs. My bolt had a tensile strength in the thousands of pounds.

It didn’t take long to pull the old bolt, drill the larger hole, and install the new one. I even put in blocking and bracketed the bolt to the next inner joist, just to rub it in. Picky signed the permit, spat out “Be sure to use an approved deck sealer,” and slunk away.

She turned to me, amused. “Would you care to come in and have a drink? Perhaps we can discuss my oeuvre.” She said it with a perfect French accent. There were many layers to her, and I wanted to peel them all off. Slowly.

Note: This article is written for your dining and dancing pleasure only. Want to know how to properly secure a deck post? Check out this article in DeckMagazine.com:

If You’re Not Obsessed, You’re Not Alive

We have a dog in our lives now, Harvey, our housemate’s pet. He’s a tall black mix of bird dog, probably Irish setter, and border collie. (Happily, he got the border collie smarts and the setter’s graceful athleticism. One is reminded of the [apocryphal] story of G. B. Shaw’s reply when a beautiful woman said, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a child with your brains and my beauty?” “But what a tragedy, my dear, if the reverse were true.”)

One of Harvey’s favorite games is when Tennis Ball Fetch devolves into me chasing him around the yard. He just can’t get enough of it. It’s a good workout for me, because it involves running fast with quick changes of direction—not my usual jog. But if I played as much as he wanted me to, it’d be a full time job. He’s obsessed.

This evening we were planning dinner and trying to figure out something fun to do afterwards—maybe Lemon Drops and cribbage? A movie? I was struck by an idea: “What about tennis at Seward Park?” Suddenly, we both knew that was it. We used to love playing tennis, but somehow fell out of the habit; we hadn’t played for about eight years. It took about 15 minutes of digging in the garage for rackets, and a trip to the store for non-dog chewed balls. Dinner could wait.

The courts at Seward Park have been rebuilt since the drainage project; they sit right on the edge of Lake Washington with a view of Mt. Rainier. (In fact, I played barefoot for about 15 minutes while waiting for my shoes to dry after retrieving an errant ball from the lake.) Eagles are a frequent distraction. We were very fortunate that one of the two courts was open. In contrast to our bumbling, a couple of tennis blackbelts, a man and a woman, were zapping balls at each other like throwing stars in a martial arts movie.

We didn’t play any games, just hit the ball back and forth. At first, it was hard to get past 3 volleys without going into the net or out of bounds. Or in the lake. But, we kept improving. After about 45 minutes, Tess said, “Do you realize we’ve been grinning the whole time?” What I love is chasing down difficult balls, and occasionally getting a successful racket on them. No matter how difficult, I’ll chase it. (I think chasing Harvey helped me snag a few of them.) Much later, as the court was fully shadowed, we thought maybe we should leave soon. Okay; let’s just have a rally of six shots, then we’ll go.

Too easy. Try nine. Twelve. Fifteen. We were over twenty playable shots before we finally packed it in, sore and happy. Walking back to the car, we marveled at summer. Kids dancing to hip hop, the pungent smell of pot (it’s Seattle), families picnicking on the lawns, the chiming ice cream truck with the same songs from childhood: Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Mary Had a Little Lamb…and the variety of adults and kids lining up, Asian, Hispanic, a woman in a hijab, African American, European American, 31 flavors of American.

We pulled over on the way to Flying Squirrel Pizza to watch an eagle try to snag a fish from Andrews Bay, while another eagle hovered in position to steal it. My hands were black from the decayed tape on the racket handle, and I had to wash them in the restaurant’s bathroom before paying for the pizza.

We’ll be back. We’re obsessed.

“Life is nothing if you’re not obsessed.” –John Waters’ movie Pecker, 1998

Jacqui Naylor at Frankie’s, Vancouver BC 6.17.17

Tess and I are both fans of jazz singer Jacqui Naylor, so when we were planning a trip to Vancouver, we picked the weekend she was playing there. To say she’s a jazz singer doesn’t capture everything she does, though: she also writes original tunes that are sort of folk-rock, and with her musical and life partner Art Khu, she does something she calls “acoustic smashing”: she’ll sing the melody of one song over the groove of another, often mixing genres. For example, she’ll sing the Talking Heads’ Once in a Lifetime over Weather Report’s Birdland, or Nina Simone’s Feeling Good over Bob Marley’s I Shot the Sheriff. It works better than it has a right to; she’s the Gregor Mendel of musical hybridization.

For this concert, Ms. Naylor wore clothes. Well, she always does in concert, as far as I know; it’s just that the charming man next to us (who generously gave us a taste of his wine when we were trying to choose one) was going on about why she dressed in a certain color. Funny, I never see that much attention devoted to a male singer’s clothing. But, we also had a civil and interesting conversation with him about politics, which is apparently possible to do in Canada.

Anyway, although plagued by an elusive hum from the PA that took a few songs to eliminate, she found her groove soon enough. Her strong, expressive, wide ranging voice is always a pleasure to listen to. The most delightful song of the evening was when she sang Surrey With the Fringe on Top over Gabor Szabo’s Breezin’ (which became a hit for George Benson [which Szabo hated]). If acoustic smashing ever goes on artistic trial, this could be Exhibit A for the defense.

I think it works so well because of the geometry of the songs: Breezin’ is very horizontal, in that the notes don’t go up or down very much, and they’re also very even in length; it’s a forward-leaning, propulsive tune. Surrey, on the other hand, is quite vertical, notes going up and down, with a kind of bouncy rhythm—you can almost see the upright carriage and prancing horses, just from the music. They don’t fight for the same space. The timing of the two songs was genius: when she sang the chorus of Surrey, the quicksilver guitar riff from Breezin’ would swoop in and push it along.

However, I felt something was missing. I’d heard her in Seattle a few years ago, and I was struck by how she had different voices: there was a Rickie Lee waif, a world-wise Tracy Chapman, a tough-gal low voice, and others. One or more of them would pop into a song for a cameo, and it was like having different characters tell the story of the song. This night, it was “only” her regular Jacqui Naylor voice, which is wondrous in its own right. But getting those different points of view in one song is, to me, more interesting than acoustic smashing. I like the acoustic smashing, it’s fun, and I think says something general about the surprising shared DNA of different musics; but getting those other voices/viewpoints expands the specific emotion and world of a song.

I started wondering if I’d just imagined her “multiple voices”, because I couldn’t understand why she’d drop that, but I’m sure I didn’t. (Pretty sure, anyway—I did have an imaginary friend when I was a kid, so who knows.)

One interesting thing about Naylor was that she’d talk to fans on the break and after the show; not just “Hi how are ya,” but actual long conversations. (Maybe people she knew?) We thought about talking to her, but decided not to wait around.

Her partner Art Khu, however, was the opposite: we thanked him on the way out, and he seemed like a classic introvert: very present, but not into the schmooze. I mentioned that I thought a tune they played, “Sunshine and Rain”, would smash well with Jobim’s Agua de Berber (which I badly pronounced, and briefly mumble-sang a bar of). He nodded politely, and we said good night and walked to the door, me feeling foolish.

As I was about to step outside, he called after me: “Good point.” Musicians amaze me: in the 4 or 5 seconds it took for me to walk to the door, his mind figured out what the hell song I was talking about, extracted the relevant riff, ran it through some simulations with the other song, and decided it had enough merit to mention.

We stepped out into the cool Vancouver night and headed for the bus, full of good wine, average food, excellent music, and the pleasure of each other’s company. It doesn’t need to get much better than that.