Seattle Streets, Explained. Sort Of.

nyc street grid

It would have been so tempting to follow the contours of Manhattan Island but once the grid started, stubborn New Yorkers just paved straight lines.

New York’s urban planners were all kinds of sensible when they platted out America’s greatest city, perhaps because at the time they knew it was destined to be so, what with it’s critical shipping waterways and special talent for delicious bagels.  They drew it in a lovely, logical grid, with numbered streets counting in order paired with equally-sensible numbered avenues running perpendicular, creating an elegant grid-coordinate directions system that even the broken English of a NY cabbie can communicate. It has since been slowly bastardized by various political meanderings (I’m looking at you, Avenue of the Americas) but for the most part it’s survived intact as a testament to good city planning that serves both its residents and the city’s steady influx of easily-confused tourists pretty well. Of course, that doesn’t stop tourists standing on 34th Street from asking how to get to 14th Street, but really we can only lead the horses to water, especially when those horses are willing to pay upwards of $20 for a $2 “I Love NY” t-shirt.

Seattle downtown street map

Denny started from the North, Yesler from the South, and there’s really no excuse for what happened in the middle there.

Contrast New York’s timeless efficiency with Seattle’s street grid, a monument not to efficiency but to the power players of Seattle’s boomtown days, men like Arthur Denny and Henry Yesler for whom two of the city’s defining thoroughfares are named. Each followed their own drummer as they marched out the plat lines of their holdings on the growing city’s waterfront but in the late 1800’s Seattle was less concerned with traffic efficiency and more concerned about their rickety wooden elevated sidewalks, about the indecency of ladies climbing ladders in order to cross downtown streets, and about uphill neighbors with newfangled flush toilets pulling the chain too frequently and suddenly filling downhill neighbors’ basements with raw sewage. In short, Seattle had bigger (and smellier) problems. But after a city-wide fire and a subsequent massive land re-grading project which created nearly everything west of 4th Avenue, Seattle emerged into an awkward teenage phase and suddenly had reason to be embarrassed about its pimply roads and gangly broken avenues, so the disconnected sections of road were connected and it quickly became clear that no one had been paying attention.

So Seattleites will be forgiven for their poor grasp on the geography of their city’s urban core, with its wedge-shaped blocks, awkwardly-merging avenues and complete disregard for compass directions. It’s certainly not Boston or London (both cities whose maps can best be described as “a bag of worms”) but it’s less than ideal especially for all those luddite Amazon delivery drivers who would like to navigate by memory rather than GPS.

Enter the pneumonic device, the spelling of which could really use its own pneumonic device to trigger the memory of all those extra letters.  I have shared several of my favorite Seattle devices with dozens of Uber drivers the past several years who, predictably, have never heard them as they depend entirely on a navigation app to find their way from Dilling & Yesler to 3rd Ave & Prefontaine (that’s a distance of about 25 feet, I feel I must offer, so that you’ll understand my jab). Since Uber drivers don’t seem to need them but I still find them endlessly useful as a Seattle urbanite who likes walking places and providing confident directions to cruise ship tourists, I am sharing them with you; not just you, the reader, but the Google robots and their ilk, as well, since nothing is better for SEO than a good bulleted list.

Seattle Neighborhoods

Denny Triangle isn’t even really a triangle.

Let’s start with the heart of downtown, an area the Downtown Seattle Association breaks into two arbitrary neighborhoods called “West Edge” – which is neither the western-most part of the city nor on the edge of anything except perhaps becoming wildly overpriced – and the “Retail Core” which is a very honest name for a neighborhood that exists mostly to sell you a handbag.  For some reason that I couldn’t uncover in 2-3 minutes of absently browsing Wikipedia (read: what passes for journalism in 2016) the Eastish-Westish streets in this area are named in alphabetic pairs, making our pneumonic device especially efficient.  In order from South to North (which is also kind of right-to-left on the map, perhaps a nod to Seattle’s Japanese population?) those streets are:

  • Jefferson St
  • James St
  • Cherry St
  • Columbia St
  • Marion St
  • Madison St
  • Spring St
  • Seneca St
  • University St
  • Union St
  • Pike St
  • Pine St

As you can see, there are two of each letter, so we can boil this down to J-C-M-S-U-P (more on expanding it later) and the most common pneumonic device I’ve heard for those letters is “Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Pressure” which may be an homage to the immense volcanic and tectonic pressure present in this region that contributed heavily to the formation of Seattle’s geography.  It also might have just been catchy.   The secular (and furrier) alternate I’ve heard is “Jumpy Cats May Scratch Upholstery & People” where the “&” is obviously excluded, obviously, as is the standard with pneumonic devices unless it’s inconvenient, in which case it isn’t.  Obviously.

Now that you have one of those lodged in your skull (or perhaps you made up your own already, you brainiac) you have a rough sense of where you are anywhere in that neighborhood.  Standing in the J’s and need to reach one of the U’s?  You’ll need to walk past the C’s, M’s and S’s to get there.  But perhaps you would like to be more exact?  Well, here’s something that might help you.  Notice that each pair is in reverse alphabetical order (James comes after Jefferson, Seneca comes after Spring), except for the C’s and the P’s.  That’s because “The P’s and the C’s aren’t PC”.  For those that don’t remember Bill Clinton-area political news coverage, “PC” means Politically Correct, which at some point in its heyday basically just meant “acceptable” as anything that wasn’t PC was basically unacceptable.  Thankfully, widespread use of the internet has sufficiently lowered our standards of human decency to the point that no one is trying to be PC anymore, and certainly not by calling it that.  But nonetheless, that’s a little trick to help you keep the order straight within the pairs.

I bet you can recite at least 25 words from Tommy Boy right now.

I bet you can recite at least 25 words from Tommy Boy right now.

Or you could just memorize them.  I mean, it’s 12 words, that’s probably less to remember than your favorite Chris Farley impression.  Try it: Jefferson James Cherry Columbia Marion Madison Spring Seneca University Union Pike Pine.  Read that 20 times right now, recite it in your head every time you pass one of the mentioned street signs, and in 2 weeks you will be gesticulating with aplomb at wayward tourists trying to find the public library (it’s on Madison Street) like a Seattle savant.

I know that your mind is already blown at this point and you’re nearly tearing the cords out of your computer attempting to run outside and navigate Seattle’s downtown streets like Ferdinand Magellan with an iPhone, but I have one more neighborhood to clog your noggin with.  When I moved to Seattle 15 years ago and started walking through the Belltown neighborhood in search of happy hour sushi and an old-fashioned made with a bourbon-soaked cherry (read: properly) it dawned on me that Belltown needed a pneumonic of its own.  I’ve had even less success convincing Uber drivers to adopt this one as it’s a bit longer and I – perhaps misguidedly – attempted to tackle some of the wedge-shaped convergence zone blocks resulting from the collision of several misaligned street grids that the previous device conveniently passes over.  With that hearty disclaimer, here’s  your mental map to the following Belltown streets:

  • Olive Way
  • Stewart St
  • Virginia St
  • Lenora St
  • Blanchard St
  • Bell St
  • Battery St
  • Wall St
  • Vine St
  • Cedar St
  • Clay St
  • Broad St
  • Denny Way

If you’re looking at the map you’ll notice that these streets only occur in this order at 3rd Avenue, and even then not quite exactly, as Olive and Stewart are still conjoined asphalt twins at 3rd Avenue and only begin to find identities of their own as they approach 4th Avenue.  Also, Denny Way is clearly not part of the Belltown grid but as the boundary of the neighborhood it seemed like a good anchor and the corner of 3rd Avenue and Denny Way is near-enough-as-makes-no-difference to Seattle Center, which is an even better neighborhood anchor.  As for Olive Way and Stewart St, they seemed like the longest and most significant boundaries of the two grid systems, and if one was trying to walk from Seattle Center to Nordstrom (from the city’s heart to its wallet, as it were) knowing how far one has traversed on that journey seemed useful.  Also, our previous pneumonic ended at Pine St which is (mostly) a block away from either Olive Way or Stewart St, depending on which Avenue you are standing on.  Trying to rationalize these decisions is actually doing a great job to illustrate how confusing Seattle’s street grid is and why pneumonic devices are necessary.  So let’s just move on.

Here's a guy that would bite your ear off in a bar fight.

Here’s a guy that would bite your ear off in a bar fight.

With the street names above, and in an homage to Seattle’s long history in the software economy, we have the following: Open-Source Vendors Let Big Bad Ballmer Win Venture Capital Companies’ Big Dollars.   That’s Olive-Stewart (appropriately hyphenated) Virginia Lenora Blanchard Bell Battery Wall Vine Cedar Clay Broad Denny.  Originally I had written it as “Big Bad Bill” which is obviously a reference to Microsoft’s Bill Gates but it turns out Bill is actually not a bad guy at all; rather, a very good guy with a huge heart who has dedicated his life to using his power and influence (and money) to make enormous improvements in standards of living throughout the third world.  So instead, it’s “Big Bad Balmer” which works just as well as a pneumonic and is perhaps much more true given his track record in Redmond and his penchant for chair-throwing.  Battery, Bell, and Blanchard are in reverse alphabetical order – similar to the West Edge streets – and Cedar and Clay defy that convention – just like the other C’s and P’s further south which are similarly not PC.

Never mind that the sentence “Open-Source Vendors Let Big Bad Ballmer Win Venture Capital Companies’ Big Dollars” isn’t particularly true in any obvious way and doesn’t actually make sense.  It wasn’t meant to be profound, it was meant to have the right letters in the right order and to stick in your brain like a half-eaten lollipop sticks in a shag carpet.  Your brain, in this example, is a shag carpet. With the help of your shag-carpet brain, you can now walk from Yesler Way to Nordstrom (Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Pressure) and then continue all the way to the Space Needle (Open-Source Vendors Let Big Bad Ballmer Win Venture Capital Companies’ Big Dollars), all without using your phone for anything other than music, texting, restaurant reviews, posting to your Snapchat story and sharing your journey block-by-block on Instagram.

The Belltown example is perhaps a little tougher to memorize and there are probably very few people navigating Belltown these days other than via the Uber app or, increasingly, indirectly via their food delivery service of choice.  That’s likely true for both of these neighborhoods just as it is for the elegant grid-like streets of Manhattan; our pervasive technology and its cloud-based software-as-a-service intelligence masking one city’s clever and human-friendly urban planning and another’s rambunctious and slipshod development from overgrown gold nugget repository to glittering technology boomtown. But on either coast, should a zombie apocalypse leave you without your precious Google Maps, the hardcore survivalists among you whose advance planning included committing these pneumonic devices to memory will handily find your way to Wasabi Bistro to trade a pack of cigarettes for what’s left of their fresh albacore.  And that, my friends, is how you write keyword-rich, SEO-friendly content.

A War We Should Try To Avoid

“Ads are being cast as the enemy as consumers find more and more ways to block them.”

This Ad Age article paints a pretty scary future, and I’m not just worried about all of the industries and jobs that depend on the ad business or the impact on entertainment and content production that is currently ad-sponsored. The real concern is the continued trend towards class-ism, where those who can afford to pay premiums receive a significantly different experience than those who can’t. We already have riots of metro bus riders upset over Google buses, do we want to separate Jimmy Fallon’s audience into warring factions the same way we have San Francisco commuters? We already exclude some of the world’s best content behind expensive paywalls at the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, even Ad Age (although they at least offer a few free articles per month), effectively excluding the financially-disadvantaged from having the same cultural, business and news resources as those of us with a subscription.

Now I’m not saying that an ambitious but underprivileged future Warren Buffet can’t scrape his pennies together for the WSJ subscription that’s going to make him the next bond-trading mogul, because anyone who has the savvy to understand that heady prose can probably find $12 a month through some clever means, but what will the internet become when every great piece of content requires a fee? First, each site will start their own pay model, and we’ll pick the ones that are most important to us, and abandon the rest. Users will consolidate into closed subscription groups, rather than graze the entirety of the digital buffet as we do now. The pressure on smaller sites will be too great as they find fewer and fewer subscribers, and they will need to join forces with networks of sites in order to survive. Soon, broad subscriptions will encompass collections of content and consumers will need to choose between collections, won’t want to pay the outlay of more than one large collection, and will cease to explore anything outside their subscription group. And then what do we have?

Cable, that’s what. We have cable. Is that what you want, world? You want the internet’s cost structure to mirror that of Comcast? Think about that for a minute before you block all the ads, because unless you want to be trapped in a content monopoly and pay a monstrous monthly fee for the few “channels” you are interested in because that’s the only way to access them, then you’d better start appreciating the advertisers that take on all the risk to give you a free internet on the off-chance they can sell a few widgets, because our “free exchange of information” internet is about to be far from free.

Source: Yes, There Is a War on Advertising. Now What? | Digital – Advertising Age

Even in a data economy, it’s still all about people

I’ve spent this week at a Google SMB (small to medium business) partnership event in Miami, connecting
with the teams at Google that will help me build my business and learning about the ways in which Google is willing and able to help small businesses tackle the fireswamp that is digital advertising.  They do so indirectly, by supporting their channel sales partners with training, strategy, data analysis, marketing events, and a not-insignificant measure of scotch whiskey.

Amidst the torrential summer rains of Miami Beach in August Google has showcased what a large adwordsinvestment they’ve made in people – both their own and those working for their channel sales partners.  As we’ve spent these last few days ensconced in the beautiful (and historic, as guests are constantly reminded) Fontainebleau Hotel it struck me that even a company who has basically all the data in the world that there is to have, and arguably (or perhaps not) the most significant investment in algorithmic data manipulation, optimization and machine learning in the history of our brainy little species, even Google is still powered by people – by their relationships, their trust, their passions, their fears.  None of their data would be sought after if it weren’t organized in a way that makes sense to people – even though that often means organizing it in a way that is inefficient for the machines.  None of their revenue juggernaut of the past 20 years would have been possible had they not been able to convince advertisers – also people – that the best way to transmit their message to their customers – nearly all of which are people – was through Google’s data-driven means, and that meant a great deal of marketing, communicating, hand-shaking, and (most likely) cocktails, all of which are very people-centric practices.  Practices that are laced with data, no doubt – measuring success, analyzing costs, predicting outcomes – but which to execute still require a human with a Google badge to commence the shaking of those hands.

So for those worried that the machines are taking over, take heart knowing that even in the places most dominated by data-fueled artificial intelligence and algorithmic forecasting of even the tiniest of human behaviors, the whole study is still really an exercise in understanding people better and even – perhaps, especially – at Google the role of humans has never been more important.




Pondering the Westward view

Sitting on the vacant second floor near the office’s west-facing windows in a rare moment of reflection during what is normally a hectic and nonstop workday, I am noticing for the first time what’s actually outside these walls. Across the street is a millwork facility, and behind it a new parking garage built for the Starbucks HQ that I’d never noticed before today. Behind that is the Burlington Northern rail yard and the northernmost reaches of Elliot Bay Harbor where the massive cargo cranes tirelessly juggle shipping containers like a never-ending Lego kit. One such container rolls by in the foreground atop an 18-wheeler’s specially-fitted trailer, the driver snaking his way through the orange cones and steel road plates littered down South 1st Avenue, remnants of a perpetual construction project that currently toils a few blocks further south. Across the sky a small private jet slices through the hanging clouds, descending towards Boeing Field’s southbound runway, and not long behind it a cargo transport flight on a longer approach, its silver fuselage glinting in the waning winter sun. It’s a very raw neighborhood, marred by no attempts to mask the purpose of the sprawling warehouses that are its trademark. Even as SoDo has seen some of its industrial tenants be replaced by stylish warehouse condos and shabby-chic loft workspaces this has only peeled back the neighborhood’s skin and exposed the meat and bones of the heavy industry that first made Seattle a boomtown and the blue-collar workforce that quietly keeps the city running despite a culture largely focused on the pleasures of white-collar life.

As one of those white-collar workers I have enjoyed this office’s proximity to the massive physical scale of America’s industrial machine, and as one of the high-tech laborers pushing the country into an era of electronic accomplishments rather than physical ones the honest tangibility of this largely-bygone impotus to America’s previous-century growth has been a valuable source of perspective.

On my last day in this office – the company is relocating to a more modern (and much more tightly-crowded and “efficient”) space near the financial/legal district and Chinatown – I can’t help but wonder what the next century of industrial revolutions will bring and what the littered past of my industry and the ones that come after it will look like to those that follow us. We won’t leave behind vast warehouses, complex machinery, massive infrastructure or huge environmental change. Just digital records, unfinished ideas, and a smattering of office furniture to show for all our efforts to change the world.

Comedy In My Inbox (Part 2)

You may recall our first adventure into the fat-fingered, confused and/or lazy folks that wormed their way into my email inbox because my address is too simple and obvious to really belong to someone. It’s been several months and I have another great batch to share, as apparently my email address continues to be the “party line” account for an entire community of people named Brian (or not). The transgressions span the scale from “innocuous typing mistake” to “borderline identity theft” although I’m not really sure it counts as identify theft when someone gives you their personal information by emailing it directly to your (apparently only semi-private) work address.

The source of many of these gems of modern communication is creating an account on some website, using my address as the contact email, and then needing to either confirm the address or recover a lost password. Both are activities that fundamentally require access to the email address provided to the site, so I’m confused why anyone would thrown down a bogus one yet still go to the trouble of completing the registration form.

For example, YouTube user brandonzeula is never going to upload any videos because all his account management messages come to me:


Also, “rude.com” user “panties1877” will not see his registration process completed. It is a shame that someone who is obviously such a classy guy – who likely listens to Brahms concertos in his Oxford-adjacent den, soaking in the aroma of fine cigars, leather-bound books and dark mahogany as he slowly pickles his liver in well-aged scotch with quiet dignity – will not successfully partake in the live XXX webcams of “rude.com” (which I have purposely not provided a link to as I doubt any of my readers are sufficiently high-caliber enough to be awarded a coveted invitation to this prestigious site).


Plant Bad Seeds, Reap A Poor Harvest

Further illustrating the issue is this message intended for Brian Berry of Decatur, Illinois, who apparently has the time and inclination to create a shopping account but would prefer not to receive any communication about his account or orders and instead directs that to me. Am I expected to call him with daily order tracking updates when he starts receiving garden irrigation supplies this spring?


What’s My Name Again?

These are selections from what must be thousands of websites where my address is used to create an account, one which probably never gets activated or used because, well, I get the important emails. People like “Brott66”, “chain the invinceble”, “Bribhoycelts”, “big red dogg” and Brian Seshabo might want to consider whether creating the account at all is worth their (obviously extremely valuable) time.

trackmill-big-red-dogg pokerstars personal-informer norton-password nexon inspiron-battleknight brott66-pogo brian-seshabo-yola

Proud (Yet Surprised) Father

I’m not sure if these are subtle hints about upcoming child custody cases I should expect subpeonas for, but I’ve also been receiving parenting-related emails from Sintia Domingues in Pennsauken, New Jersey (Google says it’s a suburb of Philadelphia). Our baby is currently the size of a pumpkin and our subscription to American Baby should begin arriving in 4-6 weeks.



Good Luck On Your Interview

Brian Dobson, who apparently lives within commuting distance of Tulsa, Oklahoma, must not have been very serious about this opening for a Fleet Mechanic at the local Pepsi Bottling facility, because he provided my email address in his contact information. I considered filling out the survey for him and sharing with Pepsi the details of his prison time and illegal immigrant status, or his sordid affair with a young heiress to the Coca Cola fortune, but unlike Mr. Dobson, I don’t wish to spend time filling out job applications for employers I want not to call me back.


Printer Ink Is A Scam Anyway

A little closer to home, Brian McNeill spent nearly $100 on inkjet cartridges for his Hewlett Packard 564XL, shipped to his door in Redmond, WA. While Mr. McNeill is a savvy enough shopper to have scored free next-day shipping and that $8.10 instant ink rebate, he falls squarely into the “noob” category for 1) ordering from the manufacturer instead of shopping the aftermarket, and 2) not having his own email address.


The Bill-Paying Adventures of Brian Hicks

Stretching closer to the creepy-stalker-slash-identity-thief area, several of my internet alter-egos have made me a recurring part of their lives by (thoughtfully, so thoughtfully!) sending me their bills. I’m able to learn a great deal about Mr. Hicks from his bills, notably that his Norton antivirus software is set to auto-renew annually and charge his credit card ending in x2788, that his Geico policy was canceled in October due to nonpayment, and that he signed a 2-year contract with Alltel to get a $100 rebate on his new Samsung Delve.




Brian Jones Gets An iPhone

I get Mr. Jones’s AT&T bill emails every month and have for the past 2 years, but I was excited in October to see he ponied up for a new iPhone 3GS. I’ve really been enjoying mine – maybe I should give him a call and we can compare apps.



Brian Parker Fails At Shopping

Somewhere in the greater Dallas-Fort Worth area, Brian Parker is probably getting very frustrated that no one ever replies to his emails. As an electrical contractor, he used the email account provided by his ISP (Road Runner broadband) to create an account with Taurus Commercial, a Dallas-based contractor, but strangely sent my email address in the reply-to field, meaning Taurus replied to me, not to him. He requested support from Bluebeam Software when activating their software, but likely never received a reply as he 1) gave them my address as his own and 2) likely missed earlier communications from Bluebeam for the same reason and his order was never fulfilled in the first place.



Still shopping (and still failing), Brian Parker made some email offers on Craigslist items, but I’d guess they never led to successful transactions as he directed the seller’s replies to me. In the third one, he gave them not only a false email address, but also apparently an invalid phone number! I guess he didn’t want the bike that badly after all.




From Around The Globe

As though the antics of my fellow Americans weren’t ridiculous enough, let’s take a quick jump to some of the more exotic locales where my email address is getting play on Glasgow dating sites (sites who send me birthday wishes every year on September 19th), registering for Australian fantasy football, and taking a weekend holiday in Suffolk.




That’s all for today, but at the rate new random, misguided messages arrive in my inbox I’m sure it won’t be long before another batch becomes post-worthy. Until then, don’t email your bills to strangers, and check your reply-to fields, kids!

Comedy In My Inbox (Part 1)

I get a lot of weird email at work. I know that other people who worked here before me have had this email address (it’s *very* generic) and that does explain some of it, but there’s also apparently a lot of people who are purposely using my corporate email address as their “reply-to” or when signing up for things online. I’m not sure why you’d want to do that – there’s so many throwaway email services these days, and just because you don’t want email from some site doesn’t mean you’d want some stranger (me) to get messages about your account, does it? I know the internet brings out the stupid in people, so let’s take a trip through the “funny/random” folder in my inbox and see who’s using my email address. These are all real messages, directly from my corporate mailbox, and are not spam (strictly-speaking) – they are solicited, intentional messages meant for someone else, someone who provided my address to the sender as their own.

Match.com Vietnam

Let’s begin with the one that started me on this journey today. I am quite sure I have never signed up for Match.com Vietnam, especially not with my work address. Also, is it just me or does “Nordjylland” not sound like a real region in Vietnam?

What a Scouser!

Here’s one of many gems from overseas – and one that was actually in english. I appreciate that Colin was so inspired by Subway’s new promotion that he thought to forward it along to me. I, too, am very excited about a different 6″ sub every day for only 1 pound and 99 pence. I don’t appreciate, however, that he refers to me as a scouser – I am not from the Liverpool area nor do I cheer for their rugby team.


DSM Tuner dood

I’m really glad brian97gs created an account for me on the DSMTuners.com forums, so I can post mad pics of my sick 97 Eclipse GS for all the homies to be jealous of. Too bad his account activation process is now stalled – just like his Mitsubishi!

The Fabled Dragon of Forgotten Passwords

Johnny12333 used my address to sign up for his DragonFable account and hasn’t used it in quite some time, such that he’s forgotten his password. DragonFable efficiently emailed it to me when Johnny requested it – if only he could remember that tricky extra “3”, he’d be slaying virtual dragons already!

P.S. My rent is going to be late arriving this month

Apparently I’m a landlord for this nice couple, and although I’m attentive enough to their concerns, I’m not particularly choosy when hiring repair vendors. That doesn’t sound like me, but I also don’t have children or a Pug. According to google, Jane and Roy are an upstanding pair who donate their time at polling centers, so I’m not going to bother them about how my address got into their gmail addressbook.


Real Estate Professional

Here’s a local one, from associate Windermere broker Shane. This is not the only message I have from him, and considering he’s freely sharing with me all the details of this couple’s home buying process, I’m not sure he’s the kind of detail-oriented realtor that will make senior broker. Or maybe this is just his roundabout way of securing those all-important referrals?


Error: this seller’s account has been suspended.

Of course, what kind of good email scam would be complete without an entry related to Ebay? Ever wonder where those shady sellers get new, valid email address to sign up another fly-by-night account? Here’s your answer: they’re using mine.


Sorry Missed Address

Sheila felt it was important I not forget Chloe’s birthday. She used her Paxway “filtered internet service” to drop me a line, which I can only assume charges her by the word, necessitating that she omit any non-essential prepositions and pronouns. My question for her – if she’s the “Owner/Office Manager” of this excavating business, why is Norm’s name on the door?


The Gooch

These next two are a couple of my favorites, mostly because I love her name. Gooch. Don’t mess with The Gooch. Hey, The Gooch wants to see you. You went to prom with The Gooch? One more outburst like that and I’m calling The Gooch. Deep in the remote Himalayan mountains lives a creature called The Gooch. Hey, The Gooch emailed pictures of her kids to some stranger on the internet.



Meet the Gooches!

Wow, you just shared a link to your family photos with a total stranger. It’s only because I’m such a nice guy that I didn’t repost that link in the Something Awful forums on Photoshop Phriday.


My Secret Habbo Fetish

Everyone expects teenagers to be sneaky, so it’s no big surprise that “paromon” here used my email address under false pretenses to sign up for Habbo. The thing is, Habbo is like the tamest, most non-threatening thing your 19-year-old can be signing up for on the internet. Maybe he’s just embarrassed to be a closet Habbo-phile?


Go to the YMCA. Turn right at the basketball court.

Araksya here mistakenly believes that I know anything about Henry’s basketball schedule. From the myriad of other youth-basketball-related emails I receive, I’ve deduced that one of my many alter-egos coaches (or at least is responsible for scheduling) YMCA basketball. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to help little Henry find his b-ball games. There’s always soccer, kiddo!


Political AND witty!

I’ve got so many more great ones that I’ll have to save for another day, but let me finish with a real classic. Now I know I’m pretty net-savvy and all, but I had no idea that the Governor of Massachusetts was aware of my previous work and was considering me for a gubernatorial appointment. How flattering! If it hadn’t seemed like such a difficult commute, I might have taken them up on it. The best part? I love her clever pun – “looking forward to connecting with you”… the broadband institute… LOL!


I’ll save the rest for another day. I hope you’ve enjoyed trolling through my mailbox with me, looking for scammers, confused people and lazy typers. Remember to check your “To:” lines!

Spending My Time

It was 2pm when I finally decided to leave my hotel room and venture outside. The morning had slipped away from me, like the way a credit card balance adds up to something frightening even though none of the individual charges were particularly significant. My over-zealous internal alarm clock has fully adjusted to Sydney time, waking me up at 7 every morning now matter how tightly I roll down the window shade, so that even today – Monday, a federal holiday in Australia – I couldn’t seem to soak up any more than the minimum number of horizontal hours.

My intention Saturday had been to catch a bus to Bondi Beach, one of those typically-Aussie places on my must-see list, and something I figured would make a cheap date for myself and my Canon traveling companion. Saturday was dreadfully rainy, though, and despite reminding myself multiple times of my adopted Seattle mantra: “if you didn’t do something just because it was raining, you’d never do anything”, I just couldn’t talk myself into a dreary day at the beach. All the visions of sunbaked blondes lounging gracefully on the white sands of Bondi were washed out of my mind by the torrential downpour, and instead I went on an urban walkabout, enjoying my photog trip through the Chinese Gardens and finding some cool souvenir presents for people I wished I could call in the middle of their night. The shopping I did for myself I regret now; a misguided attempt to give purpose to a day without any. Spending money I didn’t have on things I didn’t need was only a momentary distraction, and left me feeling no more fulfilled and instead frustrated with my lack of self-restraint.

Sunday I planned to visit the zoo and Sarah from the local office had offered to join me, but again the weather interfered. It really wasn’t about the animals or taking photos; more than anything I was looking forward to spending a day with someone else besides the voices in my head. Sarah indulged me with breakfast in the city and a brief neighborhood walking tour, but when she departed I found myself again walking briskly through the city wearing my best purposeful look, attempting to mask my complete lack of purpose and sense of total uselessness. I explored some great things that afternoon but in the back of my mind was the nagging feeling that it was all only a means to an end, the purposeful spending of time like one spends the last few dollars of their local currency on the last day in a country. “I have all this time that I need to spend. I can spend a bit here, and a bit more there. That still leaves quite a bit. What else can I spend some on?” In my normal life my time is so precious and it’s agonizing to so intentionally disregard its value.

Maybe it was the exercise of walking the length of the city – I chose not to take the ferry as walking would spend more time – or maybe stopping in a Starbucks at St James Park for something that felt a little like home, but the bloody stub of my adventuresome self-reliance had regrown just slightly as I neared my hotel. I wandered awkwardly into a waterfront restaurant and requested something that, while increasingly familiar, I can never utter without a

trepidatious quiver in my voice: “table for one.” Either oblivious to my malaise or else preying on it like a wild dingo nips at the heels of the slowest wallaby, the icy hostess guided me to a table in the near-empty dining room less than arms-length from a chatty, affectionate couple, and unceremoniously removed the second place setting. Before departing she abruptly notified me that she’d “need this table back in an hour and 45 minutes.” I wasn’t sure if that was meant to sideline the several-hour binge drinking session of a wayward traveler at a lonely table in a stuffy steakhouse, or merely a statement to the poor service she expected her colleagues to be providing me that evening. Feeling unwelcome before I’d even unzipped my jacket, I ate my kangaroo steak and departed as soon as the check arrived. I was home in my hotel room in time to watch both the James Bond movies playing on Fox Classics in their entirety.

Although Monday is a federal holiday here and all my Aussie mates enjoyed the day off, I felt compelled to start the morning working through email, adding tasks to my todo list, and crossing off any small items I could complete without actually needing to talk to anyone in person. In retrospect I think my sub-par emotional mood was more to blame than the work itself, but I came away from several hours of productivity feeling drained and depressed. Like so many things that I ambitiously start with only the best of intentions, actually doing the job that I’ve been working so hard to build for myself is much less fulfilling than was the road I traveled to get here, and the “great opportunity” had begun this morning to feel more like a cage I’d built around myself, confining my influence, authority and creativity into a 9×9 square pen. I’m trying to chalk it up now to needing more sleep, which is most certainly true, but I can’t shake the self-doubt; maybe I don’t really know what I want as much as my standard job-interview-answer belies.

In the midst of my morning of melacholy, I also managed to:

  • break my computer (my personal one, not my work one). My Powerbook G4 has been working so well, and despite being woefully slow has aged gracefully since 2002, with all parts still functioning, the screen as sharp as ever, and even a respectable on-battery awake time. Whenever I’ve been tempted by the new, shiny MacBooks that I most certainly cannot afford, it’s felt good to say “I don’t need to upgrade; mine works very well for what I need.” When I discovered the busted hinge today and silently accepted that each time I now open or close the lid I’m bending the frame, cracking the display and sending my dependable laptop of 6 years another step closer to the grave, it made me want to cry.
  • make the mistake of calling American Express. I thought it would make me feel a little less concerned about my empty checking account to start tracking my out-of-pocket expenses so far on this trip and estimate what I’d be refunded. In comparing receipts and Amex transactions I discovered someone’s been buying 65-dollar tanks of gas with my corporate Amex card in Flushing, NY every day since 1-Oct. Stupidly, I called Amex to report this. For those of you who are ever in this situation, let me give you some advice: wait until you get home from the foreign country before you give Amex a reason to cancel your credit card. It would not have been any more difficult to dispute these charges after I was safely home in Seattle, but instead I made that call and then spent a couple hours arguing with Amex reps, pitting my best patient-yet-frustrated voice against their circular logic and horribly-broken english. Finally my 4th rep along the chain, Lisa in Georgia, made arrangements to issue me a temporary card at the Amex travel office in Sydney, tomorrow. While I can certainly live off my (personal) cash for one day, I will feel much better once I have that replacement card. The emotional difference between “alone in a foreign country” and “alone in a foreign country without any money” is tremendous.

So with those things plaguing my mind, I ventured from the hotel this afternoon – after eating lunch in the hotel bar, the only restaurant in town that wouldn’t ask me for any money – and made my way to St James park with a book. The sun had crept back into the day and was filtering through the trees occasionally, and other than exotic-sounding birds and the unfamiliar voices of occasional passersby, the park felt comforting and somehow normal. I spent the last coins in my pocket at that same Starbucks, hoping it would be a placebo for homesickness again, and it worked a little. I started the Wil Wheaton book John bought me for Christmas, hoping to dive into Wil’s life for a bit instead of wallowing in my own, but I couldn’t help picking my head up partway through every story where Wil realizes how important his family is to him (more important than his career), or what really makes him happy (not the jobs he thought he wanted) and letting the thoughts and emotions around my own struggles with these same things wash over me. Am I working hard for the wrong things, while neglecting that which will really matter to me when it’s gone? Am I making excuses for myself, for my obliviousness to others’ interest in or love for me, for my emotional unavailability, for judging others unfairly? Am I going to keep walking away from great women because I’m afraid I don’t know how not to be single anymore? Do I really believe that I can find my intellectual fulfillment entirely in my hobbies if my job ceases to interest and challenge me?

I gave up on trying to read right about the time the weather started to turn. As the clouds grew darker I marched bravely home – to a home with a splendid view of the city skyline and nothing familiar or comforting that doesn’t come through the internet connection – my eyes squinted tightly against the dirt being flung into them by the violent breeze. Resolutely I trod under the viciously-flapping flags decorating the waterfront, weaving around slow moving tourists clutching their hats and shopping bags against the gale and brushing stray raindrops from my face. Once again, my walk held all the purpose of a king’s messenger on a mission blessed by God, yet on the inside I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to reach my destination, defaulting to it only for lack of a better distraction. From the entrance to my hotel I turned back to snap this photo of the giant harbour flag being tortured by the wind, and then escaped the grasp of the impending storm through the revolving door.

For all my effort to dodge it no storm has really arrived, and my triumphant rush to shelter was just another hollow attempt to create purpose where none existed. I’m not sure I can explain how I feel any more concisely than with that as my metaphor. Yes, I’m a little homesick. Yes, I’m pretty burnt out on being in a different city every other week. Yes, I’m as confused as anyone else at work about what my job is supposed to be now and why I’m supposed to care about doing it. But more than that, I’m worried I’m spending a lot of time without proper consideration for it’s value and in more areas of my life than I’ve previously allowed.

This is how my week is going.

I’m not sure if the universe operates on some sort of yin/yang, good-luck/bad-luck cycle, or if I’m just only happy when it rains, but it seems like when I’m stretched to the limit that’s exactly when every little thing starts to go wrong and every molehill becomes a mountain. These are the kinds of things I’ve been dealing with this week, in the midst of trying to pack, buying a condo, getting ready to move, etc. I apologize for the lazy bullet-point format but that’s what my life has been reduced to in December – a series of lists. It’s really all I’m capable of at this point.

  • I can barely walk, apparently. I’ve been bumping things on other things, tripping over nothing, and otherwise banging myself up just trying to handle seemingly-harmless tasks. I hardly ever injure myself, but in the last two weeks I’ve hit my head on the closet door, closed my hand in a drawer, gouged my back on a shelf, knocked my forehead on the roof of my truck… I’ve become the world’s biggest klutz.
  • I lost my truck/house keys Monday morning. Or very nearly lost them. Last time I’d had them was Sunday afternoon, and Monday morning when it was time to leave for work, they were nowhere. I only have one key to the truck, so unless I found them it would become a giant steel paperweight. Picture my apartment, stacked chest-high with boxes, packing material strewn across the floor, wall-to-wall chaos with nothing in its usual place – this is the environment where I had presumably set my keys down. I tore through the place, opening sealed boxes, unpacking luggage… and nothing. Finally I retraced my last known steps with the keys – to the mailbox and back. I found them lying in my neighbor’s driveway, mere inches away from the gutter where the torrents of Seattle’s rainiest day in the past 50 years threatened them with a watery demise. My neighbor must have run over them as the keys are chewed up, but at least I found them. I was 98% percent to nervous breakdown.
  • I can’t seem to be on time for anything. I went to a meeting an hour early today. In my head, I was sure it was at 8am, and I half-jogged the 5 blocks to the other office building where it was held only to find I was alone in the conference room. Check my phone again: meeting is at 9. This meeting is at 9 every Wednesday and has been since April, but I was sure it was at eight. I was an hour early to my condo closing paperwork appointment yesterday because I seem to have lost all ability to estimate travel time; I spent the extra hour sitting across the street at Starbucks breathing into a paper bag.
  • As it turns out, my truck keys aren’t just chewed up a little. The keyfob is apparently slightly broken. I figured this out Tuesday afternoon when I walked the 5 blocks in the pouring rain to my parking lot and discovered I couldn’t unlock the doors. Some shouting and physical abuse temporarily revived it, but I’ve since been operating in constant fear that each press of a lock or unlock button may be the last one, leaving the truck permanently either dangerously unlocked or locked and immobilized. It’s something I would toss and turn about on a regular night, but this week it’s chewing me up. I really need my truck for the next couple weeks.
  • People keep wanting and/or needing things from me and I keep having to tell them no. It’s not like me to ever decline an invitation or defer to help someone out, and it makes me feel like a selfish, antisocial misanthrope. As I told Hannah yesterday during my massage, I’ve got a list (several lists, really) of things that have to be done this week, this weekend, next week, next weekend, before the 15th, before I leave town for Christmas… and if it’s not on my list, I can’t think about it. Moreover, if it doesn’t urgently need to be done before the 15th, it’s not making the list. The list is already so frighteningly long, complex and full of interdependencies that I can’t conceive it will ever be completed, so I’m having trouble looking beyond the 15th, either. Basically, I’m absorbed with this project. My apologies to anyone that’s trying to get or give anything else from or to me.
  • The weather. Maybe you’ve seen the underwater freeways and manholes-turned-fountains on the news. While I’ve so far escaped any massive flooding, I’m starting to worry it might snow while I’m trying to move; it’s already snowed in the city once this season, much earlier than it usually does here. Or worse – it might get suddenly cold again and freeze the city into a giant skating rink the day I pick up a uhaul truck. My moving help could all be stranded at home. My uhaul truck could get stuck at the bottom of the hill in the condo parking lot. I had hoped to do some outdoor things this past weekend – prune shrubs at the apartment, wash cars, pick up leaves – but 4 inches of wet snow on the ground and almost a foot of rain kept any of that from happening. I realize I’m the fool that is moving in December, but I had not expected it to be this bad.

Normally I wouldn’t lose sleep over these kinds of things – I’d turn them into humorous anecdotes and be done with them. But this week I’m on a deadline. And I hate slipping on deadlines.

October Retrospect – Part 3

Not all of October has been sunshine and rainbows. Actually none of it, since this is Seattle October – it’s been more foggy mornings, hazy afternoons, fallen leaves covering the sidewalks and the occasional bitterly cold wind cutting through my five layers of clothing. Yes, layering is still in – look it up, people.

In addition to our first newsworthy winter storm (admittedly a very low bar for our drama-starved local news stations) I’ve also been brewing a storm of my own since early October, inside my head. As the chaos of this storm has grown with each torturous day and each insomnia-filled night, so has my sanity quickly but silently slipped from my grasp like so many grains of sand pouring out between my outstretched fingers. Lacking clarity of purpose and with no clean space inside my mind on which to organize my jumble of memories, dreams and hallucinations into coherent thoughts, I have been drifting through each day a ragged, hollow shell of a man, consumed in my own anguish.

For you see, I have lost my iPod. Picture a world without music. Like a movie that has no soundtrack, mine has been a journey that lacks accompaniment. My secret weapon for maintaining sanity amidst a tumultuous life, my crutch, my companion, my addiction… stripped from me by cruel fate and a messy apartment.

I don’t truly know when it happened. I’ve re-examined every flash of recollection in my mind so many times that the true memories are intermingled now with both the hopes and the fears, creating a fable that is woven so tightly I have lost faith it will ever be unraveled to separate the yarns of truth from the red herrings spun into gold. There was a day, however, that sticks in the flurries of my mind. A day when I broke routine, when I didn’t put my iPod in the usual place. I needed a little extra 160-beats-per-minute fix that evening and indulged in such on the walk to my parking lot, rather than tucking my friend safely into my bag. When I switched from “walk” to “drive” I moved it from pocket to cupholder – still within arm’s reach. At home it was transported safely into my room, unloaded on the bed along with the other contents of my pockets – or at least, that’s one of the clips played so much in my mind that I’m convinced it must have happened that way. I stacked it with the other things I intended to pack for vacation the next day.

A day went by before I packed to leave, and on that day it was nowhere. I settled on traveling without it – against my better judgement – and left for a week empty of both hand and heart. When I returned the memories were foggy, the clutter piled even higher, and the last known location of the iPod lost deeper and deeper in my mind’s abyss.

Weeks have gone by and the detachment has grown severe. Each day I cease to function a little more, slowly but continuously wilting like a plant denied the sun, retreating into a confused malaise of mumbling, self-doubt and misanthropy. In a rare moment of clarity today I determined to cut my losses, to sever the bleeding limb and cauterize the wound to salvage what of life’s blood still flows in my mind’s musical veins. I found another iPod on ebay, and bid on it, and won. The same model as before, a 60gb iPod Photo, far from the cutting edge but a seamless replacement for the missing puzzle block in my life whose lack has rendered the puzzle’s image irrecognizable.

My purgatory has a limit, and it is marked by a UPS tracking number.

Happiness is Renting

I’ve been looking at real estate for the last month or so, and off and on for the last couple years. I’ve seen a lot of junk in my price range, and very few that I was really excited about. The housing market in Seattle has finally started to wane a little bit this summer, though, so in the last few weeks I was actually seeing things I could make work. Sort of.

garage430.jpgThere was one place with an amazing garage. A shop, really, 2 garage doors (one extra-tall that would fit a boat, RV, or car lift) and parking inside for at least 2 more. Huge driveway, wide and level. I could have run a small auto repair shop out of that garage. But the house was a grievous atrocity of clutter and filth, walls yellowed with cigarette smoke, carpet matted with pet hair and unidentifiable grime. The attic-turned-bedroom was 20,000 leagues under building safety codes, and the layer of muck coating the entire laundry room left me needing a shower just from looking at it. Plus, there was no dishwasher.

legohouse.jpgThere was another place, with a beautiful yard. Well-kept trees and gardens, big picture windows. A covered patio that screamed summer bbq – in my head I was already buying the hanging lanterns, the tiki torches and the t-bone steaks. Two big brick fireplaces, a grand hearth in the living room and a cozy corner number in the dining. Beautiful hardwoods, copious closets. A dishwasher. But, no garage. And if you don’t understand why that’s a deal-breaker, stop reading now because you’re not my friend anymore.

garagephotos014.jpgThen there was the place that had everything (almost). Huge corner lot, oozing with potential. Fruit trees and old-growth cedars, big paved patio and built-in hot tub. Original hardwoods buried under a weekend of carpet disposal, quirky 1950’s build-in hutches and bureaus. Sweeping shady driveway, and a detached 2-car garage that – after a couple thou$and in updates – would have been the perfect backyard shop. Odd little extras that spawned home improvement ideas galore, territorial views and across the street from an elementary school. Quick commute to downtown. I was ready to make an offer.

Then, math reared its ugly head. Was I really willing to double (and then some) my monthly housing costs? What would that mean to my lifestyle? Sure, it would be a good investment. But what would I be giving up… ?

  • Eating lunch out every day
  • Going to Starbucks 1-3 times a day
  • A cell phone plan with unlimited everything
  • Buying things for my car (hobby #1)
  • Buying computer-y and gadget-y things (hobby #2)
  • Buying camera lenses and photo gear (hobby #3)
  • Never bothering to look at the price of gas. And buying premium. And getting about 4 mpg when I’m really having a good time in the Z.
  • Traveling in 2007 to Montana, and Canada, and Oregon, and Hawaii, and New York. And maybe London.
  • Buying dinner, drinks, etc with my friends without worrying whether the bill was divided absolutely equally or when someone’s going to pay back a few-dollar loan.
  • Spoiling my friends and family, and sometimes myself.

After sleeping on it, I decided life is too short to give up living it for some investment strategy. I’ll continue renting – maybe I’ll even spoil myself with a bigger apartment next spring. Tax writeoffs are great, but happiness is greater. Plus, I hate mowing the lawn.