Today, while I was walking by my dentist’s office from high school, and sitting at the three minute long stop light I used to sit through with my elementary school carpool, and turning left at the place I bogarted someone when I had my driver’s permit, and taking a nap in a park where I once had a hot first date and where I also went to day camp and ate applesauce out of single serve applesauce containers and thus was cool, and passing the Irish pub where I tried to play in a session when I was twenty-one and it was a Sunday morning and I didn’t know what to order in a bar on a Sunday morning so I got orange juice and halfway through one of the the songs one of the other musicians leaned over and whispered “wrong song” in my ear so I never went back to that pub though I used to also drive by it to get to swim team back when Ballard was all old Scandinavian ladies and there was a bowling alley — I realized that I have known this town for twenty-three years.   That’s a long, long time.

An illustrative story: there is a weird establishment in the University District called Tubs, that we used to drive by on the way to almost everywhere when I was a kid.  It was fancy then, in that fakey gold kind of fancy that is the essence of the eighties.  Swanky, yet sleazy.  As an eight year old who wanted to be a pioneer, orphaned princess, or at least a Victorian, it offended me with its cheesy bling.  

It is closed now, and has become a monument of graffiti art. Today, in broad daylight, I saw the most awkward, lank-haired teenagers in the world adding their mark. Somehow, maybe it was just them, but the act lacked pizzazz, as if half the power of graffiti is defiance.  I like the new Tubs, though.  Like some Roman ruins, the place is decadence turned gritty.

My mom, who recently drove by there with a friend’s husband in his midlife sports car, said he disagreed.  “It’s so sad what’s happened to that place,” he said.  “I mean, my daughter was conceived in there.”

“See, I knew that place was sketchy,” I told my mom.  

She informed me that no, it had been fancy, and that tons of her friends had gone there to have sex. “But I never did,” she clarified.  “It was too expensive.”

“Like I said, sketchy.  I mean, did they change the water in the tubs?”

“They must have.”

“They can’t have — emptied a whole hot tub?”

“That’s probably why it was so expensive.”

“But you can get infections from having sex in hot tubs,” put in my sister.  Clearly, we are out-pruding my mom’s friends.

“It was the times! It was before we knew things like that. Sex in hot tubs, sex in hot springs….”

 “I don’t care about people having sex random places, but they built it into their business model.  That’s sketchy!” (That was me, the one word parrot.  Sketchy… sketchy.)

And so it is: Tubs was sketchy. Now it’s sketched on. I’m sure the shift from swanky-sex-tub to un-rebellious youth art says something significant about Seattle’s changing culture.  I’ll leave that one to some UW Ph.D. student.  Meanwhile, I’ll conceive my kids somewhere else — and it won’t be at that long stop-light, either.



Life, in Summary

I found this in my classroom today:

“They kept on fighting for four hours intell they looked at each orther and giggeld and in the end they got marreid and they ate grapes for the rest of there lives. and then they had to go get glasces.”


Which pretty much sums it up.

SUNSHINE! Or, Another Incredible Statistic

Guys, it was sunny today.  And yesterday. And the day before.  We won’t talk about Friday, when it tricked us into not wearing our coats to the park and then POURED rain on me and ten unsuspecting children until we had to huddle under the overhang by the nasty public restrooms.  But we were talking about sunshine.  It really has been sunny for three days, and that crazy big moon has been out at night, and I’ve been happy.  I don’t think it’s actually possible for me to be sad when it is sunny in Seattle.

Instead, I’ve been in a state of semi-heat stroke.  Like yesterday, I hallucinated a large white dog in the doorway of the coffee shop.  We’re talking about a labradoodle that was only there in my peripheral vision.  Dude, I know.  But I swear, it’s because of the sun. My skin, which is my biggest sense organ, was scrambling like crazy to integrate all that direct solar energy, so no surprise if some sensory signals were scrambled.  And did I mention the heat?  Seventies, guys, for real.  I can’t tell you how much water I was drinking.

Last time it was really sunny, a few weeks ago, I was in American Apparel on Broadway buying leggings.  Say what you will about American Apparel, they know their leggings. They aren’t see-through, or anything, so if I was fifteen I could wear them with some weird short sweater or something, or being thirty I can wear them to yoga since I happen to like my own butt.  The point is, you want hipster clothes, go to hipster stores.  Anyhow.  So there I was in American Apparel buying leggings, and the salespeople are all wearing their American Apparel Salespeople outfits and talking in their hip young-person accent, which I really hope I do not have, and I have a wicked V shaped sunburn on my chest and back, and we’re talking of course about the weather.  The guy at the cash register says the sun made him fall asleep on the bus and be late to work.  Then he tells me a startling statistic.  

“Did you know,” he says, “I hear coffee in Seattle is apparently so strong that people can get their Vitamin D from it.”

So there you go: the Seattle secret.  And if anyone an expert on the benefits of coffee, it’s that sleepy hipster.

Adventures with Escargot

Lately, I’ve had some experiences with escargot.  Some vivid experiences.  I’ve had to wait awhile from my last one to write about it.

The first escargot encounter was in Paris, at this place called Robert et Louise, maybe the best dinner in Paris.  The stone walls, yellow light, buzz of conversations, that daring that comes upon me at good restaurants: yes, I’ll try some. Delicious, like mussels, only not from the sea.  Dripping with green, garlicky butter, six in their neat gray shells.  They came with a tool a little like an eyelash curler, with which you gripped their shells, and tiny forks to pluck out the meat.  (You know snails were a siege food, said my friend Palash, and now the French have given them their own fancy implements….)

And, a surprise, they weren’t slimy at all, but that rubbery-chewy-savory texture that shellfish have.  I loved them.

So, when I found a few snails in my overwintered cabbages, I thought, why not see if I can make escargot at home?  I put the little guys in a tupperware with some damp lettuce and chard leaves, and took them home.  Then I consulted the experts.  None of the cookbooks I looked in — Julia Childs, the Cook’s Illustrated guy, Joy of Cooking, Mark Bittman, Sally Fallon, or that treasure of a book, The Forgotten Skills of Cooking — explained how to cook fresh snails, though many gave recipes using canned snails, or details on making the herb butter to accompany snails.  So I turned to the internet.

I stood at the entrance of that oracle’s cave and shouted in my question: How do you cook snails? Out from the depths came bizzare, conflicting instructions.  Put them in salt.  Don’t put them in salt.  Remove some-part-I-didn’t-know-what-it-was, don’t remove that part-whatever-it-is.  But every answer was breezy and encouraging.  I went with the lowest common denominator.

Three days after catching my snails, a sunny Monday when I was home alone, I decided to cook them up.  The first crazy thing about eating snails, is that before I could eat them, I had to make them into pets.  I had to keep them captive, and care for them, and clean up their poop, and catch them when they escape into my mother’s sewing basket.  I had to worry that they would get too hot, or too dry, or too sad in their confinement.  I had to remember how happy they were, out there in the shady cabbage.  This went on for days.

By the time the fateful lunch came, I really liked the little creatures.  I’m sorry, I told them.  I promise I will eat you.  And I promise I will eat a lot of lettuce, just like you like to eat.  They waved their eye tentacles at me and said nothing.

I figured that the best thing to do was to make a good meal out of it, so while the water boiled, I made a grilled cheese sandwich with shallot butter on part of an Essential Bakery baguette, and fried up some chard from my garden, also in the shallot butter.  I dug up an unmarked home-brewed beer I had traded some pickles for a while back.  Then I pried the four snails off of their container and dropped them into the boiling water, just like that.  The water immediately turned yellow.  I waited the oracularly prescribed three minutes, and poured the water off.  A foam ringed the pot.  I rinsed the snails, pulled them out of their shells, and put them into a pan with some more shallot butter.

What I did not know about snails until then is how complex their bodies are, and how beautiful, if sluggy.  They have a part — was it the part-I-didn’t-know? — shaped like a tiny spiral, as if it spiraled all the way into the central whorl of the shell.  I left that piece on.  Struggling a little to think of them as food, I put them in their own ramekin, and carried my lunch out into the sunshine.

The first two were pretty good, though I still felt much more squeamish than I had in France.  The third one, however, was oozing a clear slime, as if it were ovulating. That sounds graphic.  It was graphic.  I took a swig of my beer.  I’d promised them I would eat them.  I ate it.  Almost immediately, I retched it back up in the grass.  Oh god, the slime in my throat, my mouth.  I drank some more beer.  There was one more snail.  It was slimy too.  I gave it to Squinchy’s brother Jack.  He licked it up with all the butter.  I finished my lunch, while Squinchy hauled the ramekin off to the blueberry bushes and licked it clean.

But the slimy sensation didn’t go away, and on top of that, everything tasted like shallot butter, which tasted like snails.  And the beer was weird, a little yeasty.  Pretty soon, well, as my students would say, I hominid it all back up.  And I mean all of it.  For hours afterwards, I felt green.  When everyone got home, I couldn’t even talk about it.  I had to wait for a week to write it down.

According to my aunt’s internet research, snail slime is toxic, though I have yet to get a solid answer on this from the oracle.  It did tell me about these Toxic Snails.  And about some toxic snails in China.  So I don’t know.  I do know I had a toxic reaction to something, psychological or otherwise.

So it seems like there is an art to this snail-eating.  I would like to try them again — when done right they are really good — but I think I’ll leave to cooking to the pros and the French until I know how to do it right, unless perhaps there is a siege.