THE FRUITCAKE NEWSLETTER
vol. 2----issue #6----march 1999
DISCLAIMER: Nothing--and I mean nothing--in the following work of prose non-fiction
is to be taken offensively by any person who reads this, nor by any persons who may be
shown what is written therein. All opinions expressed by the author are opinions and
nothing more, most of the time (but not necessarily always) meant only to be taken
lightly, and are not necessarily the reflection of his true, constant attitude toward any one
particular given person. The author does not subscribe to any person disliking any other
person; he merely states what is on his own mind. That is all there really is to it--
thank you for your understanding.
You can’t cut and paste or erase
anything that flies out of your blow hole.
-- Matthew McQuilkin
You see what an arrogant little jerk butt I have become? I am reduced to quoting
myself. But I couldn’t help but to write that down, when Barbara and I were eating lunch
on the waterfront here in Seattle and those words came out of my mouth. We were
discussing the benefits of writing over verbal communication. She said it was great, and
she offered to write it down for me--and I now have it here immortalized.
Kind of ironic, isn’t it? I keep myself in check when writing far more often than I
do when I am speaking. Still I tend to offend more people with the writing than I do with
my speaking. I suppose this is as good a place as any to warn the readers of this month’s
newsletter that this issue is rated SH-4. This is to let you know, right off, that the
“sh”-word is written in here four times--though you will understand when you get to
them why I use them (I’m not really the one using them anyway; they are consistently in
quotes). But I figured I would give you fair warning. That, however, is indeed the worst
language you will see.
So why not go through the list of people who will be exposed to it this month?
ANGEL Wings are always there. You have to turn to see them.
COURTNEY Jury knees can still be seen. Thank you I’m sorry.
DANIELLE Yes, yes, do come again. Devirginizing waits.
DARCY Did the heart sell did the heart leave it’s been too long.
DAWN Every morning, every morning. You are a brand new day.
GINA I feel a connection with many. Yours is like no other. Brains alike.
DAD AND SHERRI Bonus and bonus and never bogus.
PAUL This is a special edition. Released on schedule.
RAENAE AND TONI Stay calm, stay calm. It’ll be fine.
RICK AND TAMMY Just wait. Wait.
SHANE This will be a long journey into the depths of your relation . . .
and then of course there’s
AUNTIE ROSE who continues to write to me consistently
BARBARA who continues to write to me consistently
GRANDMA MCQUILKIN who continues to write to me consistently
JENNIFER MCQUILKIN who continues to write to me consistently
JENNIFER MIGA who continues to write to me consistently
UNCLE JIM who continues to write to me consistently
. . . as for the rest of you, I have just one thing to say . . .
A month in the life of a fruitcake
March comes in like a lion
and goes out like a lamb.
-- old saying
Day #1, Saturday February 27 1999: Today is the day after my cousin Tammy’s
birthday. I knew her well a long time ago. I said for years that she was my favorite
cousin. I even used to tell that to Heidi, and to Jennifer, who has become one of my best
friends and probably will be forever. Tammy, on the other hand, went her own way soon
after we went into our teen years. I am about to go have dinner with her and others.
But now I am frantically getting ready to leave, on this trip that is expected to last
for fully sixteen days. First stop on this extended tour of the Western States is a
vegetarian restaurant in North Seattle, the Sunlight Cafe, where I am to meet Grandma
and Grandpa, Tammy, and her mother, Aunt Penny. Grandma asked me a number of
times to call and get reservations. With the word “cafe” in the joint’s title, I didn’t figure
reservations would be needed--and when I called last night to check, my prediction
I need to be fully packed before getting on the bus for this restaurant, which is a
dinner for Tammy’s 25th birthday. Tammy is also a vegetarian and has been for years.
After dinner, we are to come back to my apartment merely to pick up my things.
Grandma had hoped, naively, that I could just bring all my stuff with me up there on the
bus. Not hardly.
But now Courtney and her boyfriend Beau are here. I am showing them around
the apartment and around the building. This is where the cats need to be fed. This is how
much they need. These are the written directions on my refrigerator door, held up with
magnetic pictures of mostly naked men; please excuse them. Come down to the garage;
here is the room that houses the dumpster. Just get the care of the cats right, and other
than that you can do whatever the hell you want. Here are the CD’s, here are the movies.
I have only a couple of hours to finish getting ready. I just got back from getting
my roots done. Now I am frantically trying to wipe down the kitchen counters. They are
too dirty, I’m so sorry I couldn’t get it clean sooner. Don’t tell me it’s okay. I can only be
a slob when no one knows I’m doing it. That means company is not supposed to be
included. But I did get the bathroom done. You should be quite thankful for that. I
washed the sheets in my bed, you can sleep in it.
I leave the apartment, finally, warning of my return in two or three hours--at
which time I will hand over my keys. I ride up to the restaurant and get in through the
front door at five o’clock sharp, when I was told to be there. This is when I am told that
everyone else has been there for an hour. Grandma keeps referring to our “poor waiter”
who has had to deal with them all for so long. I sit down and we all begin to look over
what we want to order. Naturally, vegetarianism comes up in conversation. What about
eggs, what about milk? I say, “I’m a lacto-ovo vegetarian,” and Tammy is clearly the
only other person at the table to know what the hell I’m talking about (it means I eat eggs
and dairy products--a vegetarian who eats no animal byproducts whatsoever is called a
Vegan, which I always think sounds like some sort of alien--from the Planet Vega).
“There’s different kinds,” she says.
We all order our food which turns out to be all right, and munch it all up, Aunt
Penny doing so without her teeth in. I wonder if she knows where they are. When
Grandma is told that they are out of crackers, Grandpa actually turns to the waiter and
says, “In other words, you don’t have any ducks.”
I furrow my brow. “Ducks?” The waiter appears to be as confused as me.
Then Grandpa provides the poor excuse for a punch line: “Quackers!” I resist a
temptation to bury my face in my hands.
Suddenly Tammy’s reportedly ex-boyfriend just “happens” to show up--and
Tammy lights up in shining beams like stadium lamps. She jumps up to give him a hug,
and he is invited to sit down with us. When this forty-something man goes to get his
things from another table, Grandma looks at Tammy, who I do not talk to all that much,
and says, “He’s good looking!” Grandma shocks me later by asking if I thought so too. I
tell her I disagree; in fact I write in a letter I am working on for Jennifer Miga that he
looks more like his mother dropped him on his head until he promised her he would
devote his life to drinking beer and driving trucks. Not that that would have any bearing
on whether or not he’s a nice person--he is clearly very polite and kind. Just not exactly
what I would call physically attractive. But men over forty don’t tend to turn my head.
Grandma and Grandpa and I get up to leave, and the rest of them stay behind. The
three of us load into the cab of the pick-up truck and head for downtown.
When we get to the apartment, we only stay long enough for Grandma to go to the
bathroom (which she must have done every fifteen minutes while I was on that trip)--and
they only get a glance at my apartment, which they have never seen. I later realize this is
a good thing, because I never thought to hide my refrigerator magnets (which were
bought for me by Gabe and Suzy when they went to San Francisco).
I grab my luggage: a medium-sized suitcase with a week’s worth of clothes, some
blank camcorder tapes, vitamins that I never once think to take while I am gone, and
goldfish crackers that I bring to make sure I will have when we have tomato soup (those
do not get used either--Grandma is so thorough in spoiling me that a mere mention of
them in a previous letter prompted her to buy some for me); my backpack full of reading
materials and toiletries; and my medical bag holding my camcorder, which looks
strikingly like an old purse.
Grandma told me earlier that there was not going to be any room in the back of
the truck for my things, because a washer and dryer have been crammed in there in
Redmond, when they were visiting Dad’s cousin Valerie. Valerie wanted a brand new set
and wanted to ditch these ones, which run perfectly fine except that the dryer doesn’t turn
off. Grandma spontaneously decided to have Uncle Imre and Grandpa cram them into the
truck so we could take them down to Shelton and drop it off for Aunt Raenae. This
means all of my things need to ride with us in the cab of the truck. “I sure hope you
packed light,” says Grandma. Apparently she forgot that she planned on taking me away
for two full weeks.
I sit next to the right window, where I spend the majority of the travel time
through the whole trip. The backpack goes on my feet next to the camcorder, and the
suitcase lays across the laps of both Grandma and myself--all the way to Mt. Vernon, up
past Everett. So we leave for our trip down to San Francisco by first going north. But I am
overwhelmed by the evening views of Seattle from the freeway: this is a truly gorgeous
and charming town. This is my home. I have never felt this strongly about such a thing in
my entire life.
On the road up to Mt. Vernon, Grandma and I get into conversation about
relationships, inexplicably despite the clear and drastic difference between how she and I
regard such things. Suddenly she blurts out, “Your Uncle Paul thinks you like . . . uh . . .
Barbara.” My immediate reaction to this is to laugh, out loud. (When I tell Barbara about
this later, she laughs herself and asks, “Do they have any idea what I look like?”) My
second reaction is--to laugh again. I explain to Grandma that in the extraordinarily
unlikely event of my pursuing a romantic involvement with someone who is both a
pre-established friend of mine as well as a woman, the first choice would be Jennifer
Miga, then it would be Danielle--and then it would stop. But there are not even hints of it
with those two young women, although there once was with Jennifer (which is long over
now). There is simply no doubt that I know the difference between close but platonic
friendship and romantic interest, and when it comes to any of my friends, there is zero
romantic interest. I just felt the need to make that clear.
Then I say to Grandma, “Besides, Barbara is 46 years old.” In fact, Barbara’s
daughter, Beth, is a year older than I am. Grandma’s predictable reaction to this is,
“So?”--a clear indication that she is used to having family members in such dichotomous
relationships. However, just because she is used to them by no means indicates that I
should be comfortable with it. I would deal with it if I fell in love with someone and then
found out they were twice my age, but having it as previous knowledge would always
make me back off.
Anyway . . . I spend my first night of thirteen in the camper trailer that will only
last another two weeks, and get my first taste of this year’s heavy dosage of Grandpa’s
continuous babbling. And then he does the unthinkable by mentioning something I
actually find interesting: he once said that Aunt Raenae’s fourth grade teacher could
“park her shoes under my bed any time,” and Aunt Raenae promptly told her teacher
Then Grandpa accents his anecdote by passing gas and then telling Grandma,
“There’s a kiss for you.” I find this so utterly ridiculous that I can’t help but to chuckle--
big mistake: Grandpa laughs and says, “I actually got a chuckle out of Matthew with that
It is an accurate preview of the flavor of much of the two weeks to come.
Day #2: I wake up at 5:20 with every joint in my body aching. There’s just
something about your own bed, isn’t there?--nothing else ever comes close; particularly
not a couch that pulls out into a lumpy bed. But I do not complain. I even manage to
sleep soundly most nights, when I can actually get to sleep anyway. Sleeping in, in this
little world, means sleeping until six. Grandma is already finishing a letter on a
I make my first and last mistake of taking a shower inside the trailer, because I
was told that the public showers were not very warm. So I end up standing in the shower
stall in that trailer with my hair still fully lathered with shampoo and only freezing cold
water coming out. To its credit, it effectively wakes me up.
Breakfast is served: Bread and Broccoli Sneeze. It tastes all right for the first ten
bites or so, and then I just can’t eat anymore. It’s not disgusting, but is just of the sort of
food that one can only take so much of. Hard to explain.
I write in my letter to Jennifer while Grandma is outside guiding Grandpa to hook
the trailer onto the back of the truck. The rain is falling down so hard outside that both
Grandma and Grandpa come back in soaked to the skin, and Grandpa is forced to change
his shirt for the month. It is set on top of some large tin tube of some sort and stays there
to dry for some days. It rains non-stop the entire time we are in Washington. Go figure.
We drive down Interstate 5 toward Olympia, where we are to stop for lunch at
Dad and Sherri’s restaurant. Grandma tells me about talking to Dad about getting help to
move the washer and dryer from the back of her truck to the back of Uncle Paul’s. When
my name was mentioned, Dad said, “Matthew? Oh, he’ll supervise.”
Grandma looks at me and says, “I’ve got news for Matthew. Matthew’s gonna
We arrive and go inside to eat. During lunch Grandma tells someone she sees who
she happens to know that she is taking her grandson on a trip to San Francisco as a
college graduation present--something she continues to tell absolutely everyone who will
listen. “I sure am glad I don’t have too many grandchildren graduating from college!” she
says. Indeed, I am presently the first and only one in the family to do so--which I am
immensely proud of.
I end up visiting with Sherri for more than an hour in her office after I’ve finished
with lunch--not because I am trying to get out of anything, but because I was invited back
there. While visiting with her, one of the employees--a young man--comes in to give
Sherri a tax form. Sherri thanks him and, upon his departure after a brief ogling at me,
she shudders, saying, “He’s weird.” I laugh, and she tells me he probably came in just to
get a look at me. Apparently he stares often at the picture of her and me together at
graduation that I gave her for Christmas, which is hung up on her office wall. “Don’t
come home with a guy like him,” she says.
I ask her for specifics regarding how so very “weird” the guy is supposed to be--
and the best she can say is, “He’ll say, ‘So-and-so called at 9:42 this morning--well come
to think of it maybe he is your type!” An obvious allusion to my obsessive compilation of
time/place/people statistics. Creepy or not, he’s the first guy I have known of who had
any fascination with me who I did not find physically revolting. Kind of homely, maybe,
but that’s still a step up from revolting.
Finally Sherri and I go outside to see if Uncle Paul is back from helping Grandma
run her errand to the store. They are back, and a number of people are already hard at
work on transferring the appliances. Sherri and I both stand there doing little more than
watching, and I keep thinking that trying to help would only be putting myself in the way.
They’re handling it fine. And I don’t want to break any nails. So, essentially, Grandma’s
“news” for me has been rendered moot: I end up supervising. Fine with me. Leaves my
hands free to hold my umbrella over my head. When all is done Grandma says to Sherri,
“Tell Kim we had our supervisor. He’ll know what it means.”
I give Sherri one last hug while inside before leaving, and I see that the same
young employee is close by, looking on. It does not really bother me, but I can tell that it
would if I was around much longer and he kept it up.
We drive the rest of the way down to Salem, Oregon. 250 miles traveled. We have
dinner soon after camp is finished being set up, at which time Grandma forces me to try
one of her “copper pennies,” even though I insist that I detest cooked carrots. She even
takes it upon herself to put one on my plate. I eat it instantly and immediately afterwards
chug my milk with needless exaggeration: I figure that as long as I’m being treated like a
child, I might as well act like one. Besides, it’s a small price to pay for the tonnage of
peanut butter cookies she baked for me, just because I told her they were my favorite. I
end up eating all but the four or so that Grandma managed to get.
I do eat the main course--Grandma’s “depression spaghetti,” made with macaroni
noodles, the way her mother used to make it in the thirties. Not bad.
Day #3: Driving, driving, driving. “You see that sign?” says Grandma. “65 for
regular cars, but 55 for trucks--and when you’re pulling a trailer you’re considered a
truck!” This is repeated a number of times, to Grandpa.
We get rather close to Mt. Shasta, which I pay real attention for the first time (I
no doubt ignored it on my first trip to California in 1989 and perhaps glanced at it on my
trip in 1994). It’s no Mt. Rainier, but it’s pretty. I take some exceedingly good pictures of
it. We stop at a gas station and I buy the first of about six post cards I send to Jennifer
Miga--this one a photo of Mt. Shasta.
I read a lot as we travel, which Grandma is noticeably at least mildly bothered by,
with her numerous references to my “nose stuck in a book.” However, we are traveling
on I-5, which, other than a few foresty areas in Oregon and Mt. Shasta in Northern
California, is quite dull to travel on. Besides, I can only keep myself entertained with
mediocre scenery for so long.
Other than that, the day is as follows: Wake up. Get ready. Travel. Stop for lunch.
Travel. Find a campground. Eat dinner. Go to bed. (But not before I get Tex on home
video, grooming the hair on Grandpa’s head so it’s sticking straight up in the air in
Day #4: Not long after I wake up, in a Northern California campground, Tex the
cat is trying to get outside so he can go pick a fight with some dogs some three camp sites
down. Grandpa says to him, “You don’t want to go out there and have those dogs turn
you into a little turd!”
Still having learned my lesson of making the mistake once of trying to take a
shower in the trailer, I take a shower in the public rest rooms, despite the fact that it’s
cold enough outside to see my breath and the bathrooms have only screen doors on them.
The hot water lasts as long as I need it, however, and so it suits me fine.
. . . And now . . . here it is . . . maybe 3:30 in the afternoon. We are in the outskirts
of Walnut Creek, CA. A stretch of I-680 that we are later told is said to be the most
dangerous traffic area in the entire state of California. So why not do what everyone else
apparently does there? We get into a wreck.
So this is how it happens. We are driving down one of the center lanes of a
six-lane interstate highway, southbound. Grandma is looking, almost frantically, for a
Chevron sign. This is because one of the pickup truck’s two gas tanks has emptied, and,
according to the system devised by Grandma herself, we need to fill up each time one of
the tanks empties out, so we use each tank alternately. In addition, and after we get the
gas, we plan on finding a place where we can get some lunch.
The general consensus is that we are going approximately 50 miles per hour.
Grandma, who is sitting in her usual center spot between myself and Grandpa, looks past
me and into the rear view mirror and sees nothing. If I would just think to check the blind
spot (which Grandpa never does even if he’s changing lanes to the left), I would see that
there is a smaller red pick-up truck right there next to us. However, I continue to place
my faith in others, and pay no real attention. Usually Grandma would say to Grandpa,
“You’re clear, turn to the right, towards Matthew.” I never understand why she always
feels the need to tell him which way left or right actually is, but she does. However, this
time all she says is, “It’s okay, you can move over.” It is already understood that we need
to go to the right anyway.
And here is where Grandpa makes his first mistake, a practice that I know he does
often: he moves at the very moment that he turns on the signal, instead of waiting a
moment to let the signal warn surrounding vehicles that he will be changing lanes. (In the
opposite case, he tends to leave his signal on for prolonged periods of time, when it isn’t
necessary, without realizing it.) Just as we begin to move, this is when I think to look out
my window, and that’s precisely when I see the front hood of the smaller red pickup
truck to our right.
“No, go back!” I yap, and Grandma says something similar. Grandpa then makes
his second driving mistake, by jerking the steering wheel back to the left and stepping on
the breaks at the same time. This is done right after the red pickup truck backs off and
toots its horn. We keep going, in our original lane, only this time the trailer has begun to
For a split second, I feel that everything is going to be fine. Grandpa has driven
for years; surely he will get the trailer to correct itself. This is not how things happen,
however, and the swaying back and forth of the trailer only gets worse, and causes the
front of the truck to do the same in turn. “Oh my god,” I say, getting worried.
The last thing I hear Grandma say before we stop: “Dear Lord . . .”
The last thing I hear Grandpa say before we stop: “Well, shit.” This is said in a
very matter-of-fact tone, almost as if he is merely mildly irritated by the situation.
It soon becomes evident that unwanted excitement is about to mount. As soon as
Grandpa makes his editorial comment, he basically gives up--lets go. He no longer even
tries to keep control of the vehicle and the trailer. Of course, the laws of physics are in all
cases inescapable, and as long as there are no longer any breaks being pushed, we shall
continue to go fifty miles an hour until the mere friction of the road makes us stop--that,
or we run into something.
So, for the time being, move is what we keep doing. We merely get a change of
scenery without choosing it: the entire truck-and-trailer skid down the freeway at this
speed, somewhat slowly turning around to the left, causing the trailer to jackknife. I can
hear nothing except for the skidding sounds of the tires, and once I see how quickly my
side of the truck is approaching the cement freeway divider, I say again, “Oh my god.” I
am not hysterical, but I am still gripped with fear.
Finally, the front right corner of the truck, the hood and signal light, smash into
the cement divider. In fact the red cover to the signal light pops off and lands face-down
on the thin flat top of the cement divider (this is something that I later notice). The
impact jolts us all, and my head and neck jerk from left to right. It must hurt, but I feel no
pain. I am in shock. Grandma and Grandpa are both in the same state, and for some time
afterwards. I am in my seat belt, and so is, miraculously, Grandma (I hear the following
perhaps 3.7 million times during the course of the trip: “I told Sherri that if she quit
smoking I would wear my seat belt, and so I’m wearing it”). Grandpa is not, and, had that
cement divider not been there to stop us, the truck and trailer would probably have tipped
over to the right, and Grandpa would have fallen on top of Grandma and me.
Still in a daze, we all just sit there in the cab of the truck for a moment. Both
Road Runner and Tex are in there with us, as they travel in the cab of the truck always.
Before we know it the first passing witness to the accident comes over to the driver side
door, his car parked along the side of the freeway next to the divider in front of us. It
takes a moment for us all to realize that no one else has been involved in this accident,
which occurred during very heavy traffic. However, the fishtailing trailer was obviously a
warning sign to all around us, and they all backed off. Not one of us is hurt--not even the
cats. My neck hurts for some days afterward, but that’s it.
This guy orders us all out of the truck--naturally we can only go out Grandpa’s
side. Grandma grabs Tex and yells at me to grab Road Runner, which naturally I do. We
file out, and before we know it some three more cars have stopped--two cars of more
witnesses (including a young woman who keeps rubbing all our shoulders and asking
things like, “Does your neck hurt? Are you all right? How are you feeling?”) and the
somewhat older man we almost ran into.
We get far enough away from the scene of the accident to get a good look at it.
The jackknifed trailer is embedded deep into the left side of the truck, above the rear
wheel. This is also why the tire itself is popped and looking quite like one of Salvador
Dali’s melting clocks. The truck is mostly in the ample space between the outside edge of
the far left lane and the cement divider, facing the wrong way; the trailer is jackknifed
but positioned closer to being pointed in the right direction, but facing the divider,
perhaps at a 50-degree angle from it. It stretches across two lanes and far enough into a
third. Traffic is already backed up quite far.
The first guy to come up (who has let us put the cats in his car for the time being)
has told us we need to stay away from the truck until the police get here. But I start
kicking myself because I didn’t think to grab my camera when we were getting out of the
truck. However, most people know how defiantly independent June McQuilkin is, and
naturally she goes back to the cab of the truck, for some reason, in no time. Seeing she is
doing so, I figure I will as well--and so I go and snatch my camera out of there.
I walk back away from the vehicle, and begin snapping pictures, as the state
trooper is arriving. Click-click-click. A close-up of the spot where the trailer crunches
into the truck. A far-away shot of the entire vehicle and trailer. Closer up again, to show
the front right signal area, sufficiently mangled. Another photo to show that the cover to
the bed of the truck has been ripped into, though only a little. It has been pushed up so
that there is perhaps a five-inch crack between the bed wall and the bottom of the cover
wall, at least up where it meets with the cab of the truck. The trailer is leaning rather far
to its right.
More police arrive, and begin handling traffic. The state trooper begins getting
statements, first from the witnesses. Grandma keeps on trying to interject in the other
people’s statements. It gets so bad that, after simply asking her not to interrupt a number
of times, the trooper has to be a little more firm with her: “I know you’re excited, ma’am,
and I’m not trying to be rude. But I need you to just stand here on the wall and be quiet.”
She involuntarily tries to interrupt a few times more (perhaps she is having a hard time
dealing with a situation over which she has no control), and each time the trooper just
raises a hand to shush her; she gives a snickering smile, covering it with her hand,
shrugging, and slinkers back to the cement divider wall.
The trooper gets the statements from both the witnesses and the man we almost
ran into, and tells them they can all get back into their cars and go home. We have to take
the cats out of the car and put them back into the cab of the truck, while Grandma goes to
get her license and registration.
The police officer gets statements from each of us, asking us the same questions:
How fast were you going? What is your name? When is your birthday? How old are
you?” Those last two questions make me think, Are you incapable of doing math? But
then I stumble slightly on the age question (Am I 23 yet? No, wait, I’m still 22). It seems I
am already getting old enough to start forgetting how old I really am, especially when my
birthday is close by. More questions, including, Were you wearing your seat belt? I
half-expect Grandma to tell the policeman about her promise to Sherri. Grandpa’s
famous quote is his answer to this question: “Oh no, I never wear a seat belt. I seen too
many people get killed by those things.”
The police call for towing, and Grandma tries in earnest to get them to call AAA,
who for some reason refuse to come out and tow the vehicles. It is not long, however,
before the bigger trucks are here. As we wait, though, I stand by the cement divider,
looking at the backed up traffic that I also took a picture of. I notice that traffic is nearly
as bad on the other side of the freeway, and when I ask the state trooper about it he says,
“Yeah, that always happens. They’re just rubber-necking.” Many, many people on the
other side slow down quite a bit to get a good look. One person says really loud in
passing, “Oops!” Another exclaims, “Hey, it’s Marilyn Manson!”
The state trooper is a very nice, understanding man, who promises Grandma that
he will not give us a ticket--even though the whole thing was so obviously our fault
(which Grandpa will deny until he’s blue in the face: “He just zoomed right up there, out
of nowhere!”). Grandma is not shy about her appreciation: “Bless your heart!”
Also during this time, Grandpa is so visibly shaken himself that it seems truly
surreal (so the reference to Salvador Dali was quite apt). He stands at the cement divider
and stares without seeing, into the other side of the freeway, obviously reflective. This is
a rare sight indeed--something I believe I have never seen before. I have seen him angry,
and I have seen him happy. However, this is the first time I have ever seen him in a state
even close to confused or scared--or even sad per se, really. It is strange to see.
At another point, I kind of baffle the state trooper by asking if it’s all right if I
walk around the other side of the accident so I can get pictures from over there. Grandma
explains to him that she is taking me to San Francisco as a college graduation present. I
tell the man, “I want a photo record of my vacation!” He seems mildly amused by this,
and he escorts me around the back end of the trailer (inexplicably, since climbing over
the divider would probably have been safer) and lets me get a few quick shots of the back
of the truck, which is quite tightly squeezed between that cement divider and the front of
the trailer. I end up getting both the state trooper and one of the tow truck guys in a
couple of the photos. He then escorts me back around.
The trailer finally gets hooked up to the tow truck, during which southbound
traffic is blocked completely. As the trailer is pulled away, and the truck along with it, I
take a quick snapshot of the dent in the truck that is finally revealed--it probably goes a
foot deep into the truck’s frame. Both the tuck and the trailer are towed to the right side
of the road, Grandma freaking out because they have rolled down the windows while the
cats are in there. A man follows with the detached propane tanks in his hands, and the
traffic is finally let go. The windows are rolled back up soon enough, and then the cats
are put back into the trailer, where Grandma naturally goes to go to the bathroom--as
does Grandpa, as do I (even the state trooper comes over to the door and says, “As a
peacethought could I use it too?”).
Of course, there is the interior of the trailer. Once in there, I grab my camcorder
and begin videotaping the damage, which I also get still pictures of: particularly in the
back end, where the bedroom is at, it looks like a severe earthquake has hit. I get pictures
of drawers and clothes and other junk spilled so heavily into the space between the two
high-positioned beds that the pile reaches as high as the beds themselves (at one point
Grandma tells me to clear a path for the cats to the litter box, and I have to ask Grandpa
where it’s at--it’s buried underneath so much stuff). On the other end of the trailer, I get
pictures of broken dishes on the floor and weird muck smeared on the linoleum.
Not long after that, we are asked to get out of the trailer, and then it is towed
away. Grandpa is asked to stay with the truck until someone comes to put it on the bed of
a semi to take it back to the junk yard to be worked on. Grandpa just sits silent, still
reflective (another thing that makes it so strange--how long he goes without speaking
through this whole ordeal).
Grandma and I are given a ride in a trailer-less semi truck with two of the other
junk yard workers. They are very nice to us. Grandma mentions making some lunch,
finally, and the driver makes a joke about feeding him too, though it is clear he would
actually like her to. Once we meet the trailer at the junk yard (which we have to
backtrack north to Concord to get to) Grandma makes egg salad sandwiches not only for
her and Grandpa and me, but for all of the mechanics (only the guy who made the joke
accepts one). We are parked next to a long line of chain-link fence, with own material
woven into it.
It is a few minutes before the truck and Grandpa are brought back, but when it is I
bring out my camcorder again, to get the dents and damage on video (I only got still
photos of the wreck on the freeway). I get a video picture of the north bay that can be
seen in the distance at the end of the street, and then I shoot the vehicles--and one of the
mechanics shoots away from the truck as though he is a vampire and I’m a walking wad
of garlic, dropping his wrench to the street in panic. Strange. But I do not actually get any
of them individually on the video, as I never intended to.
These guys tell us they don’t think the truck nor the trailer are totaled, despite the
state trooper telling us how convinced he was that they were. They tinker a bit with the
trailer to make it possible to hook it to the truck again, and they put the spare tire on the
truck--luckily, the place where the hubcap goes is not damaged--and we are set to go.
This whole ordeal sets us back merely three or four hours. We still get down to Morgan
Hill, a bit south of San Jose, that night--a day earlier than Grandma had thought we
might. But we make it, albeit “late” at night (at about eight o’clock; Grandma is always
preoccupied with arriving by dark so camp can be set up in daylight). So much time was
spent under the impression that we would be having to stay here for the night in a
hotel--and here we are, on the road again.
I get a little paranoid the rest of the way. Traffic gets thick and slow and it seems
to me that Grandpa is barreling up to the slowing cars to quickly, or I think he’s turning
corners too sharply, or this, or that. I spend the rest of the evening still fairly shaken; I
can only assume that my grandparents do the same.
I eat cereal for dinner, as Grandma is quite understandably not up to cooking
dinner, which Grandpa does not quite appreciate. Perhaps he feels that he cooked enough
when he made his own sandwich for lunch (which struck me as so odd that I videotaped
We are to stay at Morgan Hill for five nights.
Day #5: This day is spent doing not much of anything--unless winding down
from yesterday’s unwanted excitement counts. Grandma’s plan for this day, after that
said excitement, is as follows: “I have to clean, and clean.” I help a little bit, but
admittedly not near as much as I could. I spend quite a lot of time writing in a letter to
Jennifer Miga, the one and only person I write to who prefers that I write to her by hand.
Since I do not have my computer with me and can only write by hand, she becomes the
clear and logical person to receive the letter. By the end of my writing in the letter for
this day, I reach page 38.
I go for a walk at one point, thinking the name of the camp ground (Thousand
Trails) should mean there are a number of trails to walk around on. But no--there are
perhaps a grand total of three. Still, I enjoy my walk, and get a few good pictures out of
it, including one of the two deer that keep running away from me for some reason I just
can’t understand. Grandma is gone for a while, getting a new tire for the truck. Other
than Grandpa taking painstaking efforts to convince me that all women’s bathrooms are
far filthier than any men’s room, it is really the highlight of the day.
Day #6: At long last. We arrive in San Francisco.
Grandma has decided we will rent a car, which Grandpa is thankful for. The
original plan was to drive up to San Francisco and back to Morgan Hill--seventy miles
away--both today and tomorrow; now the plan is to take the rental car up there, stay the
night in a motel, and drive home tomorrow. I do believe in miracles. This one occurred
because Grandpa said he refuses to drive through a big city two days in a row. So now we
go there one day, and come back the next. Nice plan.
Just driving into the city for the first time is rather exciting. Very congested--in
reference to not only traffic, but mostly the buildings--but exciting. Driving along
Highway 101 until the massive skyline comes into view. And it’s much more massive
than it ever seems in pictures, because the San Francisco skyline is rarely published in
pictures taken very close-up, or from any angle besides from the water or Nob Hill (in the
distance behind the “Six Painted Ladies”--Victorian houses--probably the most clichéd
view of San Francisco of all). But there are tons of medium-high skyscrapers there, and
far more than I ever imagined. The average height of the downtown buildings there is a
bit shorter than that of the Seattle skyline, but there are quite a few more of the buildings
themselves in San Francisco.
We are intending to go straight to the Golden Gate Bridge on Highway 101, and
we miss our exit, and end up getting lost briefly. This is when I see a man walking down
the street in an ugly green skirt, white sweatshirt, and tacky and mussed blond wig, none
of which look very becoming on him--the man walks with mannerisms that seem more
suited to truck driving. And we move on. It is not long before we reach the bridge.
We all three walk the span of the bridge and back, after missing a turn that
rendered us required to drive across and back. I tried to suggest we just park on the other
side and walk from there, but this is a concept they just didn’t seem to understand. We
drive back and find a place to park, and then do our walk. Grandma stops about three
quarters of the way across, and then ends up coming the rest of the way, telling me,
“Grandpa says this is what we came here for and I have to walk acrost.” The view, of
both the skyline and the Pacific Ocean to the west, is quite stunning. As usual, the
pathetic-by-comparison Oakland skyline is visible in the distance across the bay, which I
do take a few pictures of while on this trip.
We walk back to the San Francisco side and back to the rental car, from which we
see a sing-o-gram car (an ugly tan little hatchback of some sort) being towed away. Its
driver is someone who appears to be an elderly lady, in a black suit and top hat dance
outfit. I think of taking her picture from the back seat of the car, and then decide against
it. We get out of the parking lot and head for Golden Gate Park.
Of course, we take some time to get there, and once we do, we simply find the
first picnic table we see to sit down at and briefly have lunch before moving on. Grandma
is the first to get out of the car and walk over to the table rather far into the large patch of
lawn (right next to a jumble of trees and pathways, actually), after some unnecessary
arguing about how we were supposed to park. She walks rather close to a man
barbecuing something near one of the tables, without realizing that he is clearly a bum,
and then opts for another table not far from him, because this one is out of the way of the
The three of us sit down and have our picnic; at one point I set my camera on top
of a large fallen branch and use the timer to take two pictures of the three of us together.
I then take another photo of Grandma and Grandpa from across the table, in the middle
of which is the said barbecue in the distance--which I finally realize is cooking a dead
animal that has been flattened by a car. It is around this time that I realize for sure that
the guy must be homeless; he has a shopping cart full of crap and plastic bags full of stuff
hanging from it, and though his clothes are still well put together, they are rather dirty.
He later lays down on top of the table and goes to sleep. Sherri later asks me if we gave
him any food; I say no--he is obviously quite self-sufficient. For some reason the
spectacle doesn’t really bother me, and perhaps it is because I am so tired of having
people panhandling me in downtown Seattle that I am thankful this guy keeps to himself.
I even later get him on video, quite briefly, but long enough for me to announce cheerily,
“There’s the bum cooking road kill!”
We finish our lunch and then head for the zoo, which is our next planned stop. On
the way, however, we get quite unnecessarily lost. I always know what direction we need
to go in, because I looked at a map I saw by the Golden Gate Bridge. I don’t remember
the street names, however, and that is completely unacceptable to Grandma--even though
I know what turns we should make, with no concrete names with which to refer to them,
I am completely ignored.
Golden Gate park is a gigantic one, with an elongated rectangular shape that
stretches lengthwise from west to east, the west end of it bordering the north-south
highway that runs along the coast along the entire western side of the peninsula on which
the city is situated. Some idiot at a gas station has told us that we need to follow
Nineteenth Street all the way down to the zoo, but that proves useless when the street
dead-ends into the north border of the park. So we turn right, and I try until I am nearly
blue in the face that we need to just keep going west on this bordering street (Fulton) to
the coast and take a left--but my grandparents, and particularly Grandpa, are quite
dedicated to these directions we have been given even though they have proven
themselves to be useless. In fact, Grandpa decides to take a right at Twentieth, at which
point we are going in the opposite direction (north) of where we want to go. His plan, of
course, is to find Nineteenth and try it a second time--as though the park might not be in
the way this time. I say a number of times that I know where we need to be going, but am
not heard. Finally, after we take another right and are headed to the east (and where we
want to be going to is south of us), we pass by one of the many bus stops that have a
full-scale map of the entire city on it. I yelp that there’s a map, and let’s stop so I can
show what I am talking about.
Grandpa searches for a parking place along the side of the road, but the sidewalks
seem almost exclusively to be made up of driveway ramps. “Well park in front of one
anyway!” says Grandma, and so that’s what he does. I walk around the corner to the bus
stop, and Grandma follows, until we reach it and I try to show her where we need to go.
While I am demonstrating what I feel to be less than complicated (though I do later
realize that I could have said the names of less streets, which would have helped),
Grandma interrupts by saying, “I’m going to go ask in here.” So she goes into the
building we are standing in front of, ignoring my pleas to her that I know where we are
and where we are going.
Beyond irritated, I walk back to the parked car in a bit of a huff. I get into the
back seat and say to Grandpa, “Your wife is driving me up the wall.”
Grandpa says, simply, “That figures. She’s been doing that to me for years.”
But then Grandma returns, and what actually ends up happening is they follow a
sort of mix of both my directions and those of the people Grandma just asked. We are
now facing Fulton Street, and I tell them we need to just get up there and go to the right,
where we follow it to the coast and take a left. This is basically where the other people
have told Grandma to go to as well, but she chooses to actually listen to them, even
though I have been trying to get this through to them for some time. So we drive for a
while westbound on Fulton (where we were to begin with when Grandpa decided to take
a right and go the wrong way)--only to find, one block after Grandpa had turned off the
street, signs on the side of the road guiding us to the zoo. We get to the coastal highway,
take a left, and follow the signs the rest of the way there.
We get to the zoo entrance at 3:30, which is also when we realize they close at
five. We all agree that it’s not worth our time, and then Grandma suggests we just find a
motel and call it a day. This I find rather disappointing, but I deal with it. We find a
motel that is situated exactly in the same manner as their apartment was in Hawaii: two
blocks from the ocean and across the street from the zoo.
It is perhaps an hour later when I decide to walk down to the beach, and see if I
can stand to stay there long enough to watch the sunset on the horizon of the ocean--it
would be quite beautiful, and all the days we spend in San Francisco are uncommonly
sunny, clear and beautiful. I never do see a single bit of fog.
First I take a walk along the beach, which is quite pretty, despite what I discover
about it: the sand itself is perhaps fifty feet below a cliff, what looks sort of like a
landslide of cement and concrete chunks, clearly pieces of the above parking lots having
fallen down. In fact those parking lots up there are full of spaces with nothing but empty
jagged edges cut out of the concrete as their fronts--no bumpers or anything. Some of the
pieces of fallen cement have traffic lines on them, and I wonder if an earthquake did this.
I get some video of it, and narrate as I go along--which can never be heard on playback
because the wind is too heavy. There are even two bike racks embedded halfway down
into the sand. Strange and creepy, but fascinating. The ocean itself is beyond stunning. It
nearly puts me into paralysis, it’s so gorgeous.
I happen to find a pay phone, and so I decide to use the calling card that Sprint
gave me when I first joined their long distance plan, for the first time. I decide to call
Gabe and Suzy, since they were the ones who raved the most about San Francisco after
taking their own trip there in August (which I was pseudo-invited to go on with them at
one point, but it never happened that way). Only Suzy is home, so I just talk to her. I tell
her how beautiful it is here, and she tells me how jealous she is--apparently there is a
virtual blizzard going on in Pullman, quite odd for this time of year. She then expresses
her disappointment that I will not be visiting the Castro District, which Sherri also does
later--but I am not exactly in a situation that allows for that (despite Sherri’s assertion
that it would be “an eye-opening experience” for my grandparents). Gabe had once told
me, “Promise me you’ll go out by yourself just one day, without your grandparents.”
This, however, is just not possible. And San Francisco isn’t going anywhere; I can always
The highlight of the phone call, however, has nothing to do with San Francisco--a
strange occurrence is related to me, about Gabe trying to call me at home. Courtney and
Beau were there, of course, and based on the two versions of the story I have been told,
this is my understanding of the basic gist of the conversation that ensued:
“Hello?” says Beau, answering the phone.
“Is Matthew there?” asks Gabe. He must have said it someone hesitantly.
“No, can I take a message?”
Gabe asks who this is.
“This is his brother.”
“Uh . . . you don’t sound like his brother . . .”
Obviously taken aback by the challenge, Beau does the inexplicable by covering
one obvious lie with another, equally obvious one: “Oh, I mean, I’m his neighbor, and
I’m watching his cats for him.”
This is something that Suzy and Gabe have been concerned about because they
don’t know if there is supposed to be someone living at my place or not. Gabe apparently
heard talking and music in the background--something I myself really would have
I suggest to Suzy that perhaps Beau said that so he wouldn’t have to explain the
truth, which would involve a lot of explaining--he has only a slight connection to me, and
one that would require convoluted explanation (he’s my sister’s ex-boyfriend’s
daughter’s boyfriend). Of course, just mentioning that he was cat sitting would have been
good enough--and even when I later tell Barbara this story, she laughs out loud and asks,
“Why would he say something so stupid?” Perhaps he doesn’t realize that anyone at all
who might call and ask for me by my first name would know that I don’t talk to any of
my neighbors, and almost everyone would know who my brother really is. But I did tell
them they could answer the phone and take messages if they wanted to.
I end up getting off the phone with Suzy, and I walk back to the hotel before dark
because it just gets too windy and chilly. I end up watching a couple of old musicals on
television while Grandpa does the same; I fall asleep rather early, because I have to wake
up on average at six o’clock in the morning during this entire trip--and often at five thirty.
At the end of this first day in San Francisco, though, I have already done the
inevitable, by comparing it to Seattle, which everyone knows I am in love with. However,
despite the many people (including my dad) who have been convinced that my visit in
San Francisco would make me want to move there, it doesn’t quite happen that way. San
Francisco is a beautiful town, but it is very self-contained; its surrounding areas of land
are one collective “blah” as far as I am concerned. There is no Mt. Rainier down there,
no Cascades, no Olympic Mountains, no vast expanses of indigenous trees (all of San
Francisco, which used to be nothing but bare hills and sand dunes, is contrived; even the
smallest vegetation was introduced from somewhere else in the world). The skyline itself
is far less aesthetically pleasing than Seattle’s, despite the wonderful TransAmerica
Pyramid. The one thing San Francisco has over Seattle, as far as beauty is concerned, is
its situation on the Pacific Ocean--if Seattle were on the ocean it would be absolutely
perfect. But Puget Sound works. Second-best when it comes to nearby water, but all the
rest that surrounds Seattle more than makes up for it--which is not provided around San
In addition, there is the perceived “gay capitol of the world” in San Francisco.
However, the gay community in Seattle itself is reportedly rather large. Still, I did not
move here for that reason, and it would not be criteria for moving anywhere at all--I take
in consideration the city as a whole. And Seattle vibrates through me in an inexplicable
manner. This is where I belong. If and when I get rich and famous enough, however, I
just might have a summer home in San Francisco. And if for whatever reason I eventually
decide I want to move away from Seattle (which would be a long time from now, but
anything is possible), then San Francisco would indeed be my next choice. This is
something I knew long before I even visited San Francisco.
Day #7: This day more than makes up for the previous one’s irritations.
I get out of bed not long after I hear Grandma telling Grandpa that it’s 6:30. Once
I have finished getting ready, we all walk down to the end of the block to have breakfast
at a little cafe. It has a subtly charming ambiance, with large framed posters of
decades-old movie stars hung high on the walls, and old photos of the San Francisco
bridges under construction beneath them. Golden Gate Bridge, completed in 1937, in its
time the longest suspension bridge in the world. Fascinating.
We then go back to the hotel and load up the car, to actually make good time in
making it over to the Fisherman’s Wharf, where we are to buy tickets to the “Alcatraz
Plus Deluxe City Tour” package. After walk-running a block out of the way and back
before we find the place where we get tickets, we find out that we go to Alcatraz first and
the boat does not leave for a half hour. So, for the moment, the rushing is done.
Grandma found the brochure for this package last night. Sherri had asked me on
the phone if we were going to Nob Hill, and I told her I didn’t think so. Looking at the
brochure, though, I saw that the city tour takes us through virtually every neighborhood in
town. When asked if I wanted to do this, my reaction was made up of resounding
But first: Alcatraz. I use the still camera for the ferry ride over, after we sit for a
few minutes on the pier and I drink my root beer float--and then we get a picture taken of
the three of us behind a life saver with Alcatraz written on it (something I discovered is
now convention for every tourist trap in the world--”You’re under no obligation!”--but if
you see a great picture of yourself before making the decision to buy one, you are far
more likely to buy it). The view from the water is, of course, incredible. The ride takes
only fifteen minutes--far more quickly than it took for any attempted escape swimmers
from the days when Alcatraz was still an operating prison.
I find Alcatraz surprisingly fascinating. When Gabe and Suzy went to San
Francisco in August and came back to gush and rave about it to me, the prison was a
particular point of interest to them. I looked at the brochures and such that they brought
back for me to look at, and regarded them as though they might be mildly interesting.
Unlike Gabe, I don’t fantasize about myself in some glorified Italian Mafia world (I just
fantasize about being rich and famous). But now we are here, and I am spellbound.
Our first stop in there is the gift shop, where author Frank Heany is signing copies
of his autobiographical book about his stint as “the youngest guard” at Alcatraz--more
than fifty years ago. Grandma decides to buy one for me, which is very generous of her; I
was thinking of buying one for myself. The man is wearing a red sweatshirt that reads,
“Alcatraz Triathlon,” above the words “jump, dash, dive.” Those three words have
accompanying drawings of guys in prison uniform doing those very things--the “dive”
guy swimming amongst sharks. I compliment him on the shirt, and he tells me his
daughter bought it for him.
We then take a tour that is guided by recorded voices on walkmen. It tells us to
follow this line or that hallway, look this way or that, and tells anecdotes about every
corner and inch of the structure. Through most of the tour, Grandma and I walk fairly
close together. Grandpa, on the other hand, says his tape has stopped about halfway
through, and so he returns it and decides to wander off on his own. At one point Grandma
and I decide to take pictures of each other behind cell bars, and I stop my tape for the
moment. Since Grandma leaves hers running, she ends up getting a bit further ahead of
Once Grandma is finished, she comes back to me and asks me to help her locate
Grandpa; neither of us can find him. We search every area of the building that it is
possible to look through, and he never turns up. Grandma and I end up having to ask a
ranger (this is a national park) to help us, and, although they have no paging system, they
begin to look for him. Grandma starts getting nervous about missing the 2:15 boat, which
we were told is the last one we can take back in time to catch the city tour bus. We are
told to go down to the dock to see if he is waiting for us there--and he is not. Grandma
begins telling the park staff about how often Grandpa does this to her. They tell her that
this is very common, happens almost every day, and everyone is always found. But
Grandma’s point is that we need to catch the 2:15 ferry! She is far from worried that
something is wrong; we have a schedule!
I stand and watch in mild amusement as my grandmother’s grip on her sanity
slowly begins to unravel. The 2:15 ferry arrives, and when Grandma asks if it can be
held, we are answered with the negative. Grandma has a hard time believing this, even
though she has been told that only a medical emergency warrants taking the boats even a
minute or two off schedule (“Well I might kill him!” she barks). Grandpa has still not
turned up by the time the 2:15 ferry starts to leave again, and Grandma actually trots over
there in subdued panic, as though she might be able to convince them to wait just a little
bit longer. Of course, the boat turns its head and completely ignores her, so she returns.
She says many times throughout this ordeal, “I’m a nervous wreck!”
No more than about five minutes later, a staff member comes walking down the
hill with Grandpa at his side, and we see that the search is finally over. Grandma yells up
to him, “You sure fouled things up!”
Grandpa just continues to walk, and, after his signature pause before doing
anything, shrugs and says, “What else is new?”
Now knowing we have some time before we can take another ferry back to the
mainland, I trot back into the gift shop and buy what I want to give to Barbara as a
thank-you gift--her own autographed copy of the book Grandma bought for me. What he
writes to her is identical to what is written in my book, with only the name changed: To
Barbara with best regards. Then the date and the man’s signature.
By the time I have finally gotten the signature for the second time, I walk out of
the gift shop. As soon as I am out the door, Grandma is walking up from further down the
hill, and she hollers up at me, “The boat’s leaving!” There are two men in front of me,
however, and one of them hollers back at her, “Okay!” We make it onto this boat, and of
course we miss the city tour bus. The staff members who were talking to us near the dock
while Grandpa was still lost (and Grandma was insisting he looks just like Santa Claus--
and he does--so “you can’t miss him!”) had called Tower Tours to see what could be
done, and because of that we now already know that we are going to have to re-schedule
the tour. So that’s what we get off the boat and go do: now the tour is to occur on
Tuesday. Once we get off the boat, though, the first thing we do is purchase the photo
that was taken of us before we took the ferry over. Grandma is in the middle, and I am
struck by how very much it looks like she’s standing in between Santa Claus and Satan.
The visual dichotomy amuses me.
The city tour no longer a part of the day’s plans, we walk Pier 39 to find a place
to eat. We find one place, the name of which I forget, and can’t find the entrance.
Grandma tries to ask a bus boy pulling a garbage can who can only tell her he doesn’t
speak English. Then we find a place called The Crab House which I am very interested in
eating at--until we see the horrendous prices (“A ten dollar hamburger?”). Nevertheless,
Grandma says, “Well, we can just this once”--and so continues going overboard in
spoiling me. (I later write in my letter to Jennifer that I am so spoiled that I am about to
start smelling.) She has complained about how the two meats I am willing to eat (crab
and shrimp, which Grandpa continuously tries convincing me are not actually meat) are
the two most expensive, but for some reason she buys it for me anyway, even though I
could clearly live without it. We go in and have lunch, and the waiter punches our orders
into buttons one something that looks like some sort of weird remote control. I have a
crab pizza that is far beyond delicious. It makes me feel almost as though I don’t need to
eat another thing for a week.
While we are waiting for the check, I walk across the pier walkway to the gift
shop next door, where I buy Courtney some thank-you gifts for cat sitting: a revolving
cable car that is a music box, and a Golden Gate Bridge key chain. While purchasing
these things at the counter (along with a San Francisco thermometer magnet for my
refrigerator), I see a stack of candies made to look like amber--with a real, “edible”
scorpion inside each one. The mere sight of them almost makes me lose my lunch.
Next stop is the coolest place we visit for the day: Coit Tower, a cylindrical tower
with a hint of resemblance to a fire hose, erected by a woman (by the name of Coit, of
course) nearly a century ago to commemorate a fire department she loved almost
obsessively. It is perhaps as tall as a ten-story building, but is set atop a fairly high hill,
and is so close to the skyline that the view is spine-tingling. We take an elevator to the
top of it, and I take far more still and video pictures, from all the way around, than are
really necessary. The TransAmerica Pyramid is one of the closest skyscrapers, with not
one other building obstructing its view. I feel like I could spend an entire day up there.
But, alas, we have to leave. And of course we do so in five o’clock traffic, and
this turns out to be the one time I am truly thankful for rush hour: we practically crawl
through half the city before we make it to Highway 101, giving me ample time to look at
the plethora of skyscrapers, their relative heights and architectural designs. I take a ton of
pictures of them. What a beautiful place! Ah, the land of pavement . . . there is no
environment more natural for someone such as myself.
Once we are on the freeway and headed back to Morgan Hill, I offer the
following comment to Grandma: “Well, I have to say that today was spectacular.”
Grandma replies, quite sincerely, “Well thank you!” I can tell she highly
appreciates the fact that I told her this.
Day #8: This is a day spent in San Jose, actually the largest city in the bay area,
contrary to popular belief (San Francisco, though far more crowded in its much smaller
geographical area, is second, at 750,000 or so; San Jose is about 800,000). Our one
destination in town is the Winchester Mystery House, which I have told Grandma for
years that I wanted to go to when she took me on this trip to San Francisco. She sent me
the brochure for it some years ago, and I was always fascinated by it.
The tour of the gargantuan mansion itself proves even more fascinating, by some
distance. It is a home built by the widow of the maker of the Winchester Rifle, a very
eccentric woman who believed the psychic she met in Boston who told her the spirits of
all those killed by the rifle insist that she must keep the home under construction at all
times. She paid her employees cash, and kept them to work twenty four-hours a day.
There was once a seven-story tower at one end of the building, which the 1906
earthquake toppled over. Mrs. Winchester took this as a sign from the spirits to stop
working on that area of the home, and so she boarded up the area and never worked on
that wing again.
The most fascinating thing about the home is the intricate layout, which if it was
not for the tour guide, we would all have gotten lost in. Some theorize that the bizarre
features of the home were constructed to confuse the spirits of those dead at the hands of
the Winchester Rifle--the stairs that go up to the ceiling; the doors that open up to a wall,
or to nothing, or to open air outside the building. The tour lasts only about an hour and a
half, but is quite interesting--well worth the time. At the end of it Grandma is so
impressed with our tour guide, a young woman no older than me and probably younger,
that at the end of the tour she gives her a tip (something Grandma does not realize I
notice, later saying to me, “Boy, nothing escapes your eyes, does it?”).
We then take a second tour, which takes us to the areas around the outside and
underneath the building, with a guide who is not nearly as good at presenting (he has a
problem with articulation, really, and would be better suited in a job that involves
keeping his mouth shut). Still, it’s interesting, despite Grandma’s declaration that “I
wasn’t too impressed.”
It is on our trip back to Morgan Hill from San Jose that I make the stupidest
mistake of the trip--that is, getting involved in an argument with Grandpa. He keeps
trying to “explain” why the accident we got into was actually the fault of the man driving
the pick-up truck we almost ran into, and Grandma and I continue trying to convince him
that he is mistaken. While Grandpa continues to rant about how everyone on the road
except for him is completely insane, particularly in California (“They can have it!”), I
make the rather deplorable remark that “Grandpa, you’re completely retarded!” I do
regret having said that--I mean, to Grandpa’s credit, even Forest Gump wasn’t completely
retarded. It is not long after this, however, that Grandma goes on a verbal tirade about
how everything Grandpa has to say “has to be negative! It has to be negative! It has to be
She later tells me, yet again, that sometimes Grandpa leaves her a nervous wreck.
“I know that,” I say. “In fact I’ve known it for years.”
“To be quite honest,” I continue, “I think it’s a marvel you’ve stayed married for
so many years.” (In September it will be 52 years.)
“Everyone says that to us,” she replies. “But when we got married, you got
married and stayed married.”
When we arrive at the campground, we are told we have some “surprise visitors.”
Grandma immediately perks up: “Bill and Joan!” These friends who are often travel
companions of my grandparents were actually scheduled to meet us some days before,
but had car troubles. They are not expected now for another couple of days--but Grandma
knows that the only people it could possibly be are Bill and Joan, whose names she
repeats a number of times, though the campground staff never utter anything even close
Sure enough, Bill and Joan are in their trailer in the space next to ours. We end up
going on an oh-so-exciting trip over to the laundromat, when I use my calling card to call
Barbara at my apartment, as this is the day on which she takes over for Courtney with the
cat sitting. The transition has gone smoothly, though, and I am relieved.
Grandma makes Spanish rice without meat in it just for me for dinner, and is
visibly irritated when she discovers I don’t like it.
Day #9: This day begins on the wonderful note of a man in a stall in the
bathroom where I take my shower, as he goes to the bathroom and at the same time
makes such bizarre noises that he actually sounds like he is having a baby. And then he
comes to wash his hands, making similar grunting noises all the while.
This is the day when I begin to wish for home again. Two weeks away is too long,
and from here on out I am unsubtle about my desire to be back home. Grandma tells me
later that I am just like my father; she tells me he used to beg to go to his grandmother’s
house, and once there he would beg to go home again. I do still, however, look forward to
our third and final day in San Francisco.
Today, however, is spent doing little more than traveling--a move of about 130
miles, from Morgan Hill to Windsor, now about sixty miles north of San Francisco. The
camp ground is reminiscent of the buildings in San Francisco, though, perhaps what it
will look like when everyone who lives there is old enough to be a full-time RVer: the
place is nothing but row after row of cram-packed trailers and motor homes. This is
something I like in a big city, where it’s meant to be this way. However, I expect more of
nature at a campground, and this one is a vast disappointment.
Day #10: This is proclaimed a “rest day.”
Grandma and I get up and have breakfast at the family lodge--my declining of the
offered bacon yet another excuse for Grandma to tell people about the inconveniences of
having a vegetarian grandson. It doesn’t really irritate me, though; I find it somewhat
The highlight of this day is my accompanying Grandma into Santa Rosa to
purchase a sway bar for the trailer--which, incidentally, gets slightly more damaged the
more we travel with it. There is even a small hole in the front of it, which can be seen
through from inside, between cupboards.
While I am working on my letter to Jennifer later this evening, Grandpa says
something that quite strikes a cord--though I suppose I deserve it. He babbles on and on
about how no one in this day and age can make it without living with someone, and I
point out to him that I am making it. He simply tells me, “Yeah, on someone else’s
It’s not someone else’s anymore.
I am asked what page I am on in the letter I am writing to Jennifer Miga. I tell
them: 72. Grandpa says, “He calls that a letter. I call it a book.”
Grandma suggests that I must be making stuff up in the letter, because she feels I
couldn’t possibly write so much about the things going on.
Day #11: On this day I manage to sleep in until a quarter after six. Ah, this is the
As for the rest of it, as I later state in the letter I am writing to Jennifer, it is
“spectacular, awesome, stunning--in other words, a rather wonderful day.” In fact, of the
three days I actually get to spend in San Francisco on this trip, it is by some distance the
Our first stop is the Cliff House, something planned on for about two weeks
beforehand and then changed at the last minute--and then changed again even more
recently than the last minute. Thank heavens for that one. Of all views I get to see in San
Francisco, the expected skyline is not my view of choice; what I find to be the most
awe-inspiring view in town is that from the Cliff House on the Pacific Coast of town. It
leaves me truly mesmerized.
It is the fourth version of the building that has been built here on a cliff (of
course) overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the other three having burned to the ground each
in turn. This most recent version has been remodeled a number of times--and I find
myself looking at the old photographs and wishing they had stuck with the design of the
second house, which stretched up six stories with a center tower. Still, the view alone
makes this visit well worth it. Grandma probably gets sick of how very many times I
marvel aloud at how outstanding the view is here. We sit in the rather posh lounge for a
drink (all of us have pop), staring at the vast expanse of ocean below us. Unreal. The
other side of the room is a wall of mirrors, so it looks like that ocean view surrounds us. I
take a picture of myself through the mirror.
From there we go across town, from west to east, yet again--to the same
downtown location where we got the tickets for the deluxe city tour. While driving along
the waterfront, Grandpa decides to turn on his left turn signal and change lanes to the left,
over the double yellow lines. Grandma literally screams at him that he’s in the wrong
lane, while I point out to him the yellow lines. “That don’t mean anything,” he says.
After lunch at a strange bread place (with very good pizza bread), we stroll some
waterfront shops for a while, and I spend a fair amount of money. I buy a pack of ten San
Francisco post cards for a dollar, and then both a San Francisco sweatshirt and a San
Francisco T-shirt. The last things I buy are two tour books. At one point we pass by the
Riply’s Believe it or Not Museum, which Danielle told me to be sure and see after she
went on her trip to San Francisco. We do not have time to stop there, however; instead,
Grandpa lags behind as we head toward the Tower Tours ticket desk. Grandma finally
turns around and calls him back, saying, “I’m gonna get a leash!”
A man we happen to be passing by offers, “And a whip! It’s San Francisco, no
one would notice.”
Then it is off to pick up our tour tickets.
While we wait with the rest of the group for the bus to arrive on the other side of
the street on the waterfront, we take in the number of street entertainers. One is a man
completely plastered in silver--not uncommon in downtown Seattle either--that Grandma
walks up to under the impression he is a statue. As soon as she says, “I think it’s a
statue!”--the man does a quick jerk of a move forward, making a kazoo-like whistling
noise out of something in his mouth. Grandma yelps, and then laughs and laughs.
We are all by far the most entertained, however, by a man who would be
perceived by some as a poor street “entertainer.” Nevertheless, the spectacle is a riot: he
sits down on the sidewalk, on a milk crate, hiding behind a number of collected long
twigs thick with leaves. As soon as anyone unsuspecting (which is, really, everyone)
passes by, he takes a handful of the twigs and extends them out toward the passer-by,
uttering a groan- like, “Uuuuuuuuuuuuuoh!” It scares the hell out of every single person
who passes, and the rest of us can do little more than stand there, busting a gut.
There is quite a range of reaction to this man, who, once he is passed (our group
stands behind him), is seen to have an empty coffee can for money, over which a
cardboard sign is set which reads, “HA HA HA - THE BUSH MAN.” Many people jump
quite high in the air as they are startled by him, and then most of them laugh and say
things like, “I’m gonna give him some money when we go back”--this is quite clearly an
effective money maker. One man is seen deliberately walking his girlfriend next to “the
bush man” just so she’ll get startled--which is made clear when they turn around as soon
as she is scared, and she slaps him rather hard on the shoulder. Another woman, with a
child, is so startled that she utters a blood-curdling scream as though she were being
chased by a man man with a steak knife. This is the one woman we see who is unhappy
with this set-up, and she snaps, quite loudly, “How dare you?”--then picks up her child
and continues walking, with her male companion snickering as he gives her half-hearted
pats on the back. I take one picture that captures one person in the middle of jumping in
fright. Grandma actually goes to the other side of him and takes a picture from the front,
and he moves the twigs aside so his face is revealed for the camera, which he does for a
few people who take his picture.
Then we go on the tour, which lasts nearly four hours (scheduled for three and a
half, we go into overtime of about fifteen minutes). It takes us through every district in
town, and every single major point of interest possible in San Francisco:
Fisherman’s Wharf. This is where we board the bus. I take a picture on one of our
many visits there, so that the large sign of the same words is in the middle of a bunch of
flying seagulls. We pretty much board from Pier 41, which is right next to Pier 39, and
then quickly drive away from the area.
Telegraph Hill. This is where Coit Tower is located. Buses are not allowed up
there, but we are provided with plenty nice views of the hill and the tower.
Financial District (downtown). Here I get to learn a number of rather interesting
things about downtown skyscrapers, such as the fact that the “wings” on either side of the
TransAmerica building are actually built to house the elevator shafts on one side and the
stairs on the other. I get pictures of both that and the Bank of America Building (second
tallest in San Francisco) from their base, through my window as we pass by them.
Chinatown and Little Italy. These places we merely drive through as well, but we
learn things about them. I already knew that the Chinatown here is the largest in the
world outside of China, but now I hear that one in three San Franciscans are Asian. I take
pictures of the very striking Chinatown streets, and hear which Italian restaurants are the
Nob Hill. Our first stop, when we get to get out of the bus and take pictures. This
is the park in front of the famous “Six Painted Ladies,” the multi-colored Victorian
houses seen in a line in front of the striking San Francisco skyline in the distance.
Clichéd view as it is, I take a number of pictures. I wonder how the owners of the homes
feel about having daily groups come to take pictures of them.
Civic Center. Location of the quite remarkably beautiful City Hall building,
which is far prettier than most of the state capitols it somewhat resembles. We are told
that in the earthquake of 1989 the dome did a corkscrew-turn of four inches. Across the
street to the right is the Federal Building, which was apparently nearly completely
destroyed in the same earthquake. Only the facade was salvageable, and the new building
was constructed behind it.
The tour guide tells us that there are earthquakes every single day in San
Francisco, and passes around a newspaper clipping to demonstrate: “Earthquake Week,”
it reads. Most of them, of course, are mild--but earthquakes nonetheless. The tour guide
actually passes around a number of pictures of things, which I find interesting but
Grandma gets a little irritated by.
Haight-Ashbury. One of the places I had a number of people tell me I have to go
to. But what interest is my grandparents going to have in the hippie movement? So the
best I do is ride through it on a tour bus.
The Castro. Same concept here as the last one. Arguably “the largest and most
sophisticated” gay community in the world (according to one of my tour books), this is
not exactly the area of town two conservative seventy year-olds are going to have a lot of
interest in. I merely get glimpses of streets through this area, which are lined with
rainbow flags. At one point the bus stops right next to a gigantic rainbow flag, flying in
the wind right above my head out my window. I try to take what would no doubt be a
spectacular picture of it, but for some reason my camera sticks--and the bus moves on.
Later I take a picture of the street sign that reads “Castro.” The tour guide talks briefly
about this being the “gay-lesbian” area of town, but not much more.
Twin Peaks. The largest point(s) the entire city. Views from all around,
panorama, three hundred sixty degrees. Not only can downtown San Francisco be seen,
but so can the Pacific Ocean, the Golden Gate Bridge, Daly City to the south, the San
Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, and even downtown Oakland. I spend a fair amount of
time taking both still and video pictures.
For those of you who may have or might soon see the film Ed TV, it is filmed in
San Francisco (and also refers to it as “The greatest city in the world”). On the first day
of airing the Ed TV channel, there is a shot of a large, red and white antenna with four
legs on top of a large hill. That antenna is situated at Twin Peaks.
Golden Gate Park. This time we make it into the main area of the park, with
structurally interesting buildings and rows of weird looking trees surrounding a fairly tall
statue. We stay here for about twenty minutes, and Grandma and I both get back into the
bus early. During this visit, however, Grandma has to go to the bathroom a second time.
Since the driver already saw her get into the bus, he does not realize she is gone again
and actually starts to leave without her, just as she is walking up to the bus. I start yelling
from the back, “Wait, my grandma’s coming!” Grandma herself starts to trot and scream
helplessly, “Wait!” He finally stops and lets her in; he double checks for her presence
every time we stop from then on.
We drive through much of this park, which we are now told is the largest
man-made park in the world. It is here, as a matter of fact, that we learn that all the
vegetation in San Francisco was introduced from some other area--Golden Gate Park
itself used to be nothing but sand dunes. We are now shown the park in all of its
contrived glory, from dense foliage to ponds to buffalo imported some time ago from
The Cliff House. We have a fifteen minute stop here on our tour, which is our
second stop here of the day. We just soak in the stunning view for the brief amount of
time that we are here.
Golden Gate Bridge. Again a second visit--and by now I have driven across this
bridge too many times to count (having done so again even when we moved from
Morgan Hill to Windsor, which involved pulling the trailer through the city). However,
this time we are taken to better views. One is a vantage point from a bit further up on the
Marin County side, and then again up the high hill the freeway runs next to. I get some
great pictures of the skyline through the cables of the suspension bridge, and end up
getting the tour-guide’s voice on my camcorder, as he marvels at how I can get close-ups
of the cars running across the bridge.
The Palace of Fine Arts. An old and quite large and beautiful building, with large
cement pillars, that somehow survived the 1906 earthquake. I take a number of pictures
of this building as well, which is situated across from a pond. (This building is featured in
the film The Other Sister, also set in San Francisco.)
From there we go back to the waterfront, where we started the tour--during which
I was completely enchanted from beginning to end. Grandma gives the guide a dollar for
a tip, since he did have a sign in the van that read, “Gratuities are appreciated!”
We then drive back up to Windsor, our last trip across the Golden Gate Bridge,
this time entirely captured on home video.
Day #12: A day spent almost entirely on the road, we stop at a Northern
California campground with surprisingly dense beauty. A large herd of elk grazes in a
field of grass next to a red school house, accompanied by a large sign that reads, “Slow--
Elk Crossing.” The campground is just behind the field, amongst large and dense forest. I
later go for a walk, after camp is all set up, because I can hear running water. I run into a
seemingly abandoned family lodge that has all sorts of furniture and activity supplies in
it, and a hot tub in the back that’s so green and full of leaves it looks like a pond.
But I am fascinated by the fact that the building is constructed so that it stretches
over a small river; a creek perhaps four feet across. There is a sign outside the building
that indicates the structure is called The Creek House. And just across the pathway in
front of this house is a large pond with striking beauty; I run back to the trailer to fetch
my camcorder and get some photo records of all of this.
Finally I decide that I want to walk along the river to the west for a while,
knowing that it must empty into the ocean somewhere. We are driving home along
Highway 101, at my request, because Mom has told me for years how beautiful it is and I
have never seen it. In addition, Grandma and Grandpa were told that their safest bet is to
never drive the truck more than fifty miles an hour from now on, which by some miracle
actually serves our purposes here--we need the time to soak in the beauty, which does not
quite subside on this highway clear back into Washington State. For now, however, we
are still in Northern California--between Trinidad and Orik, specifically--and we have
driven through many a patch of wonderful Redwood Trees along the way thus far. I find
myself fascinated by the Redwood Trees, much in the same way that big-city skyscrapers
do. I have no idea why, but if I have to crane my neck to appreciate it, I tend to think it’s
There are no Redwood Trees at this campground, but it is still quite pretty.
Walking along the creek, I figure that I won’t get over to the nearby ocean any time soon
while on foot, but I follow it back over to the elk field nevertheless. Crossing a small
bridge over the creek, and getting ready to get some video of the now-nearby elk, a
middle-aged man and woman pass by, going the other way. The man pauses and jokingly
tells me that the last guy he saw trying to videotape the elk ended up getting his video
recorder bitten in two. I just smile at him and move on.
As I walk closer to the elk, which sure look a lot bigger up close, they collectively
start to move away from me (the nerve!). But I have no intention of trying to get close
enough to touch anyway; I just want to get across the highway to get back alongside the
creek. I do so, and walk through a field that smells keenly of elk turds for some time
before catching up with the creek again. Once there, I decide I’m tired of stepping in
mud, and I guess I’ll turn back now.
I keep the camcorder running as I walk back, and end up getting video of the herd
crossing the highway into the field I am now in, causing cars to stop for them because
they can’t get by. I find this thrilling. By the time I reach the place where I can cross the
highway again, the elk are walking away again--some of them standing in place and
staring at me, which makes me a little nervous. But I return to camp unscathed.
After a brief absence, Bill and Joan are accompanying us again, and from here on
out are expected to travel with us the rest of the way up to Washington. Grandma relates
the story of the accident on the freeway to Joan, and tries to get away with telling Joan
that I was saying, “Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god.”--in a tone that
suggests I was hysterical.
Irritated, I say to her, “Grandma, I only said it twice.”
Before bed, Grandma asks me if I will be glad to get home. I most certainly will--
but, as I say to her, I am always glad to get home, no matter where I went, and no matter
who I was with.
Day #13: I take a shower in yet another place with no heat (what the hell is it
with Northern California campground bathrooms?). It is in a bathroom that appears to be
under construction, which is intended to have six one-room shower stalls with doors
opening to the outside of the building and nowhere else. However, the men’s side is
made up of empty holes in the building, with a couple of the shower stalls evidently
pulled out and set on the grass. The women’s side has three stalls still in their inset
positions, but only one of them has a shower that appears to work correctly, has a shower
curtain, and a door that can lock properly. Since it is not necessary to go into any
bathroom to get into it--you just walk into the shower stall from outside--I decide to use
that. Grandma has said she refuses to use it, but I point out that, with the door shut, the
steam of the shower water will warm the room sufficiently.
I turn out to be right, and all is well. Still far better than the trailer shower. I
return and Grandma asks me, “Are you froze?”
“You wouldn’t tell me if you were anyway,” she says.
“Yes I would! You think I would lie to you?”
“Well no, not ‘lie’ . . .”
--I assure everyone that I have told her the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but
As for the day’s traveling . . . we go from Northern California to just outside of
Florence, Oregon, which is, in terms of longitude in the middle of the state--but quite
near the coast. It was decided yesterday, actually, that I would ride with Bill and Joan the
rest of the way home, in their four-door pickup truck, so now all of us have more space.
It is quite nice.
On the way, though, we stop at a place in the middle of the Redwoods called the
Trees of Mystery. Despite the statues of Paul Bunyan and his stupid blue ox erected to
greet visitors in the parking lot (why do we want to celebrate the natural, awe-inspiring
wonder of the Redwoods, and some legendary schmuck who supposedly chopped them
all down, at the same time?), it is an incredibly fascinating place. Joan is unable to walk
along the trails through the place with the rest of us, so she happily stays behind in the
rather large gift shop. Grandma, Grandpa, Bill and I all go on into the trails of the park,
which begins by walking through the length of a hollow Redwood log. Along the trail, we
see a number of fascinating types of redwood trees:
The Family Tree. The one highlighted here is claimed to be the “largest family
tree in the world,” but I find myself wondering if they really checked all the trees. It is
quite interesting, though--twelve single, independent trees growing out of the branches of
one larger tree. I take two pictures of it.
The Cathedral Tree. Up to seven or eight trees growing high out of one trunk,
connecting them all at the bottom. Apparently a favorite place for people to get married,
there are a number of dated marriage marker signs in the park.
The Candelabra Tree. A trunk that stretches out horizontally, with numerous trees
growing out of it.
The Brotherhood Tree--”the largest living thing in the world.” My favorite.
Known to grow up to 320 feet, the height of an actual small skyscraper (around 26
floors), it is this kind of thing that gets me to be just as fascinated with the Redwood
forest as I am with the concrete jungle. Astounding. I take a picture of Grandma,
Grandpa, Bill, and myself in front of the base of a Brotherhood Tree with the timer on
my camera. The photo shows that four more people could stand with us and we would
still not match the thickness of this trunk. We are diminished like ants.
We see another Brotherhood Tree trunk that was a tree struck by lightning and
then burned on the inside like a chimney because of its hollowness. The “stump” itself is
still probably nearly fifty feet high.
Later I come upon a sign that reads, “Nature’s Underpass”--on a root that
stretches over the ground so that someone can squat and walk under it. I do so with my
camera running. I videotape almost as much footage during this one visit to this park as I
did in all of the days we spent in San Francisco combined, in addition to a lot of footage
of Redwoods we drove past on the highway.
Going up Highway 101, just barely before getting into Oregon, we stop to have
lunch on the beach. We end up inadvertently going about three miles out of our way
before reaching it. Once there, Bill decides to take Tex over on his first visit to a beach; I
follow suit and bring Road Runner along. This quickly proves to be a mistake, and the
cats are both frightened by the roar of the ocean. I decide to let Road Runner just walk
around wherever she wants to, at the end of the leash I keep hold of. She settles on
crouching between some blades of grass on a small sand dune, which I simply stand on
next to her.
Suddenly two dogs presumably owned by nearby beachgoers (who have set up a
tent next to their own pick-up truck) catch sight of the cat, and come over to bark
incessantly at her. Road Runner, ever-cool, simply ignores them smugly. The dogs are
unfazed, and a pre-teen girl with far too much make-up on (like I should talk, huh?)
comes over and yelps at the dogs repeatedly, “Get your f---ing ass over here!” The dogs
finally do as she says, and I pick up Road Runner and take her back to the trailer where I
While we are getting ready to leave again, I am standing in the open doorway of
Bill and Joan’s truck when I am first subjected to adolescent taunts that I have not been
subjected to since I was in middle school. Strange to be transported back ten years . . .
with the light coming in from behind me through the open door of the trailer, a young
boy, maybe eleven years old, can see me through the window on the other side. He is
leaning against the vehicle over there, mock-smiling and waving and giving a whiny
“Hiiii . . . !” at me. He then even grows the balls to walk over the trailer connections
between it and Bill’s truck, to begin doing the same from the other end of the trailer. I
glance at him and come all the way inside, closing the door behind me. Bill and Joan are
Bill finishes pouring me something to drink, and we walk over to the truck. I get
in on the left side, where I have a great view of another truck of our neighbors’, a white
one, in the cab of which are both this young boy and that same preteen girl. At one point I
hear the words I have heard so many times it’s actually unbelievable, even given the
obvious circumstances: “Are you a girl?” Incidentally, this is not a question that has been
asked of me since some years before I came out, dyed my hair, and started wearing
make-up. Again, these are things that Bill and Joan do not seem to notice. I just ignore
him, though I do consider antagonizing him in some way--waving or smiling back, or
something. But I never do.
Bill goes around to get into the driver’s side of the truck, and I see the young boy
walking around the front of his own truck, in grotesquely exaggerated effeminate
movements. The girl, sitting behind the steering wheel, busts a gut laughing.
We begin to pull out, and I decide to look the kid straight in the eyes, though
stoically. This does not bother him in the slightest; in fact he kisses the palm of his hand
and pretends to blow me a kiss. I then turn my head, and look at Bill, who is suddenly
amused that a little boy is waving at us. He waves back, then chuckles and gives the kid a
thumbs-up--obvious indication that the kid was so highly amused that Bill waved back,
he offered the first extended thumb.
I do not think of the fact until much later that the medical bag I carry, to hold my
cam-corder and all its accompanying cords, looks strikingly like a purse.
We drive back to the highway while I think of how very thankful I am that I live
in a big city, where most open-minded people tend to live, and how sad it is that I
probably could never live in a small town if I wanted to anyway. But this is the way of
the world, and people are different; the land of pavement works for me and makes me
quite happy. It’s just a little disheartening when I get caught out in Hick Land. But the
freeway feels safer: a thick cord of connection between all that is Metropolis.
It is on this day that I reach page 101 in my letter to Jennifer, having long ago (at
page 76) surpassed the point at which it has become the longest letter I have ever written
Day #14: Bill gets himself in trouble with Grandma by suggesting we drive all
the way into Olympia on this day, which Grandma is convinced is simply not possible--
and, understandably, she doesn’t want to wear Grandpa out with so much traveling in one
day, in a wrecked truck that can’t go very fast. So we move up to Long Beach,
Our first stop during traveling is along the Oregon Coast, which on the whole is
indescribably beautiful. We make a brief visit at the Sea Lion Caves, a loud and smelly
cave full of--guess what--sea lions. But there is so much sheer volume to their numbers
down there (a few hundred of them at least, possibly more than a thousand) that you
forget all about the noise and the smell. All you can do is marvel at the spectacle of a city
of sea lions before your eyes. At the other end of the cave is an opening through which
can be see what is supposedly “the most photographed lighthouse in the world”--and the
view, in the distance beyond large rocks against which giant waves are crashing, is
certainly quite photogenic. The whole area here is such; even through the windows of the
gift shop--where Joan again stays--the view is just as beautiful as it was from the Cliff
House in San Francisco. This is quite a statement, since this view is being seen under
overcast gray skies and rain.
Our last place to visit before calling it a day is at the Tillamook Cheese Factory,
which is mildly interesting. It is not a waste of time, really, but by comparison is my least
favorite place we visited on the whole trip. (In case you’re wondering, my favorite thing
was the city tour in San Francisco.)
Later this evening I call Barbara to tell her when I will be home, and in the course
of the conversation I tell her how Grandma keeps saying that I “eat like a bird” (which
she seems to perceive only because I don’t quite eat like a pig--she stuff me to the gills,
the brim, and even the feet on this trip). Barbara hears this and says, “What? You eat ten
times your body weight every day?”
“That’s what she feeds me!” I reply.
I tell Grandma about this exchange a little later, and she says, “That’s what I feed
you, huh?” She doesn’t seem to appreciate the reverse-comparison very much.
Day #15, Saturday March 13 1999: The day of the long-awaited arrival back
home. A long day indeed.
Grandma is told, by Dad, that she needs to get the trailer into the repair shop by
three in the afternoon, because that is when they close. In order to get into Olympia on
time for this, Grandma deems it necessary to leave at eight in the morning. I get out of
bed at six, and do not have time to write in the letter I am working on until we are
actually on the road--this being the first time ever that I actually write in there while I am
in a moving vehicle. Bill and Joan have already offered to drive me on up into Seattle
once we get to Olympia, so I don’t have to wait until tomorrow--and so I scramble before
we leave to gather all my things together so I don’t forget anything (which includes a
plunger I bought in Northern California, which was easier for me to buy there than it was
to look for one in Seattle--it now sits in my bathroom with California Plunger written on
the handle with magic marker).
So we drive from Long Beach to Olympia, on the way continuing to stop for gas
every time the one tank left useful in my grandparents’ truck is half empty (the hole to
the other tank got smooshed up in the accident so that a nozzle won’t fit into it). For
some reason she believes whole-heartedly that the truck will run better on “the top half”
At one point during this day Grandma asks me if I would take a trip like this
again. I say, “I’d certainly go to San Francisco again.”
“But not with Grandma and Grandpa,” she says.
“Not for two weeks, no. Two weeks is just too long to go away, no matter where
We arrive in Olympia before it even hits noon. We first go to Dad’s house, where
things get situated with the trailers--both of which are disconnected. I help a little bit. Not
long afterwards, I ride with Bill and Joan out to the Shipwreck Cafe for lunch, where I
happen to see Angel there having lunch, alone with her baby. She has to leave shortly,
however, and I am left to answer a barrage of questions about the trip (hopefully this very
newsletter will answer a lot of questions yet left unanswered). I also discover that Dad
told Grandma the repair shop closes at three even though they don’t actually close until
four--just so she would get there on time. He gives a maniacal laugh, having enjoyed
I try very hard to be patient, and am quite successful. But because they know I am
eager to go home, Joan looks at me at one point and then says to her husband in her thick
Texas accent, “Honey, he’s about to have a kitten.” I tell her I can wait.
It is not long, though, before I say my good-byes to Dad and Sherri, and offer
Grandma a hug good-bye, which seems to really take her by surprise: “Thank you,
honey!” she says, seeming to be mildly stunned. When I think about it, it is probably the
first time in my entire adult life that I actually initiated a hug with her. And then I am
driven by Bill and Joan for the next hour on up into Seattle, where I am once again filled
with a sense of belonging, of instinctively correct placement, of home. It is discussed
whether or not I will take Bill and Joan up the Space Needle today, but once we get there,
they decide they will come and do it another day. They come up to my apartment to go to
the bathroom after Barbara greets me and gives me a hug, and I introduce them to each
other (“Barbara,” I say, “these are not my grandparents”).
Once Bill and Joan have left, I unpack and visit with Barbara, during which time I
give her the book I bought for her at Alcatraz. I also show her the music box I got for
Courtney, and the consensus seems to be that Courtney will like it (that package goes out
in the mail on Monday). Soon enough, however, Barbara and I walk over to the movie
theatre and use the tickets she pre-bought for the sneak preview of Ed TV, which as I
have already said turns out to be set in San Francisco.
We return and I write the finishing pages in my letter to Jennifer, stopping at page
118--my first-ever letter to be long enough to actually be a short book. The longest letter
to be written by myself to anyone (42 pages longer than what now takes second place), it
is also the first letter that I began with the full intention of breaking the record. At
present, the top ten longest letters I have ever written have been written to only two
people: eight of them to Barbara, and two to Jennifer Miga (#1 and #4). It leaves me with
a profound sense of accomplishment.
Sunday, March 14. Now I have gotten home a day earlier than planned, and, with
Barbara not going home until early Tuesday morning, I have two days to visit with her.
On this day we go up to Capitol Hill to see another movie, a foreign one called Steam, the
Turkish Bath about an Italian man who has an affair with a Turkish man. While up there
on Capitol Hill, we stroll around stores that I have never really been in before, including
a gay-themed store called The Pink Zone. I purchase a magnet there with the design of an
upside-down pink triangle, and three different gender symbols in a circle, each of their
ends stretching into the corners of the triangle: the male symbol, the female symbol, and
then a symbol that is a mix of the two together. I think it’s one of the coolest things I
have ever seen.
In another store, just full of interesting trinkets and such, I end up buying a
ceramic cat dish with the words “EAT SLEEP PLAY” written around the outside of it
and the word “MEOW” on the inside of it. The fact that I quite like it is indication of
how soft I am getting (a year ago I wouldn’t have been caught dead with something so
cutesy), but I don’t seem to mind. Barbara likes it so much that, in my indecision, she
offers to pay for half of it, and I accept. It’s nice and flat on the bottom, so now my
retarded cats can’t spill the water all over the carpet all the time anymore.
On the way back home we venture into a video store, and I buy both To Wong
Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of
the Desert. The former was actually made because of the existence of the latter, which
was an Australian film--and we watch that one as soon as I get home, quite glad that I
Monday. My first day back to work after vacation. Barbara rides the bus down
there with me to see what he area is like--that is, it’s dreadful. She leaves me as soon as
my building comes into sight, and turns back toward the bus stop. The most mention of
the vacation at work comes out of Margie, the resident accountant, who asks, “How was
your trip?” I tell her it was all right, not wanting to go into detail about it with her.
I also meet my new co-worker, ironically named Christopher, though he goes by
Chris. As soon as I walk in the door he extends his hand, which I grasp firmly because I
sometimes don’t grip hard enough and I know people don’t like that. However, my firm
grasp seems to be around a dead fish, so I loosen my grip, intending to end the shake.
Then, however, he starts to firmly shake my relaxed hand--so I later come home to tell
Barbara that I had my first-ever mutual dead fish handshake.
After work, Barbara and I have a hard time deciding what we want to do. Our
decision ends up being a trip to yet another movie--but this one is not just any movie.
This one is Into the Deep, a 3-D IMAX film that takes you to the ocean depths. At
forty-five minutes it is kind of short, but nevertheless the whole thing leaves us
completely spellbound and feeling that the excursion was more than well worth it. If any
of you come to Seattle for any reason in the near future, I urge you to catch this.
Tuesday. Barbara leaves.
After work on this day, I go to Bartell Drugs to pick up the six rolls of film I took
while on my trip; it ends up amounting to 187 photographs--and $87 to pick them up.
Some of them will be uploaded onto the web site on the same page as this newsletter.
Wednesday. Work again; continue trying to catch up--which I don’t fully succeed
at doing through the rest of the month. Life kind of keeps on going without you when you
leave for two weeks; you return and you have to scramble. This, even as I write, has yet
to stop. It may not stop for some months, the way my schedule for the rest of the year is
One rather significant thing occurs on this day. Christopher calls me, and asks me
when the Gay Pride Parade will be. When I ask him why, he says he wants to come over
and attend it with me.
I am completely floored by this. And this is to say the very least.
When I ask him why, he says, “For . . . you.” He says he wants to support me.
What I don’t understand is his decision to support me in an area that concerns an aspect
about me that he says he regards as sinful. However, I have my suspicions that such
statements come out of obligatory feelings, and this offering of company at such an odd
time seems rather sincere. Still--the whole notion is completely bizarre to me. But I quite
like it. If he wants to support me, even if in an enigmatic way, I’m not stopping him.
Besides, as I told him, with him giving me company, a repeat of the scene that ensued
after the parade last year is bound not to happen again. I could tell everyone he’s my
Thursday. I spend some time on this day making arrangements for the coming
weekend, when Danielle is to come and visit. I decide that, for one weekend, I am going
to turn into Grandma McQuilkin and run vacation boot camp. The proceedings of that
weekend will be revealed shortly.
The most interesting thing that occurs on this day happens while I am walking
toward the waterfront. I am on a road that passes by a strip joint called the Lusty Lady,
and the reader board has Oscar-reference messages that say, on one side, “Best Costume:
None,” and on the other, “I’d like to spank the Academy.” I walk the next block laughing
Friday. Danielle’s arrival. This day is the first stage of wearing both of us out.
After work, I come home and take a second shower, because I want to look
different for what I have planned for tonight--I have told Danielle that all things are going
to be a surprise. When she tells me how much she dislikes surprises, I offer to tell her
what we’ll be doing, but she declines and says she likes the suspense.
I am down to Sea-Tac to pick her up at the airport at seven p.m. While we are
stopped at an espresso stand I show her that I am wearing the see-through black shirt that
I bought when she was with me here one time last summer, at a store called Fantasy
Unlimited (which is about four blocks from my apartment building). She has said for
months that I would look “hot” in it, but has not seen me in it until now.
She takes one look at the shirt and says to me, “Are we going to Neighbors?” I tell
her that yes, we are. From here on out she consistently refers to this weekend as our
“devirginizing” weekend, because we end up doing so many things we have never done
before. The first one being a visit to a gay night club, which we walk together up to
Capitol Hill to get into.
On the way, however, we happen to walk next to a store filled with quirky, old, or
odd furniture, and we go in to look around for a while. Most of the stuff in there is really
cool--except for the floral print couch that Danielle raves about and crashes on. A split
second later, an obviously drunk woman does the same and lands right next to her, and
then seems to assume that she is going to be our pal while we are in the store.
At one point, Danielle and this woman are going through the few clothes they
have in a small closet opening, and they happen upon a putrid tan bathrobe that evokes in
me the image of an old man sitting in a leather chair next to a fireplace, smoking a cigar
and reading Fortune magazine. The color is the furthest thing from anything I would ever
want to wear, despite the black collar flaps, but Danielle is mildly interested in getting
me to trying it on. This mild interest evokes earnest interest in the drunk lady, and, after
many failed attempts to get me to come over there from across the store where I am
sitting in a rather nice black table chair, the drunk lady walks up to me with it, still trying
to get me to try it on. I refuse and refuse, and she never seems to hear me, opting instead
to shower me with tacky compliments: “But you’re so beautiful and you’re so, so . . .
what’s the word? Witchy!” She holds the robe, still in its hanger, up to my neck, and ends
up leaving it there before wandering back over to the rest of the clothes.
Even though I don’t want to have to go near the woman again, I get really irritated
with people who pick up stuff in stores and leave it in a place where it doesn’t belong.
So, I get up and walk back over to the closet and hang up the robe, when the lady starts
trying to talk to me again: “So, how about--” and then she stops abruptly and says, “Oh,”
once she realizes that I am completely ignoring her, turning my back, and leaving. It
seems like the most blatant blow-off I have ever done to anyone in my life, but I don’t
feel like I have much choice.
Danielle and I then walk the rest of the way to Neighbor’s, which is not much
further. We end up sitting down at a table, which proves a mistake for me--if I don’t just
go right out onto the dance floor as soon as I get in, it takes forever for me to work up the
nerve to finally start dancing. After perhaps a half hour I stand up and say, “It’s now or
never!”--and I walk out into the dance floor and completely lose myself in the music that
shoots through my entire body and nearly hypnotizes me. I don’t tend to pay much
attention to the surrounding people when I go dancing; I just bounce along in my own
little world, often dancing with my eyes closed.
I never actually dance with anyone the entire evening, despite Danielle’s efforts to
introduce me to a young man she has befriended by the name of David, who is apparently
also on his first visit to a gay night club--evidently his blind date got kicked out for
breakdancing. When I am introduced to him, however, he proves to be just as painfully
shy as I am, and the introduction goes nowhere. He lifts his hand to give a slight wave,
and says “Hi;” I reply with the same, and then he turns and leaves. Ah, how I live for
The dance club really doesn’t seem much different from any others I have been
in, except for the two women making out at the table next to us. At one point it seems a
little too much like a straight club, when an incredibly dorky older man tries to pick up
on Danielle, after asking if she is gay or straight. But that only happens once; the rest of
the time it’s an obviously gay night club, which just happens to have a surprising number
of straight couples in it.
The guy that tried to pick up on Danielle (who got her to dance with him, only so
he could try to get her to mimic his stupid dance moves and kept telling her, “I’m the
teacher!”) offers to give us a ride home, but Danielle can tell that I am not interested in
any such thing, and she insists that we live close by and can easily walk home. And of
course, it is quite easy for us to walk the mile or so it is back to my apartment.
Saturday. We get up far earlier than we probably should after staying up so late,
but neither of us can get back to sleep in the morning. We end up at the Seattle Art
Museum not long after it opens at 10:00. We decide to start on the fourth floor, and work
our way down--and we only make it to seeing about half of the third floor, having not
realized that the art museum is pretty much an all-day thing. The fourth floor is very
fascinating nevertheless, housing the temporary career retrospective of painter Chuck
Close. He takes photographs of everyday-looking people’s faces and then paints gigantic
portraits from them that are so well done, they look exactly like the photographs.
The paintings are done in a square-by-square pattern, and some of them are done
so that the images are blurred squares, much like photographs sometimes are for a few
moments while downloading from the internet. One such painting is done with squares
that actually create a circular pattern that almost evokes a spiraling effect, or perhaps
some strangely perfect splatter over some old man’s face. I think it’s one of the coolest
paintings I have ever seen.
When we move down to the third floor, we see much more of the permanent
exhibits, much of which is quite interesting--very old paintings, sculptures, dishes; even a
door in its own display case. This is also, however, where we both discover how tired we
really are, and I find myself thankful of the large flat benches that are provided every so
often in the building. I lay back on one, only to discover a gigantic and awesome mural of
young angels in clouds on the ceiling.
Halfway through the third floor, we have already run out of time, and we need to
get back to my apartment. Once there, I take Danielle across the street to the Ramada
Inn, where we get picked up by a tour bus from Seattle Sightseeing Tours. This is an idea
I actually got while on the city tour in San Francisco--I thought, why not do this in Seattle
at least once? This way I can see all of the city I love so much, and I will know where
else I can take visitors to in the future. I had a number of tour companies to chose from,
but chose this one because it is the most comprehensive--by far--and goes through the
most areas of town.
We load onto the bus, the last two people to be picked up, and I ask Danielle if
she thinks this was a good idea; she gives me a resounding yes. Then the guide begins to
talk--he’s a slight dork of a middle-aged man who used to be a teacher, and spends too
much time doing Clinton impressions. Still, the information he provides is interesting.
First we learn that there are a total of twelve people on the bus, which is
apparently shockingly large for this time of year. However, this particular day is a very
rare sunny one, which gets talked about a lot during the tour--it is even suggested by this
man that Seattle has the highest suicide rate in the country because of Seasonal Affective
Disorder. Pointing out how many days in a row we can go in the winter with featureless,
drizzly gray skies, the man actually goes so far as to say that anyone who moves here
enjoys the novelty for the first two years, and then just gets depressed for the rest of their
stay. He has warned us that he will be speaking in broad generalities, but I find myself
thinking that this is a generality that goes too far--because I don’t quite believe it. As
Auntie Rose later tells me, “I know lots of people who move to Seattle and don’t hate it.”
I can’t imagine ever hating it. Of course, anything is possible--but there are levels to
We begin the tour, and go through neighborhoods one by one, first being told how
unique Seattle is in the way it is put together, with a bunch of what he calls “villages.”
That word, to me, however, sounds too quaint; I have always spoken of them as virtual
small cities, all stuck together to make a collective whole--but, as he said, they are
self-sufficient, and I have always found it interesting how each of them virtually has their
own pseudo-downtown. So we begin to drive through them:
Capitol Hill. This, of course, is known as the gay neighborhood in Seattle, and it’s
the first place we drive through. The tour guide does not give us so much information on
this tour, however, and opts instead to talk about the neighborhood’s active night life, and
the common look of the people who hang out there the most. He mentions lots of
piercings and different-colored hair, and then says that sometimes it’s not so easy to see
at first glance. Then we stop at a stop light, and a wide variety of people cross the street
in front of the bus. One lady says, “Hey, there’s someone with bright red hair!” as though
we are all looking at a bunch of animals in a zoo (and, in a sense, we are).
So the driver pretends to be talking to the crowd passing by in front of us: “Thank
you, guys, for providing a nice cross section of the people of Capitol Hill!”
We then cross Broadway--the main drag of Capitol Hill--and go deeper into the
neighborhood, where there are a lot of large and apparently extraordinarily expensive
homes. Every so often the driver tells us not only how much a certain home is worth, but
even the name of the family that lives therein--where he gets such information I have no
idea. He points out that “Seattle is full,” and says that the dumpiest home possible to buy
in Seattle would still sell for at least $160,000--the rest are far more expensive than that,
a large portion of them worth multiple millions. He goes on to talk a lot about how close
together all of the homes are, and how small the yards are--and, after coming back from a
visit to San Francisco, they all seem to me to be quite spacious.
Still on Capitol Hill, we drive through a very pretty park--Volunteer Park--which I
have yet to actually be to. We pass in front of the Asian Art Museum, which used to be
the Seattle Art Museum until the new building was built downtown. At the present time,
a ticket bought at the Seattle Art Museum guarantees a free ticket to the Asian Art
Museum, as long as you go to the two within a week of each other.
The Floating Bridge. This is one of two bridges that stretch over Lake
Washington, connecting Seattle to Bellevue on the other side--which is itself becoming a
fairly large city, with a skyline of its own, always making me think of San Francisco and
Oakland across the bay from each other. As we cross the floating bridge, I share
information about it to Danielle that our driver does not seem to have: according to the
1999 Guiness Book of World Records, this is the longest floating bridge in the world. We
turn around and head back as soon as we reach the other side, and then head further up
into North Seattle.
University of Washington. This is the first time I actually go through the campus
of the university, which seems to dwarf that of WSU three times over (actually leaving
me thankful that I went to the school that I did). Many of the buildings are quite old--and
we are shown a dormitory building that the guide guesses has the best view of any dorm
in the country: from the windows can be seen Lake Washington, the Bellevue skyline, the
Cascades further in the distance, and Mt. Rainier on a clear day. The campus is very nice.
From there we go to a nearby park, where we stop for a few moments. Danielle
and I walk briefly down to the lake, where she crouches and calls in a squeaky voice to
the ducks. They don’t return much attention. Nearby is a young man with a bicycle,
feeding some very large geese. It’s a sight I am not overtly accustomed to.
Ravenna. More homes, and discussion of how expensive they are.
Green Lake. A place I am not yet familiar with, but soon see why it is “easily the
most popular park in town.” Expensive homes on hills surround the park which surrounds
Green Lake, which is nearly as large as Lake Union. There is a pathway in the park which
surrounds the lake as well, divided in the middle to “separate the feet from the wheels.”
This is a place I would definitely like to go back to, to spend a pleasant spring or summer
Woodland Park. This is a regular park and also where the zoo is located. The park
is okay; I already know that the zoo is quite nice.
Freemont. This is where it is stated that Seattle is “probably the most liberal city
in the country”--and it makes me think, What about San Francisco? I do know, though,
that Seattle is perceived to be a very liberal place; even Tori Amos mentioned it when I
saw her in concert in September. Even with that perception, Fremont is apparently the
“liberal neighborhood” in town--”So you can imagine,” says the driver, “how liberal they
must be here.” He mentions this being a popular place for hippies, and points out the
large statue of Lenin that is in the middle of the square, imported from Russia after the
fall of the USSR. He challenges us to think of any other city where we think this might
actually be gotten away with--besides Fremont in Seattle.
From there we go to the Aurora Street Bridge, and we get to see the exact
apartment building onto which a bus fell last July, when the driver was shot and the bus
fell off the bridge. We then drive to a place underneath, where a large mud statue of a
troll has been constructed long ago, holding an actual VW beetle in his hand. I get a
picture of Danielle after she has crawled up on top of the troll’s left arm so she can stick
her arm far up his nose. It turns out to be a great picture.
Lake Union. Yet another lake surrounded by Seattle, this is the one directly in
between the Puget Sound and the much larger Lake Washington, all of which are
connected by canals. Not much here that neither Danielle nor I have not already seen
Ballard Locks; Salmon Ladder. There are no Salmon in the ladder, but the locks,
which I have been to once before (in 1992) but Danielle has not, are interesting--despite
Danielle’s fear of the height above the empty lock we have to pass by. We stay there for
just a few minutes.
Cafe Appasionatto. On our way to Magnolia, this is where we stop to get our
complimentary coffee and pastry. There is no view of note from this particular street.
Magnolia. This is the hill on which my maternal grandparents lived for some
years before getting too old to live on their own--where Dad and Sherri took me last
month to see the house for the first time since I was a small child. On the south end of the
neighborhood, we stop at a vista point that yields a view of Seattle that is just as clichéd
as the Victorian Houses with the San Francisco skyline behind them: here, high on a hill
that is virtually a cliff, we see the Space Needle in the foreground, with the skyscrapers
diminishing in size in the distance. Since even the tallest building in Seattle (the Colum-
bia Seafirst Center) is the furthest one away, even this one along with the rest help to
create the false impression that the Space Needle is the tallest building in town (about as
high as a 45-story building, the Space Needle is far from it; there are actually five
buildings in town that are taller). Still, it is a great view, and it gives the skyline a very
Oz-like quality--making the city’s nickname of The Emerald City quite apt. Danielle asks
a nearby young lady to take our picture standing in front of this view.
Queen Anne Hill. Quite near downtown (bordering it to the northwest, actually),
this is another area I have long been familiar with. Nothing outrageously special about it,
though, except that I go to its Uptown Cinemas often, and it’s where I do my grocery
shopping (because downtown is full of only overly priced corner convenience stores).
West Seattle. In this neighborhood, which I have never been to before, we first
drive along a stretch of man-made beach, heralded as the only actual beach in Seattle,
and then go atop the hill that makes up the neighborhood to a park where we see the best
view of the skyline yet. It is not that much different from the view seen from the water,
since we see the skyline across the gulf of the bay that the West Seattle pseudo-peninsula
creates, except that it’s far higher above sea level. We are told that this area is usually
“make-out row,” and the view is particularly stunning at night.
Downtown. Naturally, this area has far more highlighted points of interest than
downtown in San Francisco (whose points of interest are pretty much everywhere except
downtown, aside from those two interesting buildings--which alone can’t compete with
Seattle’s many interesting buildings). First we pass by the new Mariner Stadium, a
monument of disgust as far as I am concerned, knowing that the voters turned it down
only so city officials could build it anyway (finding things like excessive hotel taxes to
pay for it). Still, I do find it interesting that they build it brand new to look like it’s a hun-
dred years old, just so it will fit in with the quaint look of neighboring Pioneer Square.
Right next door is the Kingdome, scheduled to exist for only another year. We are
told that Paul Allen plans to blow it up (actually causing an implosion) on the afternoon
of January 1, 2000--and a winner of a lottery will get to push the button. Then our driver
goes off, yet again, on “Mr. Microsoft Co-founder Paul Allen, worth $35 billion,” and
how the button might not work because of y2k complications. Our driver is a dedicated
Macintosh follower, and tells us, “For you Windows users, Macintosh figured out y2k ten
years ago. Microsoft? Just in the past few years. So when you’re all crying over your
computers, we’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.” This is not the only time our driver
proves himself to be a virtual moron, however. He also seems to believe we will all find
his many stories of his dating Meg Ryan for about a month in Seattle, twenty years ago,
interesting. He points around the tour bus and says, “This could have all been hers.”
Obviously to get us all to chuckle at how pathetic he really is--and we do.
I do, however, look forward to seeing the Kingdome implode. Much of a symbol
of Seattle as the thing is, it’s butt ugly.
From there we move through Chinatown (showing us a phone booth with Chinese
architectural style made of plastic) on into Historic Pioneer Square. We are told this is
right now “the place to be.” Apparently it has a very active night life--however, being on
the south end of downtown, it’s not an area I walk to very often, particularly at night.
(Living in Belltown, I am closer to the north end of downtown, which is actually a rather
large area, I don’t care what anyone says.) We also see, of course, the waterfront and
Pike Place Market--but we just drive by, which is fine with me because these are all
everyday places to me.
The tour ends, and Danielle and I are taken back to the Ramada, where we can
walk across the street to my apartment building. From here on out, Danielle acts as
though she is convinced she knows where we are going next--”We’re going to Benaroya
Hall!” she says. “We’re seeing the symphony!” This especially irritates me because she is
right, but since she told me she “likes the suspense,” I refuse to give her confirmation.
Still, she badgers me to no end. Then she suggests that I blindfold her when we walk to
where we’re going next, but I tell her she would be able to figure it out by which
directions we turn to. She says she wouldn’t, and that “I have no sense of direction.”
Taking that statement to heart (a mistake), I decide I’ll take her some way that
does not seem obvious. When we walk out the front doors of my building, she
immediately assumes that we will be turning right, toward the south--where Benoroya
Hall is at. She asks how far we’ll be walking, and I say, “About a mile.” I take her to the
left, and then take another left, walking down Blanchard toward the waterfront. The
waterfront is exactly where we end up going, and then we start walking south. Danielle
begins to complain about how far out of the way I must be taking her--especially when I
take another left to go up to First Avenue through the Pike Place Market. “Why are we
walking around in circles?” she asks. I tell her that’s not what we’re doing--and then I act
disappointed when I discover that the market bakery is closed and I can’t get any
Once on First, we take a right, so we are continuing down First. I walk one block
further south than Benaroya Hall, which is on Second, and then I do have us make a full
circle when we walk around a block to come back to Benaroya Hall, which she sees
immediately. From here on out she tells everyone she can that I took her a mile out of her
way, but I actually only took her about six blocks out of the way, trying to confuse her--
unsuccessfully. “Okay, Miss ‘I Have No Sense of Direction,’” I say. But we walk into the
very nice Hall, and find our cheap balcony seats, from which only about 85% of the
orchestra can be seen, maybe 90% if we lean forward enough in our high chairs.
The concert, however, is truly breathtaking. One may walk in there and think that
watching a bunch of people sit and play instruments for two hours could get boring--but
it never does. It is interesting as well, to watch each of the sections make the same
movements all at once. Something like the numerous violin sticks poking into the air at
the same time, over and over again, seems to really effectively augment the music.
Another thing that neither of us have done before, the concert (Masterpiece XI, by some
guy whose name I forget) is far more enjoyable than I even expected it to be--and I did
expect to enjoy it. For $15 a ticket, it was quite worth it.
There is brief talk of walking over to the Space Needle, and then it is decided we
will just walk back to the apartment and go to bed.
Sunday. Much of this morning is wasted while Danielle and I try to do each
other’s hair. She never gets mine right, however, and so I do my own and then I do hers. I
was already planning on putting my hair into double-braids on this day, and Danielle
decided independently that she would do the same, before she knew I was going to. So
we just do our hair the same way, in spite of how dumb it must make us look when we’re
walking down the street together.
Today we take the bus out to Woodland Park Zoo. While waiting at the bus stop,
a fairly ugly old panhandler comes up and asks us for change. At first he thinks I am a
woman, and then mentions my “whiskers” and starts calling me sir. “Sorry, I don’t have
any,” I say, and for some reason I apologize again: “Sorry.”
He glances at me and uses the snottiest tone possible to say, “Don’t be sorry!” He
looks at Danielle, and then asks us if we’re in love.
“Well, no not really,” I say. He then mentions how our hair is done the same way,
and then leaves us alone.
At the zoo we only have the time to spend a couple or three hours--it could have
been longer, had we not spent so much time on our stupid hair. But we have fun there
anyway, Danielle consistently asking me to take video pictures of the animals for her (she
wants me to one day make a tape of all of the home video clips I have of her and me
together). We take some still pictures as well, one a fantastic picture of her and me squat-
ting next to a waist-high statue of a lion--of course, with our hair done the same way.
We then take the bus home in time for the Academy Awards to start at five (and I
can’t resist but to let everyone know that Shakespeare in Love was a wonderful movie,
but it did not deserve Best Picture--and I was quite shocked to discover Roberto Benini
winning best actor, which he well deserved). During this I started on my plans to make
Danielle a dinner out of the vegetarian cook book she bought for me for Christmas--only
to have it turn out a low-key disaster. It is a garlic-based soup, which contains four and a
half heads of garlic (which I picked because Danielle loves garlic like no one could ever
believe), a full potato, and two blood oranges--those being the major ingredients, anyway.
However, it does not turn out looking anything like the photo in the book, which has the
slight appearance of tomato soup. What I make, instead, looks more like garlic vomit. My
having Danielle pack her electric blender and bring it over proves completely useless. I
eat the garlic bread she went out and bought instead, and have a number of the Nutter
Butter cookies she bought at the same time.
Danielle tries to tell me she actually likes the soup--but after about ten bites
admits that she just can’t eat any more of it. I dump the rest of it down my garbage
disposal, and my apartment smells like garlic for more than a week afterwards (my
fingers only smell like garlic for a few days afterwards).
Later we walk over to Seattle Center, where I take Danielle to see the 3-D IMAX
film Into the Deep. She quite likes it, and I enjoy it even more the second time. After that
we walk home.
Monday. While we were on the city tour of Seattle, the driver told us that there is
an observation deck near the top of the 76-story Columbia Tower, which I had never had
confirmed before. It is also nearly half the price of the Space Needle’s observation deck,
to go nearly twice as high. Now, I did get to eat lunch at an exclusive club restaurant on
the top floor of that building in 1992--but that was seven years ago. I am now very
interested in going up again, and the deck is only three floors from the top.
So, after work, I meet Danielle at the base of the Columbia Seafirst Center. She is
on her digital phone, and I rush her to hurry and come inside, thinking the deck will be
closed at five--as that’s how the Smith Tower works. We get up there around 4:30,
though, to see a sign on the other side of a window by a closed door that says they close
at that exact time. It also says, “For off-season access use courtesy phone”--and there is a
phone on the wall to our left. Danielle picks it up and hangs it up as soon as she realizes
it’s already connected to a line and the other end is ringing. Moments later, the courtesy
phone next to us starts ringing, and neither of us have the guts to answer it.
I decide to go to the bathroom, with the rather vague hope of seeing a window in
one, after hearing about the famous women’s bathroom on the top floor, with stalls
containing toilets that face the wall of windows. I discover, however, that the bathrooms
on this floor are in the middle of the building.
So we take the two elevators back down to the bottom (having to switch on floor
40), and they run so fast that they momentarily throw me off balance. We then walk to a
nearby Red Robin for dinner.
From there we walk over to Westlake Center, where we catch the monorail over
to Seattle Center. There we both attend yet another thing we have never been to before:
an NBA basketball game. Our seats are surprisingly only two rows from the very back
wall, but we can still see okay. I decide that though it’s not quite as painfully boring as
the one football game I have attended, it’s still not quite exciting enough for me to attend
a professional basketball game again.
We go from there over to QFC, where I buy some ice cream.
Tuesday. After debating whether or not we should try going over to the
Columbia Tower in the morning, we end up deciding against it. I help Danielle carry her
stuff to the bus stop in the metro tunnel underneath Westlake Center, and then I go off to
work myself. The rest of the day is spent trying to catch up on the many types of writing I
need to catch up on (letters, e-mail)--including the beginning of this very narrative you
are reading right now. I did not get very far with it last week; I still have yet to get to
answering more than one of the five letters I need to reply to--I have been spending all
my spare time on this newsletter, trying to get it finished by the usual time.
Danielle tells me that I completely wore her out on her visit over here, and it turns
out that I wore myself out as well--I begin to get a little sick again. Only now, as I write,
is it starting to go away. Danielle vows to wear me out the next time I go to visit Spokane
with her, and she plans on working with Barbara to do so. Perhaps this will be possible
sometime this summer--though it is doubtful that I will be as worn down as Danielle was;
I’m used to going away and running all over the place. But Danielle is bound and
determined to prove to me that Spokane doesn’t suck as much as I think it does.
Wednesday. After work, this day is not spent getting much done, because I meet
with Auntie Rose at her hotel room to have delivered pizza for dinner and show her the
pictures from my trip to California. She is especially interested in the many pictures of
the wreck that I took (visual aids to tend to help), and she looks at those in particular a
When our pizza arrives, I discover that I inadvertently ordered a pizza with way
too much garlic on it. I can only stand to eat one slice of it--but it’s not rude to Auntie
Rose, because I paid for my own. She does offer me a piece of her pizza covered with
eggplant and goat cheese, and it is so delicious I can hardly stand it.
We get to talking, mostly about my trip, and also about other things. I tell her how
I seem to upset someone, on some level, with each and every one of my newsletters. She
says she can see how that might happen, making reference to how the keyboard
“beckons” me--which is a perfect way to put it. Whether anyone reads it or not, I have to
write about everything. She also mentions that she was uncomfortable with the details I
wrote about the weekend I spent with her in October--mostly mundane details, I thought,
but still she found herself saying, “I don’t know if I want everyone to know about all of
this.” I suppose I can understand that.
The challenge is finding the fine line between sharing enough to make it
interesting, and not sharing too much.
Thursday. On this day, all by myself, I decide to go up the Columbia Tower. Once
on the 73rd floor again, even during business hours of the observation deck, there is no
one there. So this time I pick up the courtesy phone, and someone answers, “Columbia
Seafirst Center, can I help you?”
“Can I get into the observation deck?” I ask, and he says yes and he’ll be up to
sell me a ticket shortly--all as though this is just the way it’s done. I suddenly realize that
had we answered the ringing courtesy phone when Danielle was here, we may still have
gotten into the viewing area--there’s no one who stays up here to sell tickets at all times
The ticket seller and two more ticket holders arrive, and I pay the $5 it costs to
get in. He tells me that I can leave the building whenever I want, and I can use the ticket
to get back in any time during the rest of the business day for free.
I spend nearly an hour in the fully indoor viewing room, it’s so fantastic. There
are leather chairs here and there against the inside wall, facing the viewing windows.
There are photographs of the building under construction lining this wall, all of which are
accompanied by interesting facts about the building and its construction. The viewing
room actually stretches around three fourths of the building, and I take many pictures
from one and to the other of it. On the far left, on the east side of the building, I can look
down at the top of the 62-story Key Tower, which is right across the street (Fifth Avenue,
actually). From there can also be seen, quite clearly, Lake Washington and the Bellevue
skyline on the other side of it.
On a clear day there would be a stunning view of Mt. Rainier--but it is cloudy
today. Still, the view is fantastic: way down, the once incredibly tall Smith Tower, and to
the left of that and a little further into the distance, both the Kingdome and the Mariner
Stadium (actually Safeco Field, a really dumb name). Further around the building to the
right can be seen the rest of the skyline: First Interstate Center, Bank of California, 1001
4th Avenue Plaza, Washington Mutual, 2 Union Square, the US Bank Building, even the
Space Needle in the distance. All of them are looked down upon, and they all look so tall
from the ground! As you can imagine, I am in heaven in this position. I take picture after
picture, exhausting my roll of film.
Then I finally have to give up and get back down to earth and go to work.
Friday. Walking to the bus stop after work, at a street corner, this perfect
stranger comes up to me and says, “You live on Queen Anne?”
“No . . .”
“I saw you shopping at the QFC with some woman.”
I find myself wondering why on earth this guy would care about this. Any
This evening is spent, as was the last one, writing this month’s newsletter, in
between many phone calls--and, this evening, a break to go to the movies and see
Analyze This, which is quite good.
Just before bed, my toilet clogs and not even my California Plunger seems to
help. I make the mistake of flushing a second time far too soon, and a ton of water
overflows onto my bathroom floor. All I can think of to do is wipe it up with almost all of
the towels I own, and then throw them into the washing machine.
Saturday. On the morning of this day I make flight arrangements for the
weekends of both May 1 and May 8--the former to Spokane, for Christopher’s
housewarming party, and the latter to Pullman, for Gabe and Suzy’s college graduation.
Because I have waited too long, my first quote for the flight to Pullman is $375--more
than I paid to fly to Hawaii and back. Figuring out that I actually save more money by not
going to work that Friday, I make the plans to leave here Thursday evening of that week,
and then come home on a 6 a.m. flight the following Sunday. That will mean getting up
at five in the morning, but after my trip to California I’m used to it.
I am now writing on one of two weekends between now and the end of May that I
will not be going out of town:
April 4--Easter in Olympia.
April 11--Lynn’s wedding in Spokane.
April 17--the Tulip Festival in Laconner (also Sherri’s birthday).
April 24--stay home.
May 1--Christopher’s housewarming party, the day after my own birthday, on
which I have to travel.
May 8--graduation in Pullman.
May 15--the Rhododendron festival in Port Townsend with Auntie Rose.
May 22--leaving for Disneyland with Jennifer, the day after which we will be
spending time with her brother, and my cousin, Ben--and his wife Sandra.
In June Christopher will come over for the gay pride parade. In July Danielle and
her sister and her boyfriend will be in town for the Fourth--this time opting instead for a
hotel (thank God). In September Barbara will come over for the Northwest AIDS walk.
In October I will go to Olympia for Halloween and the same place for Thanksgiving in
November. In December I will be in Spokane for Christmas and Danielle will come over
here to be with me for New Year’s.
Sometime in 2000 I hope to visit both Beth, Barbara’s daughter, in Arilington,
Virginia; and another visit, hopefully, with Jennifer Miga in New York at her virtually
Amish home out in the country.
2001 is the year in which Danielle and I plan on taking a trip to New York City.
Train there, plane back.
. . . And that’s where my schedule finally runs out! By then, though, you can bet it
will be extended.
The writing history
That’s the shit house.
-- Danielle Hunt
Once again, and again and again--things aren’t always what they seem.
I broke a number of records with my writing this month--and that’s about all the
news of my writing really entails. I plan on submitting poetry to both a Seattle-based
magazine and the New Yorker, but have yet had the time to get that underway--I’ve been
too busy getting other needed writing done. And this is what has become of it.
The letter I wrote to Jennifer Miga while on my trip to California is not only by a
distance of many pages the longest letter I have written to anyone, but it is the second
longest thing I have ever written, period. Certainly the first letter I have ever written that
could easily also serve as a book, only the novel I wrote as a gift for Gabe and Suzy in
1997 is longer.
In addition, this very newsletter is also one of the longest literary works I have
ever produced--even though it was adapted in large part from that letter to Jennifer, but it
was written in a much different manner, as can no doubt be expected by all of its
recipients. I just checked my records, and this newsletter itself is in fact the ninth-longest
thing I have ever written, whether a story or a letter. Incidentally, of the eight things I
have ever written to be longer than this thing you now hold in your hands, only four of
them were not also letters.
I spent the first half of this month writing the longest-ever letter, and the second
half writing the longest-ever newsletter (which might actually annoy a number of you
with its sheer immensity, but I condensed it as much as I possibly could from that letter
to Jennifer--and I know that most of you are interested in reading about that trip).
Strange how one thing makes you think of another . . . while we were on that city
tour in Seattle with Danielle, she kept on pointing at things and saying, “That’s the shit.”
Quite an odd thing to say, really, but for some reason people say it. And then we came
upon a house that she really liked, and so she said, “That’s the shit house!” I laughed
heartily at how she managed to refer to it as an outhouse while trying to compliment it.
Such a strangely effective way to compliment and insult something all at once. Is it
wonderful or useless? Or is it both?
The same thing applies to this incredibly lengthy newsletter. Some will love it,
some may hate it--and my feelings of overwhelming accomplishment and my tendency to
disappoint will simply balance each other out.
this has been presented 2 u by matthew mcquilkin
on behalf of
fruitcake enterprises (3/28/1999)
P.S. Donations accepted.
P.P.S. A special statement of sincere appreciation and gratitude goes out to unofficial
newsletter recipients June and Bruce McQuilkin, for their unlimited, unbounded, and
unending generosity, kindness, and hospitality. In all its aspects, good and bad and in
between, this particular trip to California is one which I will not forget for as long as I
live--and I have extraordinary appreciation for that.