I am a non-native species.
Let’s say you’re having a fine time chatting with a total stranger, discussing the local sports team’s foibles, or engaging in the fine art of talking about nothing, when it comes up that you’re, you know, not from around here. Nothing special about that, really, given that cities are the great aggregators of people from elsewhere. From the beginnings of civilization, cities in the Western tradition acted much as they do now, brain-draining the small towns or less ideal places where one might toil and die. In other cases, cities were made out to be the great corrupters, where one’s guile could either lead to riches or one’s head on a pike.
A friend’s Greek grandmother never made it more than 15 meters from her stove after she was married, but for the rest of us, we like to get around. What’s more, an over-stayed residency in one locale is apt to result in concentric circles of ex-friends, ex-bosses, and capital-E exes. So many rings are what turn big cities small.
California is third largest state in the union, famously possessing a GDP that beats out that of countries. It is also the state most likely to raise bile in those born and bred in the Pacific Northwest. To what do we owe the pleasure? Perhaps it is derived from a perceived cultural hegemony, one that suggests eternal sun and endless beaches: yes, that is a reason to hate, says the Washingtonian shivering next to his fire.
But even this picture is conjecture: summers in Seattle are as legendarily warm as San Francisco’s are chilly. It must be more, but more natives to the Northwest have mentioned that Californians don’t have fireplaces and expect everyone of us to know how to surf.
Received ideas are often false but frankly, no one has the energy to discover how wrong they may be. It always rains in Seattle, and from La Jolla to Yreka, California is a flat plane of easy living. It smacks of another small-town rivalry, between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and in much the same fashion, the former held no animosity for the latter. High school stuff, really, something you’re supposed to do because it is what is done.
When I was working in books, one of the good Lonely Planet people gave me a bumper sticker that soapboxed an important point:
"Do something great for your country. Leave."
I do not dare to ask something so large for those whom I have encountered, who think Californians bumbling blondes, laid back to the point of coma. All I ask is that you leave us to know that we can open our fireplace dampers, and that we are unlikely to melt in rain, either out of fear or confusion.
After a fashion, you could imagine the place was telling you to fuck off.
Go on then, so you think you can do better? The walls cave in, destroy your art books, ruin your fancy pasta, as has happened everywhere you’ve ever lived. And this time is different how?
So you leave one city for another.
Now you don’t have a steady job but you smell trees wherever you go. Even the trash here smells like the woods, it doesn’t rain all the time, and out your kitchen window the antenna towers of Queen Anne blink like festive twins. Why did no one tell me about the big fake tree of lights that gets planted atop the Space Needle?
Snow is expected Thursday night.
If your apartment begins bleeding dirty water, beware, you could end up in Seattle, freezing, happy.