A Portlandia Christmas in Seattle—Clark Humphrey
The nether world between the International District, the Central District, and the northern Rainier Valley is normally a quiet place except for the dull roar of cars and buses. It’s not so much a place as it is a place between other places. After dark, it’s lonelier. When even the cars aren’t running, it’s lonelier still. One could go into a meditative trance there, if it weren’t so cold that night; though I wouldn’t recommend it.
But that’s essentially what I did, at the bus stop in front of a way-closed Thai or FIlipino or Somali restaurant (I forget now what it was), as I waited to ride home from an alternative Christmas dinner. Or, more precisely, an alternative TO a Christmas dinner.
For the first time ever, it looked like there would be nothing for me to do on Dec. 25 except the usual hanging out alone at home stuff. I no longer had any family, at least none that wanted to spend any time with me. Of the bars and cafes I regularly patronized, only one or two would even be open part of the day. It looked like I might have to dine on bar potato chips for my “holiday feast.”
Then she emailed. She was back in town from Portland for just a few days. We’d tried to connect all week, but one thing or another had gotten in the way. Now she was free to receive me at the place where she was staying.
The family that owned the house was off on some holiday trek somewhere. So was she; here to meet her old friends and to get temporarily away from her current friends (and obligations).
I had not taken the #7 in exactly one year and two days, since the end of my last temp job. It took me past its regular attractions. It took me past the Morrison Hotel and the street hustlers hanging in front of it. It took me past the Chinese restaurants, now presumably feeding Seattle’s Jewish families this night. It dropped me off at the head of Rainier Avenue, by the Goodwill construction project.
I’d forgotten a couple of things about this house. I’d forgotten that it was up two rather steep blocks from Rainier. And I’d forgotten that, even though its back yard faces south, it’s actually on the north side of the street and behind another house.
A.M.G. was her usual kind, tender, graceful self. She apologized for being heavier than she wished she was (an attitude I’ve seen in far too many women). She introduced me to her friend Michelle who was up from Portland with her for the week. The big kitchen table was filled with A.M.G.’s artworks in progress, collages of old magazine ad images on parchment paper, slathered with successive coats of Elmer’s Glue-All.
A.M.G. insisted on making a meal for me. An organic burger baked in an artisanal bread bowl. Potato broccoli soup in a regular bowl. Gluten-free crackers. Spinach salad. Wheaten ale. Good hearty fare, and, thankfully, none of it “holiday” themed.
The three of us retired to the living room of the modernist house. Michelle (a Montissori teacher) took to the Mac, to look up antique armoires for sale. It just felt so completely utterly charming.
A.M.G., meanwhile, sat at the sofa and told me all about her plan to make sure she has a decent old age, in spite of having had no career other than making and teaching art. Her adult son was getting into a good career. She would buy him a house with a mother-in-law apartment for herself.
But for now, she said, she was living and working in an old industrial space in Northwest Portland. The way it was configured, there was a corridor to other spaces in the building that looked directly down on her space. She told me about the elaborate curtains she was going to make to prevent unwanted voyeurism.
She also talked about the man she was trying to woo, or would try to woo once she slimmed down. Either that, or he, or the desire for him, had motivated her to try to slim down. I only fully remember that it was getting late and I was getting weary.
So it was that, after several hours of their pleasant company, I bid adieu to Michelle and A.M.G.
Back at the northbound bus stop, I reflected in the cool, dark stillness about what Christmas, or at least this Christmas, was all about.
It was about connecting, commiserating.
It was about, at the darkest time of the year, being one another’s light.
And it was about Elmer’s Glue, armoires, and artisanal bread bowls.
Sleep in heavenly peace.