Pigeons plump equally spaced across a roof, as though queueing for a bus. The train edges slowly through industrial outer Seattle. Car after dead car is lumped on the side of the tracks.
Jose Gonzalez sings “Heartbeats” as tree after tree flashes by. I feel like I’m in the opening sequence of a film intended for my demographic — probably directed by Spike Jonze or Sofia Coppola. A football field spills suddenly to my right, a wet splash of color and pride amidst the grays and greens. A teen in a black t-shirt with a black cap stretched low and smurflike across his brow slumps into his seat. He stares listlessly out the window. Life is hard. Not a lick of acne, unlike myself at the same age. He’ll do well in high school.
This afternoon I ate at a café called Macrina. The lemon pie was openfaced, so plush with lemon curd it was more of an overweight tart — trembling and golden, with a curlicue of frosting lacing its top and a drift of white chocolate curls. The crust had heft, a buttery heft. (As will I, by the end of this trip.) The Postal Service song “Such Great Heights” came on, and only Seattle and a fat cup of joe and a tumble of raw sugar cubes could make that work for me today. Then there was the bacon quiche — was that bechamel inside? My god. My hands shook a little as I paged through Saveur and pictured my arteries clogging. I’d eaten a slice of coppa at Salumi the day before, thin and slick and so delicate, like guanciale. I stuffed two pounds of cured meat — mole salami and finocchiona — into my bag as housewarming presents. Who knows if they’ll be good. But it feels pretty badass to lug them from state to state.
Seattle and Portland are good places to wipe the mental slate clean. The mist, it works. The people, their gentleness and passivity, they work. The woman at the train station saw my New York State license and welcomed me to town. Last night I walked through the city in the rain, with a new haircut sitting awkwardly, feeling like a stranger to myself. A disheveled man stepped in front of me. “Do you have 42 cents?” Me: “No, I’m sorry.” Him, emphatically: “I don’t care, I love you.” I laughed aloud. It reminded me of home.
This kid across from me is listening to his Metallica but I can tell by the baleful look in his eyes that he knows I have this song on repeat, and that this is unnacceptable and besides it is extremely three years ago. I can live with that.
Last night a friend told me about growing up in Alaska and two buddies whose parents let them choose their own middle names when they were six years old. The result? Robert Batman Bernstein. His friend chose Spiderman. They still use them on their Facebook profiles. This is the best thing I’ve heard in ages.