|Cover Story||Plant Life||On Fitness||Northwest Living||Taste||Now & Then|
WRITTEN BY RICHARD SEVEN
PHOTOGRAPHED BY BARRY WONG
From the mundane to the mind-bending, it's all there on bulletin boards
SOMEWHERE AMID the chaos, perhaps, there is clarity. The answer to your problems. The deal of deals. A clue to what you need to know to be happier, smarter. Or, a plea for help. A call to action. An invitation. There are services rendered, services sought.
The bulletin board the old-fashioned, off-line kind plays social jazz, riffing on the erratic rhythm of our lives. Fliers offering pet-walking overlap notices selling self-improvement, which partly obscure the trash haulers, who distract from someone's last-ditch effort to find her favorite sweater. It doesn't take anything more than a stapler to get a voice. You just need the right passerby to wade through the noisy collage and find you.
In fact, the typical bulletin board (which can also take the form of a wall or a telephone pole) is such visual scat that it can be hard to tune in. Yet the very lack of order and the unpredictability are what make it so alive. There are few rules and only a few cheaters, like one bar-band promoter who made it a mission to precisely cover up a competitor's fliers with his own.
Scan the stapled messages on a bulletin board and you will see democracy, capitalism and some anarchy, too. It's all there, from the mundane to the singular, the practical to the eccentric. You will find something like this: "Yard Doctor". . . "Man with Van". . . "Learning to Love You". . . "Authentic Conversation" . . . "Hypnobirthing" . . . You'll find bands screeching for attention on fluorescent paper next to anti-war demonstrations next to feminist karate next to a populist poet above an anti-FBI film. Perhaps the father-and-son plumbing team will be there or the guy trying to sell used boots for $200 (where else but Seattle?). There is usually a piano for sale, as well as lessons on how to play it. And so it goes.
The only vital background information the buyer has to go on is a one-line résumé or an all-purpose adjective like "funky." You might find a phone number or maybe a Web address, often compressed onto those little tags hanging like tassels for you to tear off and take home.
So who are these people behind the paper? Are they trustworthy? Desperate? Revolutionary? Someone you'd like to know?
Offers to teach a skill are near the top of the bulletin-board food chain, but my eyes were drawn to a color photograph showing a young, attractive duo frozen in dance-step and surrounded by other fresh-faced people hamming mock awe. They looked so happy in an unabashedly corny way.
I called Tonya Surface. She is the founder of Rain City Rugcutters and is suitably energetic. Surface specializes in the Lindy Hop, Shag and Balboa, all forms of the Jitterbug, a synchronized dance born in the '30s and rekindled in fits and starts during the past decade.
She organizes dances, leads workshops including Camp JitterBug gives lessons, competes, and works as a DJ occasionally at the Century Ballroom downtown. Everyone in the tight swing community already knows her, she says, so the notices on the bulletin boards around town and the University of Washington dorms target beginners and those who want to refine their moves.
In fact, it was such a flier stapled to a sandwich board five years ago that not only transformed Surface into a jitterbugger but set her life's course. While a UW student, she noticed a flier inviting one and all to a Jitterbug dance and free lesson. She went and loved it, but no one had information on how to join the dance club, so she scoured the campus for another flier and finally found one.
"Thank goodness I did," says Surface, 27. "I was a business major finishing up my degree and was able to combine my love for the dancing with my business training. It changed my life. I'm my own boss and doing what I love."
I peeked in on a beginning Lindy Hop class at the Wilsonian Ballroom near campus one Thursday night. Twenty couples, each frozen in starting dance position, formed an oval around the edge of the room. Surface and co-instructor Bryan Sera stood in the middle wearing microphone headsets, parsing movements and narrating the elementary concepts of footwork, posture and torque as they went.
It moved slowly, step-by-step, but you have to crawl before you can swing.
"MAJORITY VISIBILITY PROJECT"
It was by no means the only anti-war poster on the board, but it seemed particularly urgent. When I called the number at the bottom of the page I reached Mike Caldwell, who said hello through the heavy static on his cell phone.
"I can barely hear you," I said.
"That's because I'm on my way to Wenatchee," he replied through the crackle and over the rumbling of highway noise. "You should be here to see this."
"This" was the reaction he and his barnstorming companions were getting to their parade of vehicles armed with "No Iraq War" signs aimed at mobilizing opposition to what seemed like an inevitable battle. Actually, he said, it wasn't an attempt to drum up opposition but to turn up the volume from what he believes is the muted majority.
From central Washington, the Seattle businessman and former Army medic traveled to Bellingham before ending the four-day loop back home. He had already led a caravan to Chehalis and Centralia.
"It's puzzling to me how there is this perception that we're all lockstepping toward war when our own eyes are showing us something very different. If the war isn't playing in Wenatchee, Twisp and the heartland of America, then where is it playing?"
Caldwell's mission is to get as many vehicles topped with the signs as possible, because yard signs enable people to tell only neighbors and mail carriers how they feel. "I can't fail," he told me of his effort, "because I believe you do what you need to. And I'm doing it."
Bulletin boards are choked with offers to watch your house, your pet, your kids, your shrubs. People are willing to cook your meals, haul off your junk, clean your eaves, repair anything you need, wire your computer. Some hold fine-print résumés, bold-faced headlines and clever hooks. But I was drawn to Alan's simple, straightforward offer to live in my house.
"I've stayed in a Magnolia home above the water I mean RIGHT above it," he said. "I've spent time in Rainier Valley, Columbia City, Queen Anne, Ballard, Beacon Hill, Phinney Ridge, Ravenna. It's great because I can explore neighborhoods I'd never typically live in."
It struck me that leaving a house to someone you found on a bulletin board is akin to marrying a mail-order bride. In almost all cases, Alan must tend to a pet, but generally it sounded like a feet-on-the-coffee-table life. There are drawbacks, though.
"Staying somewhere two months is my ideal, but typically it's two weeks. That can get old moving that often." Alan has been thinking about getting out of the cycle for quite awhile, but jobs seem to pop up, and in between he can rent a room from a friend.
"Bulletin boards haven't panned out all that well, to be honest," he said. "Fliers get covered up or cleared, but sometimes, like on that one in Phinney Ridge, they seem to stay."
It's hardly all opportunity or commerce on bulletin boards. Sometimes, people need something from you, like a place to stay or an affordable car.
Sometimes, they ask your help in solving a crime.
Workers at the Crown Hill Cemetery were desperate for leads when they posted a flier in Ballard (which was plastered over by that obnoxious band promoter) and offered money for information leading to a conviction.
Last August, some creep broke into the tiny office on the property and repeatedly stabbed the cemetery's pet cat, Lilly. She was a fixture companion to the staff and comfort to grieving visitors. Police took fingerprints and collected a few items left behind, including a silver bracelet, but the case is going nowhere without someone coming forward.
Sally Gerretsen, who manages the office, believes the killer is the same unknown person who had broken in once before. The first time, the intruder busted into the till. The company quit keeping money there overnight after that, but the till was rifled again in the second burglary.
The intruder, who kicked in the back door of the house, grabbed a groundskeeper's knife, repeatedly stabbed the cat and tossed its body in the bathroom trash can.
"Whoever did it is sick," Gerretsen says. "If he was mad he couldn't find anything valuable, why couldn't he have just trashed the place? Why does he have to torture and kill a defenseless little animal?"
The 5-year-old tabby is buried on cemetery grounds along with her catnip and favorite toy, below the picnic table she often lounged atop during warm afternoons. A tiny cat figurine and flowers mark it.
The flier asks you to call Seattle Police if you have any information.
"THE ART OF LIVING"
Plenty of dusty treadmills are for sale, but bulletin boards are also fruitful for those willing to exercise their minds through alternative medicine, yoga, meditation, hypnotism and the like. Items for sale come with exclamation points. For some reason, pitches for mental and psychic well-being favor question marks. "Why are you so quiet?" "Isn't it time to feel better?"
Then she got right to it: "It's a powerful way to release stress so you can get a sense of who you are. It's very profound and spiritual. I'm a very undisciplined person. It's the only thing I've stuck with. It blasts all the crap out of you."
The discipline is taught all over the world. She and her husband are certified teachers and donate the entire $250 instruction fee to the international organization. I tried to invite myself to one of her regular sessions because the group of attendees ranged from a doctor to high-tech workers to a tarot-card reader. She politely said no, but suggested a Bellevue class.
I opted, instead, to follow the trail of another flier promising a "Brain Stretch." It led me to the Northwest Senior Activity Center in Ballard. The front windows were covered with massive white sheets of paper, each listing the menu of activities under all kinds of categories ranging from bingo to sculpture art to blood-pressure checks to belly dancing.
I had to wend my way toward the back of the building, up narrow stairs and down a hall to find the brain stretchers. There, I encountered five seniors sitting around a conference-room table. They were early and waiting for stragglers from a fitness class downstairs to arrive so the session could begin. I asked what exactly everyone would be doing to stretch his or her brain.
"If I could remember that," said Duke, a man with gray bangs, big glasses and a wide smile, "I wouldn't be here."
The idea of the periodic classes is to exercise the mind by tackling riddles and clearing what the coordinator called "the assumptions that can clutter our minds." The group, a dozen in all, took on a number of conundrums. You know the kind: impossible to figure out but annoyingly obvious when you learn the answer.
I slinked off without getting any of them right.
After looking for the right garage band to visit, I decided to visit the garage instead.
Jeff Brandli, a former salesman, is busy subdividing a SODO-area warehouse that abuts the railroad tracks into a series of acoustic-sensitive studios. He has built three of them inside the long, one-floor building since opening in September. As business warrants, he'll build until he has seven.
Garage Rehearsal Studios was born from Brandli's own garage-band experience. Actually, he had a basement band. He's played the drums for about 25 years, from high school to the UW marching band and on, but only recently was he persuaded to join a low-key rock band with family and friends. They call themselves Middleman Bob and play '80s cover tunes.
The problem, as is often the case, was finding a place to play.
"We used to practice in my brother's basement, but his wife got tired of having to leave the house every Sunday morning. So I checked with my neighbors if they would mind if we played in the basement of my house. One neighbor said sure. The other guy said he'd call the cops as soon as he heard the first note. But his wife was cool. She looked on the Internet for places we could practice."
"We get all kinds of bands in here," he told me, showing off both the finished studios and the sprawling garage area of the warehouse where he saws wood frames. "Rock, hip-hop, punk. Revenue, while not where it needs to be, has exceeded my expectation so far."
To show me a sample of his sound-proofing efforts, he went into a studio next to the one I was in and starting banging on his drums. The thumping sent my feet vibrating. Whether his business makes it or not, I thought, it sounds like a lot more fun than cold calls.
"STICK YOUR TONGUE OUT FOR SCIENCE!!"
Bulletin boards have some local flavor to them, so if you want to be a test subject, the University of Washington is a good place to cruise.
Amid all this, I found Albert Einstein sticking his tongue out at me. Even in the UW Medical Center, fliers looking for test subjects must compete. The photograph of the genius and his tongue seemed genius in itself. It advertised a study looking for people in my age group to help study "bitter taste perception."
Hmm, it didn't sound that inviting, but the testers seemed to have style. I called and volunteered. Soon, I was in a room that was empty except for a dentist's chair, a sink and a computer.
The study coordinator brought me the first of four trays, each holding tiny cups of clear liquid. My task was to take a swig from each, swish and spit. Then I rated the degree of saltiness, sweetness, bitterness and so on. In short, they wanted to know how vile each was. I also had to assess which was the most vile.
I wasn't prepared for the shock. I gagged and grimaced on the first one. I can't be sure, but I imagined the tester smiling faintly. I was much more prepared after that.
After about an hour of swishing and spitting things like salt, potassium, magnesium, quinine, urea, caffeine and an ingredient used in thyroid-disease medication, I was done. It wasn't that bad, but I'm thankful for the jug of water they left me.
If my taste scores meet the profile they're looking for, I'll be invited back to have my tongue microscopically videotaped.
How will I help science? That's confidential. But I'm always glad to do my part.
Richard Seven is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff reporter. Barry Wong is a magazine staff photographer.
|Cover Story||Plant Life||On Fitness||Northwest Living||Taste||Now & Then|