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2008-08-05 - 3:08 p.m.

Back from Seattle: Key in the front door at one in the morning. Tackled the dog, checked email, smoked a cigarette, and was asleep by two. Woke up in a tangle of sheets and with the fan on my face, a setting too high, but feeling much better after the night of flights and lines and trying to read but instead getting distracted by Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher, stars of the plane's free movie. Made it to the job today but it was a close call.

I have many thoughts and strong feelings about Seattle and about traveling and making plans with a group of 10 adults, most of whom are close friends. Eating together, sleeping, going barefoot, sharing cabs, arguing about rides to Portland, sitting through a ceremony, dancing afterwards, these things forge us, help shake off the black carbon, expose what's raw and alive underneath, and to see what's at your friend's wife's core, for example.

And, with these moments of living essentially, loudly, comes the far-apart but still embarrassing moments that won't go away. Other people would probably say those moments are nothing much, that you're blowing them out of proportion. Drinking a bunch doesn't help (or does, but is the fuel for the embarrassment in the first place). For example, at the reception, I approached the bride, who I hadn't seen in a year, and tried to make a joke to the effect of, now that you're married I guess there's no hope for me and you, huh? But I was a little drunk and it came out a little hesitant and she somehow thought I was referencing the fact that she and her guy didn't actually exchange rings at the ceremony and before I knew it, what was meant to be lighthearted turned, in fact, strange. She was much more serious, there at the reception, than I thought she would be, based on our years and months of days of past joking and general carrying on. It's her wedding day, I kept telling myself.

Then we went to the College Inn. I was near collapse, so I ordered the first Red Bull and vodka of my life, ordered another, and then, in shirtsleeves and ties, we played darts. I thought we had them beat all three times but all three times they closed the bullseyes before we could. (Later, at the airport, when it was time to get out my driver's license at the security checkpoint, my heartbeat did something weird when I saw that there was nothing where my driver's license was supposed to be. I left it at the bar. I'd given it to them in exchange for the darts. They also don't answer their phone. Because God apparently smiles on me, I had brought my passport and so was able to catch the flight home.) Anyway, we'd shared a cab with another couple, for the ride from recpetion to bar. The girl in front had just been to India and so struck up a fast conversation with the cab driver, who was Indian. Once in the bar, I asked her if she knew right away if the guy was Indian. I was genuinely curious. She had a smart and educated talk with the guy and I also thought she was pretty. She looked at me and it kind of burned, how hard she looked at me. "Either Indian or Pakistani, yeah," she said, and went back to ordering her whiskey. Perhaps, when I asked her the question, it didn't come out as smoothly as I thought it had.

Small, hot embarrassments aside, it turns out that the Pacific Northwest folks really do know how to live. Nothing I ate was of inferior or even middling quality. The produce at the public market was just out of control: artichokes, berries, peaches, cherries. And clams, mussels, salmon as big as my thigh, clean-looking jars of honey, dungeness crabs half-buried in shaved ice. I still have a peach in my backpack. I bought two and ate the other one while walking around, but it wasn't yet fully ripe. (I don't think I've eaten a plum yet this year. I should've gotten some plums.) Everything in Seattle, that I saw, was at or near the zenith of its own particular column. Good coffee, good smoked salmon, good ideas about recycling, sensible clothing, new and shiny cars, shiny public buses. Walking home yesterday, after work, it came as a mild surprise not to see recycling bins next to the trash cans, to see regular old grimy Baltimore buses chugging and whirring up Calvert Street, to see the same old trash on the streets, as familiar now as carpets of oak leaves were when I was growing up. They say Seattle is the most educated city in the country, and it shows. Books everywhere, bookstores, opera houses, museums, coffee on just about every corner, craft beers in every bar, and a smugness that comes from being the most educated city in America and one that obviously prides itself on its enlightened ways. That, more than anything, would take some getting used to. But it rained for only four or five hours while we were there. Man, did the world change during that rain, though. The temperature dropped 15 degrees and everyone went inside or clung to the edges of the sidewalks, ducking under awnings to make a call or smoke a cigarette.

The new public library downtown made me wish I had something like that nearby. I wish I didn't have to drive, pretty much at all (except for long trips--road trips--which despite the cost of gas will never get beaten out of the American Way, I don't think, because they're often fucking awesome). It's a gentle, caffeinated, anxious, pretty, watchful way of life we saw out there. And now I'm back, where I feel you work a little harder to earn that pretty.

This is a long one, and my head's a bit jumbled, but a few more things. Saw Lars and the Real Girl last night and despite the outrageousness of the Norman Rockwell-type town (he's dating a sex doll, dudes!), I enjoyed it. This Ryan Gosling's got the good stuff. As does Patricia Clarkson, who is My Kind of Lady. Been thinking about buying a house. They say now's the time to do it. Also want to quit job. Mutually exclusive? I bet I could do it, for a little while. Probably not, actually.

Somebody stole my front tag from my pickup. I hope they make good use of it.

Two songs that never fail to put me in a good mood: Graceland by Paul Simon and Pacific Theme by Broken Social Scene.

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