Tuesday, December 18, 2007

R.I.P., Crocodile Cafe

Warning: In this post, I will be strolling down memory lane. If you are over 45 or under 30, or don't listen to music or don't live in Seattle, you may find no relevance here. Unless you are a younger parent still wondering how not to become culturally pointless. Then you might relate.

Last night I met my friends Sara, Maria and Sharon for drinks at a new restaurant on Pike Street called Quinn. The surrounding blocks have changed considerably over the past few years. In fact, the place that Quinn now occupies used to be a crappy Mexican restaurant, which has always been rumoured to be so bad that I never felt the urge to eat there, no matter how young, drunk or hungry I was. Quinn is a huge improvement. In fact, most of the changes in that area are an improvement.

Sharon and I continued our quest for more whiskey at the Moe Bar down the block. Moe is part of the music club Neumo's, which first opened in 1994 as Moe. (Between now and then it had a run as an electronic-focused gay boy bar, outside of which I met a sweet cross-dresser named Greg who took me to a drag show at another place that no longer exists.) Sharon and I sat in the bar and recounted the shows we had seen in the club when it was Moe: Pavement. Tricky. Mercury Rev. Modest Mouse. Spiritualized. Superchunk. Will Oldham. Silkworm. The Folk Implosion. 5ive Style. Blues Explosion. Mike Watt.

"I must have seen fifty shows here," Sharon said. Or maybe I said. As I mentioned, there was whiskey.

So it was apropos to open the newspaper today and read that the Crocodile Cafe, Seattle music scene institution for fifteen years, abruptly shut down on Monday. No warning, no reasons given, just shut.

As if I didn't already feel a hundred years old. Now the Crocodile is gone. Like the old Moe, it'll be a memory in the minds of oldsters like me.

Here are some memories I have from the Crocodile: The owners of a coffee house where I worked in 1994 had started their business out of the Crocodile when it first opened, with an espresso cart in the little tiki hut by the front entrance. They were insane. I worked under them for a year in their crappy Queen Anne coffee house with commercial carpeting and lawn furniture and some friend's stuffed animal collection as decoration. They had a newborn and while he was cute and all, I did not have the slightest sympathy for the mother and nothing but disdain for the father. (He slept in a van outside the shop. One of my duties was to rap on the van door at 6:30 after I opened the shop up for the day. Then he would climb out, come in, sit at the bar, and wait for me to make his doppio macchiato.)

I also remember taking my dad, step mom, and cousin to the Crocodile. My cousin was in town and wanted to check out the music scene. Where else would I take him? We saw Mavis Piggot and Modest Mouse. Modest Mouse were just starting to get good shows around town then. They were fresh as daisies, cute as buttons. They rocked us hard. At one point I looked over at my dad, who was leaning sideways from the waist, head cocked, beer bottle aloft, trying to stay upright. My boyfriend and I put him and my step mom into a taxi and said goodbye. We stayed for the rest of the show.

One of my first dates with my husband was at the Crocodile. We saw Lois, an old favorite of mine from Olympia, and Beth Orton. We waited for an hour between sets but it was worth it. Beth Orton and her band squeezed themselves and their instruments onto the smallish stage and blew us away with their beauty.

I saw: Low, G Love and Special Sauce, Unrest, The Band that Made Milwaukee Famous, Joel RL Phelps, Laika, Juno, Smog, Sleater-Kinney, Stereolab. I saw terrible shows that I had to wait too long for, standing in a stuffy, smoky room holding a plastic beer cup. Once, I was hit on, in a very nice way, by two men visiting from Scotland. I was introduced to the writer Rebecca Brown there. I talked to the drummer from Juno there. I saw magic happen onstage there.

I never actually liked being there, though. Something about the feng shui, or the vibe, or the confusing Habitrail-like layout, put me off. If I wanted to drink or eat, I'd go somewhere else.

So I don't actually despair at the closing of the Crocodile. Especially now the the Showbox is hosting such great bands, and Moe is reopened as Neumo's. My life is full of other things now besides hanging out and watching bands, but I am glad there are still good places to see non-mainstream music that aren't total dumps. (Anyone remember The Off Ramp? RCKNDY? Enough said.)

My last memory of the Crocodile: Driving my son's hipster babysitter down there one night after she finished her shift at my house.

"Do you know where it is?" she asked. I shot her a look. "OK," she said as we approached Blanchard on Third. "You can just drop me here."

"It's ok, I don't mind taking you all the way there," I chirped. It was late. She was alone. It was Belltown.

"No, really," she said. "Here is fine."

You embarrassing old person with baby seats in the back of your Saab.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Purple Lady

As I rode the bus through Capitol Hill to downtown for my jury duty the other day, I felt a sense of joy and calm. I don't know why; maybe it had to do with the divine wisdom of my iPod, which shuffled through fabulous song after fabulous song. Maybe it had to do with the fact that I was getting out of the house and away from regular life for a whole day. Maybe it was because I was bobbing my head to the music and closing my eyes and smiling when a particularly good crash of guitars filled my ears. Whatever. I rode the feeling.

That day people seemed especially irritated to be awake and pushing past other people to find a seat on the crowded, steamy bus. I felt for them. Some of them were probably running late. A few might have been hungover, or wrestling with sadness. You just never know with people. In any case, I turned my attention to my music and folks walking down the street. The bus stopped in front of Seattle Central Community College and I looked across Pine to the loose congregation standing in front of the Egyptian Theater.

People were looking down the hill, toward the bus that may be coming any second. Many wore black. They clutched umbrellas and laptop cases. They looked worried and annoyed. One lady, a middle aged woman with dark brown hair stood out for me. She was wrapped in a big purple sweater/shawl thing, and her expression said that she was glad to be here. She looked peaceful. She looked happy.

She looked so peaceful and happy that I smiled. I continued to look at her, drink her in. Then I beamed her a bunch of love.

Then another good song came on.

It was a good morning.

I told my husband about the Purple Lady over dinner that night and he smirked. To illustrate my feeling further, hoping he might believe these kinds of moments are more than hormonal surges, I recounted a story my teacher has told about such a moment. As she tells it, she drove past a garbage truck one morning and was inexplicably overcome with gratitude. He laughed.

I guess not everyone experiences these moments of unaccounted-for grace.

Try it today. See what happens.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?

This week, the noise of full-time parenting is getting to me. I don't mean the cartoons on TV or the clomping of shoes throughout the house, or even the banging of utensils on the kitchen table.
I mean the talking. The incessant, inane talking. I got to the point today where I actually asked my daughter, "Will you please stop talking to me for a minute?" She wants us to be in conversation all the time. My end of the conversation would seem to be unstimulating, as it consists mainly of such bon mots as "Mmm," "Oh, yeah?" and "I see." Yet Audrey laps up even this minimal attention as if it were mother's milk. Which, I suppose, it kind of is. But giving her actual mother's milk, way back when, was just so much...quieter.

Once I read, in some other magazine, a deconstruction of what makes Martha Stewart Living such an attractive magazine to women. It's not just the hearkening back to a simpler time when all housewives knew how to bake bread, blah, blah, blah. Mainly it is the photographs. The photographs feature lovely objects bathed in calming natural light, and they tend to be free of people. The scenes look cool and inviting, like one could just sit down at that white linen-dressed table, sniff the fresh lilacs spilling out of the pewter jug, and enjoy one's hot beverage from a vintage coffee mug. In silence.

That's SAHM porn, right there.

In this month's Esquire, Tom Chiarella writes an article about what happens when he stops chatting to everyone he meets during the day. (See the entire article here.) His conclusion is that silence affords him more power. Silence not only allows him to contain his own personal power rather than letting it leak out through his mouth all the time, but the people he encounters cede him a little something extra. By being quiet, he gains the upper hand.

This may be the case with valets at restaurants in LA, as Chiarella illustrates, but it for sure doesn't work around my house. Here's what my silence provokes: "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! Mommy did you hear me?" Alternatively, my darlings may choose to just repeat their question or comment more loudly. As if I were deaf. It makes a lot more noise.

Still, I appreciated reading a man's point of view on this subject. Had this been an article in, say, Cosmo or Allure, the title would have been something like, "His Silence: What it Means." There would be a photo above the article showing a hot man wrapped in a bathrobe, sitting on a sofa, staring at his laptop screen. On the opposite end of the sofa would be a woman in pajamas, leaning toward the man and furrowing her beautiful brow. (Obviously this woman has no children. In a parenting magazine, this article would be called, "Silence: How to Get Some.")

Sometimes when I seem particularly irritated at the end of a day, my husband will ask me if it's been a hard day with the kids. Today, no, it hasn't been hard.

Just noisy.