Archive | Suburb RSS feed for this section

Reports of an active shooter on the Highline College campus near my house

highlineshooter_crop

With so many weapons, why aren’t we safe?

At 8:55 a.m. on Friday, February 16th 2018 my daughter, a high school junior in the Running Start Program, going to a college campus in Des Moines near our home, sent our family’s ongoing group chat called Froggy Johnson the screenshot of school alert she received on her phone.

“We have reports of gunfire on campus. Please lockdown all offices and classrooms until further notice. This message was approved for delivery to all students by the office of the Vice President for Administration under the Highline Student Email Policy.”

A barrage of messages (nine on my phone in nine seconds) piled up as my wife and daughter talked about where she was, what was going on, what my daughter was hearing. I looked down at my phone as it began to ping ten, fifteen messages. At first, I thought my daughter who is a pretty new driver had gotten into a fender bender or was having engine trouble. Instead, it was the report of an active shooter on her college campus.

As I caught up and read that she was in her room, that the doors to the room were locked, and that the police were coming, my first thought was she is probably safe. And let me wait and see before I invest any emotional urgency in this event that is beyond my daughter’s control much less anyone in her classroom’s control.

This is not the first lockdown my daughter has experienced. Every year since she was in grade school, her school has had lockdown events. There have been people on the campus with weapons. lockdown. There have been threats that someone was going to come to school and shoot people. lockdown. There was a massive riot between rival groups at the school. lockdown. The lockdowns are so routine that the fear of armed killers is a persistent part of the environment, like global warming, like a nuclear holocaust, like mass plagues, like ambient drug trafficking violence, like an e-Coli outbreak.

Life is not that dangerous, unless it is.

I began to follow #HighlineCollege on Twitter because it seemed to be the only aggregate source of immediate information about the event. Mostly, it was kids rightly scared out of their minds tweeting existential shout-outs to the void.

Updates kept rolling as the police began to respond. My wife heard the roar of a fleet of police cars and firetrucks racing up Pacific Highway South. SWAT Teams arrived. A woman with asthma had an attack. She and another person were taken to the hospital.

As the SWAT teams evacuated kids, they took them across the street to the Midway Lowe’s, and then let them go.

A traffic jam snarled the streets hours after the lockdown started. Traumatized kids left school. The college canceled classes for the rest of the day.

Despite someone tweeting an image of a white guy with a shotgun, it was unclear in the aftermath what had prompted the lockdown. It may have been fireworks. Chinese New Year is coming up, and so some people have fireworks. No one really knows what happened. But at the same time, no one is saying “Never Cry, Wolf.” We are saying about this event, cry wolf often and loud because there are people with guns, typically young white men with AR-15s, and the lockdown is part of this ritual.

Charles Mudede at The Stranger wondered why our society continues to allow our children to be murdered in our schools in his post, Mass Shootings Reveal America Is a Civilization That’s Reverted to Ritual Sacrifice. This is the same question the kids hunkered down in class were asking. “Why do I have to put up with this threat to my life just because I want to go to school? Why are my parents allowing us to be killed?”

The kids at Highline weren’t killed on February 16th.

After the danger had passed, my daughter came home and did her homework and played her video games. I ruminated on the news at work, reminding myself that there was nothing I could do about it. Even writing about it, like this, will do nothing.

After the danger had passed, I kept working. I work as a technical writer. I had a meeting with a man who didn’t want to talk me. He was confused about why I wanted to talk to him. I was not articulate enough to help him understand why I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to talk to him about something I was writing, and how this thing I was writing wasn’t making sense to me. I was told he could make sense of it.

He paced back and forth and said about this document I was working on, “I can’t tell you because there is too much wrong with it.”

I’m a writer. There is an idea that writers are supposed to somehow get at the truth of things. Journalists have their methods. Fiction writers have their methods. Technical writers have their methods. But the act of looking for the truth seems increasingly like Schrödinger’s cat.

It helps to know that the cat is dead. It helps to know if an assertion is false. From there you can proceed toward the truth. Even saying what is wrong with something is a movement toward the truth.

I believe our society knows this. We know there are false things and there are true things. Rituals are designed to make the untrue, true. Charles Mudede calls our society a civilization. Maybe our society is a civilization. Or maybe it is a post-civilization. I believe civilizations are based on conventions, just as the dictionary says — “an advanced state of social development, e.g., with complex legal and political and religious organizations.” But in the mode of a post-civilization, people would think that my relying on a dictionary was as naive as relying on the will of a society to protect the truth or its children.

We know one fact about weapons in our country. What we are currently doing is killing people.

Comments { 0 }

No Outlet

No Outlet

Back of a stop sign at Saltwater State Park in Des Moines, Washington in the winter of 2017.

I pass this sign when I walk from my house to the beach. It is a stop sign on the way from my house toward the beach. I have never stopped walking when I passed this stop sign. On the way back from the beach, I pass the sign and enter the region that is here declared as no outlet, a set of dead ends and cut-de-sacs, and I walk a trail that leads into the forest. I pass along this trail through the forest and have a choice of where I would like to exit. I can pass along behind a row of houses along a muddy track and come out onto a paved cul-de-sac in a development of houses built in the mid-1960s. Or, I can walk along a road that ends in a gate that has never been open, and then walk alongside the road on a shoulder that is not really meant to hold pedestrians. Blackberries hang from the maple trees and a fence. Or, I can walk up to a set of bridges that cross over the canyons where the paves roads end and then the creek cuts through narrow gullies that finger out into the subdivisions built along Pacific Highway South.

There is clearly an outlet at this point even though the sign declares to anyone paying attention that there isn’t one. I routinely ignore the warning labels and laws with their clearly stated does and don’ts and I don’t know at what point in growing up I learned then and at what point I learned that I should not follow them. Continue Reading →

Comments { 0 }

The Fence Maker by Matt Briggs in Necessary Fiction

The Fence Maker began to punch up the tall fences before 1980, we are plenty sure. The fences stood twelve feet tall. The height was as regular as a regulation.

 — Necessary Fiction

Comments { 0 }

Mowing the Lawn

IMG_7432

I am aware though after I mow my lawn in a strange suburban pride in having a neat and tidy lawn.

I am aware though, after I mow my lawn, in a strange suburban pride in having a neat and tidy space to call my own.

I mowed the lawn yesterday. This morning I’m looking out on the bluish early morning light and seeing the edged and smooth and somewhat green velvety texture of the lawn coated with early morning dew. There are drops in the scraggly and mostly dead rose bush. I like the collapsing and tangled and probably unhealthy rose bush and don’t want to trim it, but the lawn itself is something I feel a degree of suburban energy around. I don’t even know know how to phrase this. I didn’t have a lawn when I lived in an apartment while going to college. In fact the entire building didn’t have a lawn. It had a hedge of bamboo where raccoons would hide while migrating from Lake Union to Green Lake. There were planters for the Japanese maple trees along the street. But otherwise the building was free of vegetation even though it was under very tall city trees that left leafy, cool shadows on the side of the hill in the Spring and Summer. But after this I lived in houses on city lots with tiny lawns that required mowing and I would kept these patches of grass trimmed and short. It would take less half an hour and I would be done. I didn’t think much about the lawn or lawn care or mowing lawns in these rental houses. We lived for a time in a house north of the city, and the previous tenant had left the back lawn to grow. He’d had a bon fire in the middle of the grass that had gone to seed for several generations leaving clumps of golden straw and a brown morass of old seed pods. I used a weed whacker to cut the grass down to a manageable size and then began to cut the grass and after a season the grass was a plush bed of grass and the old fire-pit disappeared into the soft bed. It calmed me, but it wasn’t until I bought a house in the algae coated suburbs filled with cul-de-sacs, pastures holding drainage ponds, and houses with somewhat vast overgrown yards that I became the owner of my own bit of managed lawn. Continue Reading →

Comments { 0 }

Earth vs Space

The Blue Marble is a famous photograph of the Earth, taken on December 7, 1972, by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft, at a distance of about 45,000 kilometers (28,000 miles). It is one of the most iconic, and among the most widely distributed images in human history. It is more than a symbol of globalism; it is the photograph of globalism.

The Blue Marble is a famous photograph of the Earth, taken on December 7, 1972, by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft, at a distance of about 45,000 kilometers (28,000 miles). It is one of the most iconic, and among the most widely distributed images in human history. It is more than a symbol of globalism; it is the photograph of globalism.

Putin is now the US’s Daddy: Putin said in his Op Ed in the New York Times a while ago, “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.” I agree the American Exceptionalism and the American Dream are both really dangerous (and heave been myths that have hammered the US middle class/working class in the last three decades.) Russia hasn’t needed myths to suppress their middle class/working class what with purges and the Gulag, however. But whose counting? We have vast prison systems; they have vast prison systems. We have the Russian Mafia; They have the Russian Mafia. We are essentially the same place. When I go for a walk on Sunday at the pier, I am surrounded by Russian couples.

I think it is more dangerous that we see ourselves as “The West” and we see Russia and Asia as “The East.”

It is retrograde to use “The East” as something to define ourselves. Edward Said’s book Orientalism is really handy in breaking down the reductive trick of balancing West against East. Not only is East/West really old as a set an artificial world-view dichotomy, it also serves no purpose in Globalism aside from setting up seating charts, resource distribution schedules, and other administrative tasks. Continue Reading →

Comments { 0 }

Ann Rule and the Green River Killer

Not a single victim wore shoes like this; they tended to wear tennis shoes.

Not a single victim wore shoes like this; the dead tend to wear tennis shoes.

I read Green River, Running Red by Ann Rule book a while ago.  The book left me a lot of questions. I was puzzled by Ann Rule’s own handling of her role in the events. There is a meta aspect to the story where as the author of the story, she considers that doesn’t have the chops to handle, nor does the entire True Crime genre have the chops to handle Gary Ridgeway’s story and the nearly epidemiological causes of the environment that gave rise to Ridgeway, the teen age runaways, and the initial reluctance of the law enforcement and community to do anything about it. Ridgeway himself was aware of his future fame as the Green River Killer and was partly a serial killer fan boy. He anticipated his notoriety. In that sense, then, Ann Rule, contributed to his crimes. She doesn’t have the answer to that, and she does focus the narrative on the stories of the children who ended up murdered by Ridgeway.

One of the puzzles of Ridgway’s story is how he settled down with his third wife and moved to Auburn and essentially stopped killing because of his happy home life. I can imagine Rule interviewing his third wife and asking about the strange bumps on the Green River Killer’s penis. Did you notice any bumps? It is this sort of tasteless, lurid, and trivial that is essential to the True Crime genre. The first season of HBOs True Detective works so well because Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle manages to infuse the closer observation of the trivial with existential angst; his rambling autodidactic musing are rooted in the trivial, and in turn the trivial is lifted and connected to the larger movements of a fictional serial killer. Rule however struggles with the banal killings of a killer who is not captured partly because the task force didn’t take Ridgeway seriously as a possible killer: he was too stupid, too ordinary. And this ends up being the enigma at the center of the narrative of Green River, Running Red, the killings are routine for the killer. Ridgeway would sometimes kill while out running an errand. At one point he picks up a victim with his young son in his truck, drives to a vacant lot off of Pacific Highway, has sex with and kills his victim, and then returns to the truck. Continue Reading →

Comments { 0 }

Signs and Symbols in the Suburbs

signsandsymbols

Cottonwood Park on the Frager Road in Kent.

I went for a walk on Saturday on Frager Road and saw a number of signs on symbols that I could only take as harbinger of the year to come. I saw a man under the Veteran’s Driver Overpass riding a BMX bike. He was a middle age man on a child’s bike. He asked me for the time. I didn’t want check my phone, but told him instead I didn’t know the time. I said that I my guess is that it was about 12:30. I figured I’d left the house around noon and I’d been walking for a number of minutes along the Green River. I didn’t want to show my phone. He was grizzled. I couldn’t fell if the bike was his or a bike he had picked up from someone’s back yard. He awkwardly perched on the bike and had to keep it in motion to keep from falling over. With each pedal he had to hunch down. He wore a green rain jacket, a baseball hat, and had a full sized hiking rucksack with a bedroll. After we had our exchange, I wanted to check my guess about the time but I didn’t want to reveal to him that I had lied to him about not being able to check the time, so I briskly walked ahead of him. After about five minutes I looked behind me and he was ambling behind me, walking alongside his bike. So I kept walking briskly and then looked behind me again and there he was still ambling along. He was a very rapid ambler. So I wasn’t able to check the time. There is a metal bridge that crossed the river at the Puget Power Trail. I had this sense then that I needed to cross the water to get past him. I thought maybe he wouldn’t cross the bridge ambling along with his bike, or maybe I had a sense that he couldn’t cross the water like some supernatural creature. When I got to the bridge, I turned to see if he was going to follow me over the bridge, but he’d disappeared somewhere in the cottonwood growing on the banks of an old mill pond. On the Frager Road I try not to walk at dusk. Most of the time I encounter people who are walking their dogs, riding their bicycles in some kind of competitive distance race, or jogging. I encounter people who are headed somewhere and have a purpose. With the salmon run in the fall, men wearing hoodies line the banks of the Green River with their rods propped in the muck and their hands in their pockets. They stare morosely at the turbid water patiently waiting for a salmon to swallow their hook. At dusk, however, I run into men carrying bedrolls who don’t really seem to have anywhere to go. They wander along the side of the river, or wander into the forest. He was gone. I checked my time and it was about 12:45, so I had been very correct. Continue Reading →

Comments { 0 }

Pattern of Travel in the Space Where I Live

359-001-Map

Boxes and boxes of places.

During the week I don’t leave the routes of my routines through my neighborhood. Everything that happens beyond the limits of those tunnels happens beyond me. An alarm wakes me in the morning against my better judgment. Lately I have been stretching to help me wake in a positive mood. I reach my arms toward the drapes and make a kind of capital V with my arms. I roll my palms toward the sky. I wait for a positive feeling to wash over me, and yet it doesn’t really. Instead I unscramble from the fetal position I was sleeping in during the night and force my arms into a shape until the blood starts to flow and then I am ready to make coffee. I brew coffee while I write. And then I drink it while sitting in the light of a SAD lamp, and continue to write.

The rush of caffeine and10,000 lux wide-spectrum light usually gets me functional enough to take a shower and then drive to the Park & Ride at the Methodist church parking lot across from the Kent park. Every morning the same cars are parked in essentially the same spots. There is some random variation of sequence, but the ingredients of the Toyotas, a Lexus, and several makes of Nissan remains the same. I climb into the bus and issue the driver my OrcaCard which logs the transaction, and later I can find the monotonous row of these times on the Sound Transit web site documenting my toing-and-frowing from work. Continue Reading →

Comments { 0 }

Elegy for the Incandescent Light Bulb

At the hardware store recently I bought a package of incandescent light bulbs, you know the roundish kind that are lightbulb shape. Even though they have been phased out of production since last fall, I can still find them.

If you were to draw the icon an idea or a flash of inspiration and you were my age, the generation before, I don’t know how long ago, but for decades, you would draw a light bulb. But the light bulb has become suddenly a fusty piece of past technology like the wall phone, the cathode tube screen, and the Victrola. I find myself surprisingly alarmed at the passage of the incandescent light bulb for the curl of a cool neon tube. I finally bought my first package of neon lights at the grocery store because the incandescent light bulbs were more expensive. When I went to Ace Hardware a while back the incandescent light bulbs were still less expensive and the clerk kind of made fun of my lot of light bulbs. “Pretty soon you won’t be able to buy these anywhere.” I did notice they were tucked into the back of the aisle. It didn’t even occur to me purchase the fluorescent lights bulbs. Continue Reading →

Comments { 0 }

Salmon Berry Jam

Location: Saltwater State Park

I picked raincoat pocket full of salmon berries while walking past the just mowed portion of Saltwater State Park. The campground section on the east side of McSorley Creek is lined with dense salmon berry bushes that carried massive loads of suddenly ripe berries.

I often walk asphalt drive on the park and then cross the bridge at McSorley Creek that passed under a tall maple tree onto a gravel road that edges along a muddy slope restrained by Douglas fir, old logging stumps, and brush. A flowering plumb had fallen at the end of the gravel road where the bridge crosses the creek. It has been flowering for weeks. I walk on the gravel road, along the edge of the steep slope. A massive Douglas fir tree grows on the road there. It has gnarled grey bark, and massive gaps in the roots that always suggest that animals live there, or that maybe there is some passage that would lead down into a system of tunnels and caverns under the forest. Faux mother of thousands crowed the forest floor in the spring. The damp clefts where streams start support Devils Club. The camping spots are empty during the week and when it rains. The road passed around back to McSorley Creek again and I cross another bridge and I’m back on the paved road. I walk to the very end of the paved section to a turnaround under 16th Ave S which passed over the creek and the forest on a bridge supported by several massive cement pylons that collects graffiti and then splotches of grey paint to cover the signs. I can hear traffic noises at the street level, above the forest. I can see the edge of a subdivision, and then I walk back and this time the slope on my right is more visible to me. It is covered in sword ferns and then back in the main part of the upper campground, I pass a muddy slope with sword ferns, and those tiny leafy plants with a stalk that has tiny bell shapes pods. As a child I would pull my hand along the length to harvest handfuls of the pods. This time I found salmon berries that had ripened in the last week and the forest was full of then when I began to look for them. I would walk through the forest looking for them, and I wasn’t really aware of how damp and leafy the valley of the McSorley Creek was before. If I fell down, I would fall through the layer of foliage on the mucky forest floor and no one would be able to see me.

I pulled the salmon berry from the bushes. Some of them were salmon colored, yellow or slightly pinkish, and would come of in a thick sheet of berries. Most of them were a bit larger than a quarter. However, a few were huge like commercial strawberries and filled the palm of my hand. When I pulled them from the bush, they released a fragrant smell of vegetation. Salmon berries smell like the forest, woody, and they taste the same, except for a very faint sweet taste that always seems to me as though it should lead to more, but doesn’t. They are related to raspberries and blackberries. I have never been able to do much with them when I pick them except eat then When I eat them I always find myself ruminating on their elusive taste. I sometimes eat handfuls thinking, that they seem so bright and raspberry like, shouldn’t they taste better? And now the taste, too, reminds of the beginning of summer and damp Junes. The berries taste more like a leaf then a berry. I picked an entire pocket of them to bring home. And then, I brushed against a stinging needle and this was a faint memory of a sensation of pain, a nostalgic pain, like losing a tooth.

At home I looked up a recipe, and this is the one I followed. The recipe didn’t use pectin, and I didn’t follow the sterilization method I remember from my mother making actual jam when I was growing up, so it won’t keep. The jam had that elusive flavor, but since it was mostly sugar it was a faint, citrus flavor like a marmalade taste without the citrus bite. It also had a tremendous number of seeds that I liked, but would probably strain out next time I make it.

Salmon Berry Jam

This creates a cooked, but not sterile jam meaning it won’t be properly sealed in a jam jar. But the jam is kind of faintly citrus and berry flavor and excellent as a flavoring for ice cream, on bread, and with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups crushed salmon berries
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Instructions:

  1. I washed the berries, and found I’d picked an earwig. It ran down my sink drain, so it may come back sometime.
  2. I used a handheld blender to puree the salmon berries. Next time I make it, I think I’ll strain the puree to remove some of the seeds.
  3. I put the berries and sugar into a pot on the stove.
  4. I set my burner to high and boiled the sugar and berries on high for 5 minutes. At the end of the boiling period the entire mixture has become kind of frothy.
  5. I then reduce the reduce the heat to medium-low and simmered for 20 mins. I read somewhere that the fluid should begin to “sheet” and toward the end of the twenty minutes I noticed that the jam clung to my spatula in a jammy like glob. I guess that is beginning to “sheet.”
  6. I put in the fridge to cool for a couple of hours, and then spent the next couple of days eating it.
Comments { 0 }