Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Where Ideas Go to Die

On the 24th of February 2007, it was confirmed that 100 percent of all of us have blogs. I have three of them. Anitra “Netmama” Freeman has a different blog for every skirt in her closet. Timothy “From Him All Power Comes; To Him All Praise Flows” Harris, our Director, has a blog. You, dear reader, have a blog, whether you know it or not. Maybe you have a daughter who was born last week. Your daughter, though she has never touched an internet-connected device, has a blog with her name on it. Her profile lists her favorite kinds of music. She’s into stuff you grew out of in the ’90s.

Since you all have blogs, you know how I feel when people beg me to use their ideas for this column. You know that writing a column, or a blog, is something that has to come from the soul. Like the time you posted all your eggplant recipes. You can’t be handed material like that. It has to flow from the gut.

Now my gut says I need to devote this column to detailed excuses for not using the unsolicited ideas I get.

Here’s one I get every week. “You know what you should do, Dr. Wes? You should write a column that tells the truth about being homeless. Let people know how bad it is on the streets. Oh, what’s that? You did it already? 200 times? In 200 different ways? Well, you need to do it again. A good idea doesn’t become bad just because it’s been done 200 times.”

According to this reasoning, I, Dr. Wes Browning, should personally record a cover of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. I should re-lose my virginity in a cheap room in upstate NY immediately. I must order the Orange Mandarin Duck for dinner tonight and the next night and the next, until it kills me.

Here’s another one I get a lot. “I stay at XYZ Mission a lot, and their management’s all corrupt. You should write about that.”

“No, you stayed there, you saw the corruption; you write about it.”

“But they won’t let me stay there anymore.”

“Write it anonymously and bring us the facts, and if they check out we’ll print it.”

“They’ll find out it was me.”

“I’ll be over here contemplating my spine while you find yours.” I learned when I was 19, you don’t empower people by letting them bleed your nipples.

I constantly have to ask the question, “You know it’s a humor column, don’t you?”

“You should talk about violence against homeless people, all the time, until people do something about it.”

“What’s the rest of the paper for?”

“You have to write about it too. All the time.” All right, here’s your hate-crime news o’ the week: It’s being widely reported that a third of all violent U.S. hate-crimes against homeless people happen in Florida. Ha. Chads. Jeb Bush. Old people. Cuban refugees. Teenagers. Fort Lauderdale. Spring Breaks. Hilarious stuff.

On Jan. 11, 2001, I wrote that today the U.S. only has room for eight acres per man, woman, and child, even counting swamps, garbage dumps, and shopping malls. So if everyone regardless of race had to get 40 acres and a mule we’d need to first conquer a land area four times the size of all 50 states. I mention this again for the benefit of vendor Calvin T. Again I say, we don’t have that much power to ourselves; the rest of the world has something to say about it, something involving guns, and bullets, and ungraceful death and suffering.

I give up on this one. I have a request that I learn about Chinese New Year and write what I learn. Great idea! It’s 4705! It’s the Year of the Fire Pig! Make me lucky! Give me $8 in a red envelope by Saturday! Then, I will eat a stuffed dumpling with my sweetheart!

How educational was that?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Prognosticating Pioneer Square

By the Adjusted Lunar Calendar that no one around here uses anymore except passively, as when they allow themselves to be told when Easter is, it’s one day short of six years since my great triumph of prognostication. If you missed me gloating about it, it happened the night of Fat Tuesday, 2001. Anitra “She Who Drinks of My Whine” Freeman is my unimpeachable witness that sometime around 11:30 that night I told her we would be tear-gassed before the night was done. And we were! At 2 a.m.! I was never so proud!

Of course it would have been more impressive if I had predicted that before a half day would elapse an earthquake would bounce our bed two feet sideways out from under us. Or that in my quest to confirm the likelihood of our tear-gassing I would witness the beginning of the Mardi Gras brawl that included an infamous murder. But we prognosticators, people like me and my homies Nostradamus, and Jeanne Dixon, and Edgar Cayce, take all the credit we can get.

Now it’s almost six years later. I am writing this early in the morning of the Monday before the Tuesday of the Fat of 2007. Why don’t I prognosticate about this year’s Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday? Let’s see if I can be right about some of it again. Anitra and I still live in subsidized housing at Third and S. Washington, in the Pioneer Square District, so it’s still plausible that we could be tear-gassed. But is that what my crystal ball says?

For one thing, I see horses. The horses have men on the top. The men are wearing silly cap/helmet thingies like polo players wear. I’m looking deeper now, and yes, those are uniformed mounted policemen on those horses. I’m not using my crystal ball, though. I’m using my memory. I saw them out the window Saturday night.

I was awakened at about 2 a.m. by a screaming mob and horseshoes striking pavement. I peeked out the window and saw two mounted police chasing people up and down Washington St. As I kept watching for the next half-hour, I eventually saw that at least six mounted police took part in crowd control, along with maybe six additional police officers who arrived in police cars. Plus a slew of bicycle cops who managed to get there at the tail end of all the excitement, by pedaling their little legs off. Mind you, that’s all just what I could see on Washington Street between Third and Fourth. I don’t know what was going on elsewhere in the area.

Another thing I saw Saturday night was a man being arrested who was wearing what Anitra referred to as a tank top, and what I always called a sleeveless undershirt. He brought to mind Marlon Brando in A Street Car Named Desire, except that he looked like the later, fat Brando.

“No wonder he’s being arrested. Who wears sleeveless undershirts in Seattle in February? There’s his problem. Does he even know what latitude this is? Does he know how big his belly is? Anyone that clueless is asking to be arrested,” I thought.

So here’s my Prognostication. This Fat Tuesday, clueless men and women will pretend that Seattle is subtropical. A paunchy man in a tank top, or a sleeveless undershirt, will get into a fight with another man. Kerlikowske, still hurting from his failure to prevent bloodshed in 2001, will send in men on horseback. We will NOT be tear-gassed, because they don’t have gas masks for the horses, and we know that the police in this city love their horses in a way they will never love its residents.

I predict that there will NOT be a major earthquake in Seattle on this Ash Wednesday morning. Instead, large numbers of people will wake up to news that Britney Spears got wasted the night before and as a result all the rest of us got our brains pierced.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Meet the New Wes

Real Change is not a cult. New recruits are NOT brainwashed immediately, the same night they join, so that they become zombie clones of, say, me. Sometimes I think this is a pity, because zombie clones are fun to tease and make great playthings. Also, if everyone in the office were a zombie clone of me, I wouldn’t hear so many complaints about my garlic breath.

Still, though the office does NOT consist of zombie clones of me, or whoever, people who work here seem to be in remarkable agreement on one matter: if there is anybody at Real Change who could become the next internet equivalent of the chubby-lightsaber-wielding Star Wars Kid, it’s me. They all have faith in my potential to become famous for fifteen minutes by acting unbelievably weird in public. “You do it around here,” the reasoning begins. It continues with nitpicks about past behavior and my past choices of beverages.

For the record I have sworn off malt liquor entirely, and I don’t see why everyone has to keep bringing up the Bad Art Show post-party of 1997. I wasn’t the only one who said “I love you, Man, you’re aweshum” to the cat that night.

All this including the cat bring me to this point: I am currently engrossed in updating my “internet presence.” As a result I am totally distracted from most of the usual things I obsess about. I am not thinking about the war. I am not thinking about homelessness. I am not thinking about how to save the planet. I am thinking, how can I get the Real Change cat, Sidney Vicious, to do something adorable on video, so I can upload the result to one of my three new blogs, just so the billions of people in the world who will not look at any of my three blogs, ever, will have something to miss.

I just lied slightly. I AM thinking about homelessness a little. That’s because I’m trying to get stuff I’ve written in the past neatly loaded on one of these blog thingies, including an article I wrote in 1996 entitled, “So - You're About to Become Homeless.... or How to Hit the Street Feet-First Not Face-First.” This was the piece that tried to offer advice to people poised upon becoming homeless for the first time, while at the same time helping others understand how much of a pain homelessness is.

The trouble is, the article is totally out of date. For example, it turns out that the cutting edge homeless person no longer bothers with cheap voicemail, when he/she can score a cheap cell phone that has Internet browsing with email, music playback, a personal organizer, a camera, a camcorder, games, radio, and wakes up everybody in the shelter when it rings Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries at 3 AM.

The article mentions “Walkmen.” That’s Old Man Speak for “iPods and the like.” There’s a discussion of the relative merits of backpacks and shopping carts, but not one word about rolling suitcases!

The original article hinted that you could find storage spaces that weren’t actually intended for homeless peoples’ use. Those places still exist, but even to hint that anyone avail themselves of them would be inappropriate now. You can all forget about hiding bags in unconventional places, unless you like the little plastic handcuffs and answering loud angry questions for 17 hours.

The 1996 article makes me laugh when I read how it advises readers to look up crisis information on the internet. It says use a library computer to telnet to it. It’s like giving someone two sticks when they ask for a light. Ha! No, you don’t do that. Instead, you go to in your “browser,” and then you “navigate” to the information you want.

And, if you want to miss seeing Sidney Cuteness Vicious, continue to NOT set your browser to the one of my new blogs that’s at and find the February 8 entry.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

How Is Your Stupid Today?

In order to prepare for what columnification I do here, I read far too much news and save bits and pieces on scraps of paper and electronica. One of those bits: Panels with wires sticking out of them depicting a cartoon character making the gesture popularly known as “the bird” sparked panic in Boston, resulted in charges against two men who distributed them, and may lead to further charges against the company that put them up to it.

Some people around here have tried to make out like Seattle is way cooler than Boston in this regard. After all, we got paneled too, at the same time, by the same broadcasting company, and we didn’t go bat-spit freaking Stupid and arrest people and turn on the sirens and redden our terror alert signs.

Upon closer inspection, however, Seattle is not that much different from Boston, just out of temporal synch with it. This is the city that in 1996 arrested and tried Jason Sprinkle, AKA Subculture Joe, for inducing bat-spit freaking Stupidity and a rush-hour traffic nightmare as nine city blocks were cordoned off to protect us all from a truck with the words “Timberlake Carpentry Rules (The Bomb!)” painted on it. So we were the Boston in 1996. Maybe in 2015 Boston will be the Seattle.

The truth is, Americans everywhere are fully as capable of becoming as bat-spit freaking Stupid as any crazed mob in any movie filled with stereotypic foreign babbling crazed mobs you’ve ever seen. That’s the whole reason we’re at war with Iraq right now. We Americans panicked when somebody actually attacked us, so as a nation we went bat-spit freaking Stupid and attacked somebody else who had nothing to do with it, and we’re still so Stupid we’re still doing it, and court-martialing people for trying to save us from doing it.

I was further reminded of what nut-cases we are capable of being when I learned that it was necessary for a three judge panel of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to ascertain that it is not OK to arrest a man for using the word “goddamn” at a town board meeting, like happened a while back in Montrose, Michigan. Later, it may be necessary for the Supreme Court to reiterate that fact, because Montrose may appeal.

Again, don’t congratulate yourself that Montrose is the Stupid this time. When you’ve got the pox, you’ve got the pox. You don’t say, “oh I don’t have the pox, it’s just my elbow that has it.” If your elbow has the pox, you’ve got the pox.

Just because Stupidity breaks out in random places, doesn’t mean it isn’t always everywhere. It’s in all of our blood. You could be the Stupid next. Or the Stupid could be your own mayor or your own police chief.

Your could be like the New York dealer of over-priced antiques who is suing four homeless guys for more than a million dollars. He says he knows he isn’t going to get the money. He says he’s suing for the money “for legal reasons.” Yeah, and I’m laughing at him for psychiatric reasons.

Sometimes that’s all you can do.

In the early eighties a writer for the New York Times was reporting on a New Mexico celebration that she said was some sort of “community chicken killing festival.” She also referred to it as a “gang pluck.” Not only did the New York Times fire her for writing like that (even though it’s been reported she was originally hired for the purpose of livening up their prose!) but when the woman died this week they couldn’t bring themselves to quote the “gang pluck” line in her obituary.

Being fired by the New York Times might have been a crushing blow for some writers, but Molly Ivins apparently just laughed out the door and kept laughing all the way out death’s door, too.

We need to all remember how she managed to pull that off. It gives us hope.