Today was nice. It was my first sick day. I had my own business for most of my adult life and there are no sick days when you’re the boss. And with the jobs I’ve had since then- Utilikilts, boat shop, machine shop, ducks, Metro, trolleys, senior living facility, bridges… I’ve never taken a sick day.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have never needed a sick day. That’s great. I’ve never even been late because of a hangover. And that’s incredible.
This morning I was in the shower when I got a call from one of my bosses. He said the guy I was running with yesterday called in sick and mentioned that I was as sick as him. He asked me if I wanted to take a sick day. I told him I could work but he was pushing me to take the day off. I told him it would break my streak of never having called in sick and he said I didn’t called in sick. He called me.
I wasn’t happy about losing my leverage against my coworkers, but I said okay and went back to bed. I got up around noon, got my iced tea and the paper, and then hung out on my boat. Other than catching up on my crosswords, I did absolutely nothing. It was like I had a day off that nobody knew about so I didn’t have to call or email anybody or pay any bills. I didn’t have any kind of tasks planned so it was like a day off from life. I didn’t even feel guilty about it, it actually felt pretty good. And I’m pretty sure I’m getting paid for the day.
Today was nice. It was the first time in a while that I was able to truly relax. I went away for a couple days last month but I couldn’t really mellow out. I’m not very good at vacations. But today, for the first time in as long as I can remember, my head was calm. Today was nice.
Here’s something funny- Before trump made a big stink about players taking a knee, I’m not sure more than a couple NFL players actually have been taking a knee. Colin Kaepernick started this whole thing last year, but he’s not even playing this year. If anybody has been taking a knee this year, I can’t find it. The Seahawks own Michael Bennett has been taking a seat and teammates Justin Britt, Jeremy Lane and Frank Clark have stood next to him in support, but I never saw any disrespect to our country. Quite the opposite.
Nevertheless, our Idiot in Chief brought it up in a rally for Luther Strange. He wasn’t trying to figure out how to help our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico, he was savoring in the immediate applause an adulation of his hardcore supporters.
When it started to explode he doubled down, as he does, and it became a huge stupid distraction. The very next Sunday, NFL players, coaches and owners around the league joined arms and took knees in protest. Not to disrespect anything or anybody except for donald trump, worst president ever.
Until trump reared his vile and humorless head, I admit that I thought racism was overblown. Not just because we twice elected a black president named Barack Hussein Obama, but because I haven’t since it here in Seattle. I figured we’ve evolved. Of course Black Lives Matter, but just because you cut me off and I give you the finger it doesn’t mean I’m a racist. Maybe you did something stupid.
But then came trump. I watched in horror as his followers came out from under their rocks and I realized that I was wrong. Racism is rampant. That people would wave the confederate flag a century and a half after their treasonous attempt to secede from the United States so they could continue to enslave and demean and brutalize fellow human beings is possibly the most unpatriotic act you could do. But we’ve let it slide. We let them have their statues of these traitors and we whities in the North let it slide. Sure, it’s Southern Culture, but Southern Culture includes racism and we can’t tolerate it.
When I was a young man, I did a lot of stupid shit. But every time, I was able to pretty much make a little connection with the cop. One time, I was drunk and let this hot girl talk me into going to a party about 30 miles away. I didn’t have a car but she talked this dude into letting us take his motorcycle.
I’d never driven a motorcycle before but he gave me a quick lesson- ‘That’s the throttle, that’s the clutch, there’s a brake here and a brake down there. Don’t give it too much gas when you start it or you’ll flood it.”
We were on Windham Hill and I felt pretty confident by the time we got to the bottom. I’ve got this, I thought. Cathy had her arms around me and was nibbling at my ear.
As we were about to get onto Route One, I swerved into the other lane and almost hit a cop car. I knew it was bad so I gunned it. The bike didn’t have any mirrors so I had to look back and sure enough, the cop spun around and turned on his lights.
I had no idea how to get the bike into second gear. I knew there was something about the pedal at my left foot but whenever I tried putting it up or down the bike just bucked like a rodeo bull. I pulled over to try to figure it out when the cop pulled up behind me. He got out of his cruiser and walked towards me when I remembered it was ‘one down, four up’. I dropped it into first and we were out of there. Cathy was laughing and screaming for me to, Go! Go! Go!, so I went.
I got it into second, and then it into third. The cop got up behind us pretty quick, as I was going pretty slow. He threw on his lights and siren and I decided to ditch him. I was probably going about twenty miles an hour but I thought maybe I could go through somebody’s backyard or something.
There was a Dead End sign as soon as I took that left, and it was definitely a dead end. The cop pulled up behind me and I figured I could turn around and blast right by him, but I stalled it. I tried starting it again with Cathy urging me on. I learned then that a motorcycle needs to be in neutral if you want to kick-start it without looking like an amateur. After a few stupid minutes a few other cop cars showed up and blocked my escape.
Turns out the bike was stolen. It didn’t have brake lights, we weren’t wearing helmets, I not only didn’t have a motorcycle license, but my regular license had been suspended a couple weeks earlier for going 90 on the highway, I was drunk, Cathy was unruly… There ended up being eleven charges in all.
But the cops didn’t handcuff me or rough me up. On the ride to the station the cop was joking around with me. I asked him if he could put his lights and siren on and he laughed and said, No.
C’mon, I said.
Okay, but just the lights.
In court a few weeks later I got a slap on the wrist and I don’t even remember if there was a fine.
That’s White Privilege. I’ve experienced it my whole life and I’ve always taken it for granted. I have dozens of stories of walking away from ugly situations that would have, seriously, resulted in my imprisonment or worse if I were black.
That’s what Black Lives Matter means to me. Seeing each other as human beings and treating everybody the same. My whole life I was wrong. Racism is alive and well and stronger than ever, whether I saw it or not.
And I've been a beneficiary.
People sometimes ask me what it's like to live on a boat. I've been doing it for about ten years and I would probably have a serious problem if or when I ever have to go back on land.
It's a different life in many ways. First is space. If you live on a boat you don't have room for a bunch of furniture you don't need. And you don't have extra rooms that you never use. I converted the bridge into my main living area. I've got a built-in desk/work table that has everything I need. Got my computer and TV and radio and fridge. I installed a propane heater a few years ago and even in the dead of winter, my bridge is the only place in the world I want to be.
I've got a shower and a head and a berth for sleeping. I cook and reheat with a big crock pot, a small crock pot and a grill. I don't have a washer and dryer, so I have to bring my laundry to a very nice cult over on 8th Ave who washes and folds my clothes for, like, $25/month. I have about thirty pairs of socks, thirty pairs of underwear, twenty shirts and maybe ten pairs of shorts. I am rich in clothing.
My fridge is kind of small and my freezer sucks but I can grab a beer without leaving my seat. I don't have cable and I have to pay extra to use my phone as a hotspot so I can get online. I have to fill my water tank once a week and get my holding tank pumped out twice a month.
Every day when I come home I look to see that my boat hasn't sunk because living on the water is always tenuous. At any moment a thru hull could fail or another boat could crash into your swim platform and pop a couple holes in your transom and you will sink like a rock. When a large boat goes by I bounce back and forth but otherwise it's a gentle rocking. When I sleep there's a gentle lapping of waves on the side of my boat.
My marina is a great community and my monthly moorage is very affordable. But Seattle is ever-changing and life as a live-aboard is always tenuous. Maybe now more than ever.
In 2003, I did a major downsize. I told all my guys they had to start looking for new jobs. As soon as they were all gone I would shudder Boat Fetish and just make bagpipes. I was on the cusp of something big. I was about to introduce crazy looking composite Great Highland bagpipes to the bagpiping world. I was like Les Paul when he introduced the electric guitar. I knew there aren't as many bagpipers as guitar players, but maybe that was about to change. I also designed and patented a carbon fiber chanter that was, and is, the Greatest Chanter Ever Made. I spent hundreds and hundred of hours on this thing and if it wasn't such an expensive process, I would have made thousands of them. Which in retrospect would have probably sucked.
Everybody left and got new jobs. Everybody but Byron. Byron decided to 'help' me and manage my business so I could focus on the bagpipes. Byron was a good guy, but he was very religious and thought that a constant barrage of Christian music and bible references would lift me out of my depression, help me abandon this whole bagpipe silliness, and get me back on track to build my boat business back up again.
I'm sure he thought his heart was in the right place, but those six months felt like six years. I took on a job for my favorite customer ever (I don't want to name drop but you know him and his family), modifying his new Hatteras with an electric moon roof, bigger swim platform, drop down shower pans (they're very tall), a hull modification to soften the effects of waves lapping against the waterline, and all kinds of stuff. It was good work and I'm not complaining, but what I needed more than anything was to be rid of Boat Fetish. I just wanted to make bagpipes.
So I got a new and very small shop in the Fenpro building in Ballard. I took a shop that was six feet above ground level so I couldn't bring in any trailerable boats. And I got rid of just about everything related to boats. Everything but Byron.
It took a couple months of over-drinking and a complete disregard for my business, but eventually Byron and his fucking Christian music went to Florida.
Now I had a new business, Pipe Fetish, and I would never again have employees. My new shop in the Fenpro was awesome. I was able to downsize in a major way. It was cheap, and a friend gave me a trailer so I could live in the back parking lot.
The Fenpro was the most vibrant and fun place I've ever been a part of. I met many people who I will always be friends with.
But now the Fenpro is gone. The land was bought by the Norwegians for their silly new museum and the building was torn down. Now they are constructing what will be the largest Norwegian museum in North America and I couldn't be less impressed. The Fenpro was the last building of its kind. You could do anything you wanted in there and was always something sketchy going on. I loved that place. Now everybody's gone. I still live here on a boat in the marina behind the former Fenpro but it's not the same. Not even close.
Photo credit- Abby Inpanbutr
I moved to Seattle in 1996. The day I drove in was a beautiful Summer day in July. I had been out here six months earlier but that was winter and I had no idea the city was surrounded by mountains. The traffic, as soon as I got off I-5, was a mess. Turns out some artist planted his truck in Westlake Center with a giant anatomical heart in the bed as a statement to both the girlfriend who just left him, and the world who didn't appreciate his art. His name was Jason Sprinkle and he was a member of the Fabricators of the Attachment. This loose group of artist/agitators got their name when they attached a giant ball and chain to the Hammering Man outside of the Seattle Art Museum. They didn't really think things out too much in advance. They didn't apply for grants and they didn't give up their day jobs. I respect that.
Anyway, instead of finding a place to live downtown, I was forced to turn North and ended up in Queen Anne. I got a great, cheap place that overlooked Elliot Bay and the wife flew out a couple weeks later. We watched the Victoria Clipper and all the ferries and the cargo ships come and go, and heard of various sightings of several different kinds of whales, even though we never saw a single one.
I'm not sure if this factored into her reason for leaving me, but, just for the record, we never saw a single fucking whale. I'm not saying she would have stayed, but the fact is, we never saw a single fucking whale. Not one.
I invited a friend (let's call her Tess) Tess from back home to come out for a visit to the beautiful Pacific Northwest. I told her there were mountains and whales and everything. She was a little reluctant 'cause Vanessa had only left me a couple months ago, but I assured her Vanessa was way over our ten year marriage. [See 'Hi! I'm Maggie' and 'Huggy Jesus' in the cookbook]
I planned a weekend trip to Victoria. I really needed to get out of town. My business, Boat Fetish, was in full throttle and I had eight guys working for me. Huggy Jesus [seriously, see 'Huggy Jesus'] was about to pop with a piece on CNN and a sales page on this new website called Amazon.
I had to stay behind for a day and Tess went up to Victoria without me. About an hour into the trip aboard the Victoria Clipper, the ferry came to a stop. The captain announced they were surrounded by orcas, and they sat for twenty minutes while the killer whales breached and slapped their tales and made funny noises.
This was on her second day in Seattle. I've been in Seattle for TWENTY ONE YEARS and I still haven't seen a single goddam whale. Not a minke, not a gray whale, not an orca, not a humpback or whatever they say is out there. Not one single whale.
About ten years ago I met this guy, Scott. He's a lawyer and he read my book and thought it would make for a good movie. He drew up some paperwork and offered to buy the rights for $1 and give me a generous payout if the movie actually made any money. It sounded like a great deal, but then I thought, 'What the hell am I gonna do with a dollar?'. I told him it was $20 or nothing.
He met me in Ballard and gave me $20 and I signed the papers. Then I went across the street and bought $20 worth of beer and jerky. We talked about what the Scottish Buddhist Cookbook Movie might look like, but to be honest, I was more than happy to let him run with it. I'm not a movie person.
He gave me some updates on screenplays and producers and whatnot but, surprisingly, nothing ever happened. Which was fortunate 'cause my cookbook would have made for a horrible movie.
I hadn't talked to Scott for a few years and then I reconnected with Steven again and suddenly needed a lawyer. Steven and I are kind of friend/brothers who both respect and hate each other. We can go months or years without talking to each other and then get back together like nothing ever happened. Then one of us will piss off the other and it's another year-long timeout.
But Steven and I got back together for a couple months and we immediately revived an idea we had had a couple years earlier- Buying and selling people's souls.
The idea was that if people talk like they had souls and other people had souls, then souls must have some kind of value. Why not monetize it? Why not have a database of people's souls and a marketplace to buy and sell them?
We had both registered a bunch of URLs, like qualitysouls.com and soulsforless.com and at least five or six others.
We put together a business model and I contacted Scott again. The three of us met for lunch downtown and Steven and I argued about what Souls.com should look like while Scott sat patiently watching.
But then he told me that he was now producing a movie with his brother Stewart. It was about somebody suing God for trashing his house in a natural disaster and then getting screwed by his insurance company because it was an act of God. It sounded good. I could watch that, I told him. And I'm not really a movie person.
The movie was released last year but it wasn't until a couple weeks ago that I heard about it. I rented it on Amazon Prime for $4 and watched it on the Ballard bridge. I totally enjoyed it. It isn't religious but it also isn't anti-religious. It is actually very zen, a balance between heartbreak and hope. The two main characters have gone through as much shit as anybody but are still able to push forward. The idea of suing God might seem ludicrous to most people but to me it seems like a very reasonable vent.
On the first date with the woman who would eventually become my wife, I asked her if she believed in God. Before she could even answer I went on a rant about how stupid the whole idea of religion is. She paused for a moment and then told me, 'I don't think I want to talk about religion with you.' So we got married but for the entire time I knew her, through ten years of marriage, I never knew her religious beliefs. It was my own fault, but it would have been nice to have a marriage that included a reasonable discussion about religion.
Frank vs God is the perfect first date movie. I would strongly recommend potential couples watch this movie together before committing themselves to one another. And I'm not really a movie person.
Buy Local- Find Frank vs God on Amazon!
There is no other lake like Lake Union. Not even close.
In 1855, just a couple years after the first settlers landed in what would become Seattle, Thomas Mercer decided to name the small isolated lake north of downtown 'Lake Union', because he envisioned, one day, this lake being the union between the much larger Lake Washington (who he also named, after George Washington) and the salt water of Puget Sound. He thought that if Lake Washington could be connected to the Pacific Ocean by a couple canals, it could serve as a base for the US Navy.
But it took sixty years and seven different attempts before they figured out how to do it. And then they realized keeping a naval fleet in a fresh water lake accessed only by one lock system was a horrible idea. What if one of our ships got hit in the canal and none of the other ships could get out? So the Navy put their base in Bremerton instead, which was a much smarter idea.
Instead, Lake Union has become a lake that has more going on than any other lake I've ever heard of. Lake Union and the Ship Canal are home to most of the boats of the Alaskan fishing fleet. Over half of all the domestic seafood we eat comes through Seattle. We have major shipyards and dry-docks that service boats from all over the world and there are always tugboats and gravel barges coming through.
Boeing was born on Lake Union and now they have their own marina with their company yacht, the Daedalus. There are different huge, fancy yachts showing up every couple weeks in the summer. All kinds of motor boats and sailboats. On a busy day the water is choppy from all the wakes.
There are kayaks, stand up paddle boards, electric rental boats, a hot tub boat, an ice cream boat, a beer cycle boat, rowing clubs, jet skis and now a pirate boat.
There are huge million dollar floating homes and some of the original small floating homes that are a hundred years old. There was a time when there were over two thousand floating homes on Lake Union but since they were polluting the lake and not paying any taxes, the city got rid of all but 500 of them. And now we have a law that says we can only have 500 floating homes. So now we have houseboats. Which look like small floating homes but have an outboard motor, a steering station and navigational lights, and are registered as boats. Hundreds and hundreds of them. And liveaboards, more people living on boats than anywhere in the world, outside of Asia.
You've got Gas Works Park, which used to be a coal gasification plant, then a toxic waste sight, and now the most popular park in Seattle. And the Fremont Bridge- the busiest drawbridge in the country, opening on average fifteen times a day.
AND, it's an international airport! Float planes fly back and forth between Seattle and Victoria, BC everyday. Sometimes you see salmon jumping, a few weeks ago we had a bald eagle hanging around, and yesterday I saw a harbor seal.
I went and looked at a couple of those tiny apodments today. You know, those 'efficient' ways to live in a city affordably.
Here in Ballard you just can't get a one bedroom apartment for less than $1,500 to $1,800, which is fucking insane. Especially if you lived here over ten years ago when Ballard was where you went when you needed a fishing net or a new fuel tank for your boat. Now it's hip. Now this is the neighborhood where people come to at night for some of the best restaurants in Seattle and two of the best music venues. Ballard even has it's own kind of music- kind of a stripped down folky, bang on homemade instruments, but kill it on the guitar kind of sound. Every single night Ballard Avenue is rocking. And with all the techies moving into Seattle (over 50 people a day), this neighborhood is almost unlivable for people making a living wage.
I live on a boat and pay a very decent monthly moorage, and I'm extremely lucky. But my friend works two jobs in Ballard and can't commute an hour each way, especially since she starts one job at six am and finishes her second one at nine pm. So she wants a place in Ballard. Since she literally works all day, seven days a week, I went and looked at a new place for her.
The location is great. Two blocks up from the Ballard Library. And it's a new building, which some people like. But these apodments are small. Which is fine for me, 'cause I've been living on a 35' boat for 12 years, but it might be a little tight for somebody with a dead cat they might want to swing around.
And there's no kitchen. She'll have to share one with eight other tenants. And there's a washer and drier in the kitchen, but they're coin operated. All for $1050 a month.
This is the new Ballard. This is the new Seattle. When I heard the other day that Amazon is thinking of creating a second headquarters somewhere the fuck else not in Seattle, I couldn't have been happier. Maybe they will stop building buildings. Maybe the cost of living might at least level out. Maybe we can not be the fastest growing city in the country long enough to catch our breath.
My first vacation in many years was pretty low-key, but that was good because I want to make this a habit and I don’t want to fuck it up. Start with three days and work up from there.
Time off scares me. It scares me because it means I’m not making any money but it also scares me because I have a very serious problem with not doing anything. I went to see my shrink last month because it felt like I was jumping out of my skin. I couldn’t slow my brain down. At one or two o’clock in the morning I’d be wide awake, watching tv, doing a crossword puzzle, listening to NPR, watching Netflix on my computer, checking Facebook and texting somebody on my phone, and organizing my clothes.
I figured I was just being manic, but Katie asked me all kinds of questions and after an extremely long session, diagnosed me as having ADHD, on top of my manic depression. I now have bipolar disorder with a side of ADHD.
I always thought ADHD was something for fifth graders so it seemed odd that she would look at me like some big, gray haired kid who couldn’t sit still. She said I should try aderall. It took her a while to convince me to try it.
I’ve been on lithium for many years and I think it really helps. It makes my highs less high and my lows less low. It’s like going from the Cyclone at Coney Island to the kiddie ride at the State Fair. Doctors have given me depressants to control my mania and stimulants to control my depression, but only lithium has helped.
About a year ago, I went in to see Katie because I couldn’t stop thinking about suicide. Not so much the act of it but more just being done with everything. Over and out. She put me on wellbutrin, and now I don’t really think about it very often.
And now she has me on aderall. I really didn’t want to be on another drug, especially something I’ve heard can be recreational. But she told me that it only gives you a high if it’s not clearing out your synapses, or whatever. If you have ADHD you’ll notice your brain calming down. If you don’t have ADHD, you’ll feel a high.
I told her I’d start off slow and she put me on a low dosage. I didn’t feel anything and after a few weeks she upped me. I would now take a slow release in the morning and a regular pill in the afternoon.
The prescription was ready on Friday and Saturday, the first day of my vacation, would be the day I upped. I rented a car on Friday so I could get a good start the next day. I held out hope my friend Lori would join me, but she’s worse than I am at recreating so I wasn’t surprised when she bailed.
So I went up Mt St Helens myself. It’s a beautiful ride, and I highly recommend driving up in a Nissan Murano, which Enterprise gave me when they didn’t have any compacts. I thought of naming the car Alyssa Murano, but naming cars is stupid.
The car had a USB port and when I plugged my phone in to charge it, my playlist came up. I had just replaced my phone the week before and I only downloaded the songs that meant the most to me. About fifty.
Music has always been very important to me and there are songs that give me a visceral response. Fly Into the Sun, by Lou Reed, which I find beautiful. Chasing the Night, by the Ramones, which makes me feel good. And Dust Devil, by the Butthole Surfers, or Kerosene, by Big Black, which I listen to when I’m down. Those two songs are like triggers to me. I listen to them over and over again when needed.
I might have preferred to be on a bike, but it was pretty comfy in the car. On the way back down the new dosage of aderall kicked in and I was glad that I was by myself. I enjoyed the music as much or more than ever. I heard words that I had missed for years. I felt like I could think about one thing at a time.
That night took in some local color (which is to say I got drunk in a dive bar) and the next morning I went to see the Wicked Tinkers, one of my favorite bands ever, at a Scottish Festival in Kelso, Washington, in the heart of Trump Country.
I went down there because I hadn’t seen the Tinkers in a few years, but also to show Aaron the latest set of bagpipes I made. Since I started making bagpipes, I was fortunate to know Aaron, who enthusiastically encouraged me to make wild looking bagpipes. He loved my first set, the Guinness pipes, and helped me get them tuned in. And then over the next ten years or so, he tried all my new bagpipes. Of all the dozens of bagpipers I’ve foisted my pipes upon, Aaron was the only one who has embraced them unconditionally.
I showed up this Sunday with a set of PVC pipes, as detailed in the latest version of my cookbook, and the Pictish War Pipes.
I’ve never known what to make of the Pictish War Pipes. It’s a bagpipe with only two drowns (like traditional war pipes. A second tenor drone is frivolous under enemy fire), but the bass and tenor drones are full sized human legs. They are painted with blue woad and covered with Pictish tattoos.
Aaron loved the Pictish pipes, but it’ll probably take a while before he or I have any idea what the hell to do with them.