Jul 18th, 2012 by Clark Humphrey

There was a competition going on for short films about Seattle. Some of the entrants (at least they seem like they could be) are showing up online. F’rinstance, here’s a poetic ode to the city by Riz Rollins; and here’s Peter Edlund’s Love, Seattle (based on the opening to Woody Allen’s Manhattan and dedicated to team-and-dream stealer Clay Bennett).

May 5th, 2012 by Clark Humphrey


  • The resurgent micro-car movement has a new achievement, the micro RV!
  • Lightning, mudslides. Just another mid-spring day in Seattle.
  • Gov. Gregoire takes the bold step of insisting Wash. state needs new tax revenue, now that she’s no longer running for anything.
  • A (female) anti-choice activist was invited to speak at the UW by campus Catholics. The lecture’s deliberately provocative title: “Do Women Have Too Many Rights?”. Pro-choice women, naturally, showed up to protest and to put the truth to the speaker’s lies. Things did not go smoothly.
  • Roger Valdez at the Seattle Transit Blog suggests citizens take control of preserving neighborhood landmarks by getting together to buy them.
  • Developers of the big (175-foot) waterfront ferris wheel are making sure it’ll attract riders year round. Riders will be in “enclosed gondolas, equipped with heating and air conditioning.”
  • Darn, those proposed new Amazon office towers would be mighty big n’ slick.
  • Boeing’s Wash. state employment may peak this year at about 83,000, then dwindle.
  • Health Scare of the Day: Wazzu researchers believe exposure to toxic chemicals might lead to a risk of ovarian cancer, a risk that could be passed on to your great-granddaughters.
  • It’s the end of an era for non-NY/LA/SF based national media. Playboy is moving its last Chicago-based operations to LA. The Chicago Tribune even published an editorial about it.
  • I don’t always follow ’em, but you might try blogger Barb Sawyers’ “15 Ways to Write Tight.”
  • The Starz series Magic City is having a hard time finding actresses and extras in Miami who could pass for women living in 1959 (i.e., without implants).
  • I was at the Prole Drift art gallery this past First Thursday. Saw a big painting of what looked a lot like a dead mall. A desolate exurban landscape. A big, nearly empty parking lot. Long, lo-rise buildings with neither windows nor signs. A main entrance at the center. I told the gallery owners I was in a Facebook group of dead mall enthusiasts. They quickly told me the painting was really of a modern prison.

buddy bunting, via prole drift gallery

Feb 29th, 2012 by Clark Humphrey

As promised, here are the pix of my Sunday Amtrak-trek to the not so naughty border town of Bellingham.

The journey is beautiful. You should take it early and often. WiFi, a snack car, legroom, scenery galore, and all with no driving.

The trestle over Chuckanut Bay just might be one of the great rail experiences of this continent. It really looks like as if train is running straight across the water’s surface.

The Bellingham Amtrak/Greyhound station is just a brief stroll from Fairhaven, the famous town-within-a-town of stately old commercial buildings, and a few new buildings made to sort of look like the old ones.

My destination was in one of the pseudo-vintage buildings. It’s Village Books, a three-story repository of all things bookish.

Why I was there: to give a slide presentation about my book Walking Seattle.

Why people 80 miles away wanted to hear somebody talk about the street views down here? I did not ask. I simply gave ’em what they wanted.

Some two dozen Bellinghamsters braved the sunbreaks punctuated with snow showers to attend.

Afterwards, some kind audience members showed me some of B’ham’s best walking routes. Among these is the Taylor Dock, a historic pedestrian trestle along the waterfront.

Yes, there had been an Occupy Bellingham protest. Some of the protesters made and donated this statue on a rock near Taylor Dock.

Apparently there had been windy weather the previous day.

After that I took a shuttle bus downtown, where I was promptly greeted by a feed and seed store with this lovely signage.

The Horseshoe Cafe comes as close as any place I’ve been to my platonic ideal of a restaurant. Good honest grub at honest prices. Great signage. Great well-kept original interior decor.

(Of course, I had to take advantage of sitting in a cafe in Bellingham to trot out the ol’ iPod and play the Young Fresh Fellows’ “Searchin’ USA.”)

Used the remaining daylight to wander the downtown of the ex-mill town. (Its local economy is now heavily reliant on Western Washington U., another victim of year after year of state higher-ed cuts.)

But I stopped at one place that was so perfect, inside and out. It proudly shouted its all-American American-ness.

Alas, 20th Century Bowling/Cafe/Pub will not last long into the 21st century.

Jan 7th, 2012 by Clark Humphrey

A few days late but always a welcome sight, it’s the yummy return of the annual MISCmedia In/Out List.

As always, this listing denotes what will become hot or not-so-hot during the next year, not necessarily what’s hot or not-so-hot now. If you believe everything big now will just keep getting bigger, I can score you a cheap subscription to News of the World.

Reclaiming Occupying
Leaving Afghanistan Invading Iran
Chrome OS Windows 8
The Young Turks Piers Morgan Tonight
Ice cream Pie
Bringing back the P-I (or something like it) Bringing back the Sonics (this year)
Community Work It
Obama landslide “Conservatalk” TV/radio (at last)
Microdistilleries Store-brand liquor
Fiat Lexus
World’s Fair 50th anniversary Beatles 50th anniversary
TED.com FunnyOrDie.com
Detroit Brooklyn
State income tax (at last) All-cuts budgets
Civilian space flight Drones
Tubas Auto-Tune (still)
Home fetish dungeons “Man caves”
Tinto Brass Mario Bava
Greek style yogurt Smoothies
Card games Kardashians
Anoraks “Shorts suits”
Electric Crimson Tangerine Tango
Michael Hazanavicius (The Artist) Guy Ritchie
Stories about the minority struggle Stories about noble white people on the sidelines of the minority struggle
(actual) Revolutions The Revolution (ABC self-help talk show)
Kristen Wiig Kristen Stewart
“Well and truly got” “Pwned”
Glow-in-the-dark bicycles (seen in a BlackBerry ad) BlackBerry
Color print-on-demand books Printing in China
Ye-ye revival Folk revival
Interdependence Individualism
Hedgehogs Hedge funds
Erotic e-books Gonzo porn
Michael Fassbender Seth Rogan
Sofia Vergara Megan Fox
3D printing 3D movies (still)
Sex “Platonic sex”
Love “Success”
“What the what?” “Put a bird on it”
Jul 13th, 2011 by Clark Humphrey

northwest airlines seattle ad 1950s

  • Where the state fails, the city steps up, today’s edition: With no more govt.-sponsored tourism promotion in Washington, Seattle might tax hotels for its own tourist ads.
  • Tuesday’s County Council hearing on the scheme to impose a car-tab surtax to save Metro Transit: Stuffed to overflowing with citizens, sparse on County Council members.
  • You know that deal for Electronic Arts to buy Seattle’s PopCap Games, the deal PopCap management emphatically denied? It’s real, and it’s on.
  • Rupert Murdoch will stop trying to buy all of the satellite TV company BSkyB after all.
  • So far, the Murdoch newspaper scandals in Britain haven’t been directly tied to his U.S. properties. Well, here’s a fresh, all-American scandal for you: Murdoch’s Stateside businesses not only pay no income taxes, but clever exploitation of every tax dodge on the books has let Murdoch get $1 billion or more in tax refunds each of the past four years.
  • Re/Search Books cofounder V. Vale, seeing his industry falter against the winds of tech-induced change, proclaims “If I were an alien from Outer Space wanting to ruin life on Planet Earth, I think I’d invent the Internet.”
  • RIP Sherwood Schwartz, 94, the radio and TV comedy writer who became the creator-producer of Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch. Fun fact: Schwartz later admitted he’d named the S.S. Minnow after Newton Minow, the FCC commissioner who’d denounced most of primetime TV as “a vast wasteland.”
  • Speaking of which, Joe Berkowitz has handy tips for those of us who refuse to live in televisual abstinence and who continually take gruff for it.
  • While on the big screen, Carina Chocano sees all these “strong women” movie characters and hates ’em. She says they’re not identifiable as women, but just as a different set of stereotypes.
  • New Lake City strip club owner: We’re really an “adult cabaret,” and a respectable business too.
  • And there are many other stories out there, important stuff about the fate of humanity and all. But there’s only one topic on all online users’ minds this day. How dare Netflix raise its rates?
Jan 4th, 2011 by Clark Humphrey

A few days late but always more than welcome, it’s the yummy return of the annual MISCmedia In/Out List.

As always, this listing denotes what will become hot or not-so-hot during the next year, not necessarily what’s hot or not-so-hot now. If you believe everything big now will just keep getting bigger, I can get you a Hummer dealership really cheap.






Silly Bandz

Making stuff here


John Stuart Mill

Foreclosure mills



Sunset red



Men of a Certain Age

Saving Basic Health

Saving the big banks

Conan on TBS

The Talk

Christopher Nolan

M. Night Shyamalan





“He’s dead, Jim”

“Epic fail”


“For the win”

Amanda Seyfried

Katherine Heigl



iPad (still)

Windows Phone (still)


Soap Lake

Legal absinthe

Legal pot

Root Sports


Antenna TV

Joe TV


Click 98.9

Google ebooks

Borders (alas)

The Head and the Heart

Taylor Swift



Bruno Mars

Adam Lambert





Jason Statham

Gerald Butler

Mixed households

Mixed use projects



DIY animation

3D remakes



Grocery Outlet


Life as change

False certainty

Regional soccer rivalry

Kanye West’s beefs

Support networks

Social networking sites



Paid web commenters

Unpaid web writers
Jan 25th, 2000 by Clark Humphrey

WITH THE LAUNCH OF MISCmedia MAGAZINE (copies should be in early subscribers’ mailboxes by today), it’s time to open up this site to the works of other commentators.

(You can submit proposed items if you wish. Just remember: This site does have a scope of subject matter, no matter how vague; so don’t be miffed if your submission isn’t used.)

Our first such installment comes in the form of a travelogue.

Praying for Turkey

by guest columnist Charlotte Quinn

I WENT TO TURKEY to film a documentary about the Amazons. I know, I know there was a big earthquake there and why would anyone do that?

Well, I’ve been wanting to go to Turkey for many years.

A few years ago I would’ve gone but we were (are) at war with Iraq (Turkey’s neighbor). Then there was all the confusing horror of the Balkans, just kissing Turkey to the northwest. Meanwhile, there’s the escalating civil war with the Kurds to the southeast (still going strong). There had been terrorist bombs in tourist sites all over Turkey due to the capture of Ocalan, the Kurdish leader. To the southwest, tensions with the Greeks were mounting into perhaps a larger dispute over Cyprus. I kept postponing, praying, waiting for a peaceful time to go see Turkey.

When the earthquake hit, I guess I realized that five years was enough. I prayed real loud, and, as usual, no one answered.

SO I WENT TO TURKEY. To Samsun, about 600 miles east of the epicenter. From there I explored the wild and dangerous Black Sea coast in search of Themiscrya, the supposed ancient homeland of the Amazons.

Did they talk about the earthquake in Samsun? Not much. It was in the air; and, from what I could gather in three weeks, the Turks suffer loudly and animatedly, but not for long. The earthquake would come up once in a while and everyone would say it was bad and unfortunate (two words I heard over and over again), and thank God for the Americans, and the Iraqis, and even the Greeks for helping out, and then there would be a deep silence until someone would mention how unlikely an earthquake would be in Samsun. On to the next subject.

They realized I was the representative of the tourist industry. Nothing negative, oh, no. One person said, “You gave us 10 million dollars, but Iraq gave us 20 million in oil.” That’s kind of embarrassing, considering I think we have some airbase in Turkey from which we are refueling to bomb Iraq.

Just before I left for Turkey a news story struck my attention from the back pages of the newspaper. Americans had mistakenly launched a missile at an entire Muslim family’s home in Iraq. They were murdered while they slept. Mothers, uncles, children–everyone was dead. Two cousins who were outside at the well survived. This was brought up in conversation while I was in Turkey. I felt too humiliated by my own country to say anything. Most Americans, I wanted to tell them, don’t know we are still bombing Iraq at all.

I HAD READ IN MY LONELY PLANET GUIDEBOOK not to discuss politics with the Turks. Turns out the people I talked to were not at all opposed to arguing politics. We shared our unhappiness and frustration about nearly every country. (America shouldn’t be bombing Iraq to hell, we decided). I argued for the legalization of prostitution; they didnt agree.

This is from a society which is highly censored. You can’t speak against the government.You can’t say anything negative about Ataturk, the man who westernized Turkey in the 20s. If you do, it’s straight to jail. And the Turkish police are not opposed to torture; although since Midnight Express they are really really nice to Americans. I’m not kidding.

While most unmarried turkish couples can’t get a hotel room, even in Istanbul, tourists can be an heathen as they like. In a country which needs tourists more than ever now, there is a great deal of pressure on the whole country to treat tourists like royalty.

STILL, DON’T PUT DOWN ATATURK. On every pedistal, in every town square, every school, mosque, etc. there is Ataturk, who gave the Turks their last names, their westernized letters, and their secular goverment. You can go to prison for criticizing him. I made an off joke, saying something like, “Oh, another Ataturk statue”, and I noticed some self-censorship on the part of my friends. Laughter was stiffled, heads were turned, the subject was changed. Best to avoid Ataturk altogether.

TOMORROW: Some more of this.


  • Collective Insanity: Stories, poems, line art, semi-abstract photos, a “scepter of misspoken time,” and “Why I Bought a Kitten….”
Jan 7th, 2000 by Clark Humphrey

SOME WOMEN SPEND FORTUNES trying to look sexy. But none would ever spend a dime directly for sex.

That’s the message of an article in the print version of the sex-workers’ zine Blackstockings. (It’s not available on the zine’s website as of this writing.)

The piece’s writer wants to be mean to any het-male readers of the zine–men who are probably picking it up out of support and/or sympathy for the women and gay men in the escort, stripper, phone sex, and porn trades, and should be thanked instead of scolded.

But no, this writer wants to talk trash to any guys out in her reading audience who have the common but unrealistic fantasy of sexually servicing women for money.

It’s an intriguing dream, to imagine oneself such a great lover as to charge cash from ladies. As long as you don’t think of having to go through some of the everyday hassles women in the sex-biz face–from having to mate with unattractive people (as spoofed in the recent farce movie Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo) to legal troubles, cruel pimps, personal-safety threats, and the other stuff Blackstockings regularly reports in detail.

While women directly buying sex is rare in North America’s cities, a lot of more common transactions come close. Women have often “paid” indirectly to satisfy their hormones–day-spa treatments from Senor Bruno; costly singles-bar apparel; affairs that put a woman’s marriage and/or career at risk; abusive relationships a woman might stay in because of her addiction to the intense sex; seductions that lead to confidence-game scams.

Some of these costly behaviors might theoretically be better replaced by discreet, professional encounters with men trained to completely please a woman and to expect nothing in return but the bucks. (That could also be a potential godsend to older or shier women, or professional women who don’t have the time or patience for the dating grind.)

And it is happenning; just not anywhere around here.

Early last year, I mentioned how, in the Caribbean, the sex-tourism industry had discovered female customers. There’s an extensive item about it in the latest Utne Reader, called “In Search of the Big Bamboo.”

The story describes island “beach boys” who troll the resorts and tourist zones, offering their toned, dark-skinned bodies to visiting women in exchange for “gifts,” some of which are in the form of cash. The story adds that similar scenes take place in Brazil, the Philippines, Greece, Spain, India, and that sex-biz stalwart Thailand–spots where the weather’s warm, the scenery’s exotic, no gossipy neighbors are around, and women with money can meet studly young men with much less money.

This means certain females, under certain conditions, will indeed behave as “johns–” the behavior certain radical-feminists used to point to as evidence of the universal ickiness of all males and the universal victimhood of all females.

But it makes a little more sense if you can abandon such narrow gender stereotypes and accept that women really can do everything men can; including things an ’80s radical-feminist might disapprove of.

As for the ’90s “sex-positive” feminism of Blackstockings, the existence of overseas “beach boy” hooking proves that females have (1) females have desires, and (2) in a monetary-based society, desires will be traded for currency.

It just probably won’t involve any would-be Deuce Bigalows in the Blackstockings readership, at least not soon.

MONDAY: More on the MP3 glut.


Sep 13th, 1999 by Clark Humphrey

LAST FRIDAY, we discussed the beauty that is the Amtrak Cascades train to Vancouver, B.C.

Vancouver itself is also still beautiful. But it’s not exactly running with what old Hamilton Watch ads used to call “Railroad Accuracy.”

I’d been intrigued enough to go there by the headlines back in late August: “Clark Calls It Quits.” Turns out my northern namesake, Glen Clark, was being forced to resign as B.C.’s Premier.

It came after RCMP investigators found documents showing he’d been arranging for sweetheart deals to well-connected pals who wanted a casino license. It was one of a series of influence-peddling and corporate-welfare scandals that had befallen many B.C. politicians in the past. One such prior scandal had led to the demise of the Social Credit Party, which had run the B.C. government with an iron hand for most of the ’70s and ’80s.

Mr. Clark’s party leadership appointed a new premier, who announced immediately he wouldn’t run for the post in the next election; which means the province will have had at least seven premiers in a 10-year span.

Without going too far into the wacky realm of Canadian politics, let’s just note that it’s a Parlaimentary system. The party that elects the most legislators picks the chief executive, who has nearly full reign over the government for five years (but can call an early election if the opinion polls look promising). Political parties can be national or regional, and can come and go in a single election cycle.

Currently there’s only one dominant national party, the Liberals of national Prime Minister Jean Chretien (who, like the Democrats south of the border and the Labour party in Britain, have become a lot less liberal lately).

In B.C., provincial politics is divided between the Euro-Socialistic New Democrats (which Mr. Clark led until his forced resignation) and a pro-corporate Liberal Party branch (heavily backed by right-wing publisher Conrad Black’s daily papers). As long as voters keep electing NDP governments, Black’s papers will keep sniffing for any potential scandal and the Mounties (ostensibly an apolitical organization but ultimately answering to the federal Liberals) will keep getting called in to investigate the papers’ allegations.

Now you know just a little of why commentators regularly call B.C. politics “a blood sport.”

Of course, premiers like Mr. Clark might have a little stronger hold on power if the local economy were doing well. It’s not.

The Asian recession and the Canadian dollar’s pitiful exchange rate have depressed the import-export trade, one of B.C.’s economic stalwarts. Another big sector, timber and other resource-based businesses, has struggled under the manipulative hands of global financiers (the big logging firm Macmillan Bloedel just agreed to sell out to Weyerhaeuser).

Canada’s #2 department-store chain, Eaton’s, is folding. (Vancouver’s only home-owned department store, Woodward’s, folded a few years ago; its downtown building’s still vacant.) The country’s #2 air carrier, Canadian Airlines, may disappear in a merger deal currently being worked out. Vancouver’s most venerable bookstore chain, Duthie’s, just closed nine of its ten branches.

Things are even scarier in the downtown East End, the only true “bad area” in all of Canada. A Green River-like serial killer’s been stalking the neighborhood’s addicts, streetwalkers, and down-and-outers in recent years; taking lives and causing some British Columbians to start questioning their land’s quiet, harm-free reputation.

TOMORROW: The rest of this story: What’s still great about Vancouver.


  • As I keep telling you: Life is complexity. Deal with it. (Found by Lemonyellow)….
  • Just like you used to hear about in the gas-shortage ’70s, here comes a new alleged miracle power source. Now all we need is hints of a government/oil-company drive to suppress it….
  • Two Guys, A Girl and A Pizza Place loses the pizza place and becomes Two Guys and A Girl. The pizza place reportedly asked too high a price in negotiations….”
Sep 10th, 1999 by Clark Humphrey

TO OUR OUT-OF-TOWN READERS: Who sez nothing really exciting ever happens in Seattle?

TO OUR LOCAL READERS: By all means, get thee on an Amtrak Cascades train as soon as feasible.

The train itself is fine enough. It’s a spectacular-on-the-outside, comfy-on-the-inside long passenger vehicle. The passenger cars are like a modern airline cabin, only with legroom. The dining and snack-bar cars allow for pleasant stranger-meeting during the consumption of only slightly-overpriced foodstuffs and microbrews.

(The snack-bar car also features a luscious Northwest satellite map on its ceiling, with cities and towns denoted by fiber-optic points-O-light.)

The service is impeccible, too. Particularly the customs and immigration routines on the Seattle-Vancouver route. In Vancouver, the legal rigamarows are handled at the train station upon disembarking (like it’s done on planes but not on buses). Heading south, the U.S. border cops do their interrogations on the moving train between Blaine and Bellingham, meaning no delays (except for those unfortunate travelers detained in B’ham for further investigation).

And there’s entertainment, sorta, in the form of on-train movies. Some of them are dull recent big-studio “comedies” like you’d see in-flight. But on the first half of my round trip, they showed It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, considered something of a slapstick classic. (It also just so happens to be a movie in which bad things repeatedly happen to people in cars, trucks, and airplanes; i.e., not on trains.) Before and after the movie, the video monitors display regularly-updated status screens with the current time and temperature and a map of the route showing how far you’ve gone thus far.

But the real star of the two Amtrak Cascades routes (Seattle-Vancouver and Seattle-Portland-Eugene) is, natch, the scenery.

You don’t just see more of the scenic PacNW beauty, up close, than you can by plane or car.

You see a vision of what North America was like before the Interstates and the subdivisions.

What you will see on Amtrak:

  • The countryside: Beautiful. Long stretches of fields, shoreline, rivers, cliffs, hills (so close you can see the clearcuts), and mountains. Depending on the time of year, your sunset will occur as you traverse past the Skagit Valley, the Everett jetty, or the Willamette Valley at field-burning time.
    • Industry: Beautiful. Rusting warehouses, storage yards, gravel mounds, oil storage tanks, low-slung steel and wood buildings of all vintages, grain elevators, freight-car staging areas, Lego-like stacks of cargo containers, smokestacks, sawdust piles.

      <Tunnels: Beautiful, in the manner of the empty space full of possibilities.

    • Towns and cities: Beautiful. Old-time residential blocks. Stoic working-class hovels. Real waterfront cabins (not the Bainbridge millionaire palaces sometimes called “cabins”). The ultramod waterfront playspace that is White Rock, B.C.
    • Stretches parallelling old Highway 99: Beautiful, mostly. Old-time drive-in restaurants and dark, tiny roadside taverns. Farm-supply stores and tractor lots. Hand-painted billboards for backhoe services and storefront churches.
    • Stretches parallelling Interstate 5: Much less beautiful. Fortunately, not too many miles of the routes force you to look at the all-too-familiar realm of malls, strip malls, chain motels, and other small buildings surrounded by huge parking moats.

    Then there’s the train-travelin’ experience itself. It softly lulls you with the hypnotic click-clack, the size and comforts of the train car, the perfectly-maintained interior temperatures (getting hot only when late-afternoon sun bursts in thru the huge windows).

    It’s enough to make one forget that, in the Golden Age of Railroading (roughly 1865-1950), the RR biz in the U.S. epitomized some of the worst examples of corporate power–and, in the western states where railroads were given huge “land grants,” the government subsidies some folks nowadays call “corporate welfare.”

    Today, you’re not riding with the likes of the old Great Northern or Union Pacific (who could make or unmake whole communities by the service they chose to offer or the freight rates they charged to local shippers). You’re riding with friendly, scrappy li’l Amtrak, a publicly-supported enterprise that’s worked nearly three decades to make passenger rail service a viable alternative means of travel, and which is finally starting to succeed at this goal.

    MONDAY: Arriving in glorious Vancouver, where political regimes have lifespans akin to those of fruitflies.

    IN OTHER NEWS: Washington’s own role-playing game kings Wizards of the Coast are selling out to Hasbro, which over the past decade has grown from Mr. Potato Head and G.I. Joe to buying at least half of the toy-and-game biz’s best-known names, including, appropriately, Monopoly. Wizards’ owners will get $325 million, plus 100 Strength Points… and the saddest news of the day by far. Game over. (Found by EatonWeb)


    • “I was out to dinner with my dad and boyfriend, but an ultra-fine waiter kept distracting me from our conversation. When my boyfriend went to the bathroom, and my dad got up to chat with a friend, I saw my chance to slip the hottie my digits….”
    • “The best performing trouser you’ll ever own….”
    • Buried at the end of a story about dumb newspaper feature sections on luxury goods, something even more disturbing: News of a thrift-store magazine run by and for millionaires….
    Apr 28th, 1999 by Clark Humphrey

    Journeys of the Mind:

    Yourgrau, Mygrau, Ourgrau

    Book feature, 4/28/99


    An Imaginary Memoir

    by Barry Yourgrau

    Arcade Publishing, $23.95

    Barry Yourgrau, as he insists on telling us (in the least interesting segment of his latest collection of “sudden fiction” sketches), is, in real life, yet another middle-aged, N.Y.C.-based author whose existence is centered around the old home office and whose “adventures” tend to involve sitting at the keyboard, trying to think stuff up.

    Actually, his life’s been a little more exciting than that. He’s had side careers in acting and performance art (the latter basically involving telling his stories to live audiences). The bulk of the press packet for his new book,Haunted Traveller, consists of article clippings regarding the ill-fated film version of his last collection, The Sadness of Sex. (The movie, which alternated between readings and re-enactments of Yourgrau’s surrealistic mini-tales of obsession and low-key angst, remains unreleased after only a few producer-paid screenings in L.A.)

    The Sex book, however, was and is a triumph. It can essentially be described as a sequence of brief, finely-described dream/nightmare imageries, mostly built not on erotic excitement but on sexuality’s other easy-to-push buttons–despair, loneliness, frustration, fear, embarassment, farce, compulsion, emotional turmoil, and the particularly hetero-male metaphor of finding oneself lost within an alien (and potentially unfriendly) environment, apprehensive yet compelled to continue surveying.

    It’s no big stretch, then, for Yourgrau to switch to deconstructing travel-memoir cliches in his newest themed collection of fiction-oids.

    I feel I’d spoil it if I mentioned too many of Yourgrau’s ingenious story premises here, because their downbeat, Kafkaesque revelation forms the whole point of many of his pieces. Like that mythical Japanese tour group that spends days on a bus to the Grand Canyon and then turns back after taking a few snapshots, Yourgrau never spends more time in any one fictive place than he deems necessary.

    I am comfortable saying all the stories are based on the same premise: A first-person narrator travels, usually by foot, across strange and distant lands where he happens to speak the local language well enough to get involved (usually against his better judgement) with assorted citizenry and strange phenomena. It’s a classic storytelling setup (used everywhere from The Odyssey and Gulliver’s Travels to TV’s Route 66 and even Pokemon). But in Yourgrau’s deft hands, it serves less to introduce colorful short-term characters than to illuminate glimpses of his unnamed protagonist’s own persona. Through the 40 or so vignettes, we end up learning a lot less about the assorted places and people the Haunted Traveller meets than we do about the Traveller’s own rootlessness, his restlessness, his need to keep seeing more and more places and to never see too deeply into any one of them.

    I will also reveal that the last piece, “Music,” finds the Traveller’s soul finally at rest, only after he’s no longer capable of continuing his lifelong escape from his own mortality.

    In The Sadness of Sex, Yourgrau deconstructed lust. In Haunted Traveller, he deconstructs wanderlust. In both collections (and in two earlier books Arcade’s reissuing), he uses the precision techniques of the short-short story to provide a well-balanced exhibition of tiny glimpses into the human condition. Think of it as literary pointillism, or as the use of breadth to tell what depth cannot.

    Aug 24th, 1998 by Clark Humphrey

    AS PROMISED three weeks ago, here’s the official Misc. list of the 64 arts and sciences a modern person should learn; as inspired by one of the nonsexual parts of the Kama Sutra. (Here’s the original passage; here’s how to get the whole book.)

    I’m not claiming to be an expert on all of these, or any. They’re just things I, and some of you, feel folks oughta know a little better, in no particular order:


    Subject: 64 Arts for the Modern Person
    Sent: 7/27/98 9:20 AM
    Received: 7/27/98 12:45 PM
    From: erinn kauer, eakamouse@webtv.net
    To: clark@speakeasy.org

    Interesting topic. All modern persons should bone up (no pun intended) on the various methods of BIRTH CONTROL. To include: proper condom etiquette, taking the pill on time, abstinence, getting off without actually having intercouse, and covering one’s butt by always having a supply of the newly available emergency contraceptive pills (actually just the regular pill, taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse, it reduces the chance of actual conception by about 75%… this is not RU486, and does not abort anything, it just does not allow the conception to take place). PLEASE include this particular item in your list, there would be far less unwanted pregnancies occuring, either resulting in having the child because the misguided fool believes so strongly that abortion in wrong (like having a child unprepared and setting them up in this world on a shaky base is right) or in having the costly and scary and stigmatizing abortion and suffering needless guilt because of it. However, abortion is not the end of the world, and should be seriously considered if all other options are not viable at that point. Please call the FDA at 301/827-4260 and ask for Lisa D. Rarick for more info on the 72 hour emergency contraception pill, or 1-800-NOT2LATE, or your local pharmacy. Do not let the pharmacy give you any bullshit about having to get it through your doctor, it is available WITHOUT a prescription and is perfectly legal, etc, etc, etc. I found that my pharmacy balked at the notion, but this has only recently been approved and they are simply not used to it yet. They need to be shaken though, they are needlessly telling people to go through their doctor, but you DO NOT HAVE TO, this should be available OVER THE COUNTER.

    Besides contraception, folks of the modern age should study organic gardening, meditation (stress-buster, dream fulfiller, life lengthener), keep an eye on politics and actually know something about the world and the U.S. of A., and how to make a good latte…

    I am sure there is much more, and my list is pretty lame, but the CONTRACEPTION/ FAMILY PLANNING is extremely important.

    Thanks for hearing me out!

    Erinn Kauer / eakamouse

    P.S. Concert ettiquette, Gourmet Camping, and the fine art of bodybuilding (look good now AND later!). Whatever. Bye.

    MISC @ 12
    Jun 11th, 1998 by Clark Humphrey

    It’s the 12th-anniv.Misc., the column that wonders if Vancouver essayist Brian Fawcett was right when he said malls and subdivisions are typically named after the real places they replaced, whether a corollary might be made about car commercials promoting further traffic-jamming steel tonnage with images of the wide open road, or (even better) SUV ads using nature footage to sell landscape-ruining gas-guzzlers.

    OUR FAR-FLUNG CORRESPONDENTS: Loyal readers have been sending junk food samples from far and near. Scott McGrath, though, takes the no-prize for the biggest cache of snax from the furthest-away place. The centerpiece of his shipment: a hamburger (made with chicken) he found at a Beijing convenience store, in a sealed envelope complete with bun, lettuce, and “salted sauce.” The English half of the envelope’s back warns of a two-to-three-day shelf life for the product, depending on the time of year. The bun got squished in transit, but it’s otherwise a normal looking way-past-pull-date meat food. The rest of his box contained Japanese, Filipino, and Taiwanese products he found in Guam: Banana catsup, dried squid and cuttle fish, soybean and herbal-jelly soft drinks, and Marine World Biscuits (shrimp-flavored animal crackers in fish shapes labeled, in English, “Tuna,” “Dolphin,” and even “Sea Lawyer!”). Many of these are more conveniently available at Uwajimaya and other local Asian-food emporia, but it’s the thought behind the gift that counts.

    ANOTHER YEAR OLDER: I’ve traditionally used this, the anniversary week of Misc. (begun in the old ArtsFocus tabloid in June 1986), to take a look back at the column, the changes in Seattle, or my journeys. This time, I want to look ahead. This li’l corner-O-newsprint ain’t my sole ambition in life. There’s plenty of other things I’ve always wanted:

    • My own restaurant. Under the big neon sign that just says EAT, the Merry Misc. Cafe would serve honest grub at honest prices. On the menu: Burgers, cheese steaks, whole-cut fries, meat loaf, fruit-cocktail salad. In the lounge: Old fashioneds, Brew 66, naughty-joke cartoon napkins. On the walls: framed drawings by alternative cartoonists, a Silent Radio LED displaying post-postmodern aphorisms, a TV displaying old-time car commercials or women’s bowling coverage.
    • My own cereal. Frosted Miscberry Crunch would have the taste, and the crunch, that wakes a person up after a long night of arguing in bars about macroeconomic trends. Each box comes with a mini-Mensa exam on the back and a “Great Postpunk Singer-Songwriters” trading card inside.
    • My own hydroplane. Watch the valiant Miss Misc. roar in the time trials, with rock-band bumper stickers strewn over its sponsons! Shudder as it flips on a harsh turn in Heat 2A! Cheer as the underfunded, underequipped pit crew uses duct tape and extra stickers to fix it in time for a come-from-behind victory in the Consolation Heat!
    • My own travel agency. Misctour would arrange charter bus, train, and air journeys to all the truly great vacation spots–Tacoma! Ritzville! Bend! Wisconsin Dells! Akron! Tulsa! Moose Jaw! Dollywood! Wall Drug! And only the finest traveling amenities–clothing-optional planes; scat-singing tour guides; the Game Show Network in every motel room; complementary copies of DeLillo’s Underworld; emocore karaoke parties; free ice.
    • My own (commercial) TV show. I’ve actually tried to make this happen, rounding up crews and shooting test footage on three occasions in the past two years. But it’s proven a tough nut to get an independently-produced series onto a regular broadcast station (not cable access). I’ve heard from producers with much more experience than I, who’ve all told the same stories of stations afraid to take a chance. Still, I believe broadcasters will eventually realize local programming (of all sorts, not just sports or mayhem-centric news) is their best competitive weapon against the growing horde of cable, satellite, and (soon) Net-based video feeds.
    Dec 4th, 1997 by Clark Humphrey

    MISC. HEREBY BREAKS its policy against weather jokes to allow you to go do what many of you are already doing–blaming El Nino for everything. Raining? It’s El Nino’s fault. Not raining? It’s El Nino’s fault. Internet connections really slow today? Can’t achieve orgasm? Sluggish, achy feeling all over? Waxy yellow buildup? You guessed it–that pesky El Nino again.

    THE BLOB REMEMBERED: Ultimately, the beloved (by me, anyway) Lower Queen Anne restaurant building’s clever (though cheaply built) false front wasn’t what did it in. Essentially, it was one of those “restaurant graveyard” sites nobody could make a go of, before or after the fun façade was added to it. Still, it’s a shame the condo developers who now have the land won’t install any of their own molded-white-plaster turrets or protruberances as a Blob remembrance.

    DEMOGRAPHICS ON PARADE: Austin, one of the towns billed a few years ago as a potential “Next Seattle,” has achieved that dubious goal, sorta. According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the Texas state capital (and “alternative country” music center) has just surpassed Seattle as the 22nd most-populous city in America. They’re up to 541,278 folk; we’ve just gotten up to 524,704. (We had over 550,000 in the 1960 census, back when the households in our vast single-family neighborhoods were having more kids; we declined in the ’70s and started climbing again in the ’80s.) Of course, they’re benefitting from immigration more than we are, and they’re in a position to annex some of their outlying sprawl. Other towns you might not know are bigger than Seattle: San Antonio, El Paso, Memphis, Milwaukee, San Jose, Indianapolis, Columbus, and Jacksonville, FL. Towns you might not know Seattle’s bigger than: Nashville, Cleveland, New Orleans, Kansas City, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati.

    WASN’T TOMORROW WONDERFUL?: Two weeks or so ago, I asked for your ideas as to which late-’90s popcult trends would be the likeliest nostalgia fodder in future decades. Reader Ian Morgan expressed doubts on the whole idea: “This entire decade has been a flaccid rerun of the seventies! A second Woodstock, Sex Pistols reunion, platform shoes, bellbottoms, etc. Don’t forget grunge. Sorry, the punkers did nihilism better the first time around. If history is merciful we’ll all forget the ’90s. Everyone here wishes they were sometime else.” Kim Adams was more hopeful, sorta: “Future generations, inundated with a gazillion sources and sites for information and babies whose first words will be ISDN or TMI (too much information), will long for a return to the simpler times of single-phone-line households and mere 33.6k modems.”

    AS FOR ME, a few passing fancies are evident. DVDs will make today’s CD-ROM games seem quaintly primitive (such small video windows; such choppy animations). When digital video lets anybody become a moviemaker, today’s big-budget action films will become popularly disdained as bloated dinosaurs, then later inspire subsequent generations as mementos of a second Hollywood Golden Age. And 21st-century genetic engineering might make both tattoos and breast implants seem positively retro-chic. Of course, all this depends on what the future generates, then finds missing. Maybe there’ll be a huge hammered-dulcimer mania in the 2010s, causing kids in the 2020s to yearn for the good old days of techno.

    BUT FOR NOW, it’s time for all good Misc. readers to think shorter-term and send in their suggestions for our annual In/Out List, not to be confused with any similar-looking feature which may or may appear in this or other print media. Send your nominated people, places, or things to clark@speakeasy.org.

    ‘TIL THEN, visit the new downtown clothing store New York Exchange (apparently meant for folks too urbane and downstate to shop at Buffalo Exchange); ponder whether, considering the former reputation of 2nd and Pike as a center for intimate commerce, it was really wise to rename the carton-cigarette store there the “Bangmi Smokeshop;” and consider these equally-urbane thoughts from the website of local photog Kim Rollins : “There are eight million stories in the naked city–and fifteen million in the greater naked metropolitan area.”

    Oct 16th, 1997 by Clark Humphrey

    AFTER LAST OCTOBER’S COLUMN about a trip to Reno, several readers suggested I go to Las Vegas next time for the real gambling/ tourism/ party spectacle. I did. Some pseudo-random thoughts:

    It’s hot. A hundred degrees in the afternoon, eighty at night, seven to nine months a year. No wonder so many tourists are willing to stay indoors, inside their all-under-one-roof hotel-resorts. It’s amazing the Strip has as much foot traffic as it does.

    It’s large. Much larger than you think. The bigger of the two main tourist zones, the Strip (a highway built parallel to a railroad from L.A.) is four miles long and a mile wide.

    It’s modern-day capitalism laid bare. Incessantly gaudy and hyper, devoted to redistributing wealth from the many to the few. If Seattle’s official mindset is mandatory mellowness, Vegas’s is mandatory excitement, unending “fun.” (Fortunately, I stayed at the Horseshoe, known as the most serious of the downtown hotel-casinos.)

    On the plus side, it’s what Republicans and capitalists can accomplish when they don’t have to buy votes from Christians. It’s loud yet clean, gaudy but slick, naughty in a thoroughly businesslike manner.

    While the famous Nevada brothels are zoned way outta town, Vegas generally treats sex not as a natural aspect of life: i.e., as something to make cash from. Bigtime skin shows operate in some of the same casino theaters as “family” shows (magicians at 8, breasts at 10). Honeymooning brides from Japan line up to get their photos next to the seven-foot nude male statue in front of Caesar’s Palace.

    The #1 category in the Vegas yellow pages is 150 pages of “Entertainers–Adult” (hotel-room strippers). I’m told most don’t fuck for money, though some will let you think they might until after you’ve paid them. I didn’t find out for myself.

    I didn’t gamble either. Like veggie burgers or sex with men, it just didn’t personally attract me. Instead, I watched other humans of all adult ages, genders, and nationalities feed coin after coin into hungry slots, hoping the machines would come down with a sudden case of coin diahhrea.

    On the strip you can visit ersatz versions of nearly every spot on the world: Latin America (Rio, the small Aztec), Europe (the Riviera, plus Paris and Venice resorts to come), Britain (Excalibur), the Caribbean (Treasure Island), the U.S. East (New York New York), the U.S. South (the Orleans, Texas Station), the U.S. midwest (Countryland, soon to come), north Africa (Luxor, the Sahara). But not Australia, Canada, or the Northwest (except for some totem poles outside a downtown ethnic-art store). But the weirdest work of cultural appropriation is the MGM Grand, “honoring” the movie studio that was dismantled and sold in pieces to finance the casino. But Vegas is always engorging on its former selves; witness the just-demolished Sands and Dunes. Next to go: the Aladdin, this Xmas.

    Just beyond the Strip is street-level Vegas: bars and liquor stores, industrial buildings, wedding chapels, one or two real churches, motels, trailer courts, malls, strip malls, strip clubs, cul de sac subdivisions, gas stations, panhandlers, industrial businesses servicing the casino trade. More human-scale than the resorts, but little more heartwarming.

    The casinos’ “sports book” areas became my idea of a potential full-time life environment. Imagine a cross between Number Two’s office in The Prisoner and a network TV studio on Election Night. Eighty-seven TV monitors, streaming news tickers, huge odds boards. I fantasized about the life of a casino pro: sleeping any hours I chose, eating at the buffets, gathering all available info about the teams and the horse races, living off the only consistantly winnable games in town (sports bets and poker). Watching the Ms’ first two losses on multiple big-screen TVs was a heartbreak experience, and a sign beckoning me home again. I realized I couldn’t live there, even if I could take the heat. So much of my life here doesn’t exist in the city that supposedly’s got everything (or exists only in scattered locations, far from the tourist areas)–things like bookstores, indie coffeehouses, fringe theater and performance art, anything that’s not part of the unending hustle for money.

    Online Extras:

    To imagine the size of The Strip, think of the I-5 corridor from the Montlake Cut to Northgate Mall. Or for you out-of-Seattle online readers, imagine one-third the length of Manhattan Island, devoted entirely to tourism and specifically to one mega-resort after another, interrupted only by a (very) few side streets, gas stations, fast-food stands, a handful of strip malls, a few surviving indie casinos, and some huge vacant lots where new mega-resorts are about to be built.

    The Horseshoe hotel, where I stayed, is in the downtown area, the second and smaller casino district. (There are also individual resorts along other arterial highways and scattered other spots throughout Clark County.) Downtown Vegas was started as a railroad company town in 1906; above-ground casino gambling began there in 1931 as a Depression-era gimmick. But because the city had slightly more stringent licensing rules in the ’40s and ’50s than the state and county governments, most of the Mob and Teamster money that built the initial core of today’s Vegas went to developments on The Strip, just outside the old city limits. In the early ’90s, the city took the step that’s proven fiscally fatal in other towns, and turned its main street into an outdoor mall. Somehow, it worked. The giant canopy over five blocks of Fremont St. helps block the punishing desert sun, and the nighttime light shows on the canopy unite the 11 casinos on it into one entity of closer-to-human-scale thrills. Particularly cool is the block of the mall devoted to the “Neon Museum,” a half-dozen achingly cool old casino, motel, and milk-plant signs now removed from the buildings they once drew people toward. Walk outside the malled area downtown and you’ll find, well, not much. Just governmental buildings, law offices, a Kinko’s Copies, a couple of squatty six-story bank buildings, some of those famous picturesque wedding chapels, a city transit center, and a freeway separating the district from the residential zones to the north. How complete is the economy’s dependence on entertainment travel and gambling? When the local minor-league baseball team sought relatively modest public subsidies for a new stadium (which would also be offered as a spring-training site for major-league teams), authorities rejected the request on the grounds that it wouldn’t bring in enough out-of-towners.

    As noted in Peter Rock’s novel This Is the Place, a large part of the Vegas mentality is based on notions of rebellion against a specific type of conservatism, that of the Mormons who populate much of the lightly-populated inland west (and who briefly had a mission at what later became today’s Las Vegas). The bright lights, the larger-than-life ostentatiousness, the endlessly-flowing booze, the intense freneticism, the strip shows, the uniformly “naughty” vision of sexuality, the insistent “bad taste,” and the total immersion in the idea of pleasure thru spending–all directly relate to universal human temptations the Mormons (and the Mormons’ arch-rivals-in-the-same-league, the Fundamentalists) devote their lives toward repressing.

    Vegas, however, could use a little more of one positive Mormon trait, their sense of community. Public spending hasn’t kept up with the area’s massive population growth (now nearing 1 million). Not just the public schools but even the police and fire departments have had to resort to special levy elections, which invariably lose. School buildings either run year-round or on double shifts to pack in all the kids of workers at the casinos (and at the supply and construction companies servicing the casinos, and at the secondary and tertiary employers like car dealers and pawn shops). Meanwhile, the more affluent residents and newcomers (mainly from California) hole themselves up in new gated subdivisions patrolled by private rent-a-cops, steadfastly unwilling to consider themselves part of a larger regional tribe.

    And forget about finding any of the lounge music associated with historic Las Vegas by latter-day hipsters. There’s still plenty of lounges, but they’re almost all devoted to “high energy” Earth Wind and Fire cover bands.

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