One of the things I’ve most loved about Seattle is also something I’ve come to detest.
I grew up an army brat. My father was born in Auburn but grew up on Beacon Hill. When I came along he was an army officer and that entailed a lot of traveling. By the time we came back to settle at his old childhood home I was 13, and while I’d lived in Seattle for seven or eight months scattered here and there, most of the previous years were spent seven or eight other places, two of them in foreign countries, and I’d been driven across the contiguous 48 states a total of eight times, four in each direction.
One summer, my parents dumped me off at an aunt’s apartment in Flushing, Queens, New York. My aunt had taught school and could not resist taking me on a field trip to the United Nations complex, which would have been one of the single most boring and unexciting supposed adventures I have ever been subjected to if it merely consisted of the stated objective, namely to see the United Nations complex, which we did not enter, and is a bunch of boring buildings with a long line of flags in front. The boredom almost brought tears to my eyes.
But I also saw a lot of other things. The trip to Manhattan started by elevated train. I got a fantastic view of row after row of apartment buildings in Flushing. There were also miles and miles of cemeteries in Queens before you get to the river.
Then we went underground and emerged at some subway station downtown. I got to walk around East Manhattan, which is not Kansas. I got to see the East River, so I was prepared for a 1970s future of watching Woody Allen movies.
The Seattle analog of the East River is Lake Washington. Back in the ’50s the analog of the subway ride to Manhattan was traveling by car over the Floating Bridge from points east, then passing through the Montlake tunnel and emerging to a vista of Rainier Valley with the Seattle skyline off to your right.
The first time I remember seeing that view I was fresh from a 3,000-or-so-mile ride across the country, from the East River to that point emerging from the Montlake tunnel, having seen and passed something like 10,000 cities, towns, road-side stands, cafes and diners, gas stations and all kinds of houses, and I was impressed. And I liked what I saw by comparison to all that.
What I saw was a marvelous diversity of separate houses. There were none of the giant apartment buildings in a row like those in Flushing. There were also hardly any duplexes and multiplexes to be seen. Here and there, you could look at the houses on a block and see three or four in a row were obviously designed by the same architect. But that didn’t extend to block after block.
Houses were painted all different colors. It felt free. It was a picture of freedom. I loved it.
Then I started living here, first for the scattered seven or eight months, then finally almost continuously, starting when I was 13.
I found out whose freedom I was seeing. I was seeing primarily White people’s freedom. I caught on to the fact that the single-family zoning and policies that were meant to increase the value of single-family homes over time were instituted to make it difficult for people to break into housing in an area unless they had significant savings. That created an additional barrier on top of the direct discrimination that targeted people with family histories of oppression and suppressed economic opportunities.
Now I live in a 12-story apartment building about the same size as the one my aunt in Flushing lived in. Our one-bedroom apartment is about the same size as the one she lived in for 48 years more after the month I lived there with her. I’ll have to live to be 109 to outdo that. It’s a good thing I’m not a competitive guy and I can let things like that go.
Speaking of people who have or have not died, I am delighted to learn that Washington State may legalize human composting.
Please, legislators, please pass this law. Please don’t make me be cremated or sealed in a box. I want mushrooms, pepper plants and garlics to grow from me, and yellow onions.
I’ve always wanted a little garden all my own.
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor who has experienced homelessness several times. He supplied the art for the first cover of Real Change in November of 1994 and has been involved with the organization ever since. This is his weekly column, Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd.
Read the full Jan. 9 - 15 issue.
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