Saturday, September 23, 2006


Philosophical Fish Mongers

September 23, 2006

I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Walla Walla, Wash., trying to figure out once again how I can catch up with this blog. It seems every night we return to our home base (whichever friend or motel room that may be) from a day of adventures, I’m too tired to actually recount them in a literary fashion.

Luckily, Washington seems to be one of the most plugged-in Internet states I’ve ever visited. This may change, since we have roughly a dozen states to go, but for now, I’m reveling in the convenience of having three wireless Internet connections to choose from in one sitting area. So yes, we’re making this a low-key day and catching up on the blog.

Walla Walla. The name rolls around my tongue like a jawbreaker I don’t have the heart to bite down on. All I knew of the city was it had a college (three, as I later learned) and was known for a sweet type of onion that can only grow in this city. For some reason, the soil content has not been replicated in other areas, and so the onions turn from sweet to almost ordinary onions if in the wrong soil. But I digress…

There is a local record store here called Hot Poop. This is not a typo. According to a newspaper article about the store from 2003, the store has been in Walla Walla since the ’70s and the name is commonly mistaken for the 29-second Frank Zappa song. It is in fact a play on the term for new music, “hot pop,” which according to the owner, can quickly turn into "hot poop." The awnings by the stairs to the second story are covered with autographed photos of artists such as James Brown, Xzibit, Sound Garden and Nikki Six of Motley Crue. They all seemed to revel in writing “Thanks for the support Hot Poop,” especially Danny Elfman on the Oingo Boingo photo, whose loopy scrawling handwriting is as distinctive as the musical scores he has written for movies and TV shows since the group disbanded (the most well known being The Simpsons).

I will now go back a few steps on our trip, since, of all places, Seattle should not be ignored.

September 19, 2006

Is this it? I thought as I stood in front of the Pike Street Fish Market in Seattle. Where were the flying fish? Where were the hysterical customers waiting to get their fix of fresh fish? Instead there were a bunch of idle tourists, apparently thinking the same thing I was thinking.

It was clear that this was not a local fish market anymore. There was even a self-help book supposedly written by the fishmongers. The sign claimed that for $11.95, my life could be improved exponentially with the philosophies of a fishmonger. How did it get to this point?


Jeremy and I had woken up characteristically late at A. and W.’s home in Port Orchard, Wash., immediately regretting being as lazy as we are since becoming unemployed almost two months ago.

W. mapped out their usual plan for exploring the city of Seattle: catch the ferry and walk immediately to the downtown area of the market place. It took almost 40 minutes to drive to the port itself and an hour on the ferry to cross to Seattle.

Somehow I had imagined Port Orchard being right below Seattle, but apparently it was more like leaving Paradise to visit Sacramento: not a long trip, but not the most convenient thing to do.

When the sturdy ferry lumbered to the station in Seattle, it was already 4:30 p.m. I knew this was going to be a two-trip endeavor to see the entire city. After breathing in the damp air and feeling the chill through our coats, we immediately realized why Seattle was known for being populated by coffee drinkers. We wanted a cup…immediately. But instead, we had to find food, or else I would have turned into an incomprehensible babbling idiot.

I let Jeremy, with his far superior sense of direction, guide our way through the downtown area and directly to hole-in-the-wall food establishments. My blood sugar was crashing so rapidly I could have scarfed down a Noah’s bagel in 3 minutes and collapsed into a happy food coma. Instead, we went to Jasmine Thai Moroccan, a fusion restaurant of sorts where it appeared the husband was Moroccan and his wife was Thai. Although it was deemed a fusion restaurant by several media reviews, they appeared to have only two Moroccan dishes and the rest were Thai. More like food separatism really, but judging by the curry dishes, it was satisfying nonetheless.

After we finished our meals, we wandered around the market with other tourists. There was a coffee shop called Local Flavor that immediately triggered a stream of snarky comments in my mind.

“Local Flavor…voted most popular coffee shop by tourists”

“Local Flavor… you may remember us from such travel guides as Lonely Planet…”

“Local Flavor… sit down and see a real Seattleite!”

I’ll be honest, I didn’t take the time to ask the patrons where they were from or check their IDs. I was basing this assessment on the almost bewildered looks of some of the patrons, who looked beyond the average age of hipster coffeehouse residents, and the incessant people watching. Walking by, I felt like people were wondering, “Is she a Seattleite?” I’ll equate it with picking out a toupee from a crowd.

There were also of course plenty of Starbuck’s, the most popular coffee shop on the planet. But Seattle is also home of the flagship shop. The first. The one that has the original emblem of a two-tailed mermaid with sagging breasts: a signature look that hasn’t been homogenized and put through focus groups for the caffienated. We didn’t go in. But we did like many other tourists did, and took a picture.


Back at the Fish Market, I was getting frustrated about standing around apparently waiting for nothing, surrounded by tourists. I even looked for some sort of sign for show times. Could this really have turned into a staged performance? Only done when fish came to the market or someone ordered a fish? I had to know.

“Excuse me,” I said to a fishmonger who appeared to be in his mid-20s. “When is the fish throwing?”

“You gotta camera?”

“Yeah,” I said as I dug into the abyss that is my cargo purse.

He told me to stand just diagonally from him and he dug his hands into the crushed ice and grabbed the fresh fish, solid with cold, and flung it into the ready hands of his fellow fish monger comrade with butcher paper waiting.

There were yelps, there was singing, this was exactly what I had wanted to see since I saw it on the intro to The Real World: Seattle.

The tourists’ cameras began to flash.

“Look, there they go,” said a mother to her child.

The camera wasn’t fast enough. I was desperately hoping they weren’t going to stop before I could get the setting right, when suddenly I saw a fish flying right at me. It was like what I heard from photographers about the protection behind the lens: how they used the camera as a shield or filter for all the atrocities they record. But this was not carnage or even bullets flying near my person. This was a 25-pound frozen fish aimed at the camera lens and more importantly, my head behind it.

Jeremy and I barely turned to the right and the fish went whizzing by my left ear and landed on the ground with a lofty puff. Polyester. It was a god damn stuffed fish.

“HEEEEEYYYYY!” the fishmongers yelled in triumph and their tip jars were filled. Another tourist took the bait.

I couldn’t stop laughing.

I kept laughing as more tourists began gathering around to see the commotion.

“When’s it going to happen?” said a 5-year-old to his mother who had just arrived.

“I guess we’re going to have to wait till someone else buys a fish,” she said.

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