The Bullshit Next Door
Ballard's Shit-Talking, Self-Appointed Neighborhood Crank
Richard Andrews lives in a small, well-kept apartment on the second floor of an old Ballard home. From his boxy desktop computer in a living room lined with a stately bookshelf and exquisite travel souvenirs he produces the exclusively distributed, sporadically printed newsletter Ballard Bullshit, whose primary goal is, as he puts it, "illumination"—a caustic, happily crude brand of illumination.
"People are always surprised to see how normal and conservative my place is, since my writing is..." Andrews says, pausing, "acerbic."
In the last issue of Ballard Bullshit, seven paragraphs of an eight-paragraph article were a diatribe against an assistant city attorney who spoke at a community meeting about graffiti. Andrews called the official—in this order, all in separate sentences—an ass, a skinny little weasel, a shit-mouth, a jackal, a wild boar, a Gestapo officer, a bovine, and a racist.
Recently, though, Andrews met someone worthy of his praise rather than his scorn: an 84-year-old woman named Edith Macefield who's just as stubbornly individual as he is. Macefield's the centerpiece of Andrews's newest opus to Ballard: a full-length documentary film entitled, in characteristic hyperbole, The Chronicles of Saint Edith.
It's Friday evening and darkness is easing over the quiet streets as Andrews sits at his desk, talking about Bullshit, his Xeroxed, yet smartly designed four-page neighborhood newsletter. He's right—he's a shockingly normal-looking person, wearing black slacks, a collared shirt, and even a tie.
"Ballard has the veneer of being dull, but the veneer of dull is devious. There's backroom deals going on," he explains. "I want to pick up Ballard a little bit, because so much is going on that's not being reported."
Originally from Alaska, Andrews, 57, moved to Ballard when he was in his early 30s but then left, living in Europe and all over the United States, working in theater, working as a writer. He moved back to the neighborhood seven years ago and works as a freelance editor now. His flexible schedule allows him to spend time hounding down stories for Ballard Bullshit, which he started two years ago. (Locals squeamishly refer to Andrews's newsletter as the Ballard BS.) The paper is meant, he says, to build community via "exposing the assholes and lauding the heroes."
"I'm active in this neighborhood without being an activist," he says. "I'm a defender of this neighborhood."
Enter Macefield, who has lived in a little house in Ballard for 54 years. Her entire block is being redeveloped into a Trader Joe's and a health club, and while every other neighbor on the block accepted the developer's buyout offer, Macefield's determined to die in her crumbling one-and-a-half-story house. Last year, the developer even desperately offered to build Macefield a brand-new house, one with a wheelchair ramp, and pay for her health-care costs for the rest of her life. She turned him down. The architect redesigned the entire development around her home. "I'm perfectly happy here. And I don't want to move," Macefield told the Seattle Times last February. "What would I do with that kind of money anyway?" Macefield no longer talks to reporters. But Andrews was determined to meet this woman who embodies all that he believes is worth defending in Ballard.
One day last spring, Andrews walked up to Macefield's house, which is now in the midst of a construction site, and knocked on her door. Several hours later, he had convinced her to talk about her life (to a certain extent) on film. Five of Andrews's friends jumped onto the project, assigning themselves roles as producers and cinematographers. They each pitched in a sizable chunk of change for the film's $10,000 budget and spent three months filming Macefield and other old-time Ballard residents. Up a set of decrepit wooden stairs that rise from his kitchen, Andrews edits the footage in a makeshift attic studio.
The six-man crew isn't quite sure what they'll do with the film once it's finished, or even when it will be finished, really. In the meantime, Andrews still spends his nights digging up material to rant about in his newsletter and at Ballard District Council meetings (which he attends regularly and vociferously).
"I'm ruthless," he says, grinning. "I go to the homeless feeds—sit around and talk to them... I've got a core of homeless, drug-riddled, nice people who feed me tips."
He plays town gossip, schmoozing with neighbors to uncover petty disputes and rumors. Did the pizza-shop owner really badmouth the pub manager? Does the daughter of that landlord really deal drugs? He gets his best dirt at the art walk, Andrews admits, "because they serve wine."
Circulation for Bullshit began with 20 handpicked Ballard citizens and is now up to 104. "I give a copy to people who have some influence, benign or not," says Andrews. But everything he writes, he says, is well intentioned—not just the lauding stories of people like Macefield, but also the blistering rampages. "It's kind of like Genghis Khan when he invaded northern India: Your sins have brought me here. If they weren't engaged in these shady deals, I wouldn't be giving them trouble."
The actual influence of his sin avenging, though, is limited. "Generally, I have found that most people tend to dismiss him," says Jack Mayne, editor at the Ballard News-Tribune. Ballard Bullshit ripped into Mayne recently after the News-Tribune declined to print a letter to the editor from Andrews that attacked specific individuals in, of course, vitriolic language.
"I think he's blown himself out of the water, frankly," says Mayne, who says there has been no fallout, financial or otherwise, from Andrews's article about him. "I saw what he wrote and I chuckled. We passed it around the office as a joke and someone said, 'Now you've had your baptism in the fryer.'" Neither Ballard state representative Mary Lou Dickerson (who Andrews referred to as a "contagious and terminally ill person" in his newsletter's April 2006 issue) nor several Ballard officials with the city and district council would comment on Andrews or his influence.
"I wouldn't touch him with a 10-foot pole," explained one official.