I was hired as a proofreader, The Stranger's first, in September of 1993. The paper had recently taken offices at 911 East Pike Street, above the loading dock that later became Via Tribunali, the next building over from the Salvation Army that was about to become Moe's Mo'Roc'N Cafe, which is now Neumos. The offices were a suite of partitioned spaces with big windows overlooking Pike, a huge improvement from the previous digs, a mythical house on Latona where the production manager slept under the printer table.
I started part-time, arriving with a couple of pens and my American Heritage, third edition. I was allowed to share the easy chair and TV-dinner tray by the reception desk where film editor Andy Spletzer came in a few days a week to work, as my tasks followed his in the production sequence. A (wired, of course) phone next to me had two lines, one for editorial and one for advertising. Despite the front desk, there was no receptionist, so we were all supposed to answer the phone in rough rotation.
I was given a sheaf of printouts to mark up, and I got to work. A curious editor ambled out to see the new guy, looked me in the eye, and asked, "Are you gay?" I politely demurred, and he yelled to the back of the suite, "Tim! You told me you would hire a fag!" Then he smiled and introduced himself as Dan Savage and let me know that calls for Ed Schneider (performance editor) and Keenan Hollahan (theater director) also went to him.
Many of the contributing writers used pseudonyms as well, more out of self-protection than to hide anything sinister. It was sort of easy to feel threatened in 1990s Seattle; the city felt more violent then. I saw a fight break out at a Sebadoh show, if you can imagine. So there were protective measures—Dan made public appearances only in drag, and the paper's address was a post-office box up the street, in the same building as our stalwart advertisers Exotic Tan. We had a real-life security guy for a couple of weeks, borrowed from Re-bar after Matt Richter exposed the white supremacists who had taken over the Capitol Hill Odd Fellows Temple.
The paper added a proper copy editor. I became Highbrow Guy, bringing in my recently purchased PowerBook 145B, and wrote about books and art. The paper also added a proper receptionist (hi, Nipper!) and a news department, started running feature articles, hired a theater editor to give Dan a break, moved to 11th Avenue, and began printing our address in the paper. The writing got better, we broke a few great stories, and we started publishing political endorsements. We were kind of growing up.
Occasionally, someone out in the city would complain to me that the paper had lost its freewheeling spirit, a complaint every staffer in every era has heard (and sometimes thought) in the succeeding years. But in some ways, they were right. We hadn't published an uncensored naked photo since the performance issue with topless wrestling girls on the cover had a chunk of its print run unceremoniously dumpstered by Tower Records. Also, the time when Tim Keck, Dan Savage, and Rachel Gross got hold of the boards as they were leaving for the printer and graffitied most of the paper hadn't gone over well with half of the staff. The fallout over those two issues during staff meetings had led to a new policy of not having staff meetings—except for one held not long after the move to 11th Avenue.
Tim decided we needed to have actual HR policies at the company, and he had us all head over to the Odd Fellows ballroom so we could learn about sexual harassment and other legal novelties. At the end of the meeting, Tim asked if we had any questions. It still being the 1990s, and these still being a thing, I asked if we were going to institute drug testing. Tim said, "Well, we considered it, but we thought it would get too competitive."
Eric Fredericksen was a Stranger staffer from 1993 to 2000. Now he thinks he's all fancy.
Highlights from The Stranger, 1991–1998
$1 MILLION FOR WATERFRONT PROPERTY SOUNDS PRETTY GOOD RIGHT ABOUT NOW
The Pacific Northwest is not, nor has it ever been, Paradise. It's a real place with real people and real problems. It did not suddenly come into existence when you moved here, nor even when the first white people moved here. I'm from here, so I have no illusions about the so-called "Northwest lifestyle" that was invented in the mid-'70s.
Seattle is a major American city, damn it, and ought to start acting like one. We need people who are willing to make it a better city—creative people, people willing to work in the arts and community service. We don't need any more people who just want to go to the mountains for the weekend or who just want to buy a million-dollar waterfront "cabin." I'm a leftist but I'm not a hippie. I want a better world, a more compassionate and just world. ("Misc.," by Clark Humphrey, November 18, 1991)
THE SPIRIT OF BIPARTISANSHIP
I never said that human beings deserve to die because of their political party. I said that Republicans do. ("Savage Love," by Dan Savage, March 23, 1992)
WASHINGTON VOTERS: DUMB THEN, DUMB NOW
In the most recent poll of the presidential preferences of Washington State voters Ross Perot won King County and Western Washington. Statewide he was running neck and neck with George Bush (Bush 10%, Perot 29%). ("Perot for President?" by George Howland Jr., June 15, 1992)
I BEG YOUR PARDON. A VAGINA LOOKS LIKE A WHAT DROPPED FROM WHERE, NOW?
Hey, Faggot: You wrote in your column of Feb. 15–21 the following: "Some women are able to have two types of orgasm, a vaginal orgasm from stimulation inside the vaginal canal... or a clitoral orgasm from stimulation of the clitoris"... It is disappointing to see this false idea continues to be advocated, especially by your usually informative column. The next time you're asked about something you don't know, you should follow your own advice and read a book.
Hey, U: I don't know that much about vaginas, it's true. I'm one of those gynophobic little cocksuckers who go all woozy when I see a vagina. They look like something fallen from a great height. A canned ham dropped from the 23rd floor of the Washington Mutual building, I don't know. Because of my aversion, I turn to my gyrls-only crack vaginal-issues advisory squad whenever matters vaginal arise. ("More Orgasms," Savage Love, by Dan Savage, March 8, 1993)
ANGRY MAN YELLS AT CROWD
After the third unfamiliar song, a few members of the crowd—not more than a handful—began to loudly call out requests, like "Sugar Mountain," and "Cinnamon Girl," staples of past tours and live albums... To Young up on stage, however, the noise must have seemed like a rejection, or a coarse provocation. He suddenly stopped and said, "Shut up, asshole," and attempted to continue.
After a moment of shocked silence, the crowd began buzzing—each to his neighbor, "Did you hear what he just said?"—so noisily that Young had to stop altogether... "I know it's my last night," he snapped angrily. "I've been here for six nights, here in New York City. Maybe a little too long. I'm from Canada myself." His intended slight was clear. "The songs that you're asking me to play—they were new once too, and the people who came out to hear them didn't know them." He sounded almost pleading. "But they listened, 'cause they liked what I was doing. Every song was new once. They all had a first time. I've been out a lot of times since then, but it's been a long time since I've been out here like this [solo, acoustic]. And you people want me to play the same old shit!" His tone was disbelief. "Can't you understand? You're holding me back. You can't hold me back!"
More than simply angry with the crowd, Young seemed to be baring a deep, and long festering wound; it was harrowing. I instantly worried that he would cut us short, that we would not get the full show because of the interruption. Still, Young played almost two hours, starting again with the aborted song, to a markedly better-behaved crowd. ("Neil Young Chasing the Moonlight," by Danny Housman, February 1992)
So let me ask you a question. What happens to your pupils when someone calls you a cunt? Do they dilate with rage? I know mine have in the past. Now, why should a word so obviously related to cunning cause a twentieth-century woman such as myself to set off possibly violent repercussions unto the individual from whose mouth it came?
Well, I'll tell ya. I have been seeing that words like cunt (see also bitch, hag, crone) are prime examples of how gentlemen who wear phallic nooses around their necks (and their ancestors) have completely infiltrated the ways of the mother religion to the point where a sacred title of a priestess/saga/seer has evolved into an image of vaginal vileness so horrid that it isn't to be found in practically any dictionaries of our language.
Before the aforementioned gentlemen seized the books, a cunt was the title of a woman with the powers to call down the moon, perform the most religious of rituals and take no shit from no one unless the one happened to be God. Cunt is related to the words cunctipotent (all-powerful), cunicle (a hole or passage), and cuniculate (penetrate by a passage). Also in this family are the words cleft and crevice. Are you beginning to see the correlation between the sacred cunt and the Holy Grail? Both are vessels. Vessels were revered in the form of lakes, pools, wells, cauldrons, oceans and caves. Throughout the world, vessels of blood (primordial ocean fluid) account for the myths of creation. Vessels were always considered the holiest of the holy and intrinsically divine. Places like cunts are where life is nourished from within. ("Eat This Word: A Naughty Name for the Holy Grail," by Inga Muscio, October 12, 1992)
DAMAGE CONTROL IN THE BOX
I called the Capitol Hill Jack in the Box to see how the manager felt about the feces-inthe-beef situation. The well-trained Jack in the Box employee referred me to a spokesperson at an 800 number in San Diego. So did the employee at the U-District store, and the person who answered the phone at the Seattle corporate office. I called the San Diego number. Three and a half hours later, a very nice woman called me back, Mary Hancock. She gave her title as "Spokesperson for Jack in the Box." We talked, briefly.
Have you ever been a vegetarian?
I can't answer that.
Do you know any vegetarians?
Yes I do. Are you asking me personally? I just really can't talk about that.
How have sales been?
That's a question I've been asked a lot. We're not focusing on our sales right now. We're focusing on safety and on moving forward; on correcting everything, making sure it's safe.
Have you had any interesting dreams lately?
What would you say to someone who's about to take over the management of a Jack in the Box?
I can't respond to that.
Have you heard any good jokes about this incident?
[Laughs] I just don't think that's appropriate right now.
Are you getting sick of talking to the media?
I think it really important, in my position... My job is to communicate what Jack in the Box is trying to do. We're very sorry and we're trying to do everything we can. We're just trying to get the word out.
When's the last time you ate at Jack in the Box?
I can't comment on that. We're at the corporate headquarters. We eat the food all the time. ("No Good Jokes," by Christine Wenc, February 1, 1993)
GOOD OL' SEATTLE RUDENESS
As entrepreneurial types pour into Seattle over the next decade from Hong Kong and other fading world capitals, what will be their vision of Seattle? Certainly, they will have an impact, whether for good or evil. Already, motor cars stacked miles on end sit interminably on the highways long past rush hour. In some insomniac future, will commuters try earnestly to get home to their bedroom communities simply in time to get up in the morning? What makes a city "great?" Is it its population density? The massive immigration the city has experienced in recent years has doubled rents, filled the last parking space, and packed the city with espresso carts, as souls need the refreshing cup to make it through the busy work-a-day world Seattle has become. ("Seattle, City of Ill-Fitting Trousers," by Kirby Olson, May 10, 1993)
I THOUGHT THE POSIES BROKE UP, VOLUME XIV
It's easy to be confused by the Posies, especially in the last two years as they've searched for their own identifies. After a lush, psychedelic pop-rock debut, they seemed to yearn for a harder edge. Their summer shows at the Moore and the outdoor Endfest last year had me convinced that evil forces at Geffen had encouraged them to "Seattle-ize" their sound, turn up the noise and cash in. Lo and behold, an unannounced January gig at the Colourbox (filmed for a documentary) was a revelation. Battling flying beer cups and monitors that had been wrecked by previous acts Gnome, Flop and the Fastbacks, the Posies went with the mood and kicked out an hour of their shiniest injured melodiousness. The wonders continue on Frosting on the Beater (DGC), their long-awaited sophomore effort. ("New Grooves," by Danny Housman, May 10, 1993)
COSBY-FORE THE FALL
There is a right way and a wrong way to do a Fat Albert insult. The wrong way: "Fat Albert, you're like school on Sunday... no class!" That's incorrect usage because Fat Albert jokes depend upon a specific "call and response" sequence. For example, Person A says, "Hey, Fat Albert, I'm gonna call you butcher!" Person B: "Butcher? Why you call me butcher?" Person A: "Because you got too much tongue." This exchange would be improved upon again if, following the insult, your friends throw their hands in the air and yell, "Yeah Yeah Yeah! That's the funniest thing I ever heard! Haw haw. Right on. That's the coolest." ("I Love Television™: Spotlight on... Fat Albert," by Wm. Steven Humphrey, March 29, 1995)
THE READERS CRACK THE CODE
There seems to be a desperate need amongst Stranger writers of late to be taken as CHARACTERS, hence the incessant air of strained whimsy that seems to permeate much of the paper. (Letter to the Editor from P.C. Baumgartner, April 12, 1995)
LIZ PHAIR AND THE GIRLS
Brandy: Are you a feminist and could you tell us what a feminist is?
Liz: I think I probably am a feminist, but the definition is an ever-changing one. It means basically that you promote the rights of women. I couldn't say that I'm, like, a perfect feminist. It's sort of like I am a feminist, but I don't do it all right. Of course, I was never an A-plus feminist.
Brandy: What kind of feminist are you?
Liz: A trying... a B feminist. A B-plus feminist. I think of feminism as working to be certain that women are being treated fairly and are given equal freedom in the eyes of the law. Does that make sense?
Liz: Girls get to do everything boys get to do and no one can treat you differently because you are girls.
Girls: Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! ("Class Assignment," an interview with Liz Phair conducted by six girls who were fourth and fifth graders at Valley School, April 12, 1995)
ON THE DEATH OF ERIC "EAZY E" WRIGHT
In Blackworld, where I'm sometimes from, success belongs to the loudest voices... His feels like a simple, almost silent death, unable to connect to any trend or family or community. Totally exiled from each by his own anomalies—dishonored, even among thieves. A death attended by no public discussion or speculation. Maybe it's a good thing these days that the speculation/stigma thing that usually goes with the news that somebody famous is suffering with AIDS has finally waned. But it seems to me that if any public figure's suffering oughtta be up against the rigors of metaphor and examination, Eazy E's would be the one...
Behind the success of even our most infamous spokespersons stand thousands of our children, blind and inarticulate, perhaps even unto their deaths. As we daily ignore the voices of those personages we value least in Blackworld, we also ignore their sons and daughters. That fatal ignorance shall surely spread." ("Easy," Paradise Found, by Riz Rollins, April 5, 1995)
DOES THIS BRUISE MAKE ME LOOK GAY?
The place was dark and very quiet. A few guys were milling around the lockers. In a lounge area, a shirtless guy was watching Jeff Stryker whoop it up in a prison movie. I walked around quickly with my hands in my pockets, like a novice shoplifter. I saw a couple of guys making out. Did some laps through the hallways, one time running smack into a mirror. Very suave. ("Straight Boy Undercover," by Ike Alberts, May 17, 1995)
WHEN A MUPPET CALLS
"Andy Spleeetzor, or whatever your name is, my name is Frank Oz. I'm just reading your review in The Stranger of The Indian in the Cupboard. I've been in the business for a long time, and I don't mind a critique, and I don't mind one that is critical of my work, but you know... YOU ARE A FUCKING HORSE'S ASS. You don't have a CLUE as to what you are talking about. The thing that just GNAWS at me is when I see little people, working at these little horse-shit rag papers, suddenly think they're experts on CINEMA and FILM, and they understand the story. You're a fucking dickhead, and I hope... I'm going to be in Seattle in about two weeks. I hope I get a chance to meet you. [Click]" (Message on film editor Andy Spletzer's voicemail from film director/muppeteer Frank Oz, in response to Spletzer's review of Oz's film The Indian in the Cupboard, which Spletzer posited as the story of a young man's gay awakening with the help of "a half-naked, anatomically correct American Indian" that comes to life in his hands. Note: Please bear in mind the words were spoken by the same voice that gave life to Fozzie Bear, Bert, and Miss Piggy, July 12, 1995)
THE CASE AGAINST RAPE SCENES
A friend of mine worked with Jennifer Jason Leigh during a film shoot in Seattle. He described her as "intelligent." Though she seemed like "she might have been on something," he wasn't sure if that was just because she was "living her film role of a junkie-type." If that's the case, I wonder if she walked around the set of Last Exit to Brooklyn with a metal studded, four-inch-diameter dildo strapped up her snatch 24-7 to "live the role" of a prostitute who pays vengeance on her own broken heart by allowing every dude in the bar to fuck her in a dock yard.
Yo, Jen: Do you have any idea how much that scene hurt me? Do you know I cried for two hours straight afterward? How do you think women who've been gang raped out here in "real life" felt to see you lay yourself down for all those men to blow their wad inside your body? Was it money? Was it a "career move"? Did it lead to "better roles"? Was it the price you had to pay for the Oliver Stones to consider you a serious actress? Rape scenes serve no other purpose than to confuse the shit out of men and keep women in a perpetual state of fear, where we won't be doing nasty things like believing in ourselves and fighting for a chance to exert our power in this world in a good fucking way. In our masochistic society this formula translates into profits. ("Why Rape Scenes Shouldn't Exist," by Inga Muscio, August 8, 1995)
THE KEANU AFFAIR
Glancing at the audience, my date said something about the relationship between fandom and unrealized orgasms, which really kind of explained the ambience in a nutshell. There was a rabid glint in the eyes of those working women and teenage girls, and the occasional gay boy. One oozing fellow told me that he went all the way to Winnipeg to see Keanu in Hamlet, to which I said, "Really!" only it came out like a holler, sounding more shocked and appalled than I'd intended... Let's review the facts: Keanu was wearing a stocking cap in August, and he flipped off the audience. He was given a goofy bass solo, which aroused the audience to an ear-shattering squeal. Between songs he sometimes stepped to the front-man microphone and flashed a disarming grin, causing several thirtysomething women to burst into flames... My date was given business cards by an attorney and a marketing consultant having a girls' night out. If I had rolled up the cards and put them in my ears it might have helped block out the screaming, and I'm disappointed I didn't think of it. An excited woman told me how she'd just turned 40, but she felt like 15 inside, which for some reason make me think of the TV commercial for OB tampons. She also told me she wanted to show Reeves her bellybutton piercing. ("Teen Beat," a live review of Dogstar at DV8, by Anna Woolverton, August 23, 1995)
Bob Dole, Arlen Specter, Pete Wilson, Lamar Alexander, Richard Lugar, Phil Gramm: the frowning white guys with a shot at turning Bill Clinton out of the White House—this making him the youngest retired president in American history—are jostling for cash and media attention, and lining up to kiss the slimy ass of Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, the National Rifle Association, and those elusive Angry White Male voters... Let's face it: Clinton's goose is pretty much cooked. Barring the emergence of a viable third party or independent candidate (for "viable," read: "not Ross Perot"), thus splitting the vote three ways and landing Clinton in the White House for another maddening, mandateless four years, we're looking at a Republican White House, Senate, and House after 1996... Pat Buchanan doesn't stand a homo's chance in Idaho of winning his party's nomination, but his mouth and his glorious ugly words can, hopefully, damage the Republican party and the Republican nominee... As Phil Gramm says, "Money is the oxygen that makes campaigns go." So I'm sending Pat a $10 check. ("Welcome Back, Pat," by Dan Savage, April 5, 1996)
WE COULDA HAD A COMMONS
Development is coming to South Lake Union, proposed site of the Seattle Commons. The question we need to ask ourselves as we prepare to vote on a new, cheaper Commons levy is: What kind of development do we want?
Seattle has less green space than any major city in the country. Only four percent of our four-square-mile "greater downtown" area—Lower Queen Anne, South Lake Union, Downtown/Pioneer Square/International District, First Hill and Capitol Hill—is green or open space. (Portland checks in at 18 percent.) Most of Seattle's ballyhooed "natural beauty" comes from the water and mountains that surround us. Pretty to look at, but without the luxury of a car or boat, impossible to enjoy. Creating a large urban park in a desolate, empty "neighborhood"—bringing a little of that natural beauty to the center of the city—seems to me the progressive thing to do.
Yet the Seattle Commons has been pegged as elitist, a "front lawn for the rich"... Don't be fooled: A vote against the Commons is not a vote against "development," "elites," or condos. Park or no park, developers are going to build their ugly condos in South Lake Union. A vote against the Commons is a vote for unplanned, unrestricted development: lots of condos, no green space. Without the Commons, in 30 years all of South Lake Union will look like Second Avenue in Belltown is starting to look: condo canyons. ("I ❤ Seattle Commons," by Dan Savage, May 11, 1996)
IGNORING THE HOMELESS
The streets are teeming with beggars. You cannot possibly help most of them. Lately you've stopped helping any of them. Clutching your hard-earned coins like a child with an allowance, you've started stepping over them, giving less and less. You've seen some of them so regularly that you've actually begun to resent them as much as you resent other people you've never met—like politicians and child molesters...
Eventually you found yourself irritated by the sound of their voices. You'd be preoccupied with your own concerns and they would be interrupting you asking for a handout. Then one day money started getting tight for you too and all you could think about was how you hardly could get and hold onto a piece of money and here people were stopping you in your almost-broke thoughts asking for money. Before long you hated having to stop and talk to them, particularly in the morning when you'd run into them on the way to that job you hate going to. And you began to resent them for getting in your way on your way home. Which is how it started; first you resented them taking up your time and then you hated them taking up your benevolence.
You were not raised this way, with this kind of resentment, but now these so many years and disappointments later you just want to be left alone. You do not want to be so bothered. You see them so often you've taken to aggressively ignoring them. You've convinced yourself that you no longer see them. You no longer see them because they don't look like you. When you was po', you didn't look like this, nor did you act like they act. You didn't take to asking total strangers for food, for smoke, for money...
So where you used to smile and stop and chat, now you leave home prepared to ignore them. You have your sunglasses on and your cheap personal stereo is turned up so loud that you almost wander into traffic. You are broke blind, never seeing or encountering the growing nation of the nouveau always-poor. Yet you can't help colliding with all the other broke blind people on the same road, all with the same hands stuffed into their pockets with the money that they'll always keep hidden in the stingy small of their fists. ("Sign of the Times," Paradise column, by Riz Rollins, August 15, 1996)
PULL-TABS FOR EVERYONE
There are 14 taverns in White Center. They've all got pull-tabs, but only the Locker Room lets you dump the spent tabs on the floor. A dozen men sit at the Locker Room's horseshoe bar drinking canned beer and talking to Rick, the owner. The floor is ankle-deep in used pull-tabs, all of them losers. Winning tabs get handed to Rick, who pays them off with cash from the till. "Everyone wins a lot here," Rick says.
The more I lose, the more welcome I feel. I spend $30, losing all but three—enough to cover my two beers. It's five o'clock, and dark outside. I go to Chubby and Tubby, cash a check for $40, then lose it all on tabs. Pull-tabs are thumb-sized slats of cardboard with a trio of figures printed inside a serrated tab. A dollar buys you two. Pulling the tab reveals the figures; the right combo pays off anywhere from one to five hundred dollars.
The tabs come in bins, five to six thousand in a bin, with four or five hundred winners among them. The winners are listed on a big sign, called a flare. Each time a winner gets pulled, the bartender crosses it off the flare.
Over 6 billion tabs are sold each year in Washington, the biggest market in the country. Every tavern, bowling alley, and bingo hall I've ever been to has them... The biggest pull-tab factory in the world is in Lynnwood. I drive there on a Saturday morning... Trade Products makes over 3 billion pull-tabs a year. The tabs are legal tender, so the factory keeps its garbage sealed. Because it's Saturday, no one answers when I knock. The building is enormous, faceless. It's a glorified shed, big as a football field. The windows are glazed, reflecting mountains, which are very beautiful this morning, white with fresh snow. I crawl under the dumpster. It's huge, sealed like a space capsule, but garbage has spilled from its mouth. The ground is filthy and stinks like vinegar—print chemicals—and I get dizzy. Ink capsules print sheets, shrink-wrap, beer cans, spilled crystals... I have to lie on my belly because the dumpster sits low to the ground. Neighbors packing their car with fishing gear yell at me. I crawl further under the dumpster. In a pile of broken glass I find a Red Hot 7, a pull-tab, a one-dollar winner. ("Let's Get Lost: Stumbling Through the Biggest Pull-Tab Market in America," by Matthew Stadler, January 1, 1998)