Buddhist master Derek Erdman
Buddhist master Derek Erdman Derek Erdman

Derek Erdman left Seattle on September 11, 2017, which seems like a fitting date for a local tragedy. Erdman, a merry prankster, artist, and author of my favorite Stranger piece from the past 27 years (seriously, read it), once invited 1,000 people to a film screening at an apartment building he didn't live in (this, surprise, was shut down) and regularly opened his Madison Street apartment for art shows complete with free hot dogs and/or Haribo. Alas, the Seattle dog's loss was the Chicago dog's win, as Derek left us for the Midwest for some goddamn reason. I caught up with Derek via Gchat this week, and what follows is a mostly unedited transcript of that conversation (so please forgive the lack of capital letters, misspellings, and sloppy punctuation on my end).

KH: Is it humid in Chicago?

DE: There's currently very little humidity here, which is unfortunate. Sticky summer is one of the reasons I moved back.

KH: really? you like a sticky summer?

DE: Yes, very much so. I grew up here, so I just got used to them. I prefer to sleep in air conditioning, but being outside on a hot summer day, doing yard work or playing tennis, I really enjoy that.

KH: besides the lack of stickiness, how's chicago?

[24 minute pause]

DE: Sorry about that, some guy just came to the door and I'm making fried rice. I really love it here, but it took a while to readjust. There are many things that I miss about Seattle though. But the food is cheap and the people are very Midwestern. So that's good and bad. I have to put some stuff in a box in a basement, so I'll check back in a little bit.

KH: what do you miss about seattle?

DE: Seattle's a young town: young people, young energy, it's really noticeable in comparison. Chicago is great and historical, but it's also set in its ways. There a real, "that's just the way we do things here," mentality in Chicago.

My girlfriend and I lived at 16th and Madison in Seattle, so it was really nice to be in Capitol Hill but not in the thick of things. There was often something interesting happening, any hour of the night. The average age of people in Capitol Hill seemed to be mid-20s, while in Chicago it's more like 35. Plus it's really beautiful there, and the infrastructure is in great shape. Shit is pretty fucked up here, rotted rusty bridges holding freight trains, massive potholes, etc. And while the average person in Seattle might not authentically personable, there was never the sense of overt aggression that you get from people here in Chicago. And I really miss Rancho Bravo and the burger from Smith. And Neon Taco.

KH: i saw on instagram that you've started a campaign to increase rat positivity in chicago. can you tell me about that?

DE: My ex-wife had guinea pigs, and I really fell in love with them. After that, I've really taken to loving animals more, especially tiny critters. There's a serious anti-rat campaign here, the signs are disturbing. Just today somebody posted a photo of a rat in a trap with a favorable caption. Those are sweet animals, it's kinda fucked to that people take great joy in killing them. The FEED THE RATS posters were a swipe at that, but after they received some attention a lot of people have reached out that they feel sympathy for the rats as well. There are so many things that you have to accept when you're living in a big city. Rats and pigeons are two of those things. I love the rats, I feed them as much as I can.

KH: how do chicago rats compare to seattle rats? the rats here seem particularly good at using telephone lines as roadways. i've never seen so many rats on wires as i have in seattle

DE: I haven't noticed much of a difference between the rats of both cities. There was a rat maze in the patch of grass outside of my kitchen window at 16th and Madison, that's where all of my leftovers went. Do you love the rats?

KH: actually i hate them. a lot. i won't walk in cal anderson at night because of the rats. if i am with someone else and they insist on not walking around the park i will hold their elbow and walk with my eyes shut so i dont have to look at rats

DE: Why do you hate them so much?

KH: it's the tails that really get me. a tail-less rat might be ok. i guess that would be a guinea pig though. i lived in a house that was invested with both rats and mice in college and that kind of ruined rodents for me. now i'd prefer them to disappear. not suffer, just not exist. so how did the city respond to your pro-rat posters?

DE: The only response I've received is a stack of posters that had been torn off of poles appeared under a brick on my porch one morning. So, nothing from the city, just more of a Chicago style warning from somebody.

KH: so the anti-rat lobby knows where you live?

DE: I don't make my whereabouts a secret, so it wasn't a surprise.

KH:what else is going on in your art life? you posted an image on instagram of a cease and desist letter regarding your KILL AND EAT KYLIE JENNER shirts... is that legit?

DE: It's a real letter, yeah. The address and lawyer name correspond to an actual law firm in Irvine, California. Though they misspelled Kylie Jenner's name in the letter, which is the best part. I think the C+D will actually help sales in the long run.

KH: ok so you didn't write the letter? feel free to lie about this. truth is subjective

DE: I honestly didn't write that cease and desist letter, that would take a really long time. I think you can tell by the quality of my "work" that putting time into things isn't exactly my strong suit.

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KH: it was typed, which doesn't seem like your style. so what's the deal — some lawyers who don't actually represent kylie jenner are trying to shake you down?

DE: Or maybe just a joke from somebody. Most of the response from the KILL AND EAT KYLIE JENNER t-shirt was positive, though there was one major complaint, which came from a person in Seattle, unsurprisingly.

KH: i'm shocked. what was the complaint? did you hear from the vegans for this one?

DE: Oh no, it was that I was advocating violence against women. Let me dig up the direct quote, they're really something:

"Lol come on do better. Like sorry the Kardashians trigger you but let's find something more clever and less mean spirited to put on a t-shirt made in China shall we? Love your work!"

That's some real Seattle stuff right there. But they didn't get mean, which was nice. It's so common these days to get, "I hate your t-shirt idea, your mother is a dumpster fire and you should get killed." The state of today is real unfortunate. In the DM they went on the say that a white man shouldn't be advocating violence against a teenage woman. It's unfortunate that a lot of people don't see that we have a class problem in this country. Most people are like an elementary school at 3:30pm: NOOOOOO CLASSSS.

KH: is there less of this knee-jerk, you're trash, hyper online bullshit in chicago than seattle? i was just in asheville, north carolina and i saw tons of white people with dreadlocks. it was kind of shocking after living in a place where white people with dreads are seen as opressors who deserve to get publicly scalped. [Note: I am NOT advocating for white people to grow dreadlocks. It hardly ever looks good, including my own dreadlocks circa 1999, a hairstyle I deeply regret and apologize for daily.]

DE: Seattle is really fucked up when it comes to that stuff. It makes for bland unadventurous culture.

KH: has seattle always been like this or is it recent? i haven't been here long enough. i missed the good years and arrived just in time for the bland, affluent, virtuous years

DE: I'd say Seattle has always been like that to an extent, but it certainly got worse during the eight years I was there. on the internet especially, there were certainly people in my friend groups that were excessively critical about as much as they could be. Interestingly those people were usually miserable. Ultimately I think I just try to be a good person to the people I come in contact with, to be kind and generous. That Kylie Jenner shirt is $35, by the way.

KH: $35 and VERY problematic. ok i think that was all my questions for you. any parting words for SLOG commentors in seattle?

DE: If you turn this into a "Seattle ex-pat Derek Erdman is anti-SJW" hit piece, I'll advocate violence against you :)

There you have it, folks! Derek Erdman is NOT anti-SJW, so maybe put down the pitchforks and redistribute some wealth by buying his Kylie Jenner shirt instead. And, if you're in Chicago, his first show is coming up next month.