Editor’s Notes: Explicit Content
By Horus Alas
In the midst of my burning, blistering stupor, we entered Nikolai Valmont’s apartment off Russell Ave NW.
When you think of bachelor pads, the following visuals might come to mind: empty boxes of takeout overflowing from garbage cans, dirty laundry strewn about the floor, clouds of fruit flies floating in the kitchen, etc.
But not so here. In the northwestern periphery of the country, Nikolai had established for himself a place you could bring a girl over without feeling weird about it. This was Seattle; terminus of the continental United States; a place where people came from elsewhere, and never wanted to leave.
An L-shaped leather couch atop a rug stood at the center of his living room with wood floors. Instead of a TV, there was an empty wall in front of the couch where a ceiling projector blasted photons. This, in turn, was hooked up to a computer by way of HDMI cable. Nikolai’s one-bedroom apartment was not only respectable, but aspirational.
“When I’m just hanging out by myself,” he told us, “I light up a bowl and watch porn on the big screen. I also know a fair bit about sad, drunken masturbation.”
For some, happiness can be so simple.
It was Saturday night when we arrived. I’d spent the day battling a chest cold and fever, and after a complimentary shot of whiskey at the restaurant where Nikolai worked, my body needed rest. Frank and Tom Lazard, longtime friends of ours with whom I flew in, went off with our host on a late-night excursion for drinks and mac and cheese.
In the midst of my burning, blistering stupor, I collapsed on the sprawling leather couch in Nikolai Valmont’s living room. My sweat smelled of cough syrup from the CVS in College Park.
By Sunday morning, my fever broke. Nikolai nudged me on the shoulder, asking me how I was feeling.
“I’m a lot better than before, thanks.”
“Cool. So I was thinking I would show the guys around the Farmers’ Market and take in some of the sights around here. You interested in coming?”
Shortly thereafter, wispy fumes of cannabis smoke filled the air in Nikolai’s apartment. There was coughing and laughter as a group of miscreants passed around a pipe and used the sound system to blast MF Doom’s “Hoe Cakes” and Tyler, the Creator’s “911/Mr. Lonely.”
“If we were doing this in Maryland,” Nikolai observed, “I’d be freaked out about people walking around making noise outside.
“But here…” he said, exhaling some puffy clouds, “Nobody gives a fuck. I feel totally at peace.”
It was the ethos of Clerks, and every other ‘90s movie about young adult slackers who didn’t want to grow up. We knew—at least incipiently—what growing up was about. It wasn’t all that fun.
With eyes rouge like the devil’s dick, the reprobates ambled onto the street.
Every Sunday, Nikolai informed us, the Ballard neighborhood where he lived hosted a Farmers Market. Ballard Ave, which had the feel of a street in AdMo that’s become hip by dint of its age and vintage appeal, was dotted with kiosks selling produce. Around them, yellow foliage whisked off tree branches fluttered in the wind.
And yes, there were mom and pop shops here housed in quaint, two-story brick buildings. But instead of Earl Grey, they sold Kombucha; ice cream was supplanted by Gelato; sushi bars would serve rolls that actually filled you up alongside yakuza-style cocktails that blended Campari with Japanese whiskey.
Everything normal was gleefully eviscerated in favor of something cooler, more nonchalant and worldly-blasé.
At the first stall we approached, a curly-haired girl presided over a row of fermented cabbage samples.
“Where are you from?” I asked.
“New Jersey,” she noted casually.
“And how long have you been here?”
“A few years now. Maybe like five.”
“You just like it enough here that you don’t want to leave?”
“Yeah, definitely! Everyone out here is so laid-back and friendly, and the vibe is so relaxed.”
And so it was. Passersby milled about these market stalls, their fluffy dogs and baby strollers in tow. Their indifferent gait gave the impression of people who have nothing to do but take in the sights around them and smile placidly.
A block or so up from where the market stalls began, we ran into some stalls where two steampunk-looking poets charged $5 to write a poem on any given subject matter. Close to them stood a portly man with a cardboard sign at his feet which said, “WILL FREESTYLE A POEM ON ANY TOPIC OF YOUR CHOICE—GIVE WHAT YOU CAN.”
Like most impressionable travelers, our eyes gravitated toward the impromptu spoken-word poet. And like the savvy salespeople at these market stalls, he noticed our curiosity.
“Wassup fellas, how you guys doing?” he asked.
“We’re cool man, what’s good with you?” I said.
We learned after a few minutes of conversation that the poet called himself Anthony Hickerson. He asked where we were from, to which we replied, “Maryland.”
“Get outta here. Which part?”
“Ayyee, I’m from Anacostia, Southeast DC!”
We exchanged ample daps and props. There were plenty of East Coast transplants here, sure; but this was a DMV man. This was someone we could rap to about mumbo sauce, WMATA and gentrification. A homie from home who’d found it fit to roam about the globe.
“Can you freestyle for us about what the vibe and culture is like here in Seattle?” I asked.
The whirling whirlwind of words formed a sound not until then heard as each phrase filled the air with verve and reverb.
“… In a city like Seattle with so much to see, and so much to do / There’s simply no time to be blue,” Hickerson concluded.
A zesty “Clap, clap, clap,” echoed through the air in rippled soundwaves from our palms. We tipped Hickerson $5, and then continued along the idyllic scene of Ballard Ave in autumn. Yellow leaves from its trees continued their bristle about in the breeze.
The opening words of Frankie Ocean’s verse on “911/Mr. Lonely” came to mind:
“Chirp, chirp / Chirp, chirp / Woke up in the ‘burbs, ‘burbs / With the birds, birds / Where you used to come and hit me with the swerve, swerve.”
Swerve. Swish. Verve; Seattle.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Horus Alas.
Horus Alas is a freelance writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.