Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tom's Seattle: Seattle Will Eat Your Children

You may think there is only one Bigfoot, and that he is basically a retiring ape-like beast who looks a lot like a man in a monkey suit. And you would be as wrong as I was until I visited the Museum of the Mysteries!

It turns out there are a bunch of Bigfoot or Sasquatch. And as it happens, they range from huge, vaguely Roddy McDowall-looking Harry and the Hendersons types, all the way to noncorporeal spirit-tricksters who take the shape of wizened old ladies and whose basic schtick is they will put overly curious children in a bag, take them away, and eat them at their convenience. These things I find out at the Museum of the Mysteries, though they only have plaster-casts of the feet of the Roddy McDowall beasts.

Other things at the Museum include small turdy-looking rocks whose significance hinges on their possible extraterrestrial origin, a fact that would be decried by the first recorded Men in Black when they showed up to menace early investigators into the UFO from which the fist-sized stones dropped. The Museum, perhaps better termed a "library with exhibits", boasts probably the largest Mysterious World section of books in Seattle, and thuswise is one of the best places in America.

The co-director of the Museum is a short, cardigan-clad fellow named Philip. He looks like a cross between Steven King and the stereotypical image of a mad scientist's assistant. He shows me a documentary about Frances Farmer. Like most people, I knew pretty much nothing about Farmer besides the speculation that she had some sort of retribution in store for Seattle.

I now also know that in High School she won a prize for writing an essay speculating on a world without God; that she later went on a sponsored trip behind the Iron Curtain, where she had a whale of a time; and that, following a period of sub-Spearsian misanthropy toward the media and her fans, she was hospitalised, repeatedly raped (she claims) by gangs of Russian sailors, and involuntarily lobotomised (others claim) by the notoriously icepick-happy staff of the institution in which she was incarcerated.

What impresses you in media of Farmer is the arc of her facial expressions over the years: From the youngest family snaps through school photos, she always has a vaguely supercilious wistfulness, like she's not really meant to be there. During stardom, that look has matured into a steely, confronting glare, shining through the eyeholes of the mask of fame as it eats into her face[1]. And after the alleged lobotomy - which Farmer's doctors insist is unrecorded and could never have happened - it's gone. All that's left is a sad desire to be accepted for what she is now, a pleading to put the entire pre-existence of Frances Farmer behind her and cut her losses. But these are images presented to you as components of a pre-written narrative, and as such it's easy to project onto them, slotting them into the easiest available spaces within the mythology.

Frances Farmer isn't the only celebrated progeny/casualty of Seattle, of course. Her mythology is intricately entwined with that of Kurt Cobain, whose guitar-fuzz rebellion furthered the mission of Jimi Hendrix, who used to hang out, on rare but Seattle-royalty-intense occasion, with Bruce Lee. You could rearrange and triangulate the mysteries of that quartet (or quintet, if you included Brandon Lee) until you went as mad as an apocryphal actress. You could add the legends of Pike Place Market, the ghost stories they tell the tourists of the daughter of Seattle's eponymous Chief Stealth, who wanders the hallways searching for shiny beads[2]; and of the morbidly obese woman who fell through the roof and now moans at workers.

But I never saw those ghosts, so I think they're like child-stealing crones in the woods: Just stories you tell kids to stop them getting too curious. You could always just rope the Market off at night instead, right?

[1] Merchant, XFM s10e18, quoting Updike, Self-Consciousness.
[2] This is a case of posthumously mistaken identity. Stealth's daughter shared none of the qualities attributed to the ghostly maiden, save being Native American and female; but these are images presented to you as components of a pre-written narrative, etc.


someonefromsometime said...

Great "article."

i particularly like the photo of the tower from between the train tracks(or monorail, whatever...)

also i applaud your use of references, most people don't bother.

Whats the next stop(i'm assume you're done west-coasting)

my guesses are
2.-kansas(just so you can leave and be able to say "i'm not in kansas anymore"
3.- nothing of interest in the middle and directly to the east coast.
4.- wait isn't there something in Texas?



Homage said...

As it happens, I was wondering about going to Kansas for exactly that reason.

Iona said...

I don't know about that Philip chap. That description sounds rather like my dad. Ooooooohh mysterious.

ontic5 said...

Great read that was. A museum of mysteries. Not bad. But the ghost stories don´t really fit. I mean, what kind of ghost could be bothered to haunt anything other than an original castle? What about style?

While you guys are at it already: you should grab the shoes you took that photo of. If you get homesick you can just put them on, tap them and say to yourself: There´s no place like home!

Hugh said...

"It's the pesto of cities"
- George Costanza, on Seattle