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Thursday, October 18, 2007

We Saw Your Light On

posted by on October 18 at 7:45 AM

In the second chapter of The Great Gatsby, Nick goes into New York City with Tom Buchanan and Tom’s mistress, Myrtle, and they hang out in Myrtle’s apartment on 158th Street, “one slice in a long white cake of apartment-houses.” Myrtle’s apartment is on the top floor. It’s one of those apartments “crowded to the doors with a set of tapestried furniture entirely too large for it.” They invite some people over, including Myrtle’s sister Catherine. Nick (narrator) gets drunk for the second time in his life. Someone breaks someone else’s nose. It’s quite a little party. But before all that comes this knockout paragraph:

The bottle of whiskey—a second one—was now in constant demand by all present, excepting Catherine, who “felt just as good on nothing at all.” Tom rang for the janitor and sent him for some celebrated sandwiches, which were a complete supper in themselves. I wanted to get out and walk eastward toward the park through the soft twilight, but each time I tried to go I became entangled in some wild, strident argument which pulled me back, as if with ropes, into my chair. Yet high over the city our line of yellow windows must have contributed their share of human secrecy to the casual watcher in the darkening streets, and I was him too, looking up and wondering. I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.

Anyway. The inspiration for this week’s feature wasn’t The Great Gatsby, it was The Portland Mercury. But it did involve walking by apartments at night, looking for lit-up windows, and wondering what was going on inside. We wanted to do it when the city was at its most dead. So we did it last Wednesday. At 2 a.m.—so, technically, Thursday. Fve Stranger writers (Megan Seling, Jonah Spangenthal-Lee, Eric Grandy, Brendan Kiley, and I) went to five neighborhoods (Ballard, the U-District, Capitol Hill/downtown, Belltown, and West Seattle) with a sign, flashlights, and a buddy or two. And we found people who were still awake. And wrote about them. None of us were murdered.

There’s a picture of the sign on this week’s cover.


When you go out in the middle of the night and choose five people solely on the basis of their light being on—it also depended, of course, on their willingness to follow the instructions printed on a sign held up by some shady figures standing out in the street (in Georgetown, the first neighborhood I tried, someone came to the window, read the sign I was holding, waved, didn’t follow the instructions, and disappeared, never to return to the window [which is probably what I would have done])—what you get is a snapshot of five regular people, a random sample of the citizenry. Five instances of the inexhaustible variety of life.

Here’s who we met, by neighborhood.

West Seattle
“We got out and stood under a crosswalk sign. We shined flashlights into the apartment while holding the sign. Someone came to the window. The person appeared to be Justin Timberlake—the jacket, the hat. After a pause, Justin Timberlake gestured toward the front steps. Justin Timberlake was coming outside to meet us.” [More…]

The U-District
“We were hurried inside Sigma Nu’s enormous house and led down to a cavernous kitchen turned into a makeshift dining room. A half-full bag of tortilla chips sat next to a half-empty bottle of Jameson. The four frat boys sized us up, trying to figure out why we were there. We asked what they were doing up at this hour, and they offered to show us.” [More…]

The first thing I noticed about him was that he was drunk—slurred-speech, unable-to-stand-up-straight-for-more-than-a-few-seconds drunk. The second thing I noticed was his funny black T-shirt that had “HEAVY METAL” at the top and, below that, pictures of various kinds of metal from the periodic table—gold, silver, platinum, aluminum, etc.” [More…]

Capitol Hill/Downtown
“He walked us over to his new place at the Tower @ 801 apartments, that cool, cylindrical high-rise by the Paramount. His apartment was the shape of a large piece of pie.” [More…]

“He was cheerful and talkative, not slurring at all, but it was hard to follow his conversation. First he said he was 30, then 35, but he looked like a hard-lived 40. His name was Billy. Then it was Alex. Then he asked: ‘Can you refer to us as Dana and Alex?’ Who’s Dana? ‘He’s in jail, doing 30 days in Monroe. But when he gets out, we’re going to burn that fucking thing down.’” [More…]

Plus, a bonus: here are some 2 a.m. vignettes—from other nights—set in Pioneer Square, the Central District, Capitol Hill, and Aurora. Follow that link and you will find Brendan Kiley asking a prostitute who is shouting and jumping whether she is shouting and jumping because she is happy or shouting and jumping because she is sad.

Good morning.

RSS icon Comments


Best post ever. You made my night-- or morning, according to your incorrect time stamp.

Posted by Amelia | October 18, 2007 1:25 AM

pretty creepy and cool at the same time.

Posted by kerri harrop | October 18, 2007 1:41 AM


Posted by Soupytwist | October 18, 2007 1:47 AM

You know, I think it's a little weird that in all the neighborhoods you chose to check out, you managed to stay away from the sub-neighborhoods where the cops might actually take an interest in late-night loitering.

Way to do the brave reporting, The Stranger. I'm sure there's a Pulitzer in this for one of you, if you stick to the same intersections for another 40 years or so.

Posted by robotslave | October 18, 2007 3:12 AM

Let me boil that down, robotslave, it's too wordy.

"Oh you did something? I'd have done it better, but I didn't."

Posted by P | October 18, 2007 3:28 AM

hey, come on over to boylston, behind seattle central, i'll throw down tasty snacks, tampons, pbr, ironic retorts or sex toys, depending on my sardonic and medicated(or not) mood...i'm usually up and need a life.

Posted by hipsterlite | October 18, 2007 3:47 AM

shinning lights in windows is most likely illegal

I hope you get busted

you found nothing of real interest, just the mundane crap of ordinary people

some work, some don't , getting sex, breaking up, half crazy, etc

where is the WOW - most likely the frat boys were getting ready for a group roll and you chilled them out


Posted by Lordsman | October 18, 2007 4:42 AM


@7 That's why it's so great you moron. The random people they came across were all equally fucked-up and yet beautiful. If you want to read/watch some sensationalized and or contrived bullshit how about you watch some reality TV?

Posted by JessB | October 18, 2007 5:05 AM

Gorgeous. The perfect thing to wake up to when you can't sleep. Even Mudede's writing was great.

Posted by Jessica | October 18, 2007 6:25 AM

I love you, geek frat! I really want to play UNO now.

Posted by Gloria | October 18, 2007 6:50 AM

this made my morning so much better.
also, charles, there's a cougher in the apartment below me too. it's frightening sometimes.

Posted by eustceia | October 18, 2007 7:36 AM

What a super duper post. Fantastic. Thanks.

Posted by Michigan Matt | October 18, 2007 7:44 AM

That's not a random sample of the citizenry. Far from it; it's a selected sample. Almost all of the citizenry is in bed at that hour. Ever notice what kind of ads run on late-night TV? That's your market.

Posted by Fnarf | October 18, 2007 8:11 AM

I love that picture. Can't wait to read the story, though I'm waiting to sit down with the paper to do it.

Posted by Levislade | October 18, 2007 8:50 AM

Wow, what a great piece. I wish I could count myself as one of the citizens of the world up at 2 in the morning on a Wed, but sadly ... I am not.

Posted by arduous | October 18, 2007 9:24 AM

#8 - your life is so empty that you think it is sensational? and call me a moron? and suggest more TV?

First, I don't own a TV - have not watched it at all for years.

Two, you are the moron for thinking that phrase is communication or even an insult coming from a total stranger.

Three, it is illegal to bother people in the quiet enjoyment of their homes.

Four, these interviews would be better on video.

Posted by Lordsman | October 18, 2007 9:50 AM

Of course the frat boys at the U were all excited when the frat boys and girls from the Stranger came to visit and they all got more bored together

A picture of the guy with the blond curls sans shirt and a couple of buttons opened would have been REALLY interesting, esp. after midnight

Posted by fred | October 18, 2007 9:59 AM

Good thing you skipped Fremont.

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 18, 2007 11:24 AM

I adored this feature. Awesome.

Posted by Lake | October 18, 2007 2:02 PM

Lordsman - that's a pretty narrow window of when it's illegal to bother people in their homes.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | October 18, 2007 2:18 PM

That was fucking awesome.

Great idea.

Posted by SC | October 18, 2007 4:01 PM

You should see who is up at 4am. 2am still has some light-weight night-timers up, but at 4am you get some heavy-weight night-timers as long as you aren't running into the heavy-weight early birds! heh I'm always up late at night. That's usually when I read the slog. Mostly being up late at night there isn't much to do. If you are female you can't really go out walking around for fear of getting attacked even though I have been out late and have yet to be attacked (knock on wood). I think there is one restaurant on Capitol Hill that is open 24 hours. There is one place by the Space Needle I think. I'm not sure of other places. In Portland I think VooDoo Donuts is open 24 hours and the HotCake House I'm pretty sure. There used to be a Starbucks open in Vancouver 24 hours, but now I think they have scaled back the hours. It was drive-thru only anyway. :( In NYC I think H & H bagels is open 24 hours and the subways run 24 hours, but it is kinda creepy to be on the subway alone...or waiting for the subway alone plus with one creepy guy standing around and no one else! Oh yeah, and the hospital ERs are always open 24 hours. You should visit them! hehe.

Posted by Kristin Bell | October 19, 2007 8:58 AM

i want to do this in my city.

Posted by mallory | October 26, 2007 2:00 PM

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