Life We Saw Your Light On
posted by October 18 at 7:45 AMon
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.
“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…]
“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…]
“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.