Last weekend I visited Seattle from Vancouver with my spouse. We stayed at the childhood home of an old friend whose parents in the mid-eighties moved into Laurelhurst, a wealthy neighborhood overlooking Lake Washington on a hill behind the University of Washington campus.
On Sunday morning we walked down to the Laurelhurst Beach Club, a private, neighborhood-owned wooden pier on the lake with small sailboats for rent, diving platforms and slides, and canvas umbrella-scattered lawns. It was packed with people who had brought coolers, paper coffee cups, and binoculars to watch SeaFair, an annual weekend festival where hydroplane racers compete on a F1-styled water course and the Blue Angels, the American Navy’s “flight demonstration squadron,” demonstrate.
As a former resident of San Francisco, where Blue Angels perform similar antics during that city’s annual Fleet Week, another Navy event, I was familiar with such demonstrations and my own reactions to them. My Canadian spouse, however, was not. Cornflower blue F-16’s banked in diamond formation a hundred feet above our stretch of Lake Washington’s shore. Massive, tandem-rotor, Boeing-made Chinook transport helicopters and aerial refueling tankers trailing twin hoses hovered above the water we swam. Blonde mothers and grandmothers held binoculars under their arms to applaud while men in wraparound sunglasses pointed at helicopters for small kids. The sound of streaking fighter planes shook the glass of the Beach Club’s windows.
Late that night, as my old friend and I shared a drink on his mother’s patio overlooking the dark lake, we watched small lights in the sky quiver and zip, UFO’s or probably helicopters on late-night joyrides too distant to hear, and looked at the book American Amazon had sent to my American mailing address, Chris Nealon’s Heteronomy. We discussed the idea of an anarcho-syndicalist community sustained by individual interpretations of a contemporary poetic text, and retired to watch an episode of John Oliver’s HBO show Last Week Tonight, an exposé of America’s 4,804 nuclear weapons. I fell asleep thinking of Whitman’s poem “This Compost” – “O how can it be that the ground itself does not sicken?” – and Siberian sinkholes.