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Seattle Writing Prompts: New Year's Eve at Seattle Center

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

Welcome 2011, Happy New Year, Seattle Space Needle, red and white blue haze fireworks, Washington, USA

Every year at the stroke of midnight, December 31st, the Space Needle explodes. It's a controlled explosion, and doesn't hurt either the Needle or anybody atop it. It does entertain the huge crowd of people who come to Seattle Center every year to celebrate ringing in the New Year: Seattle's version of Times Square.

One year, it didn't happen. December 13th, 1999, a guy named Ahmed Ressam is on a ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles. He'd already passed through customs, but the way he was acting caught the eye of US Customs inspector Diana Dean, and she decided to have another talk with him. They inspected his car and found bomb-making materials. Ressem fled on foot and got six blocks before they took him down.

Remember that this was before September 11, 2001. Terrorist attacks had happened on American soil, but the only people scared of them were the people in charge of stopping them.

And Seattle Mayor Paul Schell: Although Schell is best known now for being the mayor under the WTO riots, and for being assaulted by Omari Tahir-Garrett, he was considered an establishment city builder. He moved a lot of money around Seattle, helping to grease the wheels to get the new City Hall, the new Library, and the new Opera House built.

He also cancelled the Seattle New Year's Eve millennial celebration. He was called a "schoolmarm" by local artist Carl Smool. Mr. 9/11 himself, Rudy Giuliani, said "I would urge people not to let the psychology of fear infect the way they act, otherwise we have let the terrorist win without anybody striking a blow." Ahem. lol.

But a missing propane truck at the time, and the very real threat from the border crossing, combined with a year where the WTO roiled the police (who were then further demeaned by a death at an overly raucous Mardi Gras celebration) lead Schell to take a bold and unusual step for a mayor: shutting down the big party on the eve of the millennium.

The only party open: a private party at the Space Needle, for those who paid well, far in advance.

Perhaps Schell was acting out of an abundance of caution — there was no known risk that night. But after the attacks on 9/11, everybody looked back a bit differently at the cavalier attitude people had toward security way back when.

The streets of Queen Anne were quiet that night. It makes me wonder about alternate realities. It makes me wonder how many stories that night continued, in spite of the cancelled event....

Today's prompts

It started with the mayor canceling New Year's. They had a huge argument. He started it: "New Year's is ruined," he said, "because of our pansy-assed mayor and his lick-ass council. If this city had any balls they'd just throw the middle finger at terrorists and say 'come bomb us, assholes!'" Her attitude was more one of "there are plenty of parties to be had, and if you let this ruin your millennium, then you are a fool, and why are we even in a relationship?"

If you want them to stay together this night, go to prompt 1. If you want them to separate (and follow her), go to prompt 2.

  1. He picked the party, at his friend's house, in the end. They argued all the way there, all the way inside, and all the way to the kitchen where he did four shots and cracked a beer with his buddies, leaving her to fend for herself. She found a beer herself, and checked out the house. It was a series of rooms with gross carpet and broken furniture, anywhere you might care to sit stained or wet with spilled alcohol. It was worse than a frat house. She went to use the restroom, then thought better of it and went back to the kitchen to beg him to leave. He wasn't in the kitchen. None of his friends would say where he went, but one of them kept looking at the back door. She went to it, looking through the glass, but all was darkness. She flipped on the light, and there, under a naked 100 watt bulb, was her boyfriend making out with some slag. If you want this to turn into a science fiction story, go to prompt 3. If you want this to turn into a horror story, go to prompt 4.

  2. A few calls after leaving his apartment, and she was in a cab to meet up with some friends at a bar downtown. "God, we're so glad you lost him," said one. "He was really an asshole, and not even hot enough to make up for 10% of it." They bought her drinks, and were trying to get her to talk to other men at the bar, including one who looked like a young Jeff Goldblum. They talked, and he said "look, this is crazy, but I've got two tickets to the final hour of the century at the top of the space needle. Do you want to go?" Before answering, her phone rang. She stepped out to take the call from her very apologetic boyfriend who begged her to come back. If she should reunite with her boyfriend, go to prompt 1. If she should go to the Space Needle, go to prompt 5.

  3. "Oh my god, what an asshole" said a voice. She turned to see her, a woman she'd met a few times, who lived in this house with this guys. "Come with me." The roommate took her hand and led her upstairs, where, behind a locked door, was a nicely appointed master suite. "Your room is actually....clean. And normal." — "Oh, yeah, the whole house is usually. I just rent crappy furniture for the parties so my nice stuff doesn't get ruined." The roommate took her through a doorway into another room, where lights blinked in the darkness. The overhead lights came on to reveal walls of computers. "Get your mind off that asshole," the roommate said. "Try this." She held out a band. It was supposed to go around her head, with two spoon-shaped devices that apparently went over her eyes. "If you put this on, it's gonna transport you into another person, at the Space Needle tonight. I've been hacking into their brainwaves all night. Time to crash the richy-rich party, yeah?" — "Uh sure, I guess." She put on the device, and her head felt like a leg that went to sleep and got woken up to pinpricks. Then, suddenly, she was in someone else's head. Go to prompt 5.

  4. She was about to open the door and punch somebody, when the clouds parted and the moon came out. The girl kissing her boyfriend jerked, and fell backward, and she was out of view. A moment later something came up. Her boyfriend recoiled, but a canine snout bit at his face, and tore his nose clean off. Blood splattered the window, and she turned to the room, only to find everybody in it also, now, werewolves. Hungry spittle dangled from sharp canine teeth. Growls and yelps came from all corners. All those drunk assholes, now drunk werewolves! She was trapped — the shewolf on the porch now baying and howling at the moon, the others in the kitchen now coming towards her. She dived for the paper towels, lit the stove and made a torch, waving them back. She managed to get to the living room, and made a break for the door. She had her hand on the knob, when a bite took her heel. She went down, crying out loud, another victim to the werewolf outbreak of 1999 who didn't live to see the millennium. Fini.

  5. There were ten people at the table, and she was sitting next to the host who brought them all together, the young Jeff Goldblum-looking guy. He was paying for the whole thing, apparently, and here she was, his awkward new date. She expected him to be grabby or expect something, but in fact he was funny and charming, and never crossed a boundary with her. She thought about her jerky boyfriend, and leaving him behind seemed like a week ago, not hours. She talked to the host about his job in tech, and he looked right at her when he talked, like he was really interested in her. When the fireworks went off — so loud inside the restaurant! — he sang auld lang syne and laughed. She asked to kiss him. Fireworks. Not a bad way to start a new millennium.

Seattle Writing Prompts: the #3 bus

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

Every time a billionaire complains about public transit, it's like they walked through mud and are showing you the underside of their foot. Their attitude portrays a dream of solitude, this idea that people have a right to live in the world without encountering other people, especially people different than them. It assumes that any system they could build could be enjoyed by anybody who matters.

But for the rest of us, there's public transit. For those who don't want to pay an arm and a leg to park downtown, there's public transit. For people who understand other people there's public transit.

Seattle's mass transit started as streetcars, beginning in West Seattle in 1902. Streetcars ran all over the city — the only remnant of such being the old Seattle waterfront streetcar that was removed when the Seattle Art Museum's Sculpture Park demolished the transit maintenance barn in 2005. That streetcar is expected to return as part of the construction of the 1st avenue Center City Connector, beginning construction next year.

In 1940 or so, the streetcar system was converted to buses, and in 1972 Metro appeared as a consolidation of a number of different systems. Remember the ride free zone? It used to be, on Metro buses, that you could ride through the downtown core for free. That meant there was a novel fare system: if you were headed into downtown in a fare zone, you had to pay while boarding the bus. If you were heading out of downtown, you had to pay leaving the bus. So, if you boarded, say, a #3 on Queen Anne, you paid getting on (then got your transfer so you didn't have to pay again), but you had to show it on your way off the bus on Cherry Hill. It was a weird system.

It's simpler now: pay when you get on, or swipe in with an ORCA card and board on the back doors of one of the main bus lines.

As for the billionaires — well, sure, you do run into people on the bus you want to avoid, but you also get to see a wide swath of humanity you would not be exposed to otherwise. It provides empathy, and also understanding. And, if you're interested in fashion, there's no better way to see the trends of what people are wearing than a daily bus ride.

On one bus alone, there are so many stories. Let's ride that #3 and see who we can find.

Today's prompts
  1. Queen Anne — The McClure middle-school students sat together, five of them clumped in the back of the bus. Maybe they were ditching, it was a time when normally they would be heading towards school, not away from it. Nobody would believe this is what they said, but they actually said this: "Oh my god, you guys, that is hella the bomb," said one, about something, before she leaned in conspiratorially and said "You guys. What's between us, is between us forever."

  2. MoPOP — The bus was crowded, but he had his guitar with him, and it was awkward no matter how you held it. He was coming from an early morning showcase, one chance to play a few songs for a rep before a conference at MoPOP before the museum. "Hey, could you, like, watch that?" said a woman, and he realized he bumped her with his case, right in the behind. "Oh god, I'm sorry," he said. The rep at MoPOP cut him off in the middle of his second song. "We have someone who sounds like you," she said. "Thanks." The bus jerked and he stumbled, his guitar falling over, and slapping the ground with a sickening crunch. Today was just not going well at all.

  3. Belltown — It was the two tech bros in the exit. The bus wasn't even that crowded, they could have moved or sat or done something else besides block the fucking door. "Excuse me," she said when the bus pulled in, and both of them made a lame attempt at pressing, but it was still impossible to squeeze through their backpacks. "I said, excuse me," she said again, stopping. Someone behind her said "Just squeeze through them." She turned, "No. I'm not going to squeeze my body past these inconsiderate assholes. Step off the goddamn bus and make room for people to get on and off, you selfish fucking pricks."

  4. Downtown — Everybody waited at that stop on Cherry Street because that was one steep hill. That's where James was waiting, in the chair. Some people look at him like he doesn't need it, because he pushes with his legs, but that just shows what they know. He doesn't have one of those electric ones, so the old fashioned one is all he gets. This time, the #3 pulls up, and everybody else who doesn't want to walk up that hill to Harborview comes running on in front of him, and the driver has to tell him to wait for the next bus. They already have two chairs on the bus. So he's gonna be late for his appointment, and there's no way around it. He tries not to, but some tears well up and then he feels stupid and punches at the garbage can a few times, just to show he's not some weak fucker who can't take a little disappointment.

  5. Cherry Hill — It was the hardest day she ever had. She'd only worked at the hospital for a few months, but it was no trouble cleaning up and keeping things tidy. Sometimes it got gross, but that was nothing she couldn't handle. That was the job. But the woman today, crying out in pain all day, moaning and screaming and not stopping. They were helping her, she knew they were, but it was so bad. She was trembling and wanted a drink, but had to get home to relieve the sitter. There was no way to process it. Just hope that woman got the help she needed. Hoped she was feeling better.

Seattle Writing Prompts: (De)construction

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

Oh, look at that. Another massive site in Seattle where something is being torn down, to be replaced with a giant drag queen platform boot. The old Rainier Square, a weird mall, is now torn asunder by pickers and pokers, and after a few days more, it will be a dusty hole in the ground.

The new tower, which will be the second tallest in the city (for a bit, in any case) and will hold the highest residences in all of Seattle, closed one of the largest commercial lease deals in the history of Seattle, and Amazon is going to move in to all 722,000 square feet of office space. I'm sure that made the developer very, very happy.

Who is, by the way, working for one of the largest single downtown land owners in Seattle: the University of Washington. When the University moved to its current campus — the spot of the Alaska–Yukon–Pacific Exhibition — around the turn of the 20th Century, the regents found that if they sold the land, it would be far below its appraised value. So, they made the choice to lease.

How much land does the University of Washington own? The so-called Metropolitan Tract runs from 3rd to 6th, Seneca to Union.

So, now the University of Washington owned, developer managed, Amazon leased building, which will open in 2020 or so, is to once again move the character of Seattle forward. Whether this is good or bad depends on your perspective. I hold both views, sometimes. I've been in Seattle long enough to remember ye olden days, when rent for a seven room house with a soundproofed practice room for your band was $1200 a month (Really, that was the first house I lived in here), but I also don't miss some of old Seattle's colloquialness.

And I certainly won't miss the Rainier Square, with the exception of the plaza at the base of Rainier Tower, which was always a nice outdoor public space.

Ah well. One thing about constant change: it comes with great stories.

Today's prompts
  • It took a lot of magic to contain that nasty spirit under the mall of the Rainier Square, but the laced into the concrete pour was a charged latticework which created a powerful spell of containment. Of course, the magician who created that incantation during construction in the late 1970s was now long dead. And so, nobody was there when that spirit rose, once again, to the streets of Seattle, eager to cast the same economic woes on the city that plagued it before it was contained.
  • "So then the guy finds this box under the old cornerstone, and inside is this frog, and the frog can sing..." — "The frog can sing" — "Yeah, and the guy's gonna make a mint with this singing frog — "How you make a mint with a frog? What, you put it on YouTube or something?" — "No, he was gonna do show business, you know. Show it off." — "I'm skeptical you could make money in such a way" — "You want to hear about the cartoon or not?" — "I just want to know how a singing frog could lift me out of my career in construction and deliver me into the lap of luxury, as this cartoon seems to imply" — "You're a real fucking killjoy, you know that?" — "I have been told as much before."
  • She met him the day her parents were moving them into the new condo, way up top of that new building downtown. She was wondering through the garage after parking her car, her new keycard not quite working right to open the elevator. She saw him there, by the dumpsters, smoking. "You're not supposed to do that in here." Caught, he tossed the butt on the ground and stomped it out. "Sorry," he said. "I don't care," she said. "Can I have one?" He had a white apron on, it was wet. "You work in one of those restaurants?" she said. He nodded, and gave her a cigarette from his pack. "Cool. Want to see what the penthouse is like when you get off work?"
  • There is a story here I don't know how to tell. There is a team of retail leasing specialists. One of them closed what is maybe the biggest real estate deal in Seattle. Can you imagine how long that must have taken? What the lead time was like? The negotiation? What about when it closed, and the entire massive chunk of office space was leased to a single tenant?
  • Baby boy mouse loved to watch them tear down buildings. He would climb up on the wall on the building opposite, standing just above the heads of the humans who stood to watch, too. The dust raising from the collapsing concrete, the pickers reaching up and grabbing chunks to tear down, the water hoses tamping everything down. He stayed there and watched as long as he could, until he heard his brothers calling his name, trying to find him to do his duty and go steal crumbs from the little soup restaurant. He stayed as long as he could. He could hear the walls falling as he turned his back and went to work.

Seattle Writing Prompts: Seattle Central Library

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

We've written about the library before. In fact, not long ago, I wrote a story about the library and its design, while talking about Safeco Plaza, but, much to my surprise (because, you can forget what you've written about, sometimes), I've never featured the library for this column.

It's the third library to occupy this spot, squared in between Madison and Spring, and 4th and 5th. There once was a grand old Carnagie Library on the spot, built in 1906. It was demolished in 1957, and a new library, in the International Style, was opened in 1960.

The Rem Koolhaus design of the new library was shown in 1999, with our current incarnation opening in 2004. Does the building feel thirteen years old to you? I can remember visiting it, the first time, and it seemed new and fresh. Now, children born the same day it opened its doors are going through puberty, and have never known our city without it.

Sometimes, I visit the library and climb all the way (I never take the elevator) to the topmost floor, to the Betty Jane Narver Reading Room, otherwise known as the finest secular cathedral in the world. When I'm finished, I walk down the spiral. It's so satisfying to step on those rubber mats, the Dewey Decimal classification numbers inlaid in in white Futura bold on a black background.

Then, just slip into a stack at a random place, and look around. You're in the books, and who knows what you might find? It may just be something amazing, something with a story, something you could do to pull off the shelf and lose a little time with Maybe you'll find some stories there?

Today's prompts
  1. Philosophy & theory; international languages: We are unknown to ourselves. These men break up with each other in the library stacks. Arguing quietly, one who was always embarrassed by the simpleness of the other, the second who was always embarrassed by the way the first put on airs. One grabs Thus Spoke Zarathustra and shoves it at the other. "Here, work on becoming an Ubermensch". The second grabs The Gay Science and says "Here, study at this, and go fuck yourself."
  2. Geometry: "Thales of Miletus," she said to her brother. "Who?" — "Thales of Miletus! You don't know about him?" — "Should I?" — "Uh, yeah, dummy. He calculated the heights of the pyramids." — "Uh, so what?" — "He was rich because he predicted the weather and went hard on olives one year." — "Why did you bring me here?" — "We're gonna get a book about geometry!" — "I hate you" — "you won't when I get you into college. You're gonna love Thales of Miletus. He's the bomb."
  3. Mammalia (Mammals): He walked down four aisles, eyes half closed, counting down from one hundred, dragging his finger across the books. While he walked, he counted steps in rounds of four, so that the two patterns of numbers moved in different cycles, one of tens and one of fours. When he reached zero, his finger was resting on a book on the third shelf, but he ended his step on a two, so he went directly down one, and pulled out a book on whales. He looked at the time (3:19pm), and then went for three groups of nineteen pages, and rested his finger on a sentence that told him that the average blue whale penis was seven to ten feet long.
  4. Food & drink: She couldn't find the recipe. Maybe it was because of the boys running crazy. They wouldn't stay downstairs in the children's area, not without her, so she had to bring them up in the stacks. Now they were running circles around the row of shelves, where she stood, looking through the cookbook her grandmother used to keep on her shelf, trying to find that one thing she wanted to make for the holidays, all the while, the boys screamed and ran.
  5. American poetry in English: It was a quest to write a villanelle. It started with a promise to look nothing up on the Internet for the entire month of December. Then, a friend challenged her to a poetry writing contest, and she had one week to deliver a form she had never heard of. Only one way to find out...

Seattle Writing Prompts: Baths

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

There's a tweet going around that a bunch of my friends have been responding to. Don't worry, it's fun, for once.

I kept trying to come up with a good answer to this, but it wasn't until I sat down to write this piece that I thought of one: when I was in school, we watched slides that had a tone telling you when to advance, and the sound came from a turntable or cassette player.

I think of that now, because one of the filmstrips we watched was a cartoon telling of "The Legend of Sleepy Hallow." I've always been a fan of the story, for it's subtle airs and clear authorial point of view. It's a story that works best if you don't expect it, but like reading Frankenstein (where the monster is not green and does not have bolts), later tellings of the story have cast it in a certain light, with certain trappings that have stolen it's original verve and intention.

This filmstrip, no doubt, was one such telling, although in my memory, it's awfully consistent with the real text. In it, Ichabod Crane is taking a bath to get ready to attend the social where he will be challenged and bested by his rival. The drawing of Crane had him in a galvanized wash bucket, his lanky legs sticking out over the side, basically only his hips and buttocks in the thing.

So, this meandering start is leading to a really simple reveal: I'm a tall guy, and that's how I feel when I take a bath. Rare is the tub that I can submerge in. I'm normally all akimbo, and in a chill enough room, that which sticks out goes all goose-pimply while the rest of me is warm and snug in the steaming water.

Generally, to be fair, I prefer showers. But a bath is an amazing thing. Reading in the bath? Best place. Watching a show on your iPad in the bath? Heaven. But it's a rare indulgence for me, due to the lanky me and tiny tub phenomenon.

But every now and again, you encounter a tub that amazes you. There's a house on Capitol Hill, a mansion, that I visited a few times because it was the conference home for my father's church, when he was both alive and a working minister. We'd sometimes stay there, when visiting Seattle from Bellingham, and in one of the bathrooms was a nine foot tub. I could lay down in that thing, and have a clear foot-and-a-half above my head and another under my soles. It was incredible — except, for one tragic flaw: water didn't run to it anymore. And given the houses use as primarily an office, it wasn't required.

That tub has been in my imagination ever since and, in fact, made an appearance in the first Christmas Ghost Story I wrote for the site.

Out in the weather, tonight, on my way home, a deeper chill than previously felt seeping in, I started thinking about being warm to the bones in only the way that a bath can provide. Certainly, all around Seattle, hundreds of people are taking a private soak, alone (most of them), and although I'm not going to Icahabod Crane myself into a thimble, I sure can imagine how good it would feel. Today, friends, is about the bathers.

Today's prompts
  1. The bath was the best place to get stoned. She pulled up some Sigur Ros on the phone, lit a couple candles and locked the door. Thirty minutes later, after topping off a few times with hot water, the music coming to a certain crescendo, she thought she heard the door to the apartment open, that familiar hinge-creaking sound. But couldn't it have been the music, maybe? "Hello?" she cried out. That wasn't right, only one person could possibly come in, and he lived two states away and was busy this weekend. She heard he door shut, and then, both candles snuffed out leaving her in complete darkness.

  2. "I don't care" — "But Mom...." — "I don't care." — "I wasn't the only one!" — "Sharpie. Why did you have to use a goddamned Sharpie?" — "Mom, you just said a bad...." — "this shit never comes off, you know that? You know how hard I'm going to have to scrub?" — "Owww! That hurts!" — "Well, suits you right for drawing that crap all over yourself." — He bunched up his face, and exploded into a howl she had never heard before "It is not crap! It is my tattoos and they are precious to me!"

  3. It was that one mole on his leg. It was in the most awkward spot, right on the back of his calf where he couldn't see the fucking thing, and this was not the first time he had cut it, but it was the worst yet. The blood dripped off of his leg into the water, spreading as it hit. Of course, tonight, when he was MCing the drag show, of course tonight, and he had his dress and hose all picked out and a bloody leg would ruin the whole fucking effect, you know. He cursed out loud, as loud as he could, then grabbed the washcloth and pressed it down hard. It slowly turned red, absorbing that slow steady, annoying, and only barely painful leak. Nothing to do now but wait and watch the bath color, expecting to see little Jaws start to circle. And that's when Kitty came in and saw him and shrieked herself. "No! You've got so much to live for!"

  4. There was only one thing to do, and it was going to suck for everybody. He opened the faucet all the way, and then ran to the kitchen, sliding on a Lego spaceship that splintered under his feet and sent him into the wall. He grabbed the whole tray of ice in the freezer and ran back to the filling tub, seeing he forgot to plug the drain and it was all slipping away. He did that, dumped the ice in, watching the water rise. "Okay!" he cried "Okay!", and she came in holding the kid, listless against her, and so, so hot. She gave him a look. "I can't", she said. "I can't either!" He said. "But we have to." She nodded, then knelt, kissed the boy's forehead, and lowered him into the icy water.

  5. Nothing was as good as a hot bath. She went under the water, and came up, hair back out of her face for the first time today. She squeegeed it with her hands, and lay back against the sloping wall of the tub. Settled, she flipped the excess water from her hands, and wiped them on the towel she laid out on the edge, then picked up her book, ready to while away an hour or so without a care in the world. She was already so relaxed. She read a chapter, put down her book and picked up her ice cold water for a sip. And then she picked up her motherfucking goddamned phone and looked at Twitter.

Seattle Writing Prompts: Yarn bombers

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

Blessed be you who knit, for you shall forever have warmth. As shall all who know you. Also surrounding trees, cars, tanks, and occasionally local bookstores.

The best thing about yarn bombing is that it's (usually) a surprise to the person experiencing it. Walking down the street, or coming around a corner, and seeing a trunk wrapped tight in colorful yarn is always fun. It's only when things get rainy and droopy that they get a bit messy and weird.

Using Google Trends as a baseline, it looks like the first mentions of "yarnbomb" or "yarn bomb" started in 2008 with a strong peak in 2013. That strikes true with my recollection — as fads go, it was a pretty great one, but you just don't see yarn bombs nearly as often as you used to.

That's why I was so pleased, the other day, after walking through the La Marzocco/KEXP place to see the intricate and lovely embroidery/yarn bomb on the trees in the courtyard there. What a great thing to see on my way out, hot coffee in hand, heading over towards the playground with my kid.

It made me wonder about the mysterious people who make these amazing treats of the city. So, instead of doing, you know, actual journalism, I decided to make some up.

Today's prompts
  1. The night guard Chester caught them, in the rail yards, doing something next to one of the trains. They bolted when they saw the guards coming, but Chester sent a couple round the other side to corral them, so they were penned in, no doubt. Four of them, in balaclavas. One guard came jogging up with a bag. "Found this." Chester looked inside expecting to find cans of spray paint, but, it turned out, all that was in it was colorful yarn. "What's the gag, here?"

  2. He'd been working undercover nearly a year. Hanging out in yarn shops and craft places, going to knitting circles. Everybody was friendly, but nobody knew who was working those underground cells. Until he had his break, an acquaintance inviting him out to drinks one night after a lesson focusing on intarsia, and she asked him if he was willing to lend a hand on some large projects. "Something you might not be able to talk about," she said. He leaned in.

  3. Every superhero has an origin story. Lupe's, as a girl: visiting her beloved grandmother in the hospital (she wasn't supposed to be there, she was sneaked in under her father's raincoat), and watching that strong, lovely, defiant, proud woman shiver in her bed, the drugs or the room or the gown or whatever. And then, that nurse who just came right in, needles in hand, casting off a woolen cap that she quickly finished with a thread and needle, then offered to Lupe's grandmother to pull over her head, over her thinning hair. And the look of relief on grandmother's face, that comfort, and suddenly Lupe knew that more than anything else she wanted to learn how to knit. And then her skin was punctured by a radioactive needle.

  4. And so it was that the town was divided by two gangs. On one side, the Skein, and on the other Pink Angora. Their territory crossed in the university district, was tagged by yarn bombs in both of their colors. Hand knit clothes in those colors were banned from the yarn shops, because of fights breaking out. Metal detectors at the high schools scanned for metal needles. And it was in this environment that two young women, one from each gang, accidentally met each other, and without knowing the other's affiliation at first, totally fell for the other.

  5. You never forget your first time. You work forever to make the pattern. You estimate the tree, maybe hit it with a tape to make sure you have the dimensions right. But it's not until you show up and stitch the thing on that you know if it's really going to fit or not. It's not until you're in the moment. It's not until you step back and see it hanging there that you know if you are happy, and if you're happy, you know it's gonna make someone else happy as well. Sometimes art is about big things. Sometimes art is about bringing small joys into other people's lives.

Seattle Writing Prompts: That ferry ride back into Seattle at night

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

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It's worth going to Bainbridge or Bremerton just for the ride back some nights. If you do it enough, suddenly the ferry ride transforms. The first time you ride? It's a magical experience. The thrum of the massive diesel engines underfoot, the boat shuddering as those giant props push all that weight. The people sitting at their tables, playing cards, just hanging out. The cafeteria, and, I remember so acutely when I was a kid and would go to Orcas Island, the video games.

But ride the ferry too much and it becomes a huge bus. The people playing cards are bored, they do it all the time. Or, if not bored, maybe partway in the transformation that riding the boat allows us, this window into a world between worlds as we cross a barrier from one land to another.

The ferry is a thin place, a place between places. The bored people are in suspended animation, while the vibrant newcomers are awake with the excitement of the new — snapping pictures, staying on the cold deck with the wind whipping them, talking loudly and having a full-life moment. So the ferry contains two types of people, at least, and the shear between them can feel odd, like walking into a wax museum where half the figures are animatronic animals.

Sometimes, on rare nights, the energy is so charged there are riots.

No ferry ride is as special as coming into downtown Seattle at night. How many people get to see that view? How man crowd the waterlogged front windows so they can see? How many run out to try to capture it, how many professional photographers with their tripods setup are there to capture the skyline as only the ferry view would let them?

Watching the city approach, first on the horizon, then growing until it gets bigger than it should, it feels amplified in front of you, like a camera trick where you're point of view is shrinking as the buildings get so tall they appear to bend over you.

It just overwhelms your senses with the lights of the city, the approaching promise of...what? Home? A night out? Whatever it is, the reverse engines kick in, and the water roils in front of the ship. You push backward to slow down, and ease into the dock. Welcome to Seattle.

Today's prompts
  1. It happened like this: as soon as the boat pulled out from the dock she went up to get a cup of coffee. It was against the rules to leave the truck, but she double checked all the cages and they were fine, and she was only going to be gone a few minutes. Less than ten minutes later she came down the metal stairs, opened the heavy door, and walked onto the car deck. The first sign something was amiss was the monkey sitting on top of the truck. The monkey holding the master cage key, and then, she noticed, just how many animals were sitting on all the cars surrounding the truck.

  2. It was returning from Bainbridge that he picked his moment. He had a friend hiding with a telephoto lens on the opposite balcony. He brought her out, and kissed her, then got down on one knee. "Clarice," he said, "you've made my life so complete. I love you so much. Would you do..." — "you have got to be kidding me," came a voice next to him. A guy, thirties, burly. He stipped off his shirt and threw it over board, then ran to the railing, looked at Clarice, and shouted "I'm the king of the world!"

  3. The worst shift on the ferry was working the ritual sacrifices. But if you didn't give leviathan his due there was no way to cross Elliott Bay without being dragged down into the brine by a tentacle the size of the Space Needle. So the new people always had to be the ones to do it. Toss the animals overboard alive, but bathed in the blood of fish — it was like a doorbell to the monster. But, it wasn't that part that was horrible, although the gruesome cruelty certainly would be. But no, it was when that first tentacle broke the surface, and you suddenly realized what lived under the ocean. You never felt safe passing over it again. You may have known in your mind that you were unsafe in the world, but until you saw the monster that controlled us all, it never really became true.

  4. He was just in a pissy mood. His parents were being super annoying, and, like, riding him about everything. He wasn't doing well in school. He broke the television. He made his little sister cry. It wasn't his fault! They never even listened to what he was saying. And now, they were making him go to Seattle to stay with his grandma while they went on some lame vacation without him. "A second honeymoon" they said. So, he got the hell out of the car and went up on the deck. Screw them. He stomped through the cabin, and slouched down in one of the long banquet seats. Then he saw her — his fifth grade teacher. She was sitting with a man, and it wasn't her husband, and they were kissing!

  5. They were waiting in the van until the ferry got away from the dock. Eight of them, armed to the teeth. In black clothes. They pulled balaclavas over their face. They had one mission: to break into the cockpit and take control of the vessel before it landed in Seattle. They had thirty minutes until they docked. It was time to move.

Seattle Writing Prompts: Elephant Car Wash

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The truth is, the sign kind of eclipses the business, which is some kind of platonic capitalist ideal — it's better to draw customers than to keep them, although we all hope to do both. The business started in 1951, but the location we think of most, on Battery Street, opened in 1956. It does what it says on the tin — washes and details cars. Unlike the more modern Brown Bear franchise, Elephant sells packages that are hands on. Young men with soft cloths will buff your car and make it smell good, in that way that "air fresheners" and soapy chemicals might.

But that sign — my god, that sign. It's appeared everywhere, like there's a fine if you make a montage of Seattle without including it. As much as the Space Needle, it centers you in our city. But it also centers you in a particular time in our city. When you could drop in at Hat and Boots to get gassed up, head over to Elephant for a wash, then maybe over to Twin T-Ps for dinner. It's a certain roadside kitsch, modern America stretching her capitalist arms to the greatest generation, and setting its weird culture into the minds of those young impressionable Boomers.

Open nearly every day since the 1950s. You can imagine a number of people have come through that car wash. You can imagine all the stories that have happened.

Today's prompts
  1. The Cadillac was spattered with mud and needed a good scrubbing, but nothing about it seemed off until they popped the trunk. Sometimes, the mud on a bumper went under the lip, and the only way to really buff it was to get under. So, someone went up and popped it, while the other fellow at the back leaned in and started cleaning. And then, reeling backward, cried out: "get the cops", before gaining his feet and retching in a waste bin.

  2. Rainy days were slow days. Everybody knew that. But then the man in the long trench coat and over-sized fedora came in the door, a steady roll of water dripping off the front of the brim. "How man can you handle?" he said. — "Pardon, sir?" — "How many cars? How many can you do by the end of the day?" — "Uh, sir, how many you got?" — "You won't believe me if I told you," said the man. "Can you do one thousand?" — The clerk laughed, clearly this man was joking. But not only did he keep a straight face, he didn't even blink. "Uh, no, sir. I don't think we could do a thousand cars in one day." — "Fine, then. Do you know who can?"

  3. She couldn't find her lighter in her purse, and her searching was frantic. After the man in the striped shirt offered her a light, she imagined how she looked, scarf on her head, sunglasses on even though it was overcast, digging through her bag like a mad woman, hands shaking. "Are you okay?" he asked, taking the seat next to hers, and touching her arm. She nodded, curtly, drew on her cigarette, and moved her arm away. She looked at her wristwatch — they said the car would be done by now. "Do you want to talk about it?" he said, leaning in. "Sometimes the best thing that can happen is a nice person listening very careful." — "I most certainly do not," she said, sharply. Loud enough that people around her turned to look. "Thank you for the light," she said, more reserved, and stood to cross the room, to look out the window.

  4. Jared and Courtney competed for tips, of course, but they also compared tips at the end of the day. It was a combination of how many cars could they turn in an hour, plus how nice of a job could they do. Tips were but one way to measure it, and the competition made it go by a lot quicker. It was the two BMW wagons, one right after another, that gave them the greatest race of the day. Jared took the red one, and Courtney took the black. About half-way through, Malcolm came up to Courtney, "You know that car belongs to Jared's mom, right? You are being set up, my friend."

  5. Every car has a story, because every person has a story and car is owned by a person. When did they buy it? Why this car? Was it a matter of money or a matter of taste? But what can you say about the man who drives an Edsel? What choice, in 1958, drove them to an Edsel instead of Chevy, or a Ford? Why would somebody look upon that heap and decide it was worth driving? And then now, who would drive that ten year old car — still in nearly perfect shape — like they were proud of it and want it washed? That was the question everybody at the car wash was asking themselves, waiting to get a glimpse of the owner when they came back to claim the car.

Seattle Writing Prompts: Dystopian Space Needle

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

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I love the Space Needle, but I kind of love it more like it is right now, under construction. They're updating the place, making the attraction more modern. The restaurant will have a glass floor on the rotating part, and the wire safety around the top will be replaced with clear glass, as well. It's all part of this $100 million renovation to keep the landmark popular for years to come.

During construction a 28,000 pound scaffolding was lifted into place. I think that scaffolding is so cool looking. It looks wrong, which is why I like it. Being so used to seeing the correct Space Needle for so long, to suddenly look up and see it altered somehow gives it an eerie feel.

That platform suspended beneath the observation area and restaurant? It looks like it was hacked into place by a group who took over the needle post-apocalypse, and are holding it as the high ground. They needed more room, so they added a story up top. Below, warring clans break Seattle into no-pass zones. But up high, one group holds the needle, and they're not going to share.

So, let's imagine a future where this is what's happening. And let's imagine that there is one clan that was eager to dislodge the high-minded needle people...

Today's prompts
  1. She had given him a book, an old paperback missing the cover: Romeo and Juliet. She said "it was the most romantic thing the before people made." From his bunk in the needle, he read it over and over, and remembered her face, when he encountered her on the raid. How she hadn't cut him with her knife — she had paused for just a second after seeing him — and he hadn't cut her with his, either. How they saw each other and felt something so electric that it could have cost either of them their life. Then, how they found ways to meet when they could. When he was on duty, say, and she could come and they would go into the old gift shop, now filled with generators and equipment, where there was a private place they could spend some time. And now, how he was finally going to do it when most people were asleep. He was going to escape by the stairs and join her and they were going to leave this ruined city to go live in the mountains.

  2. Nobody could come up with a plan, and it was making Clan Leader Donovan very angry. "The needle people come down and raid our stores, and take it back to the sky! My daughter has run off with one of their pups. And none of you useless fucks has come up with a way to penetrate their defenses!" It was towards the back, the voice came. "I have a way." She stood, a 12 year old. Donovan's youngest daughter. "I have a way, but it will require patience." The men among them started laughing — how could a girl have a plan that could work? A young girl like this? But Donovan knew his daughter, and he shushed them. He knew how her mind worked, and whatever she was thinking, he wanted to hear it. "I got the idea from this book my sister used to have," she said.

  3. Guard duty at night was always boring. She was at the top of the staircase, which meant anybody that got to her had already moved through three other guards, and got through the armored door. She could hear the guards below on the walkie-talkie, chatting about nothing interesting. But then a flash of light from down below. Something happening downstairs? But nothing from the guards down there, everything must be fine. No doubt, it was just a weird reflection. She closed her eyes for just a moment — something she allowed herself on rare occasion, a kind of test to make see if she could keep awake when she was tired — and she remembered the first time she was able to try pancakes. And she realized just how hungry she was at this moment, before she slipped off to sleep.

  4. Sometimes his dad would take him to the roof, and they'd sit on the slope. "They filmed a movie up here once, in the before times, a long time ago. A man fell off the roof, was chased." They looked over the bay, the water lapping at the second story of the buildings by the bay. "Bands played up here once, they'd set fireworks off every year. People would visit from all over." He'd heard all these stories before, of course. "But I brought you up here because you're old enough to know the truth, now. About how we took this needle, and kept it. And about the biggest vulnerability we have." He looked at his dad, and nodded. "What do you think that is?" his dad asked. "Uh," he thought. "Water?" His father smiled and nodded. Proud that his son could figure it out.

  5. Water was the biggest problem. They could run pumps all the day, but they had to keep it in cisterns at the base, where they could scavenge and collect it, or run it through the desalinator if it came from the bay. When they all started getting sick, at first they figured it was a bug going around, but after the first one died they knew it was something else. But they'd always figured the water would be cut off and they'd be held hostage — that's why they guarded the lines so well. They never thought the water would be poisoned, and now they had to come up with a new strategy for how to survive up there on the top of the needle.

Seattle Writing Prompts: Fall colors

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

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You're just walking down the street surrounded by green trees one day, and the next everything is shades of red and yellow. Walking around the neighborhoods of Seattle becomes a walk through spilled paints, and as the low sun hits the high branches, fire explodes above your head.

It's best near sunrise, I think, when the gray has parted for a morning, and there's a light, crisp breeze rustling the leaves. Maybe you're looking at your phone, worrying over a detail in your life that seems inescapable, and then that uncoordinated sound of leaves being pushed around, and you look up into the iridescence of fall.

And then, they're on the ground. You're walking over them, through them. They get weighted down and waterlogged after a day's rain. Those light and delightful leaves above, become slick and sodden, a sign of the cycle of life, on a tree's scale.

We like to talk about how humans follow cycles, how the seasons affect us. You could argue, even, that modernity is a way to escape the resonant call of nature. Keeping time, making light when we want it, shelter that we heat or cool to our comfort. But one look at a tree in fall will center you back in the natural world. Other parts of the world are affected by the turning of the world, and its travel around the sun. Not just us, but everywhere around us.

Not a bad reminder on a cool Fall morning, when you can just start seeing your breath, and the trees are as bright and beautiful as you've ever seen them.

Today's prompts
  1. If you jog around the top of Queen Anne ever day, you'll see the same faces. She used to rate them, on a scale of 0-10, how happy they looked doing what they were doing. Zero meant miserable. Ten meant ecstatic. A nod or smile or acknowledgment raised a score by at least two, but considering all of that, even, the aggregate score rarely raised above three. These people were depressed. And one thing you could do for depressed people was make them laugh. She got her idea for the first costume after jogging past a red and gold tree.

  2. It was a dare. Baby boy mouse had to climb a tree, pick a single leaf, and hold on to it for at least two hours. If he did so, and the leaf stayed on the tree and didn't fall, his big brothers (all twelve of them) promised they would give him back his bottle cap. If he didn't, they were going to throw the bottle cap down the drain, to watch it race like a boat with the sewer current. There was nothing Baby boy Mouse liked more than that bottle cap. Not even his fear of heights could stop him. So, with his brothers egging him on, he started the climb up the trunk of the tree. A breeze rustled the leaves. His heart caught in his throat, as a rain of leaves fell down all around them.

  3. The leaves made the street so slick, then even traveling slow, Charlene couldn't help but slide into the back of the black SUV when it slammed on its brakes. A tall man in a long coat emerged, aviator sunglasses on. He looked first at the back of the SUV for damage (there was none) before coming to her window. "Ma'am, are you okay?" he asked, and then leaning down, and getting a look at her, his mouth fell open. "Hey, wait a minute! Aren't you...?" Charlene nodded. The man, giving her an index finger indicating she should wait, jogged to the back door of the SUV. "Boss, you're never gonna believe who just hit us." The door slowly opened, and a leg emerged.

  4. They had chased her down, two bigger boys. Pushed her until she fell, and then stuffed sopping, cold wet leaves down her shirt, while she cried and begged them to stop. Only a dad walking down the street with a little toddler scared them off. He stopped and bent down, "are you okay?" he asked. She couldn't stop crying, and now she was shivering and miserable. "Can I help you, please?" she nodded. He pulled leaves out, and she helped him until they were gone, and then he gave her a coat to put around her shoulders. "Let's go find your parents," he said. "That's just it," she said. "Those boys were being mean to me because I don't have any parents."

  5. Nobody knew what to do. The woman wouldn't budge. She sat on a folding chair, a sketchbook in her hands, and she was drawing all the trees that surrounded the playfield. But they were supposed to have soccer practice, and she was on the half-way line. Coach had already talked to her once, but she said she'd move when she was done. One of the dads — a lawyer — couldn't get her to budge. One of the moms tried, too, but had no luck. They were going to call the cops soon, when a few of the girls, all suited up but not able to play, walked over, and before you knew it, all of them were drawing trees as well.

Seattle Writing Prompts: Seattle Great Wheel

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All it takes is $14 to get hoisted 175 feet in the air in Seattle. You could do it for cheaper in different locations — an elevator, say, in the middle of a building without a view except of the numbers as they rise — but to do it right on the waterfront with a view takes $14 and a little patience, depending on how busy it is, at the great wheel.

Pier 57 is full of amusements, some of them faded in the glory of their carnival ways, but the wheel is new, opening in 2012. One day there was no wheel, and the next, there it was: the LED lit exterior, which is themed to whatever event is going on around our city. At least that's what it felt like from the outside, but to pier owner Hal Griffith had been dreaming about the wheel for thirty years, the inception probably felt much slower. Now he wants to build a gondola aerial tram down Union street.

Have you ridden the wheel? Have you done it alone, or with family when they're visiting from out of town? Did you look down and see the water below, a ferry going by? See the cars on the Viaduct? Did it feel like you were in a model of a city, instead of a real city? Did it feel both removed from the city and, also, at the same time, like you were in the city in a kind of serious way that only a tourist might usually experience?

The wheel is smaller than the London Eye, which raises 443 feet above the sinuous Thames. But Seattle is not London. We're a bustling growing city, but we're still a colloquial one. Our ferris wheel is big, but not the biggest, and that's okay with us. We're a people that let other drivers in, when we can. We take pride in our buildings being "tallest west of the Mississippi", not tallest in the world. The Seattle way is about exuding a certain modesty, in an extravagance sense, not in a moral sense. It's the Scandahoovian in us. Don't make too much of yourself. Put your nose down and get to work.

So, $14 is a modest price for a modest ride in a modest city, with immodest beauty. $14 to sit on a seat and rotate in the air for a few minutes and wonder about your place in the world. If that's what you want, and you're not scared of heights, it's waiting for you.

Today's prompts
  1. It was perfect when they got stuck, not at the top, exactly, but at the 2 o'clock position if you were to look at the wheel from the north. That meant they had a stellar view of the sunset and the peninsula, the Bainbridge ferry passing right nearby. The gondola stopped, and he dropped to one knee, and reached into his pocket to bring out the little velvet ring box. He only regretted he didn't have some photographer capturing the moment with a telephoto lens. As he dropped, the gondola swung, a bit, and his soon-to-be fiancée slammed her hands to the sides of the swinging container, and shouted "I'm so tired of being scared. I never feel safe with you. I need to break up with you" before she reached up and pressed the emergency button on the ceiling.

  2. Nothing excited Baby Boy mouse more than the idea of riding inside a gondola in the Great Wheel. "You are never to go near that thing!" said his mother, pretty much every day when they would scurry along the roof line to go foraging for food. Baby Boy would stop, the rain wetting his fur, and stare at the glowing wheel until his mother would come to nudge him along. And again, at night, tucking him in "You are never to near that wheel. It's too dangerous." She would make him promise, but he always crossed his claws when he did. It was a cold December day when he finally had his chance.

  3. "You have to decide," he said to his son. "We can't wait here all night." They'd already gone to the front of the line, then bailed out, twice. The dad could see how badly the boy wanted to go, but he was running up against his fear. The choice was to be brave and do it, or to feel bad about chickening out, no matter if the dad gave him a shoulder squeeze and said it was okay. The boy would be worried about his choice impacting the whole family. The dad knew all this, but also knew the only thing he could offer was pressure to put the boy in the corner, and let him decide. Hope he picked the brave choice, and be kind if he didn't. "And if you don't decide in five minutes, we're just going to leave without doing it. I think we should. I think you'll love it, but it's your choice, buddy." They stood at the rail and watched the wheel, and the dad wondered what was going through the boys head, and watched his watch, hoping he wouldn't have to force them away.

  4. They say there's one car on the wheel that's haunted. Nobody remembers which one — maybe they enter saying "Oh, I'm in car 5" when they climb up to the wheel, but when they leave, they forget as they walk away. They always forget. Some say the ghost came from the pier, a stevedore who was drunk and incautious at work, and so was crushed by a falling crate when this pier was commercial, after it was built in 1902, some say it's a young girl, a tragic figure from a neglected home who died in a way so sad that just to speak of it would cause rain to fall. Some, even, say both visited them when on the wheel, that the gondola was filled with crackling energy and presence, these two figures keeping each other company in the afterlife. But whether the ghosts are him or her or both, those that experience the haunting all report one creepy fact in their telling of their stories....

  5. It was a slow day, nobody in line, and so they let her ride. Nobody knows who told them, exactly, but somebody said it "that's the woman, her husband was just killed." So the widow came alone, and politely asked if she could have a car to herself, and they let her (even though they weren't supposed to), and then when the gondola came around, they asked if she wanted to ride again, and she nodded yes. The third time they didn't even open the car, the attendant saw her tears, and just gave her a sign that he was gonna let her ride again, and she nodded. After that, they just ignored her, knowing when she was ready, she'd let them know. Until then, she rode, and everybody turned their focus to loading and unloading the tourists.

Seattle Writing Prompts: Twitter

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

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Image from @AEMarling on Twitter

Maybe you were part of #WomenBoycottTwitter on Friday. We were. Or maybe you were frustrated, like Ava DuVeray, that it was only when a white woman was banned that people started speaking up, when women of color have been reporting this behavior for years.

Which sums the problem up nicely: Twitter doesn't listen. Or, they listen and don't care. Or, they care and are somehow so bound to — Metrics? Engagement? Shareholders? Satan? — something, that they cannot fix this problem. So it sure feels like Twitter isn't listening, and the only way to make them listen is stop using their service.

Or, to put a fine point on it, stop giving them the content, for free, that they then sell advertising against. On Twitter, as the saying goes, you are the product. It was an okay trade-off when you were meeting interesting people and making friends, but, that wasn't everybody's experience. Ariel Waldman wrote about Twitter being unwilling to uphold their TOS in 2008, just a year-and-a-half after the service's launch. Six years before Gamergate became, as many have pointed out, a trial balloon for the kind of networked harassment that lead to the organized silencing of women and liberals under the Trump campaign.

And lest you think these things are not connected, the man who, kind of openly, but still allegedly harassed the amazing Kathy Sierra off the internet in 2007 has come out fully as a white supremacist. Previously, he claimed it was all about the lulz. It probably is, to him, as is his belief that anybody without his skin is substandard.

So I'm dedicating today's prompts to some what-ifs. A peek into another dimension of what could have been. Maybe it's just progressive dreaming, but since we're apparently on the alternate timeline where pretty much everything is going wrong, progressive dreaming seems to be all we have left.

Today's prompts
  1. The first response was so rude she couldn't believe it was real. Who could have that big of a problem with her tweet about a comic book? By the time the fiftieth response showed up, she shut down Twitter and went to bed. In the morning, fearing to look, she saw her response timeline was clean, and there was a DM for her from support. "Looks like some jerk sent a bot army your way. We've banned them and cleaned up their mess. So sorry to disrupt your right to express yourself on our platform. We think your actual voice is so much more valuable than trolls."

  2. The cop, broom mustache, wide-set brow, asked her "and where did this threat come from?" — "He posted it on Twitter" — "And you are sure it's your ex?" — "Pretty sure, yeah." — "And this was did you say it? Twitter?" — "Yes." — "What's that?" — "It's a website for publishing thoughts." — "Okay. I don't know much about the internet, but obviously, all of these accounts have real people behind them, and we take any threats very seriously. I'll work with our technology team to request IP addresses and personal information on your harasser so that we can verify it is your ex and build up a case against him before he escalates into violence against your person."

  3. She tweeted "love Twitter! Got this mail today." Attached was a picture of the email. "We noticed that you're friends with a lot of people who have suffered harassment on our platform. We've taken the liberty of hiding your tweets from some people who react too strongly to content, we hope that helps you feel safe and able to express yourself on our platform without fear of harassment."

  4. That bitch. He was gonna teach her a lesson. He went to 4chan and posted a picture of her, and her address. "Help me dox this piece of trash," he wrote. "I dunno," came a quick reply. "The last guy who did this got arrested by the FBI, even though he was going through TOR. I guess these services really take harassment seriously and shut it down before it could grow into anything major."

  5. @jack woke in a cold sweat, again.

Seattle Writing Prompts: Amazon's massive balls

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

You have to admit that Amazon has balls. Big ones. Three, for some reason (probably so that nobody will say that they look like balls). They're right there, on the cusp of South Lake Union, right around the corner from one of the few remaining strip clubs left in the city. Sitting at the base of two unique and iconic tall towers, very well-designed by NBBJ.

It's one thing to have balls, it's another to really use them well. We talk about Amazon a lot on these pages. We reported on the first ever reverse-showrooming, after Amazon famously instructed their users to go to bookstores to find the book they want, and then buy it on Amazon. Ironically, then, Amazon worked on restricting internet access in stores.

Of course, Amazon is a large company and not everything they do is evil. Some of it is chaotic-neutral. The company, at heart, is really one simple thing: an efficiency engine. How can I remove friction in getting X to consumers? That's everything to Amazon. That's why you can order batteries on Amazon Fresh, or Amazon Now, or Amazon Prime Same-Day Delivery. They're all competing fiefdoms in the libertarian death-race of efficiency.

Is efficiency bad? Of course not. Some great things have come from it, and there are markets that probably deserve to be toppled, because they're built on platforms that are, at essence, capitalist con-jobs. I'm thrilled that the internet mattress companies like Casper and Leesa have taken on the ridiculous shell-game of classic mattress showrooming. There is no reason car manufactures, like Tesla, shouldn't be able to sell direct to the customer. In a capitalist society, competition is good. So, no, I don't think Amazon is evil. I think, in a large sense, Amazon is indifferent, and through indifference shows aspects of evil. Sometimes, Amazon is actually evil, but a company so large cannot be a single thing. It is a thriving eco-system, and in that eco-system lay many spectrum of value. I'm not even addressing huge swaths of their business that are worth mentioning, like Kindle publishing and what that has meant to independent authors, and what it has meant to traditional publishing.

Not that Amazon's critics are the most thorough. Talk to a typical lefty old-school Seattleite, and in the same breath they will complain about Amazon employees (rich tech workers moving to the city and driving up prices), and shed a tear for Amazon employees (non-unionized factory workers). I have a lot of friends who work at Amazon. I, myself, interviewed there (they passed on me, but would I have accepted an offer if proffered? That question is my personal-ethics version of the trolley problem, where one switch kills personal beliefs and the other kills debt).

So my feelings about the company are complex. I like the infrastructure they are bringing to the city. I like the varied marketplace of goods. I love Amazon studios, and Transparent, and other shows they're totally nailing. I don't like the whiff of caveat emptor that works its way in from the edges when they're asleep at the wheel, but I know that they believe in delivering value and goods to their customers, so things like that will correct when noticed. What I don't like the most about Amazon is how they're not a great neighbor.

For example, a company their size should be paying much higher taxes and returning wealth to the city in ways besides nice architecture. We should have a Bezos hall, or Bezos park, or Bezos library. Maybe someday we will, but until Amazon's rapacious growth suffers a hiccup and there is some kind of re-org that imparts a whiff of humility, it will be all octopus eating, and polishing the glass in your massive balls, that are private nature preserves for the private members of club Amazon, right in the middle of our city.

I guess they do remind us of who has the biggest ones in Seattle. Right now, like it or not, the answer is clear.

Today's prompts
  1. First, they had to block all underground access. There was no way of controlling the spheres once they couldn't narrow paths in. Next, they made the only entrance a gauntlet. Acetylene torches hooked up to servos could spark a rain of fire. Booby trapped land minds under certain floor tiles would halt careless progress. Inside, they had supplies for at least a year. They could make it, so long as no one infected made it past their defenses.

  2. "He proposed!?" — "Yup. Down on one knee. Had a drone flying right outside capturing the whole thing. I was crying so hard. It was so beautiful." — "And you don't feel weird that, you know, he did it at work?" — "Well, no. I mean, we both love the natural environment so much." — "The spheres are natural?" — "There is a lot of nature inside of them. Anyway, we met at work. We spend most of our days at work. We love our jobs, so why not propose at work?" — "And the drone was outside the spheres looking in?" — "Yeah. We petitioned security to get it back, so hopefully we'll have the footage, soon."

  3. I am the exterminator. I get called in on the specialty jobs. This one was a doozy. Employees dropping food, and the food calls the rats and smaller birds, and the small birds call the crows. Suddenly, you have an aquarium full of pests. My job is to take care of them all. I fight the problem. It was what I didn't expect to find that shocked me. I didn't expect to find a dead body under the dry leaves in the middle sphere. This is a murder mystery, and now I'm out to find the truth.

  4. All he wanted to do was stand on top of the spheres. He tried during the night, but the first time one of his suction cups didn't hold, and he had to replace it. The second try met with guards, who watched the spheres closer than he imagined. The third try, he got about half way up before he looked down, and then froze. What the hell was he doing? What would this prove? Why would he even risk himself in this idiotic stunt? It was as if a veil dropped, and he saw himself for the first time in a truly objective way. And what he saw was horrifying. Part of what he saw was that, he now realized, he was terrified of heights.

  5. I am Rubi. I am Ficus rubiginosa. My home is the spheres, and I oversee all that happens within. Under my leaves the plans of humans are made. Fortunes are won and lost. Above me, a canopy of glass, and then the world. Above me, clouds. Around me, people, moving in a blur. A city changing. A pace too quick for me a tree to recognize. I think in seasons, and you think in minutes. One day, the glass around me will melt, and I'll break free, grow to the size of a skyscraper. I will be Seattle's Yggdrasil, and all shall worship at my trunk. Let me tell the story of how this all came to be...

Seattle Writing Prompts: A destroyed plant; a moment

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

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I saw what happened here. I know why this planter, which sits in front of a building on 4th between Pike and Union, was harassed. Why flowers were on the ground mixed with sprays of clinging soil. I know because I saw it, while walking with some co-workers, to food one afternoon at lunch.

But imagine I didn't know. Or, better yet, imagine I won't tell you. We stumble on these little dramas every day in the city, places where a moment has taken place and we are witnessing only its aftermath.

This plant is but one small example of this. How many times have we seen the trashcan knocked over, the car on the sidewalk, the stripped bike frame locked to a pole, broken glass, tufts of weird fur, a spill or spray of blood. The city has stories, we know that. That's what this column is about. But sometimes, the city has moments, too.

I would define a moment as the peak of a story, or a peak in a story, maybe, since a story may have many peaks as it climbs towards resolution. That time where all the threads a writer has been pulling come together in a sharp shock. When the deceit and betrayal get played, when the pressure from all around rises to a fever pitch and a character just can't take it anymore, and something changes in an irrevocable moment of action. See, for reference, Chekov's Gun.

Life is full of such moments, but they're rarely as clean and simple as flowers on a sidewalk, obviously the victim of some kind of violence. The question I want to know is: what lead to it happening? What was the sharp rise before the moment. And if this given moment (flowers tossed on the sidewalk) is the same in each story, what was the buildup? What could have lead to it?

Let's try to explore what could have been.

Today's prompts
  1. "You're a total good boy," she said to him, smiling. They had gone downtown after school, the two of them. They ran in different crowds, but when the rest of the crew had split off, they were left together, and that suited both of them just fine. "What? No. I mean, what?" he said. "You get good grades. Don't hang out with losers. Want to, like, go to college. I dunno. You just seem kind of simple." She laughed at her own boldness. "What!?" he said, with faux anger. "I'm a total rebel." She laughed harder, and making like an ape, scratching his underarms, he went over to the planter and ripped flowers to throw at her, while she shrieked, shocked and delighted by his boldness.

  2. The dress was as much as a down payment on a house. And the two words that Candy would not accept were "No returns." But there she was at the dress shop, and there was the calm clerk explaining to her that she just lost that money forever, invested in couture that, now, would never get its day. That never would walk an aisle. That never would be photographed. The cake, she canceled. The hall refunded her down payment. The caterer booked with someone else. But the dress shop? No returns on bespoke designer dresses. She was fucked. And storming out the front door, she saw those stupid potted flowers, and could only think of one visceral way to express her anger at this situation.

  3. It mostly was in the corner of her eye. She couldn't see it when she looked directly at it, but she had been tracking it around downtown for hours. If it got away from her, if she couldn't catch it, then it could spell the end of the world as we knew it. She almost had it near Westlake, until a security guard started harassing her and she had to bide her time. She saw its silvery shimmer dive into a planter on the side of the road, and that is where she made her play, springing on it and grabbing it, and fist fulls of flower, in an attempt to end this once-and-for-all.

  4. Joe dog, a terrier, was chill. Walking down the street was a nice thing, on his leash with his dad, just having a nice morning, enjoying the smells of the city. Then, right before you know it, he smelled it. Rat. A fat, ugly, stinky rat. Salivating, not from hunger but from desire, Joe went calm. Years of breeding told him he had to stay still and not project his move. The rat may have been aware of him, but it didn't know what he was capable of. And then, walking right by the planter, Joe made his move. His dad yelled "Joe, no!" as he lunged, pulling the leash with him. Going straight for the planter. But the rat was too quick for him, and Joe ended up, only, with a mouthful of flowers that he shook and cast all over the ground. His dad, embarrassed, grabbed his leash and pulled him away quickly. That rat, though, mocked him. Stood on the edge of the planter as he was pulled away and laughed. Next time, thought Joe. Next time.

  5. There are so many angry men in this world, and he was but one. Men are angry for reasons. A song once said "an angry man needs attention," and that is true. Anger is about attention. It is disgust in not being recognized the way you want, and making a show so the world will correct itself and focus its attention on you. It is a selfish act, and it can be a violent act, because the man is crying out "I am so lonely that even if you give me fear, you are still giving me the attention I desire." The angry man can't see that his actions are damaging to the relationship. He would do better to be vulnerable, and to say to the people hurting him "I need your attention. I'm in pain, and I don't know what to do." Anyway, that's the story of the flowers. It was an angry man, yelling gender-specific insults at an unnamed woman. He was storming down the street, and stopped by the potted plant, ripping great fist fulls of flowers and dirt, raising them above his head like down-on-his-luck Thor, and throwing them with violence at the ground. He stormed off, all of us giving him a wide berth, and then he was gone and only the spill of flowers, as a testament to his emotions, lay behind for someone else to clean up.

Seattle Writing Prompts: Safeco Plaza

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

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When they first constructed this 50 story black obelisk in downtown Seattle, it was the tallest thing around. It dwarfed Smith Tower, and edged out the Space Needle by just enough that it was nicknamed "the box the Space Needle came in." Wikipedia will tell you that it was the first modern Class-A office building in Seattle, but that doesn't tell you how gorgeous this building is.

Once again, NBBJ comes to the front as the architect of choice for unique buildings. Its large two-story lobby (go in and look around sometime if you never have) surrounding austere white marble clad elevator banks give the inside an airy lightness that works nicely against the dark exterior. The escalators in the back of the building lead down to the lower lobby on 4th avenue, which is a nice mid-century modern spot to sit and eat on a rainy day. The front of the building is dominated by the glassine latticework of the Central Library.

There's a story about that library, possibly apocryphal. After the old building was demolished, Rem Koolhaus, recently commissioned, had come to Seattle to inspect the site, and glean inspiration for the new design. Standing on the mound, he looked down into the lobby of Safeco Plaza, and saw, through the windows, a painting by Sam Francis. It was a massive abstract whose canvas dominated the space, filling up the expanse of wall behind the guard stations. That painting inspired Koolhaus's exterior pattern of the library (which, incidentally, then inspired our logo).

The painting — and also the sculpture out front of the building on 5th Avenue by Henry Moore, titled "Vertabrae" — came from the collection of Seafirst Bank (née Seattle First National Bank), who were the original commissioners of the building we're talking about. Seafirst had an impressive art collection which was passed along to Bank of America when they bought the nearly insolvent Seafirst in 1983.

But Bank of America had no such regional affection for art. When they sold Safeco Plaza in 1986, they also sold the Henry Moore sculpture to Japanese investors. It caused such an outcry locally that Bank of America repurchased the sculpture and donated it to the Seattle Art Museum, who maintain it to this day. But that didn't stop them, in 2010, from relocating the Sam Francis painting to their own art gallery in North Carolina. That austere marble is, perhaps, now a bit too austere, missing its centering artwork.

At the top of the building is a helipad (one of two atop commercial buildings downtown), which is rarely used thanks to rezoning, and then judicious public safety caution after the accident at KOMO in 2014 that killed two and injured one. I've seen a helicopter land there, from the observation deck of Columbia Center, but that doesn't seem to be a very common event anymore. Imagine the day where important bankers were whisked away to make important deals.

Aw hell, we don't have to imagine them. We're writers. Let's create them.

Today's prompts
  1. "The helicopter is approaching, Mr. Brown," said his secretary, Pam. He pulled on his overcoat, loathe to leave the grand view on a day like today, where the Olympic mountains looked close enough to lick, like a snow cone. He rode the elevator up, and then waited on the staircase under the hood for the chopper to land. Ducking against the wind, he ran to the door. He was in and his belt was on when he noticed the pilot was new. He secured his headset. "Where's Frank?" he asked. The pilot, lifting off, didn't look at him. "Now, now, Mr. Brown. Let's now worry about Frank. Frank will be just fine. Let's you and me worry about other things. For example, let's worry about you surviving the next two hours."

  2. It was the bum knee that got her. Couldn't climb worth a damn, and the whole city being hills meant she couldn't get around. No buses went from where she was to where she wanted to be. Couldn't afford a cab, even if she trusted them. Getting from Pioneer Square up to the library was tough. That mean, no books that week. Overdue fines. No checking her email. But then a buddy tipped her: starting on First, go into the Norton Building, and ride their escalator up. One block north to the Wells Fargo Tower, and you can ride those escalators up to third. Walk up to Safeco Plaza, and take those escalators up to Fourth and you'll be dropped off right across the street from the library. But then, entering Safeco Plaza on third, she heard a voice "Hey there mom, let me help you out," and a young man took her arm. She was already winded from the walking she already had to do, so she was slow on the uptake. But looking up, there he was. It couldn't be, but it was him alright. Her own Johnny. And he looked good as the day he died thirty years past.

  3. One little slip of paper. How much it weighed. It pulled at her, like a lead blanket around her shoulders, pulled at her and made her walk slow and heavy. The elevator on the way up to her lawyers office even creaked as she rose, high above the streets of Seattle. Then, later, after some small talk and pastries, and some ceremony of signing, she handed over the check and it was gone. The whole thing was done. Years of struggle, of uncertainty, of pain. The choice was made, the money was drawn, and now she was free. And she knew exactly what the first thing she was going to do was.

  4. On lucky days he rode the elevator with her. She was always holding a library book. Last week it was Pattern Recognition by William Gibson. The week before it was Bad Feminst by Roxane Gay. It would suck, being bothered on the elevator, by a strange dude, so he didn't act on his intense desire to talk to her. Until she started reading kids books. First, The Westing Game, and The Phantom Tollbooth, which made him want to talk to her so bad, and then finally, he had a moment when he saw her holding Bridge to Teribithia. A moment where he got choked up and his eyes watered and he stifled a sob. "Are you okay?" she asked, the elevator stopping to let a man in a gray suit off. He nodded, then, when the doors closed, said "I named my cat Leslie when I was ten." — "Oh," said the woman, not unsympathetically. And the other part he could only say in a whisper. "It was horrible. She drowned."

  5. "That thing? It's huge." — "I know. It's like I told you." — "It's bigger than you said" — "Be that as it may, we still have to get it down" — "We can't crate it. Not that size. Won't even fit in the truck" — "We could take it off the frame, roll it up. Take the frame apart." — "That seems dangerous. Maybe they should have hired real painting people, you know? The kind that work in museums? Have white gloves?" — "Well, there you have it. You think that, and I think that, but apparently, they didn't think that, and them's the ones doing the hiring." — "What if we mess it up. They insure us?" — "Dunno. Can't say I have a bond on me, you?" — "Nope." — "Are we going to politely inform them that the job is above our capability?" — "I am planning to do no such thing." — "Nor I. So, maybe we start with getting it down. Then we can talk about how to remove it and then we can figure out how to transport it." — "Sounds like a plan. How much you think it weighs?" — "Dunno. How much can you press?" — "Never measured in paintings. I guess we'll find out."

Seattle Writing Prompts: shipping containers

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

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You've seen them stacked like mini-skyscrapers driving 99 through SODO. On the Duwamish side, the towering animal-like cranes, whose job it is to move them from one method of conveyance to another. On the other, those hunched-back rail cranes, that pick up and move them in the yards.

Containers hold our imagination in specific ways. We want to buy them to turn them into houses, shops, studios, boats, and even, of course, Starbucks.

There's just something about those corrugated metal boxes that makes us want to repurpose them into something else. Their first job, though, is to move goods. In fact, what you think of when you hear the name "shipping container" is actually called intermodal containers. They come in standardized sizes, but the real breakthrough in their technology came when a Spokanite named Keith Tantlinger who made some important improvements on existing containers (mostly standardization), but invented the twist-lock that today's containers use so that they can stack. It changed shipping forever.

If you read Jonathan Raban's magnificent novel Waxwings — which starts on the bridge of a container ship about to enter the Salish Sea as a pilot boards to guide the ship to harbor in Seattle — you'll know that containers play a part. Containers are story machines, each one full of things we love to think about, dream about, or need to do our work. And when humans make things and need things, no doubt there are going to be many stories around those things just waiting to be explored.

Today's prompts
  1. Sometimes the twist-locks seize. Salt air, corrosion, etc. Sometimes you have to get in there and cut the damn things free. But he checked all four corners and they were in the release position. So why couldn't the crane get the container free of the stack? Making sure he was well clear, he radioed for the crane operator to try again, and like before, the container stuck tight to the one under it, like it was super-glued in place. It was weird. And then, a surging hum and the wrench he was holding went flying and stuck to the side of container. Magnets? There weren't any magnets that powerful on the earth. He radioed to pull the crane free. "I'm gonna crack it and see what's inside."

  2. They didn't have the nerve to say it to her face. But her neighbors — at least one of them, and maybe more — sent an anonymous note to her email, threatening her with a lawsuit if she continued with the plans for her new house. "Your plan to build using steel boxes is incongruous with the careful design of our neighborhood," the note read. "Should you persist, there will be lawsuits." She wondered if it was the person who lived in the Tudor, or the craftsmen, or the mid-century rambler, or the eighties knock-off architect's nightmare house? Which congruity of those would she be impacting by building on her own land?

  3. The planning had taken twelve Earth years. Where was the least likely place for Earth radar to pick up their craft landing? They decided in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, and to mask their decent through the atmosphere to be like a meteorite falling. The mothership could go to the bottom of the sea, then, by the time any jets were scrambled to check them out. And then, they would launch their container ship, and it would go right into port, without anybody knowing. The perfect Trojan horse, and nobody could stop them before they were fully distributed throughout the cities, and it was too late.

  4. The sealed container auctions were his favorite. Something about a gambler's sensibility that knew the promise of something was better than the reality of bored nothingness. So, a few thousand dollars and he'd have a container full of goods. Of what? Of shoes, or sawhorses, of cheap-ass electronics or knock-off Stetson hats, electrical panels for houses, or elevator cables, plastic bottles, climbing gear, or who knows what else? But when he opened his latest lot, he found something far more unsettling: a house-worth of furniture and goods. It was a family's life he just bought, and all he could think about was how much they needed their stuff. How much the move — from where? Hong Kong? — had cost them, and he wondered if he could figure out just how to find them.

  5. They wash up on the beaches, sometimes, still. Daddy says it was the great wave that done it, but I know it was the pulse from the sun that killed all of the electronics. Daddy says they used to talk on little boxes, used to use glowing screens to see faces of people far away. One time, he opened the big box on the beach and showed me, with happiness, "This is a laptop, Dumpling. I wish I could turn it on and show you how it worked." We took all the boxes of them, hundreds, and stacked them in my room. I use them like blocks to make other rooms, but I've opened a few. I like to poke at their buttons and see. Sometimes I shoot them with the shotgun to watch them explode, but Daddy doesn't like when I do that because of contamination, whatever that is. So when I saw a new red box come up on shore I had to go get him, and we waded out to it to see what could be inside. Every time it was the thrill of the new. Every time was like a present come to us. Both of us acted like little kids as we walked into the water to see what we were gonna get.

Seattle Writing Prompts: The thirteenth floor

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

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Superstition, ugh. Am I right? The public thinks something bad is going to happen on the thirteenth floor. So, what would be the thirteenth becomes the fourteenth floor, and suddenly your building has thirty instead of twenty-nine stories. Somehow, because that floor has changed its title (or has it?) it is magically cleared of bad luck.

Sorry triskaidekaphiliacs, or people who are obsessed with the number thirteen, but there aren't many buildings with a thirteenth floor. I happen to work in one, and it was an almost shocking site to see the elevator hit that number without skipping it on my ride up. Now I relish it, and occasionally, when I ride the elevator with someone disembarking on the thirteenth floor, I'm curious as to what they'll find on it.

According to some accounts, as many as 85% of the buildings with an Otis elevator did not have a thirteenth floor. Unless they are versed in this oddity of modern social architecture, most people seem to not notice the thirteenth floor thing. So, if you imagine that floor is a Roky Ericcson song sending you a message, I'm sorry to say that floor would be wrong.

This seems like it would be useful Wikipedia page — "Buildings in Seattle that have a thirteenth floor." So, if you live or work in one, drop us a line, and if we get enough, maybe we can create it.

But until we have an exhaustive list, all we have is potential stories in mostly imaginary buildings — things that might have happened on the thirteenth floor, if somehow they existed but we never learned that they are all cursed by their very numbering.

Today's prompts
  1. Everything was on the upswing. New offices. Name being painted on the door by building maintenance guy, kneeling in blue coveralls, applying the gold to my name: "Chuck Masters, Private Investigations". New secretary, and she's a real sweetheart. Last month's billing through the roof. Ten cases closed. Things keep going like this, I'm gonna bring in a junior partner and see if we can't take a swipe at Pinkerton. Maintenance guy finished, and stood, stretching his arms, different parts of him cracking. "Well," he said. "Glad things are going so good for ya. I guess I'll be seeing you in a few months." — "Why so, pal?" — "You're the fifth dick to move into this place in two years. Ain't none of you lasted more than six months or so. And I'll tell you why, fella." — "Okay. Let it loose." — "I will. It's because you're dumb enough to rent an office on the thirteenth floor. Might as well call yourself Bad Luck Masters, because that's what you're in for, buddy. Mark my words."

  2. She would never be able to afford to rent in this building on her salary. A skyscraper in Belltown? No way. But the rent on the units on the thirteenth floor was $1000 a month cheaper than the rest, and for some reason, the landlord seemed desperate to rent them. Her only problem would be furnishing the place. And her air mattress popped the first night out of the blue, so she doesn't have a bed. And the electricity cut out for a while. And her shower went ice cold randomly. And she smelled a weird electrical smell in the kitchen. And when she turned out the lights, she could have swore there was a face looking in her window.

  3. Of course the elevator stopped with him inside. Somewhere around the 14th floor. He rang the call button, and maintenance said somebody would be right up to help him. Then he opened his phone and got onto Slack. "Hey, I'm stuck on the elevator." Somebody responded with the "face screaming in fear" emoji. "lol, it's fine" he typed, just as the elevator dropped a floor or so, then bounced and stopped, the friction from the brake pads filling the small room with a burning rubber smell. The lights flickered. Then the door opened, and he stepped out. Immediately, he was tackled, and his arms were cuffed behind him. "We've got a security breach on thirteen," said a man's voice, and the squelch of a radio. "Roger" came the reply. But wait — this building didn't have a thirteenth floor. Or did it?

  4. "We can get there on the stairs," he said. It was "take your kids to work" day, and they were the only two ten-year-olds. Both his dad and her mom were in a boring meeting. They were given iPads and told to entertain themselves, but he was fascinated that this building had a thirteenth floor. They had tried the elevator, but that floor wouldn't light up when they pushed the button. So they tried the stairs. The first staircase exit on thirteen was locked. But she suggested they try the second, and, sure enough, that one was ajar. They opened it, creaking on the hinges, and were greeted by a weird smell. "Mothballs", she said. He brought out his iPhone and turned on the flashlight, and they stepped into the floor.

  5. "It used to be easier," George said. "Back before the superstitions." — "yeah, but isn't that kind of our fault?" asked Bernie. "I mean, before us, people came up to thirteen all the time. Lived here. Worked here." — "Like us, for example." — "Exactly. Like us. And then, what, a couple of accidental deaths and suddenly people stay away like the plague." — "Well, except the maintenance guy. He still comes up here every week." — "He doesn't like it, though. You can see he wants to be done right quick." — "Maybe that's your fault, Bernie. Maybe if you didn't rattle your chains whenever he showed up." — "Don't you blame me, George. Being stuck with you here for the rest of time isn't enough for me." — "I'm just saying that if you laid off, maybe he would encourage people to move in and then we'd really have somebody to haunt." — "Don't you go blaming me, now. You're the one who got us killed in an old building." — "Wait, you hear that? He's here. Just lay off this once, okay?" — "What if I only moan in his ear?" — "Fine. Whatever. Do whatever you need."

Seattle Writing Prompts: The Fremont Bridge

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

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It was the first one, you know. Out of the six bascule bridges in Seattle, five of which are on the same waterway (starting from the east: Montlake Bridge, University Bridge, Fremont Bridge, Ballard Bridge, and the Salmon Bay Bridge, which is the train bridge with the huge counterweight hovering over it, and which is open unless a train goes to cross, so opposite the others in that way), the last being the First Avenue South Bridge over the Duwamish.

But Fremont was first, and this year we celebrate its centennial. It opened on June 15, 1917. It's the busiest drawbridge in the United States, apparently (although, Wikipedia says citation needed on that fact so if you have facts, consider editing). It was the home of writer-in-residence Elissa Washuta for three months, while she explored the history of the Lake Washington Ship Canal, and how its construction changed the landscape and displaced indigenous peoples.

There used to be a sign on the southern entrance to the bridge that said "Now entering Fremont, center of the universe, throw your watch away", but it's gone now. When we drive across the bridge, the sound of the grating buzzes under our wheels. If we stop, which thanks to Seattle traffic is not uncommon, you can see the water through that steel.

It raises faster than you think it should, the bridge operators, those anonymous heroes or villains (depending on if the red light flicked on before you started crossing or after) are obsessed with safety, as they should be. Bridge operator (and writer) Barb Abelhauser took the Stranger to task for cheering on a cyclist who climbed the open Ballard Bridge.

I have a friend who claims, that in High School in the eighties, he would get drunk with a buddy and sit with their backs on the straight posts of the University Bridge and ride it as it opened and closed, hanging on for dear life. We strongly recommend against such stupidity, but it goes to show that the idea of crossing that illicit boundary of the lowered barrier is not an uncommon one. Why, just look at the fantasy fulfillment of the Blues Brothers movie.

It is a busy bridge — an average of 3,108 cyclists each day ride across. In 2006, the Fremont Bridge had opened over 566,000 times, about 35 a day on average. It was designated a historic landmark in 1981.

Everybody has a favorite bridge. Montlake is cute as a button, and feels almost gothic. University has a kind of laid-back stretch, like a giant who just woke to yawn. Ballard feels like a commercial fishing vessel, functional, built for purpose more than style. But the Fremont bridge has a certain romance to it. The Fremont Bridge, if it were a person, feels like the one that would have attended all the cool punk shows, smoking clove cigarettes. It has the most sparkle of the set, like it has lived a life we can barely understand. It's the artsty-fartsy one, with the neon repunzel hanging out a window.

But isn't that silly to romanticize it? The bridge is, simply, a functional and important part of transportation infrastructure. But oh my goodness do all those people crossing it give us ideas for stories.

Today's prompts
  1. The bridgetender couldn't discriminate. When a boat needed to go through, she could hold them up while she made sure another wasn't coming along soon, but at some point she was going to raise the bridge to let them through. Until, she was surprised to see, the distinctive lines of her father's 45-foot sloop. Her father, who had left five years ago without saying anything. Who had taken all the money and disappeared. Who had a warrant out for his arrest.

  2. Most cannot see the veil that hangs down the center of the ship canal. But surely you've noticed how much you prefer one side to the other? There are those that only cross into Fremont or Ballard if they must, and there are those that don't feel safe until they do. But Miranda, who had the sight, could see the veil, and she knew what it protected. And she could see the rip that was forming every time the bridge lifted and fell.

  3. Mother mouse was a worrier, and baby boy mouse was a daredevil. But with twelve children to manage, she didn't have time to fret too hard over one. But on this day, when she needed to make sure all safely crossed the Fremont bridge, she fretted extra hard. She grouped them, surrounding baby boy with his more obedient older siblings. They had just crossed the gap that connected the two leaves of the bridge, when baby boy jumped back across and scurried up a post "I want to see the boat better!" he called. Mother mouse shrieked when she heard the horn. She knew the bridge was about to rise, and she had to get everybody off before it happened.

  4. The job of the grosstender was to cut down the bodies, the ones hung to show the power of the bridge guard. The grosstender was sub-human to most, which was good because he was left alone. Each body he hauled by wheelbarrow to the burial site reminded him of someone from before, when the bridge was not a medieval pseudo-military asset, but simply a way to cross the water, and back then, you didn't have to pay to do it, or die if you tried to cross without payment. So he gave them names, and when he buried them, he wrote that name in the dirt atop their grave. That worked fine until the day that the grosstender came across someone he actually remembered from before.

  5. She figured that femme-y rider was totally straight. Wedding ring, a kind of norm straight-girl vibe to her. Maybe two or three times a month, they'd converge on the bridge during their commutes, Chantel coming from Frelard, the norm girl from Wallingford. They'd taken to saying hi to each other, and sometimes riding together for a bit down the Westlake cycle track in silence, but a silence that made Chantel's heart beat fast. One day, Chantel was surprised to see her sitting on the bridge approach, holding her ankle. Chantel stopped, and saw blood. "I have a first aid kit," the girl said. "In the left-hand Ortlieb, can you please get it?" Chantel unrolled the panier, and looked inside as the girl said "No! In the left hand one!" but it was too late. Chantel had seen what she was hiding, and it made her bite her lip with excitement.

Seattle Writing Prompts: Remo Borracchini's Bakery & Mediterranean Market

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That pink box with the blue stamp on top. How many children in Seattle have seen that box in the fridge, knowing that inside is their dream cake, the one their parents ordered for their birthday, just biding its time until the party started? How many weddings have peaked with faces smeared by frosting that came all neat and delicious, inside that same pink box?

Mario Borracchini started the bakery, then called the International French Bakery (which should give you an idea of how Americans viewed Italians back then) in 1922, or thereabouts. The bakery changed its name to the Ginger Bell Bakery and moved into its current location in 1939 — a Seattle neighborhood colloquially called Garlic Gulch, because it used to be full of Italian businesses.

Brothers Dino, Angelo, and Remo ran the place until Remo took over in 1965. The building is a historical site in Seattle.

A fair share of stories have taken place there. A tragedy from this year: a teenage girl shot and killed in her mother's car when they pulled up to pick up a cake. A labor dispute from a clerk who was rude to customers inspired an apparently naive, but well-meaning, toothless protest (the woman fired claimed she never received breaks, but the owners of Borracchini's were able to produce videotape of her taking breaks).

But bad stories are few when you feed sweet goodness to Seattle for so long. According to one headline and interview from 1993, on one day "13,780 people were eating our wedding cakes."

That's what I like to think about. All of those cakes out in the world. All of those cakes at all of those parties. All of those pink boxes, and all of those unskilled cake decorators who were hired by the Borracchinis, and left with that ability under their belt.

And so, maybe we should take a look at where some of those cakes might end up.

Today's prompts
  1. It was her fifth birthday cake, and her mother had ordered the wrong character. It was supposed to be Elsa, but an image search went wrong produced Anna, and now the whole party was potentially heading for ruin. What would she say, when they opened the box? How could they explain that there wasn't time to change it? They decided to play it straight, see if they could pass it off. So, after a rousing chorus of "Let It Go", they broke into "Happy Birthday," watching her face as they approached with the incorrect cake.

  2. "It's a fucking scene from a bad movie," Georgia said. "I will not be in a bad movie." Sarah agreed, nodding, "No, you are not. But you know, those movies are bad because they are cliched, and cliches come from somewhere. For example, the feeling of needing to move on. Sometimes symbolism works. Sometimes taking action works. Sometimes being cliched works." Sarah opened the box, and there it was, the wedding cake that would never be served. "It does look good," Georgia said. "You haven't eaten since last night," Sarah said, handing over a fork. "One thing first," Georgia said. She took the male cake topper, and threw him out the window. "Okay. Let's eat."

  3. It was his fifth year doing it. He'd order the smallest sheet cake he could, have a little celebration after dinner. Light a candle for himself and have a piece. It reminded him of home, that sweet sponge, that sugary frosting. Just because he was a cranky old man nobody liked didn't mean he shouldn't take a few minutes to enjoy himself. And so, he lit the candle. He just didn't expect the knock on the door to happen right then.

  4. She had asked for the same cake every year since she was a little girl, almost thirty years — the one thing that was constant in her life. Vanilla frosting. White cake. Raspberry filling. No writing on top — she wanted it plain, austere, a field of frosting. So when he showed up on her birthday with the pink box, and he had that look on his face, she knew he had messed it up. "Baby, I'm sorry," he said. "I had to get some writing on it." She took a breath. Pursed her lips. "And what does this text say?" He grasped the box tighter. "You need to promise you'll forgive me." She shook her head. "Show me." He sighed. Closed his eyes, then after a minute opened them again. He down on one knee, and cracked the box open.

  5. They got about forty of them around the cake, a full sheet cake with chocolate buttercream frosting. It was huge. Bunny handed out the forks, and even tried to give one to a cop, but he didn't budge, didn't look, didn't lower his baton. Didn't break formation. So, they counted down, over the chants of people behind them, and then forty forks dove for that cake. Pulling it apart, decimating it, pulling at the giant yellow words on top: RESIST! The whole thing was gone in less than four minutes.

Seattle Writing Prompts: the State Fair

Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.

Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.

What's your favorite fair? Everybody thinks of the Washington State Fair ("the Puyallup"), around our parts, but that one is so big and crowded. Just north, in Monroe, is the smaller, but no less exciting, Evergreen State Fair, right at the Speedway, so you can watch drag races while eating your cotton candy. My personal favorite, since I spent a lot of time in Bellingham, is the Northwest Washington Fair, up in Lynden, Washington.

What makes the fair so great? It's surely not the junk food, the queasy-making rides, or the big concerts (in Lynden, you can see Night Ranger, in Monroe, Joan Jett — she puts on a mean show — but at the Puyallup, you can see Modest Mouse, the Beach Boys, Earth, Wind, and Fire, just to name a few of the major headliners). It's a kind of homespun insanity of 4H farm kids, mixed with cowboys and functional western fetish-wear, mashed into a rock 'n roll carny factory, that always has a tinge of a Stephen King story. Like, something could go terribly wrong at any minute.

It's the barnfuls of ribboned swine, next door to hucksters selling the latest gadget in a small booth, their microphones broadcasting their prattle to the walkers-by. It's the dress horses, and at least in Lynden, the Clydesdales, all hitched in a train to an open-back wagon that they high-walk around the ring. It's the John Deere tractors out for sale, and the little area where the RV dealer sets up so you can walk through your mobile dream.

Sure, it's the rides. It's getting whipped around on a ride where half the seats are closed, and the whole thing is shored up on the grass by some old boards. It's wondering what must have happened for that handwritten sign that says "no open toed shoes" to be made and stuck up. It's the weird math trying to figure out how many ride tickets you'll need to do everything you want. Then, it's those blissful few moments being tossed around and given a thrill, before coming back down to your own two feet and a desire to eat more.

Every bit of food is big at the fair, and not as expensive as you might find at a year-round amusement park. If it's not deep fried, it could be, and if it couldn't be, somebody has surely tried. Ice cream sandwiches the size your head, and so many hamburgers you have to wonder if they have a butcher tent out back of the beef barn to keep them supplied.

It's the change in the air as the sun goes down, and the little kids go home to bed. The teenagers rule the midway, as the parents go off to watch some country music. It's the pubescent explosion of promise, that oversized stuffed animal roped high above the games that could be won but for trying, and that first stolen kiss, sweet with sno cone syrup still on the lip.

The state fairs are many things to many people, and maybe that's why I love them so much. I never feel like I belong, in truth, but I always feel like I'm wandering through a thousand other stories, and getting to see so many parts of it. Makes it fun to think about what kind of things are happening there.

Today's prompts
  1. They stuck her on the kiddie roller coaster again. Taking tickets. Getting the little shits in the cars, every other seat broken and unsafe. But as the kids went around the boring little track, she was watching across the way, at the Thrill-O-Wheel, where her connection was running the show. She was starting to get a bit antsy. The delivery was supposed to happen an hour ago, and the little shits might just drive her to madness before the fix came in. That's when the princess stepped up with her tickets and demanded entrance to the car in front, one of the broken ones.

  2. It was a dare. When the person you have a crush on is going on a stomach-turning ride, and your friends volunteer you to go with, you can't say no. And maybe you can hold in the milkshake and fries you just ate and not throw up on your crush, and maybe they will reach out to grab your hand, like in your most feverish dream. But neither of you look at each other as the bars come down. Only after it's too late and they say "I really, really don't want to do this" and you say "oh god me neither" do you notice how both sets of your friends are laughing out loud. You both were set up.

  3. They got a shipment of three thousand units before the fair. Balance boards, of all the goddamn things. "We'll do the health angle. Good for aging, agility, strength, that kind of bullshit. I'll get banners printed up tonight," Mark said. Desi thought it was better than last year, hawking those stupid juicers, but how good are they gonna do next to the fidget spinner booth? Maybe Desi was getting to old for the game. Maybe

  4. Nobody pays attention to the meet-cute of best friends. Unless it's a romantic thing, nobody talks about anniversaries, or years together. Friendships outlast the marriages, sometimes, go through the illnesses and children and everything together. But nobody talks about how special they are, not really. But one started that day, all because of two coincidences. First, being next to each other on the giant slide, and chatting on the way up. Then, second, finding out they were working in the same ice cream booth. The story has yet to unfold, but one thing is worth saying up front: this friendship will span their whole lives, and they will never be closer to another than they are to each other.

  5. "It's gonna be you," she said, leaning down and petting the side of her soon-to-be prize pig. "It's gonna be you. I know it. You're gonna take blue." The pig, dappled with black and pink, leaned into the hand and snorted, turning its head, its wet snout glistening in the morning light. "You're the prettiest pig, the smartest pig, the best all around pig, and I know you're gonna win." The pig looked up at her, seemed to cock an eyebrow, as if waiting for the but ... Then it came: "just so long, that is, as you don't let them know you can talk."