In 1989, I had just moved from Kansas City to Seattle and lived in a little brick duplex just a mile from the Space Needle. I got a job delivering The Seattle Times and The New York Times, which allowed ample space to navigate grad school. That’s when I met my new neighbors, Mike and Amy.
They lived out back across the alley and liked to sit outside at night, drinking wine and beer, and lighting joints from a recently-purchased firepit in their backyard. Amy, a certified paralegal, was fluent in French and always willing to help me study for tests. She had perfect pronunciation plus long black hair, nut-brown eyes, and a mighty sense of humor.
Her husband, Mike, was a welder, very gregarious, and drove a company van. Years earlier in an industrial accident, the middle three fingers on his left hand were burned off all the way down to the knuckles. His left hand now consisted of just his thumb and little finger. After a few beers, he even referred to himself as “Captain Hook.” Mike’s claw, day or night, weekday or weekend, was regularly grasping a cold Bud Light. While listening to classic rock, Mike liked to give Amy back and shoulder rubs at night by the firelight to which she would audibly ooh and ahh, occasionally interspersed with her trademark high-pitched giggle.
Their front door was not a front door at all. It was actually a large rectangular wooden sign: “Madame Voodoo’s Dive & Surf Shoppe.” The door didn’t actually open – it was nailed shut, but people used to knock on it all the time, curious about this venue that sported the neon replica of a gypsy hanging ten on her surfboard. That was it. Just the sign. No merchandise, no services, just Mike’s eclectic sense of humor, which Amy loved to no end.
One morning, I delivered my newspapers and returned home to study for a French mid-term later that afternoon when I heard some muffled shouts coming from the backyard. I grabbed my coffee and headed out to investigate.
Poised in the alley and parked in the streets both in front of and behind Mike and Amy’s dilapidated three-bedroom Victorian was a monolithic-sized earth-mover, a bulldozer, two backhoes, and a giant blue bin the size of three Dumpsters combined. Amy was sweating profusely, green eyes laser-beaming, screaming and pointing her finger at a confused, middle-aged white man. He must have been the foreman because in addition to a yellow hard hat, he was wearing a thin black tie and the requisite city-issue plastic pocket protector. He was nervously holding a clipboard in one hand and a walkie-talkie in the other.
“You better get this army of yellow John Deere shit out of here,” Amy said, “or I swear to God you’re going to regret it.”
“Ma’am, I already told you,” the foreman said with a quivering voice, “I have a work order to excavate this property, on this day, signed by the King County Executive.” He showed her the official clipboard with the official embossed seal and including the official address in the top left-hand corner.
“Look, Dudley Do-Right,” Amy said, voice volume on high and pointing her finger, “I don’t care what your little work order says. You’ve got the wrong address.”
I kept my distance. I knew Amy was more than capable of handling herself. Plus, she knew the law.
After ten or fifteen minutes of wrangling, Amy marched inside the house and returned resolutely with a 12-gauge double-barrel pump-action shotgun. The man’s eyes grew very big. His co-workers stopped in mid-motion. Even the birds stopped chirping.
“Go ahead, excavate my house. I dare you.” Amy was taunting him now, waving the business end of the shotgun back and forth. She called Mike on her cell phone and left a voicemail. “You better get your ass over here tout suite, n’est-ce pas, because there’s about to be an all-out bloodbath in this bitch.” The barely-controlled agitation in her voice was unmistakable, even in French.
In less than five minutes, Mike rolled up in his company van. Because of all the construction vehicles there was nowhere to park, so he skidded to a stop in the 7-Eleven parking lot next door and hustled toward the alley.
“I will not hesitate to shoot you, sir, if you touch my house.” Amy’s face was red; she had a menacing green gleam in her eyes.
Mike rushed past me, briefly made eye contact, and rolled his eyes with a slight smile. He approached the man-in-charge, still visibly shaken in his thin black tie. “So,” Mike said, carefully crossing the proverbial line that had been drawn in the sand. “I see you’ve met my wife.”
The foreman made a few more frantic phone calls downtown, trying to maintain his composure while telling Amy to please put the gun down. It turns out there was a typographical error on the City’s paperwork. The crew on Fifth Avenue should have been on Sixth. The yellow John Deere army methodically retreated.
As we were all drinking and smoking together by the firepit later that night, Mike said to Amy, “Were you really gonna shoot that guy?”
Amy smiled. “You don’t mess with the eagle’s nest or a girl’s new firepit.”
I’m not sure what happened to Mike and Amy. I do know that several years later their ramshackle house was sold, legitimately this time, and demolished without threats, shotguns, or finger-pointing. A five-story condominium was built in its place, which was considered an upgrade to a neighborhood already succumbing to new business parks and office spaces. A few years later, even Bill Gates would purchase a mile’s worth of real estate across the street from the Monorail. (There goes the neighborhood…)
I have to confess that even to this day, over three decades later, I am still feeling the “Seattle freeze” from colleagues and neighbors, a reputation Seattle has developed over the years for being polite but distant, especially to strangers. And who knew the antidote for this precipitous Northwest chill, at least back in 1989, was located behind the alley in Lower Queen Anne? I miss “Captain Hook” and “Shotgun Amy,” a lot, and don’t forget all the confused tourists attempting to patronize ole “Madame Voodoo’s Dive & Surf Shoppe.”
So much for progress, huh? Oh well… I do have one request of you, gentle reader – will the last person leaving Seattle please remember to turn the lights off?