Spending a Year in a Communist Compound (Part 1)

Filed under : Serial Stories, Weird Stories

Story 91 of 365

Est. Reading Time 8 minutes

I remember when I was a teenager and I had to tape episodes of Beverly Hills 90210 for my older sister, one of the first lines in the first episode was spoken by a voiceover and they said something like “they say your birthplace shouldn’t be where you were born, but where you learned who you are – and this was my birthplace…”. Using that line of logic, Seattle would be my birthplace. But, let’s be honest : 90210 was just being dramatic and it’s absurd for me to call Seattle anything more than a pit stop in my life when I only spent a year of my life there. But, it was transformative in a lot of ways.

If you haven’t followed this blog from the beginning (for which I wouldn’t blame you), then you may have wondered what became of my life after my failed attempt to move out of Phoenix to San Francisco, which resulted in my girlfriend at the time going to jail. As I mentioned in that story, my friend Kevin introduced me to his friend Andrew who was basically stopping in to Phoenix before a big move to Seattle. He offered to bring me along, saying we could start our own web design company together. It was the Spring of 1999, and Seattle seemed like a good place to be. Andrew seemed like a fun and weird person to hang out with. He had a lot of stories, and a passion about life that I found very intriguing. With the allure of Phoenix having long since passed, I agreed to his offer.

Andrew wanted me to pack up my belongings and join him at his mother’s house for about a month prior to our move, but told me there wasn’t a lot of room between his mom’s van and a small moving truck so I should keep items to their essentials. I packed up everything I owned into a series of small boxes and milk crates, and threw away well over half of everything I felt like I could do without. In the middle of that, my father called me. I walked around my apartment and told him of my plans. I’ll never forget the hope in his voice, telling me “now is the time to do that. you’re young, you’re single, you have no kids. explore while you still can”. Even though all (except maybe the “young” part) still apply to me today, my dad no longer gives me that advice. At the time, however, I felt inspired by those words. I was off on an adventure, and I felt like I needed to explore life.

It was pretty cool at the time. At least, to us. We had to add "click the bugs" after too many friends of ours didn't understand what to doWhen I moved out of my shithole apartment into Andrew’s mom’s house, everything I owned could fit into the rear of a hatchback (literally, cause that’s how I moved into his mom’s house). We spent the next month or so in his room, designing and programming the website for our planned web design business. It was a lofty goal, and a lofty website. We called it “FrogFaith Productions” — his name, not mine — and I had him render out a series of animated 3D scenes that I converted into a Flash-based animation for our website. It was basically an animated 3D swamp scene (like a frog would live in) with interactive bugs you could click on for more information, at which point the bug would crawl around and pull out the interactive slide for the relevant page. It was a bitch on those old dial-up connections, but at the time it wasn’t that weird to make someone wait almost a minute to load your fancy website as long as you made a progress bar (which we did) showing how long it would take 1I genuinely considered putting those old files online so you could see it in all its glory, but I’m pretty sure a screenshot does the job ...continue.

We were proud of our weird little art-house 3D frontpage with a animated bugs and swinging vines and the sounds of the rainforest. I was proud that I was finally getting out of Phoenix. Andrew was proud that he’d begun a trek towards a legitimate business venture.

I’ll digress a moment to make fun of myself : when they said “we’re moving to Seattle, Washington”, I had always thought there was only one Washington. The one that, I now realize, everyone just calls “D.C.”. When Andrew’s mom showed me the travel map, and explained our various route options, I said “but why go all the way north first? isn’t it easier to take one of these highways east instead?”. We went back and forth before it became clear to everyone but me that I’d never realized there were two Washingtons. Yes, I was that ignorant. This has nothing to do with the story, but I feel like it’s important to note for the record that I kept thinking I was moving to the East Coast.

Tragedy struck just prior to my move — not my tragedy, but a tragedy — when my friend Cheyenne’s father was suddenly involved in a head-on collision that put him in a coma. Since I was so busy with moving and building up a business, I kept telling her that he’d pull through just fine and she was worrying too much over nothing. She and her sister had always considered their father a square who was too strict with them, and they mocked him — openly, to his face — but the few interactions I had with the guy were positive. In the past year, he and Cheyenne had really grown close and she was finally realizing her mom was the fucked-up one, and her dad was the good one. I turned out to be wrong about him pulling through, and his family (not Cheyenne, but her grandparents) exercised their legal right to pull the plug. He passed away mere days before I left for Seattle. I wasn’t there for her the way I should have been, but I talked to her on the phone as much as I could and I promised her that I’d come back to visit.

The plan was to meet up in Seattle with Andrew’s older brother Chris, and we’d all get a house together. By “all”, I mean : Andrew, his girlfriend Amanda, his mother Pamela, his oldest brother Brian and his fiancé Brenda, Chris, Chris’s girlfriend Christine, Chris’s drummer Pat, Chris’s bassist Shane, and me 2some of these names are changed for this story, and some of them were conveniently “cute” combos like the ones I used. Thankfully, Brian and Brenda were just coming along for the ride and intended to get their own place before we found a house. That left just the 8 of us together in a house.

I’ll never forget driving into Seattle. I’d never seen a real city like that before. It was gorgeous. It was the beginning of summer. The water was on our left, the skyscrapers were on our right. The air smelled fresh. I’d never seen such lush greenery before in my life. I felt like a real world-traveling motherfucker. This was where life came alive. This is where stories are made. This was where Kurt Cobain spent his first and last days 3okay, he was actually born in Aberdeen, but that’s close enough.

We drove through the heart of the city into a smaller neighborhood to meet up with “the guys”. When we arrived, Andrew said we needed to meet Shane at his job up the street. We were in Capitol Hill, a punk-rock-political sort of neighborhood at the time — like a mini San Francisco. As we walked into the outdoor shopping center near Shane’s workplace, I walked past a guy who said “hey… you got a dollar?”. As I looked down, I saw a needle sticking out of his arm. I’d never actually seen a needle in a dude’s arm before. I was definitely not in Kansas Phoenix anymore.

We went out for dinner and drinks and Chris was immediately skeptical of my whole look and vibe. I was the outsider. A stranger. Chris was the kind of person, I’d been warned, who will immediately try and tear you down and figure out who you are. After dinner, we went back to the apartment where the band was staying. Chris walked circles around me, picking on everything I was wearing, questioning everything I did, everything I was. He said “you look like that because you think it makes you cool”. I told him that I didn’t think I was cool. “Yes, you think you’re fucking cool. That’s why you’ve got the long hair, all the ear piercings, wearing all the black clothing, the combat boots… you think you’re cool”. I repeated : “no, no, I’m not trying to be cool”. He got upset, repeating his argument in various ways. I said “what about you? your style?” and he said “cause I’m fuckin’ cool“. I didn’t want this conversation, I wanted to sleep. I said “great. well, you’re a cool guy, can I just go to bed now?”.

The room went quiet. Chris walked away. I stood alone in a tiny living room in a 1-bedroom apartment, surrounded by silence and judging eyes. Andrew emerged from the kitchen after a chat with Chris, and took me outside. He said “Chris doesn’t trust you. He thinks you’re being fake. He hates fake people”. I said “he’s… fucking grilling me about what I’m wearing and accusing me of trying to act cool. what the fuck?”. Andrew said he’d talk to Chris, but that I needed to chill out.

I stood on the corner of a dark street in Seattle in the wee hours of the night for what felt like an hour (but was probably only 15 minutes), unsure if I was even going to have a place to stay. I didn’t have enough money for a hotel. I had no way back. Everything I owned was sitting in a van parked on this street. I was 100s of miles from everyone, and everything, I’d ever known. I didn’t know what was going to happen, or what I would do if I didn’t meet some arbitrary approval rating from some egotistical armchair psychology asshole. I thought back to everyone I knew back in Phoenix, and how much I wished I could call any of them right then and tell them what was going on. You kids with your cellphones have it so easy these days.

Eventually, Andrew came outside and said “I talked to Chris, and he’s gonna let you crash. But you don’t get a blanket. He’ll lend you an old pair of pants for a pillow”. I was so relieved that I’d even have a place to stay for the night that I didn’t even question how fucking rude and absurd the whole thing was.

I went up to the apartment, stumbled around in the dark, found a corner to curl up in, and built a pillow from an old pair of sweatpants. As I lay there on the floor, I remember a singular thought repeating itself in my head : “this is where I find out who I am, outside of what I’ve always known, and outside of my comfort zone”.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. I genuinely considered putting those old files online so you could see it in all its glory, but I’m pretty sure a screenshot does the job without embarrassing me too much
2. some of these names are changed for this story, and some of them were conveniently “cute” combos like the ones I used
3. okay, he was actually born in Aberdeen, but that’s close enough