SLEEPLESS IN BALLARD
by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
SEATTLE, Wash. -- I am still much too excited by the President's State of the Union Address to write coherently. Somehow, the sight of the members of two houses of Congress and the Cabinet leaping to their feet every time the leader of the free world managed to achieve closure with a sentence turns my mind into...well...ink soup.
In such a state, what can I write about except what I see immediately around me? What I see is a dateline that reads "Seattle." Everyone who has ever lived in a large city will know the uneasy feeling of deception inspired by that. Seattle is where the post office says that I live, but God knows it is really a little place called Ballard.
When I lived in London (as the PO called it), my actual place of residence was a small cluster of shops and pubs and houses called Hampstead. Bordering the Heath, it had a country feel to it. When I went every day to the British Museum to write what became my first book, I felt that I was taking the bus to London.
The same was true of Berlin, where I earlier spent the Korean War. Berlin is a widely spread cluster of small villages, each with its own character.
The residents of Staten Island or Brighton Beach, when they go to Manhattan, feel that they have left home for New York.
Ballard has a distinct character, which, not to put too fine a point upon it, might be called Norwegian. The central square is known as Bergen Place. One of the most imposing buildings is the Sons of Norway Hall. Dr. Soup, opportunist as ever, tried to join the organization by claiming that his name had originally been Aaksoup, but the only response he got was "Gesundheit!"
Ballard is situated on the water, from which it is divided by numerous ship-building and other marine concerns. The Monorail, an elevated railway discussed for eons here, and probably to be completed when we have built the first McDonald's on Mars, will link it to Seattle (where the PO thinks it already is).
Ballard is, according to local lore, the home of more than the statue to The Unknown Norwegian, but also the slow driver. Every slowpoke on the Interstate is deemed to have come from Ballard, where motorists not only never run through red lights-they have to be cajoled to drive through green lights.
Near Ballard is the crazily eccentric neighborhood of Fremont, which calls itself "The Center of the Universe."
On one of the main intersections of Fremont stands an object that I never pass without a mingling of loathing and amusement: a huge bronze statue of V.I.Lenin, the Bolshevik leader. He is as usual striding forward into the inevitable victory of collectivism.
Brought back from the Soviet Union by some local millionaire, it might just be the last such Communist ikon in the world. Visitors from present-day Russia, when they see this thing, either fall on the ground with paroxysms of laughter, or throw up.
What will Fremont come up with next? A statue of Idi Amin? The Shah of Iran?
But that's their problem. For I live in Ballard, where the only issue disrupting the even flow of life is whether or not to legalize lutefisk.
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.