19 Sept 2017, 2.30pm, 400 Broad St, Seattle, WA 98109, USA is an idea that never really came together. But it’s tidy enough to leave here.
Now there’s a hole where lust used to be.
I nudge Julian, “Three in a row there, look.”
Downtown is 16 minutes away in the Lyft. Dozens of signs line the route. All the same. Colourful writing on a black background. They read:
“In this house we believe: black lives matter, women’s rights are human rights, no human is illegal, science is real, love is love, kindness is everything.”
Julian asks the Lyft driver, “Is there some sort of election coming up?”
“No, we just had the presidential election.”
“I mean is there some sort of local election?”
“There are so many political signs up.”
“Like what?” asks the Lyft driver.
Julian looks at me bemused by her answer. “All those signs with the ‘kindness is everything’ speech.”
“Oh them? That’s just anti Trump stuff.”
“How is it anti Trump?”
“It says about being tolerant of people. Not being racist, not being sexist, not being homophobic…”
“Donald Trump is homophobic?” asks Julian.
“Yes he is. Where did you say you are from?”
“We didn’t. We’re from the UK.”
“It was made by a group of Moms. They just trying to fight hate and polarisation.”
“You guys have a female Prime Minister right now don’t you.”
“Yes, it’s our second.”
“I don’t think we could ever vote for a female president in the US. It’s so much more forward in Europe. Feminism is so far behind in the USA.”
“Well there are some pretty misogynistic places in Europe still.”
“Absolutely. All around the Mediterranean. Italy in particular. But Croatia, Hungary, Greece, Spain, Portugal…”
“My friend has been to Spain and she says the guys there are really nice?”
“Yeah?” Julian asks, smiling.
“Yes, she said the men are really forward and sensual.”
“Oh really,” says Julian, “are they touchy-feely?”
“Yeah,” she says smiling in the rear-view.
“When you’re Mediterranean, they let you do it. You can do anything,” says Julian, trying not to laugh. I look out of the window to try to stop my chuckles.
The Lyft leaves us at Pike place. Julian looks around the market enthusiastically while I just try not to think about stuff too much. Julian gets excited about a fish throwing display. I spend some time looking at a Nirvana poster, trying to figure out if it’s original or a reprint while avoiding eye contact with the shop owner. Julian wants to see the Space Needle, he checks the distance on Google maps and we decide to walk.
“Strip club is open at this time?” says Julian, pointing.
“Shall we go in?”
“It feels grimy at this time.”
“You know they don’t serve alcohol in strips club here.”
“What? You can’t drink in a strip club.”
“I don’t think you can even go in drunk.”
“Huh? So how does it work?”
Near the Space Needle the city opens up into a concrete complex of various attractions. The Chihuly Gardens and Glass, the Museum of Pop Culture. There is a noisy and unforgiving four lane road right next to the entrance. We make our way to the concession stand.
“24 bucks to take a lift,” says Julian, without emotion. As if he cannot compute whether this is a reasonable price to pay or not.
“What’s at the top?” I ask.
“It just says a viewing platform. I guess there is a viewing platform. I thought there was a restaurant or something that spins around.”
“Isn’t that Vancouver?”
He shrugs. “Want to go up the Needle?”
“I’m not bothered. I’ll stay down here.” Julian gets his ticket and enters the tower. I have a brief walk around to see the different attractions but there is nothing that I can get into in this area without paying. So I look around the Space Needle Gardens, which takes about a minute, and sit on one of the concrete benches near the entrance of the gift shop and start aimlessly scrolling on my phone.
“Excuse me,” someone says in a thick Chinese accent, “can you take a photo?” I raise my head to see a woman holding out her phone to me. She’s maybe late thirties, early forties at a push. She is slim and attractive but her face is long and uneven. One of her eyelids droops slightly. But she is gaunt and erotic. It’s enhanced by the long black trench coat she is wearing.
“Take a picture?” I ask.
“Yes. Of me.” She feigns a posing motion and points to the Space Needle.
“Oh, you want a picture in front of the Space Needle.” I take her phone and she moves to pose. It’s an Honor phone. It’s not immediately intuitive. “I will need you to unlock…” I swipe up. Her phone is unlocked. On the home screen are a number of cartoonish app symbols. I press the big chunky camera one. She poses in front of the needle and I take three shots then hand the camera back to her and sit down again.
“No, no. no,” she says. She deletes the photos, slaps the phone into my hand and begins posing again but more provocatively this time. She stands sideways, arches her back, lifts one of her feet off the ground and blows a kiss. I stand frozen for a moment, trying to understand what is happening. But I oblige her with some more photos.
She slides through the photos again, deleting them all. Deleting them seems rude and excessive. She hands me back the camera again telling me, “No. Be more careful.”
“Be more careful?”
“Yes, take your time with the photos. Don’t take so many.”
“Right, take more time. I will.” I raise the camera again. Making an effort to show her that I am taking my time. I even start adjusting the exposure and the white balance to make it seem like I’m serious.
My eye is drawn to the circular thumbnail in the bottom right corner which shows a preview of the last picture taken. The last photo is clearly a self-shot mirror portrait. It looks like she is nude but it’s hard to tell. I look past the screen of the phone and at her. She just smiles at me.
“Take your time you see,” she says. I don’t know what to do. So I just stand still.
She stops posing and walks over to me, trying to appear alluring but failing to hide her frustration that I am not getting it.
She takes the phone out of my hands and presses on the thumbnail. The last photo loads onto the screen. She slides through a few of them, leaning the screen towards me so I can see. All of the photos are self shot in a generic looking hotel room using a full length mirror. Her arms or the camera are always positioned tactically to hide her breasts. Her legs crossed alluringly, defending her modesty. Her body is slim and hard. The dim hotel light casts shadows over the tight tendon lines in her thighs, her arms and her neck.
“I need help to take pictures like these,” she tells me, a hint of vulnerability in her voice for the first time.
“Here?” I ask.
“No, I have a hotel in Seattle. Not far.”
“Not far.” I repeat dumbly, because I don’t know what else to say. I don’t feel confident enough to read this situation. Is this an offer of sex, or just a strange request for a photographer.
“You want to come?” she asks me.
“Would I like to come?” The expression on her face tightens. I can see her patience wearing thin.
Somewhere beneath the fog that is blocking my thoughts and actions, something primal growls. It tries to reach up through the layers of fear and conditioning and take control. To risk it. To see where is goes. But it’s too far buried. My head is consumed with angst and distress. This is a world where I don’t know the rules. I don’t know how to navigate these signals and subtle cues. “What if it’s a trap?” I ask myself. “What if I have read this wrong somehow and she cries rape?” Nobody is going to believe an attractive woman I don’t know just asked me back to her hotel after showing me some nudes.
I hand back the phone. “No, thank you,” I say stiffly and too loudly. The foundation on her face crushes together as she frowns in anger and embarrassment. She strides away quickly, muttering under her breath.
Immediately I feel both relief and regret. But soon that fades and is replaced by a burning betrayal in my gut. I see Julian leaving the gift shop.
“What was it like?” I have to force the question out. I don’t care.
“There’s load of history to read but I didn’t read it so I still don’t know why they built it. An amazing view at the top. Nothing else.”
“Well there is some popcorn at the top.”
“Yeah,” I say. What else is there to say?
“What do you want to do now?” he asks. “Strip club… or weed?” he pauses for a moment, “Escorts?”
I turn away from Julian. I can’t tell if he’s joking or really this bored but anger drives my next response, “All three?”
“Alright. Strip club first, cause we can’t go in intoxicated.”
“Strip club first,” I agree.
“Love is love,” he says.
“Kindness is everything.”