Seafood Days, ya? A warm Saturday in mid-to-late summer, cobblestone Ballard Avenue and the retail ‘core’ of Market Street are blocked off by squad cars. It’s the only time you’ll see more than one cop in Ballard.
In Bergen Place, a stage and picnic tables are set. Children dance in colorful highlander outfits around a Maypole holding the ends of pastel ribbons attached to the peak, braiding them one way and then the other as they skip to the loo, dodging each other in serpentine while an accordion player sways – a uniquely Nordic combination of polka, square dance, weaving, and Twister.
Taking a bite of barbequed salmon, I nearly choke when they call for volunteers for the lutefisk eating contest. “Just raise your hand and we’ll bring you the waiver.” No takers. Is it a contest or just tradition if no one enters? The announcer repeats the call, throwing in as much heritage pride & guilt as she can.
Finally, a huge lady breaks the tension. She grabs the wrist of her frail and elderly husband and raises it straight up in the air. Heading out, I pass a group of motionless people facing me on the sidewalk corner outside Lombardi’s. The streets are barricaded against traffic, but still, everyone’s patiently waiting for the light to change, for the “WALK” sign’s permission, including the bearer of the lutefisk.
Can you say your first name?
Any of you met the “Can you give me two quarters…Can you say your first name” guy yet? He asks people their full names very methodically and hands out Cheese’n’Crackers snacks. He frequents the buses in Ballard and Queen Anne, and maybe elsewhere – I bet the guy really gets around.
I just met him this week on the #18 in Ballard. I think his name is Mark since I heard a lady call him that recently. But someone in a Queen Anne story says he introduced himself as Carl…what is his name really? He’s so fascinated with names you would think he would attach more importance to keeping his own straight.
He comes up to me one morning while we’re waiting for the bus at Ballard and Market and asks me if I would give him two quarters. I said no. Then, riding out of Ballard towards Queen Anne I saw him hand a Cheese’n’Crackers snack pack to a rough looking sort who got on a few stops after we did. Sort of a spiritual tourrette.
The rough dude gets off the bus one stop later. I think the driver didn’t even collect a fare. Then “Mark” gets off at the Ballard Bridge and hands another Cheese’n’Crackers snack to yet another down-and-out sort standing at the bus stop. He sits there waiting for another bus, the #15 I guess.
“Mark” has a thing about shaking hands, but only with his “friends”, not just anybody. “Mark” has done this same routine every morning for the past week that I have been riding the bus while my car’s in the shop (and he’s giving the snacks to the same guys, like they’re waiting for him). And it is warm, humid even. I wish it were spring again. So nice.
So this morning I give him a quarter because I can see that he’s giving away food to needy people. He asks me “Can you say your first name?” I tell him. Then he asks “Can you say your middle name?” and I tell him I don’t have one. Then he asked “Can you say your last name” and I refuse because that’s too personal. He looked rather bewildered at my stand-offishness and trundled back to the bench. Reminds me of the southern woman who’s lived here now for many years and that I talked to a while ago.
I suspect he’s been through rehab of some kind where they asked him over and over “Can you say your first name?” etc until he could respond cogently and function in the real world. At least he’s handing out food to people who look like they really appreciate it. These were his friends.