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Memorial To A Stabbing – 2120 2nd Avenue – Belltown – Seattle, WA

The Belltown that sticks in my mind, when I think about this part of Seattle, is along Second Avenue between Battery and Virginia Streets. For me, these few blocks have all the essential elements that define somewhere unique.

In reality Belltown is larger and more diverse than this section of Second Avenue and begins to the west at the edge of Elliot Bay and reaches some 10 or 11 blocks east to the spot where the emerging South Lake Union area, the foot of Capitol Hill and Downtown meet at around Westlake Avenue and Denny Way. To the north, it is again bounded by Denny Way while to the south, around Virginia Street, the city begins to change once again.

By day, the Belltown imagery I carry in my head is far closer to shabby than elegant, has clusters of poor hovering around the corner groceries and social services agencies while the parking enforcement cops hover around stretches of parked cars, and the restaurants and coffee shops do a steady if not brisk business. By day it is a place that is neither welcoming nor off putting, rather it mostly exists to get to some other place.

By night, Belltown becomes a place where you can see a mother and her twenty something daughter pass by with a few other friends decked out for an evening at one of the many nightspots that are seemingly everywhere. Suddenly and explosively, Mom turns and decks her daughter with a right hook that busts her nose that results in blood running between the fingers of her hand, dripping onto the sidewalk.

Or a place where long limos glide down the Avenues ferrying 20 and early 30 somethings to the same nightclubs where they can live out, for a few hours, the fantasy of stepping out into a world of cameras and paparazzi. While parked down a side street are the far more egalitarian party buses and their garish LED and neon lights that cast a pallor on the drivers as they idly read magazines or smoke cigarettes to kill time.

The Crocodile, at the corner of Second Avenue and Blanchard Street comes to life and is that place where Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and others put Seattle permanently and loudly on the musical map. A few years ago, it barely survived the previous owners divorce. On most nights, hot or cold, wet or dry, the women stand around outside in the smoking corral wearing impeccably chosen tight dresses and a posture of being perceptually cold. The men competing for their attention secretly are just as impeccably dressed though the effect is to look anything but impeccable. It all reeks of cigarettes, frat boy attitude, and sex in 4″ heels.

Up the street, away from downtown, in tight succession are the Senior Services building, Tula’s Jazz Club, the Clever Bottle with its candle lit interior, the Rabbit Hole with skeeball while Shorty’s has pinball, JuJu’s with a 2 for 1 happy hour, the honestly advertised and rather freighting Belltown Funky Lofts above, the Lava Lounge comes next with tiki lamps and lastly, Mamma’s Mexican Kitchen on Bell Street is simply an institution. Across the street, Pintxo serves up Spanish tapas while Wally’s Grocery sells fortified wine to alcoholics, the Upstairs sits upstairs in some old offices, a barber shop, a coffee shop, a used CD store and then comes another grocery on Bell Street that sits directly below Prestige Tattoo with its scantily clad mannequins in windows draped with red curtains.

It’s here that the regulars hang out, those who would have been blue collar guys and gals 50 years ago but now come all dressed in black clothing, their flesh covered in tattoos with bits of metal often added. Many of the guys sport beards and baseball caps that when removed revel bald heads. The women tend to be svelte with sleeve tattoos that are stunningly beautiful and reek of a modern femininity that is only slightly more aggressive than a pearl necklace. The limos and the party buses don’t stop here very often.

This one block is not that unique as this pattern is repeated up and down First and Second Avenues, the side streets that connect them and in some instances down the alleys where a few places have entrances without signs. It is a seemingly endless cornucopia of booze.

Of course, this all comes with a price. Seattle overall is a safe city but it does have its pockets where violent crimes occur all too often. Belltown is one of those places, especially on weekend nights. Partially fueled by excessive drunkenness, drugs, and a hardcore transient population one should not be surprised that people get jumped, beat up, robbed, knifed, shot, and in rare instances murdered. It is a cornucopia of violence at times.

Bad things happen, like being stabbed in the back and robbed by a woman while at an ATM or undercover cops getting into a gunfight with some drug dealers. One evening a young man, guilty of being afraid, took off running when approached by some cops in undercover clothes who thought he look like a perp from another crime. His day ended by being tackled and his head smashing into a wall rendering him permanently brain dead. I feel bad for the cops who have to live with this and worse for the young man who no longer has any ideas. These are but a few of the highlights as most of the violence is far less spectacular.

Mostly it centers on young guys being stupid drunk and fighting over stupid things, like being guys and not having any idea of how to back down. Sometimes this lack of 20/20 vision escalates completely beyond all control and ends up badly. Real bad.

One morning I walked down Second Avenue and encountered a sad, sad memorial that consisted of some cut flowers, a pot of living flowers and a candle placed at the base of a parking meter. For some reason the price tags on the flowers reminded me of the type used by grocery stores.

The sum of what I found through the newspaper was that somebody got into fight a block south of the Crocodile and that it escalated into a stabbing right in front of the Under the Needle tattoo shop a couple of nights earlier. I no longer have any recollection if the story mentioned if the person stabbed was a man or a woman or if he or she died. If I had to bet on it I would come down on the side that he or she did die.

In my mind I heard and in my heart I felt the grief of those that gathered at this parking meter. Cataclysmic events, like stabbing, generate so much emotion that they need to be gathered together and directed towards a touchstone and in doing so begin some semblance of healing. In this case, it was a parking meter turned into an impromptu shrine to a dead person.

I can also imagine that some belated hindsight had kicked in by the time their ad hoc service commenced and that they were now seeing through the grief and anger, with now perfect 20/20 vision, at how devastating and pointless this all was. I guess this all ended up sort of like having your head jammed into a wall: permanent consequences permanently.

By day, the Belltown imagery I now carry in my head is still far closer to shabby than elegant, and still has clusters of poor hovering around the corner groceries and social services agencies while the parking enforcement cops hover around stretches of parked cars, and the restaurants and coffee shops still do a steady if not brisk business. But now I have the added thoughts of hot heads, cold steel, and death at the base of a parking meter where eternal rest lasts no more that 2 hours max, a limit that is strictly enforced, instead of being accepted into eternity by the loving God of one’s choice.

Copyright 2012 By Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved.