This is a bit of a long story, but bear with me.
Despite not really being city-folk, I’ve been trying to take advantage of the opportunities that attend living in Seattle, Washington. When I first moved here, I’d attend a lecture here and there, a concert, but the real watershed moment happened several years back, when I was working at a biotech firm and saving money by rooming with my brother. One evening in the winter we were sitting around the living room, watching basketball on TV, probably drinking beer, and it occurred to me that I could buy baseball tickets. I mean, why not? With a fancy job and cheap rent (relatively speaking), why not buy a bunch of baseball tickets? I’ve been a lifelong baseball fan, played tee ball and little league, and remember fondly watching Griffey Jr, Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner on Mariners telecasts from far away in Alaska. How cool would it be, as an adult, to attend games in person all season? I priced out some seats and threw down on 20 games with the Mariners, Section 337 row 3 seats 1-2.
It was a mixed bag. The Mariners had barely missed the playoffs the year before, and were seemingly poised to return and make a run at the postseason, now with the $240 million man Robinson Cano just signed in free agency from the New York Yankees. Well… the wheels on the bus come off, come off. Sitting in the stands shivering on some frigid May evening, with the stadium mostly empty to see the Tampa Bay Rays or whoever on a weeknight, watching Cano ground into yet another inning-ending double play, the dreams of MLB glory seemed pretty misguided. Ultimately my brother and I settled into a pleasing routine: show up late in the 2nd inning or so, get a 3 Grid IPA from the beer stand, a cheesesteak from Uncle Charlie’s, a second beer – maybe a Miller Lite, no need getting drunk – and then leave in the 7th and watch the Mariners lose on TV from the comfort of the living room. Hey, if the on-field performance was lacking, we felt justified in our team spirit being lacking. For the last game of the season, with the M’s long eliminated from playoff contention, we wrangled as many friends as we could to watch from “The Pen,” which is a sort of popular, crowded bro bar that happens to exist at the outfield fence of a Major League Baseball stadium. With the fireworks going off postgame for Fan Appreciation Night that Friday in late September I vowed to not get suckered by the Mariners again.
After realizing the possibilities of buying tickets to things, though, the world of entertainment opened up. One evening my brother and I were visiting our friends Todd and Jennica (as always, names changed). There was alcohol involved this time as well, and somebody brought up the idea of going to the theater. Specifically, Jennica was interested in the 5th Avenue, which is a musical theater venue downtown. Todd seemed reticent, but, fueled by a few beers, my brother and I jovially expressed a willingness, no, desire, to attend musical theater. The next day we got a group email from Jenn, basically saying “good news I bought us all season tickets to the 5th Avenue!” She saw her shot and took it. Later Jenn even got conned into donating to the theater. The representative on the phone asked, “you want children to be able to enjoy The Sound of Music, don’t you?”
The following year I tried to hold out from renewing the Mariners tickets, given the disappointment of the previous season. I made sure to ignore all calls from Kaylee, my account rep at the ticket office. I knew that if a pleasant young woman got me on the phone I would be helpless but to renew the tickets, so my strategy was avoidance. I felt bad about blowing off Kaylee as she left message after message, but stood resolute with my phone screen. Well, a few weeks into the season I couldn’t take it any longer. Even if the Mariners were a bunch of losers, goddammit they’re the hometown losers and I want to be there to watch them play. Ticket packs were still available.
In the meantime, the full season of musical theater productions hadn’t necessarily proved popular with the whole group so we debated what to do for the upcoming theater schedule. As a compromise, we bought the full slate for the Seattle Repertory Theater and cherry-picked some choice productions from the 5th Avenue. I think the fundamental tension boiled down to the fact that Todd preferred dark, complicated, intellectual theater; my brother preferred avant-garde, 4th-wall-destroying meta-theater; and Jenn and I just wanted some good clean family fun. The new theater plan hopefully featured something for everyone.
The start of the Rep season was… intense. There were two theaters at the venue, and it turned out that our seats to the larger theater were literally front and center. Row A, center stage. The first play was a 3 hour production of A Raisin in the Sun, for which we were craning our necks and at times so close to the performers as to reach out and touch them, or their feet at the very least. The second production, for which we were seated at the back of the mezzanine in the smaller theater, dealt with the gut-punching subject of hemophiliacs in the 80s becoming infected with HIV. It was a long ways from the elaborate costumes, singing, and cheesy fun of the 5th Avenue.
For our fourth Rep production, my brother was mysteriously doubled booked and couldn’t make the show. A good rule of thumb is that if he bails without providing a specific reason then that means a woman is involved. If he bails for any other reason he’ll just tell you why he can’t make it. I don’t know any other theater enthusiasts, but Jenn recruited her friend Kaitlyn to take the 4th seat. As some background, Jenn played Division III college basketball and most of her friends are former teammates. Kaitlyn is basically a textbook example of somebody who I would have had a futile crush on in college: super hot, kind of sarcastic girl who played on the basketball team. I think I had met her once before at Todd and Jennica’s place, but she hadn’t made a strong impression.
This time she made a strong impression. I found myself nervous around her in a way that I hadn’t been around anyone since moving to Seattle, the land of no women. I really have no idea why this happened, since she kind of ignored me and mostly just visited with Jenn. Maybe I had not before appreciated her quick and incisive wit, and was now observing as much firsthand. Maybe it was nothing more than the fact that I rarely encounter women anymore, and so anybody sitting in that seat would have piqued my interest. Regardless, the play itself was kind of a clunker but a light bulb had gone off above my head.
Meanwhile, for the second season of in-person Mariners baseball, the team chased a wild-card berth and wasn’t officially eliminated from playoff contention until the day before the end of the season. They were so close to the playoff hunt that the club was authorized to begin taking postseason deposits. It was a strange feeling to realize that, had the stars aligned and the unthinkable happened, I would have had reserved seats for Game 7 of the World Series. Talk about a long ways from watching the Mat-Su Miners play at Hermon Brothers Field in Palmer, Alaska. After all the excitement of a September playoff push I wasn’t quite ready for a six month drought of live sports, but maybe didn’t realize as much until I got an email from the University of Washington ticket office advertising a “Young Alum” special for Husky basketball season tickets.
Well, I didn’t technically qualify for the “Young Alum” special, so I’m not sure why they sent me the email. Further, pricing out market-value UW men’s basketball tickets showed that hoops on Montlake existed well beyond my price point. But wait, as much as the men’s team had struggled in previous years, the women’s team was fresh off an NCAA Final Four appearance. What about tickets to the women’s game? I was soon bewildered by how cheaply one could buy season tickets for women’s basketball. At the unthinkably low price of something like $10 per seat per game, I bought two tickets in the 4th row for the full season of women’s hoops.
There’s something about a full season of anything that I have come to appreciate as beautiful. You’re there in November, seeing the team rough up some lower division scrubs in a mostly empty gymnasium. You’re there in December for a tough non-conference matchup. You’re there in January, February, part of large, festive Sunday crowds replete with families; high-profile conference games where guys in ESPN jackets lurk courtside carrying video cameras and loops of cordage. There are blown shots, blowouts, ecstatic wins, crushing losses, lopsided runs that end with a step back 3 and the crowd erupting as the visiting coach calls timeout. Players clowning around at shootaround, dancing to the PA music, flinging jump shots, rebounding, rotating, stretching and running drills. The pep band in their universal uniforms of khakis and school color polos, swinging saxophones and trombones in choreographed unison, the pep squad bros lifting cheerleaders overhead to shake pom poms. Friday nights, spin moves in the lane, wild shots somehow dropping off glass. The standing ovation at the Senior Day final horn. At the risk of sounding like Pete Carroll, every season is an exquisite journey, and every moment is, in its own way, wondrous.
One challenge of buying two seats to women’s college basketball, though, was finding somebody to take the other ticket. Not everybody shares my enthusiasm for the pageantry of college athletics. Most of the time I was able to round up someone to watch four quarters of hoops. For one highly anticipated matchup my normal buddies were all out of town, so I asked Jenn if she wanted the other seat, especially given her history actually playing college basketball. It turned out that some of her friends and former teammates had also bought tickets to that game, albeit in a different part of the lower bowl. They came over to visit at halftime. Kaitlyn was there, as was her boyfriend. He seemed super checked out and not happy at all about being dragged to a women’s basketball game. Kaitlyn skeptically asked me how I ended up with season tickets to women’s basketball, and I tried as hard as I could not to obviously flirt.
It messed me up in the head something bad. I should probably point out that, in addition to Kaitlyn, Jenn is also an unreasonably beautiful person. Being at a basketball game on a Friday night with hot, unavailable women, one of whom I have a crush on, was some sort of bizarre, throwback head trip. A glimpse into my old life before I moved to the gold-mining camp of Seattle, Washington. I don’t think I mentally recovered until the end of the weekend, but I did get an idea.
Here was my proposition: if, when the time came, I bought some postseason seats and had an extra couple tickets, could I get Jenn to go to a game? And then if I claimed that I was having trouble finding people to go, would one of her friends be interested? If I got lucky, the answer would be yes on both counts, and if I got really lucky, the friend she brought would be Kaitlyn. The alleged struggle to find attendees wouldn’t even necessarily qualify as a lie, since I always found some amount of difficulty recruiting people to go to a women’s basketball game. In the best scenario, I would have two hours to establish myself as somebody worthy of notice. It would be a longshot, but…maybe. Given the circumstances and my history, I knew that I would have to be my best self to even have a sliver of a chance.
I had the notion in the back of my mind for several months that I might get an opportunity to impress Kaitlyn. I stopped drinking, really ramped up the exercise. I’m not a very handsome guy so I’d need to be extremely physically fit to attract somebody as cool as her. Hey, at the risk of sounding like a coach I’m just trying to control what I can control here. Through a lot of discipline, running, and lifting weights, I got into the best shape I’ve been in for quite some time. Everything was falling into place. In February, I got an email from the ticket office about conference tournament specials and jumped on a block of 3 seats for the weekend slate. For the Saturday semifinals I lined up my brother and one of his coworkers, and for the Sunday finals Jenn and one of her friends, TBD.
Well, it turned out that she actually was going to bring Kaitlyn, but Kaitlyn had left her purse in Tacoma the previous day and had to make a trip back to get it. She missed the game. Jenn brought her husband Todd instead.
The futility of it all hit me a day later. I had spent months doing pushups, running stairs, ordering “just a Coke, please” at the bar when everybody else was having beer. All for two hours that never materialized at a basketball game with a girl who has a boyfriend. It’s like thinking that you can win the poker hand if you just draw a straight flush. It’s not going to happen. If that’s your only chance then you have no chance at all. Somehow I had avoided for months confronting the essential desperation and hopelessness of this plan. I got home from work and sat on the couch, wanting to cry.
I’ve never gotten a match on Tinder or Bumble. Nobody ever replied to my messages on OK Cupid or Match dot com. I don’t know any single women. I don’t know anybody who knows any single women. At best it may turn out that I know somebody who knows somebody who knows a single woman, but we have yet to be introduced. It takes a toll.
This was a tough winter in a lot of ways. Even by Seattle standards, the weather stood out as unusually rainy and cold, a pair of punishing superlatives. To maintain sanity (as well as fitness), I tried to get out for a long run once a week, and on one such trail run after torrential rain and a windstorm the woods of Cougar Mountain looked like stock footage of a Midwest trailer park flattened by a tornado. A man wearing a King County Parks vest, wielding a pair of loppers and clearing some branches said to me, “what a mess.” Against that backdrop my job had been gradually transitioning from plain old boring to infuriating, and I began having problems controlling my stress and anger on a daily basis. The fall and winter felt in many ways like a foreboding rising action, and I expected the misery of winter to crescendo and climax, and if I could just make it to March everything would be okay, if I could just make it to March the sun would shine, the daylight would return, the trees would bloom, leaves would bud, I’d find a new job, I’d go on a date, something good would happen; the world would awake from hibernation and I would emerge into a sort of weightless denouement, like a pole vaulter fists clenched and howling in ecstasy free-falling backwards in triumph. Instead, like the avant-garde art favored by my brother, the rising action hung on a dissonant note and faded away. No resolution. No denouement. Just a vague feeling of unease and dread. I could sure go for some of that good clean family fun right about now.
There’s a fancy restaurant near my apartment, and my reluctance to go there has been a source of amusement among the theater group. It’s called Crow, and my logic was always that, based on looking in the window while walking past, to dine there you had to be rich, beautiful, on a date, or, preferably, all three. In general I am none of those things, so I stay away. This became a running joke in the obligatory email train, “where are we getting dinner before the show tonight?” Jenn would always suggest Crow, probably half because she wanted to eat there and half to make fun of me. At some point I relented, and didn’t dismiss it offhand. My brother saw his shot and took it. He replied to the email thread, “Good news I made us all a reservation at Crow!”
That was the evening of the Woody Guthrie play, where we were again situated front and center in the larger of the two theaters. The stage had been retrofitted with a staircase leading down to the audience right where we were seated. At the start of the play the eponymous Woody sat on the steps just in front of us, plucking and singing. Several times during the performance the actors walked down off the stage entirely by way of the makeshift staircase for various forms of “audience participation.” During one song this included playing the spoons on my knee, and another pulling a lady out of her seat at the end of the row and dancing with her in the aisle. After the show we talked to one of the performers in the lobby, who recognized us from the front row. I shook his hand and told him I’d never before had anybody play the spoons on my leg while at a play. “It’s always nice to have good people in the front row,” he replied, “who are paying attention and not falling asleep.”
I already have tickets for the upcoming Mariners baseball season. I was encouraged by their level of play last year, the chemistry and culture fostered by the new skipper, and most of all the shrewdness of the incoming front office, who seem to understand how to play for the home ballpark in a way that the previous management did not. I answered Kaylee’s calls immediately this time, and even switched locations to add another seat to the block, growing the party in section 331 for a platoon of coworkers. I like Kaylee– the few times we’ve spoken there has been a good rapport. My friends keep joking that I should negotiate on the season tickets: “how about we discuss the deposit further across the street at Pyramid Alehouse?” It’s a fun joke, but I have a policy not to flirt with anyone whose job it is to be nice to me.
The Mariners home opener sits a few weeks out. I’ll be in the stands, upper deck row 7 behind home plate on the evening of April 12th, likely wearing long johns and still shivering anyway in my seat on a chilly spring evening. To paraphrase the famous quip, the coldest winter I ever spent was April at Safeco Field. Maybe the retractable roof will roll closed, sealing off the stands from squalls spitting raindrops. I’m guessing my brother will even buy some soft serve ice cream, and then regret the choice as he too sits shivering, before wandering off into the concourse looking for a Starbucks.
The stadium will probably be mostly empty, an inauspicious foreshadowing of the dreamlike summer nights to come, where if we’re lucky 40,000 people will stand and cheer for the boys in blue as the last rays of sunlight reflect off downtown towers and jet planes overhead. Maybe it will be an August Saturday, in shorts and a tee shirt on an evening still holding daytime heat, where chants will break out through the restless stands, that familiar late-game lull when the energy of the crowd has shifted from anticipatory to impatient and maybe even a bit loopy. Vendors will pace barking up and down the aisles, a relief pitcher jogging out from the bullpen; the air will crackle with an unseen and unsettled energy until someone bloops a single over the 2nd baseman into right field. A freight train chugging through the port will blast its whistle and big Nelly Cruz will jack one into the bleachers. The crowd will erupt. The club hasn’t made postseason play in fifteen seasons. Maybe this is the year.