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Investigation of the Spectacle

Investigation of the Spectacle

Investigation of the Spectacle

by Douglas Cole

(Friday, April 23rd 4:00 pm-2:00am)

“Our loose lifestyle and even certain amusements considered dubious that have always been enjoyed among our entourage — slipping by night into houses undergoing demolition, hitchhiking nonstop and without destination through Paris during a transportation strike in the name of adding to the confusion, wandering in subterranean catacombs forbidden to the public, etc. — are expressions of a more general sensibility which is no different from that of the dérive.”
—Guy Debord

Part 1

We begin at Machiavelli’s, hearth of autumn, essential rays last falling into the depths of the city. Our mission is not a drunken pub-crawl, per se, but examination of all possibilities, the flesh parade, the Friday night flow of Seattle…show us what you’re made of. But Machiavelli’s is prohibitively crowded with suit shades erect before martinis like flowers with the look of being looked at and faces made to meet faces; hence, artifice and congestion sucking time (waiting for JW as he extricated himself from miasmic forces…I hold no judgments.) I am thinking last night was summer, with beauty quiet sun through the windows, as the space needle shimmers in its future to the west.

From Machiavelli’s we drop into the Baltic room, set-up in progress for urban jungle fusion, where we have a scotch and begin the process by dissecting the work world so as to leave it behind…green succubae and rosy imps, clowns and conservatives, minute hoarders and punctuationists…long live bad spellers, and have another drink. Our destination? Vague notions unspoken in order not to neck-tie our flow…food being partial need and goal…where we find ourselves is where we are welcome. Step out streetwise, and a young woman jumps out of a car to meet a friend, her artificially red hair aglow in the last-light…tarnished mirrors that gaze…yet, who can say this isn’t beautiful?

“What is this dérive, exactly,” JW asks me.

 “Well, it is literally a drift through the landscape aware of what you encounter as psychogeography…a representation of all minds that created and inhabit and shape it as it is, becoming aware of the layers, conscious of your reactions to objects and buildings and the spirits that invest them, letting yourself be drawn, aware of what attracts you or repels you or what prohibits you from moving through a space or what you ignore because of some gravitational pull so strong you’d violate any law or ownership that would otherwise stop you… or something like that.”

Down Pine Street past the new hotel with bronze sculpture shaped like a crumpled piece of paper…beauty? “That’s just the kind of art that leaves me cold,” JW says, “that kind of orange I-beam art…” Henry Moore had been badly imitated, but I’m sure it cost a lot of money. Red Circle on White? Yellow Lines Number 50? Beauty? The abstract doesn’t connect the dots this evening; we want the organic explosion, the sacred truth of old. And JW keeps stopping at stop lights on empty streets while I keep on walking… “Potentially we could get a ticket,” he says. 

“That’s anti- dérive talking,” I say.

We walk through the intersection and see a sheriff’s car across the street, but there’s someone just ahead of us also jaywalking, and I say, “Who do you think will get a ticket?”

Now JW’s in flow, and I have to reign him back on one street where he nearly steps in front of a moving car. He’s done the same for me in the past…we owe each other our lives. And as a woman is cleaning up and shutting down the flower shop on the corner of Pike and First, I step in and ask if she has any Passion Flowers. No, but she gives me a card and tells me to call the manager…he can get anything. I’ve got plans for that Passion Flower.

We slide down Post Alley…food, not yet…another drink first as we slip into the Alibi Room where, I believe, our dérive begins in earnest: the beautiful people as couples and groups at candle-lit tables. The hostess is richly tattooed with Celtic floral patterns on her arms and neck and eyebrows…does she have a Passion Flower? I check her wrists. “Say, do you know the other hostess who used to work here? She had the black lines tattooed on her wrists for good years, red lines for the bad?”

“That’s Adrianne. She still works here.”


“I don’t know if I would want those reminders…” JW says.

We step over to the bar. “Is that a Point Beer shirt?” he asks the waiter (a beer brewed in Wisconsin, not nationally distributed…unusual to see anywhere).

“My ex-girlfriend stole it from a guy and gave it to me,” he says. 

“Was that before or after she was your ex-girlfriend?” JW asks, a completely different dynamic with different implications of generosity and affection.


“Still intimate in larceny,” JW says, then asks me, “So is what you’ve described the essence of dérive as you’ve learned it, or is it your own take?”

“I just make it up as I go.”

“So, what makes this a space people are drawn to?”

We looked around. “It has a view, but not much of one,” JW says. “It has comedic brick walls, it’s pretty small, closed in…”

“It’s remote, obscure, hidden…it provides an element of discovery. Or you have to know about it, like belonging to a secret society. Essentially, it’s grotto chic.”

Outside the Alibi room is the gum wall, next to the haunted theater, and along the brick wall, people have impressed their chewed gum into a constellation of gum explosions. Some have pennies stuck to them. Some are shaped like faces with burnt cigarettes sticking out of them. Some are stretched out into star patterns, nebulae, clouds and one a flute-playing Kokopelli. This array spreads upwards about ten feet and along about a twenty-foot expanse of wall. People are standing around, smoking, looking at it, adding to it. JW and I stop, draw in close to the wall, examine it. It is beautiful.  “People’s DNA,” JW says. “Yet you wouldn’t want to touch it.”

“Creates its own preservative sheen…”

“That one looks fresh.”

Further down the alleyway, past the razor wire iron tulips (to prevent people from climbing over and jumping off…it’s about a forty-foot drop…ultimate anti- dérive), we enter a newly updated span of Post Alley descent from the Pike Place Market to Pioneer square. It has the immaculate polish of a German Transplatz: tiles in perfect arrangement, clean glass brightly shimmering, and yet the feeling I get is that if you stay too long, you’ll be hit by a vaporizing ray coming down from some high pillbox slit in the grey cement. Unlike the gum wall which creates both an attraction and a repulsion, I want to move on quickly from here. This space is cold and sterile, and looking up, what do we see? Orange I-beams extending from the walls.


Part 2

The Trattoria in Pioneer Square occupies a corner with large windows that frame the life of the street flowing by. The evening like an alcove seems to thicken. The cafe is nearly empty by now (10 o’clock), with a man and a woman sitting in a corner, the lightning of their souls extended with the colors of a newly formed couple. We sit at the bar counter and lean in like nighthawks. “It has the ambiance of a Fifties diner,” JW says, and sure enough the case behind the bar is full of pies and ketchup bottles.

Food, glorious food…funereal appetite, every bite is sanctity. Fortified, we head back out to the street with no destination other than south. We continue down First Avenue until we end up at a goofy western bar with an electronic bull and pool tables and air saturated with the night pleasures of the vainly sported. It’s loaded with women in miniskirts and lycra tank-tops and jar-headed guys in jeans and muscle shirts. Perfect. There is a line, and we wait a few moments while a couple of guys get into a fight, but they’re too drunk to really do any damage. One of them gets hauled off by his girlfriend, stumbling off full of threats into the darkness.

Inside, we crowd surf to the bar where a woman falls against me, drunk, and I literally hold her up and say, “Are you all right?” She sort of laughs, sort of speaks, but she is basically incoherent at this point. Then some of her “friends’ come and take her away into the night. Fair forward traveler.

The women who tend the bar get up on the counter and dance in a line. They’ve got a little routine they do. The music is so loud that we can’t talk. We just move and drink and observe. A big guy stone drunk orders a drink at the bar and the girl takes his head and places it between her thighs and pours a drink directly out of the bottle down his throat and shakes his head violently with her thighs and then pushes him back into the crowd as he swallows down the froth of her ire. He leers and lurches and sweats and opens his mouth and the people part religiously before him.

Not much to sum up here. It’s all alcohol and sex and the resuscitation of dead minutes, love and thrills and something to remember beyond sleep and laundry and the jobs that eat us alive. Climb on the bull and ride, the saddle polished to a gleam by a million pelvic hopefuls. Climb on the bull and slide right off. Moment in a lifetime, lifetime in a moment. I find a gumball machine and punch a few coins into it. I win a prize, a little gold ring with a blue stone held by tiny metal claws. I drop it into the tip bucket on the way out and the hostess grabs it up and puts it on her finger and shows it around like she’s just gotten engaged.

Douglas Cole has published six poetry collections and the novel The White Field, winner of the American Fiction Award. His work has appeared in journals such as Beloit Poetry, Fiction International, Valpariaso, The Gallway Review and Two Hawks Quarterly; as well anthologies such as Bully Anthology (Hopewell), Coming Off The Line (Main Street Rag Publishing), the Bindweed Anthology, and Work (Unleash Press).

He contributes a regular column, “Trading Fours,” to the magazine, Jerry Jazz Musician. He also edits the American writers section of Read Carpet, a journal of international writing produced in Columbia.

In addition to the American Fiction Award, his screenplay of The White Field won Best Unproduced Screenplay award in the Elegant Film Festival and was twice selected as a finalist in the New York Metropolitan Screenwriting Contest. He has been awarded the Leslie Hunt Memorial prize in poetry, the Best of Poetry Award from Clapboard House, First Prize in the “Picture Worth 500 Words” from Tattoo Highway, and the Editors’ Choice Award in fiction by RiverSedge. He has been nominated Six times for a Pushcart and seven times for Best of the Net. He lives and teaches in Seattle, Washington. Website