The Ambulances-vs.-Bicycles Dichotomy

Dear Uptight,As I look at all the gardens around Seattle, I notice that they're filled mostly with perennials—subtle, elegant, woodsy plants that bloom, for the most part, once a season. They're great, and they seem so in tune with the understated Northwest ethos. But sometimes when I go to garden stores, I'm tempted by the brighter, flashier annuals that last all season long. Will I seem like a gaudy outsider if I plant them?Betty "Bumble" Bee

Dear Betty,I'm on record as being against anyone faking cancer, except perhaps in certain romantic role-playing situations. So please refrain from this, even if it seems like the obvious solution. It will, however, be OK for you to subtly intimate to your perenniaphile neighbors that you're not sure how much time you've got left in this world. Because you don't! No one does. "The light is precious while it lasts," you can say while gazing at the evening sky, or, "Ah, sweet thief of time! How consistently dost thou roll on!"When they learn to approach you and your mysterious condition with a little more respect, then you can let your neighbors in on the joke: They too could die at any time! And the whole idea of a perennial that lasts indefinitely is fundamentally flawed! This will help them appreciate petunias, no matter how fleeting, and eventually realize that, in a sense, we're all annuals.Dear Uptight Seattleite,Yesterday on Denny Way, I saw four bicyclists plow through a light in front of a siren-blaring ambulance. Cars, pedestrians, and low-flying birds all stopped to watch this play out. What do you think that was about? Some sort of two-wheeled suicide pact?Ms. Jacobs to You

Dear Ms. Jacobs,Whenever I used to see a duck paddling by at top speed with a serious look on its face, I'd think, "Gosh, if you're in such a hurry, why don't you just fly? Isn't that one of the benefits of being a duck?" Then I took a closer look at how ducks fly: kind of spastic and panicked, like they're afraid of falling the whole time. None of the gull's gliding grace or the sparrow's dexterous zippiness for our friend, the well-adapted-yet-always-a-little-embarrassed-looking duck. I thought this was just another funny observation for my Moleskine until I took an even closer look and noticed something in their eyes: ducks are embarrassed! Sure, they can swim, fly, and walk, but they look silly doing any of these things. When they walk, we don't even call it walking. Sorry, that word's too good for you, Duck. But don't worry, we made up another one: "waddling." Get it? Because that's how you move? Waddle, waddle, waddle, little ducky!Once I got to thinking about these attitudes and how they must be subconsciously communicated to ducks, I resolved to give them a little bit of encouragement. At first I'd flash a quick thumbs-up to every duck I saw, but that didn't seem to be getting through. That's how I became a quacker. I'm not very good at it, but that's part of the strategy. I want ducks to hear that there's at least one thing they do better than anyone else.I saw a group of ducks the other day at Green Lake having some kind of spat. Let me tell you, they were raising quite a duckus! Hahaha! Sorry. Anyway, recognizing some of these waddling squabblers from past encounters, I ventured a friendly admonishment. "Hey, come on, ducks," I said, "what's all this about, quack?" It didn't bother me at all that some guy happened to walk by just then, but I would like to make something clear: Just because someone occasionally talks to ducks does not mean that person is in need of sympathy. That person is probably more self-aware than you realize. Further, that person hopes that if anyone else happens to overhear a bit of duck-talking, they'll stick around to share a wry, post-quack smile instead of averting their eyes.I'm telling you this, Ms. Jacobs, because you're obviously more sensitive than most to this issue, as evidenced by your inclusion of "low-flying birds" among the witnesses to the scene you describe. I was struck (ow!) by the way you slipped them in there at the end, almost as if you were joking. Congratulations on your nonchalant transcendence of speciesism. But you seem to have missed the parallels between birds and bicyclists, who must also struggle to adapt to a hostile environment.You also missed what a paradox you've found in this ambulances-vs.-bicycles dichotomy of yours. Because while a wailing ambulance always has the right-of-way, bicyclists must also be shown absolute deference. So who's right? Who can tell! Faced with a head-scratcher like this, you just have to laugh. In the thoughtful silence after the laughter dies down, perhaps you'll open your spirit to the elegance of this paradox, balanced in space like the duck in the moment before he glides in for a landing on a still lake.Have a question for the Uptight Seattleite? Send it to

comments powered by Disqus

Friends to Follow