Callow Rats

A bowl of lukewarm, orange chili slops in front of me. I’m pretty sure they made it from a can or something. When I asked the cashier at the Insomnia Café, “Can I get a bowl of chili?” he looked at me as if it were the first time he’d ever heard the phrase in his life. Strange, it took them long enough to bring it.  I don’t remember this place from when I used to hang out around here. It’s just a block off of Callow, next to where “The House” church and café used to be before it went out of business — or whatever you call it when a church ceases to be. From the outside I assumed it was going to be some dingy place where the culture-craving youth hang out and talk about punk music, but to my surprise there are XBOX 360s and pool tables set up. Seems to be set up more to give kids something to do rather than complain. I feel like a total jackass sitting here in my peacoat, slacks, and tie.

I keep thinking about Callow Avenue. Elmo’s Adult Book Store, Dave’s Loans & Guns, the Artists for Freedom and Unity Gallery, La Poblanita Mexican Store, and just a few blocks over Noah’s Ark Restaurant. Come to think of it, why didn’t I go to Noah’s instead of this place? I’m sure the chili there is at least warm. Oh and of course there’s The Charleston. Supposedly it used to be an adult film theater (no, not highly intuitive dramas, the other kind of films adults like). Before that I think it was just a regular old movie theater. It’s hard to imagine either these days. The pale, dirty face of the building is not entirely welcoming. The bold and generic font bearing “The Charleston” seems so wholesome and respectable until you look down at the reader board right below it with the names of bands like “The Helen Killers” and “The Knife Hits.”

Near the end of my high school career, this became the only place to catch local shows. Typically they booked terrible hardcore bands with even worse names. If ever a decent band was playing, or if I knew of a friend playing a show, there was no doubt going to be a hardcore band attached to the lineup. The inside is dark. Most surfaces are painted with thick, eternally sticky black paint. A makeshift stage where the movie screen used to be stands on the far side of the room and a bar stares across from it on its own separate platform. Everything is written on or has graffiti layered on it. The bathrooms are a particular treat: green walls covered in band stickers and never stocked with soap or towels.

We used to play a game when we waited for the doors to open at shows. We’d stand in a circle, pretending to be engrossed in conversation, while secretly we counted how many people walked out of Elmo’s Adult Book Store. The numbers were always surprising, especially for so early in the day. None of them was ever looking up. It’s funny how Elmo’s has been around since I was a kid, riding in the car with my grandma playing slug-bug, yet I’ve seen at least 3 church related businesses start and fail there since I was a teen.

I think we — my friends and I — all had a love hate relationship with Callow Avenue. On one side, it was the one place to see shows. A luxury not so luxurious. On the other hand…. Elmo’s Adult Book Store, Dave’s Loans  Guns, the Artists for Freedom and Unity Gallery…etc. It represented everything about Kitsap County that we loathed. Now I’m back here and I feel more left out – like I got picked last for kickball or something – than at home. A lot of it has to do with my oh so in vogue Seattle wardrobe. I typically don’t dress like this. I’m actually in town for a wedding. But I know that everyone in the Insomnia Café doesn’t know that. I look like some prissy Seattleite who got lost after a ferry ride over. Or maybe a prince trying to see life as a pauper. Or maybe they don’t notice. But I do. Oh and to make things better, to pass time I’m making notes in a Moleskine. Wow. Really?

I look out the window and over towards Callow again. Did you know that “callow” means “immature or inexperienced?” Callow Ave does seem immature, but I can’t say it’s inexperienced.

I’m trying to distract myself from feeling out of place by reminding myself how shitty Callow Avenue is. I couldn’t wait to get away from here. To move to Seattle where there is always something to do and there’s culture and always great bands playing and hip girls with great taste in music who will teach me about bands like “My Bloody Valentine” and “The Smiths” and you have no restrictions and and most of all, nothing reminiscent of the bleak feeling that is Kitsap County. Three years later and I come back and feel like an outsider. And I don’t want to feel like an outsider. But there is no way in hell I want to live back here again.

I remember reading on The Charleston’s web site about a movement they were trying to create called “Callow Rats.” The owner described Callow as a place to get away from gossip, politics, parents, and things of that sort; he especially made a strong point about the parents part. He said that Callow isn’t just a place to get away, but a place to fit in. I’ve seen too many post-generation x trying to be gen-x movies to really take this seriously on a surface level. It just sounds too corny, even though I feel he’s sincere. But maybe I bought into this philosophy without knowing it. Am I that cheesy?

I think I’m callow. I haven’t had much life experience that isn’t tied to some sort of formal education. I still get chills when I watch the end scene of Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey. Moving to Seattle and living without my parents felt like such a grown up thing to do. Instead of growing up, did I just morph into a Seattelite instead? Am I not a callow rat? Was I ever? Did I want to be? Do I want to be? It sounds awful lonely. But I feel lonely right now. I feel desperate and alone in a place that I think fondly of for times of being reckless and making fun of perverts leaving an adult book store. It doesn’t seem so funny anymore. Maybe just a little bit though.

This chili really isn’t very good. I don’t think being a Seattle prick has anything to do with the objective fact that this is not good chili. I’ll probably stop at the Starbucks by the ferry on the way home and get a vanilla chai lattee to get this taste out of my mouth. I’ll probably feel more at home in a franchised Starbucks than I do in this awkward Bremerton cafe. True Seattlites don’t really like Starbucks though; they’d much rather support a local owned and/or sustainable coffee shop. I think I care too much about these geographical labels. It’s time to put away this pretentious Moleskine and kill some vampires on this arcade game behind me. Callow rat or spawn of Seattle. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t care. I’m sure in a couple of weeks when I’m looking at the skyline from Gasworks Park, I’ll think to myself “this is home” and Callow will feel like nothing but a point of reference to show me how far I’ve come since then.

How about I just shut up. Those vampires aren’t going to just kill themselves off, now are they? I can afford a few minutes of being a callow youth.

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