Ghost Poke

1978 – One day I was sitting in the rec center at Cordell Hull Junior High, around a table in one of the four chairs.

Three of my friends were sitting in the others. One friend found a hole in the naugahyde and put his finger in. “Hahahahaha,” he said as he jammed his finger in and out of the hole. We all laughed too. Then he made one big hard jam into the hole with his finger.

The girl sitting across from him jolted almost out of the seat, like she was slipping off the naugahyde.

We all started laughing hysterically at this physical comedy that just unfolded in front of us. She laughed for about three seconds, then looked really creeped out – like something had poked her from inside the chair.

We all stopped laughing, looked around at each other, and never spoke of it again.

An Evening With Gruntruck

©1992 John Leach / Licensed under Creative Commons

©1992 John Leach / Licensed under Creative Commons

One day in 2010 I rediscovered a Gruntruck CD I have owned forever.

A quick “where are they now” search on the Internet showed that Ben McMillan the lead singer had died a couple years before that – in 2008. How tragic; he was only two years older than me. Finding the disc and reading the obit reminded me of the time I saw the band in their element, and a unique moment of acceptance I experienced during that show.

I saw Gruntruck with my wife and friends at the Crocodile Cafe; the actual date of the show is lost to history.

I only recall that it was a Saturday night, probably in 1994. I don’t remember much about the opening band, only that there was one, that their brass section was unbearably screechy, and that the club was mostly empty during their set. But as the night got later (and the interior hotter) the facility started to fill up. When Gruntruck finally came on stage, the house was packed wall to wall. The energy level was very high, and the first note was like an explosion. It was almost too loud to enjoy. Almost. With the first song Gruntruck established their rule over the crowd by playing tight and embracing the energy already coming from the floor. For the rest of the show, band and audience were one.

The mosh pit started early around me, with the crowd moving back and forth as a single organism. Not big on that kind of thing, I steered my way towards the edge of the crowd while my wife and friends hung onto the stage front. I ended up near the band’s friends and girlfriends, to the left of the stage. A couple minutes later a girl in a floppy hat lit up a joint and took a big drag. She raised her chin, exhaled slowly, turned to me, and offered it up; I respectfully declined. Without missing a beat she smiled, grabbed something out of her pocket, and offered me a piece of gum instead; I gratefully accepted.

It was the best piece of gum I have ever chewed.

From that point on the show carried a different vibe. This wasn’t just a show; this was a band and an audience who were connecting like regular people. For an hour we were all just like each other. The only difference seemed to be the surface on which we stood – stage or floor. While the show’s set list is lost on me now, the show’s experience is still with me to this day. That night I felt connected with a crowd of people who were easily 8 – 10 years younger. I felt that – even though I was not a pot smoker – I was still able to find common ground with others to the sound of ear-shattering grunge. And most of all, I felt part of a local music scene more than I ever had – before or since.

R.I.P Ben.

Cold Case Solved, Memories Flood Back

Diana Peterson

On December 21, 2007, a man was charged in a nearly 33-year-old murder.

King County Sheriffs department had a series of detectives assigned to the case for over three decades, and the team had finally cracked it. I love cold case investigations, especially ones like this that are so old. So when I read the original headline in the Seattle-PI – Man Charged in 33-year-old Slaying Case – I thought, “cool…another DNA test has found a killer.”

But this case was different.

As soon as I started reading the article, I realized there was more to the story. More that somehow involved me, but the reason was unclear. Why did she look familiar, I asked myself? Something about her picture in the article really caught my attention, like I had seen it before. When I read that the murder had occurred in unincorporated King County – now Shoreline – on February 15th 1975, I was stunned.

The victim looked familiar because she had gone to school with my oldest sister.

Diana Peterson’s memorial picture was on the back page of Janice’s 1974-75 Shoreline High School annual. The memory of this case rushed back to me like a tidal wave. It was a picture that I had looked at time and time again, with an 11-year old mind trying to understand why someone this pretty had died. One look at her picture in 2007, and I was suddenly in 5th grade all over again. I remember feeling sadness and confusion back that year, listening to Jim Croce and looking through Jan’s annual – lingering long on the picture of Diana Peterson. I guess I didn’t really know why at the time, and I now find it interesting that over three decades later I still remembered once I saw the picture.

After I read the article I called Janice.

“Do you have your annuals handy?” She did. “Do you remember someone in your class being killed?” She didn’t, but started looking through her annuals – only to find Diana Peterson’s picture in one of them. Jan was just as shocked about the incident as me, and just as relieved that the crime appeared to be solved. While talking to Jan about it, I actually started getting choked up. 33 years later, and I still had feelings about it inside. The Peterson family also has a huge sense of relief now that they know something has broken free in the case.

The trial in a Shoreline 1975 cold case started May 13, 2009. It drew out as a story of love, lust, anger, jealousy, a hunting knife, death-bed testimony, and 30+ years of denial. It was also a case that was within three miles of my home growing up. I followed the case and the trial. I even did a search of court records to find out what was going on. Why?

Because I couldn’t help it.

Diana Peterson’s picture kept haunting me. I was the only one in my family who remembered her face. Not long after I posted this originally back in 2007, my Mom commented about it. “Your dad and I earlier read today’s article and agreed we had no recall of the event,” she admitted. “[Yet] you have carried that picture in your mind all this time. You were so often ‘wise beyond your years.’ Well done.”

I find it interesting that I remembered this story on the anniversary of her death.

The accused received a sentence of 16 years to life, under statutes that were in place when the murder occurred. While Diana is no longer with us, the horror of that night is over and those who cared about her now know justice has been served. Kudos to the King County Sheriff’s office for their determination to bring closure to a case that spanned four decades.

Rest In Peace, Diana.

12/21/2007 – Seattle-PI Article
12/22/2007 – Seattle Times Article
5/13/2009 – Trial Proceedings
6/9/2009 – Guilty verdict
7/24/2009 – Sentence of 16 years to Life
7/24/2009 – Interview – Defendant says he didn’t kill classmate

Originally published in four posts on Blogger – 2007 to 2009. Combined and posted to Intersect on Feb 15, 2011.

The Battle Scar

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On the top of my left hand, near the knuckle to the index finger, I carry a reminder of history.

The skin in the mark is thinner than what surrounds it. The shape is vaguely like a triangle. A faint bluish color is detectable just under the surface. If I press on it the triangle gives way; there is a crater underneath. It doesn’t hurt or feel weird. It’s just there, linking me to the past every day.

It’s my Paperboy Battle Scar.

In 1979 I delivered newspapers for the Seattle Times. My paper routes – numbers 30042 and 30032 – gave me between 80 and 100 delivery customers depending on the month and year. The Times was delivered in those days during the afternoon during the week, then mornings on Saturday and Sunday. That meant I was out very early on weekend mornings, typically after 4:00am but sometimes before.

One dark Sunday morning, probably in the Spring, I went to drop a paper on an equally dark porch…when I heard a low growl. I stopped in my tracks. There was no animal within site of the porch, yet the growl continued. Then, fast as lightening a large dog began barking and bolted out of the open front door towards me. I said one thing: “WHOA!!” while putting out my left hand instinctively as an attempt to fend off the attack. It didn’t help; the dog bit down and through my hand.

Oddly, after that, he stopped barking and sat down. I stood there shaking, while trying to talk calmly to the dog out of fear that he would jump again. There was blood everywhere, dripping down my hand and onto the sidewalk. I heard some sounds at the porch and a light came on.

“What’s going on out here?” the homeowner asked.

“Your dog bit me.”

“And who the hell are you??”

“I’m your paperboy.”

“Oh..my..god…”

They pulled me inside and cleaned up the wound in their kitchen. I recall the woman running water over my hand for the longest time, eventually wrapping it in bandages. “He’s never done that before,” is what they said several times. I didn’t believe them. I still don’t when I think about the incident now.  They eventually sent me on my way.

I don’t remember finishing the paper route that morning.

I delivered my last paper just as the world was lighting up. That weekend my Dad was out of town. I quietly walked into my parents’ bedroom and asked my Mom what I should do if a dog bit my hand. Within minutes we were on our way to the emergency room at Stevens Medical Center in Edmonds WA, where they sewed me up with three or four stitches. I recall that getting the stitches hurt more than getting bit. Some time later our general practitioner took them out.

I never saw that dog again. The homeowners canceled the paper delivery. They would not answer the door or respond to the mail when my Dad tried to present them with the ER Bill. I have no idea why their front door was open at 4:00am.  Today – thirty-plus years later – I’m still skiddish around large dogs.

And I’ve had the scar ever since.

Chance Meeting With A Pro

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“What film camera is that?” the lady asked as I stood outside Studio 7 in Seattle’s SODO district.

“It’s a Canon AE-1,” I answered, holding up my 30-year old axe for her to inspect. That night it was equipped with the very best lens I had that fit – a 50mm with f1.4 aperture capability. There was also a wide 24mm lens tucked in a pocket so I could photograph an entire stage. I had the AE-1 with me to get film shots of the rock show I was attending that night. It was locked and loaded with black & white film. The lady smiled.

“I’ve shot a lot of film in my time,” she said. “I have a FM10 that I love, but haven’t touched in years.”

We talked some more about cameras and film. She was about five feet tall and in her mid-to-late 50s. She was dressed like she had just gotten off work at the convenience store – unassuming and utilitarian. On the street a person would never combine this lady’s appearance with the photography knowledge that was coming from her mouth.  “What’s that one,” she asked pointing to my DSLR. “Canon 20D,” I replied.I was hoping that – between film, digital, best lenses I had, and a cameraphone – I would be able to document the night’s concert successfully. It was going to be hard, because the lighting inside sucked; I would be pushing the limits of both film and digital shooting a poorly lit stage. I commented to that fact with her.

“Believe me I know,” she said. “I’ve been shooting in this club for years. The lighting is horrible. ISO3200 minimum. This is one of the tougher clubs to shoot. In fact I’ve been at it since 1979. You a photographer?”

“Blogger,” I said, never comfortable identifying myself as a photographer. “A friend helped produce this show tonight, and I came to get my feet wet taking rock photos. I often upload the pictures to my blogs.”

“Where at?”

“I have a reader-blog on the Seattle-PI plus some personal ones. I also upload a lot of stuff to Flickr.”

She smiled and lit a smoke. “Then you need to get out of that line and come talk with me for a while. Heard of photographer Annie Leibovitz? I’m her without the fame.”

She pulled out her iPhone to prove that she had the chops to chronicle the music scene as a pro.

Inside there was a folder crammed with rock shots she had taken, compiled from shows going back 25 years – digital and film – and covering all sorts of venues and bands.

“Lindsey Buckingham calls me whenever he’s in the area to shoot his shows. I’ve shot Sting at so many shows with the same bass guitar that I can document the wear patterns on the bass body. I’ve shot Billy Idol tons of times.” I passed a picture of Snoop Dog.

“Snoop had his pot on stage, and security guards to defend his pot. It was funny.”

The stories continued. The photo collection was like looking through a digital copy of Rolling Stone. Robert Plant, Sting, Crosby Stills and Nash, Melissa Ethridge, Carlos Santana and others were all in her phone. “That one was film,” she would say on one. “I was lucky to get that shot,” she would say about another. There were 81 photos in all; I was blown away, not only by the content but the quality.

“Like I said, I’ve been doing this since 1979. What film do you have in the AE-1 right now?”

“Kodak TX400.”

“That won’t do in there. Too dark.”

“I agree,” I replied. “I’m pushing it to IS3200 and using the best lenses I’ve got. Wish me luck.” I smiled.

“You have a card?” she asked.

I happened to have one last business card in my wallet.

“I’m going to put you on my mailing list,” she said after I handed over the card. “I send out notices when venues are looking for photographers. You can get photo passes if you contact them. They’re available to members of the press.”

“But I’m a blogger,” I commented. “I’m not the press.”

“You ARE the press,” she replied. “Really.”

We finally headed inside, me with my ticket and she by simply walking in the door. She was there for the entire show, cradling two Pro-Level Nikons with hard-core lenses on a pair of shoulder straps – all with a street value estimated at $10k or more.

Meeting her was truly an unexpected contact.