A conversation with the "Uptight Seattleite" to talk about his weekly column, his new book and navigating life in Seattle.
For going on four years, the “Uptight Seattleite” has skewered the region’s political correctness in the Seattle Weekly. But the only thing the aging, ponytailed hippie has in common with the man who pulls his (hemp) strings is the spectacles.
I sat down with writer David Stoesz, 42 and a native Ohioan, to share feelings about his alter-ego and the trees he killed for his new book, “A Sensitive Liberal’s Guide to Life,” by the Uptight Seattleite ($15, Gotham Books).
Q: I want to call you the Upright Seattleite for exemplifying us to the world.
A: You’re more than welcome. It is my goal to give the world a new cliché of Seattle. We have the grunge rocker computer nerds. How long ago was “Sleepless in Seattle?” It’s time for a new cliché.
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Q: As funny as the columns are, they can be on the dry side and insidery. Where do think is the line between satire and the real thing? Think you ever cross it?
A: For sure. Some of them, for me get almost — especially when I get particularly desperate for material — become almost autobiographical. I would never tell anyone which parts those are. But there are some times when it becomes almost a little too close for comfort.
Q: On a scale of one to 10 — one being the Dalai Lama on Xanax in a bubble bath, and 10 being Jim Cramer after a pot of coffee and a humiliating beating — how uptight are you in real life?
A: I would say I’m about maybe — depending on the chemical contents of my brain at any given time — maybe a three or a four, I would say.
Q: Would you describe the Uptight Seattleite as a relative to Beavis and Butt-head’s hippie teacher?
A: I don’t remember that, but for sure, there are definitely elements of that. Especially because that stereotype is so well established, I try to stay away from hitting that too hard, because it’s there already. So not too many jokes about tree-hugging or yoga. I try to make it a little bit more about specifics. So I try to stay away from those clichés. I see a lot of SpongeBob SquarePants in him, and Mr. Bean, really.
Q: That’s baffling, because Mr. Bean doesn’t talk.
A: That’s true, actually, and the Uptight Seattleite can’t shut up. I guess in the sense that he’s kind of indomitable, and that’s something that I like about the character, although in a lot of ways I find him unbearable to spend any time with — is he’s just completely indomitable in the face of his own cluelessness.
Q: Are the letters you respond to from real, actual, whiny people?
A: Oh, yeah. Of course.
Q: Your feedback must range from the really literal-minded to “I nearly laughed” to “My god, you’re a genius.”
A: We get that entire range. Interestingly, there was just an excerpt that ran on a Web site called The Awl in New York, and it was really interesting to see reactions from those people who weren’t familiar with the column, and it was very similar to reactions I got when I first started, where a lot of people just don’t get it all and are really offended. Who is this guy? What the (expletive) is this? Just completely baffled.
Q: Explain the importance of the Moleskine.
A: Mole-e-skeena. And correct pronunciation is one of his themes. I’ve always found the Moleskine phenomenon very funny, the fetishization of this very ordinary object where you write things down. Partly it’s a way of poking fun at myself because I do carry around a little notebook, and I noticed that when I would bring it out, it would just provoke this hostility from my friends, like, “Oh, look at the little writer man! Are you writing down your little writer thoughts?”
Q: Are you going green with this book by simply recycling old columns? You’ll be proud of me because I recycled that question from an interview with another Seattle Weekly columnist who’d written a book.
A: Oh, that’s funny. It does contain elements of past columns, but the way the character describes it, it’s been fed to a wise giraffe and reconstituted into a lump of magical cud.
Q: I once asked a WTO protester if he’d like a Pez, and he asked me if it was vegan. What would the Uptight Seattleite say to that?
A: He is not big on the products of Big Cand.
Q: Big what?
A: Big Cand. Like big oil but big candy. He’s much more into old-world confectionary prepared by Yugoslavian immigrants.
Q: I don’t want to be callous, especially when the economy sucks like this, but just once I’d like to go into a grocery store without being panhandled. What kind of advice would the Uptight Seattleite give for that?
A: That’s a tough one because I think in Seattle even the panhandlers are passive-aggressive. I love when they do that thing where, “Any spare change?” And as you’re walking away they’re like (meanly), “Have a nice day!” Like the most devastating thing you can think of.
Q: You’ve been nice to me, but don’t really care about me, do you?
A: Well, I will at least make an effort to pretend to, because I’m dependent on your goodwill. You’re going to represent me to the public so therefore I have to make an effort to be nice.
Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or firstname.lastname@example.org