Jason Yori was walking to a veterans meeting about five years ago when he became tired—really tired. He saw a Dumpster. Bed, he thought.
Maybe it was the crappy, rainy day, or maybe it was the heroin in his system, but Yori, still wearing his three-piece meeting suit, climbed into that Dumpster. “Normally, I won’t do that because my ethics are pretty strong,” says Yori, who’s 53 and homeless. “But they sort of loosened up.”
He set down his valise of personal papers and fell asleep in the warm, dry trash. Then he woke up to a ferocious symphony of clanging metal and grinding gears. He and the rest of the Dumpster’s contents were in the back of a garbage truck, being repeatedly compacted.
“First time, it didn’t feel real good,” recalls Yori. On the second compaction, “now that motherfucker really hurt.” Yori felt something crack and could no longer breathe. “I’m thinking they’re going to find me 80 years from now in some fucking dump,” he says, “bones and a three-piece suit and a suitcase and a copy of the manuscript for my children’s book” (The Magic of Santa’s Reindeer).
But Yori wasn’t beaten yet. When the compactor retreated after its third crushing, he gathered his strength and found his power animal, the earthworm. He slithered upward through various strata of reeking trash until his head popped out of the top of the truck, which at that point was on the highway speeding past Boeing Field. Yori flagged down the driver and was taken by ambulance from the scene with a fractured spine.
Yori tells this tale while fishing in a Dumpster behind some downtown apartments, looking for bedding. In other parts of the city, his compactor heroics would make him top dog at an under-the-bridge story-swapping session. But Yori happens to hang out regularly in a shabby slice of the Pike-Pine corridor, bordered on the west and east by First and Fifth avenues, respectively. Here, bizarreness is relative. For example, a man a few blocks away has literally lost his ass. And a fellow on Pike Street has eight nipples.
Yori’s part of town received lots of attention this summer after several shootings put it on the talking-point lists of local politicians. Chief of Police Gil Kerlikowske dispatched additional cops to the area, where you can witness them on foot patrol today. You can also witness the drug deals, public urination, mental illness, and homelessness that have owned the area for a decade and counting.
While the cops may have had an impact on driving out violent crime, the lunatic flavor of the corridor remains visible and potent. Taking a stroll along the west end of Pike Street is still the cheapest way for LSD-averse Seattleites to experience alternate dimensions. A simple hello quickly turns into “You need OxyContin?” And women stand on the corners and scream at nothing.
This landscape won’t last forever, though. A Kress IGA supermarket opening on Pine Street next year will no doubt make the neighborhood more gentrification-friendly. And the Downtown Seattle Association plans to equip Pike with security cameras to help keep it that way. This progress and the fact that basketball season is upon us has compelled Seattle Weekly to mint the following series of collectors’ cards featuring your favorite Pike-Pine all-stars. The free gum? You can find that on the sidewalks.
The Medical Curiosity
Name: Pierre Pre$$ure
Nickname: The Sucklemeister
Hangs out: On the corner of Second Avenue and Pike, or wherever spare body parts are plentiful
Career highlights: Pierre has always had a morbid curiosity. When some buddies of his in a premed program mentioned that “less than 5 percent” of dead people’s nipples get transplanted, he wanted to learn more. “It was like, you’ve got access to an organ bank, and there’s a nipple surplus? Here, let me buy you a round of drinks!”
Now Pierre has eight nipples on his chest, lined up in two columns like a pig’s belly. Pierre, his nipples, and his train-hopping buddies panhandle on Pike Street in the eternal quest for a “space bag” (a glamorous term for the pouch inside box wine). Some drink Milwaukee’s Beast from water bottles. “This is the closest this city has to a civilized area,” Pierre says. “Your average citizens are drunk enough to say hello to each other.”
Or drunk enough to show their tits, as Pierre, a New Orleans native, sometimes does. He lifts his shirt to reveal an extra six-pack, and not the good kind. He either designed the nips from some pallid, claylike medium—or somewhere in heaven there are pissed-off people who can’t sunbathe anymore. The nipples were pierced, he claims, but he had the metal removed after performing a back-bending dance maneuver that left him screaming. “All my piercings tried to fucking go into my body,” he explains.
The Unhappy Clown
Name: Farrel Thomas
Nickname: Squeaky Tom
Hangs out: At Pike Place Market
Career highlights: Thomas grew up in an unspecified small town and became a construction worker. But a couple of car accidents, deaths in his family, and personal illness killed that career path. Now Thomas sits in Pike Place Market, constructing cheery balloon animals for tourists. “The hell is that?” asks one tourist, pointing to a pink creature perched on Thomas’ hat. It looks like a poodle with elephant ears and the eyes of a bug. “It’s a pig,” Thomas replies.
Thomas’ movement from the working class to the “twister worker” class began more than a decade ago in Portland. Hungry and needing cash, he had bought a puppet—a “little Columbian guy” named Juan Valdez— at a parking lot sale. His antics with Señor Valdez didn’t inspire people to open their wallets. One day, a man stopped in front of him and whipped out a long balloon. He twisted it into a hat, then into a sword, then into an animal. Finally, he gave Thomas a handful of balloons and walked away.
Stumped, Thomas tried to read books about balloon art in the library. Angry librarians shooed him and his squeaky props out of the building. He next left balloons for people in various hospitals—because of a crushed leg that’s the color of red clay, he visits these places often. But hospitals soon banned latex.
Thomas finally became competent at balloonery, having memorized designs for dragonflies, hearts, and little people. He creates more poignant artwork in his spare time: a twisted hat that mimics his twisted neck, or a tubular balloon with a smaller, spherical balloon floating inside of it—a replica of blood clots in his veins. “The community I’m from, they don’t like balloons; they don’t want balloons,” he says. Nevertheless, “this is my new life.”
The Walking Dead
Name: Gordon Paul Baker
Nickname: Gordon the Fourth
Hangs out: Up and down Pike Street, in the terrifying world between life and death
Career highlights: When Baker died as a child in Homedale, Idaho, it was a harbinger of things to come. His brother locked him in an old Frigidaire for more than an hour. His skin turned blue and his heart stopped, says the 52-year-old Belltown artist.
Then, in 1980, he was diagnosed with terminal lymphoma. He was supposed to die from that but didn’t, although he started having violent seizures from a quarter-century of rugby-related head injuries. Sometimes, he wakes up with blood gushing from his mouth. “I bite my tongue and I fight,” he says. “I think I’m in the arena.”
A couple of years ago, Baker’s body convulsed so violently that two vertebrae cut into his spinal column. He underwent surgery for 10 hours, during which time his doctors surgically stopped his heart. He left the hospital with a half-million-dollar “experimental thing” implanted on his spine. “Bolts this long,” he says, holding his hands six inches apart. “It does noises like one of those aluminum flex hoses.” That wasn’t the worst side effect: Whereas before he sported a firm, rotund bottom, after the surgery he couldn’t find his posterior to save his life. “My backside is skin and then this unit, this big-ass unit, that fuses everything together,” he complains. “I lost my ass, and I can’t get it back.”
Today, Gordon the Fourth holds death at arm’s length by power-walking through downtown. He was hit by a car a few weeks ago, but he doesn’t expect to die that easily. “You just have to die well. It’s really important,” he says. “Die sitting out on a bench; die while looking at the sky. Don’t be in one of them little green rooms. I’ve died every time in a little green room, and it makes me mad. I never died well or I’d still be dead.”
The Man Who Monitors Your Trash
Name: Jason Yori
Nickname: Compactor Yori
Hangs out: Behind apartment buildings, inside garbage trucks
Career highlights: Ever since facing 1,700 pounds per square inch of compaction head-on (he asked a garbage man), Yori’s stayed out of Dumpsters, at least to sleep in, but the contents within these urban treasure chests are too valuable to warrant a blanket ban. He says he holds private billing and personal information for the entire Minnesota Twins roster. He found the documents in a hotel rubbish bin when the team last visited town. And budding terrorists take note: Yori says he’s recovered aerial photos of a Washington naval base that depict the location of a tin shed containing 18 Tomahawk missiles. He wonders what would happen if somebody fired a bullet into that shed.
Yori’s wife died more than a decade ago during a botched hysterectomy. He then went to Alaska, figuring he’d jam three grams of H into his arm and die peacefully. A young girl spotted him boozing in a gutter, however, and talked him through his bad spot. Now Yori’s trying to get his life back on track by staying away from “the Blade,” an open-air heroin market at Second and Pike. Part of his plan involves using a newfangled candle to build a memorial to U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq. “There are no words to describe what the hell these [candles] look like,” he says. “When you see them, you just sit down and go, ‘Wow.’ It almost creates instant meditation.”
The Black Guy Who Teenagers Ask for Weed
Nickname: “Excuse me . . . “
Hangs out: Near the Showbox
Career highlights: Kirk longs to join the “Downtown Ambassadors,” those yellow-jacketed bicyclists from the Metropolitan Improvement District who clean up trash, help tourists, and move along the homeless. “I would love to be one of them if I’d had my leg, man,” he says. But he doesn’t: The 43-year-old homeless man lost his right one while “jumping a fence,” so instead he sits in a smoke-shop doorway on First Avenue, the gateway to Pike Street, offering advice to whoever needs it. “Whoever” sometimes happens to be impressionable white teenagers who think all black people know how to score a bag of pot. “You know where we can get weed?” asks a young woman, bypassing several bleary-eyed burnouts outside the Showbox to query Kirk. Her posse of alterna-styled teens waits expectantly in the background. “We’re British Columbians. All we need is a little sustenance.” Kirk gives them directions to Jones Market by Club Noc Noc, telling them to ask around there. “I try to help people, man,” he says, after they leave. “Hopefully, all of us will meet in heaven if we do our job.”
Nickname: That guy in the alley
Hangs out: In front of the Green Tortoise hostel, in shadows
Career highlights: When he was 18, Tony smoked crack at a party in Tennessee. He liked it so much that he’s now homeless and sleeping in alleys. But he’s not sleeping alone—you’re never really alone in the downtown blocks of Pike and Pine. “I’ve had rats run across my face in the middle of the night,” he says, his body shaking from either bad memories or withdrawal. “I’ve seen people sleep with rats, and rats go in their coats and they roll over it and the rat bites them.” Tony’s seen other unpleasant things from his alleyway: hookers doing it among garbage, 13-year-olds putting needles in their veins, senior citizens dying in wheelchairs. “I’ve seen people get flesh-eating virus from shooting dope,” he says. He posits that the heroin gets infected when smugglers hide it in cattle. It’s not all horror, though. “You meet good people, too,” says Tony. “People here are all your friends if you have drugs or money.”
The Funky Drummer
Name: Glen Freeman
Hangs out: Outside the Westin, in the woods
Career highlights: Freeman says he once played percussion for Lou Rawls. (His credit can’t be located on any of Rawls’ albums, but getting snubbed wouldn’t be a first for a musician.) These days, he snoozes in the woods along Aurora Avenue, and comes downtown to jam for food most afternoons.
Here, the 58-year-old faces competition from vanloads of street violinists, panpipe players, and bagpipe-drum combos, not to mention the random crazed screamer. Freeman drowns them all out by banging on an office-cooler water drum, à la Deer Park. “I found this one in an alley somewhere,” he says, displaying the 5-gallon container fixed to his shoulder strap. “The water drum, it doesn’t weigh anything. It’s much lighter than carrying a conga.”
During the summer, Freeman claims his plastic pounding might have two dozen people “dancing in the street.” It’s slower in the winter. Today, he still hasn’t scrounged up enough money to munch at Mickey D’s. He writes lyrics in his downtime to augment his R&B-style rhythms. One of his songs includes this verse: “Men, they cry too.” “I lost my family in a car accident, November 2005,” says Freeman. “Two brothers, a boy, and a wife.”
People on the Ground
Nicknames: Suspect No. 1, Suspect No. 2
Hang out: At the bus stop at Third Avenue and Pine
Career highlights: From his loafers and dress pants, the old man doesn’t appear to have led a life devoid of dignity. But now he’s handcuffed and face-planted on the sidewalk at Third and Pine, moaning incoherently with a bloodied nose. This is the same intersection where one person was gang-stomped in June and another was shot in July. People just seem to wind up on the ground here, making it Seattle’s premier “mystery spot.” “He was trying to make me go with him,” says Adriane Jackson-Yolanda, an elderly woman whom the man followed onto a bus. “He called me a bitch, said my momma was a ho.”
A police officer rummages in the man’s pockets, pulling out handful after handful of complimentary salt packets. “I want to go home,” sobs the man. A wave of confusion passes over the gathered commuters. The crowd parts to reveal another man lying supine on the ground about 15 feet away. He stares up into the night sky. “You need some help?” asks a sheriff’s deputy. The man lies for a few minutes more before slowly getting to his feet. He then does a strange jig, never saying a word. “I think he’s OK,” says the deputy.