51 a. According to recent census numbers, Spokane, Washington is a city of 209,000 in a county of 476,000 in a metropolitan area of roughly 670,000.
b. I am roughly one of those people.
c. Almost five years ago, I wrote a now comically out-of-date essay (or was it a short story, I’m never quite sure) called Statistical Abstract for My Hometown, Spokane, Washington. It was about poverty and bike thievery and violence against women and snobbery and the boorish sort of self-loathing that used to cause me to disparage the blue-collar place where I grew up.
d. I first read that piece during an event at Auntie’s Bookstore in 2009 with the brilliant writer, my friend Sherman Alexie, whose Spokane ancestors predate mine by, oh, roughly, forever.
e. The organizers of this reading provided us with one (1) microphone each, for a total of two (2) microphones. If you ever find yourself organizing an event for Sherman and me, you should note that two microphones is probably one microphone too many since we tend to get a little carried away trying to get the last word in. That particular reading went on for four months.
f. After I read Statistical Abstract, Sherman said this to me, “Damn.” This is one of the two nicest things he’s ever said to me, the other being, “Good pass.”
g. That other compliment occurred during a basketball game, and may have been ironic since the pass in question was preceded by eight consecutive missed jumpers by me, including no more than six  and no fewer than two  airballs.
h. After that, Statistical Abstract for My Hometown, Spokane Washington appeared in What To Read in the Rain, an excellent anthology for 826 Seattle, and in the equally excellent journal, McSweeney’s. Eventually, it settled in as the anchor to my short story collection, We Live in Water. I hoped that as the last piece it would reflect back on the stories that preceded it and underline one of the collection’s themes—that we are living in a time of diminished empathy that causes us to sometimes blame the poor for their own poverty.
i. I am writing this addendum because We Live in Water was recently named one of the winners of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award and they asked for a brief essay. This is an incredible honor because independent bookstores are hubs of culture in the Northwest and are endlessly supportive of the region’s authors. I’m thrilled to be receiving the award at my own home bookstore, the great Auntie’s, where I originally read Statistical Abstract.
j. That piece mixed real and made-up stats about Spokane, one of which was this: “On any given day in Spokane, Washington, there are more adult men per capita riding children’s BMX bikes than in any other city in the country.”
k. Weirdly, that essay, and especially that made-up stat about BMX bikes, “blew up” on the Interwebs. This was my first experience with “blowing up” and I rather liked it. People still send me photos of big men on little BMX bikes. I have yet to see one of these pictures that didn’t make me smile.
l. The piece also touched on how I used to buy into Spokane’s inferiority complex toward Seattle and Portland, and resented the civic self-satisfaction that sometimes burbles out of those two cities. And, to be honest, a few people in those cities have mistaken the intent of Statistical Abstract, and come away thinking the point is that Spokane is a grim place. When this happens, I nod and say, “Yes, thank god there’s no poverty here in Seattle!” Of course, every American city has its own inferiority complex—except maybe New York (which should have one, since it’s a rank shithole compared to Paris.)
m. I’m kidding, New York.
n. The funny thing is that, in the five years since I wrote Statistical Abstract for My Hometown, Spokane, Washington, the city has become increasingly hip and outdoorsy and progressive and cool—like the rest of the Northwest.
o. Just one example: there are now 187 miles of dedicated bike lanes and paths in Spokane. This is roughly 187 miles more than when I was a kid. Art and writing and music are thriving. Pot is legal, gay people can get married and the Spokane Transit System recently switched its entire fleet to VW microbuses powered by spent bong water.
p. There are so many cool things going on in Spokane now I can barely keep track of them all. There are so many cool things going on in Spokane now, it’s become, frankly, a little irritating. There are so many cool things going on in Spokane now that I have this overwhelming urge to attend a tractor pull.
q. At this very moment, I am sitting in one of the nine new organic locavore restaurants that open here every day, trying to decide between entrées with ingredients like arame and chevre. Half of the entrees have demi glaces.
r. In roughly six of the ten meals I eat in Spokane now, I have no idea what I’m ordering. For all I know I will be served sawdust on a shoe (with a maple-chutney demi glace). But I take great comfort in knowing it will be a local, free-range shoe.
s. Roughly 80 percent of the people in this restaurant are graphic artists, web designers or facial hair models.
t. I thought about having pho for lunch today instead of coming here, because every six minutes a new pho place opens up in Spokane.
u. Every eight minutes, another woman here becomes a certified midwife/yoga/rockclimbing instructor.
v. Because of this one-third of all babies in Spokane are now born while the mother is hanging from a cliff in the downward facing dog position while being billeted by her birth partner, who catches the falling infant and immediately puts it on a wait-list for Montessori. This is simply the harsh reality of life in the Northwest in the year 2014.
w. Ah, here’s my meal. Well look at that: it turns out chevre is just goat cheese. When did they stop calling goat cheese goat cheese? (No doubt after getting pressure from Portland’s goat-rights activists.)
x. Anyway, my sincere thanks to the PNBA, Aunties Books, Spokane and the whole Pacific Northwest—home to the greatest bookstores, the most brilliant readers, the most talented writers in the country.
y. Suck on that, New York, you rank shithole.
z. And now, time to ride home on my little bike.
Celebrate Spokane and Jess Walter at his 2014 PNBA Book Award presentation at Auntie’s Bookstore on Thursday, February 13th at 7:00 pm. (Psst: Cupid wants to remind you that a signed book from Jess Walter= great Valentine’s gift.)
3 responses to “ADDENDUM TO STATISTICAL ABSTRACT FOR MY HOMETOWN, SPOKANE WASHINGTON”
Brilliant, Jess. Thanks. but beware the faux pho. It’s the worst!
I completely enjoyed that. I’m going to go find my son’s tiny BMX bike.
i love this. Hahah