space travel goods now available in Greenwood!

Imagine driving down Greenwood Avenue in the preternatural darkness of 4:45 pm. It’s hard enough negotiating traffic, the glimmering red lights suddenly gleaming in the windshield. And it’s sure fire hard to accept the fact that it’s not even dinner time, and your body just wants to go to bed. Isn’t it already midnight outside? Everything feels eerie in dim winter darkness, even surreal. But then, you rub your eyes and jolt your foot to the brake. Why? Because, outside on the sidewalk, in neat formation, are marching about fifteen spacemen, dressed in maroon space suits, with enormous rubbery goggles balanced on their heads, and small silver rocket ships attached to their backs.

This is what I experienced last evening, on Greenwood and 84th. Luckily, I didn’t have to wonder at my own sanity when I saw the marching spacemen. And this certainly wasn’t a War of the Worlds enactment. Instead, this was a small parade, in honor of the opening of 826 Seattle.

826 Seattle is the latest incarnation of the vision enacted by Dave Eggers, writer extraorinaire and best friend to teachers. Eggers, who wrote A Staggering Work of Heartbreaking Genius and edits the always-fascinating McSweeney’s, also opened a free tutoring and writing center in San Francisco, called 826 Valencia. Rather than being another do-gooder venture, this center set out to offer underprivileged children the chance to learn how to write from real, working writers. Wildly successful, 826 Valencia inspired 826 Brooklyn, then 826 Chicago. And now, our own fair city has its own wacky bastion of goodness, on 85th and Greenwood.

As I’ve written here before, I’m one of the volunteers for 826 Seattle, fabulously excited about the venture, and willing to help. I’ve marched in the Seafair Parade for 826. And I counted cash backstage at the now-famous Bumbershoot reading, in all its fabulousness. Soon, I will be the official SAT tutor at 826 Seattle, so if any teenagers you know need help making it through that debacle, I will be there to soothe.

But last night, I popped into the wild spectacle known as the Grand Opening for 826 Seattle. And grand it was. Unfortunately, I arrived too late to hear George Saunders. But I did wander into the back room, festooned with space paraphernailia and happy hipsters, and nearly bumped into Mr. Eggers himself. He was sitting in the back, taking it all in, wearing a baseball hat, looking low-key and happy. The space men (and women) walked around with clipboards, examining blank walls with infinite curiosity, then taking notes. And when I was there, a band of gangly late-teenage boys were playing music, flinging naked baby dolls around, and calling themselves Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head. How can you beat that?

Well, actually, the store itself beats all the hoopla. When you first walk in, your eyes want to wander up the walls, to the infinite infinities chalked on a board. Or to buy some of the gravity in a bottle, or crazy-colored boingy things with various names. There’s a darkroom door, spinning into infinity, which serves as the entrance to the tutoring center. And a wide array of 826/McSweeneys’/cool authors’ books for sale, making some of the best literature around available in fine Greenwood.

But the best of all of them is the fact that the center is now open for the real business of the place: helping kids learn. So if you know any students who need help with their homework, and they have a sense of adventurous humor, throw them over to 826 Seattle. Their lives will be changed.

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