Open Letter

Dear Steampunk Nerds:

An open letter on the occasion of the second annual Seattle Steamposium.

September 1, 2015 Published in the September 2015 issue of Seattle Met

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Image: Max Lindenthaler and Karin Hildebrand Lau (illustrations)

Look at you, sauntering around in your petticoats and top hats and goggles, whipping out your iPhones wrapped in a copper case with an external, spring-loaded, speed-dialing contraption. Just stop it. You’re making a mockery of me and every other “cool” icon of the industrial era. And if you think I’m tired of your twee, retro-futuristic garbage, you should spend a couple minutes with the Eiffel Tower. She is très pissed.

Maybe I should introduce myself. Gas Works Park here, and I’ve come to reclaim my dominion over all in Seattle that is metal and brown and looks vaguely like a jet pack. (Oh, I’m sorry. You didn’t think a decommissioned power plant could be self-aware? Really? You turn typewriters into robotic pets and fantasize about floating cities held aloft by supersize dirigibles. Is a sentient public park so unrealistic?) For too long I’ve sat by and watched you squeeze into corsets and tinker with unnecessarily complex monocles to appropriate the style that I pioneered more than a century ago. And now, as if that weren’t enough, this September something called the Seattle Steamposium will bring you all together to ooh and ahh at one other’s homemade parasols that turn into personal helicopters. So I’m telling you, I’m about to blow a gasket. (Steam humor!)

I’m not afraid to admit that I used to have body-image issues. There was a time when my boilers and smokestacks, studded by bolts and caged by catwalks, made me feel like an outcast in this otherwise gleaming, tech-obsessed city. But then 35 years ago Richard Haag came along, praising my anachronistic beauty, and saved me from the wrecking ball. I’d write that magnificent bastard’s name in the sky if I were still operational, man, because he taught me to love myself. Next thing I know, though, there you are with your faux-bionic arms and fussy clothes and brass. SO MUCH BRASS. You co-opted an aesthetic that I took decades growing into and cultivating, and you turned it into a cutesy excuse to incorporate metal into your wardrobe. (Just remember: You can’t spell irony without iron, you hipster jackasses.)

It’s not just your shameless aping of my style that gets me, though. This alternate history nonsense you’ve cooked up, imagining a genteel world where people look downright happy that technology still depends on coal, is ludicrous. (And not to mention environmentally irresponsible. You do know I was basically a Superfund site for 25 years, right?) All those old timers now who talk about things being better in their day? They didn’t live through the early 1900s. Sure, men were men and ladies wore cute hats, but rust was also an acceptable ice cream topping. And despite what you may think, an iron lung isn’t a supercool underwater breathing apparatus for Navy divers who lead troops of weaponized manatees. You spend so much time building your delicate little Rube Goldberg–ian gadgets, you haven’t considered that they wouldn’t have lasted a week back then. I guess what I’m trying to say is, progress is good. And so are forms of air travel that aren’t in constant danger of spontaneously combusting.

Okay, I’m done. Now get off my lawn. No, literally, get off the lawn. Your 35-pound steam-powered gramophone and metal-heeled shoes are killing the grass.

—Gas Works Park

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