I conducted this interview with Jon Gallant in the late afternoon of June 7, 2012 with a tiny Olympus recorder yet run on digits and cushioned in a small box of rubber bands and set in a cat mattress propped on my lap. We used no other devices, no prompters and no baton. Jon and I sat side-by-side on a Wallingford sofa. Following the interview Genevieve McCoy snapped the accompanying photograph. (I don’t remember feeling as stunned as we seem.) The interview runs about 30 minutes. I suspect that once negotiated you will want more of Dr. Phage, and we give it to you. Below are five links to other essays written by the Doctor – or doctors, really, because Phage is also an Emeritus Prof of the U.W. Dept. of Genetics. Also down there is a printing of his contributions to the then still bi-weekly Helix for May 16, 1967. It is titled “A Few Modest Proposals.” Surely Jon’s inspiration for his proposals was, at least in part, Jonathon Swift’s own “A Modest Proposal” of 1729 for solving another of those Irish famines. The interview itself reveals the origins of Dr. Phage, his part in the founding and early programing of KRAB (listener-supported) RADIO, and his role in the 1968 Richard Green candidacy for Washington State Land Commissioner, and much else that is at once Swiftian and devouringly screwball.
A FEW MODEST PROPOSALS
By John Gallant / first published in Helix Vol.1 No. 4, May 16, 1967
A number of months ago, I offered the City of Seattle a few modest proposals, including the idea of establishing a professional garbage team. That proposal would have neatly solved two urgent problems in one blow, but I received no call from the mayor’s office, even though I stayed glued to the phone for minutes at a time awaiting the summons. I suppose that some jealous functionary prevented my brilliant suggestions from being relayed to the upper echelons. So, tonight I will give the city another chance. Here are a few modest proposals for a progressive, up-to-the-minute Seattle.
1. The R. H. Thompson Expressway, which has for years been only a gleam in the highway commission’s eye, has reached a terminal planning stage and may start under construction later this year. Let us remember, however, that long-range planning is the essence of progress, so Seattle’s long-range planners should bear in mind that the expressway is only a temporary stage. The next step in the foreseeable future is clearly the removal of expressways, as the proposed removal of San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway demonstrates. So Seattle’s planners should immediately embark on a study of the removal of the R.H. Thompson Expressway. Seattle would certainly move into the forefront of progressive city management if it were studying simultaneously the construction and the removal of the same expressway. Perhaps the master plan could coordinate the two activities, so that the demolition crew moved closely behind the construction crew, tearing down each section of the expressway as soon as it was built. That would be progress with a capital P.
2. The planners are already considering the location of the fifth Lake Washington Floating Bridge, or it is the fifteenth? In either case, this approach is lamentably backward. What they should be considering is the economics of covering up the lake entirely with floating concrete pontoons. Floating bridges are, after all, old hat as tourist attractions; but the world’s first floating parking lot would attract people from all over the country in droves, if only to find a parking space. Real estate developers could throw up instant suburban communities right on top of the lake, which six-inch gaps between pontoons to afford each and every home-owner a view of authentic Lake Washington water. Apartment houses would follow, with names like “The Pontoon Arms”, and, “Concrete Vista”. The hundreds of acres of Lake Washington, formerly squandered on sheer, undeveloped, profitless water, would at last yield up revenue. Free enterprise with a capital F.
3. The city government has been alert to the menace of simulated psychedelic experiences such as light shows, but the authorities must reckon with a host of other psychedelic substitutes. Polaroid sunglasses, for example. People wearing polaroid shades can see a twinkling deep indigo effect when bright sunlight is plane polarized by reflection from the surface of Lake Union. And sunlight passing through glass or plastic – motorcycle windshields are especially fine – produces marvelous spectral patterns along lines of stress, which are visible only through Polaroid shades. Shocking report, these private light shows can be enjoyed, without license from the police department, by anyone wearing Polaroids. Meanwhile, drug substitutes are cropping up like mushrooms; mushrooms, in particular, have been cropping up like mushrooms. And researchers working under filtered banana peels report that copies of HELIX, ground up very fine, produced remarkable effects when smoked. Underground laboratories, staffed by hippies with the proverbial high school dropout’s knowledge of chemistry, have been trying to modify the chemical structure of peanut butter so that it can be mainlined without its sticking to the veins.
4. Effective thought-control has been limited by a certain other-worldliness in city government. For example, city officials at first agreed to rent the Opera House to Timothy Leary because they had no idea who he was (he was using the assumed name of Timothy Leary.) Although Leary’s nefarious doings have been reported all over Time, Life, and Newsweek, the press of public affairs evidently keep the City Fathers from keeping up with recent developments, which go unreported in the funny papers. Accordingly, I propose that a special commission be established to keep abreast of the great outside world and filter information about it into the minds of the city council members. The commission could present the city council with concise reports. In very simple language, on such recent developments as the end of the Pleistocene Ice Age, the deposition of King Louis XVI of France, and the advent of talking moving pictures . . .