Meet Boe Oddisey of Capitol Hill, scarf dancer

IMG_0534I had a home phone and a cell phone number for Boe Oddisey, known to most simply as the scarf dancer. The home number surprised me. In my own ignorance I assumed the man, with his wild hair and an unkempt beard, was probably homeless.

“This is Boe,” he answered cheerfully from his Capitol Hill apartment.

Boe doesn’t work, but he does spend a lot of time volunteering. On Friday, when I wanted to meet up for an interview, he was volunteering at a church soup kitchen. He also volunteers to pick up trash around the neighborhood. During our first conversation, Boe told me his life was an open book. No questions were off limits, no subject taboo. He said the same thing when I arrived at his apartment a few days later.

Boe is no doubt recognized by thousands of people who are total strangers to him. Like countless other Capitol Hill residents and bewildered tourists, I have a picture of him on my camera from last summer, dancing — mostly naked — through Seattle Center with a fistful of scarves.

When I asked if I could bring a photographer along for our conversation, he replied with a hint of amusement, “Yeah, I’m not camera shy.”

Presumably many others think of Boe as only a joke — a man on display to be watched and giggled at by anonymous passersby, exposed for the world to see. But when you enter his top floor apartment, you realize it’s Boe who is watching us. His living room window has the most commanding view of the city I’ve ever seen from Capitol Hill. On this Friday afternoon, Mt. Rainer was in full view, along with downtown and all of Capitol Hill sprawled out below Boe’s watch.

The apartment is packed full of his own semi-psychedelic artwork, books, and poetry stacked on homemade shelves. Within a few minutes of our conversation he took a phone call, one of several through our 90 minutes together.IMG_0498

“I’m talking to a reporter about my entertainment,” he said. That’s important to note. Boe sees himself, primarily, as an entertainer.

“I want to bring love though dancing,” he said. “I love to dance for people.”

Boe said he’s the happiest when performing, signing autographs, and taking pictures at the outdoor events he attends over the summer months. He said he’s passionate about giving people a new experience through his dancing. But the down times, he said, can be rough.

“The downside is, the music stops, the stage grows dark, and I’m all alone again at a bus stop,” he said. “I wish someone would whisk me away and take me home.”

The night before our visit, Boe had broken up with his boyfriend. A fight broke out that left Boe with a cut on his scalp and a near golf ball sized knot on his head. While Boe said he is clean and sober, he lamented that many in his life suffer from drug addictions.

In 2006 Boe’s longtime partner Scott Kassemeier jumped to his death following a series of psychotic episodes. The two had made headlines in 1999 when they filed a $1.05 million claim against the city of Puyallup after they were forced to leave the Puyallup Fair two years earlier. According to the deputy sheriff who asked the couple to leave, Kassemeier was wearing chaps and black bikini underwear “with a large amount of pubic hair and flesh exposed.” He got into a scuffle with the deputy sheriff, was subdued with pepper spray, and both were jailed for the night. For all his years of dancing in public among thousands of people, it was one of Oddisey’s few brushes with the law.

Boe primarily supports himself through public assistance. While he’s kept the same public housing apartment for over a decade, he spends a lot of time walking the neighborhood. Like many in Capitol Hill, Boe said he too has noticed a recent uptick in street crime.

“I think there would be less violence if this was still a real gayborhood,” he said. He recalled nights in the 70s and 80s at the now shuttered Golden Horseshoe, singing along to Kris Kristofferson’s “For The Good Times” playing from the jukebox.

As he continued to talk about his favorite music, he walked over to his key board and began plinking notes from the theme music of Close Encounter’s of the Third Kind. “There’s something more than entertainment value in those notes,” he said returning to his chair.IMG_0556

With fall, it’s the start of Boe’s off-season for public dancing. In the summer, he can be spotted most weekends dancing with his “rig” — a disco ball fixed to a homemade PVC pipe contraption that he rolls around with a wire cart. Boe dances at street fairs, festivals, and basically anywhere people are gathering outside with a sound system. Pride, Hempfest, and Folklife are among his favorite events.

Boe’s dance style is always the same: hands swinging gleefully while clutching brightly colored fabric, his face beaming with a plastered-on grin, an almost entranced look that gives the impression he’s not much of a conversationalist.

As for his skirts and bikinis, Boe points out they’re not women’s clothing, they’re his.

“I feel more masculine in a skirt,” he said. “I wear a bikini for a place to put my wallet and my phone.”

In addition to being an entertainer, Boe is a poet. His emotions are raw and simmer close to the surface when he speaks. It’s clear he loves language and gets immense satisfaction from particular words and phrases. Boe is also prone to fleeting moments of despair — several times during our covresation his eyes welled up with tears.

Much of that came when talking about his past, stories that resembled something written by Flannery O’Connor — the southern gothic author who told stories of distraught religious zealots and their personal redemption.

As Boe tells it, his mother was horrifically abusive, both physically and emotionally, throughout his childhood into adulthood. As a result, Boe said he has struggled with mental and emotional issues for much of his life.

Boe’s birth name is Calvin Creech, a name he says comes from his parents involvement with the Ku Klux Klan. “I’m embarrassed by it,” he said. Boe was born in Port Orchard in 1947. He came to Seattle in 1971 from Port Townsend, where he was heavily involved with a church. He had convinced his mother to let him move across the sound under the caveat that he would work for her as a street preacher. Eventually he said he broke away from her and spent several years living in communal houses in the University District and then in Capitol Hill.IMG_0569

Boe says his passion for music, poetry, dancing, and art came after he suffered a seizure due to emotional stress. Another important turning point in his artistic life was coming out as a gay man. Here’s a sample of his storytelling style (boetry?) as told to me:

My mom controlled me and manipulated me very much.

I was her puppet.
A street preacher did I be. I was 27, way past the age of 23.
A street preacher did I be, I had to appease my mommy.
She said that she owned me.
So one evening I walked east along avenue number three.
When a cabbie man stopped me and said ‘Oh preacher man, talk to me.’
Subsequently again, subsequently again said the cabbie ‘Oh preacher man, talk to me’
The next day he stopped me and said ‘Oh preacher man, oh please, talk to me’
I said I had to appease my mommy. I ran, I ran, and to homophobia I did flee.
One day the wind seemed to whisper ‘destiny, destiny’
An empty beverage can blew down the street
Then the cabbie said ‘Oh preacher man, Oh preacher man, you really need to talk to me.’
As tears streamed down his cheeks.
So I got in.

(Formatting is my own.)

Through Boe’s troubled past, and the struggles he continues to face, he’s not bitter toward the world around him. He exudes compassion and a desire to pass as little judgement as possible on others.

“Do no harm,” he said. “I do everything out of love.”

We’ve posted more pictures of Boe Oddisey’s life and art on the CHS Facebook page.

49 thoughts on “Meet Boe Oddisey of Capitol Hill, scarf dancer

  1. Interesting cat. Seen him around for years now and consider it a good day when I see him. Definitely one of the Olde Guarde and one of Capitol Hill’s goodwill ambassador’s for sure. Great article, and thank you.

  2. Really appreciated reading his story. Thank you for sharing! So often we only gawk at people who aren’t like us, but it’s really nice to kind of get to know them, if only through the internet. Makes everybody seem a little more like us- who doesn’t love to dance?

  3. Thanks for the article. I have been in Seattle for 22 years and have seen Boe everywhere, though mainly Capital Hill. I have admired his individuality and sense of freedom. His unique approach has always made me smile. Seeing him around today to show of the last remnants true Seattle icons. I don’t care for the way Capital Hill is changing but I appreciate people like Boe, who stand their ground to be themselves in the face of change. Go Boe!

  4. I suppose enough time goes by people pass from “interminable pains in the ass” to “local character.”

    I remember a rather different version of Boe and his deceased boyfriend Scott from back in the day (1990′s).

    I dreaded when they would come into the copy shop or cafe I worked — with Boe led on a leash and Scott itching for confrontation — both high as kites, they (mostly Scott) would be hostile and rude. Scott would start fights and scream and generally act out and inevitable they’d use this routine to attempt to leave without paying. Ask any body who worked up here then.

    Now maybe that has to do with the drugs mentioned in the article. And I’m glad Boe is finally sober and happy. But It’s hard to be nostalgic. It was miserable to deal with some of the “old guard.” Some of those guys were not just eccentric. They were assholes.

  5. Always interesting to get in an inside view of something you’ve only experienced from the outside.

    I always assumed he lived nearby. In my 25 years in Seattle, mostly on the hill, I’ve seen him many many times. He gets around though, I’ve seen him at Bumbershoot, Fremont fair, Folklife, Peace Concerts, etc.

  6. Thanks for the article! I’ve seen Boe around in Cap Hill a lot, especially at Pride, as well as the summer concerts downtown, Folklife, etc. Anywhere there was music outdoors.

  7. Fantastic! This is one of my favorite CHS posts ever! Keep this up. As Capitol Hill changes, it is important to document its uniqueness in order to preserve what little of it is left. Boe is Capitol Hill through and through. The neighborhood simply would not be the same without him. GREAT JOB CHS Blog!

  8. Wonderful profile. I think it important to note that Boe has been able to stay up here over time in part because of his stable and affordable housing. This is a big part of ensuring that the neighborhood remains diverse for all kinds of people.

    • I am about half his age and would love to fill that role if the universe doesn’t have me elsewhere by then :) I had the honor of being invited to Boe’s apartment after church yesterday and look forward to spending much more time with him as long as we’re still in Seattle. He is a remarkable being and I’m so glad to have him for a friend.

  9. By far my favorite CHS post. I’ve always seen him walking around our neighborhood and finally made it a point this summer of introducing myself and my husband to him at the pride festival at volunteer park. It was such a pleasure getting to know him. It’s nice to get to know our neighbors, especially during a time in Capitol Hill when there seems to be so many changes, some not so great happening in our hood.

  10. I gotta go with Kyle on this one. It’s nice that the writer can find something to celebrate about someone…anyone apparently. But I remember Boe and his partner from a weekly support group I used to attend. They came to it occasionally. And this was, without going into detail, a particularly open minded and tolerant group of folks.

    But when Boe and his partner were present, they were poor in every respect. Poor in comprehension, participation, courtesy and hygiene. Eventually the group’s nickname for them was “Itchy and Scratchy”, and their absence was always welcome. I don’t remember which was which. Also eventually, as I recall, they were invited by the group organizer to not return, an invitation they thankfully accepted.

    I remember hearing about their lawsuit too, and was not surprised that it involved exercising their “freedom of expression” in the most obnoxious, clueless and non-consensual manner way they could. Assless chaps at the county fair? Really? That’s definitely an important cause to support…

    I still see Boe wandering around Capitol hill, and I’m not surprised that he is largely a dependent upon society, but it’s good to know that at least he tries to make himself useful in some ways, however limited. I just can’t remember him or see him now with any particular fondness. There are far worse people in the world, but that’s a pretty low bar to set for someone’s contribution to the community.

  11. I would like/respect Boe more if he wasn’t so dependent on the government……monthly welfare/disability check, subsidized housing, Medicaid, food stamps….I don’t know for a fact that he is on all these, but I think it’s quite likely.

    Should taxpayers support those who are choosing to lead a different lifestyle?

    • No. He’s not a good dancer, and that art is bad. I don’t see the value, and if I had a choice, I would not pay for his “services” to the community. Nor would, apparently, his supporters, because I guess he wouldn’t need to be on public assistance then, would he?

        • They may or may not be adding value to the community. But if they’re not expecting the community to support them, who cares? Some people on public assistance have health issues, etc. that preclude them working of course. No issue with that. But people dependent on assistance due to their “lifestyle choices” – do they “deserve” support? I’m NOT presuming to know the whole story here, just saying Calhoun and Not Impressed may have a valid point.

        • Please continue going around judging who is worthy of your purchase assistance. Fucking fascists. I’m sure people like this choose to not be wealthy land developers and or/tech nerds. Again: fucking fascists.

  12. Oh, and there was the lawsuit that he and his partner brought against Kinko’s on Broadway in the 90′s that was completely fabricated. Their claim was that they were being discriminated against because they were gay. They completely fabricated an interaction with me claiming discrimination because I wouldn’t accept a temporary check as payment. The reality was that it was store policy, and two I’m friggin’ gay. As a result – I honestly can’t stand this guy.

  13. Some of these comments help buttress an experience I recently had over the summer. Upon leaving a gay bar in the late afternoon, I overhead a man harass a mentally ill woman from his table next to the sidewalk. She was totally minding her own business, albeit talking to herself in an obviously agitated manner. She was without a doubt mentally ill. Yet this man, who was gay, felt the urge to ridicule and harass her for no good reason beyond being an ass and trying to impress his friends. I approached him and told him he was being a dick for taking advantage of someone with difficulty standing up for herself. He denied knowing that she was mentally ill and proceeded to cuss me out for chastising him. Point: it’s easy from the oppressed to become the oppressor, and I think there’s a severe lack of sensitivity here on the Hill to people suffering from mental illness… clearly illustrated by our community of critics who feel it’s just to criticize the life choices of people who suffer, or may potentially suffer, from mental illness because they receive public assistance. Additionally, criticizing the choices of anyone on public assistance clearly illustrates our lack of sensitivity around issues of class. Long ways to go here on Capitol Hill. Thanks for the story and for humanizing Boeing.

  14. Dear Friends,
    I am a 40 year old attractive woman (So I am told!:) and I am a published author, journalist and poet. BOE has been my true friend. I have 100 pounds to lose. He is the only man who tells me I am very beautiful. He celebrates it with me!
    Boe is a wonderful man who has blessed my life and I love him deeply as a person, and it is deeply tragic and sad that despite this amazing celebratory and positive article about a deeply talented, loving and giving man (He is the only true friend I had in Seattle, and when I one day met him after crying downtown and telling him that everyone had given up on me after finding all of these infections, he walked with me for moral support to my MRI until I stopped crying. That was in 2009. He has been my friend every since) would trigger responses of people who wish to rake one over the coals for past transgressions, especially when his partner jumped to his death. How sad and senseless that people choose to hold a grudge. I find these people to be highly indicative of the Seattle “Freeze” and a strong undertone that is somewhat hidden but findable for gay culture. I am proud of people like BOE, and I may look like any other Seattleite, but one things that I truly love about BOE is that he reminds me how important celebrating individuality is. As an emotional/sensitive poet myself, I truly feel that others may be truly threatened on deeper spiritual levels to a level even they do not understand. They may not understand themselves, they may not allow themselves to weave such brilliant colors and artistic expression into life itself, which Boe does so skillfully, and I feel perhaps they hate aspects of themselves that fear has dictated they shut down. For isn’t BOE a living expression of the true creativity and poet that lives in all of our hearts? How much do you let yourself be that way on a daily basis? Do you base your expression on society or on your own heart’s yearning and burning? BOE deeply loves others…all you have to do is talk to him and I find him to have one of the highest IQ’s and spiritual gifts and intuition of anyone I have ever met. Some of the people on here truly love BOE and for that I am grateful: They respect and appreciate that aspect of themselves so they can see it in BOE. These other negative nellies seem truly miserable and threatened by a man that is nothing other than the deepest symbol of peace and personal expression that I have met in Seattle.

  15. Correction to this sentence: INSTEAD OF,” I find these people to be highly indicative of the Seattle “Freeze” and a strong undertone that is somewhat hidden but findable for gay culture.”
    I MEANT TO SAY:
    “I find these people to be highly indicative of the Seattle “Freeze” and a strong undertone that is somewhat hidden but findable contempt for gays and gay expressiveness and for gay culture. I feel this intolerance from passive aggressive Seatteites often as an East Coaster too, and in that sense, I am straight, but I might as well by gay with the amount of discrimination I get for not being from here. “

  16. To those who had only negative memories of Boe and chose to dig on him years later in an article discussion his life’s challenges and work today:

    I can sympathize with your memory and experience, as I’m sure they are likely true and valid and still hold an edge when thinking of them. And it’s indeed too bad things with Boe went that way for awhile. But he didn’t really hurt, abuse, or destroy anyone this rocky years as he worked through everything. And while discussing it or focusing on it now paints a fuller picture of his ups and downs in life, does it really help you, him, or the community today by going back and living in the past? If you’re wise enough to know things change and people can change, you know the true answer to that.

    A man dances among us, trying to make people smile, be inspired, love, and dance. Such a transition from those darker stories years and years ago makes Boe’s story all the more inspiring.

    Rough childhood? Rough adulthood? Working through feelings society hates? Boe is showing us that it gets better. Boe shows us we can be better.

    And to Boe:

    Thank you.

  17. Pingback: CHS Year in Review 2013 | Most-Read Capitol Hill Stories of 2013 | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle

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