Chapter 17: Loveless in Seattle
Jobs 39 - 46
My new Seattle domicile was in the Fremont district, a little northwest of Lake Union. I had never lived right in a large city before, and it was very exciting. I didn’t consider that my time near Los Angeles counted, because Lake View Terrace was just one of many in the great suburban sprawl, many miles from the city itself. I spent a lot of time exploring my new home that probably would have been better spent looking for work, but I couldn’t resist. Seattle really is a beautiful city, with many interesting things to see.
To facilitate my explorations and job search, my first item of business was to learn the local transit system, so I went downtown to their headquarters. You could buy a large book which contained all the route maps and schedules, or you could take for free little pamphlets of individual routes. I of course chose the option that didn’t involve money. I didn’t know where any of those routes went or where I might need to go, so I took one of each. I took them home and put them in numerical order in a shoe box. There were so many that they filled the box.
I did however splurge on a three-day transit pass, intended for tourists, which also included one ride on the famous old monorail system, which had been built for the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962, and was still in use, more as a tourist attraction than public transportation, since its route is very limited. I didn’t have any real reason to ride the monorail, but since I had a free ticket, I was determined to use it. Trouble was, I wasn’t sure where to catch it. You can see it over your head seemingly everywhere when you’re in the central business district, but it only has two stations, one at each end. As I was riding a bus in downtown that first day, I kept an eye out for the station. I was sitting right behind the driver, and as we were about to pull away from a stop, I spotted the monorail station, just as the bus doors were closing. I jumped out in the nick of time, barely avoiding catching my heel in the doors and startling the poor driver.
Job #40: Dishwasher
I got my money’s worth out of that three-day pass. I covered a lot of ground and it wasn’t long before I landed Job #40, which was washing dishes in the kitchen of a large convalescent hospital. The job was alright, I guess, but most jobs like that sort of suck. What really bugged me was the realization that I had not come all the way to Seattle just to continue doing the same dumb, dead-end jobs I’d been doing all along. I was in a new place, and I wanted a new kind of job. I’d had a dream for a while of being able to work in a bookstore. I love books, and the thought of working in a clean, quiet store full of them sounded like heaven. Still does, actually.
Job #41: Bookstore Clerk
I quit the dishwashing job, and spent the next few days remaking myself. I put together a resume (which was mostly bullshit) that somehow suggested I’d be a likely candidate for being a bookstore clerk. Then I started bombarding every bookstore I could find. And amazingly, it worked! I found job #41 in a new, tiny bookstore in an old school building that had been converted to shops. My lady boss co-owned the store with her friend, who worked a regular job. I was so happy because I felt like I had found my dream job.
Unfortunately, my dream job only lasted about a week, when my boss’s partner (in more than just business, I suspect) decided she wanted to work at the bookstore rather than her other job. So I was out – and I was crushed. But I still had my bookstore resume, to which I could now add a real bookstore job. That’s the nice thing about resumes – you don’t have to put down just how long you were at a particular position.
Job #42: Setting Up a Bookstore
In short order, I found job #42, which was helping to set up a B. Dalton’s bookstore (which I’ve just found out no longer exist) in the brand-new Columbia SeaFirst Center (now just Columbia Center), which at the time was the tallest building on the west coast. Cutting open boxes of books and putting them on shelves according to some plan-o-gram wasn’t quite the kind of bookstore job I wanted, but they said that some of us would be kept around as store clerks once the store opened. That day soon arrived, but I wasn’t among the ones kept on. I don’t know what criteria, if any, they used for their decision, or if it was all just bullshit to lure minions to unpack boxes. I don’t even know if any of the people I had been working with had been retained. Either way, I didn’t take it personally, but I was still bummed that I needed to continue my job search.
Job #43: Making Instrument Cases
I found a job at a place that made cases for musical instruments. What a miserable job that was. Basically I just had to stand at a machine and punch rivets into cut pieces of leather to assemble them into working cases. If you did a bad job of riveting, you could take the piece over to a different machine which would push the rivet out. I had a hard time acquiring the knack for riveting, and I seemed to spend as much time at the unriveting machine as I did at my riveting machine.
My co-workers were all young men who looked like they wanted desperately to be in a rock ‘n’ roll band, but this job was the closest they could get to the music industry. Long hair and black t-shirts seemed to be the uniform of the place. They spent their lunch breaks sitting in their Camaros, blasting heavy metal music. I felt very out of place there.
The factory was in a remote corner of the city that wasn’t well served by the otherwise stellar bus system. After one particularly bad day, I got off a little too late to catch my bus, and there wouldn’t be another one for a long time, so I had to walk the five miles home. I tried hitchhiking along the way. One person did pull over, but just as I reached their car, they tore off. Ha ha! Funny! By the time I got home, I’d decided I wouldn’t be going back to that place the next day.
Job #44: Hanging Door Hangers
I found a job distributing door hangers. Groups of us would pile into vans or the backs of pickups, and then be driven around at break-neck speeds to different residential neighborhoods. We would split up and go from house to house and hang the advertisements on all the front door knobs we could access. The job was simple, but it was actually a lot of work. Seattle is a hilly place, so many of the front walks presented goodly little climbs. We weren’t allowed to short-cut across lawns, which is reasonable, but even if we could have, we would have been thwarted by the fact that a lot of the houses had garages, and the driveways were cut level into the slopes, which created a deep, wide, walled trench between each property. After full days of trudging up and down innumerable front walks and streets, my leg muscles were on fire.
We didn’t make an hourly wage, but were paid according to how many hangers we were able to unload. Of course, the managers were aware of the potential for cheating by disposing of hangers in trash cans or down storm drains and such. They told us they knew where all hiding places were and would be checking them regularly. I’m not proud of it, but I took a chance and tossed a few anyway, and got away with it.
Job #45: Unloading Blueberries
I forget the details of my departure from that job, but job #45 was a one-day gig unloading blueberries at a warehouse, which I got through my roommate Leo, who was friends with the boss. The blueberries had just come in after being picked. You can’t get much fresher than that. Golly, they were tasty. Don’t worry, I didn’t eat TOO many.
Job #46: Selling Flowers
This job was a bit of a low point for me. My great Northwest adventure just didn’t seem to be panning out the way I’d hoped. For a couple of days, I was actually one of those sad people you see hawking flowers on a street corner. A young man would drop me and some buckets of bouquets off at various busy intersections, and I would wave flowers at passing cars in the hope they would stop and purchase some. Few did. I tried to look lively and cheerful, but my heart wasn’t in it.
My young boss would periodically check in on me (and whatever other flunkies he had stationed at different intersections) to collect the money and replenish my supply if needed. I forget how my pay was worked out, but I certainly wasn’t earning an hourly wage. After a few days of this nonsense, I was standing morosely at my corner, barely noticing the passing traffic. My roommate Jim and his girlfriend happened by in her car and stopped to ask how I was doing. I made a rash decision, and handed the girlfriend the bouquet I was holding, and hopped in their car and abandoned the rest of the flowers. I had what little money I collected for that day’s meager sales in my pocket, and I kept that, too.
Yes, I stole from my employer, and left his wares to possible theft. I’m not proud of that fact. It’s the worst thing I’ve done to an employer (even worse than dumping a few door hangers), and it wasn’t at all justified, but like I said I was sort of bottoming out. Oddly enough, I never got any consequences for my malfeasance. I think my boss tried to call me once after that, but I ignored him. Luckily I hadn’t even given an address when I got that job. A few days later I was walking around downtown, and I saw my former employer turning onto a street I was about to cross. I don’t think he saw me, but I turned tail and disappeared into the crowds.
I think one thing that was contributing to my generally low mental state was the Seattle climate. I’m a California boy, and I’m not used to a lot of rain. Coming from a Mediterranean climate, at first the cool moisture was fun and refreshing, but after a few months it started to wear on me. I think I may actually have Seasonal Affect Disorder, and too many days without sunshine get me down.
But there was something bigger than a little rain that was bothering me. I went to see the movie “Choose Me” with Keith Carradine and Rae Dawn Chong. I didn’t think it was a particularly good film, but it affected me because it was all about love and relationships, and it made me realize I..was…LONELY! I had always been a shy and retiring sort when it came to the opposite sex. I’ve mentioned that I had a girlfriend in high school, and in 1983 the future Mrs. Rimpington and I had a brief romantic encounter, but otherwise I had resigned myself to being a loner with a boner.
I thought I would be content just practicing my favorite hobby, but that movie brought it home to me that something huge was missing from my life. Suddenly I wanted a girlfriend very badly, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do about it.
Job #47: Taxi Driver-in-Training
While pondering this imponderable, I got a job as a taxi driver. I spent a few days riding around with another driver, learning the streets and other aspects of the job. That might have been a good job, but I never went solo, because the shortening autumn days and increasing rain finally got to me and I decided to flee back to California.
It was a fateful decision, because it led to the lowest point in my life, but once you’ve bottomed out, there’s nowhere to go but up. And fate also intervened in the romance department, but you’ll have to wait to hear about all that.