Friday, January 12, 2007

Bad Jobs No. 4

Tuesday night, as Archbishop Riordan was absorbing their first loss of the season, a loss they would avenge last night versus Bellarmine, I was downstairs sifting through the former contents of our office. You know, the one Sandra Bullock dismantled one Sunday while I slept? That one.

She has been on me for weeks to "go through" the slag heap of folders, magazines and general stuff I'd accumulated over the years, items which, were I a real writer and this another time, would be referred to as my "papers." Since it is not and I am not, they are my "stuff," and, as I learned Tuesday night, a sad chronicle of several years spent in a vague, unfocused attempt to define some kind of meaningful "career."

As the still-ill Jawa busily blew virtual stormtroopers to bits nearby, I spent a few hours digging through my life as a teacher, a writer and, lastly, a realtor. It was not pretty. Especially the realtor part.

At this point, I'm just flat embarassed to have spent a year of my life -- one I'll never get back, by the way -- chasing something so I was so obviously poorly suited for. Looking at that stuff made me feel foolish and dirty, and I was happy to see it all -- notebooks with scribblings about interest rates and addresses, flyers with some grinning weasel's face on them, big packets of forms -- go into the recycling bin.

The teaching stuff didn't go down as easily, especially when I uncovered a letter from a former student telling me how I'd made such a difference in her life ... only to bail on her and the rest of her classmates in pursuit of big bucks in the dotcom world.

And the writing stuff, well, it's ongoing. Though it was pretty melancholy to see that I was, at one time, actually full of ambition, however unrealistic and sabotaged by me being me it may have been.

Overall, it was not a very uplifting experience. I threw out about 60% of my stuff, which will undoubtedly frustrate a generation of future English Lit. professors, the ones teaching "Obscure 21st Century American Literature."

There is a point, when you've committed, whether consciously or not, to avoiding the road more travelled, where the bad jobs you continually have go from being cute and vaguely romantic to being just plain lousy and soul-deadening.

In the summer of 1988, after a year of my mother's "HAVE YOU FOUND A JOB YET?" pleas, a few months of sporting light blue Stubbies shorts at Islands, and then six months of pretending I was going to start an advertising career in the lucrative Southern California beachwear industry by working as a gofer at Ocean Pacific, I got in my very cool, very unreliable 1974 Alfa Romeo and drove away from Orange County for good.

The plan was to go to San Francisco for awhile, then drive up to Seattle to see my friend the Legendary Dr. Bandeau, then return to San Francisco and start my life. By the time I reached Seattle, my very cool 1974 Alfa Romeo had broken down twice. It was a long drive. I stayed in Seattle. Which was probably good, because it was in Seattle that I really came into my own, bad jobs-wise.

It was through the Legendary Dr. Bandeau, who was at the beginning of a transformation that would see him ditch his high school persona -- saxophone-playing, Jew-fro-having, eager to please -- in favor of a more brooding, shiny-headed, tattooed, cigarette-smoking hipster guise. He hung out at a cool bar and got me a job there. Since that was only for a couple of days a week, he also got me a job with an entrepreneurial guy who DJ'ed at the bar on Thursday nights.

In addition to being one of Seattle's most in-demand "80's nights" DJs, Evan Blackstone also ran a valet service. Since he was a guy we knew, both Bandeau and I could be hired minus any paperwork or hassle. We jumped at the opportunity.

I have a bad habit of jumping into things because someone I know is already good at it. For reasons known only to God, I assume this will mean that I will be good at it. In the case of Uncle Sam and Islands, I admired his ease with people and wanted to be more like him. To be Uncle Sam was to have fun, to not worry about everything, to not spend every day staring down your inevitable failure to reach the boundless potential someone stuck you with when they pulled you out of class in first grade and told you you'd be getting special attention from that moment onward.

In this case, Dr. Bandeau had spent all of high school nursing a secret identity, one where he spent evenings dashingly parking cars at Orange Hill restaurant. He would come to school with tales of driving Ferraris, and on trips to the beach, could whip any car into any parking spot with ease.

So I joined Dr. Bandeau, and as always, thought it would be great.

No matter how lousy these jobs have turned out to be, no matter how short of a time it took for me to realize the folly of my ways, no matter how many red flags came out during the interview, I always assumed that this would be the job that would make my life great. Even a job parking freaking cars.

Here's how the thinking went: "I'm living in Annie's walk-in closet for $100 a month, so all I really need is a couple of part-time jobs, and then I can write all day. And that this particular job comes from someone hip and cool, whom I will now know well enough to drink with when he's not being an in-demand DJ and probably knows all of the women in town, well, will help me make a quick inroads into the world of Seattle nightlife."

Simple, right? And maybe someday I will use my powers for good, not evil.

How difficult can it be to park cars? I went out and bought some black pants and a white shirt. Since I had not yet graduated to Doc Martens, I wore the cool black shoes I'd bought in Australia, which gave me a little bit of depth should I be parking the car of some hot young women just in town for the weekend from L.A. Evan Blackstone gave me some tips on how it all worked, then got into his Jeep CJ-7 -- the one missing a big chunk from its dashboard from, he swears, the time his girlfriend ripped a piece from it during an argument -- and left me there outside the Roosevelt Hotel in the rain, waiting for a cool Ferrari to roll up.

Or maybe an army of subcompacts with Hertz stickers in the window, driven by businessmen eager to drop their bags on me and get out of the rain as quickly as possible. The lot held 14 cars, and I had no idea what to do when the 15th guy drove up.

Making matters worse, when I get nervous I sweat. Which gets on people's steering wheels, their upholstery. If a Ferrari had driven up, I probably would have been so unnerved by it that the owner would have returned to find a massive pool of perspiration filling the interior of his car.

When you park cars for a living, you're supposed to slough these kinds of things off. You routinely park cars inches from each other, then skillfully extricate them when their owners return. You ignore the rats running in the alleyway behind the Roosevelt Hotel, and you own proper outerwear for a Seattle winter, even when it surprises you and snows.

And when it does snow, and your very cool 1974 Alfa Romeo is buried in a snowbank and naturally won't run, which is probably fine because your girlfriend, the one you don't yet know is insane and have been chasing since you first got to Seattle so are beyond euphoric to finally have cinched the deal with her but you continue to hide the relationship because your much-revered roommate can't stand her, is house-sitting on top of a hill. The Alfa Romeo, used to its former life in Orange County, has no chance of getting up that hill anyway.

So you walk up the hill to see her, and then back down the hill to get to your job parking cars, as if anyone is going to show up in the snow anyway. We also parked cars at a French restaurant at the bottom of Queen Anne Hill called "Le Testevan." I may be spelling it incorrectly. It's been gone for a long time, through no fault of the crack team of valets who used to store customers' vehicles in the garage beneath the restaurant, even when it was snowing.

It's actually not a bad memory, rolling down that hill to get to Le Testevan in the snow, 23 years old and unaware that your girlfriend will eventually stab you, then get together to "catch up" with her old boyfriend, only to take the phone off the hook for 72 hours and then have the old boyfriend get on the phone and threaten to call the police when you finally get through.

On New Year's Eve, 1988-89, I worked two jobs. I began my night parking cars at the Roosevelt, freezing my 23-year-old butt off but thankful that the guy I replaced left his gloves behind. The lot was full of Chrysler K cars, courtesy of Hertz, and they weren't moving. For the first but not last time I had the sensation of standing outside, Oliver Twist-like, watching through the windows at the party going on inside. People were warm. They seemed to have money and very little need to chase some dream that involves sitting in a bar and writing poetry on the back of a napkin. They seemed very happy, in fact.

Later that night I moved onto my other job, where I performed poorly, as usual, earning disdain from the older, more seasoned doormen whose leather jackets fit them perfectly and were not gifts from much cooler friends who had pity on them. The owner also stepped out from time to time to remind me not to screw up, as I had once, a few weeks before, forgotten to climb up and reset the film projector that beamed silent movies onto the building next door, displaying, instead of Charlie Chaplin, a big square of white for several minutes.

In 1988, in Washington State, bar owners would incur a $10,000 fine if they were caught letting in under-aged patrons. Let me tell you this -- it's not as easy as you'd think to spot under-aged patrons. It's harder still when several of them are people you've met since moving to town and whom hold great social capitol for you, should you do things to make them happy. I did what I could. It wasn't enough.

New Year's Eve 1988 ended with a completely sober me searching the streets of downtown Seattle for my completely drunk-off-her-butt girlfriend. I must have said something, so she ran away. It was 3 a.m. and not snowing, but cold enough to bring down some flakes. I was 23 years old and if someone had told me that this was just the beginning, I would have slapped them across the face.

Two weeks later I quit both the valet job and the bar job. They were opening a new Marie Callender's in North Seattle, which to my Orange County ears, sounded far more lucrative than two nights of abuse working the door at a bar plus parking cars at French Restaurants and the Roosevelt Hotel. The loss of street cred would certainly be made up by the stability of the job.

Naturally, I was wrong.

Notice that at no time do I consider that maybe another job in the service industry might be a bad idea?


Anonymous roger a. hunt said...

your articles in the examiner are really good.

macho camacho!

5:06 PM  
Anonymous flush puppy said...

um, aren't you forgetting a new year's eve detail? Or was that the next year?

Speaking of snowing in seattle, it is right now. freaky.

12:44 PM  

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