In the fall of ’97 I announced I would be leaving my job at Starbucks that December, moving home to Pennsylvania for a few months and then on to southern France, to live in a condo on the beach a few towns up from the Spanish border.
We had a party in January at my mom’s house in the country and overnight it snowed; in the morning her epileptic dog went missing through the Invisible Fence and left no prints, I fell face first into a creek looking for the body, broke my glasses, taped them, was growing my first beard and had a job interview the next day as a night attendant at the university library, looked a bit like a serial killer who was all over the news, and after I read the rejection letter someone typed on a real typewriter and mailed to me, and meant it when they said good luck, I typed a poem on the back of it and saved it with a box of photos in my closet.
I got a job as a temp pushing a Rubbermaid cart with stacks of dot matrix printouts for CSRs who sat at their phones all day placing orders from the stacks I handed them which they retyped into their computers — sat and killed time waiting for the mail to come because it needed sorted, sat the rest of the day with an assistant working as her assistant, sketched her once from the back when she wasn’t looking to illustrate the difference in scale between the size of her head and the computer monitor which was much larger, almost menacing, more lifelike, her neck growing a lump from leaning into the screen and sitting all day like that.
I framed the sketch and placed it alongside a plant when I returned from France and got rehired into Starbucks and stayed there for 16 years — put the sketch in a box with my things when I left, buried the box in a corner of a loft in our three-car garage with some photos, trophies, awards.
And I kept a journal that summer in the south of France where I listed each day what we ate and drank and who we saw, and not once did I think about whether or not I needed a visa to stay there or a job — I did construction for a couple Canadians but didn’t have any skills so they just let me knock down walls and in exchange we had long lunches with free food and wine that often turned into dinner — and there were days walking from one village to the next along a path overlooking the Mediterranean the sky was a blue I’d never seen before and the sea had so much salt you could float on it forever — and yet, I knew somehow it wasn’t right, it didn’t seem real, I hadn’t earned it — and so I moved back to Seattle to live with my friends Mike and Kim in their basement a few weeks, found an apartment on Pill Hill close enough I could walk to work, built a loft for my futon high enough my cat who was peeing blood couldn’t reach it, still trying to meet someone, to just settle down.
And I fell asleep facedown that first Christmas with some English friends after a bar called Vito’s, my glasses bent in the morning, and moved out the following spring to a bungalow with a wrap-around porch and an alley cat who had lips like Kevin Spacey, probably a witch, the one who finally took down my cat Pokey, buried now in a parking patch on Latona.
When we got back from the UK last week and started going through the DVDs in mom’s library, we watched one with Philip Seymour Hoffman where he plays a DJ on a pirate radio boat in the North Sea, 1966, and a monologue he has toward the end where he’s saying this may be the best it’s ever going to be, this time in our lives right now — and it’s true then because you don’t realize it’s true, you don’t have to, it’s maybe better you didn’t, and that’s what makes it the best, the not knowing part.