Dawn said come hell or high water, you better be working by September (that was April), but she doesn’t really talk that way, in italics, it sounds worse than it is. We were between low pressure systems spinning off Vancouver island and I was just waiting for the last approval to get my contract in place and start working again, but it could come any day now and I wanted to make the most of what time I had left, to do what I wanted if I could pick anything (whatever I hadn’t done in the past couple years), and debated going back up Cougar Mountain or past the first apartment on Capitol Hill where we lived, and decided on both.
After Shana moved out I got a new apartment but continued having bad luck with women, and when my lease was up I announced I was leaving Seattle, leaving Starbucks (they offered me a promotion but I declined, I didn’t want corporate success to interfere with my writing), threw a party on Halloween and told everyone I was leaving by Christmas, going back to Pennsylvania to house-sit and then on to the south of France, and after that I didn’t know — but Alex and Clare one-upped me by announcing their divorce, and we all laughed and hugged and kept on drinking, and come December the work parties started and didn’t stop; every time I’d go out with colleagues they’d say this was so much fun we should do it again and so we did, and the manager at my favorite bar gave me a cigar and I smoked it right there at the table, he let me play whatever I wanted on the jukebox, gave me a Zippo with the bar’s logo but I lost it when I got back east and there was a message on my mom’s machine, some girl named Aurora, his girlfriend, crying he was dead, she had this letter and tape I’d mailed to him, and how did I know Steve?
I had such bad luck with girls I thought I needed to leave the city. There was the secretary at work I was friends with, we sent cute emails and teased each other, but she was with my friend Peter (ex-Navy SEAL), and I respected him as much as I did her and didn’t want to foul anything up, so after our last lunch together we just held hands driving across the West Seattle bridge, we didn’t look at each other or say anything, and that was that.
It got so bad there was a new bartender at my favorite place I liked, and I’d sit there watching her dry pint glasses one by one until finally she asked me what I do, like for money, and I said I’m a poet, I didn’t even hesitate, and she just laughed and looked away but the next time I came in I brought her proof, I handed it across the bar (I’d made a packet of poems I was giving out to friends before I left), and she was working with some guy who looked down at the papers and then back up at me and kind of winked in this guy-way like nice work, dude — but none of it mattered, she wouldn’t return my calls: she had a name that sounded like a Yoga asana, like in sanskrit, but it suited her — and I gave up, convinced it must be Seattle, not me.
When I got to Pennsylvania I got set up with a girl whose name was spelled B-o-n-n-e (Italian) but pronounced it “Bunny,” who had really big breasts and was really nice but there was no magic, and one night after drinking she accused me and Pete of being gay, right there on the streets of Allentown outside a diner, and we just laughed and Pete apologized for setting us up and said we need to find someone else for you, man.
I got temp work for a few months, got turned down for a job at the local library, then bought a one-way ticket from JFK to Barcelona, a couple hours down the coast from the condo where I’d be living right on the Mediterranean, by a cove — I took my cats and manual typewriter, the one I’d bought with Shana on Capitol Hill, and made arrangements for a ride at the airport in Spain with a new friend my mom and John wanted me to meet, the son of their real estate agent, a guy named Laurent.
When he picked me up, the airport workers were on strike and the police were in riot gear with helmets and shields, and Laurent asked if I smoked and I said yes, I did. The bad winds set in, the tramontane, a strong, dry wind that comes from the North (and always in multiples of three), and for the first six days I sat in the condo listening to the slide doors on the deck hum, a tension that built and never resolved, unable to go out for the blowing sand — and set the typewriter up but I couldn’t find the thread, I just kept writing the same thing convinced it was there when it wasn’t.
Shana mailed me a copy of the new Beastie Boys tape and I listened to it on the beach, fantasizing I was back in the States probably, and they said at Starbucks I could come back anytime I wanted so I emailed my boss and announced I would, and we agreed on the middle of October for a start date, and I flew back with my cats and stayed for a couple weeks with Mike and Kim in their basement, found a studio apartment at the bottom of Pill Hill so I could walk to work, signed another lease, asked Myki if he could build a loft for my futon high enough my cat Pokey wouldn’t get on it, he had kidney problems and was peeing blood on the sheets and I didn’t think that would help my situation any.
Wait! There’s more! This is the first in a series of memoir pieces from the late ’90s I’ll feature the rest of the week.