On Saturdays I still got up early but spent most of the day on city walks. I lived alone in a one-bedroom series of brick rentals with a courtyard in the middle. None of the other renters used the courtyard and it was probably frowned upon, but I made a habit that spring of sitting beneath the cherry tree with a cocktail and an African robe I’d gotten off J. Peterman, admiring the blooms as they fell and gathered in the grass like confetti.
We didn’t have MP3 players then or smart phones so on my walks if I had music, it would have been cassette and headphones. I even taped some of my favorite radio shows and listened back, having thought to do that before an extended stay in France when I knew I’d feel disconnected, I’d want the familiar sounds of home.
The apartment was on the border of Capitol Hill, a popular Seattle neighborhood and epicenter of gay pride. Most street corners on Broadway had pop-up espresso stands, a practice that died one day for reasons we can’t entirely blame Starbucks on (though I could be wrong).
But my neighborhood was called the Central District, an unseemly side of Capitol Hill they kept saying would gentrify but still hasn’t, 25 years later. I was at the top of a street called Union, right before it crests and goes down to Madison Park, where Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz lived, right next door to Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love.
On a good day, if you walked out in the middle of my street you could see both mountain ranges: one to the west (the Olympics) and another to the east, (the Cascades). I’d often walk to work because most of the walk was downhill, taking me through a series of strange but interesting neighborhoods. It felt like the Philadelphia I’d left at times—gritty, real. People struggling. People staggering around.
I was 25 and alone. I didn’t have a car or plans on the weekends. I got up and made coffee and went out for the day. Walked either west, downtown—or sometimes north to the University District. One of my favorite bars was there: Flowers, named after the floral shop they occupied when they took over. It had a neon sign in the window that said Flowers so they kept the sign and just named the bar after that.
I could get a martini at Flowers for $4 (a double), and a falafel sandwich, possibly a second drink—and get out for $20. And then walk back to my apartment to check if I had any messages.
The answering machine would blink with a small display if someone had called. It was a kind of ritual to take my jacket off, sit down, and hear who it was. I was love-hungry, with little in the way of leads. I didn’t really go to bars looking for women, I went there to day dream about writing or whatever my life had in store. I didn’t have to worry about work, I came and went. I was a secretary. I liked saying that: not a coordinator or an administrative assistant, a secretary. It had an air of class and honesty to it, tradition.
Once there was a message from a girl named Susannah I’d met at a bar before Thanksgiving. We hadn’t talked in two months and I didn’t think we ever would again. But then she called! I listened back several times, reexamining the tones and the words she used, trying to interpret what she meant. What my chances were with her.
It was coming on Valentine’s Day, and a cynic would say that’s why she called. She wanted a date. She was the kind of woman who drew attention when she entered a room and I was alit with the thought of us going out. We met at my apartment and walked down to the city. I bought dinner. We paused over the interstate and I threw my arms in the air and rocked on the handrails at the rush of the headlights and street lamps and wonder of it all.
We went back to my apartment but then it was clear she wasn’t going to stay. Something about my cats or something she had to do, that didn’t sound like something you’d really have to do if you didn’t want to.
Weekends were like that, though most didn’t include women. They featured my Cajun friend Myki and his overcoat and goatee, his silver handmade rings and cigarettes. Drinking coffee and cooking: Myki teaching me how to cook a roux. Both of us talking about girls. Sometimes going out if we could afford to.
We had met in Pittsburgh and both moved out to Seattle independently of the other, had reconnected the night I’d met Susannah at that bar. Myki wanted to be a classic music composer, was studying cello at Duquesne. He wound up working as a carpenter instead, fucking up his wrists and knees doing hard, manual work on construction sites. Chain smoking and shooting pool at a bar called The Zoo.
They offered me a promotion at work but I turned it down, for fear of more responsibility. I didn’t want anything to interfere with my prospects of being a writer, I held onto it hard. I was binary like that. I moved to France instead and quit work. Came back a year later to my same job. Was now an “administrative assistant” because my previous boss had been promoted to VP. And I was alone again, going out for walks, coming home to check my messages. Wondering what would come next and how long it would take.