Tension, an ill-fitting suit, and an ugly tie. I’d been out of work for over a year — laid off by the same software company in which I now stood — and here I was, back again, utterly desperate for one of the City of Seattle Jobs and praying that I could get hired back.
So as I waited for my interviewer stood in the fourth-floor reception area, which was always one of my favorite parts of the building. It has a high vaulted ceiling molded with a sloping silver sidewall, and a series of four vast, slanted windows that look out on Elliott Bay. I stared out at the view, drinking it in as I always do in that place, forgetting my nervousness for a moment.
The tall, professional-looking older woman sitting a few feet away closed a prospectus, rose, and turned to look out the windows for a moment as well. Soon, she turned. “It’s so beautiful…” I smiled, surprised, and turned to her, cocking my head. “I’m from out of town,” she explained. “I… didn’t realize people lived like this. I didn’t realize there were places like this.”
I nodded my head and smiled back: she understands! The beauty and soul of this city, its emerald and sapphire heart. “I understand. I love it here. There are few other places I would be willing to live.” The woman bowed ever so slightly, for an instant looking less than my mother’s age. “You are fortunate.”
And then my interviewer was there, and I left the beautiful view behind. I could not help but take the conversation as a good omen, a sign that I would see that view again soon.
I could write this to read like a cheeky piece of fiction, but I’m too spiritually exhausted to make with the art these days. Insert sighing sound here. We’re too old for that now, mate. The pier is right there, and no one would notice if we fell into the Sound and never came back.
Here it is: Microsoft’s young millionaire club wasn’t the only sector of society to get boned by the dot-bomb. I was working in Kent as a security guard for a company called “Webvan.” They had just built a multimillion dollar warehouse for their delivery business and contracted for one piddly security guard at a time. After a while, they couldn’t afford to finish building the thing. The construction guys went home, and the security guards lingered for a while. Months later I lost the job. Guess they sold the place.
That was the best job I’d ever had (eleven bucks an hour to sit on my sweet potato), so I was well set for a little while. I went to temp work on the off hope I’d get an actual office job and they’d keep me, but no one wants you if you can’t type over 45 wpm, and can’t lift over a hundred pounds per minute comfortably. It was shit.
But that was south King County; this story is on the Seattle waterfront. My roommates were starting to disappear and get irresponsible, and I needed a real job, badly. The Art Institute of Seattle (the McDonald’s of commercial art education) cold-called me. Since I never bought anything on credit or through catalogs, a cold call was unusual, and I still don’t know where they got my name/address/phone number from.
I don’t remember exactly how the conversation went, but some mention was made of job placement, and I ended up making an impulse purchase as expensive as a top-o’-the-line luxury car: The Education- that mythical beast your childhood authority figures believed would guarantee “success.” Anyhow, they helped me find a job.
A dude I know always gets a chuckle out of the fact I was a “line cook” at a place called “the spaghetti factory.” That might bake your noodle if you’re as slow as me but think a second and you’ll get it. I don’t think it’s all that funny.
Most restaurants in Belltown seem to operate on a smaller scale than that place; it really was a factory, in a sense. They tried to make me feel nervous, but I was basically guaranteed a job when I signed up. I went through the training day BS in the basement with a dozen other people. That included taking the test for a Washington State Food Handler’s Permit, for which we each paid seven dollars. Then it was straight to the factory floor, and getting accustomed to fast and furious line cookin’.
The work was hard. The room was steamy as hell; forget about antiperspirant. The business was basically constant from start to finish. At least they respected the fact you really do need a half hour break, unlike most fast food employers. Then at the end of the night, you get to bust your ass in half scrubbing ovens and the like so you wouldn’t make it home till it was nearly morning. Bu then again, it IS a Seattle morning!
Don’t take this as racist, but this is the kind of thankless, low-paying work that is the bread and butter of many Mexican Americans. Without flawless English in this country, your options are limited. Racists like to say that they’re stealin’ jobs from hard-workin’ Amurricans, but the fact is most white folks are not even applying for these positions. When they do, like me and a few other AIS undergrads, they get them. As is, most of the kitchen staff was speaking Espańol.
Personally, I like Mexicans. Their culture gives me a kick. But they don’t like me. A bellicose character on a recent TV show said: “They didn’t sneak into this country to be your friend.” I suppose if I could be sent packing with a single word from a white guy, I’d have a very guarded demeanor, too.
But I try to be friendly anyhow. One time I mentioned Xuxia when I was having a very broken conversation with a guy named Salvador (or something like that), and for the next few hours, people would be calling the name back and forth like it was a dirty joke. “Xuxia!” That was as close as we ever got to bonding. We’d both seen the same bad TV. I liked those guys.
I worked there as hard as I could, but modern suburban kids are born with a serious elbow grease deficiency. Or I’m just a lazy bitch. The real killer, however, was that the boss refused to let me work around my school schedule. There were a few days when I’d get up before the crack of dawn to ride the bus to school, and then I’d have to wait for several hours before I start my work shift, work to close, and ride the bus home, getting there well after midnight. I’d let myself half-way pass out on a bench in Myrtle Edwards Park on those hot summer days.
The Education is supreme. The only thing a flimsy bastard like me is qualified to do for a living is Art, but the jobs are totally unavailable without a degree (or at least more social grace than I’ll ever have). I could feel my future slipping away with my grades, so I went as long as I could, and finally quit the job. My last working roommate bailed. Those were dire days. I was broke as fuck back then, and always had been before, and still am to this day. The only reason I haven’t been homeless since I was 17 is the charity of others. A decade now of living like a total vagabond.
Pardon me. Getting sidetracked with self-pitying rage. Why me? Boo hoo. Back to the story, please and as you know, I really like this city.
So I finally got myself settled into an ex-friend’s mom’s attic for 200 dollars a month, sharing the space with ex-friend guy and a mountain of garbage. I was making that 200 a month plus bus fare and lunch via part-time work at Jack in the Box.
It takes a while once you’re settled into a new situation to build up a safe amount of money, and early on I was still scraping. I needed a food handler’s permit for Jack, so I went back to collect the one I’d earned at the spaghetti place. They had never given it to me, and I figured if they never filed the paperwork, I could at least ask for my money back.
They took me behind the counter, through the kitchen. The boss made me wait a bit, and while in the kitchen, I asked the one guy I recognized where everyone was. He said INS had randomly showed up, and all those guys I was working with got deported.
On one level, I found that outrageously funny, that my former employer was too ghetto and greedy to check immigration status. I like to tell people about that because I still find it funny that they lost their whole damn kitchen to Immigration.
But now and again, I think about how much it must suck to be Mexican. I wonder how they’re doing, especially since the shit went kablooey in NYC, and suddenly bitches got all paranoid. I remember hearing weeks before 9-11 that the Mexican president was going to work out a deal with Bush that would let Mexicans work in America legally and easily. In the rush to close borders, that promise has evaporated.
But I can see them, in my mind. Those short little brothers, tacky gold gleaming on their chests, having hopped the border again ten minutes after they got dropped off in TJ. Catch a ride with your cousin Jesus and his kids all the way back to Washington. Rinse, Lather, Repeat. I bet they’re doing fine. They’re real Americanos.