Monday, November 16, 2009

Bottle of Red, Bottle of White

Believe it or not, last night a friend invited me into his home for dinner, despite knowing that the conversation would be peppered with Psychedelic Furs lyrics and that I'd no doubt find some way to soil the furnishings. As I was debating which t-shirt to wear, I somehow shook loose some Emily Post-style etiquette from the deeper recesses of my brain and realized I should probably take something to thank him for his hospitality.

I called him an hour or so before I'd be apologizing for staining the tablecloth to ask what would best accompany the meal. "Just bring whatever you'd want to me to bring to your place," he told me, shouting over the sound of pots and silverware being dropped into the sink.

"Oh, awesome! So either a remote controlled dinosaur or Hugh Laurie, lightly drizzled with maple syrup," I said.

If it were possible to actually hear someone regretting your friendship, that was the sound that filled the space between my last sentence and the dial tone.

Instead of wondering whether he'd dig a mechanized T-Rex or a smaller but more maneuverable ankylosaurus, I stopped into the Fresh Market for a bottle of wine. I know nothing about wine, since the kinds I tend to purchase have a handle on top of the box so you can more easily lift it onto the sofa beside you or snuggle with it during particularly intense SVU episodes. I quickly scanned the dark, wooden shelves, ignoring anything with a domesticated animal on the label or with the kind of ornate curling fonts you see in funeral programs.

Several varieties were highlighted with clip art and neatly typed index cards, like an alcoholic elementary schooler's science fair project. They were also all on sale. As soon as I read the phrase "great with grilled seafood"--what I'd soon be furiously aiming at my open gob--I grabbed the neck of Some Kind of White with a San-Serif Typeface and carried it to the cashier.

There was only one lane open, staffed by a girl with a green apron who stifled a yawn as she traced the outline of one of the oversized dragonflies tattooed on her forearm. It was an interesting choice of ink, since her limbs looked less artsy or attractive and more like my windshield after a late-summer road trip.

I plunked the bottle on the conveyor belt and she lazily dragged it across the scanner before dropping it into a narrow paper bag. "I'm gonna need to see your ID," she said.

"Rad," I said, because I talk like that guy you hated in eighth grade. "You've just made my day." I pried my license out of my wallet and held it over the register.

"Oh, I know you're old enough. It's for the computer" she said, pecking my birth digits into the keyboard. "Because it can't see you."

"Um. Right." I was reeling, my pride immediately deflating, no doubt settling into the deep creases in my forehead or the trenches etched beside my eyes. "Hey can you hang on for one second?"

She shrugged.

"Be right back," I said, the untucked tail of my shirt flapping behind me. "I'm just going to grab another bottle. Or two."

I'm finally back from my week of Seattle, of damp overcoats and Top Pot donuts. Although I didn't come home with a Career or a commitment to business-casual dress codes, I did have some reasonably swell news on the job front. I'm going to keep it quiet for now, lest all my good fortune get spooked, bolting into the underbrush where it will immediately be killed, skinned and eaten by a hunting party.

Anyway. It was well worth the trip, despite the shrieking infants on both cross-country flights, the ones whose endless, ossicle-shattering screeches kept me from truly enjoying the SkyMall catalog. More details about the trip--and my move--will follow, of course, and many thanks go out to the fine people of King County who were willing to talk with me, forward my resume or watch me try to eat enough brisket to fill a two-bedroom condominium.

Finally, if a restaurant names an entree after Elvis Presley, it's not a menu item you should order, taunt, or make eye contact with. Any food that pays tribute to a man whose heart exploded during an a particularly intense Poop Session will break you. And--perhaps fittingly--it will also break the plumbing fixtures of your $60-per-night hotel.

Confidential to the Belltown Inn: I'm so sorry.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Gather Up Your Jackets, Move It To the Exits

There used to be a band called Semisonic--I say used to be because I'm reasonably sure all the members have long since started selling real estate or detachable gutters and doing things that don't require guitars. Their big, inescapable hit was called "Closing Time" and during my freshman year of college, it was the anthem that soundtracked countless second-semester drunkfests. (Confidential to My Mother: By "Drunkfests" I mean "Endless nights spent in the library studying, taking notes, and making good use of your tuition dollars." Obviously).

That song was always leaking out of the speakers at our favorite off-campus dinner joint, a Mexican place with cheap-ass enchiladas and a tacky hand-painted mural done by an artist that clearly didn't understand perspective drawing or homoeroticism. The ambiance was limited to a row of sombreros hanging over several of the tables--so you could park yourself in either the Stereotype or Non-Stereotype section--and overhead lights were dimmer than the waitstaff, who would accept any fresh-from-Kinko's fake ID even though you were clearly not thirty-seven, nor were you a black man.

At the end of the evening, the waiters would be lazily upending the wooden chairs onto the tables as we'd hold up our oversized margaritas and shout along with the chorus, "You don't have to go home/But you can't stay here." Then we'd shuffle off to the parking lot, hoping to make it back to campus before the floorboards of the DD's Ford Taurus were carpeted with thirty-six ounces of crushed ice and off-brand tequila.

It's a solid decade later and I'm still ordering Special #11--a quesadilla, an enchilada, and swift, unyielding diarrhea--at least once a month. The place is still popular with Wake Forest freshmen and I'll eye them jealously from my side of the vinyl booth, hating their popped collars and cell phone cameras and collagen.

A few weeks ago I was there for dinner, blotting the grease off a basket of tortilla chips and drinking for entirely different reasons when--as if David E. Kelley designed my life--that same Semisonic song trickled out of the speakers. And I decided they were right: I don't have to go home but I can't stay here.

So, readers who wonder where the hell all this cilantro-garnished exposition is going, I can't stay here. I'm planning a move across the country. It's not where you think--I won't be double-parking a UHaul in Los Angeles, nor burrowing into Hugh Laurie's laundry hamper--and it's sooner than you expect. I'd like to think I'll be unpacking my Elvis Costello t-shirts and reassembling my bookshelves before the end of the year, but realistically, it'll probably be January.

Where am I heading? Seattle. Yes, Seattle, with its indie rock and Starbucks oversaturation and perpetually wet socks. There are a number of reasons that it's [hopefully] the place for me, but none of them are entertaining and lots of them make me sound almost responsible, so we'll skip over that. Instead, let's talk about why I'm leaving. I've lived in North Carolina for a decade, counting college, and I have little to show for it other than a liberal arts degree and a few dents in my heart.

BUT my pair of years as a freelance writer have gone better than I could’ve ever expected, with the kinds of experiences that haven’t paid well but have definitely paid off--if that makes sense at all--and the highlights on my resume haven’t been from this region (or even this country) so I’m not losing anything but a ZIP code and a shitty neighbor fond of pre-dawn piano concerts by skipping out.

I've also grown increasingly tired of living in a town small enough that I'm constantly reminded of what I used to do or where I used to work or who I used to date until he decided it would be cool to leave me for a withered creature who looks like a Slim Jim with hair. I'm beyond ready to turn my attention to what I can do, what I will be, and what's waiting around the next turn, rather than continually adjusting my life's rearview mirror.

Or "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end" as Semisonic sang. If you hear that sentiment when you're stabbing an undercooked bite of Grade-Z beef, it could make you think it's a sign you should re-evaluate your life. Or it could make you think of one Beginning shitting out another, smaller Beginning.

Either way, I'm packing my Gore-Tex and Scotchguarding my shoes and flying into the Sea-Tac airport on Saturday, staying for a week to apartment shop and meet with a handful of insanely helpful contacts and also to shove my resume in the face of the unsuspecting. If you're a media outlet in the greater Seattle area, prepare to be cold-called. Also, if anyone's willing to give a hand with this job search, I'd dig it like no other. Any advice, tips and tricks are all appreciated and will be met with a sloppy kiss to each of your foreheads.

Enjoy that basket of nachos, Seattle. I'll be staring at you from the far side of the non-smoking section soon enough.