I lived in the run down old mansion on Capitol Hill on two occasions: the first time for a period of about seven months from June – December of 1988 and again from March of 1990 until June of 1993.
In between I spent six months living in Washington DC during which I applied to and was accepted into the University of Washington, thanks to the “Economically Disadvantaged” charter of the office of Minority Affairs. I returned to Seattle in early July, moved back into my mom’s house on Beacon Hill, and resumed my duties in the mail room of the downtown law firm in which I’d worked since returning to Seattle after my stint on a crab processing ship in the Aleutian Islands. (My sojourn on the east coast was supported by “transferring” to the DC office of the law firm for six months.)
I bought my first bicycle—a Trek 830 Antelope—when I returned to Seattle, thanks to the encouragement and research of my good friend, Brian Wong. Brian worked with me in the DC office and introduced me to bicycles, sushi, and the Tour de France. He lived two blocks from the office and on the evenings I worked late and was entitled to dinner at the expense of the firm, Brian would feed me and then carefully craft a little receipt that I could submit for reimbursement. He was particularly proud of the Thank you for your Patronage line at the bottom of the slip of paper.
When I picked up my new bike in Seattle, I was a complete novice. I’d never spent much time riding a bike nor had I ridden in city traffic. As I made my way around the city streets those first few times, I felt as if I had Brian’s voice in my ear encouraging me to breathe and to try not to be so “squirrelly.”
In the fall of 1989, as a 24 year old freshman, I started classes at the University of Washington, making the long commute by bike. I would ride to the University in the mornings, attend classes, ride downtown to the law offices for a few hours, and then ride back home for an evening of studying and such. My daily route was a 13-mile loop that involved plenty of hills.
When Eric and Erin’s roommate in the old house on Capitol Hill moved out, I was happy to take her place because I would be back with my friends but also because it cut my commute in half.
I’m pretty sure that I moved back in on March 3 of 1990 because Greg made his first official pass at me that afternoon after helping me move and taking particular care to ensure that the bolts that held the legs of my bed to the frame were especially tight. (I swear I’m not making that part up.)
Eric, Erin, and I settled back into our easy existence in the old house that lacked all mod cons. But what it lacked in modern conveniences, it made up for by being the coolest place ever.
That summer I worked in the law firm while Eric, Erin, and Marty worked countless catering jobs for Mangetout. When a catering job required extra bodies, I helped out. We occasionally brought great things home from catering gigs, for example a half full keg of beer, which led us to host impromptu gatherings to work our way through the bounty.
In the summer of 1990, the younger brother of one of Greg’s good friends from college moved to town to attend the University of Washington. The day I met Phil, he and Greg came to our place to fetch me and Erin for a morning of mountain biking on the ski slopes of Snoqualmie Pass. Just as they arrived, I broke a glass while washing the dishes and sliced open my finger. While Erin fashioned a bent finger bandage (so that I could still apply the brakes on our upcoming descent), Phil stepped to the sink, picked up the sponge, and finished washing the dishes.
Greg had arranged for Phil to stay with another friend, the legendary Bill Schaffner, in Wallingford. Instead of collecting rent from Phil, Bill asked him to paint the interior of the little house. Phil never seemed to care about the condition of his clothing and didn’t take the time to change into clothes dedicated to the messy job of painting so over the course of the next couple of months, his entire wardrobe become dabbled in varying degrees of off-white splatter.
That fall, not long after classes started at UW, Erin decided to move in with her boyfriend, leaving us with one empty room. I asked Phil if he knew anyone who might be interested in moving in. “Yes,” he said. “ME.” And so began the next, arguably healthier, phase of living in the big old house on Capitol Hill.
Phil moved into the room with the sliding door just off the traditional dining room, which we used for storing bikes and other detritus instead of dining. He slept on a futon frame that had shifting slats and in lieu of a mattress, he used a “wimp pad” and a sleeping bag.
Phil was not one to waste time so in addition to taking a more that full load at UW, he decided to train to be an Emergency Medical Technician. Most days Phil went to class, studied on campus until the late afternoon, rode his bicycle many miles to the north end for EMT training, and then rode all the way back to Capitol Hill, arriving late at night at which point he resumed his studies. He was a good influence.
Phil roped me into donating blood for the first time and thereafter every 56 days.
On the days we donated blood, we rode our bikes together to the donor center on First Hill, opened up our veins for the requisite pint, enjoyed the cookies and juice they served in the refreshment center, and then rode our bikes home again. Phil pushed liquids upon me afterward by handing off a full Nalgene bottle and instructing that I drink it all. He’d also make dinner that evening. His specially was “burritos,” which he made by opening a can of refried beans, smearing a dollop of beans along one half of a flour tortilla, topping the beans with a glop of salsa and a sprinkling of grated cheese, folding the tortilla in half, and then frying the half-moon shaped burrito in a shallow sea of hot canola oil.
Eric, Phil, and I lived together through the summer of 1992, although Phil and I both left for six months in the spring of 1991 (he to Antarctica, me to Italy for a semester followed by a few weeks traveling around Europe with Greg). Eric stuck it out even though we left him with a pair of somewhat less than ideal sub-letters.
In the fall of 1992, Eric moved to Bellingham to attend Western Washington University so Phil invited an acquaintance from the Geology department to move in. I don’t remember Jim’s last name or where he was from, but I do recall that he was not very tall and his cheeks often blushed pink with embarrassment.
In June of 1993, the three of us graduated from UW and moved out of the house for good. Phil was heading to Boston to attend graduate school at MIT, I was set to return to Namibia to join Greg (my husband of six months at that point, although we’d only been in the same location for the first ten days or so of our married life), and Jim was moving back to wherever he’d come from.
We hosted one last party in honor of our collective graduation and the end of that particular era. After we’d boxed up our stuff, hauled out the garbage, and tossed the giveaway, we had one final meeting in the pantry area to decide what to do with the last few items that our former roommates had left behind. I claimed Erin’s 10-inch All Clad fry pan (and have it still) and a pair of fish-shaped plates that belonged to Eric. I’ve kept those plates for the past 21 years not because I felt particularly attached to them but because they were his.
Offering: Two plates, one blue and one black, both shaped like fish.