In the spring of 1987, I was a 21-year old college dropout working in the mailroom of a downtown Seattle law firm alongside all the other college dropouts. Our responsibilities included sorting the mail (interoffice and US mail) and delivering it to each attorney’s office three times a day by pushing little metal carts fitted with hanging files along the carpeted hallways.
Our unofficial responsibilities included:
I was living in my mother’s house on Beacon Hill, commuting downtown by bus, and spent my pay almost as soon as I’d cashed my check every two weeks. The law firm paid us a touch over minimum wage so spending all I earned wasn’t difficult to do.
When I decided, that spring, that it was time to move, I checked the classified section of the local newspaper and found a listing that read: Udistrict room $150. You had to admire the brevity of the ad and the implied thriftiness of the people who posted it. (Remember that newspapers charged for each letter and space that the ad included.)
I called the number and arranged to meet the roommates who lived in the scrappy white house on 17th Ave a few blocks north of the UW campus. The house had six bedrooms, a couple of bathrooms, and a living room that sported a bright blue shag carpet with a drum set in the corner.
I met with three people: Alan, Mark, and Jill who had all gone to the same college in New Hampshire, albeit at slightly different times.
“Dartmouth,” they said.
“Haven’t heard of it.”
“Really? It’s in the Ivy League.”
“Are you sure?”
Mark was a young attorney, Alan a grad student, and Jill had some kind of job but was thinking about going to medical school. I don’t really understand why they invited me to move in (I was a knucklehead with a penchant for drinking beer, going to shows, and smoking cigarettes) but they did invite me and I said Yes.
(Later I learned that Mark told the others that a mailroom worker from my law firm was caught having sex in the office and that he thought that I was that fun girl. For the record: 1. I wasn’t that girl; 2. I don’t think that girl actually existed.)
My room in the house was an un-insulated, converted sunroom off the living room and adjacent the front porch. Although it was cold in the winter and hot in the summer, the room had incredible light, which made all the difference. I think this must’ve been laundry day because my futon and pillows lack sheets and cases and why else would I let Jill stand on my bed in her bare feet?
A few days before I moved in, when I dropped by one evening with my sometimes boyfriend, Vince, to deliver my rent check, Mark came walking down the stairs playing his banjo. As we left, Vince turned to me and said “This is going to be a GREAT place to live.”
And he was right.
Greg, who was away when I moved in, returned to the house and found time to hassle me while playing the drums in the corner of the living room, approximately 10 feet from my bedroom door. Both Mark and Jill and a third roommate whose name (and face) I don’t recall moved out that summer but were replaced by other great people who wanted to create a household rather than a shared space. Miriam was a nursing student and Noji lived with us part time during the week while attending classes at UW but went home to Mt Vernon to be with her family for the weekends. Miriam instituted a schedule for shared dinners and household responsibilities, such as handling the recycling long before the City began offering curbside collection of recyclables. Rolf joined us at the end of the summer and our household was complete.
That was the year that I started cutting shapes and figures from erasers to stamp tee shirts and other items of clothing with fabric paint. I stole images from Matisse but happily took commissions too.
One day Greg and his visiting friend, Tom, lurked in the living room while I sat on the floor stamping and painting. Tom charmed me by suggesting that I might be an artist and Greg offered me $20 for a tee shirt, which I naturally accepted because I had no money. I made a shirt for him that featured a series of dancing girls in red, yellow, and green, perhaps inspired by Reggae night at a bar called Tugs in Belltown.
One could argue that living in the house on 17th with Alan, Miriam, Noji, Rolf, and Greg changed the course of my life. I stopped smoking cigarettes, started taking myself a bit more seriously, and began to make plans to go back to school. And later, of course, I married Greg.
Offering: Greg’s original tee shirt, which he is ready to let go. He thinks that $20 was a pretty good investment.