How I learned to turn without signaling (in life, not in cars)
In the Myers-Briggs personality test, making decisions is one of the markers of type. In essence, we all make decisions differently, running the gamut from carefully weighing and piles of pro-con … to just going. I’m a just go-er. I’ve always made decisions quickly from the gut, knowing that if things didn’t turn out, I could simply turn around. Do a U-turn.
Only that’s not really true. The fact is, we make our beds, sometimes quickly and without thinking too much, and then we lie in them, sometimes for a long, long time, getting bedsores and sore backs. Who made this bed, we wonder. And how do I unmake it and start over? It doesn’t help that the making of the bed is always held over you like you deserve it. “You made your bed…” they begin shaking their heads, as if quoting a law of thermodynamics instead of a proverb from the 16th century, one that referred to beds you actually did have make—out of straw.
Anyway, one such decision for me was lying about having had prior experience waitressing—when I was broke and looking for work during the summer of my 19th year, a summer I spent in Washington DC. I had taken the Greyhound bus out (3 days from LA), fully expecting to land the job our neighbor at home in Seattle was to have secured for me. He’d called in a favor, and it was a done deal, an internship with a state representative. All I needed to do was show up.
I love favors. I’d never been on the receiving end of one like this before.
A month deep into the muggiest climate I’d ever experienced, I was eating oatmeal every day and wondering what I was supposed to do now. I’d made it to his office at the capitol, I’d shaken his hand. But [insert sad head shaking here] he didn’t think he had anything for me. But [insert tipping back of big leather chair here] I should keep calling, just keep checking in. I did that, but I wasn’t ever really put through. Not even close. He managed to keep me on hold for four weeks.
Luckily, a college friend had secured a room for me in her “group house”— the last hippie house off Dupont Circle. We’re talking 1977 here. Star Wars, Slim-Fast, Chia-pets, Bjorn Borg, and gritty, non-gentrified urban centers. Despite the hundreds of roaches that skittered back into the cracks when the kitchen lights were flicked on in the morning, it was a great house. Roomy and old, and it came with the perfect front stoop.
They weren’t bad weeks. I went to every free museum on the mall. I made instant friends with a 31-year old woman in the house, someone who shared my birthday, had a raspy voice, and drank during thunderstorms. I wrote the libretto to a musical about being unemployed in DC. Obsessed with Billie Holiday, I listened to all the recordings they had at the library. I felt the intoxication of a new city, a very complex and interesting new city. I learned about dark bars to get you out of the heat and into the air conditioning we didn’t have in the last hippie house off Dupont Circle.
In short, I felt sort of like an ineffectual grown-up. I’d escaped the west coast and my college quadrangle. I’d hauled myself out into the world. And I was unemployed.
Eventually, I just simply ran out of money. Wandering up O Street in Georgetown I noticed a cafe called Le Sorbet, and, seduced by the outdoor tables and lack of clientele, I wandered in. The owner, for whatever reason comfortable with me, seemed eager to offer me a job; I did have some experience waiting tables, right?
This was the crux, the bed-making moment. “Yes,” I said, thinking “I don’t have a choice here” and “How hard could it be?” It was not hard at all at Le Sorbet, where something French that no one yet knew about was being served. Where sidewalk café had just started to sprout up as part of a great new plan to make Georgetown a friendly place.
1. Le Sorbet. Fresh fruit sherbet, 60 cents a cup; imported cheese and charcuterie sandwiches, $1.50‐$1.75 ; salade niçoise, $2.95.
They also made a mean microwave spinach crêpe with Stouffer’s soufflé. They served espresso. I made friends there, nice, sort of international friends. It was my gateway job to working in a bar down the street where they sold 700 kinds of beer (to can collectors, mainly).
I fell in love at Le Sorbet and briefly had a British boyfriend who also had escaped the shackles of college life in London. I thought I wanted to run away with him and wrote him poetry after his upper crust parents summoned him back, nixing the visit he’d planned for the girl he’d met while slumming in DC. And, POOF…. he was gone.
What a summer. That crux moment of lying about restaurant work would lead me into many, many years more of working in them. It opened up my days for writing and painting. It allowed my husband and me to tag team on the child-rearing front and make it work financially. It kept me up late and sleep deprived. It kept me from seeing my husband as much as he, I, and the marriage needed. At some point, it became the bed that gave me the chronic back ache… and eventually I got out.
How life happens is a fascinating study. It really does seem just to “happen” to some people, to be forged by others, to be fated for yet others. At 60, I’m looking at all the straw beds I’ve palletized for myself and slept in. The effects of my words, reaping what I’ve sown, getting what I’ve given.
Back in the good old days in Telluride, at the Last Dollar, also known as The Buck, the most central of all the bars, it was a lot like The Buckeroo in my story. On my 30th birthday after quite a few who-knows-whats, I got up on that bar and danced the year in. I don’t know what I knew, what I thought I knew, or even what I knew I didn’t know. I like the contrast, though, of an inscrutable moment in time pitting itself against all the proverbs in the world.