A Sly, Sidelong Glance
I rolled downtown from the Central District on the number 12 bus, then waited on Third Street for my transfer. Being new to the city in June 1995, every Seattle cliché pulsed for me with a vibrant rhythm. I was invigorated by the aroma of coffee mingled with salt air, and people were very polite (except for that guy standing behind the bus shelter who was berating the homeless person). And yes, these were the bluest skies I’d ever seen.
So far, I’d worked for the psychic phoneline in a big office building downtown, written horoscopes for a tiny neighborhood newspaper, and drafted two chapters of a mystery novel featuring an amateur detective who was also a trust-fund hippie. But today, I was on my way to the culmination of my biggest Seattle dream. I had a job interview at the Archie McPhee store.
A black SUV pulled up right in front of the bus stop. I watched disapprovingly as three buff guys in khakis piled out of the vehicle. Had they arrived to break up the altercation that had broken out between the rude man and the homeless guy? There was a flurry of slamming doors and a crisp electronic beep as the SUV was locked. They stood about six feet away, in a huddle. Then two members of the trio stepped aside, simultaneously lifting phones to their ears. The man in the middle was Sylvester Stallone.
The superstar looked right at me. His eyes widened slightly as he took in my rhinestone trimmed sunglasses, my ultra black hair – still reeking of the dye bottle – and my skirt, lovingly handmade from a thrift store pillowcase. I noticed his chinos, his subtle plaid shirt, the fact that he didn’t seem much taller than I. We made solid eye contact, then the moment was past. Once again, the small entourage converged around Stallone and they disappeared into the shadows of a shabby concrete office building. My bus arrived, forced to stop in the middle of the street because of the illegally parked SUV.
I arrived at Archie McPhee with a case of the nerves, and adjusted my dead man’s cardigan.
The manager was like a character from a storybook; a radiant good witch with long dark hair and big hoop earrings. She asked me about my retail experience. I could answer those questions well enough. I could tell stories about managing a corner store all day long. But when she asked me what animal I would be, if I were an animal, I started sweating. A pony, I said, thinking of the Italian Stallion. Which Star Trek character? Chief O’Brien from “Next Generation.” She didn’t seem familiar with Chief O’Brien. I should have said Scotty. Oh, what am I doing here? I thought to myself. They’ll never want to hire me.
“Oh, yes,” she said. “One last thing. Have you had any brushes with fame lately?”
My doubts fell away. Suddenly, I knew I could go the distance. Her eyes lit up as I described the illegal parking and the chinos. She nodded knowingly when I told of his stature. And she smiled when I implied that I’d been the star, and he the ordinary bystander. Then I remembered to show her my tattoo, a Valentine, roughly anatomical, like the card in the Mexican Loteria game. I got the job.
During my years at the Archie McPhee store there were many more brushes with fame. I’d be stern with a drunken hipster only to be told later that he was a famous rock star. I never recognized them. The magic at the McPhee store was so strong that no star could eclipse the brightness of the people I worked with each day.