Where yat, Keith? When I arrived in Seattle in the summer of 1991 I landed in Keith's house. I first met Keith in 1988 when I came through Seattle on a road trip, crashing at his house for several nights before heading for Cape Flattery. The junction of the Pacific Ocean and the Strait of Wanda was somehow important to me, just like the junction of Spring Creek and the Chipola River was to my brother. Meaningless geographic trivia, really, but the one was the site of my first camping trip ever, and the other introduced me to the Washington wilderness coast, a treasure. Keith was from Louisiana, the home state I left when I was four. He taught me crucial things about my home state, like how to say "Yeah you right" just right. Keith was a hoot. I think he was also maybe a yat, a native New Orleanian, from the New Orleans greeting Where yat? There wasn't room for me move in, not in 1991. That came later. I was just crashing on the living room floor while I looked for digs. I drove around to Puget Consumers Coop stores to put shared housing wanted flyers up on community bulletin boards. On a whim I drove over to the Kirkland PCC to put one up. Funny thing about whims. Turns out they're a way Leela likes to clue me in on stuff. The only response to my housing wanted flyers came from Kirkland.
Ruby. I got a call from a woman with no name who lived in the Bridle Trails neighborhood in Kirkland. She did have a name of course but I'll just call her Ruby. She claimed local radio personality Ruby De Luna had stolen her real name and she was without one; seemed legit. We hit it off, the rent was reasonable, and the house was nice in a suburbanish way. I moved in.
She was a real treat. Parts of the house were cluttered, tables and countertops stacked with junk. Just assorted objects that never found a home. I was used to keeping everything neat and put away but what the hell; it was no big deal. Oh I forgot to mention: Ruby was drop-dead gorgeous. And sure enough, thank my lucky stars, within a few weeks we graduated from housemates to lovers. Ruby baby! I never said one word about the clutter; I wasn't that stupid. It slowly disappeared. Before long all those poor lost objects had found a home somewhere.
Rain at night. Ruby's house was my first home in the PNW and I loved it. I was enthusiastic about the climate. I would lie in bed at night listening to the steady trickle of rain and quietly rejoicing. I loved to hear the rain; I still do. I have a mild case of reverse SAD: more than three or four sunny days in a row is too many. I start to feel battered by the sun. I'm always sweetly relieved when gray skies return, my lovely gray blanket. I like gray a lot, especially with a touch of violet, like #554c5c.
Ruby and I shared neopagan leanings. For me this was an after effect of majoring in Comparative Mythology and some mostly benign magical thinking that engendered. We celebrated a few cross quarter days by having folks over for potluck dinners with silly solemn seasonal recitations. We even went to the Camlann ren faire joint in Carnation for a medieval feast once. That's as close as I ever need to get to the SCA, thank you very much. A subscription to Parabola was more my style.
Tigers Lily and Lulu. Ruby's household included two cats, sorta: Tiger Lily and her daughter Tiger Lulu, both gray tabbies. They had belonged to a previous housemate who just moved out and left them. Ruby wasn't much interested in the cats, so they had gone feral. But there was a cat door into the garage, and Ruby put dry food out for them regularly. I loved sharing my flat with the cats I adopted in Tallahassee, so I was fascinated by the two feral Tigers. I started feeding and hanging out with them in the garage. At first they ran out when they saw me there, but hunger got the better of them and they got used to me. During the time I lived with Ruby I was able to redomesticate Tiger Lily. I was even making a little progress with Tiger Lulu, who'd been abandoned as a kitten so had never really been domestic. Tiger Lily was extravagantly affectionate with me. She liked to hang out on my chest when I would lie down and nuzzle my face, giving me sandpapery little cat kisses. Even better, every now and then she would reach her head up and ever so gently bite me on the nose, a love bite if ever there was one. Just melted my heart.
Salsa. Ruby and I had both heard tell of Subud. What I'd read about the latihan reminded me of my dance assignment in Tallahassee: freeform movement without music. So the two of us went to check it out. We got opened, the Subud initiation rite and started going to latihan every week. I burn out fairly quickly; it wasn't the right kind of movement for me. But Leela works in mysterious ways: I got my first exposure to partner dancing at Subud. A dance instructor came to a Subud social to teach basic introductory salsa. We were both hilariously inept as we struggled to walk through even one salsa basic. No new dancers were born that night. But one was conceived.
I needed a job. I got hired as a waiter at André's in Bellevue, a mildly upscale Vietnamese/French fusion restaurant in a strip mall with a mostly Vietnamese staff. André's wife was impressed by my credentials, a maitre d' with ten years experience. But André's wasn't like Mataam Fez. The Fez was leisurely; diners lingered for hours. The business was sound but there was an unspoken dedication to love in the form of gracious hospitality like you would find in a friend's home in Fez. The kind of thing not usually found in restaurants. I was valued for my creative ability to connect with people and my innovations in the bar, like my sangria and after dinner drinks. André's was a normal restaurant: high volume, turn those tables. I just couldn't adapt. It was the first time I'd ever been fired, a sign better days were coming. I just needed to get fired one more time to get the message.
Gardening. I put another flyer up on the Kirkland PCC bulletin board, this one advertising my services as a gardener. My dad got me started vegetable gardening in the 1960s. He gave me my own little plot at one end of our huge vegetable garden in Asheville. There I tried, with mixed failure, to grow things he didn't, like carrots and pumpkins. In the real garden he grew corn, tomatoes, green beans and summer squash. By the end of the summer our two basement freezers were chock full of those plus South Carolina peaches we bought from a man in a truck. I used to keep a spoon in my bedroom downstairs. I'd pull out a tub of frozen peaches in syrup and scrape bites of frozen peach syrup off the top as a secret treat. This in addition to my massive candy habit. I did some vegetable gardening in Tallahassee, most notably my failure with watermelons, and in Boulder I became a Master Gardener. I went to classes for a few months then volunteered to sit behind a table in a Boulder mall with flyers and an enormous ring binder of gardening information sheets. I had the world of Colorado gardening at my fingertips and mostly just told people what was wrong with their lawn. Colorado doesn't like lawns. Kentucky blue grass curls up and dies there. The grasses that will grow there are not what most people think of as lawn. I told them living in Colorado was the problem with their lawns. But very politely.
I loved those horses, and they responded. I got a response to my gardening flyer from a woman who lived in Woodinville; she wanted help with her yard and her horses. There was a picture of me on the back of Blue, the gentler of the two horses we had in Pineville. I was being led around the enclosure on Blue; that was the extent of my equine experience. But hey, she wasn't asking me to ride 'em. I fell in love with her horses. She explained horses to me. Cats & dogs are predators; they have hunter instincts. Horses are ancestrally prey animals, with a keen eye out for predators. They're quick to shy, but exquisitely sensitive in a way predators aren't.
Walking papers. Ruby wanted us to get married. I was touched by her devotion but I always thought marriage wasn't the right thing for me. I was right, it wasn't. I had to find that out the hard way. But not with Ruby. I didn't rise to the occasion, and soon after that she handed me my walking papers; it was all or nothing for her. Luckily Keith now had an opening in his house. But I loved my time with Ruby in Bridle Trails; there was a lot of richness packed into those few months. And lo and behold Tiger Lily came with me to Keith's house.
Coda. The Bridle Trails tale has an odd little coda. Ruby and I had made a plan to start taking partner dance lessons shortly before our breakup. Ruby was not one to back out of anything, so despite being broken up we took Swing 1 with Walter and Nancyanna Dill in June 1992. It was awkward being together, but we toughed it out through the full six weeks of class. Ruby disappeared from dance after that, but I was well and truly launched.