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A Day With Joe (Story For Sadie)

I saw that it was 4:55 am; I never let the alarm wake me up.  It’s not that I didn’t set it, I did; I just always seemed to wake myself up right before.  It’d been that way for years, and had become part of my morning ritual.  Like shaving in the shower, or downing a cup and half of coffee on my way out the door (even though I invariably brewed a whole pot).

It was still dark out, with a few glimmers of light, as I left my house at 5:45 am and clambered into my Ford Focus.  The days were quite long here this time of year, and I had plans for later, so that was good.  For the Yankees were in town, and there was a night game (which would be played mostly in daylight here in Seattle).

I executed my right hand turn off 62nd onto Sand Point Way and popped a tape into my car’s tape player (as per ritual), and waited for the red light (I got a green on this turn maybe 6% of the time).  The New Pornographers’ “Chump Change” came on.

I hung a left on 65th and headed up the hill.  It was part of my routine to slow down at the crossing of the Burke-Gilman Trail to look left-right for bicyclists, because even though it was pretty dark, you never knew.  Every once in awhile I’d see a single headlight coming around the bend from the south and know a cyclist was coming (maybe 4% of the time).

Sadie, this was not the day I saw a mama coyote and her pup making the crossing at the Burke-Gilman, but I thought of it again, as I had every work morning for the past 27 days.  It had become part of my ritual.

At the top of the hill I noticed as I did everyday, the Space Needle had stuck its head above the top of Queen Anne Hill.  I did the little curlicue at NE Princeton and resumed my path on 65th, now heading down hill.  I crossed 44th Street and even though I had been on the road only 4 minutes (just long enough for “Chump Change” to end and “All For Swinging You Around” to start), I noticed it was significantly brighter.  The hills on 65th, rising and falling, heading to Ballard, were getting a little brighter.  The top of the Needle hid again behind Queen Anne as I completed my descent and approached the store.

I saw the beat up, light blue Corolla with the Wallingford Grill sticker on the back window parked up ahead and smiled; Joe was already at work.  There was no one around Joe’s car, with the number of times it had been broken into, I sometimes expected to see another burglary in progress.

One of the most popular crimes in Seattle was music theft, not online piracy, but the literal breaking into cars and having CDs stolen.  It was a crime that deserved its own separate statistic.  Your Dad’s car had been broken into 3 times just for CDs, I always thought it was kind of a compliment.  He didn’t.

It was 5:50 am, August 24th, 2006, a Thursday.

Sadie, if you’re keeping score, this day was 37 days after the sale of your Dad’s beloved SuperSonics to an Oklahoma millionaire, but still almost 15 months before their last ever home game.  Your Dad and his Dad were still blissfully unaware of the plans of the nefarious Clayton Bennett.  Oh, and of course, this day was exactly 6 years before the day you were born.

I parked my car and stopped the engine.

Upon letting myself in, I always saw Winn in Produce first; and this day was no different.  He chided me again for my support of the “Spankees.”  I replied, “and we’ll get ‘em tonight too, ya weisenheimer” in my fake New York accent that Seattlites, including Joe, always found so amusing.

A few feet away Joe was hunkered down by the tofu case, shooting an order.  He looked up and said “Fuckin’ Yanks!”  Sharply uttered, even though he had attended the game with me the previous night, a 9-2 Yankees win.

Of course, you know Sadie, your Dad can use pretty raw language, especially when busting on people and their poor sports choices.  When discussing the Bombers with me he used about 18% curse words.

 

Joe stood up.  He was wearing a used “I heart Indie Music” t-shirt and his (generously described) careworn tan Dickies double reinforced pants (he told me once he only wore those pants when he worked the dairy cooler, but since he was PCC View Ridge’s Dairy Buyer, he wore them about every work day).  His moustache and beard were at about 55% lumberjack that week.

He asked me to bring an extra Yankees hat to his place later and I headed to the timeclock to punch in. He and Winn then resumed their shouted conversation that my entrance had temporarily interrupted.

I trudged up the stairs and logged in at the computer at the top to check my emails and my pricing batches for the day.  My job there was called POS; basically I executed pricing changes (including sales, hey it wasn’t all increases!) throughout the store.  I liked it because it brought me into contact with all of the characters in the store; including Joe Seely.

The nature of the job, constant numbers crunching, often had me thinking in terms of stats and percentages, your Dad was the same way, and explains in part why we were such devout baseball fans.

I spent the morning drinking a latte that Mackenzie had generously prepared before we opened; then eating a ham and cheese scone that Mary had generously prepared after.  I knocked out a few tags and headed down to audit the yogurt case.  Joe was on a smoke break out by the Receiving dock so I headed over there first.  Tera was receiving a wine order, she saw me and said “what’s up old man?”

Joe was sitting outside, smoking and wincing into the sunrise.

Joe was even a part of one of my routines; when the Yankees were in town we went together to all the games.  A devout Mariners fan (and ardent supporter of all Seattle area sports) he even had a kind of ritual of his own.  If the Yanks were in town for a 3 or 4 game series (they only made 1 trip per year to Seattle these days so this had to count) Joe would pick one of the games to masquerade as a Yankees fan so he could give grief to his fellow Mariners fans (this was why he had earlier asked me to bring an extra hat).

Sadie, you surely know of your Dad’s love for the M’s, but maybe not of his contempt for his fellow fans.  For he found loathsome what so many visitors to the Emerald City found wonderful, namely, the typical Seattleite’s accepting nature.  He hated that the fans just accepted what was to be the Mariners fifth losing season in a row.  They seemed satisfied with even a losing effort if the team was competitive, for only just a part of the game.  At least that’s what your Dad told me, he said Seattle fans needed a ‘killer attitude’ and its teams needed to ‘step on its opponents necks.’  Reflect on your Dad’s years of frustration when you see him yelling at Gonzaga on TV during March Madness.

 

Joe went ‘in costume’ because he was on a one-man mission to fire up Seattle’s normally apathetic fans, even if he had to hear the sometimes-rude comments in return. If he could rile someone up at a game he’d say, “Yes!  That’s the spirit!” temporarily losing his temporary Bronx accent.  If Joe was ‘on’ the way he was in ’05, this night of August 24th was going to be fun indeed.

I finished my audit of the dairy case and my morning’s work was also done.  Joe and I usually took our lunch at the same time and, with the day’s copy of the NY Times in hand, we resumed our daily crossword competition.  With the cloudless blue sky of the Seattle Summer in full effect, Joe would usually do his puzzle by the back dock so he could smoke outside.  I always sat in the break room to escape the second hand smoke.

Occasionally I’d open up the window and yell out at him something like, “What’s that Minneapolis suburb again?” and Joe would either give the answer, “Edina!” or bark out “That fuckin’ Will Shortz!  Foiled again!”

 

As an aggregate, I completed about 53% of all my puzzles; your Dad probably something like 63%.

 

I schmoozed the rest of the day away and at exactly 1:56pm (as per routine) punched out, and with a bright sun overhead got back in my car and heard the last few seconds of “All For Swinging You Around.”  I swung my own car around to head back up the hill (the Ridge part of View Ridge) as “The New Face Of Zero And One” started up.  I got home, picked up the mail, and dumped out the now cold half pot of coffee, cleaning it so it’d be ready for a new pot on Friday the 25th.

Donning my shorts and my Jason Giambi player number t-shirt a few hours later I popped a Twins ’47 retro 1916 pinstriped Yankees cap on my head.  Knowing I was in for a treat that night, I also grabbed my treasured New Era Authentic Collection Low Profile 7 3/8-size 59/Fifty Yankees field cap (just like Andy Pettitte’s!) for Joe to wear.  And my camera.

I-5 was a pain in the ass that time of day so I headed up the backside of Queen Anne Hill via the ongoing construction project also known as the Fremont Bridge.  As I passed 34th Street I again lamented the passing of The Longshoreman’s Daughter Restaurant, which had recently closed.

 

Sadie, one time I met your dad there after he ran a half marathon.  He told me he was motivated to finish fast by the promise of two cigarettes and a latte.  You may think your Dad is a nerd but things like that will always make him cool in my book.

 

Nickerson to Dravus to 3rd Avenue W., I ascended another hill (THE big one in a city full of them, Queen Anne) and near the top parked in my usual spot in front of 1920.  Joe lived in the basement of a house (just like I did in my own last residence in what I considered to be my hometown of New York City).  As usual his front door (the right side of the house) was a little ajar.  I stepped over his running shoes and was greeted by the loud sounds of a basketball game coming from his TV.

 

I know it was August, and as Joe’s daughter, you’re probably saying “Hey there’s no hoops in August!”  Well, don’t ask me, your Dad’s TV channeled basketball like a spiritual medium, all year ‘round.

 

Joe came out of the kitchen and said, “Wait, why aren’t you dressed for the funeral?” and laughed his hissing Snagglepuss laugh, the one he reserved for sports disses.  As he put on the New Era blah blah field cap on (“Sweeeeet!” he whispered) I noticed he was now wearing his blue jeans and “Dirty South” T-Shirt.

 

I always wanted to take pics of his apartment but always thought it’d be weird to ask.  Now you’d probably like to see ‘em huh, Sadie?  I’ll describe a bit. 

 

The apartment was pretty small with a really low ceiling; having to always duck made me think that this could have also been Frodo’s dorm room.  There were LPs and CD’s scattered about and a copy of “The Believer: Music Issue” on his well-worn coffee table.  There was a cassette tape that said “Pillow Fighter” on it.  I could, as usual when I was over there, hear a laundry dryer running.

Joe at home

Joe at home

While telling me he had been recording in the house on a 4-track (?), he put on his sneakers and we headed out.  Passing the poppy plant on the outside of his house we again wondered aloud (as we did about 85% of the time) if we could make Opium out of it.

 

Don’t worry, he never did.

 

Since it was a beautiful evening, about 6:20pm we decided to hoof it to Safeco Field.  This was a long walk, but Joe liked to walk, and always did unless he just HAD to drive.  We decided to avoid the Counterbalance and instead headed straight down 3rd Ave. W.  Taking our turn at Elliott Ave. I took a picture (6 years a resident but always a tourist) of the reflection of the slowly clouding sky in the windows of the Seattle PI building.  The globe on the roof was slowly turning. 

 

Right around the time we passed the PI building was probably about the time you were born exactly 6 years later.  I live for details like that.

 

 

A long walk down Elliott turned into a longer walk down Western Ave. and, reaching Pioneer Square, we turned left on Yesler.  Then, 1st Avenue S. to Jackson to Occidental, getting closer to the stadium we could see a lot of Yankees fans.  Joe, now wearing his NY hat would occasionally yell out “Yeah baby Derek Jeter!” to them in a poorly resolved but funny New York accent.  M’s fans gave us a wide berth.  We jawed good-naturedly with the ticket taker at the gate and headed for the bleachers, or as they called it, Area 51.

 

Though he may STILL be playing when you read this, here goes: Ichiro Suzuki, number 51, was a beloved Mariner, and the bleacher section we were sitting in was located right behind his position.  All night your Dad, even in Yankee drag, would not boo him.

 

The Mariners had a one run lead in the 3rd and Joe was spewing out 1940’s style comments like “Ah Sexson, you bum!”  I thought he must have got his material from newsreels of the Old OLD Yankee Stadium.  There was a guy and his son sitting behind us.  The guy had had too much to drink and started trying to pick a fight with Joe, using words his little son definitely shouldn’t hear.  When Joe turned around and said, “Ah, now that’s the spirit!” it just weirdly defused the guy and he was quiet the next two innings and then moved to another section.

The few times the Yanks did anything good that night we stood up and cheered obnoxiously (in what Joe always called Yankee Meathead Style), earning dismaying looks but no comments from the surrounding M’s fans.  The only guy Joe riled that night was that drunken Dad behind us.

 

Sadie, this was the night I finally took your Dad up on his dare for me to put “The Man” hot sauce on my BBQ chicken hoagie frank, only $10 back then!  I had uncontrollable hiccups for about 15 minutes.

 

Me (rockin’ the 3% Lumberjack) and Joe

   Even with former Mariner Randy Johnson on the mound the Yanks fell in the rubber game of the series 4-2.  It was a fast game so it was still a little light out as we filed out.  Joe gave the appearance of the only smiling Yankees fan that night.  But heading back up Western he mockingly tore the Yanks cap off his head and said, “I’m glad I won’t have to do THAT for another year!”  Had to, he had said, he really felt like it was his Seattle Civic duty to do this after all.

   Exhausted, I finally made my way back to my Focus around 11:06pm.  I said my goodbyes to Joe and drove home, this time on I-5; hoping the other cars and the speed would keep me frosty.  I was so tired I’d forgotten my Authentic New Era cap, but Joe gave it to me the next morning at PCC, after telling me he took a crap in it the previous night.

I got home, beat, and in one last act before going to bed; sleepily ground some Tony’s Breakfast Blend in my Krups hand held grinder and set up the coffee maker for a new day, another morning.

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