Posted by: trailerpilot | 11:26::2017

#TBT

Floyds Place Seattle

Floyd’s Place, now closed, was located at 521 First Avenue North in Seattle, Washington.

Recently a friend of mine, who had been going through old files on her computer, said she found a short story I wrote and she wanted to know if I wanted her to send it to me. She said it was about beer and I only vaguely recalled what she was talking about. I said yes.

Sent three months before I turned 21, it’s an email which I would probably call my first piece of writing as an adult. Anything written prior to this was most likely a school assignment, or was something I’d done when I was very young. I don’t remember writing anything “for fun” when I was in high school or in my late teens.

Revisiting these 2,000 words of observational non-fiction, I am reminded of many things but four in particular about 20-year-old Zachary Whittenburg:

• He read a lot of David Foster Wallace and David Sedaris
• He fancied himself something of a badass
• He went to the public library to use the internet
• He knew he would move away from Seattle within a year

This tale, How I Made the Second-Easiest Twenty Dollars of My Life, is slightly embarrassing in the way things you said and did at age 20 generally are. I’m at peace, more or less, with those things and it’s been four years since I’ve published anything new here at trailerpilot.com, and so this will live at the top of the page for a while.

If you enjoy it and this is your first visit to my blog: Welcome! There are more than 400 posts here, going back nearly a decade, most of which have something to do with dance in Chicago, contemporary art, or design. I’m easy to find elsewhere online and generally keep up with trailerpilot on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The latter is where you will find links to stories I’ve published more recently.

• • •

How I Made the Second-Easiest Twenty Dollars of My Life
A true story by Zachary Whittenburg,
written as the body of an email sent October 17, 2000
from the public library in Seattle, Washington

It was a crisp, early-autumn day, and the wet-orange sun was setting at the west end of Mercer Street, rendering me visually impaired, and two healthy male voices beckoned what seemed to be me from the opposite end of the crosswalk. Upon entering the shadow leaned up against Racha Thai Cuisine, I saw these voices belonged to a pair of indeed healthy, weekly-haircut-type straight boys, who I guessed to be Bellevue High School alumni.

“Want to make a quick and easy 20 bucks?” said one.

“I’m not that kind of girl,” came my reply.

“Um, no… It’s for Samuel Adams—are you familiar with the beer?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah, so Samuel Adams is looking to expand their product presence in the area. They wanna talk to some people, some locals like yourself, about some things—”

“Like to decide how to target-market and stuff,” I interrupt.

“—exactly. So you’ll be paid 20 dollars for your time, it’ll be at Floyd’s Place, right over there, all’s you have to… Are you over 21?”

“Um, no.” I drag on my cigarette.

“Well, thanks anyway. Take it easy.”

So I’m walking away and I’m halfway to Pagliacci Pizza, the bright-ass sun in my face again, and I’m thinking about how much I’m going to miss the sun for the next six months, and I hear a voice yelling from behind me.

“You could always lie!”

And I reverse direction, everything going from all washed-out and heaveny-looking to just well-illuminated, like on a postcard, but with long shadows, and I say “Okay!” kinda like overenthusiastically once I think I’m within earshot. Oh and by the way I’m eating a Luna bar, Lemonzest or some flavor.

“Okay, yeah, sure,” I’m saying to the cuter one, and he circles “21–25” on a green half-sheet of paper with some other stuff on it and points me toward the dancing-pig-and-cow sign on Floyd’s Place.

“Thanks—as long as it won’t be your ass,” I say.

“Naw. So just give that to a Samuel Adams representative when you walk in—they’ll see you—and he’ll give you a survey to fill out and take your picture and some other stuff. Ten minutes, tops.” And he hands me the piece of paper and smiles.

“Alright, cool. My picture?” I ask.

“Yeah, no big deal. Thanks!”

So I head into the red-and-white gingham disaster of Floyd’s Place and nearly plow into a man about six-foot-four who looks like a radio sports announcer or, well, a beer spokesperson, who’s a totally smiley, Type A guy. “Hey! Are you here for the survey?” he asks, looking at the green sheet in my hand.

“Uh huh.” I’m realizing I don’t have any interest in what’s about to happen, just the 20 at the end, and it’s occurring to me that it might be in coupons or some shit that I’m too young to use anyway, and then I think about who I might give them to if so.

“Well, here you go”—the stapled packet he hands me is thicker than I want it to be—“just take a seat wherever and we’ll talk to you a little when you’re done, and that’s it!” I’m also realizing this huge man who has, like, accurate and up-to-date personal fitness info on himself, I assume, can grin and talk at the same time but it sort of looks like he’s been doing it for so long he doesn’t think about it anymore. This makes me wonder if he’s an aspiring actor. “Now, if you could just step over here for a sec, I’ll take your picture.”

“Can I wear my sunglasses?” I’ve got my silvered aviators in my breast pocket and, for some reason, it disturbs me that I’m about to have my photo taken.

“Um, yeah…sure…”—reticently but then, kicking back into high-spirits-gear in a flash, like he wasn’t supposed to falter: “Whatever you want, man!” He’s holding the camera sideways, one of his pointy elbows a good seven feet above the floor, so I know it’s a full-body shot; I assume a quasi-military position of at-ease.

Click.

Then there’s a Polaroid for which I apparently have to take off the aviators (I try consciously to not look put out about the de-shading, weird anxiety mounting about somehow failing my interview and being sent out just as poor as I went in), which is face-only. A constipated expression attests to my extreme discomfort at having a photo taken of my exhausted face by someone I don’t know, and he’s got both knees bent a lot to get a head-on shot.

“Thanks! See you soon!” He’s still grinning, and there’s something creepy about his eyes. I blink mine several times.

So I sit down to this survey which asks for my Personal Contact Information in a dorky font, something a Home-Ec teacher might use for a handout. I leave most of it blank. There is a series of questions that become increasingly asinine and they’re really mixin’ the shit up, format-wise:

A couple of fill-in-the-blanks about music and hobbies, which I answer as creatively as I can, wondering if I’ll pass for a model train enthusiast and a Dan Fogelberg fan when the time comes, and

The good old Strongly-Agree-to-Strongly-Disagree spectrum chart with some Statements down the left side.

I circle little boxes pretty much at random, taking enough time that the Really Tall Smiley Beer Man won’t catch me rapid-fire-box-circling from the bar. It hits me that he reminds me of the big-toothed motivational speaker Tony Whoever on late-night infomercials.

“Can I get you anything?” says this cheery, blonde, gingham-aproned waitress, who appears out of nowhere.

“No, thanks.” While I’m looking up I see a thirty-something woman with a Friends-inspired haircut, the Rachel or the Phoebe or one of those ’dos, asking questions of a man who’s nursing a Sam Adams and smiling at her like they’re out on a really good first date. Like I-can-bet-on-sex-tonight good. She’s writing stuff down on a packet with a Polaroid paperclipped to the top-left corner, putting up with his overall sleaziness as only someone working in grassroots PR can.

There are more questions, multiple-choice, about details of my beer consumption that have never occurred to me. I am asked:

I most often drink premium beer (circle one):

a.) alone
b.) with 2 or 3 other people
c.) with 4 or more people
d.) I do not drink premium beer

I circle answer choice (b)—after having lied on the vast majority of personal questions, I’ve decided to be as truthful as possible on the beer questions—and then I’m hit with Part Two:

Please explain.

At a total loss, I write, “I most often drink premium beer with 2 or 3 other people,” and silently hope that will clear everything up.

After circling the names of all the premium beers I have drank in the last month, not circling Samuel Adams—it’s the truth—I’m done. Expecting to be pounced upon immediately by another Stepfordesque J.Crew model, I’m surprised to wait for about five minutes, and pass the time watching the sad scene at the next table, where the guy’s cheeks are drunk-and-excited-pink and the thrill of having Rachel / Phoebe ask him stuff about beer and his hobbies is causing his face to rictusize.

So then, as it turns out, the woman who sits down and introduces herself to me as Kristi looks a helluva lot like the woman at the next table. I wonder if it’s a coincidence, or if Samuel Adams has taken its marketing guile to the extreme of researching what type of woman interviewer yields the most sterling promises of unconditionally fervent brand loyalty, at which thought I shudder.

“Hi…Zachary!” She gives me a short handshake and decisively ends it, sits down, and lifts my crappy Polaroid (which looks even worse than I thought it would, which really surprises me) out of the way of some of my fictionalized personal information. I guess the interview screaming along behind her, which I saw commence exactly the same way, is going on about 15 minutes. I worry. Kristi is talking to me and reading at the same time.

“So basically, what we’re looking for—did Mark tell you what we’re looking for?—what we’re looking for are people who would be interested in being part of a longer-term-type panel, sort of a committee, that would meet in the area about once every six weeks or so, for like an hour or so, you know, not long, for the next couple of months, and we’re looking for about 80 guys”—I realize there are no women being interviewed—“for the panel, and so today we’re just, you know, asking a couple of questions”—she’s talking very fast and looks up from my survey to shoot a quick smile every so often, and she’s burning right through the survey, which is a relief, me not wanting really to get into any kind of off-the-cuff fictitious detail with her about my fictitious answers, like, for instance, it’s worrying me that I can’t think of a single Dan Fogelberg song—“and seeing who’s interested in that sort of a thing, so are you interested in being involved in something like that?”

My response requires no thought, as I visualize sitting in a hotel conference room, maybe the W downtown but more likely the Sea-Tac Holiday Inn, drinking Samuel Adams—everyone drinking Samuel Adams—at a huge table made out of a bunch of little tables end-to-end so the huge table looks, like, tectonically unstable, with a bunch of single, lumberjacky-looking men, while some upbeat corporate rock (about which someone on the panel will periodically say, “Dude! Great tune!”) plays, and some terrible “discussion” about beer is going on, being unsubtly steered by Phoebes and Rachels and Kristis who are seriously, dangerously outnumbered.

“Not really. I can’t see having time in my schedule for that sort of a thing, and doing market research–type stuff doesn’t really appeal to me.” I try to not add a quick “Sorry.”

Kristi flips my survey shut and says, “Well, Zachary, I appreciate your honesty, I appreciate you being honest with me, I mean if you don’t have time for that sort of a thing I mean I can totally understand, I know not everyone has time for that sort of a thing, but I really appreciate your being honest with me, and here’s your 20 bucks, and thanks for coming in today!”

“No problem.” I shake her hand again, she pulls out of it again, like a little too soon, and she smiles again, totally hugely and it’s in no way lesser than the smile I got as a potential panel member, which I admire, and I stuff the way-more-worn-out-than-I-expected bill into my wallet right in front of her, which I regret halfway through doing, but she’s already walking away.

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