Understanding Happy Hour

I never understood Happy Hour until the age of 24 when I moved to Seattle and took a job with AmeriCorps. I signed on with Sea Mar Health Center, a clinic in a primarily Latino neighborhood. Hardly anyone I met in Seattle in the next three years seemed to know that this neighborhood existed. It was too south, not cool, and not white. As an AmeriCorps worker I got $350 a week for my "community service" and, at the end of the year, an education award - a few thousand dollars to spend on classes in the future - courtesy of the US Treasury. Thank you, Bill Clinton.

My first position at Sea Mar was as a job trainer, a misguided move on the part of AmeriCorps. The jobs I'd held up to then had been at Indigo Casual Gourmet Cafe, Rocky Rococo Pizza and Pasta, Stub & Herbs Bar and Grille, Don Pablo's Mexican Kitchen, a mental health worker at a halfway house where I played pool and talked shit with people in varying stages of psychosis, and I babysat. Oh, and I'd worked at a pawn shop and a tree farm. I had some different experiences but not a lot of it was professional.

I was used to having pasta sauce and guacamole and griddle grease and baby drool and mulch stains on my clothing and, in fact, I recall showing up to my AmeriCorps interview with a smear of cream cheese on my pants. I was eating in the car because I was running late and I didn't really know what job training was and either my shirt wasn't long enough or my pants were too low but I kept smoothing and yanking the hem down to make sure the tattoo around my navel was hidden and no flesh was exposed.

Regardless, they hired me. Not they: Ben. Ben was my supervisor and he liked calling me his assistant. I barely remember Ben now but I know he was nice to me, middle-aged, Mexican, and had a turtle-like face which broke into wild fits of nervous laughter with regularity. One of Ben's favorite lessons to impart was how to CYA. CYA, CYA, CYA, it was always coming up. Cover Your Ass. He didn't mean this literally, he meant it metaphorically. Always be able to account for your time. Check in even if you think you don't need to so that others know you're working. Keep logs of everything. File it all away: conversations, phone calls, emails, receipts. He had me spend a lot of time filing away his CYA proof of activity.

Our job traiing office wasn't at the clinic. Job training was an extra service that Sea-Mar offered patients and residents of the neighborhood and we were housed apart in one of those business lots where each unit looks like a big storage space with a number over a pull-down garage door. My first week on the job, Ben told me that I needed to be more professional. If I was to teach others how to enter the workforce, I had to set an example.

This would be the first official red flag that I was not the right person for the job. Ben told me that I needed a briefcase and that he was sending me to Dress For Success, a "non-profit organization that provides interview suits, confidence boosts, and career development to low-income women in over 75 cities worldwide."

Once I myself learned how to dress for success, I'd be better qualified to pull up to the trailer park in my mom's old Escort, get out with my bullshit briefcase, and supposedly teach a person older than me how to work. But to even go to Dress For Success, I had to pretend to be a low-income job-seeker. I mean, was my income low? Yes. But I was about five minutes away from scoring a night job bartending which instantly made my income just fine and I wasn't exactly coming from a background of disadvantage. White, middle-class, recently graduated with Liberal Arts degree, driving mom's old car around Seattle. The so-called ghetto I lived in was flowery and pleasant since that Pacific Northwest spittle they call rain keeps rhododendrons and evergreens growing like weeds, even in the hood.

But whatever. I followed Ben's instructions and went to Dress For Success and pretended I was a wannabe secretary. The women at Dress For Success volunteering their time to help the struggling fawned over me and patronized me and called me honey and wished me luck on my interview and gave me heels and hose and a skirt suit and a big can of Aqua Net hairspray. I kept my mouth largely shut. They meant well, but Jesus. The suit was grey with pinstripes and a yellow silk shirt underneath and I decided I wouldn't wear it unless I committed a crime and got caught and had to go to court. Otherwise, no thanks. I would go to Goodwill to find clothes to suit Ben and his CYA.

I went along for about a month until I couldn't take it any longer. I was a charlatan, pretending like I knew something about the professional world, knocking on broken screen doors and sitting on old couches, pulling brochures and papers out of my briefcase and explaining them to my "clients". I wasn't covering my ass, I was baring it and talking a lot of shit straight out of it. I went to my AmeriCorps contact and explained that I needed a transfer to another department in Sea Mar. She hooked me up with Isabel, the health educator who got me talking to people in Spanish about diabetes and teaching sex ed in high schools. I also attended the Seattle Midwifery School to be a doula, or childbirth assistant, and went through a few births with Latino women as their partner and translator.

But until all that happened, when I was still trying not to break my neck walking around in those stupid pumps and trying to open that briefcase with the ease that I'd unzip my backpack, I learned how one feels at the end of a long, exhausting, possibly annoying day of work. I longed for 5 pm and a pint of beer. I went to a Fremont tavern and sat on a stool and ordered a fancy local microbrew and bathed in waves of relief when I took the first draw. I'd pretty much forgotten about this until a few days ago. I haven't been drinking much since the Idol tour ended in September and I hadn't worked until this week when I started pulling 18 hour shifts as a production runner for a show that's rehearsing at the arena in Cincinnati.

The first day was long. The second day was long and felt longer since I'd only slept for 4 hours. We started calling our breaks between shifts "naps". See you after your nap, the production coordinator would say when I left for the night. The third and fourth days on 4 and 5 hours of sleep were fine and maybe even spiked with moments of hilarity but rough because I was getting sick and all I wanted, besides sleep, was a DRANK.

One morning I woke at 6am after going to bed at 2am to a half-empty Bud Light bottle by my bed. Another morning I woke to a cup of sticky residue from the vodka I poured into a glass of apple cider. And I remembered the Seattle tavern where I first learned that booze is a blankie for grown ups.

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