In the Time of COVID. Day 60
May 17, 2020.
How Do you Make a Living When there Aren’t Any Jobs Around?
Today millions of folks are out of work and the government assistance went to the bankers and big shots. The House Democrats just passed a 3 trillion dollar aid package to help alleviate this distress but the Republicans in the Senate are balking at even discussing it. Makes you wonder who can rely on the government anymore.
When we rolled into Seattle in the fall of 1970 there were no jobs anywhere, especially for long hairs. There was food stamp assistance and for that I am grateful to this day, but it was minimal. Something had to give. We were running out of our road poke. I’d been doing junk hauling in Berkeley and that led to selling stuff at the Gilman and Alameda Flea Markets. When I hauled stuff to the dump for people some of it went into my garage. Over time that collection grew and I used it to trade for what I needed and to put together a wallet for gas and food. But after a summer on the road that wallet was thin.
One of the Berkeley guys that showed up, in the Flats, was Tommy Carroll. He was a tall, slender white blond, pale skinned hippie who had gumption. He also was a good guitar player. We both had vans and we emptied them out just in case we found some stuff to haul home to start the flea market idea again. The best shot was the dump. It had worked in Berkeley and we hoped it would again.
The Seattle dump was better organized and we couldn’t get at the leavings but we did help a guy unload his garden clippings. He was a commercial gardener and he offered Tommy and me jobs under the table mowing and what not. The whole economy seemed to be under the table in those days. Paid cash at the end of the day or eventually at the end of the week when we could trust the guy hiring us. We lugged power real mowers up steps and down flights of stairs and around houses to get at grass patches. We operated the edgers to trim the grass, we learned to prune and do soil amendment and plant perennials. We made enough to stick some away and that went on for 4 or 5 months then the gardener’s business started to go sideways and we got half pay at the end of the week and pretty soon he was into us for 3 weeks back pay. We confronted him and he said there wasn’t anything he could do about it, his wife needed the money. He still wanted us to work for him under those conditions. He’d put things right, he said.
We quit. We knew that he was going to receive a substantial payment from a landscaping job we had completed at a buisness building by the Space Needle. When he didn’t come forward with any money in the next couple of weeks, we filed a claim with Washington State Department of Labor and Industries and they froze the landscape payment. That dude went ballistic. How could we fuck him over like that? We responded, how could he think he could fuck us over like that? A few weeks later We got checks from from the State. We never talked to the gardener again.
What now? We had been hanging around the Pike Market. We went there to buy groceries and we noticed that along 1st Avenue there were several “Mens Stores” These weren’t for fancy folks, but for the men who lived in the workingmen’s hotels that dotted the neighborhood of 1st and 2nd Avenues from Belltown clear down to Pioneer Square. We went in and poked around. We discovered that these old stores were crammed with back rooms full of clothing dating to the 1930’s and 40’s and we made our first purchase. For 10 cents a pair, we bought about hundred pairs of non-ration World War II tennis shoes. They were still in their boxes. They were gray and several pairs had tissue paper stuck to the soles. They were made before synthetic rubber and were in marginal shape. That store also had bins of old army patches and we bought a bunch of those. The Howling Wolf, the Star, The Star with a lightening Bolt across it, like that. We took all that back to the flats, got out our tools, sewed those patches on the outside ankle balls and there we had it. The Howling Wolf and the Rock n’ Roll Star and the Electric Rock n’ Roll Star.
We rented a table space in the Pike Market in the covered craft alley. We arranged our shoes. Set a stool by the table and we came up with a monger’s cry “We got shoes, we got shoes, we got oh shoes, we got dancing shoes, we got party shoes, we got uu huh shoes!”
Our business was successful enough that we could restock and pretty soon we had racks of silk smoking jackets and mens silk bathrobes. Another gimmick we cooked up was we got our hands on a pair of beautiful lace up women’s leather dress boots circa 1920. They were samples. They were very narrow and at most size 4. We worked up a Cinderella bit. If a woman could fit her feet in those shoes they were FREE. For about a year we were successful sidewalk haberdashers.
We combed the back rooms of those mens stores and found lots of fabulous styles that those guys hadn’t been able to sell for decades. The price was fire-sale cheap. We dreamed of opening a costume store but as is the case with many youthful dreams, things didn’t work out that way.
First problem, we didn’t have the capital. Second problem, I was in a theater on night and I saw a pair of our boots that we had sold for a substantial amount. They were beautiful Australian Kangaroo Railroad Conductor boots. We’d sold them only a few weeks before and I noticed one of the soles was cracked. We had no way of guaranteeing product quality. These were all one-off party shoes not expected to last a long time. Tommy and I talked it over and we folded our tent, so to speak. Our days as sidewalk haberdashers were over.
Tommy, took off for the Ho River on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula. He went to work for Hoppe’s Evergreens doing pre-commercial thinning of new growth trees. He lived in his van up a logging road.
I had to come up with something else.