Seattle Odd Jobs

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A Death in The Family: Moving The Lama

I was living with my once and future ex-girlfriend and working a lot of odd jobs. One day, they called for me to retrieve a dead lama. I was fairly sure a Buddhist teacher had died and an elaborate celebration was to be performed.

But it was a dead animal, long neck and all, which I helped a woman named Patricia load onto a truck. We worked together to put the beast on a tarp, which we dragged downhill about a quarter mile. It took us a good half hour to get to the erstwhile hearse; lamas are heavy.

Patricia was very upset and didn't appreciate my stories about the death of Zen teacher Danin Katagiri one Minnesota winter. In the season of short days in one of the colder parts of the country, Katagiri's followers couldn't find bagged ice in the store, so they used frozen fish to ice their beloved master down for the three days they kept him lying in state, the requisite time required for Buddhist souls to completely separate from Buddhist bodies. Patricia was not entertained by my comments.

When the lifeless beast was on the truck, Patricia's husband, Josh, arrived. "I just suspected I might be needed," he said. I had tried to turn the truck with the dead lama in it around on the neighbor's lawn, but the truck just sunk into the wet, saturated, winter Seattle turf, and wouldn't move. I tried to excuse myself: driving a truck on the grass is not a problem back home in North Carolina or Georgia. I gave over the truck to Josh, and drove his car back to Patricia's office. We left the bereaved woman at her office along with Josh's car, and I sat shotgun now in the truck, dead lama riding in the bed, as all three of us proceeded to the Humane Society.

Josh had a much better sense of humor about the dead lama than did his wife. He thought it was kind of cool that the back of the truck also held a charcoal grill left over from an earlier run to the dump. "Maybe we could have a bar-b-q!" he declared.

He was joking, of course, and I'm a vegetarian anyway. The dead lama would not be meat for our bellies, but would meet its fate in the incinerator at the Humane Society. There, a skinny freckled receptionist in her mid twenties wore a blank expression and sat at her desk while she spoke to a young couple about their dead puppy. Josh and I waited in line. "Would you like a public or private cremation?" she asked the two. The couple chose a public cremation for their dead pet. By so choosing, the Humane Society employee explained, the dearly departed dog would be burned to with many other passed-on pets, and the couple would not receive the ashes. I did not ask who would receive the ashes instead.

While the couple went and got the body of their croaked canine, I looked past the institutional green front office back into the other institutional green parts, where there were people in medical scrubs walking around. "So this is the place where they cut animals' balls off," I thought, "and then, later, after a long sexless life, the same animals sin cajones return here to be euthanized and incinerated! Aha!"

The couple brought in their dead puppy. Its makeshift casket was a grape crate covered with a cheap throw rug. The woman of the couple was crying. The Humane Society employee flatly asked if the couple would like their rug; the crying woman sobbed and shook her head. "Are you sure?" the woman behind the desk probed, ever vigilant with her poker face, "?you can have it back if you'd like." The woman sobbed more and shook her head again.

The man and wife duo left to their car. A person whose gender and many other traits were covered by green scrubs arrived to whisk the dead puppy away. The receptionist turned to Josh and me. We were standing next to her desk. She asked, in a voice like the impersonally perky automated secretary of a voicemail system, "and what can I do for you today?"

"We have a dead lama that we need to get rid of." explained Josh, "We called earlier."

"Oh yes!" intoned the receptionist, "the dead lama, umm, right. Well, we can have either public or private cremation?which do you want? With the private, you get the ashes, but it costs more. With the public, it's more affordable because the incinerator is shared, but you don't get the ashes. Which do you want?"

"Public," said Josh.

"And just how big is this dead lama? Can I assume I should charge you the 'large animal' rate of thirty dollars?"

"Oh yeah," I interjected, "it's fuckin' huge— like, it took two of us to drag it downhill. Probably like 400 pounds or something."

Josh shot me a look. "Umm, yeah, I'm not sure it's that big, but we need to figure out how to get it in here. Where can we back the truck?"

The freckled faced receptionist told us she'd send the facilities manager out to the parking lot to assess the situation. Josh and I waited next to the truck. Michael, a burly man with a beard and a ponytail, greeted us cheerfully.

"Howdy, gentlemen! I hear you have a dead lama to incinerate! Is it very large?"

We showed Michael the dead lama. He was a good sport, and had enough tact to keep himself from laughing. We could tell he wanted to release a good guffaw by his occasional glimpse at the bar-b-que grill. I wanted to laugh, too, but it was Josh's wife's lama and I wasn't sure if wisecracks would have shown proper respect for the dead.

Michael said he could handle the lama. He wasn't sure what the Humane Society would charge for its disposal.

"If it's cloven hoofed, you've got to burn it-- county law! But, now, they might charge you more than the standard large animal rate, see. That's not my department," he said with a grin that I took to indicate his workman's pride, "I just run the incinerator."

Despite Michael's enthusiasm, there was a problem. "The lama will fit in the incinerator, but I'm done running it for today and I don't have any more space in the freezer to store it. Can you come back tomorrow?"

Josh paid the Humane Society's standard large animal rate and kept the receipt. He agreed to come back in the morning. For all this, I was paid forty bucks, less than groceries for the week. The grill banged around in the back of the truck on the way to drop me off at my ex's home, and I thought about bar-b-que.

Selling Things in Pike Place Market

The artisans' market at Pike Place in Seattle works like this:

Get up in the morning at seven. Board a bus downtown to the market. If it were your business, you'd be driving, but since you're merely an agent for the owner, it will take you .25 or a pass to get to work.

Arrive at the market, noting the time on the big clock on the roof. Note also the lack of the crosswalk at this entrance. Do not walk too brashly or swiftly out into the street. Now, you've crossed the street, and you will pass the fish men yelling and tossing fish, the vegetable grocers laying out their wares, and the "would you like a sample of this" people giving out samples of whatever "this" they are selling.

If you have a key, the freight elevator will open on command. Else, you'll have to wait for someone else. Get in the freight elevator: ride down, down, down. Look, kid, don't forget, open the door. You can't get off if you don't open the door. This is a freight elevator, not the lobby box to the penthouse. No, there's no penthouse; I'm just saying that.

Your things, or at least the things that belong to the business you work for today, are in one of an inestimable hundred-odd lockers in this underground labrynth.

Put in the combo, undo the lock, open the door. You find: bungee cords, Tupperware tubs, credit card swipers of the oldschool variety, gypsy carts bought from office supply stores, money bags, the cute things that appeal especially to the tourists' aesthetic because for them they were designed.

Take out your laden cart. Nothing should capsize, but it will. Oh it will. It will turn over on the way to the elevator. You will spend time picking it all up. Damn cart. Leave it outside the elevator. Don't block anyone's way out of the labyrinth, or else you will face their wrath. The ghosts that guard this catacomb are fierce.

Go get another unwieldy article, this time a handtruck with metal trinket-displaying grids attached. These fell on your head yesterday, and show dents from various other falling-on-salesmen occasions.

Get on elevator with cart and handtruck. (Is today Saturday? Sunday? Think: do I need the canopy?)

Take cart off elevator. It is you who has to open the elevator, remember? It doesn't open by itself. You learned this on the way down, but some learn slow. Take the handtruck off the elevator. Cart has precious valuable tacky-tourists'-trinkets, while handtruck only has massive metal gaffing grids with dents. You must decide which to drag first, the cart or the handtruck, for only one at a time can you take. Drag it over the cobbles, up the handicap ramp, down the sidewalk. Tackiness is more valuable?I say take the cart first. Come back for the handtruck.

What happens now is a colossal battle for a five square foot piece of concrete slab or parking lot space. (Did you bring the canopy? Is it Saturday or Sunday? You need the canopy for the space in the parking lot. Go back and get it.)

They are not calling your number yet. Your boss hasn't been here 10, 20, 30 years, and the vendors are ordered by seniority. Your boss' number is in the 200s. Go get a cup of coffee! A latte, even! This is Seattle. Rush back.

Claim a slab or a parking lot spot, preferably with open space on either side, but this is not always a possibility. Some marketers don't understand the importance of trying to leave space between outside vendors, or maybe today is late in the week, the market's full and you'll be in the parking lot. (Did you go back for the canopy? I told you to go get the canopy.)

The market master is calling out names. Listen carefully and elbow up to the big whiteboard upon which he is writing numbers. At the sound of your boss' name, you will have 30 seconds to state your boss' vendor number and the number of the space you wish to occupy today. Please speak loudly and clearly.

Good.

Wait for this sign-up scheme to be done. Flirt with the girl with dreadlocks. She's young, cute, and has a tattoo of Marilyn Monroe, mostly naked, on her calf. Sorry, kid, you will not get in her pants, nor will you go to punk shows at the thousand million bars she visits on the way to her home in Columbia City. She's nice to you anyway.

Move the cart and handtruck next to your 5x5 space. Set up the gaffing grids. Don't allow them to fall on you. If you're on a slab, a raised table made of concrete, don't fall off during set up. You would get hurt that way. You could lose money that way.

Zip tie it all together: four metal grids, six metal grids, standing tall. Six feet tall, four feet tall, and one eight footer, places to put the tacky for the tourists. Bungee this display so it doesn't fall on your customers. If it falls on your customers, you could lose money that way. Put out your tackiness now: Silkscreen-toys-gifts-trinkets-handicraft.

I worked five years to get the market people to rent me a stall, says one. They really shouldn't allow any more silkscreen artists in here, says another.

Will you please, oh please buy my thing, young-lady-old-sir-little-kid? If you buy a couple, I think we could work out a good price. Are you thinking about this as a gift or perhaps for yourself? It's only 180 days till' Christmas; shop now.

Sorry, we're just looking. We'll be right back. Let me think about it. I've got to talk with my wife first. But we're flying back, and where would it fit in my luggage?

You're tired now, and you haven't sold anything. Complain to your neighbors: "Sure is slow today." "Yup," they say.

You need to make enough to pay rent on your apartment. You need more money. 25% commission on sales is what you get. 25% is enough to pay rent once you've sold one thousand, two thousand, how many thousand dollars of things?

Hey, howya doin'? How's it going? Y'all from out of town? You looking for anything in particular? Did that catch your eye? Let me know if there's anything I can help you with. It's all handmade, right here in Seattle.

The sun is getting lower after its peak. You've sold half of what you needed to sell. Now it is almost time to leave. Don't leave yet. You may want a beer, but you will stay late. They will buy your trinkets more when some of the other trinket sellers are gone. (Think: One last sale. One last sale. Oh my give me one last sale.) Leave the expensive stuff prominently displayed.

A half hour later, you will be resigned to homelessness. You will start to take down the crap from display. It's crap you wouldn't even buy, for crissakes, so what were you expecting?

Put product in boxes, Tupperware, bungees, bags.

"How much is this?" someone will ask. Your oldschool credit card swiper is under a pile of tacky crap now, and you can't remember the prices your boss set. Make up something to make up rent, and they will buy at that price.

Good.

Now put it all away, dragging loaded card of crappy-tacky stuff back up sidewalk, down handicap ramp, to elevator. Remember: only you can open and close freight elevators. Don't forget to get the handtruck, grids, and, if it's a weekend, the canopy.

Joe is your partner descending to the catacombs of lockers below. "I've done this for 25 years and been too foolish to leave. 25 years working for the same man." You will wonder, perhaps, if you will die old, bitter, and ugly like Joe. Put that thought aside as you unload the elevator and navigate to your boss' very own personal catacomb, first with the cart of crappy-tackiness, next with the handtruck.

Now count the cash. Count the oldschool credit card slips. What does it come to? Deduct the tax. What does it come to? Divide by four. This is yours. Dissatisfied? Count again; maybe you'll come up with a different figure.

It is late now. Your hands are dirty, and you are sweaty. You smell bad. Recalculate. Okay. You were right the first time, and yeah, it's not a lot of money, but at least it's yours. Lock up, take cash, leave via the stairs this time. Take the bus and wish for car prices to fall.

At home, drink a beer. Fall asleep without removing the sweat of a market day. Repeat as needed, four times a week or as directed by prevailing economic conditions. Remember that robbing your boss is always an option.

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last revised 15 August 2015
questions to: dan.kappus at SPAM gmail.com (take the SPAM out)