Hitting The Streets. Part 3.


Part Three.
Part Three.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 4

This account of my life is in no way intended to insult, berate or denigrate anyone at all. It is an attempt by me to tell a story, to possibly resolve issues in my own life and lend a bit of inspiration to others who may have similar issues in their lives, to find solutions for their problems as well.

——————————————

Well then…..

Now we get to the meat of the matter.

Now I was living with this woman. I was not in love with her, but I did care for her. Who doesn’t care for other people? My naive assumption, yes, ‘assumption,’ is that everyone cares for other people. I do. I always have and always will. Until someone pokes me in the eye with a stick, I figure they must be a nice person, or until they just treat me with no respect at all. It has happened. Pauline’s mother hated me because I wasn’t a Doctor or a Nobel prize winner or something. I never did find out. She wasn’t all that easy to get along with to begin with, at least Pauline told me so.

Now, here I was, living in another woman’s house. This went against all that I stood for. My spiritual foundation said, “Bad idea, pal.” My natural foundation said, “This is a trap and your ass is going to get bit.” Common sense told me I was in a very volatile situation on a tentative schedule. ‘Common sense.’ It’s neither common nor sense. I knew better but still went with it. This was not going to turn out well.

Pauline had a tendency to drink till the bar closed. Not daily, but if she walked into a bar, she would be there till they closed. No matter what time of day it was.

She had three children from three different men, none of whom she had ever bothered to marry. One boy and two girls. Very nice, well-mannered children. The oldest daughter’s father would show up at the house, Saturday afternoons, after getting off of the city metro and grab all three, load them onto the bus, take them to a local ‘7 Eleven’ close to the Cinema 7 movie theatre on 6th Ave. and Blanchard St., then load everyone up with candy. They would hide it every place on their bodies that they could and go to the movies. I think that’s illegal, but what do I know? Teaching children how to defraud a business owner and break the law. What a champ that father was. I asked about it because they were always in a hurry. How do I know this? I overheard a comment once from the daughter, “Hurry up, we still have to get candy at the 7 Eleven before we go in.” I never did say anything because Pauline and the bunch acted as if it was the normal thing to do, and had I said anything opposing this activity, things would have gotten bad quick. I guess my morals weren’t a part of the deal. How did I get myself into this mess?

After a while, I got a little bored of sitting around just taking care of the house. That’s just not me. I went down to a local paint shop, applied, got hired and stayed busy for a bit. I liked it, but it was short-lived. It was a union shop and I’ve never really had much respect for unions, not to mention how lousy a couple of the guys treated me on the job. It’s what union people do. New guy always gets the stick in the ass. I didn’t measure up to what they wanted. I wasn’t hurt when they let me go. Not in the least. Actually, I was stuck in the shop every day and really would have been better in the field, climbing ladders and such. They let me go just before Christmas that year, I can’t remember what year it was. Mid ’80s.

One night, Pauline asked me to go have a beer with her. I thought, “A beer? That’s not going to happen. We’ll be here all night.”

Now, what bothered me about this was that she would leave her children at home all by themselves for the rest of the night. She would normally end up going somewhere with someone after the bar closed, so it would be 4 am or so, at least, before she would show up at home again. I don’t remember ever seeing her call them, cell phones were not a popular item yet and only the wealthy owned them, so if she did call, she would have to use a pay phone, all taverns have them so customers can call taxis or call home.

So on this particular night, I was concerned about her not caring about being with her children. I said something and she said “Catch a bus back to the house if it worries you.” So I did. I made sure everyone was doing ok and everyone did their homework and went to bed as they were supposed to. I went to bed. I really wanted out by this time.

Sometime around 4 am, as usual, Pauline came into the house, came upstairs and jumped in bed hoping I was waiting for her to appear. Needless to say, she was drunk, stunk and wanted me to sit up and beg. I said “No.” We started to argue. Eventually, I loaded some personal items, soap, deodorant, shaving gear, etc., into my backpack and headed for the door. She grabbed it from me, started swinging it at me and hitting me with it. I snatched it back from her and started for the door. She picked up the phone and called the police to report that I was committing domestic violence. I am in no way capable of deciding that hitting a woman is a good thing to do, which is why I was trying to leave. I wasn’t going to let her coax me into a worse situation. I walked to town and climbed the hill to the south of the Pacific Science Center and jumped the fence and slept on a heating vent the size of a car. I couldn’t wrap my head around what had happened to me. I was now…..

HOMELESS. Wow. Homeless.

So, I had to start a life I did not want to live. I had no idea how I was going to go about doing so. You will never know loneliness until you are standing on a street corner with all you own on your back and nowhere to sleep and no one to ask.

I didn’t hear from the police so I figured she never really called them. Not so. Years later this would surface again, but to my favor.

When you are homeless in Seattle, the library is the place to be if you aren’t working. Incidentally, I was working casual at the Elephant Car Wash at Aurora and Denny Way. It was a raise your hand, polish or drive cars. $50/day. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. So, I did this for a year or more. Finally got a card at the Millionaire Club on Western and Wall St. It still is there. A casual labor, non-union hiring hall. You get a card with a mag strip on it to use for signing in with, like on your bank card. Slide it through the reader and stand and wait. I got in good with the dispatcher, Steve Edwards, and he would send me out daily on painting jobs. I painted a lot of houses and made a lot of friends. Some would ask me to came back and paint off of the Club clock, which means they wanted me to work for them without having to come and get me. I would need to provide my own transportation. Of course, at the time, I did not have a car.  If they hire through the Club, they pay a fee and pay the worker. It works out that they, the client, usually pay you more if they hire you on your own time. It worked well for a while, but anything is better than being homeless. I also volunteered for interview after interview to find out if I was a nut case or not in order to categorize me for housing, help, food, etc. This was a huge blow to my self-esteem. But I learned not to let anyone take my dignity. Never let that happen.

If you are dispossessed in Seattle, you will eventually end up sitting at the library. 1000 4th Ave. Right downtown across from the “Vertebrae” sculpture. There were computer terminals back in the day, that were all DOS systems. This means that you could only seek, research, chat and play role playing games (RPGs) in the green text on a black screen mode. I did some of all but mostly the RPG thing. It was very interesting. I could enter virtual worlds full of people all over the world. There were little villages where you could build virtual domiciles in virtual environments. Very enticing and interesting. I got my first contact with a computer back in that library on 4th Ave. Doing this was actually a great escape for a short time from the prison of living on the street.

The funny thing is this, many think being homeless is a free ride. Not so. When you lose your home, you gain a 24 hour monkey on your back. You have to plan for your nightly safety starting as soon as you awake from the last place you slept. You carry this around with you all of the time. It never lets up. You have to do the same with meals. Always keeping safety in mind.

I spent the next five years being homeless. I did everything I could do to alleviate this situation, but nothing worked. I mean, I did everything. Everything. When you have become dispossessed, laziness is not part of the plan. You don’t get time off. You don’t get holidays or holiday pay. You don’t whip up a sandwich when you feel like a ‘nibble.’ You don’t relax in your underwear. You never close the door when you pee. You stock up on dimes for the shower at the marina. You spend time sitting at the “day center” on 3rd Ave. near Virginia St. on days you don’t “get out” to work. You can save a dime and get a free five minute shower there. Free coffee and some pastries. Free meals south at Yesler Square. Free beds too, but you have to check in by 6 pm.

Cadillac for a homeless guy. Late 1980s Diamondback Lakeside.
Cadillac for a homeless guy. Late 1980s Diamondback Lakeside. A very dear friend.

One day, during a hellacious snow storm, my brother called the Employment Security Dept. in Belltown in Seattle. They allowed some of the indigent to take messages there. I got on the list and would pick up messages from many people. Usually people who would call me back after hiring me through the Millionair Club. Kevin left a message once asking me to come north to Everett to work with him in an upholstery shop. I got to a phone, (didn’t have a cell yet) and called him back. He told me he could give me a leg up. I said “Sure, let’s do this.” I got on my mountain bike (Diamondback Lakeside) and hit the road. I rode from Seattle, north to Everett, 29.2 miles, give or take an inch or two. Driving snow. It took me four hours to pedal the nearly 30 miles. A normal ride of two hours on a good day. By the time I got there, I couldn’t feel my fingers. I was wearing huge winter “Mario” gloves with liners, but they still were inadequate.

This was the start of a lifestyle that I would adopt for the rest of my life. I was actually about to start a business but didn’t know it.

I went to work for myself as a contractor in the building on the southwest corner of 19th St. and Broadway in Everett. I rather liked it. Working for myself. Jeanice, the proprietor of T & T Upholstery, would secure the jobs through walk-in, phone-in, any advertisements posted and, of course, word of mouth. Kevin, myself and another guy, Gene, were the three contractors for Jeanice. We all did well. After a week or so into this, I was staying at my brother’s house on 220th SW and he wasn’t keen on it, Jeanice took me down to the Everett Men’s Gospel Mission and signed me up for a bed. I went through a short interview to determine my intentions, back ground check and mental health. I passed. I called my new business venture “The Lord’s Work.” I had been a Christian for many years. Having enough sense to understand that I am the only person who makes decisions for myself kept me from blaming God for all of the trouble I was going through.

To those who do not believe, that sounds redundant. “Why didn’t you hate this God you say runs everything? I would have.” Well, I am glad you asked. First of all, it isn’t about me. It’s about me helping other people. Would you hire someone who calls them self an expert lawyer who knows nothing about law? Would you hire a carpenter to repair your front porch who has no skills or tools? Of course not. Those are just people who call themselves ‘lawyer, carpenter, etc.’ This thinking applies to Christians, as well as people who help others. It’s impossible to offer solutions when you do not have the knowledge or skills needed for those interactions. I know that God created physical laws for this universe. I know that He is bound by those laws just as humans, trees, rocks, air, lightning, and everything else that exists in the universe is bound by those physical laws. There is no “magic man in the clouds.” If you think there is, you need to re-evaluate your understanding of what exists around you or you are an atheist. If there is no God, then I’m off the hook and everything remains as it always has. It would be senseless for me to go through all of this and not learn anything from it. I certainly wouldn’t be the help I could be or want to be. Ok, now, back to you, Bob.

So I was stationed at the Everett Men’s Gospel Mission. Roof over my head, a job just a ten minute bicycle ride away and my own business. Things were turning around, but still chaotic. I was woken up every morning to someone yelling in the dorm door, “Giddy Up” or something similar. At least it was infallible. Then to the shower, get dressed, leave for work. What a wonderful routine. I mean it. Very nice compared to waking up in a shelter, collect and stack mats to receive McDonald’s Burger coupons for breakfast. So, Jeanice would ask if I wanted to do this job, etc. Always “YES!” I loved this new schedule and job. Paid on Friday. I’d go to the mission, sign in for a bed, drop $5 and go relax. Very nice.

I learned, although was never totally sold on, upholstery from the ground up. Kevin is a very apt tutor and I learned a lot from him. He is a professional, not because he wants to be, but because it comes easily, naturally and is needed in the field he works in. He does good work and is a good businessman.

I did this for a while, a year or two at least, then moved across the street and a block south to Erickson Furniture. They had been bringing their repairs to us, and I always got their jobs. Usually just a simple repair or modification to a piece of furniture. So I figured, and as a contractor, that I was within my ethical right to inquire about securing a permanent position with them. Contracting to Jeanice offered no benefits at all. No health insurance, no workman’s compensation in the event of being injured at work, etc. All there was was a check, actually cash, at the end of the week. I paid my own taxes. They said yes. I went to work for them for three years.

All was good. I was reaching and achieving the success I wanted in my life. It had been a tough five years since the day Pauline and I had our problems, but I learned quite a bit. The most important thing that I believe I learned was not to judge people for any reason. Remember what I said when I started this story in part one? Just because a person is experiencing harsh changes or enduring harsh situations does not mean they are bad people. Situations can arise in your life that you never would have expected and you will have to deal with them, whether you are on the right path or not. No one is exempt from failures and refusals.

During this period, I put some money together, procured and apartment in Everett and got back on my feet.

Now, remember I said that Pauline had called the police, but I had not heard from them? Ok, the time is now. I received a summons and court date in the mail one day. I had to appear in King County court and defend my position. I got ahold of a public defender because I was below the financial status line. I went in to go to court and my defender asked me if I wanted to plead guilty or what. I said “Absolutely not. I didn’t do anything to her and I am not going to make a deal.” She said “Do you want a jury trial?” I told her I did. I was called and I stood up, pled ‘not guilty’ and was assigned a jury trial date. We set one up. When the day came around, Pauline was called to the stand. She couldn’t remember anything about that night. Nothing. I was reeling.

I took the stand. I knew exactly what happened and told it. The jury retired to deliberate. Twenty minutes later, I was exonerated. The entire process took barely an hour.

Now, another major change to document.

During my employment with Erickson Furniture, I re-established my position on the societal ladder. I was ‘sound’ again. My next move was to buy a computer. I asked Clay (the owner’s son at Erickson) if he could steer me in the direction of a new computer. He let me fool around with the one in his office and it immediately became clear to me what was possible. He told me he would be willing to sell a used computer to me that he had at home. We sealed the deal and within a few days of asking, he sold his Windows 98 installed computer to me. I took it home after work, figured out how to assemble everything and got on line. I already had landline phone service, so dial-up internet service was available. I was up all night and morning. I went to sleep at 5 am and rose at 7 am to shower and head to work. I was living at 25th St. and Colby Ave. in Everett at this time. In a few months, I moved closer to work just because a place was available.

2112 Broadway Apt. 1 Everett, WA. The building was painted red when I lived in it.
2112 Broadway Apt. 1
Everett, WA.
The building was painted red when I lived in it.

2112 Broadway, apt. 1. I was just five minutes away from work. During this time, my mother fell seriously ill with chest problems. She was diagnosed and sent home with cancer in her chest. Ten years before when she was living in Fairbanks, Alaska, she had had problems and saw a doctor about her issues. She told me they told her that she was just having normal reactions to the change of weather. She had moved from Aberdeen, WA. where it never really gets cold. Alaska does get cold. Unfortunately, the doctors were wrong. She had contracted lung cancer. This would take all of the next ten years to become completely unmanageable. During this time she had moved back to Aberdeen. After seeing a doctor in Aberdeen, she was re-diagnosed, as I mentioned earlier. She entered treatment, chemo therapy and other treatments. She never got better. She passed on January 29, 2001 at the University of Washington Hospital in Seattle Washington. I had met my wife online with my new computer just two days before. Mom never met her. I was the last of us three boys to marry. My wife wears my mother’s wedding ring and the watch on her wrist in this photo.

So, at this time, my father was living in Poulsbo, WA. on the Olympic Peninsula. One aunt was living in Aberdeen, another was living near Tumwater, WA. one uncle in Aberdeen and another in Olympia, WA. the capital of Washington State. I have been to Olympia many, many times. Kevin was in Everett, and my youngest brother, Kary, I think, was in Seattle somewhere. Kary has never been close to the family, and my father summarily dismissed him as his son. I love all of my family. Many are gone now. My mother was next to the youngest of five, beginning with the oldest being Barbara, Kenney, LuAnne, Mom and finally Tinker. LuAnne still lives in Aberdeen. At this point, I really had no family left that I needed to stay in Washington to take care of. Kevin handles his own, Kary is the same way. I was single and had never married or had children.

Now owning a computer, I became aware of a world-wide community.

Charlotte Lee Ashlock. Mother of three boys, all now men.
My beloved mother, may she rest in peace.
This is the very last photograph taken of her before her passing on January 27, 2001. Two days before I met my wife.

The last chapter of this story will be covered in the next section, entitled “Hitting The Streets. 2,615 miles worth of streets.”

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