THE WHEELHOUSE OF POWER HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES BADGES OLYMPIA 2003
In a lifetime of mostly, and most often just barely, supporting myself while working as a dedicated but less than financially successful artist, musician, and thinker I have had an opportunity to hold a wide variety of sometimes very interesting, educational, and even life-changing day jobs.
I would be lying through my teeth if I said I have always happily resigned myself to a life of having to finance my creative endeavors by holding whatever job would have me at any given moment. Looking back however I can see that I probably learned at least as much, or maybe even more about life from holding so many different jobs as I could have learned from traveling the world as a celebrated creative all those years.
Like the old Stones song says:“You can’t always get what you want, but… …you might find you get what you need”
It just occurred to me that I’m quoting the words of Mick Jagger, one of the most widely celebrated, highly compensated, and successful jet-set rockstars of all time to describe the hidden benefits of toiling in obscurity under the weight of heaps of frustration, intense financial insecurity, and artistic struggle! Funny.
I should at this point make one thing very clear: I do not in any way, shape, or form fault or blame the world for its inability to widely recognize, celebrate, and exalt my obvious and apparent genius. Not at all.
I fully and readily admit that I’ve committed and performed a huge, florid bouquet of acts of personal and career self-sabotage and artistic suicide along the way. I have consistently employed general, day-in-day-out strategies of organizational mayhem in pursuit of my dreams as well. I’ve done these things to such a thorough degree that it would’ve been something of a miracle if I had managed to get myself recognized and compensated for the vision I’ve attempted to share with my fellow human beings all these years.
Now that I’ve admitted that my often baffling and sometimes ill-advised life choices have landed my own ship on some often rocky shores, I’d like to take a moment to extend my profound and sincere apologies to anyone who I might have injured, troubled, offended, dismayed, confounded, or ignored in the process of me limiting my own achievement.
None of you deserved any of it and I am sorry. All I can say in my own defense is that I’m working really hard today on being a responsible, even good, person. In my defense will say that even when I was busy screwing up, I was making emotional, practical, and spiritual decisions that if they didn’t make sense, were the best choices I could make with the tools I had at the time. I did my best, it’s just that I happened to be a nebulous, unformed, late-blooming, work-in-progress type who was sometimes drunk, often high, not rarely stupid, a little bitter, jealous, and kinda messed up is all! Yeah!
In all sincerity…I apologize to anyone I’ve hurt, upset, or disturbed. If you put up with any b.s. from me and we remained friends I thank you for your patience. If not, I wish you only the best. Seer-ee-us-lee.
That being said, I will now talk about one job in particular that I was lucky to have briefly held. The place was Olympia. The year was 2003…
In that year I had recently returned to town after a stint living in Los Angeles pursuing an interest in Stand-up comedy (that’s a story I will tell but not here, not now). After I got back to Olympia and settled into my new life living in my mom’s basement with my tail tucked somewhere snugly south of the region between my legs, I set about doing some soul-searching, weeping, and taking of hot baths when the idea came to me that maybe the first order of business on my next journey to the stars should be earning a paycheck.
When I finally left the house and began asking around town about what job opportunities might be available for the prodigal basket case, I ran into my dear friend and fellow musical and artistic traveller Brandt Sandeno. You may know him as a former member of the excellent Tumwater, Washington spawned, post-hardcore, art-punk-damage band Unwound among his many musical incarnations. He kindly suggested I consider joining him at the State Capitol working as a page for the State House of Representatives during that year’s upcoming legislative session. He told me it paid okay, was interesting, pretty easy, and of course had the added fringe benefit that we’d get to work together so there’d be an element of goodtime-fun involved in the position as well.
I applied. I got the job.
We worked in a smallish office with a few other legislative pages located between a couple hearing rooms where the various House Committees heard public testimony regarding bills that might one day become laws. Our daily tasks involved setting up before hearings and working those hearings, preparing the legislator’s binders with copies of the bills and the fiscal notes attached to them, running materials between the Representative’s offices, sitting in on Democratic and Republican caucus meetings, and a host of other random things of that nature.
The job was a feast-or-famine type affair when it came to actually having things to do. It wasn’t uncommon for us to experience hours on end when there wasn’t a single productive thing for us to be doing only to have these doldrums interrupted with hours of frantic photocopying or running around the Capitol Campus. We often ended up getting paid just to be on call.
While some of the other pages, like one lovely, tall, intelligent young woman we worked with (who I would soon start dating) were content to spend their downtime reading a book or doing something productive, Brandt and I were compelled by force of our combined sensibilities to riff endlessly on our personal in-jokes and cultural obsessions. At first the other pages were baffled by our comedic outpourings, then they were amused, and after a while they were in on the ridiculousness too.
Our little office proved to be a fertile incubator for a host of strange voices, bizarre characters, and a slew of songs and ditties that the other pages soon came to know by heart. The first time I overheard one of them absent-mindedly singing a version of one of the office’s greatest hits I knew we’d arrived. We might not have won any hearts but we were winning some minds.
Brandt and I invented an office Rap group we imagined to be in the mold of an early 80’s Pop-Rap act like Kid-n-Play. We’d picture ourselves in white painter’s overall shorts, with one shoulder strap off the shoulder, wearing our hats sideways, whimsically speckled here and there with primary colored paint splatters. As this imagined duo we wrote and performed spontaneous versions of rhymes like the “Fiscal Note Rap” (which we pronounced “Fithko Node WAAAAAAAP!”) much to the office’s collective amusement.
Occasionally one of our more lucid officemates would gather her senses, realize what was actually happening around her and would shake her head in genuine disbelief and say “…you guys…are…SO…WEIRD!!!” or “I can’t believe I’m younger than you!!!”
She had a point I guess.
From time to time our “quirks” and nuttiness might have been a little overwhelming to our tender co-workers who came to work at the Capitol from small towns around the state and maybe weren’t used to such unbridled shenanigans but Brandt and I weren’t jerks about it and we usually knew when to relax and get the job done if the job needed doing.
Now that I think of it, sometimes we’d set the insanity to the side as another way of having fun with our co-workers…
A fellow page who was stationed in one of the other “normal” page offices would miss no chance to stop by our freaky corner of the Capitol with a second campus drone in tow. She would beg us to “Do the Fithko thing! Show her please? C’mon, do the rap! It’s sooo funny….please? C’mon…the fithko waaap! Do it!!?”
We’d answer her request with perplexed looks of total confusion and would turn to the person she’d dragged into the office with a facial expression that radiated equal parts concern, panic, and pityand then we’d ask her “..what are you talking about? I’m not even sure what you’re saying..the fithko what?”
Of course when she’d visit us again later in the workday by herself we’d get all up in her grill and launch into a highly animated, full-tilt version of the rap complete with bold new dance moves and spontaneous verses that we’d freestyle on the spot…
“You gonna tell these thuckas how does a beeowl become a LAAAW?”
“Yeah, I GOT THITH!!”
Fithko node, Fithko node, Fithko node WAAAAP!
…cue the boom-bap…
She’d roll her eyes, spin around on her heel, and exit the room. Sorrr-rry!
Our madness wasn’t confined only to the performative arts though. I had my first experience in the medium of installation art while cooling my heels on the taxpayers dime as well. I was pretty handy with a pair of scissors and so we’d sift through the vast recycling bins filled with colored paper that was a by-product of the wheels of governance and I’d craft some utterly strange things.
Somehow, I can’t recall why, I started taping sheets of paper together and cutting large pink, green, blue and yellow ropes to resemble human lower-intestines and colons of all shapes and sizes. My co-workers and I began adorning the entire office with these festive colons and G.I. Tracts until the place looked like we were getting ready to throw surprise party for the world’s foremost proctologist or something. It was very strange by any measure.
The really funny part came when sometimes during a hearing the Republican half of the Judicial Committee would recess to our office for a caucus. They’d use our room because it was the nearest space available for them to have a private moment.
Picturing the law makers huddled together discussing a strategy to abort some bill they opposed before it could become a law in a room inexplicably festooned with hundreds of feet of what could only be seen as intestines and colons was an amusing thing to consider.
Only a few times did any of them mention anything about it. Once, a particularly disagreeable Republican Representative asked me “What’s with all that decoration in there? Did someone tell you to do that? Is it a joke or something? I mean you know what it looks like, right?”
No. No one told us to do it. Yes, it is a joke and yeah, smart guy…we know exactly what it looks like…cuz that’s what it is: COLONS AND INTESTINES.
Another Republican, a very nice, very conservative Evangelical Christian woman actually told me she appreciated our imagination. “Who could think of something so strange?” she asked before answering her own question, “You, I guess!”
That’s right lady. ME.
Me and “Bwandt” I mean.
Washington State House of Representative I.D. badges from my personal archive.