Aiming high at the start, I tried for a job as an apprentice to the fiery modernist architect, Pietro Belluschi, who had designed the Portland Art Museum. At the end of a brief, unsuccessful interview, one of his associates escorted me to the door. I auditioned for a disc jockey job at Radio Station KEX, I didn’t even come close. As I left the booth, however, the obsequious station manager gave me a gleaming KEX Zippo cigarette lighter as a memento. It still sits in one of my old toolbox drawers. I tried for a copyboy job at The Oregonian and then at the Oregon Journal. Not a chance. Along with a dozen others, I waited in line to interview for one job opening in a West Side record store. I dimly remember the gum-chewing manager with slicked-back hair. But I didn’t make the cut. I applied for a clerk’s job at a friendly neighborhood bookstore on Hawthorne Avenue and at the sports shop next door. “Sorry, no openings.” I filled out an application form at Meier & Frank’s giant, downtown department store, where my mother once worked as an elevator operator. “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” I tried for a waiter’s job at three, small, non-union restaurants. All three turned me down. I even tried to get my old bike messenger job back at Western Union, full-time. They curtly told me, “We’re not hiring.”
That’s the way it went. Discouraging weeks. My spirits dragged the ground. Then came an unexpected break. I received a call inviting me back for a second interview at Meier & Frank’s, which lead to a battery of tests and an uncomfortable grilling. To my complete surprise, I came out of it with a job. M&F hired me on the spot and put me to work immediately in their entrance- level training program.
At the age of forty-one, my lonely mother longed for the love of an honest, decent man in her life.
I thought it would be Frank Simmons, but it didn’t turn out that way. Sadly, I saw the two of them drifting apart. I think she saw the end coming when Frank’s cruising jobs in the timberlands stretched out longer than ever. When he did return, he seemed to spend more time swapping stories with my grandfather than he did romancing my mother.
At heart, I think Frank was a genuine free spirit, never to be tied down. In the end, he quietly told my mother that he was taking on a contract in the Salmon River Mountains of Idaho. He packed his clothes and his pile of gear, said good-bye, climbed into his pickup and headed out. Just like that. He remained a man who answered only to himself.