Last year, I lived in Marrakesh, Morocco. How our family got there and what happened to us—that’s my story. It begins seventeen years before we moved to the palm and rock-strewn desert of North Africa.
1991, I was working in downtown Seattle’s Columbia Tower (“once the tallest building west of the Mississippi!”). Though it has rolled through several names (Seafirst Center, Bank of America Tower), a lot of people in our city know it as the “Darth Vader Building.” Dark lobby, unknowable passageways, closed storefronts, tinted glass—it’s a building of edges caught in some outer space fantasy. (This dreamscape has been carried on by Vulcan, the Star Trek building complex of Paul Allen’s, just to the south.)
There, I worked on the 53rd floor as a hack paralegal, a quick hire in a failing firm. After finishing graduate school a few years earlier, I had had my first book coming out. Back then, as now, many artists crowded the temp agencies and back rooms of CPA agencies and law firms.
It was a place of failure. Though you could stand in one of the attorneys’ offices and look over Elliott Bay where container ships pull under the orange cranes for unloading, the glittery theater of the law firm only occupied part of the 53rd floor. The rest was empty except for some ripped carpet and a few pieces of rebar tossed around. On Fridays, the mailroom guys smoked bowls back there and took in the view of the freeway. (One of those boys, I heard years later, was the son a partner at the firm and had used the shipping facilities as a cocaine distribution center. He’d mailed envelopes of powder around the country, using his Dad’s letterhead.)
My job at Sylvester Rood Petrie and Cruzen, as I understood it, was to stamp documents, file legal briefs and run back and forth to the courthouse. I was also meant to endure a boss with a personality disorder and a shopping addiction. Her “luggage,” as she called it, was eight or ten Nordstrom and Marshall’s bags that she juggled to and from the elevators between lunch and 5 pm. The roar of wrinkling paper announced her arrival, as did her shrill come-on: “Tell me what you are doing and how long it took,” she’d shriek and then stand, looking from you to her nails, as if deciding whether to buy the explanation.
Rarely did she come back to the part of the firm where I worked. It was in a dimly lit zone wedged between the storage shelves of bankers’ boxes and the partition that separated us from the vacant real estate on the other side. There were three or four Bartleby guys who worked at tables set up by the metal shelves. They pressed post-its onto papers and pounded stamps with rotating number counters onto folders. I left the hollow-core door to my little office open so that they wouldn’t find me unfriendly and that’s when things got interesting.