He Just Wanted To Be Alone [1985]

Alone

1985 was an incredibly difficult year.

In fact, that time in the mid-1980s was awful. Things weren’t going well, and whatever dreams I had after high school for happiness or success were long gone. Relationships were sporadic, and usually filled with drama that I didn’t need. In the end, I was left with a trail of low-end jobs and a worn-out 1976 Chevy Vega to get me there.

One day that year is one I consider to be the lowest part of my life.

I awoke that morning with a bad mood that I couldn’t shake, and through the day the darkness never lifted. I even dressed in my finest clothes – a trick to feel better taught to me by my high school band teacher – but even nice threads didn’t make a difference. By the end of the day my head was a complete mess; for some reason I called my sister, and broke down by the second sentence in our conversation. She insisted that I come over, and that evening I just remember talking and talking. She listened and listened. It was the closest I ever got to the notion that ending it all was an option. Thankfully I didn’t do that; the next morning I felt different and uplifted; life seemed to improve from that day forward.

This poem – found in the archives recently – is evidence that 1985 was filled with trouble.

Not only did I write about my darkest feelings on relationships and depression, I even dated the work – October 17th. From what I recall the poem was written around the time of my lowest day, while the pain was fresh in my mind. It was never intended to have an audience – only me – so I let loose and wrote exactly what I felt. The message says, “You know what? I don’t care anymore. Just get it over with.” It’s a call from a man who felt trapped in whatever situation kept him down. While it is hard to read today, I’m glad I wrote it; the poem is like a life marker by which I can compare my current experience.

It’s definitely better now.

He Just Wanted to Be Alone

As the boiling point was achieved
Feelings exploded, and true meanings were obscured by jealousy
He was angry
Failure was not something he cared to deal with
Nor was it something that he was ready for
He wanted neither self-pity or compassion

He just wanted to be alone

Life bothered him, almost to an intolerable extent
People bothered him, the regularity of the human race knocked him off balance
The woman in his life was gone, shoulding some other guy’s feelings
He watched her walk out the door, and into someone else’s life
And he watched the sorrow turn to tears
He wanted to neither end his life, or start over fresh

He just wanted to be alone

Lately, life had been tackling him head-on
And, although fighting fairly, he was losing
He lit a cigarette and got back into the game
Only to be pushed back and crushed
He wanted neither a crisp, new view of life, or a biased look into the future.

He just wanted to be alone.

Poem Entry #5 – Ode To A Twinkie [1987]

4/3/87 Entry #5

I stared intently at the Twinkie held in my hand.

It was one more bite’s worth. The cream-filled middle oozed from its sponge-cake cave, calling “Kurt! Here I am! Calories, calories!”

I could smell rthe sponge cake, the whipped cream, the sugar. I could see the Twinkie’s plastic wrapper on the table where I had set it. The wrapper unraveled itself from the ball I had rolled it into and sent Twinkie shockwaves through the room.

Before I knew it, the remnants of my Twinkie were right in front of my mouth.

Mesmerized by the smell of my caloric nirvana, I hadn’t realized that my hand had moved the Twinkie closer to my face. The aroma attacked my nose, like gasoline dopes when I overfill my tank.

It was an obviously sweet odor, dripping with sugar and only a hint of nutrition.

My sight became a cream-filled haze, and my tastebuds began to water. I could taste it in my mind, feel it in my fingers, and regret it in my stomach. The Twinkie had become a legend in my hand.

Closer, closer my hand moved to my mouth. The remnants of the Twinkie were within an inch of my teeth. My jaw lowered itself, exposing my tongue and watering tastebuds.

With a flick of my index finger, I popped the Twinkie into my mouth and began chewing with satisfaction.

December 8th’s Sad Anniversary

John Lennon VVS81

I was 16 years old when John Lennon was shot in New York City.

The night we found out is mostly a blur lost to history. I recall being at home when news reports began coming in during the late evening. He was still alive in the first reports I heard, but by the end of the night the news went fatal. By the next day Shoreline High School was buzzing with John’s death as a singular subject. From December 9th on, radio stations across the dial were playing John Lennon and Beatles music constantly. It was bad enough that someone had shot and killed Lennon. Listening to any track off Double Fantasy countless times over the next month didn’t make the pain go away. I had never been a big fan of John’s solo work, and listening to it countless times just made things worse.

While I don’t remember which DJ on KISW I heard, I do recall that announcer being verbally agitated about the killer. Several days after the attack he still hadn’t come to grips with the tragedy. It was the first time I ever heard a DJ express honest rage on the air. That is the moment which sticks with me today, because it summed up the senselessness of John’s death.

December 8th is a sad anniversary for certain.

The Loyal Customer, The Afrikaner, And Other Stories

Old Lighting

For several months in 1987 I worked at a Unocal 76 station near North 130th Street and Stone in North Seattle.

The site of the station is no longer there, with its kiosk foundation and pumps overtaken by a massive retail building. I was qualified for the job because I had gas station experience. This was my third gas station job since late 1984, the two previous stations being farther north on Aurora Avenue N. I landed at the 76 station after working for minimum wage at Little Caesar’s Pizza, and not making enough for even the basics of life.

At $4.00 per hour, standing in a kiosk and taking people’s money paid way better.

Another qualification for working at the 76 was that I knew how to use a till (or “cash drawer”). Managing a till is becoming a lost art; how many people do you know who can count change back from a till without the benefit of a register to calculate the change amount? Years before I learned the skill – which I retain today for no good reason – when I worked for Minit-Lube. The job afforded me the ability to do my college homework while I manned the kiosk.  The work shifts at 76 adjusted weekly, which means that I was working evening shifts and overnight depending on the need.

The kiosk had heat and a toilet.

As I think about working there, it seems as that kiosk was central to where my life had been and ultimately where it was going. All the stories I remember from those days have become part of who I am – what I like, dislike, and consider as wisdom.

Here are some of the stories that make the place memorable:

The Owner

The station’s owner was a man in his mid-to-late 50s. He also had a station in the Redmond Overlake area, in a Sears parking lot on 148th Avenue NE. We didn’t see much of him in Seattle, because he preferred working the other station for one specific reason: “Because of all the cute Bellevue women in their aerobics outfits every morning.” Being attracted to someone is human nature.  The way he described his attraction – plus the look on his face – always creeped me out.

To my knowledge there was only one instance of a “gas-and-go,” where someone stole fuel while I was on duty. The Owner had me fill out a report and didn’t hold me accountable. Most customers were honest; at a job like this, a person saw all kinds.

The Owner’s Daughter

She also worked at the station, sometimes in slippers. She was a petite and attractive blond single Mom with light blue eyes and a yellow Corvette. Even though we were the same age, smoking made her voice sound a lot older. I asked her out occasionally, to meet up for coffee or a drink.  She declined each time.

The Hawaiian

The guy who trained me was a Pacific Islander from Oahu. He arrived in Seattle on UW Football scholarship, but as the story goes he blew out his knee and could no longer play. After trying to put himself through college for a year, he ran out of money and quit.

The Loyal Customer

One day an older gentleman was gassing up his car. He was slight in build and dressed in standard-issue retired apparel. This was long before the ability to pay at the pump, so each customer had to come visit me at the central kiosk to pay – either by cash or credit card (no checks…even then). The older gentleman presented me with his 76 card when he got done pumping; I looked down and noticed that he had been a 76 cardholder since 1939. When I mentioned my astonishment over his long-time membership, he quietly smiled and said, “Back then they used to send me hand-written bills.”

Name Brand Cigarettes

The profit margin on gasoline at a gas station is very low. Seriously. It is usually only a penny or two per gallon when all the bills are paid. Of course, gas stations get a differential if they are open 24 hours (which we were), but any good merchant will try to figure out how to maximize profit from the alloted space and product lines. Our station did that with cigarettes.

There was a spring-loaded reader board facing 130th Street that advertised Name Brand Cigarettes being sold for unheard-of prices (a number that is now lost from my memory). The sign was true; aside from carrying all the standard expensive brands, we also carried value-priced generic cigarettes from “Name Brand.”

Take it from me; they were nasty.

The Smoke Weasel

An entirely new world slides out on the street around 2:00am. One night a drunk total stranger walked up to the gas station kiosk and started making small talk like he had known me for 10 years. His game was very clear, at least to me. Nobody walks up to a gas station guy and starts buttering someone up unless they want something.

“Hey you think you could front me a pack of cigarettes? I’m good for the money…I’ll bring it back.”

I told him no, and his good-buddy tone got quieter before he walked away. I thought to myself after he left that it might have been a good idea to break open a couple packs of “Name Brands” and sell singles from a coffee cup by the till. The Owner said no.

Three years later I saw the single cigarettes being sold at 7-Eleven for 25-cents each. It is now against the law in Washington to sell single cigarettes in that manner.

Sticking The Tanks

Also becoming a lost art is the act of measuring the amount of fuel in the underground tanks with a large wooden ruler – a job called “Sticking the tanks.”  Every four hours or so I would uncork the tank, drop a stick into the hole, and then record the measurement from the hashtags on the stick.  During the same process I would also write down the meter reading on each fueling position, from a dial which looked like a little odometer on each side of the dispenser.  In a world before computer controls these jobs – plus counting the till money – all worked amazingly well to keep an eye on every penny that went through the station.  My end-of-shift worksheet would record and balance all the numbers, to ensure there was no theft.  The Owner wasn’t concerned if the tills or meter numbers were off by a few cents, but got concerned when there was more than ten dollars missing.  Thankfully he was never concerned with me.

The South African

A customer in a Jeep Wagoneer had trouble with her car one evening; at a time before cellphones were prevalent, she came to the kiosk window and asked in a noteworthy accent if she could use the phone. I obliged and asked her if she was from Australia.

“No, I’m from South Africa,” she said.

This was 1987, a time when Apartheid was all over the media. Add that to what I was studying in school: Afrikaans, which is descended from Old Dutch, and still spoken in many parts of South Africa. Being a somewhat unruly student of linguistics, I boldly asked her if it was possible that the use of Afrikaans as the official language was a way to keep the classes and colors separate and the people of European descent in power. “Hmm,” she said.  “I don’t think that is the case”

But her eyes spoke a different message: “You’re an idiot.”

One of the things I learned over the years is to never assume that I know what I’m talking about. I think this life lesson contributed to that idea.

The Old Friend

By 1987 our family had lived in Shoreline for 13 years. One afternoon a friend we had known all that time stopped by the station to gas up. Del was a tall mostly-retired Boeing engineer with a full head of hair and a deep love for God and Family that transcended all else. It was great to talk with him that day; he was upbeat and friendly, asking questions about my sisters, extending his greetings to my parents, and what I was taking in school. I enjoyed talking with him, even if it was for just a few minutes.  Del was receiving chemotherapy at the time for a battle with cancer.

He died within months of that day, and his visit to the 76 station was the last time I saw him.

The Bad Mechanic

Surprisingly, I had worked with this guy before at Minit-Lube up the road, about three years prior.  The station’s Owner hired him a couple months after I started. He seemed like a good kid – amiable, not too bright but willing to listen and follow directions.

But put him in charge of a job and things didn’t go well.

He did a brake job on his Monte Carlo one Friday night, and had worn through the front brake rotors by Monday; actually “worn through” is too light of a term; he obliterated the brake rotors with some unknown force, to the point that the car would no longer stop. He showed me the rotors.  I’ve never seen a brake job go bad in three days, and still have no idea how he could have done it so wrong.  Working at the gas station seemed to be going well for him, until he got fired – and probably charged with a crime – for taking money straight out of the till to buy cocaine.

I think every job a person does should be tackled with the best they can throw at it, no matter what that job might be. Even though I made little money at 76, I had what I needed in life. And what I didn’t make in money, I made up for in life lessons and also learned what I didn’t want to do for a career. I’m happy to have worked there, happy enough in fact to hold the job’s stories for 23 years and then write about them in a document form that hadn’t even been thought of back then.

Rest In Peace, Stone Avenue 76!

Memories Of The Little Bothell Cabin

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In the early summer of 1987, I was working at Unocal 76 in Seattle, living at home with my parents, and going to Shoreline Community College. After being out of high school for five years, I was finally getting an idea of what I wanted from life. One morning at the breakfast table my Dad shared some news.

“I’ve accepted a senior pastor position at a church in Illinois.”

Wait What?? With that, the detailed plan I had to get a college degree and a better job just got tougher. My parents’ destination: the north end of Chicago, at an urban church that had been without a pastor for two years. They would be moving in September. Their decision did not come easily, because their family was in the Seattle area and I was still living at home.

Embarrassingly I blurted out, “But what about me?”

I quickly followed that up with, “Wait…that was dumb. I’m 23 and should probably be living on my own already.” My parents said I would be more than welcome to move with them and go to college in Chicago, which was very nice and so like them, but at that point I felt that it was time for me to move on. I had no idea what to do, or even how to find a place to live on what I made.

About a month later the call came.

“My neighbor Carol is going on a rafting trip to South America,” my sister Jan explained, “and needs someone to watch her place while she’s gone.”

I quickly accepted the “job” of watching her neighbor’s home in Bothell for $200 a month through January 1988. That would give me some breathing room to figure out a place to live. By move-in day I had gotten a job at Al’s Auto Supply in Everett. My commute got longer, but the pay was better and my job was now more secure. It also gave me some schedule flexibility for school.

Built in 1912, the cute 800 sq ft house was more like a cabin. Already 70+ years old when I moved in, it was a very cozy study in what a person needs versus what a person wants. No room for want when you only have 800 square feet. The cabin was surrounded by much newer homes; I would imagine it was built when there was nothing else nearby, and when I lived there the street was still in unincorporated Snohomish County.

I lived with Carol’s cat – Angel – one of the sweetest and softest kitties I’ve ever met. But she did love to meow. She was the reason I was not able to bring my cat Byl to the cabin, because there was no guarantee they would get along. While it is sad that Byl died that summer, his passing did clear a hurdle because my parents and I did not know what to do with him.

The brown shingle siding on the cabin was straight out of The Waltons. The cabin had electric baseboard heating, which was expensive to use and not nearly as efficient as the potbelly wood stove in the living room. There was no shower, only an antique tub. The rear of the house had been added some time after the place was built; a window over the tub opened to the back room, clearly left over from when that wall was the rear of the house. In order to spread the heat, I would stoke the potbelly stove with wood, open the bathroom window, and then put a four-bladed fan pointed towards the backside of the stove to push the heat.

Within minutes the place would be at 80+ degrees.

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Cabin November 1987, as I help my brother-in-law dig a garage foundation.

Angel would lie in front of the stove with her belly up purring. Eventually I would shut off the fan and go to bed. By the time I got up in the morning, the cabin temperature was in the low 60s and I would stoke again. Carol left plenty of wood for me to split and stack.

She also scheduled one visit from a Chimney Sweep during her trip, and he came wearing a tall stovepipe hat and singing traditional British songs from the 1800s. He was prepared not only to clean the chimney but to entertain. Quite a spectacle.

In January I determined that I could no longer afford school on what I was making at Al’s. So my education was put on hold, with the intention of getting some student loans and going back either in Summer or Fall `88. I also needed to find another place to live, because Carol would be coming home soon. A basement apartment at my friend Gary’s house was available, so I packed and headed back to Shoreline. This was the same friend Gary who worked at The Fish Bowl.

Today Carol and the Cabin are still there. The structure is nearly 100 years old and has been upgraded with newer windows. My sister and her husband still own the house next door; now all other sides of the Cabin are surrounded by homes built around 1988. The outside of the house still looks the same, almost like a time capsule. I love seeing it every time we are out visiting Jan and the family, because it reminds me of starting over, and starting on my own.

All Hail The Mix Tape

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Long before MP3s, iPods, downloads, streaming audio, and playlists, an entire generation of kids grew up making and listening to Mix Tapes.

The cassettes were small, convenient, and easy to carry from the car to the party. They also sounded great for how small they were, which lent well to the Sony Walkman players we all had. And if the tape got trashed or a crazy ex-girlfriend took it, it was easy to just record a new one. I was part of the battalion who recorded their LPs onto cassettes, as a way to keep from wearing out the records.

I also worked hard to create that perfect blend of songs that would capture and then prolong a mood.

In a way, making a mix tape back then was like an art form. Recording both sides could take two hours or more, depending on how much care went into the mix. I considered many of my mix tapes to be crafted works, because I put a lot of thought into choosing what song should come after the one that just ended. I wasn’t one to just chuck a bunch of stuff together.

The mood had to flow.

Sadly, the ability to put a human touch on that smooth movement from one song into another is now lost to technology. Of course, playlists can be created to compile songs under one genre or keyword, but that only goes so far. Finding the nuances, the delicate similarities, and emotional ties of two songs just doesn’t happen in a CPU. I have yet to find a current technology that allows me to mix mood like I did on a tape back in the day – one song at a time in a layer that will build the emotion and carry it to the end.

Maybe it’s time to just go back to making tapes.

I found the above cassette in 2011 when I was putting away some baseball cards. Gentle Sticky Wind was created around 1986 as a mellow mix tape, using a Maxell UD II High-Bias 90-minute cassette – the best-sounding tape I could buy. This one still plays great – twenty-five years later. GSW was mixed on Side A only, using tracks from my record collection; Queen’s 1978 release News Of The World was put on Side B, recorded from a 25-cent LP I picked up at Cellophane Square in 1985 (I still have that LP).

While I’m not certain why I wanted to create a slow sorrowful mix tape that day 25 years ago, I suspect it had something to do with a relationship that had recently ended. That aside, I managed to blend Genesis, Nick Kershaw, KISS, George Benson, and a couple of surprises onto a side of slow mellow songs that pulled every ounce of emotion out of my album collection. When I listened to it earlier today, the memories of mixing it down popped out of the dusty edges of my brain – reminding me of how much work I put into choosing each song to share a mood with the previous one.

Making a mix tape was fun, even if it wasn’t very simple.

There was a lot to think about and to coordinate. I had to be in control of two very-different pieces of equipment: the turntable and the tape deck. My weapons of choice: Technics Direct-Drive Turntable (still have it), Realistic 100-watt receiver (RIP), and an Audiotechnica Cassette recorder that I bought for $50 in the Bargain Basement at the SODO Sears Store (now Starbucks HQ).

The first song was always the most important, because it set the mood.

Every song after that somehow related to the first. I would often just start with Track 1 / Side 1 of an LP, because record companies started their albums with something catchy. While the recording commenced, I would look through my record collection for the next song – all the while making sure the recording levels on the cassette deck wouldn’t “peak” and saturate the tape. When the track was done recording, I would pause the deck, swap the album and find the track I wanted. Then I would stage the track by finding the beginning and then turning the record back by 1 ½ rotations. I released the record, then released the deck’s pause button at ¼ turn before the song started. Bam. Done. Repeat.

Doing that over and over made the process smoother than it sounds.

Usually I would christen a new mix tape with a drive, to see how it sounded on the car stereo. Good times. Check out this vintage playlist:

1. Play The Game by Queen – Track 1 Side 1 on Queen’s 1980 release The Game worked perfectly for this. Soaring harmonies and solid talent. Straight up.

2. Sister Christian by Night Ranger – Every time I hear this now I think of the movie “Boogie Nights.” But back then it was just a mellow song that got a lot of rotation on the radio. Towards the end of the track I did something that seemed like a good idea at the time; I pressed my finger down on the record to slow it intentionally for a brief period. I also ended the track early, because I discovered that the last note of Sister Christian was in the same key as the first note of…

3. Beth by KISS – Blending this song with Sister Christian was really fun, and not quite as easy as it sounds. The timing for the note had to be perfect. I think I got it right on the third try. Still made me smile today when I heard it again. Find it just after the 8:20 marker on the MP3. This is the quietest KISS song ever; from their 1976 release Destroyer, it was followed on the album by the raunchy final track Do You Love Me.

4. Wouldn’t it Be Good by Nik Kershaw – Borrowed this from a friend. Cute track, very 80s. I goofed the beginning of the track a bit, and it comes in too strong. But during the recording I backed off the levels.

5. Only You by Yaz – Had no idea who they were, but at the time I was stopping by radio stations and taking their bins of discarded Demo records home. This was probably one of them, and I probably still have it somewhere.

6. Spellbinder by Foreigner – Classic rock slow-song goodness. One of my favorite early Foreigner tracks. Lou Gramm could sing a grocery list and make it sound like a hit.

7. I’m Always Gonna Love You by Gary Moore – Awesome 80s rock ballad, courtesy of Irish guitarist Gary Moore. He had a long career, starting in 1969 and eventually gaining fame with Thin Lizzy and on the solo circuit. He opened for Rush at the Tacoma Dome in 1984-85, and blew the Dome away. He recently died of a heart attack while on tour in Spain. Rest In Peace, Gary.

8. Fade Away by Bad Company – Obscure final track off 1976 album Run with the Pack. Bluesy and heartfelt. Interesting effects on Paul Rodgers’ voice.

9. Take Me Home by Phil Collins – A coworker said this evening, “If that was an 80s mix tape, I’m pretty sure there was Genesis on it.” He was nearly right; I added this solo work from Phil.

10. Unchained Melody by George Benson – From the 1979 release Livin’ Inside your Love, this album was in a collection I found in a dumpster behind a record store, along with a copy of The Beatles White Album. This cover of Unchained Melody, while kind of long, is one of the smoothest I’ve ever heard. I could listen to George Benson’s voice and guitar licks all day long.

I really enjoyed re-finding Gentle Sticky Wind; in fact I loved it so much that I decided to digitize Side A of the tape. But I didn’t digitize the tracks individually, rather I recorded Side A as a single 45-minute track before converting it to MP3. Now I have the 21st equivalent of a mix tape, because I can pause, rewind, or go forward on the MP3 – just like I could on the cassette. For the record (no pun intended), it’s a mix best played after hours. Anyone who wants experience Gentle Sticky Wind for themselves, in glorious Mono, can get it at these links below.

May Gentle Sticky Wind glue you to the 1980s. Enjoy!

Listen to Streaming Audio

Download the MP3 File

Play it on Youtube

Letter To Kathi Goertzen

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Photo courtesy of Steve Lacey

In 1985 I had to visit the Public Defender’s office in Seattle’s Smith Tower (a story for another time). As I walked through the lobby, a TV reporter and her cameraman were waiting patiently for something. The reporter was chewing gum, blowing bubbles, and tapping her high heels on the ground in a marching pattern while she held a mic.

That reporter was Kathi Goertzen of KOMO TV News.

I pretended not to notice someone famous was in the building. I mean, come on…it was THE Kathi Goertzen! I was nervous. When confronted by an intersection in life that includes famous people, I usually embarrass myself somehow unless I go underground. Even if I didn’t have the guts to talk with her, I simply couldn’t get over that visual of a toe-tapping reporter blowing bubbles.

At the time I was working overnight at Shoreline Family Shell in Shoreline. It was a job worthy of a thousand goofy stories; I worked with a crew surrounded by subplots. Even though it was right on State Route 99, the station was also very boring overnight, save for the occasional tweaker or coke head gassing up while yelling at some presumed threat. Those were the ones who paid me in – for real – wads of crumpled money, silver certificates, or bags of wheatback pennies.

This job also came at a very low time in my life.

Things weren’t going right. I had worked just about every job, and lost my fair share of them too. The future just wasn’t clicking, and I seemed to be floating on open water without a port in site. Any sort of future seemed shackled to jobs where the manager scheduled me for just enough hours to not give me benefits like health insurance. In short: my life was stagnated.

One night in the gas kiosk I started thinking again about that chance meeting at Smith Tower with Kathi, and somehow the notion of writing her a letter seemed like the right idea. Maybe I just needed something to lift my spirits and help me forget that my career was stalled. But I couldn’t just write something like, “Hi…how’s it goin’? I really like you on the news and stuff…” No, I needed a hook, something that would convince her to read a letter written by a pump jockey from Shoreline. Something fun to write. Something – more importantly – fun to read. So Kathi Goertzen of KOMO TV4 received an award so wonderful, so prestigious, and so legendary that no one outside of my circle of friends had ever heard of it:

The Cutest Woman in TV News Award

In the hand-written letter I first described how we had crossed paths at Smith Tower, and then the fictional account of how she had won the award at random. Names of female newscasters of the era were written on pieces of paper: Kathi, KING TV’s Jean Enerson, and KIRO TV’s Susan Hutchison. In a big bowl, Byl the Cat stirred them around with his paw before a name was chosen. My friends and I then pledged loyalty to the winner and watched the news together while eating pizza. Of course it was all hooey, and probably not believable; I just wanted to write her a letter.

I also wanted to deliver it by hand. My friend Jamie tagged along, and we headed downtown on a Monday afternoon. I knew we probably wouldn’t be allowed to give it straight to Kathi, but it would be worth a shot.

“I have a letter here for Kathi Goertzen,” I said holding it in front of me. The person at the front desk gracefully took the letter and thanked us. Knowing that crazies probably walk in off the street all the time, we dutifully announced that we weren’t crazies.

“That’s alright,” she said. “We have a dog that sniffs all her mail.”

By the end of the week she replied to the letter. It is probably buried in my archives somewhere (aka “plastic bin in garage”), but I recall most of the correspondance. She thanked me for the honor of being chosen. “Words can’t begin to describe my surprise and gratitude.” She also sent her regards to Byl the Cat for being so instrumental in her “achieving such a great honor.” What a ham.

“It is true,” she wrote, “that I chew gum while on assignment, much to my producer’s dismay.”

She went on to say that she hoped we would continue watching her and drinking beer, even though beer was never mentioned in my letter. “I hope to be here for a long time, unless my ratings plummet.” Thankfully her ratings never did.

Her letter was like a single-page double-spaced Helvetica-typed piece of happiness.

I always hoped to get a letter in reply, but didn’t expect that it would raise my spirits so much. I felt that I had a knack at something, and that there might be a future yet for a guy who to that point had just been floundering. As might be expected, things did get better.

But the story doesn’t end there…

After 9/11, I felt tremendous thankfulness for the people who had helped me through my earlier life, especially the times when I was either broke or floundering. I thought it would be a great idea to write some letters. For example one went to the high school teacher who introduced me to so many great films like Bullitt and Citizen Kane. Another went a friend’s parents who treated me like their own son. It seemed important to let these folks know that the things they did in the past were still appreciated, and that I was thankful for even the small acts of kindness they had shared.

And once again, I got to thinking about Kathi Goertzen.

I remembered 1985, when my stalled life was tied to that brief and goofy correspondence with someone famous – the one shining beacon of normalcy for the whole year. Should I write to her? Kathi’s email address at KOMO was on the station’s website. But what would I say? I didn’t know right off, but it just seemed like the right thing to do.

“I don’t expect you to remember,” my 2004 email to Kathi began. I went on to explain the embarrassing tale of how I had concocted a story in 1985 about Byl the Cat choosing her as The Cutest Woman in TV News with his paw. But I also wrote how the brief correspondence we had really brightened my day and helped my future look reasonable and positive. In the final paragraphs the described how I had finally turned my life around for the better, and eventually got a degree from WSU – willingly tying that letter from her to a turnaround that got me on the right track in life.

A couple days later I got a gracious reply, thanking me for the email and commenting on the humor behind the “award” she received. “You really give me too much credit,” she wrote, “for what you had inside all along.” Always a class act, that one.

On August 12, 2012 we lost Kathi to brain tumors which she had been battling for 14 years.

Throughout her fight she remained as positive as she was back in the day, even as the tumors kept coming back and taking more away. Her words of encouragement to me and others in the past turned back on her, as thousands of well-wishers and fans like me continued to support her as a long-time local favorite personality. I chuckle a bit when I think back to the mid 1980s, and the whole idea of sending off a letter to Kathi. As much as I groan and shake my head about the contents of that letter now, I’m glad I did it. What it has shown me is even the small intersections in life can be important, and influential later on. You may never know how much impact your words will have on someone, so make them good words. And you may never know when an award might come your way.

Rest In Peace Kathi; you still win.

Note: I originally wrote this story in 2010.  In 2011 I shared it on Kathi’s Facebook page, and got a comment back from her.  “This is so touching!” she wrote. “I’m going to share your story with my daughters.”  It makes me happy that she was able to read it before she passed away.