“O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring …” -Walt Whitman
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and rumor has it that he rested, after all of this construction, on a seventh day. Now, I’m no theologist, but I can tell you up front that this is actually bullshit. God did not rest on the seventh day, he actually hid Easter eggs.
Easter eggs, you read that right. Like the stuff you find on your favorite DVDs or video games, or the little plastic shells filled with half-melted chocolate in your front yard in spring.
But these eggs weren’t in DVDs or games, these were big Easter eggs. Like, the grand daddy of all Easter eggs. You see, God had pretty much set up shop enough to keep humanity floating, so the story goes, for a few millennia, but god realized on the sixth day that he wasn’t running a Motel 6 here. There were amenities that needed to be made, and on that seventh day he decided to add a little sparkle to an otherwise industrious build.
I didn’t know about these Easter eggs until I graduated college and came home to a room filled with boxes upon boxes of books and stuffed animals, and no true future with the English degree I had chosen. So I picked up an apron and a visor and I began blending smoothies for a living. My days were much of the same: blend, shower, nap, repeat. Blend, shower, nap, repeat. I remember flopping down one day on my twin sized bed after work, and I looked up at the only piece of art I had on the wall at the time: a garage sale portrait by a local artist and writer who sold it to me at the age of 10 for 20 bucks. A steal for such a lustrous painting of a man with a sensitive ponytail and distant look in his eye, illuminated by these neon green spots on the homemade frame.
My mom happened to wander in and made mention of the fact that the artist wrote for the weekly paper in town, and she had been in contact with him about my recent graduation and the fact that I still had the painting, and lets be honest, that I didn’t really have a Lindsay Lohan shot in heaven at finding a job locally that could have me out of their home on my own in under three months. This writer graciously suggested that the paper was looking for interns to do their unpaid bidding and that I sounded like a good candidate. So, without much thought to it, I called and setup an interview with the managing editor. That painting? Easter egg number one (thanks, big man upstairs).
I picked out what I thought would be appropriate to wear to an interview: button down shirt, scarf, and a jacket from The Gap with those professorial elbow pads that reeked of overreaching intentions.
I got lost on the way there because the instructions were to show up at a building on the corner of Marsh and Osos Streets in downtown San Luis Obispo, but when I came to this corner all I found was a defunct investment building. But I saw a rack of papers around the corner, and I realized that I must be close so I jogged around the corner, afraid of showing up late to the interview. It was then I realized why I couldn’t find the New Times office: it was in the basement. Easter egg number 2.
I trotted downstairs, breathless, where I was met by a fellow Irish man manning a small, underlit desk.
I told him I was there for an intern interview and he said that Ashley, the Managing Editor, would be back at any moment, that she had gone out to get breakfast. Then he gave me a look that assured me I was an idiot for not bringing reading material because she was likely to be more than a little late since it was breakfast time, and I would later learn, Ashley’s most important, sugar-fueled meal of the day. I also happened to notice that I was severely overdressed for these basement dwellers, and that in all honesty I should probably just pack it in because I smelled like yesterday’s Mango smoothy and I didn’t have the trappings of a serious writer (and I still, thankfully, don’t.).
It was a little while later when Ashley appeared with Colin Rigley in-tow, and they slowly ascended the stairs to the basement with leftovers in hand and a look on their faces that affirmed the outfit was a bit much. Still, Ashley ushered me into her office and shut the door. I tried to find a spot on the old leather couch covered in past issues of the magazine, old boxes of cereal and half-finished books, but ended up shifting uncomfortably on all of it. There was a large lamp outfitted with a knight in uniform standing guard over the hoard that is Ashley Schwellenbach’s dungeon office. She may remember things differently, but I remember her looking at me like she wasn’t quite sure what I was doing there, or what she would do with someone that wears elbow pads in her editorial room. I wasn’t sure how to answer either of those questions, so I was grateful that she didn’t ask. She also didn’t ask for my credentials, she just told me to keep showing up and they would see what “I had to offer.” At the time, I was pretty sure what I had to offer was a vast, working knowledge of Vitamix blenders and their maintenance, and some bent-up Penguin paperbacks.
But I came back. And back. And back.
I was eventually given a sort-of desk. And I met Anna Weltner, arts editor who would be come my coffee confidant and friend, and the person I most enjoyed sharing smuggled wine with in darkened movie theaters. She also had a friend named Ogo. Easter egg number 3.
Then there was Nick Powell, who wrote an article about Jewish Meerkats so moving and fucking hilarious I was drawn to him immediately. We would later bond over Live Action Role Players (and our foiled attempts at engaging them in warfare, which apparently required a ton of paperwork; picture above), poop jokes, and his inability to let go of his 80s era Libertarian values (it’s okay to let go, Nick). Easter egg number 4.
And Colin Rigley, the cranky sweet bastard who, under all of the ironic t-shirts and groans (he’s a male Tina Belcher), could make you feel so good about the shittiest piece of writing you could give him (and I gave him plenty) he deserves some sort of canonization.
And Matt Fountain who doled out life advice over cheap beer and the constant fog of cigarette smoke in the patio of McCarthy’s Bar. I miss that bastard too. And Glen Starkey who let me write movie reviews and facilitated my initiation into the basement by selling me a painting of himself when I was ten years old.
I remember the first time I said something that the editorial staff deemed universally funny. Ashley emerged from her office with a pencil and scribbled it down (I don’t remember what it was I said now) on a post-it and smacked it up on the wall. I would later contribute, along with everyone else, to some of the most depraved, politically-incorrect quotes ever uttered in a professional work environment.
Then there was Ryan, the Executive Editor who could talk you down from the ledge of writing something silly or useless or inadvertently offensive (I once almost published an ethnic pejorative in a title piece about legos. Thanks for saving me, Ryan).
Then there was Anna and our coffee dates, and her friend Ogo with tickets to a concert and this friend that she worked with
that didn’t really want to go with a bunch of strangers, but went anyways. And I bought Ogo’s friend a beer and two years later, Ashley Schwellenbach would marry that friend of Ogo’s and me, and Colin would take our engagement photos at an Ostrich Farm.
And that friend of Ogo’s? Loves. Meerkats. There’s four or five statues in their likeness sitting on the stairwell to our apartment.
There were dozens of others that made my time in the basement … my time. I can’t begin to imagine a world without these people, and now that they are all gone and off to do other things, including myself, I can’t help but think it was all one big Easter egg from the universe.
Ashley and Colin have moved to Seattle, Anna, Patrick, and Nick to Oregon, and Matt has moved on to be an esteemed writer at the daily paper in town. Glen is still around because I’m pretty sure he is actually immortal because he works for both New Times and the local college and he doesn’t seem to be looking any older.
But the point is that I found my Easter egg. And now … it’s off elsewhere in the universe doing good for other people. I hope I can find something like it again some time soon, but I am immeasurably lucky to have found it at all.
So, farewell Captn’. I’ll see you soon