Upon graduating from college, and discovering that my degree was more or less the most useless thing ever, I found myself vying for multiple temp-to-hire positions. I bought suits and wrinkle free blouses and tried to teach myself how to wake up at 6:30 am every morning, in order to work a full-time office job and not get fired. I was young and inexperienced in the world of work, but I also proved quickly that I was one of the greatest packet stuffers the Pacific Northwest had ever seen.
A few jobs into my work experience, I landed a temp-to-hire at a for-profit organization (that acted like a non-profit), providing grants for up and coming inventors. The job title was administrative assistant, and I was replacing a young woman who was inextricably a better admin than I could ever hope to be, but was suffering medical problems. And aside from answering calls faster than the executive assistant on occasion (calls I wasn’t supposed to answer because they were for her boss, a fact whose import I failed to understand), I did my job really well.
It was a funny place, though. We were housed in a primarily recycled building, proof that our Portland was greener than yours, across from a business run mostly by 21st century hippies and a floor above a local sporting goods business. We simply didn’t fit in with the surrounding scenery, wearing suits and skirts, going to lunch at five-star restaurants, and planning an annual board meeting in a completely different state. After it was determined that I simply wasn’t good enough to be hired on full time, they moved offices – somewhere more metropolitan and stuffy, and without a pizza joint downstairs. It was probably for the best.
I’d only heard of Hot Lips Pizza before working in the Ecotrust building; I had been raised in the ‘burbs and we rarely traveled more than 15 minutes away for lunch or dinner out. But I was a budding foodie, and I wanted to know all about the many local eateries the city had to offer, perusing Portland Monthly magazine and visiting the Portland Citysearch website to keep up with the food trends. Hot Lips had been on my radar, and it was time for me to eat.
To be honest, I don’t remember which varieties I tried while working in the Pearl District, since it was years ago. But I do remember the perfect crust; crispy on the outside, like a good baguette, with the most idyllic chew. And I remember the slightly sweet sauce, just enough to add that unassuming tanginess of fresh tomatoes, topped with whole milk mozzarella and fresh, local, sustainable veggies. I should probably mention here that I am not a vegetarian and never will be, but there are few things more wonderful to me than a veggie pizza. So it can be conjectured that whatever I ordered, whenever I frequented Hot Lips, was veggie based. I would eat it outside on a picnic bench, I would eat it indoors with a coworker, I would bring it up to my office to eat at my desk, much to the chagrin of my stiff-upper-lip officemates. I remember the paper-lined wicker plates each slice was served on, and where I placed it when I was finished devouring what I knew would be the best slice of pizza I would find in the entire state, possibly even the entire nation (but let’s not get ahead of ourselves). I remember the day I quit working, wondering why it was that I couldn’t fit in to a place I so desperately wanted to belong.
I haven’t been back since working for the foundation, mostly because I live in another state and I doubt it would mail very well. Some family friends had a Hot Lips catered party awhile back, luckily when I was still in the state, and I snatched up a slice of veggie as fast as I could, savoring each crispy, chewy, cheesy, gooey, tomato-y bite. I mingled with people around the table, just so I could eat a couple more slices, and I went home full and content.
It’s funny to think back about that job and that building — I was convinced at the time that my life was exactly as I wanted it. I was dating a new guy, I was working in a professional office, I took environmentally friendly public transit to work every morning, and I wore conservative high heels. Eventually, the relationship crumbled just as the job did, and I began applying for jobs closer to home that allowed me to wear jeans on occasion. And I wonder if what I had really wanted, the entire time, was my very own pizza place, just down a floor, waiting for me.