It’s an interesting life

Life has been interesting since we last met. Okay, it’s always interesting, but perhaps more interesting. For example, I had a colonoscopy last Thursday, which I am not about to discuss. If you don’t know what it is, Google it. As everyone says, the preparation is worse than the procedure. So true. But I do have a question: How come my husband got a muffin and coffee after his cataract surgery, and all I got was a tiny can of orange juice? He didn’t even have to fast for two days. Which leads to another question. I was going over insurance statements and discovered that the hospital billed over $200 for Fred’s post-op supplies. What was in that muffin?
Somebody ripped off 15 copies of my book Stories Grandma Never Told between the South Beach Post Office and the Seattle Bulk Mail Center. They sent back my box with a note and all the packing material inside. If the box had simply broken open, wouldn’t the packing material be gone, too? Meanwhile, I had a miffed distributor waiting in California and sent 15 more copies via priority mail. They arrived on Monday. He’s still miffed. I’m out $300. I hate to imagine what happened to the other books. Are they lying in a dumpster somewhere?
I have a new gig writing for a new airline mag for SeaPort Airlines, which recently started flying out of Newport. Suddenly I have to, like, work, but my first assignment is a story on the local lighthouses. Such hard duty going out to Yaquina Head on a warm, sunny afternoon to take notes and shoot pictures. But it is going to be a scramble to get four stories done by June 30.
I made my first post-move visit to my husband at Timberwood Court Memory Care Center in Albany, OR. It’s almost two hours each way. I’m stocking up on books on CD. Fred is settling in well at his new home. It’s a great place, with lots of activities, loving caregivers, tasteful décor and delicious food. But it isn’t home, and it’s almost two hours away from where I live, so I can’t visit nearly as often as I used to visit him at Graceland. Fred has forgotten so much, and he will soon forget me. Save the pity party; it’s just fact. It will be easier for him when that happens. For me, no, but that’s life.

I have resolved to stop on each trip to see something I haven’t seen before. I’ll report back, with photos.
On the way to Albany, I finally got my guitar in for servicing at Bullfrog Music Owner Kurt Dietrich has moved the store to 423 SW Third Street, so when you’re coming into Corvallis from the coast, it’s easy to find, easy to park, and, praise God, it’s in the same building with a Subway restaurant and public restrooms, everything a wandering musician needs. Plus Kurt loves to talk music, jam, teach, and sell guitars and mandolins. He promised I would fall in love with my Martin all over again. I believe him. Meanwhile, I bought myself a new Roland amp I can’t wait to plug into. It’s easy to carry, has all the bells and whistles I want and will make me sound so good.
My dog Chico has found a new place to jump the fence, and he has escaped four times in the last week. The neighbors are getting used to helping me corral him. Sometimes even a dog treat won’t stop him. He just loves to run, and I’m certainly getting my exercise chasing him around the neighborhood, calling, “Here Chico, Chic, Chic, Chic, cookies.” I’ll walk for blocks, then suddenly see him fly by, foot-long tongue hanging out, teeth showing in a big doggy grin as he zooms past me. When I finally leash him up, he shows no remorse. Sixteen months old and counting.

A meeting of the moms

My dogs Chico and Annie were born at a home down Thiel Creek Road just past where the road forks, one way going uphill through fields of Scotch broom, wild blackberries and a rainbow of wildflowers, the other meandering downhill along the creek, bounded by ferns and fir trees. Usually we walk the upper path. It’s sunny and not so steep, but yesterday I took Chico down the lower path.

I hadn’t planned to take him to his birthplace. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t remember the house. He and Annie were only eight weeks old, 9 and 8 pounds of scared puppy, when Fred and I put them in the car and took them home that rainy April day last year. We had never had any contact with that family since then, and I don’t even remember their names.

But this time, the woman came driving by with one of her daughters. She recognized me and the dog and stopped to talk. “He looks just like his mother,” she said. Really, I thought, gazing at my dog. Perhaps. The mother dog, a Staffordshire bull terrier, was rounder and more mottled black and tan while Chico, half Lab, is primarily black. However, this summer his fur is lightening up, with more brown showing every day. And those eyes, those huge chocolate eyes, are unmistakable. Chico’s taller than his mom was, like a woman’s teenage son.

“Is he fixed?” the woman asked.

“Oh yeah,” I said, thinking about how my brother-and-sister pets were already humping each other at four months and I was relieved to have them neutered before Annie wound up pregnant.

The woman drove on after that. Later I wondered if she had thought maybe Chico would be a good stud for breeding. No way. Two crazy dogs is enough.

Having gone that far and been sighted by the human mother, we walked toward the house. We were still a couple hundred yards away when I heard a dog barking like crazy from the garage. I was sure it was Chico’s mother. While he didn’t recognize the blue house, he did react to the voice, head cocked, ears up. “Mom?” He didn’t bark back, but I could see he was puzzled.

I felt bad for the dogs, separated for life. “He’s okay,” I called out to the hidden mother dog. “Big and healthy. I’ll take good care of him. I’m so sorry.” And we turned and headed back up the hill.

It was a long walk home. We collapsed on the cool lawn, Chico leaning all his 64 pounds on me as I pet his soft brown-black head. “You’re such a good boy,” I said, wrapping my arms around him and hugging him tight.

Fred is happy in his new home

Miracles do happen. Fred’s transition to the Timberwood Court Memory Care Center was a smooth one. He was ready to go when I got to Graceland, and we hit the road. It’s 74 miles, so he started saying, “This is far.” Then it occurred to him we might be going to see his doctor, who is in Corvallis. He got a little worried when we passed that exit, but I assured him we were going the right way. Nonstop ’50s music on XM Radio helped us both relax. How can you be stressed when you’re singing “Lollipop, Lollipop” or screaming with Little Richard?

At Timberwood, the staff greeted him like royalty and quickly enveloped him in their world. Because he spent his career working in recreation, they plan to have him help with their activities. They have also sucked me into playing music for them. While they entertained Fred, I got his room put together. The furniture arrived during lunch, so it soon felt like home. At 2:00, Fred boarded the Timberwood bus for a field trip to a nearby historic site and I quietly slipped away.

This morning, the director reported that he shed no tears, stayed up late talking to new friends, and slept soundly all night. Hallelujah.

Me, I was chasing an escaped dog in the dark for an hour last night, and I had shed quite a few tears by the time I finally got him home. Today I’m enjoying a quiet day at my desk. At least it was quiet until the thunder started a few minutes ago. Maybe I’ll put off our dog walk a little longer and turn off the computer before the power goes out.

Search ends in Albany

Today was my last day with my husband Fred in Newport. Tomorrow I’m taking him to an Alzheimer’s care home in Albany, OR where I hope he will be happier and better cared for. It had reached the point where he sobbed every day and wandered every night. A week ago, he walked right out the door and down the road. I’ve learned the official term for that; it’s called “elopement.” No harm was done. Grace of the Graceland adult foster care home found him and convinced him to come back for dinner, but it was a sign that it was time to do something.

I spent last Thursday and Friday driving for hours from one “home” to another in the Salem and Corvallis areas. It was hot, I was late everywhere I went, and after a while everyone looked demented to me. But Timberwood seems to have everything I was looking for: a caring staff, lively residents, great activities all day long, wonderful food, a nurse on duty every day, and an attractive private room. But it is a locked facility. It is an institution. It is a pretty prison.

And it’s two hours away.

Today, after I packed my husband’s clothes and pictures and CDs in suitcases and boxes, we sat on the grass on the hill behind Graceland, looking over the new greenhouse Fred helped build, past the neighbor’s red barn to the ocean. We played with the house dog, Lucy, and we kissed and held hands and snuggled. Fred was full of questions like “How will I get there?” and “Where will you sleep?” “I’m anxious,” he kept saying. I doubt he’ll sleep much tonight. Perhaps he’ll do one more naked show at 2 a.m. But tomorrow he’ll be in good hands. Just not mine.

Buzzing at Cafe Mundo

I went to Café Mundo alone last week. I had been anxious to check out the Thursday night open mic. Now that all the TV finales were over, I decided to go. Events at the care home with Fred had been so upsetting, I just couldn’t stay home alone. In short, suddenly the owners were suggesting I take him home, a complete 180 from previous discussions in which they said I could not possibly take care of him by myself. Apparently some of his behavior is becoming a problem. But aren’t they being paid to deal with it? Just when you think you have your ducks in a row . . .

I got just buzzed enough on Great White ale to almost forget what was bothering me. That’s good, but that’s how you make an alcoholic. So I started making phone calls about the nursing home dilemma the next day. Stay tuned for how that turns out.

Anyway, back to Café Mundo. It’s a fascinating place hidden behind thick trees and shrubs right in the middle of Nye Beach. The restaurant used to be all outside, with quirky statues, hay bales and all different kinds of chairs and tables, like somebody’s backyard, except with a stage decorated in multi-colored fishing nets. But it was too cold most of the year, and eventually the owners built the new place to serve their fans year-round. It’s two stories, with most of the seating upstairs. You can look over the railing and see the kitchen and a few chairs downstairs. The food is a quirky blend of sushi, hamburgers and vegan/vegetarian cuisine. Food is pulled up to the second story on a dumbwaiter behind the bar.

The décor is eclectic, bits and pieces patched together, with steel beams and wooden ones, Japanese lanterns, photos, prints, hanging lengths of cloth blowing in the breeze from an open window. Each table and chair is different.

That night the clientele was young adults, many wearing knit caps. Everyone seemed to know each other, except me. I had envisioned that a lot of boomers, the same people who come to Nye Beach Writers, would take over the stage, but no. I drowned my depression with a Great White ale all alone, glad that I hadn’t planned on performing. Ironically, my table was painted cerulean blue with a big old yellow happy-face sunshine painted on it. It offered the perfect message: cheer up and join the fun.

At the next table, a dozen young adults celebrated a birthday. They brought in a homemade cake lit with candles, and everyone sang to the birthday girl. They were all so fresh, attractive and happy. I enjoyed watching them. I wished I could have had some of that cake with its thick white frosting and sprinkles.

Across the street out the window beside me, I watched this giant cream-colored dog, who looked like a blend of Airedale, poodle and wolfhound. For ages, he sat with his butt on the steps and his feet on the sidewalk of the funky little house where he lived. He just stayed there, like a statue, until the man of the house drove his red pickup into the driveway. Even then the dog moved just enough to avoid getting hit, greeted the man, and resumed his spot as a yard decoration.

As an open mic venue, I wouldn’t enjoy playing Mundo. My folky music doesn’t fit in with the youthful trend, and the roar of voices almost drowns out the songs, just as that Great White drowned out my blues.

When I reached the bottom of my tall glass of ale, I knew it was time to go. One more and I wouldn’t be able to drive. Easing down the stairs and pushing through the double doors into the fresh air and comparative quiet, I sat on a cushioned chair outside for a minute, looking around at the trees in the twilight. I could almost pretend it was my back yard—except for the faint whiff of marijuana in the air.

Time to walk off my buzz and drive home to the puppies.

Red-faced at A&W

Has this ever happened to you? I had just given my order at a drive-up A&W at the intersection of I-5 and Highway 34, coming back from a job fair at Chemeketa Community College. It was already around 8 pm. I hadn’t had much to eat all day. No time, too many butterflies in the stomach. I hadn’t planned to stop because I wanted to get home in time to watch the Grey’s Anatomy season finale. Priorities, you know? So I’m at this drive-up at this ancient eatery in need of a paint job, and I have told the invisible young man in the speaker that I want a regular root beer, regular hot dog and regular fries. I’m just a regular girl, aren’t I? Not exactly a healthy meal, but it had been a long day.

As the voice was confirming my order, I thought to look in my wallet to see what configuration of bills I would use to pay for my food. Oh no! All I had was one dollar bill and a few nickels and dimes. The twenty I got at the grocery store on Wednesday was in the pocket of my heavy coat, which was at home, this being an unusually warm day. I couldn’t even afford the root beer. I tried to explain to the voice that I had to cancel my order. Like one of those computer voices on the telephone, he kept saying he didn’t understand. Would I please confirm my order? After the third try, I simply drove out of line and back onto the highway, still hungry, thoroughly embarrassed and five minutes later than I wanted to be. I never did see the source of the voice. For all I know, it really was a computer speaking to me.

Now if I had not cared about the TV show, I could have eaten at a sit-down restaurant that took credit cards. No problem. Or if I had checked my funds earlier, I could have used the ATM at the college. But no, there I was, bigshot writer with one dollar and change, fleeing from the A & W.

Earlier that afternoon, I was guest speaker at Kitty Pavlish’s writing research class at Oregon Coast Community College. That fluffed my ego up so nicely, I decided to go for the job fair in Salem, looking for teaching jobs to supplement my writing. I was doomed to be late, even though I drove like a maniac, but I managed to speak to people about distance education, jobs in the English department, and community education courses. I came out of there excited about the possibilities. They’re actually looking for teachers, and it’s a great college, all red brick and new, in a beautiful green setting.

By the time I got home, I knew I couldn’t do that commute on a regular basis unless I earned a lot of money. It’s two hours minimum each way and most of a tank of gas, but I did learn some things that should help me wherever I teach.

Meanwhile, I missed the first 15 minutes of my show and then they had to end it with both Izzie and George apparently dying, George looking like raw meat after he got hit by a bus. Lovely thing to watch before bedtime. Why couldn’t he just ride off into the sunset?

During a commercial, I emptied my coat pockets: $20, a wolf keychain I bought two weeks ago,two dead AA batteries from my camera, and a smaller battery whose origin I do not know. If you think that’s bad, you ought to see my car!


Saturday was one of those days when my husband wanted to be anywhere but the adult foster care home where he lives now, so I pointed the car east, not sure where I was going, only knowing that the weather was warmer in that direction. I remembered an antiques store in Toledo, OR was selling off its inventory with 50 percent discounts. Why not? So we had wandered down Main Street and were on our way back up to the car with a pretty blue candle holder when I saw my friend Loie approaching with a glass in her hand. I had seen Loie twice that week already, at the Central Coast Chorale concert Sunday (fabulous!) and our Willamette Writers meeting on Tuesday.

“Sue Lick!” she shouted.

“You’re everywhere!” I hollered back. Not another soul was on that street to hear us. In fact, most of the businesses were closed. Toledo can be eerily quiet sometimes. As Loie got closer, I asked if that brown liquid in her glass was iced tea or something stronger. She just smiled.

Then she explained that another friend had seen us through the window of the Pig Feathers barbecue place and she’d come out to fetch us. “All your writer friends are there having a party for Trish’s birthday,” she said. “Come join us.”

I looked at my watch. Fred was due back at Graceland for dinner in 45 minutes, but I could make a phone call . . . “Okay. I’m going to go down and get the car.”

“Tell me you’re not just going to drive away,” she nudged.

“Oh no.” God no, a party where I didn’t have to dress up, entertain, or bring a potluck dish? Save me a seat.

A few minutes later, my confused husband and I walked into the restaurant to a rain of applause. Soon we were eating barbecue, drinking Hamm’s beer, laughing and making far too much noise. When I had arrived at the care home, Fred had been sitting in the dark in his room doing nothing, just looking angry. Now, for the first time in weeks, he was smiling, and so was I. It was exactly the right medicine for both of us.

Most of the folks there used to meet monthly, ostensibly to critique each other’s writing, but we spent more time eating and socializing, and nobody’s work ever got negative reviews. On Saturday, we decided to start meeting again, but this time it would be purely social. Cheers to that.

God is good.

Where have all the bookstores gone?

Around here in beautiful Newport, Oregon, we have been blessed for years with several wonderful bookstores. A while back, I wrote about how Sea Towne Books has moved into a smaller space and isn’t selling much. Yesterday I visited Canyon Way, which used to be THE bookshop around here. Its ancient rooms went on and on, filled with all kinds of books, plus knicknacks, quilts, clothing, garden tools, CDs and more. There was also a top-notch restaurant, plus a deli, but the books were the thing.

Ages ago, I interviewed the owner, Robie, who told me the long history of store. We hadn’t talked for a while. Well, things have changed there, too. I knew they hosting local musicians in the deli area once a week in what they were calling Club 1216. But I had no idea they had expanded the seating area into space that used to be occupied by hundreds of books.

Chatting with Kate, bookstore manager, fishing boat helper and part-time mandolin player, I learned that she would like me to do a program, which is good, but I also learned that she and Robie have simply stopped ordering books, which is bad. People are buying their books online, and now they’re reading them on machines like Amazon’s Kindle. Funky independent bookstores can’t compete. Either they close or offer something different, so Canyon Way, just up the hill from the Bayfront, is changing the emphasis to gifts, entertainment and food. “I love books, but this will be good, too,” Kate said, hurrying off to help her husband paint the new seating area.

The local authors’ shelf is still there, but I didn’t see my book Stories Grandma Never Told. I hope somebody bought both copies. I did find a copy of my other recent book, Freelancing for Newspapers. It’s a shame nobody has taken it home, but it’s one book over from Stephen King’s On Writing. How cool is that?

I hear even the big brick-and-mortar chains are struggling. On my Freelancing for Newspapers blog, we have talked a lot about newspapers shrinking and going out of business, but bookstores are quietly dying, too. What’s really sad is that most people haven’t even noticed.

"Please buy something"

I heard the voice before my eyes focused in the dark little gift shop in Waldport. It was a man’s voice, rather high-pitched, explaining that he only turned on the lights when he had customers. Well, I thought, we’re here. Turn the lights on. But he never did. I guess he meant customers who might actually buy something.

Given some lights and a different attitude, we might have. My brother, visiting from California, was looking for a hat for his wife. He didn’t find what he wanted and hurried back out to the light, which left me, Ms. Guilt, listening to the man’s tale of woe. People came in and looked but never bought anything, he said. Business was so bad he didn’t know what he was going to do.

I felt sorry for him, but a lot of people are in the same fix. I don’t know what I’m going to do when the money runs out, but I tried to find something affordable that I might actually use. I didn’t need another hat or a tie-dyed tee shirt. How many key rings and refrigerator magnets does a person need? Postcards of the Oregon Coast? I can see the real thing every day. The more the shopkeeper whined, the more I told myself, you silly co-dependent, go already; it’s not your problem to fix.

“Nothing?” he asked as I headed toward the light.

“No,” I replied.

Crunching through saints and squirrels

With my father and brother coming to visit this week, I was able to buy my father a birthday present that would never survive a trip through the mail. Due to water rationing in San Jose, Dad’s planning to tear up his back lawn and put in gravel with some flowers and something in the middle. I thought, why not a statue?

Pottery World is an oddity between the smoke shop and the pet grooming place near NE 9th Street and 101 in Newport. They have all these statues in various states of disarray. Pieces of broken pottery litter the ground. I found a great Jesus with a missing foot. A sign in one area proclaimed: “Distressed, let’s make a deal.” Actually, everything’s a little distressed, having been out in the weather for God knows how long. There’s no logic to the prices. I paid $30 for a two-foot-tall St. Francis or St. Something, who weighs about 50 pounds. Other less impressive pieces cost nearly $200.

The sales staff is one blond boy about 11 years old, who comes up to people with the standard line: “If you’ve got any questions, just ask.” I think his mom works in the smoke shop across the street. When we bought “Stoney,” the dog I purchased as a memorial when our real dog Sadie died, he ran over there to get change. This time, I gave him $30 cash. “Do you want your dollar?” the kid asked. Of course I said no.

I saw a bench with a monkey head, cherubs and cats, bird baths, Chinese icons, squirrels and saints, Virgin Marys, sun faces, vases, chairs, everything made out of clay or formed concrete. My shoes crunched on broken pieces and cobwebs grabbed at my arms. I don’t know where this stuff comes from, but it seems to sit there until it gets sold or disintegrates.

I don’t have a receipt or anything. St. Whoever spent two days wrapped in a plaid blanket in the back of my car, looking like a dead guy. Now he’s hiding behind a box in the garage until Dad’s birthday comes—and until I figure out how to get the price off his head.