BLTA and Fries

DEC. 30, SOUTH BEACH, OR–After yoga class, feeling fit and flexible, I cruise over to Flashbacks for a thoroughly un-yogic lunch. I can hear the music as I get out of the cars. Beatles. The Rubber Soul album.Through the windows I see two middle-aged women, their brown hair in upswept dos. There’s nothing left in their red baskets except grease and salt.

I push through the door, pass the grab-a-toy game, and gaze at the much-erased and rewritten specials board: Cheeseburger, fries and medium drink, $5.95. Shake of the day? Pumpkin. Soup? Chicken noodle. Pie? Apple.

A waitress clad in a red Flashbacks tee shirt approaches, menu in hand. Before she can lead me to window area, I ask if I can sit in one of the corner booths by the ice cream counter.

Ah, my table. It’s warm, private, and the red vinyl seat isn’t torn yet. “I Love Lucy” posters hang over my head as I take off my coat, open my book and settle in.

I remember when this place was new. About 10 years ago, I interviewed the original owners for the News-Times. They had a vision of an old-time 1950s diner where all the kids would hang out. The juke box played more Elvis than ’60s music in those days. Yellowed copies of Popular Science graced every table for pre-dinner reading. The waitresses wore poodle skirts, and every now and then they’d stop everything to do a dance number.

Ah, those were the days. But the owners had another restaurant, The Chalet, at the other end of town, and running both was too much. Plus Flashbacks soon gained a reputation for miserably slow service. It was a great place for meetings because you had plenty of time to talk, but if you just wanted to eat and go, not so good.

The new owners have dropped some of the 50s kitsch and speeded up the service. They also added pizzas to the menu, but it’s the burgers and ice cream dishes that make it worth the trip. As the only place open for dinner every night in South Beach and located within walking distance of two hotels, Flashbacks is well situated to survive in this tourist-based economy. With the new college opening up the hill next year, things will only get better.

Today, it’s Christmas vacation. I watch as skinny young girls peruse the ice cream tubs. “I want some of that and that and. . . ” Lilly, a tiny efficient waitress, dishes up ice cream, tosses on sprinkles, sprays whipped cream from a can. She mixes trays full of milkshakes, served in big glasses with the leftovers in tall tin cups like the old days. In between, she runs the cash register and waits on regulars like me.

I order my usual, the BLTA. That’s a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich with avocado. It comes with a ton of crispy fries that I wash down with iced tea. I read my book and spy on the other customers.

A father tells his little boy, “I hear they have a game where you can drive a car.” I nod to myself. They do. Three of them in the next room, which is set up so the tables face a mural of a drive-in theater like the one that used to sit across the highway. Beyond that is a glassed-in room full of video games.

I’m not doing a commercial here. Some of the dinner items aren’t so good, and there’s something odd about the pizza sauce, but Flashbacks is a great place for boomers to take their kids and grandkids. Mom-types like me sit there singing with the jukebox while their embarrassed offspring play games until the food is ready. The kids don’t care about the Three Stooges or the Beatles or Elvis, whose pictures cover the walls, nor are they excited by the life-size cutouts of John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe on the way to the restrooms, but the folks enjoy the memories.

My BLTA tastes especially delicious today. Mayonnaise oozes out the sides, and thick slices of bacon hang over the edges of the bread. Soon my hands are covered with mayo and avocado. And the fries, oh the fries, crisp on the outside, soft and hot on the inside. I read and eat and observe.

At the table across the way, two kids drive the cardboard Corvette convertibles their food came in across the red-and-chrome Formica table. A fat guy wearing pajama bottoms pays at the register. An attractive woman with hard-soled boots and tight jeans clomps up behind him. A mother and daughter study the ice cream. Bubble gum or mint chocolate chip? The owner rushes out of the pizza kitchen, wearing an apron, a black scarf tied pirate-style around his head. “How ya doin’?” he says, not stopping on his way to the grill.

The phone rings, muffled video games jingle from the back room, conversation murmurs like the nearby ocean, and I sing “Under the Boardwalk” with the jukebox as I read, sated and content.

It’s going to take a lot of sun salutes to work this off, but I don’t care. Live in the moment. Ommmm.

Christmas at Georgie’s

We ate Christmas dinner sitting side by side at a table overlooking the ocean at Georgie’s Beachside Grill in Newport, OR. After days of snow and ice, the air had warmed up enough that we just had rain. The sky offered an ever-changing show of white, blue and thunder-gray, and the sea, a froth of white and aquamarine, covered the entire beach. Living here, we often forget to look at the ocean so near our home, but we had plenty of time on Christmas. Until the food came, it was that or look at ourselves in the mirror on the far wall.

One might expect most people to be at home with their loved ones, opening presents, eating monstrous meals, everyone talking at once, but it was just the two of us, plus many other couples and family groups who decided not to cook. Our one expected guest, our son Michael, was still snowed in and couldn’t get here from Portland, and I decided it was not a holiday for me if I had to spend the day in the kitchen.

The “Grill” part of Georgie’s name is a misnomer. Located next to the Hallmark Hotel, it is an elegant restaurant with white tablecloths, crystal glasses, candles, staff in white shirts and black pants, soft music, the whole bit. For Christmas, one could have anything on the regular menu, but the specials were the best deal. For $18.95, we got plates loaded with turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy,sweet potatoes and green beans almondine, followed by our choice of a four-berry cobbler covered with vanilla bean ice cream or a chocolate lava cake. We walked out of there so full it hurt. We didn’t need another meal that day. We just nibbled on some of the many cookies and candies sent by loved ones.

While we were filling up on actual food, our dog Annie was eating half of her brother Chico’s red collar. We’re talking thick, heavy-duty stuff. Upon arriving home, we realized Chico was naked. I soon spotted half of his collar on the grass. Luckily it was the half with the buckle and tags. Poop-scooping over the next three days showed us where the other half went. Annie. It didn’t seem to bother her.

Enjoy the rest of the holidays, and, as I keep telling the dogs, “If it ain’t food, don’t eat it.”

The Heart of South Beach

DEC. 23, 2008–SOUTH BEACH, OR–It’s Christmas Eve Eve, as my husband used to call it. Maybe a better name is “last chance day.” Receiving a sudden deluge of book orders, I discovered I had used all of my padded envelopes to mail Christmas presents, so I had to go to Staples in Newport. Cars lined Highway 101, and filled the parking lot. Who buys office supplies two days before Christmas? Apparently a lot of people do, trying to fill last-minute orders like me, suddenly realizing that report is due before the holidays and oh my God, the holidays are tomorrow, or desperately seeking Christmas presents.

Books packaged in the car, I had to wait half of forever to merge back into the traffic on 101. Everyone’s out of school. Lots of folks are out of work, voluntarily or not. The Georgia-Pacific mill, one of our biggest employers, has furloughed all hourly employees without pay through the holidays. Even without paychecks, we’re finally freed from our prisons of snow and ice, and credit cards will get us through to January.

You can’t get here from anywhere else, except perhaps by boat. Portland is still snowed in, so we beach dwellers have our little island of 40-degree warmth to ourselves. The rain has let up, the air is crisp, the sky is pale blue, and the ocean is a deeper blue frosted with white. The blades of grass are beginning to spring back up, and the trees are shaking off the last flakes of ice like dogs shaking the water off their fur.

Speaking of dogs, let me take you to the South Beach Post Office. It’s 4:10 p.m., 20 minutes to closing, people lined up to the door. As I got out of the car, I saw one dog, then another and another and another. Four little dogs pattered around the linoleum floor. Three were long-haired pug-nosed types named Lulu, Cleopatra, and something else. The other, Henry, possibly a miniature poodle, huddled against its owner, terrorized by a little boy who kept leaping around among the people. The dogs sniffed the scents of our dogs off our pants and shoes, and greeted newcomers. Their owner didn’t seem to think it was strange to take four dogs into the Post Office, but that’s South Beach. As I was mailing my books, a Rottweiler wandered out of the back room behind the counter. “Get back!” hollered the clerk. He did, but he sneaked out again. How could he resist? All these people, and all these dogs.

Most of the folks in line carried Christmas boxes. Each had the same question: Will it get there on time? Let’s put it this way. Overnight mail here takes two days.

A bowl of candy sat on the counter amid various Santas and reindeer. The postmistress, Valerie, wore a red baseball cap with green stitching that said, “Santa . . . I’ve been good.” The two women tossed packages onto the scale, slapped on stamps and stickers, collected money, passed out change, wished everyone a Merry Christmas, and the dogs, wagging their stubby tails, said hello to one and all.

The Post Office, which shares a building with a video/computer/office supply store and a gym, is the heart of South Beach. No one wears uniforms; the walls don’t offer pictures of wanted criminals. We do have racks of greeting cards, a return slot for the video store next door, stacks of telephone books for anyone who wants one, and the biggest bulletin board around. You can find cats, dogs, llamas and goats needing homes, housekeepers and handymen seeking work, yoga teachers offering classes, writers doing readings, emergency telephone numbers for the sick, the lonely and the addicted, business cards, and lots of spare pushpins for anyone with a message to share.

I love picking up the mail from my box. It may be all bills or ads, but there’s a chance I’ll find a magazine or a letter or even a card informing me that there’s a package waiting. No matter how cold it gets outside, it’s always warm in the Post Office. If they’re not busy, the ladies will dig through their change for that commemorative quarter you’re seeking or help you figure out how to wrap that odd-shaped thingamajig you bought for Uncle Pete. It wasn’t like that back in San Jose.

People hold the door open for each other here. You walk in and think ahh, home. Even when the counter is closed and no one else is around, it feels good at the Post Office. And the acoustics are great. Catch me on the way to church or a concert and I’ll be singing ma may mee mo moo, warming up my voice. Or maybe bibbity bibbity bibbity may mee my mo moo. I’ll grab my mail, read the bulletin board and walk out still singing.

My mother used to ask me where downtown South Beach was located. I kept telling her there is no downtown. South Beach is not a city, just a postal designation, a stretch of Lincoln County land between the Yaquina Bridge and Seal Rock. But if I had to pinpoint the center of South Beach, it would have to be the Post Office. Stick around long enough, and you’ll meet everyone there.

Snow’s not so bad if you think like a kid




After whining about the snow here in South Beach, known for surfing not skiing, I received my stepson’s happy reaction to the white stuff in Portland by e-mail and decided to stop watching the disaster reporting on TV and embrace the weather. I put on my thermals and boots, stocking cap, gloves and heavy coat and went out with the dogs. I laughed as they pawed at the snow and ate chunks of it as if the yard were a giant snowcone. I savored the crunch of my boots on the snow, tested the top powdery layer, the brittle frozen center and the solid ice at the bottom and measured the depth with a ruler: approximately two inches. I snapped endless photos and threw snowballs for the dogs to chase. I let my inner child out to play.

The second morning dawned blue and pink, and we had sun on snow that had been whipped into peaks like frosting by the dogs’ running and wrestling. They played for hours, seemingly unaware that it was 25 degrees. The front-yard snow lay perfectly smooth, except for bird tracks, like tiny quotation marks. The driveway still showed the tire-tracks from our brave newspaper carrier and my footprints to the mailbox—which was frozen shut.

Alas, my giant blue hydrangea plant sits broken under the weight of frozen snow, but the junipers, rhodendrons and azaleas stand strong, and I’m hopeful for my rosemary and lavender.

I will be so glad to see grass and clear pavement again, but that’s not going to happen for a few more days. A blend of rain and snow is predicted for today and tomorrow, but the temperature may actually get up to 40. Meanwhile, there is something magical about all this amazing snow. I wonder what I could use to sled down the hill. Hmm.

Snow? But It’s the Beach!

I have never seen so much snow falling in my life. We live on the Oregon coast, near the beach, at sea level. Before we moved here, we came up in February for the annual Seafood and Wine Festival. It was snowing then, but lightly, and everyone said, “Oh, that never happens.” Wrong. It seems to snow more each year. The above picture was taken Sunday morning, before the heavy snow came. The dogs had a great time sliding around and eating chunks of ice. Now everything is solid white, it’s about 25 degrees, and the dogs are huddled together on the big green chair in the living room.

Thank God I did my singing in Nye Beach on Saturday when it was merely cold. I woke up Sunday to the so-called “Winter Wonderland.” I have learned over the years that it’s only a wonderland for skiers and characters in fairy tales. Those of us who need to work in it, drive on it or who have broken heaters don’t enjoy it so much.

Yesterday I made it to church during a lull in the storm, zipped to Fred Meyer’s to buy a few last Christmas gifts and made it home just as the snow started to fall. I spent hours looking out the window, amazed. So much snow, so thick. So beautiful. But this California kid keeps thinking, All right, I got my photos. Enough already. There’s some blue in the sky, and it is absolutely gorgeous out my window, but we’re afraid to go anywhere because everything is turning to ice and expected to stay that way for several days.

Now I know you folks who live in real snow country are thinking, big deal, a couple inches for a few days, but we Silicon Valley expatriates are not wired for snow. I don’t have chains for the new car, and I forgot to wrap the pipes. Mostly I worried about the dogs turning into pupsicles in the laundry room where they sleep.

Up in Portland, where the weather is worse, our son Michael rode his bike to the store. He only crashed once, he said. Unfortunately, he was carrying his groceries and watched his milk trickle one way and his hot chocolate the other. Oh well. He’s young. He sent photos of snow angels.

Singing to the Salami


Scene: Nye Beach, the frou-frou section of Newport, 4:15 p.m. Saturday

I walk into the Nye Beach Market and notice a boy and two girls sitting around a gingerbread structure. It isn’t a house. It looks like a pile of squares. Gingerbread condos? I am weary, having roamed from shop to shop seeking willing merchants with actual customers since 3:00.

“Would you like some music?” I ask, spreading my gear on the cushy red chairs. “Why not?” says the young woman behind the counter. “It might just be us though.” Whatever. I whip through “Feliz Navidad” for the third time today, followed by “The Marvelous Toy” and “Mary Did You Know?” As I sing, struggling to be heard over the refrigerators, I realize those are two-foot-long salamis hanging above a counter full of sweets, including three-quarters of a chocolate cheesecake. Two women come in and browse shelves of chocolates and fancy olives while the boy leans over the cake, carefully frosting the edges. Next time I look, all the kids are licking the leftover frosting out of a bowl.

I decide to move on.

I have already been to Coastal Breezes, a knick-knack shop where Mr. and Mrs. Santa waved at me coming and going while I sang to patio chairs occupied by stuffed Santa figurines. Every time a truck came by, I lost audio contact.

Next I walked up the hill to the wine shop, where I expected to find our old friend Wendy behind the counter. Who were these strangers surrounded by wine-tasters talking the language of color, nose and provenance? “Would you like some music?” I asked. The two men behind the bar shrugged. “I guess we’ll turn the jazz off,” the older man said. The other man just kept talking. And talking and talking. As I squeezed between the wine racks and sang, my voice cracked. “You need some wine,” someone suggested. “No,” I said. “It would coat my throat.” Besides, I knew I was just unnerved by the haughty attitude of the audience. Wine did sound good.

I swigged my water and went on. A middle-aged couple, possibly Hispanic, came in, loudly proclaiming, “Sue Fagalde Lick,” my full name. “Who are you?” I asked the woman, but I guess she didn’t hear me over the wine clamor. Her husband followed. “Hi Sue,” he said, clearing knowing me from somewhere. “I love your books,” the woman went on. “I didn’t know you were such a beautiful singer, too.” “Oh, thank you,” I said. I had no idea who they were, but I did an extra song for their benefit.

On to the Dapper Frog gallery, where my friend Nancy works amid glass art priced at thousands of dollars. At least it was warm and pretty in there. I sang to $100 candle holders, $4,000 masks and swirly chandeliers that cost almost as much as my car. Oh, and don’t forget the lime green Buddha. I think he was only $1,500.

I was lucky to get out of there without breaking something. Nancy was the one who sent me to the market. She meant well.

Business was slow everywhere because of the weather. It was in the low 40s and the weather forecasters had bee predicting snow for tonight and tomorrow. Yes, snow on the beach. I wore so many layers I felt like one of those kids so bundled up they can’t walk. Last weekend, the weather was comfortable and dry. I played outside, and the stores were jammed, but this time, merchants twiddled their thumbs, watching their holiday profits disappear. . .

From the market, I head west. I stop at the tea shop and this old woman with hair, face and coat all the same pale yellow informs me that the tiny gift shop is open but the tea room is closed. She clearly doesn’t want company. “I’ll move on,” I say. She suggests “next door.” Uh, the Sandbar, one of the roughest bars in town? I don’t think so. Not the lingerie shop either. I consider the Chowder Bowl restaurant, but upon opening the door, I am deafened by the roar of a vacuum cleaner. Again, no.

It begins to rain hard nuggets of water that drive me to the shelter of Illingworth’s, one of the oldest gift shops in the area. As I park myself in a corner between the salt water taffy, chocolate truffles and a Christmas tree decorated all in silver, the page-boy-haired manager and her few customers welcome me and laugh when I say it’s starting to rain “or something.” “It’s that ‘something’ that worries me,” someone says. “Rain, I can handle.” Amen. By then I have set up and taken down my music stand and guitar and changed eyeglasses about 10 times. The acoustics are good, the audience complimentary. I’m staying here for the rest of my tour.

Finally it’s 5:00. Darkness has fallen, but the rain has stopped. I pack up and head past the lighted shops to my Honda.

Across from my car sits Café Mundo, sort of like a restaurant in a treehouse. I’ll have to describe it in a future column, but the light glows red from the windows and I think about how I’d like to slide into a chair, take off my coat and order something intensely alcoholic. Lacking that, I would settle for going home and throwing myself on the floor in the corpse pose for a day or two, but it’s time for real life, dogs at the door, everybody needing dinner, chores to finish, and one more chance to practice my piano music for tomorrow morning’s Mass.

Feliz Navidad, already.

Was it born in a bakery?

Annie and I were walking Thiel Creek Road again yesterday when we came upon a young neighbor with a baby in a stroller. I was prepared to discipline my pup if she tried to jump on them, but the stroller made her nervous, so she wouldn’t go near it. “Pretty dog,” the mom called. I know I should have said something back like, “Beautiful baby,” but it didn’t come out of my mouth. I’m as unused to babies as Annie is.

Anyway, we were distracted by the arrival of the woman’s dog, a dachshund which had often come roaring out into the street to bark at my dogs. I always worried about her getting hit by a car. From a distance one could barely see her. Turns out she had already been hit. A while back, the doxie almost died when a car bashed into her, cracking her skull. But she has recovered and was back out in the street, barking at us while its owner hollered, “Punkin, come, Punkin!” Finally Punkin’s owner picked her up and I hurried Annie up the hill and around the corner out of sight.

Actually I don’t know if the dachshund’s name was Punkin or Pumpkin; lots of people mispronounce that word. But the bigger question is why name a dog after the big orange Halloween squash? Especially a dog who is neither orange nor big?

It gets worse. Last week when I was walking Chico, we ran into an older man with a black dog he’d picked up at the Humane Society. The dog’s name was Donut, he said, shaking his head. Can you imagine saying, “Donut, heel”? What if the dog thinks you’re saying “Do not heel”? Either way, Donut was not heeling. As the man admired my reasonably well-behaved pooch, I said lessons had helped us a lot. Yeah, he’s thinking about it, the man said as the dog pulled him halfway across the street.

So why are people around here naming their dogs after food? Mine have always had human names. But I guess that’s nuts, too. Back in the good old days, dogs had names like Blackie and Spot.

Then there was the dog Grandpa Fagalde tried to name after the first President Bush. The dog didn’t respond, must have been a Democrat, so Grandpa renamed him Skipper. Don’t ask me why. But the mutt barked so much I think his middle name must have been “Shut Up!”

Take a walk. You never know what you might see.

Hot yoga

Location: Waldport, on the Oregon Coast

Inside an old building that looks from the outside like half of a tin can, we gathered in a circle with our yoga mats and blankets. It was hot in there, the lights turned down, red lamps glowing off a molded ceiling that looked as if it were carpeted. It reminded me of an Indian sweat lodge.

Two yoga teachers were offering a special “restorative yoga” class to help us de-stress during the holidays. We drove through the rain to meet late on a Sunday afternoon. Although I have been doing yoga off and on since my teens and seriously for the last couple of years, this was big league yoga. Several of the students were yoga teachers, and I could tell by the way they immediately settled into deep meditation that I might not be able to keep up.

But I did. With Indian music purring in the background, the teachers, Ursula Adler from Switzerland and Brigitte Herold from Germany, led us through long, long periods of meditation, followed by rapid-fire asanas (yoga postures). I could do them, but as I looked around, I couldn’t believe how flexible some of these men and women were. Where I could barely touch my ankles, they could reach far beyond their feet. But yoga is not a competitive sport. You work from where you’re at. I must have tried too hard because I’m still sore.

The second half had us holding various poses for at least five minutes at a time. Many seemed easy enough, stretching out over a folded blanket on our fronts, backs and sides. There was chanting and soft talking as Brigitte quoted a sage who said that when we accept that the life we have is the only one we get and stop worrying about what other lives we might have led, we will stop suffering.

I keep thinking about that as I deal with various challenges ranging from stove troubles to family members and friends who are terminally ill. Couple that with last night’s sermon at Sacred Heart where we met for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. When God asks us to do something, do we say yes, like Mary? How many times do we say no to what God wants us to do because we’re busy or it seems too hard?

Back in the sweat lodge, the teacher instructed us to surrender into the poses. “You have nothing else to do,” she said. What a thought. You have nothing else to do. Not just in yoga, but in whatever we do, if we live in the moment and enjoy the one thing we’re doing, how much happier we might be.

I didn’t come here to sermonize. I just want you to picture this circle of people lying completely still, breathing softly into gray wool blankets, feeling the warmth of their breath on their own faces, red light glowing overhead, music playing softly, and this sweetly accented voice saying, “You have nothing else to do.”

Think about it.

***
Today a book called Doga arrived in my mailbox. After all this serious yoga, it is truly delightful. It’s a collection of photos of dogs doing yoga postures and explaining them to us stiff-bodied humans. Yoga comes to them naturally, and we have much to learn from our friends the dogis (pronounced DOH-gees, as in yogis). Every page makes me smile. I bought it used on Amazon.com. You can, too. Sometimes what you have to do in this moment is laugh.

Namaste.

Great Blue Heron on Thiel Creek Pond


Down the street and around the corner from our home in the Oregon coastal forest, we turn onto Thiel Creek Road, where just beyond the fire hydrant sits a pond no bigger than most swimming pools. The tree-shaded pond is dark, dotted with water spiders, newts, pine needles and an dead limb that fell last winter. Two pink blow-up floaters have run aground, shriveled hunks of plastic. I always wonder how deep the water is and imagine it is painfully cold. When I walk by at sunset, the pink of the sky reflects in the glassy water, and I am glad to live so close to this piece of nature.

On Wednesday, I was walking my dog Chico at lunchtime. It was a cool, clear November day, the air sweet and refreshing in my lungs. As we turned the corner, I heard a loud rustling and watched a great blue heron rise up in front of us, flying across the pond to perch on a tree, from which it sat watching us, tilting its head from side to side. Now, I am used to Stellar’s jays, robins, Oregon juncos and the occasional crow, but this huge and magnificent bird is a rare visitor whose wings seemed to reach from one side of the pond to the other. What a gift to see it even once.

It was still there when we came back. We walked through trees so tall I couldn’t see the tops of them. I took the dog through his training routine. Sit, stay, come, down, yes, I mean it, down. By the time we head home, he’s slowing down, starting to match his steps to mine. As we approached the pond, the heron rose up in front of us again. This time, it flew west toward the ocean. “Look, Chico, look,” I said, but the dog had his nose on the ground, sniffing the remnants of someone’s lunch.

Later, when I walked the other dog, Annie, all we saw was a squirrel, brown with a rusty chest, busily eating a pine cone. The squirrel ignored us, and Annie ignored the squirrel.

On our walks, we always see something. Maybe it’s a newt slowly crossing the road, a gopher snake, wooly bear caterpillars or the black ones that look like they wear two strings of jewels. We meet the dachshund who lives just past the pond or the limping man with two basset hounds. The flora changes with the seasons from the first trillium in early spring to wild daisies, cow parsnip, and Scotch broom so yellow it glows to the fall mushrooms that look like pancakes on sticks or the ones that hang out of the mud like jingles on a tambourine.

Thiel Creek Road is officially 98th Street now, and the creek is only visible here and there until we move farther east where the houses yield to forest and swamp, but every walk brings something new to see if we bother to look.

All Aboard the Ark

In uptown Newport, a funky old place called The Ark has always fascinated me. Built in the city’s early-1900s heyday, it started as a theater. When I arrived in 1996, it seemed to be a quirky cult-like youth hangout. Back in ’98, when I worked for the News-Times, I was sent there once to take pictures of the elaborate Christmas decorations. The lights were so dim I couldn’t see what I was doing. Picture a movie theater just before the show starts and then imagine trying to shoot photographs there with a film-type camera. Can you turn up the lights, I asked. No, they said. Needless to say, my photos weren’t great, but we got something printable out of it.

My next experience at The Ark came about two years ago when Fred and I joined some writer friends seeking a new venue for the Nye Beach Writers Series. Under new owners, the building mostly sat dark, but they offered dance classes there occasionally. When we arrived, the place was painfully cold and smelled like mildew. The mother-son team who owned it greeted us warmly enough and led us on a tour. Most of the theater seats had been replaced by cozy groupings of sofas and tables with all kinds of knick-knacks, from a ceramic elephant to an oversized xylophone. The stage held a permanent setting of chairs gathered around an electric fireplace. Cool. However, the owners are highly religious. When they insisted they would have to censor the readings to make sure we had no sex or profanity, well, that wasn’t going to work. Plus if we got a good crowd, there weren’t enough seats. And that smell, ugh. The ultimate deal-killer for me was the rat that ran across the floor right in front of me. Uh, no thank-you, ever so nice to meet you.

I went back to The Ark Friday night for a concert by the local Sweet Adelines chorus, about 30 middle-aged-to-old women in glittery Christmas sweaters. This time, the Ark was warm and smelled of popcorn from a machine in the corner. No rats. The soft lighting reflected off the revolving ball overhead. With all their families and friends, the Addies drew a big crowd, more than fit in the seats. I’m glad I got there early. The ancient theater seat felt comfortable, the acoustics were good, and the music was not bad for very far off Broadway. There’s a bar at the back of room, which is nice, but a shortage of restrooms, which is awkward when all of the performers are female. I used the men’s room. The aisles have been “carpeted” with aqua rope that is supposed to be nautical, but I kept tripping on it. Overall, the Ark is still strange and funky, definitely quirky, but I wouldn’t mind sitting in one of those chairs on the stage and singing my songs.

The Ark is one of the pillars of what Newport is calling its Deco District. In an effort to bring folks uptown and slow the constant turnover of businesses there, they’re trying to make all the buildings, new and old, fit the Deco tradition with pastel paint and faintly Moorish décor. The Ark is showing weekly old-time movies, and people can rent it for various events. Check out The Ark’s website at http://www.thearkatnewport.com to see what I’m talking about.