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.


Torn between SJC and PDX

I’m sitting near gate C10 at San Jose International Airport, heading home after my aunt’s funeral. The weather is perfect outside, low 80s, warm but not hot. The hills are still green. After lunch, my father drove me through the cemetery, past Grandma’s house and through many places that evoke strong memories of my past life. Right now I want to stay in San Jose. I want to stop saying goodbye, knowing it will be months before I see any family. I want to be within 10 minutes of them all. I also want to enjoy the work possibilities here. De Anza College is taking teaching applications, and I want to apply.

Meanwhile, I am so Oregonian. I am dressed differently in my jeans, Hawaiian shirt and rugged shoes. I think differently, too, treasuring the simplicity of life in a small coastal town, loving my yard surrounded by trees, my dogs able to run and spread mud all over. I love that I meet someone I know every time I go out. Here, I keep seeing people I think I might know, but I can never be sure. It has been too long. I say “You look familiar,” and sometimes, like this morning when I met the mother of one of my school classmates walking down Fenley Avenue, I guess correctly. But usually I look twice and think, no, probably not.

I found a hat in the gift shop just like the one my dogs tattered. It says San Jose in blue letters on tan, blue, and maroon suede. I considered buying it, but then thought “You can’t go home again.” I know it’s a cliché, but I would add, “You can go home, but it will be different—and so will you.”

I’m part Californian, part Oregonian and will be forever changed no matter which way I fly.

Time to fly again and try not to cry as I watch the city fade away. I have avoided the big sob so far. As I told my cousins, see you online.
Caught between a big man and a crying baby, I stare out the window of the plane. Crowded houses, office buildings and freeways yield to the multicolored waters of Alviso Bay shining in the late-afternoon sun. Beyond that, I name the bridges over San Francisco Bay. The water gives way to brown hills, then snow-sprinkled hills, then the green hills of Oregon, and the multi-hued pastures of the Willamette Valley. Soon we are cruising over the Columbia River as we make our descent into Portland and bump down onto the runway. As I pick up my suitcase at baggage claim, it has all gone so quickly, I imagine I can still feel the warmth of my father’s hand on the handle. Within minutes, I’m in my car, speeding down the freeway as the sun sets on my right and my heart struggles to catch up.


Adeus, Aunt Edna

Tomorrow I’m flying to San Jose for my Aunt Edna’s funeral. My mother’s favorite aunt and the last of her generation, she made it to 100 years, plus 3 1/2 months and she was spunky to the end. I’ll miss her. When I think about her, I hear her voice. She always talked loud and fast with a hint of a Portuguese accent. You knew when Edna was in the building, and she never lacked for an opinion. She was also always fashionably dressed. In her later years, her hair turned the most beautiful white. Her eyes still sparkled and she had a wonderful smile.

Widowed for approximately 50 years, Edna never had any children. Neither did her sister Virginia, who is still going at 92 or 93. They lived in separate houses on the same street in San Jose. Nice houses with beautiful gardens. And they traveled all over the world together. There isn’t much of this planet that they missed. They weren’t all cushy cruises either; not that long ago, they took a freighter through the middle of Europe. Even when Edna started saying, “Oh, my traveling days are over,” we’d hear that she was going again. A stroke finally kept her home, but she lived a lot of years and used them well.

I often cringe at the term “celebration of life,” especially when the person died too young or suffered too long. But I think this truly will be a celebration, and I am selfishly looking forward to seeing my family again all gathered in one place.

I could live without the whole business at the airports, the shuttles, security, luggage check and retrieval, etc., but I have a whole lot of hugs waiting for me down south. Plus it’s warm as opposed to the clouds and cold hugging the Oregon Coast. I might not even need my raincoat. Imagine that.


Yes, that’s my dog

One thing about having a fence-jumping dog is that you get to meet the neighbors. Chico tends to go through the bushes to the large property behind us. The other day, I met Sande. Today I met her husband Jim. Their names are on the sign at the coffee kiosk up the highway. Something about congratulations on 49 years. Must be marriage; they’re too old to be 49 years old. They’re nice people, and they get a lot of traffic from people buying coffee and baked goods.

I also met their golden retriever-yellow lab puppy, who’s probably about eight months old. She is so soft and sweet I was ready to trade Jumping Black Flash for her. But no, Jim came out and called her home. Eventually, I retrieved my guy, panting, drooling and pulling at the leash.

Turns out Chico has been doing more visiting than I thought. Pat across the street is used to my dogs showing up in his workshop. He’ll chuckle and say, “Oh, your pups came over for a visit.” But I didn’t realize Chico was also visiting the family at the end of the block. “Oh, he’s always over here,” the woman told me today. I thought surely she meant a different dog. “Black dog with a purple collar?” “That’s him.” In fact, she helped me catch him today when he finally grew weary enough to slow down. I clipped the short leash on him and dragged him home, back to his sister, who can’t jump the fence. He drank about a gallon of water and collapsed on the floor. We might say he has had his walk for the day.

One might ask why the dog is still jumping the fence when I spent a fortune having a taller enclosure built and just last weekend had concrete laid down so it wouldn’t be so muddy. Well, once in a while I like to let the dogs stretch their legs in the bigger yard. They mostly run in circles, chasing each other, playing hide-and-attack, sniffing the grass and enjoying the scenery. But all I have to do is turn my back for one minute, and there’s Chico on the wrong side of the fence.

We couldn’t let this happen if we still lived in suburbia. I used to chase old Sadie down Safari Drive, and it was dangerous. Too many cars, too many people, too many loose dogs with attitude. Once she got out on the highway and froze in fear, while cars dodged around her. But here in the coastal forest, where only four families live full-time on our street and everybody loves dogs, it’s pretty safe. I just get a little extra exercise and a chance to talk to the neighbors. Good old Chico.


Working and running in the rain

It’s another rainy day on the Oregon Coast. We have had so many wet, cold, gray days that some of us can’t help fantasizing about driving south until we hit sunshine and warmth. The weather reports from back home in California taunt us with temperatures in the 70s and a big “S” for sun. My computer says it’s 39 degrees here right now at nearly 9:30 a.m.

But Oregonians are tough. They know that if they don’t work in the rain, nothing will get ever get done. As I type, the concrete guys are back. A couple days ago, these bold gentlemen in their slickers dug out the mud and scraps of lawn in the shady side of the new dog enclosure to prepare for the concrete. Now they’re laying strips of metal within the wooden forms and getting ready to pour, even though it’s raining sideways. If the rain continues, the slab will be stippled with raindrops. It seems appropriate.

I’m tempted to run out and write something in the wet concrete as soon as they leave. Meanwhile the dogs and I keep looking out the windows, the same mixture of eagerness, curiosity and anxiety on our faces.

Being unable to let the dogs into their enclosure the last two days has been a challenge. Chico jumped the old fence twice yesterday. On the next block, I met a neighbor named Sandy. “You’re the writer, aren’t you?” she asked as Chico zoomed past me and out of sight. “Yes,” I said and resumed the chase. Lord, that dog loves to run. He darted in and out of the driveways somewhat in the direction I was going. We arrived home at the same time. As I opened the door, he skidded over the step and across the carpet, his tongue hanging out like a foot-long piece of baloney. Whew!