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.

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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!

Serendipity

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.