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.

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.