Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Greetings From Astoria, Oregon (What a Difference a Year Makes)


A year ago I was in Astoria, Oregon, spending time with my ex-brother-in-law, whose code name in my blog is Eleanor. Despite the nightmare marriage and the hellish divorce, I got to keep Eleanor and he played more than a small part in my healing. The week I spent with him last year, I got to see Rufus Wainwright in concert for the first time (life changing!) and I also got to work in a bakery for a couple of days, which was a really pleasant distraction. Right now, I'm back in Astoria for a couple of days, here on the West Coast for book research but taking a little breather in one of my favorite states. I dug out my blog post about my last year trip to Astoria and was delighted to see it was dated July 30th, exactly one year to the day. I'm rerunning it now-- wow I used to write super long posts. If you must skim (and I wouldn't blame you) the part that I like best is about trying to find a replacement keyboard for my iBook.

Astoria, OR—July 30, 2007

I worked another day (half-day) at the Blue Scorcher on Sunday, far less busy but the exhaustion from Saturday’s shift caught up with me by midday Sunday. Eleanor came down to the bakery to meet me and we strolled the Astoria outdoor market and I bought more...

Yarn. Yes. Does this surprise anyone? I got a thousand yards of hand-dyed something or other—cashmere? I have no idea. But it is bright red and will become a beautiful sweater soon enough.

Then home for a nap. In theory, naps are wonderful things. But my reality is that naps always leave me with a headache and feeling anxious. This one was no different. I had what felt like one long bad dream, then woke up with my head screaming. Failed marriage dream, I think. And the emotions carried over into waking life and I felt awful.

So I meditated for a while to calm down, then settled on the front step with some Pema Chodron, hoping to put things in perspective. Good old Pema did not fail me and I wasn’t at all surprised to find myself reading a passage about how all of our life is a dream and to treat it that way, a series of passing moments. Of course when I was suffering from a dream I came upon a passage about dreams. This is how my life works.

Eleanor teases me for seeing synchronicity everywhere. He says maybe it’s just the more you do, the more you’re going to find yourself in situations that feel synchronous and that if you stay locked in a room, that won’t happen. Since I do a lot of stuff, a lot of other stuff seems related to the point of feeling trippy. And I swear, if I did lock myself in a room, my phone would ring and it would be an unsolicited solicitor calling to ask me a few questions about locking myself in a room. Really, this is how my life works.

Sunday night Eleanor and I headed out for a drive, over this bridge that was designed by the Golden Gate Bridge guy. This took us into Washington state, which is five minutes from Astoria, to a place called Dismal Nitch. Isn’t that excellent? (Had we turned the other way, we would have gone to Cape Disappointment and I have to say it’s a toss up, which of these names I prefer.)

There was nothing dismal about the drive though and I looked out the window and saw a big white cloud backlit by the moon, which, upon sensing my stare, made a grand entrance into the cobalt new night sky. Like some fan dancer at a burlesque show, slowly that white disk did emerge until, at last, casting aside all modesty, showed itself whole and naked. I asked Eleanor how much he’d paid to have such a show put on for me.

Then up to the Astoria Column, a monument to Lewis and Clark and mighty erect, like the Leaning Tower of Pisa after one too many hits of Viagra. (Last year, on my visit here, I climbed all the way to the top, having a severe anxiety attack courtesy of my acrophobia. But it was worth the tears and hyperventilating because the view from the top is glorious.)

I collapsed into bed Sunday night at 10 p.m., thankfully forgoing more bad dreams for a solid nine hours of sleep, which felt like more than I’ve had, total, in the past six months. This still left me up way earlier than Eleanor, so I set off into town in search of coffee and wifi and to await the opening of Bits & Bytes, the computer repair store.

As it happened, for some reason the C, D, and E keys on my laptop quit working on Sunday. As my friend Lauren put it when I told her this, “Great, the most popular letters on Wheel of Fortune.”

Having brought an assload of work with me, I couldn’t afford to not have a working computer. On the other hand, being in a tiny town in Oregon meant, I knew, the odds of finding Mac help were slim to a lot-less-than-slim.

The guy at Bits & Bytes had an external USB keyboard—quick fix—but it was not compatible. So I tried the Sears, but they just had TVs and lawn mowers. I tried a thrift store, but that didn’t work. When Radio Shack opened, I burst into there, hopeful. Nothing Mac compatible. The clerk handed me the local phone book, which was roughly the size of a Dr. Seuss book with about as many numbers in it as Mother Teresa’s little black book. I did track a guy who might be able to help me, but he wasn’t reachable on foot.

So I did that thing I sometimes do, lingering at the counter of a store where no one can help me, thinking somehow this will change things. (Actually, I also do this in relationships.) But this time, my persistence paid off.

“You might try Mallternative,” said the clerk, gesturing vaguely out the door.

Mallternative. Mallternative. Mallternative...

I found the little store easily enough. Despite being severely directionally impaired, I do okay in small towns where you have a large body of water to guide you (walk towards it, walk away from it... ). The place reminded me of my father’s basement only without the stench of old cigars and terror. It was full of musical instruments, old vinyl records, and countless posters. I made a mental note to tell Eleanor there was even a Bridge Over Troubled Waters Simon and Garfunkel poster and... get this Eleanor... that was precisely the song I was singing in my head on the drive to Dismal Nitch! So there!

The guy behind the counter was waiting on two women, one of whom was quiet and had a funny little smile on her face and the other one who seemed to have some mental disability. I mean that as an observation, not a judgment. It was just totally trippy in the place.

The guy was consulting someone on the phone, presumably his partner, to try to determine how much to offer the women, who wanted to sell him their mint condition collection of twenty-six VHS tapes of that old TV ambulance show, “Emergency.”

I could tell the guy on the other end was not comprehending, so the guy on my end was quoting from the show. “You know,’ he said, “Rampart...” and then he did this hilarious, very dry and deadpan delivery of the show’s plot, which was the same every week. And which I LOVED because I watched it every single week.

When he got off the phone, he inspected the toy Dukes of Hazzard car, also mint condition and still in the box, also being offered by the women. He said he needed to do a little mechanical work and popped the little hood and pretended to tinker around.

I was so amused by this guy that I was in no hurry, even though it was clear I’d be waiting awhile. So I got a guitar off the wall—a beautiful blonde Fender acoustic that I’ll swear was the identical model of the guitar I had in the ‘80s—and I played. I played terribly, but I played.

At last he gave the women $75 for the Emergency tapes, the DOH car, and a few other things they’d brought in in their rolling suitcase. They were elated.

Finally, he turned his attention to me.

“I have a problem,” I said. “I doubt you can help me. I’ve been traveling the country trying to complete my Emergency VHS collection and...”

I got a smile out of him. Then he picked up a guitar. And we sat across from each other playing guitars and I explained my Mac problem. He said he might have a USB keyboard somewhere and disappeared into the back. It seemed so incredibly unlikely that he’d be able to help me that my brain started understanding the truth: Of COURSE he was going to have what I needed.

I hovered and peeked around and found more synchronous observations to share with Eleanor. There, on the bathroom door, was a huge poster of Glen Campbell, who for reasons I won’t go into, reminds me of Strike Anywhere. And there, inside the bathroom... no kidding... the exact same toilet my ex-husband has. I’m not talking your standard Kohler folks. I mean, my ex-husband is a plumber that collects very obscure plumbing. This was no ordinary toilet.

Mister Mallternative emerged from the back with not one but two keyboards. The first one worked. He wanted six bucks for it. I gave him ten. Then I added him to the Husband Fantasy List.

Husband Fantasy List is a game I’ve played this week. I have no intention of ever having another husband. Ever. That’s not the point. Husband Fantasy List is like the Airport Game where you make up stories about strangers you’ll never see again. For example, last Thursday at a Portland street festival, I spotted a drunken street poet spewing a drunken poem about being a drunken street poet. I nudged Eleanor—“My next husband!” Then Saturday, a red-faced know-it-all housepainter stopped us to tell us all about everything, because he was an expert on everything. “There’s another one,” I said.

But Mister Mallternative wasn’t on the sarcastic list. He was funny and charming and we talked computers and swapped blog addresses and I imagined, for ten seconds, the many dinners we’d share once I’d run back to Austin, retrieved the dogs and the chickens, and returned to Astoria and my job at the bakery for good.

Then we said good-bye, never to see each other again. And Eleanor met me for coffee and even he had to smile when I asked him to note the music coming out of the speakers.

The Beatles.

Okay, okay, so the Beatles are ubiquitous. But really, this timing was perfect. For I call Eleanor after Miss Rigby, and he, in fact, calls me Prudence, as in dear. I’m telling you, there is no such thing as coincidence.

1 comment:

SeaStar said...

Haven't read your blog in a while, Spike, and enjoyed reading today. What a difference a year makes indeed/ We were ustup in the Northwest - gorgeous - yes!