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.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Vortech Hosting Stole My Money People

Well, I guess this is just the week of crappy customer service, eh? Please let it be known that Vortech Hosting, a shady operation in Florida, is NOT the way to go if you want a web host. I'd been with Vortech for years, not because they gave outstanding service, but because it's like having a checking account. It's just really really hard to extract yourself from a situation that requires all sorts of moving this from here to there, whether it's money or web pages. Over the years I've had a few particularly nightmarish experiences with Vortech but at least on those occasions I was eventually able to get a human on the phone to help.

However, the last FIFTEEN times I called to get them to help me resolve some serious issues I did not receive a call back or even an email back. This despite the fact they brag that they have "24/7" Live Support. That was hardly my experience.

In most cases, I have to have a really, really, really bad experience or string of experiences to walk away-- this has been true in my marriages and in my business interactions. In the former, that's foolish tenacity talking. In the latter, well it's a cross between laziness and foolish hope that things will get better.

Last month, my amazing, kick ass, genius web guy, Michael, moved ALL of my many web sites for me to a much much better hosting service-- DreamHost-- which came recommended by a lot of folks. I wrote to Vortech and told them to cancel my account. They informed me that I'd have to keep on paying through the end of August. I informed them this was not okay. They said it was in my customer agreement. I pointed out that, while that might be true, they had agreed to offer 24/7 customer service and failed to provide it, making the whole agreement moot in my eyes.

And then, today, I got an email that they'd just taken more money out of my account. Okay, so now what do I do? I'll call the Better Business Bureau and file a report. What else? It so chaps my ass when people give super crappy service AND then don't do anything to fix things. My request to cancel the account wasn't at all unreasonable. And these chumps are screwing me.

Not good.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Spike on KUT

if you happen to be listening to KUT around 4:45 today you can hear my very silly review of Seussical the Musical. not my favorite show ever, but i tried to be generous.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Join The Crowd

Anybody remember about eleven years ago that Turkish guy set up a web site looking for a date? And the url was forwarded to about eighty million people? Okay, so since then you've received nine hundred bazillion links sent to you by friends insisting you have to look at this article or watch that video. I don't send out a bunch of links. But today, as I was doing my usual news junkie thing and perusing the NYT most-emailed list, I came across this article about a YouTube video which really rocked my world. It's this guy dancing his silly dance all over the world, including here in Austin.

Watch it here.

About four million people had watched it before the Times article published. Now it's moving in on five million.

Monday, July 7, 2008

How To Make A Button

I recently wrote about how I went to a David Sedaris reading. He recommended a book of short stories by Miranda July. I was saying how much I love Sedaris AND July. This post got the attention of the folks at Vice Mag in England. They wrote to tell me about this very funny, very short video featuring Miranda July called How to Make a Button. Check it out.

Going Postal

I've had the same p.o. box for 11.5 years. I got the box because my first ex-husband was stalking me, and I had to go into hiding, and this was one way to try to keep him off my trail. In general, I love having a p.o. box-- I had one way back in the '80's in Knoxville, and this was the source of many excellent letters, the majority of them from Big Red. I'd get up, hungover, stumble to the p.o., listening to Leonard Cohen on my walkman (remember those?) and perk right up whenever there was a little something waiting.

My Austin p.o. box is less thrilling, sullied as it is by the catalyst that prompted its rental. And, since I moved to another neighborhood, now I have to drive to get my mail. But I hang on to the box for all sorts of reasons. Spending as much time in the p.o. as I do-- I'd estimate I make at least 300 trips there per year-- I've gotten to know some of the counter workers, or at least their clerk personalities. Today I got to interact with this newish, granola-ey woman-- remember the show Hodge Podge Lodge? Does anyone remember that one? That's who this clerk reminds me of-- not some new, Whole Foods faux-hippie. I'm talking the real deal, old school, long graying braid, probably has been making whole grain bread with her bare hands and homemade wine with her bare feet for at least forty years. She's not the most chipper of the p.o. lot, but today we sort of had a conversation. It went like this.

Me: Do I need more postage on these? (handing her envelopes.)

She: 21c on this one.

Me: (rooting in my bag for stray dollars) Okay, and can I have a sheet of stamps?

At this point, I strain to see what choices I have for new 42c stamps. My eyes are crap now, even with the bifocals, and so I say

Me: I can't really see them. Oh, wait, you have the hearts. I'll take the hearts.

She: Which hearts? We have three? The wedding hearts, the purple hearts, and the Valentine hearts.

Me: Oh, let's skip wars and marriages! I'll take those red ones.

She: I'll bet some of those men who got purple hearts wish they could've skipped what they had to do.

Me: As a wedding officiant, I can tell you I'll bet some of those people who got wedding hearts wish they skipped what they did.

Random stranger in line: HAHAHAHAHAHA.

I'm glad someone thought it was funny. Clerk Granola didn't crack even a hint of a smile.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


Henry's new nickname is Wolfie, seeing as he loves clothing with wolves on it. Here's a couple of pictures Big Red took of Wolfie and me the other night, front and back. Please note the state of Texas bleached into the Wolfman's hair.

About (One of) My Job(s)

Great article in the Statesman today about coworking, with a focus on LaunchPad Coworking, which is what I work. I can't say "where" I work since it's not open yet. But it's what I do-- I blog for LaunchPad Coworking, and we open in September. Check out the article here.