Monday, August 31, 2009

Too Cute for Words

I am fortunate to be forced to drive through the country to get home from work. My regular route, which already has the ambiance of rural country life, gives me a spring-time view of baby sheep and baby cattle and baby horses. Unfortunately for my gas mileage, the main road to my house is closed for about six months, forcing an even more scenic way home. I drive past a sign that advertises eggs for sale, and another that advertises numerous veggies for sale if I desire the fun experience of tramping through the fields to pick it myself, and another boasting hay is available.

But somewhere along the way is a pasture with a mommy horse and a matching baby horse. They are either pintos or paints (I can never remember which is which) and they look exactly alike. I want to stop and get a picture because it is one of those instances where a picture really is worth more than words, but there is no "shoulder" on the road where I could pull over and pretend I have something wrong with my car and shoot a couple pictures unobtrusively. No, I'd have to pull up into their driveway and jump out and haul out my camera. It is a long, long, "pasture on each side" driveway.

I need a vote. Would it be rude to pull into the driveway and take a picture of the mare and foal? Should I drive up to the house and ask permission? The baby is getting older. I've been kicking this around for a month. What should I do?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Heros and Anti-Heros

One of the most difficult things for me to do is write a decent hero. It is lucky the anti-hero is so popular, because I cannot seem to find a hero who is perfect. I've come into contact with many heroic men and they are hardly ever perfect (at least that is what their wives, mothers, girlfriends and teachers say). But they are still heroes nonetheless.

At Christmas, during that unusual deep snow that lasted for two weeks, I met a real live hero. I live on a steep, narrow dirt road which falls steeply into a creek on either side. Foolishly I thought I could get up to my house even though there was a snow pack and a mist of ice topping it (protagonists rarely have to be bright). I got stuck. Worse, when I tried to back down to the bottom, I slipped sideways, nearly sliding into the creek. With my heart pounding, I picked up my cell phone and prayed the sketchy Verizon coverage in the hills would pick up my call. Tim, the neighbor at the top of the hill, listened as I cut in and out over the air, and--due to the superior intelligence of heroes--figured out not only that I was in trouble, but that I was in trouble on the steepest part of our road. He tramped the quarter mile from his house swinging a flashlight back and forth until he saw me, the rear end of my car precariously teetering at the edge of the road.

He yanked my chains out of my shaking hands (he didn't need the set of instructions I had been reading by my dome light) and got them onto the wheels. Together, we spun and slid and spun and slid up the hill to the semi-level part of the road.

It was only later I found out from his wife that he had been in bed, ill, that night.

I used to have a "Hero List" when I was in my early twenties. One of my co-workers saved me from an assault and arrested the culprit. And he did it with gusto. Another co-worker came to my house on his own time and installed burglar proof sliding glass door locks after I was burglarized. Another came over and figured out the reason I was so very cold was that my pilot light was out on my heater and he lit it.

Their names were Denny, Chuck and Danny and they are still on my hero list, but they are no longer alone. Tim is there. And another neighbor, Mike, who came charging to the rescue when a tree fell on my house.

And then there is Nita, who scooped me up and drove me to the hospital when I fell and dislocated my shoulder. She is a hero too.

These are all pretty heroic acts, but in writing a hero, sometimes it is little things that make an every day man become a hero. I came across one at the PNWA Writer's conference this month. His name tag announced he was "Jason Wilson", followed by "Literary Fiction". That is all I know about him. I didn't even talk to him, but on the first day of the conference, we all crammed into a large room to hear a lecture on How to Pitch to Agents and Editors. Having never attended a conference before, I didn't know I should get to the lectures early to get a good seat. I stumbled in five minutes before it began and it was packed. There were only two vacant chairs.

"Pardon me, sir, is that chair taken?" I asked.

The gray haired man looked up. "Um...yes. I'm sorry." He gaze drifted to the door in a frantic search for his peer, before it swung back to me. He gave me a guilty, lopsided grin and shrugged apologetically.

Dang. Okay, I leaned over him and used a stage whisper to another person several chairs down. "Excuse me, is that chair taken?" We repeated the process. She told me it was, glanced nervously at the doors and gave me a sheepish grimace.

Fine. I backed up to the wall and leaned against it, preparing to stand for two hours, juggling to get out the yellow pad and pen and vowing to get to all the other classes early.

Halfway down the row, a dark-haired man in a casual polo shirt and khaki pants rested his eyes on me. I was aware of his gaze, as one is nearly always aware they are being watched, and out of the corner of my eye I saw his shoulders drop as he heaved a sigh. He reached down and gathered his lime green PNWA bag and unfolded his body, stepping over the feet of all the others in the row. With his eyes still on me he said, "Please, take my chair."

I immediately fell into hero-worship.

I protested, of course, but he insisted, so I stepped over the others and took the seat, trying not to let guilt overpower the gift. As it happens, minutes later they came in and told us they were moving the lecture to a larger room, so my hero got to have a seat after all. But he cannot escape the result of his action. The fact remains, he is heroic.

So Jason Wilson, you are on my "Hero List" if you ever happen to come across this blog.

You are right there with all the aforementioned heroes. And I'll change the name, of course, but I might use you to model my next hero. You, and my other neighbor, Dick, who saved me from the tarantula. But that is a whole other story.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Mainstream is Still Upstream from Me

Jane Lotter lives in the Seattle area and is in the process of writing a book called The Bette Davis Club. It’s “a contemporary mainstream comedy set against the background of the Hollywood film industry.”

That is all she will allow me to say, but she sent me the 25 pages she submitted to the PNWA contest and it is really good. Daring. Different. Delightful.

Laurel Krill also lives in the Seattle area and sent me her contest entry too. It raises goosebumps and sends shivers down your spine. I am so keeping my fingers crossed that she gets an agent soon. If the rest of the book is as good as the first 25 pages, we'll be seeing it on the shelves.

It is so fun to meet the people who write books. I've often wondered what Steven King is like in person, or Mary Higgins Clark. What goes through their minds when they hear a bump in the night in their own house?

Friday, August 21, 2009

PNWA Awards Banquet

"You have to go."

"No I don't. I can stay here and...wash out my stockings," I whined.

Cheryl's hands found their way to her hips and her eyes narrowed. "Oh, come on." She huffed out a bracing sigh.

"I could watch television." Suddenly interested in what the television had to offer, I glanced at it to see if there was some easy way to turn it on.

She grabbed my shoulders, turned me to the door and gave a not-too-gentle shove. I limped along the two and a half miles to the convention center and jabbed a finger at the elevator button. Nothing. I stabbed it again. Nothing.

Cheryl placed a dainty finger on the button and pushed. Nothing. We hauled in the sheets and changed course two points into the parking garage. We found the stairs and climbed to the second floor. An elevator hovered in the shaft with the doors open. We rode it up to the third floor and sauntered off, trying to look cool in the late afternoon heat. I fingered my finalist ribbon and contemplated ripping it off.

"Finalists enter first. Finalists, finalists, come through," members of the PNWA staff shouted from each doorway. Cheryl and I slithered through the crowd and tossed ourselves into the banquet hall. Up in the very front of the room, near a big projection screen, I found the table labeled "Mainstream". I strolled around the table to the place card with my name and sat down. An empty chair beside me indicated a relative did not show. On the other side of me, Barry Brennessel stared down at the table cloth, fingering his silverware. I had expected Barry to be larger than life--like a politician or a CEO of an American financial institution receiving federal bail-out money--because he had finaled in two categories; mainstream and mystery/thriller. I mean, you have to be great to final in two categories, right?

"How do you do?" I said.

He looked up and gave me a shy smile. "Hi, I'm Barry."

We spent the next half hour talking about our books and now I faced a dilemma. I wanted him to win. But I still wanted Jane, Steve and Ben to win. I began to chant in my head that Barry would win the mystery/thriller category. It isn't as if I didn't want Laurel Krill, George Jarecke, or David Huebner to win, it is just that I hadn't had a chance to talk with them and hear about their books.

I leaned over toward Barry. "When they make the announcements, which category do they start with?"

"Last year they started with Mainstream."

"Good. We can get this over with fast," I mumbled.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Sandy McCormack said from a raised podium, "Welcome to the fifty-fourth Pacific Northwest Writer's Association's Writer's Conference."

Sandy began announcing the categories and the third, second and first place winners. Mainstream ended up being last. By the time she announced it, I was slumped in my chair, trying to remember the signs of stroke and wondering when the last outbreak of Legionaire's Disease occurred. I felt fuzzy and my palms sweated.

"Third place is...Laurel Krill." Although I hadn't really talked much to Laurel I was happy for her because she had a nice smile and she had a twin sister named Melanie. I clapped and clapped as she sailed up to get her ribbon and certificate.

"Second place is...Melanie Sherman." Oh, dear Lord, I said aloud. To myself I continued the prayer...please don't let me trip and fall. Don't let me knock someones coffee down their shirt. Don't let me pass out. I picked my way up to the front and someone stuck a piece of paper in my hand. My heart slammed and my mouth dried and my knees wobbled. I had written these symptoms before, in my book. But they were always describing my protagonist, Jessie, when she faced a broadside from an pirate ship, or held a flintlock to an enemy's chin, or waited to hear if she would be flogged. It was never for something good.

"And first place goes to Jane Lotter."

Laurel's sister, Melanie, took pictures and they herded all the first, second and third place winners into the elevators and across the red hot parking lot, up to the third floor of the hotel and into an executive suite. A reception with agents and editors followed. Only they weren't there yet. I swallowed and mopped my forehead, terrified. I tried a glass of wine. I talked with Shelly Shellabarger, who won third place in screen writing. Last year she had won first place in the romance category. Security came and told us there'd been a complaint...from the first floor. Please keep down the noise. Sure, ask thirty-six (or so) winners of a literary contest to be quiet. Finally the agents and editors arrived and I thought it would be perfectly fine to hide behind the curtains. Darcy Carson, bless her heart, dragged me out and launched me at some poor, unsuspecting agents.

Security came again...twice. On the third visit, they 86'd us. A day in infamy. My first experience with being escorted by several security guards out of a hotel room and down the stairs (they didn't trust us to use the elevator?). They led us to a small banquet room in the hotel and stood guard over it so we could not escape.

When I was finished blubbering to all the agents (which went about as well as the one the day before) I skulked up to the door and pointed down the hall. The guard turned to look and I scooted behind him and ran the three miles to my room, panting and spreading a palm over my heart.
I have to change my name so when I send in my submission to the agents, they will not recognize it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Saturday at PNWA

I awoke and slit one eye open. My roommate, Cheryl, was already up and humming. I read my latest pitch to her. She smiled benevolently. Dear Lord.


We scuttled the mile and a half to the convention center. During that time I decided Steve Jaquith, Jane Lotter and Ben Barrett should win first, second and third (in no particular order) Maybe that shows a certain amount of prejudice, but I liked them all so much and their book ideas that I wanted them to win.

To tell the truth, I never even wanted to be a finalist. I'm a writer, for crying out loud. It is a solitary pursuit. I'm not used to dealing with real people. I'm used to dealing with fake people in a pretend environment, in a totally different time zone--namely 1805. If one of my characters annoys me, I kill them off. The thought of having to interact with actual, live humans in real time, in an actual location terrified me. What if I forgot they were real and fired a cannon at them? What if I pointed my flintlock with one hand and sent my cutlass flying with the other?

Now I must admit that once I got to the conference, kicking and screaming, walking around with the black "finalist" ribbon waving under the name badge carried a certain thrill. It was...well, it seemed so unreal it compared favorably with my own beloved fictional people (the ones I haven't sent to Davy Jones). Total strangers approached and offered congratulations at the accomplishment. My face burns red as I write this, but...I liked it.

But first, second or third would require one-on-one interaction with agents and editors. That is carrying fun just a little too far.

More classes, more rewrites, more reading the pitch to more writers, more blank looks, more rewrites. It finally came time for my ten minutes with the agent. Walking down that long, empty hall, hearing my heels click on the uneven wooden floor and the echo of my heartbeats, clutching seventy-three yellow, damp versions of my pitch in sweaty palms, I faltered as I rounded the corner. A man in a black, hooded robe approached me, his sickle balanced on his shoulder. An unearthly, deep voice asked, "Are you here to for your last ten minutes?" I glanced at his face, hidden by the folds of the hood, and nodded. He stuck out a gnarled, skeletal hand and crooked his finger. I shuffled behind him into a dark room lit by hundreds of candles. The sulfuric odor of fire and brimstone overpowered the smell of death. I slouched into an empty chair and faced the flaming head of the agent. She bellowed out, "Why are you here?"

"I just want to go home," I squeaked out. Beside me, ten feet away, a dark curtain fluttered.

"Pay no attention to that curtain," the flaming face roared. "Tell me about your book!"

"It is" I glanced at my notes but couldn't find the latest version. "It is about a young woman who accidentally gets pressed into the Royal Navy in 1805."

"And?" reverberated into the chamber.

"And...ah...what she goes through."

Lord have mercy.

"And why are you bothering me with this," the head sizzled in the dark. I glanced under the curtain and saw a pair of expensive leather high heels. "Pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain!" the head exploded.

"Oh, sorry."

Oh, wait. Come to think of it the agent was very nice and patient. She did suggest I should rewrite the adventure story into a regency romance, but she was kind and professional with what could only be described as a cowardly lion presentation. "I do believe, I do believe, I do, I do, I do believe." When I exited, I'm positive it was in exactly the same manner the lion used after his first visit with the great and powerful OZ. I loped the two miles back to my room and hid behind the easy chair.

The awards banquet, only an hour away, had my breath spurting out in short gasps and little beads of sweat popped out on my upper lip.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

PNWA Day two

I wrote a "pitch" I thought was very good. I found my new friend and peer, Ben and gave it to him. He grimaced.

I rewrote it. I went to the "Agents Dos and Don'ts" seminar. I rewrote it again. Lori Tinkey, another first-timer at the conference told me about her book and I asked if I could read my pitch to her.

"Sure," she gave me a wide, gracious smile, "go ahead."

After I read it, her smile dissolved into a blank look, before she got it under control and the smile reappeared. This time it looked a little strained.

I rewrote it. I went to the "Agents Forum". I rewrote it. Some poor unsuspecting writer sat at a table in the Writer's Cafe and I read it to her. Her eyes became glassy and she gulped in a breath. Her smile looked more like gritted teeth to me.

I rewrote it. I went to the "Editors Forum". I rewrote it. Two struggling writers sat on a bench. With my little yellow pad in hand, I plunked myself down and forced them to listen. One of them raised an eyebrow and mentioned she had an agent's appointment, leaping up and dashing down the corridor. The other stared vacantly at a nail hole.

I met Jane Lotter, another finalist in the Mainstream category. When she talked about her book, she could barely contain her mirth. It made me want to read it. When I talked about mine to her, I stammered and lost my train of thought.

More rewrite.

A tall man, not quite on the verge of dropping into middle age yet, gave me a slow smile and held out his hand. His short dark hair nearly matched the "finalist" ribbon. My hand slid into his and in a satiny smooth voice, he gave his name, Steve Jaquith, a peer in the mainstream category. We talked and his easy charm and sense of humor made me fall madly in like with him. Aaarr, matey, I'm having to love a shipmate with a pirate flag on his business card. His book sounded delightful and I will be the first in line to have my copy of his book signed when it is published.

His smile didn't falter when I gave him my pitch. But a cloud crossed those gorgeous eyes.

I rewrote it and attended more classes. During the breaks I'd pitch it to others. They'd stare and finally say, "Humm."


The dinner on Friday night was so fun, and so interesting. Sandy McCormack told my about the historical fiction she is writing that sounds so fabulous I nearly drooled. I got her email address so I could ask her to let me know the minute she gets an offer on it.

Joseph Finder, the author of Red Carpet; the Connection between the Kremlin and America's Most Powerful Businessmen, exposing the connection between Armand Hammer, the CEO of Occidental Petroleum and the KGB, gave a great talk. Mr. Finder went on to write many thriller novels, some of which he has sold movie rights. While he gave his talk, I secretly outlined seven other versions of my pitch.

I tacked the mile to my room that night and boarded my bed with gusto.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

PNWA Fifty-Fourth Writer's Conference

I attended my first PNWA Writer's Conference at the Seattle Airport Hilton on July 30, 2009. My friend, Cheryl Sears, and I both submitted entries to the Literary Contest; she in Adult Short Topic (Article/Essay/Short Memoir) and I entered the Mainstream Category. We both were finalists.

We got to the hotel and checked in and were thrilled we got a room with two beds. What we didn't know is that our room rested over a quarter mile from the convention center. In fact, it is probably closer to a half mile. Luckily, Lilith Saintcrow warned me to wear walking shoes so I left my strappy little rhinestone sandals with the four inch heels at home and wore my black, lace-up, old-lady shoes instead.

Cheryl and I set sail across the parking lot in the 108 degree heat into the convention center and received our registration information in a lime-green shoulder bag. Surprisingly, they even included a nice, fat pen and a pad of yellow paper. We spent fifteen minutes trying to figure out how to tie the little lanyards onto our name badges and affixed the black "finalist" ribbons.

I hove to in the “How to Choose the Sessions That Are Right for You” class. Although all the speakers were excellent, Royce Buckingham had me completely enthralled. After thirteen years of rejections, he has now sold a book and the screenplay of the book.

Next came the “How to Pitch to Agents and Editors Without Being Pushy”. This whole concept of pitching to an agent or editor was so new to me that my sails started flapping in “information overload” within ten minutes. I think I’ll need one-on-one remedial tutoring on this subject.

In the “Writer’s CafĂ©” they had tables set up where you could chat with other writers. I met Ben Barrett, also a finalist in the mainstream category. His book sounded so interesting I felt a fair wind blowing with excitement. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that an agent will shake out the sails and run with it.

At the dessert reception that night we heard Terry Brooks, who has over twenty New York Times bestselling novels. I could barely claw my way across the harbor the three-quarters of a mile back to my room that night, and slithered into bunk, asleep before the leather of my shoes had a chance to cool.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday at the Ballpark

We are lucky to have a triple A baseball team in Portland. It is easy to get to PGE Park, the tickets don't require hocking your car and signing over your firstborn and there is usually a little breathing room around you. Normally the baseball is very good too. Today it was just a little too good. It was almost a shut out...on both sides.

My parents are settling in to the Northwest and decided a baseball game was in order. I met Nina and Laurent and my parents at the game. My daughter, Kelly, also met us there. We scooched into our seats with the required hot dogs, colas, popcorn and pretzels and the game began.

About the seventh inning, Nina and I quit routing for just the Beavers. We began routing for the Royals too. In fact, we began to plan that the next scoreless half of an inning, one player would have to leave and a random draw of the audience would have to go in to replace the player. We didn't want to be there for seventeen scoreless innings. I mean, when there are scores mounting on both sides--or even hits--it is fun to watch, but the most exciting event in the game (up until the only run) was when one of the teams walked two in a row. Finally the Royals got a run and the Beavers made some great plays and the game ended in only the nine innings. Whew.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Settling Down

My sister, Nina, has assured all the relatives that the parents are over the worst hump and are settling into the Northwest. Things aren't as bad as people have led them to believe. It doesn't rain every day here. We have lovely summers, just like in other states. Last year our summer was on a Wednesday.

Seriously, the mosquitoes in Massachusetts were hearty creatures, capable of carrying small children off into the woods. Here, one may find a sun break and laze about without fear of bites...from mosquitoes, at least.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Arrival

Things went surprisingly smooth today. I got on the road at 8:45 to drive the hour to Wilsonville. The car wasn't there yet. When I got there Laurent and Nina offered me homemade bread with homemade peach jam and a latte. What can put a person in a better mood than that?

We went out in the garage to make sure everything was out of the way. My mother pointed to a chair and told me she hadn't wanted to bring it. It was falling apart. I looked it over and she was right. We took an axe to it and broke it up into pieces, which Laurent put in a black garbage bag and I stuffed it into my car to take home for my garbage collection on Thursday.

In the early afternoon, the truck arrived. Lori, the driver, jumped out and had to move the Ferrari from the bottom to the top and then she had to back the Cuda out. Finally, she used her air compressor pump up the Buick's flat tire so she could back it out.

We did have to enlist some help from the neighbors because the Buick isn't running. They pushed the Buick out onto the lift gate and then out into the street.

That was the easy part. Then they had to push it into the garage.

Then Lori packed the Cuda back into the truck under the Ferrari.

Close the door.

Buick safe and sound.

And off Lori goes.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Phone Call

Today I drove to Wilsonville and met with my sister, Nina, and my parents. They've been to several different places to look for a place to live. Today, we went to an independent living senior center for a tour. The tour took a long time and I got worn out. If you didn't need a scooter before moving into one of those places, you'd need one within a week. Those halls are long and my legs are short.

At five minutes after five we got floor plans and price lists and menus and calendars of events and packed them all out to my sister's car. The parents got in and fumbled around with their seatbelts as Nina's phone rang. "Hello?" She squinted so she could hear better, and waved her hand in the air to silence us. "Oh, yes, the car. When are you arriving? Five minutes?"

Four indrawn breaths sucked the air out of the car.

"Oh, you're joking...when...tomorrow...okay...what? or cashier's check...okay, great...see you tomorrow."

"Was that the car carrier about the Buick?" my mother asked.

"Yes," Nina answered. "It will be here tomorrow. She is going to find a place to stay tonight about three hours away from here, so it will be early tomorrow."

"Great," we all said together. I could barely wait to see the car again.

My sister put the car in gear and rolled forward toward the front gate. "Yes. Did you know they needed $2,500 in cash or cashier's check?"

My eyes widened. I did vaguely remember that. I glanced at my mother in the front seat. Her eyes were wide and glassy, like a deer in the headlights. She just stared at Nina.

"Yeah, I kind of remember them saying that," I said. "Did you remember that, Mom?"

She continued to stare like a figure in a wax museum. Drool formed at the corners of my mouth and threatened to slide down my chin.


"Um...I forgot."

My eyes shot to my watch. At 5:10 on a Saturday afternoon it would be impossible to come up with that kind of money. Why, oh why hadn't I thought to remind my poor parents of this little detail? My mother started digging through her purse. "Seventeen dollars."

Dear Lord.

When we got to Nina's house, they all jumped out and ran into the house with glazed expressions. I unlocked the door of my car and dumped out my ashtray. Three dollars in quarters and eighty-six pennies. It was a good start.

I tipped over my purse and gathered up all the change at the bottom and the crinkled up dollar bills. Nearly twenty more dollars. I mentally calculated how many friends I could call to trade a check for cash. Nina and her husband, Laurent, flew out of the house and crammed themselves into the car, heading for the cash machine. Nina rarely uses the ATM, so when she stuck her card into the machine and punched in her number it said the code did not match the card. She tried again, but it was still wrong. "Ah," she thought, "that must be the wrong card. She searched through her wallet and purse and found another ATM card and shoved it into the machine.

"Card Expired."

The machine did not give it back.

I borrowed Laurent's car and drove the hour to my house to unload the two tables that were my grandmother's and search my house for money. I knew I had some, I just didn't know where or how much. I wondered how many packs of gum I could buy and write the check for the maximum over the sale price for cash back. We have a lot of stores in Vancouver. If I wrote checks at 200 stores, I might get enough. Nina and Laurent were in the process of attempting that very process. Laurent had better luck at the ATM, though. That cut down on the number of grocery stores we had to visit.

Between what we all had on hand and our various stops we managed to scrape up the required cash. Thank heavens they didn't want a million dollars. How do kidnappers expect a person to raise that kind of money in 24 hours. It took us most of the evening, and three different families to raise enough to ransom the Buick.

"Oh," Nina said, "did I tell you it has a flat tire?"

I love AAA. I'm bringing my card tomorrow and calling them. There are no problems that cannot be solved...with Triple A and a bottle of rum.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

July 28, 2009

Back to the house for last minute items. The plumber never showed yesterday. The sewer contractor is beside himself because he cannot dig up the septic tank and finish the job until the plumber hooks up the house to the sewer line.

Dale called places to donate the van. My parent's paper lady offered to buy the van. My parents agreed and they worked out a contract. The paper lady, Terry, had no problem with parking the van until we could send the title to her in two weeks.

We had a few errands to run and then my mother dropped us off at the Logan Express in Framingham, a couple hours early. We caught the bus and 35 minutes later we gathered up all the luggage in front of the Alaska Airlines terminal. My dad took his suitcase and a carry on. I took my suitcase, my carryon, my mother's computer, his other carryon, my CPAP machine and his other check on bag. I felt like a pack mule. But I really didn't think he could handle more than the two items.

The check-on counter was not open yet. We had to wait an hour. My father gets nervous flying and so he talked continually from noon on. At 1:30 the counter opened and we checked on four bags. We headed for security and my dad took off his shoes and put his one carryon on the belt and tippy-toed through the metal detector. On the other side he slipped on his shoes, grabbed his bag and started off. I was still putting my computer in a bin, my mother's computer in another bin, my CPAP machine in another bin, my computer bag, my mother's computer bag, my CPAP bag, and my shoes in other bins. They stopped the belt when my CPAP came into view and they glanced up at me and glared. "I'm going to run some tests on this," they sneered.

"Dad, dad, wait up." I had the two bins with the two computers, but the bags were on the other side of the CPAP and I had to wait.

My toe hung out of my sock. How did THAT happen. It was fine when I put it on. Honestly it was. I curled my toes under so they wouldn't stick out and saw my father about a hundred feet away, looking around for me. I waved my arms in frantic panic and shifted from one foot to the other. I forgot and my toes stuck out again. They brought the CPAP back and handed it to me with down turned lips. The bags rushed out of the machine now and people were behind me, growling and snarling at the delay...caused by me and my CPAP. I jammed the computers into the bags, zipped the CPAP back into its case, ripped my shoes out of the bin and schlepped the whole mess over to a bench so I could cover my toes with my shoes.

Once on the plane, my father talked, non-stop, poking me in the arm if he felt my attention wavered. This went on the entire trip. My head was splitting by the time the wheels touched down in Portland.

It was 107 degrees.

I glanced around for anyone with horns and a red cape.

My sister, Nina, and her husband, Laurent, picked us up and dropped me off at my car. My daughter came running up with my cats and we loaded up my car with my luggage and the cats and I went home, crawled into the house and staggered down the hall to my bed.

My father went to Nina's house.

July 27, 2009

We trudge to the hotel lobby for the free breakfast in the morning. It is surprisingly good. Coffee, juice, eggs, sausage, cereal, pastries, waffles, fruit, yogurt. We all choose our favorites and sit by the window overlooking the pool. It is 6:30 and we have plenty of time to eat before we have to get to the house.

Dad, don't forget your doctor's appointment. We all stop and stare at each other and then down at the empty plates. My father and mother groan. He was supposed to fast for a blood test.

We roll into the driveway about 7:30. The guy is there working on the sewer hook-up. He is finished, except for the plumber, who should be there soon to hook up the new pipes to the house. I load up the van and rush to the dump first thing. When I come back, my dad takes the van to the doctor. The oriental rug is still in the living room. We did not sell it. There is also a pretty blue oriental-style rug in the office. We forgot about that one. Too late. We have to get rid of it. I roll it up and carry it down to the road with a "free" sign. I start to spread it out by the road and a car nearly slams into the city water inspector truck, who has just pulled up. The lady hops out of the car and grabs the rug and stuffs it into her car. A "thank you" drifts out behind her. Off she goes. It is dangerous stopping on 135.

Aunt Leila and Uncle Jim arrive and we roll up the oriental rug in the living room. This is about 13' by 15'. My dad comes in from the doctor and I back the van up to the front window. Jim and Leila and I heft the rug out the window and yank it into the van. It gets stuck. We get ropes and use leverage. We heave. It moves. We sweat.

They tie the back door to the van down as best they can and drive it home. They are gone a long time and all I can see are huge piles of items that still need to go to the dump. I pace.

They come back and Jim and Leila and I take two loads to the dump. Then they help clean out the van. They pull out a vacuum and we spray it down with febreeze and by the time the man shows up to look at it, you'd never know we'd run at least three loads a day to the dump for the last nine days (except Sunday). The man takes it for a test drive and brings it back. His head is shaking and his mouth is set in a frown. "This van has so much wrong with it you'll be lucky to get $500 for it." He then proceeds to point out every minor little problem, like the flashing lights on the dash, the lit "air bags" light, the grinding noise that is probably the exhaust system, the three bald tires, the dent on the side, etc. Picky, picky, picky, I say.

"So, are you going to buy it?"

He snorts and backs away, shaking his head. He jumps into his own van and locks the doors before backing out.

Good. We didn't have the title anyway.

Charter Communications agreed to come disconnect the television boxes and shut down service. They'd be there "sometime on Monday" and would give no closer time frame. We'd been there since 7:30am. It was now ten after five. We had no chairs. If we sat outside we'd be eaten by bugs. I used my cell phone and called Charter. If the boxes did not get turned in, my parents would be charged. I finally got through the maze of "if you want to talk to us push a button, now push another one, now another, now another, now another" and finally got a human. Well, it sounded like a human. It seems "sometime during the day" means from 8am to 8pm.

I asked if they could tell me when the service person would get there. She couldn't tell me. Sometime before 8pm, she supposed. I mean, please. It is 2009. It is a COMMUNICATIONS company. Are they seriously trying to tell me that at 5:15pm, they cannot call the tech and ask him how much longer before he can get to our house?

Paul Allen would be horrified. They left me on hold for ten minutes. I hung up and called back. I asked for the supervisor. He was curt and didn't seem to care. I explained again that the house was empty, that we had no chairs, that my parents were in their 80s and having to stand, that we had been waiting since 7:30 am and asked if he could please call his service man and find out when he could get there. (If there was time, I could run my parents back to the hotel and come back. If it was going to be just a few more minutes, I would offer to stay and call them to come get me when Charter was through.) He said that the longer I explained these things the longer it would take for him to try dispatch again and that he'd already tried once with no luck.

I offered to make the call on my Verizon phone because it seems to work quite well. But no, he said he'd try dispatch again and that we'd just have to wait. I gave up after 45 minutes of waiting on the phone. I cannot believe there is a company in this economy, that is so completely insensitive and brazenly anti-customer service. It made me actually admire the call centers in foreign countries. All of you who have had any problems with Charter Communications, save yourselves. You have other choices. This is America. You can switch providers (providing you aren't under some sort of contract) and do not have to put up with it. But then, that is just my opinion. I'm sure there might be people who are pleased with Charter Communications. I just haven't met them. (Note to self: check your 401k portfolio to see if you own Charter Communications and sell)

We had pizza in Hopkinton and sneaked back to the hotel in the rental car. I talked my mother into letting me take her computer with me on the plane. My dad has two check on bags and two carry-ons. I have one check on bag and my own computer bag and my mothers and my CPAP machine. We got everything ready to go and fell into our beds. Well, my mother fell into her bed and my father fell into his bed and I gingerly lay down on the hid-a-bed couch. I settled into the bar that slices into the back and closed my eyes, but this is the second night with the bars sticking into my back and I could not sleep. I longed for the rum but it was gone.

I waited for dawn.

July 26, 2009

Sunday. Day of rest. Did anyone check this cabinet? Dear Lord. It is still full. More boxes. Is there any room on the truck?

My parents are supposed to fly out to the West Coast on August 1. I'm leaving on July 28. Someone has the brilliant idea that my dad should go with me and my mom will stay to sign the documents and get the check on the 31st.

We spend the morning packing the airbeds we slept on last night, and the sheets and pillows and remaining lamps, and lampshades, and bathroom supplies and manage to pack at least 20 more boxes. Where is all this coming from?

The dump is closed.

I drive my mother down to the nearest car rental place. Dale packs a huge load into her car and takes off for Vermont at 1pm. She has an art opening she must prepare for.

Mike loads all the rest of the boxes onto the truck and squeezes the doors shut. He fires up the engine and pulls out of the driveway at 4pm, enroute to Portland via Santa Fe.

Mom and Dad and I take a load of items to my cousins, including a dehumidifier that is practically new. We check into a hotel and shower and meet their neighbors at "Not Your Average Joe's" restaurant. I don't know how my parents can sit up in their chairs, yet they are troopers. I am not. I'm the first to admit I'm tired, cranky, sweaty, sore and I've got a huge mosquito bite on my cheek. This does not make me happy. But the neighbors are so sweet and cheerful and they've brought their parents along and it is a farewell party. It warms my heart.

The toilet is broken in the hotel. They don't have anyone to fix it. We can move to a different room.

Lord have mercy.

I lift the cover off the tank and dip my scabbed hands into the water and hook the chain back up to the paperclip that was holding two pieces of chain together. There is still some rum in the bottle in the little kitchen area of the hotel room. Ice clinks into three glasses. Cola sizzles. Rum glugs.

I get on Craig's list and someone wants to buy the van. I call him from my cell phone, running low on charge and minutes. He'll come to the house at 5pm tomorrow.

We've packed the pink slip. It is now 500 miles from us, somewhere on the truck. And I need the van because I'm going to have at least two more loads to the dump to do myself tomorrow.

Yeah, sure. Come tomorrow at 5pm.

July 25, 2009

We are all up by 5:30. Shower. Mom is packing up her office paperwork and hasn't eaten. I'm packing while I have a bowl of cereal. My brother is loading the "Mom's attic" of the huge Uhaul truck. There is a knock on the door at 6:30am. It is the movers. We are not ready.

But we are paying them an enormous amount an hour so they begin tossing blankets over furniture and wrapping them with stretch wrap. Boxes are being hauled out to the truck faster than we can pack them. A car shows up in the driveway at 7:15am. A couple comes in and buys the shield-back chairs. Just in time because the movers had already tried to load them onto the truck.

A big rig shows up and off-loads a backhoe and other equipment, all vying for space in the driveway. The roaring of earth moving equipment echos through the neighborhood.

I have TWO fever blisters on my lips from the stress. Just great. The truck is loaded except for all the stuff I couldn't pack "until the last minute." Well the last minute was four hours ago. The people we hired to load the truck are gone now and we'll have to load all the dang stuff ourselves.

A couple more loads to the dump.

I keep looking around and expecting to see the devil sitting in the room with me, saying, "welcome."

July 24, 2009

It is pouring. Rain is coming down in sheets and we have run two loads to the dump and are madly packing boxes. We purchased boxes from Uhaul. Fine, sturdy boxes. Can I pack this lamp?

No, wait to the last moment.

Can I pack the towels and bathroom things?

No, wait to the last moment.

Can I pack all the food and the rest of the glasses and plates and silverware and bowls?

No, wait to the last moment.

I am frustrated beyond belief. The truck and packers will be here in the morning. My mother's car has been sold through Craig's list. Someone is coming tomorrow at 7:30 to look at the shield-back chairs. It is a shame to sell them as they are beautiful, but they will not have room for them.

Another load to the dump.

The contractor is supposed to start the sewer project today. Seven days until closing. Rain is sleeting down.

Can I pack Dad's clothes?

Wait until the last moment.

The contractor arrives and we run another load to the dump. How can it be so dang hot when it is raining?

Crisis. I've packed the pots and pans. We have to go out for supper. Sweaty, dirty, dog tired, we tramp into Ted Turner's restaurant in Westborough. Service is as slow as blood through a clogged artery. We're afraid to say anything for fear of a stroke if we do. Our heads are nodding forward and I'm sure I hear a snore. The food finally arrives an hour later and I can hardly lift the fork. By the time we finish eating, I'm so stiff I can barely stand up. Into bed by 8:50pm.

July 23, 2009

Things are so hectic we lost track of the days. By the time 8pm rolls around we drop into bed.

Dale found someone to move the 1930 Buick. The truck came, but they have the main road closed due to the sidewalk collapse on the next street (the one the sewer contractor is fixing instead of hooking the house up to the sewer). We had to go pick up the woman truck driver in town. She parked the huge 84' car carrier next to the Westborough fire station and rode back with us. We had to change the tire on the Buick when we took it off the jacks and then we put a rope around the bumper and pulled it out of the garage. Very scary because we didn't know if the brakes still worked and it is a slight incline. But they held. Then we had to back it down the very long, very steep driveway and out into the road. My uncle Jim and I stopped traffic on route 135 while my brother moved the van in front of the car. He and the truck driver, Lori, put a short rope around Buick's axle or bumper and hooked it to the trailer hitch on the van. My uncle and I had trouble getting people to stop on the busy Route 135. Seems people don't want to stop when someone waves the back of a yellow "yard sale" sign at them. It was harrowing. When the rope was hooked up there was about eight feet of clearance.

Lori and my Uncle Jim jumped into the Buick and my brother and I jumped into the van and towed the car at 15mph down Route 135 to Church street and out onto West Main where we had to negotiate the manic rotary where no one stops. Terrifying. Under the best of circumstances, only native residents of Massachusetts can brave the rotaries without suffering Post Traumatic Shock Disorder after. And each time we had to apply brakes, with only eight feet between us, my heart rate accelerated to 175 beats per minute. When we sped up again there would be a series of thump, thump, thump.

"They're crashing into us, they're crashing into us," I'd scream.

My brother would holler, "No, no, it is the rope jerking them along." Oh, that is so much better. Jerking the bumper off the car would be fine. I hung out the window, flailing my arms so the maniac New England drivers wouldn't smack into us like bumper cars at the amusement park as we went around the rotary.

We pulled in to the fire station and all the firemen came out and told us to move the car up just a little so they could get out if they got a call. Then they stood around and talked and examined the car while the Lori rearranged the Ferrari she already had in the car carrier and made room for the Buick. Because the Buick wasn't running, she had to use a come-along and the firemen and my brother and uncle and I all pushed the car up onto the rear gate of the truck and then up onto the carrier until she could reach it with the come-along.

The whole thing took about 2.5 hours, and then we left and came back in time to run three more loads to the dump.


I'm so tired I might go to be at 7pm.

Oh wait, the neighbor just came over with a blender and tequila.

July 22, 2009

We need boxes. More boxes. We are desperate. Dale and I scream out of the driveway and hit the Walmart, the Target, the Stop and Shop. They are still watering the outside plants and unlocking the doors, but we are too late. But hark. What store through yonder sunlight breaks? 'Tis the liquor store and that means boxes.

"Can we have some boxes?"

They glance down to see empty hands and scowl. Perhaps if we bought something...Dale and I scan the aisles and find a small bottle of rum. If they won't give us any boxes, we can sit out in the parking lot and get drunk because there will be no use going back to the house without boxes. We've already been to the dump, twice.

"You can take four boxes and that is all," the check out clerk admonishes.

Dale picked up her two. I picked up two, but inside the two was another. I clutched it to my chest and we ran, jumped into the car, revved the engine and burned rubber out of the lot. My heart was pounding and Dale checked the rear view mirror to see if they'd send the coppers after us to get the extra box back.

It was a small one, really. Probably only a misdemeanor.

I wondered if the rum would make it through the day unopened.

July 21, 2009

I am packing picture frames in my mother's office. There is a knock on the garage door. No one uses the front door in Massachusetts. They all go to the kitchen door. In this case, it is through the garage.

Mom lets in the fire inspector. He must test out the alarms before the house can close in nine days. He is about 40 years old, handsome as all firemen are, and a walkie-talkie mouthpiece clings to the lapel of his shirt. A little over a year ago, there was a fire in the basement. The ADT fire alarm automatically called the fire department and saved the entire house from burning. It has all been rebuilt with a completely new kitchen, appliances, basement, bathrooms, etc. When it was rebuilt, they installed state-of-the-art smoke detectors in addition to the ADT fire alarm and burglar alarm system. There are two audible alarms in every room. Overkill? Not if you have been saved by one a year ago. Five more minutes and the fire would have reached the gas can and the case of oil. See the heat of the fire melted the gas spout and oil already started seeping out of the plastic containers.

The fire inspector asked my mother if she needed to call ADT before he set off the alarms for testing. She said they weren't hooked up. (?)

He has set off the alarms. Two of them are blaring in the room I'm in, but I'm continuing to pack. No time to lose. My mother cannot remember the code to punch in to shut off the alarm. The phone is ringing.


My mother can't remember the password to give them. "The fire department is here, testing the alarms because we are selling the house." They are unimpressed because she is not giving them the password. They will not give her the code to shut it off, either. They are calling the fire department.

I drop everything and trot out to the family room. My father and the fireman are staring at the alarm boxes as they blast out their warnings. "Excuse me, but ADT is calling the fire department."

He mutters a curse and tilts his head, pressing the microphone. "Fire inspector calling headquarters. We can't turn off the alarms. ADT is about to call you...oh, they are already on the phone? Well tell them I'm here and give me the dang code to turn off the alarms."

I go back in to the office and hunch my shoulders to block some of the sirens and bells while I pack another box. I'm so glad there are two alarms going off in each room.

The fireman storms into the office and picks up the phone. He calls ADT and yells at them, over the blaring warnings to evacuate, evacuate, evacuate. "Give me the code to shut these off," he begs.

It has been twenty minutes. I'm tempted to rip one off the ceiling and pack it. It is hard to write and even harder to think. I could go outside and bury my head in a pile awaiting the dump, but the mosquitoes are thick and large enough to rip off one of my limbs. I keep packing.

The fireman stomps past me and throws open the basement door. Between the spurts of blasting alarm I hear him slam down the stairs.

Blessed silence. He's shut off power to the alarm system.

It is difficult to write.

July 20, 2009

I was in Massachusetts at my parents house, helping them pack. They've decided to join my sister and me in the Pacific Northwest. Wise move, I thought, until I got back there and realized how much needed to be done in ten days.

They were on septic tank and needed to hook up to the sewer line before the house could close. Only eleven days left until closing and the contractor committed to the city to fix a collapsed road. I mean, really. What is more important?

They have a 1930 Buick Phaeton to be moved, with no contract from anyone to move it.

They have twenty years of their lives to pack. Mom got a good start, but there was still so much more. Dad likes to fix lawn mowers and snow blowers and outboard motors. Parts here and parts there and five sets of every kind of tool. Good stuff, but not when it comes to moving 3000 miles into an independent living center.

With my daughter's long distance help, I posted ads on Craig's list for their two regular cars, a set of shield-back chairs (beautiful), a stunning oriental rug and a Pride scooter. My sister, Dale, drove in from Vermont and began contacting car movers. The Buick needs special handling and must be enclosed.

My brother, Mike, flew in from Santa Fe and began sorting through tools and lawn mower parts.

Desperate calls to the sewer contractor go unanswered.

Tums. Rolaids. Mylanta.