At 3:09 pm last Friday, Paul Carlile texted me. “I’m in PDX,” he wrote. “Are you available before 7.”
“Sorry. No,” I replied at 5:14. I had plans. I was taking pizza to Andrew Cronk and the kids, and then driving to the airport to pick up Kris.
Had I known then what I know now, I would have changed my plans completely. I would have let the Cronks go hungry. I would have left Kris standing at the curb.
Susan, Paul’s long-time girlfriend, just called. Though they’d recently broken up, they were still close. “J.D., this is Susan,” she said, and my brain had to whir — Susan who? “I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” she said, and then I realized it was Susan S., of course, who else? “But Paul killed himself last night.”
“What?” I said. Was she joking? Through her tears, Susan told me what she knew. Paul had been depressed for a long time. A mutual friend had spent the weekend with him, trying to help him come to grips. When she left, she thought Paul was on stable ground. He wasn’t.
I feel hollow. I didn’t see Paul often anymore — just a few times each year — but he was an important piece of me, a piece that is now lost. I have several paragraphs of memories typed here in my text editor, but I’m not in the mood to share them. It’s as if I want to keep them to myself, to hoard them.
Suffice it to say that I would not be who I am today without Paul. I cannot believe he’s gone.
Here’s a song Paul introduced me to:
It seems painfully appropriate for this occasion.
Update: More memories of Paul.
Tags: Daily Life · Friends and Family
We’ve gradually been purging the clothes from my closet. I have a tendency to never throw away (or give away) any garment, especially those I love. If a shirt becomes a favorite, I keep it for years, no matter how tattered it becomes.
One of my favorite pieces of clothing is a tattered old blue FILA hooded sweatshirt. It’s cottony soft, has a zip-up front, has an ample hood with drawstrings, and feels comfy on a chilly autumn day. But the thing is a rag. The cuffs are frayed and falling apart. The hood is tearing away from the body of the sweatshirt. Kris is embarrassed for me to wear it in public.
I’ve spent the past year trying to find a replacement, but I’ve never found anything suitable. No sweatshirt possesses the same qualities. Some have hoods, some are made of cotton, some feel comfy, but none combine all of these things in one. I check Costco every time I’m there, but no luck. (Costco’s where I bought the sweatshirt originally.)
Last night, Tiffany came over for dinner. Every time she comes over, she returns things she’s borrowed, or offers things she no longer wants. Last night was no different. But at the end of the list, she held out a piece of black clothing. “Do you want this?” she asked.
“What is it?” I said, and I unfolded it. It was a hooded sweatshirt. A FILA hooded sweatshirt with a zip-up front. “Huh?” I said, like a character from a Japanese cartoon. I ran upstairs to fetch my precious blue hooded sweatshirt, which Kris and just that morning put in the “throw away forever” pile.
I compared the two sweatshirts. They were both from FILA. They were both the same size. They both had the exact same tags. They were the same sweatshirt, but the old one was blue and the new one was black.
“Where’d you get this?” I asked Tiffany.
“Costco,” she said. “A few years ago, we were driving back from [some place in California], and I was cold, so we stopped at Costco. This was the only thing I could find.”
“It’s the exact same as my old sweatshirt, except that it’s black,” I said. “Thank you.”
“Yes, thank you,” Kris said. “Now maybe we can throw that old one away.”
Tiffany, as always, just laughed at us. I think that for her, visiting the Roth-Gates household is like visiting a foreign country, where the people are just a little strange. But the people in this country are happy now, though. They have a precious new sweatshirt.
Tags: Daily Life · Funny · Personal History
Last fall on our trip to Lincoln City with Mac and Pam, I witnessed one of those small perfect moments that linger in memory.
After clam chowder at Mo’s, we stopped at Cold Stone Creamery for dessert. It was about 7:30 on a Friday night, and the place was dead. We were the only customers.
We placed our orders with the young woman at the counter, While she scooped and folded our ice cream, I noticed her co-worker in the back room. This other young woman was making an ice cream cake, shaping it with a long spatula-like tool. As she worked, she sang to the music on the loudspeaker. She was completely absorbed in the moment: building the cake, singing with passion. She was unaware of our presence.
The song was a plaintive story of love and loss. The male vocalist had a thin, high voice perfectly matched to the subject matter.
“Who’s singing this?” I asked.
“I think it’s James Blunt,” Mac said. I had never heard of him. “Pam likes another one of his songs — ‘You’re Beautiful’.”
I continued to watch the young woman as she sang and built her cake. When the song was over, she set down the spatula, pulled off her gloves, walked to the stereo, and played the song again. She walked back to her work area, pulled on her gloves, and picked up her spatula. And she sang: “Goodbye my lover, goodbye my friend. You have been the one, you have been the one for me.”
This little scene occurred five months ago, yet I think of it at least once a week. What was the story there? Had the young woman recently suffered some sort of heartbreak? Or did she just love the song? Either way, the moment is burned on my brain.
Tags: Daily Life · Music · Stories
Kris has been complaining about her allergies for the past couple of weeks. “They’re terrible this year,” she says. “It’s the worse they’ve ever been. Aren’t yours bothering you?”
No, they’re not. In fact, I’ve quietly been skeptical that this a bad allergy season. Kris talks about it a lot, though. “All the people at work say their allergies are really bad this year. Mine are really bad, too.” When we get together with people, she talks about it. “My allergies are really bad this year.”
Last night she erupted into a prolonged sneezing fit. I feel for her — I’ve had bad allergies in the past — but still, I wasn’t sure this seasons was especially noxious.
Then I woke up this morning.
As sometimes happens, my allergies came on overnight. I always expect them to hit around July 1st, but their onset is actually variable. One year they didn’t hit til August. Apparently the date this year is June 21st. Ugh.
This may be a bad year for allergies.
Tags: Daily Life
What a long, unrestful weekend! I’m not saying it was bad — there just wasn’t any time to read, write, or relax.
A large part of this was due to our annual neighborhood garage sale. This year our guest sellers were Will, Marla, and Tiffany. Day one went very well — we sold $290 of stuff (compared to $153.25 on the same day in 2006, and $123.50 in 2005). Friday we collected $172.75 (compared to $206 in 2005). But Saturday was a bomb.
Saturday dawned cold and wet. We couldn’t set up in the driveway, so we held our sale in the dungeon-like garage. Few people drove by, and even fewer stopped. We only sold $11.25 before we closed up shop at 2 p.m. My total wasn’t bad — $295, thanks to heavier-than-normal book sales — but nobody else broke $100. After talking with neighbors, we think that the rain and the Rose Festival combined to put a damper on things. Nobody on the street did well this year.
When we weren’t selling our old junk, we were busy being social. On Friday night, Kris had the WITCHes over for dinner. WITCHes == Women in Teaching at Canby High School — Sue, Linda, and Coleen were three of Kris’ closest friends when she was teaching, and the group still gets together several times a year. (Tiffany joined us Friday, too.)
After we packed up, Andrew and Joann stopped by for a chat. They were up from San Francisco to spend a long weekend taking in the Rose Festival. We had hoped to join them for dinner with Dave and Karen, but scheduling conflicts prevented such a happy feast. Instead we shared a pot of hot Thai tea and talked about travel. (Andrew travels a lot for work, and was able to impart some good tips for our upcoming trip to Europe.)
On Saturday evening, we gathered at Vildana’s house in Aloha to discuss this month’s book group pick, Three Cups of Tea. Opinion was divided. Most of us thought the book was okay, but some (Courtney) loved it and others hated it. I thought the story was okay, but that it was needlessly padded, and that the writing style was gratuitously descriptive. (”This guy has never met an adjective he didn’t like,” I said.) I felt that this might have made a strong essay in Harper’s or The New Yorker, but that as a book it was rather weak.
We were supposed to host the garage sale on Sunday, too, but Kris and I didn’t feel like fighting the intermittent showers. Besides, we hadn’t had any time to ourselves.
We got a slow start on our day, but it took a turn into the twilight zone when Amy Jo forwarded a Craigslist ad for canning jars. Our day was sidetracked by an excursion (with Rhonda) to the home of Jim, the jar fanatic. Kris has promised to write the story of our experience, so I won’t elaborate here. When we arrived home, we had an hour to unwind before heading down to Hubbard for the MNF movie night.
Ron and Kara did a great job of turning their hay loft into a movie theater. They hung a sheet on the wall, set out movie popcorn and candy, and used a video projector to show Charlotte’s Web for the kids. Actually, it was only the adults who watched the movie. The kids watched a part of it, but most of them spent the evening climbing and leaping over the hay mound. (Maren, Daphne, and Diego all sat through the entire film, though.)
“You know,” I said on our drive home. “I didn’t write a single thing all weekend.”
“I know,” said Kris.
“That means most of my week is going to be spent writing,” I said.
“I know,” said Kris.
Writing has become real work! But I love it.
Tags: Daily Life
Kris told this story around work last week to the amusement of all her little friends. I’ll do my best to reconstruct how she told it, but no guarantees that it’ll be as funny.
One of my goals lately has been to “just say yes” when people ask me to do things. So long as the requests don’t violate my morals (no drugs, no sex with goats), and so long as I have the time, I’m giving new things a try. I’m not just saying “no” out of fear and trepidation.
Charlie Lam, my grade school soccer coach, stopped by work a couple weeks ago. He came by to evangelize his table tennis club. He tried to convince Jeff to join, but he wasn’t interested, so Charlie turned his sights on me. I’ve always like table tennis, and I have nothing going on Tuesday nights (except writing — but then I’m always writing), so I agreed to give it a try. “Just say yes.”
So I went to play table tennis a couple weeks ago. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. How good would the other players be? Charlie had assured me that most everyone was just a beginner. “Do you remember Danny Hunt?” he had asked me.
“Sure,” I said. “Is Danny playing?”
“No,” he said. “But Danny’s mom is playing.”
Playing table tennis with Charlie and his group brought back a flood of old memories. He was my soccer coach for four years (five?) when I was a boy. I was always intimidated by him, though I’m not sure why. His son, Torey, was a good friend of mine. They lived a half mile away, so we spent a lot of time together. I was on Torey’s horse when my brother Tony ran into it with a bike, causing the animal to throw me to the ground and step on me.
Anyhow, playing table tennis with Charilie and his group felt like old times. He took some time to teach me proper form on my forehand. I didn’t do a good job (and even at my second session the other night I was having trouble), but I tried. We did drills together. We played some mini-games in which other players and I competed to be “king of the hill” (or “king of the table”, in this case).
Eventually, we played some full games. The rules have changed in recent years, I guess. I was confused at first. For example, the serve alternates every two points now instead of every five points. There are infinite “lets” on the serve. The ball must be tossed into the air on service, and must be struck behind the table. The biggest change, though, is that a game goes to eleven points, not 21.
Anyhow, I did well. I won several games, which made me happy. Not bad for my first night. I drove home in a great mood.
“So how was ping-pong?” Kris asked when I got home.
“Exhausting,” I said. “But fun. I’ll go back next week.” I told her all about the night. I told her how I was able to beat a lot of the other players.
“That’s great,” she said. “Who else was there?”
“Oh, nobody you’d know,” I said, getting ready for bed. “It was mostly just a bunch of fifth- and sixth-graders.”
That, my friends, is the story that delights my wife. I don’t think it’s quite as funny as she does. Those kids are good. They’ve been practicing for a while. I’m just starting. Still, Kris yuks it up every time she thinks about me gloating over twelve-year-olds.
Tags: Daily Life · Personal History · Stories
The last time Kris left town, I was a lonely man. I felt lost. She’s been gone all this week, too, but I’m not lonely yet. “Do you miss me?” she asks when she calls. I hesitate because I know the right answer. But I tell the truth.
“I haven’t had time to miss you yet,” I say. And I haven’t. I’ve been on the go non-stop ever since she left. If she were home, this would be one of those weeks during which it feels like we never see each other. In a way, this is good, I suppose, but ultimately it’s running me ragged.
I sat down at six yesterday afternoon to read Mark’s story for the Woodstock Writers Guild. I dozed off. I slept for three hours, slumped in my easy chair. I woke at nine, cursed myself for missing the writers group meeting, and then trudged upstairs and went to bed.
My alarm woke me at four.
After some e-mail conversations with Leo, I’ve decided that best way for me to add time to write into my day is to build it into the front end. Leo suggests getting up at 4am, writing for a couple of hours, and then living life as normal, squeezing in extra writing if there’s time during the rest of the day. This may sound a little crazy to non-writers, but it makes perfect sense to me. I need a large block of uninterrupted time alone, during which I can get things done.
In order to wake up at 4am, though, I’m going to need to take a slightly different approach than normal. Usually I wake up, roll over, grab my laptop, and look at my site statistics and handle any e-mail crises. It’s 4:35 right now, and I haven’t checked e-mail or looked at stats. My goal is not to do so until 7. This may seem obsessive, but trust me: it’s a compulsion I have that I’ve been trying to break for months.
Instead, I pulled on some sweats, grabbed an apple and my pedometer, and headed out into the night. I took a walk around the block in the cool morning air. I communed with the morning cats; I listened to the Western screech owl in the neighbor’s tree; I watched a raccoon cross the road.
The trip around the block is one mile. I walked it in sixteen minutes. I munched on my apple and grogged awake. It felt good. I’ve been sitting at my computer typing for twenty minutes now. That feels good, too.
This plan holds much promise. Ten years ago, during the period in which I lost so much weight, one key to my success was that I got up at 5am most mornings to exercise at the high school track. I walked, biked, or ran a couple of miles, then went home and had a small breakfast. It was a great way to start the day.
I’m going to try something similar this summer. But most of all, I’m going to write.
Tags: Daily Life · Introspection
It’s that time of year when Kris and I spend much of our time outside, working on the yard. We’ve tried to train the cats to prune and plant for us, but mostly they just lay around glowering at birds.
Kris is (jusifiably) proud of her flower beds, and lately she’s been grabbing my camera to take photos. “Post these,” she says when she’s done. Here are some shots from her most recent batch.
The front border bed
The ‘Gold Medal’ rose
Kris loves bees. I was impressed that she was able to make some nice hand-held captures of honeybees at work. For example:
Bee in flight
My favorite photo of the bunch
It’s raining today (Sunday), but yesterday we were able to do a lot of yardwork, pruning limbs, mowing lawns, and otherwise fussing over our plants. Very fun.
Tags: Daily Life · Photography · Rosings Park
How lovely. I just got to work. Imagine my delight to discover that unwelcome visitors have once again set up housekeeping beneath my office. Yes, it’s true — the skunks are back.
Jeff just walked into my office to discover the smell. “Oh — that’s nice,” he said.
If I were blogging full-time from home, I wouldn’t have to sit in a skunky office!
I just hope this is temporary. I don’t want to have crawl under the trailer again to retrieve a skunk corpse…
Tags: Daily Life
The phone is the bane of my existence. It rings all day long, especially at work. And since I’m the one charged with answering the phone, I have to stop whatever it is I’m doing to answer the damn thing.
Yes, I know I get paid for this, but it’s still frustrating. I’m thinking. My mind is at work. When the phone rings, it breaks my concentration. Sometimes, when we’re busy, the phone rings ten or fifteen times an hour. When this happens, I begin to curse.
Even at home, the phone bugs me. Send me e-mail! E-mail does not interrupt my work flow. I can answer it when I have the time. The phone requires my immediate attention. (Obviously, I don’t mind calls for certain things, but come on: a lot of things are better suited to e-mail.)
All of this is preface to another story.
J.D. and the Yellow Pages
Once upon a time, I had a bad experience with a company that publishes a Portland-area telephone directory. Before this time, I had basically been polite and patient with telemarketers who called about their various phone books. (And who knew there were so many? It’s crazy!) Since then, I’m an asshole, and I don’t care.
Just yesterday morning I received the third call in as many days from somebody with a thick Indian accent offering to update our free listing in the U.S. Business Yellow Pages. The first two times I politely asked to be removed from the list. Yesterday I was not so polite. I’m not proud of my behavior, but hey — I’m only human.
Anyhow: on Monday, Nick received a call late in the afternoon. It was a fellow named Raymond. He’s taking care of our account this year at the one telephone directory in which we choose to advertise. (There’s a new account rep every year, it seems.) Raymond was all chummy with Nick, telling him how much he looked forward to meeting all of us. Nick hates stuff like this. He told Raymond to call me Tuesday morning, but then he couldn’t get him off the phone. (Nick is not assertive.)
On Tuesday, Raymond called me. He told me that he had a lovely chat with Nick on Monday, and that he was pleased to be talking to me. He asked if he could come out to go over our yearly contract and to tell us about the company’s internet directory. “We’re not interested in the internet directory,” I told him.
“Oh, I think you’ll be interested in this, J.D.” he said. Whatever. I gave him directions to find the place. “Oh, I’ll bet it’s gorgeous out there,” he said. “I’ve never been out there. I look forward to seeing the country. And I look forward to meeting you.” Whatever.
Yesterday Raymond called just before our schedule meeting. “J.D., I’m running behind,” he told me. I said that was fine. I’d be here. Hoping the telephone would let me write in peace. “Great,” he said. “I really look forward to meeting you.”
“Man,” I said after he hung up. “That man is obsequious.”
“What does obsequious mean?” asked Jeff.
“Brown-noser,” I said. “Ass-kisser. He’s full of false flattery.”
Nick agreed. Then he had an idea. “Uh, I’m going to town,” he said. “I’ll, uh, run in the deposit. Bye.” He had no desire to be in on the meeting. Taking a hint, Jeff grabbed the loppers and went outside to prune trees. (Trees that have never been pruned before in nearly two decades.)
Raymond arrived. “Wow,” he said. “This is gorgeous country, J.D.. What an amazing drive. It must be special to work out here.” I gritted my teeth, first because of his painful saccharine-sweetness, and then because the grip of his handshake was hard enough to crack walnuts. We sat down.
“J.D.,” he said, “I want to show you our internet directory.”
“We’re not interested,” I said.
“I hear you,” he said, “but I think you should look at the changes we’ve made, J.D. We’ve had 60% growth in the past year.”
“That’s nice,” I said. “But we’re not interested. Nobody I know even uses an online telephone directory. They all use Google.” Even as I said that, I knew I’d make a mistake. I’d given him a concrete rejection, given him something he could reply to.
Raymond held up a finger. “Hold on. Let me show you something, J.D.” He leafed through a binder, hunting for a page he wanted to share. He couldn’t find it. He leafed some more. He leafed some more, and then turned the page a quarter of the way toward me, as if letting me look (though I could not see a thing). “Our customers have shown tremendous satisfaction with our online directory. It lets you target locally.” Blah blah blah.
Raymond talked for five minutes about his stupid internet directory. I just let him go. I sat there and nodded, but I was really thinking about my blogs, and about what I would write in the afternoon, if the phones ever stopped ringing. Blah blah blah.
“Now doesn’t that sound great, J.D.?” Raymond said, wrapping up the spiel.
“Look,” I said. “I told you before: we’re just not interested. We have no interest whatsoever.”
He was about to reply to this when there was a knock at the back door. It was the Schwan’s man. Actually, it was the substitute Schwan’s man. He’s a bozo, and I know it, but I was in a passive-aggressive mood. I played happy and cheery J.D. “Hi, how’s it going?” I said. “We don’t need anything this time. I’m sorry.”
The Schwan’s man said okay, and then he told me all about the awesome grilled cheese sandwiches they’ve begun to sell. “They’re great,” he said. “I love them. I ate a whole box by myself the other day.” (And he looked like it.) “If I could, I’d sit around and eat these cheese sandwiches and play video games.” He paused. “But my wife wouldn’t like that.” I laughed heartily, but not because I thought it was funny. I was just being mean to Raymond.
As I returned to the office, the telephone rang. It was a customer with whom I could joke and chat, so I played happy cheery J.D. again. But when I sat down to talk with Raymond, I was dour, serious J.D. He seemed to get the point.
“Well,” he said. “I guess we should sign the contract.”
“Yes, that’s a good idea,” I said.
I signed and initialed a couple pages. When we got to the last page, he said, “Now you’re sure you don’t want to consider the internet directory?” I had to look at his face to tell if he was being serious. He was.
“No,” I said. “We’re not interested.”
We finished the deal, and I led him to the door. “Thank you so much, J.D., it was a pleasure to meet you. It was great to get out here and see this beautiful land. You sure have a great business. Take care!”
I sat at my desk to process some quotes. I had been working for about five minutes, and was getting up to use the fax machine, when Raymond appeared at the door.
“Pardon me, J.D.,” he said, “But I thought I should let you know that you can change your mind at any time about the internet directory. It’s not like the print directory where there’s a deadline. We can insert your listing into the online directory any time.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
He left. I finished my quotes and wheeled over to write up a weblog entry. I had been writing for twenty minutes when all of a sudden Raymond was by my side. “What the hell,” I thought to myself. What planet was this guy from?
“Pardon me, J.D. But I forgot to give you these flyers. This flyer describes your contract. It’s the same one you get every year. And this flyer describes the internet program. It’ll give you a better idea of what it can do for you and your business.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. “Look,” I said. “We’re not interested. That’s it. We’re just not interested.”
“Oh, I understand,” he said, though he clearly did not.
About five minutes later, Nick returned from town. “Is he gone yet?” I whispered to him.
“Who?” he asked.
“The phone book guy. He keeps coming back. He won’t take no for an answer.”
I told Kris this story this morning as we were getting ready for work. “Who’s going to take care of crap like that if you leave?” she asked.
I thought for a moment. “Nobody. Custom Box will just have a listing in the online yellow pages.”
Nick just came to interrupt my writing to read the following quote, which is from his favorite film of all time, As Good as it Gets. (Which apparently is not very.) Simon has just knocked on the door of Melvin, a writer who does not like to be interrupted.
Melvin Udall: Never, never, interrupt me, okay? Not if there’s a fire, not even if you hear the sound of a thud from my home and one week later there’s a smell coming from there that can only be a decaying human body and you have to hold a hanky to your face because the stench is so thick that you think you’re going to faint. Even then, don’t come knocking. Or, if it’s election night, and you’re excited and you wanna celebrate because some fudgepacker that you date has been elected the first queer president of the United States and he’s going to have you down to Camp David, and you want someone to share the moment with. Even then, don’t knock. Not on this door. Not for ANY reason. Do you get me, sweetheart?
Simon Bishop: It’s not a subtle point that you’re making.
I’m under the impression that Nick believes I’m like Melvin lately. He may have a point.
Tags: Daily Life · FS Best Of · Stories