Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Welcome to Sauvie Island

Sauvie Island is a bird sanctuary. Vees of Canada geese are always flying over, honking their lungs out, and ducks squabble pretty much all day in the little pond not far from our trailer. I’ve seen dozens of birds I can’t identify since we haven’t unearthed our binoculars yet. But the ones I’m in love with are the predatory birds. The raptors.

Even a novice like me can always spot them. They sit upright on fenceposts or high in trees, looking disdainfully down on their hunting territory, deciding who they’re going to kill today. (Mickey? Thumper? Bugs?) I’ve seen them in all sizes, from not much larger than a starling right up to as big as they come. That’s right. For the last four or five days we’ve seen, perched at the very top of a tall dead tree less than half a mile from our front door, the Big Boss Bird himself: a Bald Eagle. We don’t even need the binocs to see his huge hooked beak and fearful yellow eye. Sudden death looking for a place to happen.

The Bald Eagle on Sauvie Island

Yesterday there were no less than THREE bald eagles perched on trees a careful distance apart, where they could keep an eye on each other. My little Audubon Field Guide doesn’t tell me if the females also have the white heads. I seem to remember that they do, but I can’t be sure. If so, this might be a family, as the third eagle was definitely a juvenile who didn’t yet have the adult plumage.

That wise and practical man, Benjamin Franklin, is said to have advocated the turkey as our national bird and symbol. This time Ben was wrong. There is no finer bird in the world than the Bald Eagle.

* * *

It’s a good thing the birds are so interesting around here. Otherwise I might have gone off the deep end. The rain has been even more depressing than usual. Everything in the trailer that wasn’t damp when we moved in is damp now. Sometimes I’ve felt claus to clostrophobia. And there have been a series of problems, mostly involving water and heat…

Though the trailer doesn’t seem to be leaking, when we pulled up boards to remove the couch and the dining nook we found much of the wood (and much you wouldn’t dignify with as fine a word as “wood;” more like a medium grade of cardboard) was soaked and splitting. The carpet was damp and musty. There is mold. Looking at some of the seals around the windows, I’m wondering if water might have blown in while the trailer was being towed in the rain.

Our second night here, the furnace stopped working. It got very cold …

Luckily I had a little ceramic space heater and it does an amazing job of keeping the temperature tolerable. But what was wrong with the furnace? Got out the manuals, tinkered, went to an RV repair store where a very nice guy named Jim loaned us a circuit board to plug in to replace what he felt was the likely source of the problem. Plugged it in. The blower came on, then I could hear the igniter trying to light the gas. Tried again. And again. Wouldn’t light.

We had Jim come out. He worked at it for a while, then had a brainstorm. He went to the propane tanks at the front of the trailer, unscrewed them, lifted … they were empty. Well, did I feel stupid, or what? BUT IT WASN’T MY FAULT!!! The little gauge on the inside control panel plainly said the tanks were full. Yeah, said Jim, pointing to the tanks, but there’s no sensor attached to them. Never even HAD one, apparently. So the gauge simply reads FULL … all the time.

Propane truck is coming tomorrow. Maybe it will cure our other problem, too …

When we were buying this thing, the water out of the hot tap was so scalding you couldn’t put your hand in it. When we got it out here, it stopped heating. My guess is that the electric part of the heater is defective. No matter how high I turn the thermostat the best I get is lukewarm. Let’s hope that when I switch on the propane again it will work. (Though the heater itself looks just AWFUL from the inside; more water damage. EVERYTHING in here seems to have leaked at one time or another.) Meantime, we’re showering in the park rest rooms. Not too horrible.

(UPDATE, three days later: Propane won’t light in water heater. Damn.)

(UPDATE, four days later: Lit the water heater pilot. Hot water! Hurrah for me!)

Of course, the water here does have a certain … mineral quality. What they call HARD water. Like, I would have sworn that this morning I was pelted by a few tiny ball bearings and iron filings in the shower. If you held a magnet up to the stream, it would BEND. Why, if you only dried this water out a LITTLE bit, you could take an anvil and hammer and work it into sheets and build a pretty good cast iron shed. We could use a shed.

I think I’ll buy a water filter instead.

* * *

John Varley at work

The offices are looking nice. Even functional. You’ll notice I’m able to write email for the first time in over a week.

Our DISH network stuff is to be installed in about three weeks. While I wasn’t looking, HBO has multiplied to no less than SIX channels. Showtime has four, and Cinemax three. We will be getting over 70 channels, plus 6 HBO’s, 30 CD music stations, AND local channels with the new upgrade. Zowie.

* * *

For me, a lot of what it’s about is routines. I’m not helpless without them, I’m not a slave to them, and I think I may have fewer of them than many of my friends who lead more ordered lives. I like to think I’m fairly adaptable at most things. But they help. THIS is how I go about getting up in the morning and getting myself ready to face the world. And THIS is how I make a ham sandwich for lunch. And NOW is when I take those three little blue pills in the weekly pill box.

Moving disrupts all that. For several days I somehow missed taking most of my Glucophage pills, and that wasn’t very smart. Mustn’t let one’s blood sugar vary.

But I sometimes form new routines in only a few days. During the move, I got used to going out most mornings at 6AM for bacon and eggs. I liked that routine; it seemed to give me extra strength for the day. However, that much bacon and eggs is not a good idea for me. I knew I’d have to re-adjust to cereal when we got into the trailer.

So one morning I find myself in the trailer, awake, ready for breakfast. I get out the box of cereal and the milk … and notice the date on the milk is three days ago. I sniff it; it smells okay. But for some reason I can’t make myself eat it. So I look around the kitchen and see the asparagus Lee made the night before, when I flopped into bed early, so exhausted I could hardly make my eyes blink. About half a pound of cold asparagus for breakfast. Didn’t sound so bad.

It wasn’t bad, either. But I’ve got to get some new routines.

* * *

… one week earlier …

MOVING TO A TRAILER from our large apartment! Must sell all our STUFF! LOW PRICES! Furniture, appliances, bookshelves, kitchenware, tools, books! Videos, stereos, curios, and gizmos! Taking bids on art work and authentic movie prop! FREE HOT SAUCE with purchase! 1018 SE Belmont, above the Monte Carlo restaurant. Fri-Sun 9 to 5.

* * *

The lady at the Oregonian classified desk was all business as she typed my ad into her computer. Then she looked up at me and smiled. She said I’d made her day. She said she had been typing ads for years, and this was the best moving sale ad she’d ever handled.

Sort of made my day, too.

Later, thinking about it, I realized that a world famous science fiction writer damn well OUGHT to write a better-than-normal ad.

It worked pretty well. Friday at nine I went down to open the front door (where Lee had posted a NO EARLY BIRDS sign, in light of my experience when Kerry and I held our sale in Eugene), and about thirty people shoved past me and thundered up the stairs.

… and about five minutes later, mostly thundered back down. No big surprise there, either. As in Eugene, these were all furniture and antique dealers. A quick spin through the apartment showed them we had no antiques — the ad didn’t MENTION antiques, so I didn’t feel guilty — and they were off, to blitz a couple dozen more sales before noon. I think most of them were savvy enough to glance at our furniture prices and realize they could come back Saturday or Sunday and pick up what they wanted, cheap. They were right, too, usually.

Lee thinks that a few of those thunderers pocketed small items in the confusion and were gone before she was even aware they had arrived. It’s certainly possible. We were swamped and frazzled. Hadn’t even managed to get through and price all the stuff we wanted to sell, so the kitchen, bedroom, and Lee’s office were blocked off. Don’t know how we would have made it through that first day without the help of a few friends.

Saturday’s crowds were mostly brought in by the sign I posted out on the sidewalk. Belmont is a very busy street, so there was a steady stream.

And my goodness, did we sell stuff! We made about half our sales on the first day, and we didn’t cut any prices. Saturday, everything was reduced. Sold more stuff, but for a bit less money. Sunday … well, it was nuts. Prices were practically obliterated. People had to buy stuff quickly, before I came along with my Magic Marker and cut the price again. Everybody wanted to haggle on Sunday, and my haggling skills got honed to a fine point. By the end of that day I was a better haggler than a Baghdad rug merchant:

“You’re asking twenty for this gizmo. Would you take fifteen?”

“Fifteen! Are you crazy? I couldn’t let it go for a penny less than ten!”

“Well, I, er—”

“You’re taking bread from the mouths of my children! Five! My final offer!”

“I’ll take—”

“Aiiieeee!!! Never have I seen such a bargainer! Take it! Take it for two cents, and may Allah never grant you a moment’s happiness with it!”

Friday we were selling videotapes for $3. Sunday morning the remainder were moving, sluggishly, for $1 (and it was a pretty pathetic remainder, headlined by Attack of the Killer Tomatoes). Sunday afternoon … FREE!! Remaining audio tapes: FREE! Laser Disks: FREE! Maps, magazines, books: ALL FREE!

It’s amazing the amount of stuff you can’t GIVE away. But it’s also interesting to see how much stuff you thought was worthless that people will pay for.

There was a bit of a frenzy near the end. A woman offered Lee three dollars for the Smiley Face coffee mug she was drinking from. Lee poured her coffee into another mug and sold it. (I thought she should have let the lady have the coffee, too.) Somebody bought the vacuum we’d intended to use to clean up afterward. People came to me with boxes and bags of stuff they’d scrounged and I’d glance though it and say “One dollar.” And they’d smile. They left happy, sometimes with a slightly dazed expression, and I was happy, too, since I knew there was nothing left in the apartment worth more than a dollar a box.

apartment above the Monte Carlo

Somewhere in there my shoes vanished. Sold? I don’t know. At least it wasn’t the pair I was wearing.

Consistent theme throughout the sale: “This apartment is WONDERFUL!” “Who knew this was up here?” “Who suspected it was so BIG?” We could have had a waiting list of 100 people to rent it. Too bad the building’s going to be torn down.

* * *

I started out asking $5/box for the National Geographics I’d been collecting from thrift stores over the last few years. Knowing it was optimistic. Hell, you can buy a CD-ROM set that includes every page of every issue back to 1890 or so for $50 at eBay. My collection was complete, with all maps and such, back to 1953. They look nice, and they feel nice for somebody who still prefers to hold a book rather than see the same thing on a screen.

Sunday afternoon I’d marked them all down to FREE. At 4PM they were still there, when a sucker finally … I mean, when a COLLECTOR decided he wanted them. For the next hour he trudged up and down the 28 stairs, slowly, looking like his feet hurt, carrying 4 boxes at a time. The guy was older than me, and by that point ONE trip up and down was practically killing me. But he kept at it, slowly, and he never took a rest or breathed hard.

Same with the American Heritage collection. About 4:30 a young couple of suckers … that is to say, READERS, started carrying them down. Things were looking good …

Except for one thing. The monster 8×6 foot desk, the monster used-to-be-a-waterbed, the five-piece sectional sofa, the monster conference table in the library, and the refrigerator — what I came to think of as the Big Five: ALL our bulkiest, heaviest and most intractable pieces — remained unsold. I was really afraid they’d remain ungivenaway, too, even if I labeled them FREE.

But on Friday morning two different dealers had approached me with the same offer: When the sale is over, call me. I’ll give you a price for the lot. A LOW price, I was sure, but even at that stage I knew I’d welcome it.

So Lee called Neil, from BOOK CITY PARADISE on Hawthorne Street, and he came over and said he couldn’t take ANY of it (so why did he offer to, on Friday?) because it was too big for his store, but I should call BJ’s Auctions. They’d probably take it. I called him.

On the Monday after the sale I was bleakly contemplating the stuff we still had to get out of the apartment by tomorrow night. All the boxes of small items and trash were depressing enough … and then there was the Big Five and a portable washer, dryer, and dishwasher. If somebody doesn’t take it off our hands soon, I don’t know what we’re going to do.

In walks an apparition in ten-gallon hat and well-broke-in cowboy boots. In between are western-cut jeans, a western-cut denim shirt half open over a dark red turtleneck. Everything about this man is western-cut, including his face and probably his bubble gum, which he never stops chewing. For some reason he reminds me of Richard Petty, though he doesn’t look that much like ol’ #43 unless Petty got in a bad rollover at Talladega and had his face stove in. He’s wearing enough silver and turquoise trim to open a roadside stand in Arizona. His belt buckle weighs at least ten pounds. His thumbs are hooked in his belt loops. And hanging from that belt in a hand-crafted holster is … his cell phone. And let me tell you, this guy can draw it fast. It never rings twice.

This guy moseying down my hallway like he just left his cayuse tied to a parking meter outside, is BJ. He says howdy, and the moseying is over. He moves through all six rooms at a fast walk. “I kin take that bed, and the table, and all them books. And all the shelves. Cain’t use the sofa, nor the big desk. I’ll take all them chairs, and this, and that, and this and that. I’ll take the fridge.” In five minutes he’s appraised, estimated, judged the weight and dimensions of the whole lot, and (I’m convinced this is true) has mentally loaded each piece in his truck. He makes me a (ridiculously low) offer, which I accept instantly, if not to say gratefully. I tell him it has to be out of here by tomorrow, and he says “Hell, I’m gitting most of it out right NOW.” And he leans his head out the window and shouts for JR to take off his jacket and git on up here.

stairs to apartment

No, not JR Ewing. If this JR ever got to Dallas, it was because some railroad yard bull left a boxcar door unlocked. He was a small man, but wiry. Maybe a few years older than me. Had a perpetual look of surprise on his face that I kept taking to mean “How did I get here horsing heavy shit down 28 stairs when somewhere out there there’s a bottle of Night Train to be drunk?”

I know BJ made good money out of the stuff we practically handed to him (and by the next day, we were filling boxes of random sale rejects and sneaking them INTO the pile of stuff BJ had paid for, until he finally asked us to quit it), but I couldn’t be pissed off at him because I saw how hard they worked. Every load that thumped down the stairs was a load that wouldn’t be thumping on ME. BJ cracked the whip over JR like some sort of mule, but he worked just as hard himself.

There was one thing that COULD have pissed me off, if the Monte Carlo hadn’t been heading for the wrecking ball after we left. BJ didn’t seem to believe in hand trucks, or even in refrigerator dollies. Whether this was as macho thing, because he was too cheap, it was against his religion, or he just plain didn’t hold with newfangled stuff like that, he and his crew (which later on included a guy named Jay — or was it just J?) really THUMPED that stuff down the stairs. And before that, they dragged it, which now and then cut some rather deep gouges in our floor. Yes sir, if we hadn’t known those floors would soon be history, I’d of had to of met ol’ BJ out in the middle of Belmont Street at High Noon, dial tones blazin’…

By the way, NEVER buy a refrigerator at an auction. You would have wept to see them bouncing that old reefer of ours down the steps. These guys are used to wrestling the merchandize up onto the block, pausing a moment while BJ rattles off the sale, then humping it off again. Everything is done FAST, to keep the buyers confused.

I was surprised he wanted all my leftover books. (And by then, it was a more ragged collection of junk than even my videotape collection; books I’d look at and think, Now where in hell did THAT come from, and was it REALLY on my shelves all that time?) What happens is that BJ would be auctioning practically all our stuff that very night, virtually as it came to him, box by box, unsorted. You understand we’re not talking about Sotheby’s here. People are bidding on pot luck. And many of these bidders in BJ’s 92nd-and-Foster neighborhood are just off the Aeroflot from Russia. Books appeal to them, it seems. Salt a box of junk with half a dozen volumes in unreadable English, and these Russians will buy it.

But BJ didn’t want the big desk. I was close to despair about it when finally a suck— that is, a SCHOLAR and SAVIOR arrived, in the form of our friend, the excellent Devin Ben-Hur. He spent about an hour convincing himself that FREE was a price he could actually afford. Then he spent the next several hours sweating and cursing as he took it apart, almost getting overrun by BJ and JR and nearly getting smashed up by a car in the street … Hope you enjoy it, Devin.

* * *

That still left the couch. It was a dandy five-piece very comfy maroon ensemble that my sister Kerry gave me when we moved out of the house in Eugene. But I’m afraid the last ten years had not been kind to it. That is, the last ten years of hard use by ME hadn’t been. Too many meals while watching TV, too many cigarettes smoked. It was ready to go where old couches go to die.

That turns out to be a dump out on 122nd, behind the HOME BASE store. There’s a high cinderblock wall around it, so driving by, you’d never suspect. There’s houses all around it, too, but because they accept NO GARBAGE it doesn’t really smell. The noise is over at 5PM, too.

Would you believe we ended up RENTING A TRUCK to dispose of this and a few other items we simply could not seem to shake off any other way? We did. They also charge you a $15 minimum up to 350 pounds. Do you wonder why I sometimes view “recycle” as a dirty word? Not only is it damn inconvenient, it is EXPENSIVE. Nobody’s going to do much recycling at prices like that. No wonder people leave furniture sitting on the sidewalk.

Just as we pulled through the gates, the rain started falling. It was harder than it had been all weekend, when it had rained for about half the sale. We pulled off the scale and into a sea of mud. This didn’t even slow down the bulldozers, of course, but it made an already hellish scene look even worse. I finally got the truck backed up to the place they wanted me, and we got out, slipping and sliding with every step. We started flinging stuff out into the mud. I couldn’t fling the couch sections very far.

One of the things we hadn’t been able to give away was a box of second printing hardcovers of one of my books. They are worth absolutely nothing, and I had already schlepped them into two different residences, where they sat, untouched, until I was ready to move again. I vowed that time would never come again, so there I was, throwing them out into the primordial ooze. Thing is, this book has a picture of me on the back. I got the box empty and was looking down at my own face, staring back up at me a dozen times. Something of an emotional low point for the whole moving enterprise. But to hell with it. I swung down and planted my feet carefully on copies of my book until I got to ground that was a bit dryer. Sounds like there is a metaphor in that somewhere, but I’m not going to hunt for it.

* * *

End of the beginning.

Monte Carlo apartment sunset

Monte Carlo Sunset

March 10, 2000
Sauvie Island, OR