Monday, September 29, 2008

Last Weekend

After all the promises, I've forgotten half of the funny and insightful things I was going to say about last weekend, when Gail Page and I trekked to Boston for the New England Independent Booksellers Association trade show.

It was a hoot. How's that for insight?

The major revelation from the experience is that I'm losing my marbles, among other possessions. When I pulled out of the driveway Thursday, I saw the telltale flash of solid object in the rearview mirror--oops, something just fell off the roof. Sure enough, there in the road was the little case containing eighty percent of the CDs I play in the car. I'd vaccuumed the car the day before, and put stuff on the roof in order to do that, see. I turned around and retrieved the CDs, but I couldn't help feeling jinxed.

That night, Gail and I went to the Children's Book dinner, a highlight of which was the fact that each and every one of us got a signed copy of the latest book by each of the three famous and amazing speakers (Laurie Halse Anderson, Jeanne Birdsall, and Norton Juster). I was extremely excited, so much so that I left all three of my new books on top of the machine where you paid the parking garage, never to be seen again.

Out to Sunday brunch with Larry, with whom I was staying, I ordered a ginormous meal that included a bagel and cream cheese, which I carefully wrapped in a napkin to eat on the drive home. And of course left that behind, too.

I guess I'm lucky I didn't run somebody over during that trip.

I signed books at the trade show for a half-hour Friday afternoon, which was fun and not nearly as humiliating as I'd feared. (Meaning, people did actually ask me to sign books, for which they'd actually paid $2. Each. Hey, at least they paid...)(Among then, however, were Gail and 2k8ers Nina Nelson and Donna Freitas, helping to make me look popular. I returned the favor when it was their turn. Not that they needed me to.)

Here's a picture of me (left) at the signing table with Nadya Guerrero-Pezzano of the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Marketing Department. Oh, and my book. Innit cute?

Saturday, Larry and I went to the annual field day at Quincy House, the Harvard residential house that Larry administers. Larry got to wear a striped referee shirt; otherwise, he would have had to compete with the staff team.
Events included a three-legged race, water balloon toss, balloon stomp, wheelbarrow race, tug of war, and the most bizarre pie-eating contest I'd ever seen. (The contestants plunged their faces into plates full of whipped cream to find pieces of bubble gum. The winner was the first to blow a bubble.)

Here's Larry pointing out to the multitude that House Master Lee Gehrke had a bubble going. Aren't they cute?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Waiting for Thirteen

A little groggy today, because an 80-year-old lady here in town got lost walking to the post office yesterday morning (she was seen around 9 a.m. walking through the woods, as any right-thinking person would do rather than stick to the road). She lives alone, but her daughter got concerned when she couldn't raise her mother during the day. Around 9:30 p.m., in torrents of rain, the forest wardens called out the fire department to help look for her.

They were out all night. Rob came home briefly at midnight to get additional headlamps and again at 4 to get a couple of hours of sleep before heading out again. They found her at 7:30, suffering from hypothermia but otherwise alert and cheerful. Giddy relief, since everyone was assuming at that point that they were looking for a body.

As usual, my contribution to the effort was to sit or lie here fretting all night. Sometimes I'm worried about the person who's in peril, sometimes about the firefighters. Sometimes it's just that it still feels weird not to be rushing out to cover the event for a newspaper. Last night it was all of the above, because the weather was so foul.

It didn't help when, around 3:30, the dispatcher said, "Thirteen, do you need assistance?" (Rob's call number is Thirteen, giving you some idea of the cheery fellow I live with.) A few minutes later: "Thirteen, are you going to report in, please?" And a few minutes after that: "Thirteen, respond, please."


Turned out Rob was driving back to the station and had flung his radio into the back seat. He was not about to stop and look for it, so he just kept driving. Thanks for nothing, Bucko.

Tomorrow, if TS Kyle spares our electricity, I'll talk about my trip to Boston. Hey, it's only a week old. But it includes an afternoon at a Hahvid event during which the future leaders of our country threw water balloons at each other. So it'll keep.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Talking to Each Other Would Be Nice

OK, I'm in a snarky mood this week. (Who isn't?) Gotta share this one:

According to a Roll Call story on Tuesday, the Bush Administration has had this bail-out plan ready to roll for weeks, and now is pressuring Congress to push it through in a matter of days.

Here's the offending paragraph: Fratto [deputy press secretary] insisted that the plan was not slapped together and had been drawn up as a contingency over previous months and weeks by administration officials. He acknowledged lawmakers were getting only days to peruse it, but he said this should be enough.

I can understand that this thing would be a self-fulfilling prophecy if you talked about it in public before you had to. But if this were 1982 (I can't believe I'm saying this, since I hated the Reagan era and advocate sunshine at all levels), Ronald Reagan would have sat down weeks ago with House Speaker Tip O'Neill (a Dem) and Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker (also Dem). They would have had a little nip and a little chat and a little debate, and then O'Neill and Baker would have had a private nip and chat and debate with other critical Congressfolk, and when the plan became necessary most would have had time to research it and make thoughtful judgments.

Instead, everyone's working 28-hour days and running around fretting themselves into a frazzle, and we'll end up with legislation cobbled together by the exhausted and ill-informed. Whoever's the next president has got to stop this baloney. (Not the first word I thought of.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Life as We (Don't) Know It

This is just a quick one, to share this link. I've heard the same type of complaint about the U.S. chain stores.

Almost makes you leery of your friendly neighborhood multinational corporation, doesn't it?

Buy local! (Although as a complicating addendum, I have to point out that each Barnes & Noble store has a position called "community relations manager," and that person goes out of her/his way to schedule local authors, regardless of national heft (or payola). I've been in one event so far organized by a CRM, and will do others in October. This is a very smart thing for B&N to do--it gives the stores a homey feel and is great for the authors and the readers. That said...I still love my local independent and want it to survive. We all need the locals to survive, if only so we know about the impoverished books as well as the rich ones.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Hot Water Report

Sorry about the hiatus. Lots of stuff to come, because I had an entertaining trip to Boston, Cambridge and the New England Independent Booksellers Association trade show.

But first...the oil man just showed up for his every-57-days visitation, and the results are in. Turning the oil-fired water heater on and off does save oil, and much more than we expected.

Two months ago, we thought we'd switch the furnace on for a few hours every other day. Turned out that sometimes (when we weren't working up too much of a sweat) we could keep it off two days out of three. A pot and a half of water heated up on the stove took care of the dishes on cold-water day two. (It helps that we're not exactly gourmet cooks.) On the other hand, a couple of times we kept the furnace on for several days in a row while we had visitors whom we didn't want to stink out or subject to hardship.

And now (*drum roll*) the results: The previous 57 days, we used 41.7 gallons of oil to heat our hot water. In the 57 days just past, when we were conducting the experiment, we used 25.4 gallons.

Since the price per gallon of oil had dropped from $4.35 to $3.65, this was a happy, jolly visit from the oil man.

The world could use a little happiness and jollity right about now, don't you think?

We haven't quite worked out what we're going to do this winter. We can get along fine without the furnace in the main part of the house, but the addition has to be kept at 50 degrees so the pipes in the downstairs bathroom don't freeze. Plus, I'm going to be living in the addition while my knee heals after surgery in November.

On warm days after The Healing, though, you can bet we'll be flipping that switch.

Monday, September 8, 2008

First Sighting!

As noted in the comments, my friend Sandi in Tennessee found The Unnameables in a Barnes & Noble. On an actual shelf. For sale. To anyone who walks in. Like, strangers.

Oy. It's real. My stomach's in knots.

Here's the great thing about Internet friends...right now, someone at B&N and and someone else at Amazon are scratching their heads, pondering these bizarre single sales in Tennessee, Iowa, Montreal, Tokyo and London, to name just a few. Oh, and Australia. (*Waves to MaraudingDon.*)

This particular group of Internet friends is The Marauders, members of a private forum that started as a Harry Potter "theorizing" outlet...lessee, 2003, the year Order of the Phoenix came out. We started out discussing such weighty issues as whether Snape was good or bad (touchy subject, nowadays), what the triumphant gleam in Dumbledore's eye meant at the end of Goblet of Fire, and whether Dumbledore was gay. (Just kidding--most of us figured Lupin.)

As we got to know each other, we branched out and discussed our lives, politics, other books, movies, current events, you name it. Many of us had alter-ego characters for comic relief--in fact, the character now named Durindana in The Filioli was born as Astrella, an overdressed and hapless fairy who lived in a pub chandelier. (My editor's not thrilled with the name Durindana, so maybe she'll end up Astrella after all.)

It wasn't long before Harry Potter was secondary--nowadays, almost nonexistent--as a basis for the forum.

This became most obvious the day Lyny in Montreal discovered she was pregnant with her first child. She couldn't find her husband, Patrick, so she got on line and told us. As time went on, we saw ultrasounds, belly shots, and baby furniture, and the mothers in the group were free with advice. At last, when Lyny was in labor and having a difficult time, her mother and stepfather kept calling Meg in Wisconsin, who kept logging on to the Marauder site and telling the rest of us what was happening. We were prepared to stay up all night with Lyny and Patrick, but little Etienne was kind enough to arrive at 10 p.m.

Just this past Saturday, a group of Marauders (not me, unfortunately) watched via live feed while Meg got married.

Over the years, many of us have met in person. When Rob and I were in London we had dinner our first night with Andrew (known to us as Aberforth) and his wife, Melanie. Last summer, a bunch of us met for a couple of days at Niagara Falls, of all places. In both cases, it was more like a reunion than a first meeting.

When I joined the Marauders, I had just left my newspaper job and was working alone for the first time in twenty years. In some sense, the forum replaced office mates--if I felt like a break, I'd log on there for a chat.

It's hard to figure what this kind of thing will do to us as a species. OK, each of us is sequestered with the computer, ignoring any actual humans who might be sharing space with us. But we're essentially writing notes to each other, which used to be a dying art and has to be good for some part of the brain. For Lyny in Montreal and Emmalinde in Germany, this is a chance to practice written English. The rest of us now have friends who are furriners or Californians. (Sorry...channeling Tim Sample again.)

Does typing on a computer count as human interaction? Maybe not exactly...but it sure feels that way.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Best Intentions

Our neighborhood observed Labor Day with a backyard barbecue and chatfest two doors down at Greg and Cope's house. The event was supposed to be an energetic afternoon of lawn games: croquet, bocci, horseshoes, and some strange but enthralling game in which you threw a cord with balls on the end and tried to wrap it around a bar.


Here's what the lawn looked like for ninety-nine percent of the day:

Here's what we looked like:

As a neighborhood, it's safe to say we are talkers, eaters and drinkers rather than energetic game players.

Mostly talkers.

Plus, September was starting. We had to rest up.