Sunday, May 09, 2004

Homeward Bound


We’re on I-5, somewhere in southern Oregon, headed home at last. This morning I opened up one of my worm containers to see how they were doing and caught a pair of red wigglers in the act. In honor of Mother’s Day, one (or both?) of them were becoming mothers. So I suppose they have not been too unhappy in their confinement or they would not be reproducing. Still, I’m sure they’ll be as happy to get back to their home as I will be.

It’s funny…when I started this book tour, I always planned to leave the worms at my last stop rather than haul them home. But I haven’t been able to do that. They’ve come this far with me; it seems like they deserve to come home, rather than be abandoned in the compost pile of some complete stranger in Portland or Seattle.

A couple of nights ago we drove up to Bellingham for a reading at Village Books. Now, before I begin this story, let me just say that for the last couple of days, I’ve been ready to go home. I was worn out, my stomach was uneasy from so many restaurant meals, I missed my garden, and I was tired of talking about worms. So keep that in mind as you read this next cranky, whiny entry.

We were booked into a B&B for the night in Bellingham, which had caused me a little bit of worry: I had a live, one-hour radio interview with Michael Olsen the next morning by phone, and I was concerned that there would not be a phone in the room I could use. I don’t get very nervous about radio interviews, but what I do worry about is the logistics: if it’s in person, I worry about getting there in time, and if it’s on the phone, I worry about having a good working phone that will not be tied up by someone else or have static on the line or anything like that. In other words, I worry about the picky little details surrounding the interview, but the interview itself doesn’t concern me at all.

So my publicist, who books this stuff, checked it out in advance and made sure there’d be a good working phone. Well, there was, but it turned out to be a cordless phone, not an old-fashioned, plug-it-into-the-wall phone, and I worried about static on the line. It was an extension of a phone line that seemed to serve the entire B&B, so I worried that someone else would pick up the phone while I was on it.

As I said, I was a little tired and punchy by this time. I was ready to go home. I was getting cranky.

So I didn’t like the B&B from the beginning because I was already predisposed to be freaked out about the phone. From the outside, the place was a pleasant Victorian house, but inside, oh, good lord. It was as if a manufacturer of plastic flowers had gone out of business and the innkeeper had bought the entire warehouse. Really, I have never seen so many plastic flowers in one place. And you must understand that I am personally offended by fake flowers, unless they are truly, obviously fake, like those enormous paper flowers you can buy in Mexico, or artsy glass flowers, or something like that.

But to just put pots of plastic geraniums around the living room—really, there’s no excuse for that.

So the front parlors were pretty offensive, with their fake flowers and tasteless chintz and general country frilliness. Now, remember, I live in a Victorian house, and while I don’t like ornate Victorian decorations, I understand what an authentic Victorian parlor might look like, and this is not it. Let us proceed to the bedroom, which we documented with photographs, so that you can see what I was up against for the evening.



In the bedroom, we had:

Floral print sheets, bedspread, and wallpaper.

Fake ivy draped around the room near the ceiling, and other plastic flowers tucked in wherever there was room for them.

Two bedside garden nymph lamps that hung from the ceiling. Around the nymphs were clear wires from which oil dripped, in an attempt to simulate, I suppose, a waterfall.

A large gold fish and angel sculpture on the wall above the TV. The sculpture did have an electrical cord coming out of it, but it was not plugged in and we could not figure out what it would do if it was plugged in.

A pair of windows that looked not out to the garden, but into a stairwell that had obviously been added after the house was built. These windows were fringed with lacy curtains and faced the stairwell wall directly across, which had been papered with some of that photo-realistic wallpaper.

The image? A garden, of course. A field of tulips. More plastic flowers sat in a windowbox to contribute to the natural effect. There was also a dimmer switch that controlled a light in the stairwell, allowing guests to simulate any time of day in the garden by raising or lowering the light level.

I just can’t tell you how miserable this room made me feel. I was so tired, and so ready to go home.

We certainly weren’t going to spend any time in the terrifying garden room, so we dropped our suitcases off and ran. Bellingham has a cute little old downtown, but we were tired of cute little downtowns, too. We had a dull little dinner at an Italian restaurant and wandered over to the bookstore, where I was expecting a dull and poorly-attended reading.

Boy, was I wrong. A half an hour before the reading, there were already people milling around, saving seats. Before I started talking, I counted about 25-30 in the audience, and after about 15 minutes, the crowd had grown closer to 50.

And there were some serious worm people there: worm farmers, worm composting educators, and lots of people who already have a worm bin. They asked interesting questions. One guy had noticed that his red wigglers change color slightly in different food stock—what did I know about that? Gee whiz, nothing, I told him, but I’d check it out. Someone else thought that there had just been a sighting of the nearly-extinct giant Palouse earthworm, something else I hadn’t heard. There were organic farmers in the audience, and schoolchildren, and everybody wanted to come up afterwards and hold the worms and tell me more worm stories. It was an amazing evening, one of the best events on the book tour.

So we went back to the room in much better spirits. I had noticed that Andrei Codrescu, whose new book Wakefield is also published by Algonquin, was going to be in Bellingham in a month or so, so I scouted around town and found a better hotel for him.

I’m a big Andrei Codrescu fan, so Andrei, this is my gift to you: you do not have to lay your head to rest in the Scary Garden Room. The mere thought of you going through this would have kept me up all night. There’s a nice normal little hotel in town, just behind the bookstore, and I’m sending the information about it to Algonquin. You can thank me later. (Although Scott points out that if you’re looking for material for your next NPR commentary, who knows, maybe you’ll find it here and not at the nice little inoffensive hotel by the bookstore. Well, I’ll leave it up to you.)

We turned off all the lights in the Scary Garden Room, so we could see as little of it as possible, and watched the playback on CSPAN of Rumsfeld testifying about prisoner abuse in Iraq. That was enough to banish the sticky sweetness from the room. Only the fish-and-angel wall statue glowed slightly from the light of the TV.(to be continued tomorrow.)

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