Life After Chaosium

After my departure from Chaosium my wife and I lived in Mexico for two years where I fell in love with Oaxaca. We came back and lived in Berkeley for a while, then left there for Arcata, CA, where I now live.

Leaving Berkeley (July '07)

Arcata is about 300 miles north of Berkeley, and my daughter Alisha and her husband Brian live there. Suzanne wanted a job with a pension, and she landed one here as mail carrier. It was pretty sudden, in a way. Sort of. She applied months and months ago to several towns around here. We drove up here for interviews several times. It’s a 6-hour drive, and she would have a 10 or 20-minute interview. We’d visit Alisha and drive back to the Bay area the next day. 

About the fifth or sixth time that we did that she got hired, and had to start work in two weeks. So we drove home again and she started packing. The theory was that she would start packing stuff from the apartment. While she did that I came back up here and spent every day searching for a place to live. 

Now, this is a college town. It was the start of the semester, and when an apartment was advertised to be shown there would be 20-30 people show up to look at it. We’d all cruise through the tiny rooms eyeing each other. People kept saying, “Oh, landlords would rather have a mature couple than students. You’ll be a shoo in.” In those two weeks I scrutinized the ads every morning, drove by houses and apartments every afternoon, applied through agencies, signed up for early notification, put in applications and credit reports and found nothing.

I went back to Berkeley totally disappointed. Not surprisingly, she’d not really packed much up. Certainly all that she was going to need, but she was also finishing out her old job and working 50 hours a week. I wasn’t surprised. It was what I had expected. We had a couple of days there, then packed the car full of Suzanne’s stuff and drove back up. She stayed at Alisha and Brian’s house, planning to start a new job (with a 60-day trial period) and look for a place to live. Yeah, right. I knew better but didn’t try to dissuade her. I drove back to Berkeley and started packing. I had two weeks to get out of the apartment.

That was fun. NOT! You know, I really miss Suzanne when we are not together. If we take separate vacations two weeks is the limit of comfort, three weeks the limit of tolerance, and everything after that is… well, at the risk of sounding dependent, after three weeks it is depressing. And we’d been apart for two weeks now. And I had to pack the whole damn apartment alone. 

And suddenly I could no longer avoid it—I was moving away from the area I’d lived in for 35 years. Here my children were born, educated and left home. Here were all my friends. I knew where to find anything I wanted. The store keepers knew me and chatted, the restaurant workers knew my favorite dishes, my friends lived here, my two sons and my grandson lived here, my routine was here. My life was here. 

And I was going. Leaving. Abandoning it all. Things took on a preternatural glow. Every time I did anything I thought, “This is probably the last time I’ll do this.” Everything was vivid. I went to the restaurant where they serve my favorite, twice cooked pork (the place my family calls the “TCP restaurant"). The food tasted SO good that I ate it so slowly it was way cold before I was done. 

I tried to visit my friends, as if for the last time. It was strange to suddenly see everyone I knew sifted out into Must See and Try to see and See If You Can. Into good friends, friends and acquaintances. There was no doubt about seeing my Best Friends. I spent time with Tom and Don, no doubt about its value, no doubt between us about doing it, squeezing every last minute out of the pleasure of their presence. Some folks couldn’t find the time… wow, a judgment imposed itself on me and their status dropped a notch for me. It was very strange. 

At one point I thought, “This must be like what it is to be told I’m going to die soon.” Each act vivid, each moment precious, everything sharp and etched in deep. 

Noah, my older son and father of my grandson Elliot, told me he was going to move to Sacramento and open up his own flower shop. He’d managed to get the financing and he and his family were departing. Wow, one of the BIG reasons for me to stay as lifted. I felt a little more free. One less thing to hold me here. I spent as much time as possible with Jason, my younger son. My kid. They are all my kids, but you know, he’s the “little one.” Don’t we always worry most about this one? He was signing up for college, looking forward to it after several years of work. “I want to do something to better myself,” he told me. “I’m different now.” Wow! And wisdom: “You’ve spent all this time with us, now it’s Alisha’s turn.” Damn, I’d not thought of that I nearly wept. And in truth, I WAS looking forward to spending some more face time with my daughter. So in truth, my sons helped me cut loose. I shed the agony of leaving them. Now I was just sad. 

And in the daytime, I packed. And packed. And packed. Jeez, it’s a 1-bedroom apartment, how much stuff can we have? I dared not throw anything out of Suzanne’s. Five boxes of crafts stuff. Surely he will want this bundle of ratty leather strips! I’m a junk rat. EVERYTHING is valuable. Yep, that box of high school memorabilia. Yea, my Dad’s navy papers. My great grandpa’s Civil War army papers… A bag of tweaks I collected when I was a tweaker. Oh, look, the first book I ever made! 

And of course, all the Issaries stuff—records, some inventory, boxes and boxes of notes and unfinished manuscripts and stories never published… And yeah, I am sure that these old floppy discs with drafts of RQI should be kept…

Getting enough boxes is often a problem when moving. I just ordered them—my friend Tom was astonished that I actually ordered boxes to put stuff into. Though he admitted there is good sense in having everything one size. I needed a couple weird sizes to hold Suzanne’s bo and bows. Where would I get skinny six-foot long boxes? There they are on the street! Then I ran out of boxes! I knew there was a huge pile behind High Tech Burritos. I put off pulling them right away because, well, I have to have a dinner with my good friend Sam and the dumpster is always full. Of course, next day it is empty! Ah, I find them anyway. 

How the hell do you pack bowls? What do I keep from the kitchen? A half jar of pickle relish? What do I do with the stuff I’m not keeping? Will homeless people want a box of spices? Well, there is always “put out.” Just put it in a box on the sidewalk and see if people take it. Wow, they take anything!

It’s a damn good thing we never got any furniture! 

And then, even two days early, it was all there in stacks of boxes. I rented a truck. Jason came by to help. His friends, who had all said they would help, weren’t available. No surprise there. I went to where the Latinos stand around and wait for work. 

Necessito tres hombres mas fuerte para movar muchas cajas. 
Nos, senor. 
Si? Quantos? 
Quince dólares por hora, sir. 
Fifteen dollars! 
I pulled over to the curb. 
Demasiado! Diez. 
They talk among themselves. 
OK, Ten, they agree. 

We go to the apartment. The truck is there, Jason is there, a mountain of boxes holding three and a half decades of my life are there. “J, you instruct at the truck end, I’ll take upstairs.”

These three guys start to work. I had trouble moving a box at a time. They pick up three at a time, sometimes four, and start the infinite number of trips down with the stuff to the truck, back up for more. 

“Slow these guys down,” says Jason, “They’re humping.” I do. 

Sentarse! Toman agua! I hand out bottled water and everyone sits down to drink. They are all drenched in sweat. Qieren una manzana? Two say yes, one no. The last guy talks to his girlfriend on his cell phone. 

Back to work. I am packing the last stuff. They are carrying everything downstairs to the truck where Jason is arranging it into a compact load. Hours pass. Another break. Water, apples. These guys are from Guatemala. They don’t want to talk about the war. Did you know each other before you got here? Somos paisanos, says one, and they all smile, nodding. 

More work. I leave a batch of stuff on the sidewalk. Put out. 

We’re done. The apartment is empty. I talk to the Guatemalianos. In my bad Spanish I tell them they agreed to $10/hr., but they are hard workers and I am paying them $15/hr, si es bien contigo. One guy recognizes an ironic statement, the others a bit bemused. But they all agree. I hand out cash, they are happy. I ask them where they would like a ride to. I’ll take them back to Oakland if they want. No, nearest bus stop is fine. They are all smiling while waiting for the bus. I go back and Jason and I clean up the apartment. Sweep. Mop. Scrub and scour. At the end of the day I turn in the keys, a day early!! J drives my car to Don’s, me the truck. I leave the truck, drop J off, have a final dinner with my friends Don and Anna, and sleep on the floor and get up the next day before they are awake. I get Jason, drop the car keys in Don’s mailbox, and we leave in a pokey truck that will need WAY more than 6 hours to reach Arcata. Road trip with my son! 

Good by Berkeley. 

Hello Arcata. 

We drove all day and talked about Jason’s school and life in general. Great trip, driving a pokey truck with my son. And the drive is gorgeous, one you get past Santa Rosa. Through the wine country, then through the hills and then through the redwoods, and at last to the city of Eureka, ten more miles, Arcata!

The next day Brian, Alisha and Jason unloaded the truck into a rented storage space. Suzanne got home after work and we all spent some quality family time together, me, my wife, two of my children and one in-law. Good time. Had dinner with some of Alisha’s friends in Tomo, a Japanese restaurant of very high quality. 

Next morning, back into the truck and another 6 hours south this time, and drop off the truck. Spent the night as Jason’s apartment. In the AM I recovered my car and drove to Sacrament to visit Noah and Kathy and Elliot. This was the first time I saw Noah’s new flower shop. He and Kathy work there, seven days a week, eight or more hours a day. I took Elliot to the zoo and we had a great time. In SF we used to go to the zoo a lot together. Walk around and do the animal quiz, then spend several hours at the playground. We looked and looked for a Chinese restaurant. There’s gotta be some in Sacramento, but Noah’s as new there as I am in Arcata and we ended up eating Mexican food. Next day, back into the car for another 6 hour drive, solo this time. I decide, Hey, I’m starting to like this drive. Note to everyone who goes that way: Willits is half way and has the cheapest gas on the whole journey. 

And then I was in Arcata to stay. 

Restful time? Not a chance. Still had to find a place to live, and it was the same as before. No, it was worse. A couple of time the agents told us we had the place, and when I went to sign the papers they told me they’d rented it to someone else. WTF?! Brian told me that the university had doubled the freshman class this year and precipitated a housing crisis, and the university was giving special deals — kickbacks — to the agencies who got houses for students. Wow, maybe having the uni here wasn’t an advantage. This went on for weeks. I was disappointed when I had returned to Berkeley weeks earlier. Now I was in despair.

We finally found a place through Alisha’s contacts (and she seems to know half the populace here). Her friend Mara, my new neighbor, was acting as agent for the house next door to hers since the last residents reportedly bailed in the middle of the night. She was trying to reserve it for a friend of hers for “when she sobers up,” but realized that was a losing proposition and gave us the go. 

Well, when I spoke on the phone to the landlord he said, “Send me the deposit right away.” We went right out and bought paint.

It’s a damn cute little house, but it was filthy. It’d been rented to students for several years, and before that the old lady who lived here was certified crazy. She used to stalk up and down the streets talking to nonexistent people. But she took ill and was put in a home, and the students moved in. 

So we decided to clean up and paint the place. We decided we wanted Mexican colors. 

One day as we were painting the county probate officer visited the house and spoke to Suzanne and said, “Don’t send him a penny.” Seems the house is actually under the conservatorship of the county! After a long chat with the probate officer we have things straightened out. He explained that the county was likely to sell it, in six months at the earliest. This hasn’t made me feel secure and settled, but then, we have been planning to move into my daughter’s “extra” house when it is repaired in another 6-12 months anyway. Then the landlord explained he was going to try to get control of the house again, and so I am petty sue that there will be quite a while before it is settled through the courts. 

So we painted up a storm, to exhaustion. Didn’t finish the kitchen or bath before exhaustion set in, but so it goes. Szn wanted to contact paper the shelves in the kitchen, so it took longer to unpack all of the kitchen stuff. But the bedroom and office are finished—though organizing my office was a bitch and a half with all my misc boxes of papers. And once we got the living room cleared of boxes and stuff, it’s pretty much be empty since we have no furniture except our two extra futon mattresses and a desk that was left behind. But heck, that is sufficient for guests! So stop on in when you are in the area! :-)

We are located down town. More downtown Arcata than we used to be downtown Berkeley! 3 blocks to the town square, to the coop grocery, to the hardware store, to several restaurants.

We like it.

Living in Arcata

The land hereabout is gorgeous. 

Humbolt County is a large thinly populated area of tree-covered hills and mountains, with a long beautiful shore line. Several impoverished communities live within it. It is at the south of the rain belt that makes rain forests in Oregon and Washington. It is the land of redwoods. 

Arcata is a small community that would be entirely impoverished except that Humboldt State is here and so the town is actually is a fairly sophisticated. There used to be thriving fishing and lumber industries, but both collapsed decades ago, and so it has that impoverished backward country feel. There are few big box stores, few housing developments, etc. Otherwise it's pretty small, rural and pleasantly backward here. 

How small? Strangers smile and say hello on the streets. Clerks at stores chat with every customer. “If you’re in a hurry, and you’re in Arcata, you’re in the wrong place.”

How rural? Well, the "big city" nearby is Eureka (population 36,000). See the Official City of Eureka site, or the more informative Wikipedia article.

How rural? Well, when the wind shifts I can smell the cows a few blocks away. 

How quaint? One day Szn and I went into Eureka for dinner. You know it's big, because it has parking meters. We were distressed at first because I only had a dime for the meter. We put it in. We got two hours on the meter (In SF, 10¢ gets 2 minutes.). 

Pleasantly quaint? There is a gas station nearby where the attendant comes to your window and pumps the gas, then asks, “Check your oil for you?” This alone was major shock for me! Haven’t seen that since the 60’s. 

But backward? Nope. Thanks to the uni, Arcata has a couple of really nice book shops, a fine Japanese restaurant (though no Thai or Indian, and inferior Chinese). The best Mexican is from a taco wagon run by a rasta Chicano, and every other one I’ve tried is just awful. 

So it is a particular kind of backwater and modern. There is a weekly open air market each Saturday down in the town square. But the goods sold are all organic (only). 

It strikes me as being a redneck town, but instead of rednecks we have old hippys and skate punks. 

When I read the papers in Oakland there was a daily story of someone being murdered. Here the regular tragedy is of the weekly fatal auto crash of drunk teenagers.

Finally, there is a decent game store here! We have started a new King Arthur Pendragon campaign, and you can read the blog here.

Jason Is Here!

Jason has decided to move up here. Suzanne and I, Brian and Alisha are all pleased as punch. He's staying in our living room for a while, but has a new job already, is considering the local JC and has scoped out the local bowling alley. He painted the bodega, which you can see here.

The Livestock

June 7, ‘08

Out backyard is huge, and can be roughly divided into quarters. Facing outward to the back are the right and left close and back quarters. The close left is the garage and huge tree, under which is Chateau de Poulle. Close right is lawn, back left is garden and back right wilds. 

I wish I had a photo of the backyard before Suzanne cleared it of blackberry bushes. Those pernicious, nefarious plants had overwhelmed everything, the back of the yard some six to eight feet deep, maybe six feet tall. It is not like we need them for the berries—the whole county is swarming with them. Suzanne collected enough off our property to make jam sufficient in quantity to last until now. The sides of the roads are chocked with the bushes.

So she has dug out huge swaths of the yard of blackberries. Also, she has turned over an entire quarter. In the photo on the right there is it the left half, where you can see yellow straw on the ground. Below that is the middle back of the yard. She’s put in some raised garden beds. We’ve planted stuff we eat: corn, winter melons (several), beans, peas, four kinds of lettuce and strawberries. It’s all growing. 

It is still often chilly compared to the Bay Area. One day when we were talking about seasons I said it didn’t feel like summer.

“We’re eating out of our garden, Greg. It’s summer.”

Pearl and Marilyn

Suzanne has been wanting some chickens ever since we moved up here. Now it’s reality. We have joined into the rural nature of this place at last. 

First, for her birthday, she wanted to have a coop-raising party. Alisha and Brian, Jason, Suzanne and I all got together. We used almost entirely scraps from the work Brian has been doing on their new house. Brian did all the measuring and cutting, Alisha pretty much hogged the nail gun once she got over being afraid of it, and Jason and Suzanne used hammers, wire cutters and the staple gun. I supervised. 

Jason and I got artistic and painted the exterior. Nice, eh? So there is Chicken Chateau. Or maybe Castillo Pollo. Since it’s a castle either way, it is obvious that this gorgeous coop is the keep. 

Suzanne put up the exterior fence—since the coop is the keep, we call this the bailey (the walled-in section around a castle). The back part of the enclosure is our neighbor’s picket-like fence. 

Then she ordered a pair of chickens. They are wyandotes, a breed used for both meat and eggs, and hardy, used to the cold. Their names are Pearl and Marilyn.

I picked them up and put them into their new castle. When Suzanne got home from work we went to look at them and one was gone! Predators already? Nope, it was just perched in our neighbor’s tree. We chased it around — quite amusing, really. We saw that it slipped through the slats in the neighbor’s fence. I stapled it with chicken wire the next day to avoid a repeat performance. 

They lay one egg per day each, pretty much regularly. I don’t know what it is costing to feed them, but it’s probably cheaper than buying eggs. And they are fresh. I’m glad I can eat them now! 

Everyone loves the eggs. The chickens are calming to watch. So we are going to get a couple more, in about a month. The breeder sometimes has unusual types too, which we hope to get. As long as they are hardy and lay eggs. We want working animals!

We will also get a pair of ducks soon. The ducks are better at eating slugs and snails, of which there is no shortage here.