From Oregon

Volume I, Number 1: Winter 1996

Here I am in Corvallis, Oregon.

The last issue of Life in Tennessee ended with me anticipating an imminent move to Oregon. It happened. Here I am!

Sic Transit

Of course, it wasn't painless. The check I had received from my previous job, for the balance of my wages (over $3K), became good just two days before I left. And that almost didn't happen: there was a bank error, and if I hadn't called and complained, it wouldn't have been good. Life is so much fun. But it all worked out.

Before I left I put almost everything in storage and shipped four boxes via UPS. I traveled light.

What didn't make it easy was leaving Goat. It was so hard, and I was crying on and off throughout the flight. Every time I think of when I last saw him in the terminal I tear up. I love him, and it's good in some ways to be here, but it's lonely for both of us. I don't relish the quiet nights to come.

Arriving in Oregon on Sunday afternoon was about what you would expect. Glacier was in San Jose on a consulting job, but he had sent me the key to his car and a map of where the car was in the economy lot. It was raining and grey when I got there, and chill. The cars in the lot had 4" icicles on them. After walking in the cold rain in the wrong direction, I finally found the car. It was glazed with ice, and I couldn't find an ice scraper. I removed the ice, but you don't want to know how. Trust that nothing was damaged.

The drive down to Corvallis was two hours of sleet and rain. It took longer than normal.

This pretty much set the tone of the first week.

On Monday I started with Rogue Wave. It was raining all day.

On Tuesday I woke up and walked from the yurt to the cabin. [Glacier rents a cabin on the Marys River, but he lives 10 meters away in a yurt he built last fall. The yurt is a wonderful living space, but the cabin provides water, a shower, and plumbing. It also is built on a bank of the river, which flooded last year.] I noticed that the water level, usually 5+ meters below the cabin, was now less than a meter from flooding. I called work and left a message with my boss that I would be late. Then I started moving the rest of Glacier's unmoved belongings from the cabin to the yurt. The landlords came over and helped. When we were done, they suggested that I leave soon, because I probably wouldn't be able to get back due to flooding along the road. They were right. I didn't get back until... but wait. There's more.

Tuesday night I spent with a friend of the landlords. I discovered that evening that the guy who played Blofeld in the Bond films also played the Criminalogist in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Live and learn.

Wednesday things got even worse. There was a major windstorm in western Oregon, with 80 MPH winds recorded in the town. A tree blew over and took out a shed on the property, then hit the yurt. It punched a small hole in the roof fabric and knocked the stove pipe off.

Glacier had been unhappy on his contract at Sony, and this was the news he needed. He hopped the first flight out and showed up later that day. It didn't do much good, as the road was still flooded out. The landlords, Kipp and Tom, patched the hole with duct tape. They elected to stay with their house, which wasn't in any danger. The cabin will eventually wash away, since it hangs out over the riverbank, but the yurt and their house are on higher ground.

The next day Glacier and a friend canoed out to the yurt. The damage was minor. A simple patch was all that was needed on the outside. There is still a little structural damage on the inside, but it will be fixed.

We finally did get back inside, on Saturday afternoon. It was a day earlier than we expected and Glacier was happy.

Throughout that week I think I saw the sun once. This is Oregon in winter.


Within a week of getting here, I started making all the settling in motions: registering to vote, getting a drivers license and PO Box, and of course a place to live. It's been an enlightening experience.

I was warned that the housing market is very tight. They're not kidding. But that's getting ahead of my story.

The first place I began was the post office. I wanted to get a PO Box because (a) I didn't have a place to live yet, and when I did it would probably be subject to change; and (b) the post office is two blocks from work. I walked in and asked for a PO Box. They asked me where I lived. I told them I had just moved there and was trying to establish myself. They asked if I could receive mail there. "Why?" asked I. They needed to have proof of residency. They wanted to do that by... sending me mail. Now, Glacier has a PO box, so I couldn't use his address, and I didn't think Kipp & Tom had a mailbox. So, in short: I needed to receive mail to prove that I was a resident so I could receive mail.

While I was dealing with this, it suddenly hit me how horribly unfair this would be to someone who was homeless. Think about it. No one will hire you without at least a mailing address, but the post office won't rent a box to you unless you have a residence. It's a catch-22, and the homeless get the shaft.

In the end, the flood saved me. UPS tried to deliver a package and couldn't, so they left a note in Kipp & Tom's mailbox for me. I showed the message, which had my name, an address, and read "Unable to deliver - insufficient address information", to the postal clerk and I walked out with the key to a box.

A similar go-round happened in the Department of Motor Vehicles. The only thing that saved me this time was finding a pay stub from Rogue Wave in my notebook. It was enough proof of address to get a driver's license.

The motor voter law also helped me get registered to vote here. It's a good thing I did. We have to replace departing senator Bob Packwood. There are six candidates, but Glacier has characterized the race as "the lesser of two weasels".

The biggest hurdle has been housing. It is extremely tight here. There are almost no listings in the paper. The one place I investigated downtown was an efficiency that didn't have room for a bed. I'm not kidding. I ended up going to a rental agency, and they only had a few listings.

Part of the problem is that I don't want to buy a car soon, so I have to get something within walking or biking distance of work, which is in downtown Corvallis. I've found a place which is about seven blocks from my office.

To illustrate how bad things are, someone made an application on an apartment I had been interested in - and that was without seeing the interior except by looking in the windows! There was another unit in the same sextet, so I put in an application sight unseen. My application ($20) has been approved, and it should be available tomorrow.

Filling out the application was fun, too. They wanted to know both my Social Security number and how much I made. "Why?" I asked again. The Social Security number was for a credit reference, which will turn up null because I don't have a credit history. The salary was so they knew I could afford the place. Give me a break. I just took the rent, doubled it, and wrote that in. Apparently it was good enough.

My plan is to live in this month-to-month place until spring, when all the Oregon State University students do the housing shuffle. Then I'll find better digs. For the moment, I have an apartment to furnish. Let's see: a clothes tree, a dresser, a futon & frame, some lamps... it's time to spend some money! And speaking of money, that brings me to

Rogue Wave

I started working for Rogue Wave the day after I arrived. My job is to "do" Java. Java is a new computer language that is supposed to be portable, secure, easy, etc. Heck, the official description of it describes it as "buzzword-enabled". It's loosely based on C++. It's kind of C++ made stupid. Part of my job will be to take existing C++ Rogue Wave products and convert them to Java. And I don't even drink coffee!

There have been some nice surprises at work. The first two came on Friday. I got a paycheck! And even better, it was for two week's salary!

The second came that evening. It was the Rogue Wave holiday party. I took Glacier as my date, although he said he had a pretty lousy time at the last one. It was okay, but the band was too loud. The best part was when I noticed Kevin, my boss (and Glacier's ex-boss), still sitting down halfway through the evening. I leaned over and told Glacier I'd give him a dollar if he asked Kevin to dance. I'd never seen Glacier dance, so I figured it was a safe bet. But no, he took me up on it - and Kevin took up his offer to dance! Then Kevin's wife came over and asked me to dance. The evening perked up from there. Maybe the evening should be called "Dances with Kevins" [1].

Working for Rogue Wave has its perks. I was supposed to get a 100 MHz Pentium with 32 MB for development work, but it was delayed. After a few weeks, I talked to the guy in charge of ordering systems. He told me that since the order had been delayed, they upgraded the machines on it to 133 MHz. Gosh darn. Patience pays off. In the meantime I've been using a borrowed machine.

Plus, a lot of people have candy on their desks. [2]

Rogue Wave is growing by leaps and bounds. In just a few years they've gone from a dozen to approaching 175 people. The other day, the new Webmaster recognized me on the street. He was a student assistant in the Computing Center at SUNYA. We hadn't seen or heard of each other in seven years - and that was his first day at Rogue Wave.

Everything's kind of crazy. Rogue Wave's been expanding so fast that there is no room. They currently occupy two buildings on different sides of one intersection downtown, and are expanding into a third. People are starting to move, and it's rather chaotic. I haven't decorated my desk and cubicle yet, because I'll be moving in a week or two. When I do, there's this box of plastic bugs I got for the holidays...

How I Spent The Holidays

The holidays were not quite like the old days. Here I was in a new town, with few friends. Glacier invited me to join him and his ex-lover's family in Montana. Rogue Wave gave everyone the week of Christmas off, so we started the drive. I didn't have a heavy coat with me. I figured that I could get one if needed in Montana.

Glacier was looking for one thing: snow. Snow snow snow. And more snow. He was born & raised in Missoula Montana, so he likes snow. In the Willamette Valley in western Oregon there is no snow, just rain. Glacier wanted snow. He brought his cross-country skis.

The drive was not bad. We left early and met up with Richard (Glacier's ex-lover) along the way. There was one thing that was lacking, though: snow. No snow! Some rain, and cold, but no snow.

We got there. It was bare. Missoula in the winter is kind of sparse.

A bit of information about Missoula: it's in what used to be Lake Missoula (back in Ice Age times). So it's flat, but there are low mountains literally surrounding it. It's a little strange: there you are, driving along the perfectly flat streets, and then suddenly: there's this steep hill/mountain right in front of you. Just like that. With real snow capped peaks in the distance.

As the town grows, people are starting to build on the hills. That's where Linda, Richard's ex-wife, and Alex and Emily live. Glacier used to live there too, a few years ago.

The neighborhood itself was a little... suburban? There were no big trees, and all the houses looked... well, it looked like a slightly aged version of the suburbia in Edward Scissorhands. It was as if the movie had ended, and this is what the set would look like in a few years with real people living there. It was a little spooky. And then, spending the holidays with a family with an older teenage daughter and younger boy... the parallels were getting too strong for my taste.

Glacier and I spent a bunch of time in town, shopping like mad on the day before Christmas. I didn't have many ideas for what to get these people I had just met, but it seemed to work out okay. The real fun part was avoiding everyone else in the family who were shopping in the same store.

Christmas came. I'm glad I'm not a parent. Glacier had gotten the family a PC, and Richard and he spent the evening setting it up. Then we were awakened early in the morning by the sound of an orangutan, but it was just Alex. (Were we that loud on Christmas morning when we were kids?) We trooped upstairs and the presents were opened. The best moment was when Emily mistook some foil-wrapped condoms for pogs [3]. Linda liked her rubber snake, Richard got a Tube of Depression, the PC was a hit, and my haul was pretty good too. I was particularly thrilled with the box of plastic bugs that Linda gave me. They'll look great glued to my PC and monitor at work.

Glacier showed me around Missoula and where he used to live. I met some of his friends, went out, and generally had a good time. It was odd to be grafted onto this family for Christmas, but it was okay.

After a few days, we'd had enough. There wasn't any snow, and Glacier was itching to finally live in his yurt. He'd set it up in the late fall, but had done so much consulting that he had barely lived there. He wanted to be home. So we went home to the yurt.

On the ride home we saw something beautiful. Montana had been foggy the whole way to the border. As we climbed the pass at the border, the fog disappeared and we were under a blue sky. Then, just a bit down the road, the fog came falling in a cataract over a pass and down the mountainside. We passed under a river of fog, flowing between two mountains. It was lovely.

Yurt Life

The yurt is a round Mongolian tent. This particular one is a 20' wide high-tech type with insulation, windows, a door, and a plexiglass bubble on top. Gravity and tension hold it up. It's moveable, but not casually. Glacier had some friends who are carpenters come down and create a platform for it, and then put it together. It's pretty nice. The interior is very bright, and it's easily heated. Glacier has a pellet stove, and even on the lowest setting it's easy to get it up to 80F. I can't wait to see it in the summer, when there's light.

Here's the URL of the Yurt page:

For the next few weeks, we lived together in the yurt. Aside from it being a little small for two people, the only real disadvantage was its lack of running water (in any form except rain) and the lack of kitchen facilities. But we persevered. Actually, the cabin next to it has all that, but it's a dilapidated place with tilted floors and an unfortunate destiny: it's going to slide into the Marys River eventually. I tried to stay out of it unless necessary. Whenever I took a shower, I imagined the floor suddenly tilting and being deposited into the rushing cold water below. The showers did not last long.

While it had its moments, it wasn't where I wanted to live. I've found a place by now.

A New Place

Here I am in Corvallis, Oregon. I'm actually almost downtown. The apartment is one of a six-unit building, all alike. Mine is on the first floor.

It's really not much more than a room, a bathroom, and a nook. As you walk in on the southeast corner, the kitchen corner of the main room is to your right. Ahead is where I put the futon. Farther to the right is the nook, separated by a 1m wall. There's a good sized closet on the far wall of the nook, and it leads to the bathroom. That's it. It's not very big, but it should be okay for a while. About the best thing I can say about it is that it isn't too hard to clean.

The big drawback besides space is light. There is one window. It's on the southern wall, but there's a tree in front of it. It's not a bad place to be if you're a mole.

The walls are all textured and white. The lease allows small nails to be put in them, so I'm going to decorate like I've not decorated a place before. Otherwise it will just be a very boring white. I've already picked up a batik spread with a yin/yang design and hung that above the futon. The next project is to make tie-dye hangings for the rest of the wall space. I've bought a lot of white cotton cloth and dyes. All I need are some friends with buckets to mix the dyes in. I plan on making it a social event.

The other big drawback about the place is that it doesn't have laundry. I don't need to do laundry that often, but it's going to be a pain in the butt when I have to. Maybe I'll just buy a lot of clothes.

Another pain in the behind is furnishing this place. I found a basic futon, so I have something to sleep on. A coat rack was cheap and very useful. Aside from that, I have no furniture except for a table and chair borrowed from Glacier. They go along with his old 486DX33 PC, which I borrowed also.

The funny thing is, now that I'm making a good salary again, I really don't want to buy cheap things. I've done the college student routine, and I don't want to do it forever. So I'm not buying everything I need just yet, but rather taking my time to put together some things I want to keep.

The kitchen has been the hardest part of all, strangely enough. A week ago I had to buy silverware and a plate and bowl. It was absolutely necessary. And I couldn't find a single thing I liked! I wandered between stores, to no avail. In the end I bought the absolute simplest, most make-do silverware that wasn't butt-ugly, and one plate and bowl.

Is it me? Am I the only one to want good silverware? I finally found some I liked. It's Oneida's Sandhurst pattern. At the store next to where I work, it's only $46.99 for a five-piece place setting. But the fork's definitely got some weight and heft to it. I haven't bought any, but I've got my agents out looking for a good price on individual pieces.

It definitely feels weird. Here I am in this small little student-type cubbyhole for a while, but at least I'll be eating with good silverware!

The same problem extends to pots and pans. I found a skillet without a problem, and a 12-quart pot, but I haven't found a single saucepan or set that I liked. I really don't want to spend $100 for a set of Revereware without being absolutely sure that I like it, but it's either that or one cheap pot that's not worth the $10 it costs. What to do?

It just proves that adage that expenses grow to match income.

We Don't Take Checks

Another odd discovery about the northwest is the policy most stores have about checks: they won't take them without a "check guarantee card". This is a card issued by your bank that says they'll cover the check up to a set amount ($100 for my bank). Many places will not take a check without one. A week ago, I was on the verge of buying an unfinished china cabinet to store clothes and stuff in, but the place wouldn't take my check without a card. So they lost the sale.

The cards are just a fact of life here. I'm glad the futon place didn't require one. Since I've never had a credit card, nor taken a loan, the only way I can get a card from my bank is to have several months of good accounts there. So there's no way I can get one for a few months. I guess people here just default more often. "The place of deadbeats".

The really peculiar part of the whole thing is that most places don't realize that a check guarantee card only covers the first $100. Write a bad check for $1300, and the store is stuck with $1200 of bad check. Oooh, that's smart.


Goat and I are apart now. It's not always easy. There are times when I miss him so much. Every now and then I imagine him being just around the corner I'm about to turn. It hasn't happened yet, but he hopes to be out here in April.

Things in Goat's world have been somewhat stable but frustrating. The weather's been the big problem. The cabin was sold back in the fall, but the new owner isn't moving in until April. In the meantime, Goat's building a place to live temporarily while he works on the house. I helped him frame the walls just before I left Tennessee. The problem has been getting a roof on it. That takes three days, but the weather has not been cooperating. In the recent cold spell, Goat's truck went off the road, so it took some money to repair. (He's fine.) Also, his TV was damaged by a surge from the generator, so that had to be fixed. The up side of things was a very good visit from a friend of his.

His neighbor Johnny has a phone now. Maybe someday... nah. It's nice and quiet on the mountain.

Is it April already? Sometimes I just want to go home.

Note: I dedicated my Rogue Wave internal Web pages to Goat. There's a photo of him on each one.

Flotsam and Jetsam

Bad news: VIP Online, Nashville's black hole, is not only still alive, they just improved their Web page. Curses. Die, die, die.

I broke a promise: the last issue didn't contain the results of the visual analogy contest. That's partly because Hope and Mark Goldhaber were the only ones to submit an entry beside me. They did manage to think up some novel solutions. If I ever find their answer, which is somewhere in the boxes of moving, I will try to give you an idea of what they did. I plan on adding this to my as-yet-non-existent Web page.

Dear Diary: Today I bought a saucepan.


I haven't described Corvallis yet! Here goes:

Corvallis is a university town of about 50K people. The university is Oregon State University, and it's pretty big. It's in the southwest part of town. To the southeast is the downtown, where I work. Between the two is a residential area where I live. To the north there is a lot of different neighborhoods and the local strip.

I like the downtown. There's an ordinance that buildings can't be more than three stories, so there are a lot of small shops, eateries and coffee houses. It's all in walking distance, and will be really nice when it stops raining. The Rogue Wave offices are in the second and third floors of three buildings on Madison and 3rd streets. There's a second-run movie theater that shows movies for $1.50, and its partner the Whiteside, which is supposed to be a real old-fashioned theater. As usual for me, I haven't been in either one yet.

Glacier lives south of town on an organic farm. My place is only eight blocks from work, so I can walk to it in ten minutes or so. I like that. There's a Safeway downtown, so I can shop on the way home.

It's pretty flat around here. Huge swaths of the Willamette Valley are flat. The big crops around here seem to be sod and grass seed. I'm not kidding about that. Even in winter, the climate is so mild (40-50F usually) and wet that grass just grows and grows. So does the moss. The sidewalks have a distinctly green tinge to them. Maybe it's a Christmas thing... which is my segue back to the rest of the story of what Glacier and I did for the holidays.

What We Did for the New Year

Well, neither of us just wanted to sit here in Corvallis, so we went to a party hosted by Glacier's friends David and Jeff in Portland. Which means we had to go to Portland. Which meant... Powell's City of Books!

We restrained ourselves. We only went to Powell's Technical bookstore. I didn't escape unscathed. Far from it. I spent way too much, but it was within my budget, and most of it was books I had wanted to get before I started working in Tennessee. My plan back then had been to get one hardcover book per paycheck. This plan lasted for one paycheck. Now things are more reliable, though, so I made up for a little lost time. Then we went to this really neat Oriental restaurant: Chang's Mongolian Grill. It's second only to the Gasho. You pay one price for the meal, but you get to make it. There's a "salad bar" of ingredients of the carnivore and herbivore variety: shredded cabbage, lo mein, broccoli, chicken, pork, onions, etc. Put what you want to eat on your plate. Then add the liquids: lime juice, vinegar, soy sauce, sugar water, et cetera. Get in line, and it's cooked before your eyes. It was fun to watch, and a challenge to create a good meal. Plus, you can go back as often as you like. Mine wasn't bad, but I want to do it better next time.

We still had a bunch of time to kill before the party, so we went - shopping! I wanted to get some colorful bandanas, which I wear when my hair is wet, or to keep it from blowing in my face. We found some and were still early. The party was pretty cool, not a lot of swinging from the chandeliers, but a good mellow time with interesting people. We stayed the night, and then went home the next morning.

The End

So now I'm home, and starting a bunch of small projects. There are some programming things I've wanted to do for a while, and now I sure have the time to pursue them. Plus I have the Residents' Bad Day on the Midway CD-ROM to explore, a ZBS serial to listen to, plus some new music to review, and of course a whole new state to explore. Someday I'm going to get back to that kite store in Newport...

Contact info:

   Email              Email

   Web site           not yet

Take care, everyone.

End Notes

[1] Glacier's first name is also Kevin.

[2] I do too. I've been keeping a jar stocked with peanut M&Ms. My boss has a sweet tooth, I've discovered.

[3] For those from another planet, a pog is a round flat piece of heavy stiffened paper with some kind of logo. It's used in a variant of the classic "milk bottle cap" game.


Last updated 5 August 2004
All contents ©1996-2002 Mark L. Irons

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