I hit the ground running when I got back from my Portland-DC-Boston trip. As most of you know, I’m moving at the end of the week. However, there were hurdles to jump before then. I had a writing deadline last night. I had books to pack. I had signed the lease to the new place and sent a check but my check hadn’t been cashed and my new landlady is in a house without electricity or phone most of the summer. I tend to worry about things like this.
I’ve been couchsurfing because my current landlady’s son just got married and the house is full of their family and a little too crazy for sleeping in. On my way to dinner with friends, I saw my new landlady’s car in the driveway and pulled on in. I’m still not used to this “stopping by” way of getting things done but it works better than any other method I have yet to try out.
Stopping by netted me the key to the place and information on how to get the electricity turned on. There is one key and it is on a paperclip along with a little piece of tape that says FLAT on it. I also got a copy of The Pushcart War. I’m not sure if I mentioned this before, but my new landladies are the writer/illustrator of that book respectively. Today I’m going to walk over and take a few photos with whatever available light there is there and maybe take some measurements. The place is small, just a few rooms, but it has nice windows and big wide floorboards and it’s quiet and there’s a tree outside of every window.
So I’m in Washington DC now, doing some work before heading home to Vermont this weekend for one final packing push. While I was in Portland I noticed that someone, not me, had bought a ton of stuff at Walmart.
Now, I’ve been known to shop at Walmart for the occasional box of Emergen-C or, regretfully, cup holders (my car lacks them, it’s so sad) but I’ve never spent maybe more than $14 there. Someone had spent upwards of $480 at a Walmart in California while I was in Portland Oregon. I discovered this on Friday evening which means that my wonderful mom&pop credit union was closed for the weekend. At this point when I told my friends this story they were all “OMG THAT SUCKS” but really, it didn’t. Part of this is because I try hard not to be a person who freaks out. Part of it is because, due to class privilege, or a general optimistic outlook, or maybe just seeing this scenario play out tons of times before with friends and Internet associates, I knew it would go okay. I did not spend that money and I was not going to pay it. My credit card has been with me the whole time.
My bank’s weekend answering service wasn’t too sure what to do and told me to call back Monday. They did laugh when I told them that yes I was absolutely certain that I had not spent that money at Walmart because I despise Walmart and would not give them any more money than was absolutely necessary. I figured I’d call the Gilroy [yes, garlic capital of the world] Walmart and see what they could tell me. Now, one of the nasty things about Walmart isn’t just that they’re putting a ton of producers and suppliers out of business because of their relentless cost-cutting and massive purchasing power. The nasty thing is that it’s not a great place to work, either. They’re the largest private employer in the US and the bulk of the jobs there are routinized cog-in-machine types of interchangeable paper pushing jobs. Which is another way of saying that Walmart couldn’t help me either, though I had a lot of nice conversations with the “loss prevention” people.
“Can you tell me what I spent $480 on at your store three days ago?” is apparently an unanswerable question. I watched my bank account like a hawk all weekend (nothing), checked in on all my other credit cards (zip) and asked my bank if they could just disallow any charges that came in from anyplace that was not DC, Portland, Vermont or Boston (no). Monday rolled around and my bank confirmed that the charges at Walmart were made from an actual credit card — meaning mine was likely cloned — and that there were a few more pending charges from gas stations around Oakland. They cancelled my card and are fedexing me a new one to my hotel here. I have to fill out a form which I then have to get notarized saying the charges aren’t mine. I have one recurring charge on my credit card which I’ll have to update and maybe three websites that I have to update with my new credit card number.
I guess Visa eats the charges. Or my bank does, but they have insurance to cover it. I have a few hours of hassle dealing with this. Someone in Gilroy gets $480 of “free” stuff from Walmart. I have pretty much no way of knowing when or how my CC number was diverted but I like to blame Disneyland. I have no idea if all of this means the system works, or that it doesn’t.
I’m in Portland Oregon at my friend Lisa’s house. For anyone from college, yes that Lisa. Operation Take a Vacation is going pretty well though I just got the crap scared out of me by the mailman (mail comes right into the house through a slot in the door making a huge racket, scary!). Lisa was saying before she left for the weekend that she thinks one of the reasons we have such easy hangout time together is because we were roommates (in Hampshire speak: modmates) in college, so we’re used to hanging out with each other in our pajamas sort of doing our own thing. She spent a lot of time before she left baking — oh the smells! — and I was keeping up on work stuff and planning my next few months of library-spaking travel.
My idea of a good vacation is to go someplace I’m vaguely familiar with, usually a city, and wander around eating great food, taking some photos, going for long walks, visiting libraries, and seeing friends. While my vacations are relaxing, they’re not sit-on-a-beach relaxing. So far I’ve gone out for Ethiopian, PacNW [good beer, good beet salad], Mexican and coffeecoffeecoffee. Today is sit around and read day and then explore the niehgborhood. Tomorrow there will be a MetaFilter meetup and then I scoot to the airport for my flight thats a day earlier than I was expecting it to be. I packed for or five changes of clothes for this trip but I seem to pretty much be wearing one outfit and one pair of pajamas this whole week. One of these days I hope to miraculously become that person who can travel for three weeks with just a backpack. I think if I could leave all my techie gear behind, I could. Food for thought.
I saw this as I was out lunching near Harvard Square yesterday. A quick Google showed me that there’s a pretty interesting story behind this pretty interesting photo of what it turns out are the Danilov Monastery bells being repatriated to Russia.
And yeah obligatory talk about moving and recitation of where I’m going and where I’ve been. I’m in Somerville at Kate’s place. I came down to do some helper-monkey work cleaning out some rooms full of stuff here, see my Mom, see my fella and give Ola some alone-time at home to do whatever she feels like doing there. It’s hot here. Kate and I put an air conditioner in the guest room. It’s the first time I’ve ever put in a window-mounted air conditioner in my life. It was scary. Scary but successful. Now I’m hanging out until my librarian Skype conference call — I’m on the usability committee for an open source library catalog project going on in Vermont, good works — and then I’ve got a good book for the bus back.
I’m thinking about my things. Since I happily spend maybe a fifth of my life lately away from “home” (and one third of my life asleep no matter where I am) the idea of what things I need to be functional and happy has shifted dramatically. That said, I’m sentimental and like having boxes of old letters and keepsakes around me. So, thinking about moving in to a new place, where I can arrange all the stuff and where I have to carry all my things up a long flight of stairs (or get someone to do it for me) has been a reflective time. I enjoyed this book review at Kevin Kelly’s site of the book It’s All Too Much which takes a step beyond just helping you declutter and organize and actually talks about quality of life issues and maintaining them with fewer things. Kevin quotes the intro by Merlin Mann, humorist pundit to techie people roughly my age, which has the little points that I’m taking away.
The biggest change in attitude this book made in my life was to teach me not to generate false relevance by “organizing” stuff I don’t want or will never need. Organization is what you do to stuff that you need, want, or love – it’s not what you do to get useless stuff out of sight or to manufacture makebelieve meaning. For me, this is about the opposite of organizing; it means disinterring every sarcophagus of crap in my house and, item by item, evaluating whether it’s making my family’s life better today. And if some heirloom really is precious to me, can I find a better home for it than a shelf in the back of my garage?
The guideline I always heard for whether to keep or toss old clothes was whether you loved it, wore it or it looked awesome on you. If any of those things were true, keep it. I generally don’t have a lot of trouble with “make believe meaning” wrapped up in my things but I may have a bit of a fetish problem with books and possibly t-shirts. And there’s my coin collection which I enjoy but rarely play with. It’s heavy.
I enjoyed cleaning up Kate’s crazy full-of-junk room upstairs. It was two hours of my life that saved her multiple hours of worrying/thinking/stressing about not doing it. Time well spent. If I was considering a career change I’d dredge out people’s shamehole rooms for a living. You can wear whatever you want, listen to your favorite music and people are always incredibly grateful for something that doesn’t seem at all like work to me. Coming home to a place that doesn’t itself seem like a decluttering project in process (soon, soon) is my goal for the next three-ish weeks.
In between the last post and today’s post my soon-to-be new landlady let me know that the rent on the new place was going to go up because the high price of fuel (in a heat-included apartment) was skyrocketing. So I bit my nails for a few days until she gave me the new dollar amount which was still affordable. Also Ola came back and brought a new puppy with her — Shamus led a long happy life but had to be put down in May, I’m sorry if I didn’t get to tell you before this — so the house is even more chaotic than usual. Also I was in Los Angeles for a few days. Oh and there was a big terrible incident here that rocked the community and made everyone alternately trepidacious, outraged and very very sad. Plus there was a library angle and a social software angle which had me concerned professionally as well as personally.
But a terrible weekend in Vermont is better than a good weekend in Los Angeles and I’m happy to be back. The next few weeks are seeing me on a vacation to Portland Oregon, a quick trip to DC on important goverment business (sort of joking) and moving my scant possessions up the street. It will probably be the first time I’ve moved completely out of anyplace in many years — I have that hippie-ish problem of leaving boxes in basements all over the country, like Mark Twain and his bank accounts — and the first time I’ve lived in an apartment on my own. Exciting.