2014 Highlights: A Terrible, Horrible, Horrendous Year

As I noted on my December 1, 2014 post, the great thing about the internet is that you can now bore complete strangers with your year-end letters. For the last three-plus weeks I’ve posted all the year-end letters I’ve written since 1987. They’re perfect reading for masochists and insomniacs. Here’s this year’s letter where I write about how just about everything that could go wrong this year has. Don’t worry. I’m not about to jump off a bridge because the one thing that went right made up for everything else.

December 2014

T- and Sammy Jr.

Dear Friends and Family,

There’s no sugarcoating it: I’ve had a pretty lousy year. My water pump burst, my best friend moved, my business tanked, my dog died and I have a rodent living in my piano.

Susan, one of my oldest friends–the one I hitchhiked through Africa with, the one I drove cross country in my 1951 Plymouth with, and the one who got me to move out to Oregon—transferred to John Day. As a budget-cutting measure the Job Corps here eliminated 10% of the staff including her, the welding instructor and the culinary arts instructor. Makes perfect sense: get rid of the person who helps kids find jobs after they finish their training and, because they’re expensive programs to run, get rid of training for two vocations where kids with those skills are likely to have no problem finding jobs. Money is saved in the short term and that’s the important thing. Right?

Fortunately for her she landed a better job in the Malheur National Forest. Alas, she’s now eight hours and two mountain ranges away from Waldport. When I visited her she tried to encourage me to come stay with her for awhile, but I’m not sure I’m ready to trade ten feet of rain for 10° temperatures.

Two years ago my website, mchumor.com, was getting up to 10,000 page views per day and I sold more cartoons than I had in the previous three years combined. Worst thing that could have ever happened to my business! I finally had some extra cash and was toying with using it to move to Portland. Instead, I put it back into the business by hiring a Portland web design company to make the site more compatible for smartphones and tablets and to make it possible for people to instantly download cartoons when they bought them. The site the “web gurus” designed was beautiful but only got three page views a day. Not three thousand, not three hundred, but three. There were also technical issues with the site that caused the loss of some of the few customers who stumbled on to the new site. The “web gurus” fixed most, but not all of the technical issues, and usually charged me for doing so.

They said that to increase my page views I needed to do X, Y and Z. X, Y, and Z were major tasks that took me months to complete. I had the time, though, since I had almost no commissions because so few people were visiting the site. When it turned out X, Y, and Z weren’t the only problems, “the web gurus” said I needed to do U, V, and W, and most of all, I needed to blog. I never needed to blog before, I said, but the “web gurus” said blogging was now crucial. What I really wanted to blog about was my experience with this company.

I was suffering a double financial whammy in that the “web gurus” total bill was almost double their original estimate and I had no money coming in from cartooning. Plus I had vet bills and I needed a new water pump. Normally I would have fallen back on teaching natural history for Road Scholar (a.k.a. Elderhostel) but, since cartooning had been so good two years ago, I gave my position to another great naturalist. I also gave him my bonfire gig where I told tall tales, roasted marshmallows at a fancy hotel, and didn’t play the guitar. When I screw myself, I go all the way.

I asked the “web gurus” if I could get a partial refund. I said I had been idealistic when I hired them because many had told me there were reliable designers in India who could do the work for a fraction of the cost of an American one. The head “web guru” wrote back, “I do not appreciate the attitude. I understand why you are upset, and I have a good deal of sympathy for your situation, but it is in NO WAY our fault.” The caps are his, not mine. He said he was willing to at restore my old site for free. I now have a sort of hybrid combination of the old and new site and I’m getting about 300 page views per day.

One advantage of going broke was that I canceled my satellite subscription so at least I didn’t have to watch attack ads during the campaigns.

When Kazu, a friend, and owner of Yuzen, a local sushi restaurant, jokingly offered me a temporary job washing dishes after his dishwasher was in a car accident, I took him seriously. I now have a new appreciation for sticky rice. It really is sticky. The hardest part of the job was not swallowing my pride but figuring out where dishes were stacked throughout the restaurant. The ones shaped like fancy boats were easy, but not so the dozen different-sized round plates, dozen different-sized square plates, rectangular plates for ice cream, oval plates from some dish I don’t know the spelling of, various bowls, cups, glasses, pots, trays, and doohickeys.

The worst thing that happened to me this year was the death of Sammy, the sweetest dog I ever had. She had cancer and died due to complications after her second surgery. I was driving my parents to the train station when I picked up her ashes. As we were pulling into the vet’s Dad said, “I’ll buy you a puppy.” Oh how I had longed to hear those words when I was seven. It was now just days before my 57th birthday. I said thanks, but no thanks. “I’m OK taking in the older shelter-dogs nobody wants.” At the vet there was a woman getting shots for her litter of seven-week-old Border Collies. She let me hold one that hadn’t yet been picked for adoption. Dad whipped out his checkbook before I could object. Sammy Junior is the best birthday present I ever got. Charles Schultz was right: happiness is a warm puppy.

Hope all is well with you and yours.


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