Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Nearly Silent Night

I woke up in the dark, sometime between bedtime and dawn. I didn’t want to look at the clock. I counted the snores. Hubby, 1; dog, 1; cat, 0. Tony doesn’t make much noise when he sleeps so I wasn’t too concerned; Alice is a completely different story but she was out in the living room. Tony chirped and hopped up on the bed beside me to snuggle into my hand. Some critter in the back yard rustled some leaves, just enough to make Tony turn an ear towards the window but not enough to get up and investigate. We were all warm and safe.
Tea Tarot
(c) Copyright 2011 Marcia McCord

We had had a peaceful Christmastime. Other than my gift of a cold from the outside world, all was calm and at that hour, we all had excuses for not being too bright. I sniffled softly, trying to keep the rest of the house asleep.

This year was the closest thing to an old-fashioned Christmas I have had in a while. It started out the first weekend of December with the Global Holiday Fair, an annual charity event. I usually take a shift in the kitchen filling orders for chili, no chili dog, no make that 2 chili dogs and could we have the spicy vegetarian chili, not the mild, medium or hot beef chili, and banana fritters and turkey vegetable soup and sodas and few other local delicacies and could I have the chili on the side? After a couple hours of that and my holiday spirit really sets in. I’m glad I don’t work in a restaurant. Those people are made of stronger stuff than I am.

Over the years volunteering for kitchen duty, I’ve learned that “zone defense” seems to work the best. The kitchen aisles are not that wide and the kitchen workers for the most part, ahem, are that wide so that we seem to do better “bucket brigade” style than trying to run a hundred yards for a touchdown. I like low-contact kitchen sports when you’ve got an armful of molten chili. I’m pleased to say this year that no kitchen workers were harmed for yet another year of Christmas kitchen safety. Church choirs sing and different charity groups have booths and sell Christmas-y and other winter holiday gifts. My husband always goes big at the bakery booth. This year, I was enchanted by the sculptures done by Doug Chenelle and his friends at Milestones of Development. Where else can you get gift exchange items that are individual pieces of art for the low, low price of, well, what you’d spend on a gift exchange item?

My husband is fond of consumables for gifts. If you saw our garage, you’d know why. So our big gift this year was my favorite Yule welcoming celebration at the Cal Revels in Oakland, California. Once again we had the perfect seats. I use the “nose” method of determining seating chart selection. If you are sitting so far in the back that you get a nosebleed, you’re too far away; if you can count the hairs in the performers’ noses, you’re too close. I have to say it’s hard to get a bad seat at the Scottish Rite Temple in Oakland, though. The theme this year was King Arthur and Camelot. We were treated to the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight with colorful costumes, artful dancing, juggling and as always a sing-along with the crowd. I love the Cal Revels' Christmas spirit, full of joy.

This year I had an added treat of a visit from my sister and her husband. My family never gets together at the holidays so I was thrilled to get a chance to have dinner at the Union Hotel in Occidental with them. Occidental is Away From It All, charming, woodsy, and has two famous rival Italian restaurants, the Union Hotel and Negri’s. Both are delicious dining, worth the scenic drive through amazing Northern California.

We always spend Christmas Eve with our friend Gerry and her family. The family is growing and growing, with adorable Lu, now almost two, and her new little sister who will arrive next week! Gerry’s grandson Nick had splurged on Scratcher tickets and I came away $3 richer. And, Nick, thanks for the pepper spray! I hope I never need to use it.

I decided to tackle Christmas Day head on this year and invited my brother-in-law Don, plus my young friend Andrew and his buddy Patrick to dinner. I had taken a somewhat more leisurely approach to the meal than usual. John likes his roast beef burnt, the condition where the chef in the finest and even less-than-fine restaurants will toss up their hands in a fit of pique and exclaim in some accent or another that “ze can NOT guarantee zee quality when zee customer demands zee beef overcooked!” I decided to pass on the fit of pique. John and Pat wanted well-done roast and although it makes me shudder to do it I figured out a way to give them their burnt beast and still have a decent, recognizable cut of prime rib for Andrew and myself.

“Two roasts,” I said as my Final Answer. Though it hurt me to do it, I scorched that poor beautiful rib roast until properly petrified for my well-done-ers and waited a discreet amount of time before introducing my well-cooked rare roast to the oven. A generous crust of maple seasoning and garlic salt graced them both. We played board games at the big round oak table while everything cooked. I lost on the last question for Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? and won at cribbage by a hair. We then quickly swept the cats into the bedrooms, set the table with my Grocery Outlet Christmas dishes, brought out the better silver, and had a feast fit for any king and a table full of knights, including the pumpkin pie with generous whipped cream.

My favorite Christmas moment, however, came the next day. I am in the midst of helping my friend Susan and her daughter Della get their internet connection up and working. I hadn’t seen Susan in a long time so I was so happy to get a chance to talk. Her cat had died a few months ago and they were still blue, missing Coalie.

“You need a cat,” I said, with my usual subtle diagnosis. “I know a cat.”

I didn’t exactly know the cat. I knew of the cat, or rather cats. My friend Becca had just told me about a recent rescue of a set of indoor cats who had not reacted well to one of the cats in residence. Teddy had been ousted from his territory in the office and had set up his last defenses in the bathroom. The situation was dire, especially since Teddy sounded a lot like the low-key lovebug that my Tony is. Teddy, the little Knight of Cups, sought peace, love, harmony and was currently lost in the deep, deep woods of a once-familiar home with monsters all around.

Boxing Day became Teddy Day and Teddy was introduced to Susan and Della. Teddy is a luxurious silver tabby with well-proportioned features and a soft medium coat. We knew the introduction could be delicate but we were hopeful. While Teddy did show his shy side, he didn’t panic. No barking dogs, no marauding gangs of invader felines, just two sweet ladies with a vacancy for a snuggle bunny. Teddy crawled up into a secluded spot in Susan’s recliner, not yet ready for thorough exploration. He didn’t hiss. He didn’t run or scratch. He let us all talk softly to him and pet his tail or foot.

“I’m a match-maker!” I beamed to John. At least I hope I am. Like the Knight of Cups, I feel it is never too late to pursue love, no matter how shy you are, no matter how long it takes. What better season than this to try to bring a little love into creatures’ lives?

Bright hopes and best wishes!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Last Minute Christmas Gifts

“Goon!” I bellered. I call him Goon but he’s actually my husband, Prince Third-Time’s-a-Charming.

“Goon! Come quickly! I broke the toilet!”

You have to realize that I took an awfully big chance marrying this guy. For one thing, Versions 1.0 and 2.0 were not successful releases, if you get my drift. I don’t like the blame game so I feel it’s important to note my own flaws in those previous and unsuccessful financial relationships. For one thing, I failed to see how wrong a choice I was making at the time. These are expensive mistakes and so, counter to conventional wisdom, traditional religious beliefs and what your mama said, I recommend at least a thorough beta testing of the model prior to purchase. However, I also have to admit that the enthusiasm of the sales force prior to purchase can diminish to near-zero after the sale.

If you didn’t follow that, you shouldn’t get married. I’m just sayin’.

Another part of taking a big chance had to do with the parties involved, namely The Goon and me. He’s a Capricorn and I’m an Aries and for me to say that he “grounds” me is something like saying that helium is holding down hydrogen. I’m flammable; he’s not. And there's more to it than just your Sun Sign. There were some who were concerned about the lack of adult supervision in our relationship but we have the dog now.

Quincy will bark at us until we are all seated and being nice to each other, preferably across the room. There is no hugging or kissing in dog, as John explains, so we have to sneak in PDA when the dog’s back is turned. This is one of the secrets of keeping our romance spontaneous.

“Quick!” I’ll hiss to the Goon in the middle of the kitchen.

“While he’s outside in the back yard!”

We’ll sneak in a smooch or dance to some tune in our heads, usually sung with made-up lyrics, something like this that was never meant to be in Oklahoma,

“Don’t cross your eyes like that.
They’ll just get stuck that way.
They look so cute stuck that way!
People will say we’re in love!”



We started calling Quincy “The Duenna” and just settled for calling him Dwayne when he starts supervising during the good stuff. We didn’t realize we had a Cocker Spaniel in law enforcement, his Day Job being the Knight of Swords. What’s funny is that he (the dog) tends to work only one shift. After about 10 pm or so, he just looks at us, snorts and goes back to sleep. My sense is that he figures if what we’re doing is fighting, it’s someone else’s problem until he’s back on duty the next day.
 
Picture Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord
 
John figures his marriage vows were to love, honor and say Yes, Dear to just about anything I came up with. In fact, I did make him promise me one thing.

“Promise me…” I struggled with the exact wording.

“Yes, dear?”

He felt it wise to get practice in before the ceremony.

“Promise me you will not be handy.”

“What?”

See, the thing about guys is that they always want to fix stuff for you. That’s so Knight of Swords too. That’s so cute. Well, it’s cute unless he doesn’t really have a knack for it. It’s not that John hasn’t a knack for fixing things. It’s that he is so creative with alternative solutions and wants me to participate in the process of selection. My imagination runs wild with visions of burst pipes and John reviewing the choices of duct tape versus replacement pipes and whether copper is better than PVC. My promise extracted from him means that when the pipes burst, we call a plumber, period. He is free to speculate and even annoy the Hired Professional all he wants as long as he stands back far enough to let the expert do his work.

Sometimes John does do some handiwork but I always cringe at the descriptions prior to actually viewing the body, so to speak.

“Come out here and see this lash-up I rigged for watering your roses,” he will announce. I suppress all my fears and reason that as long as the “lash-up” doesn’t actually undermine the foundation of the house causing it to settle even more than it has already, it can’t be all bad. If necessary I could always purchase new roses for the yard.

Most of the time I think it’s a language barrier. John speaks Butte-en-ese (byoo-tuhn-EEZ), the native tongue of those from Butte, Montana, usually Irish in origin but with the occasional Finlander and Italian phrase thrown in. It’s almost like English and perhaps just a tad more cosmopolitan than the language spoken in the movie Fargo. Like so many things about John, I used to think he was joking because it sounded so funny. Then we went on our honeymoon to his family’s reunion in Butte and I realized he was telling the truth after all. By the end of the week, I was saying, “Yah, sure, you betcha’” with the best of them. At least full immersion in Butte-en-ese gave me a way to translate, but occasionally a term like “lash-up” is something I take entirely too visually.

How can you lash up water, I muse as I’m reluctantly trudging down the stairs to view whatever he’s done to my roses now. The project reveals itself to be merely a complex series of tiny hoses, valves and sprinklers threaded through my flower beds for zone watering. The materials he used were those actually intended for flower bed watering. He called it a “lash-up” because he was not sure, even after the success of his project, that he’d done the right thing.

Back to more recent times and the broken toilet, John rushes into our 1930’s era pink, violet and black tiled bathroom which I call Mary Engelbreit’s Bad Dream. Don’t get me wrong. I love the color scheme, but I recognize it’s not that California sea glass and sand thing that people associate with luxury bathing nowadays.
Tony Sincerely Concerned With the
Status of Things in the
Pink, Violet and Black Bathroom

I had reluctantly agreed to replace the 1930’s toilet a few years ago due to wear and tear. Little leaks become big leaks and replacement seemed like the right thing. You could sink the Glomar Explorer in that baby with the water capacity, so the new one is more eco-friendly and low-volume. It feels responsible to have the new one, even though I miss the old one. But if I’m saddled with the new one, I expect it to last at least 50 years like the old one did. Flipping the little flush handle on the new convenience and having it swing limply in response was, well, horrifying. I had to yell for help. My Goon came running. OK, it wasn’t running because of the replaced knee, but he hurried after he figured out I was hollering for him.

After all, I have to give him these little opportunities to rescue me, right? He threatened to use language that Mother would not have approved and eventually wrestled the chain back onto the hook, restoring order to the Universe.

“My Hero!” The big ones like praise like this so I like to make sure he gets it whenever possible.

“Dollie,” he calls me Dollie, “Dollie, if I’m a Hear-O, what would a See-O or a Smell-O be?”

My eyes close and my mind shuts down momentarily. I breathe deeply.

“Quincy, bite the Bad Man.”

It’s not very effective giving verbal orders to a dog who can’t hear so Quincy, picking up the scent of our breath, wags his tail, pretty sure he was just told he was a good dog. Bad jokes, however, are a small price to pay for getting the toilet working again especially since I’ll be cooking Christmas dinner for a motley crew of guests this year.

Sometimes those last-minute Christmas gifts can be the best thing. If I can find that nice bow the cats hid under the couch, I might put it on the toilet tank as a reminder that we still don’t have to go out under a tree like the dog does!

Best wishes for a bright holiday season, no matter what your faith!

***

There's a last-minute gift you can give any time of the year and that's your registration to be a bone marrow donor. Our little Tatiana's happy recovery was short-lived and we lost her. That bright little star twinkles down upon us from heaven. But you can make the gift of life to someone else. Be The Match.

While you're at it, please say a prayer for my friend Johnny Leadfoot who has been battling cancer this year. He's been trying to dress up as Santa for the folks at the cancer hospital in Houston with a sign that says, Does this make me look fat? Prayers for him and for his family would be appreciated!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Do You Hear What I Hear?

The dog just barked in my ear, enough that it hurt. I have to consider this a good sign though. I can hear the dog well enough that he doesn’t have to scream in my ear. Hearing is important to my work, both the Day Job and my tarot work.

I had my hearing tested last week. It took almost a year to get the appointment and, unlike my medical plan’s other policies, this particular test wasn’t covered under the “diagnostic tests are free” rule for the co-pays. I had to pay money to find out if my hearing is bad enough to need a little boost.

I spent a good deal of energy in my childhood translating what my mother said to my father. I suspected it was “selective deafness.” He just couldn’t hear my mother. Lorna, my hearing test technician, confirmed this phenomenon also known as marital deafness. Apparently it can be contagious.

“Good news, honey! I don’t need hearing aids yet,” I said to John.

“Huh?”

Well, you get the picture.

The good news is that I didn’t have to spend an extraordinary amount of money on a personal speaker system to pump the everyday world straight into my head. Decent hearing aids are thousands of dollars and I’d love someone to explain exactly why.

I want to give a break to the deaf community here by saying I think it’s perfectly OK if they feel good about their variation of the hearing feature and alternative language skills. I’m not an audio bigot by any means.

However, since I have grown used to hearing, I would like to continue to do so as a personal choice. I attended my share of rock concerts. I saw George Harrison during his Dark Horse tour. Well, I saw his left shoulder and vest. I was on the floor of the arena in St. Louis in the last row of the folding chairs. Even standing on the chair, due to my lack of personal altitude, I feel the best I can say is that I saw George Harrison’s vest. But I did hear him.

I saw Bob Dylan when he was doing a jazz thing. I went to a concern where Blondie warmed up for Savoy Brown. I slept through Savoy Brown. Not many people can say that, I think. I loved the REO concert in Rolla, Missouri where we danced out of the gymnasium, happiest concert I ever attended. I thrilled to Renaissance in Edwardsville, Illinois by the river bank, transcendent music for me. I sat in the top row of another sports arena and watched fondly as one of my precious friends, with the aid of entirely too many brewskies, attempted to rush the stage in adoration of Stevie Nicks during a Fleetwood Mac tour. Bob’s attempts were foiled but perhaps it’s just as well. We are not sure he would have remembered the encounter had he been successful. We all understood the need, though, to touch the intangible.

I probably attended more Kinks concerts than any other group or single artist. My first husband and his best friend from high school were Kinks fans. The girlfriends and wives of the group of guys they hung out with generally turned up their noses at the Kinks but I think now they were just scornful of the primal scream competition that the guys held any time they got together, filled the rooms with smoke and turned up the volume on the stereo which was usually playing the Kinks. I could usually bring the scream-fest to a halt by participating in it with them, which made the guys look at me as if I were stoned and not them. As musical, melodious and meaningful as the Kinks’ music was, that had to contribute to my hearing loss potential.

Still when the girls would get together, they would ask me how I could stand to listen to Led Zeppelin or Jethro Tull and I would blink because, well, I liked them, seriously. I adored Pink Floyd and I didn’t care which one was Pink.

You’d think I was some sort of rock and roll groupie since my second husband was a sound and lights man for live events. And I have to admit one rabid fan moment as a backstage groupie. Oh, it was nothing like one of my college acquaintances who crawled into a bathroom window with a cast on her arm just to sleep with a pop culture author she had heard speak at the university that evening. (Insert bug-eyed emoticon here.) But it was bold for me.

I had come along to a private function, a high-priced fund-raiser that took up the interior of a mall in the Bay Area somewhere near Silicon Valley. Dressed in my t-shirt and blue jeans and complete with a sinus infection that should have prevented most normal human functions, I was a stage hand helping with the miles of cable and plugs and tape and test-1-2, test-1-2 that is the setup of a live event. It’s a Page of Swords sort of job, technical, not pretty. You have to do what you’re told and do it right the first time. You’re not paid to give your opinion or enthusiasm.
Picture Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

Most musical acts will do a warm up and sound test well before the concert in these small venues because the acoustics and placement of speakers and microphones varies each time they create a stage in a place where no permanent stage exists.

And there he was. One of my idols since, well, since I wasn’t really old enough to know better. Michael McDonald, once of the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan and now out on his own, was the featured act. Tall, dark, handsome, with a liquid voice that could make even my high school biology teacher weak in the knees if she’d given him a chance, he gave a sound check which was his entire concert. It was my own private concert. Heaven!

Shy, still, I quietly approached Mr. McDonald’s personal sound technician, not wanting to disturb The Artist Himself.

“Do you think he would mind,” I snuffled, “if I asked for his autograph?”

The sound guy looked at me, so obviously not a stage hand, covered in dust and grit. Was I the only 40-year-old groupie who had asked this question?

“Naw! Him? Are you kidding? He’d love it!”

I figured the sound guy was lying to me. Or not. Either way, if I wanted an autograph before I died of the sinus infection, I had to make my move. I stepped softly across the flimsy stage and tapped Michael McDonald on the shoulder softly but definitely. He wheeled around, surprised.

“I’ve been in love with you forever!”

My dirty hands flew to my mouth as my face grew red. The room spun or it could have been the ear infection. Mr. McDonald had half a grin on his face, perhaps looking for a security guard. I nearly melted with embarrassment. Smooth, I thought. Very smooth. I shoved my crew ID badge and a Sharpie marker at him.

“Can I have your autograph?”

We were both relieved that was all it was. He signed my badge, “Love, Mike McDonald.” I succumbed to my dread and infection, retreated and drove home, unable to speak for many reasons. I still love “What a Fool Believes.” I still have that badge. I want to keep hearing the music, if for nothing else than for nostalgia’s sake.

Best wishes.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Fighting for Love

Tony and Binket don’t get along. This is like saying that the tsunami in Japan dampened spirits a bit. Cats when annoyed with each other usually pose sideways, dance around, fluff up their fur and make noises anywhere from severe automotive trouble to people being tortured. There’s a lot of spit and threats and insults thrown. There can be a retreat after both cats have decided that each could take the other with one paw tied behind his or her back and a lot of mumbling and might-have-beens afterwards. That’s not what happens with Tony and Binket though.
Victorian Trade Card Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

Binket, in her defense, did get here first. She was a rescue baby from southern California, just a tiny handful of calico fluff from an abandoned defense manufacturing plant. The property owners sent a few stray cats to clear out the mice. The people with this easy mouse-control idea forgot that cats left unneutered will multiply almost like mice. Now rescue groups will scoop up what they can from the grounds to see if they can be neutered, rehabilitated and placed in loving homes like mine.

Binket came complete with a roaring case of ringworm, a fungus that spread to the dog, the other cat, my husband and me. We all got the treatment. The dog lost his “job” as a volunteer companion for severely handicapped people. The rescue people said that couldn’t possibly happen when I called to warn them they might want to up their disinfecting so other rescues weren’t affected. I didn’t want to argue with them. These were two addled ladies who were trying to hold back the tide of unwanted animals in Orange County, just barely keeping it together to save the ones they could with nearly no money. If they bought bargain brand bleach, it was probably watered down and less-effective in killing the fungus, God love them.

Even though Binket was raised from just a few weeks by the softest touches in the Universe, my husband and myself, she ended up being a cranky kitty, so much so that I started to look up the theories of inheritance of disposition in cats. Apparently, if you’re a cat and if your father was a cranky kitty, you’re probably a cranky kitty. That’s what the latest cat science had to offer me. So I was a little dismayed that cooing, cuddling, coddling nurture did not have as much effect on No No Bad Cat’s nature. She buffaloed her older adoptive sister into submission which didn’t seem remarkable, except that she’s slightly smaller. Napoleon complex, maybe.

Peepers is the kind of cat to open pantry doors and snooze undisturbed for hours. More than once we’ve heard strange noises coming from the kitchen only to find that we do not, in fact, have a poltergeist. It’s only a 10 pound Siamese mix who has had her linen drawer closed and is now ready to get up and go about her kitty business. She really isn’t pleased that there is anyone in the house with her besides me in the first place but has grown used to Binket. Her way of dealing with conflict is to burrow until the blast is over.

Our little feline family grew and Eleanor joined us. I had thought I met Eleanor on the worst day of her life. It turns out that every day is the worst day of Eleanor’s life. She is the Omega Cat. No matter what the contest, she comes in dead last. Strangely, Binket, who by now had fallen deeply, madly in love with the dog, a romance still in full flower, adjusted well to Eleanor’s arrival. I think she sensed immediately that Eleanor was no threat to her Alphaness and dragged her around like a feathery 5 pound toy. Eleanor seems to like this sort of abusive affection from Binket so we determined not to interfere. After all, when you have a cranky kitty, any sign of positive relationships is a sign of hope.

It all came to a crash when I brought home Tony. True, Tony’s a male cat but I venture to say that never a more unsuspecting, unambitious, shy on brains and soft in the middle male cat has ever graced my doorstep. He’s like an animated stuffed toy and just about that smart. He seldom has an idea about anything other than warming up on the nearest warm thing, often my laptop computers. He steps on the telephone when I’m on conference calls, has a couple of favorite soft toys including one we call Stewart Little, is jolly with the dog, is scared of his own shadow and otherwise takes up cat space. He’s an unusual looking cat, considering he’s just a brown tabby. OK, he’s downright funny looking. I took him to the vet to see if his physique was in any way a dangerous health deformity. She laughed and said, yes, he is funny looking and it’s likely his parents were funny looking too. Instead of being that sleek, long luxuriant short-hair that model cats are, he’s a lot like a bean bag or turtle with an itty bitty kitty head. There’s quite a bit of extra Tony to Tony so he weighs in at about 16 pounds.

We went through all the standard instructions of how to introduce the new kitty to the household. Peepers seemed to think he was OK as long as he didn’t do anything aggressive and Tony’s not that kind of guy. Binket, though, went ballistic. Even when I put them on either side of an interior doorway with catnip on both sides to associate each other with psychedelic herbal pleasure, Binket did everything she could to kill Tony. She crammed as many paws and claws under the door, hissed and spat, and tried to figure out how to open the door by pounding on it. Tony immediately went on the defensive, which for him meant he tried to compact his generously padded and floppy frame into as tight a ball as possible and whimpered. This adds fuel to the flame for Binket. She knows now that her mission in life is to destroy her enemy. It doesn’t matter that he’s nearly twice her size.

She’ll do anything to slip into the section of the house where Tony is and attack him. Tony wets his pants, screams and cries and is generally dumbfounded at the assassination attempts. Naturally, I try to prevent this scenario, if for nothing else the cleanup needed afterwards.

Recently, though, Binket got a surprise. Tony fought back when she cornered him under a desk. She had grabbed his ear and he, amazingly, chomped down on her foreleg. A lot of screaming and flailing later and Binket retreated long enough for me to separate them, clean them up, comfort them both. Binket’s bite needed tending by the vet after a few days and she came home bandaged with anti-biotics.

Tony is his usual floppy, purring like an Evinrude, delighted to a frenzy over my just-washed hair, snuggly on cold mornings self. His ear has healed and you’d never know he’d been hurt. Binket has changed a bit though. She’s become snuggly instead of cranky. She wants to be a lap cat, now, after 5 years of dancing on the tables and shooting out the lights. She still doesn’t like Tony but she isn’t on the attack so much. Now she just wants to dash in and sleep on the bed. I’m good with that. She doesn’t resist being picked up and carried around and petted like she used to. Maybe this was a good thing.

This has been a 5 of Swords moment in our little family. What looked like a win when Binket exerted her aggressive bullying had always been a loss. But this recent battle lost seems, in the long run, to be a win overall. Binket? Happy? Who knew it was possible?

That win-lose scenario plays itself out in our human interactions all the time too. Sometimes winning the battle is losing the war. And sometimes, just sometimes, losing the battle means getting what you wanted in the first place. I think Binket had to push her limits to allow snugglies in her little cat life. I know people like that.

Best wishes.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Happy Families

Cousin RoseRed says she’s a bit phobic about the 10 of Cups. This astonishes most of her acquaintances since most people think of the 10 of Cups as that Happily Ever After card. The RWS (Rider-Waite-Smith) shows hale and healthy Mom and Dad arm-in-arm under a rainbow set in a clear sky with ten cups perched on the rainbow. Their two children laugh and play nearby, paying no attention to their parents’ happiness, no news being good news and apparently good news being no news either.

But that’s a little strange, isn’t it? Rainbows are created from rain in the sky with the sun shining on it. The drops act as a prism, like the suncatchers in windows, and split pure light into its separate colors. And yet our 10 of Cups shows a clear day. From this we could not only get the “happily ever after” interpretation but an indication, no matter how subtle or beautiful, that the rain still exists. Is the rain the range of emotions that turn our lives from black and white to techni-color? Is the rain the vehicle for the delivery of nourishment that would be forever stuck in the earth otherwise? But in this picture, the rain is actually stuck in the sky. We are shown the rain, the happy side of the rain, the colors, the hope, the promise. It’s like what I used to call the “OK music” that monster movies play after all the scary stuff is over and vanquished and the movie ends.

Our lives aren’t movies, though. Happily ever after, if you really mean ever after, doesn’t really exist. It’s great for stories and it’s better to tell the kids about a happy ending to a story so they have hope that at least sometimes things turn out all right. But our lives go on after the end of the “movie” or “story” we’re telling. Other things happen, some good, some bad. Ultimately, for all of us, our story is over.

I admit I take some vicarious pleasure at Cousin RoseRed’s horror of the 10 of Cups. I’m sure experiencing the full measure of it is not so much fun, so my immediate apologies, cuz. But it’s the same vicarious pleasure we take in watching scary movies or listening to scary stories. They are titillating and they are, importantly, happening to someone else. Maybe we tell these stories to ourselves to build a sense of emotional distance so that when it counts we can laugh or better yet stand up to what scares us. This is counter to what most of us think we and the rest of the world need. Why should we teach ourselves purposeful insensitivity especially at a time when being kinder all around is the clear need in our world? For survival, for one thing.

After all, who can’t appreciate the irony of having survived a plane crash only to die of a snakebite? Just because one hazard has been overcome, one sorrow has been survived, one evil has been eradicated, nothing says more trouble won’t come later. So that feeling of everything’s just perfect is unsettling to my 10-of-Cups-phobes who are pretty sure there’s another velociraptor waiting around the next kitchen counter. Anticipation isn’t always a pretty sight. But the 10 of Cups tells us that we need to enjoy those moments when everyone in our little community is happy, really feel them, even if the rain never hits the ground to be truly nourishing. That rainbow is still a wonderful thing, if fleeting.

Often the 10 of Cups means that the whole family is happy. I’m not sure I remember specifically a time in my childhood when that occurred but like the two kids playing at their parents’ feet, the absence of a remarkable and memorable bad time resulted in a vague and seemingly endless good time. Its memory is more of a feeling than the stop-action horror film that bad times could be.

I still have to remind myself and others that what makes one community or family happy does not always please everyone else. One could point to US politics for that. In our political scene here, what appears as the 10 of Cups Happy Family to one group of people can be a killing blow, say, a 10 of Swords moment to another and perhaps just an undue burden like the 10 of Wands to another. It feels cheeky to say that Happy Families are relative, but there you have it.

Without drawing on recent events that could bring out the swords or wands or cups or even pentacles as a reaction, I can point to one Happy Family whose rainbow was not everyone’s 10 of Cups.

John and I traveled to southwest Scotland years ago. “Roots tour?” our occasionally helpful good Samaritans eye-rolled to us. We nodded sheepishly. As far as I can tell, Cousin RoseRed and my common family lived in this part of Scotland along the Galloway coast. It looks a lot like the coast of northern California, trees, cows, green, fog, sea. California has this interesting thing called sunshine which happens sometimes along its north coast and a somewhat more interesting thing called earthquakes which, thank goodness, happen even more rarely than sunshine. Galloway has a pre-historic ring of standing stones called the Tor House Ring, a stone circle that would be a terrific calendar if the sky were clear enough to figure out where the sun, moon, planets and stars were. I’m pretty sure they could tell sometimes. Galloway also has, or rather had, Sawney Bean.

In short, Sawney, his wife, and maybe 50 children and grandchildren lived in a cave or caves (you’ll see why the reports aren’t particularly clear) along coastal Galloway and were known terrors of the travelers.

Before I go into more detail, you should know that the word “scot” means “bandit” and getting away “scot free” is something more like that 7 of Swords thing, meaning the bandit mugged you, took all your stuff including your clothes and left you for dead, which you likely were if you lay there overnight because it gets cold in Scotland.

Sawney and family took this concept a step further. In short, they ate people. Invoking Sawney’s name was basically to call upon the boogieman of southwest Scotland and scare children into being careful if not good. But think of things from Sawney’s point of view. A fat traveler in finery traveling alone or perhaps in a small group is overcome by a family of incestuous cannibals. I’m sure Sawney and family were delighted. Roast tonight! Their 10 of Cups was very much the travelers’ 10 of Swords.

Now there are sources that say Sawney was a real person with a real family who lived in real caves, born in the late 1300’s and preying upon travelers in the 1400’s, coincidentally about the time that the Tarot was starting to become popular with the common folk. There are others who maintain that Sawney was a scary story invented in the 1700’s to strike fear in the hearts of outsiders traveling through this often difficult and disputed territory. Most agree, though, that things were desperate enough in Scotland from time to time that cannibalism did occur.

Sawney’s story, in fact, inspired such schlock-horror as the movie “The Hills Have Eyes,” which countless teenagers have screamed and laughed at. Sawney’s story proves at the very least that family happiness is relative. You do need to know whether you’re having dinner or being dinner at least.

Within our lives, families can be horror stories or a place of loving refuge. They can be familiar evils or remote fairy tales. The 10 of Cups can be the ultimate of an emotional cycle, a happy ending, the realization of hopes and dreams for more than just yourself. It can also be the last time we were ever together and happy. Every family has its rain suspended in the sky. It is up to us as family members to concentrate either on the positive or negative face of the family with the understanding that we cannot have rainbows without a little rain.

Best wishes.

***

My heartfelt sorrow and sympathy to the friends and family of slain Vallejo police officer Jim Capoot.  He dedicated his life to making ours better.  May he rest in peace and may his family take some tiny comfort in knowing that he was loved and will be remembered by the community he served so fully, so selflessly, so freely, so kindly, so well.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Straight Face

“My little sister ate my homework.”

The worst problem I had when I was student teaching was keeping a straight face. I had defaulted to majoring in English in college and figured I wanted to teach. Junior high, I thought, was a lot like combat duty. You get all the thrill of a fidget in overdrive, raging hormones, defiance, a couchful of insecurities for each person involved, budding senses of humor and a crack of dawning civilization. They can be more adult than most people you know in one minute and sharing variations on the theme of rude noises the next. Combat duty, I thought. I’ll teach the little rascals some English. I had no idea they were going to be so funny.

I did my student teaching in a small town in southern Illinois. The State of Illinois is long enough that the northern part has little in common with the middle part and the middle part is fairly divorced from the southern part. When I lived there in the river bottom land, it was still a pretty good place for people hiding from authorities to hide until the heat was over. It’s woodsy with lakes and extensive limestone structures including caves. It’s more like The South than people think although my trips just across the river to Paducah, Kentucky convinced me that no horse money had made it across the river to southern Illinois. Paducah’s finely manicured lawns were a stark contrast the mining and farming towns at the bottom of Illinois.
Tea Tarot
(c) Copyright 2011 Marcia McCord

I was compulsive about trying to bring new, concrete experiences to young people to widen their horizons anyway. I wanted to give them something they didn’t already have. The urge is a Queen of Pentacles thing in me more than the Hierophant. I never felt I was the keeper of all knowledge spooning it out to acolytes in the small doses they could handle. I wanted to give them the whole wide world, to show them the wonder of this life. Maybe it was subversive in a way, but I wanted them to love this life and their world so that they didn’t have to cling to religion as their only respite but could choose it with joy as a supplement to their beautiful world. I wanted to teach them how to hope and how to make hopes real, that they could with their own choosing make their lives better.

There were a lot of people who went into teaching with ideals like this. I was the tail-end of the hippie generation and bought goodness and peace hook, line and sinker. I had seen what kind of transformation opportunity and positive thinking could bring to people, how fairness, justice and encouragement were fundamental. I still think those things but my own Queen of Pentacles realizes these things move ever so slowly, ever too slowly.

I had tried to show kids interesting stuff all my life including leading biology field studies for the little kids on my block when I first started college. What they learned wasn’t so much about the diversity of nature in the woods of south central Missouri then. They learned that if their gerbils escaped to hide in the sofa, they could call upon me to reach my hand into the foamy depths and risk getting bitten by the indignant little squees, all to save the neighbor kids from punishment when their parents got home. Gerbils have sharp little teeth. Teaching is a learning experience too. We all lived happily ever after that day, but I approached all future gerbil emergencies with caution.

Mrs. N was the regular English teacher at the junior high in the small town in southern Illinois. She was a sturdy, self-assured and practical woman who had hoped to expand little minds into public speaking at some point. She smoked the thinnest possible little cigars, saying she had to get all her smoking done in one preparation period, so a concentrated experience was required. I soon learned that getting the 7th and 8th graders to speak was not the problem; it was getting them to say something repeatable that was the challenge.

I had picked junior high for the challenge, thinking also that I had half a chance of being as tall or taller than the kids. I was right about the challenge, wrong about the height thing. It wasn’t that I needed to tower over them. I just wanted to see the kids in the back of the classroom. Quickly I learned that meant standing all day long and I adjusted my meager wardrobe to include the thickest-soled foam scuffs I could find in as many colors as I could find. They looked stupid, but at the end of the day my feet had not turned into something like pizza, cheesy, hot, bubbly, and seared.

But no one told me they were spit-your-drink-out-your-nose funny.

“Where’s your homework?” The condemned child looked forlorn and shuffled his feet. Apparently there was a story here. He answered.

“Your little sister?” Tears brimmed in my eyes which might have been mistaken for allergies in pollen-rich river bottom land. I did my best to keep the Queen of Pentacles’ calm but fact-based face as I looked at him.

“Can you bring your little sister in tomorrow as evidence?”

My student looked confused. Apparently no one had demanded proof before of the homework-eating toddler. I thought an experiment might be a good idea. After all, if she ate his homework, she might eat something else. The kids could write about it. It could be a lesson in how everyday life provides plenty of fodder for exposition and thoughtful reflection.

“Bring her in tomorrow along with your redone homework, but try to keep the homework away from her this time.”

The child blinked and nodded, still unsure of his ability to produce the human paper recycler. I moved on to the lesson of the day.

Mrs. N was right. Whatever you had during the one-hour of preparation period, you needed enough of it to last you the whole day. Instead of tiny cigars, I usually had to go to the teachers’ lounge and laugh until I cried.

The assistant principal frowned on this. We weren’t supposed to be having this much fun. We were supposed to be terrified of school administration and pass that terror along to the children. He had a line-‘em-up-and-shoot-‘em policy with the students. He was known to select one student teacher a year and pick on them until they broke. He picked me that year. He broadcast my classes live over the speakers in the principal’s office, hoping to get me fired before my student teaching stint was up because I couldn’t line anyone up, let alone shoot them. He didn’t get me fired but I think the office got a good laugh out of it. I know I did.

The last laugh happened later when I graduated, applied for jobs and got a job offer to teach at a small Catholic school 45 miles from my house. The school was in the process of closing but they advertised the job as a “foot in the door” for someone who wanted teaching experience. It was all subjects for kids in 7th and 8th grades with a student population in those grades of fewer than 10. The pay almost but not quite covered the gasoline to drive back and forth to the school.

At the same time I had been offered a position as a legal secretary at an established law office less than a mile from my house at nearly twice the pay. I caved, true to my Queen of Pentacles theme, and went for the bucks. Once again, I had been hired for my grammar, the product not of my college education but of the patient nuns at a Catholic grade school years ago.

And I never looked back, except to laugh. I never met that kid’s little sister.

Best wishes!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bugs

That high pitched screech you hear when I hit my high note at the sudden and unexpected encounter with an insect is something I call my “Bug Scream.” I’m a soprano, not the TV mobster kind, just the natural pitch of my vocal range kind. My choral director in Sweet Adelines once told me, “Marcia, only dogs can hear notes that high.” OK, maybe.

Let’s just say that I like to be properly introduced to bugs. I like to work up to a relationship with them and not have bugness thrust upon me, so to speak. Sometimes the dog comes in from a patrol of the back yard and brings in a hitchhiking baby slug. If I see it first, I feel quite calm about getting a tissue to transport junior to the back door (or to the toilet for a good flush if my husband isn’t home). My husband tends to name the snails and slugs that we encounter. I do not. Being surprised by one and getting advance warning are completely different experiences when the slimy-footed types are involved. After all, I love seashells and those are just seagoing slimy-footed types.

No, it’s the solid exo-skeleton bugs that give me the screeches. One thing I’ve noticed about living in northern California is that the bug thing isn’t as much of an annoyance as it is in other places in the US. Of course there are startling exceptions in California, like the potato bug. The first time I ran across one of those was in Copperfield Books in Petaluma. I was browsing through a spinning rack of interesting greeting cards, picked one up and woke my new friend up from its nap. Very shortly after that I woke up everyone within about a block, including the dogs. It’s just the one noise I make but it’s startling and completely involuntary.

Victorian Trade Card Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

I have a typical Knight of Wands reaction to little crawly beasties. Although I have never stood on a chair swinging a baseball bat at a bug while screaming at the top of my lungs, the urge has been there. I don’t mean to be unkind to them. I have this roach phobia from my childhood in Florida and I’m horrified every time I think that they apparently can survive quite a while without their heads [ed., she refrains from drawing any analogies to politicians here] and are likely to survive a nuclear blast. When it comes to bugs, I tend to have a “don’t think, just do” approach.

We’re certainly not bug-free here in California. There are fleas. This year was especially flea-ful since there was just a bit more rain. My vet told me that people were resorting to dosing their critters twice a month instead of the usual once-a-month treatment for the back-of-the-neck flea and tick killer. The dog and cats greet this treatment with the same enthusiasm the Occupy crowds have when told they need to disperse. They of course do not like the fleas any more than I do so we came to a compromise. The agreed not to take my hand off at the ankles when I put the flea stuff on them as long as they can grouse about it and I have to comfort them in their distress but only if and when they want it. Strong prima dona strains run in the cat family here.

The diva thing doesn’t prevent me from trying to teach everyone to hunt and eat bugs so mommy doesn’t stand on a chair and scream. They have so far shown moderate enthusiasm for this activity. What if a cat were too warm to move? Or too comfortable? Or bored? Or well-fed? Or engaged in some debate with one of the other cats? One could not be bothered with something as mundane as a Daddy Long Legs in the bathtub.

And we can’t forget scorpions. Seriously I’ve only seen the one but it was the sports spectacular version at the river house with my friends. But we do have them. There are pillbugs, aphids, ladybugs, moths, butterflies, mosquitoes, stinkbugs and spiders. This was a really big spider year too. They all began making webs early around July; usually September is their season. Usually they are what we used to call “jumping spiders” which helped you judge your distance in observation. The “garden spiders” (these are not technical terms, for you arachnophiles) were the big web-builders this year and there was one hum-dinger out on the patio, about the size of a half-dollar if you include the leg-span. My husband deposited that one in the agapanthus. After all, they eat other bugs so I don’t really want to kill them.

I’m just a little disappointed that there are no fireflies in California. Of all the bugs from my years in the Midwest, fireflies were my favorite. They hover like little votive candles over the ditches and meadows on a humid evening, looking for a date. On a trip back to Missouri, my husband thought he was suffering from fatigue-induced hallucinations. He was relieved when I pointed to the ditches full of ditch lilies in the twilight and laughed, “No, honey, those are BUGS.”

My Big Bad Bug encounter this year was with the yellow jacket on September 11 as I patiently waited for the firemen and police to come for coffee and cakes. I can barely see the scar now, which is surprising since I was pretty sure at the time my finger was going to fall off. The encounter did bring up some creative thinking about a new cartoon super heroine called Yellow Jacket who was completely into must-have fashions and of course ridding the world of meanness, one sting at a time. I figure my super-heroine has a thing for chocolate. Well, it got me buzzing; I could see the fantastic array of yellow jackets she would wear. Why stick to just one super costume?

It doesn’t seem to be such a huge logical leap that much of my professional life has been dedicated to the finding, eradicating and preventing of bugs. Well, that’s in software at least. I used to keep a trilobite fossil next to my keyboard at work. Just the thought of a time when the whole planet was literally crawling with these scuttly critters is enough to give me the heebie-jeebies. As a touchstone, it helped inspire my own “Spidey Sense” to find and fix problems in software intuitively. I’m so grateful that I’m not the only person in technology who does this sort of thing. One of my best friends admitted, although she can remain anonymous here, that she too has spent a career of having people ask her, “How did you know that was the problem?” and having to answer with a shrug. Heck, just had that crawling sensation over here in this section of the system…well, it’s hard to explain. But it brings out the Knight of Wands in me although I do tend to suppress the whole “primal scream with a weapon” when it comes to working on software.

Yet, I’m still grateful for all the critters (ok, I don’t see what possible positive impact a cockroach has but I’ll bet someone will try to tell me) and I encourage bees in my yard with some bee-attracting plants. I’ll buy a box of live ladybugs at the garden center in the spring to set upon the aphids if need be. I must say I’m not looking forward to the annual migration of the tiny ants, which are fair-weather ants at best. When the winter rains come they come indoors and forage for the interesting things in the carbs section of the cabinets. If you hear high-pitched screaming and rhythmic crashing coming from my house on a rainy day, don’t worry. That’s just my inner Knight of Wands expressing itself freely!

Best wishes!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Meaningless Harassment

Just saw a Facebook post that said that a politician’s actions of sexual harassment were considered “meaningless.” Yeah, that’s probably right. After all, no one actually gets hurt being harassed, right?

Bullies are everywhere and sexual bullies are just another type of bully. No big deal. It’s just the dark side of King of Wands, the abuse of power and energy. Happens all the time, right?

Victorian Trade Card Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord
After all, these people don’t really mean anything by it. It’s all in fun, isn’t it?

That’s why parents are getting together with schools to institute anti-bullying programs, because it’s no big deal. So what if your kid gets teased to the point of suicide, right? They should have been tougher stuff, probably. After no one on your side of the family ever had that kind of problem or dealt with it that way. Did they?

Take racial prejudice, for instance. Why, no one had a problem in the old days when everything was OK and people knew their place. Musicals like South Pacific contained songs like “You Have to be Carefully Taught” because those show business people aren’t like regular folks anyway. They’re too sensitive, for one thing. And a lot of them, well, nice people just don’t talk about that of course. It’s just too bad if parents didn’t like who was coming for dinner or didn’t want to call him Mr. Tibbs instead of “boy.” That’s their choice, right? A person is entitled to their opinions and it’s nearly obligatory to share those opinions because where would this country be without the freedom to hate anyone you choose?

And what if your kid is some kind of freak, right? Like they have something really goofy going on, like maybe a life-threatening disease or a life-altering accident or maybe they were just born that way? Maybe it’s a birthmark or the kid flinched and they could tell he was afraid. Maybe she wasn’t as pretty as she should have been at 13 or 14 by all our Western standards. Maybe she liked science or math and not girl-subjects. What if he wanted to dance?

Isn’t it a person’s right to point out the truth that your kid is, well, you know, different, like a puddle of oil that a person should walk around so they don’t stain their shoes? So what’s the fuss all about in schools with the bullying anyway? Let those kids buck up and take the real world for a switch instead of being coddled and told they are loved and told they can actually do something because everyone just knows they can’t. OK, so Stephen Hawking is maybe an exception or probably a fraud, you know? But that’s not like the usual brand of goofy.

I mean if a kid switches his letters around, he might just not be worth a person’s time. Or why on earth spend the money on an adult literacy program to teach people who don’t already read or speak English very well or, heaven forbid, have some kind of developmental disability? Just because Sue’s daughter is now reading to little kids when people thought she and her fellow clients at the ARC would never learn to read at all, I mean, is that any reason to invest any money in folks with problems? Of course, if they had jobs and paid taxes, that would be different. Oh, hey, right, OK, some of them do. Come to think of it, they are all consumers of some kind, if nothing else clothing and electricity and water and other stuff. That’s the stuff that gets taxed. So, yeah, they pay taxes, I guess. Somebody buys gasoline to cart them around. Now, that’s a lot of taxes, right? Hoo boy!

But, seriously, sexual harassment? I mean that’s just flirtation where she changes her mind, isn’t it? Aren’t they all like that? Then they turn on you. Doesn’t a girl know how to get places anymore? They pretend they are shocked or something when they know the score.

Take me for instance. Well, don’t, actually. But I could be an example, let’s say. So in my youth, I was a vibrant young lass. Sure, I got offers. I turned them down. After all, why sit on the Operations Manager’s lap for a cuddle when all he was offering was the chance to be his secretary. I mean, that’s a lateral transfer, for goodness’ sake. Or one of the Engineering Managers who sat on my desk and wouldn’t go away, even when I told him if he were the last man on earth and I were the last woman, I’d give myself to God: Just because he interrupted my work, the work I needed to do to pay my rent to live and just because the Operations Manager was ticked that I didn’t take him up on his offer, was that any reason to feel like the Boys’ Club was going to vote me out of the treehouse if I didn’t play along? I was such a risk-taker. I said no.

Or how about the attorney who was about twice my size who kept blocking my way in the hallway, trying to cop a feel? Meaningless, right? I mean I could always go to my boss and, well, wait. He was one of my bosses. It was all in good fun so why wasn’t I having fun like I was supposed to? I did make something of a game of it. I worked to find out what scared that guy the most. It turned out that he didn’t fear bruising of tender parts, the loss of his reputation, the possibility of disbarment or sanction, the disapproval of his senior partner, or even the wrath and heartache of his wife. I was pretty stunned that none of these things seemed to faze him, considering he was an up-and-coming young attorney with a reputation for putting deals together and being sharp. Nope, but I did find out what he was afraid of: his mother. She came into the law offices at least once a week just to see her baby. Something about what she knew about her baby made him think twice about having (more?) reports of sexual harassment by this successful, young, intelligent husband and father with a comfortable career and a thing for investing in larger carat diamonds. It was meaningless, right? I mean, what possible importance could I have in the scheme of his career? Oh, and never mind about what it would do to mine. After all, I was just a secretary then, nobody. I’m pretty much still nobody, so what’s the harm?

After all, it’s not like these guys were like the stalker the police picked up in the public library one afternoon after the librarians noticed he was following me as I went from ancient history, to antique glass, to metaphysics, to Agatha Christie in rapt attention to the books on the shelf, paying none to the sex offender in the green Army Surplus jacket. That guy just wanted to get to know me. That’s what he told the police. He only had a knife after all and the police escorted him away from the library. I mean, sexual harassment and bullying isn’t like that, is it? It isn’t the strong preying on the weak without empathy or regard for the other person, without understanding that the object of their attention is actually a person, like them. Is it?

It’s not like my own father who, when informed that one of his grandsons was gay, announced that the grandson was not welcome in his house and that there’s never been anything like that on his side of the family.

Not even when I replied, “Daddy, what makes you think they would have told you?”

Nope, nothing like that. It’s pretty much meaningless.

**Please note that if anyone somehow mistakes my point of view for one of trivializing bullying, sexual harassment, political dissembling, stalking or hate crimes, please re-read for content and understanding.  There will be a test.  It's called Life.

Best wishes.

***

Just had to share this TV Broadcast on PZTV where I was the guest speaker!  That cat pin on my jacket was created by the lovely and talented Sharon Bloom, so check out her site if you love whimsy and need to buy a fabulous gift...even if it's for yourself!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fool’s Jamba Juice

What a huge weekend! I was so glad to be able to take Friday and Monday off my regular work. I didn’t realize how much I would need it.

The Tarot Collectors Forum 2011 Collaborative Tarot decks arrived from the printers mid-week last week. Andrew and I made plans to set up our little shipping and handling factory at my dining room table for Friday. A lot of people have paid but a few people haven’t so we wanted to make sure we had the list and addresses correct.

Apparently mail from the USA to New Zealand gets pounded to a pulp and my New Zealander asked for extra wrapping. We can do that! I’m always amazed at mail delivery anyway. That may be why I based two of my own decks on postcards. Can you imagine it actually got there? I have one of my 1903 picture postcards on my desk right now, my favorite Argentine gypsy card which is the cover card of my Picture Postcard Tarot. Her tinted scarf and heavy silver earring and beautiful profile tell more of a story than her August 26, 1903 postmarks in Buenos Aires. Someone thought of someone that day and reached out.

And one person no longer lives in France so we made sure we had the right address and the right country. We packaged, we boxed, we taped, we addressed, we filled out little-box customs forms, and we piled them into the colorful African woven market baskets I bought as my Ft. Bragg souvenirs. We did all this until well after the Post Office closed.

But I had a deadline to stop that Friday night, too, because I was scheduled to read tarot at a Halloween party here in town. The Halloween House was not too far from own house on a street I had never driven down before. It was a steep hill and I, dressed in my long black lace dress with my frog-handled cane, stepped carefully out of my car in the darkening nightfall. I made it to the house with my tote full of cards and walked up the luminaria-lined drive. Robin had gone all out with turning her front and back yards into a Halloween Haunted House, a benefit for Bay Respite Care this year. She’s been doing this for years to bring Halloween to her daughter who has a fatal form of multiple sclerosis.

By the time I was barely settled in the gazebo with the comfy wicker couch and chairs, shabby chic d├ęcor, incense and candle light, I had readings booked to last nearly to midnight. I met wonderful people, drank a gallon of water and read tarot in the flickering candles. It was a perfect evening and I was glad to be able to be part of it.

Saturday was busy too. The Berkeley All-Blues women’s rugby team hosted two rugby matches out at our rugby pitch. John wanted me to bring my tarot cards there to read too and had set up my favorite Italian-style tile-topped table and my two good folding chairs under the trees. Wine tasting! Now there’s a benefit of Northern California! A winery had hoped to ply us with their whites, reds and a lovely muscat. The white was buttery, the Zinfandel robust and I cut it off at two tastes. I don’t like drunk tarot reading any more than I approve of drunk driving. I had just one “customer” for my complementary readings, a career-path discussion that showed promise. There were happy dogs and happy rugby players, but I had to go at 4:30 pm if I were going to do everything we had planned for the evening.

Each year the last weekend of October, our local Catholic high school holds a Trivia Night. My friend Nancy asks us to come because John and I tend to know a strange and diverse bunch of factoids. Along with our trivial minds, we were also to bring goodies to share and wear costumes. This year, the theme was Hawaii.

I’ve never been there. I know muumuus, leis, Hawaiian print shirts, flip-flops (as opposed to thongs and You Thong People Know Who You Are), grass skirts and flowers at your ear. I figured that this is what everyone else knew about Hawaii too. As I drove to the grocery store to get the pineapple pieces and Hawaiian Kettle Style Potato Chips and anything else I could think of as island food, a picture began to form in my mind. Boy, was John going to be surprised when he saw my costume!

The Fool is usually placed with the Major Arcana but his number is 0, Zero, Null, blank. In the same way that the ancient tarot decks portrayed the Fool as the scary, crazy homeless guy, the picture of the way the unfortunate were treated in the 1400’s in Italy and everywhere else, the Fool is outside of the Tarot “society” and therefore can roam freely if randomly through it. Our more modern portrayal of the Fool is more like a court jester, the cartoon-Kokopelli amusing the court, speaking the truth without penalty, appearing foolish. He is the beginning of the journey, incompletely prepared, without a plan or support structure, save the dog (or weasel or cat-like creature nipping at his heels or a bit higher to tear his breeches). He does not understand consequence and is usually depicted as having benign intent. He is often shown about to step off a cliff and in the Tarot, in spite of his foolish leap before looking, he is protected by the forces of the Universe who are probably amused and nod knowingly as he progresses through wisdom.

Picture Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

Ah, I thought. In Hawaii, the Fool would be the Tourist, the idiot who came prepared to live a Hawaiian lifetime in a week, despite the impossibility of that. And so my costume emerged: I faked a wet-suit from black tights and t-shirts, wrapped a beach towel picturing a surfer around my middle, put on pearl and seashell jewelry, donned swim-fin flippers and diving mask and I was almost ready. All I needed was Tourist Sunburn. Familiar with decades of my own sunburn and instead of that luscious tropical tan, I faked the Coppertone near-death blistering burn so familiar. Yeow! I grabbed my dip-net, a sand bucket, a bag of seashells and I was ready. All I had to do was walk downstairs in flippers. Right.

I made it in one piece and John was properly stunned. Nancy’s mom Geraldine laughed out loud. I bent and folded myself into the back seat and we were off to Trivia Night. Sadly, we did not win the trivia prize this year; we flubbed the music section but John got some amazing answers in especially the basketball question. During one of the breaks between rounds, I noticed a tall good-looking guy from the next table staring at me in, at the very least, disbelief. I had to acknowledge his unvoiced thoughts. I pointed to my husband.

“Just think how he feels!”

My “fan” laughed out loud. And I won the prize for the women’s costume contest! It’s a gift card at Jamba Juice. Something in pineapple, perhaps?

Sunday was a little more restful although I had evening tarot readings in the back yard. Monday was the main event, though. This year I had help from my friend Andrew and his friend Patrick. Patrick and John put up the tent in the driveway while Andrew and I grabbed some dinner for everyone. The boys set up speakers with a Spooktacular playlist and featured a Deal or No Deal game where the prizes were, alas, not millions of dollars but extra candy for the kids. The Eye of Zohar and my Friendly Ghost papier mache props had survived their year of storage in the garage. The evening was perfect in its weather. I readied my brass cauldron of candies and shuffled my Tarot decks. I warmed up by offering free one-card readings on Facebook. Then, we were invaded! Spidermen, princesses, Minnie Mice, a Baby Bunny Wabbit, Iron Men, teens professing to be nerds, all wanted candy. Their parents came too, some for tarot readings.

“Uh, yer gonna wanna get that looked at by a professional,” I recommended to one dad with fake blood streaming down his chest from a “wound” in his Zombie neck. He laughed aloud. Even Father Steve came by for the entertainment and stayed to talk about travel long after we ran out of candy. It had been a long four days in the weekend, long but fun. We’ll do this again next year.

I Can Haz Jamba Juice!

Best wishes!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Bioluminescence

The whales said to say hello! My friends and I saw them on their travels south past the California coast this weekend. Puff! Puff! Puff! Sound. When whales go by, they seem purposeful and thereby happier. It may be my imagining but I like the thought. They are in charge of their journey. I waved to the travelers out in the Pacific, beyond the roll line, beyond the rocks and almost to the horizon. Puff! Nothing else looks like that.

This past weekend my friends and I traveled to Ft. Bragg, California to a house Kaye had found and Ronda had rented for us. Kaye and I carpooled and met B. G. to take her SUV for the last leg of the trip. We agreed to listen to Team of Rivals after hearing B. G.’s review about Mary Todd Lincoln’s mental state of being either “in the basement” or “in the attic.” It sounded familiar. We all understood the idea of burning our candle at both ends, the Ace of Wands of new inspirations which can sometimes seem like the match that set the barn on fire. 
Tea Tarot
(c) Copyright 2011 Marcia McCord


After all, that’s why we have these “Goddess Weekends,” because we all need respite from the “barn on fire” thing that is modern life. We talked and never listened to the book on tape, interrupting Mary’s basement and attic for more recent history as the miles rolled by. It was still light when we arrived at the luxury house on the rocky cliffs on the south side of the California coastal town of Ft. Bragg.

Ft. Bragg has long been one of my favorite easy getaways. My husband and I have often gone there even when the weather was raw and loved it. But our Goddess Weekend met its promise for glorious October sunshine. The house! There were slate floors throughout, skylights and a wall of windows making the most of the ocean view. We had a hot tub, a fireplace and beach access. We were prepared: Little did Julie know that we had plotted celebration for her. And Kaye brought her telescope. We were rewarded with a moonless night and plenty of stars.

Telescopes sure have changed. Kaye’s new baby is a lot like a lightweight red tuba on a football tee. I pointed it at the bright thing in the southeastern skies.

“Look! You can see planets,” we were properly amazed. “Think we can stay up late enough to see the meteor shower?” The Orionids were due to light up the sky. What could be better? The Milky Way ablaze over rocky ocean cliffs and waves below, plus a light show!

It’s our 19th year of getting together. Essentially we all know each other through Ronda. I happen to be the “newbie” since I met Ronda only in 1990. I was there for the initial weekend. It was the weekend Polly Klaas was taken from her bedroom window in nearby Petaluma, an unthinkable crime against innocence. Ever since then, our weekends together, now twice a year, have been dedicated to Polly. It is our candle in the darkness.

But the course of true relaxation never runs smooth and this year, to my barely suppressed annoyance, I was the Drama Queen. True, not everything that happened was about me. I can be grateful for that. Ronda’s dog Sofie expressed her upset tummy in a sudden way that was quickly cleaned up. Sofie’s a very gentle soul and we would never want her to feel like she was a bad doggie for a bit of personal business. We had sandwiches for dinner, told our stories and huddled around the fireplace while we listened to the ocean’s roar. We retired in comfort to our separate bunks, but then Ronda and I sneaked out to see if we could catch a meteor. In the quiet of the night and in our bare feet and pajamas we were rewarded with a single streaking blaze from Orion’s belt parallel with his sword. Satisfied with tagging our meteor, we retreated to slumber but not before I took a last longing look at the starlit beach and rolling waves which, with each roll glowed with churned bioluminescence. The response of nature to nature is to glow.

“Marcia, I heard you last night.” This is a recurring theme. As if I can control my snoring when I’m asleep! I had offered everyone hot pink foam earplugs the night before. Everyone had giggled but left their earplugs behind. Hey, both my parents were champion snorers. And I snored when I was a size 2 for those of you who think fluffy people snore more. It’s the slack jaw and sloppy soft palate, folks. Think of it as the musical accompaniment to the night.

B. G. made a de-lish couple of breakfast quiches with fruit and we were ready to start the day. Almost. I realized as I had gone to take my morning prescriptions that my blood pressure medicine was not in my bag. That rattle when Kaye had hit the brakes for a surprise stop must have sent them flying under the seat of her car, the car that we left in Ronda’s driveway when we consolidated to carpool. Now I had to figure out how to get a couple of tide-me-overs for the weekend. Fortunately, both my insurance and the local CVS pharmacy were willing, although it took hours to pull it off. And we got a chance to sneak a little shopping into mix. I snagged a couple of African market baskets (to put tarot cards in, of course) and some beads that looked like beach glass for a project I have in mind. It was a modest splurge as they go.

On the way back, we practiced our special song for Julie’s celebration while Julie rode with Ronda and Sofie. We continued in the acoustics of the vaulted ceilings in the living room of our luxury beach house, perfecting our harmonies, tweaking our arrangement while the guest of honor was delayed at Harvest Market. Julie was in charge of dinner and served us an Italian meatball soup worth writing home about. (Read: John, this is what your “snot soup” wants to be when it grows up, seriously.)

We held our celebration for Julie’s croning without setting ourselves and the house on fire, reading our poems and singing our songs. Julie is wise and drop-dead gorgeous, with an enormous heart in that well-tended body. She is a Big Sister to a little girl whose life seems to be turning a corner. She is a woman who Makes a Difference. We think that’s what Polly might have wanted.

I read tarot for everyone and we discussed the serious topics the cards nudged us into, life, love, work, health, home, future. Half the ladies landed in the hot tub for a midnight soak in the cool night air. I changed into my jammies and wandered out to say good night and salute the Milky Way once more. And then I discovered I had locked myself out of my bedroom, the bedroom for which there was no key, the bedroom where my glasses, my prescriptions, my book, my clothes, my tarot cards, fer goodness’ sake, were safe from every creature save a bug that could clear the doorsweep. Tired, we looked for a key, useless as it was. We attempted picking the lock and even Googled lockpicking, hairpin in hand. No luck. I gave up and called the housekeeper who promised to come the next day at 8 am. I sank into the couch with more waves against the sand, more reports of snoring the next morning.

Does trouble have to come in threes? Or fours? Or all at once? We realized we wanted to tidy up for the housekeeper’s arrival and there they were. The pumpkins Julie had selected and hollowed out for us to carve as jack-o’-lanterns had collapsed in an ooze of mold from the heat of the fireplace. The remains dispatched to the yard waste bin, I broke the news to Julie.

“The pumpkins died.”

“Died?”

“Died. Really dead. Ooshy-squishy dead. Runny puddles dead. They are pumpkin roadkill.”

Housekeeper Alma, good soul, arrived, unlocked and I was rescued again. Kaye and I made breakfast, bacon and French toast, something none of us would ever eat ordinarily. We cleaned obsessively and all at once it ended.

We’re thinking Hawaii in 2013. It seems like a good place to visit after the end of the world, Mayan time. We’ll light another candle for Polly. And for all of us.

Best wishes.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mouse on the Moon

“Can my friends and I eat our lunch in your yard?” Andrew asked. He had been helping them move and they were looking for a quiet spot. I was still in the midst of my workday and was happy to give them shelter.

“OK, but tell them nobody gets to smoke anything in my yard or my house, got it?” Hey, you guys put two and two together and come up with five, ok? Asthma plus liability equals house rules. “And don’t let the cat out. You know how she is.” Alice has been going on adventures lately. We talked her out of the street this weekend. Apparently she didn’t get the word that she’s a housecat. When you’re an 18.5 lb cat, you figure you have superpowers and your name is Adventure Kitty or something. I think she’s downstairs making her Halloween costume right now.

“Oh, and my friends are bringing their mouse.”

Aw, how cute, I thought. Maybe I can meet the mouse before the cats do. If it has eyes, a wiggly nose and a reasonable disposition, I probably like it. I’ve been a “Squee” person since I was a baby, before anyone realized I Can Has Cheezburger. Work was pretty intense that day so it seemed late when I walked downstairs for a break.

My guests were still resting at the table on the patio playing a game I didn’t recognize, something with large numbers lined up, something that didn’t appear to involve gambling, hard feelings or anything other than idle recreation. There on my paint-flaked bench was a cage. We introduced ourselves.

“Her name is Velvet,” my new friends indicated toward the cage. Velvet clambered up the cage side and sniffed at me hopefully.

“Velvet is a rat, Andrew, not a mouse.” I tickled her nose. She is a lovely rat too, rats being loveliest when they are tame and in their cages. I've encountered the wilder kind too.

I had had a pet rat as a child, uncreatively named Rat-a-Tat for machine gun fire, representing my brother’s love of guns and warfare. Rat-a-Tat was a fashionable black and white, front half black, back half white. Velvet is all dark with pink nose and toes. She’s a dainty thing with a taste for fashion as it turns out.

“Don’t sit close to the cage because she will chew your clothes,” her loving owners cautioned. Having had a few rodent-chewed textiles, notably one really nice afghan that John’s sister crocheted, I wasn’t surprised. I sat on the bench with a prudent space between myself and Velvet’s nibble range.

“Velvet want a leaf?” I offered a crunchy magnolia leaf to Miss Nibbles who happily took it to her ratnest and crunched with vigor. We talked for a few minutes. Velvet came back for further possibilities, obviously comfortable with human companionship. Alice pawed at the glass door from inside the house. I bent to pull a sprig of grass and gave it to Velvet. She was happy with the gift and snacked away. We talked a while, then break time was over for me and I had to get back to my own personal hamster wheel. “Money makes the world go ‘round…” played in my head.
Tea Tarot
(c) Copyright 2011 Marcia McCord


It was a small gesture, to play hostess to a well-mannered rat and her friends. It provided a moment of stability at a crazy time. Amparo, meaning shelter, comes to mind. It was the name of a waitress friend of mine in Southern California, her good service being a small refuge from the workaday world. I was able to provide the 4 of Wands hospitality in some small way, if only a little shade from the sun, a fence to shield from the wind, a quiet spot to sit and relax without interruption.

Echoing the rodent theme, a news story popped up into my consciousness that there’s an unusual population explosion of non-native mice out at the Farallones. A two-and-a-half hour boat trip from San Francisco, this bit of rocky outcropping is for the birds—literally—and in the 1800’s was the target of egg snatchers trying to feed the hungry mob that was the booming of the Northern California coast. John and I took a fall whale-watching tour there one fabulous afternoon and saw the birds: storm-petrels, puffins and murres. How the mice got there, I have to wonder. I like to imagine they drive their tiny boats in the night past the border patrol but I have a feeling that they hitched a ride one way or another. This year’s population of mousies on the Farallones has exploded to something like 50 times the standard rate for an official rating of “a lot of mice.” Where there are mice, there are owls and a few owls have whooshed out to what must be like owl heaven. Of course, owls like to eat pretty much anything that’s the right size and flavor, so when the mice population drops, the owls stay for the endangered other birds, like storm-petrels. Owl heaven turns into Paradise Lost because mouse is apparently the perfect food and storm-petrels, well, aren’t. So, the owls, thinking they must still be onto a good thing, stay too long and they start starving. People blame the mice.

So now they are trying to figure out how to get rid of the mice without getting rid of everything else. Why would we spend money on this? Because little stuff turns into big stuff, important stuff, stuff that affects humans and their way of life and at that point the people who don’t care about mice and birds and some rocks out in the Pacific will start to notice and wonder why someone didn’t DO something. 
Fav Squee Mouse Photo


In order to understand things more easily, we separate them in our minds and analyze them a piece at a time. But we constantly forget that we are all part of one gi-normous system called probably inappropriately with the latest findings and theories of astrophysicians The Universe, not separate little universes. We’re like bad children, all of us, taking apart the alarm clock to see how it works then leaving it there on the bed for the cat to bat parts under the dresser, never putting it back together again so it will function. Then someone doesn’t wake up in time for something important and everyone’s in trouble, especially the cat. What do we do about this cat problem, we wonder?

It’s pretty clear to everyone lately that the mice rebel every once in a while, too. The current Occupy movement, which has put together a diverse set of characters no doubt, is working to show that Big Predators may be able to ignore one squeaker here and there but in chorus, the mice put up a pretty big racket. Listen closely. They might actually be saying something.

Tiring of the role of mice-as-pests which feed relentlessly on the hard-earned stores of grain, the Other Percenters are putting a human face on economic issues. It’s hard for me to think of my life and existence as being a drain on the harried wealthy. After all, I’ve done what they told me I had to do, pulled myself up by my bootstraps, succeeded despite the fatal flaws of being female and nowhere near Ivy League material. I took advantage of the opportunities for education around me, opportunities which for the most part don’t exist now due to the relative cost of education. I used my dull-razor brain with no advice from any mentor or sponsor and figured out how to educate, then re-educate myself so that I was employable at a level that allowed me to purchase a house on my own salary, in spite of the misgivings of the misogynist bankers in that town long ago and far away.

“Just because you made all A’s in all your classes,” the banker explained to me patiently while reviewing my loan request, “what makes you think you’ll be successful in your work?” Wow, maybe because bone-headed guys like you make me so mad I could spit and I have a happy talent for turning that anger into something productive for myself and others. The jerk finally accepted my loan application after calling my father and securing Daddy’s unwritten promise to help me out if I slipped on my payments.

Mouse hater, I say. The guy hates mice and yet insists that they stay mice. Pretty soon, like the Farallones, will the entire infrastructure be threatened? Will they say, what do we do about the mouse problem? Have they leaned too close to the cage so that we’ve nibbled on the cashmere sweater? Will even the wise old owls be threatened, those who fly silently whose perfect food is mouse?

This is no new story. I thought of Frank Herbert’s Dune and his hero Paul Atreides a/k/a Muad’Dib, the Mouse on the Moon. We are just as prone now as ever to need “…Frank Herbert's warning about society's tendencies to ‘give over every decision-making capacity’ to a charismatic leader. He said in 1979, ‘The bottom line of the Dune trilogy is: beware of heroes. Much better rely on your own judgment, and your own mistakes.’” And what fun! Here’s an Occupy poster, typo included, with that very allusion circulating on Facebook today.

The Occupy’s detractors say the message is diffused so it is bound to fail. Today’s mice read though. Will a hero arise among us? Or are we truly stronger being the diverse individuals we are with the illusion of separateness always before us. After all, if we can send a mouse to the moon, why not Wall Street? And will they blame the mice again?

Best wishes.

***

Quote from Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Atreides

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Thanks, Steve

As I sit here during Day 2 of a long software implementation, I remember that I have Steve Jobs to thank for this. A long time ago when I still wore short dresses and high heels, my first job out of college was as a legal secretary. Four years of college to become an English teacher and the job I landed paying 50% more than the nearest teaching job was one that required my high school typing class and my solid Catholic grade school grammar. But the senior partner was a quirky guy named Troy who was trying to get an Apple computer to drive an IBM typewriter. This could be fun.

He and one of his clients had this contraption set up in the little law library at the back of the offices. Troy’s wife Jeannie refused to have anything to do with it, seeing only money being flushed away on expensive gadgets with no new money floating in. Office managers have to think that way. And Troy’s favorite legal secretary Sue likewise declined the opportunity to dip a toe into what felt at the time like science fiction. I was the new kid and basically it was my job to do what Jeannie and Sue didn’t want to do. But it paid so much better than the teaching job I had worked so hard to qualify for.

Even before I went back to college to get a second bachelor’s degree in computer science, I was pretty sure that Apples and IBM’s had just enough of a different philosophy to make this marriage a rocky one. The three of us however tinkered away like mad scientists, interrupted from time to time by real legal work and Jeannie’s increased annoyance at kids playing with toys.

Needless to say, Troy, his friend and I did not become famous for the invention. It worked, in a way, but really was better at proving a concept than being a practical solution. It did serve, however, to pave the way for my later career as a programmer, then database analyst, then the long dark years in technology management and finally emerging as an analyst in my present job. It gave me the “tab A, slot B” background for understanding the inner mysteries of Computer Magic and it also gave me the confidence to know that the machine is only as smart as you tell it to be. As a programmer and DBA I later gained an appreciation for Divine Intervention in the world of computers, but for the most part there was comfort in the binary “it’s either on or it’s off” simplicity of the computational life.

Naturally, it’s not that simple any more. The more stuff you plug into the chain of things between your question and the answer you’re looking for on a computer, the more complex that simplicity has become. I laugh just as hard as you do (or not) at the promise we made to unsuspecting non-techies that computers were going to make our lives easier. I laugh every time one of the cats walks across my husband’s laptop and hits the little setting that disconnects him from the network. I laugh when he roars and whines that his computer is broken. I laugh when I walk into his office and reach forward with one finger, like a magic wand, to press the one little button that solves his problem while he glares at me in disgust and disbelief. Magicians aren’t always appreciated, Mr. Jobs. I’ll bet you learned that too. Maybe we shouldn’t laugh when we do these things. But sometimes it’s funny.
Tea Tarot
(c) Copyright 2011 Marcia McCord


“See that little blue light-y thingee?” I ask in my best Goon-techno-speak. He’s a people person, not a computer person. “You’re gonna wanna make sure that stays blue and if it doesn’t, just touch it with your finger.” This bit of wizardry repeats itself because it is repeatedly lost. I find he doesn’t hear as well when he’s at his wits’ end. I’m pretty sure I have the same trait so I don’t actually mind.

Of course, I’m really only on the fringe of being a real geek. Oh, once, a long time ago in an Illinois far, far away, I lived in the belly of the beast. I worked for a major Midwest insurance company who at the time loved its technical people. You got a rose on your birthday. You could pick your Christmas present from the company out of a catalog. The company had a private park with tennis courts, a small lake, volleyball courts, picnic areas and golf course. I traveled to exotic places like Hartford, Connecticut and Chicago for more intense IBM training, only to learn, like much of life, that if you clean up after yourself once in a while and vacuum out the dust-bunnies, your household and your computer both seem to run more smoothly. In turn for these marvelous perks, I pulled so many all-nighters recovering databases that the IBM guys thought I might have the most experience of anyone they knew performing that little task. They quickly figured out how to automate it with tools and so my dubious glory was short-lived. I think my record was 43 full forward recoveries on the Big Iron. By then I was a long way from Steve Jobs’ idea of computing accessibility to mere mortals.

And then there was the dirty little secret. While I loved computer fire-fighting and had branched out into what I thought of as “preventative design” to keep others’ really good ideas from going horribly wrong with one little oops, I became bored. Bored! How could I be so ungrateful? The career that more than doubled my salary a couple of times became routine. I could recover mainframe databases in my sleep. Well, I kind of had to because most of the time it was over night so that the business day wasn’t interrupted.

I realized that I could concentrate on customer service, which I loved, or “chase” technology and continue to keep up with whatever the latest sexy trend in languages and hardware and database design caught the fancy of the gizmo guys. I loved all that relational vs. hierarchical debate and how far to go with normalizing data. But I wanted it to work, you know? I wanted it to be useful, to make people’s lives better. It wasn’t just a toy to fiddle with in the law library.

So I gave up trying to be the latest in techno-fashion and concentrated on the folly of trying to make customers happy. Ever after I have spent a lifetime of being misunderstood by my bosses, slugged by the “patients” while packing them into the ambulance and attempting to translate technical terms into something that makes sense to people who have better things to do than try to understand what a dad-blasted machine is thinking.

Here’s just a little tip for people hoping to make a career out of technology and customer service: Please, whatever you do, limit your expectations of gratitude from those you are saving. The Magician is so often considered a trickster, a liar, a showman, and a thief by his admirers. Somehow, it never occurs to many people who are your loving customer base that if you have an ability you might choose to use it for good even if you had the opportunity to do otherwise. You may spend a lifetime being needed but never trusted fully. You must remember that a Magician is no one without his audience and you need them as much as they need you. That’s the good news and the bad news.

For that, I’m happy we had a Jobs. RIP, Steve.

Best wishes.