Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Good Dirt

“Have you had any tooth pain since that last time we saw you?”

“No,” I said without confidence, feeling certain I would have remembered if my teeth hurt. Tooth pain is something that could make Daddy cry and he was a Colonel and The Bravest Little Soldier Ever if I believed any of the stories he told. Even with everything I have had going on, I was fairly certain I would remember. Dental visits are a lot like the 5 of Cups; no matter what happens, you tend to focus on what you didn’t like.
Tea Tarot
(c) Copyright 2011 Marcia McCord

“No,” I said, this time with more confidence. “Cold stuff, hot stuff, everything seems OK.” Everything seems to get chewed up and land on my hips or some other undesirable resting place. If I can type 110 words a minute, why doesn’t that burn up calories?

Have I had any traditional tooth challenges lately? Well, there was no problem with the corn on the cob last weekend. The television commercials used to show that as a challenge, but I guess that’s if you have dentures. I have my own teeth with a few enhancements in the fillings and crowns department. But under all that they are, at least, mine.

Turtles, I thought. John’s been getting those divine dark chocolate turtles from Lileds down the street. They have thick dark chocolate with hard caramel and pecans. Now if anything is going to destroy good dental health, those turtles would do it. Of course, if anything was going to make a soft landing where I already have plenty of soft landing available, turtles would do that, too.

“You want a turtle?” John will holler from the kitchen about 9 pm.

This is a moral dilemma. Do I do the good thing and say, “No, just another glass of ice water,” or do I succumb to temptation?

“OK, but just one and make it a little one.” John likes companionship in small sins. I reflect on how close the candy shop name “Lileds” is to Lilith. Lilith, the vampire chocolatier, I think. Something about that makes sense but I can’t put my finger on it. Who would need a snake if you had turtles in the garden, after all?

Why is the vegetable stand a farther walking distance from the house than the candy shop? I suppose somewhere in there is the element of choice, right? I chose to buy this house. But, hey, the Universe swatted us with the Big Two-by-Four of Enlightenment years ago and said, “Ya’ eedjits, this house is a BARGAIN you will never see again. Buy it now!” We did.

Can we help it if it’s a short walk to Baskin Robbins or Lileds? Was it my fault they moved the Grocery Outlet across the freeway so I actually have to get in my car to get my bargains now? And China Ocean with its artery-blocking delicious General Chicken is a mere 2 blocks away? My closest bodega is El Dos de Oros, my favorite little Mexican grocery named for, of all things, the Two of Pentacles, sort of what I look like trying to manage a few veggies. It happens to be right across the street from my new little favorite restaurant, Quiero Mas with its fiery salsa, flavorful carne asada quesadilla and low, low prices. Yo quiero mas, no problemo.

But I digress. Have my teeth hurt since the last time I was at the dentist? Well, no. I’ve even flossed and gone out of my way to brush my teeth. I never feel self-righteous at the dentist though. It’s like going to an auditor, on purpose. There’s always something I should have done, something I could be doing better.

Trivia time: So did you know that the leading cause of death, death, I’m saying, in the year 1000 wasn’t dragons or swords or plague or plagues of locusts or mead overdoses or even malnutrition? Nope, it was, [insert dramatic pause here] tooth decay. Tooth decay was a cause of death! Sink your teeth into that the next time you visit your dentist or hygienist for a cleaning.

I was impressed this time with the new-fangled technology the hygienist used. I used to suspect they wore masks and gloves to protect their identities since they were, of course, all trained in advanced interrogation techniques a la Dustin Hoffman and Sir Lawrence Olivier’s mano a mano, so to speak, in that old movie. Is it safe?

Well, it’s safer than it used to be. I remember in my tender twenties having to cry uncle to my lower wisdom teeth which insisted on bouncing in and out of my gums. It was like the cat, you know? They’re out, they want in. They’re in, they want out. Zeesh, make up your minds! My dentist back then looked just like Santa Claus on his off hours, so the visions of sugar plums were all guilt-ridden when I visited him. When the critical moment came with forceps—oh, what the heck, they were pliers in anyone else’s toolbox—they slipped off my tooth and whacked me on my upper molars.

Just like that, like lightning, the reflexes honed over time of being ambushed by my older brother like Inspector Clouseau being ambushed by Cato in The Pink Panther, I did it. I gave Dr. Santa Claus a round-house right to his jaw. He reeled and staggered back, not expecting that from the dainty sweet thing in the pink dress.

“Ho, ho, ho,” he laughed—I said Santa Claus, didn’t I? “I guess we’re even!” I apologized profusely, wondering if anyone ever actually died of blushing and we got that wisdom tooth out without further surprises.

So, no, I don’t remember any tooth pain, I told my pert little hygienist in her blue mask and blue gloves, not black like executioners wear. Then she tipped me back so I couldn’t fight back and turned on the power tools including some PowerWash thing that probably loosened everything up down to my toenails.

Damn, I thought. She’s going to get rid of all the good dirt, too!

“Good dirt” was a theory I had developed during my eight years as a secretary back in the old days. (I refuse to say “back in the day” as if there were only one day; there were seemingly endless days.) The typewriter du jour was the IBM Selectric and if you were really lucky you had a Correcting Selectric. This was where I honed my words per minute fingers of flame. Computers came much, much later. Please, no older than dirt jokes, ok?

Inevitably the IBM Repairman, a concept of employment no longer remembered by most people, would come around to service your typewriter. This, I say, had all the charm of the less savory, more barnyard sense of the word service, so I would always step away to be spared the vision of That Man Putting His Hands on my precious machine. And just as inevitably, he would ask, “Have you had any problems lately?”

“No,” I would reply truthfully. “She works like a charm.” Those Selectrics were great workhorses.

When I would return after a discreet amount of time, just as inevitably, something would go wrong with my typewriter.

“It’s the good dirt!” I complained. “That guy took out the good dirt that was holding this thing together!”

He would return, make some adjustments and things would be back to normal again.

Stepping out of the dentist’s office after having negotiated my release for a small fee called a “co-pay” that makes you think someone else is somehow helping you with the payments when it’s just your premiums at work, I wriggled my jaw around. I felt rearranged. Numbers 30 and 31 were a little loose, they said. They call your teeth by numbers just so they don’t have to call them by name. Cowards. That girl took out the good dirt, I swear. And they want to know when I want to come back and do this again.

Best wishes.

Friday, June 22, 2012


The Animas River runs through Durango, Colorado. Formally, Rio de las Animas Perdidas or River of Lost Souls, its dark blue waters with frothy rapids make a rafting recreation haven in the summer for a place usually associated with skiing and the Durango and Silverton Railroad. The water looks cold, which looked wonderfully inviting earlier this week with temperatures in the 90’s.

I was there for my brother-in-law’s memorial service. I wanted to be there for my sister. I wanted to see my other family members. I wanted to talk with Don’s friends and the people in the small community just east of Durango and the Animas River. The weather promised to be warm and dry, too dry really. It is too close to the dry weather they had for the Missionary Ridge fire of 2002. I could still see the scars from that fire, the trunks of burned trees turning the ridges into hedgehogs but not as cute. In ten years there is regrowth, but it will take a long time for tall trees to take the place of the blackened trunks. The fire did not take everything. Oh, there are closed businesses around the lake but that’s the economy that burned up all the money, not the fire, per se.

Selfishly I was glad to spend a little quiet time with my sister and enjoyed the ride from the airport into Durango to get a tired repaired. I found an egg salad sandwich at the convenience store since I could not imagine eating well enough to buy a sandwich at the airport hours earlier for my 6 a.m. flight. We walked to the public library with her two dogs who were happy to sniff the new smells as we passed by a school playground. We sat in shade with young mothers and their toddlers, the dogs hopeful for a rule-breaking bite, disappointed at my resolve to behave in front of my sister.

Perhaps Marilyn would not have thought the time quiet, I reflected. McCords talk, at least most of them do. It can be hard to find the quiet when you put two or more together. We laughed about the time when she wanted to change the tire on my husband’s car when he had a flat in a parking garage in San Francisco. For practice, she had said. He had been happy to let her do it. Now with bigger tires on a four-wheel drive, it seemed better to have an expert do it.

Tea Tarot
(c) Copyright 2011 Marcia McCord
We talked about the arrangements for picking up other relatives at the airport, for food for everyone, for the memorial service the next day. We talked about Don. We walked back to the tire place and picked up the car. We drove to the lake watched by Middle Mountain and the others who stand watch over the little valley, Vallecito. We joked about the time Marilyn’s new car had stalled on the steep drive up to her house and we rolled backwards without brakes to be caught by a willow stump and a power pole, saved from going over the edge to the creek below.

“Don’s going to kill me!” Marilyn had cried once we piled out of the new Subaru that day.

“We’re alive!” I smiled happily and hugged her that day. John and I called it our “backwards and in high heels” trip to Marilyn’s house, high on a ridge at the edge of the San Juan Forest overlooking the little valley and its lake, a ridge that had almost but luckily had not burned in 2002.

We made it up to the house without problems. The dogs were happy to be home and wagged their way to the door. In the thin air of 8,000 feet in elevation, I was once again glad I had packed light, easier on this near-sea-level traveler.

Friends and relatives joined us throughout the afternoon and evening. We told stories. We sampled Don’s legendary wine collection, finding only one or two spoiled bottles. Don’s friends were hikers and skiers, friends for forty years or more. They had funny stories about each other, about Don, about nothing at all. One family of friends told their harrowing story of losing an axle to their camping trailer on their way. My brother and his wife and my niece arrived from New Jersey. Finally, Marilyn’s daughter, whose flight had been delayed, came in, followed by more of Don’s friends. We filled the house with talk and hugs and all the energy of sorrow and love and laughter. We sat around the table into the night.

The service was perfect. We all said so. There was a bagpiper. My brother read a wonderful passage about the wonder of wilderness, of listening to the sounds of water and of how man inevitably changes nature whether he means to or not. I read my blog entry To the Earth almost all the way through without crying. Marilyn scattered Don’s ashes mixed with flower petals, all taken by the wind towards the mountains in the north. It would be where Don would go, I thought, to the mountains with their little crowns of snow. It was his birthday, his scatter-day. The oboe player played the iconic melody from Ken Burns’ Civil War, then “Coming Home” from the New World Symphony. We hugged. We snacked. We dispersed. We retired to Marilyn’s house.

Late that night, the night of the New Moon, I was too hot again, too used to my cool climate near San Francisco. The altitude was evident in my breathing. Ginger lay at the foot of the bed. The night was quiet without even little night noises. The trees stood silent, pointing to the Milky Way. I tiptoed out to the deck outside my room, the room that had been shared by Marilyn and Don in the house they built from Don’s vision. I sat on the chair and looked to the stars who said nothing.

“Filthy Don,” they called him, for a hiking trip that resulted in the hikers being less-than-pristine at the end. Silent Don, I said to myself, hearing his voice in the night as loudly as if he were sitting next to me, for Don was always a quiet man. Somewhere, like the Judgement card in the Tarot, those ashes were rising up past the pointing trees to become the twinkling of stars overhead, not a lost soul like the river’s name. No, not lost. Found.

Best wishes.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

I Say No to Ice Cream

It doesn’t really make any sense, does it? I just turned down my husband’s offer of a dish of ice cream. I can’t figure it out myself, but for some reason I’m a lot more interested in glass after glass of ice water in the evening while I watch the San Francisco Giants on TV. It was a warm day and we have the big fan on to pull in the cool night air. The cats are still moving slowly from the warmth of the day, although Pixie did just take a flying leap from the front door to the end table. She’s young. She has years to sleep like an adult cat.
Victorian Trade Card Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

I love evenings like this at home. Whoops, Brandon Belt just hit a home run that splashed into San Francisco Bay and now the score is 6-2 Giants! I indulged myself earlier in the evening with an episode of Lost Girl. Our star, an unaffiliated Fae who just happens to be a succubus, tried to help out her friend the bar owner (there’s more to that story, I’m sure) and her friend the doctor. Her sidekick took a turn entertaining the wild-child daughter of a dignitary with the “usual unpredictable” results. I’m waiting for Dyson to get cured of his enchanted indifference to Bo, myself.

I watch Giants television (that’s baseball, not Fae now; I’m back to the present. Stay with me) as much for the announcers as I do for the sport. One of them just commented that his fellow announcer would be able to recount the details of tonight’s game whether he had seen it or not. That’s the mark of a true announcer! Baseball is my idea of reality TV. I have to agree with my friend Dan “Mr. Crankypants” Pelletier. Baseball is an entire deck of tarot cards.

My husband rails at the announcers as they tread on superstitious ground. There are things you don’t say during a baseball game. There’s an old song by Jim Croce about all the things you don’t do. You don’t spit into the wind. You don’t pull off the mask of the Lone Ranger. You don’t mess around with Jim. The Hubs is such an easy-going guy that people probably don’t realize he’s a stickler for baseball protocol. The last two words of the National Anthem are “play ball.” You don’t talk about a no-hitter during the game because it will ruin it. This is why the movie Bull Durham explains the Church of Baseball. It’s a matter of faith, not logic.

As delightful as this evening is in its small ways, I am so glad I was able to get away this past weekend. How could I possibly need a break from this beautiful life I have? No, I’m not worthy.

I had told people that I really needed the weekend away. It wasn’t that I needed to get away from my husband; he’s an angel, even when he’s screaming at the television for the announcers not to jinx the ballgame.

Oh, they won, by the way. Tonight’s game, I mean.

I really needed to get away from a little bit of the stress of work. The tension has been building for software releases, the usual changes at the last minute, the usual changes in tactics and strategy, the usual tension from management trickling down to the next level whether they mean for it to or not. My favorite way to unwind is to unplug and go to nature. A weekend in the redwoods started to sound like an emergency by mid-week last week.

I’m not worthy of my lovely friends who stole a weekend from their busy lives, either. We had our semi-annual Goddess Weekend in the redwoods last weekend. Not everyone could be there this time; we were only four for the weekend. The four of us have careers in technology in common, so we waxed geek with each other long into the night over a lentil soup, minted cucumber yogurt salad and tabouleh. We watched a chick flick, One for the Money, a Stephanie Plum romp.

I meant to get up early on Saturday but I slept until almost 9 am. We indulged in the nearby natural wonders of shopping. Oops, that’s not nature, but we indulged. I found a couple more of my favorite tie-dyed dresses. I chatted with the cats and dogs in the shops we visited. We lounged in the sun and in the shade. We laughed uncontrollably at a battery-operated motion-activated rolling and laughing cat. My friend Kaye couldn’t resist and bought the dog model of the laugh machine. It was for her dog, she said.
We stopped at Duncans Mills for lunch and decided to skip lunch and go for dessert. Goddess weekends are like that. We split this apple cake with buttermilk syrup confection, a celestial treat something like tres leches cake only richer somehow. I had iced tea to offset the calorie load as if that would help.

We shopped some more, stopping at the Saturday flea market that is a mainstay of the Safeway parking lot in Guerneville. Ah, the glass lampshade for my back porch I had been looking for and for only $3!

We determined to go out to dinner Saturday night. Usually we are not that well-organized and succumb to leftovers. No, this time was a treat. We dined al fresco under the redwoods with glorious views of the coastal hills. We made friends with the cute little girl playing with her Dad’s cane at the next table, found out about his dreadful knee accident, rubbing our own knees in sympathy.
We retreated to the house we had rented and attempted our traditional craft project. This time we decorated glass vases with glued on glass doodads, fussed about the quality of the glue, despaired of the glue ever bonding, frowned over Ronda’s round vase with its extra challenges. All the while, we told each other the story of our lives, our jobs, our families, our men, our pets, our gardening triumphs and failures.

Another breakfast the next morning and then the real healing: A walk in Armstrong Grove where we took pictures with our cell phones, revered the cathedral-like trees and played with bubble stuff.
“Redwoods grow like a mother surrounded by her children,” I murmured, not sure if anyone was listening or needed to. “I wonder why people keep naming trees for men when the trees seem so obviously like moms?” The sunlight bounced through the green tops far above onto the large oxalis on the ground. This was a place of spirit.

Back at the house, I read tarot for everyone. Kaye insisted on a reading for me too. Yup, I need to pay more attention to details, money stuff, home stuff, health stuff. Yup.

My 8 of Cups weekend ended, my journey away from what I love for a little side-trip to the reconnection to nature that I crave. I went back home to those I love most, my dear husband, my little family. I think I can handle the workaday world again now. Sometimes you don’t need the ice cream.

Best wishes.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Devil’s Line

My friend Sandy retired after working for the same company for 38 years. She looks just a shade over 38, maybe a shade under, so people were always shocked and confused when they learned how long she had worked there. In today’s job environment, her accomplishment is nothing short of a miracle. Oh, and she's gorgeous and funny and smart, just to set the stage.

I know she has mixed feelings about leaving the place she had dedicated so many of her waking hours to from the time she was a child to now, now when she’s old enough to know better and still young enough to consider it, whatever it is.

She’s a dedicated wife, mother and grandmother. Her family has experienced a lot of ups and downs. It’s America. It’s 2012. She’s so fortunate that she has been able to complete a career and go home to spend time with her family.

I’ll miss her at work. She and I had a rule: Only one of us could cry per day. We stressed out about a lot of the same things, experienced a lot of the same disappointments, disagreements, points of view, values, likes and dislikes. We worked well together. She had the long-time business experience and I had some hard technical experience at several corporations. Sometimes people called us by the other’s name. As much as we wanted individual identities in our work, we both thought the mix-ups were fun.

When work is consistently not fun, it’s time to make a change. It wasn’t just work that wasn’t fun. Retirement seemed like the best answer for her in my opinion but it’s a delicate decision.

Leaving a company you’ve been part of for 38 years is a lot like divorce. You want to give it second chances. You want some kind of counseling, an alternative opinion, a different way of looking at things. You think of the good part, the good times, what does work about the relationship, why you originally thought it was a good idea in the first place. Sure, the relationship has changed. You’re no longer the innocent kid and, well, lots of things have changed. You can just about predict behavior, responses, “new” ideas that aren’t really new. But it’s hard to let go. It’s the devil you know, have known for years, the one that has felt like the better choice for so long.

You fall for the smallest shred of hope. You cling to compliments, the promise of a better tomorrow. But it’s still the devil you know. And when the devil you know becomes just wrong for you, maybe not wrong all over, but wrong for you, then, then finally, it is time to go.

Do I make it sound like she was worn out and past her effectiveness? Oh, not at all. I loved the fact that she had so much history at the company. I teased her that she not only knew where the “bodies were buried,” she had pictures, the witness list, the negatives, film, tape recordings, an entire documentary of the back story on how so many decisions were made, so many careers won and lost. She helped me navigate some of the corporate political swamp, pointing out the alligators and quicksand. She’s quick, bright, savvy, and articulate. She’s fantastic at presentations. She understands the short and long term effects of change on a corporate landscape. She’s a great predictor of outcomes. She knew which projects were winners and which ones were poison. Better than that, she was so, so often right. Those abilities have only grown, not faded over time.

Picture Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord
She did have a series of personal difficulties and with enough stressors after work adding to the already stressful work engine magnified every flaw, every slight, every disappointment. A more stable work environment, some sincere appreciation of her efforts, some public recognition, acknowledgement, reward, all that would have kept her going. But that didn’t happen. After 38 years, you’d think somehow you would have “arrived.”

The Devil isn’t like that though. You put in your time with him and you exercise all your best and worst, you grow in ways you never thought you would, and yet, what you get from him is…indifference.

The sad fact is that the Devil doesn’t care. Those chains? You put them there. They seemed like security at the time. With a little clarifying perspective, a shake-up to help you remember what you really love, you look down at those chains that once felt like the reins that drove the Chariot of your career and realize they are holding you back. It was fun for a while, maybe like Sandy, fun for a long while. All the fresh-start promises the Devil makes are really just another room in hell and you’re pounding rocks again. It’s keeping you away from what you love.

That’s how you know it’s time to go. You know finally what you want has changed and not changed all at once. You always loved your life, your family, your home. That’s what you were working for, right? But somehow, the work became your life and you put so much of yourself into it. If you had any passion at all for your work, when it dies, it hurts.

If you’re lucky, you come out on the other side like Sandy has, with your family, retirement, home, time and energy to enjoy all of that. You try to let go of the fact that you aren’t somehow getting a medal for all you’ve done, sweated and slaved over, endured other people’s and your own tears, fears and tantrums. You realize that, like Dorothy and everyone else in the Wizard of Oz, you already have the prize you wanted to be awarded.

It’s confusing. What were you doing for 38 years then, buying the Devil’s line? Like the Devil in tarot, you were learning a lesson. You learned what was really important to you, really. And wrenching as it is, you learned to choose it with passion and ease and grace and dignity. You learned that you are starting over every day. And, instead of that feeling like a setback, it feels good, fresh, like the air after a morning rain.

Best wishes, always.