Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Normal Crime

A Facebook friend of mine just got her house broken into and her purse stolen. She’s dealing with all the feelings of anger, loss and violation. It’s an “everyday” crime that in many overtaxed police departments gets very little attention.

There’s often little chance that the stolen items will be recovered, little chance that they will catch the people who did it. It’s only property, they say. It’s more of course, but so often the thing you lose in a situation like that can’t be brought back, like your sense of safety and peace of mind or your faith in your fellow human beings.

Yes, the police are right of course. It could be worse. She could have been there, been hurt in a much more violent crime. It’s small consolation at the time. Part of the problem is that it’s hard to know where to direct your anger when you don’t know who did it.

Before I met him, the Hubs suffered a similar crime. While he was out, someone broke into the cottage where he lived, stole family heirlooms and, inexplicably, set fire to the cottage. His cats died in the fire. Why set the fire? Why kill the cats? Why not just take the stuff and go? I didn’t even know those cats and my heart aches at the thought of someone doing that in my home, to my little critters. I miss the Molly and Garfield I never knew.

Even after we met while the Hubs still had his cottage, we went out briefly to shop for our Football Pool Dinner and while we were at the grocery store, someone who wore athletic shoes with a distinctive pattern kicked in the door and stole what little was left of value. At least that time, the cats, the ones who replaced those who died, were left alive.

No one was hurt? Hardly true. My friend lost photographs she hadn’t downloaded. My husband lost his precious pets and family pieces that he would have liked giving to his nephews. I hope the people who did these things get prosecuted for something, even if it isn’t this specific crime.

My own brushes with senseless crimes were thankfully harmless to me physically. My first job out of college had me working in an attorney’s office. Our office specialized in wills, trust and real estate and the most unsavory characters in the office were often long-standing clients with big ideas about a real estate deal. While we didn’t handle many criminal cases, we did enthusiastically read the newspapers and occasionally listen to the radio. When something spectacularly silly happened in the crime section, we hooted with glee and with our honed, imaginative and some legal minds we Monday morning quarterbacked the latest stupid criminal antics.

My favorite stupid crime was The Bank Job. Two or three kids sought to rob one of the local banks in our smallish down in southern Illinois and made a dash for the county line. They never made it that far. They were apprehended with the loot and charged appropriately. It wasn’t that they didn’t drive a fast getaway car. It’s just that it was maroon, with large fins in the rear and had “Devils” painted on it.

If they wanted to be famous, they made it, at least for a week or two. They were famous for being unable to sneak across the county line with any subtlety. As I recall, no one was hurt. You can’t count the stitches in our sides as injuries.

By far the most remarkable stupid criminal encounter was the time I had my wallet stolen out of my car.

OK, I admit, there’s some element of the stupid victim here. So I confess that I left my purse wide open on the front seat of my car with the windows rolled down and the doors unlocked on a summer afternoon. I had run to the back of my landlord-boyfriend’s Victorian house, one last trip while we were finishing up a repair/restoration to ready the house for the coming fall semester and the new houseful of irresponsible and destructive college boys who would nearly gut the house by the end of the college year. While in the back, picking up keys or whatever, the criminals stole my wallet out of my purse.

This all seems normal. Except, of course, that this was Normal, Illinois. It’s a name that sets up false expectations at best.

Stuff happened in Normal that you didn’t expect. While I lived in southern Illinois, I grew used to college students abandoning their pedigreed dogs into packs of roving aristocrats of all shapes and sizes. I grew used to it but could never stomach it. But in Normal, the variation on that theme took a different flavor. The college boys in one of the landlord/boyfriend’s houses abandoned their pet who hid somewhere in the rambling house after escaping his usual quarters. The boys left for home, unable to find it until it showed up on the sofa one day. You just don’t expect a large boa constrictor on a sofa in an empty house.

Another time and at another landlord’s house, the kids having the party on the second floor got into boogying rhythm to Love Shack or whatever and danced the second floor right down on top of the first floor, collapsing the inside of the house. That was Normal.

So in the reddening sunset back at my car I realized my wallet had been lifted and I cursed the idiot who stole it and the idiot who left her purse in her open car. The good news is they caught the guys.

It seems that two traveling Bible salesmen from Texas (nope, you can’t make this stuff up) had fallen on bad times. The older black gentleman had convinced his younger and considerably dumber blond compadre to grab the wallet and while at the nearest gas station they gassed up where Dumbo the Blondie used my credit card and my driver’s license as identification and attempted to forge my name.

These two masterminds got as far as Peoria, due to the quick thinking of the gas station manager who had the cool to accept the transaction without confronting them or pointing out that Blondie sure didn’t look like a Marcia and to write down their license plate. Like the traditional “book meaning” of the 7 of Swords, they thought they got away with it.

After almost enjoying a sandwich and a beer at a motel coffee shop, they were arrested and charged. The older guy got off with time served once they had spent maybe 30 days in jail awaiting trial with no bail to post because he never actually signed anything, but the younger guy had made the error of signing my name to compound his petty theft with a felony, forgery.

They had made phone calls to Alabama on my long distance card and they had tossed my nice wallet and my favorite photos out of the window somewhere between Normal and Peoria. I could never drive that road again without hoping for a glint of brightly colored oxblood leather and the photographs I would never see again.

Lock your car. Take your keys. And watch out for those Bible salesmen from Texas.

Best wishes.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Gone Cat

My husband just walked out the door with Eleanor. Eleanor is a cat, our black and white long-hair, histrionic, five-pound screamer who is the Omega Cat in the house. Whatever happens, she comes in last and she and all the other creatures of our little forest know this. Eleanor has had the sneezes for about a week but otherwise seems OK. Her eyes aren’t runny or half-closed the way sick cats can get.

Eleanor prefers to stay in the breakfast room which is my husband’s home office. I’m not sure what made him decide to take her to the vet now but I’m thinking it was just one little sneeze too many for him.

Since he didn’t warn me he was going to do this, I quietly had a panic attack.

As he walked out of the door with Eleanor squalling with every breath, he was on the telephone where he has been a great deal of the afternoon working on some work-related issue. And because he was on the telephone, I couldn’t talk to him.

He doesn’t realize what a nightmare this was for me, one that played out over and over again throughout my childhood. And because I was aware of it, I didn’t exactly freak out at him. I did dial his number frantically for about 15 minutes until I could talk to him. But I didn’t totally lose it. I feel good about this. This is progress for me. I’m coming back down from my panic now and my heart rate and breathing are closer to normal.


I mentioned recently that my first dog Clementine was my pet for only a brief time and then the dogs had to go away. That was a recurring pattern. We would have pets, cats, dogs, a rat, a snake, a mouse, fish, even the chickens. Then, without warning one day my father would take them all away. He did not do that with my parakeet. He did not do that with my mother’s dog Pierre. But, the losses were nearly unbearable for me.

I would come home to find my cat gone. My father would lie to me and tell me that my cat had been adopted by a family with a little girl. I am pretty sure they thought I would get over it.

But I didn’t, partly because it would happen again and again.

Sheba was such an unusual looking cat for the alley variety. She had “ticking” or tipped fur, no stripes except eyeliner and a butterscotch tummy. She looked like a fluffy mountain lion in a way. She liked hunting a bit and was fond of the small lizards common in our central Florida yard. She was patient with me in such a maternal fashion that I imagined she thought of me as a large homely kitten. In the 1960’s, it was rare for owners to do anything more for a housecat than feed it, so Sheba had at least one litter of kittens and stayed outside all the time no matter how much I begged to have her come indoors. Fleas were common. Ticks were occasional. Cat lives were shorter. I was convinced I was Sheba’s student in learning all things cat.

Then, one day, all the cats were gone. Daddy had taken them all to the pound which was not called a humane shelter because it was neither humane nor shelter. Daddy lied and said a family had adopted Sheba but I knew he had specified they all be killed. Daddy had a certain look when he lied that I knew.

I mourned the loss of my teacher, my friend, my cat for years. She represented my helplessness in the wake of adult power and responsibility.

This scene repeated itself. My little dog Mitzi who had made the “mistake” of trying to bite the man who brought the bottled water for our water cooler was taken away. Suzi who had too many puppies and who, in classic beagle fashion, liked to escape the confines of the fenced yard and run throughout the neighborhood was taken away.

When we moved to New Mexico, our dogs all caught distemper. Because everyone in the family had a favorite dog and the expense of saving them was too high, Daddy decided to save none of them and they all perished, Beau, Ajax, Bill, Jacques and Jem.

Oh, there were other losses, too, that weren’t at the hands of my parents. Cars hit Pierre, Dickens, Benji and Calico. Some budding psychopath stole Misty and tortured and killed her along with scores of other pets. But all of it grew and grew within me, the knowledge that there was a better way to treat these little creatures we brought into our lives. It wasn’t evil cars or junior serial killers that needed fixing.

Finally, one day while I was in high school, I came home to find that Daddy had taken Meph, my long-haired black cat who had a delightful personality, out far into the New Mexico countryside with her latest litter of kittens and dumped her. Daddy lied again: She’s going to be near a barn where there are lots of mice. She will be happy. I knew better. I cried and screamed in frustration for days. My father set his jaw the way he did when he didn’t want to say what he was thinking.

A few days later, Meph showed up, thin, worn, sans kittens. But she was home. My father was astounded. I picked her up and held her, wheeled around and blazed at my Dad, “You. Will. NEVER. Take. My. Pets. Away. Again.”

My ferocity scared him, I think. He understood, finally, that the way we treat these little ones is so often an echo of how we treat each other. I would have happily taken him out to the countryside and left him in a field that day, lying to myself and everyone else that he would find mice in a barn and live some false fairy tale.

Meph lived another ten years with my parents and then with me after I moved away from home. She had no more kittens because I paid to have her spayed. She had a heated, elevated, insulated house in my backyard and, when no one else was around, she got to come inside and stay with me. She brought me mice each day from her catch and laid them on the front steps of my little house. She hunted chipmunks. She came to my specific whistle. She didn’t mind the dog so much. She died peacefully in my arms when the cancer became too much for her to bear.


Eleanor is fine. Dr. C at the veterinary hospital sent her home with some kitty vitamins because she likely has a mild virus, the common cold in the feline variety. Ellie still has the sneezles but she was actually pleased with all the extra attention.

And I kissed and hugged my husband, who, after all, isn’t the monster who took my babies away but the Nicest Man in the World who made the appointment with the vet to make sure Ellie-Bellie would get well again.

My little 6 of Cups in Tarot, memories of childhood, had been set aright and what I vowed as a helpless child to be when I was a “powerful” adult was still intact. I will take care of my critters as if they were the most precious things in the Universe, mostly because they are.

Best wishes.


I will be reading Tarot on September 29, 2012 in Petaluma, CA at Halloween and Vine! Click on the link to get directions and take a peek at the other fabulous vendors who will be there like ... Sharon Bloom!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

After Clouds Sunshine

My brother had a band in high school, guitars, keyboards, drums, vocals, the whole deal. It was not a “hair band” or a “metal band”. Those concepts weren’t part of the lexicon of youth yet. These were guys who wanted to play rock music with electric guitars.

Dust Bunny Lenormand
(c) Copyright 2012 Marcia McCord
They played at our high school dances and were rivals to the other band in town. It wasn’t a rivalry like New York and Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles; it was something of a sneering truce. Since our little town in New Mexico was blessed with two dance bands, we had dances nearly every weekend.

“Noise,” Daddy said.

We laughed at him. It was our noise. Daddy had played oboe in high school, maybe a million years earlier. Although later famous groups would incorporate more than the rock band basics with stunning success, oboe was a laughable instrument when considered with guitars, drums and keyboards during our high school dance years.

I think those may have been the years when my brother hated having a little sister more than any others. After all, what could be more fascinating than slightly-older high school boys who sky-rocketed to instant stardom, locally of course, to a spirited teen-aged sister? And what could be more distracting during a band practice than a flirtatious and devoted younger fan? So, a lot of band practices happened somewhere else.

My best friend had an eye for the sometimes-drummer in the band, a slow-talking, muscular blond with an easy grin and fabulously restored 50’s sedan with leopard-print upholstery and the latest in technology, an 8-track tape. Steve would take us and half a dozen other kids to lunch in his car, usually the A&W where we would order taquitas and sodas and listen to his 8-track.

My friend was a Scorpio and was perfecting the art of being the Mystery Woman. An Aries, I was hopelessly lost in the concept of mystery and the feminine mystique. For me, yes meant yes and no meant no and if you liked someone, you said so. I was as subtle as a sledge-hammer.

I was never sure the guys liked me because of my grades. No one asked me, but if they had, I would have told them I thought it was just plain stupid to be afraid of me because of my I.Q. Well, OK, in retrospect I can see they had a point. “Don’t-hold-back-Marcia” would be a nickname I gained even after I had learned subtlety. But, hey, what would be so scary about a little witty repartee or verbal jousting or mental gymnastics? I mean, what else was flirtation, anyway? I wasn’t trying to win, for goodness’ sake; I was trying to keep up. I’m not sure many of the guys I knew got that about me. It was probably for the best though, like most things that seem like disasters in dating in high school.

I didn’t have a height requirement. At 5’ 1” I considered myself one-size-fits-all. At least I did until I was asked to dance with one tall cowboy one time when my brother’s band was playing. It was a slow dance and the guy was polite and didn’t try anything ungentlemanly. It’s just that he was probably 6’ 6” and I spent the entire song unable to hear a word he said. I was tempted to quip, “How’s the air up there?” Otherwise, I stared at the guy’s belt buckle which, since he was a cowboy, was at least a little more interesting than usual. At that point, I realized I probably did have a height requirement for a guy that was an upper limit of maybe 6’ 1”. No offense to the really tall guys, but when you have Mercury as heavily aspected in your astrology chart as I do, good grief, I want you to talk to me.

Art Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

This led me to like two very different kinds of guys. I had a special affinity for the fast talkers, the Tarot’s Magician types. I loved to be entertained and some of my favorite guys were natural entertainers. I adored them, in spite of their weaknesses, which I would staunchly deny anyway. After all, the show must go on! Little did they know that it was actually the little slips, the betrayals of imperfections that made the performers dear to me.

The other kind of guy who caught my eye was the Cypher, the guys who said nearly nothing at all. It didn’t make sense, unless you realize that we pick our own Devil in the Tarot and life.

Art Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

See, as my husband so kindly points out on occasion in the gentlest possible way, I made the classic “girl mistake.” I figured the quiet ones were thinking. It was a challenge to get them to open up and talk as they had never done before. After all, they would feel so much better, right?

It took me a while to really realize that my mother wasn’t just in a very bad mood all the time; she was an introvert. But I had used her example as a template and mistakenly applied it to the quiet guys. After all, my quiet mother was always thinking something even though she didn’t say much; these guys must be doing the same thing. It took me many more years after high school to realize that one of the reasons boys are quiet in high school is that they don’t always have a lot going on that would be stunning conversation with a girl they liked, or might like or even didn’t like.

So, like a muddy puppy, I would occasionally pounce on an unsuspecting quiet guy and try to get him to talk to me. Depending on exactly what bait he took, I would go away sooner or later and try to talk to some other more pliable subject. Or someone who spoke at all.

The guys in the band were just the perfect tantalizing snack for me as a mini-man-eater. They weren’t allowed to talk, not while they were performing. Lots of them hold their mouths funny when they are concentrating on guitar riffs or whathaveyou. It was like my own personal arcade, these guys in the band. I tried to get them to talk, flirt, sharpen their minds, trade bon mots, and engage in conversational duels. Most of the time, I found out, they hadn’t heard a thing I said; they were too busy looking at my chest.

Cripes, guys, get over the chest thing, I thought. The real circus is in the mind!

The naming of a band can be a tender thing. My brother’s band’s name was “After Clouds Sunshine.” It was named for a needlepoint motto from the previous century we found in Mom's antique shop and was just nearly-nonsense enough to pass for a band name. As good as any Strawberry Alarm Clock, we figured.

A long gap after school and New Mexico and high school dances were just a memory, I chanced to marry one of the guys in that band. At the time he had been something of a blend, a performer who talked in bursts, who seemed to be a leader of his friends, and who didn’t seem to mind the muddy puppy/talking thing I did. But neither of us was the person we had known when we dated in high school and it was, alas, a mistake to marry.

And yet, like my Dust Bunny Lenormand cards of the Clouds and the Sun, while happiness was not something he and I found with each other, only the memory of ourselves when we were young and full of hope and little understanding, after the clouds of our failed relationship, I did, after all, find sunshine with my adorable Hubs who is both Magician and Cypher and just the right height, a man who brings me laughter every day. And he has the most boring belt buckles.

After clouds, then, finally, there was sunshine.
Best wishes.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Pizza Night

“Let’s treat the kids to pizza tonight,” John said. “They’ve been working so hard moving here.”

“They could use a break,” I agreed.

Aaron and his wife had just moved here from southern California with their adorable 18-month-old son. Aaron had called and asked if he could join the rugby team, a move that utterly melted The Hubs’ heart from the first moment. Aaron is a great blue-eyed freckled giant, a medical intern and former policeman, great rugby material and something of a Renaissance man. His wife is a spunky pixie, hardy and utterly devoted to their son who is a clever angel whose beginning language skills include sign language.

We had helped them find a cute little house to rent near our friend Mimi. John had described nearby shopping and we had offered them a spare refrigerator that wasn’t needed after all. We knew what it was like being young, starting a new adventure in a new place, moving and living out of boxes.

We wanted them to know that our town can be a welcoming place with nice people, support systems. We wanted them to feel they had people they can call on for help. We felt vaguely parental, of course, but want to introduce them to people their own age too. We plotted to have them come to a holiday picnic as our guests so they can meet more people and start to feel that this could be something like home, no matter how long they stay.

I had worked hard all week and the thought of a Napoli pizza was a treat, a reward for wrestling with software analysis and stubborn co-workers. My work Friday had ended on a quietly happy note. A last-minute request from someone I had met with a few weeks ago came in. Everyone else had gone home for the holiday weekend and we laughed at the thought that we were the only people at work so late. I was pleased she had taken my suggestion for an easy solution and it took just a matter of minutes to update the system so she could track the success of her workgroup’s efforts. It was satisfying to be able to help someone quickly and make her work life just a little easier. I was ready for the holiday weekend.

The Hubs has long declared Napoli pizza as “the best pizza in the world.” He accepts no arguments. His decision is final. Tony and his family run Napoli’s. The one closest to the rugby pitch is the mothership, but there are two other newer locations. We like the old place. We are always interested in who is making the pizza tonight. For instance, if it’s John (not The Hubs) we know we will get the thin-crust, extra-crispy we have in mind. We love Tony too, but typical of any owner, Tony has very specific ideas of what a pizza should be. He has a special mix of sausage that is celestial.

For 15 years we have ordered a “Tony’s Special, thin crust, extra crispy.” It was so predictable, when we called it in, they knew our voices and responded, “OK, one John Kelly Special!” Then last year we changed our order. Now we order pepperoni, mushrooms and double sausage, still thin crust, still extra crispy. You’ve got to keep your pizza people on their toes, right?

We met the kids at Napoli’s and even at 6:30 pm, ok, 6:45 pm it was crowded. We usually order take-out so I was surprised it was so busy so early. But we got a booth and started playing with the baby instead of looking at the menu. After all, we knew what we wanted. So did Aaron’s son, who clearly gestured towards the cup of ice water that he please wanted an ice cube right now.

We ordered our pizzas, a pitcher of beer and I threw caution to the wind and ordered a diet Pepsi. We clinked our glasses together in toast to welcome them to Vallejo and continued talking about their move, the house they rented, what to do with the floors, the old Wedgewood stove, how to repair the space in the fence where the dogs can get out.

Then Aaron’s eyes riveted past my shoulder and an uproar, a hubbub started. Someone yelled, “Get out! Get out!” Someone said, “Gun.”

I turned around and uniformed and padded officers came through the glass doorway with assault rifles and turned through the second dining room towards the restaurant’s rest rooms.

“Get out! Get out!”

I grabbed my purse and turned out of the booth. There was pizza splattered on the floor between me and the doorway. Someone dropped their pizza, I thought. It’s funny what occurs to you in an emergency. I dropped to the floor, thinking if there’s gunfire, it will be about waist-high. I felt The Hubs drop on top of me.

That’s so sweet, I thought. He’s protecting me. But he’s likely to get himself killed doing it.

He pushed me up. I dodged the spilled pizza slices, not wanting to tear my knee up again and slipped out the front door to the sidewalk. I pulled my Pashmina shawl around me and kept walking. There were police cars everywhere. Down the sidewalk, a uniformed policeman beckoned me.

“Come on,” he said urgently, gently. “Keep going.”

Where was my husband? Where were Aaron, his wife and the baby? I couldn’t look back, sure a bullet would find me in the bright twilight if I did. I walked past the barbershop to the fence that bordered the vacant lot next to the barber. I put my arms on the fence and sobbed. A young woman, someone I do not know, came up behind me and said, “Breathe with me.”

“Yes,” I said. Inhale, one, two, three, exhale. And again. She was no longer there. I turned to see she had run across the usually busy street to be with a friend. And John was there suddenly, talking to the men from the barbershop. He hugged me. They asked me if I wanted to sit down. I did. They asked me if I wanted some water. I did. I choked back more sobs.

A thin, tousle-haired young man with his arms behind him lurched in front of the barbershop windows, shouting over his shoulder, another uniformed policeman holding his cuffed wrists. He wore a baseball jersey. Not the Giants, I thought. No, he’s not on my team. He looked at me, agitated but without the wild-eyes of insanity. I was curious, stunned. This was the face of Death, so ordinary, so impersonal.

“He’s gone now,” an officer said. I walked out of the barbershop where John was talking. I thanked them and hugged the big guy who had brought me water. Aaron, his wife and baby were there and Aaron hugged me.

We went back to Napoli’s, sat down in our booth. Our waitress brought our pizzas. One of the officers came around to each of the tables and apologized for disturbing our dinner. I held his hand for a moment. We ate. I tried to be normal again. We joked about the picnic on Sunday being a lot less exciting than this. No one was hurt but I don’t think I will be the same.

On our way home I told John, “I think that was the best pizza I ever had.”

Best wishes.