S-Boys: Episode 14 – Fan Transfer

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I’ve got from 1.3 to 3.2 million viewers on my various SNS sites–I mean on my own verified sites for Sierra Summer. Yes, there still are fans of old folk singers out there, especially when we get a little politically active and outspoken on social media.

I figure a portion of my fanbase will slide over to support the S-Boys. The hard-core fans will, for sure, those that call themselves MountainHeads.

The curious will at least check out the boys’ teasers and first releases.

And then the fans-who-love-to-hate. Of course, they’ll find something wrong with everything. Selling out. Capitalizing on creatives. Ripping off young talent. Copycats. They’ll come up with something to hate. But that’s part of the plan, too. Fan wars provide the best promotion any producer could hope for.

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I’ve been posting teasers since before I started recruiting.

“Something big coming up!”

Everybody started guessing. Most guessed I’d stage a comeback. Nobody guessed boy-band.

On Instagram, I posted a pic of me painting.

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“Guess what this is?”

A few guessed right: an album cover.

But they’re all still thinking it’s a cover for my own release.

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We haven’t yet decided which painting we’ll use. I kinda like the trees, since the album will be called Rainbow Apollo, but Vee-Jay and Akira like the absurd wit of the hat cat and the apple-nose dog.

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Who knows? Maybe one of the guys will paint the cover we end up using. I posted this teaser of Joey with the caption, “More than one painter in the house.”

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I didn’t share the actual painting.

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Akira’s had his V-Live, letting his fans know that something big is coming up. And I’ve been planning the release of teasers of each of the others.

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I posted a selfie I took at the computer. I made sure to show Rylan in the background.

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“No. That’s not a nephew,” I wrote in the caption. #SomethingBigComingUp.

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I posted a pic on Instragram of Tony working out.

“Apollo loves the gym!” I wrote.

I’d let them guess whether Apollo was the godlike man or the sunburst dog.

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On Soundcloud, I posted 15 seconds of “You make me feel.”

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It got 2.2 million likes!

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All the comments guessed that this was my backup band.

“If we fail,” Akira said, “maybe we really can be your backup band?”

“That’s not a bad worst-case scenario,” mused Joey.

“I always wanted to sing backup,” Akira said.

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“Akira!” I called him into the other room. “You can’t talk like that,” I said. “Even in joking. At this stage, you’ve got have maximum confidence. None of these guys have experience, like you do. They all look up to you! If you start doubting yourself, they’ll doubt themselves. Look. Your fans. My fans. You guys are gonna make it! You’re good!”

“You really think so?”

“I do,” I replied. Truth be told, I actually wasn’t sure they were good. But I knew they had something different, something unique. Something no one else could deliver. And right then, when we were gearing up for their debut, doubt would ruin it. “You’ve got be confidence. That’s what the boys need.”

He marched back into the kitchen.

“Heck. We aren’t no backup band, boys. We’re idols. Close your eyes and see it. Dream it, boys!”

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Later that day, Vee-Jay was still dreaming.

“Here’s how it’ll be,” Akira said, narrating the dream. “For thousands of people, our songs will make a difference. Our songs will give them a reason to smile when they wake up. We’ll make them happy on their road trips! We’ll be their soundtrack when they’re doing their math homework! When they’ve got heartache, they’ll listen to us!”

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‘Millions of people happy‘,” said Vee-Jay, “just like Kermie said!”

“Well, I don’t know about millions,” replied Akira. “We’re not Sierra yet!”

But I had hopes, even then.

Tony’s voice was coming along.

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He was even working on his moves.

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And Rylan? Quiet, thoughtful, sensitive Rylan… he could break a heart with that tenor of his… and then, he’d mend it, on the spot.

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Yeah, I was thinking we were just about ready for the fan transfer. And then, we could think about attracting new fans, too. Pretty soon, we were gonna need a name for our fandom. Geekers? Nerdsquad? How about Daydreams!

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Author’s note: Hi, everyone! I’m back! I wasn’t really gone… I was just taking a break from Sims and writing. I wrote over 1,200 posts over the past four years! I was due for a short break… I’ve been having fun with ElderScrolls Online, busy with work, and enjoying my garden. Now, I’m happy to be back writing Sims stories. I might be writing an ESO fanfic, too. Not sure how often I’ll be posting, but it’s the enjoyment, not the frequency, right? Happy thoughts to you, and I hope you’re all well and enjoying much-deserved breaks when you need and want them!

 

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S-Boys: Episode 13 – Dating Ban

dban05

The boys started developing real chemistry–not like ammonium nitrate and powdered aluminum, kaboom! More like crushed rose petals and water, sweet! A grooving solution.

They started sounding good together, too.

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Wouldn’t be long, and I’d start giving them some 72 hour missions: quick covers we’d video and release on YouTube as teasers. We’d record their preparation, too, so our early fans could get a taste of how they worked together.

Akira clearly was the leader–everybody followed him. He led them into riff on one of my old tunes, Fiddle Up a Creek.

dban08

Tony called me over when they finished.

“Miss Sierra,” he said. He’d taken to calling me that, like a schoolboy. It caught on with the other guys, too. More as a joke, than anything, but underneath the joking was a liner of respect, so I didn’t object. “I like your song,” he continued. “I just can’t get the base line right. Sing it with me?”

I took the melody. He beatboxed along, and then launched into a low harmony.

Like a fiddle up a creek

Mama, make my knees go weak.

When the devil’s got the bow

Got some trouble we could sow.

dban06

“That was great, Tony,” I said when we finished. “That beatboxing is really helping your rhythm, and your base line is just fine.”

“Thank you, Miss.”

It was autumn. We’d been training for six weeks. So far, it started looking like each of the guys would make it through the three-month clause.

I headed out to rake leaves. We coulda hired a gardener–we coulda hired twelve. The boys could chip in, and they sometimes did. But I found that the garden work kept me relaxed, and there’s nothing like repetitive physical labor, i.e. raking leaves, to develop focus.

I was planning the covers for our 72-hour challenges. We’d do unit groups, I’d decided.

“Sierra?”

I turned to see Akira walking towards me.

“Akira! You sounded great in there. What’s up?”

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“Been doing a lot of thinking,” he said. “It’s pretty obvious what we gotta do.”

“And what’s that?”

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“We need a dating ban!” he said.

A what?

“Akira, we’re not JYP,” I replied. A three-to-four year dating ban was customary with most K-Pop companies for groups in the years leading up to and after debut. But I wasn’t sure how it’d translate over here. I knew our schedules were tight, and we demanded discipline, but a dating ban?

dban03

“It’s the only thing,” he said. “Keep our focus. Keep us on track. Channel all that energy into our music. We just don’t have time for messing around with people outside the group. Friends, maybe. For mental health. But more? No way. Not for five years. A five year dating ban.”

“I don’t know, Akira. It sounds so Draconian.”

“I already talked to the guys,” he said. “They’re all for it. We’ve pledged.”

dban04

I couldn’t stop them from adopting a dating ban, if they chose it. But I wanted them to be clear it was their choice, their decision. This was not something that Summer Production Company was forcing on anybody.

We had a chance to test their commitment at an upcoming photo shoot.

We went to the city for its annual Romance Festival to get photos for album liners, posters, teasers, calendars, and fan give-aways.

dban09

On the ferry, I overheard the boys talking about the dating ban.

“Anything for the band, I’m up for,” said Vee-Jay. “For art! I’d give up breathing for music because music is breath!”

“But you gotta breathe to sing, man,” said Joey.

“It’s a metaphor,” said Vee-Jay.

“Yeah, we have met afore,” said Joey. “How could you forget this face?”

But at the festival, the gravity of their pledge sunk in.

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Five years. No dating. Not even inside the group. No romantic complications. No distractions. All music. All dance. All the time. Focus. Concentration. Dedication.

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It was too much for some of these romantic souls.

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But I noticed Joey didn’t seem too phased. I don’t think it was that he didn’t care about dating. I think it was that he didn’t care about rules. More power to him, within reason, of course.

We got through the festival, and I got some good shots. I ended up liking the love-worn expressions the boys gave. We could package it for the fans, like “Missing you.”

“No love without you.”

Slogans like that.

“We don’t need to date when we’ve got a cat,” Akira said the next morning.

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I wasn’t so sure Joey and Rylan agreed. I had the distinct feeling they were redefining the word “date.” And maybe even the word “ban.” Is it a date if you don’t leave the house? And does “ban” mean, like, for not at all?

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Puppy Love 28

Bands of energy cross the universe, and when we, more spirit than form, move through them, we become imbued with feeling.

That is why, on my next visit to the house, I was charged with eros, the fuel of the Prime Mover, the very source of creative energy.

“What do you say about getting to work creating a pup?” I suggested to Emery. “Ready to keep this lineage going?”

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He seemed to like the idea all right. Though friendly with both Nougat and Prissy, it was the border collie whom he approached with raised tail and snout. She ducked her head for him.

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Soon they nuzzled, then off they went, chasing each other through the meadow, and into the woods.

I left, happy to imagine the fine-looking pup that might come call them sire and dam.

When I next returned, Prissy showed signs of pregnancy, swollen teets and a belly beginning to sag.

Chloe and Miss Molly gave her mothering lessons.

“Now don’t coddle the pup,” Miss Molly said.

“Pounce!” said Chloe. “Never too young for pounce!”

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I left again, pulled by the invisible lines transversing space, and when I returned the third time, Prissy lay on the patio with the early pangs of labor.

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“Come, dear,” I said. “You’ll be happier inside.”

She settled on the couch, and I kept vigil while she rested between the bursts of pain.

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In the wee hours, with a whimper and a stretch, she bore her single pup, a white silky male a near image of his sire.

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Lucas calls him Felix.

“Because you make me happy,” Lucas said. “You’re our Luck Pup.”

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How has this funny boy, Lucas, grown into such a fine man, finding joy in puppies and dogs, living his life with my furry estate?

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Prissy, proud of her little pup, wasn’t quite sure where to begin–did she follow Miss Molly’s not-coddling advice? Chloe’s pounce advice?

Or could she come up with something that was authentically her?

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Before she could decide, in rushed the grand-sire and grand-dam, and there was Lucas, in the midst of the commotion with the little pup barking up at him in a high puppy voice.

“What do you want, little guy?” Lucas asked.

And it sounded like Felix barked back, “Pounce me!”

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A little rub calmed the pup, but Chloe had caught the spirit of fun.

“Pounce, pounce? Yes, pup!” she barked back.

And the round of play had begun.

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Felix knows the circle–maybe that’s his secret of happiness. We say goodbye, we say hello. Patterns repeat: same nose, same fur, same games and play.

Some things change–we change. But still the play continues. Puppies pounce.

Bands of energy crisscross this earth, too, and when we spirits move through them, we pick up the feelings in the fiber of our remembered form. This is why, after visiting with Felix and his family, I became colored with the light of happiness. I don’t mind belonging to the After when I can still visit the Now. And when the Now is filled with puppy, it fills me with joy.

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Ten-Cent Tarot: Between Good Enough and Perfect

Calliope Twisp dwelt in the space between the real and ideal, striving always to bring perfection into manifestation. Being a human entailed challenge: good enough wasn’t enough when it was always possible to see how it could be better.

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When she dove into a new painting, inspiration carried the seed of perfection, whether crystallized in a feeling or flash of color. Slowly, as the seed descended from crown to solar plexus, and the vision spread through her heart out her arm into her hand and fingers and the brush laden with paint, reality struck: as vision becomes made manifest, it leaves perfection behind.

This was where she lived.

Her cats, being cats, lived as models of perfection, always.

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Mr. Whiskers, the rodent with pretentions of becoming A Most Important Person, scurried out of the ideal more often than not.

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The fish, being fish, swam blissfully and wholly in the real.

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But Calliope lived in the space between ideal and real, and in that space, she met Baako Jang for his coaching sessions.

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“I can’t seem to get unstuck?” Baako confessed.

She dealt a simple spread. In the center, the position of the querent: the Magician, reversed. “Gimmicks and tricks substituting for art… The borrowed robes of an imposter.” 

“Tell me about your career,” she inquired.

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She knew he was the headline act every weekend at a hip comedy club in the Art District.

“I don’t deserve the attention I get,” he said. “I’m not funny. I mean, seriously, I am not even funny.”

Calliope giggled, in spite of herself.

“What’s funny about a dweeb in big gold glasses, hip clothes, and a lisp?”

She laughed out loud.

“I mean, seriously. On a scale of one to ten, who’s funnier? A box of Kleenex or me? Or me with a box of Kleenex, because, actually, most days, I do carry a box of Kleenex with me, well, OK, not an actual box but the equivalent tissues–a box’s worth of tissues–can you say ‘box’s worth’ or should it be ‘box’ worth?’ Where do you put the–ding”and he drew an apostrophe in the air with his index finger–“because not only am I a dweeb in gold glasses somehow wearing really hip clothes and talking with a lisp, but–“and he sniffled loudly–“allergies. Dweeb. Glasses–gold, even. Hip, not so. Lisp. Allergies. See?”

She was rolling on the floor.

“All right,” she said, when she finally caught her breath. “You are funny. It’s not an accident. You’re not an imposter. It’s imposter syndrome. You’re the real deal, but you feel like a fake.”

“How did you know?” he asked. “I don’t look real, do I? Do I look one-hundred-percent synthetic? Made out of one-hundred-percent real synthetic materials?”

jang17

At any rate, he couldn’t write, lately. When he sat to write new comedy routines, he wrote strange, twisted confessionals, instead. They weren’t funny, at least, so he said. And even if they were, they were funny in a Lenny-Bruce kind of way, and not a way that he, Baako Jang, husband of Anaya–who was beautiful, hip, cool, and the very real deal–and father of Billie–who was everything sweet, funny, and goofy that a kid should be–would want to deliver. He didn’t want to write comedy he couldn’t share with his kid.

“See what I mean?” he said. “A real comedian wouldn’t care.”

Calliope pointed to the King of Pentacles, the card in the position of Higher Self in Baako’s spread. “You’re a family man,” she said. “It makes sense.”

That was it! The crux of his writer’s block unfolded for her: The tension between his role as a father and his role as a “hip, dweeb comedian” placed him in the in-between and his mind froze. Coupled with his imposter syndrome, the result was creative paralysis.

She gave him two pieces of homework:

  1. Watch for times when he made someone else genuinely laugh–a deep belly laugh, a nose-snort, a hiccupping giggle fit, or milk-out-the nose, uncontrollable laughter.
  2. See how being funny helps him be a better dad or better husband.

He had plenty of time for observation during the next week.

Anaya was home most days, working on her art. He could watch her paint all day. While she worked, she became Ms. Zen, as he called her. He liked to sit on a big pillow in the corner of the room, smelling the linseed oil and rich creamy scent of her paints, while she moved her arm in big arcs as she spread the paint. He grew to love the scratch of paint on canvas.

When she stopped, though, she’d scrunch up her nose and examine the painting.

“Oh. That line is not right! It’s not supposed to be a line; it’s supposed to be diffused.”

“It looks blended, like blendy-blended, to me,” he’d reassure her.

“No, this, see? It draws your eye off the canvas.”

“Off the canvas and onto the artist,” he said. “Just where I want my wandering eyes to be!”

She chuckled. “You see what I mean, though?”

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“I’ll tell you what it looks like to me,” he said. “Sure, I see that line, but it’s nice and blended and the arc draws my eye off but then my gaze pops right back in that house, Mr. Mars’ house, right? There behind those elms. And he’s out in the garden, breathing in the scent of his wife’s apple pie, coming right out of the oven, and those clouds are rolling down, saying, ‘Dang, we want some pie, too,’ and so pretty soon, the trees are knocking at the door, and the clouds are banging in, and everybody–I mean the whole town, and all the plants, and the frogs, and the townsfolk–like everybody–is coming in for a piece of that pie!”

By now, Anaya was holding her sides as she laughed and laughed. “My painting makes you think all that?”

“All that and more. What the heck are the plants doing coming in for a piece of apple pie? Are they dang cannibals, or something?”

Anaya swatted him, and he headed out to find Billie, sitting at the dining table, with her homework.

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“How’s the arithmetic life?” he asked her. “Seven ate nine, yet?”

“Daddy! Numbers don’t eat each other.”

“Dang. I really do have cannibals on the mind tonight.”

She didn’t think it was funny.

“Am I weird, Daddy?” she asked.

“Who says so?”

“Kids,” she replied.

She finished her homework while Baako tried to think of a decent reply.

“Let’s go sit-have-a-talk,” he said.

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“What’s weird?” he asked. “Do you think I’m weird?”

“Kinda.” She smiled at him. “But in a cool way.”

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“Did the kids who called you weird mean it in a cool way?”

“Jacob did. But not Maura.”

“Do you think Maura is weird?”

“No. She’s normal.”

“Is she how you want to be?”

“No. She’s boring.”

“How do you want to be?”

“Like you! Funny!”

“Sometimes, ‘weird’ is another word for funny.” He recalled a story about when, as a boy, he’d decided to be unweird–normal. In fifth grade, for two weeks, he launched The Campaign of Normal, wearing white socks, blue pants, a white t-shirt, and normal sneakers–like all the normal kids. Except his glasses were gold-rimmed, even back then. So he’d painted them black. The paint flecked off, because, you know, paint doesn’t really stick well to metal, so each night, he’d paint them before he went to sleep so they’d be ready in the morning. One night, he was so tired that he went to sleep without painting them. The next morning, he painted them real quick, before he slipped them on to run off to school. When he took his glasses off for gym, some of the boys started hooting. They made loops with their fingers and held them over their eyes. They pointed at him, laughing. They laughed so hard that during basketball, nobody could guard him, and he made five baskets. His team won the game!

“Nice going, Hoop Eyes!” The boys on his team said. They were still laughing, but something had changed. They liked him. He’d won the game for them.

When he was getting ready to go back to class, he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and saw what they’d been laughing at. The wet paint on his glasses had left black rings around his eyes.  Hoop Eyes, indeed!

“And so did you stop being weird?” Billie said, laughing at his story.

“Not hardly,” Baako answered. “I think that was when I decided to stop trying not to be.”

jang15

Not long after, Baako ran into Calliope during an evening walk.

“Hey, coach,” he said. “My homework’s going great.”

“Funny Family Guy?” she asked.

“Funny Family Guy,” he said. “I live for the laughter of Anaya and Billie.”

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“And I bet they live for your jokes!” She replied. “So what’s next? How’s the writing?”

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He went home to try. The blank screen was as daunting as ever.

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But then, he just started typing. He remembered Anaya’s chuckle. He heard Billie’s guffaw. He wrote, without even thinking about what he was writing, just letting the words flow.

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When he got stuck, he remembered the sound of their laughter again.

“I can do this,” he told himself. “I’m Funny Family Guy.”

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And before he knew it, he’d filled the screen with words.

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He went back over them, reading them to himself. He couldn’t help but laugh out loud. These were some good lines! OK. It wasn’t perfect. Far from ideal. But, dang! It was funny! Even with mistakes, his jokes were funny. Weird and funny. Weird, funny, family guy.

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“I think I realized something,” he said, the next time he ran into Calliope. “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be good.”

“What’s that?” she asked. “How so, and why for?”

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“It’s like my wife’s paintings. They’re not perfect, but dang, they’re beautiful. Like her. So beautiful. And it’s the little imperfections–like a line that wanders off, or like her little crook in her nose–that make it reach right into you. That call to you.”

“Oh, you’ve given me something to think about!” Calliope said, strolling off.

Baako sat at the bench for a while as the city noises rumbled around him. He didn’t feel like a Magician reversed anymore. At that moment, sitting in his weird funny self, he felt quite righted.

jang01

Credit: The quoted interpretation of the Magician, reversed, comes from Llewellyn Worldwide, the Llewellyn Deck.

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Puppy Love 27

toofam10

I’ve begun to suspect that Lucas has become too familiar with Death.

Living here, he’s endured too many visits by the Hooded One, and now Old Bones is taking liberties.

I keep track of the Dark Shepherd. I want to be there whenever he stops by for one of the old dogs. So I’ve come to develop a type of second sense to alert me of when Lucas is in his proximity.

But I never expected to see what I witnessed at the Yacht Club. Sulfur, smoke, rags, and all, Mr. Old Bones was flirting with our boy.

I shared the view of Lucas’s friend–best look away. This is not something easily forgot.

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But Lucas didn’t seem to mind. “I guess you were waving at me?” he said.

“Why, yes, good-looking!” Mr. Bones rattled. “It’s me! Your old chum.”

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Lucas actually smiled in response.

“You’re looking mighty fine!” Mr. Bones said.

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“Thanks?” Lucas said. “I’ve been keeping fit? The dogs keep me busy?”

“But not too busy for an old sack of bone, eh? If you catch my drift…”

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Do I look away, do I not look away? I didn’t look away. I can’t help feel protective of Lucas. I circled around him, whispering, “Isn’t it time to go? It’s time to go.”

“I guess I should be going,” Lucas said.

“What? So soon? But I haven’t even done what I’ve come for!”

toofam07

“You mean you’re here on business?” Lucas asked.

“Actually, yes. But you know me. I never mind mixing business with pleasure.”

If the Bones had eyes, he’d have winked.

toofam05

“Everything all right, sir?” The maître d’ asked.

“Fine, fine?” said Lucas.

“Couldn’t be better!” said Mr. B.

toofam03

“Smells like sulfur,” said the maître d’.

toofam04

And then ensued the commotion. A vendor staggered in, gasped, grabbed his throat, his chest, and collapsed.

“Show time!” said the faceless Hood.

toofam01

It was Don, a vendor I’d known from the fish stall on the docks. He’d been a young man when I met him, back when we adopted Otter, all those years and decades ago.

How strange that now he’d be collapsed at Lucas’s feet!

I suppose the world is small, just as they say, and we are all connected. When one goes, whether we’ve met that soul or not, it’s only a few degrees that separates us from someone who knew them. We are all connected, and the passing of one affects us all.

toofam02

“You won’t take him with you, will you?” asked Lucas when it was all over.

“Well, yes, that was the plan,” the Shepherd said.

“But you’ve done the reaping, now let him stay with me?”

I felt a tremor. What had Lucas learned, watching me collect the dogs’ spirits all these years? Had he learned that Death was one to be bargained with? That a soul could remain, after the body were reaped?

“If you insist,” Mr. Bones replied. “I’ve done what I came to do. The rest is immaterial.”

He handed Lucas the small ball of light, Don Lothario’s spirit. “Be sure to erect a headstone,” the Reaper instructed. “It’s a necessary portal.”

Then thunder rumbled and smoked swirled.

“Leaving so soon?” asked Lucas’s friend. “Don’t hurry back!”

toofam13

Lucas added another tombstone to the long row. I swirled around, and Don, when he saw me, let out a hearty laugh.

“I always heard we’d meet old acquaintances!” his spirit said. “Guess what they say is true!”

I showed him around. “You aren’t really supposed to be here,” I said. “Lucas overstepped his bounds.”

“And a good thing he did,” said Don. “I may be ready to try something less corporal, but I am not yet ready for a final farewell.”

Oh, what will Tanvi say when she sees who’s tagging along with me! We surely are a motley crew.

Let the tombstones shine in the setting sun! We spirits have clouds to caper through!

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Ten-Cent Tarot: When There’s No Land Left to Grab

geoffrey02

Entrepreneur, power company magnate, real estate tycoon, computer conglomerate CEO, and chairman of the board of a globally renowned science research facility, Geoffrey Landgraab did not fit the type who would consult a tarot card reader. The man came from a family that had schools named after them.

But guilt and despair can drive a man to cast off type.

Calliope picked up a heavy energy from him when he showed up outside her apartment late one evening.

“I would have come during office hours,” he said, “that is, if you have office hours. I don’t know what your typical schedule is.”

geoffrey08

“I’m open when I’m open,” Calliope said. “I’m here! You’re here! The cats are here. Let’s go! Let’s see what the cards show.”

He smiled. Sometimes, brightness can shine through the heaviest of clouds, and when his smile reached his eyes–just barely, but enough to let them crinkle at the corner–Calliope felt that his miasma was not yet too dense to disperse.

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He followed one of the cats, Cupcake, back into the study and sat behind the computer, as if an office chair and keyboard were necessary accessories to his comfort.

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“I don’t give consultations back here,” Calliope explained. “This is my room, actually. Mine and the cats’.”

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She led him to the consultation table in the corner of the kitchen.

She lit all the candles, turned on the strings of bulbs, and filled the diffuser with geranium essential oil.

“It’s like a gypsy place,” Geoffrey said. “How do we start? Do I tell you what’s wrong?”

Calliope looked at him.

geoffrey07

He fidgeted for a moment, as clients often do when her eyes first see past them, and then, as the quiet moment stretched, he sighed and closed his eyes.

She pulled a seven card spread: the Fool, the Magician reversed, and the World reversed fell in the crux of swords and wands.

“All right, then,” she said. “What are you resisting so hard? What is keeping you up all night?”

“I don’t trust anyone who isn’t up all night,” he said. “Whoever’s not worried, that’s who’s not paying attention.”

He went on to talk about climate catastrophe. The scientists at his own facility had contributed to an international team that had recently published a study claiming that the planet was at risk of reaching “Hothouse Earth” conditions.

“And you feel guilty,” she observed. It wasn’t a question.

“Of course I feel guilty! Don’t you? Who doesn’t feel guilty? We’ve only known for how long–since I was in high school, back in the late 1970s, that we had to change, and change immediately, to keep this from happening. Did we? We didn’t! And look now. It’s happening in our lifetime!”

She felt his despair.

“Let’s right-size your feelings,” she said. “I’m not trying to minimize the catastrophe that stirs those feelings. But when we enter an emergency, that’s when we most need clarity, calm, and resilient fortitude. You do no one any good, even with all your power and resources, if you are a Magician reversed. Let’s get you right-side up, first, and then consider what you can actually do, besides letting yourself get ripped up by guilt, shame, and depression.”

“I’d feel even more guilty if I weren’t depressed,” he admitted.

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“Well, snap out of it,” she commanded. “First, did you, Geoffrey Landgraab, single-handedly create the state of climate catastrophe?”

“I drove a car! I live in a big house. My power company didn’t produce solar until five years ago. My wife uses plastic like you can’t believe!”

“That’s not what I asked. Did you single-handedly create this situation?”

“Single-handedly? Like, by myself? Alone? No.”

“Right. Me, neither. Now, did you contribute to this situation? Were you a participating part of a human system that created this climate catastrophe?”

“Part of it? Yes. Of course I was.”

“Right,” she said. “So was I. So am I still.” She waved towards the strings of light, the electric pump in the fish tank, the stacked washer and dryer, the fridge, stove, and even the candles. “I am part of it. And so is, I would venture to say, every living person on this planet.”

“Surely not!” Geoffrey protested. “Not some villager in the jungles of Borneo!”

“I would say every living person. What fuel is used for cooking and heating in a tiny village off the grid? Carbon-based fuel. Fire. What is the taproot of the problem? Over-population. If a person heats or cooks with any carbon-based fuel, they are contributing to the problem. Anyone who has more than two children who survive into adulthood contributes to the problem. This is a human-caused disaster, and every living human is part of the system that has created it.”

Geoffrey sat stunned. “I’m not willing to agree,” he said at last.

“But do you at least agree that you are one part of the problem, and not the entire problem itself?”

He did.

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“And a very small part, at that?”

“I am not so sure of that,” he said. She could see that it was hard for someone who owned so much to feel small, even when he was.

“Self-importance aside,” Calliope continued, “can you, single-handedly, fix this problem?”

“Of course not!” He admitted. “If I could, I would have! Decades ago!”

“Exactly,” she said. “So perhaps, a feeling of helplessness, and even despair, might be understandable. But guilt? Your guilt is way out of proportion.”

She rose and brewed a pot of tea from chamomile flowers and pine needles.

“You did not single-handedly create this. You cannot single-handedly fix it,” she said, pouring their tea. “But, just as you contributed to the problem, you can contribute to the solution, correct?”

His eyes flashed wide and the sclera was clear and white.

“Tell me how you already have contributed,” she said.

He talked about transforming the power company to solar, about using solar power in his own home, about driving as minimally as possible, and then, only driving his small electric Ford, which was drew its charge from the solar panels at his home and businesses. He talked about the scientists at his facility and the direction of their research program.

“You’ve done a lot,” she said.

“It’s not enough,” he said.

“No, not by a long ways.” She thought of the card The Fool, so dominant in his reading. “What more might you do?”

“I always thought I should go into politics,” he said. “My wife, Nancy, she scoffs whenever I bring it up.”

Calliope recalled the Queen of Swords reversed in the position of home in Geoffrey’s reading. “How would it feel to dethrone that criticism?” she asked.

Geoffrey smiled again. “Do you think I could? I may not have the charisma a politician needs,” he said, “but I know policy. I could write some damn effective policy. Do you think I’d win?”

“Even if you didn’t,” Calliope said, “what’s to lose? By campaigning, with curbing climate catastrophe as your platform, even if you don’t get elected, you bring this issue into the discussion. That’s a win, right there.”

“A win right there!” he echoed. “By golly! I’m going to do it! Will you be my campaign manager?”

She had to refuse. But she would serve as consultant to the newest candidate for representative of Congressional District 68.

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Ten-Cent Tarot: Trip to the Bank

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Hopes and Dreams Citywide Sperm Bank sat happily on the first floor of a glass, steel, and concrete high rise in the financial district. Calliope was always glad for an excuse to visit to that end of the city, for it stood at the far west border. Beyond stretched steep rocky hills extending all the way to the sea.

This was a reconnaissance trip, Calliope reminded herself as she strode towards the entrance. Find out the possibilities, establish a few contacts, open doors, only, and don’t close a single one, not yet.

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Before making the trip, she’d had to decide if she would, indeed, take the case. Some mysteries were better left unsolved, and it took some reflection to conclude that this might not be one of them.

She reviewed her consultation with Aadhya. She’d found the young woman endearing: Cat-ears, Dashiki top, earnest brown eyes–she was just the kind of person that Calliope would drop everything for in her rush to help.

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But locating the anonymous sperm donor who was the biological father of her nine-year-old daughter? She wasn’t sure, at first, that she’d wanted to poke that rat’s nest.

“I’m not asking for Shanaya,” Aadhya had said. “She’s doing great. It’s almost like it doesn’t register with her that she doesn’t have a dad in her life. But I’m asking for me.”

“Do you want a relationship?” Calliope had asked.

“Oh, heavens, no,” Aadhya replied. “That’s why I went that route, to avoid all that. I just… I just wonder. Shanaya is such a mystery. The way she cocks her head when she laughs. The way she won’t stop asking questions until she gets an answer that satisfies her. The way she’s so good at math. I suck at math.”

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“And you want to know where all that comes from?”

“Exactly!”

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“Be careful what you wish for,” Calliope warned. “I am good at finding things out. Suppose I do find out who the anonymous donor was. Suppose we get a name. An address. Will you really be ready to know this? What if you don’t like the guy?”

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“What if I do?” Aadhya laughed. “That’s what I’m worried about! I’ve made it this far without being with a guy. But what if I meet him, and we somehow hit it off? What if he likes me? What if, by some miracle, I like him? Oh, Lordy! That’s what scares me!”

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“It’s a possibility,” Calliope admitted, “especially if all of these intriguing qualities of your daughter’s can be traced back to him.”

“But what if I can also trace all her bad habits back to him, hmm?” Aadhya asked. “Do you think he picks his nose?”

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Her attitude had been sensible enough that Calliope decided to risk it. After all, the cards showed that discovery, in this case, wouldn’t bring disaster. And even if complications did arise, Calliope was prepared to be there to help resolve them.

It’s a simple matter of reconnaissance, she reminded herself.

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The receptionist listened carefully when Calliope explained why she was there.

“All your client needs to do is fill out this form,” she said. “We’ve also got it online, http://www.hope.net/yourdream. This won’t reveal the donor’s actual identity, if he opted for anonymity, but we can give her a detailed genetic report. It will show everything you get in, say, an Ancestry.com report: ethnicity, race, and so on, plus whatever shows up in your basic medical DNA report, markers for cancers, Alzheimer’s, and so on. It’s useful stuff. Most of our customers find that it satisfies their basic needs and curiosity.”

“But no names?”

“Not if the donor signed up to be anonymous. We take privacy very seriously.”

It was something to go on. Calliope figured that the generic report, while interesting, wouldn’t be completely satisfactory to Aadhya, but it was a start. Surely they had full genetic profiles available, and with access to the computer system, there was no telling what might be discovered.

When she left the building, walking through the cold evening to the plaza, a savory, spicy scent of tamari, ginger, and water chestnuts pierced the fog to greet her. She followed the aroma to a food stall.

“Don,” she said, greeting the vendor, a friend of hers, “what delectable dishes are you serving?”

“This ramen?” he asked. “It’s the best in town. Want a bowl?”

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He dished her up a steaming serving.

There is an indescribable delight to sitting with a hot bowl of fragrant soup and noodles on a cold night, watching the steam rise to join the mist.

“Eat up, Miss Twisp!” Don called. “I want that soup gone by the time I get there! Slurp! Slurp!

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His shift ended fifteen minutes later, and she had, indeed, finished her soup by then. He joined her at the table.

“I saw you leaving Hope and Dreams,” he said, “if you don’t mind my saying. What brings you to a place like that?”

“Nothing personal,” she said.

“I didn’t think so. I mean, I didn’t mean to imply it would have anything to do with you, at your… Ummm… with you.”

“It’s a case.”

“That’s what I was wondering,” he said. “Do you take cases like that?”

“Like what, Donny-boy?” Darren, a mutual friend, joined them. “You’re looking dashing, Calliope,” he said.

“I was just asking if Calliope took paternity cases,” Don said.

“What do you want to get mixed up in something like that for?” Darren asked. “I thought you and your lady friends were careful.”

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“Hell, yeah,” said Don. “Extra careful. As in extra-strength careful, if you get my drift.”

Then ensued a string of off-color jokes, and Calliope excused herself for the long walk home.

Back in her apartment, Calliope was still thinking about Don’s question before the conversation had been hijacked. Did he have a paternity case he wanted her to take on? If so, was he hoping he would or would not be the father?

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Don had always seemed to her to be the type of man who didn’t want to be tied down. He was friendly and charming, certainly, but universally so. She recalled the afternoon when she’d met him. He and one of his house-mates approached Calliope and Aadhya as they strolled through the square outside Calliope’s building. She hadn’t been certain, but it had seemed that Don had flirted with her. Don! Young enough to be her grandnephew. At the very least, he’d complemented her style in voice with a suggestive undertone. Maybe that was his normal tone of voice. Aadhya had been none-too-impressed. She made a snide remark after he left.

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“Think we exist for the sole purpose of providing eye-candy, men like that,” she’d said. “I’ve got news for them. The world is not their candy bowl!”

But Calliope hadn’t minded. He’d noticed her, at least, which was a rare occurrence, and even if he had been fresh, he’d been polite and charming, too.

When Calliope dropped by Aadhya’s to tell her about the Paternal Genetic Report Request form that she could fill out, if she chose, Aadhya was just on her way out.

“My shift at the bar is about to start,” she said, hurriedly, “Can you give me the details later?”

“Bye, Mom!” Shanaya called.

“Who is staying with Shanaya?” Calliope asked.

“Oh,” said Aadhya, “she stays alone. Geeta lives across the hall, you know. She’ll look in a few times. She’ll be all right.”

“I could stay,” said Calliope. “I’m already here. I’ve got nothing planned tonight.”

“Oh, would you?” Aadhya opened her mouth as if to protest, but then seemed to remember the time. She waved to them both as she rushed towards the elevator. “Be good, Shanay! I’ll see you at breakfast!”

Shanaya headed back to the computer without even greeting Calliope. The child’s concentration for her math game gave Calliope a chance to observe her.

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She was quick. While she played, she adjusted her strategy as the equations became increasingly complex. When the game began throwing basic algebraic problems at her, she missed a long string. Then she stopped, looked away from the computer, closed her eyes for a second, and dove right back in. This time, she earned a perfect score and advanced a level.

Calliope went into the kitchen to prepare a snack. The scent of cinnamon toast and warm honeyed soymilk made its way back to the bedroom, and Shanaya soon arrived in the kitchen.

“Is that for me?” she asked.

“For us both!” said Calliope. They sat together at the little kitchen table. Calliope asked her about the math problems, about how she figured out what the equations were asking for.

“I’d seen those kinds of formulas before,” she said, “in a book once. So I just closed my eyes to remember better. I can see it up here with my eyes closed,” she said, pointing to her forehead. “I’ve got a separate drawer for everything, so I just remember what drawer I put something in, and then I can take it out whenever I want.”

“I do that, too!” said Calliope, “only I think of it as file folders!”

After that, the crone and the scout became friends.

A few nights a week, when Aadhya had late shifts at the bar, Calliope came over to stay with the child.

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And some nights, Shanaya came over to Calliope’s. They lived in the same neighborhood, after all.

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Shanaya loved coming to Calliope’s. The apartment was full of color, plants, and little living friends: a rat in an over-sized habitat, cats and kittens with free run of the place, and angel-winged fish in a floor-to-ceiling tank.

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“What’s new with you?” Calliope would ask.

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Shanaya always had an eager answer.

“I bet you didn’t know I earned a new scouting badge!”

“I could’ve guessed.”

“But I bet you don’t know what for!”

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For the older woman, these evenings with Shanaya were a treat. Her friends her age were full of complaints. Her younger friends were filled with worry. But Shanaya–she and Shanaya seemed to be on the same page. Kindred spirits.

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“My mom told me you might be looking for my dad,” Shanaya said one day. “Is that true? And if so, what for? Do I need a dad?”

“Do you want a dad?”

“I don’t see what for,” said Shanaya. “I’m perfectly happy now, and if i’m perfectly happy now, why mess things up?”

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“That’s a good point.”

“My friends with dads are not always happy. So therefore, presence-of-father does not always equal happiness. So why?”

Calliope chuckled. She honestly didn’t know why, either. The search wasn’t for her. It obviously wasn’t for Shanaya, either. But she had to admit, the more she got to know Shanaya, the more she considered that, if indeed, many of Shanaya’s special qualities were inherited from her father, then maybe meeting this man wouldn’t be the worst possible thing. It might even be interesting.

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