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Geometry and Symmetry

MetalChairAtFiloli

I have a fondness for trying to capture geometric, symmetrical shapes when I photograph. This metal chair at Filoli shows signs of the cloudburst which had happened a while before. That’s why I shot it, rather than sat down on it. I was about to say, “and not a flower in sight!” But there is a purple one poking through the metal slats near the top. Sigh…It’s hard to get away from flowers at Filoli.

Cheers, Gerard

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Teaching and Creativity

TranslucentSelfPortraitAtFiloli

Another photo from my workshop at Filoli. Shot on a tripod with a 30 second exposure, it was enough time to allow me to walk into the frame, sit on the bench and be still. That’s why I’m translucent, at least in the pic…in real life I’m quite opaque. I thought my head would be in the shot, but it has a different mood without it, perhaps more ghostly. I kept the colors intentionally pastel to emphasize the reflective mood. The tulips are slightly blurred because of the breeze. Whatever wasn’t moving is sharp.

I’m not in love with this photo, but I’m excited by the potential of it. I’m getting all kinds of kooky ideas that could only be accomplished with a long exposure, making the photo into document of cumulative, flowing movements; capturing a performance rather than a frozen moment. As an artist (more than a photographer), I can taste the potential of this idea.

Trying new things is stimulating for an artist. I’ve recently noticed having a student will have a similar effect. I meet with Dan, my drawing student, once a week at Starbucks. Usually, the morning I leave for work, I look around the house or the yard looking for an assignment.

Yesterday, I grabbed a pinecone from the yard before leaving for work. When I set it on the table for us to draw, I realized that over the years I’d gathered dozens of pinecones with the intention of drawing them, only to let them languish on a shelf, gathering dust, until I just put them back outside because of moving or needing to make room. Finally, I was going to ACTUALLY draw one, because I had a student to force me to show how it was done. I found I knew,  from countless observations and drawing other things, how to explain to Dan the easiest way to approach drawing something so seemingly complex. Having to put into words what I usually do automatically is forcing me to articulate what I know, and making me aware of how much I know as an artist. Having to teach someone is a great opportunity for the teacher, too.

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Notable Facebook Posts During the Past Year

Sorry. I’ve been ignoring my blog and I miss it. Instead, I’ve been writing zingy posts on Facebook, but it’s quite clear it’s just not the same as a meaty blog post, where one can spread out and wander down a circuitous route or two. Facebook requires pith. If one is not pithy, one will be ignored. If you’re too long winded, you will be cut off, and people will have to “click” to see more. People on Facebook do not click.

This has led me to the “punchline effect.” You’ve got maybe 3 sentences of set-up before you have to deliver a “zing.” Vary from this structure at your own risk. Here, to prove my point, are my notable posts on Facebook for the past entire year, the ones that didn’t just roll by like a tumbleweed in a ghost town. Gathered together in one post, It’s looks sad. After this, it’s back to the business of writing stories. I may not have much of an audience…yet…but it’s much more satisfying for me. Here they are:

John has installed 2 aquariums in our house. I was a bit dubious at first, but I have come to enjoy them. Watching the neon blue tetras skitter around, and the furtive slinking of the golden gourami, puts me in a meditative mood. I begin to think of my favorite things; Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, Monet’s Water Lily paintings…sushi…

Yesterday, throughout the day, I did a total of 100 push-ups, just to see if I could. I can. It’s really just stating the obvious when I say that’s not bad for 53. However, today I can’t lift my arms. That’s right, I’m posting this telepathically.

I share my computer at work. My co-worker buys a lot of shoes. Now all the ads on facebook, amazon, and elsewhere are for lady’s pumps. I’ve decided to assume it’s because of my co-worker, and not that the internet can read my secret thoughts…hmm…nah, I’m too tall to pull off 5 inch heels.

There’s an attorney in this office who brings donuts every Friday. Wouldn’t it follow, then, that if he brought donuts tomorrow, it would be Friday instead of Wednesday? It’s a theory that I happen to think is worth trying, but the attorney scoffs and rolls his eyes. I’m misunderstood in my own time.

The trouble with reading 3 books at once (Dickens’ “Martin Chuzzlewit,” King’s “Dolores Claiborne,” and a sci-fi novel by Vinge, “Children of the Sky”), is that I keep expecting Martin and Dolores to escape their situations on a space ship.

Last night, despite some misgivings about being alone in the house, I started watching “The Conjuring.” 30 minutes into the movie, when things in the spooky house are going “BUMP!” in the night, I heard a “THUD!” right above my head. Once my heart started working again, I stopped the movie, and went upstairs to investigate, humming an ABBA tune for courage. Milly, our Abyssinian cat, had playfully… knocked my watch onto the hard wood floor. Whew. I decided it was time for bed, put the cats away, crawled in under the covers, and slept, fitfully, with the light on. This morning, I ejected the movie from the player, largely unwatched, picked the disc up…with a handkerchief…and sent it back to the dark hole from whence it had come (Netflix). NO MORE SCARY MOVIES! Especially ones featuring freaky dolls named Annabelle. Oh, mommy…
 
Once the cat food cans have been opened and the cats are waiting for the bowls, they run in a clockwise motion around the kitchen island in a meowing frenzy. I wonder if in the Southern Hemisphere, they’d run counterclockwise?
 
John left the house for Arizona at 3:30am yesterday. When I opened the fridge in the morning to get my lunch, there was nothing unusual in there. But when I got home, there was a mysterious white box in the fridge. I opened it and found a small apple pie with a heart in the center. Despite the unknown origins of this pie, I nonetheless had a slice warmed up in the microwave. If anyone knows the mystery of this pie, please let me know. Otherwise, our house has pie fairies…could be worse. (It turned out to be our delightful neighbor, Rosemarie.)
 
I just bought 2 cds; Scary Monsters by David Bowie, and Scarlatti: Keyboard Sonatas performed by Schiff. Apparently, I cannot resist any cd title that begins with SCAR. I wonder what Freud would make of that?
 
On the way back from vacation in Cambria, standing at the soda machine in the sandwich shop in the tiny town of Gonzalez, I noticed that the raspberry flavored tea I was drinking was “Naturally Flavored with Other Natural Flavors.” And quietly, a day that had been dipping into the surreal became fully immersed.
 
The famous sign that greets riders of the ferry, “PORT OF SAN FRANCISCO,” probably photographed millions of times by tourists, is currently on the blink. The “R” is dead, so it reads “PO T OF SAN FRANCISCO.” If you’ve ever smelled the air crossing the Embarcadero to get to the ferry building, you know that this is more accurate, anyway.
 
Saturday, roasting 2 chickens for Sunday dinner, I discovered that 3 cats, who’d never seen, smelled or even imagined something as wonderful as raw chicken, would do ANYTHING for a piece of it. A great deal of darting, jumping, maeuvering and general mayhem ensued. Spray bottles full of water were ignored in pursuit of chewy fowl. The mewling grew to a cacophony. In frustration, and a bit of terro…r that they might get the upper hand, I finally threw the chickens into empty pots and into the cold oven, then took the cats upstrairs to be locked in the bedroom. Except, oops, only 2 had followed me with the kitty treats. The other one, Milly, a wily, wicked smart Abyssinian, was discovered on the kitched counter frantically licking the meat cleaver with a scary look of feline ecstacy.
 
A conversation with a visitor at the firm: She said, “I hate it when somebody gets in your face and says, ‘SMILE!'” I said, “I know, it’s so rude. What’s so wrong with a serious face? You should say in response, ‘je ne parle pas Anglais.” She said, “Funny, but what if they turn out to be French?” I said, “nobody who is French is going to ask you to smile.”
 
I was at Marin Symphony yesterday for a matinee performance. Heard a beautiful performance of Ravel’s Concerto for Coughing Audience and Orchestra.
 
Yesterday, whilst strolling with my honey on the road by Stow Lake in the park, we came across 2 large signs that read, “Slow duck’s cross!” So, if you come across a cross around Stow lake, it belongs to a slow duck. Better alert the authorities.
 
Did you know Breakfast is the most important meal of the day? The second most important is Happy Hour. Try to keep them separate.
 
When one shops for houses, one usually considers the location, possibly the schools, and the commute. I suspect one seldom considers the frog issue. But 90 decibels of operatic amphibian expressiveness at 3 a.m. will probably make one wish one had.
 
I’m not a fan of the zombie explosion in entertainment. But as I was walking through North Beach, seeing about 30 percent of the walkers shambling slowly with eyes glazed over, focused on small plastic rectangles to the exclusion of all else…I started to wonder are zombies actually fiction?
 
 
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2 Raw Chickens, 3 Hungry Cats

Saturday, roasting 2 chickens for Sunday dinner, I discovered that 3 cats, who’d never seen, smelled or even imagined something as wonderful as raw chicken, would do ANYTHING for a piece of it. A great deal of darting, jumping, maneuvering and general mayhem ensued. Spray bottles full of water were ignored in pursuit of chewy fowl. The mewling grew to a cacophony. In frustration, and a little terrified they might get the upper hand, I threw the chickens into empty pots and into the cold oven, then took the cats upstrairs to be locked in the bedroom. Except, oops, only 2 had followed me up the stairs with kitty treats. The other one, Milly, a wily, wicked smart Abyssinian, was discovered on the kitchen counter frantically licking the meat cleaver with a crazed look of feline ecstacy. I’m sure I saw eyes rolling.

Why isn’t there a horror film called HUNGRY CATS?

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Honolulu Goes B.L.O.I.N.G., Part 6

Sleepy Tigers and the Honolulu Hustle

 Carefree and whistling, John and I skipped around our new, fabulous hotel room at the Surf Breaker. It’s amazing what the absence of mildew and screeching hydraulic brakes can do for one’s mood. The room itself was actually smaller than the old one, with dark wood paneling, a huge comfy bed and ample closet space. Most importantly, it was quiet. Then John noticed the wood slats on the window wouldn’t open. It would get muggy at night, but we had air-conditioning, so I didn’t care. But John called the front desk to have them fix it. We got a young Chinese handyman, clearly irritated, who responded with not a word to our pleasantries. Hammering and mumbling under his breath, I heard snatches like, “I’m so #$%$# sick of these #$%@# window slats,” making one suspect it was an ongoing sore point. Nonetheless, he did fix them, and during our stay, I opened and closed those slats with the care of a surgeon, not wanting to find out what would happen if we called that guy back.

 We finished unpacking, then headed to the Honolulu Zoo. It’s small, and during the day, the balmy perfection of the weather puts the animals in a napping mood; better than a snapping mood but not as picturesque. After a dozen shots of animals snoring in distant shadowy corners, I turned my camera to the amazing trees. The zoo has trees that have lived pampered lives and they create glorious shady realms with multi-colored backlit canopies of leaves. Then there’s the alien allure of the banyan tree, which looks like a creature from outer space. I kept eyeing one in particular, an eerie behemoth, expecting it to pull up its countless draping roots and run amok. It will haunt my stranger dreams.

 John, with his powerful telephoto, had better luck taking shots of dozing wildlife. Actually, after hiding in the corners, one lioness showed a bit of life by sauntering across her enclosure to nap in the shade of a nearby wall, where the reflected light lit her perfectly…with the right lens. John got down on the ground to hold his camera steady to shoot her, hurrying to catch her awake. Trying to be helpful, I began moving my arms in slow, graceful loops to keep the lioness’s eyelids from closing. Cats can’t help it, they track movements, and as someone without the embarrassment gene, I’m just the guy to have around at feline photo shoots. I succeeded for about 5 minutes before gravity pulled her droopy lids down permanently (the effects of the Hawaiian weather are inexorable), long enough for John to get a dozen beauties. Yes, I know I need a new lens;. I should’ve be shooting, too, not faking tai chi.

 John left for the conference, I went back to the (wonderful) hotel room, then joined him later at the Lester McKoy Pavilion in Ala Moana Park for the after business festivities. The bus ride to get there involved going over the canal that separates Waikiki from Honolulu, which involves going through two intersections that are massive bottlenecks. Seriously, the stoplight at these intersections takes so long that our bus driver unbuckled, slowly got out of his seat, stretched thoroughly, opened the bus door, hung out and waved to a passing friend who came over to chat, then he wound things up and returned to his seat just in time for the green light. We went one single block, and the whole procedure was repeated. Past that, everything’s peachy. Going 2 miles took about 30 minutes. No, I couldn’t have walked faster; those lights stop impatient pedestrians, too.

 At the Lester McKoy Pavilion, I noticed about a dozen sleepers under a huge banyan tree, in sleeping bags or makeshift tents. Whether they were homeless or just evading the pricey hotel rooms, it was hard to tell. Also, about a dozen feral cats were prowling about, some completely wild, but some looked at me longingly as I passed by, perhaps remembering that at some time, a human or two had been kind to them, but somehow they’d ended up here.

 As John’s guest, I was treated to a box dinner, which was followed by live music in the big hall, vocal stylings by Aunty Pudgy strumming a ubiquitous ukulele, plus back-up harmonies from the guitarist and bassist. Aunty Pudgy’s band featured a couple of hula-ing kid sisters. The younger one, clearly nervous, forgot her “lines” and made universal shrugging signs of “gee…I forget.” Everyone laughed, which put her at ease, and following the lead of her older sister, she quickly got up to speed. When it was over, the young girl got tremendous applause. It may take years to master hula, but being a natural ham on stage is something you’re born with.

 A number of different dancing groups representing the different islands had been hired for the evening. The graceful men from Lanai had me wanting to visit Hawaii’s smallest inhabited island. At some point, they were asked to stop for a while to allow to conventioneers to put on their own show; ridiculous parodies of island dancing. It was painful. After that was over, I wasn’t surprised the local talent had vanished, I suspect with indignation.

 Saturday, to the aquarium, where one waits patiently to actually see the swimming creatures as people capture the events using iphones and ipads. Modern toys have made the simple pleasure of watching fish into an obstacle course. An awesome display of moon jellies put me in a meditative mood; it’s hard not to use words like undulating and hypnotic to describe them. A young octopus on display had his own entourage of one fiercely protective elderly volunteer named Marge who stood nearby, fielding all questions about her eight-legged friend. The octopus didn’t seem to mind, even eyed Marge with all the affection a cephalapod can muster.

 Walking back to the hotel room, it was impossible not to be impressed with the display of bling in the abundant retail shops. Honolulu is a shopping mecca. Maybe you think you’ve been to a shopping mall. I scoff. The Ala Moana Shopping Center, a place that’s hard to avoid, started out modest and demure I’m told, but grew and grew to take over several surrounding blocks. It’s four levels of shopping pleasure, and stretches in any direction as far as the average shopper cares to walk. It’s so big, the chain outlets begin to repeat. One day, John and I were to meet in the food court there, an area bigger than the entire floor where I work in San Francisco. Seeking each other in the throng, we discovered one really needs to be more specific. Thank goodness for cell phones.

The Japanese especially have made Honolulu their shopping destination of choice. Post vacation, my favorite barista at Peet’s told me that he’d once worked in retail in Honolulu at a store selling Panama hats. Periodically, a Japanese business man, hell-bent on the pursuit of status, would come in to the store and announce, “I want your most expensive hat!” before he’d even seen it. The seeing part didn’t matter. It was a status symbol. And the store, learning that its clientele was likely to make such outburst on occasion, was happy, ecstatic really, to offer a top-of-the-line hat for $10,000. I have to assume it came with an emerald studded sign that read, “This Panama hat cost $10,000,” in order to clarify exactly where one stood in the Hierarchy of Those Impressed by Expensive Panama Hats, or H.O.T.I.B.E.P.H. I suspect my personal H.O.T.I.B.E.P.H. quotient is alarmingly low. I wonder if the local ice-cream parlors had followed suit, offering top-of-the-line status cones with gold leafing and dipped in caviar sprinkles, and coming with a commemorative brooch?

It would be easy to blow your budget on the expensive eating establishments in Honolulu. Lucky John and I are not prone to overeating, even on vacation. We really just wanted a nice omelet, sandwich, and salad, in that order, throughout the day, to supply us with the necessary sustenance to sustain our active lifestyle…we’re such nerds. Happily, there was a Denny’s near our hotel, where we ate breakfast at least, so I didn’t have to take out a small loan upon our return. Even chains like Denny’s and Starbucks have a 20-30% mark-up in Honolulu, though, where so much is imported and the commercial real estate costs a mint.

 One must beware of the “Honolulu Hustle,” a common phenomenon at eateries. There’s a lot of fine print on those menus. At a popular cheeseburger joint, we got the typical deceptive upsell. I said, “I’d like to try this local beer here…” Our waitress said, “Of course you want the 20 ounce size with the fun commemorative glass!” I said, “Um, no, I just want an ordinary pint.” She was crestfallen, but I’d read the menu and saw what she offered (as the only option) was twice the cost of a regular pint size. John ordered a veggie burger. The waitress asked, “do you want French fries, cole slaw or salad with that?” Her careful wording gave no indication that sides were extra, which they were. John was angry when we got the bill and didn’t want to tip the waitress. I suspected it was all restaurant policy…actually, island policy. Nothing is included with your meal. Be very specific. If you order water, say “free tap water,” or else you’ll get the $10 special Hawaiian water from secret mountain cave with souvenir straw.

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Honolulu Goes B.L.O.I.N.G., Part 5

A Teary Farewell to Mrs. C. 

John and I were lounging in the patio area of our tiny hotel in Waikiki. A soothing fluorescent blue-green was the dominant color palette; I was wearing my sunglasses. Compared to the hotel room, the patio was strangely quiet. Quiet, I was learning, was a relative term. The hotel room, if one closed ones eyes, had the ambiance of an airport; laying on the runway beneath a jet at lift-off. Whereas the patio merely had the ambiance of a busy street. Ah, bliss.

 Some acoustic anomaly must’ve been in effect, perhaps the concrete corridors amplified the noise as it travelled the short distance down to our room. But on the patio, next to the street, the sounds seemed deflected by the hotel front or muffled by the trees. Earplugs brought the level into the realm of acceptable, unlike in the hotel room. The rumbling vibrations from the constant parade of delivery trucks was almost soothing; like a massage.

 John and I surfed the web for an “acceptable” hotel room. Aiming for “nice” was out of the question; it was the height of the season and the hotels were packed with Midwesterners escaping Winter. We were stuck at this hotel for one more night, but beyond that there was no way I was going to stay at this dingy, noisy place. The park bench across the street was starting to look pretty nice, but I’d have to fight for it.

 Of course, the tiny hotel did not have its own wi-fi. We were using the leakage from a hotel two blocks away. We found a few generic looking hotel rooms at surprisingly reasonable prices, but the hotels were pretty far inland. John, who had experience here, said that as you went inland, the more likely the hotel would be on a busy streets with rows of matching high-rises amplifying the noise in concrete canyons. Still, I insisted we look. At least we could find a hotel where I wasn’t afraid to drink the water.

 Then John said, “Say, why don’t we go see if something’s opened up at Surf Breaker.” That was the first hotel at which John had tried to make a reservation months ago, but they’d been booked solid. Since it was a short walk away, we headed there. I was not hopeful.

 We spoke with Tim at the front desk. “No, unless you don’t mind a room right next to the street…” I said no way to that.

 Then Tim got this faraway look on his face and said, “Unless…hmmm…we DID just get a cancellation, about five minutes ago. Let me check the system,” said Tim. “Yes, it seems I could POSSIBLY give you a reservation that starts tomorrow. It’s a nice room on the first floor. This is assuming the cancellation doesn’t change their mind once they see read my e-mail about the mandatory charge we’ve made.”

 Tim, a middle aged balding man with dark hair and glasses, was a pleasant chap, but a bit of a nerd. I couldn’t help imagining his story…the sole IT employee at a big company in New Jersey, working around the clock, reaches his wit’s end and takes a sick day, flies to Honolulu, tries to get a room at Surf Breaker but their computer system has broken down. Tim says, “Let me take a look.” An hour later, he’s fixed their system, has a room and a new job, calls the company in New Jersey and calls in sick forever. Hey, there’s at least a chance this is actually true.

 Tim gave us a reservation number with the understanding that it was provisional. Provisional or not, I still insisted on seeing the room. Tim showed it to us, and I was satisfied it wasn’t next to a parking lot or a karaoke bar. In fact, it was…nice! We wanted it, so John and I decided to cross our fingers and come back in the morning.

 Back at the hotel, we got ready for dinner and went out. Walking down the street, we came to a sidewalk sign advertising “Sushi Bistro.” Why not? If you can’t get great sushi on an island surrounded by fish…Greeted by the waiter, we had the choice of the single outside table next to a parked car, or the single inside table next to a blaring TV. We chose outside, and the empty restaurant was suddenly half full. We ordered, and the waiter disappeared into the restaurant, abandoned his waiterly duties by donning an apron and commenced making our order. Ages later, we were served, and the waiter/sushi chef disappeared again when he got into the parked car, backed it onto the street and drove away. Somehow, the sushi missed being inducted into the Hall of Fame, but was acceptable. Not that anyone asked.

 About 45 minutes later, long after we’d finished our sushi, long after we’d considered just leaving (dine and dash would be child’s play at this “bistro”), our waiter/sushi chef/chauffer came back, and asked us if everything was alright? Remembering, vaguely, that he’d fed us dinner at some point in the distant past, we summoned an appropriate response, then uttered a resounding “No!” to the offer of dessert. He tallied our bills, donned his “manager” hat, took our money, and asked us to “please come again!” as hostess, I assume.

 My guess is that our order had depleted his sushi stock, and he’d left in his car to go fishing.

 In our surprisingly comfortable bed in the mildewy hotel room, we were awakened again by the delivery trucks before dawn. After breakfast, we went back to “Surf Breaker” hotel with our (cross-our-fingers) reservation number. “Yes, it’s early but your room is ready. Would you like the key now?” Were finer words ever spoken?

 Our nice hotel room had a comfortable patio, with a strip of garden beyond, and a open air room beyond that, where Japanese on holiday could enjoy all the tranquility of a full-blown tea ceremony which, happily, is performed completely without speaking. As neighboring activities go, this sure beat hydraulic brakes. Later, I discreetly watched one of the ceremonies, a pretty woman in a jade green kimono quietly served tea to a young Japanese man seated on a cushion, legs folded under, in a red silk robe. His back was to me, and when the server temporarily left the room, it made me giggle to see him furtively rub his feet and legs that had fallen asleep.

 We unpacked, then went back to the tiny hotel to check out. We tried to go into the lobby, but it was locked. Peering in, we saw decades-old magazines, ‘70s era water-stained wallpaper,  but no sign of Mrs. C., the elderly Chinese woman who ran the hotel. We spotted the maid (actually, I was surprised Mrs. C. even had a maid, since as manager/proprietor/desk clerk, she was another super-multi-tasker like our waiter of the night before; I’d had visions of her rough, thin arms moving methodically as she changed our rough, thin towels). The maid informed us that Mrs. C. came to the lobby at 10am. So we went for coffee, and came back around 10:15. She still wasn’t there.

 The paranoid in me wanted to set up camp by the door and grimly wait for her arrival. I had this vision of her getting to the lobby, listening to the voicemail from John saying we were wanted to check out, her whispering “not on MY watch!”, and bolting for a few days to the North Shore so we would accumulate charges. But less imaginative heads prevailed.

 John convinced me to step away from the door and go to the nearby mall to buy our bus passes. There were the tourist lines which went from one local site of interest to another, or the bus system used by the locals. We considered the Hop-On Hop-Off system, which comes in 3 colors; pink, red and green. But when we saw the maps of service, we weren’t impressed. The Pink Line goes from mall to mall, so that the eager shopper who’d flown thousands of miles to be in perfect weather could wander in sealed, air-conditioned comfort, exercise his credit card, and never miss a caramel mocha frappuccino. In fact, the Pink Line eliminated all the discomfort and psychological trauma of being some place you’ve never been.

 In fact, none of the tourist lines seemed to satisfy our wants, so we got four day bus passes for the system used by the locals, and a handful of maps. Then we quickly walked back to try and catch the elusive Mrs. C.

 And there she was in the lobby. We entered; she seemed resigned, stoic even. “Yes, I got your message. Sorry you can’t stay longer.” We took care of the business of paying for our 2 night stay. Inside, I was rejoicing; it was going to be the easy way. Happily, Mrs. C. was an honest business woman, I have no doubt now. But even so, having no employees but herself and a maid, if she’d gotten the flu or something, who knows when we would’ve been able to tie up loose ends? As John signed the charge authorization, Mrs. C. looked at me, subtly sardonic, in a way that said, “This is all because of you, isn’t it, princess?” Mrs. C. was clearly the master of looks that conveyed volumes, and I was just the sensitive telepath to catch her meaning. But I’m a master of this as well, and looked back with, “You never can tell, honey.”

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