Monday, July 28, 2014

Good-bye, Mr. Bear.

So many times, working here at the computer, I'd look down and to my left, and Pandy Bear would be sitting or snoozing on the rug there, close by. 

I just realized that that never happened at the Old House. And now it will never happen again. 

Twenty-four hours ago, there was no real sign of trouble. All was more or less normal for me and the quats here in the Still-Mostly-New, Still-Mostly-Different DuckHaus. Pandy Bear had maybe not eaten as much the night before, and yesterday morning he showed little interest in food, which was unusual I must say. Pandy Bear loved his food and food was love. 

(I'm going to have to change my whole way of thinking, my whole way of how my guys get fed... he ate as much as two of his siblings put together. I'm not going to know how to do my chores anymore...)

Pandy Bear. Mister Bear. Mr. Pand E. Bear. In the mornings, when I was wiping the floor around where the Quat Fud dish sits, he'd be right there in in my way, I'd say, "Geddoud of my way! I have to clean right where you're standing!" and then I'd say, "O Mister Bear, you're a good bear," and kiss him on the top of his head.

But last night he didn't come into the kitchen for dinner at all. THAT set off the alarm bells. I found him under the dining room table, breathing hard. I gave him a pet and said, "O Pandy Bear, don't you want your dinner?" and turned back into the kitchen to finish putting the stuff out.

When I looked back into the dining room, he had obviously tried to get up and follow me. But he was lying on his side, a few feet closer, gasping for air. 

And I knew. I've been through this a few times before. I knew, and I started sobbing right then and there.

After Mom died, he spent days and days wandering through the old house, yowling his head off, looking for her. But she wasn't there and she was never coming back. 

Pandy Bear was big and fat and dumb and adventurous and cute and infuriating and loving, and he was not a quat who could be ignored, he lived large. 

In our last years in the old house, maybe he sensed how wrong things were going. Mom had frankly Given Up, and I was keeping myself well-pickled to numb the pain -- of what was happening to her, of being responsible for her, and of having to spend the bulk of my days working in a job that I hated for an evil harridan of a boss who did everything in her power to make all of her employees feel worthless. I was no different, I wasn't special, I just handled it worse than anyone else on the staff. 

In those years, Pandy Bear would "mark" the house everywhere that he could. I was always having to clean up his puddles around the house, against the walls. The basement door was his favorite spor -- all the paint had worn away from his urine, the mat had peeled away, the door itself was warped.

That stopped only after we moved here into the new DuckHaus. Once in a while he'd lapse... nut I see now that was probably more my fault than his. 

I tried to sleep beside him on the floor last night, but after three hours of that my legs were cramped, my back was kinked, I couldn't take it anymore and moved onto the living room couch. Every hour or so I'd wake and check on him: sometimes he had moved, sometimes I thought he was already dead. But when I shone a light on him I could see him still breathing, hard.

All three of the other cats spent the night in that room, with him. They knew. It was only coming on towards dawn when the girls came in and sat on me while I slept on the sofa.

The damn cat was such a split-personality type when he was a young man. He was probably the most affectionate, the most people-focussed cat in the place... and yet he would lay in wait, and whenever he saw an opening -- VOOM! Out the door he went! -- and from then on there was no approaching him. He wanted nothing to do with people. He was singing "Born Free" in his head.

He would disappear for a week at a time. Every once in a while we might catch a glimpse of him in the brush a half-mile down the road, but he would not let us approach him. We could tell that he wasn't eating: grossly fat when he escaped, by the time he let us get ahold of him he had lost so much weight that he was practically svelte (and very beautiful). Only when he realized that he was going to starve to death outdoors would he let us catch him. And then, once safely back indoors, he would once again be the most attentive people-focussed quat in the house. Of course, he'd also pile the weight back on in nothing flat.

Just now, I looked around and couldn't find my other Guy Quat, Whitey. Pandy and Whitey were kind of pals. While the girls slept with me upstairs every night, I'd oftenimes come down in the morning and find Witey and Pandy Bear snuggling together on my TV chair or on the rug. I looked and looked and Whitey was nowhere downstairs, which was really unusual, I finally found him upstairs, wandering around in the back bedrooms where Pany Bear sometimes crashed on the hottest days, 

This morning -- Pandy Bear seemed a little better, but he was still breathing hard and I just knew that I had to get him to the vet. I picked him up and hugged gave him a smack and in spite of how terrible he must have felt, he still managed a soft purr.

I put him in the carrier.

As soon as he got into the car he started raising a fuss. He actually escaped from the carrier. Thankfully, the vet is only about a block and a half away -- a real blessing of living in town. When we got there, I decided to just carry him in, in my arms; he was out of the carrier anyway, and it would be nicer for him maybe, and he was so weak, how much trouble could he be?

Well -- when we got in there, he forgot all about the weak part. He went berserk. Yowling, thrasjing, clawing. He peed all over the waiting room seat and all over me and when I got up to try and find dome paper towels he shot pee all over the floor and when I turned again he peed all over two ladies who were waiting on the bench beside me. They started screaming and I said "sorry, sorry" and ran out with him into the parking lot. I took him back into the car and shoved him into the carrier. 

When I turned back to head inside, I saw that one of the vet techs had followed me out. She said, "We'll take you in right now."

Inside the examination room, the vet said something to the effect of, "His last great act of defiance," and I thought to myself Damn it! Damn it all!

Gawd, at one time my mother had something like thirty cats in the house and as many outdoors. And we loved them all. Every single time we lost one it was a blow. In the end a terrible sickness swept through both inside and outside cats and only the hardiest survived. I must have buried dozens of cats that year. From then on, it was never more than three or four outdoors, four to six in. So -- I have faced cat grief before. I must have buried dozens of cats in my lifetime. But I wasn't alone in those days, I didn't have to do it all alone.

Sure enough, Pandy Bear was all worn out by his antics in the lobby. He lay on the table gasping for air. The vet jabbed a needle into his chest and the syringe filled with a thick, viscous fluid heavy with blood. "That's not good," he said.

No shit, Sherlock.

They took him into one of their fancier rooms and gave him oxygen, The vet kept jabbing him with the needle, but now nothing came out. I thought Stop it, stop it! but the vet was clearly puzzled. He admitted that he didn't know exactly what was happening, but he knew of several possibilities and all of them were fatal. He said, "We can do a chest x-ray and you can spend beaucoup bucks, but even if we figure out exactly what's happened, it's going to end the same way."

I couldn't help it I started sobbing.

Most of the time, Pandy Bear lived downstairs and didn't explore the upper reaches of the house. I think this is because he had been trained, in the later days out in Albion, by my new kitty Honey who adopted me the night that Mom went into the hospital to have her leg chopped off. Honey thought of the upstairs as being Her Domain and she protected it assiduously, for a young little kitty.

That restriction relaxed when we came to the new house, but still it had taken hold in their minds. Even so -- as I mentioned above, in the hot of the summer Pandy would seek out the coolness of an upstairs guest room, and I would sometimes find him curled up, perfectly happy, on the studio bed.

And every now and then -- and surprisingly often in the past few months, Pandy Bear would appear in my room at bedtime, and PLOP himself in beside me, purring like a chain saw that needed oil. Sometimes in the middle of the night I'd turn over and -- THUMP! -- there he'd be, a large blob right beside me.

Whitey is clearly very upset. He's running around the house looking for Pandy Bear, and when he sees me he comes running for a hug. He's wanting a lot of attention. And the truth is, the house does seem awfully large and empty now. When we moved in there were six of us: Pandy Bear and Spooky and Whitey and Patches and Honey. Spooky -- who was in chronic ill health and frankly made my life a living hell with her uncontrollable bowel movements all over the house -- was the first to go. I buried her in the back garden and put one of my mother's wooden, painted flowers on her grave.

In the old days, the vets used to protect us when we had to put an animal down. They'd shoo you out of the room, assume without asking the business of cremation, and we would leave there, shell-shocked and empty-handed. This young man was not about sparing anyone anything, and was anxious to get on with it. He gave Pandy Bear a shot to relax him. Then he shaved Pandy's left front leg.

Pandy already looked half-dead, except that his whole body was heaving with each breath, and gobs of bubbly clear fluid were pouring out of his mouth.

And I can't help but think of the last time I saw Mom, in the middle of the night, in an empty hospital, lying on the bed with her mouth open in an ugly way. Her hands were already cold and her upper body was already stiff when I touched her shoulders, and she was getting noticeably colder to the touch by the second.

The vet said, "He doesn't even have a vein left." He stuck the needle in and a few seconds later Pandy Bear's breathing just stopped.

They put him in a garbage bag. In a GARBAGE BAG! They put my Pandy Bear in a fucking GARBAGE BAG.

So then I took him home. I had to change all my clothes and take a shower because he'd peed all over me. Then I went out and found where Spooky is buried, cleared away the weeds, and dug the hole. I couldn't bring myself to take him out of the garbage bag. As it was I had to fuss unpleasantly with how I arranged him in the hole. I piled the dirt back on, and -- almost exactly three years after I'd done the same for Spooky, almost exactly to the day, put one of my mother's wooden, painted flowers on his grave.

It's pouring rain outside tight now. I know that I should read all this crap over and make some corrections and stuff before I post it, but I don't want to and I'm not going to. I'm starting to get condolence emails and in at least a couple of them, stated only implicitly, are the words: "Don't drink?" -- well, hell yeah I'm going to drink and have already started. Hell, yeah. Sometimes it doesn't matter how it might affect your health.

I just looked down and to my left and Whitey is right here beside me. He wants a hug and so do I. The only hugs I get are from cats, and most of the time they are given to me reluctantly! So...

I think of the classic Irish song that Van Morrison sings so well, "Carrickfergus." I'll say no more, 'til...

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Congratulations to LOAC -- and a Fine Memorial

I'm pleased as can be to hear the best possible news out of Comic-Con this year: my friend Bruce Canwell and his partners at The Library of American Comics (I've tooted their horn here a time or two before) swept the Eisner Awards, winning in every category in which they were nominated. It is very much deserved, as anyone who has enjoyed any of their great books can attest. It's particularly gratifying that Genius, Illustrated, the second volume of their monumental biography of comics great Alex Toth, and possibly the deepest and personal project that BC has worked on, copped two awards. Kudos to them all -- but I'll let them take up the story from here, at their website.

It's even more pleasing to note that Bruce was able to get a nod of affection in to our mutual friend Howard, who died earlier this year as mentioned on this blog. I'll let Bruce tell it in his own words:

"Dean was in San Diego, and last week we had discussed what to say if we won in any given category. For the Alex Toth book in the 'Best Comics-Related Book' category, I suggested Dean could talk about the overall scope of the project (five years of work, almost one hundred thousand words in close to a thousand pages), but what I most wanted him to say was this …

"'We'd like to honor two persons who are now sadly no longer with us: Alex's third wife, Christina Hyde -- who charmed everyone with her kindness, generosity, and gentle humor -- and Howard Downs, who was a great fan of Alex's, and of good comics everywhere.'

"… Which is exactly what Dean said, while accepting the award.

"As I told Dean last week, it's folks like Howard who have kept the industry going year after year, making possible events like Comic-Con and awards like the Eisners. So last night a ballroom filled with comics creators/publishers — as well as talent from animation, TV, and movies — got to hear Howard's name as he represented all those folks. I was pleased to be able to give him that opportunity, because I was proud to call him my friend."

Well-done, Bruce, all the way around. And thanks. I'm still crying.

-- Freder.

The Light and Dark of Kickstarter

The past month and a half has been a roller-coaster of gratification highs and self-esteem lows, of future-dread and kindnesses, of having too much to do and not enough to do, of drinking and sobering up.

Kickstarter will do that to you. The folks who run the service suggest that you should not run a project longer than thirty days, because it “creates a sense of urgency.” I would go one step farther and say that you should keep it down to that length because by the time it reaches Day 40 you will be so profoundly sick of the thing that you would gladly give up all the proceeds just to be done with it.

Not that I’m giving up the proceeds at this point. 

Which brings me to the news, in case you hadn’t already heard, that the Kickstarter funding to pre-sell enough of my Tarot of the Zirkus Mägi decks to pay for its publication has ended on a positive note, and the deck will soon be produced. I’m actually over the moon about this, and have, I hope, been profuse enough in my thanks elsewhere … but this post isn’t about thanking the people who made it happen, it’s about the painful process of getting there, in case you or someone you know is thinking of launching a Kickstarter project themselves.

If you do take one on, the very first thing you need to know is: be emotionally prepared. Even in the best-case scenario, running a Kickstarter project is a fast way to drive yourself completely stark staring mad. 

If you have never exhibited signs of obsessive-compulsive behavior, don’t worry, you’ll get yours running a Kickstarter project. You will have to force yourself to stop checking the tote board, so to speak, every five minutes, and then you will have to fight despair when nothing happens for several days. You will start looking enviously at the other projects — the ones that succeed in the first five hours, or get 9,287 percent funded with two weeks left to go — and you will begin to wonder if they've sacrificed their firstborn children to Zarkon the Space God in order to get the results that seem to be escaping you. 

You, yes you. Kickstarter will rip what little self-esteem you have out of your bleeding chest, throw it on the ground and stomp on it — even while it is applying little daubs of salve provided by the kind and good people who go to the trouble of supporting your project. If you’re at all like me, even the ultimate success of the project will seem like a hollow victory, in part because of all the angst you’ve been through to get there.

Running a successful Kickstarter campaign, or so the pundits say, requires you to get out there and market. Market, market market! Shake those trees! Spam those blogs! Gather as many Facebook strangers as you can and blast them with marketing posts! What are you waiting for? MARKET!

But again, if you’re like me, you may be beyond uncomfortable with that whole marketing thing. And your discomfort may exist on many levels. First — you’re a consumer yourself. You’ve been marketed to and at and you know how annoying it is. And you don’t like to annoy people, do you? I don’t — well, at least not like this, under these circumstances. You’ll go through the motions and send out those press releases and shake those trees, but you’ll hate yourself the whole time you are doing it. The stress will start to exhaust you. You will want a drink at the end of the day, and if you already have a drinking problem that one drink will turn into twelve. Under the influence of alcohol you will feel more at ease with the whole marketing thing — but for Zarkon’s sake don’t market when you’re drunk! I did… and I made some enemies and lost some backers.

It’s a circle of humiliation: you hate yourself for what you are doing, so you drink yourself some courage and then you do things that make you hate yourself all the more. 

All this time spent on “marketing” means that you won’t have the time to get any actual work done. Whether it’s writing books or making music, whatever you do that got you to this point in the first place — all that will come to a screeching halt. And you will feel even worse about yourself, because a month and a half is going by and you will have no actual work to show for it.

The exact nanosecond that you launch a Kickstarter project, the waters around you will suddenly fill up with Kickstarter sharks. They all want to help you — for a price or a piece of the action. “Our focus on flash traffic.  We are a marketing firm that focuses on driving large waves of highly targeted traffic to your page.”

Even if all the claims from the Kickstarter sharks are true, which I doubt, you’d best think long and hard before you take on any “helpers.” Can they actually reach the specific audience that you need better than you can on your own? Can you even afford them? Keep in mind that Kickstarter / Amazon scoops a whopping ten percent off the top of your project if it is successful. Also keep in mind that at least six percent of your final backers will “error” or otherwise fail to come through on their “pledges.” Have you planned for that? Every service that you add on to make your life “easier” will slice another wedge out of your pie. That’s what happens when a service like Kickstarter is successful: a whole bunch of other “businesses” pop up around it, trying to figure out how they can get a piece of that action. Most of them are about as reliable as a drunk on a bad day.

Remember, the whole point of the thing is to help make your dream come true. You’re not in it to make other people’s financial dreams come true.

I dislike the basic terminology that Kickstarter uses and spent a lot of time trying to explain to people that I was approaching it from another direction. The Kickstarter terms “pledge” and “reward” make the whole thing sound like Public Broadcasting, which asks you to give them money for something that you’re going to get anyway. In my case, I was using Kickstarter to take pre-orders for a specific product, in order to make its publication possible. To my way of thinking, my customers were not “pledging” and “getting rewards” — or “backing” some potential project that might deliver only air… they were ordering a specific product or products and getting — or will get, as soon as it’s printed — what they pay for. The deck itself was actually offered at a discount price over what the final retail will be. 

I guess what I’m getting at here is that, by definition, the terms that Kickstarter uses are implicitly shady… and I was trying correct that. The Kickstarter terminology is appropriate for a percentage of the projects that run there, but not for a lot of them, and not for mine. 

Battling people’s perceptions like that becomes even harder when people get there for the first time and see some of the other projects that the service allows to run. The goofiest one that I saw in my latest month-and-a-half spent there was from some gaming nerd in England who had used up all his time in World of Warcraft — and wanted you to pony up money for him so that he could continue to play his game. Say what? Why is Kickstarter allowing dumb-ass “projects” like that to go up?

The one thing that I enjoyed about the process was something that I learned about from backing another project. I saw that the person running that project was using his own project updates, in part, to help promote other people’s projects that he found worthwhile. This seemed like a good and civil and polite thing to do, and it also allowed me to discover some pretty cool creations, a couple of which I backed myself. In my updates to my own supporters, I talked about other tarot-related projects, and about some Burning Man art pieces that looked fascinating and wonderful. It was nice, after all, to discover that at the heart of such a cynical and difficult money-raising process, there was a tiny core of citizenship and civility. I just followed the lead.

— Freder

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Conversation with The Ringmaster

In case you missed it, here is last night's conversation with Christiana Gaudet in Christiana's Psychic Cafe. It's fifty minutes long, so it's barely possible that something remotely sensible came out of my mouth during that time....  on the other hand, you may find that a conversation with me is the perfect substitute for sleeping pills....

-- Freder

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Whoop! I'm on Teevee! -- Sort of...

Tonight is your chance to watch me make a complete idiot out of myself as Christiana Gaudet of Christiana's Psychic Cafe interviews me about the Tarot of the Zirkus Mägi -- now in its final days at Kickstarter. Tune in at 9 PM EST on

-- Freder.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Diamonds Are For Never

Yes, I shamefacedly admit it: every so often, every few years, especially when there’s a new one to add on, I get the itch to cycle through the James Bond movies. In my defense, I don’t own all of them on DVD and there are a couple that I have never seen: neither Moonraker nor Octopussy exist in my James Bond Universe.

Even when being nominally selective, there are ups and downs. I reached the stage of Diamonds Are Forever last week. It was never one of my favorites, and after watching it again I’ll go on record with my feeling that it is, hands down, the worst movie of Sean Connery’s tenure, and one of the worst in the series.

It’s taken me some time to arrive at that conclusion for a simple reason: the picture does have Good Bits. In fact, it is chock full of good and enormously entertaining bits. The brutal fight in the Art Nouveau elevator, the cliffhanger moment in the crematorium, the claustrophobic sequence in which Bond is buried alive, Bond’s gut-clenching ascension to the top floor of a Vegas skyscraper; and nearly everything to do with the two camp assassins Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, whose antics are considerably toned down from Ian Fleming’s novel (Fleming had a notable taste for sadism). 

And och, it’s got a great song.

But somewhere through the second or third viewing you begin to realize that all the good bits don’t add up to an effective whole. Too much of the picture is Just Plain Wrong. The final third, with a silly world-conquering plot tacked on to Fleming’s down-to-earth story about diamond smuggling, is a compete write-off and even, dare I say it, a Bore. It doesn’t help the continuity that by this time Blofeld has been played by three very different actors across three movies, that Felix Leiter has never been played by the same actor twice, and that Bond himself has been played by two. Worse still is the sad fact that Tereza “Tracy” Bond is never mentioned: her assassination at the hands of Blofeld is, after all, the reason Bond is holding a grudge.

Beyond that… it was made in 1971, at a time when the Bond series should have been becoming smarter about the way that it depicted women. Instead, Diamonds Are Forever is probably the most offensively chauvinistic movie in the series. Although Jill St. John as Tiffany Case is shown to possess a nominal sense of cunning, she never has the wit to outsmart Bond. She spends half of her time onscreen nearly naked. Lana Wood as Plenty O’Toole is purely a throw-away character, and as such she is literally thrown away after having served her sole purpose of adding more cleavage to the movie. Bambi and Thumper, who at first appear to be remotely menacing, are overpowered with ridiculous ease by Bond, who was given a harder time by one guy in an elevator earlier in the picture.

Worst of all, Sean Connery allows his personal contempt for women to show through. He whips Tiffany Case across the face; early in the picture he strangles a woman with her own bikini top; and in these and other scenes it becomes evident that Connery is enjoying all this, playing himself in a sick wet dream in which any kind of force is justified to keep women in their place.

And so it is that in Diamonds Are Forever, Sean Connery actually outlives his welcome as James Bond. Watching the picture, you begin to wish that he had never come back to the series, that George Lazenby could have carried on or that Roger Moore, Sir Rog, could have started one early. Would it have made a difference? We’ll never know; but one thing is clear: Diamonds Are Forever proves that it was time for the series to change its tune.

— Freder.
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