Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Zircus in Action!

This is just one of several YouTube videos created by Rach Jardine, TarotNinja, showing my Zirkus Mägi tarot deck in action. Take it away, Rach! -- and when you're done, why not head over to my commercial site, Tarot by Duck Soup?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Ticking... Ticking...

It occurred to me this morning, with some sadness, that my Grandparents on both sides of the family have been dead and out of my life for longer than they were ever in it. On my Dad’s side, both of his parents have been gone for damn near forty years. First his mother to dementia, then, while I was still in high school, his father — who was mowed down in the street by a young dunderhead driving with a girl in his lap.

My mother’s parents died in the mid-eighties: first her dad, who went quite suddenly one morning while he was getting dressed, and then her mother, who lived on several more years in decreasing health and increasing grief and bitterness.

It pains me to think that the mid-eighties are now thirty years gone. They’ve been gone more than half of my life.

It’s true that my grandparents live on in my memory, and that they were of such great importance to my youth that their impact is still felt by me today, all out of proportion to the amount of time I actually had with them. I miss them very much. That I am relatively safe and secure today (although that could always change in a flash: life has a bad habit of doing that to you) is entirely due to the efforts of my Grandpa Claude. I wish that I possessed an ounce of his sense.

Now my mother has been gone for five years, and to a great extent those five years have whooshed by in a blur worthy of Quicksilver or The Flash. I hope and trust and am pretty well sure that I will not live long enough to be able to say the same thing about her that I can now say about my grandparents.

I can pretty much guarantee that most people of my generation do not think of ourselves as being old: although we see increasing signs of it on the horizon, and young people seem to go out of their way to make us feel ancient. But we are not living in the world of our present anymore. As my friend BC pointed out to me recently, we are living in those decades and years that we used to look ahead on with awe, wondering what it would all be like and if we would have our flying cars by then. We are living in the future. 

Which makes me think, “Damn, enough of this chain of thought. Shake a leg. You have work to do.”

— Frede.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

"GO" Already. Just GO!

In a fit of boredom the other night, I signed up for HBO-GO, the new service from the company created to support people with AppleTVs or Amazon Fires or suchlike similar devices. Not more than an hour later, my seven-day free trial came to a premature end when I logged into iTunes and cancelled the thing.

It wasn’t (really, it wasn’t) that I’d been promised access to the complete HBO library, whereas what was really on offer was maybe less than half of what I presume their library to contain (no Tales from the Crypt, for instance). No, what really prompted me to git outta town while the gittin’ was good was simply this: everything that HBO has ever made makes me feel Icky.

I knew that I wasn’t going to like Game of Thrones, the series that everybody and her second cousin is raving about. I am just not a fan of the genre, that sort of mediaeval royal intrigue where the whole show involves everyone just plotting against everyone else, everyone just waiting for their opportunity to slide a knife between the next person’s shoulder blades. This is just simply Too Much Like Real Life to interest me. I got enough of it working at the Waterville Morning Sentinel and at Colby College and other places: since the real world is so very much like that, why would I want to spend my free time watching TV shows about it? My impression of Game of Thrones, never having seen a frame of the show or read a word of the books, was that it was just More of The Same, only with tits and gore.

I didn’t expect it to be shoddily made as well. And yet, right there in the first five minutes of episode one, there were obvious tire tracks in the snow when the riders went out to… do whatever they were going to do. Suspension of disbelief is one thing, this is just crap workmanship. Then, after a bit, it seemed like something scary or gory was going to happen, so I hit the fast-forward button: and yes, right there in the first five minutes, off goes someone’s head and plop! into the snow. 

Ick. This is just Not for Me. I backed out and tried Deadwood instead.

Well. The thing about Deadwood is that you can IMMEDIATELY tell it’s an HBO show because everyone says “fuck” and “cocksucker” every other word. Other than the shock value, this adds absolutely zero to the story; and “shock value” seems to be the main thing that interests HBO. In the first five minutes of episode one, we get an extremely unpleasant and hands-on hanging; in the first ten minutes someone has been graphically shot through the head, and Brad Dourif, acting even crazier than usual, gets to run a steel rod into the wound, straight through the head and out the other side — the side facing us. 

And yes, Ian McShane is as knock-down brilliant as you would expect playing Al Swearengen, the barkeep and de facto owner of the town. But — this is the lead character. The lead character is supposed to have at least some likable or redeeming quality: Swearengen has none. I just don’t want to invest even a tiny part of my life in a show about people as reprehensible as this.

At this point I did not feel up to sampling The Sopranos or Six Feet Under. I was already feeling covered in Ick. I did skate through the selection of soft-core porn that HBO also offers, and even this was bad: how freakin’ long can you watch a massage?

I said, out loud, “That’s it.”

And went on to spend a lovely two hours with Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy in Maytime from 1937. Much, much more my speed. Y’all can keep your Icky HBO modern world. I will confine myself to entertainment that doesn’t punch me on the nose or try to shock me every five minutes. My new motto: “Life is too short to include HBO.” But, hey — at least the “B.O.” constitutes Truth in Advertising. 

— Frede.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

An ISBN for the Zirkus

It's official -- the First Edition of my Tarot of the Zirkus Magi is now available on Amazon: In order to make that happen, I had to assign an ISBN to the deck. That number is 978-0-9884140-5-1 -- so now, theoretically at least, it can be ordered by and from brick-and-mortar bookstores everywhere.

-- But the fact is that you can get it cheaper and with less fuss and with more options direct from my site. It's available right here in the sidebar, or you can go to and see all the other decks I have on offer. From Fortune Telling Playing Cards to Lenormand to oracle decks to tarot, there's an awful lot to see, with more on the way! Why buy a crappy mass-produced deck from the likes of U.S. Games Systems when you can get something unique direct from the artist? 'Nuff said!

-- Frede

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Light and Dark and Off the Beaten Track

It goes without saying that Hollywood no longer knows how to make movies. What may be news is that it doesn’t even know how to distribute or market the good movies being made in other countries.

Miss Minoes is a charming children’s move from the Netherlands about a cat that’s transformed into a young woman. If you’re concerned about the how or why of that, this is not your movie. However, if you just accept the premise, and if you enjoy such things in a children’s picture as: good performances (especially from the mesmerizing Carice van Houton in the title role); a child lead who is not offensively precocious; a gentle, humorous adventure in which  justice prevails and an unlikely romance blooms; and if you prefer a children’s movie that doesn’t hit you over the head with some insipid “message” about friendship or self-empowerment, then Miss Minoes should be right up your alley, cat.

The movie was made fourteen years ago, and released in America for about five minutes under the misguided and not very enticing title Undercover Kitty. Hollywood seems to have done everything in its power to bury the thing. Hollywood does this, frequently, to movies that it does not understand (does anyone remember Bamboozled?) or that threaten to outperform its own product. I found it on iTunes. Glory be to this science-fictional, content-on-demand world that we now live in, in which almost nothing stays dead and buried forever so long as the rights issues can be sorted out.

Emotions that have stayed buried for too long are the subject of the Australian horror movie, The Babadook. If you are one of those Icky people who actually enjoys the kind of blood-soaked, gore-laden exercises in cruelty that Hollywood is currently passing off as “horror movies,” (horrible movies would be the better description) then again this is not your movie. 

Unrated in this country, it deserves a PG-13 but would probably be given an R by our nonsensical MPAA system that can’t even come up with a list of standards that makes sense to itself. There is minimal blood, no gore, and the only person who dies in the whole picture did so some years before the story begins. So-called “jump scares” are nonexistent in the picture, which favors dread and suspense over shock value. That said, the emotions run very high indeed, and lead actress Essie Davis deserves a medal of honor for a performance that goes for broke and leaves nothing at the gate.

The monster of the movie’s title is seen only in shadow: but it is as dynamic as any movie monster and carries more impact than most. Without, hopefully, spoiling too much of the plot, this is a real-life monster that we must all meet, and deal with, sooner or later. The people who don’t appreciate this movie’s denouement are either too thick to “get” what the filmmaker is saying — or else they have never yet experienced the thing that the monster represents; which is to say that they have lived a blessed, merciful life so far, and cannot be faulted for their good fortune. For the rest of us, The Babadook offers a powerful release of negative emotion, feelings that we never asked for, but which inevitably take up residence in our emotional closets, ready to pounce when we are least able to face them.

— Frede

Friday, May 15, 2015

On Saturday Afternoons in 1963

image from The Zirkus Lenormand
It’s taken me almost as long to recover from having guests as it took me to have them. It may end up taking longer. “Getting” your groove back and “got” it are not the same, and I’m still in the category of “getting.”

I have no fresh, eye-opening insights about the trial of guests coming to stay. It’s hard, and that’s all. When the guests are family, it’s even more of a trial. When one is your parent and the other thinks she is your parent — that’s the worst of all. 

My father and I, as you already know if you go back a while with this blog, have not been on good terms for most of my life; so to have that relationship Mostly Functioning, even after an event like this, is a triumph and a miracle. Sure, it would have been easier to spend the same amount of time with him if we could have spread it out over a couple of months — but that’s not an option for us anymore. Gone are the days when we could meet for lunch and go our separate ways. We have entered the era where any visit amounts to a Home Invasion.

Of course parents never stop being your parents, even when you are in your fifties and thought you had attained, at long last, a hard-won Independence. It’s worse when you have a basically submissive personality, as I do whenever I am not sitting at the word-processor keyboard.

For a solid week I walked around feeling four feet tall, feeling like I had no authority in my own house. Dad alone I could have handled: but his wife is an out-of-control, runaway steam engine, and the two of them together completely overwhelmed me. 

On her own terms and turf, she is who she is and that is fine. I accept her as my father’s wife, as someone who is important to him; but there is a line that cannot be crossed, and I will not accept her as my “step-anything.” I had one mother. She was enough. This woman’s position as my Dad’s wife buys my respect for her in that position… and that is all.

So to have this steam-engine, this whirlwind, swoop into my life and begin "fixing" everything from my upstairs toilet to my home mortgage was a mind-numbing-event, an imposition of staggering proportions. 

“That’s just the way she is,” Dad says, in the process putting up with behavior that he would not have tolerated for an instant from my mother. “You just have to take her as she is.”

She is a woman who has clearly never asked herself the question, “How would I feel if a guest came to my house and behaved as I am behaving?” This is a woman who has never heard of the Golden Rule and would brush it aside if anyone confronted her with it. 

On their first night, as we passed the bathroom, I showed them the towel rack. I said, quite clearly: “This is the hand towel. That hanging over the shower is my towel that I dried off with this afternoon. These hanging here are clean towels for you.

They weren’t listening to me. I could tell. And the next morning, sure enough, the two towels they had used to shower with were the hand towel and mine. The two nice clean towels I had set out for them were ignored. It’s just perfectly symbolic of the whole week: they didn’t think they had to listen to me about anything.

She re-arranged my refrigerator, so that I couldn’t find my milk or my eggs. When I put it all back the way that I wanted it, she re-arranged the fucking thing again.

She roared through my gardens and imposed her cyclonic will upon them, not stopping at ripping up trees that I had planted with my own two hands. I am trying to cultivate a gothic look: this was not part of her agenda, and not to be respected.

She “fixed” my upstairs toilet (although I am pleased to say that this was a failure: it’s as bad now as it ever was) and re-caulked my bathroom tub. 

The food that I bought to feed us all for a week is now sitting in the freezer, because she made it impossible for me to plan a single meal: she doesn’t like the way I cook things, which is as they should be cooked. I use real butter, not margarine (which even microbes don’t recognize as food), and sea-salt — a substance forbidden in her house. I cook things in the oven and on the grill and in pots and pans. She cooks absolutely everything in the fucking microwave — even meat. My hero Gordon Ramsay would take her apart in nothing flat, and I desperately needed Gordo to swing by the house and yell at her.

She left coffee mugs and spoons and shit sitting out in my cooking space, and then used the area meant to handle the run-off from drying dishes as her cooking space. My cats walk there. It’s not a sanitary cooking space. But you can’t tell this woman anything. Try to tell this woman anything and she will yammer you to death in her high-pitched pigeon English.

She even tried to re-arrange my basic finances, by proposing to buy my mortgage from the bank — and then giving me just 24 hours to make the decision. 

I’m a person who can’t decide what to have for dinner in that amount of time. In the end, out of sheer frustration at not being given enough time to think about it, I turned her down: and only now, more than a week later, do I appreciate the wisdom of that decision. 

I could not work, on anything, the whole time that they were here. I could not even meditate to clear my head or emotions. Technically, I had the time  to do the latter: but only at the end of the day, when I was too shagged out and emotionally exhausted to do anything more than check my email and then drag myself to bed. 

Tougher than any of this was having to watch the two of them together. Nothing is simple with them: even the smallest decisions they make have to be negotiated. I saw a different man from the one I grew up with. I saw him being careful and considerate and affectionate. He never treated my mother with even the tiniest fraction of respect that accords this woman. Seeing this side of him now, and knowing that he broke my mother’s heart, that he turned her into what she became… I had to turn away to hide my tears. 

They literally drove me to drink. As soon as they left on Saturday morning, I went to the stupor-market and bought myself a big bottle of vodka. It turned out not to be as bad a lapse as it could have been, because at some point I was able to say to myself: “Don’t let them do this to you. Don’t let them have this effect on you. You have work to do. Get on with it.” And so — a little the worse for wear, I did.

It wasn’t all bad. Dad and I were able to “make some memories.” I enjoyed much of the time that I was able to spend with him. We did some things together, we talked a lot, we had some fun. It’s a reminder, I guess, that nothing good comes cheap.

— Frede

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Announcing the tip of an Iceberg:

For many years before and after World War II, both in her native Estonia and in America, Mme. Loviise MÄGI plied her trade as part-time aerialist and full-time fortune teller with the little family-owned ZIRKUS MÄGI *. Upon her death in October  1968 at the age of 72, among her effects was found a strange hand-made divination deck, purportedly created at least one hundred and fifty years earlier by her great grandmother, the cartomancer KATRIN LAINE KALLASTE. Indeed, Mme. Loviise’s only child, Mirjam Vargas, remembered the deck well, and confirmed that her mother used it only for personal and family readings. 

From the early 1800s until her death at a relatively young age late in 1832, at approximately the same time when a certain Mlle. LENORMAND was making such a name for herself in and around Paris, Mme. Kallaste plied her trade among the Balkan nobility and visiting Russian heads of state, gaining a notable reputation as a seer of outstanding ability, using a system of her own creation. Upon her sudden death under mysterious circumstances, however, both her name and the system that she created — widely believed by all who had been exposed to it to be more effective by far than that created and used by Mlle. Lenormand — sank into obscurity. It is believed that she had made a specific enemy of a certain German Nobleman, who enlisted the cooperation of the Lutheran Church to destroy Mme. Kallaste’s reputation and suppress all memory of her system. 

Now in 2015, with the support of the Mägi estate and its executor Annunciata Katrin Vargas, Duck Soup Productions is proud to re-introduce this “scorned oracle” to the world, which we will be doing in two editions. The first is a straightforward reproduction of the hand-made deck from the family collection, in the original Estonian, with notes jotted into the margins of the cards by Mme. Katrin Laine Kallaste herself. The second is a completely modern version, in English, created with charming vintage photographs and Mme. Kallaste’s notes translated into English-language keywords.

 Click the images to enlarge.

Both versions will be available in the final quarter of the year. Stay tuned for more details as this large project nears completion.

Any history of Mme. Kallaste reads like an adventure novel. We hope to announce more projects surrounding her life and works in the coming months. 

— Doug Thornsjo, Creative Director, Duck Soup Productions.

*An incomplete history of the family and their Circus can be found in the nonfiction volume See Them Dance, published by Duck Soup Productions last year. The Divination deck created by Mme. Loviise herself in the early 1930s is also available from Duck Soup Productions in both a facsimile edition and a more compact "Roadshow Edition," under the name Tarot of the Zirkus Mägi. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Now Available

A Slightly Twisted "New Vintage" Tarot

78 cards, 2.75 x 4.75, printed on premium 310gsm casino quality cardstock (linen finish),
origin of material from France. Shrink-wrapped.
Wholesale rates available. Contact


Photos of the Finished Deck -- Click to Enlarge

Choose Your Deck's Color!
Mister Punch's Tarot comes with a standard card back available in three colors! Choose Red, Green, or Blue, no extra charge! 

click to enlarge

Customize Your Punch:
Add $12 and I will Personalize your Deck with a Custom Card Back, Your Name, Monogram, Text -- anything you like!

Choose from the custom back designs below (more designs coming soon!), or send your own image. Then add your name, monogram, a quotation or your own graphic (back E is especially suitable for that) -- anything to make your deck completely unique. If you can imagine it, I can make it happen!

... Don't Forget to Accessorize!

The Tragically Comic or Comically Tragic Tarot of Mister Punch
and all original material copyright © 2015 by Duck Soup Productions, all rights reserved. 
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