Saturday, July 5, 2008

Reviving the birthday spirit

Marcie loved birthdays. If it was her own, she had a mixed view, loving the attention and the opportunity to celebrate but loathing the passage of years (despite her defiance of age). But in others', she took a great and pure joy.

Marcie was invigorated by the celebration of the birth of people she loved so much that I simply had to ask directly. She was humming to herself as she decorated a cake for her friend Kathleen at work.

"Honey?" I asked. "Can I ask you a question?"

She turned and looked at me with her half-open-mouth smile and wide eyes lit in the kitchen's indirect sunlight.

"Are you going to ask me what I put in the icing?" she asked excitedly.

Whether a work fellow, a close friend or a family member, Marcie could be counted on for a cake. Marcie did not make just any cake, though. Her recipes created cakes of unparalleled moistness, flavor and density.

She also improvised to suit particular preferences among her favored recipients, carefully considering the balance of flavors before assembling them. She was truly a maestro of tasteful baking and great confection-making.

I knew her question meant, "Ask what I want to answer first then I will answer what you want to ask." I complied.

"Oooh, yes," I said. "What did you put in Kathleen's cake?"

"Well," she said, turning to the counter and putting one hand on her hip. She enunciated each word. "Let me just tell you."

She held up the wreckage of a Scharffen Berger "Cacao Bittersweet" slab for me to inspect. "This is in the cake itself," she said. "Some I melted and added coconut."

She turned her nose up smugly and spun to the counter again, grabbing a container of half and half. "This you can use for your coffee, because I used it to replace the milk in the recipe."

She turned again and showed me some almonds, crushed in a small bowl. "These will be sprinkled on top of the frosting after I am done."

She smiled and I juggled the three to hold all at once. She turned and helpd up a little bag of Dove dark chocolate hearts.

"These will go around the outside of the cake and one in the middle," she said. "On top of the coconut and almonds."

"Wow," I said. "That is pretty deluxe."

I set the items aside and asked. "So you just love making birthday cakes, don't you?"

She wrinkled her nose. "Sometimes," she said. "Especially if it's for someone who I enjoy talking to. I like even more if they let me do what I want and make something of my own for them, or if it's something new."

"So what kind of cake is that?" I queried, nodding at it with my own half-smile.

"It's a deluxe dark chocolate cake with coconut and almonds that I used espresso for," she said. "It's delicious."

I nodded. She handed me a small bit from the center of the cake she had removed to make the final product sit flat. I took a bite.

I tasted the very moist cake first, then some bittersweet chocolate with a tinge of cocount. With no icing, it was already wonderful. The espresso was invisible in it.

"Wow," I said. "That is riiich!"

"I know," Marcie said. "Kathleen is going to love it. I made it to reflect what I think of her and her antics."

"So what you are saying is, 'Kathleen, you are a nutty, hyperactive woman with a sweet front, chunky middle and smooth exterior who goes down well with milk?" I watched her as she began her silent laugh.

She stop laughing as her breath came back, "Yes," she squeaked. "And I don't mind helping you get fatter, so have... a... cake..."

She took her breath in in deep, gasping breaths between chortles and cackles. she gave me a hug. "She totally lvoes my cakes and refuses to share them, which I completely understand."

"So you give her a cake you know she will eat all by herself?" I asked.

"No," Marcie said. "Oh, no no no. I give her a cake big enough to eat with [people at work and still have half left, which she tells everyone is for her family."

I nodded and she started cracking up. "Then she hides it and eats it all by herself until it's gone."

She took a few seconds then added,"Frank, I love her but she will eat ALL of it. I don't know how she can stand it, but she looooves my cake."

"So that is why you like her birthday so much?" I asked.

Marcie looked more pensive for a second. "I think I like to celebrate birthdays for people that have that lust for living. I like people whose appetites are as large as their personalities."

"I understand," I said.

"Kathleen can be annoying, but she's her own persona and I love that about her," she said. "So a cake for that kind of endless entertainment is nothing, let me tell you, honey."

She gave me a hug and looked up in my eyes. "Do you remember your first birthday with me? How you told me not to celebrate it?"

I certainly did.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Annoying Spell-Check

So Google's spell-check allows non-agreeing clauses and when enabled to do auto-correct, inserts whatever is closest. Grrr... this, coupled with my light typing style, ends up embarrassing me. I hate how my words get mangled by technology.

I am working on a post about birthdays and our girl but have been frustrated by the technology and have therefore delayed it. It will be up soon.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Changes afoot... some thank-yous

Friday was the last day I worked as Editorial Assistant with the San Diego Unified School District. Yes, school cuts got me. This is no big surprise and it plays into my plans, so I am far from stressed. My job officially ended on June 30.

I first pursued the job when Marcie's illness became so acute that I had to both increase my income and find more suitable benefits with no preexisting condition limitations.

It was a good fit for the purpose and with a government agency and regular hours to count on. Surprisingly, I was able to flex my journalistic and communications muscles, too. And I got to work with some great folks. Speaking of which...

Here's a big thank you to Elizabeth, Mary, Art, Bill, Josefina, Adel, Jim, Gordon, William, Gamy, the crews in Mandated Costs and Pupil Accounting, and all the rest of you folks who were so kind.

I am leaving a ton of you out who deserve a mention by name, but hey... it's just an update post. On to the update.

I will be looking for new work in a more lucrative market. I will visit San Francisco and the Bay Area in the next month for interviews. Simultaneously, I will hunt for housing. In both areas, I have done some homework :)

I will also be working at San Diego Unified in a whole new capacity on a two-month contract. Yep, I am slated to be a professional expert fixing up the district's elementary school pages as they convert to a more readable and accessible format.

It carries higher pay than Editorial Assistant. Oddly, this will be my third raise this year, and will show a progression of skills and compensation as I seek out work. I am sure that this, in San Diego, is a fluke.

No matter what, when the position ends, I hope to help SDUSD when called on and I may bid on contracts as they come up. But the bottom line is that I will be working a lot of casual, freelance and contract work while I prepare for a Ph.D. program.

I'll keep you up to date as I move on with these plans, folks. Until then...


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Otto Van Otterson (Conclusion)

We never found out Otto's real name. Marcie didn't need to, having sufficiently filled in the blanks herself.

When Marcie went with me to Humboldt County, she commented that she would miss a lot of people, but, jokingly, she asked, "Well, I wonder what will happen to Otto?"

He was still there when we came back, and now he was living in our new neighborhood, University Heights. We watched him one evening on Adams, pushing his cart to the fence along thew canyon by Trolley Barn Park.

"He's so slow now, honey," Marcie said. "He's too old to be out here."

And it was true. Every time I saw him afterward, there was a little less pep in his step. He was slowing down.

Soon he had no cart, just bore a plastic grocery bag and boarded the bus stooped and weary each time I saw him. There were no sweeping gestures or warbling treatises. He looked around furtively, not proudly and theatrically.

I told Marcie when I saw him and I always said that he looked okay, even though didn't usually. I did not tell her when I saw him being loaded onto an ambulance at Trolley Barn Park as I rode the 11 past.

The last time I laid eyes on Otto was during the summer Marcie received her diagnosis. He was sleeping, sitting, with his bag next to him on the bench by the fence at Trolley Barn Park.

He was snoring as I walked past, and his beard was combed, his flatware was in place, his suit was clean-looking and his pocket also sported a white folded napkin. His pin had changed, however and was now an RAF "bullseye" pin.

I couldn't help but notice his multiple hospital admission wristbands. I began to get close, to read them and know his name, but I stopped and walked away.

His name was Otto, and that's who he had to be.