January - 2008

 

Attending training sessions and peaking over shoulders allowed me to keep up to speed on CRM functionality. Looking over the implementors’ shoulders didn’t always endear me to my staff. Most of them knew I wasn’t questioning their skills or knowledge. It was just my way. If they didn’t know why I did it, I told them. If they didn’t like it they were off the project. My first project I took over in mid-stream from Grant Holland - the best PM we had. His project plan was tight, status was up-to-date and we were on schedule. I just stood at the prow of a smooth sailing ship for six months.

When the fall 2007 rugby season ended I was selected for the West Regional tryouts for the US Eagles but I declined. The coaches were disappointed. The more guys Mission Bay fed the men’s national team the easier it was to attract good players to San Diego and Mission Bay. My decision was made in your office, Doc, when I realized success on the job was more important to me than success on the rugby pitch, especially since playing with the Eagles would mostly be about losing. I had been spoiled by playing on 3 national championship teams at Cal.

EnterpriseTec’s biggest CRM implementation made my decision seem even better. No way I could be PM for the project if I took a leave of absence to play for the Eagles in the spring of 2008. The CRM install was done in conjunction with an implementation of Delphi Financials for BSG - one of the Navy’s big defense contractors. Rarely did Enterprise have a lead role in an implementation like this but the relationship between BSG’s CEO and Lester Quarles was the key. Delphi was the tail on the dog but was going to make more money than EnterpriseTec, given the number of Delphi consultants assigned to the project team.

I didn’t like the project politics but with BSG and two software implementers like Enterprise and Delphi it couldn’t be avoided. An example of project politics took place with Lester and Grant before we met with BSG and Delphi for the project kickoff. Lester mapped out his approach.

“I don’t have to tell you this is a high stakes game. We’ve made our name in CRM, now we have a chance to play the lead with the big boys. I want to make sure we come out of this as the winner. The strategy I have in mind is to always stay focused on the big picture. To that end Grant, you as Program Manager will be the most visible. Cliff, I want you to keep Grant aware of everything and let him do all the talking in status meetings. We’ll set that tone later at the kickoff meeting. Delphi tends try to take over projects like this. They see them as opportunities to build consulting revenue. I’ve clued my BSG buddy in on their tactics, so if you see it raise the flag. Cliff, you’ll be closest to the daily workings so you’re most likely to see it before anyone else. Let me know if you see signs of a power play. Jaki Toussaint, BSG’s Financial Systems Director wanted Delphi to lead the project. She’s a star on the rise linked at the hip to Delphi.”


 

February, 2008

 

Not to be sexist about it, but in that time I was, Financial Systems Directors do not bear resemblance to Halle Berry as a rule. But rules are meant to broken and that’s why Jaki Toussaint caught my attention for more than working together on software implementation. The BSG Delphi Financials and EnterpriseTec CRM systems were to dovetail so that billing could be done for work performed and reflected on the company’s income statements each quarter. It was necessary for the Financials and CRM teams to know the other’s implementation plan.

I was walking to my office after a project status meeting. “Cliff, could I have a moment?” I could tell Jaki wanted more than a moment; I was glad and wary based on Lester’s warning.

“Sure.”

“Actually maybe we should meet for lunch tomorrow after what I just heard.”

“Why’s that?”

“You’re going to implement in 3 months. How is that possible?” Halle Berry with a furrowed brow had my full attention.

“I hoped we made it clear it was a shrinkwrap install with no changes to standard CRM functionality.”

“But we’re not implementing Delphi that way. Financials won’t be ready for 6 months.”

“We can meet tomorrow if you want.”

“Sounds good. Stop by my office around 12. On second thought how about Happy Hour at the US Grant?”

“Cool. Works for me. You know the place?” The Grant was bitchin’.

“What do you know about it?”

“Best martinis and hottest women in town. Tens on a scale of 1 to 10.”

“Booze and women are your top priorities?”

“Depends. Sometimes one, sometimes the other.”

“The history at the US Grant is what interests me. Back in the 60’s they didn’t let women in until 3PM. Some feminist lawyers did want amounted to a sit-in and it changed. The place was built on Kumeyaay tribal land. The tribe bought the hotel back and restored it about 5 years ago. Kind of a what-goes-around-comes-around place.”

“Thanks for the history lesson. See you there tomorrow after work. Say 6?”

“C’ ya.”

The next day after work I explained that BSG’s Sales and Critical Path Management teams had agreed to no changes to our software. All, or almost all, of the necessary Financial data for BSG’s Income Statements would be captured by the EnterpriseTec system, so we didn’t have to wait for Delphi to be up and running. I didn’t explain that it was part of our strategy. The first system up and running is always in the driver’s seat with the client.

Jaki drained her first The Last Cocktail (Tanqueray, rosemary infused syrup, pear puree, champagne) and gave me another Halle Berry furrowed brow.

“How long have you been with Enterprise?”

“Close to 4 years. One before Iraq and 3 after.”

“Weekend warrior for the National Guard?”

“Navy Seal.”

“I’m impressed. Would never have figured you for a SEAL with that hair style.”

My hair was pulled into a ponytail. Remember I had let my hair grow as a sign that I was a rebel, Doc? You said it showed my need for identity. I got grief for it at Enterprise.

“Always keep ‘em guessing is my motto. You been with BSG long?”

“A little over a year. I grew up and went to school in the East.”

“I figured you for the Bayou with a name like Toussaint.”

“Be careful, you're racial profiling.”

“Only Toussaint I heard of is Allen. Wrote a song I like called Southern Nights.” My heartbeat quickened. As you know, I often start on the wrong foot with women of interest.

Jaki smiled. “I was kidding. Part of the family’s still there - the musical part. That song was Allen’s memories of childhood. Glen Campbell recorded it because it reminded him of his childhood. My part of the family moved to New York.”

“Manhattan?” No more racial profiling, so I didn’t mention Harlem.

“Harlem, then Columbia and Harvard Business School.”

“I’m impressed.”

“What was Iraq like?”

“Next topic.” You know me, Doc, didn’t want to drag out those memories.

“I should have asked if you minded. I’m sorry.”

Funny how things go. We were impressed by each other and made apologies from the beginning. Something that never changed between us.



 

 

September, 2008

 

I didn’t know the details, but negotiations were underway for a merger. I stood to make a bundle. Jaki and I were having more than casual sex, might even say we were in love. Lester Quarles didn’t say it, he said, “I knew you had a way with women but I didn’t count on you seducing the client. Makes the job a lot easier.”

“Had nothing to do with it. We hit it off from the beginning.” I hoped maybe love did have something to do with it.

 La Jolla is in Raymond Chandler’s words, ‘a nice place for old people and their parents.’ Being neither old, nor parents, we still spent a night at the La Valencia Hotel. Over dinner Jaki didn’t hide the fact she knew Lester and EnterpriseTec were wired at the top.

“Lester and my CEO go back to their days together in the Navy. The good old boys network can do wrong. I know that.”

“I’m not one of the good old boys.”

“That’s one of the reasons I’m spending my nights with you.” She touched my cheek. “Now tell me the truth are you guys setting me and Delphi up to fail?”

Badmouthing Delphi wouldn’t gain her respect.

“Not that I know of. We want to make sure that Delphi does right by you. For sure Lester’s Navy ties with your CEO are strong. We don’t have big implementation risk, because it’s shrinkwrap. You can reduce your risk by doing a vanilla shrinkwrap Delphi. Get the software installed then add functions later. That’s what we’re doing on the CRM side.”

“I think you just told me all I need to know. Thanks. I’ll modify my plan and look like a hero. Now I can relax. Good place for it.” She turned to a windowful of Pacific surfers and sunset.

I didn’t relax; I was studying the folds of her gold and white off-the-shoulder dress. She was an in-the-moment Califia. My first sighting of Califia had been the mural in the Mark Hopkins Hotel. Mark Dixon’s state of California’s mythical namesake and Jaki had more than sex in common. They both ruled my now-and-then state of euphoria where black beauty ruled.

“One of my Mission Bay buddies got married here.”

What happened later that night was our wedding night in a manner of speaking. I’m glad I live in a time when modern women think premarital sex is good for the soul. It didn’t hurt that I had helped Jaki to succeed with my suggestion for shrink-wrap over dinner. We did a different kind of shrink-wrap for dessert.


 

April, 2009

 

After the BSG success I was assigned to manage another project. Swept away on tides of sex, booze and drugs Jaki and I made plans for a honeymoon in Hawaii over the New Year. Brushing loose strands of hair from my eyes, I gazed out the conference room window at the horizon thinking of my Califa surfing topless on the waves of Oahu. There were no Bonzai pipelines cresting on San Diego Bay I could see from the 20th floor of the Marina Executive Building so I interrupted Carl Mangan’s briefing.

“Everything cool with the database?”

“Pretty much.”

Carl wasn’t the kind of guy to be evasive but what he said was not what I wanted to hear.

“Pretty much?  Either it’s cool or it’s not.  There’s no ‘pretty much’ when it comes to the database.” I needed to draw the truth out of him if I was going to get the real picture of what was going on. They didn’t put me here as a new PM when Grant resigned because everything was AOK.

“Well there’s some key fields that we have to go back and load.  They didn’t get initialized correctly.” Carl seemed relieved at the chance to clue me in on the reason I was here.

“Why’s that?”

“Users didn’t initially load the data.”

“Maybe we can move ahead anyway and bring the data in later.”

“That’s what I thought when I first came on board, but it’s the customer’s sales history. They want to know what’s been going on with their customers from day one when we turn the system on.”

“That’s nice but if they didn’t tell us that during the requirements definition…”

Carl’s turn to interrupt. “There wasn’t a Requirements Definition phase.”

The lack of a system requirements definition was not a subject for the group to discuss at the moment. “OK for now, let’s adjourn. I’ll send you all an email announcing the time of the next meeting. Carl, hang around a minute.”

He waited in silence. I went for the jugular to see how he’d react.

“Carl, without a requirements definition we’re shooting in the dark! We don’t know what the hell the…”

He interrupted me again.

“Most of BioParts executives don’t know it wasn’t done. I don’t know about our guys. Project Management knows it wasn’t done because the phase was never put in the original project plan. Probably part of the sales strategy to lowball the price.”

“I know how that one goes, but to not do a Requirements puts us all at risk.  No wonder Grant left for Accenture, he wasn’t going to be the fall guy.  Looks to me like you and me will be prime targets when this thing goes south.  How much customer sales history data we talking about?”

“2,000 customers with an average of 5 transactions per.  Might take 2 weeks to load with the staff we have.”

“I can handle that in a couple of days with a third party if we have to, but it’s the other stuff we don’t know that worries me - the stuff the customer really wants.  I’m gonna have to talk to Lyle. Don’t go over any of this with our project team until I’ve gotten back to you.  By the way I liked the way you were handling the meeting up until we came to the moment of truth.”

I wanted to recognize his talent so I gave him 2 thumbs-up as he left.  I remained at the conference table rubbing my chin, before I heard the stut-stut-stut. EMDR helped me overcome my fear, Doc, but my fear never went away. Blinded by the sun I stared at the  copter heading for the 405 for a radio traffic report.  A rent in the sky turned blood red and the fiery image of that Hellfire I missile flashed for a split second. I picked up the phone to call my boss before I decided to make the call from my own office. My office was illumined by the late afternoon light show over the Pacific as I reached in the bottom drawer and poured a double Hornitos Anejo.

Lyle Descartes answered my phone call. “What’s up, Cliff?  Kind of late for a call from you on Friday afternoon.  Not playing tomorrow?”  

“We have to talk.  Had my first status meeting.  Didn’t go so well, seeing as that you failed to clue me in.”

I waited...he waited.

“On?”

“The lack of a system requirements definition.  How the fuck do we ever finish when the user never told us what they want the system to do for them?  Jesus Lyle, you know this is the classic blueprint of a maze without an exit. No wonder Grant cut out. I wondered why he did it in mid-stream; he wasn’t the kind of guy to leave without finishing. He saw the handwriting on the wall and I do too.”

“Hold on, hold on, bro.  You're there to be a hero.  Meet me at the ferry in half an hour, I’ll tell you what we’ve got in mind.”  

I knew I didn’t fit the Top 10 MBA grad school IT Consulting Director image. Besides being a rugby-playing surfer with a sun-bleached blonde ponytail I drank all the tequila and gin I could handle without missing a day’s work. Weed and cocaine were part of most of my nights with Jaki.  I’d been a Navy SEAL and Lester made sure I was hired even though I flubbed the interview process. Lyle Descartes was not the kind to hire someone with an obvious penchant for the wild side but in the three years since I had come on board he had been more than tolerant and I almost thought of him as a friend. Lyle stood waiting on the wharf where the ferry idled in readiness for our San Diego Bay crossing.

“I don’t know why we don’t do this more often.” Lyle nudged me with his elbow.  It was almost SRO with about 40 commuters and a few tourists waiting for the 15 minute trip to Coronado Village.

“Go to and from work everyday with my middle-aged boss?  Come on, Lyle, give me a break.”

“Middle-aged?  Give ME a break! I won’t be 45 until next month.”

We laughed. I knew Lyle was 47. He wore the standard Friday casual executive attire - blue-and-white striped button down shirt, Polo khakis, and Italian calfskin loafers. A ferry crewman tossed the docking rope onto the deck, pushed into the harbor with his foot and then jumped on. The trip across the bay was typical for a fall day in San Diego with the temperature in the 70’s and a breeze blowing over a light chop.

“Who you playing tomorrow?”

“Golden Gate.  They beat us in San Fran last spring.  Time for some payback.”

We chatted Chargers and Tiger Woods for the 15 minutes it took to get to the Coronado Ferry Landing and the quaint shops and restaurants adjoining the small harbor of the 3rd most expensive city in the USA. Lyle’s silver-black Panamera sat in the first row of cars in the parking lot.

“How  do you like the new ride?”

“Like it a lot. Their making a big thing in the car magazines about the steering-wheel shifters but once you get used to them they’re fine.  We can talk at my place. Wanna drive?”

“Maybe some other time.” I was anxious to get to talk about the project but we weren’t following my agenda. He had invited me for drinks several times. Drinks at Lyle’s place were a tradition I had yet to attend so I played the good employee role. He pulled onto Orange Ave. and accelerated before slowing for the traffic around the Del - the locals’ name for the Coronado. He parked in the underground lot of the Coronado Sands.

“Lester told me he got you a good deal on your place.” Lyle pushed the button for the elevator.

“Yeah. They were asking 1.5 mil and I got it for a mil on lease-purchase.  I’m gonna change into shorts. Be at your place in a minute.”

“Carla’s not home till late.  She’s got Friday after-work drinks.  I’ll make us some. Your first visit, right? 1608.”

I got off the elevator on the 5th floor. I had moved into the Coronado Sands just before Labor Day thanks to Lester’s loan. Living in the same complex as my boss was not my idea, but Lester had gotten me a deal that fit the image of the fast-rising junior exec just about to be married.  The Sands was a 7 building complex of units surrounded by ocean that sold for a million and up.  I slipped into shorts and an All Blacks tee-shirt.

Lyles’ place was at the upper end of the Sands’ price scale with a 180-degree panorama of the Pacific, the Del’s Victorian towers and the Coronado Bridge curving over the bay from San Diego and the mainland. The floor was golden-earth Italian travertine from Tivoli, with an eating counter and inset cooking range separating the dining area table from the kitchen. The open cooking and dining areas and the living area that bordered them were enclosed by windows fronting the ocean and San Diego’s skyline. Lyle’s condo was not in the same price range as mine or Akram’s apartment in Baghdad.  

“Nice view. I usually understate when I’m overwhelmed.”

“Had trouble sleeping at night when we first moved in.  Between the city lights and the holiday lighting of the Del’s towers we just sat here and stared deep into the night.  The sunsets are something to see. I made martinis. If you’d prefer something else, name your poison.”

Lyle set a shaker on a rust marble counter flecked with grey.

“Martini’s fine.”

“Up or on the rocks? This is Tanqueray neat. I have vodka and vermouth.” Lyle lifted the shaker indicating it held his gin of preference before he set the shaker on a teak and chrome coffee table. He motioned me to take a seat next to him.

“No better drink I can think of.  Trying to soften me up so I’ll forget what I came here to say?”   

He laughed.

“No con games, Lyle, without a requirements definition this is going to blow up in our face.”

“It’s not what you think.  We sold BioParts sales VP a vanilla implementation with no changes to the standard CRM package, so the requirements definition is met by Delphi’s functionality.”

We had merged with Delphi six months previous. I should say Delphi bought us.

“I feel better hearing that, but they want sales history right out of the chute.  That’s not vanilla. We on good enough terms with BioParts to get them to pick up the tab for the data entry?”

“I think so.”

“So why the hell did Grant cut out?”

“So you could be a hero. Lester wanted YOU for this one.  He set up Grant with an old buddy of his over at  Accenture.  The guy called Grant and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.”

“Why me a hero?”

“Honor, Courage, Commitment, and Integrity. You know the mantra. Sometimes I think the Budweiser is all that matters to Lester. You got your trident and he’s got his.”

“There are times I wish I didn’t.”

“Don’t tell him that. He’s got plans for both of us. We’re gonna open an office in Greece and the MIddle East. He wants you to be Ops leader over there after we finish here. You’ll be his right hand over there. I’m going to run things here while he gets things rolling.”

“Grant was more qualified than I am to lead Ops.”

“But Grant doesn’t have a trident. Project management’s most of the details of the Ops Leader’s job and you’re a good one. You and I are sitting pretty. The money’s good and we trust each other. Just don’t let Lester get any sniff that you’re not a SEAL from the top of your head to your toes. I know you had some tough times over there but you came through them. That’s one of the reasons he wants you at his side in Greece.  Who knows? This place could be yours when you come back.”  

Lyle waved his arm in a circle to show me he meant his condo.

“What the fuck? This place must be close to 5 mil. I ain’t making that kind of money.

“Me neither. It’s corporate digs for my level and up. Another one of Lyles’ lease purchase options with the builders. He told me if things go smoothly he’s moving me to Europe to run everything and you’ll come back here with him and take over my job.” Lyle got up from the sofa and opened the sliding glass door to the deck. The sun was dipping into a color wheel palette of yellow, cyan and magenta dripping paint on the Pacific. I sat back with the uncomfortable feeling that my life was being taken care of. Turning down a second drink I headed back down to my place hoping sleep would come early for a change, but sleep didn’t come early, matter of fact it hardly came at all. I walked along the beach when I couldn’t drift into dreamland. Standing between the Del’s twinkling lights and the sound of the surf, I heard a siren.

“Hey, hey! Can you help me?” A young woman was sitting next to one of the fire pits the Coronado made available for guests on cool evenings.

“How do I put this out?” She got up from her lounge chair.

“You don’t. The hotel will take care of it.”

“Jesus, I’m dumb. Mindy.”

She extended her hand. I took it.

“Cliff.”

 

The next day through the jingle-jangle of a sleep-deprived brain I looked into a blue vault of sky for a ball floating away from me like a swirling kite. Scurrying back to the 22 I heard heavy breathing and cleats pounding into the ground before securing the ball. My neck snapped back like the dummy in that auto insurance commercial we’ve seen so many times on TV. The tackler didn’t wrap his arms so I got up and ran 20 meters before off-loading just short of mid-field to my hooker who was running hard behind. Golden Gate had been caught by surprise thinking I would stay down. Mission Bay’s 8 man joined in the run. The 8 man was the biggest, baddest guy on the field, 6’4’, 260, and 4.8 in the 40.  The three of us cut back to the middle of the field and the hooker off-loaded the ball to the 8 man who ran over one guy and cut back toward the sideline before making a clever behind-the-back pass to me less than 10 meters from the try line. I touched the ball down in the corner just as the referee signaled time had run out.  It was my best rugby moment since coming back from Baghdad and Camp Headhunter. My try gave Mission Bay our first win of the year in the USA Super League.

No time for the after-match party; Jaki was waiting. I hurried to my cream-colored 1993 300ZX; there were no T-tops made after 1993. I’d bought it as an investment, plus it was a fun ride. I dialed Feel It In the Air Tonight by Naturally 7 tightening strands of my hair through a rubber band with one hand while steering with the other.

I should have felt like I was somewhere over the rainbow as I headed to a rendezvous at the Bajamar with Jaki. Her I-don’t-believe-a-word-you-say look and centerfold body went with a monthly trust fund income more than twice my salary. She was impressed by my job and the rugby but it was our Tantra of coitus non interruptus, cunnilinguis and fellatio that erased the doubt in her eyes but not mine... there were always doubts in mine those days. No matter what I drank, smoked or snorted though, viagra always did its thing.

But somewhere over the rainbow I was not.  I was not making ends meet. The pot, the Captain Jack, the top-shelf liquor, the ED meds, the classic Z, the new Porsche, the oceanside condo, the tailor-made clothes and the haute cuisine dining added up to more than I made in a month. Besides my money woes, dreams from my Baghdad past were engendering more sleepless nights since I moved into the Sands. Last night had been no exception. Why was I walking the beach? Why hadn’t I called back after Jaki’s 3 phone calls? To be honest, the 2 hours with Mindy had left me speechless.

My thing with Jaki was open at first, but once we decided to get married we agreed to be a one-man woman and one-woman man. Jaki wanted a child; I kind of did too. No more fucking around. Last night wasn’t supposed to happen. Now what? Tell her? No way.

I parked outside the restaurant. We were meeting at Bajamar in Rosarita for a fund-raiser for last summer’s Ventana Wilderness wildfires and to reserve a date for our wedding reception. Jaki’s father had to have the wedding at a golf course. He wanted Pebble Beach. Fine by me, but most of Jaki’s friends were in LA and San Diego so Bajamar would have to do. I spied Jaki in a gold and white dressing gown, sipping a Bloody Mary - another rendering of the Mark Hopkins’ Califia. Sometimes when I’m about to enter a room I become overwhelmed by inertia. Doc, you said it’s my doubts of being able to deal with the unexpected. You were probably right this time. Jaki was talking to a strange guy innocently enough, but it wasn’t like the guy was pawing her. I thought of last night with Mindy and wondered if Jaki had spent last night with the guy. If she had we’d be even and I’d be happy. All I had to do was walk into the bar and she would turn on that perfect smile and everything would be fine. But I didn’t walk into the bar, I turned and walked back to the car.

I drove south circling the dial on the IPod frantically for Linda Ronstadt’s Desperado. I sped through the hills, mesas, and succulents of Norte Baja California knowing I was burning a bridge, maybe even making an enemy. It didn’t make sense. I turned off my cell phone, turned up the volume on the Bose speakers, and jammed the accelerator to the floor. It did make sense. The desperado had come to his senses. I spent the night with Mindy because I knew I wasn’t ready. Monogamy, making a baby, being a daddy? That was not for me. I dialed up the song I used to sing to Virginia - Warren Zevon’s Carmelita…”hold me tighter,” I screamed into the wind.  

 

The huge flag beside the Bahia des Todos Santos in the Plaza Ventana fluttered like a Mexican welcome mat turned upside-down. I put the top on the car, ate some ceviche and camarones tacos at the Mercado de Mariscos, then walked to Avenida de Ruiz looking for the red, gold, green and white sign. Hussong’s hadn’t changed except for some new coats of green paint on the wainscoting and some minor repair work that had been done to the sheet metal ceiling. The bar was the same polished wood; the clock on the wall was still stopped at 3:40; the same chiaroscuro portraits on the wall; the same moose head hung over the doorway to the john. I felt at home taking the first empty stool. Welcome back to the Baja’s first cantina.

“Hey, Carlos, que pasa bro?”

The bartender looked up from shining his turquoise silver eagle cachina belt buckle.  A smile spread across his brown face darkened by a meticulously trimmed black moustache.

“Nada, mi amigo.  Been a while. 4th of July right?  Carlos stuck his hand across the bar.”

“Good memory. Been too long.  Give me one straight up, even though I don’t believe Hussong invented it here or it’s named after Senorita Henkel...the girl’s name was Cansino.”

“Always the joker. Rita Hayworth didn’t need no drink named after her. She was intoxicating.”

“Speaking of intoxicating flamencas, have you seen one around here lately?”

“Not in a while.  She left this for you though. She was pretty mad when you didn’t show. I almost threw it away it’s been so long.”   

Carlos reached behind the glass jug of honey-colored Hornitos Anejo, handed me an envelope, and mixed the margarita I ordered. Then he poured a shot of the Anejo into a separate glass.

“I’ll need a few before I read this.”

I drained the shot. Six magaritas and five shots later I slid from the stool.

“Manana, mi amigo.  If you see her give her this. Tell her I miss her.”

I took a business card from my wallet fumbling to get my credit card.

“Buenos noches, Cliff.  Don’t be a stranger.  Gracias.”

Carlos nodded, picking up the card and pocketing the 20 I slid across the bar.

I meandered through Hussong’s looking for Virginia’s brown-black eyes to no avail. Outside Avenida de Ruiz had become a parade of Saturday night party animals. I joined the Saturday night parade with no particular destination in mind. I wasn’t Geoffrey Firmin and it wasn’t El Dia de la Morte, but a rugby match followed by six margaritas and six anejos had pretty much put me under the volcano. I staggered up the steps of the first hotel I came to and flipped the light switch of my room in the Ritz.  

I’d lost my way with Virginia and now I had just run away from the deal that would have set me up for life. Confusion reigned inside my head. Flopping on the bed I took the envelope from my pocket and opened it. The amulet I had given Virginia fell on the floor attached to a necklace. I scooped it up and read her note.

Cliff:

I thought you were honest, maybe you are, but I don’t trust you. You don’t love me. This was no love charm for me, maybe it will be for the next woman you give it to.

Goodbye and I wish you good luck.

No signature - a sign of how pissed she was. I fingered the amulet. It had been given to me for my 13th birthday by my grandmother. Her mother was a Russian Romani interred by the Nazis during the war. She’d been raped by a Nazi guard in the Zigeunerlager  at Auschwitz and had my grandmother before she was executed. Before dying she put the amulet around my grandmother’s neck and smuggled her out. A German nurse found a childless couple who took the infant and gave her the family name. When the Bergers escaped to New York Sarah Berger grew up without a hint of her gypsy origin. At the Bat Mitzvah, her mother told Sarah how she had become a Berger and how she came by the amulet I held in my hand.

When my grandmother gave me the amulet she told me of its power. She had never prayed until the day Clifford Ryder walked into the dance studio where she taught in Manhattan. When she saw him she knew he was going to be hers. Three  months later she and Clifford were engaged and three months after that she was in San Francisco as Mrs. Sarah Ryder. Anya Ryder, their only child, was my mother. Anya married Sam Porter in a Haight-Asbury hippie ceremony. He came back from Nam to die in an auto accident with Anya before my 1st birthday. The car accident made them the parents I never knew and me the son Grandmother Ryder never conceived but raised as her own.

Grandmother told me the amulet was to be worn for luck in love. Copper talismans were crafted during the Middle Ages by Kaballah-influenced artisan since copper was an invocation of Venus, the planet of the love goddess. My pendant was engraved with words encircling the 4th Pentacle of Venus from The Key Of Solomon - a medieval grimoire, a book of magic. The 4th Pentacle called on Venus to bring a lover to the wearer of the talisman. The magic words were described in the grimoire as being of ‘great power, since it compels the Spirit of Venus to obey, and to force on the instant any person thou wishest to come unto thee.’ The outer rim was inscribed with a verse from Genesis: ‘This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. And they two were one.’  Inside the inscription were the Hebrew letters ‘IHVH’ for Jahweh the unspoken, along with various names of the spirits of Venus carved on the face. Grandmother gave me the amulet and told me when I met the girl of my dreams to pray to God to make her love me in return. Grandmother’s believe in Kabbalah was intricately spiritual. In the copy of the Song of Songs my grandmother handed me, she had written...

This is the only part of the Torah that explains the heart...carry this book and wear this amulet always.