Sarah the Channeler

August 8, 2017

I found this story, figured I’d never make money on it, so why not share? It’s a rather unkind satire of New Agery in Ann Arbor in the early 1980s, written maybe 25 years ago. Take it for what’s worth, or not. ©2017, me.

Sarah the Channeler

By Jeffrey Quick

5128 words


Mack was in love again. My apartment-mate, the yoga teacher, was moaning in the living room like a sick calf. These affairs were getting hard to take, not just because people in love act so stupidly, but because Mack liked the spiritual ones, the New Age bimbos. He couldn’t settle for something normal, like nice tits. They had to have nice auras. You know how some women spend a half-hour putting on makeup in the morning? These women spent that time sitting in some candle-lit corner twiddling their chakras. And then Mack would come by with his sexual energy and throw them out of balance. That’s why he went through so many of them.


I was hoping that this one would be better than the last one, Moira O’Morrigan, Celtic New Age harpist. She had been born Esther Goldman and had been a promising concert saxophonist. But it’s not New Age to be Jewish, with all that Yahwist patriarchal crap and then Alice Bailey like Hitler in drag, babbling about the root races and how the Jews lost their shot at bringing forth the next World Teacher. And the sax was an industrial-age instrument with no mythic resonances at all, and an association with jazz, that evil music put through by the Dark Forces, as the Master Koot Hoomi told Cyril Scott. So after she got Rebirthed, she changed her instrument and her name. A person who could so easily dispose of her past could never come down as close to earth as Mack’s waist. So that didn’t last long.


Really, Mack would be a lot easier to live with if he’d only blow off some of that sex-energy. But he didn’t believe in that, or so he said. He came in one night from the gym, limping. He’d been shooting baskets in his stocking feet, landed wrong, and pulled a ligament. He came in, sat down, and told me why it happened. “My muscles were weak, because I beat off last night.” I managed somehow not to burst out laughing, and said, “Mack, if there were a direct causal relationship at work here, I’d be an invalid by now. If you want to punish yourself for masturbating, go right on ahead, but you don’t have to.” He was a little pissed at that.


This seminal Scrooge even built his diet around his fetish. No cayenne, of course; it gives you the hots. No onions; they give you wet dreams. He’d get on my case for frying bacon and stinking up the place, but every morning he’d cook kasha and bulghur liberally seasoned with asafetida, also known as devil’s dung. Yum. And for dinner, buckwheat ramen with spirulina, which always reminded me somehow of Soylent Green. The pity was, it did him no good on the firing line. I knew one of his past lovers, one of the saner ones, who told me he specialized in dancing the Minute Waltz. Being tense did that. And since he was horny, of course he was tense, even in general. He’d throw fits over little things, break dishes…terrible temper.


Don’t get me wrong. Mack could be a great guy. He was funny, talented, understanding. And I’m a born-again Goddess-fearing pagan myself, so some potential room-mates would find me pretty strange too. But this yogic thing he’d swallowed had broken my flake barriers, and it did make him hard to live with.


Anyway, Mack was in love, and I had met the woman that very afternoon. She had just opened a metaphysical bookstore. I had walked in to check it out, and saw her behind the counter. She had long, thin, slightly kinky blonde hair and bright but expressionless blue-gray eyes. She was of medium height, and very thin, like most New Agers, Mack included. I mean, they all look like their center of gravity is six inches above their heads. I had gone up and introduced myself, and asked her name. “They call me Sarah,” she said, as if she were someone else, a superior being, forced by them to wear the label “Sarah” like the Scarlet Letter. I didn’t know how to react to that, so I had left, coughed the incense out of my lungs, and walked home to find Mack moaning. What could I do? I just grabbed a beer out of the fridge and sat down to listen.


“She’s so fuckin’ beautiful, man!” he said. “She’s got that sweet elusive Cancer quality, real yin. You think you’re holding her tight and then she just slips out of your arms. It gets my fire sign stuff all revved up.”


“Fire and water,” I said, “A classic combo. Do you think it’ll get steamy?”


“Hey, I don’t have any water at all in my chart. How do you expect me to balance out my emotional self?”


“Work on yourself; how else? What is she good for, besides filling up your holes, or vice-versa?”


He shot me a dirty look. “She’s really into Shirley MacLaine.”


“And Jane Fonda too, right?”


“Yeah, she works out every day. How did you guess?”


“She’s into celebrities. I know the type. Too bad she didn’t listen to Art Linkletter when he told people to stay off acid.”


“Hey, wait a minute! You’re bad-mouthing this woman, and you don’t even know her! That kind of reflects on me, doesn’t it?”


If the shoe fits, I thought, but didn’t say. Last time I pulled something like that, he threw a monster fit. Screamed at me for an hour, until I could barely stand or breathe. I felt sick for two days. Asperged the apartment with salt water, grounded the leftovers in the kitchen sink drain and broke the garbage disposer. Better calm him down. “No, not really. I’m not knocking your taste in women. But I just met her, down at the store. Interesting place.” Yeah, sure. She had the unabridged complete works of Alice Bailey read on convenient 90 minute cassettes by the channeled voice of Alice herself, textbooks on prepucology (the diagnosis of any ailment, physical or emotional, by examination of the foreskin, assuming one has one.), Kabbalistic interpretations of Das Kapital. Paraphernalia like pyramid hats, and toilet paper with the face of the Bhagwan Rajneesh on every sheet. Plus lots from those channeled entities, Ramtha, Seth, Lazaris and the rest.


“Yeah, it’s a good store,” Mack said. “She’s going to special-order me some books on Taoist sex techniques.”


Could she tell by looking? I thought. He wouldn’t be moaning here if they had…


“And I’m going to be minding the store for her part-time. She’s just starting a second career.”


“Doing what?” I had to ask.


“Channeling workshops. She just learned how last week. She brought through the consciousness of this Sacred King named Sinep, who was earth-merged into some Druidic temple in Vermont about 800 BC. Pretty amazing guy.”


A channeler, eh? Well, nature abhors a vacuum, I thought. Still, I was interested in this Sacred King business, and in the psychopathology of the lady. So I asked, “Why do you think all these people are trying to channel?”


“Well, the Age is changing, and the human race is in danger. People want to help. And these advanced disincarnates seem to know things we don’t.”


Yeah, things about making a buck. “It just seems a little unfair to me. If what these guys have to say is so important to us, why didn’t they incarnate? Why shouldn’t they get hungry and horny and have 9 to 5 jobs like the rest of us?”


“We weren’t in this kind of trouble 20 years ago. They would have had to forget themselves, leave their personalities behind, and not be able to help. And it’s an honor, man, like being ridden by the vodoun loas.”


“I’m a human, not a horse,” I said dryly. “Anyway, what did this Simp or whatever his name was have to say?”


“Mostly that we’re all gods, that we can change our lives, bring peace to the earth and avert the coming pole shift.”


“Big deal. And people pay money to listen to that?”


“Yeah. She’s got a dozen signed up for a workshop next Sunday, at $50 each.”


“That’s cheap for a channeler.”


“Well, she’s just starting out, and she’s not really into money anyway. But she has a problem. She doesn’t have a place to do the workshop.”


“What’s wrong with the store?”


“Too crowded, too open to the street. And Jeff, um, ah, I want her to do it here.” And he turned and looked right at me.


Now what was I going to do? I wasn’t real big on the idea of a dozen loons wandering through my living room. But it was Mack’s place too, and fair is fair. I didn’t want to piss him off. If this helped him score, he’d be easier to live with. And I was curious. What kind of fraud was this woman? Or was she for real? That was a scarier thought. I’m suspicious of untrained mediumship. You never know what’s going to take over. If there was going to be any trouble, I didn’t want to miss it.


“Yeah, sure”


“I’d rather you were gone then.”


“It’s my place too.”


“Well, you’re such a skeptic. It tends to throw mediums off.”


“No., really, I’m interested. I want to see what this is all about.”


“Ah…OK. Just don’t be an obnoxious asshole, like you are now,” Mack said with an embarrassed giggle.


I smiled at him. “I’m opinionated, but I’m not rude. I’ll be cool.”


“Thanks. Got a spare beer?”


“Sure.” Mack almost never drank. This was a good sign.




Sunday finally arrived. Mack got up early, just as I was pulling the bacon from the refrigerator, and slapped my hand. I ate an omelet instead. Then I got drafted to push the furniture back and help clean. Mack was very firm that the apartment had to be absolutely immaculate. He said that dirt attracts psychic creepy-crawlies. Yeah, I suppose that clutter disorders the mind, but I always figured that the Goddess loves dust bunnies as much as the kind that hops. But with company coming and all, cleaning seemed like the thing to do.


He pulled the smoke detector off the ceiling and lit enough incense to physically manifest a grimoire-full of demons, had either of us been so inclined. Then he brought his stereo speakers out of his room and played New Age tapes. I tried to listen to the stuff. My mistake. I can’t stand music that totally avoids dissonance and resolution; it has no direction. I thought of the music as the shadow of Mack’s sexuality, all release and no tension, and chuckled.


Things were supposed to start at 2. About 1:30 the doorbell rang. Moira O’Morrigan. She came in, looked daggers at Mack, sat down. I tried to make polite small talk, since she didn’t seem to be into talking to Mack, and we’re both into music. She began spewing this line about how she and the Celtic Harpist Alan Stivell were soulmates, and how she had seduced him during his last visit to town. I took this with a small salt mine. Mack excused himself to hit the john, and she stopped talking about Stivell. I saw through her game; she was trying to make Mack jealous. I prayed that somebody else would show up soon.


As we pagans say, “Be careful what you ask for–you might get it.” Next to arrive was this woman named Ursulette. A bear she may have been, but there was nothing “ette” about her 300 pounds. I was surprised to see her, since she didn’t mingle much in New Age circles. She claimed to be Queen of all the Witches in the area. Since she couldn’t even keep an Outer Court group together for more than 6 months, let alone find anyone advanced to work with, nobody took this claim seriously. I supposed she had come to listen to Sinep the Sacred King; she was big on paleopaganism. She probably claimed a past life as artist’s model for the Venus of Willendorf. I could at least talk occult shop with her, sort of.


After that, others started arriving regularly: a lesbian couple who had met at the Womyn’s Peace Encampment, some guy from the local soyfoods plant, and this well-groomed and yuppiesque guy named Jason who had written a book called “God in my Mercedes” and was trying to develop a franchisable business home-delivering wheatgrass juice. Jason I kind of liked, actually; he was honestly mercenary. And there were some people I didn’t know; I introduced myself and tried to make them feel comfortable. But no Sarah yet, and it was getting late. I thought of asking Mack about her, but decided not to. She was probably on New Age Standard Time: half an hour later than the rest of the world. Besides, didn’t Mack say she was a Cancer? They like to make a Grand Entrance.


Sure enough, at 2:05 she came in. She was wearing a white V-neck dress, silk on top and bolt lace from mid thigh down to her ankles. Her hair was held in place by a purple silk headband, with an amethyst mounted at mid-forehead. On a silver chain around her neck was the obligatory quartz crystal. She crossed the living room and announced, “Sorry I’m late. Mack and I have to discuss a few things, and then we’ll get started, OK?” The she and Mack disappeared into his room.


“Hey, your room-mate is cute,” Ursulette said, “How involved is he in the channeling stuff?”


“I really don’t know,” I said. “I think he has personal reasons for facilitating today.”


“Oh, I see,” she said coldly.


Moira was eavesdropping. “You can let go of the desire, Ursie,” she said, “He’s a jerk anyway.”


“So is she, probably,” Ursulette said. “I knew that. But I wanted to come, because I had never heard of anyone channeling a Sacred King before. I thought their energies were tied to their sites, and you had to go there to talk to them.”


“Sacred Kings aren’t so strange,” I said. “There’s a woman in Cleveland who channels a vegetarian biker named Produce.”


“She just vegetates and he sprouts up?” quipped Jason. Megan, half of the lesbian couple, gave him a “Don’t-mock-my-sister” scowl. Things might have gotten interesting if Sarah and Mack hadn’t returned just then.


“OK, We’re ready to get started. I’m sure you all know I’m called Sarah. This is Mack, whose place it is– oh, it’s Jeff’s place too– he’s going to be watching my body while I’m gone and generally facilitating. We have a special guest this afternoon. Sinep is a Sacred King who was buried alive at a ritual site in South Woodstock, Vermont, around 800BC, in order to mediate in the Underworld for his people.”


I thought, she’s read Barry Fell and R.J.Stewart and conflated them. Then I realized something about the King’s name, and stifled a giggle. Not well enough; Dianna, Megan’s mate, turned and glared at me.


“It was a great honor to be chosen a Sacred King. He knew a lot when he was alive, and now that he is on the Other Side, he knows even more. Today he is going to speak to us on the nature of personal reality. Rather than give him a big hand, let’s sit on the floor in a circle, link hands, and attune ourselves to his message.”


So we did that, and stayed quiet several minutes. Sarah sat at the north of the circle, Mack beside her. I sat across from them. We had our eyes closed, but one can’t close one’s eyes forever, and I was suspicious of fraud, so I started looking. I saw Sarah drop her head, shudder, and then blink. Then she spoke, in a deeper voice with a vaguely East-coast accent.


“Good day. This is Phineas Barnum. Welcome to the show.”


I gasped. Fortunately, so did everybody else. This woman was the Real Thing. I do have a Sight for such things, what a charismatic Christian might call “Discerning of Spirits” but wouldn’t in my case. But it was obvious that this was unplanned. After all, she had announced Sinep. And what New Ager would have the guts to fake P.T.Barnum? That would cut a little close to home.


Mack went into action. “Mr. Barnum, we are delighted by your presence with us, but we were expecting Sinep the King. Could you perhaps return to visit us when we are more ready to receive you?”


Barnum/Sarah turned and glared at him. “You were expecting a lecture on the nature of personal reality, on epistemology, if you will. If we are all One, does it matter who gives it?”


“Well, um, ah” Mack muttered.


“And if we are not all One, than am I not uniquely qualified to talk about the difference between reality and fantasy, more qualified than some caveman who was stupid enough to be talked into letting himself be murdered?”


Ursulette was obviously offended by this; she was squeezing her hands together nervously. Barnum looked at her. “Are you irate, eensy-weensy bear?” She turned scarlet. “Sorry to stretch your beliefs like that, but how do you know that Sarah hasn’t been humbugging you about this Sinep? Or that I haven’t been pretending to be Sinep all along? I used to take many common oddities and make them seem odder in order to draw a crowd. You wouldn’t have come to hear a mere showman. And you need to be talked to.”


A 300-pound woman can’t shrink into the carpet, but Ursulette was giving it her best shot. Megan was not pleased. “Mr. Barnum,” she said, “you’re humiliating our sister!”


“Our sister,” he snorted. “You’re as quick to judge her behind her back as you are to judge me. You’re so righteous, Miss Politics. Where did the Granny Smith apples come from that you brought home yesterday?”


“I bought them at the Co-op,” Megan said proudly. “They’re from New Zealand.”


“Mix-up at the warehouse,” Barnum said. “They were grown in South Africa.” Dianna looked ready to puke one of those apples onto her friend. “And if you think it really matters where they came from, think about the economics of fungible goods again.”


Mack looked panicked. He started muttering something in Sanskrit. “Can that bunkum,” Barnum said. “I couldn’t find a real yogi-man for my show when I was alive, and I certainly haven’t found one now.”


Mack wasn’t giving up that easily. “In the name of Jesus the Christ, be gone out of this woman!” he shouted.


“Nice try at Names of Power, kid”, Barnum said. “They used to do that in my time too, only more convincingly. After all the trouble I had with preachers, you’ll have to do better than that. I suggest you just let me talk until I’m done, and then I’ll leave.”


Mack shut up, but his lips were moving as he crossed himself. “Ateh Malkuth, ve Geburah, ve Gedullah….” I read. Gods, the Kabbalistic Cross. What did he think he was doing with that? The guy had no exorcism technique at all. After Mack threw that fit I told you about, I went to my High Priestess and learned everything I could about psychic self-defense. I knew I could send Barnum scuttling back under his astral rock. But why should I? It wasn’t my karma. And I was having too much fun.


“Now, if I may continue.” Barnum said, “I didn’t believe in mediums when I was alive. I wrote about them and their silly seances in my book The Humbugs of the World, which you can buy along with my Struggles and Triumphs at the entrance to the Greatest Show on Earth or at your favorite bookseller for only…er, um, I seem to be rambling a bit. Anyway, I did not believe in mediums. But I can’t tell you now not to believe in mediums, because I’m here speaking through one. I’d lack credibility, wouldn’t I? But most mediums are humbugs; this one usually is. But she’s a sincere fraud. Everything she channels except me is the flotsam and jetsam of her own subconscious. She only thinks it comes from outside her. Since she’s sincere, she’ll be a successful fake, because there’s a Seeker born every minute.


“The question is this: how does one tell the genuine from the sham? You say to trust your feelings. Horsefeathers! You can’t help but be fooled. When you live in horror of being taken in, you believe yourselves to be a sham, and thus continually humbug yourselves. Such a skeptic does not honor or accept his own mind or senses, and so might as well not have them. On the other hand, if you merely trust your feelings, without objective thought, you will also be fooled by your own wishful thinking. The middle way is to accept that each world, the world of imagination and the world of physical law, has its own rules, which may not be mixed at your pleasure.


“We are all magicians. We create illusions to sustain hope. Behind every sham is a real desire. Lonely men in boarding-houses dreamed of comely mermaids in the South Seas. I gave them a dried monkey torso cunningly attached to a fish tail. Some swore that it was real, and that reality was inferior to their fantasy. Most knew they had been taken in, laughed it off, and went out in search of a normal, loving real wife. They transcended their illusions, and had a good time doing so. You’re just burrowing deeper into yours.


“I gave my patrons their money’s worth. Everyone agreed that there was more in my American Museum in New York than one person could see in a day, and all for only twenty-five cents, children half-price. You’ve paid a sum which is almost two day’s wages for a poor workingman, and for what? Entertainment! You whitened sepulchers, you’re so sanctimonious about hearing the wisdom of the dead. What besides self-loathing makes you think the dead are wiser than you are? They’re dead after all. Sinep never said anything but the platitudes found in a dozen books, which was where Sarah got them. Why don’t you read the books yourselves? And if humans are all gods, why don’t you spread the news for free? Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where everyone acknowledged their divinity? I think you’d rather live in a world where only white middle-class people are gods who expect everyone else to worship them. And that is the world you live in.


“You folks don’t do anything I didn’t do in my day. The only difference is that you take yourselves too seriously and are ashamed of your motives. Jason here is the cleanest among you; he’ll admit he has a prosperity consciousness, which is your jargon for being on the lookout for the main chance. Then Jeff thinks he knows all about what phenomena are legitimate and which aren’t.” He/she stared at me. “Did you know that Charles Godfrey Leland was an associate of mine? He thought very highly of me. You love to impute guilt by association; do you still believe that ‘Gospel of the Witches’ that he claimed to have found?”


“Irrelevant question,” I said. “The validity and power of a myth are not dependent on its basis in fact.”


Barnum looked at me approvingly. “You don’t confuse the planes,” he said.


“I don’t want to get lost on the Other Side,” I said.


“Unlike some here,” said Barnum. “You people keep confusing God and Mammon. You, Esther…” Moira started to object to the name; Barnum cut her off. “I changed Charley Stratton’s name to General Tom Thumb, which was no hokier than you pseudo-Celt stage name. And I presented nice safe moralistic plays like The Drunkard and Joseph and His Brethren, just like your nice, safe, bland music, because that is what people wanted. But don’t you see, my dear, that Beethoven’s music is more New Age than any of your tinklings? He used all the resources available to him, not just the pretty and peaceful ones. He wrote about victory, about creating a glorious reality from the most unpromising materials, such as poverty and deafness. Have your pieces made anyone weep or laugh or sing or dance? Music speaks to the body. Bodies are why we’re here on earth, instead of flitting around like ghosts. I miss my body. It’s fun down here in the Dark! On earth I created a vast empire. Here I can only talk to you and tell you to enjoy what you have.


“What good is it to work on the astral without working on the physical? Enlightenment isn’t a spacey feeling in your skull. That’s malnutrition or oxygen-starvation. Enlightenment is what you do in the real world. You want to be enlightened? Then feed the hungry, rock a crying child. Make love. Dance in the sun. And work. Work for the world you want to see, the world you can visualize with your so-called astral vision. Keep your energy from supporting your enemy, Know what you believe, and know that ideas have consequences. Reality is a universal agreement– but there may be reasons that the universe has agreed to the present reality. Search them out. Do that, and then you will be enlightened. That is all I have for today. Are there any questions?”


Ursulette spoke up. “Was I the High Priestess when Sinep was a Sacred King?”


“Jesus Crippled Christ on a crutch!” Barnum exploded. “You really weren’t listening, were you? Sinep’s a fake. If you want to make up stories about your past, and they help you live and have fun, fine, but don’t expect scientific validation from me. My elephant Jumbo had more brains per pound of body weight than you, and he didn’t have the sense to get off the railroad tracks. If that’s the level of question you have, forget it. I’m wasting my time. Good-bye!”


Sarah raised her head, yawned, stretched, and finally opened her eyes. “Well, I hope we’re all…” she began cheerily, and then noticed that something was wrong. “What’s the matter? Everyone here looks so grim; it’s not an uplifted vibe at all.”


“We weren’t uplifted,” Megan said.


Mack jumped in to take responsibility. “Sarah, uh, you didn’t channel Sinep this time. You got P.T.Barnum.”


“Barnum?” she said. “Who was he? And why didn’t you send him away?”


“A circus guy. He started Barnum and Bailey. He once supposedly said that there’s a sucker born every minute. I tried to get rid of him, but he wouldn’t go. He was very rude.”


“I’ll say!” Ursulette said. “He made fun of my weight.”


“He called us all fakes,” said Moira. “Including you, Sarah.”


“Actually, some of the things he said made a little sense,” said Jason.


“Oh, shut up, Jason!” Dianna snarled. “You’re just sticking up for him because he liked you because you’re a fellow fraud. That’s the way all you men are, one big club…”


“All you men?!” the soy worker interrupted. “That’s the most sexist statement I’ve heard in a long time.”


“Well, this is the biggest ripoff I’ve seen in a long time,” another attendee said. “I want my money back.”


“Whoa!” Sarah said. “Let’s calm down and figure out what went wrong. This has never happened before. The channel felt unusually clear; I don’t remember anything that happened. I need your support, and I don’t have it when you’re arguing with each other. Now, what did this Barnum say?”


“He was real judgmental and moralistic,” somebody said, “Not like Ramtha at all.”


“He said that spirituality wasn’t as important as working on material things,” Moira said. “Of course, he also admitted that he was a liar.”


“He kind of liked Jeff,” Ursulette said.


The room got quiet fast. Every eye pointed at me. Mack said, quietly, “Jeff has had a rather, uh, skeptical attitude about channeling. Do you think his presence could have distorted the channel?”


Thanks, Mack, I thought. I’ll remember that next time you want a beer.


“It’s possible,” Sarah said.


All hell broke loose. People were standing up and shouting at me. Every sentence contained a “you”: It’s your fault I got taken, you are a materialist skeptic, you are not enlightened as we are, you eat pork and you would probably eat human flesh if it were legal. The crowd crept closer backing me up to the wall. This could get dangerous, I thought; time for some practical magic. I looked the crowd in the eyes. I imagined power thrusting out from my solar plexus with every word. And I said, loudly, “Why blame me? Barnum was right, wasn’t he?”


It worked. They turned on Sarah instead, saying how she didn’t have control of herself or her psychic space, how maybe Barnum was right and she was a fake, how they’d all go tell their friends about this. Sarah was in tears. After a while the voices stopped, and let her cry in silence. Finally she quit and said, “OK I advertised a lecture by a Sacred King. You didn’t get what you paid for. Everyone who is not content with what they got out of this workshop, line up, and I’ll return your money. I just want everyone to be happy.”


They all lined up, except Jason. Coats went on and people mumbled as they left. When Sarah had finished returning money, she said to Jason, “I can’t believe that you of all people don’t want your money back.”


“No, I want you to have it. I got what I wanted out of this. Every dollar I spend comes back to me multiplied. By the way, I’m setting up a book tour. That Barnum really knew how to advertise. If you were to come along to bring him through, and he were to plug the book…”


“Fuck off, Jason”, Sarah said.


He shrugged, and walked out. Mack put his hand on Sarah’s shoulder. “I’m sorry,” he said.


“It’s not your fault,” she said. “It’s not even Jeff’s fault. I just don’t have my channeling scene together yet.”


“You look really tense,” Mack said. “Would you like a massage?”


“Yeah. That would be really nice.”


I couldn’t believe it. Mack had used New Age Come-On Line Number One, and she had fallen for it. Well, she was in bad shape and he seemed very sincere. Maybe he would give her “just a massage”. But I wasn’t placing bets.


“Let’s go into my room,” he said as he turned to me and scowled. “I don’t want to be around this asswipe right now.”


So they went to his room, and I went to mine to catch up on some studying. After a good while I heard bedsprings creaking, and high-pitched moans. Many of them, for a long time.


I had a feeling that Mack had already forgiven me everything.


My jury adventure

February 15, 2013

OK, I haven’t kept up the blog.  This week I have an excuse: I was on jury duty.

The case was about negligent builders.  3rd generation members of a highly-respected local residential building company family decided to do a couple of spec houses on their own, so that they could get experience with the financing end of things; they’d been working as project managers in the family business. So they built this $470K house, which was bought by a family from Texas. The 2nd winter they’re there, they went back to TX for the holidays. Meanwhile, the temp went down to zero, with high winds. Hubby had to return early for business reasons, returned to flooded house. A copper pipe had burst in a chase between 2nd-floor bathrooms. About $160K in damage to structure ($61K) and contents, paid for by their insurance company, who brought the suit. The homeowners had the $500 deductible tacked on, though they really hadn’t wanted to bring suit. (Indeed, the aforementioned building co. that the defendants were involved with did the restoration.) As one of my fellow jurors said, “If this were about $40K, we wouldn’t be here.” In February of ’07, when the builders still owned the building, temperatures were even lower, winds nearly as high, and the thermostat set even lower, yet the pipes didn’t freeze.

Element of negligence claimed: there was no “true wall” between the unheated attic space over the garage, and one of the bathrooms. This wall was the tub shower surround, with friction-fit insulation on the outside (attic side).  The inspector had made them take the kraft paper off that insulation as a fire hazard, as there was no wall covering it. This is on a southwest interior corner. The forensic engineer claimed that in the high wind conditions, air blew through the soffit and the insulation, under the void created by the rounding of the tub, and into the pipe chase. The pipes there were not insulated, because they didn’t have to be, being surrounded by interior walls…except that apparently that space was communicating with untreated air and should have been dealt with like a crawl space, OR there should have been wood or sheetrock blocking the air.

The installation was according to code, was passed, and the builders are quite meticulous about cosmetic detail. I don’t think that the loss of the paper backing was that big an issue; you lose some r value and gain some permeability. (In fact they had replaced the insulation with non-backed insulation.) But I was asked to believe that there was enough wind to force air up the soffit, blow 6 feet to that wall, go under the 6″ or so of insulation not backed on the bottom, be drawn under the tub and cool that chase to <32 for long enough for the pipes to freeze, with heat on at 60. A power failure alone wouldn’t have done it, because of the thermal mass of the house, though it was possible, given that the pipe was near to the garage and would lose temperature more quickly. But Ohio Edison no longer had or doesn’t keep outage information, and nobody asked about the clocks in the house.

What was annoying was all of the BS info being presented to sway the jury…arguments about whether it was actually 55 or 60 or should have been 68 per insurers’ recommendations, whether they should have turned the water off. (That wouldn’t have been BS had we gotten to proximate cause, I suppose.) The house felt tropical at 61-62 because of the moisture…wouldn’t it feel COLD at that temp? (not if it was the hot water pipe ruptured…as a perceptive juror pointed out.)   If OSB would have sufficed against the insulation, why not the fiberglass surround? Owners felt a draft under the vanity, but didn’t report it when they had reported other problems. And the lawyers sucked. I had so many questions that I couldn’t ask, things that seemed obvious, but they weren’t asking, because neither one had any knowledge of construction whatsoever.  The fact that I was even on this case and not voir dire’d off shows they’re hacks; they asked about insurance industry connections but not building trades. As it turned out, HALF the jury (3 males, including me, 1 female) had building trades connections of one sort or another. Not that it helped either side; we were split evenly. The plaintiff counsel was particularly slimy, not well organized, trading in emotionalism. The way he browbeat the defendants during cross of their testimony was shameful.

Had we gotten to compensation it would have been more interesting yet. One juror wanted to award the $500 deductible to the homeowner and that was IT. The defense had done a pretty good job of discrediting figures. (totalling out a non-depreciated $2500 Toro mower for rust? ) The family was in $144/day lodging for 5.5 mo, largely due to dawdling by the insurance co.

Anyway, at 10:30 today we finally got to discuss the case. Nobody else much wanted the job, so I became the foreman. An initial check showed 6 for the defense (6 out of 8 needed) but people wanted to talk it out. We had one guy (BME, had worked for NASA, had building experience) who was adamantly for the plaintiff, and another guy (builder) leaning that way, as well as eventually another woman. So it became 5-3. After some fairly loose discussion we broke for lunch. A bunch wanted to go to this sandwich place they had heard good things about, and they assured me there were veggie or fish options.  Well, they were out of tuna, and they no longer do the crab cakes because of prices, so they basically had no entrees, so I bid them adieu. Yeah, I could have made a meal of tomato soup and cupcakes, or have them invent a price for a cheese sub,  but why would or should I? Being out of menu items is shameful at any time; being out of your non-meat options on a Friday in Lent is inexcusable (though it was more likely ignorance than active prejudice). So I popped over to McD’s to try the Fish McBites (OK, not cosmic, probably better than the Filet-o-Fish.)

During lunch I had an idea to move things along. I pointed out that the real division in the jury was whether the definition of “workmanlike manner” was the building code, or some other standard. Everyone agreed that the code COULD be a standard. When I said, “If we didn’t have a building code, what would the standard be? How would we establish it?” nobody had any ideas.(And this was a pretty bright and not at ALL liberal crowd). It eventually became clear that the code was what we had to apply, and we eventually voted 7-1 for the defense. There’s a slightly incoherent element here, because we mostly agreed that the damn board should have been there. (it is now!) But there was also a freak element to the incident.  I later got called by one of the recalcitrant jurors who had been compelled to check the building code…and it doesn’t define what constitutes a wall (that was his personal issue.)

Afterwards he and I were talking to the defendants. In an amusing incident, I was referring to one of Plaintiff’s most egregious misstatements. “…’a wall you can walk through’? Uh, no; there’s a fucking TUB SURROUND there.”, and just then Plaintiff came out of the jury room.  After he passed, a defendant said, “You have GREAT timing”, clearly seeing Plaintiff hearing himself being mocked just made his day. Personally, I couldn’t look at him during closing arguments. That said, we did take care not to let that contaminate our judgement. But I’d have to say that the builders largely got off on a technicality. This same juror later talked to Plaintiff and told him everything he’d done wrong. “You’re a better man than I am, ” I said when he told me.

OK, here’s my advice for lawyers:
1, Don’t deal with snark or emotion. All we want is the facts. Be kind.

2. If part of the applicable law involves “workmanlike manner” and “ordinary care”and something passes code, you might want to offer evidence as to what else that is in the industry.

3. If you’re  a large national home insurance company, hire a lawyer with a clue about the building trades.

4. Enter the freaking building code into evidence.

5. If you’re defending builders, find a witness besides them to testify that they follow good building practice.

6. When you have to prove that “a reasonably careful person would have anticipated that an act…would likely result in some damage”, and your expert witness admits that it took him 2 weeks to find the problem, YOU have a problem.

7. Using the word “profit” as an epithet doesn’t fly in any part of Portage Co. east of the Kent city limits. Nor does trying to bring up the insurance co.’s profit margins (besides bringing an instant objection)

And last, a shout-out to my fellow jurors: there are great human beings, attentive, humane, and just, and it was a pleasure to work with them.


Cheesemaker leaves Wisconsin for Ohio

August 23, 2010

over too much regulation. Are you listening, ODA?
To quote Monty Python, “Blessed are the cheesemakers…”

Possible silence ahead

March 24, 2010

Tomorrow I leave for an early music event, and I won’t be back until late Monday night. It’s being held at a youth camp, and I have no idea if I’ll have access to internet.  So if I don’t post, it does not mean that I’ve been disappeared by the government, or dead, or anything else nefarious. If I don’t post by next Weds., then yes, maybe you can worry.


December 22, 2009

My granddaughter, or step-granddaughter, or whatever she is:

Cute kid, and smart, but facing some real hassle: stepmom has had enough of her dad, which unfortunately means legally that Sara will probably lose the most stable figure in her life.  I’m here for you, kid. Prayers are appreciated.

SPD in the dust

September 28, 2009

There was a lot of talk from Germany’s Social Democrats about “don’t support the capitalists who brought you this economic crisis.”

So of course people listened: they didn’t support those capitalists, they supported other capitalists. Merkel’s CDU lost 2 points, but the Free Democrats, their new coalition parters got 15%. They’re probably the least objectionable of the German parties.

Fress Scheiß und sterb, Steinmeier!

Who are Akron Voices for Animals?

September 4, 2009

The Liz Carlisle bunny-drowning case wends its way through the courts of state and of public opinion. She was excused from a pre-trial hearing because of death threats against her, and her lawyer said that “she has been relocated.” That sounds like cruelty to an animal to me, but as Napoleon the Pig said, “Some animals are more equal than others.”

One of the commenters made an interesting observation: there seems to be no sign of the group Akron Voices for Animals except in connection with this case. I looked too, and aside from Elinor/Eleanor (which is it, R-C? Apparently Elinor, per the Web) Israel’s signature line, there’s no evidence that such a group exists. There’s no website, no announcement of meetings…it’s just something she made up to make it sound like she had a movement behind her. That tradition in politics goes back at least to the 70s, so maybe I shouldn’t be hard on her. I’ve seen enough of it in the neo-pagan community. But certainly the Record-Courier should have followed up with some questions about AVA.

Bur since they didn’t, let’s look at Fair Elinor, shall we?
8/7 Letter to the editor re proposals to regulate farming in Ohio
7/9 looking for shelter for rescued cats, uses AVA byline. More about her participation here.

That’s about it. Not a big record of activism, before this case.
There’s an Elinor R. and an Elinor N. in Akron, both age 57.
She kept her nose pretty clean in Summit County. There’s a personal injury civil case from 1990 by Elinor R. and Edward J, of 205 Shawnee Path, Akron, against Cassandra R. Murray, which was dismissed without prejudice. Nothing in Portage either. She apparently has nothing to do with KSU or the University of Akron.

Oh my, here’s some paydirt, a kind of liberal Facebook:

If I were Mayor, I’d make the world a better place by: Free all animals by cl;osing down the factory farms, fur farms and any other places that abuse and kill animals. If I were Queen of the World everyone would be vegan!

And a big list of organizations she’s part of as of 1/8/09…not including AVA. Yes, she’s married, with grandkids. Funny, she didn’t look that old in the picture. She probably say it was the vegan diet; I’d say it was Lady Clairol and a distant shot.