Harnessing Heritage

Customer: “I have a question for you.”

Me: “Yes?”

Customer: “So, I’m black, right? And you know how there are different colors of harnesses, and camouflage harnesses and whatever? Well, I’m, like, really black, and I want a kente cloth harness.”

Me: “OH, MY GOD. THAT WOULD BE EPIC.”

Customer: “I KNOW.”

Me: “One of our owners does a lot of custom work. Go into our main store during the week, and I’ll bet he’ll be able to figure something out for you.”

Customer: “Excellent!”

Me: “And you know what else? I’m Irish and Scottish. We should have him make a tartan harness too.”

Customer: “HOLY CRAP. THAT WOULD BE AWESOME.”

Me: “WE’RE GOING TO OWN THE MOST MAGNIFICENT HARNESSES IN THE WORLD.”

Customer: “YES. WE. ARE.”

Poor Rok is going to have his work cut out for him, but he’ll totally thank me when the Forge becomes the new Benetton.

In Which I Throw the Book at Them

My best friend Douglas (whom I’ve called Catman for years, which we both think is hysterical, although neither one of us remembers why) wanted to run by our fair city’s most prominent occult bookstore, and being nothing if not a good sport, I tagged along, even though I’m not a big fan of the place. Actually, I take that back — the store itself is fine, with a good selection of merchandise at reasonable prices. It’s the employees I can’t stand.

And actually, let me take that back as well — some of the employees are really cool. There’s one girl who’s hilariously sarcastic and always in a good mood, and there’s a friendly if oddly put-together fellow on whom Douglas has a harmless if inexplicable crush. The rest of them, though, are my least favorite type of Pagan: haughty and pretentious and doing their best to project auras of voluminous magical (magickal/majikal/mahzheegahl) power, even when it is excruciatingly clear that they have no idea what the fuck they’re talking about.

Of these employees, Lady Crushed Velvet reigns supreme. (I don’t know her real name, but my compatriot Veles and I have always referred to her as Lady Crushed Velvet, so why stop now?) Draped in the finest yep, you guessed it, Lady Crushed Velvet makes damn sure her customers understand how grateful they should be that a Mistress of the Ethereal Arts is taking time out of her busy schedule to ring up their smudge sticks. I once witnessed her berating an underling for heresies unspecified before turning to a co-worker and stating, “That’s how you talk to a student.” Hopefully, said student was able to drop the class with his transcripts intact.

Lady CV was not in residence this day, but her second-in-condescension was: a wizened, older woman serving Been There, Croned That realness. If asked to list her occupation, she would probably put down “cunning folk.” Douglas and I were poking around the display cases near the front of the store and checking out the jewelry we couldn’t afford didn’t need, when a twenty-something young lady hesitantly approached the counter.

“Hi, I’m looking for information on Wicca,” she said.

“Wicca or Witchcraft?” Croned That asked, in a tone suggesting they were sitting under a bare light bulb in an unpainted, cinderblock cell.

I missed the next part of the conversation, but I guess the girl said Wicca, because I heard Croned That say, “Wicca is a religion. You’re looking for Witchcraft.”

“I… didn’t realize there was a difference,” said the young woman.

“Oh, there most certainly is,” Croned That replied. “Come with me.”

Croned That escorted her new protégé over to the book section, while I shot Douglas a look that was all, I am morally obligated to prevent whatever is about to happen, and he shot me a look back that was like, I need you to not be you until after that customer pulls out of the parking lot. So I glared at him all, You’re not my real mom, and he glared back like, I drove us here and will happily abandon you, so I shot him one more look that was all, Touché, and then I waited until he was distracted by a fantasy-film replica sword and scampered across the store.

I caught up with Croned That and pretended to browse as she thoughtfully scanned the titles and tapped her lips and went, “Hmmm, let’s see, what should we start you with?” Her stance and demeanor implied that she’d read every book in the stacks and was mentally comparing them chapter by chapter, but I work in retail and could see through her act, it being the same one I used when I took a job at health food store without being trained on any of the products we carried.

“Hmmm, let’s see, a gluten-free option,” I would say, facing a rack of whole-wheat pastas. “What’s the right gluten-free option for you?”

Croned That eventually made some decisions. “Here’s what I recommend,” she said. “Sit on that bench, right over there, and begin reading these, and find the one you most identify with.”

And she handed the girl three books on Wicca.

Douglas managed to wrestle me out of the store before I started kicking, but if there’s one major downfall to modern Paganism, it’s the emphasis on assumed expertise over actual education. Everyone’s got to be a freaking adept right out of the gate, and anyone who dares admit ignorance is immediately dismissed. It hurts me in what’s left of my soul when students feel like they have to apologize for being students, and that happens because people like Croned That and Crushed Velvet define “student” as “lesser than.” And that happens because people like Croned That and Crushed Velvet are afraid to step out from behind the curtain and admit that they do not know everything; that at best, they are students themselves.

And it is okay to be a student. It is even more okay to be willing to learn. And it is the mostest okay to say, “I don’t know, but let’s go find out.”

I say all of this as a horrible hypocrite, since within the two traditions I practice [Ed. Note: It’s also okay to not practice any traditions], I will often catch myself smiling and nodding instead of asking for clarification. But I was recently besieged blessed with students of my own, and I want them to be excited about what they’re learning, as opposed to beating themselves up for not already knowing it.

I’ll leave you with one last thought, using the Judeo-Christian religious model as an analogy: From a scholastic standpoint, getting ordained into the Catholic or Anglican priesthood is the equivalent of earning a PhD. Feel free to point this out the next time you encounter a Pagan positioning himself as an authority with no sanction other than willpower. Feel free to hand him a book on the subject.

Women Who Run with the Lap Dogs

Straight Female Customer: “What is this?”

Me: “That is a cock cage.” [Ed. Note: Link severely NSFW. Please don’t get fired.]

SFC: “Would it go on when the guy is, like, limp?”

Me: “Yes, and then it would prevent him from getting an erection.”

SFC: “But wouldn’t that be painful?”

Me: “Well, that’s kind of the point. It’s used for forced chastity.”

SFC: “Oh, okay! Women have the same thing, except with a lock and key. And, y’know, CLAMP CLAMP CLAMP.”

Me: “… Ah. Yes.”

SFC: “I bought my Chihuahua a cock ring.”

Me: [stunned silence]

SFC: “There used to be a store down the street from here called Lola’s.” [Ed. Note: It was called Lobo.] “They had studded leather cock rings, and I got one for my Chihuahua to wear as a collar. Do you have any studded leather cock rings?”

Me: “I’m afraid we do not.”

SFC: “Oh. Well, he was adorable. And very passive.”

Me: “Undoubtedly.”

SFC: “CLAMP CLAMP.”

Instead of wrapping things up with a clever one-liner, I’d like to share a quotation from the greviously underrated romantic comedy The Truth About Cats and Dogs:

“This is a good time to talk about limits. You can love your pets, but just don’t love your pets.”

Let that be a public service announcement to us all.

Brotherly Love

The Misfits tended bar at Ripcord last night, and at one point Nuke dropped by to say howdy, when a calamitously drunk preppy with questions on his mind trickled onto the scene and started talking.

Drunk Preppy: “Are you two brothers?”

Nuke: “Oh, dear God, no.”

Drunk Preppy: “You’re not brothers?”

Me: “We are not.”

Drunk Preppy: “But you look so similar…”

Nuke: “In that we’re both balding?”

Drunk Preppy: “You’re brothers.”

Me: “Well, that would make all the sex we had pretty awkward, huh?”

Drunk Preppy: “YOU HAD SEX WITH YOUR BROTHER?!”

Nuke: “It was only twice.”

Drunk Preppy: “SERIOUSLY?!”

Nuke: [poker face level: Jedi]

Me: “But my brother and I ultimately decided to see other people.”

Drunk Preppy: “So… you really are brothers?”

Me: “No. We are not brothers.”

Drunk Preppy: “But… but you look alike.”

Nuke: “Hey, I can only hope to look that good when I’m his age.”

Drunk Preppy: “How old are you?”

Me: “I’m 73, but I moisturize.”

At which time the preppy stumbled away in bafflement and despair, ne’er to be seen again. Our work was done.

As a side note, Nuke is hosting his first Puppy of Montrose fundraiser at JR’s Bar and Grill on March 3, where he will be performing a selection of bawdy songs from the Middle Ages through the present day. I’ll be the one in the front row wearing a Focus on the Family T-shirt.

To be fair, “Scarlet Quaffle” legitimately sounds like something we’d keep in stock.

Customer 1: “Harry Potter!”

[Inner Me: Again? Really?]

Customer 2: “Oh, my God, yes!”

[Inner Me: Jesus fucking yellow penguins…]

Customer 1: “Gryffindor!”

Customer 2: “Slytherin!”

[Inner Me: IT’S NOT A GODDAMNED HARRY POT-oh. Right. Scrimmage socks.]

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So now I’m going to open a Quidditch Accessories booth in the vendor room of the next Houston-area cosplay event and tell everyone that Nasty Pig is a new house at Ilvermorny. It’s sheer marketing genius on my part — I can in no way imagine this ending catastrophically.

Name That Jejune

Straight Girl: [slamming bottle on the counter] “I’d like to buy this Fuckwater!”

Me: [blank stare]

Straight Girl: “Ha! I just wanted to say ‘Fuckwater.'”

Me: [blank stare]

Straight Girl: “Ha…”

Me: [blank stare]

Straight Girl: “…”

Me: “$10.81.”

Straight Girl: [quietly pays]

Many moons ago, I worked at an LGBTQ bookshop/café, and any time straight people wandered in, one of my co-workers would silently follow them around until they giggled at something, at which point he would hulk out and chase them from the store. As much as I enjoyed those spectacles, blasé laconism in the face of hetero privilege is proving to be just as effective at producing comedic results, with considerably less effort expended.

I do kind of wonder what she did with the Fuckwater, though. I’d be disappointed but unsurprised if it’s shamefully hidden in the back of a drawer.