Silicon Follies

Chapter 23: Zen cats, dragon's eyes and the valley's Gertrude Stein


Thomas Scoville
June 2, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

Five minutes of down-dog was remarkably difficult.

But not without its rewards. As the class followed the lithe, muscular instructor through the final postures, Liz glowed with invigorated calm.

In the beginning she had come to yoga class as an antidote to the frenetic stresses of corporate life. TeraMemory was behind her, but now she was hooked. She didn't need a justification anymore.

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The class met at the Mountain View Zen Center -- a modest, California ranch-style house redecorated with a Japanese interior. No shoes allowed. After class, students drifted out to the back garden to reclaim their footwear.

Liz took a bench seat next to a statuesque, sympathetic-looking woman she recognized as a class regular. As Liz slipped on her shoes, something behind her tugged lightly at her hair, which she had pulled back into a ponytail.

She turned to see one of the center's cats, a fat Siamese perched between rosemary bushes in an elevated planter box. Clearly, he had been making sport of Liz's hairdo. He gazed at her through half-closed, slightly crossed eyes.

The woman spoke. "It looks like you've got a four-legged admirer."

Liz reached over and scratched the Siamese behind the ears. He pushed back appreciatively. "Oh, I've got one at home. This one can probably sense I'm a pushover. They seem to have a way of knowing."

The woman smiled. "My husband used to love cats."

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"Not anymore?"

"He discovered computers," she said with a cryptic half-smile that hinted regret.

"Oh, I understand. Men and their machines," Liz replied, half sarcastically. "Appeals to the masculine bias toward action. Much more predictable than cats." She went to work on the Siamese's back. He stuck his tail in the air and purred.

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Liz's comment seemed to pique the woman's interest. "What's your name?"

"I'm Liz." Liz brushed away the feline fuzz and held out her hand.

"I'm Kiki," she said, shaking it. "It's good to meet you. Do you live nearby?"

"At the end of Dana Street. Only a few blocks."

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"I'm way out in Woodside. I usually go down the street for a cup of tea around now, and wait for traffic to thin out a little before heading back. Would you care to join me?"

Liz hesitated for a moment, then chastised herself; spontaneous overtures of non-work-related friendship were rare these days. Besides, the woman's persona -- at once open-hearted and mysterious -- had piqued her curiosity. And amid the valley's info-corporate conformity, she was a real vision of exotica, a hothouse flower: 6 feet tall, a serene, high-cheekboned, Asian-looking face, olive complexion, thick, black tresses of curls. She often wore flowing, earth-toned clothes suggesting a sort of up-market Summer of Love. Come to think of it, Liz remarked to herself, that would have been about the right vintage.

"Yes. That'd be nice. Lucy's?" Liz referred to a charming, back-alley tearoom not far from the Zen Center.

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"Oh, you know. Yes. Lucy's."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

They sat in high-backed bamboo chairs, drinking dragon's eyes and forget-me-not, exploring topics safe enough for first acquaintance. It wasn't long before Liz found herself explicating her delicate relationship to the working world.

"I'm between jobs. I used to work in technology, but it didn't work out very well. High tech's not my cup of tea."

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Liz raised her cup and smiled.





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"You didn't strike me as the infotech type. When I first saw you I said to myself, 'What's a nice girl like that doing in the valley of the nerds?'"

"Well, for now I'm just doing some catering while I put together my plan B. And you?"

"I'm mostly a housewife these days. I used to help out with my husband's business, but that was a long time ago. Before that I was an artist. That's how I met my husband. He was crazy for my batik. He was crazy for me, too," she said a little wistfully, and sipped her tea.

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"Your parents were Japanese ... ?" Liz couldn't resist the riddle of Kiki's exotic ancestry. She'd never met a swarthy, 6-foot-tall Japanese woman before. She was pretty sure there was a story there.

"Only my father. My mother was a Cherokee Indian."

"What an interesting childhood you must have had," Liz commented, eyebrows aloft.

"Well, there was certainly a lot of ... dynamic tension. Especially since we lived in Japan until I was 12. I was Keiko then. When we came to America, my round-eye pals called me Kiki. It stuck. My Western name. It followed me wherever I went."

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Liz moved to round out the rest of the picture. "How about your husband? Does he ever come with you to the Zen Center?"

"Oh, we're separated," she said in a sing-song voice, almost apologetically. "He's in technology. It's a jealous mistress."

A brief awkwardness hung in the air. Liz fumbled for an avenue of conversational retreat, but Kiki led the way out.

"What kind of catering do you do?"

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"Fun, innovative, mobile cuisine. No kitchen required. It's called Guerrilla Gourmet."

"What fun! Do you have a card? I throw a little party once a month. I could hire you to bring the food sometime."

"What kind of party?" Liz asked.

"Oh, it's kind of a salon. I'm trying to keep alive the art of non-technical conversation. A loose circle of friends. It's kind of a cultural support group."

"Wow. You're the Gertrude Stein of Silicon Valley. I bet it's a lot more challenging than Paris."

"My dear," she said, raising an eyebrow ` la Marlene Dietrich, "sometimes it feels positively underground."


Thomas Scoville

Thomas Scoville is either an Information Age savant or an ex-Silicon Valley programmer with a bad attitude. He is the author of the Silicon Valley Tarot.

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