Wednesday, August 8th, 2018

So how come brain-eating amoebas aren’t killing everybody?

A little background:

My Darling B uses a neti pot to irrigate her sinuses when they become clogged because of her allergies.

A neti pot looks like a doll’s teapot.  She fills it with warm water, sticks the spout in one of her nostrils, tips her head to the side so the nostril with the teapot spout stuck in it is up top, and lets the water run through her sinuses and out the lower nostril.  It’s pretty gross, but it helps relieve the pressure in her head and clears her sinuses of whatever gunk gets stuck in there after an allergic reaction.

I’ve read that it’s very important to use only distilled water when irrigating your sinuses with a neti pot.  Ordinary tap water has all kinds of microscopic bugs in it, including amoebas that would really like to eat your brain.  The FDA says it’s okay to swallow tap water with brain-eating amoebas in it because your stomach acid will kill them, but you shouldn’t get tap water up your nose unless you boil it first to kill the bugs in it.

Okay, so why don’t the amoebas get up our noses when we shower in ordinary tap water?  I get water up my nose all the time when I shower.  I assumed everybody did.  I know my kids got water up their noses almost every time they took a bath.  Are there amoebas eating their brains right now?  Well, in the case of my kids, probably yes.  Sorry, kids.

My Darling B doesn’t see why we don’t all have amoebas eating our brains, either, and furthermore she says she’s going to use this as her excuse for every future mess-up she gets caught at.  Didn’t get her work done on time?  Amoebas are eating my brain.  Cop pulled her over?  Sorry, officer, it must be the brain-eating amoebas.  It could be a pretty slick defense.

brain bugs | 6:50 am CST
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Tuesday, August 7th, 2018

The guy ahead of me in line at the grocery store paid for his sandwich and coffee with the pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters he dug out of his pocket one at a time.

It was even more excruciating than it sounds, for the cashier and for the people in line behind him.

pocket change | 6:00 am CST
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Monday, August 6th, 2018

Listening to the radio as I drove to the coffee shop in the morning, I heard an advertisement that began something like this: “It can be so easy to forget to change your refrigerator filter.”  My ears pricked up, because I didn’t realize refrigerators might have filters.  What would the filter be filtering?  “Just text ‘filter” to 005005 and we’ll send you a new filter every six months!”  Didn’t explain much.  Is this some kind of scam?  “Did you know that if you don’t replace your refrigerator’s filter regularly, it will get clogged with clogged with warm air? Keep your fridge running efficiently! Replace its warm air filter every six months!”  But no, it turned out they were talking about replacing water filters for fridges that dispense water and make ice.  Our fridge is a boring old fridge that only keeps food cold.  If I could get them to come clean the lint out of the radiator coils, that would be worth taking a chance on a phone scam.

fridge angst | 8:27 am CST
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Sunday, August 5th, 2018

After finishing the second volume of Connie Willis’s time-travel epic, “All Clear,” I felt a driving need to re-read another Willis novel, “To Say Nothing Of The Dog.” I checked a copy out of our local library when I read it for the first time many years ago, so I paused as I was reading the final chapters of “All Clear” long enough to order a hardbound copy of “To Say Nothing Of The Dog” through Amazon, which arrived in the mail the next day.

Although the book’s cover was technically what I would have to admit is hard, what I was thinking of when I ordered it was a full-size book with a stitched binding. What I got was a small paperback book with a hard cover grafted on to it, the way libraries used to (still do?) recover paperbacks to give them a second lease on life.  I sealed it back up in the box, called up Amazon’s web site and marked my purchase “returned,” then started a new search for a full-size hardbound copy, slightly used.

I have a memory (maybe false; my memory’s kinda dodgy these days) of scrolling through long lists of used books on Amazon.  If it’s not a false memory, then apparently you can’t do that any longer, or at least I couldn’t figure out how.  I tried searching with Google, thinking that might take me to the lists I remember through some back door, but no luck that way, either.  I could choose new or used, I could choose hard-bound or paperback, but no matter what I checked, I didn’t get a list, just the option to purchase and no way of knowing that I wasn’t going to end up with another dinky paperback strapped to a hard cover.

So I hopped in the car and hit the streets.  The number of book stores in my area has been steadily decreasing, more’s the pity, but there are still a few worth driving to.  First, I went to the Half Price Books store on the west side of town.  They usually have a pretty good selection of science fiction, and they even had a full-sized hardcover copy of “All Clear” (the copy I have is a trade paperback) for just eight bucks, which went home with me.  Sometimes you don’t get the Connie Willis you’re looking for, but you still get the Connie Willis you need.  Pretty happy with that find, although now I’ll be trolling the shelves looking for a matching copy of “Blackout” for months, maybe years to come.

Back in the car, I cut through town to get to the Half Price Books on the east side, stopping off for a quick look through A Room Of One’s Own to see if I could score a copy there.  No luck on the shelves, and the woman at the desk very helpfully did a computer search of their inventory of used books but had to report they had no copies in stock.  Worth a try.

Saint Vinnie’s on Willy Street used to have one of the best selections of used books in the city.  I brought home armloads of books every weekend back in the day, but now I rarely bother to even look.  I stopped today anyway because I was going up Willy Street anyway and Saint Vinnie’s is one block over from the grocery store, where I stopped to pick up a few things for supper, then crossed the street and ducked in, fingers crossed.  The science fiction section is just sad.  It doesn’t even fill the shelves of one book case.  And no Connie Willis at all.

I couldn’t find “To Say Nothing Of The Dog” at the Half Price Books on the east side, either, but did snag a copy of Gardner Dozois’s 10th Annual collection of science fiction which coincidentally included the Connie Willis short story, “Even The Queen,” a laugh-out-loud gem that I read as soon as I got home.  Another example of finding the Connie Willis you need.

In the end, I had to order a copy of “To Say Nothing Of The Dog” through the web site Alibris, which not only let me browse through a long list of used books, it even provided descriptions of the books: which printing, what condition they were in, whether or not they were signed by the author.  I got a first printing, signed, in good condition, for just eighteen dollars.  Gonna hold my breath until it comes in the mail to see if I really get that.

In the meantime, I snagged a paperback copy at Barnes & Noble because I can’t wait to start reading until the hardbound copy arrives.  Cracked it open and got through the first chapter and halfway into the second chapter before I had to turn out the lights last night.

in search of a hard cover book | 10:36 am CST
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Saturday, August 4th, 2018

Scored a bit of coffee cake and a hot cuppa at Crema Cafe this morning, because I needed coffee cake.  Needed it.  There is sustenance in coffee cake that I cannot go without, and it must be unlocked through the catalytic chemistry of coffee, or something like that.  You correct it so it sounds right; I didn’t pay attention in chemistry class.

I got a large cup of coffee to go because “small cup of coffee” didn’t sound adequate.  I asked the barista how big a large cup was.  “Sixteen ounces.”  Shrug.  “It’s not much.”

SIXTEEN OUNCES OF COFFEE IS NOT MUCH TO HER.  I may have found the high priestess of my tribe.

mucho coffee | 8:50 am CST
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I asked my coworker Romona yesterday if she drank coffee.  I suspected he was not a coffee drinker.  I never see her drinking coffee at work.  She occasionally goes down to the vending machines with Sarah, another one of my coworkers, to get a soft drink.  She eats a lot of fruits & veggies, sometimes a bowl of oatmeal in the morning, that kind of healthy stuff.  And I know she’s a gardener.  Not that any of those things is an indicator that she’s a more health-conscious person than I am, or that she has sworn off coffee.  Mostly it was just that I never saw her drinking coffee.  This is in an office where everyone drinks some kind of caffeinated beverage.  It seemed off that she didn’t.  So I boldly asked her, as I was walking to my desk with a steaming-hot cuppa, “Romona, do you drink coffee at all?  Because I never see you drinking coffee.”  And I didn’t say it, but it was implied: “How do you get out of bed every day and drag yourself to the office if you don’t drink coffee?  How is that even possible?”  And as it turns out, she’s not some magic fairy who gets her energy from the scent of flowers and the warmth of the sun.  She brews a pot of coffee first thing in the morning and downs one or two cups “just to get my heart going,” like the rest of us normies.  OR SO SHE SAYS.  Is there a way to confirm coffee consumption?  I have some intense googling to do on this subject.

Coffee drinking confirmed | 8:13 am CST
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Thursday, July 19th, 2018

I texted this message to My Darling B last weekend, while I was out riding my bike: “OMG IT IS HOTTER THAN A BURNING HOT THING OUT HERE”

She was not sympathetic.  “It’s only 80 degrees.  That’s not hot.”

“OH IT IS TOO HOT YOU BIG FIBBER” I answered.  I don’t usually text in all caps, but the situation seemed to require it.

“I seem to remember SOMEONE saying 80 degrees is not hot – pleasant even.  Huh.”

Yes, it is true I said 80 degrees is not hot.  It’s on the warm side of a pleasant summer’s day, but only when the humidity is somewhere south of fifty percent.   I don’t believe there’s a jury of my peers who would disagree with me on that, so long as that jury does not include My Darling B.

B and I are at that point in our lives when the days that make us both feel comfortable are rare indeed.  In winter, I am always too cold.  In summer, she is always too hot.  Very occasionally, like maybe six or seven days a year, the temperature will hover around seventy-two and we can both agree that, yes, this is the perfect day.  On the other 359-ish days, B is dripping sweat or I’m slowly freezing solid and we are looking at each other like, What Is Wrong With You?

hot and cold | 6:16 am CST
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Sunday, July 15th, 2018

Piers Morgan: What is the incentive for America to do a great deal with the United Kingdom?

Trump: We would make a great deal with the United Kingdom because they have product that we like.  I mean, they have a lot of great product.  They make phenomenal things, you know, and you have different names. You can say, “England.”  You can say, “U.K.”  You can say, “United Kingdom.”  So many different.  You know, you have, you have so many different names.  “Great Britain.”  I always say, “Which one do you prefer? Great Britain?”  You understand what I’m saying?

Morgan: You know Great Britain and the United Kingdom aren’t exactly the same thing?

Trump: Right.  Yeah.  You know I know.  But, a lot of people don’t know that.

Trump believes the United Kingdom has “product” that “we” would like. Trump believes the “product” is “great,” “phenomenal.”   Trump uses the word “product” the way hairdressers talk about shampoo and hair gel.  Maybe he thinks the U.K. makes hair gel?

Trump believes a lot of people don’t know the difference between “England,” “United Kingdom,” and “Great Britain,” so it doesn’t matter if he uses them interchangeably.  “We” are just a bunch of dumb bunnies who buy “product.”

you know I know | 8:44 am CST
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THIS is what makes my head spin: The president is not a moral figure in any idiom, any land, any culture, any subculture. I’m not talking about the liberal enlightenment that would make him want the country to take care of the poor and sick. I mean he has no Republican values either. He has no honor among thieves, no cosa nostra loyalty, no Southern code against cheating or lying, none of the openness of New York, rectitude of Boston, expressiveness and kindness of California, no evangelical family values, no Protestant work ethic. No Catholic moral seriousness, no sense of contrition or gratitude. No Jewish moral and intellectual precision, sense of history. He doesn’t care about the life of the mind OR the life of the senses. He is not mandarin, not committed to inquiry or justice, not hospitable. He is not proper. He is not a bon vivant who loves to eat, drink, laugh. There’s nothing he would die for — not American values, obviously, but not the land of Russia or his wife or young son. He has some hollow success creeds from Norman Vincent Peale, but Peale was obsessed with fair-dealing and a Presbyterian pastor; Trump has no fairness or piety. He’s not sentimental; no affection for dogs or babies. No love for mothers, “the common man,” veterans. He has no sense of military valor, and is openly a coward about war. He would have sorely lacked the pagan beauty and capacity to fight required in ancient Greece. He doesn’t care about his wife or wives; he is a philanderer but he’s not a romantic hero with great love for women and sex. He commands loyalty and labor from his children not because he loves them, even; he seems almost to hate them — and if one of them slipped it would be terrifying. He does no philanthropy. He doesn’t—in a more secular key—even seem to have a sense of his enlightened self-interest enough to shake Angela Merkel’s hand. Doesn’t even affect a love for the arts, like most rich New Yorkers. He doesn’t live and die by aesthetics and health practices like some fascists; he’s very ugly and barely mammalian. Am I missing an obscure moral system to which he so much as nods? Also are there other people, living or dead, like him?

– Virginia Heffernan, as reprinted in Roar

missing something | 8:12 am CST
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Monday, July 9th, 2018

I woke up at about four o’clock this morning after waking from a dream in which My Darling B came straight to my desk at work from a meeting where she got a copy of a report that I wrote.

She handed her copy to me. Even though I wrote it, I didn’t recognize it, probably because I couldn’t read it. Whenever I’m given anything to read in my dreams, I can’t read a word of it. It’s all just gibberish, like this: Etaoin shrudlu epsi mundus feri abundus wubba dispi lorem ipsem. Except I can’t even make the sounds of the words in my head, because I don’t know the sounds the letters make. Like if I were show Chinese ideograms and asked to say them out loud. I don’t have language any more. I become totally illiterate.

The report was filled with columns of numbers that she said didn’t add up. She had scribbled notes all over it to point out the errors. I tried to add them up in my head, but had the same problem with the numbers that I had with the words: I had no idea how to add. I tried over and over, but I simply couldn’t do it.

And then I woke up. And I thought, Geeze, that was stupid. I would never try to add numbers in my head in real life. In real life, I would just go to my computer, find the report and the spread sheet that I used to add up all those numbers, and figure out where I went wrong.

When I dozed off, I was right back in that dream again, trying to add up the numbers. That went on for quite a while before I woke up again to berate myself some more for not looking up the report on the computer.

And I dozed off. And I was right back in the dream. And so on.

So what I’m saying is, I feel like I started work at four o’clock this morning. I’m a little tired now.

illiterate | 6:25 pm CST
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Now this is a meme I can get behind:

Bob and Sally meme

Neither Bob nor Sally | 6:00 am CST
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Sunday, July 8th, 2018

Overwrought comparisons [of Donald Trump’s administration] to the Nazis are both historically illiterate and an extreme strategic misstep. The president’s critics have crossed a rhetorical line from which there can be no turning back.
The Hill, 6/24/2018

Couldn’t agree with you more, The Hill. Which is why, each week, I compare Trump to a *different* authoritarian nightmare of a leader. Last week, it was Manuel Noriega. Did you know Panamanians called him ‘Pineapple,’ sort of like the way Americans compare our feckless leader to orange foods like Cheetos, Doritos, and mangos? Next week, I’m going to compare him to Pol Pot, because they both put people in camps, and the week after that I’m thinking Nicolai Ceausescu. I don’t know how he’s like Ceaucescu yet, other than they’re both despots, but I like the satisfying way Nicolai Ceausescu rolls off the tongue. More satisfying, even, than Hitler but, as you say, that’s so last year. Anyway, nice work calling out the libs! Keep it up!

Trump as Hitler | 4:41 pm CST
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Wednesday, July 4th, 2018

Ouch.  My crotch hurts.

I went for a bike ride this morning that, according to the Google, which tracked my every move thanks to the cell phone in the pouch under my bike seat, was 19.3 miles from start to finish.  I hadn’t gone much more than 2.75 miles before my crotch hurt.  Google didn’t tell me that.  That’s my best scientific wild-ass guess.

My crotch kept on hurting after I’d ridden five miles, then ten miles.  Past ten miles, my crotch felt kind of numb.  But now that I’ve been off my bike for almost three hours, my crotch hurts again.

My question to you today is: Why can’t anybody make bike seats that don’t hurt my crotch?

When I bought my bike, a Trek old enough that it comes from the era when they still made them in the United States, it came with one of those butt-cleaving saddles so narrow that only my thirty-year-old ass could ride it for any length of time, although, to be honest, even at thirty my butt complained about it.  At some point early in my bike’s career, I replaced it with a generic bicycle seat I bought from a generic store like Target, I forget.  Then, maybe five years ago, I took it into a bicycle shop here in Monona for a tune-up and, while I was there, I spoke with the owner of the shop about the problem my butt had with bicycle seats and asked him if he had a more posterior-friendly seat.  He showed me a few models that might answer my needs, I picked one, and he installed it when he did the tune-up.

I’ve been riding on that seat ever since.  Much of the time, it was a pleasing experience, but in the last few years of bicycling I’ve noticed that I don’t have to go very far for my crotch to start hurting.  My fifty-seven-year-old butt is really very soft and bony compared to my thirty-year-old butt.  Like many people, I’d give almost anything to be thirty years old again, if for no other reason than it wasn’t agony to sit on a wooden bench or a bicycle seat back then.  This wouldn’t be a huge problem if I wasn’t such a big van of riding a bicycle for the sheer pleasure of passing the time.  I’ve also recently acquired a kayak I like to paddle around but, once again, the seat is a problem:  it’s make of fiberglass, basically a hard plastic bucket, and so not very comfortable.  I bought a gel-filled seat cushion this spring and it helps, but only a little bit.

The problem, in the end, is my butt.  It’s an old butt, and it’s only getting older.  There’s no replacing it.  There may be a way to beef it up, but that’s likely to require a lot more work than I’m willing to put into it at this point.  It’s just not a butt made for long bike rides.  Not that that’s going to stop me.

crotchhurt | 3:03 pm CST
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Sunday, July 1st, 2018

I gave Number One Son Sean a call one night earlier this week.  He’d promised he would call me on Father’s Day but never did, nor did he call the weekend after that, so I decided to take matters into my own hands.

He picked up on the second ring.  “Dad?”  His voice had a note of trepidation in it.  I don’t call him very often; he usually calls his mother and I listen in, commenting occasionally.  Nobody who was familiar with the frequency of my phone calls to anyone in my family would think Sean was overreacting if he thought the only reason I would call him on an odd week night would be to tell him someone was dead or gravely injured.

Dear reader, I confess that I messed with him a little bit. “Sean?” I asked, in the same trepidatious voice he used when he answered.

“What’s up?”

“Not much,” I said light-heartedly.  “I just called to chat.”

He guffawed in a ‘don’t ever do that to me again’ kind of way and said, “Oh.  Okay.”  And then we had a nice conversation.

non-emergency | 5:37 pm CST
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Andries du Toit is a professor at the University of West Cape in South Africa. He posted this series of chilling tweets on 6/27/18:

Thread. Some thoughts from a white South African, directed at friends in the USA.

I have been thinking about the Kennedy resignation, and what it looks like from here.

I know that historical analogies are dangerous, but here goes.

I grew up in Apartheid days. My family were what these days would be called dissident Afrikaners: opposed to the government. We were white, and therefore privileged, and protected by that, but also to some extent outcast from our community, living each day in a contested reality

I often think back on what those times felt like: to hear of my parents’ colleagues or friends detained or banned, or even murdered. To know that what was happening was evil, even while the surface of everyday life appeared normal, civil, suburban.

Above all, I remember what it felt like to know we were at odds with the state: its police, its soldiers, its spies, its laws; and to know that it could use that might against us.

In my case it was quite personal. I was by law conscripted to the SADF. Those who refused to fight and kill for Apartheid were threatened with six years of jail. I was one of those who refused.

I did not go to jail – long story – but I remember just how scary it was to face the potential of the state’s reprisals. But you know what was even scarier? That all along, most of white society was trying to pretend it was not happening.

You’d go through road blocks, or find riot cops on the street, and on the radio, Bobby McFerrin would be singing ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’. That song was number one on the South African charts for the longest time.

So, Trump. As I said, historical analogies are dangerous. But what I keep thinking about was the 1948 election, the one in which the National Party first got elected. Seventy years ago. 26 May. That was the turning point for South Africa.

Thing is, if you go back and read the papers at the time, what is so shockingly clear is that no-one realised what was in the process of happening. They all thought it would blow over soon.

You see, the National Party never won the popular vote. They had barely 37%. They only got in because of the electoral system. Rural votes were more heavily represented in Parliament. They barely squeaked in. It was never meant to happen. It was a glitch.

And Apartheid? Read the newspapers of the time. Very few in the English press took it seriously. It was a word and a couple of incendiary and racist slogans. Even the National Party itself did not have any detailed policies. It was clearly impractical, doomed.

In 1953, the NP achieved a solid majority. Still, people did not think they would last.

In those days, coloured people in the Cape still had the vote. The NP passed an act taking them off the voter’s roll.

The Appelate Division struck it down as unconstitutional.

So what the NP then did was to pack the Senate, to ensure a two-thirds majority, and they changed the Constitution. That was 1955. That was the first time that it really became clear that big trouble was coming. Seven years after they got in.

It took 40 years to get them out.

When I was doing my history degree, reading the mainstream press from the 1940s and 1950s, it seemed to me I was seeing people sleepwalking into a battlefield. Floating down the stream of history, not seeing what was right in front of their eyes.

It’s hard to look at Trump’s America, and the GOP’s deliberate obstruction and exploitation of the SCOTUS nominations, and the deliberate galvanisation of all the most racist and violent segments of American society, and not to fear that you all are going down a similar road. [emphasis added]

What that means in practice for your choices, I don’t know. The one thing I am sure of is that it is a big mistake to wish for normalcy to return. It won’t. It hasn’t here.  25 years after freedom came, it looks as if our biggest changes still lie ahead.

A follow-up question in the comments:

Q: Am I reading this thread incorrectly, or do you in fact believe that apartheid (largely) crept up on the white voter unawares? That conscious support for the policy was not widespread, as indeed the narrative seems to suggest now in the memories of our white compatriots?

A: Good question. It’s complicated. Remember that the UP’s policy was segregation. Thus also white supremacist – but inconsistent, paternalistic, ‘civilised’. Many English whites did not like the Nats, but they feared black majority rule more. At most they wanted only gradual change.

If you look at South Africa in the 1940s, it is clear that some whites realised the country was at a crossroads. Urbanisation was gathering steam. There was a sense of historical progress. The inclusion of black people in the democracy seemed inevitable … in the long run.

In the late 1940s, liberals thought South Africa was on a progressive path. Genl Smuts had helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights! Progressive business was calling for black workers to be given more recognition. Change was afoot. Then the Nats shut it down.

Again, the parallels with the USA today are striking. The Dems seem secure in the inevitability of the demographic dividend. The whole establishment, including Sanders and Obama, seems to think that progressive change will come gradually. ‘Civilly’.

I think that’s an illusion. Thoughts about ‘the arc of the moral universe’ are not much help here. When things change, they change quickly. And often you don’t even recognise the critical moment when it appears.

Q: Thanks. What [your] response does is confirm my increasing persuasion that liberalism, historically & at present, has not had the ethical force & single-mindedness of moral conviction & has, in the hands of those who benefit from systemic oppression, been a very poor ally in struggle.

an apartheid story | 3:26 pm CST
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Add “cash and prizes” to the long list of euphemisms for male genitalia, thanks to Dwayne Johnson, who used the phrase on The Graham Norton show:

Graham Norton: “Is it true that in Moana, your character was based on him?”

[photo of a Pacific islander in traditional dress]

Dwayne Johnson: Sure. Correct. So, a lot of the details of that character, Maui, was based on my grandfather with the long hair and very big build, and tattoos. In Polynesian culture and Samoan culture you, to become a high chief you have tattoos three hundred sixty degrees from your knees all the way up to the bottom of your chest. Everything. And it’s hard core, I mean, they do it with a tap.

Guest: Everything everything? Nah, not everything?

Norton: Yeah, that’s what I heard. Everything.

Johnson: Well, ah. Yes, when the cash and prizes is lifted [mimes lifting his junk out of the way WITH BOTH HANDS] and then you —

Host: Awwwohh!

First time I heard that.

cash and prizes | 2:43 pm CST
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Monday, June 25th, 2018

Tim brought me a bottle of Islay scotch for father’s day last weekend.  He was a little embarrassed when he realized that Father’s Day was the weekend before last, but he brought me a bottle of scotch, so who am I to quibble?


father’s day | 6:32 am CST
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Saturday, June 23rd, 2018

There was an old Carver motor boat parked in the lot out front of a local auto supply store two weeks ago. Even though it was half-covered with a tarp, I recognized the make of the boat as we sped past at thirty miles per hour because Carver’s logo is unmistakably stylized; the oversized V in the middle makes it look a lot like two words butted up against each other: CarVer.

My Dad used to have a Carver sixteen-foot runabout. If memory serves, he bought it from a farmer who’d kept it in a barn for years, or maybe that was the army jeep Dad bought for no really good reason other than he liked that jeep a lot.  Coincidentally, I believe that’s the only reason he bought the boat, too, although, really, what other reason is there for buying a boat?  He used fishing as a plausible excuse, but really he just liked racing around in a boat.

I know this because when he bought the boat, it had an antique outboard motor that would putt-putt along the river at a top speed of maybe twenty miles per hour, a perfectly respectable speed if all you want to do is fish. Dad ditched it at the first opportunity he got and replaced it with a sixty-five horse motor that made that little boat FLY.  And many times we went out on the river, that’s all we did: Put the boat in at Fremont and fly down the river until we got to Lake Winnebago, then come flying back, with brief stops along the way for gas and maybe lunch.

One year, after the summer ended, he backed the boat into the garage and spent all winter refurbishing it. I remember helping him by doing little things like unscrewing all the cleats and lights and things and helping to sort all the screws and fixtures in coffee cans. He sanded off the old, peeling varnish, re-stained the wood, and laid on a new, thick coat of glossy varnish that shone.  He fixed up a broken seat, and he installed a folding vinyl top to give us some relief from the sun.  It was really a very pretty little boat after he was done.

We took that boat everywhere, and I mean everywhere.  We even went fishing on Lake Michigan in that boat.  On one trip, the waves were so high I couldn’t see over them.  I had to spin the wheel like a dervish to keep it pointed in the direction dad wanted to keep it going, while he and his uncle Adrian calmly fished off the back.  Apparently, Deenie did this all the time in his little sixteen-footer, but my experience was on calmer waters.  We were pitching and rolling so dramatically I was sure they would go over the side.

On a camping trip to upper Michigan, we took the boat to Fayette.  The boat launch was a steep incline down to the water, but the gravel bottom of the shore was much less so, requiring dad to back all the way down until the rear wheels of the truck were in the water.  We had a truck-top camper that was about the size of a big-box Wal-Mart store.  To launch the boat from such a steeply-inclined ramp, the prudent thing to do would have been to dismount the camper, but apparently dad was in a hurry, or he didn’t feel prudent on that trip, because he backed that big damn thing all the way down the ramp until he dipped its ass-end into Lake Michigan.  We got the boat into the water okay, but as he began to climb up the ramp, the rear wheels of the truck repeatedly broke traction until I was sure he would never get back up into the parking lot.  I don’t remember my father as a very patient man, yet he very patiently inched his way up that ramp.  Not only that, but he repeated the performance when we took the boat out of the water later that week.

I took some friends out for a weekend ride in that boat, an act of trust that still sticks in my memory, especially as I came close to drowning every single one of those friends when I crossed the wake of a bigger boat that met us coming down the river.  I’d crossed wakes with other boats dozens of times, but somehow misjudged this one.  When our boat crested the wake and dove into the trough on the other side, the back end of the boat flipped into the air so quickly that for a few moments everyone seated back there was airborne.  By sheer dumb luck, the boat was still under them when they came back down, and they all landed upright in their seats.  I don’t know how I didn’t shit my pants.

I prefer much slower boats, the kind you paddle, these days.  But I have to admit we had a lot of fun in that little runabout.

Carver | 8:45 am CST
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Friday, June 22nd, 2018

Did you have a bad day?  Do you think so?  Oh, no.  No no no.  Your worst day is barely a patch on the worst day the earth ever had.

“The meteorite itself was so massive that it didn’t notice any atmosphere whatsoever,” said Rebolledo. “It was traveling 20 to 40 kilometers per second, 10 kilometers — probably 14 kilometers — wide, pushing the atmosphere and building such incredible pressure that the ocean in front of it just went away.”

These numbers are precise without usefully conveying the scale of the calamity. What they mean is that a rock larger than Mount Everest hit planet Earth traveling twenty times faster than a bullet. This is so fast that it would have traversed the distance from the cruising altitude of a 747 to the ground in 0.3 seconds. The asteroid itself was so large that, even at the moment of impact, the top of it might have still towered more than a mile above the cruising altitude of a 747. In its nearly instantaneous descent, it compressed the air below it so violently that it briefly became several times hotter than the surface of the sun.

“The pressure of the atmosphere in front of the asteroid started excavating the crater before it even got there,” Rebolledo said. “Then, when the meteorite touched ground zero, it was totally intact. It was so massive that the atmosphere didn’t even make a scratch on it.”

Unlike the typically Hollywood CGI depictions of asteroid impacts, where an extraterrestrial charcoal briquette gently smolders across the sky, in the Yucatan it would have been a pleasant day one second and the world was already over by the next. As the asteroid collided with the earth, in the sky above it where there should have been air, the rock had punched a hole of outer space vacuum in the atmosphere. As the heavens rushed in to close this hole, enormous volumes of earth were expelled into orbit and beyond — all within a second or two of impact.

“So there’s probably little bits of dinosaur bone up on the moon?” I asked.

“Yeah, probably.”

Excerpt from “The Ends of the World,” by Peter Brannon

a bad day | 8:25 pm CST
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“I’ve got a stupid Abba song stuck in my head,” I redundantly said to My Darling B the other morning.

“The song stuck in my head is worse,” she answered.

“I doubt that.”

She began to sing: “I’m all out of love, I’m so lost without you, blah blah blah blah …”

“Okay, yeah. That is worse.”

air supply | 6:37 am CST
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Thursday, June 14th, 2018

The use of George Orwell’s name to describe changes in our country got quite a workout today:

This morning, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee tweeted, “Complacency is our enemy. Anyone that does not embrace the @realDonaldTrump agenda of making America great again will be making a mistake.”

Then this afternoon we were all treated to the revelation that the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, justified separating children from their mothers by citing the same bible passage used to justify the American institution of slavery: “Persons who violate the laws of our nation are subject to prosecution. I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.”

Finally, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded to the question, “Where in the bible does it say it’s moral to take children away from their mothers,” by answering, “It is very biblical to enforce the law.”

it’s been swell | 8:15 pm CST
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Friday, June 8th, 2018

We’ve been living in our little red house for almost fifteen years now, yet somehow My Darling B still can’t remember which pull chain turns on the overhead fan, cooling the muggy bedroom on a warm summer night, and which chain turns on the light, abruptly waking her dozing O-Man, who went to bed before her because it’s late in the week and he’s a lightweight when it comes to staying up late.

pull chain | 6:29 am CST
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Thursday, June 7th, 2018

Last Tuesday night, I bought a pair of pants that were not khaki, so if you felt the earth tremble at about six pm central time, that’s why.

I have been a khaki-pants-wearing guy for about fifteen years.  If I wasn’t wearing dress pants, I wore khakis.  Haven’t owned a pair of jeans for so long, I can’t remember the last time I wore them.  After I’d made up my mind that I’d wear khakis forever, I stopped buying them.  I think  I bought my last pair of jeans in the mid-80s.

But last Tuesday after work, I broke down and went to Kohl’s to buy clothes because all the pants I owned were so old they were fraying at the cuffs and wearing thin in the butt.  Added to that, I needed some short-sleeved shirts to wear on the hot summer afternoons we’ve been experiencing lately, but I didn’t have any that would make me look presentable in any setting except maybe if I was stirring a pot of beans in a hobo camp.

For once, shopping took less than an hour and I found everything I wanted, even pants, which are almost impossible for a guy like me to buy off the shelf.  If I were six inches shorter and had a thirty-two inch waist, or six inches taller and had a beer gut that stuck out like the belly of a woman who was no more than five minutes away from giving birth, I could easily find pants.  Most of the pants I see on the shelf are for the beer gut crowd, which makes a certain amount of sense:  I live in Wisconsin, land of men who proudly bear the most well-developed beer guts in the nation.  Either Kohl’s routinely chooses not to stock pants that fit me, or there are a lot of people out there built like me who snatch them off the shelf the moment they’re available, but I think the former is more likely than the latter, because, again, beer gut guys.

But I found two pairs of pants that were close enough to my size to say, “eh, fuck it,” and toss them into my shopping cart.  They weren’t khakis, though, which was the first thing My Darling B noticed when I brought them home.  “OH MY DOG!” she said, or something like that.  Can’t wait to see how she reacts when I bring home a pair of jeans next time I go shopping.

summer wardrobe | 6:24 am CST
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Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

I bought my first hedge trimmer from a second-hand shop last weekend.  The lilac bush out front was getting out of control and I was looking for a quick and easy way to get it back under control.  Ideally, I would have preferred using explosives or, at the very least, FIRE, but ever since I decided to live inside the city limits, I have had to accept that that sort of thing is frowned upon.

There are, however, power tools designed to rapidly disassemble a tangled mess like a lilac bush that are almost as satisfying to use as a flamethrower.  I’ve never owned a hedge trimmer before, but that long serrated cutting blade with about a hundred opportunities to lose a finger make it look like a tool I should have owned for many years.

I didn’t want to pay full price for a hedge trimmer without taking it for a test drive, though, because I’m cheap that way.  Lucky for me, I knew where I could get one for a reasonable price.  The resale shop down the street has a basement full of equipment made for yard work.  I was out running errands Saturday afternoon, so I stopped by on the way home, scrounged through the pile of hedge trimmers until I found the cheapest one, paid a price Scrooge McDuck would’ve been happy with, and took it home.

Guess what?  It turns out, you get what you pay for.  I plugged it in and revved it up at the store and it seemed to work fine, but that little test drive didn’t take into account that the bad bearing in the motor didn’t make warning noises until it warmed up.  After three or four minutes, it screamed like a cat after its tail gets stepped on.

But the five minutes or so I could put up with the noise gave me enough time to whip one of the lilac bushes into shape so easily that I knew I WANTED ONE.  So now my inner McDuck will have to do battle with my gadget-loving guy brain, a battle that it will lose.  It’s only a matter of time.

hedge trimmer | 6:00 am CST
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Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

We heard an advertisement on the radio this morning from a local “health clinic” for a procedure they called a “laser peel,” which I had to google as soon as I got home to see if it’s a real thing.

It is.  Real people really pay real money to have a “health clinician” point a LASER at their FACE on PURPOSE!

Here’s how one of the web sites you probably visit to see if your mildest symptoms are your worst nightmares describes it:

Laser resurfacing is a treatment to reduce facial wrinkles and skin irregularities, such as blemishes or acne scars. The technique directs short, concentrated pulsating beams of light at irregular skin, precisely removing skin layer by layer. This popular procedure is also called lasabrasion, laser peel, or laser vaporization.

I have believed, pretty much since birth, that lasers are about the coolest thing scientists ever came up with.  I have also always believed there are some people in clean, white coats who use lasers in ways that are, at best, sketchy.  Like the guys who propose shooting lasers into my eyes with the less-than-ironclad promise that I’ll be able to see more clearly for an unspecified length of time after the procedure.

Peeling me like a freaking onion is likewise one of the sketchy uses of a laser that I will never voluntarily submit to.

Did you catch the part where they referred to a laser as “short, concentrated pulsating beams of light,” which is technically correct but makes it sound as mundane as a disco ball when it is, in fact, A FREAKING LASER.

I can think of a lot of ways to use a laser that I would describe with the words “laser vaporization,” and the only ones that involve pointing a laser at anybody’s face are also coincidentally war crimes.


laser peel | 6:00 am CST
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Monday, June 4th, 2018

A song was playing on the radio as we drove into town this morning, with a refrain that went like this:

I would climb every mountain
I would swim every ocean
Just to be with you

Dude.  Every mountain? Every ocean? I don’t know how to break this to you, but you’re going to be climbing and swimming all your life, which means you will never get any time to be with him/her/them.  I mean, I have to say in all honesty that I feel it’s not possible, these things you’re saying you will do.

Let’s start with just the mountains.  Do you even know how many mountains there are in the world?  I sure don’t, but I’m pretty sure you can’t climb them all in one lifetime.  I used to live in Colorado, where it was considered no small accomplishment to climb the 54 mountains known as The Fourteeners.  Those were only the mountains that were fourteen thousand feet tall.  There were lots more mountains in Colorado, but climbing those 54 mountains was considered a big deal.  And that was just in Colorado.  There were more mountains to the south of Colorado, and one hell of a lot more mountains to the north of Colorado.  And there are mountains in California, and in Tennessee and Kentucky and Pennsylvania.  And there are the Himalayas in Asia, and the Pyrenees in Europe.  I mean, they go on and on and on.

And the oceans.  Has anybody swum across even one ocean?  I’ve heard of people swimming across the English Channel, which is 21 miles, and I think I remember somebody swam from Cuba to Florida, which is maybe 100 miles, but I’m pretty sure nobody has swum the 12,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean.  I’m pretty sure that would kill you.  But let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that you announce you’re going to do it.  Who’s going to believe you, really, much less wait the 143 days (with no stopping to eat or sleep) for you on the other side?

If you want to show somebody you love them by doing something really heroic, my suggestion is to at least set some realistic goals.  Find one of those fundraisers where they climb the stairs of a really tall building.  Or a 10k walk/run.  Or, if you’re already in pretty good shape, sign up for an Iron Man.  It doesn’t sound nearly as romantic, but at least there’s an end that somebody would believe you were going to reach.

But swim every ocean?  C’mon.  Nobody’s falling for that.

extremes | 6:00 am CST
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Sunday, June 3rd, 2018

Prewitt loved the songs because they gave him something, an understanding, a first hint that pain might not be pointless if you could only turn it into something.

— James Jones, From Here To Eternity

pain | 6:22 pm CST
Category: Big Book of Quotations, books
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Few people in the history of written advice have actually been qualified to give it.  There’s no Ph.D. program or certification course or license for the role.  Which means that nobody is ineligible to give advice, either.  … Take Ann Landers and Dear Abby.  Those columns were written by a pair of twins whose parents named them Esther Pauline and Pauline Esther, which establishes off the bat that good judgment isn’t hereditary.  Initially the twins answered letters together under the Ann Landers name before Pauline went rogue and pitched her own advice column to The San Francisco Chronicle.  … For decades the sisters competed viciously, tracking the number of newspapers syndicating their columns and sniping publicly about one sister’s nose job and the other’s writing abilities.  Isn’t it funny to think that decades of Americans relied for behavioral guidance on a single pair of unsportsmanlike twins with inverse names?

— Molly Young, reviewing Asking For a Friend, Three Centuries of Advice on Life, Love, Money and Other Burning Questions From a Nation Obsessed, by Jessica Weisberg

advice | 8:39 am CST
Category: Big Book of Quotations, books, entertainment, play
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Saturday, June 2nd, 2018

“The Shovel Man” is probably my favorite Sandburg poem. He wrote lots of others that come close, but the last four lines of this score a bull’s eye right in the center of my heart.

   On the street
Slung on his shoulder is a handle half way across,
Tied in a big knot on the scoop of cast iron
Are the overalls faded from sun and rain in the ditches;
Spatter of dry clay sticking yellow on his left sleeve
And a flimsy shirt open at the throat,
I know him for a shovel man,
A dago working for a dollar six bits a day
And a dark-eyed woman in the old country dreams of
him for one of the world’s ready men with a pair
of fresh lips and a kiss better than all the wild
grapes that ever grew in Tuscany.


The Shovel Man | 9:02 am CST
Category: Big Book of Quotations, daily drivel
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No matter how much Kim Jong Un insults Donald Trump, Trump is determined to have a meeting with Kim to make it look like he’s forcing Kim to give up his nuclear weapons, even though Kim will never give up so much as a single bomb without a fight. But the summit’s got to happen, to make Trump look like he’s doing something. And who’s going to pay for this dog and pony show? According to a story in The Washington Post this morning, we will:

At an island resort off the coast of Singapore, U.S. event planners are working day and night with their North Korean counterparts to set up a summit designed to bring an end to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. But a particularly awkward logistical issue remains unresolved … Who’s going to pay for Kim Jong Un’s hotel stay?

The prideful but cash-poor pariah state requires that a foreign country foot the bill at its preferred lodging: the Fullerton, a magnificent neoclassical hotel near the mouth of the Singapore River, where just one presidential suite costs more than $6,000 per night.

When it comes to paying for lodging at North Korea’s preferred five-star luxury hotel, the United States is open to covering the costs … but it’s mindful that Pyongyang may view a U.S. payment as insulting. As a result, U.S. planners are considering asking the host country of Singapore to pay for the North Korean delegation’s bill.

Not only will we pay to set Kim Jong Un up as extravagantly as they require us to, we will also ask a proxy to pay the bill for us, because Kim would be insulted to take money directly from us. But wait! That’s not all!

Figuring out how to pay Pyongyang’s hotel tab won’t be the only unusual planning obstacle … the country’s underused Soviet-era aircraft may require a landing in China because of concerns it won’t make the 3,000 mile trip … alternatively, the North Koreans might travel in a plane provided by another country.

We’ll also send a plane to deliver them to their five-star accommodations, because their fossilized planes can’t make it all the way to Singapore without breaking down. I’m sure it’ll be the biggest plane with nothing but first-class seats from front to back.

scammed | 7:50 am CST
Category: random idiocy, yet another rant | Tags:
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We saw Hari Kondabolu at the Comedy Club on State Street a few weeks ago. He was hilarious, as he always is, and we really enjoyed the night out.

At one point in his performance, Hari used the term “depression beard” to describe a time he let his beard grow out.  I don’t believe I’ve ever heard that term before.

depression beard | 5:09 am CST
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Friday, June 1st, 2018

The song playing on the radio as we ended our commute to work yesterday morning included the refrain, “Hey, pretty thing, let me light your candle, ’cause, momma, I’m sure hard to handle.”

Yet another pop song that refers to a woman as a thing.  *sigh*  Why’s he say “thing,” and not “woman?”  It would scan better if it was “woman.”  The cadence of “hey, pretty woman” keeps on bopping along, but “Hey, pretty thing” comes to a screeching halt at the end.  And, as a bonus, you wouldn’t be referring to a woman as a “thing.”  Just saying.

“Let me light your candle” is a euphemism for sex I hadn’t heard before.  The mental image is confusing.  Wouldn’t he be the one with the candle?  It would make more sense to me if he said, “Hey, pretty woman, won’t you light my candle?”  It would still be crude and obvious, as pick-up lines go, but it would be a lot less clunky.

Is he saying he’s “hard to handle” because he’s a bad boy, or because he’s got a boner?  As a double entendre, it seems kind of obvious, now that I think about it.  Maybe every double entendre that seemed clever was really kind of obvious.

hard to handle | 6:00 am CST
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Wednesday, May 30th, 2018

ee cummings is one of my favorite poets (who are yours?), but this poem used to drive me crazy because I never could figure out what the third line meant, and neither could anybody I asked.

What does little Ernest croon
In his death at afternoon
(kow dow r 2 bull retoinis
wus de woids uf lil Oinis)

I was re-reading some of my favorite poems the other day and, when I came across this one, I realized you can look anything up on the internet now, so I did.

Ernest is Ernest Hemingway, and his last words, according to Cummings, are: “Cow thou art, to bull returnest,” a parody of a line in Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life”: “Dust thou art, to dust returnest”

And now I’m stuck with trying to figure out what THAT means.

ernest | 6:27 am CST
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Sunday, May 27th, 2018

For years, my mother had this hanging on the bathroom wall of our family’s ancestral home:

Finish each day and be done with it.  You have done what you could.  Some absurdities and blunders no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can.  Tomorrow is a new day.  You shall begin it well and serenely. — Emerson

The quotation was printed over a photo of a golden sunset backlighting a tree on a hill.  It was hanging over the toilet, so I couldn’t help but read it to myself every single time I had a tinkle for the ten years I lived in that house, which explains how it became etched into the frontal lobes of my adolescent brain as permanently as the lyrics to the theme from Gilligan’s Island.

I carried that quotation around in my head for decades, sometimes reciting it to myself when I became so stressed I had to pause for a moment to take a deep breath, empty my mind and lungs, and sit for a few minutes to decompress.  But, I never saw it in print again until about five years ago when I stopped by a coworker’s desk to ask a question and saw this quotation on her wall:

Finish each day and be done with it.  You have done what you could.  Some absurdities and blunders no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can.  Tomorrow is a new day.  You shall begin it well and serenely, and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

That ending was like hitting a mental speed bump.  It had never occurred to me that the quotation I learned from the resale shop nicknack my mother nailed to the bathroom wall might not have been complete but, apparently, someone thought it was a dozen and one words too long and they did a quotectomy on it.  Who would be so vile as to alter the words of Emerson?

The abridged quotation is fine, I guess, but the complete quotation is much more engaging.  In a letter dated April 8, 1854, Emerson wrote to his daughter Ellen, who was away at school, telling her to prepare to come home.  “It is quite time to think of bringing you home,” he began; wrote a bit more about making arrangements with Mr. Wheeler, who was apparently her teacher; advised her to pay her debts; named a few people who were looking forward to seeing Ellen; and then, toward the end of the letter, he dropped these familiar lines:

You must finish a term & finish every day, & and be done with it. For manners, & for wise living it is a vice to remember. You have done what you could — some blunders & absurdities no doubt crept in forget them as soon as you can tomorrow is a new day.  You shall begin it well & serenely, & with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense. This day for all that is good & fair.  It is too dear with its hopes & invitations to waste a moment on the rotten yesterdays.

Polonius couldn’t have done better.  He was practically lecturing Laertes; if he were in a cap and gown behind a lectern, he wouldn’t have looked out of place reciting his lines.  Emerson, on the other hand, casually, almost effortlessly scribbled a few dozen words to his daughter that became as iconic as, “Neither a borrower, nor a lender be.”

“Scribbled” was not meant to sound dismissive, but I honestly get the impression, by the way he sprints through the third sentence without bothering to punctuate it, that he was dashing off this letter as quickly as he could write it.

I love how freely people used ampersands back in the day they used to write letters to each other, in spite of how hard they are to make.  I’ve tried to teach my clumsy hand to make them and eventually got good enough that maybe one in ten was recognizable as an ampersand, but the rest were twisted scribbling.  I keep trying, though.

finish each day | 12:22 pm CST
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Saturday, May 26th, 2018

A little more than two months ago, B and I stopped at one of our favorite local restaurants for dinner, and when I say “favorite,” I mean we go there a lot.  They don’t know us on a first-name basis, but they know us by sight.  The guy who served us that evening has served us many times before and has never given us any reason to cast a stink eye on his service, until two months ago.

When the time came to pay the check, B left her credit card on the table, right beside her.  The waiter picked it up and brought it back to the table about five minutes later, tucked into the customary black wallet with the check.  I was sitting in the chair farthest from the aisle; B was sitting on the aisle.  The server reached over her, handed the check to me and said, “Thanks, and have a good rest of your day,” even though B’s name was on the credit card and she would have to sign for it.  I guess it’s still assumed, even by servers who live and work in the twenty-first century, that the man always gets the check.

Was B just a teensy bit cheesed off by this?  Oh, a tad.  But she didn’t trust herself to say anything about it while she was still fuming, so she let it go that night, resolving to say something to the management if they didn’t it again.

Unbelievably, it happened again last night, and this time the server was a woman.  We were at a different place this time, but still, it was a place we visit quite often.  The server was relatively new, though; we have never seen her before, although we haven’t been there in a couple weeks.  After we finished dinner, B set her credit card on a corner of the table closest to her.  The server picked it up and returned it about five minutes later, stepping past B, who once again was sitting on the aisle, to hand it to me, the man, who was sitting against the wall.  “Thanks, and have a great rest of your day,” she said to me, before leaving.

“DAYUM!” I said to B. “Dissed by a woman this time!” She was not well pleased.

How does this even happen in 2018? I mean, we’re not eating at high-end, four-star restaurants, but still, I would think that, in the interest of getting the biggest tip for the best service, the server would take the extra half-minute to look at the name on the card.  I don’t look much like a Barbara, or at least I don’t think I do.  It wouldn’t take much to figure out I’m not the one who has to sign the card, and return it to the right person.

check please | 2:42 pm CST
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Friday, May 25th, 2018

B and I got on the elevator down from the top floor of the parking garage yesterday morning; three other people got on with us.

The elevator stopped at the next floor down, where three more people got on.

And it stopped again at the next floor, where we picked up two or three more people. By this time, it was feeling a little tight in there.

When it stopped at the next floor and the doors opened, the two people waiting outside the door took a quick look inside, smiled and said, “We’ll wait.”  Everybody chuckled.

We stopped again at the next floor.  Same thing happened: Doors opened, waiting people looked in, shook their heads, doors closed.  Chuckles all around.

“It says we can hold twenty-one people,” somebody said, pointing out the official capacity on a plaque.

“I don’t think they were counting on Wisconsin people,” someone else fired back, “or any society based on cheese, beer, and bratwurst.”

capacity | 6:21 am CST
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Thursday, May 24th, 2018

This video clip from Fox & Friends yesterday is really bizarre:

Fox and Friends: Why do you think he [Kim Jong Un] agreed to this meeting?

Pete Hegseth: I think he wants a picture with the America president. The sanctions are having massive effect there, there’s no doubt.  The Chinese have put the screws to them on that, the Chines are playing a double game, absolutely.  And then I think there’s probably a point at which the guy who wants to meet with Dennis Rodman and loves NBA basketball and loves Western pop culture probably doesn’t love being the guy who has to murder his people all day long, probably wants some normalization, and let’s give it to him if we can make the world safer.

It’s not unusual for Fox & Friends to be bizarre, but making a ruthless dictator sound like he’s just an average guy with a heart of gold who is just so, so tired of having to murder people is way out there.

such a nice boy | 6:35 am CST
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Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018

I hate mowing the yard.  Hate it.  Hate hate hate it.  Before last night, I thought there was no way I could possibly hate it more, but when mosquitoes are swarming me while I’m mowing, that makes it so much worse.  I got a few bites while I was mowing the front yard, but the sun was behind the house by the time I got to the back yard, throwing the yard into shadow, which is the signal for the blood-sucking zombie bugs to rise from their graves and zero in on any warm-blooded mammals foolish enough to be out after darkness begins to fall.  So if the doctors are scratching their heads over my comatose body, remind them to test for zika, west nile, and malaria.

bled | 6:27 am CST
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Monday, May 21st, 2018

It wasn’t a bad Monday, as Mondays go.  There was still a chocolate chip cookie in a knotted plastic bag on top of the file cabinet where our supervisor leaves treats for us.  She doesn’t do that so very often but, when she does, she brings the good stuff. This one was my favorite store brand, thick and packed full of chunky chocolate chips.

She bought this particular cookie last Monday or Tuesday; can’t remember exactly which day, but it had to be one of those two days, because I left town on Wednesday morning and didn’t come back until Saturday, and I know I ate at least two chocolate chip cookies from that bag.  This last cookie somehow survived the week.  That’s really unusual.  The people I work with are more ravenous than a pack of starved dogs, especially when it comes to sweets.

After I said good morning to Romona and exchanged a few pleasantries, I eyed the bag and said something like, “Thanks for saving a cookie for me.”  She wrinkled her nose and expressed some doubt that it was any good after a week.  Pfft.  It passed the sniff test, and it didn’t have any visible mold growing on it, so I took it back to my desk and wolfed it down.  Happy Monday.

Monday | 8:41 am CST
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Thursday, May 17th, 2018

I wonder if anyone else feels as I do that trucks should not be allowed to pass if they can’t go at least 70 mph. Science has not invented numbers high enough to count the times I’ve been stuck behind a lumbering semi that’s barely moving faster than the truck it’s supposedly passing. I understand that truck engines are built to generate torque instead of speed, and I’m fine with trucks that can’t go faster than 60 mph uphill against the wind, as long as they stay out of the left lane!

Any vehicle in the left lane that isn’t passing a vehicle in the right lane should be immediately impounded and its driver left on the shoulder of the road, preferably with a sign hanging from his neck that reads, “Doesn’t know what ‘passing lane’ means.”  No exceptions.

Road rage | 8:11 am CST
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Wednesday, May 16th, 2018

I am Scooter’s butt-patter.

He is the kind of cat who demands that I show affection toward him by patting his butt.  Spanking it, really.  Some cats like this, I guess.  I’m not into it, but I seem to be the one in our little family he prefers to get a spanking from.  He cuddles up to B and lets her pet him the way most people pet cats: stroking his head and his back, scratching his shoulders, that kind of thing.  But from me, he wants a spanking.

He starts out by rubbing against some part of me, usually my leg, to get my attention.  Not at all unusual for a cat, right?  Most cats do something like this.  Then he’ll duck his head under my hand or my arm to get me to pet him; again, entirely within the behavioral profile of most cats.  When I start to pet him, though, he’ll almost immediately wheel around, stick his butt high in the air, and back into my hand.

It’s not that I’m unwilling because it seems like a weird kink, even though it does.  Full disclosure:  It feels weird to spank a cat as a way of saying, “I like you.”  But honestly, that’s not the problem I have with him.  It’s more than I don’t want to have to look at his butt.  Way more.  In my opinion, it’s not his most endearing feature.  No cat’s butt is.  Again, just my opinion.  Other people may think their cats have lovely butts, and that’s okay.  Others like every part of their cat.  I am not into cat butts.  And I don’t want to see them or touch them all that much, and I really don’t want to spank even just one cat butt every day.

I’ll pet him when he comes around, and even pat his butt a few times, or more than a few times if he points that thing away from me, but if he insists on shoving his butt straight at my face, I have to get up and walk away, and that’s when he starts to act out, knocking stuff on the floor, like my glasses or my phone, or jumping up where he knows he’s not supposed to go, like the dining room table or into the kitchen sink.  This has strained on our relationship to the point where I’m ready to sell him to a cosmetics lab for experimentation.  My Darling B scoffs when I suggest this, because she thinks I’m just kidding around, and I am, mostly, but there’s a teeny-tiny part of me, the part that stores the memories of looking at Scooter’s butt, I think, that would really like to trade him in for a cat that’s a little less anally fixated.

butt pat | 7:58 am CST
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Monday, May 14th, 2018

About a half-dozen of my neighbors were mowing their lawns when we got home from the office this evening.  The guilt was so overwhelming I had to consider mowing, especially because our yard looked like a wild prairie after a week of rain.  I like the look, but it doesn’t exactly fit in with the rest of the neighborhood.  Someday I’m going to plow it all under and plant begonias, or hostas, or something that doesn’t need mowing.

But tonight, I got the mower out of the shed and gave the front yard its first rough cut of the season.  The first cut will never look good.  First of all, our yard is not a lawn, by which I mean it’s not just Kentucky bluegrass, or whatever the grass of choice is these days.  Our yard is a mix of grasses, flowers, vines, saplings, and whatever came fluttering down from the sky and took root.  I don’t weed & seed our yard.  I mow it about once a week, and that’s all I do to it, because I hate yard work.  I think I may have mentioned that once or twice.

Mowing tonight was particularly grueling because it was relatively hot (for Wisconsin) and muggy tonight.  And, I’m a lazy slug, so mowing the yard is like an hour of cardio to me.  But, if I’m very lucky, I won’t have to mow it again tomorrow night.  There’s no guarantee, though, after all the rain we got this past week.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see knee-high dandelions when we pull into the driveway tomorrow evening.

lawn yawn | 6:47 pm CST
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I was a huge, HUGE fan of the Irwin Allen television show “Lost In Space” back when I was a tyke.  Every kid I knew was a fan, because all the kids I knew figured it was more or less inevitable they would grow up to be astronauts.  We were all born in the sixties; of course we were going to be astronauts!  And what was Lost In Space about?  Spaceships, aliens, a talking robot, and a kid who was an astronaut!  We all eagerly and uncritically watched every episode, even the one with the talking carrot, and when it was over, we counted the minutes until next week’s episode.

Then there was the 1998 theatrical reboot starring William Hurt, Gary Oldman, and Matt LeBlanc.  I paid good money to watch that stinker.  As a grown-ass adult, I should have known better than to mess with nostalgia.

So it was with no little trepidation that I sat down to watch the first few episodes of the Netflix reboot.  It wasn’t awful.  But I have quibbles.  Just as a for instance:  In the opening scene of the first episode, as the Robinson’s space ship is about to crash, a computer voice tells them they’re at 5,000 feet and falling fast, but the display they’re looking at indicates their altitude is 5,000 meters.  It’s a little thing, but it’s such a needlessly stupid mistake that I saw that and my immediate reaction was, “Really?  Come on!”  Sort of takes away from the rest of the episode when the opening scene makes me go, “hmmm.”

And I was a little weirded out by the robot, who was not part of their crew when they left earth in this reboot.  Instead, the robot is the only apparent survivor of an alien ship that crashed on the same planet, in almost the same place, where the Robinsons crashed.  What are the odds of that, eh?  Wait, it gets better.  The robot happens to be on the same branch in the same tree Will climbs to get away from danger.  Of course they bond, because Will’s pure heart wins the robot’s loyalty, so the robot saves Will from danger and, a little while later, it saves Penny from being frozen, too, so the Robinsons accept it into their family.  Just like that!  An alien robot!  That they know nothing about!  Other than that it can melt glacial ice with a wave of its hand!  What could possibly go wrong?

And Dr. Smith is a psychopath this time around, a straight-up amoral killer, which I thought was unnecessarily dark.  I guess the show’s writers thought Smith was way too warm and fuzzy the last time around.  I’m thinking here of the comic delivery of Jonathan Harris, not Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Smith.

So I think after three episodes that I’ve had enough of this year’s gritty reboot of Lost In Space.  I may have to finally re-watch the original series again, just to cleanse my memory banks of these last two reboots.

Lost In Space – Netflix reboot | 4:59 am CST
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Friday, May 11th, 2018

My Darling B picked up a copy of 1,000 Places To See Before You Die: A Traveller’s Life List, by Patricia Schultz.  I’m assuming Ms. Schultz means these are places you must see before you die because she considers them unmissable, and not merely rando places to see at some time before you die, the distinction being, to a literalist such as myself, that the list of places to see after you die would be, literally, a blank page.  Unless you’re a believer, in which case you would have a list of 1 Place To See After You Die, the place being whatever version of heaven or hell you subscribe to.  I’m trying to be all-inclusive here.  Work with me.

The list of must-see places includes such exotic-sounding places as The Tasman Glacier, Canyon de Chelly, Kilimanjaro, the Island of Rhodes, and the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings.  Thumbing through the 970 pages of the paperback copy that B picked up, I noticed it was organized by nation, and that each of the United States was featured, so I flipped ahead until I found Wisconsin to see what Ms. Schultz considered to be the must-see places of our fair state.  Here’s what she said you absolutely must see in Wisconsin before you die:

The Apostle Islands.  Okay.  Yes.  I’ve never been, but I have seen the Lake Superior shore from nearby Ashland, and it was quite a scenic wonder.  I easily believe that Ms. Schultz considered this chain of islands off the shore of Bayfield to be a treat.

Her second pick of places to die for in Wisconsin was Canoe Bay, a swanky vacation retreat in Chetek where a night in a double room will set you back a week’s pay in the off season.  Ms. Shultz’s writeup highlights the seclusion, the nature trails, and the breakfasts in bed, and I’m sure it’s very nice, but honestly I can’t help thinking there are lots of places in Wisconsin, or really anywhere in the United States, where you could enjoy the hedonistic pleasures of a retreat like this one.  And really, is a resort with room service and a wine cellar something you would consider a place you have to see before you die?  I’m not saying I wouldn’t want to visit Canoe Bay, I’m just saying that maybe there are more scenic vistas to feast your eyes on in Wisconsin.

Then there’s Ms. Schultz’s third place she thought you had to see in Wisconsin before you die: The American Club, a “mega-golf complex” in Kohler.  A golf course.  Wait:  Not just one, but two golf courses, crammed into one resort.  You have to see this golf course.  Before you die.  Because your life would not be complete without seeing this … golf course.  I don’t know what I hate more: The idea that anyone would think they had to see a golf course before they died, or the idea that someone would tell me I had to visit a golf course before I died, lest my life feel empty and awful.

Washington Island is something you have to see before you die.  Any part of Door County is a must-see destination in Wisconsin.  The Chequamegon forest.  The Chain O’ Lakes or the Wisconsin Dells.  There are a hundred and one places in Wisconsin I would recommend that you see in Wisconsin, even if you weren’t about to die, before I would tell you that you absolutely must see a golf course.  Unless you’re one of those people for whom golf is your whole life.  And I’m not making a judgment about that; you do you.  See the golf course, if golf is your life.  But if seeing the wonders of the world is your life, any cheesehead could recommend better sights to see in Wisconsin than a golf course.  Just ask one.

just die already | 9:13 pm CST
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White House chief of staff John Kelly tells NPR:

The vast majority of the people that move illegally into the United States are … not people that would easily assimilate into the United States into our modern society.  They’re overwhelmingly rural people.  In the countries they come from, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-grade educations are kind of the norm.  They don’t speak English; obviously that’s a big thing.  … They don’t integrate well; they don’t have skills.  They’re not bad people.  They’re coming here for a reason.  And I sympathize with the reason.  But the laws are the laws.

I hardly know where to start when trying to think of a response to racist bullshit like this.

For a start, the vast majority of people who move to the United States are doing it because they’re desperate.  Desperate to get out of a country where gang warfare threatens them or their family, desperate to climb out of poverty, desperate for something better.  I can’t think of too many other reasons that would motivate others to travel hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles, often at great peril to their personal safety, to risk arrest crossing illegally into another country.  I don’t have a citation; I’m only using common sense to figure this out, but if John Kelly can spout his own made-up bullshit on the radio, I’m not to worried about spitballing.

“Not people that would easily assimilate” is a cute euphemism for pointing at “those people” with a smirk.

“Overwhelmingly rural people” describes a lot of people from communities in the heart of America.  I can’t believe this comment alone didn’t get Kelly buried in hate mail before the sun set.

“They don’t speak English; obviously that’s a big thing.”  As genealogist Jennifer Mendohlson pointed out today, at least two of Kelly’s ancestors lived in the United States for decades without bothering to learn to speak English.

“They don’t have skills.”  Those ancestors of Kelly were a wagon driver and a day laborer.

vast majority | 4:24 pm CST
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Thursday, May 10th, 2018

I’ve got a copy of the Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English by Eric Partridge on a shelf next to my desk at home, which I pull down and leaf through if, for instance, I’m in the middle of writing some drivel when my laptop decides it’s time to update the software without asking me. So frustrating.

Anyway, I’ve got nothing but respect for Partridge, and this dictionary is a fascinating book for word nerds, but I sometimes have my doubts there was an English-speaking person anywhere in the world who ever spoke the words or phrases in this dictionary. I’ve never come across them in any book or movie.  Just a few examples:

“call for a damper” – to break wind.  Never heard anybody say this.  Ever.

“all China to an orange” – the longest possible odds; a virtual certainty.  I’m pretty sure he made this up.

“get Jack in the orchard” – to achieve sexual intromission. I had to grab another dictionary to figure out what the slang dictionary was trying to tell me; who has ever used the word “intromission” to mean “penetration?” Nobody I ever met.

“muffin-walloper” – a scandal-loving woman delighting to meet others at a tea-table. I’ve never heard this phrase before, but I’m going to try my damndest to use it as soon and as often as possible.

that foreign language English | 6:26 am CST
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Most of the songs I ruin are songs that I like a lot, or used to like but don’t make a lot of sense to me, or sounded like great songs until I listened closely to the words.

They Call The Wind Mariah is a song I never liked in any way. I thought it was a plodding tune with dopey lyrics from the very first time I heard it, which was maybe forty years ago, and I haven’t changed my opinion one teensy-tiny little bit in all the years since. I never thought the music was all that great, and it’s one of the few songs I heard on the radio and understood all the words.  Far from helping me like the song, I disliked it more with every word I understood.  A cloyingly, wretchedly sentimental song.  And every time I hear it again I think, Dammit, I thought I was finally rid of that song from my life.  So, not a fan.

another song bites the dust | 6:24 am CST
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hedge n 1a; a fence or boundary formed by a dense row of shrubs or low trees b: BARRIER, LIMIT 2: a means of protection or defense (as against financial loss) 3: a calculatedly noncommittal statement

hedge vt 1: to enclose or protect with or as if with a hedge : ENCIRCLE 2: to hem in or obstruct with or as if with a barrier : HINDER 3: to protect oneself from losing by a counterbalancing transaction <~ a bet> ~ vi 1: to plant, form, or trim a hedge 2: to evade the risk of commitment esp. by leaving open a way of retreat : TRIM 3a: to protect oneself financially; specif: to buy or sell commodity futures as a protection against loss due to price fluctuation b: to minimize the risk of a bet  — Webster’s Seventh Collegiate Dictionary, 1969

hedge  hedge off  v.i, v.t. To be indecisive or act indecisively; specif., in gambling, to bet on one team, number, or entry and then to make a smaller bet on another or the other team, number, or entry, so as to recoup part of one’s loss if the larger bet loses; to transfer part of a bet one has to another, to reduce possible loss.  1956: “HEDGE OR HEDGE OFF — a bookmaker’s term, primarily; to hedge is to transfer part of a large bet to another bookmaker or to the mutual machines.” T. Betts, Across The Board, 316. Cr. dynamite.  — Wentworth & Flexner’s Dictionary of American Slang, 1960

hedge, a covering bet, and hedge, to bet ‘opposite’ for safety, are, despite F. & H. [Farmer & Henley’s Slang and its Analogues], ineligible, as are the figurative senses.  — Partridge’s A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, 1961

hedge, n. A row of bushes or small trees planted close together to form a fence or boundary; any similar row of bushes or small trees; hence, any barrier or boundary; also, an act or a means of hedging a bet or the like. — The New Century Dictionary, 1946

hedge | 6:18 am CST
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If politicians had to work in the same tiny cubicles in featureless office buildings that government workers typically have to spend their days toiling away in, there wouldn’t be any politicians.

If politicians were bound by the ethics rules that prevent all other government workers from accepting gifts or payments for services, they wouldn’t bother being politicians.

If politicians were bound by irrevocable law to spend no more on their campaign than one dollar for each person they sought to represent, there would never be any more politicians.

Dream world | 6:17 am CST
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Wednesday, May 9th, 2018

Tim was helping me clear the jetsam of our lives off the kitchen table where it tends to collect.  One of the items was an old-fashioned coffee mill I picked up at a second-hand shop for ten bucks.  I used to collect old-timey coffee making stuff until it started taking over a lot of the free space in the kitchen and dining room and wherever else I could find a spot.  I finally got rid of almost all of it, except for the coffee mill.  I kept it mostly because it was decorating the top of the china hutch.

Then the coffee mill I had been using wore out.  It wasn’t made to last.  First of all, it was almost entirely made out of plastic except for the burr, the shaft and the crank, so it was more or less inevitable that it would break long before I was ready to get a new one.  And I would never be ready to get a new one, because a coffee mill that was built to last would run me a couple hundred dollars, which is why I bought the cheap plastic one in the first place.

When I accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to fix what was broken on the plastic one, though, I started thinking seriously about investing in an expensive one, because there was no way we were going to go without coffee and I figured we might as well splurge on a really good coffee mill that would stick around until we both keeled over from caffeine-induced coronaries, or the revolution began and we had to grab our go bags and head for the hills, whichever came first.

But on that particular day that the cheap plastic coffee mill broke, I had to make coffee, and I had no way to grind the beans.  Well, I had an old blade grinder, and I considered breaking it out of storage for this one-time use, but then my eye fell on the decorative coffee mill.

When I say “decorative,” I mean it looked pretty to me.  I’m not sure that anybody else would think of it as particularly decorative.  It had a body made of an unidentified blonde wood, finished in a still-shiny lacquer and a thumbnail-sized decal bearing the trade mark of a Dutch coffee nobody has heard of in decades.  It had a shiny chrome crank with a wooden knob on the end, and a chrome dome that opened with a twist.  I believe I may have thrown a tiny handful of beans into it after I brought it home, just to see if it would work, but I never used it to make an actual pot of coffee.  Until this morning.

I mean, what did I have to lose, really?  Not much.  I measured out the beans, spooned them in through the top, cleaned out the little drawer that catches the grounds, and cranked away at it until I could hear the last of the beans had gone through the burr.  Slid the drawer open again and TA-DAH!  And it made a great pot of coffee.  Been using it every morning since.

Tim doesn’t drink coffee and he might not have recognized a coffee mill even if he did.  And this isn’t the first time he’s pointed at an anachronistic appliance in our house and asked me, “What’s that?”  Back when he was just a toddler, I found a rotary phone at a second-hand store, brought it home and plugged it into the jack in the living room.  (This was back when you could still do that.)  Then I dialed the ringback number (it grieves me to realize I don’t remember that number anymore) and, when it run, Tim laughed and said it was “Neat!”  Then he asked, “What is it?”  Until then, a telephone to Tim was the push-buttoned Princess that hung on the wall in the kitchen that bleeped with an electronic sound instead of going rrringgg like a bell.  I didn’t expect there would ever be another occasion I could stump him with a gadget that was easy for me to recognize but looked like a museum exhibit to him.


what’s that | 5:45 am CST
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