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Omaha, St. Mary’s University & Cyrano de Bergerac

Far back in the swirling mists of time, back in the seventh decade of the past century—well, to be specific it was in 1966 and I needed a few more college credits to add to the motley collection I had amassed over the prior nine years.

I was a member of the United States armed forces at the time, not necessarily gainfully employed—military pay was miserly when compared to today’s pay rates. My wife and I were sharing—not equally but sharing—the responsibilities involved in raising a young family of three girls and a miniature Chihuahua, aged twelve, eight, four and one year respectively. That didn’t leave much time for study, but spurred on by my desire for a bona fide college degree, I enrolled in night school at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas.

I had almost enough college credits to transfer my hours to the Municipal University of Omaha in Omaha, Nebraska in order to earn a baccalaureate. I only needed a few more hours in general education, and at that time I had more than a passing interest in religion, so in my search for truth I enrolled in several courses dealing with religion. My final class at St. Mary’s was a study of early Greek philosophy and ancient Greek philosophers. Successful completion of that final course with its three hours of credit would allow me to transfer my hours to Omaha under the auspices of the military services’ Bootstrap program.

Remember my statement that working full-time and helping maintain a household and raising three girls and a Chihuahua was a hindrance to my studies? I did not do well in the philosophy class, and that was reflected by my final grade, a grade based only on the final test for that subject in that semester. No credit was given for attendance, dress or attitude, class participation or good looks—not that such credit would have helped me—I just thought it was worth mentioning.

On second thought I am convinced that extra credit was given in that class, but was restricted to the mini-skirted girls that monopolized the front row seats, habitually—nay, constantly—crossing and uncrossing their legs. However, I will reserve that topic for a future Word Press post—stay tuned!

The test consisted of four essay questions, to only one of which—number four—I penned a scholarly answer and was given the full 25 points allowed for each question. As for the first three questions, my blue test booklet showed only the numbers and that little black dot—the period—that followed each number. If you guessed my final number grade for the course as 25 you would be correct, and if you guessed my final letter grade as an F, you would be wrong. The priest that taught the class quite generously awarded me a D for the class, a grade that carried weight and could count toward a degree from St. Mary’s University.

That evening I asked the instructor for a private meeting, and we stayed in the classroom after the other students left. I explained the predicament in which the D placed me, and he told me that it could be used at St. Mary’s, but I explained that even if it could be transferred, Omaha would not accept it. I did not shed any tears during my private session with the priest, but I did allow my voice to waver and crack several times—I know I created a pitiful spectacle, but hey, I was desperate.

And it worked. He told me to study industriously and return to his classroom the following week on an evening that he had no class. I spent most of the next week studying the material and writing notes on small scraps of paper. Yes, they were cheat notes—I said I was desperate, right?

I returned the following week and the priest gave me a blue test booklet and a paper with four hand-written questions, then told me to find an empty classroom on the second floor, take the test and return it within one hour. Although the evening was balmy, I sported a sport coat fitted with two outside pockets and two inside pockets, all filled with those little scraps of paper that I mentioned—I was running late that night and had forgotten to remove them—honest! (And if you believe that, I have some ocean front property in Arizona, etc., etc.)

The rest of this story will be mercifully brief. I found an empty classroom, entered and closed the door behind me so I would not be distracted by hallway noises, and also with the hope that I would be alerted should the door be opened while I was cheating on the test. And now, just one more short paragraph and you, my readers, will be free to search for greener pastures of literature. I know full well that the final paragraph will require readers to suspend disbelief, but so be it—as Bill Clinton might say, It is what it is.

I removed not one cheat note from my stuffed coat pockets—not one. I had worked so hard to identify test material to put on cheat notes that I knew the material by rote. I never knew the actual point grade given, but my D was upgraded to a C that was immediately transferred to Omaha’s municipal university, an institute of higher learning that graduated me in the spring of 1968, the last class to be graduated before the university became UNO, the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Postscript: Please note that I said the Municipal University of Omaha graduated me, not that I graduated the University of Omaha. One cannot graduate a university, no matter how mightily one strives—only universities have the right and the privilege to graduate. Yes, I am aware of the common usage of the verb phrase to graduate, but I steadfastly refuse the common usage, electing instead to abuse the words of Cyrano de Bergerac as given voice by Edmond Rostand in his 1897 play—like the mighty oak I stand, not tall but alone—or something similar to that.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2011 in Books, education, Family, Humor, Military, poetry, Writing

 

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Revisited: An historic event? Oh, puhleeze!

Listen up, Fox News—there is no such thing as an historic event, an historical moment, an history book or an history teacher—they do not exist. There are such things as a historic event, a historical moment, a history book and a history teacher. As regards the proper—versus improper—use of a and an relative to preceding words beginning with an h, I made my opinion known to my adoring readers back in February of this year, and I am now generously bringing that opinion up from the Stygian darkness of past postings and into the bright light of today, and once again sending it up the flagpole in an effort to get someone—anyone, but especially the brilliant news readers and personal opinion sharers on Fox News—to salute it. Yes, I know that I used an preceding the h in  the previous sentence, but there are always exceptions to a rule—that phrase, an h, is one of two exceptions that immediately come to mind. The other exception is an hour—those are exceptions, nothing more, and they do not  justify the continuing use of an to precede all words beginning with an h. See? There it is again!

Fox News is the only news channel available on my television, the result of the restrictions placed by my cable provider at my request. I have absolutely no interest in any news outlet other than Fox News. If I can convince the talking heads on Fox News to use the correct article in conjunction with the words history, historic,  historical, etc., my efforts will not have been in vain.

My original post follows:

An historic event?

Oh, puhleeze!

During the recent and still continuing snowfalls across the country, talking heads on television, weather forecasters in particular, have repeatedly characterized and continue to characterize snowstorms and snowfalls as an historic storm and an historical snowfall.

In the storied (and some say fabled) history of our nation there has never been an historic event, nor has there ever been an historical event. Never. Not one. I can clearly remember reading about historic events in a history book—World War II, for example, and the wrecks of the Titanic and the Hindenburg, the solo flight across the Atlantic by Charles Lindbergh, and Sir Edmund Hillary’s ascent to the top of Mount Everest. I found all those historic events in a history book, but I have never found one in an history book.

If we insist on dropping the H  and saying an historic event, we should apply that rule to all words beginning with H—that would give us an Hoover for a vacuum cleaner, an Hoover for president, an harp for music, an heaven to which we should all aspire, and on and on, ad infinitum.

I realize that such terms as an herb and an herb garden are firmly entrenched in our English language, in spite of the fact that many distinguished speakers and writers refuse to deviate from the terms a herb and a herb garden. Two of those distinguished people immediately come to mind—both Martha Stewart and I refuse to say an herb—we are sticking to a herb. That’s not one of my neighbors—that is the Martha Stewart, a widely known decorator and gardener, and an accepted authority on everything, including herbs, herb gardens and stock market trades.

If both Martha Stewart and I refuse to drop the h in herb in order to use the an rather than the a, that should provide sufficient reason for everyone else to step out of the an line and into the a line—one only needs to take a teenie weenie baby step to move from an egregious wrong to a resounding right—a step from left to right, so to speak. On serious reflection, such a move would be beneficial in other venues, particularly in the political arena.

Folks in Great Britain speak English, albeit English that in a large measure has not kept pace with the times, has not evolved over time as has our use of English to communicate. English-speaking people in Great Britain tend to drop their aitches, particularly those speakers of cockney descent.

The following joke clearly illustrates that tendency (please forgive me for the joke, but I must use the tools that are available to me):

During World War II an American soldier was strolling on the beach with a lovely British girl he had just met. A strong breeze was blowing off the water and the girl’s skirt billowed up over her waist. This was wartime and many products, ladies undergarments for example, were in short supply, hence this lady wore nothing under her skirt. The soldier took a quick look, but not wanting to embarrass her, quickly looked away and exclaimed, “Wow, it’s really airy!”

The girl snapped back, “Well, wot the ‘ell did you expect? Chicken feathers?”

I realize that returning our population to the proper use of a and an is a task that far outstrips Hercules’ assignment to clean the Augean stables. In comparison with Hercules’ assignment to clean the stables in one day, this one will require a tremendous amount of shoveling. Had we two rivers adjacent to the stables as Hercules did, we could divert the  streams to and through the stables as he did, and thus clear up this problem of deciding whether a or an will precede words beginning with an H.

Alas, we do not have the two rivers available for our use, but we do have shovels. I will continue to wield my shovel as long as the misuse of a and an exists, but I sure could use some help!

Oh, just one more thought—the first objection to saying a herb rather than an herb usually involves and invokes the word hour. I readily agree that nobody ever says a hour—they always say an hour. I accept that, but I do not accept it as justification to say an herb. An hour is simply an exception to the rule, exceptions that all of us must recognize and accept.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

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A cute joke promised: Playing catch-up . . .

In June of this year I posted a story about living for a time in an upstairs boarding house on College Street in Columbus, Mississippi and in closing the posting I promised to tell a cute joke told by an invalid widow in my mother’s care. This is my promise, excerpted from the original posting:

Oh, I’ve decided to save the story told by the invalid lady in the apartment house my mother managed, but stay tuned—it’ll show up in a future posting, and it’s really funny! Sadly though, it’s a clean joke—not even the suggestion of a bad word or thought in it, not one entendre in it, single, double or otherwise—bummer! To read the original posting click on the following URL:

https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2010/06/16/college-street-301-12-a-boarding-house/

This is the joke:

The elderly widow that ran the boarding house was very hard of hearing, and she urged a young man, a new guest, to have more helpings of various items on the dinner table.

Widow: Sir, please have some more to eat.

Guest: No, thank you, ma’am, I’ve had sufficient.

Widow: What’s that, sir? You went a-fishing?

Guest: No, ma’am, I said I’ve had plenty.

Widow: You say you caught twenty?

Guest, under his breath: You old fool!

Widow: Oh, in a pool!

The lady that told that joke was bedridden, and it fell to my lot to sit with her, often for hours at a time, listening to her jokes and reading to her from the Bible. It was not an easy task. The room always smelled of medications and urine, and to compensate for the odors she liberally splashed some sort of toilet water all over the room as far as she could throw it—some of it appeared to have been directed at me, but perhaps that was my imagination. Yes, I am aware that toilet water is a misnomer, one that has fallen in use over the years—in this case it was not water from the toilet.

The lady had lots of stories and jokes, but the boarding house joke was one of her favorites. The joke was pretty funny for the first few times she told it, but over time it lost a bit—no, it lost all—of its freshness and its humor.

Speaking of the Bible—the invalid had a frequent visitor, an elderly woman that was said to have memorized the entire Bible and the New Testament, and spoke by rote in response to a request for any specific chapter and verse. I listened to her recitation on some of her visits. She always brought her Bible but it remained in her lap, closed—she never opened it. I can’t speak for the accuracy of her memories, but she never missed a beat with her response—no hesitation, no pauses, speaking in a strong voice, its volume rising and falling appropriately and its timbre changing to fit the meaning of the biblical passage.

The speaker was a black lady, an elderly Negro. Yes, black and Negro were two of the the terms that were used in those days, in the mid–1940s, to identify such persons. I had never heard the term African-American at that time and I seriously doubt that the black lady had ever heard it. And yes, a variety of other terms were used to identify the race of such persons, all derogatory and all demeaning—I wish I could say not by my family, but we tended to go with the flow. Even my mother, a goodhearted and kind lady that professed love for all others, took this stance: I like black people and I have nothing against them—just as long as they stay in their place.

Times have changed, and mostly for the better. I say mostly because most people, other than African-Americans—not all, but most of them—make every effort to avoid using those derogatory terms. However, apparently not all African-Americans are reluctant to use them, claiming such terms are their right to use and have entirely different meanings than when used by racial outsiders.

Go figure!

That’s the joke I promised, and that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!



 
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Posted by on August 24, 2010 in Books, Humor, race, religion, segregation

 

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Reflections of a former Customs inspector…

I wrote this article soon after I began a three-year assignment, 1983-1986, at U.S. Customs Headquarters in Washington, D.C. It was published in the 1984 fall issue of Customs Today, the official magazine of the U.S. Customs Service. The Customs Service has changed dramatically since that time. The number of ports on the southern border may have changed, some added and some deleted, and staffing has been increased and titles have changed, but the mission of Customs inspectors has not changed—I made no effort to reflect the changes in the article for this posting. It is reproduced here exactly as it appeared in the 1984 winter issue of Customs Today. Click here for an article published in the winter of 1986.

Reflections of a former inspector

This year some 300 million people will enter the United states. Whether they enter by air, land or sea each will be greeted by a uniformed Customs inspector. There are 5,000 of us covering the international airports and scattered along 96,000 miles of land and sea borders. Each year we clear for entry travelers whose numbers far surpass the total population of the United States. Expediting the entry of so many people leaves little time to visit, and everything must be strictly business. In this article I want to say some things that the lack of time usually prohibits, things that I hope will promote a better understanding of the Customs Service—its mission, its people and its history.

Our mission is to protect the revenue, industries, economy and environment of the United States, a large order by any standard. In addition to Customs statutes and state and local laws, we enforce more than 400 provisions of laws from 40 other federal agencies. We realize that very few travelers are lawbreakers, and of those few only a minute fraction break the law intentionally. Unfortunately, whether the law is broken intentionally or inadvertently, the lawbreaker cannot be identified by appearance, occupation or position in the community.

Since we cannot visually single out the offenders, completely innocent persons are often caused some degree of inconvenience on their entry into the United States. Such people sometimes feel that they are being checked because we suspect them of smuggling, that we are accusing them of dealing in illicit drugs and narcotics. In most cases we are simply trying to protect them. Our questions and our inspections may reveal something they have overlooked in their declarations or something they may have felt it unnecessary to declare, something that could adversely affect their health, their business interests or their environment.

Our job requires us to be able to meet and deal effectively with persons of widely divergent backgrounds. That divergence  includes the well known and the unknown, the rich and the poor and the in-between. It includes kings and consorts, consuls, clergy, congressmen and cabinet members. It includes priests, popes, premiers, presidents, pimps, prostitutes and fugitives from justice, and thieves, rapists and murderers. It includes drug dealers and pushers, addicts, derelicts and drunks. We are required to meet and deal effectively with people of every conceivable occupation, education level and age, race, religion, creed, color, nationality, ethnicity, ideological bent and political affiliation.

In each of these contacts our employer demands that we be professional, firm, fair and courteous. Courtesy is defined as being “pleasant, polite, respectful, considerate, helpful and patient, and the mandate for courtesy insists on strict adherence under difficult conditions and personal stress, and in the face of extreme provocation. In its efforts to inculcate such moral excellence The Customs Service continually stresses professionalism, courtesy and objectivity.

There are undoubtedly times that we lose our objectivity in conducting an inspection. We bring to the job our private problems, fears, frustrations, aspirations and prejudices, and these sometimes surface unbidden. However, we face the same characteristics in the people with whom we deal. The difference, of course, is that our conduct is officially mandated and proscribed, while they are free to vent their feelings and express their opinions with virtually no restrictions on attitude or language. We cannot respond in kind. They complain to our superiors and their complaints are heard. Investigations are conducted and if warranted, corrective and sometimes disciplinary actions are taken. We have no such recourse available to us.

We consider complaints, to a certain degree, to be an inevitable part of our job. People complain in order to correct a wrong, either real or imagined, and sometimes they complain in an effort to impress or to intimidate. We realize that most complaints are neither vindictive nor malicious, and simply require assurance that the situation is being investigated to determine if a problem exists and if so, assurance that corrective action will be taken to correct the problem.

Most of us have also accepted the fact that verbal abuse is part of the job, a hazard of the occupation. We usually manage to maintain at least a thin veneer of courtesy and patience through frequent and extreme instances of name-calling and suggestions, very explicit, on what we should do with our badge, and in some instances offers are made to do it for us.

That badge, our Service tells us, is best worn with some degree of humility, a dictate noble in concept but not easily followed. It is difficult to feel humble when so much pride is present—pride in being allowed to represent our nation t its borders, pride in being the first line of defense against the flow of illegal drugs and narcotics, and pride in the traditions and rich heritage of the United States Customs Service.

Our heritage began just fifteen years after this nation declared its independence. On July 4, 1979 George Washington signed the Tariff Act, and Customs was born. In the first year of operation our collectors raised $2 million, and by 1835 had made the nation debt free. For 125 years, until the federal income tax act was passed, Customs revenue was virtually the sole source of income for the United States.

The collection of Customs revenue has been entrusted to some illustrious Americans. John Lamb, hero of the battle of Fort Ticonderoga, was an early collector, as was the poet Edwin Arlington Robinson. Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Chester Arthur, twenty-first president of the United States, and Pat Garrett, the man that ended the career—and life—of Billy the Kid, Matthew Henson who, with Admiral Byrd, planted the U.S. flag at the North Pole in 1909—all served ably in the United States Customs Service.

Since their time we have grown with the nation. The Customs Service now has some 15,000 dedicated employees distributed among seven regions, 45 districts, 300 ports of entry at our nation’s international airports and land and sea borders, and foreign field offices in ten major world capitals. Since 1955 our total work force has doubled, but has in no way kept pace with a workload that has quadrupled and is still expanding.

With a workload of such magnitude, it is inevitable that some detentions and searches of completely innocent persons will occur. It is probably also inevitable that some of our actions will be construed as harassment. They are not. We are professional law enforcement officers and direct representatives of our government, and we do not take our responsibilities lightly. In accomplishing our mission we try to consider peoples’ feelings and gain their willing cooperation. We attempt to deal with them objectively and fairly. We are not always successful.

We are sometimes told by persons dissatisfied with their inspection that they pay our salaries, and that without them we would not have a job. We freely acknowledge those truths. American taxpayers do indeed pay our salaries, and our jobs exist because the tax payers, through their elected representatives, feel that we are needed. We are thus indebted and ask only that they cooperate fully to assist us in doing the job for which they hired us—collecting the revenue and protecting their interests.

—————————————————————————————————————————

Hershel M. (Mike) Dyer is a Program Officer in the Office of Inspection Control, Office of Inspectional Liaison at Headquarters. He spent 12 years as an inspector and supervisory inspector on the Southwest Border.

 
 

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Re: On the question of gay marriage rights . . .

In May of 2007, early  in my blogging efforts, I posted a dissertation on the rights (or lack thereof) of homosexual couples—gays, if you will—to be married under the same rights granted to heterosexual couples—straights, if you will. The complete posting can be found here: https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2009/05/07/on-the-question-of-gay-marriage-rights/. I will say, in all humility, that a trip to that posting is well worth your time and effort.

In spite of the fact that the question of marriage rights for gays is one of the most divisive discussions in our society, my original posting has garnered only one response, a comment made by a heterosexual person. I am tempted to conclude that homosexuals do not frequent WordPress, or if they do, they never search for another person’s take on the problem. Or they find a discussion, one that I unblushingly believe to be an original approach to the problem, whether humorous or helpful, and they find it neither—otherwise I should think that they would comment on the posting.

Hey, people! This is an example of thinking outside the box, a technique that was developed and published many years ago, intended to stimulate discussion and perhaps arrive at solutions to problems, regardless of their nature.

I am therefore bringing the lone comment out of the closet of comments and into the bright sunlight of its own posting. The original comment, along with my initial response, the commenter’s reply and my final response to that reply follows. My purpose is to make our give-and-take discussion available to others. I spent a considerable amount of time formulating my out of the box solution to the problem, and I expected considerably more than one comment—if I’m being unreasonable, so be it!

This is the original comment:

Yours is a long-winded and overly simplified analysis based on a faulty starting premise. Other than that, it was entertaining to read but will change no one’s opinion.

My reply:

Viewer comments to a blog posting can be approved as submitted, approved and edited, deleted or ignored. My first reaction was to delete yours, but I reconsidered and decided to approve it, unedited, because I felt that your reaction to the posting would be of interest to other viewers.

Thanks for viewing this posting, and thanks for the comment. I regret that you found my analysis long-winded and overly simplified, and I was doubly disappointed that you felt my analysis was based on a faulty starting premise. However, it pleases me that you found it entertaining—such was my intent. I placed the posting in the humor category because it was intended to be humorous, satirical and entertaining. The fact that it entertained you means that, in the opinion of at least one viewer, I achieved my objective.

Commenter’s response:

Fair enough. I seldom mock anyone’s view in a blog and I hope I did not give that impression. The issue has caused hurt in my own family as my closest cousin has tried to get me to accept that she is married to her longtime companion (who I dearly love, as well). However, as you are the King of our great state, I think it is imperative that I continue to read you.

My final reply:

Please accept my sincerest thanks for your follow-up comment, and I also tender my heartfelt thanks for your sharing an issue that has caused hurt in your family.

My wife (the Queen) and my three daughters (the three Princesses) claim that I have an opinion on virtually everything, and they think that I believe I can effectively advise others on virtually everything. They are right, of course, but I try to avoid doing either because I am skeptical of other people’s opinions and have difficulty accepting any advice they may give. I expose these faults only to let you know that the thoughts below are not my opinions and are not given as advice—they are nothing more than random thoughts prompted by your posting.

My first thought on reading your response was a phrase that can be found somewhere in the Holy Bible, the King James version (a fellow king), a passage that says, “What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder,” or something to that effect. The phrase varies in construction and purpose, but is widely used in marriage ceremonies. Many people, perhaps most, believe that it refers to the sanctity of the marriage.

An immediate afterthought was that the phrase places no restrictions on the participants in any way regarding age, race, religion, political affiliation, physical attributes such as height, weight, or fairness of face (or lack thereof), or gender.

My second thought was one of a prayer known worldwide, probably published and spoken in every language imaginable—some who read this prayer feel that it embodies the wisdom of the ages. Others consider it trite and dismiss it. I believe that each of us should at least make a stab at living by this maxim, this fundamental rule of conduct. It should be easy, because it requires only three attributes: serenity, courage and wisdom, attributes inherent in everyone.

This is the prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. —Reinhold Niebuhr

At the risk of repeating myself I will repeat myself. These are not my opinions and are not given as advice—they are nothing more than random thoughts prompted by your posting, and should be regarded as such—unless, of course, you find them applicable in any way, and in that case you are on your own.

Good luck, and best regards.

 
 

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Ode to a cheesecake . . .

Below is a recent post from my daughter’s blog at cindydyer.wordpress.com. The posting features a poem,  An apology to the wood anemone. Her poem pays tribute to a beautiful flower, one she thought was long dead but survived last winter’s record snowfalls in Alexandria, Virginia. Not only did it survive—it appears to have thrived following its burial under snow throughout the fierce snowstorms last winter.

This is her tribute to the wood anemone:

An apology to the wood anemone

Lovely eight petal wood anemone
please accept my apology
More plants, I surely did not need any
but your price was reduced to a hundred pennies
Relegated to your preferred shady spot
remembering to plant you, I most certainly did not
Lost in the shuffle of spring and summer
as the King of Texas says, “what a bummer!”
you braved well over two feet of snow
yet still come spring, you put on a show
Please accept my apology
lovely eight petal wood anemone

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

______________________________________________

Her posting continues:

I must preface my father’s poem by explaining why he felt the urge to wax so eloquently about a cheesecake. In February we hosted a very scaled back Chocoholic Party for friends—aptly renamed the “Cabin Fever with Chocolate Party.” It was scaled back from our annual soiree because of the unprecedented piles of snow in our area, obstructions that resulted in limited parking for guests from outside the neighborhood—our annual party usually brings in 35 or more chocoholics, so ample parking is necessary! This year, our guests needed to be able to walk to our house through some 30 inches of snow!  As for the cheesecake, earlier in the week we bought a huge one from Costco during our rounds to gather food for this semi-potluck party. I was sitting at the computer working a few days before the party when Michael came downstairs—a brown wrapped package in one hand and a shovel in the other—and unlocked the patio door. I watched him, wondering if he was going to dig a path through the almost three feet of snow to the back gate (and why?). He dug a hole into the snow bank just outside the door and buried the package. I then asked, “What in the world did you just bury?” “Cheesecake!” he exclaimed. “There wasn’t any room for it in the refrigerator and since the party is just two days away, I figured it would keep.” And it kept—such a resourceful man—I think I’ll keep him.

My poem, An apology to the wood anemone, inspired my father to write his own poem, a work related to my Apology. Bravo, bravo, King of Texas! His comments to my original posting include his wonderfully crafted poem, Ode to a cheesecake.

Here are my comments to my daughter’s posting of her poem:

In advance of posting this comment, I humbly offer my abject apologies to the preacher John Donne, to the poet Joyce Kilmer and to the author of An apology to the wood anemone . . . It’s not my fault—it’s in my nature—it’s something I cannot control. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa maxima.

Ode to a cheesecake

Breathes there one with soul so dead
That never to one’s self hath said
Methinks that I shall never see
A word so lovely as anemone.

Offed from my tongue it rolls
Sadly as the bell that tolls
Nor for thee and nor for me
Nor for the lovely anemone.

But for the cheesecake ‘neath its bower
Nor ‘neath trees nor plants nor showers
Nay, ‘neath snowstorms full of power
Lying ‘neath the snow for hours
In wait for the chocolate party
To be eaten by guests so hearty.

But wait, what do I see
Beside the cheesecake ‘neath the snow
The anemone arises ready to go
With the cheesecake to the table
Petals eight to be divided
Among the diners so excited
A ‘nemone to see.

They smell the petals
They hear the bell
They’ll come to know
As time will tell
Whether snow and cheesecake
Sounds their knell
Or leaves them alive
And well.

H.M. Dyer (1932-     )—All rights reserved.

I neglected to give credit to Sir Walter Scott for his poem ‘The lay of the last minstrel’ in my ‘Ode to a cheesecake’—credit is now given. I also neglected to say that I loved your poem,  An apology to the wood anemone. It is well crafted and exceptionally well done!

Your anemone arising from the snow in the spring is reminiscent of Thoreau’s “Walden,” in which he tells of a golden bug that in the spring gnawed its way out of a table after being entombed in the wood for many years.

_____________________________________________

See more of my father’s pondering, hypothesizing and philosophizing, musings, comments, lectures, diatribes, royal reflections and revelations, essays, memoirs, biographies and autobiographies, tall tales, fables, childhood memories, yarns, jokes, poems, political and social commentary, and my favorite of his topics—excellent grammatical lessons—on his website, thekingoftexas.wordpress.com.

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2010 in Books, Humor, poetry, Writing

 

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The littlest one there . . .

An important note for anyone that visits this posting: This story is a matter of record. It is copyrighted, and any unapproved use of it may bring legal action against the user.

The Littlest One There

Rocky Raccoon and Roxanne Raccoon
live in a tree behind a big house.
The house has a back yard.
And the back yard has a fence.

One night Rocky Raccoon came down from the tree.
He climbed the fence.
He jumped from the fence into the back yard.


And Roxanne Raccoon came down from the tree.
She climbed the fence.
She jumped from the fence into the back yard.
Rocky and Roxanne were very hungry.

In that yard is a big house and a little house.
Two animals live in the little house.
A cat named Tee lives there.
She has big shiny eyes.
Rocky calls her Terrible Tee.
A dog named Heidi lives there.
She makes loud noises.
Rocky calls her Horrible Heidi.

Horrible Heidi and Terrible Tee have lots of food.
They sleep in their little house at night.
But when they hear a noise they come out of their little house.

Terrible Tee makes her eyes shine very bright.
And Horrible Heidi makes lots of noise.

Four people live in the big house.
Debbie is the mommy.
Bill is the daddy.
Lauren is the big sister.
And Landen is her little brother.

On that night Rocky and Roxanne were eating the food.
Horrible Heidi came out of the little house.
She made lots of noise.

Terrible Tee came out of the little house.
She made her eyes shine very bright.

Then all of the people in the big house came out.
They saw Rocky and Roxanne eating the food.

Mother danced around and shouted at Rocky and Roxanne.
Father began babbling about Rocky and Roxanne eating the food.
Big sister laughed and laughed at her mother and father.

Little brother just ran around being the littlest one there.


So Rocky called mommy Dancing Debbie.

He called daddy Babbling Bill.

He called big sister Laughing Lauren.

And he called Landen Littlest Landen.


On the first night Rocky and Roxanne did not eat enough.

And they were still hungry.

But on this night they ate all the food.

Because Terrible Tee did not come out of the little house.

She did not make her eyes shine.

And Horrible Heidi did not come out of the little house.

She did not make lots of noise.


And none of the people came out of the big house.

Dancing Debbie did not come out of the big house and dance.

Babbling Bill did not come out of the big house and babble.

Laughing Lauren did not come out of the big house and laugh.

And Littlest Landen did not come out of the big house and run around.

But he kept on being the littlest one there.

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2010 in Books, Childhood, Family, Humor, pets, Writing

 

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Final chapter in the parade of possums . . .

This posting was prompted by an e-mail from my son-in-law in Wylie, Texas extolling his success in removing a possum from his attic, one that had effectively kept the family awake for many nights. This was the first of two possums he removed from the attic—the first one he captured fared well—that worthy was benevolently released into the wild. The second one that succumbed to the lure of a baited trap would pay the ultimate price for its continued rambling at night in the upper reaches of the house at Seis Lagos in Wylie, Texas.

You can read his description of the penalty applied to the second rambling rodent here—well, possums are not really rodents, however much they may look like a giant rat. They are, in fact, marsupials—much maligned marsupials.

This is my response to his e-mail:

Reading this thrilling saga of the successful conclusion to your PETA (Possums Everywhere in The Attic) problem took me back to the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s.

Yep, I was there, except for 1930,1931 and the first eight months of 1932—I began my sojourn on our planet on the nineteenth day of the ninth month of 1932, and so far it has been a great ride. Actually the ride began some nine months earlier. Should your interest be titillated (by my birth, not by my conception), that event and related personal information can be found here, titled “Unto you this day a child was born . . .

For three decades (the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s), the exploits of Frank “bring ’em back alive” Buck dominated the American media. He was portrayed on radio and in newspapers, magazines, movies, newsreel shorts, comic strips, comic books and full-length novels as a great hunter and humanist that preferred to capture wild animals rather than slaughter them and mount their heads on walls.

He also purchased wild animals, probably far more than he captured, and sold them to zoos and any other organization in need of exotic animals, His humane treatment of them, however acquired, won him the sobriquet of “bring ’em back alive.” The term was not conferred on Buck—it was coined by the great hunter himself in a media interview, but was quickly adopted by the media, the American public and the rest of the world.

There is a plethora of Frank Buck information on the internet – just Google “Frank Buck” and you’ll get answers to questions you would never think to ask.

JUST A FEW HIGHLIGHTS:

Born 1894, died 1950 (lung cancer).

Married at 17 (the bride was 41).

Divorced, later married his “soul mate,” used profits from a poker game to finance the wedding.

Was particularly fond (?) of a female orangutan named Gladys – could find no specifics on her age, personal appearance or attributes, but she was reputed to be ‘highly intelligent.” I did learn from “The Free Dictionary ” that, as an orangutan, she was “one of the large anthropoid apes of the family Pongidae,” and that she had “long arms and arboreal habits.” (Hey, no wonder he was fond of her!)

Was a world famous hunter, explorer, author, actor and film director.

Fell out of favor in the ’40s because of his apparent racism and the divergence of the American public regarding the practice of confining wild animals in zoos rather than allowing them to live out their lives naturally in their natural habitats.

Made lots of money supplying animals to zoos – in fact, was commissioned by the city of Dallas in 1922 to populate its entire zoo.

Congratulations on your capture of this magnificent animal, and kudos on your decision to return him (or her, as the case may be) to the wild, even though he (or she, as the case may be) is probably traumatized, confused and bewildered by the abrupt uprooting from familiar and comfortable surroundings.

He (or she, as the case may be) will be drawn towards his former sumptuous surroundings (or hers, as the case may be), and the odds are very high (odds in reverse proportion to winning the Texas Lotto) that he (or she, as the case may be) will be deliberately flattened near the end of that journey by a Seis Lagos teenager exceeding the speed limit in an SUV.

Not really – I just made that up – I don’t believe it for one minute. What I do firmly believe is that your catch was a teenage possum. He was sad and lonely, and that’s why he stayed up most of the night, roaming the attic, pining over the loss of his sweetheart and keeping Kelley awake. His one true love was trapped by your next-door neighbor (remember?) and transported to (are you ready for this?) the same wooded area in which you released your possum.

By this time they will have been reunited and, perhaps at this very moment, are doing everything they can to increase the present possum population in Wiley, Texas (that has a nice alliterative ring—present possum population). And had you released him in Plano it would have increased Plano’s present possum population.

You will hereafter be known world wide, but particularly by everyone in your family and related families in Plano, Austin, San Antonio and elsewhere as  “Bring ’em back alive Brantley” (I’ll see to it by spreading the word). My heart swells with pride at your accomplishment and by your being a significant part of my family.

All seriousness aside, I’m glad you got the rascal–he loved pacing the attic floor above the Dyer Suite also.

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2010 in actor and acting, Books, Family, Humor

 

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Has anyone read Cosmo lately? . . .

Has anyone read Cosmo lately?

I stumbled and mumbled my way through the March 2010 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine, a copy donated to the Nephrology Clinic at San Antonio’s Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) by a generous (or perhaps disgusted) patient, one that is probably not among the clinic’s geriatric population—that’s not a given, of course—there are always exceptions to rules.

Listen up, everybody—Cosmo as literature is soft porn, and it may as well be called a ragazine. This issue borders on hardcore, and it is my learned opinion that hardcore looms in its future issues—the publication will, so to speak, go all the way. It already rivals Playboy and is apparently seeking equality with Hustler.

Run, do not walk, to the nearest newsstand—you may be unfortunate enough to find a copy. If you do, treasure it—it will some day be considered a classic, an apt item for hungry sellers on eBay—Half-price Books will probably display it in locked glass-front cases and purvey it at inflated prices.

Here are some peeks into the March issue (don’t let the kids read this):

Under the title of “How to touch a naked man):

Five sexiest spots to touch a man

T spot (for tip)—one hand on bottom half, other hand on top half leaving tip uncovered (yeah, right—good luck with that one!).

B spot (for base—self-explanatory)

F spot (for frenulum—Google it!)

S (for scrotum—self-explanatory, at least for me)

P (for perineum—Google it!)

Six household items to use below the belt (a must-read!):

Warm wash cloth, shoelace, mango, lace cami or bra, fine-tooth comb, cotton ball

I believe one should assume that those items are meant to be used one at a time rather than all at once, and that some, perhaps not all but some, could be used multiple times and also for their original intended uses. Perhaps, but probably not—although, on second thought . . .

Speaking strictly for myself, the above items are far outside the pale of my imaginative powers. In the absence of illustrated instructions picturing live models—a DVD would definitely help one to master, or at least to attempt to master, the techniques discussed in the article. Without such assistance, I would never attempt to use the recommended items. Well, for their original use, sure—but not for the uses suggested. I should think that irreparable harm could result, either to the one wielding the objects or to the target, or targets, of the objects wielded.

The article recommended some other things that will require the combined efforts of one or more contortionists.

Warning: This posting to the Internet may spark a rush that will equal the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in California, or equal even to a Walmart half-price sale. If you act quickly you may be able to find the March issue, and if not you can perhaps contact the publisher in search of unsold copies.

Quickly, I say—time is of the essence!

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2010 in Books, Humor, news sources, Uncategorized

 

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How I met Henry David Thoreau . . .

At some point during the decade of the 1970s I read an article in the San Antonio Light, one of San Antonio’s daily newspapers, a report of an interview conducted by a Light reporter with a nationally-known San Antonio attorney that specialized in criminal cases. His work took him across the nation and to many foreign destinations, and he talked about the extensive travel his duties required.

He told the reporter and readers of the San Antonio Light that he always carried a copy of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden on his travels. Whether on a plane or train or bus, whether in a hotel amid the hustle and bustle of big cities or in a motel room in a rural area, Thoreau’s journal provided the peace and quiet he needed for rest and relaxation. He said that over the years, his original copy became so worn that it needed to be replaced.

Fascinated by the effect of the writing as voiced by the attorney, I hastened to the library in search of Thoreau—I found him, and in the years since I have held Thoreau and his writings  close at hand—they give me the same peace and quiet enjoyed by the criminal lawyer. The well-thumbed copy I now use, one that I heartily recommend, is entitled Henry David Thoreau—Walden and “Civil Disobedience,” a Signet Classic paperback printed in 1980 by The New American Library, Inc., New York, NY. I treasure the copy for several reasons, not the least of which is the former owner’s signature inside the front cover, that of my youngest daughter, penned while studying Thoreau during her first year of college.

The runner-up to “Why I value my copy of Walden” is the afterword written by Perry Miller (1905—1963), an American intellectual historian and Harvard University professor. Miller’s brilliant analysis of Walden and “Civil Disobedience” should be read before reading the book—such pre-reading will give the reader a head start on understanding Thoreau’s life and his writings.

I believe that many, perhaps most, of those that read this posting will rush out to look for the book. There’s no need to rush, and no need to leave home—at the time of this posting, twenty-three copies of the book may be found online at http://www.abebooks.com/, the same site that the folks at http://www.halfpricebooks.com/ use to determine their selling price for books. At Abebooks, prices for Walden begin at one dollar and top out at twenty dollars. Try the site—you’ll like it! (In the interests of full disclosure, I must say, regretfully, that I have no stock in either company).

If any readers of this posting have not been formally introduced to Henry David Thoreau, I will proudly make the introduction by referring such persons to the following biographical study—plato.stanford.edu/entries/thoreau/. I trust that they will find a new friend in Hank—yep, I take the liberty of calling him Hank based on our long friendship.

Enjoy!

 

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Paradise and parkin’ lots . . .

I spent an eternity living and working in the Washington, DC area (1983-1986).  I worked in downtown DC and lived in Arlington, Virginia with my wife and, at various times for varying periods, with two of my three daughters. The two younger girls were single—the third, married and living in the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, visited during those three years, visits that were nice vacations for her. My sojourn to the DC. area lasted three years—it began as a vacation dream and descended into a nightmare (details to follow).

In 1986 my middle daughter and I discussed, prepared for, began and completed a six-day camping tour of the Northeastern states. Our experiences and our emotions on the tour ranged from enthusiastic anticipation to deep disappointment, from apathy to awe and from hilarious to harrowing—those emotions will be discussed in detail in future postings.

We garnered so many memories on that trip that some have inevitably been lost in the mists of time, or were perhaps were deliberately tossed aside, and we have minor differences in our recall of places and events. Owing to the similarity of our shared DNA, we each feel that our recollections are the most accurate—mine, of course, are far more realistic than hers. However, because I rarely win any argument with my daughters, I grudgingly accept their versions of past events. They sometimes present a united opposed front, and in spite of my kingly title I lose—big time!

Shortly after I began blogging in April 2009, I received an e-mail from the daughter that accompanied me on the 1986 excursion—no, change that to ‘. . . the daughter I accompanied on the 1986 excursion.

This is her e-mail, presented exactly as I received it:

Write about us discovering Walden Pond and being so disappointed that it had a public beach, a gazillion kids, a big snack bar, and entrance fees. We found a long line, then discovered a booth with a ranger, then a parking lot…we were shocked. We parked, crossed the street, then climbed up to stand on the stone wall, looked down at the people, then across the pond (I remember when I had to photograph it, I cropped it so there was about 1/2 inch of water, then trees, then 85% sky, just to get the kids out of the photo!)…then you looked over at me and asked, “Is this what you were expecting?”!!!

Then we went to that famous cemetery with “Author’s Ridge” where Louisa May Alcott and others are buried…and, of course, one of your favorites, Thoreau. Remember you were talking about him (his stone was surrounded by his family), then a sunbeam broke through the tree cover and illuminated JUST his stone? I actually have a shot of that!

There’s a song called, “They paved paradise and put up a parkin’ lot”….that would be PERFECT for our Walden Pond experience.

What I remember most is that I learned to read a map and you constantly asked, “Where do you want to go next?” I would read something in a guidebook or see it on the map and if I suggested it, you just replied, “okay, let’s do it…tell me how to get there!” That was SO much fun.

That, and you pay for everything and the trips are always upgraded (from roach hotel) when I go with you! 🙂

Before I begin my actual posting (please be patient), I must address her comment on my upgrading our trips. It’s true. I cannot resist it. It’s in my nature, and sometimes it’s a matter of self-defense.  Several of our trips involved driving in mountainous ares of the Southwest and we once met in Phoenix to begin our adventure. My daughter had already leased a rental vehicle for our travel, a three-cylinder matchbox that would have required us to use reverse gear and drive backward in order to traverse any significant upgrade. I upgraded her leased vehicle to a specially equipped Hummer. Well, not actually a Hummer, but I did upgrade it to a full grown auto with six-cylinders, more passenger space, more cargo space and far more power.

I have been accused of making my postings too lengthy—some viewers say it takes too long to read them. I suppose the whiners—oops, I mean viewers—are anxious to return to some activity they consider more entertaining and educational than my brilliant excursions into writing—activities such as situation comedies and computer games, for example. In deference to those viewers I will utilize this posting as a prelude to coming attractions (a teaser, so to speak). A six-day camping trip by people as incredibly complex as my daughter and I cannot be scrunched (capsuled) into one posting. Our trip could legitimately be considered for a book, a tome to be placed on the shelf along with some of James Michener’s works—books such as Hawaii, Texas, Space, Centennial, etc.

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2010 in Books, education, Humor, Travel, Writing

 

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Sprezzatura: What the —- does that mean?

Before I begin this posting, I must hasten to explain that the blank spot in the above title is used in lieu of the word heck. In consideration of our restrictions on adult content, I was hesitant to use that word—heck—so prominently. I’m hoping that heck will escape the notice of the content police by placing it (burying it) in the text of the posting. And I offer my apologies in advance to any person or persons who might be offended by my use of the word heck. I used heck because I felt that heck would provide suitable emphasis to learning a new word—sprezzatura, a word delightfully foreign and delightfully obscure.

I am probably the only person online who was not familiar with the word sprezzatura. I discovered it yesterday and found it new, intriguing and interesting enough to prompt me to share it with others. Since viewers who consistently return to my blog are without exception erudite, this will serve them only as a refresher. I’m posting this information in the remote possibility that one or more of potential viewers to my blog would, as did I, find the word new and interesting enough to have them yearning for more learning concerning this unique characteristic.

Hey, “Yearning for learning concerning” is sorta rhythmical—kinda poetic, don’t ya think? It sounds like good material for a rap song—I hope one of our far too numerous millionaire rappers picks it up and runs with it.

How about it, Eminem?

50 Cent?

Alicia?

But I digress, so on to the word and its definition:

The March 2009 issue of Texas Monthly included a full-page advertisement (p.126) entitled “Making something difficult look easy,” written by Andrew T. Lyos, a Houston surgeon. Dr. Lyos wrote that he likes to read in his free time and had just finished Sprezzatura: 50 Ways Italian Genius Shaped the World.

He defined sprezzatura as follows:

“Sprezzatura is an Italian word that has no corresponding English translation. The best way to define it is that it means doing something difficult so well or so easily, that you make it look effortless.”

I immediately applied the characteristics of sprezzatura to a plethora of gorgeously professional photographs and the overwhelming journalistic quality of the narratives which define and support them—both can be viewed at http://cindydyer.wordpress.com/.

I am convinced that Cindy Dyer’s work qualifies for the term sprezzatura—that’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it. However, at this point I must state, in the interests of full disclosure, that the blogger is one of my three princesses, the one who lives, loves, is loved, works and creates in Northern Virginia. I can also state emphatically that my opinion of her work is in no way influenced by our relationship—well, perhaps a little bit, but not very much—less than one-half of one iota—nay, less than one-fourth of one iota—not even enough to measure.

I found an expanded definition of sprezzatura at
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sprezzatura
:

Sprezzatura is a term that originates from Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier. It is defined as “a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.” That is to say, it is the ability of the courtier to display “an easy facility in accomplishing difficult actions which hides the conscious effort that went into them.” Sprezzatura has also been described “as a form of defensive irony: the ability to disguise what one really desires, feels, thinks, and means or intends behind a mask of apparent reticence and nonchalance.”

The Positive and Negative Attributes of Sprezzatura (also from wikipedia)

Sprezzatura was a vital quality for a courtier to have. Courtiers essentially had to put on a performance for their peers and those who employed sprezzatura created the impression that they completely mastered the roles they played. A courtier’s sprezzatura made him seem to be fully at ease in court and like someone who was “the total master of self, society’s rules, and even physical laws, and his sprezzatura created the distinct impression that he was unable to err.”

However, while the quality of sprezzatura did have its benefits, this quality also had its downfalls. Since sprezzatura made difficult tasks seem effortless, those who possessed sprezzatura needed to be able to deceive people convincingly. In a way, sprezzatura was “the art of acting deviously.” This “art” created a “self-fulfilling culture of suspicion” because courtiers had to be diligent in maintaining their façades. “The by-product of the courtier’s performance is that the achievement of sprezzatura may require him to deny or disparage his nature.” Consequently, sprezzatura also had its downsides, since courtiers who excelled at sprezzatura risked losing themselves to the facade they put on for their peers.

The need for illustrative examples (also from wikipedia)

I have read Castiglione many times and I think the best expression of Sprezzatura (with all of the high stakes it entails) was from an eleven year old boy. He was with a small group of boys in front of a New York office building on a summer day. I was early for an appointment. The boy came skating up to a staircase, hopped his board, and himself up on to the banister, sliding all the way down, nailing the landing. As I was at the base of the stairs I could see what his friends could not: the look of sheer terror as he slid, the look of elation and pride as he landed, and the utter nonchalance that swept over his face as he kicked the tail of his board up into his hand as he turned to his friends as if to say, “whatever.” Benfidar (talk) 01:19, 10 November 2008 (UTC) Benfidar.

Now for the epilogue to this posting

If you have reached this point you now know, at the very least, everything that I know about sprezzatura. You might want to consider tucking the word and its definition away in a memory area from which it can be easily retrieved, and in the future perhaps apply the characteristic to your work and the work of others.

An incidental thought necessitates a pause here: Some words seem to offer themselves up to the possibility of a typographical error. The word “tucking” used in the paragraph above, for example—one look at the keyboard shows why—the “t” and the “f” are perilously close. That’s just a random thought, incidental just as I said—really.

And a final thought on sprezzatura: If you recognize that quality in your own work, acknowledge it and glow with it. If you recognize it in the works of others, tell them and compliment them (you may have to refer them to this posting to hasten their understanding).

I’m not qualified for the label—nothing comes easy for me—but if I were I would appreciate being told, and would readily accept it as a nice compliment, as would others.

Perhaps.

And perhaps not—the characteristic appears to be a double-edged sword.

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2009 in Books, Humor, Writing

 

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