Category Archives: Routines

Encounters Both Mundane & Strange (a.k.a. Midnight Neighbours)

Stephen and I have taken to taking late-night walks because the dog cannot (possibly will not) walk in the ungodly daytime summer heat.

Over the course of these past weeks and months, I’ve come to notice certain neighbours: Midnight Neighbours, who seem to only come out at night to do their various neighbour/nighttime things.

(Midnight being, of course, a name. I don’t always see them at Midnight, and they do come out at other times of the day. Midnight just sets the context and is specific to my POV).

(Also: “Midnight Neighbours” seems both descriptive and cool).

(Doesn’t it?)

 

1. Green Bin Hilda

Her name may not be Hilda. I don’t know for sure what her name is, but I once heard someone call out to her from her bungalow and the name sounded something like “Hilda.”

Lit up by the awful yellow streetlight, GBH’s seemingly disembodied head can be seen hovering in the corner of the front window facing the street. She watches. She’s a watcher.

She is also a rummager.

Twice now on garbage days, after Stephen, the dog and I walked well past her house, GBH rushed outside and across the street so that she could take a peek inside the green bins left out in the night for pick up in the morning.

(Mind you, the city’s green bins are built to deter raccoons: to open them, you have to grab a black handle that juts out from top and turn it just so.)

I watched the watcher. She scanned the contents of the bins, moved an item or two around, nodded approvingly, shut the lid and then walked back across the street and into her own house.

We’ve never spoken about it, GBH and I, and us. We’ve never spoken, GBH and I, and us, and eye contact has been spotty at best.

Still: why?

Why those bins, Hilda? Just those bins, Hilda? I have so many questions, though I admit they are only variations of the same.

Why, Hilda? How come?

Oh. And also: Hilda, would you ever approve of the contents of my green bin?

Could you?

 

2. The Sculptor

The Sculptor is a rather affable guy decked out in ripped jeans who plays one-man street hockey with a tennis ball and a makeshift stick that is too short for his tall frame, causing him to chase the ball with a practiced hunch and shuffling gait. He never falls.

I have never encountered him sober. He typically has a Bud Light in hand and, when he is not busily engaged in street hockey, he will raise it to toast you as you pass his property, which a lot of people must do because it lies on a direct path to transit.

Other times, he is working.

There are elabourate rock “sculptures” strewn all about his otherwise overgrown front yard: squat objets d’art of stacked river rocks that strike me somehow as being a gathering of disenchanted “rockmen.” A union meeting perhaps? Or maybe some sort of townhall meeting for sexist quartz and granite. Whatever is going on, The Sculptor can often be seen moving the rocks/men here and there; adding to them, taking things away or incorporating the occasional wind-chime or hubcap among their accumulated masses acquired from who knows where.

Once, while I was checking my phone in front of his house, he yelled at me from somewhere inside:

“NO PICTURES. DELETE! DELETE!”

He must have seen the light against the darkness of the streets. Or maybe he too was a disembodied head in a the window. Hard to tell, because the streetlamp by The Sculptor’s house is busted.

I wonder what my face must have looked like, illuminated by the screen of my smartphone.

It has never occurred to me to take a picture of the rockmen, though I admit it does not surprise me that he would get riled up at the prospect of anyone doing that. The Sculptor’s sculptures are his and his alone.

 

3. Basketball Shorts

Basketball Shorts is not young, not small and not an athlete. His clothing is merely more of a uniform consisting of an assortment of tank tops and the same pair of basketball shorts, the kind that just skim the tops of his the crooked domes that make up his kneecaps.

His primary function seems to be that of sitting in front of his house, on a too-small faded plastic chair, making intense eye-contact with passersby. He lives 2 streets across and down from us and I appreciate the distance, truly.

The other night, at around 11:15PM, we passed him walking our dog as he was walking his, a tiny Yorkie. He continued on his way and we on ours, walking past his house, to the corner and then turning to go down the opposite block. Stephen and I were far along down the block, many large houses away, when we paused in our conversation at the sound of some distant babbling.

A man’s voice – B.S. on the corner, at the intersection we had left as we turned away from his block. We couldn’t see his face. We could barely make out his form, but as his outline is quite distinctive I’m sure it was him, there, in the flesh. Him and no other. He no longer had the dog (or at least, I didn’t see it).

To get to where he was, he must have backtracked, gone past his home to end up at that corner.

He was frustrated – angry even – and talking to…who?

Us?

We were far enough away from him by this time that we would be little more than vague figures on a dark street. Had he gone out looking for us (because he would have had to, not knowing our intended path)? I didn’t see anybody else there, in his general vicinity, but then why talk at somebody’s back from a distance if you’re trying to make a point to them, whatever that point may be?

“I saw you…you moved the pylon! I know where you live! This is ridiculous! Pylon there – You moved…pylon! Pylon! Ridiculous!”

Code? These peculiar words were carried to us by the wind, and were the only ones to reach us from his remote though incessant chatter. Although, to his credit, there are some pylons set up around his block due to some city work being undertaken there this summer. He had something there at least.

Know where you live? A threat? I doubt very much he knows where we live, have never seen him on our street, though in addition to living 2 streets across and down from us, he also appears to live in moments like these.

Or perhaps not. His voice had the quality of a broken reed jammed into the mouthpiece of a rusted saxophone: it sounded thin, out-of-practice, forced. He, being the most able (or willing) of our Midnight Neighbours to wander the furthest from his house, seems also, unlike Green Bin Hilda and The Sculptor, to be the most unsettled because of it.

Another possibility: he wasn’t talking to anyone – no one – at all. Maybe that, in the end, is where he really lives, speaking of bringing things home.

 

 

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Filed under City Life, Dogs, People, Relationships, Routines

Stranger Readings

When and wherever I see a stranger reading (the subway, the park, the doctor’s office), I always try to figure out what is it they’re reading. What, then why.

How being obvious.

(Or is it? There are times the pages are obscured, and I just have to imagine they’re there and also being read. Also, there are so many assumptions in “How,” isn’t there?)

So, why? Why that book? Is it the content? The author? Is this a project, or a pastime (or both)?

Is this good?

More: good in all sense or semblance of that word, “good.”

Tell me stranger: Do you know something I don’t know? Maybe you know something I do.

Also: Maybe I could tell you a thing or two. I have books too.

Then: “Books are dead.” Did you know that?

Finally: Yes, dead. Read for work. Reading is work. Work to get paid, or don’t work at all. Getting paid is everything, or it is nothing. Anyway, no one likes their job, which is the same as work. Don’t be a sucker! A show-off! A conceit!

Never concede.

Books are dead.

***

Now, of course, I wouldn’t take things so far down that particular logic hole; the rabbits there are deranged.

This is nothing that should be done. Stranger readings ought to stay that way.

This is just an exercise.

The premise being ridiculous.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, Communications, Death, Interruptions, Language, People, Routines, Words

Everyday Decisions

There’s an election on now in Ontario.

Or there was (by the time you read this the election will have occurred and outcome decided).

The choices, such as they are (or were):

  1. Person who’s not been very much liked for quite a while and now, it seems, has lost the ability to inspire much trust, or failing that, much faith in their leadership prowess and (therefore) their party’s efficacy;
  2. Person who has ridden the pony express to political provincial power via an all too familiar path of self-aggrandizement on behalf of an amorphous and ill-defined “people,” whose uncouth charisma in these lacklustre times (a heady mix of perceived business acumen, feigned compassion and calculated aggression) seems very much to compensate for their lack of a party platform and experience as leader of anything;
  3. Person who’s been a presence in Ontario politics for a good while, a good long while, but who has always seemed to come off more as an acquaintance seen from across a crowded room rather than a viable candidate for premier, whose party gives off the impression of the last person standing after cooler heads have prevailed, good intentions be damned.

Not exactly what you would call a bumper crop of candidates. Not all that much to fill the streets or scream from hilltops. A lot to lose, perhaps, but not all that much to gain. It reminds me of something…

Wag the dog, but if a dog chases its tail for long enough, will it die of exhaustion?

What’s inevitable and what just isn’t?

There will be no winner, not after the votes are tallied and the results declared. There are no winners here, no sense of solid victory or sound accomplishment. Simply the sense of having lost a little less than what could have been, democracy, in the end, having been processed, one way or another.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Politics, Ritual, Routines, THE FUTURE, THE PAST

Experiments On Reality, 1.0.

Fantasies are experiments on reality. One of my running fantasies is one in which I have to run. Get away. Go. Find a safe or better place.

The jig is up!

They are coming. Finally!

(It was only a matter of time.)

“Who are they?” Stephen often asks. As if it matters!

(It doesn’t matter.)

It’s they. Them. The ubiquitous They. What more can or needs to be said?

I think about Essun from Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. I think of Mulan, Imperator Furiosa, Stray Cat Rock‘s Mako, and Louise Belcher. People who ran, when they had to, who would not be caught up in fates not of their choosing. People who were ready, even if it’s not what they wanted. People who have had enough, already.

Who wants to be chased? It’s not about the chase. It’s about the ability, the capacity to run, to deal. The wherewithal to have runny-sacks; maps, fake IDs, loose cash. A stolen War Rig. Your father’s sword. Cocktails (molotov)! All of it at the ready, or ready for the taking. It’s in the daring, or the will. The need.

(I will neither confirm nor deny the existence of a bindle of likewise necessities somewhere on the premises – cell phone, wallet, keys will not suffice.)

If and when They come, I want to be ready. They are not going to get me. Or at least, I won’t make it easy.

More: one way or another, they will be sorry they tried. They will regret what they started. No matter the outcome.

Now.

How’s that for fantasy?

 

 

________________________________________________

Jemisin, N.K. (2015). The Fifth Season. Orbit: United Kingdom.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, Change, Characters, People, Plans, Routines, THE FUTURE, THE PAST

Open Secrets, Vol. 7

– Certitude is not security.

Gross: incompetence, negligence, bathrooms.

– Bragging = largely confessional.

– They’ve already done it.

Funny: business, ha-ha, that.

– Muzak vs. NOTHING

– It can still be new to you.

Deceptively: simple, complicated, boring.

– Everything is inevitable.

– Security vs. Safety.

– I’m with you.

– Failure is an option when it’s an option.

– NOSTALGIA est. 30 years ago today.

The greatest thing: under the sun, since sliced bread, you’ll never see.

– Jesus flipped the table.

– They vs. Them.

– The ubiquitous “They.”

 

 

 

 

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Shop & Spent

Shopping is at best a confusing experience for me. I don’t like it. I don’t hate it.

But it gets to be overwhelming.

Something about having my behaviour come to back to me in such material form. Something about how much things cost, or don’t, or shouldn’t, and the way savings fluctuate so that they are good one day and terrible the next.

Sometimes my purchases confound me.

The time I just had to have an industrial-sized jar of roasted red peppers (which were eaten slowly, and then too fast). The rug that didn’t go anywhere. The time the cart was empty, save for a loaf of whole wheat bread and a bottle of Drano®.

You wouldn’t think that those two things would go together. You’d be right, of course.

The incontrovertibly of those items haunts me still.

The bread I needed; the Drano® must have been on sale.

I never even used it. Just left it untouched under the bathroom sink when we moved.

The rug? I could never get it to work. Yet, there it sits in my living room, insisting that it does, and is, and in the end who am I to say otherwise?

 

 

 

 

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False Alarms

On a recent road to Ottawa the fire alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 7:00 in the morning.

I did what I think anyone would naturally do, which was assume that it was a false alarm – accepting that there was no real danger – and went back to sleep. In fact, no one staying at the motel seemed particularly concerned about the alarm: there was no running out of doors, no frantic calls to staff (or each other) about the apparent looming danger, the possibility, yes, of a suddenly close (probably painful) death.

None of that.

***

On a different trip, I was staying at the UBC dorms in Vancouver when the fire alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning. It rang and rang and rang. My roommate and I finally got out of bed when it kept on ringing. Only we didn’t know what to do after that. Call someone? There hallways were dead, no one was rushing out of the building or knocking on our door and it seemed wrong, if no one else was showing evident concern, to stir up a commotion. More than that, it seemed an impertinence.

Who does that?

I have often been called an impertinence.

When the firetruck showed up, we called down from our 4th story window. Should we leave?

Yes, the firefighters responded. You should. And please, if you don’t mind, go and knock on all the doors and tell all those people to leave too.

We did, and is it really a surprise that not everyone behind those doors decided to leave right away?

Well, was there a fire, or wasn’t there?

When there turned out to be, in fact, no fire, there was, rather then a sense of collective relief, that heavy cream feeling of having wasted everyone’s time.

All the embarrassment we weren’t spared.

How needlessly we had knocked on all those doors.

***

But the alarm was real, wasn’t it? That’s what bothers me still, that particular uncertainty, the exact definition(s) of that, and also what it could look like if looked at differently.

The alarm was real – or wasn’t it?

Real or not, it seems that the instinct to go to look and see and at least make sure that everything is OK (or not) – to confirm that someone’s been crying wolf (or not) – is suspiciously absent.

***

Suspiciously? No. Not so suspiciously. There’s certainly a kind of expediency to ignoring what is clearly a false alarm – and more than that, to ignoring the kind of alarm that straddles you with the burden of having to take some kind of dubious action on behalf of self-indulgent others, a job, frankly, that you did not ask for, and that is not theirs to foist upon you.

Who even looks up when a car alarm goes off, and who can blame them for not looking?

***

Sometimes I wonder how much it matters if the danger is real. We are told to be afraid of so many things, false alarms or no, it gets to be exhausting. It is the kind of thing that both drains and undermines you.

Another thing to do is another thing you have to do.

Another thing on top of everything.

An impertinence.

***

I am reminded of the tornado drills we used to undergo in primary school. The alarm went off (in this case it was a practice, not a false, alarm, another critical distinction), the teachers lined us up, walked us to the basement, lined us up again (this time, rather ominously, against the wall) and told us to duck, and cover.

The tornados never came. In fact, we didn’t live in an area in which tornados should have been of any real concern, except the one time they almost were.

I remember how our teacher talked us through the drills as the alarm rang out.

“Keep your heads down,” he said. “Everything’s fine.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Friends, Interruptions, People, Relationships, Routines

Cold Inn Comfort

The art, such as it is, repeats itself.

Three panels on one elongated frame, hung just above the bed; each panel an abstract, non-comitial rendering of something that resembles earth-toned coffee stains overlapping each other on a hard wooden table. A kind of meek, kaleidoscopic effect (or is that affect?).

Ottawa, Calgary, Thunder Bay, Vancouver. Wherever. Whatever.

Every room the same: an unfailing arrangement of bed against wall (close to the small alcove containing the bathroom and the door), TV placed atop a chest of drawers in front of bed, desk with black faux-leather swivel chair beside chest of drawers (leading away from the alcove and door), mini fridge (possibly with an ancient microwave balanced on top), then some dead space of a few unimaginative feet, leading finally to a sliding glass door festooned with elaborate (often broken) lock, ostensibly to keep unwanted elements out.

Imagine someone. Anyone. See yourself. Staying in this room in one city or another, some capital propped up against the landscape, some small town just big enough for the chain motels to test their tepid waters. Put up a location, see what takes! Provide slightly more-than-basic cable. Serve a “free hot breakfast” (available 6:30AM – 9:30AM) that’s already been worked into the price of the room.

Every room the same. With one exception: the large framed photo by the bed. Hung up on the wall just by the foot of the bed. Always different, always a photo of the place outside the room, the world surrounding the motel: the Rockies, the Sleeping Giant, the Parliament buildings.

It’s the one thing you, weary traveller, have learned you must count on.

***

Scenario 1:

A man wakes up and discovers that it is still dark outside (too early to get up, much too early to partake in the “free hot breakfast” of sugary bread, machine-dripped coffee and scrambled eggs fresh from whatever half-opened carton of liquid egg-like product that happened to be lying around that morning). He is shivering. He does not remember going to bed; he had not planned to sleep, not after this particular job.

He is suddenly reminded of the blood that still remains under his fingernails, the bruises running the length of this ribcage, marring his face. He tastes vomit – he, actually, reeks of it (and not all or even that much of it is even his). His head throbs, his temples dancing to the beat of an erratic pulse. He tells himself again that he regrets nothing and then just like that the darkness is too much for him.

He turns on the oversized lamp that is (also always) by the left side of the bed. Nothing out of the ordinary appears in the lacklustre light in provides. He breathes.

No, nothing out of place.

Until he looks up and finds the frame hung up on the wall, just by the foot of the bed, empty. A great white nothingness where a picture of the Canadian Rockies should be just manages to glow, a little, blankly, then hotly, in the darkness of the room. It is clear it is calling to him. Beckoning.

It knows.

He realizes he won’t make it to either door if he tries to escape: movement now that he has seen the frame will only serve to pull him in and snare him in its field of vision, something which he knows he must not do.

Terrified, the man realizes that his only recourse is to lie silently in bed and wait for the daylight.

It soon becomes apparent that the light, too, is conspiring against him. The lamp dies a slow mocking death, its flickering like cruel laughter. The darkness – despite what should be by now the encroaching dawn – remains.

Scenario 2:

A woman wakes up from a long nap after spending the better part of the day touring the nation’s capital. Standing on the steps of the Parliament buildings, she remembers telling her friends to expect her in the evening upon which one, a man who everyone knows had a huge crush on her in high school, handed her a polished wooden box. It fit nicely in the palm of her hand, though it weighed down her palm and tired her arm. There were etchings on it she couldn’t quite make out.

“Not now,” he said, when she began to open it. “Later, when it’s time.” He wagged a thick finger across her eyes and then stuffed the offending hand deep into his front pants pocket. Behind him, their other friends tittered loudly like a nest of drunken sparrows.

Now, sitting up in bed, the woman thinks again of the man, and her thoughts are less than fond. Actually, she remembers him being more of a friend of a friend (or someone’s brother, maybe); in any case, he was an annoyance she put up with because it made things easier among their rather exclusive group. She remembers being liked by most everyone (by everyone who counted), and as she does this, she glances idly to the spot on the wall above the foot of the bed.

The picture is of the Parliament Buildings, but it is from the year 2056. The semi-distant future. She only just recognizes the buildings from that very afternoon (there have been quite a few alterations, queer flourishes, and add-ons), and then only after reading the little inscription affixed haphazardly to the frame itself: a bronze plate with scratched-on letters.

It seems like a warning; even the ambient noises of her room now seem strange, a measured humming she can’t quite place. Yes, there is an ominous whooshing in her ears and the air tastes brittle, like tin. She reaches for her cellphone, but cannot find it in her to turn it on. What if – ?

A cursory glance of the room reveals nothing else has changed. A prank, perhaps? Or is she still dreaming? She looks again at the unassailable frame.

Reluctantly, she considers the box.

Scenario 3:

The Sleeping Giant Provincial Park isn’t quite as you remember it. It seems less pristine, more congested now, and the childhood fancy you had of the rock outcroppings being the Giant’s “spine” as you walked along them does not hold the same sense of joy (or was that whimsy?) you had hoped it would. The scale, the immensity of actually being there disrupts, undermines the fantasy for you. But not as much as you imagine it should.

Mostly, you are just tired. You realize it was a mistake to come back (you regret it so much), and you are glad you decided to spend this last night at a motel rather than at your father’s place. In the morning, you will leave them both.

Something about the frame hung up on the wall just by the foot of the bed catches your eye. A portrait (of sorts) of the rock formation, the Giant, who indeed appears as if reclined, as if in sleep. He is surrounded, of course, by the mighty waters of Lake Superior, and you find yourself oddly comforted by the thought, the assurance of that critical distance. You walk up to the frame, traces of a smile pulling at your lips. You put your face in real close, almost touching the glass. A challenge (and one, you are certain, easily won).

You blink.

There is a man standing, perched, on the Giant’s chin. The perspective is impossible: he is so far way and yet so very close; his features are clear but his proportions are indistinct. He must be a giant himself to stand on that massive jaw the way he’s standing on that massive jaw, that jaw that nonetheless remains in the distance, bounded by the water, all that water, of the largest, the greatest of all the Great Lakes.

You want to step back – away – from the frame, its incontrovertibility, but know that it is already much too late.

You see his face. You realize that you’ve seen that face before. More than that, his expression, the one staring back at you from the frame, is one of recognition. And anger.

You blink (you can’t help it) and the man vanishes. The hairs on the back of your neck suddenly prick at a presence behind you, looming and immense.

“Hello.”

***

Each scenario, while fantastic, is not wholly ridiculous. Not when you’re sitting in that room, not when you’ve been across the country, as I have, and discovered them all – every room – to be the same, in whatever city, whatever place you happen to be.

Every room the same, except for that one picture, the large framed photo by the bed, hung up on the wall just by the foot of the bed.

It is never the same, unless the place is.

Wherever and whatever that place happens to be.

 

 

 

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Filed under Interruptions, People, Places, Routines, THE FUTURE, Travel

About Fran

As I said:

Fran has some very interesting theories regarding a library thief at her local branch.

Again, to reiterate: “Not the hoity toity library in the neighbourhood, the working-class library.”

She makes that distinction. How could you even begin to fault that? Really.

How could you deny it?

To wit: someone’s been ripping recipes out of the new magazines that come every Friday and Saturday at Fran’s library, and Fran is on it.

Forgetting “why” for the moment:

WHO?

  1. Most likely a woman. Fran is rather convinced of that, given the apparent gendered nature, as it were, of the evident act, though I have my doubts. But this is Fran’s Thing.
  2. A fellow library patron; one lives in the neighbourhood, given the frequency of the crime, the opportunity afforded by it (this is not an offence committed from a distance).
  3. Someone who must come to Fran’s library on New Magazine Day because Fran goes to the library on New Magazine Day. That person, whomever they are, has thus far managed to somehow get to the new magazines before Fran (the magazines arrive Fridays and Saturdays, but the timing of their arrival varies greatly).

WHY?

Who knows? Someone quite inconsiderate. Someone desperate? Someone.

My suggestions (which Fran took into serious consideration): A collector. Someone who wants material proof of their proclivities. Evidence of taste, action, deed.

“Really?” said Fran.

“Really,” I said.

OR

Someone who had it in, personally, for Fran – who knows her habits, her routines, her likes and dislikes, and is making some kind of point about it. A point of contention!

“Unlikely,” said Fran.

“But not impossible,” I said.

HOW?

They, whomever they are, must be taking the magazines home, ripping out the relevant pages and returning the magazines before anyone gets wise (again supporting the proximity theory).

Unless

To avoid suspicion, they are ripping the pages out within the library itself. The magazines NEVER LEAVE THE PREMISES, are never checked out in that person’s account. There’s no paper trail.

The perfect crime.

To this, Fran brought up a good counterpoint: her library is small; you’d hear the ripping (these being quality magazines with good, glossy thick pages).

“The bathroom?” I suggested.

“Single stalls. I’m watching,” was Fran’s response. “And I’d still hear it.”

UNLESS

I showed Fran the tiny pair of folded scissors on my keychain.

“Where did you say you lived again?” asked Fran.

I asked what the staff at her home library thought of the whole sordid affair. The state of things.

(I wonder how the hoity toity library would handle something like this. Or is this a hoity toity library problem?)

“It’s like they don’t care,” said Fran. “They do, the staff there do care, but there’s nothing they can do about it.”

Ah. But they’re not Fran, are they?

So to them I will only say this: You are not alone. Fran is on it!

Our own working-class hero. Really.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, People, Places, Politics, Relationships, Routines

Open Secrets Vol. 2

– You can be kind to be cruel. It is, definitely, an option.

– Apocalypse/beauty/success is in the eye of the beholder.

– That sheer difference between luck and fate.

– She doesn’t like you.

– There are other beholders.

– Everyone: poops, lies.

– “Hideous” is a very good word.

– The facts don’t matter compared to the Truth.

– It’s not them, it’s us.

– What does, and does not, count as controversy.

– Lake —> Lake Monster.

– “Because why not?” is why.

– It also gets better before it gets worse.

– More to the point: you’re not them.

– Beyoncé. Always.

– Just make sure they’re good lies.

– Never Beyonce.

– It’s not OK. And yet.

– It’s really obvious when you don’t think about it.

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