Monthly Archives: March 2011

I Am Totally Stupid


Arthur’s note: The following is a guest post from my Wise and Wonderful Wife, Karen. And she’s not stupid at all.

Throughout my life, I have always prided myself on being a smart person. I was the kid in school who always sat near the front, paid attention and got A’s on my papers (plus extra credit.) If I didn’t know or I didn’t understand, I asked questions. I think the Internet was invented so I could look up stuff I don’t know or can’t remember. People count on me for knowledge and advice. I was even smart enough to marry a smart man (at least the second time), who makes me smarter.

But now I feel more incompetent than I have in my almost half-century on this planet. My mother is dying, and I have no freakin’ idea what to do.

I am trying to navigate a sea of financial, medical and legal matters, from nearly 600 miles away. I am trying to do it in tandem with my sister, who lives 300 miles away from Mom and me, and who works ridiculous hours at a retail job she hates. I am trying to do this while juggling a full-time, high-stress job, while I juggle the needs of four children, several of my own medical issues, and the stress of a talented writer husband diligently looking for permanent work.

I worked in a nursing home while I was in college. At the time, it wasn’t a bad gig. I made a dollar more than minimum, worked 7-3 so I still had a social life, and worked with some fun people who made the time a little more interesting. For years later, my parents and sister would still tease me about some of my patients, repeating stories and keeping me updated on who passed.

Even though this was the “luxury” nursing home in the area, I vowed that I would never put my parents in one of these places. I’m sure many people have promised the same.

Despite an extensive history of medical problems, my family members have been fairly fortunate in their deaths. My mom’s mom passed away while I was in high school, after a few months of complications from a lifetime of diabetes. My dad’s mom suffered cancer, but we were blessed that she died just 5 days after her second diagnosis, painlessly, when a blood clot traveled to her lung. My dad’s dad suffered a stroke and died 2 days later. My mom’s dad, unfortunately, had lung cancer and ended up in the county home for about 6 months. My dad died instantly from a massive heart attack at 56.

So when my mom suffered a heart attack at 54 and a worse one at 56 that resulted in triple bypass, I felt some sense of relief knowing that she would likely never suffer from a slow, lingering disease. I was certain that at some point, she would suffer another heart attack and she would be gone. I never dreamed she would survive a third heart attack, a week before her 72nd birthday last year. And this time, there was nothing that could be fixed. The clock started.

Since then, she has lived the life of a cat – running wildly like a teenager when she had the energy, and then crashing hard as payment for playing too hard. I alternately worried about her constantly, and then dismissed her as not needing my concern, depending on her actions. (I refuse to discuss the negative effects of the so-called boyfriend on the situation.) We have known she was slipping, but she is a stubborn, independent woman and we allowed her to do for herself with a little outside help. In November, her physicians recommended she enter into Hospice care, which by definition is a diagnosis of a life expectancy of 6 months or less. The clock was now moving faster.

I don’t know what happened at this point, whether she began to give up, or her multitude of health issues began to complicate each other. The Hospice care team is awesome, keeping us acutely aware of even small changes. But she started to spiral out of control, selectively choosing her medications, eating little, sleeping constantly, and losing touch with reality.

When her blood sugar dropped to 28, it was time to take immediate action. My sister and I worked diligently to find the right assisted living facility for her new home. We found a good home for Abby the pug, her constant companion. We figured out the logistics of getting her moved, thanks to the kindness of hired strangers and one crazy stalker. We prayed we were done for a while, except for cleaning and selling her home.

But after a week’s stay in the inpatient Hospice unit, we’re back to figuring it all out again. They want to discharge her into the care of a full-service nursing home. No doubt she needs it, but financially, this is a whole new ball game. From what I have learned, the government doesn’t like to give you money if you have some. Assisted living is private paid, whereas nursing home care is often funded by Medicare. And if Medicare pays, they want to make sure they get it back from you, in the form of your home, your assets and if need be, your first born child.

So I am stupid right now. I don’t know how all of this works. I can’t get answers fast enough from an attorney, and I’ve learned not to believe much I read on the Internet. I don’t want to be a grown-up. I don’t want to be in charge. I want my mom to figure this out and make everything better.

But she can’t. And I can’t stop the clock.

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It Wasn’t Love that Kicked Me in the Head


Now Playing: Carolina Mornings, by Micky and the Motorcars. “I’ve had Carolina mornings and California nights. Good times and places in between, I’m bound to be alright. But it feels so good that it’s understood, I’ll show up without a warning. And I’ll love you on a Carolina morning.”

A disclaimer: I write the following not to elicit pity but hopefully a few laughs … or at least chuckles.

I’m normally a confident person. Some – including my wise and wonderful wife – might say cocky.

But this ongoing  job hunt sucks. Which is what happens when you’re a journalist in a world that no longer thinks it needs them. Or at least very many of them. I get it. The world once needed people to make textiles. And to shoe horses. And to do all kinds of other jobs that no longer exist.

All that said, it can be a mighty cruel job market for a 50-something trying to break into a new career.

A couple of cases in point:

I had an interview a couple of weeks ago that I thought would be pretty promising. The company – a pretty large outfit here in the Greater Indian Trail Metro – wanted somebody who could write concise, clean, consistent copy about products in its stores – pulling info from manufacturers, store materials and other places. That I can do – despite the often-rambling nature of this blog. So I thought it could be a slam dunk.

Still, I was cautious about it. I left well ahead of time to get to the company’s HQ, about an hour’s commute away. I didn’t mind the prospect of a long commute. When I worked at the magazine, it took about 40 minutes during good traffic and a lot more during bad. I didn’t mind it. The drive provided a good retaining wall between work and home.

I got there a good 15 minutes early, maybe more. And then I ran into my first hint of trouble. There was a pizza-delivery vehicle ahead of me at the security gate. Security gate? Who exactly were they keeping out? Or in, for that matter?

The guard couldn’t figure out who the pizza was for or couldn’t find the person when she did. Cars lined up behind me. I’m thinking: Either let ’em in or send ’em on their way. If you need someone to taste test the pizza to make sure it’s not poison, I’ll do it. As long as there are no anchovies, that is.

They finally resolved that. But before she could tend to me, the guard went over to confront a car that didn’t have the proper stuff to get through the automatic gate but didn’t pull into the guest line. After me, by the way. Turns out the driver needed directions, and the ever-friendly guard obliged and sent them on their way.

By this time, it was getting tight. The guard came back to me, looked up everything to make sure I was legit and passed me through. And wished me luck on my job interview. Which was nice. But I didn’t tell her why I was here and what if I’d been trying to keep it a secret? Was it really necessary for her to know my business?

Anyway, I made it to the reception desk right at the appointed time. Only the receptionist was on the phone. And not for a business call.

Turns out it didn’t matter. Even when she got to me and called the HR person, I had to sit awhile. But the process started, first with her and then with three people from the department.

The job function was pretty much what I thought. But it was a contract job. For three months. Maybe more. And maybe we’ll hire you for a full-time job once the contract is up. Or not. And the pay is less than half of what I was making at my last job. And they wanted me to start a little more than a week later.

Still, I left with a good feeling about how I’d done. My chief worry was what to do if they offered me the spot. For a lot of reasons that I won’t go into here, it wouldn’t have been such a good deal. On the other hand, I sorta felt like I couldn’t turn it down. Luckily, it was easier to get out of the complex than get in.

Turns out I didn’t have to worry. I got an e-mail a few days later telling me they’d hired somewhere else.

I thought I felt bad then, losing out on a job that paid just about enough to fund the commute.

But that was nothing compared to my second jolt last week.

A little explanation:

One group of people who seem to be getting hired right now are web copy writers. Which is something I’m obviously interested in. The thing is, companies only want to hire other web-copy writers for these jobs. Never mind the more than 30 years in journalism. Never mind the clips. Never mind all sorts of writing samples I can provide.

I’ve even done a little web-copy writing, but for one reason or another, I can’t claim much of it. But it seems only reasonable to me that a guy who can write 2,500 pretty damn interesting words about a credit-union CEO or mobile-home manufacturer can probably write 250 words or fewer about nearly any topic.

Because it wasn’t working out, I decided to get some real web-copy writing experience the old-fashioned way. By giving my services away to a nonprofit in need. I found one I liked a lot and e-mailed the chief, offering writing, editing and consulting services for nothing but the opportunity to get some experience I could showcase during my job hunt.

A few days later, I got a response. The chief didn’t commit one way or another but passed me along to one of his guys. We set up a meeting in Charlotte, and I went in and again offered my services. He was excited and told me he could use me and another part of the organization could really use me for some web writing. I was really excited now, because I like the main organization and really like the offshoot, which works with kids.

My contact said he’d be in touch the next week. Didn’t happen. Or the next week, either. I e-mailed to see if we were still on, and he assured me we were and that he’d contact me the following week.

He did all right, to tell me that the charity – which isn’t exactly flush with money even during good times – couldn’t use my services after all. For free.

With full apologies to Dean Martin, ain’t that a kick in the head?

And the ego.

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What I Thought of Limitless


Now Playing: 1968, by Dave Alvin. “And tonight in this barroom he’s easin’ his pain. He’s thinking of someone, but he won’t say the name. Folks say he’s a hero, but he’ll tell you he ain’t. He left a hero in the jungle back in 1968.”

Karen and I decided last week we’d go to the movies Saturday night. No particular reason, we just wanted to get out. Not even a particular movie we were interested in.

We’d talked a little about Unknown: She likes Liam Neeson, I like January Jones (can’t wait to see her as Emma Frost in the new X-Men movie, given Emma’s disdain for clothing in general). We also talked about The Adjustment Bureau: She likes John Slattery, I like Matt Damon, and the ads for it seemed like a pretty good sci-fi yarn.

Anyway, while I was looking up times and places Saturday morning, K read the review in the Charlotte O’s entertainment section from the day before for Limitless. She seemed kinda interested, and I know she likes Bradley Cooper. So we decided to go to that. I didn’t care, I just wanted to go out together. I thought it would good enough, anyway.

Well, turns out I was wrong. I liked it  a lot.

It’s about this guy (Cooper) with writer’s block, who is on a downward spiral. He runs into his ex-wife’s brother one day, who gives him a pill that enables him to access 100% of his brain rather than the 20% we generally use (and yes, I know this whole 20% of your brain thing has been debunked).

Anyway, he finds himself able to do astounding things now that he notices and remembers everything. And it ends up being a pretty darn good story. There’s one instance where the brain-enhanced Cooper didn’t catch onto something as quickly as I did, but, hey, everybody can’t be Eddie Spaghetti – my new name, BTW.

And there was a damn good twist to it all that I won’t even begin to spoil.

I highly recommend it.

I also highly recommend seeing it at Stonecrest in South Charlotte. Because then, like K and I, you can walk over to Cantina 1511 after the show for a bite to eat. In my case, more than one bite. It’s fast becoming one of my favorite places to eat locally. They treat you like a king, even when you come in fairly late. And the food is fantastic.

Karen got ceviche, which I tasted, and boy it was good. And a small salad, which wasn’t small. And a flight of margaritas (the blood-orange one was the best).

I got Tacos Marco Polo, made of seasoned shrimp, jalapeno bacon, rajas (caramelized chiles and onions), with melted cheese, pico de gallo, etc. It was fantastic.

All in all, a great night!

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You Better, You Bet


Now Playing: Should’ve Been in Love, by Wilco. “You been dealing with all of these feelings, Like they got you believing they have no meaning, But they do. Your life’s been stinking, your heart’s been sinking, And you’re too busy thinking to stop. You blink and you’re blue.”

I’m not by nature much of a betting man. When I’m absolutely sure of something, I bet my kids a quarter. And usually don’t make ’em pay, unless they’ve pissed me off that day.

But I have made a couple of bigger bets. As it happens, they revolve around the NCAA basketball tournament, which begins tomorrow (don’t fear, this isn’t really about basketball). That’s right, I don’t count the loser leave town games that started last night. Didn’t watch ’em, don’t care about ’em.

It was during the 1981-82 basketball season. I was working at the Jacksonville newspaper then, and I knew we had a good team. On this particular day, I think it might have been in late January, after we’d lost for the first time that season (to Wake Forest), I was walking through the advertising department. That wasn’t something I usually did – I wasn’t crazy about the vast majority of those folks, as no good newsman is – when I heard one of the advertisers braying about the Carolina loss.

If I didn’t interact with the ad reps, I really didn’t interact with the advertisers. This one worked, I think, for a local grocery chain. He kept on and on about the Tar Heels being no good and – the ultimate sacrilege – added that Dean Smith couldn’t coach. I didn’t know the guy at all.

But I got my back up. I told him we were going to win the championship that year. He said, “You wanna bet on it.” Now this is the ultimate sucker bet, taking one team against the field. But I was mad, and I have a bad habit – that I’m still trying to change – of not backing down when I’m mad. So I said, “Sure.” He said, “How about $100?” Now keep in mind I was a young journalist, without a pot to piss in. $100 was a lot of money for me to risk. But also remember, I was mad – and stupid. “You’re on,” I said, rushing over to shake on it before he (or I) could back down. Keep in mind that I didn’t even know his name.

The sales rep working with him, a guy named Bill Likens, was mortified. Bill was a Carolina fan, too, but I didn’t like him very much. He wore sweater vests, for Pete’s sake. After the client left, he came over to ask what I thought I was doing. And to remind me that if I lost, I had to pay off. I grumbled to him that he shouldn’t worry about my business and a few other things under my breath. He would remind me of the bet several times the rest of the season and again warn me that I had to pay.

Of course, as it turned out, it was a good bet. The Tar Heels won the championship, and the next day, the advertiser came to the office, and stretched his hand into the newsroom. There was a $100 bill in it. He didn’t speak, and I didn’t gloat. Really.

The other bet on the tourney came a few years later, also at the Jacksonville paper. The NCAA tourney had taken off, and we did a tab on it every year that came out in between Selection Sunday and the first games on Thursday. It was back in the dark ages when there was no Internet, so it was good info for our readers. I always wrote a prediction column because I was a huge college-basketball fan at the time.

Anyway, this particular year, I think it was 1989 (actually I looked it up, it WAS 1989 – I just didn’t want you know how obsessive I am), I predicted that Florida State would lose to Middle Tennessee State. It was a huge upset. And the pick angered one of my reporters, Melissa Jaggers, who was an alumnus of FSU. Melissa resembled a young Shelley Long, and she enjoyed being told that. She was married to a Navy doctor named Floyd, and I couldn’t help but think of Floyd the barber on The Andy Griffith Show every time I heard his name (as it turned out, Floyd the Doctor wasn’t a miserable, deceitful wretch – he was a really nice and good-looking guy).

At any rate, Melissa wanted to bet. This time I made the terms (I really was pretty confident, and I didn’t want it to cost her too badly). So I bet pizza for the newsroom that Friday night, when only a few of us would be working. She accepted.

And I got to say, my slices tasted awfully good.

 

“Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people.” – W.C. Fields

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Tales From A Reporter’s Notebook: The ACC Tournament Version


Now Playing: The Champions League match between Barcelona and Arsenal. Go Gunners.

It was in 1995. I was working the sports beat out of Gastonia. I carried a pen – and a laptop. My name was Murray.

Actually, I wasn’t just working the sports beat. I was the sports editor. That’s how I ended up in Greensboro that year covering the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament with my friend and colleague Andy Jasner. I hadn’t wanted the sports editor job. It just kinda happened, for a lot of reasons not worth going into at this point. I had always resisted working in sports because I enjoyed watching them. So I didn’t want to make my play my work.

But the fact is, I did work in them for a brief time, which got me into press boxes for NFL, NASCAR and big-time basketball games. Interviewed Shaquille O’Neal (or at least was part of a group interview with him). Couldn’t believe how such a huge guy – and believe me, the television screen doesn’t do him any justice – could be so soft-spoken. Interviewed most of the Panthers from the first two years.

Of all the guys I interviewed, most were nice enough, tolerant even of dumb questions. The only real butthole I ever interviewed was John McEnroe, for an advance story on a senior tennis match that I didn’t give a damn about and I don’t think Johnny Mac did, either.

Anyway, I drove up the Friday morning of the tournament. I’d chosen not to attend the Les Robinson Invitational the night before, when the Pack lost to the dookies (it was the year Coach Krfouidfdgahgla;sdfsdl;kfjd took off because of “bad back”). Andy was already there. He is the biggest college hoops fan I’ve ever known besides myself. But where I have a blind spot with coach Krouiers;fgsl;kghi, he has one with Bob Huggins, at the time coach of Cincinnati and now at West Va. I was with Andy at a Cincinnati game earlier that year and he muttered under his breath constantly. He still can’t stand him (of course I still can’t stand coach Krodiufsadfhgsodi.

There were three memorable things about the tourney.

Thing No. 1: It was the year Randolph Childress went off for Wake Forest. He was really spectacular. What was really funny about Wake were the press conferences after their wins. The coach at the time was Dave Odom, a really nice guy who never got the credit he deserved at Wake. The veteran reporters hated it when someone would ask Odom a question at the press conferences. Because he would never shut up. At any rate, Childress, spectacular as he was, didn’t win unanimous most valuable player. One sportswriter voted against him. (But what do you expect from a group that thinks this year’s regular-season champions don’t have a first-team All-ACC player?)

Thing No. 2: It was the year that Dean Smith and Rick Barnes went nose to nose. Smith got angry during the late stages of UNC’s win over Clemson when the Tigers’ Iker Iturbe roughed up Jerry Stackhouse. Coach yelled at Iturbe and Barnes yelled Coach and they ended up screaming at one another. I wrote a column about it, and guess who I criticized. That’s right, Coach Smith. He ain’t perfect, after all, and never claimed to be.

Thing No. 3: And this is my most memorable thing about the tourney. Sportswriters get to eat good. There always personal pan pizzas on hand as well as Haagen-Dazs bars and other stuff. There was ham and turkey and chicken and other good stuff. Much better than NFL press-box food, which was pretty much the same every week – bad barbecue and OK fried chicken.

So when I say I had my fill of the ACC Tournament, know that I’m not talking about the games. Just about the food.

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Why I Hate to See Sidney Lowe Get Fired


Now Playing: Revolution 1, by The Beatles. “You say you got a real solution. Well, you know, we’d all love to see the plan. You ask me for a contribution. Well, you know, we’re all doing what we can. But if you want money for people with minds that hate, All I can tell you is brother you have to wait.”

A lot of Carolina fans don’t want Sidney Lowe to be fired as basketball coach at N.C. State University. That’s because he’s not a very good coach. The Wolpfack was picked to finish fourth this year, and it came in 10th.

Me, I don’t want El Sid fired either. But for completely different reasons.

No. 1, I always liked and respected him as a player.

But even that has little to do with my wanting him to stick around.

The real reason is he reminds me of a guy I used to play basketball with, when I was growing up just outside South Boston, Va.

I grew up playing ball. You’d think I would have gotten better with all the time I put in on the court. But between lack of height – I’m 5-7 at best – lack of speed and lack of shooting ability, I never was very good. That’s OK, I loved playing, and that’s all that really counts.

My best friend growing up, Mike Lipford, and I used to play every day after school. We’d even nearly every day in the blazing hot summer, sometimes after a shift working in tobacco – hell, sometimes we’d play during lunch break. We were that crazy about it. And Mike was good, high-school team good (and I must mention here that my high school, the Halifax County Senior High School went to the state Final Four all three years I attended. Among the teams standing in our way was Moses Malone’s Petersburg High School squad.).

Anyway, Mike and I met and more-or-less befriended a lot guys along the way playing pickup ball.

The best player we played with then was probably Kenny Harris, a smallish guy (taller than me, of course), who could handle the ball, pass and shoot like crazy. Then there was Woody, tall and kind of a bully but a pretty good player; Theon, who had long arms, an easy laugh and was a really nice guy (he sort of made sure the games never got out of hand), and our schoolmate Willie Carrington, whom we called Patrick when we played on the asphalt courts outside Cluster Springs Elementary School.

When we got older, we played on the outdoor courts at C.H. Friend Elementary in SoBo. That’s where I met Pieface. That’s the only name I ever knew him by. Pieface loved to hoop. I don’t know what he did for money. He was older, about 6-4 or 6-5, thin legs but a bit husky, shall we say, in his upper body. He could shoot, rebound and he liked to pass, too. Even to unathletic, not-very-good shooting guys. Obviously, he had a round head – that’s how he got the name, which he never seemed to mind.

Here’s the thing: He and El Sid are dead ringers for one another. I’ve always thought so. Sid excelled at passing when he was a player. I’m sure he wishes his team had this year. But they didn’t. Plus his team had some unfortunate injuries and illnesses this season. Not to mention he has a couple of headcases who don’t really seem all that interested in playing college ball. Truthfully, they haven’t had a very good run under Sid.

But if they fire him, I’ll miss old Sid. Like tea and madeleine cake, he evokes memories. Good luck to you, Sid, whatever happens. And good luck to Pieface, whereever you are.

“Everybody needs his memories.  They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door.”
_ Saul Bellow

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Will the Cirque be Unbroken? … And Other Stuff


Now Playing: Still Be Around, by Uncle Tupelo. “Walked and breathed many a cancerous mile, where the bat of an eye is too slow to beat the coffin. They won’t tell it on the TV, they can’t say it on the radio. They pay to move it off the shelf and into our minds until you can’t tell the truth when it’s right in front of your eyes.”

I went to see Cirque du Soleil Totem last night with Austin. We left at halftime (they like to call it intermission).

What did I think of the show? Three words: WOW, SHAMWOW and SHAZAM! Emphasis intended.

They say the show’s about the evolution of the human race, from its original amphibian state to its ultimate desire to fly.

Here’s what I say to that. One word: Whatever.

Because the story, if there really is one, doesn’t matter. What matters are the jaw-dropping tricks and stunts. The trampolining, the ring tossing and spinning, the unicyclists with their bowl tossing, the cloth twirlers, the gymnastics, the funky but good music. You get the idea. I certainly didn’t leave at halftime because I was bored. It’s  just the getting up at 4:30 thing and the general lack of sleep the past two days was catching up with me.

Two things: The stories and tickets say the show is at The Grand Chapiteau (and doesn’t that sound more elegant than the Big Top) at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Taint so. It’s at the drag strip across the street. The other thing, there’s either no real food (though they did have free popcorn and soda), though you could buy candy, chips, beer and wine, I think. And they did have cupcakes out at intermission. Or else I couldn’t find the food. Which isn’t likely.

All of which is to say, the Cirque show isn’t like anything you’ve ever seen/heard/experienced. In a really good way.

Here’s the … And Other Stuff

I wasn’t happy when the Republicans won control of the General Assembly, though I did think it was a good thing to wrest the state from under the thumb of Marc Basnight, who ran the state Senate for entirely too long. It wasn’t even that I disagreed with him on most stuff, it was just that he had become a Cult of Personality, as the Soviets used to say. I do miss the wisdom of Joe Hackney running the House, though.

But anyway, here’s what the dumbasses that run our legislature think is important right now, staring right down the barrel of a $2.4 billion budget deficit. Picking a fight with the federal government over health-care reform. Throwing out end-of-course testing for high-school students, even when a REPUBLICAN superior court judge has told them it’s unconstitutional. Making it easier to take weapons to parks, restaurants and workplaces. All the while licking their lips at the prospects of laying off teachers and college professors and cutting pre-school programs.

Of course the Republicans aren’t the only stupid ones about guns. Remember at the Giffords shooting when U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, the Waynesville Democrat – really he should either called a Dumb-o-crat or a Demo-publican – said he was going to be packing after that to insure his safety. What does he think he’d do when shots started flying? Pull his piece, draw down and start firing into the crowd? That’s what we’ve got running this country.

NFL owners have done the impossible. They’ve made players the heroes of a labor dispute. The greed and stupidity of owners – and I’m talking about you, Jerry Richardson – has been astounding. They’ve had by far the best working agreement of all professional sports, the one that made their sport sustainable – unlike baseball and basketball and I ain’t so sure about hockey, either. But it’s just not enough, is it?

Monday was Dean Smith’s birthday. What better present for El Deano than a win tomorrow against the Evil Empire. By a team he’d be most proud of, with its unselfishness and resilience. Go get ’em boys.

“Good and evil. There is never one with the other.” – Merlin, who had to be referencing the Heels and them scumbags from eight miles down the road.

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