To Tell of Thanksgrimby in the Old Day

Transcribed as part of the StoryCorpse Old Thankful Project

As Told by Granmaw Edna Embolina Rotisserie-Clogged-Duckpin

“Whin Novembra goes deep an yer getting down to the grimbles. Well then. Comes a time to please and thank goodness if a bear eatcha you got kin and community to mourn yer scraps. Also, got to give praise that Gods ain’t cut you down, even though they seen whatchu did in the woodshed. You oughta thanks up. Keep in the nice with yer Lurds. Plus eat while you can in case em gods change his mind.

“Why do the Thanksgrovel? Practical simple. Pure and purty. You ain dead yit and you hope not die til spring. Only got to last longer’n that pig yer raisin’. You got in yer front-eye memory the picture of who all dint make it through last winter’s Crimby Knife Fight Season.

“Mebbe you now say, ‘Okay, okay, Granmaw. So how you get on with the Thankspart of naGrimby?’ and I sez, ‘PIPE DOWN AND PEEL EM TATERS. WE AIN’T ON THAT PART YET. No bibble! Shaddap!’

“Yall impatiens. When I was cricket-size, I learnt me to have some patiens! You had to hold patiens in those day. Might have to wait six months with a dangletooth til Gareth the Wanderer wandered back into territory and puled it for ya. After that, ya might hafta miss a week of school laid up on whiskeyrest.

“Times were hard!

“Yet we had barely a thought in our topnotcher but thanks to be breathin. Yessir. Now the thanks git tricky. Yall know it best to grub up, look down and humble short and quiet. It ain’t good to dry out yer tongue with too much thankin. That’s why you need gravy after the thankin. Slick up yer tongue nice and good again.

“Horace Duckpin once started the Grimby with a three hour grace; and when he didn’t stop there, the menfolk decided he bin robbed of his sense. They turnt him upside down in a waterbucket, and he still blew Thankbubbles for bout five minnits. When Horace bobbed up he said the turkey he kilt possessed him. Made him gobble on. The preacher said he heard it happened once before in Jerusalem. Back when tuckeys looked more like armadillers or sumpin. What you hed to do in sech circumstances, the preacher done instruct, wuz rebuke each and every forkful before you et. Had to shout, “DEVIL TUCKEE I REBUKE THEE DAMN TUCKEY!” Then chew that tuckey piece righteous on down.

“Prob’ly one of the best Thanksgrimbys of my life. Nothin taste better than a Tuckey Rebuked.

“When that Demon Tuckey was goned, Twitchy Linda sed, ‘How’d we know the demon didn’t go into another Tuckey in the woods? I could rebuke another tuckey. Yes I could.’ Big Jim stood up, waved his knife and shouted, ‘I say Yeehaw! I could rebuke me five more tuckeys!’

“Some all agreed. I myself stood on my chair and threw a spoon.

“But then the Elders invoked Frenzy Law and sed everybody better get on home and in bed or they’d let Creepy Pappy off the chain.

“Thems were good old days. Thanksgrimby ended all cozy cuddled up in one bed. Maw sang us a lullaby and we braided her armpit hairs.

“Whew! It ain’t right to let your granmaw go on like this, child. Gimme a little gravy. I feel wore out! Cain’t squawk like I used to. Sweet Rebuked Tuckey! I might need me a whiskeyrest.”

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The Girls’ Guide to Horror; Full Interview with Shannon Barnsley

Fantasy writer and banned books blogger Shannon Barnsley and I chatted by way of email interview. We talked about girls and the YA horror genre. Quotes from Shannon’s responses will be appear in my “Girls’ Guide to Horror” article along with input from Brunswick librarians and teenagers. The story will be published in The Brunswick Citizen newspaper this coming Thursday.

The Full, Unadulterated Shannon Barnsley Talks About Girls in YA Horror Interview is featured below!

Barnsley’s work is published in Redhead Magazine. She also writes about the politics of banned comics, books and movies for Bound and Gagged.

 

HADFIELD: How would you define the horror genre?

BARNSLEY: Oh, man, this is a tough one. We often think of horror as a more modern genre, but we’ve been telling stories that frighten us around the fire since we’ve had a fire to keep the things that scare us at bay. There are elements of horror in all sorts of things we wouldn’t classify that way and often probably shouldn’t.

Horror is one of those genres that bleeds into others. I’ve seen and read a lot of sci-fi that leaves me terrified and was meant to do exactly that, yet I wouldn’t classify, say, Moon as horror, even if the soundtrack alone can make my skin crawl. Similarly, I think it’s often totally arbitrary what gets classified as horror, supernatural/paranormal, or urban/contemporary fantasy. You could say that there is a difference in tone or intent, but a lot of paranormal/supernatural or urban fantasy strays into horror or slaloms in and out.

It’s like in Harry Potter, how there’s Diagon Alley and its fantastic and magical and inviting, but take one wrong turn and you find yourself in Knockturn Alley with its cursed Dark Arts paraphernalia, sinister bluebloods, and seedy Victorian setting. I think all urban fantasy is one turn down a dark alleyway away from horror. I had a writing class in college where we had to write a fantasy scene and then rewrite it as horror. It was an interesting exercise that made us think a lot about tone, audience, and genre conventions.

And then there’s plenty of humorous things that riff or rework the horror genre or its tropes but aren’t all that bone-chilling. They seem like they should be horror since that’s the foundation they’re building off of or deconstructing, but they don’t always fit common horror definitions. At the end of the day, I think the difference is more a matter of marketing and canon than content.

HADFIELD: Do/did you read or write horror? 

BARNSLEY: I always thought horror wasn’t my cup of tea, but then I realized how much of what I loved was actually horror without my realizing, the way a lot of people enjoy things that are sci-fi or fantasy without classifying them as such and then insist that they don’t care for the genre. For example, I love werewolves, but they seem to have migrated from horror to fantasy in recent years.

In addition to other genre fiction, I became interested in horror from an academic angle in college. In part a Religion & Mythology major, I studied a lot of archetypal figures in mythology, folklore, and fairy tales, many of which linger on in the horror genre. Like I said, I found the figure of the werewolf fascinating, whether it was in ancient Irish epics, Eastern European folktales, The Wolfman, or Harry Potter. A paper I did on the werewolf in Irish literature led to an interest in how the figure has changed in literature and cinema and how fiction and movies are a double-edged sword, both canonizing and standardizing once diverse traditions while adding new layers to the mythos. The werewolf and the vampire are great examples of what horror can tell us about ourselves and our society.

Horror tells us what we fear, not just because of the monsters but what shape they take. For example, Dracula shows the tensions around exogamy and the fear that foreigners might seduce our women. The old rule that vampires can’t harm you or enter your house unless you invite them in or accept an invitation to their home drives home the sexual predator aspect and fears of who we might accidentally let in. Dracula and many other vampire stories have also been used to sneak sex or sexual content past the censors, which may be why the horror genre has had an off again/on again relationship with romance and erotica and a complicated relationship with women.

Meanwhile werewolves have been used to represent everything from mental illness to sexual deviancy to sexual predators to drug addiction to PTSD to epileptics to outlaws to those who disobey the Church. Our sudden obsession with zombies reflects all sorts of societal anxieties today, be it fear of disease, the apocalypse, the mindless masses, or the inability to trust those outside or even inside our supposedly safe spaces.

Horror, like mythology, can tell us far more about a people and a time than many historical records can. So, yes, I suppose I do read horror and a lot of academic and not-so-academic things about horror. My writing has also wandered more towards horror in recent years, though I would not consider myself a horror writer.

HADFIELD: As a 11-17 year old, did you read horror fiction? Why or why not?

BARNSLEY: Like I said, I didn’t think I liked horror, but I was reading it without really realizing due to my interest in certain genres and mythical creatures. I had grown up on Goosebumps, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, and Scary Stories, so I guess I liked horror all along without thinking about it. I read a lot of Poe in middle and high school, some of it assigned in school, some of it not. I started by reading his poetry and it sort of served as a gateway drug to his short stories, where guilt, revenge, and the Spanish Inquisition gripped me in a way that hockey masks and chainsaws had not. That’s not to disparage hockey masks and chainsaws, they just weren’t my thing.

I had a lot of conflicted feelings about society and religion and death at that age, so it was natural that I would gravitate to a genre that had the freedom to explore these topics. And, despite all of the torture and undead cats and murderers, it seemed that what horrified Poe the most was losing the people in his life to consumption. Since I was dealing with a family member’s cancer and its genetic nature made me worried about my own mortality in both middle and high school, I found Poe’s raw fear of death, disease, and loss very cathartic at the time.

I think speculative fiction in general deals with illness and all the feelings that go along with it much better than most fiction dealing directly with medical issues, perhaps because by addressing it indirectly the author has more freedom or because the horror label means they are less likely flinch from the less romanticized bits.

HADFIELD: From your blog, it appears that you have a vested interest in YA fiction. Horror has always been a staple in YA, and now with the popularity of the Twilight series and a resurgence in vampire chic, it’s inescapable. Also, when I scan YA bookshelves, it seems that more horror lit is being written ‘for’ or at least marketed towards girls. Do you think this is true? Thoughts?

BARNSLEY: I end up reviewing a lot of YA on my blog, in part because I do like it but also because YA seems to get banned the most of any genre, except maybe horror, since we’re afraid of what kids these days are reading and what sort of ideas its putting in their heads. Comic books also get a lot of heat and the government crackdown on their immoral, corrupting influence back in the 50s and 60s pretty much killed the horror comic, at least for a good while. Sexual content and the allegedly violent, subversive messages in horror/crime comics were two of the major reasons for the crackdown in the first place.

As for the horror/YA fusion, I remember loving the YA section of my local Borders as a child, in part because it had the classics and books with more complex moralities than the children’s section but also because it had the gateway books to fantasy and sci-fi. That’s where I found Tamora Pierce and Madeleine L’Engle and Phillip Pullman. Near the end of high school though, it seemed to have turned into the Twilight section. It was chocked full of paranormal romance and YA that seemed more bent on apparent edginess than actual complexity or moral ambiguity. Obviously, there are excellent teen paranormal books and great YA novels that deal with sex, drugs, and all the other things that make parents uncomfortable, but the shift in tone and demographic did make me utter a few “in my day” laments.

Obviously, girls were reading Anne Rice long before Twilight came around, but the sub-genre definitely seems to have taken off since the success of Twilight and it seems the vampire (or whatever vampire analogue is used) story has gone from seductive Other horror to much more of a straight romance. The YA and paranormal sections do seem more specifically targeted at girls these days than I recall, but the horror section proper doesn’t seem all that changed, with much of the more Twilight-esque stuff ending up in YA or the newly-minted Teen Paranormal or Paranormal Romance shelves.

The popularity of Supernatural and Teen Wolf have no doubt had a hand in the teen paranormal boom as well. I was surprisingly impressed with Teen Wolf, but Supernatural’s increasingly angsty religious bent turned me off, as did its fanbase. It seems, despite having predominantly female fans, that the Supernatural fandom has a somewhat toxic attitude towards women. I could try to guess as to why, but I think I’ll leave that for another day as my answers are already too long. However, it’s another trend in the genre that should be addressed if we want to discuss the place of women in horror or supernatural/paranormal media.

All that said, horror and YA do make natural bedfellows. Horror can amplify the things YA already deals with, such as your body going through all sorts of freaky changes, the pressure to conform, a mistrust of adults or those in power, sudden sexual feelings or attentions, feeling like the whole world is out to get you, changing attitudes towards the status quo, feeling misunderstood or persecuted, etc.

HADFIELD: If you had to make the case to girls about why they should (or shouldn’t) read horror, what would your points be? What does it have going for it as a genre? (or not?)

BARNSLEY:I don’t think anyone shouldn’t read a genre. If the genre is hostile to female readers or writers, that’s all the more reason for them to get in there and shake things up. However, the trend in teen paranormal/paranormal romance books of romanticizing or fetishizing stalking and many of the telltale signs of an abusive relationship do make me feel ill at ease.

A friend of mine once complained about this, saying that a lot of these books are teaching both girls and boys that no means yes, possessive/obsessive behaviour means he loves you, and the odd guy who makes you uncomfortable is a romantic prospect. This wouldn’t keep me from letting anyone read a book by any means, but perhaps we need to bring some of these trends and accompanying issues into the classroom for a bit of objective analysis and debate, and perhaps look at them alongside books like Alex Flinn’s Breathing Underwater.

As for what the genre has going for it, that’s too hard to answer in one go. It’s entertaining, it lets us face our fears in a controlled setting which allows us to master them, it’s anthropologically fascinating, and it resonates with that primal fear of what’s beyond the fire. It also allows us to explore our anxieties, which, in an increasingly anxious time, can be a powerful thing. I’m sure you could ask a hundred readers what they liked about horror and get a hundred different answers.

HADFIELD: Sexism and misogyny in horror. Inherent? Prevalent? Or irrelevant?

BARNSLEY: It’s definitely there. Even people who’ve never picked up a horror novel in their lives know the archetypes of the screaming girl in a slasher flick or the hot chick who gets eaten by the monster in the first five minutes of a SyFy movie. Body horror and crime/horror featuring sadistic sociopaths also seem to have a certain fixation on the female form. Like I said, Dracula shows the fear that OUR women will be taken or seduced or somehow corrupted and stolen from us, which casts women more as passive symbols than characters with agency.

Sometimes it can be hard on a writer not to have problematic elements if they want to stay true to the folklore of various monsters. For example, when I was writing an urban fantasy novel for my senior thesis, I had a scene in which nearby mythical creatures gathered in a local pub. As it was set in London, I wanted mostly creatures from English, Welsh, or Scottish folklore. However, I was hard-pressed to find a female mythic figure from said folk traditions that wasn’t an evil hag or a sexy femme fatale who would seduce and kill you. This became a difficult balancing act of staying true to the traditions while trying to avoid a completely unhealthy attitude towards women slipping into the book.

However, the conventions and mythos of a genre can be built upon or torn down or used as tropes to play with, explore, and comment on the genre and its problems. We can have women chase the monsters, we can have the screaming blonde turn out to be the killer, we can have the beast chasing her not be much of a monster at all.

Genres change. Tropes become dated or overused. So we can subvert them and then subvert those deconstructions. The horror genre is a playground waiting for us to shape and reshape it. It just might be a playground with a creepy little girl on an old rusty swing smiling at you.

For more on women in horror, I advise anyone interested to check out Lightspeed Magazine’s Women Destroy Horror special issue and the story behind it.

HADFIELD: Fear is the engine of horror, the hinges on which it creaks! Fear is the attractive, fascinating and fun part of reading horror. However, I’d like to hear your thoughts about whether horror has a greater proclivity towards sexism, racism or other possibly fear-motivated prejudice than other genre. 

BARNSLEY: I don’t know whether horror has more sexism, racism, etc or if it’s just more overt. It’s also a genre that lets us express our fears, whether veiled by symbolism or directly addressed, and a lot of our fears include things like sexuality, society, and the ever-shifting but ever-terrifying Other. Certainly there is a lot of women getting killed or raped or mutilated or chased or eaten or whathaveyou. Then there are witches, wicked women, power hungry queens and goddesses, sorceresses, seductresses, and all manner of “bad girls” whose place in horror began as a politically or religiously motivated smear campaign.

There’s also a lot of issues with foreigners, whether it’s Dracula or countless other works of literature or folklore. Adlet in Inuit folklore are half-dog, half-man monsters who drink blood, but the term ‘adlet’ means foreigner and was used by the Inuit to refer to First Nations tribes in the area. In Anglo-Saxon law an outlaw had the legal status of a wolf and the proper way to kill a wolf was strangulation (in order to keep the pelt intact), which is why criminals were hanged. At one point in Ireland the head of a wolf was worth the same bounty as the head of a Catholic priest.

Our monsters are whatever we want them to be and we often seem to want them to be something that confirms our prejudices. However, that means that they’re constantly evolving, so we’re not bound to the past. And since certain problematic tropes (girl in slasher film, black guy dies first, etc) are so overt and well-known it’s easier to address and subvert them. On the flip side, horror can be a powerful tool against those oppressing or harming people by casting them as the antagonist or monster the way The Twilight Zone, Edgar Allan Poe, and many others have done.

HADFIELD: What would you like to tell girls who are getting into horror YA? Is there anything you think girls should be aware of as they read more horror or are exposed to the presence of the genre in popular culture, movies etc.? 

BARNSLEY: I would just tell them not to stick to books or movies from any one time period. See how the genre has evolved. Read all kinds of it. Like with sci-fi and fantasy, don’t listen to anyone who says you shouldn’t like horror or should only like a type of horror they deem socially acceptable for women to read.

I’d also tell girls to look into the lives and backgrounds of the people who write and make horror because it explains a lot and can make you think about their work in a whole new way. And sometimes it’s scarier than anything they put on the page or silver screen. The letter Edgar Allan Poe wrote to his aunt when he was afraid his cousin would marry someone else remains one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever read.

HADFIELD: Are there any horror books/ fiction with elements of horror you would recommend to girls in middle school? In high school?

BARNSLEY: I know it’s cliche, but I recommend Poe, especially if you are interested in poetry. I think Stephen King’s Carrie is more relevant than ever, since school shootings and the like have moved from fiction to an increasingly common reality since the book’s publication and bullying is more topical than ever. It’s also just a great read with a lot to say about women, sexuality, and abuse, which could help even out shallower portrayals elsewhere in the genre.

Charles de Lint’s 80s fantasy novel Wolf Moon is a very quick read that has an interesting take on the connection between shapeshifting monsters and puberty/sexual awakening. It is admittedly a bit uncomfortable as far as its portrayal of women goes, largely due to its 80s-ness, but that does make the villain’s date rape/mind control harper magic all the more horrifying. In the less horror related pros, it’s a refreshingly small stakes secondary world fantasy and de Lint is a great worldbuilder with a whole host of books if Wolf Moon makes you want to read more.

There’s a lot of other great fantasy/sci-fi with horror elements, so I’d say to not read strictly on genre lines or stay confined to one section of the bookstore. Read horror comics and graphic novels both new and old. And, while you’re at it, go read myths, read folklore, read ghost stories, read morality tales and fairy tales designed to scare more than most modern horror. Read about haunted buildings and mythic beasts and strange historical figures. Horror, like any genre, is a long line of people building on, borrowing, and engaging with the works of others, so don’t take any one book’s word for it.

Also, I know it’s not a book, but An American Werewolf in London, despite being a spoof, remains one of if not the best werewolf movies to date.

HADFIELD: Is there anything else you’d like to add on the subject of contemporary YA horror, the portrayal of girls and women in horror, or things you’d like girls to be exposed to in conjunction with the horror material in circulation now? 

BARNSLEY: I think I’ve covered most of this in the other questions. I know the genre has a lot of problematic cliches and a troubled history when it comes to portraying women and welcoming them into the club, but a lot of horror books that get banned do so because of the fear of what subversive messages they are slipping to “innocent” female readers, so all the more reason for women to read it.

Carrie was banned and challenged throughout the years in the US in part because of the violence and religious content but largely because people didn’t want girls reading it. Guys can read about violence and the supernatural and the geek revenge fantasy, but god forbid girls get the same dangerous notions in their heads. Horror comics got the brunt of the comic book moral panic because they was deemed violent and anti-authoritarian, and in no small part because of sexualized women and sexual content in the comics and their pulp fiction covers.

This can reinforce negative attitudes towards women, but, as many have said of women in fantasy, religion, myths, or fairy tales, those so-called bad girls can sometimes give us a glimpse at transgressive and rebellious women from a time when they were denigrated for taking control, expressing their sexuality, or doing unladylike things. Make like the boys in Supernatural and take it with a grain of salt and you might just find strong women in the place you least expected to find them.

 

Wiring Kids’ Brains For Kindness

New discoveries in brain plasticity are fascinating- and make radical change of all kinds seem possible.

Reblogged from The Bully Blog

thebullyblog

I was intrigued by an article in the most recent issue of Psychotherapy Networker that discussed implications for the latest discoveries regarding brain plasticity. MRI’s and other brain imaging technologies have become responsible for new discoveries about how we can change the way our brains are “wired.” Apparently,  parts of our brain can be developed like real estate. Ownership is determined through repeated behaviors and thought processes.

The author, Mary Sykes Wylie references psychologist Edward Taub. Taub found that stroke patients who lost the use of their left arm learned to compensate by overusing the right one. The right arm, in effect, bought up the unused real estate, leaving the right less opportunity to recover. When the right arm was immobilized, however, the left was more likely to keep trying and eventually to  recover lost ground, using it or losing it. Parts of the brain, it seems, are open for offers.

It is encouraging to know…

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Phone Call from Chief Herring

*monologue contains profanity & acknowledges sex*

Phone Call from Chief Herring

Narrator is hardboiled, male or female. (Or any gender identity.)

I’ve just wrestled Maggie out of her Spanx when

the phone rings.

Maggie hears the sound and sneers.

She says, “Don’t. You. Dare.”

But listen.

It’s the landline.

Maggie is naked on my kitchen table, ok? ‘Cept for stilettos and red nails and let me tell ya, it’s been a while–

but it was the landline. That old electronic giggle– dleeleeleeleelee–

Only the po call my landline. I’m a private investigator.

So I pick it up. I say, “What.”

It’s Chief Herring.

He says, “We got somethin weird tonight.”

Maggie, she’s red and white and mad all over.

[imitating Maggie] “Hang. Up.”

In my ear, Chief Herring, “We need your help.”

I say, “Whaat.”

I see Maggie’s takin off one of her stiletto heels. Phew. Fine. I don’t make her wear ‘em. She leaves um on cuz she thinks I like em. Really, she likes um. I fuck in fear of bein gored like a goddamn matador.

But Maggie is mad.

[Narrator into phone receiver] “Ok, ok, what?”

Okay, Maggie’s aimin the heel and I don’t like the direction this is headed.

Herring tells me, “Write down this address.”

I say, “Tell me. I’ll remember it.”

Maggie winds up. She throws her Mangle-O Blango, the damn heel, right at me! Wham! Hits the fridge.

Okay. Now I’m getting mad.

Ok! I’ll play.

I tell the Chief, all in my leisure, “You know what Chief? I will, in fact, write down that address after all. Hold on one second.”

I grab the notepad magnet thing from the fridge. Maggie lies back down on the table. Turns on her side.

What’s she doin?

She’s on her side, she opens her legs wide and- AUAUAOUouaugh!

Squeezes off two deadly farts! Two stinkin asshole farts! Aua! All the time lookin at me all premeditated in pure evil. All two, three, four nasty eyes of hers!

[Covers receiver, shouts to Maggie] “YOU FILTHY PIG!”

I say that. Yes, I say that, which, I know, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is about the worst thing you can say to the fat woman you love, especially when you owe her a big chunk of money. But I say it, and I say,

“I’m tryna take a goddamn call!…Go ‘head officer.”

I’ve barely written down 135 Rose Street- the address of the weird incident- when Maggie, she flops back across the table, reaches her arm back and grabs a gun out of the gardenias! Window was open, right? Nice night. She reaches out the sill into the windowbox. Stashed a piece in the flowers.

Cuz she was just that kind of girl.

I’m writin 135 Rose Street and now the gun is cocked in Maggie’s hand.

Maggie scootches her cootch to the end of the table. Eyes on me. All she knows is that she wants me to hang up. You better believe I know it too.

What Maggie doesn’t remember is that there’s a slippery golden puddle of supportive undergarment just under her feet, and she’s still wearin one Mangle-O Blango. She’s launchin herself off the table right onto the Spanx-

I slam the phone in the cradle-

Whoa! Wham! Blam! Stiletto skids on spandex. Maggie slips. Cracks her head on the tile. Gun goes off and Uuauauagh! Buries a bullet in my thigh!

The gun skitters across the floor into a roach trap by the sink.

I’m yodelin in pain. Clutchin my leg. I’ve never been shot before, ok? Let alone by someone I know! And Maggie, Maggie revives! Eyes wide, nostrils flared, revives! She is a goddamn bull! Keep that on the record! And she’s sittin up now, no, she’s on all fours. Dazed but murderous. Bare haunches shining with sweat, god help me.

You can object, you can object all you want, but I swore to tell the truth and nothing but.

So god help me when Maggie crawls over to where I’m half on the floor. I’m clutching kitchen cabinet knobs, tryin to stand.

Maggie grabs my shot leg, to raise herself up? Pull me down? Now we’re both on the floor. We’re scrambling towards the roach trap.

There’s a loaded gun on the floor of the trap, as you well know. But. There are also five Ben Franklins taped to the lid. You know, the domed lid on a roach hotel? Well, who’s gonna look under that thing, right?

Maggie takes a swing at the trap. Brutal! No finesse, this girl. Trap busts. Lid flies. Lands on its back like a turtle with no hope. Belly fulla hundreds all exposed.

Maggie ain’t lookin at the gun now. Maggie’s diggin a red nail under the tape and countin the money. I grab the gun. Roach shells splittin tween my fingers.

“You asshole!” That’s Maggie yellin.

While I’m tryna stand she’s throwin on her blue dress, about to hoof it. I point the gun. At Maggie, yes.

She says, “This isn’t even a quarter of what you owe me!”

She runs out the front door. I follow, limpy-gimpy. We’re out on the wet grass, in the dark, my lawn, as it were.

“Drop it or I shoot!”

She tells me, “You won’t.”

I say I fuckin will.

“Gun only had one bullet,” she says.

That’s when my shot leg, and something else, gives out.

“You fat worthless whore! You thieving cunt! Give it the fuck back! That’s all I’ve got!”

I’m already down, but that doesn’t stop her. Maggie leaps on me. Starts slappin me! Wrenches the gun loose, now she’s got it. She cocks it! It was loaded! The bitch!

I’m so mad, I’m not thinkin, I’m just tryin to get the gun back-

We’re rollin in the yard, wrestlin and howlin.

Mr. Stander, neighbor to the left, comes outside. He turns his garden hose on us, full blast.

We’re fightin, he’s sprayin, “Stoppit, dammit, you damn dogs!” He’s yellin. His eyesight wasn’t so great.

I dunno. I dunno anything, I’m so crazy with pain. I knee Maggie in the crotch. That’s how I get the gun back.

If she was mad before-

She bites me! Fuckin bites me! Right on the boob! The pectoral! Straight through the flesh and a little to the left! She chomps down on my fuckin heart!

I seize up involuntary! I spasm! I scream! I squeeze!

I squeeze the trigger.

It was not intentional. It was impossible to know where my hand was pointed. I knew nothing but pain and rage. You know it was an accident. A moment of passion. I didn’t mean it.

It was a tragedy the moment Maggie bit my heart, but that’s beside the point. I squeezed the trigger, the bullet left the barrel, made its trajectory across the lawn–and straight into Mr. Stander’s brain.

I know it is  no consolation that he was killed instantly. He croaked, um, passed instantly, and it musta been pretty quietly too, cuz it took a coupla seconds, minutes really, after the gun went off for me and Maggie to realize that the hose wasn’t sprayin us anymore. For a hot moment, I thought we were both dead, locked in some eternal hell-fight together. Then we heard the sirens and the cops pullin up.

As a professional private investigator- I am licensed, I remind the jury- I consider this whole incident a personal failing of mine. I paid little attention to Mr. Stander when he was alive and I’m not afraid to admit that I should have talked to him more. Noticed things. Then again, nobody could have guessed he had so many people buried in his cellar.

That said, I’m sorry I pulled the trigger before I even had a hint of suspicion. I wouldn’t call myself a hero, really. But I’m glad to have done my duty to society, even by accident.

What I resent is Maggie goin around tellin people it was her who pulled the trigger.

Even in the hazy moments of this episode- the fact that she bit me and that I pulled the trigger is clear.

Tell her that, she’ll say she roundabout shot the gun with her teeth.

It’s just not right for Maggie to take credit like that. Especially since whatever I owe her is five hundred dollars less now. If you see her, tell her that.

And, ladies and gentlemen, you can tell her I’d take that phone call again.

 

Note: This is one monologue from a larger collection of ‘Mystery Monologues.’ Seek my contact info by clicking on the “What?” at the top of this page regarding performance rights/permission. 

Retail Chronicles: Potty Talk, The Study

During an unpleasant stretch of employment, I conducted a study in a Macy’s bathroom. A study may be putting too fine a point on it. It wasn’t my intention to make any observations. In fact, I was doing my damnedest to repress all my sensory experiences in ‘the ladies.’ However, I found myself hiding in the second floor stalls too often to stay ignorant of certain emerging patterns.

If you don’t understand why hiding in a filthy department store bathroom might constitute a reprieve, I don’t think you’ve ever worked a retail job.  Frankly, it was a welcome break, basically a psychic vacation, to stand in a locked bathroom stall, clutching my skull, trying to breathe…but not too deeply. While stealing these breaks every workday, I scrabbled back into my own consciousness. I tried to gain some perspective on life. The restroom was a more fitting environment for this than I ever suspected.

Every restroom environment has its own culture. The second floor of the old art deco Macy’s building in Ardmore, Pennsylvania skewed towards middle-aged ladies. Rich ladies, save for Macy’s employees, for whom this was their only bathroom too. The sample was more racially diverse than you’d expect in Ardmore. Definite groups of bathroom behaviors emerged among the herd, during the year I hid out in this Macy’s bathroom. A few were common enough to comprise categories of patrons. I will submit a few samples below as a small contribution to the world of bathroom anthropology:

TYPES OF LADIES BATHROOM-GOERS

The Howlers and Whoopers

These ladies barrel into the bathroom, sirens on full blast, “Whoo! Hoo! Whoo! Oooh Hoo!” Installed, they whoop with relief, “pheeeeeeweee! whooooooaaaaaah…!”; and leave (always) with satisfied songs of, “mmmhmmm!…aaah.”

The Prayerful

The base and the divine intersect for these ‘excretrix.’ The Lord is invoked during, before and after the act. Sometimes, full mutterings of prayers will be uttered to ease their offal’s transition between realms.

The Dancers

The women who do a staccato dance on their toes while using the facilities. Some favor the cha cha. Others employ a mysterious morse code. Still others invoke the machine gun, impatiently drilling out their duty.

The Muzak Singers

They get into the soundtrack of their bathroom experience. They sing so earnestly, punctuating their solos with distinctly un-musical sighs.

The Soliliquist

If they think they’re alone, then the soliliquist will continue the conversation they’ve been having in their head all day, now fully or partially out loud. The acoustics amplify these strange poems. “I give up, I just…Lasagna, I could make the lasagna…stupid, stupid, stupid…okay, choose between peplum and polka dots and then go…there’s never any soap in these places, is there? Ha! What a dump…What is this world coming to…” The true bathroom soliliquist is rarer than the cell phone monologists- a demographic so vast and unabashed, and undoubtedly familiar, that I won’t waste any more words on them.

Grab Your Torch and Pitchfork! We’ll All Be Healed!

“We’re here to see the Horsehead, Horsehead, Horsehead

We’re here to see the Horsehead like be-fore!”

A  hungover musician optimistically called ‘The Band’, also called ‘Joe’, is leading us through the opening number. He grabs the mic and mumbles a verse. Joe is wearing tight black jeans, a pinching suitjacket and a messy tie. He pushes his sunglasses up and gestures to the audience. The group of strangers follows his lead. We mumble and shift nervously on the edge of our  Yard Theatre seats.

David and I are sitting in the center of the front row. Chanting. We’re getting into it. So is the rest of the crowd. The murmur builds into a low roar.

“We’re here to see the Horsehead, Horsehead, Horsehead/

We’re here to see the Horsehead, like be-fore!”

Neither David nor I  have any idea who The Horsehead is, or what he’s done. No one knows. But we are all in this together.

The Leader of the Community is chiming in with approval. This man in a tux wears wild eyes. He’s got the build and poise of a young Orson Welles. He speaks with rich, desperate authority. He is the one who organized this “Reconstruction” of the terrible crimes committed by the Horsehead. We, the audience, are his captive community. The Leader has lost a loved one to the murderer. He tells us that we, the audience, also know victims of the Horsehead’s crimes. The Leader of the Community hopes we will all learn something from this reconstruction. Everything is broken after the tragedy, but this performance will make it all whole!

The Band and The Projectionist are in The Community Leader’s employ.  An old-school overhead projector beams the lyrics to the ‘Song to Summon the Horsehead’ against the white wall of the theatre. The Projectionist handles the song lyric transparencies during the show. The Projectionist, a weedy, sullen character in a navy blue sweater, is also the puppeteer. He shines hand-drawn scenes and characters against the walls during the reconstruction. He moves them with Q-tips and gives them silly voices.

“Louder!” commands the Leader of the Community.

“We’re here to see the Horsehead, Horsehead, Horsehead-“

Yes, every soul who tromped through the icy drizzle to this post-industrial corner of London repossessed by art, every single soul, is implicated. Everyone who bought a seat to the first show of The Yard’s N.O.W. ’14 series this Tuesday night in February becomes a witness. The audience is a crucial part of Horsehead: A dark, rollicking satire; a weird, compelling ritual;  one of the most cohesive, inventive and fun pieces of theatre I’ve seen in a long time.

When the horse-headed boy whinnies and charges into the theatre, the Leader of the Community traps him in a ‘municipal chalk circle.’ From his cage, the parameters of which are literally chalk lines drawn on the floor, the Horseheaded Boy (Steven) is forced to re-enact the atrocities he committed.

What atrocities? Tramplings. Steven used his booted human feet in equine fury.

The motive? Sexual shame, social isolation and, well…horse brains.

We, the audience, chant! We pray! We sing hymns! We boo! …Some of us.

David was easily the loudest and quickest to break into the catchiest ditty, “We burn monsters/OH/We burn monsters!”

The man is always up for an adventure; he’s a dream audience member. Yet, his face crumples into a compassionate grimace when asked to boo the Horsehead boy.

The Leader: “Shall we boo him, ladies and gentlemen? BOOOOOOO! BOOOOOOO!”

David leans over,”I…I don’t want to boo him! This feels so wrong!”

“BOOOOO! BOOOOOOOOO!”

“I kno-ow!” I whisper back, “The liberal arts have ruined us!”

“I SAID SHALL WE BOO HIM, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN?”

Despite the chants, and the strange, enticing sense of community, there is no sense of victory at the play’s end.

The Leader of the Community cradle’s Steven’s severed horse head in his arms with a glazed look of shock in his eyes. The Leader’s voice no longer booms. He is unsure. His last command, for the audience to sing a hymn and take a ‘victory lap’ around the space, is issued in a daze.

It seemed to me that The Leader of the Community felt lost without the firm roles of the reconstruction. Perhaps, he had been doing the reconstruction over and over again- only this show was the show when he lost control and killed the captive Horsehead.

Now it was all over.

What had been put back together?

The audience’s ‘victory lap’ around The Leader of the Community and the horse head was funereal, and equally unsure. What did we just do? What was that all about? David and I weren’t certain, but the spell cast by the Horsehead has lasted weeks after we saw the show.

Over beer at The Yard bar, David said he saw a satire of “provincial English council meetings” in the show: the shabbiness, the shaming, the forming of mobs and designating of scapegoats. He talked about how becoming part of the mob was irresistable as well as uncomfortable. We discussed Frankenstein, fear of monsters, and the desire to create a sensible narrative, that is self-justifying and self-preserving in the wake of tragedy.

For me, the play also evoked the ritual played out after every atrocity committed by a ‘monster.’ The Theatre of Atrocity Coverage. I thought of the Boston Marathon bombers. I thought about the DC Metro area snipers. The school shooters. The outraged, wounded community, in addition to due process, demands a reconstruction. What exactly happened? Scenes are played out again and again in the media and over dinner conversation.

Who was he? There is always a sense that if the life and motives of the monster can only be explored and understood, answers will emerge. The victims will discover a crucial separation between their own humanity and the monster. So often, both the pitiable humanity and the inhumane monstrosity of the perpetrator emerges, muddying as well as clarifying the portrait of a killer.

Justice will be served!…What kind of justice? And will it be cathartic? Is there any release, any satisfaction?

Horsehead brilliantly explored all the elements of the reconstruction in the wake of tragedy- the pain and righteousness behind it;  all the complicated, perverse, problematic relishing that can come with it; the ambivilance, relief, or lack of relief…It is about that staged transformation between something broken and the inevitable way life continues. Does the transformation always occur? If we perform the ritual and it doesn’t, what does that mean?

The show was a rough-hewn, well thought out crucible for both incorporating and alienating the audience as a community. The audience members were both participants and observers in a mob, placing the consequences of the play solely in their own hearts and minds. I’m sure that the crowd reaction and feeling varied with each show.

It was fucked up. It was funny. It was sad. I was never sure what was going to happen next. To me, those are the marks of a good show.

Most importantly, Horsehead is a piece of theatre that has haunted me.

I think about it often. Walking around London, the catchy tunes sometimes float, unbidden, into my brain and match the beat of my boots on cobbles. I hear my own voice in the chorus echo at the strangest moments: When I read the news headlines; when the pub conversation turns to politics; just as I sit down in a completely different theatre to watch a completely different play…

“We’re here to see the Horsehead/Horsehead/Horsehead/

We’re here to see the Horsehead, like be-fore!”

Retail Chronicles: Potty Talk, The Prologue

Not long ago, the famous columnist and sedimentary scholar, Gene Weingarten, wrote a column for The Washington Post magazine reviewing a product for sufferers of Poop Shame. I don’t recommend that everyone read it aloud at the breakfast table, but when I did, it inspired an engrossing release of opinions and anecdotes. I myself was viscerally reminded of the robust lack of poop shame I witnessed when I used to hide in a women’s bathroom at an old hellish job. I’ll return to that, and my unintentional bathroom study, in another post.

First, for those not familiar with the concept of Poop Shame, I’ll give you a classic example:

I am waiting for one of three stalls to free up at a Barnes and Noble bookstore in Frederick, Maryland. The line is long. All stalls are occupied. There is no chit-chat amongst the waiting women. The tension suddenly amplifies when fortissimo anal trumpeting and toilet bowl splashes echo off the tile.

A little girl at the front of the line screams,”LaTanya, you NASTY!”

Her sister emerges from the middle stall and says, “Shut up! Wasn’t me!”

Another brassy burst sounds, acquitting LaTanya.

Giggling, her little sister uses the middle stall.

Now, I’m the last in line. There are a dozen women before me. However, the two ladies occupying the two other stalls refuse to emerge, knowing that they’re are nailed as Poop Trumpeter suspects. It had to be one of them, right? And neither of them can bear the thought of leaving the stall to face a crowd of women who heard them poop! Worse, one of them was not the Poop Trumpeter, and she can’t stand the thought that people might think she was the one!

It’s not like someone farted at the Macy’s perfume counter. The Poop Trumpeter is doing exactly what is acceptable to do, exactly where it is acceptable to do it. Poopin’ in a toilet in a private cubicle. Yet, even though the ladies room line is long– even though it takes forever and a half for the line diminish—even though all the fussing, twitching women, their eyes tearing up, have to cycle through one bathroom stall to relieve themselves–the embarrassed stall-sitters settle in for a stake out.

I know this is exactly what is going on. I am positive, because, as I said, I am the last in line. No one else enters the bathroom. So when my turn to use the stall comes, the bathroom is quiet. No more shoes or shoe-wearers waiting against the wall are visible from the view under the stall doors.

This is when one possible Poop Trumpeter flushes. She seizes the moment, that critical moment when the last person in the a long line of witnesses, me, is safely ensconced where I can’t see her. She washes up and scurries out at top speed. The second occupier waits cautiously. She must’ve been the real Poop Trumpeter, because she didn’t leave, conscience-free with her fellow suspect. No, if she was innocent she’d have had the satisfaction of shooting knowing disdain at the culprit. Instead, the Poop Trumpeter makes sure I’m not flushin’ anytime soon, then she makes her getaway.

That, readers, is a brief and clear illustration of the Poop Shame phenomenon. For additional stories, I can only refer to Mr. Weingarten’s piece. For the sake of full disclosure, I will confess that I am both a defecator and a urinator. Poopery. Pissery. These acts are committed daily, hourly, every second…And I suspect all of you are guilty, guilty, guilty!

Rules for Recreation

From time to time, I like to address my fellow foreign travelers. Yes, I am only too happy to share the little bites of knowledge I’ve received during my rambles! Really, it’s no trouble at all.  My experience may be small, even limited, but rest assured, that won’t stop me from discoursing at length.

I grew up in a sub-rural place, so I’m intoxicated by city life. Still, there comes the moment when the hubbub bubble bursts, and then I love nothing more than being able to retreat to one of the city green spaces.  Yet, in a foreign country, one can’t just expect to go to a park and do everything you’d do in a park back home. The parks are different. The rules are different. (Just because a sign is in English doesn’t mean it says what you think it does.)

So come with me to the English borough where I perch these days. I’ll be your garden guide.

The green spaces in the shadow of the Tower of London are sown in between repurposed warehouses, housing developments and abandoned commercial docks. Tower Hamlets boasts over 120 parks! It’s true! And hey, you may get to visit them all in one post…Because you’re not allowed to hang around in any of ’em for too long…

Let’s start with The Wapping Rose Gardens!

In February, there’s no evidence of roses. I don’t spy any wintering bushes through the wrought iron gates. Damn, must’ve gotten here too late. If you clutch the bars with chapped hands and hang your head, as I do, you will spy the little placard near the bottom of the gate that explains, This is a locked park. Note: When city parks close, they close with lock and key.

However, there are two clearly visible signs at either entrance to the Wapping Rose Gardens. Even when the park is shut, you can read about what is expected during your next visit.

The sign reads: Wapping Rose Gardens, We Hope You Enjoy Your Visit. These lines are followed by two simple images: One of a person applying  plastic bag behind a jaunty-eared dog. The second features our cartoon protagonist tossing squiggly detritus into an industrial trash can. Below these pictures is the command: NO CONGREGATING.

Here is our first rule! These muddy, knobbled few meters of earth are not for congregation. In fact, the sign clearly outlines what you are supposed to do in this park. Enter. Expel and fling as you animals are wont. Clean it up. Exit. No congregating. Wapping Rose Gardens makes this course of action all the more appealing, because the thin trees will give no shade, the featured barren earth is only appropriate for squatting over, and a freshly rain-washed stone path guides you pointedly from gate to gate.

As you attend briskly to your park-going duties, you may glimpse some of the park wildlife out of the corner of your eye! (Note: Prolonged attention to the wildlife may cause a temporary environmentalist congregation, which I must discourage for legal reasons.) Pigeons linger, hoping the trash bins will overflow. Unimpressed sea birds spin overhead then head back towards the Thames.

When you leave Wapping Rose Gardens, just in case you did not notice the approximately six foot tall sign I described before, a placard on the gate refreshes your memory about the rules. This time, our cartoon dog friend is unattended. He’s gone rogue. He defiantly leaves a distinct symbol: a curly cone of crap. A big circle with a slash through it surrounds the crime scene. Block letters admonish: CLEAN UP! In lowercase it educates: Dog (Fouling of the Land) Act, 1996. Do not forget that there is a legal dimension to your park visit. Foul the land no further. Please.

Now you have an idea of what an in-depth visit to one of the local parks may entail. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to spend that much time with you in each park, and frankly, it’d be discouraged. We were pushing the limits by convening so long outside the Rose Gardens gates. If you brought a friend we’d be teetering dangerously on the brink of a gathering. However, I have compiled a quick guide to other notable Tower Hamlets parks. Please refer to it and prepare accordingly for each visit.

Park: Fugue Street Gardens

Rules: No Loitering. Be Mindful of Noise, Residential Area. 

Features: Muddy 8’x10′ of crabgrass, wrought iron fencing, one mature oak

Park: Sniffing Corner

Rules: No Foreplay. Move Along.

Features: A healthy clump of weeds, damp-crotched linden grove, clotted trash collection along eastern chainlink

Park: Heckles-in-Snakes

Rules: No Littering. No Self-Aggrandisement.

Features: No gates. No fences. Four signs.Three mature trees and six dirt beds. Mysterious hissing at night time.

Park: Saint Tromple

Rules: No Tittering. No Cribbing the Toad

Features: Concrete walkway around circular pond. Lush pond greenery. One angry duck. Amphibious mutterings.

Park: Priest’s Finger

Rules: No Snookering. No Dickering.

Features: Triangular wedge between St. Jonathan of Cats [Church of England] and the Laundrymat. Plushy grass.

Park: Whiffling Twidge

Rules: No Plotting. No Dissembling. No Leaning on the Tulips.

Features: Dormant tulip garden. Statue of Whiffling Twidge.

Oval patch of turf, sporting tiny punctures in the dirt every 1/2″. Humming shrubbery.

 

I offer only a brief sample of the panoply of parks in Tower Hamlets. Still I hope it is informative. Fellow park-going foreigners, please congregate in the comments section.

A Trip to the Health Food Store

I am browsing bags of dried beans , when a man stumbles into the doorway of a East London health food store clutching his crotch.

The door is wide open to the spitting English wind.

Moments earlier, I had tromped across the threshold into the narrow, cluttered shop, in search of cheap bulk goods. The only people in the place were the old man and I. We exchanged a tacit greeting. I turned my nose to the shelves, he turned his to an invoice, and we sniffled companionably about our business.

“You know if cherry juice is good for…for…this?!” The man claps a hand to his corduroys with dire implication.

The owner pushes his spectacles up his nose and answers, “Yeh, cherry juice, cherry juice is good fer it but only a particular kind of cherry juice-”

I assume the old man behind the counter owns the shop. White hair is spackled to his pink scalp. He wears the classic Old English Man getup of pilled-wool sweater, yellowed collar, and self-contained irritation. The attention he gives his tea mug and his invoice is equal. I deduce that the hand-labeled bags of rice, quinoa, and wheat germ are the work of his green pen.

“For-for what I got?” The man props himself in the doorframe with his free hand.

The owner sighs, “I sed, only a particular kind of cherry juice-”

“Do you have it?”

“No, not that kind,” the owner explains patiently from behind the counter, “But I can order-”

The man moans, “Is killin me! They say it’s gout but- auhh!- right where me leg meets me, me crotch!”

“Gout,” The owner considers.

The man is whining, “D’you think me hip is gone, tote-ally gone? Is there somethin-”

“D’you drink the carbona’ed beverages?”

“It’s gout they say-”

“Hey- I listen ta you,” The owner presses his hands to his chest, “You listen ta me-” he stretches his hands towards the dude with the afflicted crotch.

“I know you listen ta me, I know, it’s why I come to-” The man blathers.

“I listen to you, you listen to me,” the owner wets his lips, “Listen: Do you drink the carbona’ed beverages?”

“Yeh, yeh, coke, pepsi.”

“Stay. Away. From the carbona’ed beverages. Don’t drink ’em. Coke, pepsi, ginger beer, fizzy water- none of ’em.

The man dips his head shamefully,”I’m gonna fill my fridge right. Throw way all the ol’, fill it up right wif healthy thing-”

“No, no, now, yer not listening. I didn’t say throw all out, get all new, hey-I listen to you, you listen to me. I said, do not drink carbonated beverages. You know why?”

The man sniffles,”Why?”

“The carbona’ed beverages steal the calcium outta your bones. Right from  your bones. The carbonation will steal the calcium right outta yer thumbs.”

“I’m gonna change my food and all-”

I listen to you. You listen to me.”

“No more carbona’ed beverages,” the man concedes.

The owner goes on, “You know what else you gotta do?”

“Wha?”

“Deadly deadly nightshade,” the owner intones solemnly. He raises a finger, “The nightshade family is deadly to ya.”

“Nightshade?”

“All the vegetables in the nightshade family. Avoid ’em. No tomatoes. No aubergines. No potatoes-”

If possible, the man looks more stricken. He staggers back a step, “No potatoes?!”

“No. Potatoes. None,” The owner expounds, “The nightshades, they’re not the cause of the gout, but they’re makin it worse. You hear me now. Don’t eat the nightshade family. It’s deadly to ya.”

“Righ’, righ’, all righ’,” The man shifts and plucks, “Gon’ fill my fridge up wif all new stuff, get healthy-”

“Now I didn’t say that. I said no nightshade. Deadly, deadly. And stay away from the carbona’ed beverages!”

The man shambles off of the doorframe, “Righ’, righ’, thanks a, thanks a, you listen to me, I dunno what the doctors are doing for me and-”

The owner’s voice warms one degree Celcius as he repeats again, “You listen to me, I listen to you. All right, now.”

“Bye-”

“Bye.”

The man limps back into the rainy street. The owner of the health food shop turns smoothly back to his binder full of papers. I pick my way carefully through the maze of a half-unpacked arborrio rice shipment on the floor. I quietly collect groceries until I am too tempted, and I toss a question towards the counter:

“Do you have any nutritional yeast?”

“Nutritional yeast,” The owner repeats.

“Yeah, I like to stir fry it with tofu.”

The owner points to its spot on the shelf, and when I present the canister to pay, he shoots a probing look through his glasses.

“Good for you,” He nods, “That kind has added B12.”

I say, “Okay. Cool.”

I wait for him to continue, and he seems on the verge. He is studying me as he types on a manual cash register, noting the distinctive caw of my American accent, the backpack I brought to carry my purchases in, the misshapen purple bowler perched on my head. I don’t have any other questions, and he doesn’t have anything else to say. However, as I thank him and leave, he seems to be taking note. As if preparing to remember me.

I launch out of the door wondering whether the hell carbonation robs the calcium right outta yer thumbs, already looking forward to the next trip to the health food store.