THE CUTTERS LOUNGE

 cutters lounge A

THE CUTTERS LOUNGE

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        Tonight is Swinging Dicks’ Night at The Cutters Lounge cigar bar.  There are to be no women.  So why is The Katman’s daughter serving the ceremonial Clynelish 20-year old Scotch to Michael, Rick, David, and me?

        “My dad is running late.  He said to start with his recommended appetizers.”  She holds out a tray of New Havana cigars.

        Michael turns his head, blows a billow of smoke and converses with it.  “There aren’t supposed to be any … girls tonight.”

        Katie curls her lips at him, “Why?  That never stops you from scratching, farting, and belching.”

        Michael’s head whips back at her and he tries to give her his most foreboding stare of doom.  Katie turns and sways away to the counter out front, scratching her ass at him.

        Rick grins and pleads after her, “Everything out there in the world is for women.”

        I add, calling out lamely, “Civilization is a feminine concept!”

        Rick turns to me in seriousness, “It really is, you know.  Think about it: the highest compliment paid to the most advanced invention is ‘a woman can do it’”.

        Michael says “Yeah?  What about France?”

        “Huh?”

        “They were supposed to be the highest civilization once, and they wore powdered wigs and silk stockings!”  Michael leans back in triumph.

        Katie calls from the front counter, “Yeah, yeah.  Without women men would just fish and drink beer.”

        “And smoke cigars!” says Rick.

        “How can she hear us?” I ask incredulously.

        “She’s young,” says David, laughing at me.

        Michael persists, saying loudly, “All real men used to hunt, …seek, …endure…

        Rick interrupts him at his own peril, “Men hunt, women nest”, quoting from the old Seinfeld show.

        “…and all real women, yes, tended the campfire and the children,” Michael finishes, glaring at Rick.

        Katie shoots back, unseen from the front counter, “And women made damn sure the Men stayed away from the children.  They’ll fuck anything.”

        David bursts out with mock indignation, “How dare you insult my better half?”  He grabs my hand.

        I say wryly, “Not tonight, dear, I’m constipated.”

        “Maybe I can help?” he whispers.

        Michael makes a retching sound.  Rick chimes in, “A little too civilized, gentlemen.”

        The Katman enters.  We stand.

        I bow.  Rick curtsies.  Michael salutes smartly.  David flings his right arm out with a “Heil, mein Meister”.

        The Katman seats himself upon the massage recliner Throne and proceeds to hold court, allowing the obvious question from David, “How did the meeting go?”

        The Katman lowers his eyes and warms the foot of his cigar, revealing, “This is a Fausto.”

        I ask humbly, “Is it as good as the Avion?”

        “Better,” says The Katman as he savors the ignition.  “You’ll all try one.”

        “What about the meeting?” insists David irreverently.

        The Katman states matter-of-factly, “It’s going to be a fight.  The government is hell-bent on regulating cigar blends.”

        “Why?” asks Rick rhetorically, “This isn’t cigarettes.  This is wine tasting.”

        Michael says, “It’s what bureaucrats do.  The government can only grow.”

        “Until the revolution!” I conclude, trying to be weighty.

        David shakes his head, “The German government strictly regulates beer.  They sure haven’t ruined that.”

        “A Cigar Czar?” Rick contemplates out loud, “Quality control for blending?  Now that’s a government job I’d like to have!”

        The Katman watches and listens as his court debates, his eyes pulsing red with the glow of the Fausto cigar tip.

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POLARITY

polarity

POLARITY

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        Do you remember the question you asked me when I first asked you for a job as a Pole Dancer at this club: Why do women have so much power when they are young?

        Well, then you surely remember your answer: Because they have so little when they are old.

        You still think like that?  At the Vancouver Peace Summit 2009, the Dalai Lama said, “The world will be saved by the western woman.”  And look at this:

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        Weakness, frailty and demure reticence are no longer sexy. What’s sexy now are flexibility and power. Innate power. The pole is a metaphor for self-sufficiency. What do we do on the pole after all, but support our own body weight, support ourselves while we flow and soar in organic, sensual feminine movement?

        The pole is a masculine, okay I’ll say it, phallic symbol. It is sturdy and solid, and well, rigid. The pole dancer uses feminine energy to move around the pole. Leaning on the rigidity of the pole makes all those cool circular, spinning tricks possible.

–        T. S. Valenzuela | Editor In Chief, VERTICAL

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        So why are you making me retire?  Is it my age?  My followers cannot tell how old I am… unless they try to estimate from my 2012 Miss World Online Pole Dance Championship.  Do you think I’m “too old to pole”?  Black women age beautifully!  And I’m still the best at Presentation, Performance, and Tricks.

        Say huh?

        You want me to coach the Pole Dance Olympic Team?  Shee-it.  Is that another one of your fucking lousy jokes?  Cause you aren’t funny.

        Say huh?

        And how much would that pay?

        I make twice that.

        Yes, yes I do.  I’m Magdelisha!  Magdelisha has some very important gentlemen followers and you know it.

        And how much is this club… are you going to make off of me coaching an Olympic Team?  Of course, so that’s why you are making me “retire”.  I’ll go to another club, you motherfucker.”

        Yes I will.

        I will not “shut the fuck up”.

        I swear I will walk out of here.

        You motherfucker.  Bitch, you wouldn’t.  If you tell them what I really am… if you say you fired me for that they will kill me.  If they kill me you lose too, Bitch.

        Don’t act like you don’t care.  I’ll tell them about both of us first!

        OK, OK.  Yes.  I agree, I agree.  Gawd A’mighty, what is wrong with us?  We don’t need to persecute ourselves.

        I have a Pole Dance routine I call Two Spirits that protests the notion of only men and women.

        Yes.  I liked that slogan at the conference in Winnipeg, too: “All Drums Welcome”.

        You are the one who told me about the Hindu Hijra, neither men nor women, you know, and how the almighty god Krishna became a woman himself to marry that warrior, you know, who wanted a wife before he sacrificed himself to the gods.

        Yes.  Yes.  I remember.  Anne Fausto-Sterling did say it best in The Five Sexes.

        I’m sorry, too.

        Hug?

        Yes I do think it is funny.  Shee-it.  Look at the two of us.  Around and around we go.

        Whatever we are, I love you, too.

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APPOGGIATURA

appoggiatura

APPOGGIATURA

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        My first piano teacher, Mr. Nohl, still plays a recital at the County Fair on his tours.  This year it really sucks.  He’s playing Beethoven’s Für Elise (For Elise).  It is like slop to the hogs and this crowd is eating it up.  I can’t think of a more brain-molding bunt than that piece.

        Mama used to play it all the time when I was a child; her swaying like she was snake-fascinated.  Mr. Nohl would tell me when I started piano lessons, “In measure seven on the G clef the second note to be played is supposed to be a D, not an E as it is in most sheet music.  No one really knows the real manuscript of Für Elise since all we have are questionable transcriptions and some sketches by Beethoven himself but Beethoven’s sketch has a D there.”

        Like it should matter to me.  Please.  I can’t wait to leave this town.  Even if I do get favors because I play piano.  How far can even the biggest favor in this town take me?  I just can’t wait and Mama knows it.

        And thank God this recital is over.  So there it is: I did what Mama asked and I saw Mr. Nohl play.  I need a cigarette.  Now if I can just sneak out of here without having to talk to Mr. Nohl.  Well, I’ve made it out onto the road without him noticing me.  Nice night.  Time for that cigarette.  Oh, Mercy Christmas, someone is calling my name.

        “Elise?  Elise is that you?”

        It is Mr. Nohl.  I turn and hold my cigarette between us.

        He is grinning as he trots closer, saying, “How have y’all been, Elise?  How is your mama?”

        I reply, “Mama is just fine.”

        He asks, “Still playing piano?”

        I reply minimally, “Mama and me both still play.”

        He says, “Yeah, yeah.  I have heard.  Well that is just fine, really fine.  I’ll bet you are really quite the fine pianist by now.”

        He hesitates, like he is waiting for me to say something.  Oh, fine, I can say, “It was a real nice recital back there.”

        He closes his eyes and lowers his head, like I am blessing him, and he says, “I am glad you liked it, Elise, really glad.  I always dedicate Für Elise to you and your mama.”

        Oh, great.  I take a drag on my cigarette and blow smoke as I say, “Yup.  That piece is special, especially to Mama.”  I don’t say Way too special to Mama.  I know Mr. Nohl had something with Mama a long time ago.  What does he want with me?

        Mr. Nohl says softly, “I am sorry to hear about your mama, Elise, but I heard she is doing fine?”

        I blow more smoke and he fades to me for a moment, “Mama can’t work anymore.  But thanks to you I can jam at Sticky Finger’s Pourhouse whenever I want and I earn money.”

        Mr. Nohl looks like I hit him, “But, isn’t that place… Aren’t you only… How can…”

        I say real cool, “Nobody cares.  They know me there as ‘Babette’.  I can play jazz and blues and some classical arrangements, to ‘classical-up the place’ like Wanda tells me; Wanda is the owner.”

        Mr. Nohl is struggling for something as he asks, “Elise, can we talk?  Let’s go get some lemonade.”

        My very own little devil, I call her “Babette”, has an idea and I say, “Sure.  But under one condition.”

        Mr. Nohl would say yes to anything and he prods with a nod.

        I say, “We can have some lemonade at my house.  Mama is up and I’m sure she would like to see you, Mr. Nohl, for old time’s sake?”  I laugh, “Für Elise?”

        Then Mr. Nohl surprises me (and Babette) when he says, “Elise, praise God, that’s what I wanted to ask you.  I would like nothing better.”

        Babette didn’t see that coming.  So we walk on down the road in the moonlight.  Disoriented now, I offer Mr. Nohl a cigarette and he refuses but he doesn’t admonish me.

        Mr. Nohl finally says to me quietly, “You are turning into a fine little lady, Elise, and I mean that.”

        Babette gets nervous, and I say, “Thanks, Mr. Nohl.  I had to grow up kind of fast.  Wanda had to show me some dirty fighting.  Not everyone at Sticky Finger’s is a ‘music lover’.  Wanda has been like my big sister.”

        Mr. Nohl says, “Then I like Wanda already.  You were always precocious, Elise.  Do you remember starting to play piano at four years old?”

        I sigh, “Mama never lets me forget.  She still tells me she named me after that most famous piece of music (Babette won’t let me say Für Elise) that no one is really sure who wrote the version we all know.  How flattering.”

        Mr. Nohl suddenly starts monologuing, “If my life was sheet music it would look like one long chromatic arpeggio.  A solo on one string in thin air,” he gestures, “Even a dirt road is headed somewhere.  I’ve been thinking that I need to root or I’ll just disappear and no one will know or care,” he pauses a long time, “I never stopped thinking about your mama and you.  I want to make things right with your mama and you.  Elise, do you know what I am saying?”

        Babette, where are you?  I say, “What do you mean ‘make things right’?” and I am angry.  Babette isn’t talking.

        Mr. Nohl stares up at the stars, “I mean I want to take care of your mama the way she deserves, the way she needed me to, and especially now…” he stops and faces me.

        Babette!  I feel abandoned, frightened, saying, “What does that mean?  We’re doing just fine.  Mama and me are just fine ourselves.  Without you.  I always knew you made Mama sad!  Who needs you?”  I raise my fist in defiance.

        Then I swear that I could feel Babette push me into Mr. Nohl’s arms and I start to cry as Babette makes way for Mr. Nohl’s daughter, Elise.

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THE LAST SONGBIRD

the last songbird

THE LAST SONGBIRD

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          Bless you for stopping to give me a ride.  It will only be a few miles.  I am Akasha Tubourn, a doctoral student in the university Department of Environmental Conservation.

          Please, I must tell you an amazing story about a songbird.  Yes, a songbird.  I will tell you why I am agitated, if you will just listen.  I call her Shaherazad.  What?  What was her real name?  Why do you ask… yes, yes, you are joking with me?  But I tell you I just knew that was how her spirit was called.  Listen to me.

          I have been working for years documenting the land management needs of nearby woodlands, especially an area I discovered that was amazingly rich in songbird activity.  I was an intern for the Fairbanks Development Company while working on my thesis but I swear I thought that I could do good things protecting the woodlands from within such a caring company.  They asked for me after all.  But it was the belly of an insatiable leviathan I am ashamed to say now.  I was (how do you say it?) I was just a red herring.

          Yes, yes, I am the “ungrateful agitator” you have seen on television.  They say I blow whistles.  I do not understand that insult.  Is that like a “blow job”?  Never mind.  But you do understand then that Fairbanks wants to develop those woodlands completely.  They think that a golf-course will replace the meadow and shrub lands.  I organized a rebellion (no, what is the proper word?), a moral defense by students and environmentalists to halt the slaughter, yes, slaughter.  Slaughter of Shaherazad’s queendom.

          Shaherazad had not yet come to me when I organized the resistance to the development.  We were joined by dozens of faithful who constructed a perimeter, a necessary evil against the bulldozers, and we were trying not to damage the woods by our very numbers.  The college was threatening to expel me; Fairbanks had lodged formal protest with the Dean.  After all, I am just a foreign student!  The media made me appear like I ate locusts and honey and like I was against employment, your new graven image believe me.  I was losing faith.  I became fearful as one does without faith.

          Only the bad publicity for Fairbanks from sympathetic reporters really kept the machines at bay, not any symbolic barricade.  But the public sympathy was shadowed by the vultures of unemployment that circle over you.  Yes, good joke, my friend: songbirds and vultures.

          Then she came to me one evening as I prayed on the barricade.  I heard her beautiful song, sweet and delicate but with the haunting sadness of a dove’s coo.  I turned.  I just knew it was a female.  She resembled a golden male Warbler, with amber streaks and swirls, but she was not.  It struck me how colorfully marked she was for a female songbird.  She turned her head.  That is when the name Shaherazad occurred to me!

          For some reason I just held out my hand.  She fluttered to my fingers and held on, fearless.  I cannot tell you how astonished I was at this.  I felt like I was dreaming but I had no reason to awaken.  I was compelled to raise her close to my face.  Her eyes were like two fiery emerald tear-drops.  It was as if she controlled my hand and I brought her to my lips.  I swear to you, she gently stitched my lips with pecks that I felt were kisses.

          Yes, go ahead, look at me that way.  But why would I sacrifice myself to such a lie?  Can you understand me, before God, I felt… Love.  Love commanding me from that tiny, gentle creature.  How can we kill anything that sings?  Would that not be even a savage’s first act of grace?

          I am sorry, I am agitated.  You have not heard yet what happened.

          Some drunken men who had been out of work for several years got together and they went and set fire to those woods.  They are blaming us.  They set fires in so many places.  The firemen said they could only contain the perimeter as it burned.  How convenient, yes?  Our barricade of rebellion kept the fire inside.  I cannot believe them.  Fairbanks must have controlled them all.  Yes, I believe that.  They are a big, fucking, employer aren’t they?  Now they want to arrest me!

          Of course I am crying, my whole world is burning.  Wait!  This is it.  Yes, the Fairbanks Development Company.  Stop and let me out here.  You have been very kind and patient with me, bless you.  You will be in no trouble.

          I mean that I tell no one you helped me.  Forgive my laugh.  Yes, that was funny for me to say.

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In a horrifying act of environmental terrorism, the Fairbanks Development Company was severely damaged when a young woman walked into the main lobby and detonated a home-made bomb that she was wearing.  Apparently, the bomb had been packed with feathers as a symbol of environmental issues.

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SPESHUL OLYMPICS

speshul olympics

SPESHUL OLYMPICS

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        Josef strode behind Rosemary (Roz) and spread his arms saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.  You know I love you, but Life is not the Special Olympics, Roz.  Not everyone is a winner.  The intellectually challenged don’t always get that kind of support.”

        Roz stopped and replied with steel, “The Special Olympics proves how we could be.  But when I finally leave you, maybe you should start the Special Dating Olympics for the relationship challenged?”

        Josef blew a puff of exasperation and lowered his arms around Roz’s waist and sighed, “I just don’t want your …our son to become a performing monkey.”

        Without turning around Roz laid her hands upon Josef’s clasped hands, saying softly, “I know.”

        Josef owned a small lumber business.  Roz had come to him asking for a job.  Josef could not afford another full-time employee even though he really had needed a receptionist secretary and even as Roz was pleading herself, Josef remembered his scripture: Do you know what the costs of a new hire are?  Forty percent on top of their wages with federal and state taxes, health insurance, workman’s compensation, paid time off...

        But Roz was sweet and radiant and pregnant and alone.  Josef was sour and cloudy and insignificant and alone.  Josef felt gracious looking at Roz.  He thought to himself I have paid more for less value…

        Josef hired Roz.  Josef still had the big home in San Clemente up on the hill overlooking the ocean, even if he could no longer afford it.  A bitter divorce had been no reason to leave.  There was a guest house and a pool and a big lawn and garden.  Josef offered to let Roz stay in the guest house, saying, “You don’t have to pay me rent… until you are able… under the circumstances… no strangers… no noise… we can ride in to work together…”

        Josef had hired Roz giving her immediate full benefits from Stellar Cross Health Insurance, knowing her child would come soon.  The child came a boy, Joshua, who was born deformed, shaped like a barrel and with oversized feet and hands that fidgeted constantly.  “Dysmorphic,” the doctor had explained benignly, “but physically healthy … very strong…”

        Roz prompted the inevitable, nodding and asking, “And?”

        The doctor said quickly, “There can be… in these cases… intellectual disabilities.”

        Roz heard herself ask, “He’s retarded?”

        The doctor gratefully parsed Political Correctness, “The American Association for Intellectual and Developmental Disability no longer favors or promotes that expression, as the term “retarded” carries significant social and emotional stigma.”

        Roz was resilient and said, “Now I think you are retarded.” The news was bitter herbs to Josef who had talked Roz into the name Joshua, extolling, “Yehoshu’a, Joshua, ‘God is salvation’, the leader of the Israelites after Mosheh, Moses…”

        Josef took it personally.  It proved again to him that there really was a God… tormenting him, testing him like Iyov, Job, whom Josef considered the most significant man in Judeo-Christian history.

        Joshua, son of Rosmary, as prophesized, was intellectually disabled.  He was marginally socially interactive, yet he responded adequately to Roz and Josef.

        Joshua did however spend a lot of time talking to an imaginary friend.

        Yet Joshua was an astonishing physical genius.  His oversized, fidgety hands and feet had comprehensions of their own.  As a toddler he started one day by shocking Josef and Roz as he climbed up the draperies and happily hung there.  He next climbed up on top of the refrigerator and sat there giggling at his nonplussed mother.

        Then one summer day, watching the Olympics on television with Roz and Josef, the Women’s Artistic Gymnastics came on with the Uneven Bars event.  Joshua ceased his bounding and climbing on the furniture and fell before the wide-screen television as if it were a burning bush and listened and he saw before him entire routines flowing from one movement to the next without pauses, high-flying release moves from low bar to high bar, from high bar to low bar, or releasing one bar and re-grasping the same bar, pirouetting into handstand positions with straight body lines in the vertical position, and release moves twisting and flipping into dismounts in perfect form and stuck landings.

        Joshua then alarmed Roz and Josef by being quiet and calm for the next seven minutes.  He had withdrawn to a mountaintop in his mind.  When Joshua’s spirit reemerged he said, “I want to be like that.”

        Josef answered, “But those are girls…”

        Roz quickly intervened, “So what, Josef?  You can buy some uneven bars, can’t you?”

        Josef quickly amended, “Sure.  I can have some made with scrap lumber…”

        Roz continued with Joshua, “You can be just like that.  I bet you can be even better than that!”

        Unto Roz then was revealed a vision, and Roz said, “Joshua, you can be the hit of the Special Olympics!  You could be on television.  Oh, Josef, television, wouldn’t that be miraculous for Joshua?”

        Josef then started the argument by saying to Roz, “Is that really such a good idea?  I mean, he can have uneven bars to play on, but should we subject him to the kind of pressure you just described?”

        Roz shot coldly, “Are you ashamed of Joshua?  Are you?  You can’t hide him here forever.  No!  Joshua and I can leave anytime!”

        Josef spoke up and instantly regretted saying, “Roz, sometimes you can be intellectually deficient,” as Roz immediately stood erect and proceeded toward the big sliding glass door and the guest house beyond as she had so many times, saying coldly, “Come with me Joshua.  We’re packing.”

        Josef strode behind Roz and spread his arms saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.  You know I love you.  I love you both, but Life is not the Special Olympics, Roz.  Not everyone is a winner.  The intellectually challenged don’t always get that kind of support.”

        Roz stopped and replied with steel, “The Special Olympics proves how we could be.  But when I finally leave you, maybe you should start the Special Dating Olympics for the relationship challenged?”

        Josef blew a puff of exasperation and lowered his arms around Roz’s waist and sighed, “I am sorry.  I just don’t want our …your son to become a performing monkey.”

        Without turning around, Roz laid her hands upon Josef’s clasped hands, saying softly, “I know.”

        Josef had the two uneven bars built of the finest materials.  But it was very soon not enough.  Joshua explored the moves he had seen on television and which he had memorized instantly, and then he created his own moves literally “on the fly”.  Joshua had his own conceptual abilities and he asked Josef to extrapolate a third, a fourth, then a fifth uneven bar all at different heights and angles.  Joshua slung himself up, down, up, down, and orbited around all five uneven bars as if he breathed gravity.

        Even Josef could not deny, saying, “Maybe we should start with the Special Olympics.  Truly this is miraculous.”

        Joshua was so startling via his audition performance video that the Special Olympics Committee created a Men’s Artistic Gymnastics event just for him.  Josef financed the building of Joshua’s latest vision of a towering pyramidal scaffold of uneven bars.  Representatives from the major television networks were alerted.  Scouts from major sponsors took cell phone videos for their incredulous bosses.  Josef saw immediately that if he controlled this circus correctly, Joshua would be their salvation, saying, “Sky’s the limit.”

        Roz jokingly called Josef “Colonel Josef” and Josef jokingly called Joshua “Elvishua”.

        By the time of the Special Olympics Joshua’s tower of uneven bars was 40 feet high.  It was difficult not to make Joshua the poster-child for the Special Olympics that year.  The publicity was unprecedented.

        On the day of the event the crowd was twice as massive as usual.  There were the usual Special Events in Aquatics, Athletics, Basketball, Golf, and Gymnastics, but this time there was Joshua.  No one was more nervous than Josef, who wore a brightly colored jacket with the logo “Team Joshua” emblazoned over the heart and on the back.  Roz was looking around, fulfilled in her own prophesy no matter what happened.  Joshua was unresponsive to the cries of all the strangers in this strange congregation.

        Joshua was absorbed speaking in earnest to his invisible friend.

        When it was Joshua’s time a thousand tongues rolled like drums.  Joshua anointed his palms with powder of chalk.  He flexed and cracked his joints, then he suddenly leapt to the first uneven bar, causing the crowd to gasp.  Flowing from one movement to the next without pauses, conjuring high-flying release moves from low bar to high bar, from high bar to low bar, releasing and re-grasping the same bar, pirouetting into handstand positions, then twisting and flipping, rising higher, higher, higher, faster, faster, faster.  The crowd became frenzied.  They chanted Joshua higher and yet higher.

        With a crescendo like fireworks Joshua reached the highest bar of the pyramid and arrived at a handstand position wavering like a flame and the crowd screamed and jumped up and down and hugged one another.  Roz and Joseph held each other and cried.  Roz let Joseph kiss her deeply.

        Suddenly there were yells from the crowd.  Joshua had started to spin on that ultimate bar again, faster and faster, and suddenly he let go with one final swing, his feet kicking toward the heavens.

        Joshua spun up and away out of sight, up into thinnest blue sky and out of the crowd’s perception.

        The stunned crowd began to stir again, some hollering, “Fake!” some crying, “He will be back!” some saying, “Good show!”

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        As your own invisible friend, I recommend that you get ready for your next event.

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