animal instincts

Now that I live with The Girlfriend, I also live with two cats. Now, I’ve never been a ‘dog person,’ and before you all start typing your angry comments promoting your ‘pro-dog’ agenda, let me be clear. I have seen a dog be cute. A few times. But there are a few reasons I never wanted a dog as a pet:

  • They’re needy.
  • They slobber.
  • Occasionally, they shit on the floor.
  • Seriously, if a woman (or a man) had any of those traits, I wouldn’t want to DATE them, let alone feed them and have to paper-train then.

The only thing better about dogs than cats is that a dog will mind you. A cat will simply remind you how powerless you are…you can tell a cat not to do something, and if they don’t heed you, you can…tell them not to…again.That’s pretty much all ya have in your arsenal.

I have a friend who thinks I should get a fish. Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime. Own a pet fish and…what? See, it’s not even in the saying. The problem I have with fish as pets is, it seems like they can’t hold up their end of the owner (sorry, companion) – pet contract, which states:

1.      I will feed you regularly.

2.      You will love me unconditionally. (I realize this skews a little in my favor, but you signed the fucker.)

How the hell are you supposed to know if a fish loves you? A creepy side-wink when you change the water in his tank? Also, I’ve had a cat before, and I remember it being really cool if I were stressed out, to put the cat on my chest and just be lulled to sleep. You cannot do that with a fish. Well, you can, once. Then you have to get another fish.

I thought, “You know, I’m already pretty eccentric, why not get the weird pet, too.” (Now, if your reading this aloud, you should deliver the next line in the voice of Gabby Hayes.) So I went to the Google to look it up. (Drop Gabby Hayes voice here.) My search string was ‘unusual apartment pets,’ and lemme tell ya, some people are thinking WAY outside the litterbox.

Hermit crab? Nah…hard to pet. Ferret? I’ll pass on anything belonging to the mammalian group Rodentia, thank you very much. A pot-bellied pig! Oh sure, and while I’m at it why don’t I look for one with a limp, so it can look like my freakin’ porcine doppelganger!

I had to laugh when I read about the Madagascar hissing roach. Apparently, this particular roach is a popular pet. I suppose part of the appeal is that if you get bored with your pet roach, you can kill it with impugnity, ‘cuz…it’s a cockroach. I’m just imagining the roaches from my apartment in Chicago running into one of these pampered novelty acts in some dark cupboard—

“We hear you got mad skillz, yo! What do you do? You…hiss? For reals? Ah HELL no! Chicago roaches kick your thorax, beeyatch!”

One interesting pet possibility was the Australian Sugar Glider. Adorable fella, the glider; he’s a marsupial, but not as Hallmark-cutesie as a koala. Then I found out they cost a hundred and seventy-five dollars, and fifty bucks to neuter them, because if I don’t neuter the bastard, you know he’ll be makin’ time with all the other Australian Snow Gliders in the neighborhood! Oh, and there’s this from the same site—“ Sugar Gilders require so much attention that if left alone too much or if they feel neglected, they will stop eating and eventually die.” Great—it’s my college girlfriend with sharper teeth.

I knew a woman who once owned a hedgehog (true statement, but sadly it also sounds like a lost Zeppelin lyric). I found the definitive hedgehogs-as-pets website, and one paragraph struck me—allow me to parse it for you.

To handle a hedgehog (and this is me avoiding the sophomoric double-entendre), place your hand on each side of him and gently cup him in your hand (right, now it reads like gay porn).Use great caution not to place your fingers in the middle (this thing is suddenly not sounding so cuddly, but…okay).They can ball up quickly and your finger can get caught in the middle of a bunch of quills being squeezed together by very strong muscles (WTF!!!). If this happens, you will need to gently uncurl him to ease his anxiety (HIS anxiety? This Satanic mini-Ewok has decided to turn me into a pincushion, and I have to be gentle?).First, turn him over on his back to identify where the nose is located (What kind of carnival freak show am I in?). Gently rock forwards and backwards, and when the nose starts to show the front legs will also emerge. As the legs reach for the ground, gently put the hedgehog down (never to pick it up again).

So, I’m glad we have cats. Although if I were alone, I’d probably just have one, because I’m pretty sure that “multiple cats, lives alone, kind of a drifter, drinks a bit” is the character breakdown for ‘Crazy Cat Guy Serial Killer’ on an episode of Criminal Minds.

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screwing with your head

NASA will be releasing more of what they’re calling ‘cleaned up’ footage of the moon landing, and that’s like Christmas for wackadoo conspiracy buffs (I don’t call them ‘theorists,’ since they’re usually a bit short on that whole evidence thing that makes a theory…a theory). While I do believe we walked on the moon (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘they’) I wouldn’t be surprised to find out NASA did a bit of editing. For instance, they probably chose to remove the following:

  • The moments just after the ‘one small step’ speech, when Neil Armstrong was uncontrollably screaming “ARE YOU SHITTING ME? I’M ON THE FUCKIN’ MOON!!! JUST ME, YOU SONS OF BITCHES—NOT YOU, ME! (I always thought that, if he wanted to, Armstrong could have been an enormous prick when he got back—picture him in some bar, guy next to him is yammering on about some promotion, and Neil stops him, just points at the moon out the window and says “That’s nice—ever been THERE, loser?
  • The audio of Michael Collins saying “Oh, that’s great—big first trip to the moon in human history, and I basically get to drive you guys there. No, that’s cool, you go down there—I just wanted to get close…nah, seriously, get a little golf in—I’ll just circle around till you’re done—I got some Tang, I’m good.”
  • The approximately seven minutes of silence when Armstrong, just to mess with Mission Control, told them he saw something “over there—behind the module—and it’s coming after me!” after which he pretended that communications device was ‘on the fritz.’

I spend a lot of my time thinking of ways to mess with people. I don’t act on them, because I’m enormously lazy, but I do like thinking of them. I’ve always wanted, when a Jehovah’s Witness comes to my apartment (seriously, you think I’ll convert to a religion based on a pamphlet and a conversation held in my doorway? “Yeah, that sounds good—you guys meet on Saturdays, right?”) to actually invite them in…tell them I’ve been waiting for someone I don’t know to randomly visit and talk about their faith with me.

Here’s another pointless way to freak people out—go someplace busy, where people wait on line for a really long time (a bank on Friday afternoon, perhaps), and every time the line starts moving, keep letting people go ahead of you. For like, an hour. Just keep saying, “No, you can go ahead of me.” Heads will explode.

Or, try this—when you’re at home, play some really meditative music—new age, quiet, solo piano, George Winston contemplating the seasons while gazing at his navel barefoot stuff—but play it REALLY LOUD—just because it’ll make the neighbors feel so weird complaining –“Hey man—would you PLEASE turn down that…really pretty and evocative tone poem? Never mind.”

Just some ideas for killing some time. For you guys. It’s not like I’d ever mess with people like that.

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unpacking my life

I like feeling settled. After many years of living on the edge, I love that, when a friend ask me what’s up, I can actually say, ‘Nothing new,’ by which I mean, no new crisis (“Crisis-Free Since 2010!”)

Settled—weird word, since it’s usually a negative (“You settled for this when you could’ve had that?”) Now, I have choice anxiety with everything—an ideal restaurant menu for me would have, like, three or four items, tops, otherwise I spend half an hour just figuring out what appetizer to have (and then, no matter what I choose, I end up envious of what someone else ordered.) So picking a place to live and (gawd no!) settle down, used to make my head explode.

I’ve moved around a lot, sometimes from things, usually away from things, all the while trying to ‘follow my bliss.’ Turns out, apparently, I had my bliss with me all along. Must have been in a suitcase under some sweaters. Understand, Minneapolis had always been my default go-to place when the wheels fell off (I’ve moved here four times), but this time I had a novel idea—maybe I’ll stay.

I got an apartment right the hell where I was, in Minneapolis, and after a few months, I can officially say—I’m happy here. I think it was Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (or illusionist Doug Henning—I get my vaguely hippie seventies fringe celebrities mixed up) from whom I first heard the phrase “Be here now.” I always knew that was a profound way to live, to be in the present, connected to the now. But my problem was, I was always too busy packing for there, then to devote much time to being here, now.

I lived here for several years in the eighties, but since I always felt I would move somewhere else, I never really tried to ‘grok’ the place (which I’d explain, but I’d rather people read a little Heinlein.) I was always just here ‘until I have enough money to move.’ This time feels different–I intend to embrace Minnesota. To that end, here’s a hotdish full of random Minnesota observations—you might enjoy these with some tater tots!

  • Minnesota, of course, gave the world Garrison Keillor and Prince—although I don’t think they ever shared a stage…A Purple Home Companion?
  • Inventors in Minnesota created the aluminum bundt pan and the Tilt-A-Whirl, Scotch tape and Cream of Wheat—four of the pillars of American society…I might be exaggerating, but they’re all pretty cool.
  • The Minneapolis suburb of Maple Grove (“I’ll take Generic Bucolic Place Names for 600, Alex”) has a huge Hindu temple, and Hampton, Minnesota is the site of one of the country’s largest Cambodian Buddhist temples. Factor in the large Somali and Hmong populations in Minneapolis, and I guess it’s not as monochromatic here as I thought. (Although I would have loved to have been at the Maple Grove city council meetings to hear the objections to the Hindu temple—“It’s not the Hindus we don’t like—it’s those damned finger cymbals…”)
  • This state has the only gas station designed by Frank Lloyd Wright—welcome to Cognitive Dissonance, Minnesota!
  • There’s a pizza joint here whose drivers, clad in superhero costumes, drive electic cars from their wind-powered store. Stoners in Minnesota probably think they accidentally called the future.
  • Street views of North Oaks, Minnesota are not included in Google Maps, because the privately owned town successfully sued Google for trespassing. We might want to look there for the next terrorist cell.
  • Minnesota was the first state to declare an official state mushroom. This place definitely knows how to celebrate fungus.
  • Longville, Minnesota is the “Turtle Racing Capital of The World’—every Wednesday, right down Main Street. My guess is, the city fathers realized how slow life was in Longville, and figured by having turtles race, visitors would see the turtles and think the people in Longville were leading fast-pace lives by comparison.
  • This is a weird and wonderful state, politically speaking. Forgetting the wrestler and the comedian, the good citizens here saw fit to elect the first Muslim representative to Congress AND an arch conservative Luddite harpie. I think this fiercely independent streak stems from an attitude, as winter starts to descend in November, of “Well, I’m kinda bored, and we haven’t had one of those before..” And despite the presence of people who would elect Michelle Bachman, overall, our lefty cred is pretty solid—we’re the only state Mondale carried, for chrissake.  I think this is because as provincial and reserved as Minnesotans can be in public, in the anonymity of the voting booth, people here end up deciding government oughta do some stuff.
  • Bob Dylan AND Charles Schulz. “It’s Blowin’ In The Wind, Charlie Brown!?”

The only Minnesota thing I can’t get behind is lutefisk, which is cod soaked in lye. Roll that around in your brain. Cod. Soaked in lye. I picture the early settlers thinking “Ya know, I like fish a lot. Amost too much, don’t ya know. Maybe if I added something to the fish, that’s like, a poison. We’ll put it on some dry crackers and call it traditional!”

Every day I remind myself why I fell in love with this very…yin-yangy place. And if I ever start whining about a lack of ‘edge’ here, remind me of these two stories, which happened within a week of each other:

I’m at my neighborhood coffeehouse, doing the same work I’d be doing at home, but here, people can SEE that I’m a writer (“ooh—he’s smoking and he has a laptop…wonder what he’s working on”). Now the first thing I noticed was the graffiti on the side of the building—who tags a coffeehouse? What kind of props do you earn marking the local java joint…are there gangs claiming this as turf? “Yo yo yo—acoustic open mic is ours, bitch—you better step off!” Then, as I sit writing this very piece, all of sudden two dudes are fighting. Punches thrown, rolling in the shrubbery, iced mocha splatter everywhere—you expect fisticuffs in front of dive bars, but you rarely see a fight in front of someplace with a special on cranberry-walnut muffins.

Speaking of dive bars, at my nearest watering hole, I spent part of one night talking about the Twins game for an hour with a transgender lesbian biker Navy vet. I’m pretty sure Norman Rockwell never painted that.

Everything’s falling into place for me here, with strange and quirky details, like a film that was started by Fellini, but with a final cut by Bergman. And to top it all off, now our baseball team can suck outdoors, like God intended. Don’t tell the student loan people, but I’m gonna be here for quite a while.

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sad news from the world of music

The Recording Academy, which bestows the Grammy Awards, announced late on Wednesday that the polka category would be eliminated, saying in a statement that it had been cut “to ensure the awards process remains representative of the current musical landscape.”–New York Times

Whether you roll out your barrel Cleveland-style or Chicago-style, the world became a sadder place in the last couple years, as word spread that there will be no more Grammys awarded for Best Polka Recording.


distraught Polka-Americans reacting to Grammy snub

This is truly a musical genre which has touched us all. Whether you’ve danced with a drunk aunt at a Wisconsin wedding (like I’m the only one) or simply lounged around your apartment in a new pair of lederhosen (again–just me, I suppose?), you can’t deny the power of the oom-pah-pah. And yet the Recording Academy in its wisdom has decided the polka is no longer relevent. Of course, this is the same Academy that gave the first Heavy Metal award to Jethro Tull, and gave a ‘best new artist’ Grammy to Taste of Honey over Elvis Costello. You’re telling me “Boogie Oogie Oogie” is more relevant than “Beer Barrel Polka?” Please.
In a country which celebrates diversity, this slight is like a slap in the face with a raw bratwurst. No Grammy for polka music? That’s like not having a Nobel Prize for…polka music. And where will this lead, I ask you? Huh? Where, dammit? Ok, you’re not answering, so I’ll tell you. First it’s no polka award, then they stop giving away awards for jazz…then classical…then rock…and pretty soon the Grammy Awards show becomes three and a half hours of the Jonas Brothers.
what do we tell these people?

Jimmy Sturr has received more Grammys–18–than Bruce Springsteen.  That’s eighteen of the twenty-four awards EVER given for Best Polka Album. Yet when asked about his success, he exemplifies the humility, and, indeed the universality of  polka music:

“I’m not going to say I’m the best band in the whole world, but we’re just as good as any.”

True enough, Jimmy. But what of the children, the dozens of fresh-faced kids who begged their daddies for their first used accordions? To what can they aspire? They won’t be able to break Jimmy’s polka Grammy record, because there won’t be any more polka Grammys to receive.


To be sure, polka has its critics. Some have said that exposure to its frenetic rhythms has led to an increase in ADD and ADHD in children. Others claim that polka music leads to alcoholism, while still others believe that alcohol leads to polka music. Despite these concerns, one thing is clear–polka music deserves to be celebrated. I mean come on–they give a Grammy for Spoken Word Recording–try dancing to any one of the winners in that category.


For future generations, June 3rd, 2009 will surely be known as The Day The Accordion Died. When asked about the popularity of polka music as compared to other, more ‘award-worthy’ genres, I think once again Jimmy Sturr said it best:

“Polka isn’t the biggest,” he said, “but it’s not the smallest, either.”

How true, Jimmy. How very true.

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if only obama were really a socialist…

I’m not known for making great choices. When I left high school, with a 4.0 g.p.a. and a combined SAT score of 1450, I entered U.C.L.A. planning to be a doctor. Not, mind you, because of a life-long passion for healing the sick and serving humanity, but because that’s what I thought ‘straight A’ students did—they became doctors (spoiler alert: I didn’t become a doctor).

About the time I started my pre-med training, I discovered theater, and right then I knew I had a choice. I could use my hard-earned scholarship money to get a bachelor’s degree in biology, making my parents proud and justifying an adolescence in which I developed no social skills, go to medical school, and within a few years make hundreds of thousands of dollars providing help to those in need. Or, I could spend the scholarship money on classes like Film Studies 167: The Early Works of Peter Bogdanovich, compete with hundreds of thousands of attractive people who all had connections in order to get into show business, and if I got really lucky, I could one day make enough money to pay rent on a studio apartment.

I’ve consistently made bad choices in my career as a comedian. Although originally from Los Angeles, I spent most of the eighties working at comedy clubs in Minnesota, apparently believing that the entertainment industry would eventually be based there. Every time there was an earthquake in California, I would think “now I’m in the perfect place…the studios will finally move here.” Even after twenty-five years I make poor choices. Comics frequently open for musical acts, and that can lead to bigger venues, celebrity connections and national recognition. Me, I opened for Arsenio Hall. After his show was cancelled.

Last year, I opened for a Blues Brothers cover band. Talk about diluting the gene pool. Process this for a minute. There’s the blues—gritty, real…gut-level artistic integrity. Then there were the Blues Brothers—not actual blues musicians, but an entertaining and affectionate tribute from a couple of famous white guys. And, an act that hasn’t been popular since 1982. But I didn’t open for a blues legend, or even the ‘actual’ Blues Brothers. No, I opened for two unknown white guys in Blues Brothers suits, one of whom couldn’t find his shades, in the town of Nelson, Minnesota, a town which had more pro-life billboards (four) than open businesses (three, all bars).

So looking at the arc of my career, I wasn’t surprised when I received the news today from the Obama administration. Beginning June 1st, the federal government will take over day-to-day operations of My Comedy Career. To prevent My Career from going into bankruptcy, in an agreement I signed yesterday, the government will control seventy-percent of My assets and be responsible for guiding Me through the current economic crisis. I’ve assured my investors that this only a first step toward a new Me, a Me that will be competitive and profitable. The comedy industry has changed, and I need to be willing to change with it. Here is the text of President Obama’s statement:

“It is with great ambivalence that I announce today the government takeover of Michael Dane’s Comedy Career. Understand this—your government does not want to be in the comedy business. But it is vital that Michael Dane succeed, to bring the United States back to a position of prominence in the comedy industry. Too many people depend upon Michael Dane for us to let him fail. The repercussions would extend from comedy club waitresses to Rotary Club event organizers if we do not step in. Now make no mistake—Michael Dane is in some ways responsible. Poor planning, lack of strategy and getting a Capitol One credit card have all contributed to this collapse. But as structured, this Comedy Career was not following a profitable business model, spending too many years trying to sell the American people jokes they simply were not buying. But our economy is interconnected, and we cannot allow Michael Dane’s toxic assets bring down this country’s infrastructure. I’ve instructed the Treasury Department to pay off all of Dane’s past cell phone and cable bills, and I will be proposing a stimulus package of 6.8 hundred dollars to be given to Dane for day-to-day expenses. He will become a publicly traded company, accountable to you the taxpayer as shareholders. In short, our goal is to get Michael Dane back on his feet, take a hands-off approach and get out quickly.”

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making the team

I have never been what you would call an athlete. My high school sports career consisted of one practice with the junior varsity basketball team. It’s not like I didn’t learn the value of teamwork, though. I was a key member of the Quartz Hill High School Math Team—talk about dealing with the pressures of competition, try being the guy on the team everyone turns to when the team has a differential equation to solve! But, I just tried to stay inside myself, bring my ‘A’ game, and give a hundred percent (it was the math team, after all—we knew that you can’t give ‘a hundred and ten percent’).

I was at a lot of games in high school, because I was in the pep band, and I’d like to think I brought quite a lot of pep to my school. The problem was the music. It was the mid-seventies, and band directors across the nation began to toss out John Phillip Sousa in favor of watered-down Sousa-like arrangements of hip tunes the kids might like. Our band actually marched to an arrangement of the theme from ‘Shaft.’ Which would be like your grandpa performing “Me So Horny.”

The last year I was in band, the school began issuing letter jackets. To the band. And the choir. That’s right, you could letter in band. I chose not to get one, realizing I was enough of a target carrying a briefcase and a clarinet. I didn’t need the jocks, who were already inclined to shove me in a locker, to think I was mocking them by wearing a jacket that looked just like theirs, but with an embroidered music lyre on the sleeve.

I love watching sports, but I follow baseball more than the others. The NBA has become a little…thuggish for my tastes. With the chest thumping, tattoos, trash talking and women dancing on the sidelines, I’m never sure if I’m watching a sports event or a rap video. Football’s exciting, but it’s hard for me to root for guys who are just grownup versions of the guys who…shoved me into lockers.

Baseball is my sports passion. My favorite thing about it? It’s the only professional sport that the average guy can watch and say things like “Hell, I could have made that catch.” Now, granted, the average guy probably couldn’t in fact “make that catch,” but we all think we could, because, hey—it’s just catching a ball. No different than having a catch with dad, except that dad wasn’t juiced on ‘roids. As far as I know. Point being, nobody watches a Vikings game and thinks “Damn, I could have tackled that two-hundred fifty pound guy who runs the forty in under five seconds!”

The pro sport I can’t get into is hockey, which is followed with religious fervor here in Minnesota. The high school tournament is actually televised here, which creates scenes of middle-aged men in bars swearing at sixteen year-olds playing a game. Plus, the puck is too small. Make that thing the size of a discus so I can figure out where the hell I should be looking. Also, in the NHL, too many teams make the playoffs. I’m pretty sure if I could get five of my friends together with some sticks in late January, we would be given a playoff berth.

I’ve moved around so much, my team loyalties are literally all over the map. Wherever I am, I follow the home teams, because if they win a championship, I can help overturn cars and set shit on fire downtown, because that’s how we celebrate athletic excellence in this country.

I spent some time in Chicago, and I think my favorite moment as a spectator came at Wrigley Field. Game against the Phillies. I was in the bleachers for batting practice, and a misguided woman was trying to get the attention of one of the Phillies outfielders, screaming that she loved him. Suddenly, with no prompting, HUNDREDS of Cubs fans began chanting “SHUT UP BITCH”, in unison, until she, in fact, shut up. Very fun, in a scary, villagers-with-torches sorta way.

Sometimes, a team’s name is what seals it for me. I’ve been a Vikings fan since I was a kid in Southern California. Sports is combat, and your name is what you carry into battle. Historically, if Vikings defeated you, they pulled your lungs and still-beating heart out of your body, and that’s what I want my team to do. Metaphorically, of course.

The other Minnesota team names are less intimidating. ‘Timberwolves,’ I suppose, are scary enough, but ‘Twins’? “Hey, honey—I think the twins are coming for the weekend, would you make up the guest room?” The U of M Golden Gophers? Please. Is that the meanest animal you could think of? “Watch out—the Gophers are in town—they’ll…annoy you by burrowing in your yard!” And don’t get me started on the missing-an-‘s’-so-it’s-not-really-a-team-name Minnesota ‘Wild.’

Hockey also has the ‘Avalanche’ and the ‘Lightning.’ Look–a team’s name should be either something iconic, specific to that city (‘Pistons,’ for example) or the name of an animal that might kill you. And it should be plural. I think the reason the WNBA hasn’t drawn more fans is that half of their team names are…just concepts. The ‘Dream.’ The ‘Sky.’ The ‘Liberty.” These would be great names–for a team entering a poetry slam. It’s a slippery slope—what’s next–an expansion team called the Anchorage Angst?

Now. If you happen to own a team, and you’re not able to extort a gazillion dollars from the city you’re in for a fancy new stadium, so that city calls your bluff and you move your team—pick a new name. Utah Jazz is an oxymoron. Call yourself the Utah Missionaries, or the Salt Lake Polygamists, but leave the Jazz in New Orleans. L.A. doesn’t have Lakes—you don’t get to be the ‘Lakers.’ You can be the Los Angeles…Tourists. And while British Columbia may have grizzly bears, so there could be Vancouver Grizzlies, ‘Memphis Grizzlies’ just sounds stupid. How ’bout the Memphis Presleys?

I think all real sports fans look forward to the Olympics, and next year the Winter Games will be in Vancouver. The one event I never understood in the Winter Olympics is the biathlon, which is essentially trudging through snow, while stopping occasionally to shoot a rifle. I get cross-country skiing, and I get shooting things. Do one or the other.

I mean, while we’re combining random things, let’s have an event in the Summer Games that combines the 100-meter butterfly with…archery. The next Summer Olympics will include two new sports—rugby and golf. Now THERE are two activities that should be combined. Golf would be much more interesting if you could tackle your opponent as he lined up his tee shot, and all the golfers got into a big scrum at each hole.

To any actual athletes reading this  (‘Athletes Who Read’–on the next Tyra!), understand that I harbor no ill will toward those of you who might have picked on me. And really, it worked out for the best. Sure, because of your freakish physical talents and genetic luck, you have the opportunity to earn millions of dollars while I have the opportunity to…i dunno, have dozens of people read my stuff. But it’s been years since I’ve been shoved into a locker, and besides, I’ll always have the clarinet to fall back on.

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