Moving: A Survivor’s Story

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Moving, like meditation, is full of long pauses, reflection, catching your breath and recognizing when you simply must have a cigarette. At least that’s the way it seems to be with the movers I’ve hired. Between each box, a new cigarette, a drag for every step walked, every stair climbed. And not just today’s steps. Not just here. They’re making up for all the time spent rushing around. The constant go-go-go of life is too much, and what better time to take a breather than when someone is paying you $90 an hour?

I see their point. I understand their technique. I too know the hourly wage and that there’s no prize for sprinting. Efficiency is an abstraction to be contemplated while on the clock but never practiced.

But I like these guys. They don’t want to be here. They tell me they’ve had a long day, I have many stairs and even though I live in a one-bedroom apartment and own about ten shirts, they say I have too much stuff.

Oh yeah, and they’re seven hours late.

At 8:30 p.m. they pick up their first box. Well, one of them does. The other walks inside with his phone charger. The second guy doesn’t have a charger but asks if I might have an extra for a Samsung. I explain to him as patiently as I can that I’m actually in the process of moving and all of my belongings are in boxes, so no, I don’t have a charger. I guess I could have also said that independent of the move I don’t own a Samsung charger.

Another box, another cigarette, eventually I take to just moving the boxes myself. It’s easier than asking them to work. Each time I urged one of them to get off of the floor of the truck where they were sitting and smoking, they would tell me they were very tired. Didn’t I know that it was late? How could I be so unreasonable?

By the third hour, they don’t just smell of cigarettes. There’s a certain, eau du vodka that’s wafting through my living room. They’re sweating it out and replenishing and sweating it out again. But mainly they’re replenishing.

I do not confront them because I have a Russian friend who recently told me why Russians drink so much. One of the great tragedies of their nation is their terminally terrible soccer team. They love the sport but they lose and have almost always lost, so they must drink. I assume this to be the case tonight. There is little time to work because they are mourning their soccer team.Related image

In the fourth hour, after breaking a table and declining to bring a few other things, the van is packed. It’s after midnight and I’m eager to begin the second part of this journey at my new home in the City of Champions, as no one calls it. But I am wrong. The Russians are tired. The Russians are hungry. The Russians need a meal break. It’s not my character, but I say no. We must complete the move. This isn’t a union gig and they did 90 minutes of work in 4 hours so we’re not exactly on a record breaking pace. The Russians tell me that the break is non-negotiable. They have all my stuff. I am powerless to their whims so I agree.

While they’re on their break, I drive to the new house and in rapid succession drink six beers. This is not pleasurable. It’s an act of self-preservation. The fifth hour passes with no sign of the Russians.

Finally, they return with a bang. Specifically, the sound of the truck jumping the curb, then bottoming out paired with the steady beeping sound that these trucks make when driving in reverse. I scream for them to stop just inches before plowing into the living room.

While the first part of the move took four hours, the second takes about fifteen minutes. They dropkick, toss, catapult, heave, roll, slide and dump our belongings. But I don’t care. It’s 3:00 am.

When they finish tossing my stuff they ask, Why did you move? Your other neighborhood was much nicer. I tip them too much, shake their hands and wish them luck in the World Cup. They wish me many years in the new house. I tell them because of the trauma of the move I’ll be here until I die. I am never going to move again. They laugh apparently unaware that I’m being completely serious.

The next morning their boss from QShark returns my call about the whereabouts of his employees. He apologizes that they were six or seven hours late, but he’s sure I can understand how these things happen. He asks about the work of the guys when they did arrive. He tells me Dima is one of his best guys. A hard worker. I pause for long enough that he asks again: Hard workers, right? They did a great job?

I think of the 200 cigarette breaks, the hour meal break at 1:00 am, the tortoisean paces with which they moved and muster, Yeah, they’re great.

5 stars?

5 stars.

 

 

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Me, a Would-Be Caulksmith

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Picasso painted, Pollack painted, guys who hang outside Kelly Moore in white overalls have painted. But me? I do not paint. I prime. I want to paint. I claim to be a man on the verge of painting, but it’s just not that easy.

One cannot simply paint. You can’t just waltz into Dunn Edwards, buy a gallon, a roller and merrily take on a wall. Why? Because what they don’t tell you is walls are flat as a rotten honey comb and as filty as the floor at the Cha Cha lounge on Sunday morning.

For the first time the word caulk rolls off my tongue. I don’t smile or laugh like a twelve-year-old because I’m now a serious person who has a tube full of the stuff that needs to be magnanimously doled out to each of the walls.

Before painting, I must prove myself as a caulksmith. Where there were once curtains, there are now holes and those holes must be caulked. That’s where I come in. Or I will. I can’t right now because I thought I was going to paint so I’ve got this fucking Home Depot one-and-done kit with a roller, a brush, a tray and some other shit, but all of it is useless to me because what these walls need is a good caulking. But I can’t give it to them.

I can do a half-ass job. I am in the business of that. I don’t mind skipping steps. I love it in fact. So today we shall not caulk. Along with my rookie painter’s kit, I’ve got a baking powder looking container of something called TSP. The directions say to mix it with hot water and to not rub it in your eyes, snort it, chug it or let it touch your skin. Most of that isn’t a problem for me. I can resist the urge of doing a line of what probably gets cut up in off the Las Vegas Strip cocaine. What I can’t do is wash the walls without it touching my skin because, you see, I have no fucking gloves. My plan was to paint, not to exfoliate walls with over the counter napalm.

So I skip that step too. I wash the walls with water. Cold water because there is no hot water and you’ve got to be out of your goddamn mind if you think I know where the hot water heater is or how to make it so hot water comes out. And I refuse to watch another youtube how-to video. I’ve watched 15 on painting today. There was much talk of “cutting in”, starting at the top, two thin layers being better than one sloppy thick one. But there was no talk of caulk. No mention of gloves. The walls get a quick cold water rinse.

When they dry – which takes about 15 minutes because even at 11 pm, it’s hot as fuck – I’m ready to get down to the business at hand: painting. Like the old masters used to. With brushes and by candle light because it’s dark outside and there isn’t a light bulb in this room.

But first, we prime. I crack open a plastic vat of the good stuff. Well, not really the good stuff, I think that would be the two-in-one paint and primer which for some reason I didn’t buy. So it’s not the good stuff but it’s stuff I’m slathering on walls and it’s a different color than what’s there.

The second the brush touches the paint and the paint touches the wall all attempts at technique go out the window. It’s just mad rush to catch drips as they stream down the wall toward the floor. I sideswipe them as they come. I’ve never been one for defense but this is the best man-on-paint stream coverage that I’ve ever mustered. I catch almost everything and what I don’t hits the canvas drop cloth that has gone from being perfectly flat to balled up at my feet in a matter of seconds.

The primer takes an hour to dry, but my arms are exhausted and I’m once again delirious from forgetting to put on a mask and not opening enough windows. I’ve primed one small wall. It’s the literal width of a shower. And from the time I opened the door to when I’m sloshing the brushes in a bucket calling it quits three hours have passed. At this rate, I’ll be able to prime the bathroom by the end of the month, prime the house by the end of the year and I can start painting in no more that 7 months.

But that’s a problem for the next seven months. Tonight I go home and bask in the victory of sanding less than I did the day before, of having scraped almost no paint and my crowning achievement: just one trip to Home Depot. Mainly because they were closed by the time I realized I’d forgotten many necessary items, but still, we take the small victories where we can, eh?

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In which I Do Two Days of Hard Work

I’m thinking about writing a book: My Life as a Moron. The trouble is that I’m too busy living it.

There are many things that I know nothing about and I’m all too willing to accept this and return to the stuff that I do know and enjoy. But not everyone in my life accepts my shortcomings. So this weekend I bought a sander and alternately crouched, lay, sat, squatted and bent to sand baseboards.

This was, at the very least, a stupid thing to do.

I spent the weekend punishing myself because a professional casually recommended to the person in my life who refuses to accept that I know nothing about paint or paint-stripping or paint-scraping that I sand every baseboard in the house. In retrospect I recognize that this idea came from someone who speaks English as a second-language and my information was second-hand yet I took it literally. I bought a sander and boy did I sand.

It did nothing.

For ten hours, I exhausted myself while huffing lead-based paint and accomplished absolutely nothing. As I tirelessly made no discernible progress, I thought about all the times I’ve come home exhausted from a day of sitting in a room on a studio lot talking about how to make and execute episodes of television which would be produced, financed, acted in and directed by other people. And yet I thought I knew exhaustion.

I did not. I thought I knew tedium. I knew nothing of tedium. When people talked about back-breaking work, I thought it was a metaphor, hyperbole. And sure, I’m not so soft that I’ve never had a sore back but that was all done in good fun. Hell, I’ve even gotten a few calluses from deadlifting a couple times a year to remind myself that I’m not just a person who sits in front of a computer all day amusing myself with words. I can also pick up weights and drop them in an air-conditioned space surrounded by other people who spend their days hunched over keyboards alternately drinking coffee and La Croix (and don’t want to look like it).Image result for bad before and after jesus painting

As I lay on my stomach on a skateboard with a paint scraper digging into first 9 layers of paint and then because I’m unskilled: wood, I laughed. Probably from inadvertently snorting paint chips. It was the end of a long day of making a fool of myself in an empty house while my new next-door neighbor sang Drake, Shakira, Outcast then switched to a Spanish language radio station and listened to that for so long and so loudly that I learned the words to a Cal Worthington Ford dealership ad. In Spanish.

At this stage, a smarter person might retreat. They might beg the bank to take the money back – all of it – because really, what was so bad about renting a guest house in Silver Lake where I literally didn’t change my own lightbulbs? But I’m not a smarter person, so I’ll go back. I’ll change into an old t-shirt and strap on a pair of knee pads. I’ll put in ear plugs, don some safety glasses and I’ll run a sander aimlessly while wondering: where did my life go so wrong that I thought I could operate a power tool?

Next door Rampage will bark, my neighbor will blast Cardi B and in between battles with the apron of a window sill, I’ll watch youtube videos where people with tools that I don’t have and knowledge that I certainly don’t possess confirm that what I’m doing is futile and time consuming and should probably be left up to a professional. And yet… and yet.

 

 

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Welcome to the Neighborhood!

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She told me her name, but I’ve forgotten it. She told me her dog’s name and I can’t forget it. Rampage. After the MMA fighter.

I can already see myself, on the ground, trying to pry Rampage’s slobbery jowls and shark-sized chompers away from my jugular. Rampage is sweet though. My new neighbor tells me he’s friends with the owls, squirrels, cats and mice that all live in her yard. She doesn’t feed the mice. They don’t bother her though so she doesn’t bother them.

And she wants me to know that she doesn’t have a problem with white people. She has no issue with white people all of a sudden moving in while families who have been here for a long time move out. But I shouldn’t be surprised if not everyone is so happy about gentrification.

For example, she tells me, she has this white friend from Venice who came over once and they were walking from her house to the park, which is about half a block and they somehow got separated, and some people were not very nice to her white friend. And well I’m not sure how this ties in, but her friend was also pushing a stroller – it’s unclear whether a baby was inside of the stroller or not – but anyway, my new neighbor was about to have a word with whoever it was who was not so nice to her white friend pushing the stroller half a block to the park, and she was about to say something, because she is not cool with anyone mistreating anyone else. But then she didn’t.

Why? She stays in her lane, she says, if I get what she means. She raises her eyebrows like, six times before continuing. She doesn’t make trouble for no one. And that’s the way she likes it.

She tells me she works as a mentor now that her long-haul trucking days are over. There are some kids, rough kids, the kind who don’t like white people on the block. She suggests I might know the type and I nod that I do because I’ll apparently concede to anything. Anyway, where these kids get in trouble is they’re always smoking weed in the park. But not my neighbor. She kicks the grass at her feet – I smoke right here on my own property. I hope you don’t mind.

I assume this is a test about staying in my lane, so I nod. Fine by me. Smoke weed in your yard. Hell, mainline heroin in Marco Rubio’s bathtub for all I care, just keep Rampage on your side of the fence.

She offers her number; says she can tell me a lot about the neighborhood. Her knowledge of the neighborhood and surroundings runs deep. So deep apparently that at first she thought I was an ATF agent.

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She tells me why. Four days ago: a van pulls up, a bunch of guys get out and go inside. Did I know the man who used to own this house worked as a Corrections Officer? He might be the type to narc. He might’ve been the type to not stay in his own lane and call ATF. It wouldn’t be the first time. ATF had been there before. She wouldn’t say which house, looking directly at the white house across the street, she wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing information with me or anyone for that matter about who might’ve been running around with unlicensed assault rifles. At this point her entire body is pointed in the direction of the white house with a Cadillac in the driveway. She’s not the type to say anything. Anyway, she’s glad I’m not ATF. Because if I was ATF I would have to tell her.

I explain that the van was an electrician’s and the guys didn’t speak to her because we went with the lowest bid which means we hired guys who have no professional credentials and speak an indiscernible language. She tells me I’ve hired good workers. Not the chatty type. Guys who know how to keep their mouths shut.

I wonder if I’m not making myself clear. I’m about to explain when she tells me she sells oils. She says this like I’ve just won the lottery. She’s noticed that I have a termite problem in the shed and she has a solution: peppermint oil and alcohol, but not too much alcohol because you don’t want to start a fire.

I tell her I’ll think about her offer to spray my wooden shed with a flammable substance for a fee as we inch toward summer. Then I head toward my house, which we now own. It’s full of holes and surrounded by termites, extremely virile pit bulls, and someone who was once hunted down by the ATF.

Before I can get to the door she tells me not to be alarmed if I periodically hear screaming next door. Her father-in-law is deaf. And by the way, welcome to the neighborhood!

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Silver Lake Couple Seeks Craftsman-style Crack House in South Los Angeles

Screen Shot 2018-02-19 at 1.19.05 PM.pngPeople keep telling us, “You’ll know it when you see it!” Which is maybe the funniest fucking thing I’ve heard in my entire life. We’re not wending around a bend in a quiet neighborhood that leads to a cottage that just needs a little TLC. We’re exiting the freeway at Crenshaw or Arlington, driving south, hanging a left at a KFC, then the Arco station, then parking across the street from two unaffiliated iglesias that are separated by two unaffiliated liquor stores.  And as soon as we’ve past the daycare that looks like it’s part of the Ariel Castro franchise, we’ve arrived.

Rather than a white picket fence, there’s a chain link one that the city put up four years ago after the neighbors complained that people were selling drugs out of the house. The cops sent the drug-trafficking tenants to prison, squatters moved in or never moved out, and the house got so bad that Code Enforcement had to put a fence around it, board it up and put up signs reminding people that this squat is in fact a private residence. We’ll know it when we see it? Oh, fuck off.

But we didn’t learn about the house being condemned from the seller, “New carpet! Good bones!” We’ve become professional sleuths. We’ve learned how to do the impossible – navigate city and public records. Based on citations, building permits and dental records, we’re able to determine that a perfectly lovely family spent like, 50 years not maintaining, but also not completely neglecting their home. Then someone old died and the significant other of that old person, who was old herself, was sent off to a facility to eat Jell-O with a group of her peers.

That was 2007 and probably would have been a good time to buy this slightly dilapidated but perfectly acceptable hovel. Even at the height of the housing bubble, you could have had it for 150k. I say “you” because in 2007, I was fairly certain that by 2018 I’d own a thatched roof bar on the beach somewhere south of Ensenada. I certainly had no intention of becoming a person who sits in front of a computer all day, then sits in traffic, then complains about work, traffic, a lack of exercise. I never would have dreamed I’d decide to find the only pocket of Los Angeles where I could possibly afford to displace the current residents and impose my will upon them. I thought I’d spend my nights pouring mescal and my days writing a thinly veiled novel about a guy from California who expatriates to Mexico, opens a beachside bar with a thatched roof, then discovers the crushing loneliness of being a stranger in a strange land with limited wifi. Why are we talking about this?

Oh yeah, you should have bought the place in 2007 before it was a crack house. Interestingly, becoming at crack house has only increased the value of the home. It’s like putting marble countertops in the kitchen or vaulting the ceilings in the master bedroom or restoring the original hardwood floors. Except they didn’t do any of that and now they’re asking for $730k which everyone agrees is a steal. Since we guess we’ll know it when we see it, we decide that we’ve seen it and we now know it. We put in an offer. We don’t pop champagne. We go back to Silver Lake and order a couple German beers even though neither of has ever appreciated a Spaten.

“I hope we get it.”

“I don’t really care.”

“Really?”

“Desperately desire a three-quarters of a million-dollar crack house once, shame on me. Desperately desire a crack house twice – well, now I feel like George W. I guess I mean I don’t know that I can keep getting excited about living in a house where the walls are coated with whatever is involved in making crack. Baking soda?”

“The neighbor said they didn’t make drugs there. They just sold them.”

“Strictly retail?” She nods. This is good news. Maybe even great news. “I never thought we’d be able to afford a place that wasn’t previous used to make drugs.”

“Well, they haven’t accepted our offer yet.”

“Hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?”

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Let’s Make This Crack House a Crack Home

I’m standing at a shiny new taco stand where a Frenchman is excitedly, but not particularly efficiently making tacos. He takes square, apple pay, credit cards. This is the change I’ve been looking for. The Frenchman works slowly so we have a moment to take in the scenery. It’s 7 pm. Cars and buses careen down Jefferson while Mexican kids with Beats by Dre headphones blow through red lights on fixed gear bikes. It’s encouraging. The only noticeable downside is the air or the street or the bottom of my shoe smells like shit. I check the ground in front of me, the bottoms of my Clarks.

What are you doing? She asks.

Confusion. Purposelessness. These are signs of weakness. They make you vulnerable, a potential victim in an unfamiliar land. I don’t want to be what the boys at the LAPD call a “walking victim” so I refuse to answer. Or maybe I don’t answer because I’m sort of an asshole.

Eventually, like an underperforming blood hound, the scent leads me to turn around. A man who is roughly the size of the trash can he’s buckled over, lifts himself out. He smiles. Eau de shit isn’t just delicately doused behind his ears, around his décolletage. He’s caked in it.

A lead brought us here. A house that’s just been listed. The realtor’s phone number is 714: Orange County. Amateurs. He doesn’t know what he has on his hands so we plan to move and move quickly. Thus the 7 pm weeknight viewing.

The house has good bones – that’s a thing that I apparently say now. It also features a sparkling popcorn ceiling (sparkles indicate that the absence of asbestos or the presence of a previously insane tenant). Floor-to-ceiling mirrors line what feels like the entire house. There are two bathrooms. One that appears to have been condemned and left untouched since 1970 and another that has been meticulously maintained since the day it was created in 1970. Other than that, an estimated $15,000 in termite damage and a heating system that makes the talking furnace from Home Alone seem cutting edge, it’s perfect. We really love it, you guys.

And there’s more. A backyard. We checked out the google aerial view before we came but what we’re seeing now is a substantial slab of cement. Maybe 10×10! We could line it with succulents and other plants fit to survive catastrophic levels of neglect. On to the garage, which connects off the alley. Which is great! Because parking in this neighborhood seems impossible. So impossible that men old enough to drive and young enough to still walk dedicate whole evenings to chatting while double parked and waiting for a  coveted spot.IMG_1329.jpg Continue reading

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A Word of Advice from the LAPD: Stay in Silver Lake

Things I’ve learned as a potential homebuyer

  1. People assume you’re going to put in “sweat equity.”
  2. Sweat equity requires a hammer, two types of screw drivers, familiarity with a place called Home Depot, the desire to spend weekends splattered with paint sweating through an old and preferably gray t-shirt.
  3. People still buy, sell and smoke crack in Los Angeles.

We find the perfect house. I find it. That’s how deep in this shit I am. I found it on Instagram. We drive south to the open house. Everything is south.

It’s a gorgeous craftsman bungalow. It’s been beautifully restored by a Frenchman who knew love, lost it, then found it again in Riverside County. I don’t actually meet him. I learn a version of this from his realtor. Her eyes pull in opposite directions so I stare at the smooth skin between her brows.

We love the house, but we can tell this is going to be competitive. There are many skinny, bespectacled men with tuffs of hair protruding from their collars. The ones we’re most concerned about look like Moby and have Asian wives. There are three Moby look-a-likes with Asian partners and each is more serious than the last.

She says we should act fast. We talk to the realtor about how much we love the home, the community, the rich history of this part of LA that we’ve avoided for ten years. Actually, I don’t say any of this. I’m locked in on the realtor’s eyes again and the magnetic force pushing them apart. She says it’s a gorgeous home, has no answers for our “hard questions” (Where’s the electrical?), and unprovoked, says that the neighborhood is safe. We decide to take a walk around the block.

The Mobys, their Asian wives and their African American realtors huddle outside. We size each other up. It’ll be awkward later when we’re trying to determine which of the five silver Subaru hatchbacks belongs to us. 4 out of 5 have National Parks passes hanging on the rearview, but we’re a long way from Yosemite.

We walk the block and remark: Not bad. A few looks from neighbors – we wave. It’s good to see people outside. It’s like a built-in neighborhood watch where people gather on their porches and stoops to stay hydrated with, well, 40s, but still. It’s encouraging. I point out a woman sitting outside, taking in the afternoon sun. This is a good sign. We wave. She exhales and a plume of smoke hangs in front of her face. No matter how you cut it, it’s good to see residents enjoying the neighborhood. That’s what we tell ourselves.

We round back to the house and pass another cluster of Moby couples before heading inside. We confirm: it’s big, it’s a little more than we wanted to spend, but let’s do this. We shake the wild-eyed realtor’s hand and assure her, Oh you’ll be hearing from our realtor.

The woman in my passenger seat mentions the police station on a corner named for a Civil Rights activist who was murdered. Historically, a street named for him is a telltale sign that you’re in a place that doesn’t have a ton of pressed juice options. That’s okay. I don’t really like juice, pressed or otherwise. She says we should get their opinion on how the neighborhood is changing. We know that they see the worst side of society yet we remain unflinchingly optimistic.

The Southwest Division is quiet this Saturday morning. A TV in the corner plays silently. There’s an enormous bust of a former chief. Behind the counter are three white officers in their mid-twenties with biceps protruding from under their blue uniforms. They look like guys who played varsity football in towns just outside of Sacramento, Sedona and Salt Lake City. “Would you like to file a report?” No, no. Nothing like that.

We lay out our situation. We give them the address of the home we just toured, say we’re planning to move to the general vicinity and we’re eager to hear any advice or insights they might have. We want to go in with our eyes open.

The moment hangs and we get it – there’s a lot to discuss. They look at each other then burst into laughter. All three of them. Heaving. Buckled over. Tears running down their faces. They have to lean on the desk to steady themselves. And just when we think they’re through, they buckle over again. This lasts for about seven minutes.

Then they confirm, “You two,” they point at us, “want to move to this neighborhood?” They shake their heads. One guy pulls out a map of the gangs in the area. Admittedly, there are a lot. “Those are just the Black gangs.” He turns the page, “Here are the Hispanic ones.” The tallest of the three gets angry, “Don’t move here. Move to Silver Lake.” We tell him that’s where we live. Stay there. They show us a map of all the crimes in the last 24 hours. They tell us about a shootout two blocks away from the house we love. They tell us about someone who had a potted succulent thrown at her head, which doesn’t land on us the way they had hoped it would. We love drought-conscious plants.

They urge us to not move down here, but if we’re going to insist on turning ourselves into “walking victims,” we’ll have to fortify ourselves. Walls, bars on windows, barbed wire on top of the fence, flood lights and cameras everywhere. We say we want to keep the integrity of the craftsman bungalow. They say it’s in our best interest to mirror another piece of classic American architecture: Camp Fallujah.

So are we out of our minds for considering to move here?

They nod. Stay in Silver Lake.

Where do you guys live?

Chino.

Upland.

Corona.

We get in our silver Subaru, drive 14 miles north where we slurp tonkatsu ramen and lick our wounds. Later our realtor texts us. The house is going for 100k over asking, site unseen, all cash. I’m guessing they didn’t swing by the police station.

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