Category Archives: Staring Into A Cobalt Pool

Finally Famous

 

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If you’re expecting me to change – I am too. I suspect it will happen any day now.

It just seems there’s no way a person who has had his webseries featured on countless (2) websites, which has garnered too many views to even keep track of (97,000[1]) could continue to also be a man who frequents the Cha Cha Lounge before 9 p.m. for a shot of mediocre tequila and a 61 degree PBR at the bargain price of $5.

It’s just not feasible.

“You may have heard of my webseries,” I say to a man wearing a mask blowing leaves from one driveway to another. “Driving Arizona.” He shuts off his leaf blower and politely waits for me to go away. Little does he know people who have reached a certain level of fame have nowhere they need to be. Mario Andretti, Mario Batalli, Mario Lemieux, myself – we’re all men with absolutely nothing to do tomorrow, but to wait for it to come and cradle us with its sunlight.

It comes up at the gym. “Nice shorts,” says a man who has dyed his beard an unintentional hue of purple. “Thanks. Little trivia – they were in the luggage belonging to the character Sasha in episode 4 of Driving Arizona.” He stares blankly. “No. You’re right. It was episode 3!”dazfacebook5

There was a time when all my Lyft drivers were deeply devoted students of improv. Now they are men and women from towns that I haven’t heard of north or east of Los Angeles, lured here on weekend nights by the promise of endless riches. Or at least the app tells them if they keep driving – after gas, wear and tear, and emotional fatigue – they might break even.

“Just start driving or finishing up?” A man who is too tall for his Toyota Yaris replies but I’m wondering why I didn’t give him a third option – the middle, halfway through his shift.

Though I haven’t heard a word he’s said, when he stops talking I say, “Speaking of which, you may have heard of a little web series I co-created – Driving Arizona.”

“Sounds like a PSA for a driving school.”

“But there’s something beautiful about the innocuousness of it, isn’t there? Like a puddle that pools after the rain and when you stare down at the wet cement, you’re met with a reflection of the sky.”

He runs his fingers across his phone’s screen. “Is it alright if I drop you off here?”

So maybe it isn’t me who has changed. It’s the way people react to a person who has created something as eternal as the webseries. Bertrand Russell once said or wrote or communicated in some way that he now gets credit for these words in this particular order, “The search for something permanent is one of the deepest instincts leading men to philosophy.”

Well, Berty. It leads other men to the webseries.

[1] Which is 10x fewer views than your average video of a guy demonstrating how to find the pilot light in your oven.

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Crying on the 134

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So far I’ve cried on the 134, the 5 and the 101 – twice. And that’s just in the last week. A friend texted me that he didn’t mind crying in public places when it’s in the name of celebrating someone’s life. I think I do mind, but I looked up on Yelp: “good bars to cry in.”

I don’t feel as if these tears are earned though and maybe that’s why I’m embarrassed when the person in the Prius chugging next to me sees me with tears falling from my face. I’m worried they’re thinking, “Come on, man. Do you really deserve to be crying? Did you earn those tears? Because I’m pretty sure it wasn’t your brother who died.” Or if they don’t look, and I’m just sitting there with tears falling into my lap, awestruck and disgusted, that these people have the nerve to talk happily on the phone or casually rap over Drake, or what I assume is Drake, with their windows up and their A/C blasting. What gives them the right to carry on completely unaffected?

So either they’re accusing me of not having the right to feel the way I do or I’m mad at them for not feeling the way I do.

Since my hands are on the wheel, the tears sit until they dry on my face. And for whatever reason, a dried tear doesn’t feel the way I expected it to. I didn’t think it would be any different from jumping out of the shower and not bothering to towel-off. But it’s more like when you get out of the ocean and let the sun do the work for you. The salt water cakes on your face, drying it out, leaving it feeling crunchy and somehow less agile.

I don’t have a lot of experience with tears. On my wedding day, I’m told all my groomsmen were balling, and I’m sure if I had seen my brother and my best friends tearing up, I would have been right there with them. But I was facing my wife and her stone-cold bridesmaids who knew better than to let their mascara bleed before the wedding party pictures.

There have been a handful of other times in the last fifteen years where I can remember crying. Each time someone had died. But more often, someone died and I didn’t cry. It didn’t feel earned. I was sad, but I didn’t feel right crying just because the circumstances were sad. I felt like something had to have been cut from me, specifically taken away from me, in order to justify the tears.

But on the 101, skirting passed Hollywood, I could feel myself on the verge of tears, where I have been for almost a week now, but nothing was cut from me. Something was taken from one of my closest friends, but I still question whether I was in the right to feel like I want to bury my head in the steering wheel and sob like a fucking four-year-old on the shoulder of the freeway.

So if anyone has any answers about when it’s okay to cry, I’d like to know. Really.

I think I perceive sadness as weakness and weakness as a vulnerability to getting hurt. If you’re not weak, you can’t get hurt. If you’re not sad, you can’t be labeled as weak, so in my distorted view of the world, the best way to not get hurt is to not be sad.

The only problem is that I am sad. I’ve been sad for as long as I can remember. And it’s not like something horrible happened to me. I was a sad fucking eight-year-old. This hasn’t changed, it’s not anyone’s fault, but I am aware of it and I think it makes me below average when it comes to grieving or even appropriately dealing with anything emotional.

Your average teenage apathy became my modus operandi. If I don’t care, then it won’t hurt when I fail. I don’t really care ergo I can’t get hurt if I do. So I’m afraid to get hurt, which also makes me afraid to care. This is all probably very obvious for everyone else, but I’m still trying to wrap my head around why I’m crying on the shoulder of the freeway, and why I’m ashamed that I’m crying because I don’t deserve to feel this pain to begin with.

So now not only am I ashamed that I’m crying, but I also think I’m an imposter to this grief. I don’t even deserve to feel as shitty as I do. Why can’t I listen to Drake with my windows up and my A/C blasting? Why can’t I call my brother and complain that I hate my job and I should quit because life is short, etc.?

But I did all that last week. And someone just died which even further solidifies this thing about life being short and that it doesn’t need to be a grind and that Anne Dillard quote that I repeat too often, but wish I had tattooed on my forearm, “How we spend our days, is of course, how we spend our lives.” Why is that so fucking massive to me? It seems so obvious yet every time I read it, it blows my fucking mind. Are you fucking kidding me? This day? This shit? These will be the pieces, which collectively make up my time on this earth? And I’m spending more than five minutes with people who I don’t love doing things I don’t enjoy?

Well, that’s wrong. I mean, if that’s what’s happening and my time is limited, why am I worried about whether a stranger thinks my grieving is earned? Fuck them. Seriously. Fuck them. But they don’t even care. They’re in their own bubbles too… and now it seems I’ve gotten off track. We’re talking about crying.

People say it’s a healthy thing to do. Why do you have to hurt before you can do it? Isn’t there a way to do it without the hurt? Probably not. I guess you do have to earn it.

A police officer is knocking on my window. I guess I need to carry on with what I was doing. Surrounding myself with people who I love, doing what makes me happy. But first, I guess I’ll let myself cry.

 

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A Personal History of Moving

SATURDAY

12:00 p.m. Girlfriend makes demands: home improvement or move. Terms: non-negotiable.

2:00 p.m. Buy paint. Work tirelessly to apply “golden cricket” hue to walls.

5:00 p.m. Girlfriend gives, O.K. Move avoided. Phew. Apartment thick with toxins. Leave to walk restless dog.

7:00 p.m. Notice homeless crack addicts squatting in apartment next door.

7:01 p.m. Hide girlfriend and dog. Call 911, but first confirm with landlord that next-door apartment has not been rented to face-tattooed crack-cocaine users.

7:02 p.m. Landlord confirms men with face tattoos are, in fact, new neighbors. Keep an open mind, he says.

7:03 p.m. Per suggestion, keep open mind about recently paroled neighbors.

7:04 p.m. Decide against open mind.

7:05 p.m. Pack girlfriend, dog, toothbrush. Flee.

8:00 p.m. Bask in suburban refuge. Feel lucky to be alive.

SUNDAY

9:00 a.m. Apartment hunt.

10:00 a.m. Meet gypsy landlords. Despite Snatch, gypsy landlords do not allow dogs.

11:00 a.m. Regret painting apartment. Inspect various available apartments. Chat up gypsies, but to no avail.

12:00 p.m. Nod head at upset girlfriend. Eat Vietnamese food. Watch dog scratch ear.

1:00 p.m. Give up apartment hunt. Concede to massacring by crack addicted neighbors. Imagine Lifetime movie.

2:00 p.m. Stumble upon open house. Eureka! But open house is packed.

2:01 p.m. Point out flaws to other potential renters e.g., lack of parking, freeway noise, stairs. Grab folder of applications, flush down toilet. Toilet floods. Shake head and mutter about shoddy craftsmanship. Potential renters leave.

2:10 p.m. Fill out application. Corner landlord: praise ample parking, lack of freeway noise, joy of stairs, expert craftsmanship. Shake hands.

4:00 p.m. Go back to crackden apartment. Hammer windows shut. Hide under bed. Add 911 to “favorites.”

5:00 p.m. Good news! Eureka is available, pending credit check. Who says a jump shot is the only way out of the hood!

5:01 p.m. Dog scratches ear. Girlfriend shakes head. Make plans to buy primer, paint wall back to original color.

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Instagram Epigram: This Is Not A Test

Before dining, we snap not-quite-candid shots of our entree, making sure to highlight the jalapeno-pineapple compote. We caps lock and conclude: Yum.

At the beach, we prop up lathered knees and snap photos in front of the salt water backdrop before we dare dive in. We call this one: Mental Health Day.

Last night, I photographed a dead guy.[1] As of an hour ago, seventy-two people had “liked” it on Instagram.

I don’t like to make excuses, but I will. It’s important to understand there were certain factors at play: youth, narcissism, Attention Deficit Disorder. There was something going on with the moon. It was especially bright. There was some science behind it, but I didn’t want to get involved. With the science that is; the moon on the other hand…

Predictably and unremarkably, I got involved with the moon. But eventually, I had to walk home.

On my walk I saw the words, “This Is Not A Test” scrawled on a concrete wall. Beneath the words, a man lay parallel to the sidewalk. I spun around expecting to see an administrator or an audience. I found neither.

The man was wrapped in carpet from the waist up. I couldn’t see his face. Like so many of my peers, there is an unbridgeable chasm between my sense of self and reality. Because of this I decided to take a picture. It would be a memento. It would be construed as deep and conceptual. Teenagers and tastemakers would champion it. Art industry philanthropists—particularly Berliners—would fete me.

After much fame and fortune I would move to academia. I would pontificate about the importance of Shakespeare’s Sonnets[2] and I would eventually renounce the picture that led to the career that bought my home in the Palisades—now that it was paid for in full.

My canvas: A dead man under a freeway overpass. Someone else’s thought “This is not a test.” My announced confirmation.

I walked into the exhibit that I had hoped to simulate. It was not a test, but I still managed to fail. I snapped a picture of a dead man then walked home. I whistled as I walked.

This morning at the coffee shop, I learned a body had been discovered under a nearby freeway overpass. After half a cup of coffee, I thought I better head back to the underpass. Fame and fortune and Instagram followers beckoned. If there was a crime scene—specifically a chalk outline of the corpse—that would make a hell of a picture.

-The Neapolitan Mastiff


[1] The characters and events in this are fictitious. Any similarities to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended.

[2] Shall I compare thee to June Gloom?

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When In A Singles Joint… (cue the R. Kelly)


Know your surroundings.

If you look to your left and see an Irish version of Vernon Hardapple, be advised: things could get weird.

If you look to your right and see a girl built like a pumpkin sitting on top of the piano smoking two cigarettes at once, be advised: weird has entered the building.

“It’s a singles joint,” Vern said. “Give me a cigarette.”

Singles joint: a bar is intrinsically loaded, but this one was packed to the gills. Vern took off—said something about a masseuse he used to visit when he was still getting his disability checks from Microsoft—said she owed him a drink. I was left to my own devices, which are devices that really shouldn’t be left alone.

Propped against the plush wall, swilling some shitty tepid beer, I let the words roll around my mouth. Singles joint. “There’s something in these people’s faces,” I say to Saul, the henna-headed piano man, who’s on his break and doesn’t really look like he wants to talk.
“There’s nothing in their faces. They’re drunk—they’re just faces.” He throws back the rest of his Jameson. “Want me to play anything for ya?”

The invitation was tempting. “You know that number, ‘My mind’s telling me no, but my body, my body’s telling me yes’?”

“You’re crazier than you look, you know that?”

I was staring into my tepid fucking beer, looking for a response and wondering why my beer was warm since I’d only had it for what felt like a couple minutes. I guess they sell them too quick in these singles joints—tough place to get a cold beer.

“My date never showed up. I could kill match.com.”

I looked up, half expecting Saul to be standing there, but he wasn’t. Her name was Lorrie, which didn’t surprise me, although, if she said her name was Rita that wouldn’t have surprised me either. She was going on five years of being recently divorced and it showed. A lot of things “show” at a singles joint. To me, it looked like everyone was walking around with their pants around their ankles, humiliated and waiting to be taken home.

Sure, before the taking home their would be the obligatory conversation. The impromptu introduction received with joy, but masked with skepticism. Now this is where you tell a joke. Good, there’s a laugh. The ball is now rolling and the drinks have evaporated so it’s time for another and just as you think that, you’re taking a shot and ordering another one. Now that everyone has consumed enough to have an excuse for their bravado and maybe even enough to have an excuse for what happens next—the walls come in. It’s personal, you’re no longer looking around wondering where your friends are because, “This is why you came here, right?” Lorrie said, stroking my arm.

In front of me I see the mug of a neglected puppy waiting to be adopted. This singles joint is actually a little fence that single men and women walk into, like puppies on display at farmer’s markets looking happy and sad at once, waiting to be taken home. There are two sides of the fence. Two approaches. Five years of being recently single and she’s relegated to life inside the fence. Shit, Lorrie would go home with anyone—literally anyone willing to sign the papers and give her a place to call home. No matter how neglected she’d be there, disregard the fact that the novelty of her presence would wear off and quickly become a chore before you thought possible. Pretty soon you’d have to send her back to where she came from. She knows the way back to the fenced up singles joint with warm beer and jokes. She’s been coming for five years.

Vern taps on my elbow, he’s lost his wig. “Who’s your friend?”

She’s elated because Vern, whether he knows it or not, has added a possessive adjective to the equation. She once was lost, but now she’s my friend. Lorrie is smiling ear-to-ear because she thinks I’m about to sign on the dotted line. Which is about the time I remember where I am. Black Irish Vernon Hardapple to my right, he’s already slid into my place. She’s already laughing. She swills the ice in her glass because she’s ready for another. I am still holding my tepid beer and I still know exactly where this is going although I still don’t have the slightest clue how to get a cold drink.

“We’re gonna get another one,” Vern says. She takes his hand. Cute.

I want to tell them I’ll take something cold, need to whet my senses.

“What’d you think?” Saul’s grinning, but I don’t know what about. “The song?”

You played it? I thought to myself.

“The crowd loved it. My body,” he shouts, “my body!” He carries the note a little too long and we get a few looks. “I think I’m gonna add it to the permanent setlist.”

I look to my right, dishwater blond Vernon Hardapple cuts a rug with the real Dorothy Boyd of Hollywood. To my left, Saul sips a Jameson on ice, talks about the power of his music. He thinks he struck a proverbial cord with the crowd tonight. Babies are getting made tonight and it’s all because of Brother Saul. Or so he tells me.

A singles joint: warm beer, wigs, cortisol fat that’s just going to get worse, everyone used to listen to R. Kelly, now everyone listens to Brother Saul.

“Gotta anything else you wanna hear?” Saul asks, greedily.

“My mind is telling me no, but my body, my body’s telling me yes.”

“You already said that one, pal,” Saul’s not amused, but then again, it’s his job to entertain, not mine.

“I don’t wanna hurt nobody, but there’s something that I gotta confess.” I walk towards the door. Like puppies standing on their hind legs, would-be suitresses perk up, run their hands along my arm and down my back as I make my way to the exit.

At the diner counter, my waitress slaps down my bill. “Didn’t get lucky tonight, huh?” She gives me a sardonic smile, which makes me think she doesn’t realize it’s three a.m. and she’s serving me breakfast. “You must’ve of really fucked up.”

I keep shoveling my eggs. “Got any more Cholulua?”

The Neapolitan Mastiff

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Of Avocados and Stork: A Study of Expiration

Lettuce comes from a field with an expiration date. Humans come from a seafaring bird, which is inedible and shares the same lack of a definitive expiration date as humans. Working from the premise that certain seafaring birds and humans aren’t raised for consumption and that they share the same lack of an absolute time of dismal reminds me of an individual I once met in passing at an upscale charcuterie at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. His name was Stork and by all accounts he was human.

Born in Cuernavaca during a period of civil unrest and unseasonably inclement weather, not many of life’s chips looked to fall in his favor. Stork was the towheaded son of a diplomat who by the age of eleven he could curse in four languages and woe native girls with all the charm that is afforded by living in government paid home and possessing a different colored passport. Stork is and was the Cuernavacan equivalent of all those Nordic looking folks with once government issued orders that called the Panamanian coastline home. I believe John McCain falls into that category as well.

But lettuce is not cultivated in los cabos de las huertas de Panama and Stork, now a mild mannered man of refined taste and thinning hair, has never been south of Cuenavaca. The weather never permitted and he had read every James Patterson novel up until that point, which would have been the proper reading material to make such a trip, which is not to say he didn’t want to join his brethren (in appearance) in Panama. Quite the opposite, actually. Stork spent much of his youth wondering when he would be reunited with his fellow ex-pat countrymen who his father knew well, but he had never had the pleasure of meeting although it was often assumed he was just visiting, after thirty-five odd years in the place he was in fact a resident.
Since the overthrowal of the last otherthrowers, the Stork clan rescinded their place in Cuenavacan society. To pass the years they took to watching Turkish Delight each evening as a sort of nightcap. When in season, Stork spent his days harvesting their citrus rich orchard while secretly wishing it was possible to grow rutabaga. The father Stork, long since dead from overmedicating with strychnine, left Stork a sizable fortune in the way of an almond farm in California’s central valley, which Stork frequently and regretfully pointed out, was not in Panama, but rather in America.

“There are far worse places than America,” Stork the mother offered. But Stork would hear none of it. He was no longer a towheaded boy with Slavic and Latin based expletives on his tongue. He was now an overwrought naturalized ex-pat grower of citrus, admirer of Rutger Hauer who looked as if he was never going to make it south of the only town he’d ever intimately known.

I knew all of this by the time it was Stork’s turn to pay at the charcuterie. I tried to wish him safe travels figuring it was best to flee while the cashier occupied him. “I’m sure you’ll love Panama, Stork!”

“Panama? Who said anything about Panama? I’m going to Nederland. I’m going to hunt down Rutger Hauer. I want to write his biography.”

What I learned from Stork was although humans don’t come with a neatly labeled and government enforced day upon which it would be best if they were disposed, the human mind is frighteningly similar to an avocado. While you’re fumbling around the display, cupping avocados, which have no doubt been cupped by hundreds of hands before your own, it’s best to pick blindly and without bias to appearance. Stork had the physical attributes of a healthy avocado—blemish free, not particularly mushy. But once you cut that thing open, it became apparent that what bird, man and avocado have in common is all can be rotten at their respective cores long before there’s evidence on the surface.

The Neapolitan Mastiff

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A Foe Worth Fearing

I’m waiting.

I’m waiting for a man named Sam to knock on my door and ask me, “Where is my fucking money?” Sam speaks clearly. He annunciates every word as if he’s talking to a non-native English speaker, which I gather he often does.

He’ll take off his hat, but have no intention of accepting an offer to come in. I have no intention of extending that offer, but considering that we’ve both dealt with each other in a relatively cordial manner up until this point, we’ll pretend that between us still linger the rules for upright citizens. We are Americans.

Sam is not a man you want to “mess” with. I should have known better. It’s not my first time in this situation. The last time he came by looking for his money I was panicked. I knew the day would come, but still I wasn’t prepared. I had spent the morning shopping for a bison skin laptop case. The nice thing about bison skins and why I value it over say cowhide, is no skin is the same. Each pebbled hide carries the scars of that prehistoric animal’s life with on the range. I like carrying the personal history, the power, the spirit of an animal that lived so long and continues to live on with me—in cafes and dog parks…

A minor detail worth noting about bison skin is that it can cost you a pretty five hundred thousand pennies. Now it’s not everyday I go shopping for bison skin products, but the night before my horoscope said something about somebody being in the house of free spending and tomorrow was going to be the day to indulge. Well, I’m no fool! When my horoscope talks—I listen. So I indulged! I bought the bag. Two months rent, three months of car payment—all for a bag that cost more than the MacBook Pro inside of it. Did I mention the interior is lined with cashmere?

My spirits had been high that morning. I set the bag in a chair across from me in my living room. I admired it. I obsessed over it. There had been a buzzing at my door. I figured it was the UPS guy downstairs. You know how they push every button until someone buzzes them in? Well, it wasn’t the UPS guy. It was Sam and I almost shit myself when I saw him at my door. He didn’t say anything. I slammed the door and ran to my kitchen where I dug my checkbook out of a flower pot. I quickly wrote a bad check and ran back to give it to him. I knew he wouldn’t cash it until the next day or maybe even the next week so I went to see my uncle Fast Eddie who loaned me enough cash to cover the check.

“Nice bag,” Uncle Eddie said smiling, his gilded front tooth glimmering.

“Thanks, Fast Eddie. It’s a bison—“

“Pay me back in fifteen days or the bag’s mine.”

I got Fast Eddie the money. It took some work. I lost a girlfriend and a three-foot boa constrictor named Clifton in the deal, but I got the cash. This time when Sam came around would be different. The lump sum I owed him was larger. The consequences of running a hustle on Sam twice were infinitely greater. Since August I’ve hardly left my apartment. I spend most mornings staring in between blinds looking for a man with a white billy goat beard who knows damn well I owe my some serious amounts of la plata, la lana, la feria—me entiendes?

When I do leave, I don’t come back for hours. I scout my block. I’ll walk around my block three or four times just to make sure he’s not hanging around. When I finally make my way to my door it’s with my head down and my key in my hand. So far so good, but I’ve been waiting for months and it’s weighing heavy on me. Paranoia is rotting my mind and this is a mind that can’t afford to rot much more. Part of me wants to believe that he’s forgotten—maybe even forgiven the debt. Although I know this to be impractical because nobody forgets the second time, nobody forgives the second time. It doesn’t work like that. If anything, one is far more willing to forgive the first offense—to take it easy on you. As for the second? That’s when lessons are taught. This is how I imagine Sam teaching me a lesson.

“Sit.”

I sit on my couch while he leads in a team of moving men. Three twenty-something Greek brothers with bushy eye brows and shaved heads. They’re nice, but they still take everything. I even see one of them walking out with my electric toothbrush, which after the bison skin laptop case is my most expensive possession. (Full disclosure: I rent a furnished apartment and everything the moving men are hauling out in fact belongs to my landlord, which makes me chuckle a bit.) After they’ve taken everything I’m left sitting on the floor with Sam standing over me. He’s wondering what’s so funny. Nothing, I say.

He grabs me by the hair on my head and tosses me through the window and over the fire escape. I fall four stories and land nose first on the sidewalk. Tragically, I’m fit as a fucking fiddle and I survive. The damage is enormous and I am relegated to a hospital bed for the rest of my life. The only music that they play is Kings of Leon. I’m like the guy from The Diving Bell and The Butterfly except I don’t have a beautiful wife, mistress and child to come visit me. My story will make no one cry. I haven’t even done enough to be sorry for anything. I’m a marginalized member of society—a low level miscreant with noteworthy taste and a negligible income.

A few weeks after the fall they move me to a hospital in Bakersfield. There I live surrounded by former gang members and people who smell like they’ve spent a lot of time in Bakersfield. It’s utterly devastating. I live the next sixty years of my life listening to the same Kings of Leon record. My olfactory glands never adjust to the smell of Bakersfield. I wish I could cry, but my tear ducts are busted from the fall so I just sniffle a lot. It’s pathetic.

Do you now see why the prospect of a confrontation with Sam so frightens me?

The moral of the story is of course this: Nothing in this world is free. Not even if it’s coming from a seemingly well-intention man with a white beard named Sam. Sam is out for blood. It’s tax season.

The Neapolitan Mastiff

*As any longtime reader will be able to tell–this is all hypothetical. The Neapolitan Mastiff fears nothing. Fear is not even in his vocabulary. Although he does get a bit squeamish around ferrets and open cans of tuna.

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