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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.”


“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?




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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Gun Store, Liquor Store, Yoga Studio

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The Kindness of Strangers (in Public Bathrooms)

Two blow dryers, one next to each ear, each geared to its highest setting. That’s the first wave. Then the Morse code. She puts on clogs, which are really more like mallets for her feet. Once she’s in her clogs, she practices her vertical, soaring several feet in the air before landing back on the ground where she tries her best to stomp through our wooden floors. It’s as soothing as when your phone convulses with an Amber Alert.

Once she’s completed her clog-to-floor Morse code message, but before she leaves, she hovers over me to make sure I’m still pretending to be asleep. I am. She walks to the front door, opens it and then with all her strength, using two hands, she slams it as hard as she can. The frame of the house shakes, the windows next door rattle, a cat scaling our fence loses its balance as a wave of vibration rolls through our neighborhood, kicking up loose chunks of sidewalk and jolting the SmartCars and Mini Coopers between Riverside Drive and the 101.

Now that my cortisol levels are through the roof, it’s time meditate.

With expanded lungs and an open heart, I follow Sunset Boulevard from Silver Lake to Hollywood. I pull into a hospital across the street from one of the dozen Scientology Centers between Highland and Hillhurst. Inside the hospital, a woman sticks a needle in my arm. It’s full of poison. A small dose. They call this a flu shot. There may be pros and there may be cons, but like the samples at Costco, I’m not doing it because I’m particularly interested in an eighth of a chicken pesto wrap, I’m doing it because it’s free.

Before I leave, I slip into the bathroom. I’m walking with my head down, scrolling through Twitter, not registering anything: more sex offenders, more natural disasters, more school shootings and a Harold Pinter quote that I read three times and still can’t make sense of. That’s what I’m doing. I’m saying a Harold Pinter quote from a play I’ve never read in my head when I look up to see a guy, with what I guess you’d call a carbuncled face and hair like Don Draper, staring at me. He’s smiling. “Hey man.”

Remember, I’ve meditated. People say hi and I say hi back. Compassion, empathy, “I care about your pain, darling.” Some Buddhist teacher said that. I nod. He holds up a plastic bag with a small cup inside, “Would you mind?”

“I care about your suffering.” I don’t say that to him, but I think it. This is someone asking for help and I know how hard that can be. I take the cup in the plastic bag and walk to the stall. It’s locked. I think about waiting but he nods at the urinal. Sure.

While he stands behind me, I fill the plastic cup with remnants of hot water, lemon juice and apple cider vinegar. Fuck me if I’m not my guru’s follower. I walk over to the sink, wash my hands and pass the carbuncled Don Draper my urine. He takes it from me like he’s taken the urine of a thousand men before me, which makes me feel better because I was starting to feel weird about this whole thing.

He raises his eyebrows, doesn’t say thanks and walks out of the bathroom. But that’s okay. I don’t need to be thanked, because I care about his pain, right? His suffering? Though it’s starting to feel like my morning practice of compassion is wearing off. I’m starting to feel like, yes, I’m psyched I was able to pay it forward, I hope that if I ever need a stranger’s urine, someone will pee in a cup for me. But I’m also feeling like, How about a fucking thank you, Don?

Not for the first time, my medical provider declines to validate my parking. I trot to the structure, pay $54 for my 32 minute visit. I’m on my way to work when it occurs to me that as well intentioned as I may have been, as pure of heart as I hope to be, I did have an edible last night before I watched Dunkirk, so that guy is definitely going to fail his drug test.

But hey, purity of my urine aside, I still care about your suffering, darling.

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On the (Panamanian) Road


It’s a whistle. Not like a steam train, more like a person whistling. But not like a person whistling to a dog. More like a guy whistling at a girl, but without the second… would you call it a refrain? The part that calls for your attention, but not the part that suggests an appreciation? It’s not a mating call. It’s more like a firework that’s been launched but never detonates. It just swerves and flaccidly drops into the sea, or a parking lot. Only it’s a whistle.

That’s what I’m hearing anyway, underneath this tree with these drooping flowers that are called Angel’s Trumpets or Devil’s Teardrops or something. That’s what the Panamanian cab driver called them as we drove by this morning. We have these in Los Angeles, I think, but the ones here are supposed to make you hallucinate.

So I hiked up this mountain road with my shorts chaffing my thighs and my shirt melting into the blades of my back. Which is how I arrived here, sweating underneath these flowers, trying to get fucked up, but only hearing the sound of a whistle that I can’t place.

I wish the wind would blow, but the air and the trees are too thick so everything must stay as it is. If a car drives by going down the hill, I might try to hitch a ride back to town. But it’s tough to make promises in this heat. Plus, it’s Christmas and I haven’t seen anyone the whole time I’ve been under this plant. This whole time meaning the last twenty minutes, or maybe two hours. I don’t have my watch, well, because I don’t wear a watch. What I mean is that I don’t have my phone. And time moves slowly out here. Everything does. It’s the humidity.

I lay back, or maybe I lie back. Really what I do is fall back. The blades of grass are sharp and ants crawl into my ears and up my hands and ankles. I wonder if I should be worried about snakes or sloths or coyotes. Maybe it’s just something they tell tourists – it’s just something to say on a long boring drive in the rainforest other than, “That’s a tree, which is old and interesting.” Or, “That’s a waterfall, which is probably prehistoric.” Or, “That’s a house that a tycoon from Canada bought and then left for his two sons who divided it in half, never spoke to each other and have since died.” They’re just filling the dead air. Panama is not Rome. There isn’t a coliseum, or a plaza, or a river, or Vatican City. I guess Vatican City is a different place since it has the word “city” in its name, but to me, it’s Rome.

There might not be a pope around here but there are, however, indigenous people who do not speak Spanish. They pick coffee beans and when they’re not, they get black-out drunk and fight for each other’s wives. I want to be the type of guy who sees some nobility in this, but unfortunately I don’t. Though I’m thankful for their efforts with the coffee, without which these words would not have been written and I’d still be in bed. The indigenous people in this province supposedly walked here all the way from Alaska. That’s what a white guy who owns a coffee plantation told me. Why they stopped, we’ll never know. The white guy didn’t say that. I was just thinking it.

I think a car may have driven by, but I missed it. My abdomen isn’t working so I can’t sit up. I try to use other muscles, namely my brain to communicate with my back or my arms to aid in the rising of my supine body to a position so I might wave down a ride, but to no avail. I guess I’ll just enjoy this day Christ was born in the position that he assumed in the manger, although he didn’t assume it. I mean, I assume someone put him in there like that, on his back. Probably his back. I don’t think you leave babies face down in their cribs. Or in his case, the manger.

I feel the weight of the clouds, the rainforest, and the water that has formed into individual drops and taken to pelting me. And like the birthday boy himself, I maybe even feel humanity pushing me into the dirt. As rain starts to fall harder, I seep deeper into the soil and it occurs to me that I might drown. To save myself I have no choice but to exhale very quickly through my mouth so as to free the surrounding area of rain, then quickly inhale through my mouth, as you do when snorkeling in the rain. My breath is getting shorter and shorter, but the system is sound. Now I just have to wait out the rain.

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FYF Day 2: Backstage By Mistake

Floppy felt hat -- check. Unitard -- check. Cut off jean shorts -- check. Exposed philosophical tattoo -- check.Ah, Sunday. Sweet and calm. A day of rest, relaxation, and maybe some light worship.

I start with a shot of whiskey. I’ve got a big day ahead of me. I have to keep my wits about me. Be light on my feet. I’m about to enter a gated area with thousands of anemic teenagers.

But I’m going to take it easy today. Tomorrow is Monday and I’ll have to be back at work. Besides, I’m too old to really lose my shit on a Sunday night and then drag myself into the office five or six hours later.

So I have another shot of whiskey and then a beer, and I think I’m basically going to take it easy from this point on. Just needed a little something to put the wind in my sails.

Today we drive to Exposition Park because it’s a casual Sunday and the likelihood of being too impaired to drive, six or nine hours from now, is not great. But because we are driving, that also means we have to park.

What I missed yesterday is the staggering poverty that surrounds all the dudes with top heavy flat tops and beards that are rich with whatever is in beard oils. We cruise down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and it looks like every over MLK Jr. Boulevard in America – fucking ghetto. The first two lots we see are thirty bucks to park in, so we pass, thinking we’ll find a cheaper lot.

RIP, yo.

There’s an open spot in front of a gravesite/memorial, complete with the Virgin Guadalupe candles from the grocery store. I don’t know if the spot was left open in “Memory Of” or simply because no one else is willing to park right in front of where someone was recently shot, but I’m happy to take it. I stride north on Vermont and I get catcalled by a small black man who is sitting on the curb drinking a Clamato Budweiser. He thinks I’m a handsome woman. He says so.

We pass two liquor stores and probably the most packed Carl’s Jr. in America. I don’t know if it’s packed because of FYF, or because it states clearly that they accept EBT. However, you can’t go through the drive-thru. EBT is only available inside.

We glide into the festival. There are no lines to speak of. The result of which is people are drinking their contraband at a much faster rate. Sweaty teenagers chug handles of vodka paired with Simply Orange in broad daylight. Guys with neck tattoos take pulls of something brown out of a Crystal Geyser bottle. They wince and offer me some. For some reason I say no. Which is weird because I’m eating a Balance Bar, which is disgusting in its own right, but almost impossible to consume without copious liquids. Regardless, I survive the Balance Bar. I also survive the sort of heavy groping from security that some people are willing to pay good money for in massage parlors.

We get inside and make our way to the Main Stage just as Mac DeMarco is starting. He’s wearing a toque, as I believe they call it in his homeland, and strumming along, making jokes about how much he loves New York City and how he’s so happy to be here.

white people

Later on, Blood Orange comes on stage and I’m shocked that they’re old and they play instruments. Lately, I’ve become accustomed to just watching teenagers spin knobs and dance. But the novelty of a band that plays actual instruments wears quickly. The sun is setting behind them and from my vantage, they could be playing doubles ping pong for all I can see.

Festival goers gain momentum as the sun drops. I see a pregnant woman dancing two feet from a girl who is taking key bumps and refusing to share with her friends. She’s dancing aggressively, even though at that exact moment, Tanlines isn’t playing a song. They are actually just talking, sans melody, about how much they like LA or this festival or something else that’s unmemorable. This is the problem with “doing it for the fans.” The fans aren’t actually listening. They’re hoarding their coke. They’re getting ready to go into labor.

We end up following a guy holding a sign that says “Here”. I follow him because he’s easy to spot. However, he’s not easy to follow. The route is behind food trucks and between trash cans. At one point there is some shuffling between the hood of a truck and a pillar that anyone with a waist size larger than 33 would not have fit through. We continue to follow the guy to the gate of the Arena where we are squeezed like toothpaste through turnstiles. Everyone is talking about getting crushed, toppled, stomped to death, this fear is common I learn pressed against panicked strangers. I’m wondering if they sell beer inside.

Apparently, I’ve wondered this aloud because a woman turns to me, and says that they do. She gives me detailed directions, but the current of humans pushing inside takes me where it sees fit. This happens to be the lower level beer garden.Darkside

The area in front of the stage is packed, but where I’m standing is spacious. Plenty of elbow room. So much in fact that a couple aggressively make-outs right next to me while moving their hands around as if they are search for a door handle in the dark. I admire how much this couple loves each other. The guy takes his shirt off, then takes a step back so she can have a look. She squints her eyes, shrugs, then walks away. His buddies come over and slap him on the back. They tell him he had a good run.

The Darkside puts on a good show, but as the set wraps up, the pressing issue is there aren’t any bathrooms. This seems odd for a place that dispenses liquid, but I’m no Event Planner. We decide to leave. I make my way to an exit, but get denied, so instead I walk past another security guard just as the show is breaking. My friends follow me and when they catch up, they inform me that we’re backstage. I crane my neck, and there in fact, right in front of us is the stage, and we’re definitely behind it.

We decide to further press our luck, but we get denied access to the next level of security. But we’ve got nothing else to do, so we open another door and there’s Nicholas Jaar and the Darkside band, hanging out, drinking water in the Green Room. We debate joining them, but then a security guard demands to know how we got in, and then ushers us outside.


He sends us out and into the Artist Area with all of the bands trailers. We walk past band members of The Strokes, Tanlines, Blood Orange. It’s a little confusing because we thought we were getting kicked out. Instead we’ve been upgraded.

We end up drinking ciders, which are disgusting but free. And then I’m taking a pull of mescal with some guy who is handing me his business card. It’s all interesting enough, but we came to watch some shows. We did not come to stare at dudes in bands play with their phones while girls take selfies next to them.

We leave the Artist Area and walk through another set of security. We tell each other that we had a good run. It was fun. Then we realize we’re not in the general population, we’re in the VIP beer garden. The VIP Area is now seemingly endless. There’s no way out. Rather than fight it, we accept it and get some of the same beers they sell the regular folk at the same prices. It does not feel VIP, except for the girls back here are prettier and everyone’s eyes are super dilated. People seem friendlier and they seem to talk a lot faster. We’re among friends here.

As it’s Sunday, I’m supposed to already be gone. But now the last band of the night is on stage. Eighty-five percent of the festival going population is wearing a black shirt with the chrome logo of this band from 2002. The shirt is so ubiquitous (except for in VIP where it is entirely absent) that I think they must’ve given it away for free outside of the gates. Or sold it at Target when all of these kids were in middle school.

Yet, here I am, still watching them. Still drinking beer after beer on my casual Sunday night, which according to a stranger’s phone – mine died hours ago – is actually now a casual Monday morning. But everyone around me is so happy. They’re overflowing with endorphins, smiling, fist pumping, dancing while they stare at their unseasonable boots while gritting their teeth, and listening to a band whose last hit came a decade ago.

As we depart, and I’m inhaling a slice of pizza in the Monday morning twilight, I think, I should be thinking something deep and philosophical right now – about youth, the appropriation of indie music, the uniformity of haircuts, the predictably of an evening with drugs, teenagers and dudes singing over drum machines. But instead, I’m thinking about how even though it’s burning my mouth, I’m still eating this pizza.

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