A Haiku and its Background Story

Neighbor’s dog runs free
I always call her Street Pup
Just found her body

Yes, this little haiku is a true story.

For months a cute little dog has been running around, never confined in her fenced yard. My partner asked a neighbor where she lived, found the house, and returned her there a few times, carefully closing the gate. Later the same day, the gate would be open and the pup would be out roaming.

Because we didn’t know her name, I began to call her Street Pup, and soon she responded to the name.

Street Pup would wait outside my door in the morning, impatient, wanting to tag along and play with my dog as I walked her. Chloe tolerated the pup, wrestled her, and was able to have fun although she was on a long leash.

Street Pup drank from my birdbath and stole food off the table when I ate outside. She was never late for a cookout.

Then a few weeks ago she stopped coming around. My heart sank a bit. I walked past her house in hopes she was in the yard, but no. No Street Pup.

Today I was walking Chloe through the desert near my home. There was a skeleton. Right size. Rounded muzzle. I knew.

To be sure, I walked closer and looked at the face and head. There was still fur there, and it was her, all right.

I was so very, very angry. Part of me wanted to come back, slide her remains onto a plastic bag and deliver them to the doorstep of her “owners.” But I knew they would not care, it would not matter.

I’m glad I knew Street Pup. I tried to find a home for her – she’d have been easy to pupnap. She came running when I called, let me hold her, leash her, walk her. I could easily have hustled her into my car and delivered her to a loving family, but sadly, I was unable to find a home for her. And no, I did not need another dog.

Street Pup. Gone but not forgotten.

Street Pup. ¡Presente!

Surprise in the Mesquite

She rose from the mesquite bushes as I approached the highway just north of the Mexican border. Short, dark-skinned, wearing a black skirt and sweater, thick socks and sandals. She was wrapped in a rebozo, a shawl, of black and purple. And tucked into that rebozo was a small child.

She held out her hand to me, a gesture of request. A plea.

I stopped. This was not a woman from the neighborhood out for a morning stroll.

In the more Castillian Spanish of southern Mexico, she asked for food. For her child. She’d been walking for days, she said, carrying the child, and hadn’t eaten. The only food she’d found she’d given to her daughter.

Though I knew she’d crossed the border illegally, what could I do? A young woman with a baby, in the desert. Asking for food.

I gave her the lunch I’d packed just a few minutes earlier, a few energy bars I kept in the car, and a bottle of water I had along. Then I handed her all my money less what I’d need to buy lunch at work that day. Buena suerte, I said to her as I eased away. Good luck.

This was nearly twenty years ago, and I still can’t get her out of my mind.

Money

The Money Goddess seems to be quite displeased with me. Wait. It cannot be a goddess. A woman would never do this to me. It must be the God of money.

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Does this guy even look friendly?

Two things happened. 

First, six weeks ago I applied for a line of credit loan at Bank of America for the purpose of replacing damaged exterior wood on both my house and guest house and repainting the houses. All was moving, slowly, snail’s pace, but each week I got a happy call saying my credit was good, this or that had been received, etc.

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Then on Monday I got told I couldn’t have the loan. And can you guess why? Because my house needs painting! And they will be happy to loan me the money (to paint it) once it’s painted!

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The old paint, above, and below, the color I’d chosen for my house.

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JEEZE!  Hello? That’s what the loan is for! And I had explained it all in detail when I applied for the friggin’ loan.

Strike one against banks in general and B of A in particular. Actually, after the financial meltdown, this is probably about strike twelve. Their ONLY saving grace right now is my new international credit card which I can use in Mexico and not have to pay the blasted 3% surcharge for being out of country.

Then today, more.

As background, you must know I started an account with B of A about thirty-five years ago. I got a mortgage through them, and when I bought my current house eleven years ago, I got its mortgage there. I also have an almost-paid-off car loan there. 

They have had a local branch, and for years there were even two local branches. In recent, cash-machine years, I’ve also been able to access my cash at two different location. That all changed a few months ago when B of A sold their local bank to Washington Federal. Now, to do business directly with my mortgage-holding bank or even get to one of their cash machines, I must drive for forty-five minutes. To maintain a local presence, I opened an account at National Bank which is much closer to me than Washington Federal, but to keep certain banking privileges, I have my social security check direct deposited at B of A.

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Just over a week ago I set up an on-line bill pay to move money from the now 45-minute-away B of A to National Bank, just up the road. I figured that would save me the drive, and each month I could just move money to my local bank.

I set up the account because I need the money now to pay a few bills, get some gas, and perhaps, as a bonus,  eat. There is barely a cent in my NBA account. Well, it took SIX days for the money to leave B of A, and it went … nowhere. It never arrived. Say, what??? Where in the world is my money?

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What I wanted (folks, I actually had to borrow some cash to take this photo).

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Where my money seems to have gone.

 

Meeting today with NBA and I found out they had switched bill-pay servers over the weekend, so there was no server with which to move my money. The same money B of A (finally) sent off on Monday. 

My money is in the ozone. No one appears to be quite certain what ozone it’s in, either. Where does money go when it is nowhere? Is there a secret nowhere zone out beyond Jupiter???

So, long call to B of A in the town forty-five minutes away – and I had just LEFT that town before my little conference at my local NBA! 

At the end of the lengthy phone call, which followed my lengthy meeting at NBA, I finally had spoken to someone who thinks he may, yes may, have accessed the correct ozone. I might be able to have my money in a few days.

May the Goddess of money make this work!

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Should have worked with her!

Chicharones

Some friends invited me and my partner to accompany them to visit a family in Sonora on Sunday. The friends don’t live very far across the line but have a rancho further south, which was the final destination.

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I thought we were just going to visit the ranch for awhile, but boy was I wrong. The purpose of the visit was to make chicharones and have lunch.

Raul has a collection of skulls.

Raul has a collection of skulls.

Chicharones are a fried pork rind. What we had was pork skin with chunks of meat attached to some of the pieces. Until last year, I had been a quasi-vegetarian. Chicharones were not on my list of favorite foods.

First, Maggie got out her huge copper pot. I’d seen pots like it for sale along the road in Sonora but never realized what they were for. Raul made the fire, and Maggie set the pot on top of the fire, adding a few scoops of water from the water barrel. The scoop was an old plastic Folgers container.

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Then the two of them began dumping the pork rinds into the pot. After about four bags of rinds, I thought they’d put them all in, but no. They added about the same amount again. They must have dumped about twenty-five to thirty pounds of pork into the copper pot.

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Then it all began to boil, and Raul started stirring the meat. Stirring thirty pounds of meat takes a large instrument! In this case, it was a paddle-shaped piece of wood about four feet long and four inches wide. All the men took turns stirring the pot. Even Em gave it a shot, but she soon settled in helping Maggie peel the garlic.

Alfredo the chicharonero.

Alfredo the chicharonero (chicharone maker).

Raul checks out the garlic as Em and Maggie peel away.

Raul checks out the garlic as Em and Maggie peel away.

While the men stirred the meat, we women-folk wandered about visiting the horse, Canela, and the two calves. Both calves were only a few months old, and the male was striking, with a heart-shaped white spot on his forehead.

Espiritu (Spirit) has a heart on his forehead.

Espiritu (Spirit) has a heart on his forehead.

Soon the water had boiled away, and the chicharones were cooking in their own fat. Maggie added jalapeños and garlic and a generous amount of salt. The chicharones cooked and the men stirred for several hours.

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Finally, they were done!

 

Maggie scooped pots full of chicharones and drained them in a colander. She must have ended up with a few gallons of pork fat.

Maggie is pressing the excess oil out of the meat.

Maggie is pressing the excess oil out of the meat.

Out came the tortillas, the fresh salsa cruda, some stuffed poblano chiles, beer, and soda. We dove in.

No photo of the burritos we made because I was too busy eating!

Beautiful ending to a beautiful day.

Beautiful ending to a beautiful day.

Bisbee Pride

Bisbee’s Gay Pride Weekend is here again. The day started off with a parade, and somehow I managed to end up in it. That wasn’t what I’d planned. I just wanted some photos but got sucked in to the festivities. I walked with my partner, and a group of gay men cheered us for being straight and still being in the parade.

Crowds lined the street downtown.

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The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were here again.

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A fabulous bus from the Burning Man festival was in the parade, too, carrying some wonderfully dressed folks.

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Two women painted their breasts in the rainbow colors and proudly walked the parade route.

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And there were even gay zombies.

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Ah, Bisbee!

 

Pearls

I read today about pearls. Basically, when something gets inside an oyster shell, be it a  grain of sand or some very tiny ocean resident, the intruder makes the oyster uncomfortable, so it responds.

Now we get technical. An oyster has an organ called a mantle, and it produces a substance called nacre. This nacre lines the inside of the shell, making it smooth and comfortable for the oyster.

However, an intruder can make our little oyster uncomfortable, so the mantle gets busy and produces more nacre and covers up the sand or shrimp or whatever it is that got inside the oyster’s shell.  

More and more layers of nacre are produced as an oyster grows, so once a little irritant has been covered with nacre, it will receive more and more layers, thus forming a beautiful pearl.

The point of this, for me, is that’s what life is: irritants that can lead us to create change, and that can result in something positive. Surely not always, but when we’re irritated, we try to a) cover it up, b) get rid of the irritant, c) find a constructive way to deal with it, or d) flee.   

Covering it up doesn’t work. Drugs and alcohol are common masks, and sometimes depression is a mask that covers an irritant. If the irritant is a cold, we might take Vitamin C or cold medicine to get rid of it. If the irritant is something like a whiny two-year-old, getting rid of it is not an option, so it’s a good idea to find a constructive way to deal with the child.

The fourth choice is to flee. I don’t mean all the way to Zimbabwe, necessarily, though if I had the money and felt the need to flee, I just might head there. There are simpler, more affordable methods of fleeing. Consider the following, all positive methods of flight:

A walk at dawn. The world looks different at dawn than during the day. The colors, the sounds, and even the energy of the earth at dawn are more gentle. It can be a brisk walk, a meandering stroll, or a walk with the dog (unless that’s the irritant). Walking at dawn has been a wonderful way to give me an attitude adjustment when I’ve needed one.

A good book. Some would say that reading is a form of covering up an irritant, and I can’t disagree. However, it is also a form of fleeing. Books can take you places you may never go. I used to tell my students that books could take them anywhere, and at the end of the semester I always encouraged them to read a book and go somewhere they’d never been. At the beginning of one spring semester, a student I’d had the previous fall came up to me as I walked across campus. He said, “Guess what? I went to Alaska over winter break!” I was glad for him but said that probably had been a pretty cold time to go to Alaska. He grinned and said, “In a book, Miss. I went in a book!” He’d fled the desert for Alaska and loved the trip.

Lunch with a friend. You don’t necessarily have to go out for lunch, though there is something delightful about getting together with a friend in a little cafe or a restaurant you’ve never been to before. But you can also invite a friend over for lunch or arrange a simple potluck lunch with a few friends. If you invite someone over, it doesn’t have to be anything fancy. A large salad topped with tuna or chicken is a wonderful meal. Or grill some veggies and a piece of salmon. If it’s winter, consider a pot of soup.

Have some more money? Get a massage. Spring for an extra half hour and spend ninety minutes “elsewhere.”

Museums. No matter where you live, there has to be a museum. I live in a town of sevenhundred, so although there isn’t one here, there is one in Bisbee, a fifteen minute drive from me. Or, I can walk six blocks and be at a little museum in Mexico. 

Art. If you’re feeling creative, inspired, or simply brave, create some art. If you’re not up for that, visit a few art galleries. If you’re near a university there are likely several on campus. When I’m in Tucson, one of my very favorite things to do is visit The Center for Creative Photography on the U of A campus. There’s also a gallery downtown called the Etherton Gallery that has wonderful exhibits. Both are free, and fleeing to either one can cure almost any bad mood, guaranteed.

There are many more ways to flee. Rivers, lakes, oceans – being by water can sooth away almost any kind of irritant. Simply taking time to watch the sunset can do it, too.

Next time life is irritating you, don’t cover it up and don’t think you have to get rid of the irritant. Consider a creative approach to solving the situation, or simply flee. Create the pearl.

Pen to Paper

Pen to paper. Pen to paper. Time to write three pages.

I am attempting to do what Julia Cameron calls the “Morning Pages.” That means I am supposed to get up and put pen to paper and write three pages, and do it before I do anything else. Even before coffee. Like that’s gonna happen.

 

My morning coffee is a must.

My morning coffee is a must.

Although morning is the best time for me to write (best time to do just about anything, actually), I find it hard. I have been in this rut, feeling like I have nothing to say.

People have said I should reflect on one of my dreams. I don’t dream. Well, that’s not true. We all dream. But I rarely remember my dreams. Maybe once or twice a year I can wake up and recall a fleeting piece of one of my dreams. It’s about once every year and a half that I can actually remember a whole dream. So writing about dreams is out.

The weather is nice these days, so I can go outside to write. I didn’t do that this morning and have regretted it. On the other hand, how can I go sit outside to write when the birds are out there begging to have the feeder filled? Does that make two things I have do do (coffee and birds) before I start on my Morning Pages?

 

Enjoying breakfast.

Enjoying breakfast.

And of course I have to refresh their water.

And of course I have to refresh their water.

So that makes three things to do if I count food and water as separate items. Then I will feel badly that the dog is inside, so I’ll go get her, leash her up, and hook her to my chair. Four things to do.

Chloe enjoying the cool morning patio.

Chloe enjoying the cool morning patio.

I am not sure what the answer is. I only know it’s time for me to kick-start my writing again. I still feel as though I have “nothing to say,”but forcing myself to sit and write each day may uncover something I have forgotten, repressed, or simply ignored.

Fingers are crossed that this works.

 

Art Contreras

I worked in the Homeless Center in Kansas City, Missouri, in the late 1980s. I wrote this piece shortly after I left as director there. Although the story is true, I have changed the names of the two men involved.

Pappy poked his head in the doorway. “Hey Em’lie. Got a guy here I want ya t’ meet. If I can git him in there, that is.”

I waved them in from behind my desk in the Homeless Center, a day drop-in center that primarily served street people. Pappy, about forty years old, had been living on the streets for years, and I’d know him since I’d begun working at the Center a few months previously.

A moment later a man stepped into the room, glancing cautiously at me. From across the office I could smell smoke that clung to him from the morning’s campfire. He wore a plaid wool coat, torn at the cuffs and pockets, and filthy from years of hard work and cooking over a fire. He carried a red knit cap in his hand.

“Go on in,” laughed Pappy as he nudged his friend from behind. “She ain’t gonna bite ya.”

Impatient, Pappy hopped in front of the man and hurried over to my desk, his usual grin on his face. “Em’lie, this is Art. And he needs food stamps quick, before he starves to death. Look at him. Skinnier ’n me! He’d a prob’ly froze last night, but we took him into our camp.”

Pappy’s camp, which he shared with another man, was down near the river and the railroad tracks, just a short walk from the market area and downtown. Men, and some women, hopped on trains and stowed away in empty boxcars to travel across the country, just like in the stories I’d heard as a child. Because quite a few people hopped off trains that stopped near the city’s market area, camps had developed along the tracks between there and the river.

I spoke to Art, welcomed him, and asked him to sit down. His brown eyes glanced over at me warily, but he took a seat. Over the next half hour, I helped art fill out the necessary forms, but it was Pappy who prodded him to put real names and addresses on the lines. “Go on, man. She ain’t gonna call your momma. She just gotta have it for the form. You know how these office folks are – can’t stand the line not filled in. But she’s okay, man. Really. Ain’t ya, Em’lie?”

While carefully filling out the forms and answering my questions, Art told me he’d been riding the rails, working odd jobs along the way from California to Kansas City. He’d left after an angry divorce, like many of the homeless men I worked with. He’d left to go on the road “for a little while,” but as in many cases, a little while had turned into years.

Art stopped in to visit me each month, to prove he was still in town, so he could collect his food stamps. He didn’t have to. He only had to visit the food stamp office, but I think he wanted an excuse to talk. He had grown more comfortable with me, and even came into the office without Pappy. He’d stayed in Pappy’s camp, and the two of them had become close, working odd jobs together now and again, sharing coffee in the mornings and cheap wine in the evenings.

One day Art strolled into the office. It wasn’t even food stamp time. He came in smiling, looking me in the eye, and sat down. For a minute he didn’t speak, just moved his eyes around my dingy office, across the file cabinets, over piles of papers, lingered on photos of my trips to Mexico and Guatemala. He stretched out his long legs and settled in.

“You actually like us guys, don’t you.”

He was looking at me sideways, pretending to look out the front window. Although it was a warm spring day, he still wore his wool coat, open and hanging limply off his shoulders and small frame. His cap was stuffed into a pocket.

“Well, yeah,” I replied. “I really do. Guess I can identify in some ways.”

He smiled his slow smile, then began to talk about his wife, his divorce, and his troubles with alcohol. “Don’t know which came first, the problems with the wife or the problems with the alcohol. Anyway, guess I’m down  to just one problem now.”

Art declined my offer to help him get into a rehab program. “Wouldn’t do any good,” he said, looking at his hands in his lap. “Not now.”

I asked him what was hardest about living on the streets, and what he missed the most. “A shower. There’s never a place to get clean. Guess I’m a bum, but I really don’t like to look like one. Shower and a washer. Sure would like to get clean.”

A few months later, early on a Sunday morning, my phone rang at home. I heard a sobbing sound, someone trying to talk through it. “He’s dead, Em’lie. Art’s dead. Had a heart attack.”

I told Pappy to stay where he was, and I drove to the market to meet him. We sat, talked about Art, and cried for an hour. “How we gonna bury him, Em’lie? He’s gotta have a decent funeral. He deserves that much.”

The police department refused to call Art’s mother in California. Not their job. It was the first time I’d had to call a woman to tell her that her son had died.

I spent the next few days making arrangements for a donated casket, a free burial plot, a free engraved tombstone, and raising money for Art’s mother to get to Kansas City for the funeral. One of the Center’s homeless volunteers arranged for cars and a small bus to drive Art’s street friends to the cemetery. The local paper and three TV stations covered the story from the initial search for a burial plot through the end of the funeral.

A group of Viet Nam veterans asked me what they could do to help. “Get me a shower for this place,” I said.

About a year after Art’s death, the vets carved out a little room in the back of the Center and installed a shower, washer, and dryer. Today, a little scrap of paper tacked over the doorway reads “The Art Contreras Memorial Shower.”

Pool Tournament in Kino Viejo

There’s a poolhall in Bahia Kino. The building is a somewhat open-air affair. By “open-air” I don’t mean it has no sides. Rather, in the tradition of buildings in hot, humid climates, its walls don’t quite reach the ceiling, allowing for air to circulate.

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There are nine pool tables, none of which match, ranging from ones that once may have been beautiful to table tops set on poured concrete legs.

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It’s a hangout for young and old men alike, with walls decorate with pool-hall art.       IMG_4497   At the entrance sits a man who checks out the racks of pool balls. When necessary, he can also repair the tables’ pockets.

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So, tournament time. I imagine the regulars were surprised when my fiend Lorela decided to take lessons in pool, and even more surprised the first time she entered the pool tournament.

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She played the other day.

A total of fourteen signed up for the tournament: thirteen men and Lorela. Surprisingly, they all seemed to welcome her participation.

IMG_4495                                  Serious concentration as Lorela shoots

The tournament began at 2:00, and Lorela said we had to be there on time, because unlike many other Mexican events, this one began pretty much en punto. On time. We arrived just before two and the practice was just winding up. Just after 2:00, the tournament began.

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Each participant was assigned a number, and numbers were randomly combined to choose who played one another. Lorela played the second game. And lost.

But then she played another game with another who had lost, and this time she won. She earned a round of applause from the men who’d grown to admire her.

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In the back of the poolhall, there were a few serious domino games going on.

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I didn’t stay long – not long enough to see the outcome. Lorela didn’t win, but she held her own. And I had a blast taking photos.

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Guest Blog Posting

My grand niece, all decked out.

My grand niece, all decked out.

I have never had a guest post anything on my blog site, but this was too good not to share.
It all began with this photo that I shared on Facebook. Jeff Humfeld of Kansas City wrote this when he saw it.

A friend of mine just posted a picture on Facebook of her grand niece all wrapped up with Christmas lights and it reminded me of the Christmas Eve that, thankfully, the Soviets didn’t attack from the North Atlantic.

I was stationed with the US Navy in Iceland at a Naval Air Base that tracked Soviet nuclear submarines as they passed out of the North Sea and into the Atlantic Ocean on their way to troll the East Coast of the United States. We were still in place, still on guard against the “Godless Soviets.”

Most of us had not been able to afford the leave time or the money to travel back to our home towns for Christmas so there were cookies, cakes and other holiday treats that we had received from home. In the gift package I had received from my sister was a set of Christmas lights shaped like icicles, that after two or three minutes would start flashing off and on in rotating patterns.

TV was limited to the Armed Forces channel with Roller Derby being about the best show. However, our barracks probably had several thousand dollars worth of stereo equipment. This being the case, most of our entertainment consisted of drinking beer from the beer machine, smoking hashish smuggled from mainland Europe, and sitting around listening to music. This Christmas Eve was of course a festive night with parties in a number of different rooms, some small groups and others larger groups. One of the larger parties was in the room of a sailor whose holiday package had included a bunch of the exotic entertainment commonly called LSD.

Although I had no desire to join in, one of my friends did want to go and visit with those who were enjoying their trip down the psychedelic path. We decide we wanted to give them a Christmas gift to remember. Did I mention I had received Christmas lights? We carefully wrapped the string of lights around my buddy Kim, attached an extension cord and then covered those lights with a sweater.

Timing our visit to when we knew the trip was well under way, Kim knocked on the door. When they let him in, he strolled into the middle of the darkened room and started chatting with a couple of the fellows in the room. After about a minute I plugged the lights into a socket in the hall. There was a very loud collective gasp that emanated from the room, followed by a very tense quiet; no one seemed to be able to exhale.

Kim continued to talk as if nothing had happened and slowly the sound of whimpers and nervous movements were heard from the room. Then . . . the lights started to flash on and off, in varying patterns of course. The wails and cries of dismay started to grow and were joined by what sounded like the gnashing of teeth until someone yelled out, “What the fuck is wrong with you, man?” It was at about this time Kim slowly turned, showing that the lights were on his back as well. He bid his adieu, closing the door on his way out, plunging the room into darkness and chaos.

It was not until years later that it occurred to me that this would have been an ideal time for those “Godless Soviets” to attack. Of course, it could be that we unwittingly helped out Military Intelligence with another of their LSD experiments on our troops.

Here’s wishing you a safe and healthy holiday season – and by the way, stick to the cookies.

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