Chat-o-meister

Not many parents would tell a baby to shut up, but we did – constantly. After endless hours of his blabber we’d say, “Shut up, Samu,” despite ourselves. His jibberish was beyond cute and oh, kids say the darndest things – it was literally, “can you just shut up for five minutes? Just five minutes!”

It never hurt his feelings – quite the contrary. It got to the point where he’d respond, “No I can’t – I’m a non-shutter upper!”

As he got older, the Chat-o-meister got worse. What, with school and all, he’s armed with a bigger vocabulary. He can articulate now and give visuals. Way to go, level P reader! The other day, in a crowded elevator, he said to his friend, “My mom washes her hair in the bathtub, so sometimes her hair is in our bath and it’s irritating. And gross.”

Which was better than his explanation of an altercation at school that went, “Nicholas said the “b” word – you know bitch -,”

“Samu, you’re not supposed to say the word. You just call it the “b” word.”

“Yeah, but you might’ve thought I meant bastard.”

Thank you, Samu. Thanks for being so – thorough.

He has yet to ask me for his own Facebook page or email account so he can spread the word. He does, however, want my old camera so he can make his own movies. I’m assuming the storyline will be something along the lines of “Bad Piggy finds the box of tampons and decides to launch them at the stray cats in our community driveway!”

Don’t worry – you won’t be subjected to his nonsensical movie marathons. First of all, I have no intention of sifting through our boxes and boxes of junk just to find our old camera, only to sift through the same mess to find the battery charger. Second, it’s inevitably going to be me who has to edit all his hapless footage and upload it to Youtube.

Speaking of which, he hasn’t figured out that he would need his own Youtube account. Unlike his buddy at the schoolyard, who has that all covered. This kid, Shane, is only in Kindergarten but he’s as tall, if not taller than Samu. He comes up to me and says, “I’m getting my own Gmail!”

So I say, “Great! Tell me – who would be emailing you?” Because seriously, who emails a letter of the alphabet or just sight words?

Shane says, rather curtly, “Not E-mail – G mail. G. G. G – mail! Not E!”

Now I’m thoroughly confused and tell him so. My understanding is that Gmail is an email account, so why would he need it – was the question I posed to him.

He replied, “For my Youtube!”

And he rolls his eyes like he’s just had the most idiotic conversation, ever.

Of course, when I recounted the story to Zuki he sided with Shane saying, “Mom, you know, you are old.”

How does that even make sense? Then again, why am I surprised – Zuki, who’s in the fourth grade, says, “Mom, I think I’m getting a boulder.”

A boulder?

He opens his mouth and points to one of his back teeth, “See – this one is loose. I think I’m getting a new boulder.”

For the record, his molar is fine – it’s his brain that’s loose.

Me: “He doesn’t look like an ‘Andrew'”

Samu: “Maybe he draws a lot.”

Shut up, Samu.

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Houston, We Have A Behavior Problem

Every parent at one point, faces some form of behavior problems in children, but nothing – compares to the complexities of a boy turned nine.

They’re bi-polar, I swear. One minute, they’re cursing you out under their breath because you won’t “leave them alone,” and the next minute they’re clinging onto your leg accusing you of abandonment when you’re fetching the laundry.

At least once a month, the teacher waves me over to address his “bad day”.

Is it that time of the month – for him? I think to myself.

Well, the truth is – it’s not just my guy. There are other boys among his class – his friends – and even in his Pack who sprout these demonic wings. It’s not boyish mischief – it’s adolescent rebellion. The, “I’m gonna push buttons until someone starts screaming at me so I’ll have a reason to lash out,” route.

To my nine-year-old, everything is stupid. Breakfast is stupid. Homework – oh, homework – is stupid. Practice, bathing, sleeping – even pooping is stupid. Everybody in the world is stupid, starting with his little brother all the way to Jaime Shupak, the traffic anchor on NY 1 News.

Excuse me, are you fifteen? Yes, apparently – nine is the new fifteen. And for girls it’s seven – according to my friends who have daughters.

After the last report from his teacher about his deplorable behavior, I did some research and found this helpful article.

It’s “The Three Skills Every Child Needs For Good Behavior” by James Lehman.

“Skill #01: Reading Social Situations” seemed simple enough. As a matter of fact, I assumed my boys already did that. “Look at someone, anyone, and try to guess how they’re feeling,” I said during our walk on Sunday morning.

Zuki promptly replied, “That’s stupid.”

But then he asked, “How am I supposed to guess how strangers feel,” which made it obvious that he hadn’t been “reading” situations at all – just reacting to them.

Inevitably, he ticked me off later that day to which I simply asked, “Look at my face and tell me how I’m feeling.”

Something clicked in his mind – it was clear. “You’re mad,” he said, “because I’m not doing my chores.”

Then he calmly picked up his clean clothes and put them away.

Eureka! Is this how Anne Sullivan felt when Helen Keller finally grasped communication? Not to compare our measly milestone with that historic moment, but there are times I wonder if my boy isn’t deaf and blind.

I just have to remind myself that it’s all a phase. For now, it’s the back talk, the rebellion, holding a breadstick like a cigar and sassing like Wolverine. He’ll find his calling. The next thing I’ll know, he’ll be turning eighteen, which would be too old for a behavioral problem, so that would make it the new – midlife crisis?

 

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The Cramp About Summer Camp

Summer camp is not the Jim Croce sing along it used to be when I went. Kids today are just too sophisticated. As it is, my boys pack two Nerf guns and five thousand Lego pieces just to play in the backyard. I can’t imagine what girls need – a suitcase of band looms?

Camp is also way more expensive than what I remember. Two weeks of full day camp for my kids cost what my parents paid for one month back then. It’s ludicrous.

Of course there are cheaper city camps. They’re great if you’re content with paying for semi-attentive hipsters to take your kids to the park all day. I already do that – be semi-attentive and endlessly drag them around the hot streets to a sweltering park with deplorable bathrooms. The hipster thing, I’d have to work at.

The way I see it, summer camp is worth the money as long as the kids do things that you can’t deliver. Like play baseball with a team of kids all the same age or do crafts with an adult who isn’t afraid of glitter or drive around with hipsters who can listen to Nikki Minaj without throwing up.

For two years, I enrolled my boys in World of Discovery camp, which was ideal. They were picked up by 07:30 in the morning and dropped off at 5:30, stinky, exhausted and thoroughly played out. They were completely different people when they arrived home – like cyborgs who looked, smelled and talked like my kids – but didn’t act like them. They were behaved. Taking a bath, doing their homework packet without a single tear and they were famished enough to eat salad. Salad!

It was paradise until it ended and the “camp glow” was gone as fast as it came.

Next challenge will be sleep away camp. If Day Camp seems expensive, wait until you hit the sleep aways. Granted, they’re chock full of activities you’d get arrested for doing. Archery, BB guns, rock climbing, throw-them-off-a-pier-and-see-if-they-can-swim-back, but at seven hundred dollars a week, I might risk the heat.

As for academic summer camps – personally, I don’t think the brain absorbs any book knowledge once the snow thaws. There’s probably a scientific study out there to prove it but for now, I say it from experience.

Ever since the State standardized tests were done, the kids academically went on vacation.

“Homework, schmomework!” They would say. Even the second graders – and they didn’t even take the damn test.

To avoid summer learning loss, the Summer Bridges Activity Workbook helped us a great deal last year. Each day is designed for twenty minutes of ELA and math study with bonus science or Social Studies and physical fitness. That, coupled with forty minutes of reading was about all my boys could handle without taking them to court. At the end of the summer, they weren’t any smarter than in they were in June – but didn’t forget how to open a book.

With boys – that’s the most you can hope for.

So if you’re looking to stick your kid in an expensive summer camp, my suggestion is – go with a friend or a sibling. They may not be in the same division – but they’ll be on the same bus. Because we all know that the school bus is the cul-de-sac where bullying thrives.

And while it might be too late now, go to the Open House. They usually set them up from February through May when they do the early bird sign ups.

If you are too late and the camp is all booked, don’t fret. Go on their waiting list – people always cancel. Last minute. Trust me.

Whatever it is you scope out, think long term. You don’t want to enroll them in a group they’re going to be too old for by next year. Ideally, you’d like to get them into a situation that could eventually mean summer work.

My boys could possibly start work next summer – Samu started learning guitar and Zuki’s been practicing drums on his own. They could ride the subways singing Bad, Bad Leroy Brown badly like I did in summer camp. Who knows, they could collect enough small change to pay for sleep away camp by August.

 

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Eat Me, Drink Me

Ziploc sandwich bags filled with white sugar were lined across the table. The boys couldn’t stop touching it, holding it, letting it drape across their face. It certainly wasn’t the point of the exercise but it was an eye opener for the adults about the power of sugar.

At the Scouts meet the other day, the Pack conducted a presentation on sugary drinks. It was a “Healthy Unit Patch” activity to show how much sugar was packed into Coke, Gatorade, Sunny D and Capri Sun. For each drink, we dumped the amount of sugar in a plastic baggie. They actually saw the seventeen teaspoons it took for a 20 oz Coke.

They gawked at it. So much sugar. Their eyes lit up like Tony Montana facing a mountain of cocaine. One boy placed his finger on a bag of sugar and asked, “Can I take it home?”

“No.”

“What about the Sunny D?”

While they all knew that water contained absolutely no sugar, there were a couple among them that commented, “Blech, water. I hate the way it tastes!”

It’s not the only time I’ve heard kids say that. They’re usually the kids who have a crushed bottle of generic water in a warm lunch box. How could warm, plastic toxin tasting water compete with an ice cold Snapple in a glass bottle?

It can’t.

And that’s the sad truth, it’s really not their fault they diverge from water. Most kids who drink a lot of sugary drinks have parents who drink the same, or parents who dispense it like – well, water. And if you really think about it, a hundred years ago, all people big and small, drank rum or ale because the water was too filthy to drink. So who’s to blame, right?

Although I was told that the cheapest vodka run through a Brita water filter will taste like Grey Goose, I’d still suggest using it for water and serving that to your kids.

It is worth experimenting, however – for research purposes, obviously.

The main soda drinker in our house was Samu but he rectified that situation on his own by developing a taste for Taki’s. It’s a corn snack flavored with chile and lime and it’s amazing. Not the taste but the fact that it shuts him up and gets him to guzzle water. Currently, it’s all the rave among his classmates and I’m sure that’s why the school aides are smiling. Why didn’t Frito Lays see that coming?

In closing, I’d like to add that respect for water has always been upheld by brewers and distillers. My father always preached that he’d rather I drink beer than soda. Of course, I was four years old at the time and probably the only pre-schooler served a glass of beer simply because it was Canadian.

I just remember it was delicious.

At this stage, especially after all the attempts at home brewing, I see that quality water is the “umami.” It’s the crux of life, booze and authentic New York pizza. While my dad gave me a glass of Canadian beer, I gave my boys a sandwich bag of white sugar to prove the point. And in their future of proving that water is holy, they have – the Brita filter.

Samu drink

 

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Same Ingredients, Different Buns

It’s the seven year itch. Not the marriage – the boys. They absolutely can’t stand each other. From the moment they wake up to the moment they go to bed – they are kicking each other’s balls. Literally. It’s come to the point of adjusting schedules to keep them apart. Not surprisingly, they spend the entire time away from each other being preoccupied with what the other one is doing.

My afternoons alone with Zuki, he’ll ask me, “What do you think Samu”s doing?”

I’ll say I don’t know to which he says, “Probably playing Minecraft.”

Again, I’ll say I don’t know and then sure enough, Samu calls.

“Can I speak to Zuki?”

“What for.” I’ll ask.

“So he can play Minecraft multi-player with me.”

It’s about the only time they’re civil to each other – over the phone. Get them in a room together and all I hear is the Ironside siren music that reappeared in Kill Bill.

Every morning, when they’re supposed to be brushing their teeth and getting dressed, the actual routine I hear is this: chit chat, laughter, cabinet doors slamming, somebody saying, “Heeeey, that’s mine,” followed by running, chasing, thuds of punches landing and finally – wailing.

That’s when either my husband or I have to – intervene.

They stand there – the two of them, in just their underpants, huffing as if they just ran a marathon with a big red welt on their backs. This is the scene we walk into at least two mornings out of the week. The other mornings, we’re just too tired to break it up. Let them go to school looking like they just got out of jail, I need to finish my coffee.

Some afternoons my mom takes Zuki to her apartment and he acts like he’s in Vegas. He demands from her, an endless buffet of snacks, beverage after beverage, and she waits on him even though she complains about it later.

“Who does he think he is – my husband?” She’ll say.

When it’s time to go home, Zuki will stall and when all else fails he’ll say, “Baba, I don’t want to go home because I really hate Samu. He really gets on my nerves. I just wanna kill him. That’s why I choke him. Can I have another snack?”

Meanwhile, Samu pulls the same stunt but instead of choking, he’ll say, “That’s why I punch him in the balls,” and instead of a snack, he’ll ask to play Minecraft.

They are so different and yet they’re the same. It’s amazing how the same ingredients, baked in the same oven produced two different buns – onion and cinnamon raisin in my case. While there’s no secret ingredient to avoid sibling personality clashes, there’s none to guarantee compatibility either.

Even the closest of people have turned into distant ghosts or worse, formidable enemies. Then I guess a punch in the balls to solve a dispute isn’t that bad after all.

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Even The Losers

There is nothing wrong with losing. A loss is like a mistake – they happen so we can learn from them. Duh. Of course with boys, or more like – my boys in particular, they’ll repeat the same mistake about fifty times before they have me wondering if they might possibly be insane.

When the boys were five and three, we used to play a memory game. The first to get the correct answer would get a point – five points to win a round. Although we played several rounds and there was no prize, neither of the boys could stand losing. The loser would throw a complete tantrum in the fashion of John McEnroe minus the tennis racquet, and entirely miss the point of the game, which was to exercise their feeble memory. They needed to learn how to cope with disappointment.

So I took them to Toys R Us, spent an hour there testing out a bunch of cool toys and didn’t buy them anything. Afterwards, we went to Dunkin’ Donuts and came out with nothing but an ice coffee for mommy. Nope – no donuts either.

It seemed like a reasonable plan to teach them that they don’t always get what they want. Ultimately, however, they learned that it’s better to go to Toys R Us with daddy – he’s a sucker. While to this day, they’re still rather sore losers. It’s all daddy’s fault.

At the Cub Scouts Pinewood Derby, my husband was so irate that nobody from our pack won anything that he rallied up all the other dads and determined that next year, we were doing our own derby race. “Screw them!” He yelled, as we gathered up our losing derby cars. Knowing that Samu would mimic his dad and say, “screw you,” instead of thank you on the way out, I told them right then and there that there was no way in Hell I would organize a Pinewood Derby race. Not without beer, anyway.

Honestly though, the boys weren’t upset, they knew it wasn’t all about winning. But daddy?

In the movie, Searching For Bobby Fischer, the chess coach (played by the tea horking Ben Kingsley) says a quotable line, “To put a child in a position to care about winning and not to prepare him is wrong.”

I should’ve listened to Gandhi and prepared the big guy. My bad. I’m not joking when I say he’s the biggest child in our house. There are times the three of them go at it – calling each other names, smacking heads, punching blubber and kicking each other’s butt, like literally – that I have yell, “Daddy! Really?”

In my opinion, girls are better at losing. I’d like to believe it’s because we’re patient, positive thinkers but the truth is, we’re scornful. We never forget, as opposed to boys and their single cell memory. Go ahead, ask a boy any question about school, what they did, what they ate, their mom’s name – and 80 percent of them will say, “I dunno.”

So given the resiliency of children, it’s befuddling to see parents protecting their kids from the pain of losing. You can’t lose without getting hurt. If it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t worth it – not everyone can be happy. Not everyone can be the winner.

But what’s important to remember is, there’s a difference between being The loser and being A loser. And even those, get lucky sometimes.

 

Little child, Medium Child, Big child
Little child, Medium Child, Man child

 

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Practice Fight

“You can only fight the way you practice”
― Miyamoto MusashiA Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy

At the same time, you realize what a person practices in the way they fight. Headstrong and reckless? Cold and calculating? Honest and admirable. We all encounter foes and obstacles – it will never cease. No matter what preventive measures you take, life is about fight.

If it’s not people, it’s disease. If it’s not the government, it’s the weather. And should you be fine with all of the above, you still have to contend with supermarket cashiers. Plus their supervisors. Don’t even bother with Wendy’s. It makes you wonder how this nation has an obesity problem when you can’t buy food without stress.

But you can’t fix insolence. You can’t “fix” anything, really. You just have to keep on going. While people grow less ambitious and more aggressive, curb their compassion and become unbearably imposing, you realize to your despair, that you can’t change the scenery, only the way you see it. It becomes what you make of it – that’s how the quote translates to me.

There was a pivotal time in my life when I started saying yes to everything. Jobs, outings, committees, meetings – you name it, their invitation was accepted. Of course, a lot of them were a waste of time, but my father used to tell me over and over, “do more research” and I figured that’s what he meant. In actuality, he was referring to my dates, but whatever.

In the end, the research paid off. After saying yes to everything, it became clear what work was worth the effort; which person would stand with you; what beer would give you the squirts. Now, I can tell what a person is conveying – despite what they’re saying. Sounds deep, but it’s easy because it’s usually bullshit.

Since it’s my turn as a parent, the practice I’ve been trying to instill is – not quitting. If it were up to my boys, they’d quit everything in an hour. Initially, when it’s fun, they’ll fight each other over it, but when it becomes a procedure – they’d rather pick their nose. To their defense, they do have some monumental boogers.

So, when they ask me, “How long do I have to do this?”

The answer is, “Forever.” And then they’ll gasp and I’ll add, “Or until I die,” to which they appear hopeful. Totally void of remorse. It’s disturbing.

With time, maybe they’ll get the big picture. If they learn one thing out of being tenacious, I hope it’s commitment. It seems to be a fading characteristic these days. I give them the whole shpeel, good things come to those who don’t quit, when the going gets tough, the tough get enemas, and they look at me like, “huh?”

They are confused for the moment. For instance, all the lavish weddings they’ve been to, they think that the only couples who actually marry for love – are gay. “That’s why they’re on the news – because they’re so happy.”

Might have a point there. Or they could be confusing the word gay. Either way, I should give them credit because they are genuinely children – and fight like ones, too.

IMG_2130
Beating up Daddy. Again.
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Lucky Number Seven

Well, seven – times eleven, actually. Apparently, in Japanese custom, turning 77 is a milestone age that should be celebrated with grand fanfare. My mother, however, a typical Aquarian eccentric, threatened to disown me if I planned any kind of birthday bash for her 77th. She is too humble, you see, to be the center of attention. So, I’ll honor her here, and spare her the embarrassment and she can smack me upside the head the next time she sees me in the street.

Seriously, in New York, you’re better off fighting in the street. If you fight in your own home, neighbors call the cops on you.

Then again, I hardly fight with my mom. It’s not because we’re gal pals or I’m that good Asian daughter. No, it’s because I know I’ll never win. Never. My mom has a sharp tongue, a very rogue sense of humor and unbounded energy that seems to get more out of control the older she gets. The woman walks a minimum of three miles a day and when she was snowed in she climbed up and down the stairs of her apartment building.

Who does that, right?

While I can’t claim that her charm is nurturing or supportive – she has been responsible for presenting the truth in life changing ways. If you don’t deserve praise, you’re definitely not going to get it from her. My mom rode the same elevator as Mick Jagger once and when he doubted she knew who he was, her response was “Sure I know who you are, you were in The Beatles.”

Only she could stump a Rolling Stone.

She’s not a big woman, she’s not a loud woman but she does have presence. That’s not an easy thing to accomplish. She taught me everything about being a performer – about respecting the stage and your audience and your art. Most importantly, she taught me not to insist. In the land of pushy Americans, that’s a tough thing to teach.

Finally, she’s an American herself. Yes folks, she went back to school and became a Naturalized Citizen. Her classmates are young enough to be my children (if I were a teenage mom). I’m proud of her and deeply respect her persevering character. Hopefully, she’ll read this post because if I told her this in person, she’d ask me if I’d been drinking and smack me upside the head.

Asian moms.

Humble Happy Birthday.

My mom with my sister

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Roots, Radicals, Reese’s Pieces

As a full time mom, I get to chaperone a lot of the school field trips for my boys’ class. I get a kick out of them. While getting to know my son’s classmates and teachers is a huge perk, the real bonus is in watching them act like monkeys who escaped from the zoo.

Recently, we went to the Queens County farm, where they took a “Colonial Kitchen” workshop in a farmhouse. During the presentation, these 4th graders learned about life in the Colonial days – how children did chores all day, ate after all the adults were finished, married early, caught on fire easily and hardly had sugar.

No sugar?!

Kids and their priorities. They were put to work during the workshop, cutting the farm’s fresh vegetables, making cornbread with molasses (remember, no sugar), churning butter from cream. When it was all done, only two kids actually finished their cups of soup – the rest preferred to finish off their 30 oz bottle of Gatorade and barbecue flavored chips.

You only live once, I suppose. Fresh food isn’t a novelty to them when we have three supermarkets in a five block radius who all sell organic produce.

Damned kids – I thought the soup was delicious and had two helpings – screw them. Then again, it was a mere five degrees outside and the class voted to go see the frozen cow while the soup cooked. Dumb cow.

In the end, what I learned was – I could never work on a farm. But somebody has to. Somebody has to know how to grow potatoes. I mean out of the 28 kids in the class, only one knew that flint rock and steel was a way to start a fire. And he wasn’t even a scout.

It’s sad when you think about it, how little city folk know about surviving and how even less they can pass on to their kids. I could teach my kids how to get anywhere by subway but outdoors, I couldn’t guide them to the North Star unless there was a huge white arrow pointed to it. But at least I know it’s crucial to find it if you’re lost.

These kids? Well, the instructor asked the students what sweeter they thought replaced sugar in Colonial days, as a hint she said it starts with an M and rhymes with glasses. All the kids searched the furthest corner of their 4’x5′ brain and one kid stuck up his arm like he was having a stroke.

“Peanut butter!”

I clawed at my face and thought, we’re all gonna die.

See - Men do belong in the kitchen
See – Men do belong in the kitchen

 

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Encouragement vs. Rewards

I need to put a sign around Samu’s neck that says, “Do Not Give”. Either that or dress him up like Shrek’s Puss n’ Boots so folks know that his pleading eyes and innocent smile are just his conning devices to get over on them. If he’s offered a reward – he’ll do anything. As a matter of fact, he’s actively searching for Avonte Oquendo, the missing autistic teen, not because he’s worried about the child but because he wants the reward money.

My son – the six-year old bounty hunter.

Honestly, I don’t know how he got that way – I don’t bribe my kids, even in tough situations. Say if we were invited inside the Bronx Zoo’s monkey house, I still expect them to be well mannered – not climbing the walls and flinging poop at people. Of course, reality is they WOULD be climbing walls and flinging poop and if they didn’t, Samu would surely ask me for two-hundred dollars as a reward for refraining. That’s his going rate right now, two-hundred dollars. If he manages to find the missing teen, he’ll raise his fee, no doubt.

It doesn’t matter because I’m not paying him. One, because I’m broke and two, he’s lucky I don’t beat his ass for extortion.

While I understand the importance of rewards and praise, I have to take into account that achievements also have standards. I’ll tell them it’s great that they finished their homework in a timely manner but if it looks like they wrote it with their left foot, I’ll make them rewrite it. Oh, yes – call me Mommy Dearest, but what’s the point in writing a letter if nobody can read it?

Besides, when they bring home a comment from their teacher how their work has improved, their pride shows and I know it was worth being the handwriting gestapo.

Experience is the best teacher and so in teaching them the value of encouragement vs. rewards, I had them cheer on the runners of the New York City Marathon last Sunday. I explained that the marathon is about the distance between our house and Legoland in Yonkers. They were impressed but what shocked them was the thought that all those people ran the marathon just to do it – and not win a prize.

“Can’t they at least get two dollars?” Samu asked.

Why they get two dollars for running a marathon when he gets two hundred for passing an audition is beyond me. Bounty hunter. Extortionist.

After seeing the marathon runners for themselves, however, I think they see achievement in a less materialistic sense and a better light than before. Perhaps encouraging them to make fart noises through a big plastic trumpet and screaming at the top of their lungs when the runners went by had something to do with it. I just hope somebody finds that missing kid soon.

The Extortionist
The Extortionist
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