Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Office Trash Talk

I will never talk disparagingly of coworkers on the Dotopotamus. That’s just not cool, not fair and not always smart. So why do I feel the need to say this? Because I’m about to talk despairingly about a coworker. Here’s how I make it okay. He’s not really an employee of my organization. He’s on contract. We hire his company to clean our offices twice a week. He’s our vendor. Makes my talking disparagingly about him totally okay, right?

Because the truth is, I think I’m this close to losing my cool and giving this guy a big, ugly dose of BACK OFF!

He’s a very nice person. Seems like a smart guy, too. But he’s a non-stop talker who must speak every single thought – and I mean every single thought - that goes through his mind. I find myself getting twitchier and twitchier every time he comes by.

Over the course of the last few months, he’s developed the habit of commentating on what he’s dumping out of my trash. The combination irritation, embarrassment, anger, humiliation this stirs up in me has almost reached its boiling point, and I fear I’m going to snap one of these days and have to add ballistic meltdown to the list of things that make me irritated, embarrassed, angry and humiliated.

Wow. You sure are throwing a lot of newspapers away today. Maybe if you read them more frequently and didn’t let them stack up you wouldn’t get so far behind.

Have you really drunk 7 Diet Cokes since Thursday?

Are you sure you want to throw away this pen?

Man, how many revisions of this report to ConocoPhillips to you do, anyway?

I thought I smelled rotted apple.

Looks like someone has had a sweet tooth this week…THREE ice cream bars?

It’s CONSTANT! So then I feel the need to justify my garbage with every comment he utters.

Well, we were in pledge and there were three of us hanging out in my office between breaks and we all had an ice cream bar, so all those wrappers aren’t really mine.

I frequently use a red pen and that one finally ran out of ink so I had to throw it away and get another one.

Yea, I guess I’m wasting a lot of trees but I want to make sure I get ConocoPhillips just the right report.

Sorry, I’ll throw my apple core away in the kitchen from now on.

The other thing he does that I love so much? When not giving me running commentary on my trash, he’s looking over my shoulder at what I’m doing on my computer.

So, why do have that paragraphed highlighted yellow?

Wow, why do you think that project should cost so much money?

Hey, do you know how to do Excel?

Do you have to have a password for that web site?

Oops, looks like you misspelled charity. But I’m sure you were going to use spell check before finishing.

Non-stop color commentary.

When he’s vacuuming, he just barges in. No asking if this is a good time. I’ve been on the phone with donors and had my executive director and a board member in my office for a sit down meeting and he just comes on in with the vacuum cleaner, shouting really loudly above the noise that he’ll only be a minute. Oh, sorry, Mrs. Fitzroy, I know you can’t hear me over the vacuum cleaner, but IT WILL ONLY BE A MINUTE!

For the life of me, I don’t know why I’m letting this person get to me so much. How do I tell this nice, chatty guy who really does an incredible job cleaning our offices, whose services I really do appreciate, that he’s making me nuts? That when I hear him coming I find myself desperately trying to find a reason to escape my office? That I’ve come to identify Tuesdays and Thursdays with dread?

To stop the madness and spare my sanity, I’ve decided to do these three things.

1. Stop letting him bug me. I’m going to see the humor and just let it go.
2. Never again comment on something he said about what he found in my trash. He can question my banana peels, discarded agendas and scribbled on post-it notes from now on…I will not respond! I don’t even think he’ll notice because he’s not looking for conversation – he’s just voicing his every thought bubble.
3. Start putting really weird things in my garbage can for him to find.

That’s right. I’m going to start throwing away things that he won’t expect. Cryptic notes that say things like “test results not good”, or fake phone messages that say the FBI called, or Barbie doll bodies with their heads missing. Maybe the occasional condom wrapper, wine bottle cork or empty tampon box. Granted, in reality I don’t think I can let my professional guard down QUITE that much, and I realize that if I took this much time doctoring my garbage I’d be just as weird as he is, but that is completely BESIDE THE POINT!

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

I collect sentences just like I collect old floral oil paintings. When I find one I like, I want to add it to my strange and growing collection of little things in life that make me happy.

Found mainly in newspapers or magazines and sometimes online, certain sentences just strike a chord with me in that moment. Whether they are artful or direct, funny or poignant, well constructed or grammatical train wrecks, these sentences are like little jewels I want to take out and gaze at every now and then.

Really good sentences are rare, like precious gem stones, and writing them myself is as elusive as my finding the Holy Grail. Granted, not all that I collect are really good sentences, but a well turned phrase can give me such a little surge of joy.

The context? While it might help us better understand the point of what’s being said, it’s ultimately not that important. These are sentences I like strictly based on their own stand-alone merit.

The problem? When I find a sentence I love, rarely do I have anything with me to write on, so I lose so many I would otherwise keep.

Could I be a bigger nerd? Doubtful.

Here are some sentences I’ve collected from various sources in the last couple of months:

I have to admit, as gray races bald for dominance of my hair and 40 looms ever closer, getting a giant Godzilla tattoo on my back might not have been a super high priority.

No matter how immature and ridiculous you are, there’s a guy out there on the Internet somewhere who just lapped you.

Without the distractions of work or boozing, it was pretty much just me alone on the couch having a staring contest with my large and fearsome collection of neuroses. I lost.

It offers up a bombastic spectacle of honor and betrayal, rendered in images that might have been airbrushed onto a customized van sometime in the late 1970s.

It is unclear weather Marmaduke’s actions were mischievous or spiteful, but the smart money is on spiteful.

He has unwittingly dedicated his existence to making me look ridiculous by comparison.

The soft Russian syllables fall from his lips with escalating speed and tone, but the expression in his eyes and the urgent gestures of his hands adequately convey the feeling, if not the substance, of what he’s trying to say.

I think we can fairly conclude that the weird have officially gone pro.

There are many on-line random sentence generators that are good for the occasional laugh. I just went to one and hit the “give me a sentence” button and got back, “That Canadian virgin needed to dance.” Goofy fun. But if you’re ever stuck for your next line, you might need the help that these automated sentence makers can provide.

My dad gave me a very handy reference guide called, How to Win at Wordsmanship. This is a sure-fire way to come up with a phrase that can be dropped into virtually any report with that ring of decisive, knowledgeable authority. No one will have the remotest idea of what you’re talking about, but they probably won’t admit it, and you’ll sound mighty impressive. Here’s how it works.

0. Integrated
1. Total
2. Systematized
3. Parallel
4. Functional
5. Responsive
6. Optional
7. Synchronized
8. Compatible
9. Balanced

0. Management
1. Organizational
2. Monitored
3. Reciprocal
5. Logistical
6. Transitional
7. Incremental
8. Third-generation
9. Policy

0. Options
1. Flexibility
2. Capability
3. Mobility
4. Programming
5. Concept
6. Time-phase
7. Projection
8. Hardware
9. Contingency

The next time you need an impressive phrase for a report, grant application, meeting with the boss, general conversation, etc., just think of any 3-digit number, then select the corresponding buzzword from each column. Right now, I’m thinking 773 is a good number, so I need to sign off so that Dot and I can step outside with our synchronized incremental mobility in check and take a walk.

And, if you come across any sentence that makes you take notice, send it my way!


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

One Night in Paradise

One of the things I like best about pledge drives is they provide opportunities to get to know people from other parts of the station. People you might not work with any other time of the year, or people who you seldom get to see. It’s like we all come together in the trenches of pledge warfare for a couple of weeks, then quickly disband afterwards, but we carry with us the camaraderie of intense time spent together making one of the last bastions of live television production happen. So in between the talent pitching and volunteer trainings and on-air breaks, we find ourselves in all sorts of different conversations about some of the most obscure topics.

On Sunday, a group of us somehow got on the topic of hotels and their cleanliness. One guy in the conversation has a real aversion to hotel rooms because he’s convinced they are all big petri dishes of germs and bed bugs and other life threatening maladies. He travels quite a bit for business and he was making all of us laugh talking about how he basically sleeps fully clothed and showers almost fully clothed, as well. Serious neurosis, but humorous none the less.

This made me think about my travels and various hotel stays, and how there have been many times my overnight accommodations would have made poor Jim’s skin crawl. The one that will always come to mind first was in Florence, Italy.

It was late one night. I had finished my classes at L’Universite de Savoi in Chambery, France earlier that day and I was footloose and fancy free. My plan was to travel around as long as my money would hold out so I was excited to be heading south to see Italy.

First stop, Florence. To save money, I took all sorts of “off schedule” trains, which meant I arrived in town very late, and it was just after midnight on this particular day. I had originally thought I would stay at the youth hostel, but because it was so late, I decided I didn’t feel comfortable trying to figure out where that was. So I got in a cab and asked the driver in my broken, pigeon Italian to take me to the nearest pensione. A pensione is one usually one step up from a hostel. Not yet a hotel, by any means, but you usually have your own room and share a bathroom.

You could just tell that this cab driver was a cross between Casanova and the Devil, and he assured me he knew JUST the pensione for me. And off we went.

Now let me just say right now that I KNOW one of my biggest problems in life is my lack of common sense. Unfortunately, I just don’t have enough good, grounding FEAR to guide me. I tend to like an adventure! It’s not that I intentionally put myself in harm’s way, but it’s more that I tend to throw caution to the wind every now and then and trust that everything will be okay. And, yes, I am most certain that this character flaw will eventually be my total undoing.

So I dubbed him Raphael, and off we went. He was talking a mile a minute in broken English, none of which I understood. I had told him I wanted to stay near the train station, so it didn’t take long to get to where we were going. We stopped in front of L’Hotel Paradisio. The Paradise Hotel.

It was a darling, old building, nestled in between buildings that comprised a darling, old street. I found out later these buildings dated from the 1500’s. That’s 500 years old and I couldn’t have been more pleased as I paid Raphael and watched him drive away.

Almost giddy with excitement, I walked through the huge, heavy wooden front door into the tiniest lobby I had ever seen. There was a very large, heavily made up woman smoking a cigarette behind the little counter and there were three other women with big hair and bright make up sitting on the tiny couch and drinking wine. When I walked in they fell totally silent and just stared at me. All of them. I mean stared hard with looks of utter amazement. As if they were witnessing me sprout a second head. I was carrying a small suitcase, my backpack and my trusty “Let’s Go Europe” book. Tourist with a capital T.

I managed to muster up my voice and I looked at the big woman and asked her if she had a room available. Again, she looked at me as if I was from another planet. I thought maybe it was a language barrier, so I used my bad Italian and asked for a room. She FINALLY responded very slowly and suspiciously, asking if I was American. “Si”, I responded. She asked to see my “passporte”, which I showed her. She kept looking from my passport up to my face back and forth, all the time smoking that long cigarette.

I proceeded bravely onward, in English, saying that my train had arrived late and this was the pensione the cab driver had taken me to because I needed a room for the night.

Finally the big woman kind of shrugged and looked at the three on the couch, who immediately began to giggle. As she shrugged her shoulders, she said, “Okay, Bella Americana, I give you room for night.”. And then she started laughing so hard her big bosoms were heaving and her cigarette ashes fell off the end of her cigarette. I had no idea what was so funny, but she had seemed to accept me so I was relieved I wasn’t going to be kicked out on the street at that time of night.

A couple of men came through the door, gave me an odd look and squeezed around me and started talking to the women sitting on the couch. It was as if we were all sardines packed tightly in a little can.

I gave the lady my $10 and my passport and she gave me a key and told me my room was on the third floor and the bathroom was at the end of that hallway. She then reached under the table where she was sitting me and with a big smile handed me a bottle of red wine and clucked me forward with a motion of her hand as I protested. Well, I guess it beats a chocolate on your pillow.

So I lugged my big self, my suitcase, my backpack, my Let’s Go Europe book and my bottle of wine past the men and women on the couch, into the tiniest elevator ever created. European elevators are notorious for their small size, but this one was crazy cramped and I was freaked out it wasn’t going to make it as it creaked upwards. I could hear the big woman laughing as I rode up.

When I stumbled out of the elevator, I almost ran over a man and a woman who were waiting to get on. I’ll never forget how stunningly good looking that man was, but the woman gave me such a glare as I lurched toward my door with my stuff in tow.

My door opened with one of those big, brass keys that fit inside the brass lock that you see in the movies. The room itself was spare, to say the least. Very tiny, a small bed, a small table and a small chair. A bit grim with old, faded wall paper and a slight dank smell. But it had the most stunningly beautiful balcony overlooking the old medieval neighborhood below me. Big French doors opened up onto the patio balcony that was filled with flowering vines and old statues. It was an amazing view and being only three stories up, I could easily see all the comings and goings below me. That’s the point I remember thinking for the first time, “Why is there so much going on down there? It’s late!”.

So I got my bottle of wine and found my cork screw and a glass and I sat outside and enjoyed the beauty of that warm, spring Italian night. And things began to get interesting on the street below me.

Those men who had entered the lobby when I was signing in? I saw them leaving. They were laughing loud and slapping each other on the backs. I saw more men come in. Some were alone. Some were in small groups. I noticed they would all come back out within 20-30 minutes. Women with short skirts and high heels and overly made up faces were going in and out of the building as well. I saw a red headed woman walk with a man into the building. Not 20 minutes later, they walked back outside and down the street. And just 15 minutes later I saw here come back in to the hotel with a different man on her arm, who also left about 20 minutes later, this time without her. I saw car loads of young boys drive slowly by and look at the door, then drive away, like they lost their nerve. I saw the three women who had been on the couch when I arrived come outside with young men on their arms – boys in military uniforms who were 18 if they were a day – and give them big, sloppy kisses as they shooed them into a car parked on the street. There was constant activity going in and out of the lobby.

It certainly didn’t take a genius to figure things out. As I sat on the veranda on that gorgeous, star-filled May night, drinking red wine in Florence, Italy, I laughed out loud knowing that I was staying at L’Hotel Paradisio…. THE BEST LITTLE BROTHEL THIS SIDE OF THE TRAIN STATION!

Oh, wouldn’t my mom and dad be proud? A genuine Italian whore house!

The reactions of the women when I was checking in now made total sense. Can you imagine their disbelief when this goofy, excited American girl waltzed through their door with her backpack, Let’s Go Europe Book, and overly animated happy voice looking for a room for the night? I cursed Raphael the cab driver who probably thought he was pretty darned funny taking me to this place found in the “Let’s Get It On Europe Book” I had failed to purchase before leaving the states. I secretly hoped his manhood would shrivel up and fall off. But even then, I managed to find the whole thing pretty funny, because who else would be dumb enough to find themselves in such a predicament?

There was no slowing down in the action taking place all around me, but I was getting really sleepy. And now that I knew where I was, there was no way on God’s green earth I was going to lay down on that bed, so, like my friend Jim at pledge, I stayed fully clothes for the entire night and dozed while sitting in the chair. I got up early and went downstairs to check out.

The same woman – who I now knew was THE MADAM – was still sitting there smoking her cigarette. She gave me such a big laugh when I got off the elevator. I gave her a look that let her know I knew EXACTLY what was going on, and she just kept laughing and came around the counter and gave me a big hug. She said, “SIT, SIT, BELLA AMERICANA, SIT!”, so I sat there and drank hot tea and ate scones with her. Just me and the Madame. Not understanding a word the other was saying. There were no more girls or men around – I guess they went away when the sun came up – but just the two of us. A very surreal moment, indeed.

When I left she sent me off with another bottle of wine and a batch of warm pastries. I guess she figured if I was stupid enough to spend the night in an Italian den of iniquity, I was probably too stupid to figure out how to buy food.

And she was probably right.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

You Know You're Tired When...

I am really, really tired today. This is how I know I am older now. Only a few years ago, I had busy weeks all of the time and I was able to go, go, go, 24/7. I'm not so good at the non-stop action anymore! But work will be slowing down after Sunday and all will be well again. It has been an incredibly satisfying week, all in all, and that makes all of the hard work worth it.

But I know I'm tired today because I'm processing information differently and not everything is making sense.

For example:

My Dad sent me this email letting me know about my sweet little niece Mason's upcoming 4th birthday.

Dad writes: Shana and Matt (my sister in law and brother) are throwing a carnival for Macy and we will all have jobs.

Dad writes: Lori, you will be in charge of face painting.

My thought: Awesome.

Dad writes: I'll be in charge of making balloon critters. I'm being sent a book I'm supposed to study to learn how.

My thought: That is hilarious.

Dad writes: Mom's job is to be determined.

My thought: Oh, she'll be good at that - she's naturally determined. Mom will make sure everything gets done, for sure.

Minutes go by. At least five of them as I read other email.

Finally... DING, DING, DING, DING...the lightbulb goes on...



Monday, March 12, 2007

A Little Kitsch Is Good For The Soul

My friend Traci gave me this funky wine cozy and it makes me laugh. Big points for the kitsch factor.

This is my BIG week at work. In addition to our Festival (aka pledge drive) we are hosting PBS President Paula Kerger and documentarian extraordinaire Ken Burns at big events on Wednesday and Thursday. Lots to eventually share on that front.

Some days at work exemplify "other duties as assigned" better than others. Among many things, here are some of the tasks I accomplished today:

Organized conference call with the Governor's office.

Testified in the "who peed all over the bathroom on Sunday" mystery case.

Hosted a meeting with two representatives from WGBH who have decided to swoop in take over Oklahoma.

Had to burst the bubble of two representatives from WGBH who just THOUGHT they were going to swoop in and take over Oklahoma.

Explained to the caterer for the fourteenth time that I wanted gold napkins at the event dinner and not blue.

Negotiated a peace accord between production and engineering over a pending federal grant.

Went to the dollar store and bought 150 gift bags.

Created a seating chart making sure that there was sufficient room between the Ds and the Rs, and that various divorced couples were at opposite ends of the room.

Herded six high energy escaped black lab puppies from the middle of the street back into their fenced yard while holding crazy, barking Dot's leash in one hand and her poop bag in the other.

I say this to be funny because I never really know what's going to happen from one day to the next. I guess that's why we all continue to get up in the mornings. Just to see what happens next.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Separated at Birth

This Ewok

And Dot

I'll keep working on this shot until I get the one of Dot that is JUST PERFECT and you'll see that she, too, comes from the forests of Endor.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Bulbs in Bloom

Oklahoma City's harbinger of spring - the daffodils - are in bloom and they are beautiful.

Whenever I see them, I have to laugh, because they make me think of a special event my Austin public television station staged years ago. We planted hundreds of daffodils at the local Farmer's Market and held an event there on a Saturday when all the flowers were in bloom. It wasn't the most effective event ever, and in hindsight I'd love to have done some things differently, because it really could have been a memorable event. Regardless, the flowers were lovely and it was unique.

Happy spring.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Life in the Hood

My neighborhood is quirky. The kind of quirky that borders on weird.

This morning, I’m walking Dot at 6:30 a.m. and the sun is just coming up. It’s quiet and I’m enjoying the birds chirping, feeling all zen and stuff.

As I’m nearing a rather nondescript intersection, I hear a startlingly loud roar. I look up and yank Dot back on her leash, because barreling down the road – going at least 70 miles an hour – is a big, yellow bulldozer.

I’m serious when I say it was going wide open. I’ve never seen those things going much faster than about 30 mph, but this one had its front shovel sky high and the driver was hunched over the wheel yelling “YEE HAW!” as he blazed by.

Was he steeling the dozer? Was he out of his mind? Was he late for a job? Was he just joy riding for the thrill of it?

I don’t know, but it was one of the more random things I’ve seen lately. And dangerous, too, given that this is a total residential neighborhood full of mammaws and papaws who tend to be up at the crack of the dawn puttering around their yards. Look out little old people – bull dozer coming through.

For the last week, and the coming two, I’m having to work hard for my money, so I haven’t had time to share stories. But I look forward to getting back into the swing of things soon. Working hard for my money is seriously hampering my blogging habit!

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Like a Big Pizza Pie

Did you see the moon this morning? I wish I'd had my camera with me. It was so amazing.

We've started our pledge drive and I am the lucky duck who gets to work 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on weekends. This means that I'm walking Dot in the early morning, right when the sun is starting to come up.

This morning, with the sun starting to peek up on one horizon and that huge, bright moon sinking on the other horizon, I was fairly humbled by the majesty of all.

I missed the lunar eclipse yesterday, but the moon was still stunning this morning sinking on the horizon of 22nd Street.

Pledge? I don't even know where to begin...


Thursday, March 01, 2007


So for the next 8 weeks, or so, I called in and reported to Leta the Bail Bondsman from Hell on Friday mornings. It made me feel guilty and angry every time and I was pretty resentful. It didn’t matter if I was in a board meeting or a staff meeting or knee deep in snapping alligators – I had to stop what I was doing and find a place to hide so I could make the call and report in every Friday morning.

Snarly Leta: “What have you been doing this week?”

Snarly Me: “Working”

Snarly Leta: “Have you been intoxicated or done drugs in the last week?”

Snarly Me: “No”

My snarly thought bubble: “Who would really admit to that, anyway?”

Snarly Leta: “Have you altered your appearance in any way?”

Snarly Me: Biting my tongue and suppressing an overwhelming urge to come back with a smart aleck response…”No”.

Snarly Leta: “Have you moved or changed jobs in the last week?”

And on, and on, and on. So tiring and so insulting. All for a $1,000 bond in Eastland County over a crime that I believed wouldn’t hold up in court.

And it didn’t.

One day I received a phone call that my court date had been set for a day in July, about 9 weeks after my unfortunate incarceration. I had to jump through all sorts of hoops to alter my work schedule, because I was only given about five days notice before I needed to appear. I managed to work it out without having to explain where I was going, and I left Austin at 4:00 a.m., arriving in Eastland around 7:30 a.m.

By 8:00 a.m. I was in front of the judge.

This judge was a nice enough man but he was too preachy. I had met with an attorney on a few different occasions, so I had all of my ducks in a row and I was able to present my side of the story pretty clearly. My overriding point was that I was never told about this form 1022 at any point along the way. How was I able to comply with the law if I didn’t even know the law existed?

He kept coming back at me with his argument that ignorance of the law is no defense. That if I had killed a man, but claimed to not know murder was illegal, wouldn’t I still be guilty of the crime?

That really rubbed me the wrong way, and as hard as it was for me to keep the are-you-serious? attitude out of my voice, I replied that I felt his analogy was way out of line with the “crime” I committed, and that I would wager that the majority of American adults know that murder is illegal, but I’d be surprised if a tiny fraction of adults know anything about the laws governing the form 1022. Asshole. Okay, I didn’t say asshole, but I wanted to.

He kept hemming and hawing, saying that he believed that showing leniency was not the way to enforce justice. (By the way, the stakes here were me having to spend 2 more days in jail – for a total of 72 hours in jail - and paying up to a $10,000 fine.).

To that I got red faced and had to hold back hot tears of anger when I responded that I wasn’t looking for leniency. I believe that the punishment I had already received was more than enough for my not submitting the form 1022, EVEN THOUGH I could show proof that I had purchased insurance less than 24 hours after receiving the original ticket AND I could show proof that I had submitted the blessed form 1022 less than 24 hours after discovering the transgression.

I told him that the punishment I received did not fit the crime, and I had MORE than paid my debt to society. So I wasn’t asking him to show my leniency. I was asking him to show me fairness. Asshole.

He had to “deliberate” for awhile so I sat out in the hallway and felt helpless and angry. When he finally called me back in, without any explanation or apology or anything, he banged his little gavel and said that he had found me “not guilty”. With little fanfare, I got up and left the courtroom and signed a few papers and it was done. No crime committed.

As I was driving back to Austin I felt tired and exhausted by this whole experience. I was out almost $1,700 after having to pay Leta, get my car out of impound and consulting with an attorney. I endured a lot of stress and mental anguish over the whole thing. All to be found not guilty in the end. It just didn’t seem right.

The whole catalyst to this nightmare had been my being pulled over for driving 38 in a 35 mile an hour zone. That ticket? It vanished. There was no record of it anywhere. My guess is that they felt pretty badly for me at the Eastland County jail, so they just pretended that that ticket never happened.

But it was OVER and that was the most important thing.

And over time? I began to find the whole ordeal more and more funny. Unbelievably funny.

I must admit, I learned a lesson. I play by the rules. I drive the speed limit. I park where I’m supposed to. I am hyper aware of my surroundings when I drive. I am now organized within an inch of my life when it comes to insurance. I am the very model of a very model citizen.

Because I like life on the outside.

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