Category Archives: Friends

Poor Princess Meets Frankenstorm

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At 4:21, I’m getting on an airplane to Go west, Young woman! —Not that I’m really young, but I’m about to behave as though I am. After all, here’s what I’m going to do when I arrive in Scottsdale, Arizona, where today’s high is 87 degrees and–what else?–sunny:

I’m going to meet with 7 other fantastic mamas from far-flung cities.

We’re going to go on an artwalk. We’ll eat. We’ll drink. Maybe dance?

Tomorrow, we’re going to get up early and go on a canyoneering trip. What’s that? Well, let me tell you: We get driven in 4x4s across the desert. We then hike and scramble; we rappel down waterfalls; we swim across crystal clear springs. We do some other stuff. It’s all insanely awesome and beautiful.

Check out the pictures.

Then, when we’re good and tired, we go home, quick shower, quick-quick beautification–

PP and Salsa Shaker — Jewish Mamas’ Annual — 2011

and then off to dinner at Cowboy Ciao where some of us will indulge in duckfat ice cream (and some of us will definitely not!). Where then? The night is young, and all that is calling our names in the next couple of days is the pool, long runs, perhaps a hike,  some shopping, lunches with aguas frescas, dinners with lots of alcohol, and who knows–maybe we’ll have to hit the V Spot again, as we did on one of our previous Jewish Mamas’ Annual Scottsdale Trip–

2010 –where we all learn the word “vagazzle” — but none of us were daring enough to try it. (Tatazzling seemed a safer bet).

Now there’s a business model I bet you didn’t think of!

Or maybe find a post-Halloween Halloween party–

The trip will end with me meeting some very old friends for a much-needed catching up. And I will return to my family happy, refreshed, and full of love.

It’s the perfect Fall Break and the perfect Girls’ Weekend. Which is why it’s the THIRD annual.

Except — poor, poor, poor Princess.

That’s not what is happening today. I can sing “I’m leaving on a jet plane” all I want (FYI–it’s Chantal Kreviazuk I’m channeling, not John Denver), but I am not leaving on a jet plane today, thanks to this baby–

Instead, I am huddled in my house where the temperature is not 87 or 77 or 67. It’s 53F.

I’m under 4 blankets with four other people and we’re all hacking away like a bunch of consumptives sleeping together in a freezing Lower East Side tenement at the turn of the 20th century.

From Jacob Riis’s time — not so different?

We have no heat, no electricity, no home phone service, no cell service, and no internet. When we’re not under the blankets, we’re smushed together in my office–surrounded by offices where people are trying to actually work–and fighting over the screens (oh internet, I miss you so!). And when we get good and hungry, we’ll wait in line with the rest of the town to get into the one restaurant that’s running. It’s all good.

I really really really want to leave on a jet plane today, but with roads blocked or jammed, and transit not running, there’s no way of getting to the airport and getting the fuck outta here. Poor, poor Princess.

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Parents say the darndest things

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OK, I admit it: kids are rarely kings of tact. Mine especially. Every time LL fails to say thank you or goodbye or excuse me, every time he gets on the phone with Zaidy Frummy and yells, “Buy me Lego!” or when he got bored in the middle of his four cousins’ rendition of Happy Birthday and put down the phone and walked away, and when he saw a man with a turban for the first time and asked him if he was dressed up as a clown, and when he saw a Hispanic man for the first time and asked why his face was colored in (where we lived in Western Canada: not so multicultural) (he later took a good look at himself and me and announced “Mama and I are on the Brown Team, too!”), or whenever he pushes on my paunch and asks if this baby will be a girl, I am reminded of this fact.

Then again, parents could use some work, too.

Overheard at the pool: a conversation between a mom and her son’s friend.

Tactless: “Did you visit your dad this weekend, Child of Divorce?”

CoD: “Yeah.”

Tactless: “How was it? Do you like going to your dad’s house?”

CoD: “Yeah.”

Tactless: “Really? You don’t mind going over there?”

CoD: “No–it’s great hanging out with my dad.”

Tactless: “Well, I know he’s your dad, but don’t you miss being at your mom’s house?”

CoD: “But I get to spend all week there.”

Tactless: “But wouldn’t it just be–you know, better–if your parents were still living together?”

CoD: “I don’t know . . . “

Tactless: “I mean, wouldn’t your life be so much easier . . . ?”

CoD: “I’m really happy.”

Tactless: “Are you really?”

CoD: silent.

Yay, Tactless! You win.

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Baby’s First No? Or Guitar Jerk’s Last Parent-Fans?

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Yesterday, we had one of those glorious days in the City that made me wish I had millions and millions of dollars and could live in a light-filled servant-filled penthouse on Central Park West with a view of the roller skaters, the joggers, the rowboaters, the Bethesda Fountain, and that grand sweep of life that populates the greatest park on earth. The kids would go to Ramaz or Dalton or Trinity or Heschel and after-school activities would include hiking in The Ramble, skating at Wollman Rink, watching world-renowned actors play out the Bard’s works in the open air, taking a ride on the carousel, swimming in Lasker pool, or listening to stories as they perch on Hans Christian Andersen’s brassy foot.

That is not to be. But we can certainly have days in which we imagine that’s our life. Off to the City we traipsed yesterday, for a tram ride to Roosevelt Island followed by an afternoon of free play in Olmstead and Vaux’s masterpiece. The kids ran and rolled around on the grass, turned their Starbucks straws into wands to cast spells on each other, hit each other with big sticks (that part was bad), pretended they were dead for a while (that part was not as bad as you might think), and, when they were tired, they plopped down on their butts and rested their heads, one by one, on their dad, who was only too happy to take the opportunity to lean and loaf at his ease observing a spear of summer grass–or just nap.

The sun shone. The sky was the cerulean blue of dreams. It was 78 and breezy. We got a picnic from Zabars and nibbled on pickled garlic cloves, Greek salad, fresh French baguette, and, for the men, pastrami on rye. We were with our visitors–Mrs. 1950s and her husband the Steel Baron were visiting from Western Canada where it is still snowing (yes, in June) with their 2 kiddies, Gingy and Red.

(Gingy and LL have a history–

Gingy and LL

although I confess since moving to the US, LL has not been perfectly faithful to his preschool sweetheart–

–but more on the romantic escapades of 5 year olds, the kisses blown, the conversations Skyped–later)

We were also joined by Mrs. 1950s sister-of-another-mother, Dr. Aunty. We chatted, we lazed, we went to check out the turtles that raised their heads up to soak in the sun–

and we listened to the Guitar Guy.

The Guitar Guy was good. He smiled and he laughed, and we smiled and we laughed. His mood was infectious. He invited people to skip. He pointed out the movers–those who got up and danced up front, those who danced in their places on the lawn, those who sat on their butts but jiggled or swayed there. We all wanted to be part of it.

Including, of course, the kids. With permission from their parents, our kids, shyly at first, and then more boldly, headed to the dirt-paved “stage” to strut their stuff.

To see them was to love them. They were thrilled, nervously dancing toward and away from the Guitar Guy, the man who made the park come to life, and making up crazy actions that they imagined went along with the music.

And then the music stopped.

The Guitar Guy gestured at the children. “Time for Baby’s first ‘no’?” he asked angrily into his microphone.

We were confused–initially. Baby? What baby? No to what? Surely not to dancing?

“Do these kids have any PARENTS?” he demanded.

And then we got it. It was our kids he was talking about. He didn’t want the children near him. He didn’t want the children dancing. He didn’t want us standing idly by as they did. The “no” was for us to utter to our “babies.” He wanted us to take the children away. IMMEDIATELY.

Or,  in other words, at least as I understand it, the Guitar Guy hates kids. And maybe, consequently, parents, too.

There are stories I could tell you about how I’ve reacted in the past to having my children reprimanded by strangers, having been reprimanded by strangers for reprimanding my children, and having been reprimanded by strangers for not reprimanding my children, but if I do, you might think that I am an insanely ferocious Mama Bear. I’ll just give you a taste: I have been known to chase a stranger down the street because she yelled at me for yelling at my kids for running into the middle of the street. I have been known to yell at a stranger for telling me I’m mean because we were standing in line at the McDonald’s at the mall and my kids decided they wanted not only chocolate milk (which I had agreed to), but also ice cream, fries, and cookies, and I said no (for the record, after my diatribe, I was applauded by the entire staff of the McDonald’s who thought the woman should have minded her own business). I have been known to physically handle a woman who dared to physically handle my child when he wasn’t fast enough going up the escalator (I also reamed her out). I have even been known to “hide” Amnesty, a Facebook friend, for about 2 years because he complained that children–not mine–were noisy on a flight (I believe he said something to the effect of banning children from long-distance flights . . .).

There is little more beautiful, in my humble opinion, then children reveling in a perfect day with sunshine and music, through the sweet rhythmic and ridiculous movements of their little bodies. Maybe there is even something beautiful about the boisterousness of kids on airplanes, kids about to embark on the trips of their lives–to hear foreign languages, learn about different customs, experience new art–though if you see me on a plane with LL running ahead of me, screaming out the numbers of the seats; Cool J whining that he’s THIRSTY and wants a drink NOW; and Baby MoFo, on my hip, crying his little eyes out–I’ll understand (kind of) why you’ll want to sit as far away from me as you possibly can for the duration of the flight.

I hope that one day the Guitar Guy has children (as Amnesty has) and realizes there *might* be times when it is appropriate to speak your mind when you see a parent or child doing something you’re not crazy about (I’m skeptical), but there is also much to appreciate in children who are being just that–children. The laughing, the dancing, the delighting in life.

If I had any inkling that children might be in the Guitar Guy’s future, I would take on the Buddha-like wisdom of my brother-in-law, The Dentist, still (and always to be) one kid and many kid-years ahead of me, and say, as he always says:

“JUST. YOU. WAIT.”

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Transience

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Avatar, an Australian colleague, asks me about the state of tenure in the US. I blather on about tenuous tenure, a topic which years of tenurelessness has made me an expert in. I cite the latest statistics I’ve seen: “In 2009, only 24.4 percent of American faculty members were tenured or tenure-track,” according to a recent New York Times book review of In the Basement of the Ivory Tower, a book by bitter long-time adjunct Professor X who taught introductory courses that many students failed, as the students, he says, were “in some cases barely literate” (in case you don’t plan to buy the book, I’ll jump ahead: he’s going to suggest that university might not be for everybody. This might be very good news for those of you who are debating between putting your money into 529s for your less-than-brilliant children or into future passage for your hard-working self on the Crystal Serenity for a taste of LA, Papeete, Auckland, Sydney, Singapore, Dubai, Cape Town, and London, with a few dozen at-sea days in between).

Technically, Avatar and I are about to find ourselves among (or increasing?) that untenured/untracked 75.6%. But you won’t find me complaining. My students will be far more than literate. I will have small classes of engaged, intelligent future Nobel prize winners. I will be mentoring my future senators and perhaps a president or two on an individual basis, discussing their ideas, helping them to refine their critical thinking skills, guiding them through the thickets of theoretical texts and their own sometimes muddled prose (that might end up in The Great American Novel). So I’m definitely not complaining.

Actually, I’m ecstatic.

But I might not be in 5 years.

Because that, my friends, is around the time I’ll be looking for a new job.

That’s the way it goes. Tenure might be a failing system, but it’s the system everyone seems to be upholding; the tenured want to keep their power, and the untenured want to gain that power.

And so–

The boys debate between them the next three places we’ll live. This is a debate they have taken up between them, without a word about future relocations from The Scientist or me. They just understand this to be life: first you move, then you move, then you move again. And each time, you’re the “new guy” and everyone comes over and checks you out and maybe, if you’re lucky, one or two of them also really likes Super Mario or Toy Story and then you pretty much have everything in common there is to have in common, and you’re BFFs–at least until the next move.

“I’ll do first and second grade here,” announces LL. “Then we’ll move to Miami to be near the alligators.”

“NO!” retorts Cool J. “There are way more alligators in New York. Remember how many we counted in the sewers?”

“Oh yeah! I think it was 426!”

“I think it was infinity alligators.”

“Would you rather go to Your-ami?” (Much laughter here. Tell this joke–this Mi-ami/Your-ami bit–to children under 6, and you will be the equivalent of Jackie Mason for the alter kockers) (Did you know Jackie Mason is still alive, by the way? I have friends going to see him in Long Island this week. One of them is not even 35. But I guess alter kockers come in all ages).

“I want to go to where Dada’s from next. If we live there, we can play with all of his Lego.”

“What about The Tower of Power? I want to go back to the Tower of Power.”

“The Tower of Power! It had a red elevator and a yellow elevator!”

(they are sidetracked for a while in the discussion of the elevators)

The Tower of Power

(a long while)

The conversation resumes another day, the thread intact: “How about Miami, THEN the Tower of Power, THEN Dada’s old house?”

“OK.”

“Does Baby MoFo get a say in all this?” I ask. Baby MoFo chooses not to talk yet, but the big boys regularly report on his desires (“Mama, the baby said he wants to watch Backyardigans.” “Mama, the baby said he wants a popsicle, but don’t worry–I’ll hold it for him.””Mama, the baby said he really really really really wants a Zurg Lego, and he wants to go to Target right now to get it.”).

“I think . . . ” begins Cool J. “I think the deer place. Yeah, that’s it. He wants to live in the deer place.”

(Nara, Japan: those were some impressive deer. They certainly got intimate with Cool J:

Or maybe he just remembers what a rock star he was–a Baby Sensation.

So here’s to the tenureless dream: every five years or so, pack up your bags. Find a place to live. Grasp a new culture or language or laws. Learn the the new job, the new schools, the new kids that come to your door from here and there and everywhere. Meet the kids’ parents, meet the work colleagues, meet the neighbor that comes by with homemade empenadas and grilled plantains. And of course: collect many more Facebook friends.

Are we exemplars of a 21st-century post-modern rootless cosmopolitanism? Not a chance. LL was born in one country, The Scientist and I in another. Throw in LL’s 4 grandparents, and you’ve added 4 more countries to our family tree. Their parents, our grandparents? Add another 4 countries. That’s 11 countries accounted for in 4 generations. There’s nothing new here. We’re not modern; we’re traditional–a family of Wandering Jews descended from Wandering Jews. . .

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Bagel Anyone? The Story behind the Story

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Re: Bagel Anyone?, you might have been wondering about the title. To bagel. As in, to indicate yiddle mcfiddleness to one you suspect of same. Like when you turn to a stranger and mumble something about the chazzerai they’re serving at the diner you’re in, or conspicuously flash that chai pendant you usually hide beneath your collar. You make a comment about the real reason that Baby couldn’t date Johnny (hint: it’s not because he was a dance teacher) or the implicit ending of Keeping the Faith (spoiler: she’s converting). You switch from calling your baby “sweetie pie” to “bubbelah.” Loudly. Just as my gas station attendant turned to the guy who pulled up behind me the other day and slapped him on the back, calling him “compadre,” without knowing the man’s name or story, we too can often intuit a fellow neshama. Or so we might think. I can’t take credit for the term “to bagel.” Somewhere, in the fashion world, oddly enough, a style mountie knows the origin. Let’s hope he sees this post and gives credit where it is due.

For the record, I also can’t take credit for being Sarah. Or Pam. Or Leah. They’re purely fictitious. Characters who allow me to, in Tim O’Brien’s words, create story-truth when happening-truth doesn’t cut it.

But if you wanted to know the happening-truth that inspired my tale of bageling, here’s what really happened in the library:

I had been in this town for all of two weeks. Christmas wreaths seemed to grace every door. Many were stately, impressive, imposing. Despite being back in the New York area, I was feeling as Jewish as I had in Western Canada, where I taught The Merchant of Venice one semester and made the mistake of asking the class, before we began to look at the text, what the word “Jew” meant. Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty, my friends. And to make things worse, I thought I would help them re-think their responses by outing myself as a Jew, but I think all I managed to help them do was apply the series of epithets they had offered a moment earlier to their teacher. Their teacher, the Jew. Just like Shylock.

So maybe I wasn’t feeling quite that Jewish, but I was aware of the mezzuzzah in lieu of a wreath at the entrance to my home and the fact that I was sending my kids across the state when a very good public school was across the street.

I’m in the library, in the little cafe there, sitting beside two older, patrician women. One wears her soft gray hair pulled back in a chignon; the other looks as though she’s just left the salon. The first wears pearls, the second a silk scarf. They are discussing Trisha Brown, which is why I begin eavesdropping. I know nothing of modern dance (“dahnce,” I hear them say), but it happens that Chanda once dated this particular choreographer’s son. I never got to know him well, but I fell in love with his Soho loft, one of those vast spaces in a converted warehouse that his mom got, practically free, back in the 60s. He also drove a cool car.

I’m so immersed in their conversation–and my own recollections of that famous mother, the fabulous flat, and the pimped-out ride–that I don’t even notice what one of the women notices: Baby MoFo has slipped in his high chair and his head is tilted back precariously. “Watch his keppy!” she cries.

The town appears WASPy. But, claims the mother of one of my son’s two busmates from his far-off Jewish school, scratch the surface of these WASPs and you may be surprised to find a Jew lurking beneath.

Sarah Smith, Pam Brown, and the rest of you, there’s a special place in the local Presbyterian Church cemetery for you with a gravestone that, in death, as in life, can bagel. It won’t have a Star of David on it, but it will, like the handful of other gravestones in the cemetery unadorned by a cross, bear a flat top that will be laden with pebbles, picked up by your loved ones, and left there to commemorate you, as Jews have always commemorated their dead.

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Bagel Anyone?

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My new town. Here is a glimpse of a typical home in the Winter–

And here in the Spring–

The talk around town is about tennis and golf, not the Yankees. The kids play lacrosse. Families escape, in the summer, to their vacation homes on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

Sarah Smith is in the library in my town with her daughter Lexi when she sees another mom walk in with a little girl who could be Lexi’s twin–same bouncy brown curls, same dolphin-framed glasses making her eyes appear too large for her head, even the same trip-along gait. Sarah strikes up a conversation with the mom, whose name, she learns, is Pam Brown.

No clue there.

“I haven’t seen you around here before. Have you lived here awhile?”

“We just moved from the City,” confesses Pam. “You?”

“We moved a few years ago. Upper West?”

“Tribeca.”

Oh.

Maybe not.

Sarah gives her new acquaintance the once over. Pam has sleek hair that no doubt once looked like her daughter’s but has been straightened into submission–Japanese straightening or Chi? Surely once also dark like her daughter’s, it is a pretty melange of caramels, coppers, and golds. She wears casually nice mom clothes–a loose cotton shirt with a boat neck, designer jeans, and ballet flats–and she has a diamond the size of a marble perched on a thick platinum band on the fourth finger of her left hand.

“Did you move here for work?” Sarah asks.

“My husband’s,” confesses Pam. “He’s a dermatologist.”

Sarah becomes more confident. “It’s really hot in here, huh? I am shvitzing like crazy.”

Pam looks at her blankly.

She tries again: “They say it’s better to drink hot drinks when you’re hot even though you’re desperate for cold ones, but I don’t know–I think it’s a bubbemeise.”

Nothing.

In walks another mom, this one with a little boy clad in Star Wars paraphernalia top to bottom. They hear the mom call the boy “Levi.” The new mom gravitates toward the other moms, looks them both up and down, introduces herself as Leah, and nods toward the door she has just entered by. “It just started shpritzing out there,” Leah declares. “I think it’s gonna pour! I wish I had thought to schlep my umbrella. I guess we’re all stuck here for a while. What treyf do they serve in the caf here?”

Pam looks at her blankly. Sarah smiles.

Another day, Sarah and Leah get their kids together with some of Lexi’s boy-cousins to play a little soccer:

And Sarah, who doesn’t have a bee problem, puts a sign up by the front door:

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There are Six Degrees of Kosher Bacon (and 3 other things I learned from Facebook)

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1. There are 6 degrees of Kosher Bacon. Which is to say, if you are Jewish and within 5 years of me, and I don’t know you, I know your neighbor. Your brother. Your cousin. Your ex-boyfriend that you’re FB-stalking. I know your frickin’ dog (who by the way is on FB). I just know you. And if you don’t see, on FB, that we have friends in common, that’s not because we have no acquaintances in common, it’s only because–

2. People hated their childhoods. Yup, that’s what I’ve discovered through FB. I had no idea before the FB era. So if there was a guy called Jerry Sanders and everyone back in the day called him Terry Tanders (for no good or obvious reason), and he pops up on my sidewall as someone I may know, I’ll immediately friend him. And when he accepts, I’ll write on his wall: “OMG–it’s TERRY TANDERS!”–and then he’ll immediately defriend me. I don’t know why. Is “Terry Tanders” somehow offensive? Probably. It’s likely that he hated being called Terry Tanders every single day of his childhood, but finally put all that middle school horror behind him, then, an adult, gingerly dipped a toe into that vast, dangerous sea we call FB, was perfectly content to see old friends write, “Hi–what are you up to? Where do you live now? Do you have any kids?”, and all was going fine and dandy until some bitch came along and brought it all home to him–the torture, the pain, the constant, unending “Terry Tanders!” So, to return to 1, we both know Terry Tanders, it’s just that Terry Tanders is all grown up now and prefers to be called by his actual name, Jerry Sanders, and is therefore just pretending not to know me. But he knows me. And I know him (of course I do! he’s Terry Tanders!).

3. A mother does not want to hear from her friends that her daughter is walking around town 6 cm dilated. It’s true. My mother called me up one day last March to demand to know why her friends were talking about my cervix. Listen, I don’t know why her friends chose to friend me–and I’m really too polite to demur–but if they’re going to be my friends, they’re just going to have to hear about my cervix. I’m an open girl (oh yes–pun intended, Mom!).

4. Teachers and students don’t mix. I know this is an obvious one, especially if you follow the news (there are so many stories of teachers losing their jobs for saying nasty things about their students online–venting is ok, but not on the interwebz–those teachers need to return to the old ways of venting by going to a bar, drinking way too much, and regaling everyone with hilarious quotations from their students’ papers–as long, mind you, if no one in the bar has an iPhone). You could imagine that it would be fine to accept your students’ facebook friend requests if a) you limit what they can see (like your cervix deets) and/or b) you don’t mention things they shouldn’t see (like your cervix deets) and/or, at the very least, c) you wait until they are no longer your students.

Case in point: I had a student we’ll call Butt. In class, he was quiet and had irregular attendance. I might have barely noticed him, but he wrote spectacular essays. Brilliant, groundbreaking, unforgettable essays. Although, I admit, he rewarded my rewarding of his excellent, non-traditional writing by becoming a little too non-traditional for my prudish, teacherly taste (as in his last essay, which began with a brief but descriptive anecdote of him performing oral sex on a fellow student in the library, before moving into his argument about Frozen River and Thomas King’s “Borders”). He sent me a friend request early in the semester, which I ignored. But once the grades were in, I decided to accept the request. I figured, What’s the harm? I soon realized the harm. There were at least 3 reasons my acceptance was a mistake: a. His profile picture: His back is to the camera, with his head half-turned to offer a sideview, and he is wearing nothing but a white towel, draped around his right hip. On the other side, the towel dips down to expose his left butt cheek. I wonder if, considering profile pictures exist to allow others to identify individuals (Is that the Poor Princess who used to call me Terry Tanders? Or is it a different one?), his is a particularly useful one? (frighteningly, the answer might be yes). b. His comments. When I posted a great article on breastfeeding and then another very different great article on breastfeeding, he decided to put his 2 cents on my wall. I believe he said something like, “These are so interesting. But then, I am drawn to anything with the word ‘breasts’!” Hmmm. Awkward. Last of all, c. His friends. One of them posted on his wall: “Professor Princess, that BITCH, gave me a C in English!” I clicked “like.” Actually, maybe that was a reason to keep him on. But Butt immediately defriended me, just like Terry Tanders.

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