I Warned You Not to Touch That

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Bad Advice – Steaming in Tampa

by on Jun.03, 2010, under Bad Advice

My wife and I recently invited a group of friends to a casual summertime party.  One of our “guests” took it upon himself to contact an air conditioning expert prior to attending.  He had the audacity to ask him what would be the appropriate temperature to set our thermostat to in order to ensure it wasn’t too hot for him.  He then sent the email thread recommending we turn the temperature to 60 degrees at 10am so that things were nice and cool for him when the party started at 5pm.  We were appalled and disinvited him.  What would you have done?

Steaming in Tampa


Part of being good hosts involves accommodating your guests.  He was doing you a favor by making his preferences known, in advance, so you could make the necessary adjustments to your lifestyle.  If only more guests were as thoughtful. 

In the future, if you expect any of your friends to attend your gatherings, you should take pains to discover their needs.  If your home’s carpeting is dated, you should ask your friends what kind they prefer and have it installed prior to the party.  Many people find certain color schemes offensive.  Check with your friends first to learn what colors their own homes are painted.  If your home doesn’t have the right look, be sure to paint it the way others will find tasteful. 

Are you driving the right cars?  There’s nothing more embarrassing for guests than to show up and have to look at older vehicles when newer, shinier rides are trendier.  Don’t make the mistake of simply washing and waxing your present vehicles.  A practiced eye will see right through your feeble attempt to make your cars look presentable.

Music is important to create the right ambiance.  Even if you have an expensive sound system, you should consider having live music.  Since your guests sound as though they may enjoy classical music, perhaps a string quartet would be suitable.  Be sure to leave the musicians a large tip at the end of the night.

No one likes feeling crowded.  Is your home large enough?  If not, consider adding on or moving to a bigger home.  If you decide on either of these options, just be sure the air conditioner has ample capacity to keep your guests cool and comfortable.

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Bad Advice – Technically Troubled

by on May.20, 2010, under Bad Advice

I have a small computer repair business.  A 90-year-old woman called me to get rid of a virus on her computer.  After fixing the problem, she continues to call me complaining that she can’t access her email and other programs.  To complicate matters, her 95-year-old husband died six months ago and took all their passwords to his grave.  As many times as I’ve shown her how to do things on her PC, she keeps forgetting and calls wanting me to fix things that are working.  She doesn’t remember my name yet she knows exactly how much she’s paid me.  What should I do?

Technically Troubled


Since she’s so forgetful, explain to her that you’ve never touched her computer and that you are, in fact, her long lost son.  When she mentions the obscene amount she’s already paid you, tell her it was a birthday check which you reluctantly cashed.  As your relationship with her becomes closer, mention you’ll need her social security number should, God forbid, she ever die.  In time, you’ll find it easy to garner credit cards in her name and collect the benefit checks she gets from the government. 

As her newly minted kin, tell her she needs to get out of the house more and bring her to a theme park.  Those delightful attractions can do wonders to lift her spirits.  Don’t bother with the wimpy teacup ride with all the toddlers.  She needs excitement in her life.  Look for rides with names like “Death Wish,”  “Scream Machine,” or “Nitrous Hurl Gurl.”  Before you go blasting off, be sure to enter her in the chili-eating contest and take her on a stroll through the warped mirror maze.

She may be a bit jittery after day of fun in the sun, so kick back at the Wild West Saloon, and let the shots of Jagermeister fly.  It’ll be even more fun if you challenge her to a drinking contest.  She’s bound to gain some new friends at the bar and might even win back some of the money she’s paid you.  Don’t forget, she’s the designated driver.  If she can’t remember where she lost her dentures, tell her she’s been at home all day and they’re probably in the glass by her bed.  When you leave, take her computer with you.  She’ll never miss it.

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Bad Advice – Frustrated Hosts

by on May.07, 2010, under Bad Advice

My husband and I recently hosted a party.  We sent the invitations long in advance, and they said that the party was for adults only.  One couple brought their two young children.  This was an evening affair, complete with drinking and adult conversation.  Having these two children present was more than a distraction.  It dictated the behavior of all the other guests.  It’s not as though we were planning an orgy or wished to do anything illegal.  It’s just that children being around changed the dynamic, and adults had to watch their language and actions.  What could we have done differently?

Frustrated hosts


Your next party invitation should state that, during the orgy, guests will ingest copious amounts of illegal substances.  If they still bring their kids, you’ll need a backup plan.  I don’t know about you, but clowns terrify me.  Clown masks for all your guests should get the ball rolling in the right direction.  If you can afford some real ones, so much the better.  You should also have a doctor on hand to explain that it’s time for their immunizations.  Make sure she tells them, “It’ll only hurt for a minute.”

Most kids are afraid of spiders and snakes.  There must be a pet store that sells these little critters.  Pick up a dozen or two and “accidentially” let the spiders loose in the family room.  To really ramp things up, turn off all the lights and get everyone to sing “Itsy bitsy spider.”  Don’t release the snakes in the same room, as they may dine on the spiders.

In fairness, it hardly seems right to torture the poor kids for the parents’ lack of etiquette.  Tell the parents that little Sarah and Bobby have discovered the Jello shots.  Reassure them that it’s no problem, since there are still a few left for the other guests.  Mention that you have the new version of Jaws in HD with surround sound and see if they’d let the little ones watch it.

Regardless of how traumatized the kids or parents become, it’s important for you to maintain your role as a gracious host while accommodating the needs of your guests.  In addition to the clowns and doctor, consider bringing in a child therapist, in case the kids don’t appreciate the merriment.  Just make sure the children are gone before the orgy starts.

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Bad Advice – Fed Up With Spam

by on Apr.23, 2010, under Bad Advice

I just checked and I have over 13,000 pieces of spam in my email’s junk mailbox.  The person who set up my PC put something on it that’s supposed to keep spam from finding me.  I check my mail several times a day and there are always between 50 and 100 new messages.  I’m careful about giving out my email address but it doesn’t seem to matter.  Is there a recommended way for me to solve this problem for good?

 Fed up with spam

Junk email or spam has been vexing humanity since the dawn of infomercials.  Fortunately, there are several easy solutions to your problem.  I use something called a filter.  When shopping for a filter, be sure you get the right kind.  Avoid the type used in air conditioning ductwork or above the manifold on your car.  They can be quite cumbersome and are a real bear to fit into your laptop.  I use the #2 cone-style coffee filters with no bleach added.  They’re inexpensive and will fit easily into your CD drive.  You’ll find they’re very capable when it comes to keeping things from getting into your computer.

 If that doesn’t solve the problem, I’d do an in-depth analysis of the mail you’re being sent.  Perhaps a pattern will emerge.  In my case, I frequently hear from Cheryl Bisque, the Bank of Nigeria and someone named Cholesterol.  I don’t know how the Bank of Nigeria ended up in my junk box but, once I discovered them there, I moved them to my inbox immediately.  These wonderful folks are dying to release millions of dollars to me, through their chartered agent.  I wish the banks in our country were half as generous.  I’m not sure who Cheryl is and I haven’t checked to see what she wants but, with a name like that, it can’t be good.  Once you’ve found where much of your mail is coming from, hand write a personalized note asking them politely to stop sending you unwanted solicitations.  Be sure to use the exact words, “unwanted solicitations.”  There are few things more moving than a handwritten personalized plea.

If neither of these approaches works, buy a new PC.  It’s a more expensive option but you’ll be starting fresh and none of the people currently sending you spam will know about your new machine. Don’t consider the environment or bother recycling your old computer.  If the manatees won’t eat it, you can always dispose of it at the bottom of a pristine lake. 

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Bad Advice – Too much of a good thing

by on Apr.14, 2010, under Bad Advice

My husband and I have become friendly with a young couple we know from church.  They are in their early 20’s and we are old enough to be their parents.  We had them for dinner at 6pm the other night.  At 10pm, they were still going strong.  Finally, at 11pm they left.  We’re usually in bed before that hour.  They’re a lovely couple and we enjoy their company but we would have been happier if they’d left 90 minutes earlier.  Is there a tactful way to let dinner guests know it’s time to leave?

Too much of a good thing


There must be some subtle hints you could drop to help them get the message they’ve overextended their welcome.  Unfortunately, a bomb threat would necessitate your leaving as well.  Food poisoning could work but your guests might wonder why they weren’t sick.  Going into labor?  That’s a possibility.  This happens frequently on I Didn’t Know I was Pregnant.  Many women feel kicking inside of them and think nothing of it.  Have you considered cranking up the sound system with some Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas music? 

Perhaps you could launch into some inane story about the guy you really wanted to marry.  If you don’t have one, this is your chance to exercise some creativity.  When your husband says, “You never told me about Siegfried,” just laugh it off and say, “Of course I did, sweetie.  Don’t you remember?  He was a real tiger.  I’m sure things would’ve been different if Roy hadn’t come along.”  Be sure to bait him with tantalizing tidbits about the time your true love wore a leopard skin loincloth to the beach.

Of course, a little alcohol will go a long way to escalate matters.  Explain to your church friends that you never used to drink until you met your husband.  Tell them it’s a wonderful way to start the day.  I’m sure they’d also be interested to learn the reason you never had children.  It’s no secret that everything is working properly on your end.  Right?

There are few things better than a good fight to help your guests want to call it a night.  Best of all, once the word gets around at church, you’ll be too embarrassed to attend and never see them again.

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Bad Advice – Trying to be proper

by on Apr.01, 2010, under Bad Advice

My everyday flatware is a set of stainless steel that I purchased over twenty years ago.  At this point, it is difficult to keep clean and I’ve grown tired of the pattern.  I also have a set of sterling silver flatware with a simple design that I love.

As I see it, I have two choices: use my set of sterling silver flatware or purchase a new set of stainless steel.  It seems like a waste of money to buy a new set of stainless flatware, even if I found a set I like.

I grew up using sterling silver every day that my parents received as a wedding gift.  Is it acceptable to use sterling silver flatware every day?

 Trying to be proper


Two choices?  That’s all you can come up with?  Let me see if I can broaden your view.  The most obvious option is to eat with your hands.  Long before the invention of sterling or stainless flatware, humans found their hands to be adept at ripping the fleshy outcroppings off hapless dodo birds.  Cleanup is fast and easy.  Just wipe them on the heirloom damask tablecloth your aunt Ginger wove on her antique loom.  No tablecloth?  Use your shirt. 

Fasting has some amazing cleansing benefits.  Ghandi did it, and he lived for quite a while.  Think of the money you’d save on food as well as time spent shopping.  If starvation doesn’t agree with you, consider dining out.  Most fast food places have prepackaged plastic utensils that they hide behind the counters.  All you need to do is order a large water and ask for the stuff.  If you’re lucky enough to work in fast food, it’s also the kind of thing they wouldn’t notice if you pocketed while working the register.  They’re worried about losing currency, not serving utensils. 

I’m sorry to learn your parents forced you to eat exclusively with sterling silverware.  This is a problem I’ve only recently become aware of.  Your life of grandeur moves me.  There must be many who have felt the sharp bite of over-pressed 300 thread count linens.  I’m sure countless women suffer from hyperextension due to weighty diamonds stretching their left arms.  Personally, I almost froze solid on a bus with an overactive air conditioner.  I’d recommend extensive therapy to help you overcome the trauma of your privileged childhood.  Without it, you’re likely to choke on your silver spoon.

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Hard Time

by on Mar.12, 2010, under Essays

Security was tight. A stack of green dog food bowls awaited my wallet, cell phone and keys. Then they asked for my belt. Ordinarily, I find the prospect of a strip search liberating but, since the Tampa air temperature was 49 degrees, I balked. I believe they wanted to check my belt for nuclear explosives. Reluctantly, I complied. I asked the attendant how often people’s pants fall down. After evaluating me as a potential security threat, she replied, “Its happened.”

They ran my meager offering along the conveyor belt through the x-ray machine. I hoped they couldn’t detect how little money I had in my wallet. Poverty is not pretty. If only I’d stopped at the bank first. I walked through the magic rectangle that, I imagine, detects terrorist leanings. I passed without incident, with my pants still on.

Far from flying down to Rio, my destination was the Jury Auditorium at the District Courthouse. I took the escalator to the second floor and gave my summons to Sandra. She seemed happy to see me. I told her we have to stop meeting like this. I scanned the room looking for a comfortable chair, preferably next to someone impartial. These were my peers? They seemed mostly white, overweight, and unhappy. I settled on a fifty-something woman named Karen who was reading from her Kindle.She gave me the kind of welcoming look religious fanatics get when they knock on your door. Since moving to a home with a three mile long driveway, I’ve noticed this type of traffic has diminished. Occasionally, I’ll get a wholesome young couple who has survived the razor wired fence, booby trapped explosives and trained vultures to arrive at my door. Regardless of whether it’s freezing or scorching, the guy is always in a dark suit and tie. The woman contrasts his look with her long flowery dress. Sort of a good wardrobe bad wardrobe team.

I love when cute couples show up. Especially ones that, with one look at me, have decided I don’t have the intelligence to arrive at my own religious beliefs. I need guidance and, fortunately, they can provide it. To be honest, for these discourses, I’m a bit more receptive when strapped to a dentist chair with my mouth pried open and drugs rendering me barely conscious.

As you can imagine, our conversation was a bit one-sided.

“Can you hand me the mallet and chisel, Doris?”
“Yes, doctor.”
“Thank you. I was praying this last wisdom tooth wasn’t fused to his jaw but, unfortunately, it is. Sometimes, our prayers aren’t answered, are they Bill?”
Unable to speak or even shake my head, I stare groggily at the light.
“Of course that doesn’t mean prayer isn’t beneficial, does it?”
It’s hard to argue with that or with anything at this point.
“Can you attach the radiator tip to the vacuum and hand me the hose, please?”
“Yes, doctor.”
“Why, just the other day, I was seeing a patient with an acute case of lockjaw. Do you know what lockjaw is Bill?”
Much as I’d love to respond, words escape me.
“No? Well, lockjaw is when someone can’t open their mouth. Can you imagine that Bill? Not being able to open your mouth? Of course, it’s bad for the patient but think of how tough it makes things for the dentist. Can you jack his mouth open wider, Doris?”
“Yes, doctor.”
“Thanks, now hand me the prybar…I mean how in God’s green earth am I supposed to tackle a dental problem when I can’t get the mouth open?…Hand me the sledge hammer, will you?…So I prayed, Bill. I got down on my hands and knees beside the sink…Can you vacuum the blood and jawbone up so I can see what I’m doing?…and I asked for guidance from above. At first, nothing came to me…that’s better, Doris…so I prayed even harder. I must’ve knelt there for twenty minutes praying and asking for guidance until finally…electric carving knife please, Doris…I saw the light. It all became clear to me, Bill. I realized I didn’t need to do anything at all. Nothing. Nada. Zippo. Why worry about doing dental work on someone who’ll never use his teeth?…I’ll take the hacksaw now.”
“Yes, doctor.”
“It was the answer to my prayers, Bill. A huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. And I’ll tell you something else. It’s changed the way I view my practice…Can you hand me the pickax?…and my everyday life. I realize I can’t help everyone…Do you think he’s bleeding too much, Doris? You do?…the only person I have to worry about…I thought so…is myself and living my life a certain way…Will you call an ambulance, please?…and so I pray while I’m doing the simple tasks that are before me just like…They’ll be here in ten minutes?…I’m praying now….Doris, come kneel with me and let’s pray for Bill.”

Just when my focus drifted back to Karen and my potential jury mates, a video started playing. It was part pep talk, part information, and part therapy. They told us that, in case the attorneys approached the bench and whispered among themselves, “nobody is trying to hide anything.” I learned not to take it personally if they excused me. I wondered how many went home bitterly disappointed at not having to spend the next three months of their lives sitting in a jury box with eleven others listening to testimony. If they excused me, I planned to celebrate by knocking over a convenience store.

Tons of well-read magazines weighed down the tables between the chairs. I considered American Baby, but settled on an Esquire magazine with the recipient’s address ripped off the cover. It had been years since I dared to venture through its pages. Billed as a men’s magazine, it had an appalling lack of nudity. The current iteration promised me fifty-one pages of fall fashions. Given that it was March, I was sure the styles were now passé.

I turned the glossy pages with a mixture of curiosity, amazement, and shame. I had no idea Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards peddled Louis Vuitton luggage. Condoms seemed like a better match for him. As I viewed the products and models in the ads, I felt embarrassed at my own lack of sophistication. The men were so pretty I thought the publisher should consider touting it as a woman’s magazine. I searched for the index hoping to find the piece on cover boy, Tom Brady. The index was on page thirty-five. Why bother with an index if you have to paw through half the magazine to find it? Just when I was about to learn about the Patriot quarterback’s glamorous lifestyle and fine threads, my name was called.

After three hours and three roll calls, forty of us went to the fifth floor to continue waiting. As I looked around at the granite benches, grey walls, and stainless water fountains I noticed something was missing. Entertainment. Courthouses could turn into profit centers by simply adding a few arcade games. Talk about a captive market. I’m sure, if you look up boredom in the dictionary, there’s a picture of a jury pool standing around waiting to be called. Had anyone considered the appeal of a petting zoo to ease the tedium? I was almost ready to give Esquire another stab when they lined us up and marched us into the courtroom. Finally, some action. Unfortunately, after explaining the judicial process and our important role in it, they returned us to the halls of boredom. I’m sure this is done to make whatever case they’re trying seem more interesting to the jury.

To pass the time, I wandered into an adjoining courtroom. I watched as the judge lifted restraining orders and gave defendants a choice between jail or anger management classes. I thought about the classes. Did they advise throwing paper plates instead of china? Was there a discussion of the strike zone when hitting your significant other with a bat? When throwing someone over the fifth floor balcony, should you make sure there’s a pool directly below? Worried that I’d miss my call to service, I returned to the halls to wait.

Later in the day, I slipped back into the same courtroom. This time, it was a completely different cast of characters. I discovered my seatmates were mostly criminals awaiting justice. My eyes lit on a group of seven dressed in bright orange county jumpsuits. Their arms and legs were shackled and they all wore the same beige sandals. I didn’t think the sandals went with the jumpsuits at all.

One of the defendants kept looking at me. He was a young, thin Hispanic guy with pencil line beard, short dark hair and olive complexion. He was mouthing something and used his handcuffed hands to add to the pantomime. I couldn’t decipher if he was speaking in Spanish or English, and the hand gestures only clouded the message. Perhaps he was asking if I brought the hacksaw. I wanted to signal something back, but thought I’d get busted for aiding and abetting. I turned away.

When I looked back, he was still trying to communicate with me. What could he possibly want? Perhaps, this was part of his insanity defense. As a juror, I’d have bought it. He really wanted me to know something. Was he unhappy about the sandals? Did jail food disagree with him? Were his cellmates snoring? I turned around to check the clock and discovered an older Hispanic woman, right behind me, mouthing and using hand signals too. Much as I was curious to be in on the conversation, I refrained from asking her for details. If they were planning to bust him out, things could get dicey. I returned to the waiting area outside the courtroom and thought about my new friend.

Another potential juror worked for Carnival cruise lines. It surprised me when he said business was booming. According to him, it’s cheaper to take the family on a cruise than to go to Disney World. Parents loved the way kids could be in a contained space while adults could slam back rum punches at the poolside bar. I asked if any of the kids ever fell overboard. He said no but that adults did. I thought it would take a good deal of effort to fall off an ocean liner. What could you possibly need to see leaning that far over the rail that was so compelling? The water looks the same against the ship’s hull as it does twenty yards away from it. One passenger fell in the water from eight floors up. After a pleasure boat ran over him, they rescued him as he clung to a buoy. Some people just refuse to die.

When we were finally back in the courtroom, the prosecution and defense did their best to agree on twelve of us. I worked on developing a facial tic. I’d forgotten to wear my, “Guilty until proven innocent” t-shirt. Many in the pool had novel excuses. “I’m a single parent and my child is scheduled for a brain transplant tomorrow.” Excused. “I’m supposed to appear in court on another matter tomorrow.” Two for two. They let me go after I mentioned my ride back to Mars would be leaving the following noon.

I left with a mixture of emotions. I’m sure release from prison feels similar. There’s elation at being, “on the outside” but regret at the loss of free room and board and friendships only found while sharing the same cell. At least felons are exempt from jury duty.

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Oh Canada

by on Feb.25, 2010, under Other

I’ve never had a problem with Canadians.  As a group, I find them nicer than many other nationalities I’ve run into.  Of course, there is the language barrier and I’m not sure television has made its way across the border, but they make up for it with their great cars.  I mean their beer.  I feel a certain kinship to our North American neighbors yet, I’m at a loss when it comes to one of their beloved pastimes, curling.  My cat, Zippie, and I recently watched the spectacle as it aired on the Olympics. 

In Canada, curling and hockey are viewed with the same passion many in the United States view baseball and football.  The problem with watching curling at the Olympics is the rules are a carefully guarded secret that NBC has contractually agreed not to disclose.  I love watching the sport.  It’s like trying to figure out cricket.  The playing pieces or “stones,” bear a striking resemblance to the kind of egg I’d expect to emanate from a granite dinosaur.  They slide and guide them down a small iced surface that looks like a cross between a shuffleboard court and hockey rink.

The main idea of the contest is to look cool as you launch the rock and then gaze at it lovingly while yelling HARD.  To look even cooler, it helps to scream REALLY HARD. Sometimes they do this by calling from the other end.  I think. They could throw a nine, which is their normal, or possibly make an intern drop.  It sickens me to encounter a rock that’s open by half to three quarters.  I wanted to see if the dropped intern would make a recovery or fall to her takeout weight.

The best part of the whole show is the sweepers and scrapers.  I’m sure that’s the wrong term for them but they are the action portion of this adventure.  Skittering down the ice looking at the stone they alternately lope along or scrape for all their worth. They have to keep an eye on their opponent’s stones and gingerly step around them.  Then, as if to counteract the play the offense just made, the other team jumps in at the end to do some sweeping and scraping of their own.  If they just joined forces, they’d have the ice cleared in no time.

The Canadian’s watching the event seemed wildly enthusiastic about it.  My cat, who knows a little about curling himself, took it all in and was unimpressed.     

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General Motors

by on Feb.13, 2010, under Essays

I judged a speaking contest last night.  Prior to the formal judging, the organizers served us a catered meal in the hospitality area.  As I scanned the full room for a place to sit, I spotted a chair next to an attractive 40ish woman.  She was blonde, perky, and had a pretty smile.  Sitting next to a stranger can be a wonderful opportunity to pin different personas on the line and see which one’s flap the most. Were it not for the better food and greater seat selection, I might have been on a plane.

Caris decided she was a Christian homemaker, originally from the Midwest, who regretted never pursuing a fashion design career in New York City.  I wondered if her parents were thinking of Paris when they named her.  Sort of a Midwestern twist on the City of Light.  She lived in Plant City.  I’ve never encountered anyone with that for a name.  I always thought it was an oxymoronic moniker for a city.  When I think of cities, I don’t think of plants.  I didn’t doubt that she lived there.  It just seemed like a long way from the Seventh Avenue fashion district in Manhattan.  Her excuse had something to do with her husband’s business.  He needed space for equipment.

The conversation drifted to what I did for a living.  I told her I ran General Motors.  I saw her eyebrows rise a fraction and a glint of increased interest wash over her face.  Perhaps I could help with a recalled vehicle or, better yet, get her a seat on the board.  She asked, “do you run it from here?”  “Here” I assumed meant the office I have in my home.  I explained that, thanks to modern technology, I didn’t need to be in Detroit that often.  Many Fortune 100 CEO’s run the companies from spare bedrooms in their homes.  I paused to let the gravity of my words sink in.  When they still seemed to be floating on the surface, I explained that I’m a pathological liar and didn’t even own a car.  I watched as her pretty smile careened off her face.  How I wished she’d told me she was the Queen of Sheba or even Sweden.  I’m sure I could’ve gotten her a deal on a Saab.

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Email Thread-Fan Mail (I think)

by on Feb.11, 2010, under Other

Don’t ever be afraid to say how you feel about my work.  These emails arrived before my blog was set up.  You, my close personal friend,  can leave thoughts right in the comment sections on these pages.  It’s a snap.  All replies are welcome and appreciated.

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