Review: The Egg Said Nothing by Caris O’Malley

January 30, 2011 at 8:04 pm (Bizarro, Review, Writing)

What would you do if you woke up one morning with an egg planted neatly between your legs? That’s the central question of Caris O’Malley’s debut novel: The Egg Said Nothing. The book’s egg-laying everyman is Manny, and we as an audience get to enjoy watching him deal with the aftermath of a night he cannot remember, but the book goes beyond simple storytelling and into a psychological meta-fictional space. Because Manny is such an identifiable character, a real everyman for our generation, I found myself drawn into his mind and wondering what I would do in a similar situation. As the book progresses into unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory, complete with time-shifting strangers and violent (and hilarious) action sequences, the reader is forced to confront the dwindling options and strange reality along with the protagonist. This is the triumph of O’Malley’s novel: The prose style and the character’s narration are perfectly crafted to fit into a space not quite in, but next to, our own reality. We know Manny. We are Manny. And we too, might someday have a terrible shovel-related incident.

It is difficult to write about The Egg Said Nothing without giving away the clever twists that O’Malley has devised for poor Manny to suffer through. The author understands how to use the hubris of a main character against himself, and we watch as Manny makes all the wrong choices out of paranoia and selfishness, but we also understand that he has few other options. Every choice he makes opens a new door and closes off several others. Let me say simply that Caris O’Malley’s use of time-travel and/or alternate time-streams is extremely well done. Too often in time and space skewing fiction, the physics loom over the narrative and make for a less engaging story, but not here. In the middle of the book, the clever reader will start to see how time and space are twisting in the world of this book, long before poor Manny does, which makes watching him screw up his life even further a painful and cathartic experience. Manny is juggling a new love interest (the delightful Ashley), shadowy murderers in his hallway and a million reasons to lock every one of his nine or so locks at night. The wonderful thing is, all this is not confusing for the reader, just for Manny, and we have masterful writing to thank for that.

The Egg Said Nothing is highly recommended, both for O’Malley’s sense of humor and for his ability to take a well-worn trope (the mechanics of time) and make them fresh and new again by introducing a simple set of rules and running with them. The ending of this book was predictable only in that there are clues woven throughout the book for mystery-lovers and the like to pick up on, but when it comes barreling in, it’s still a shocking and powerful trip. This is the kind of book that elicits a wonderful emotional response, somewhere between a laugh, a twitch and a shudder, and that is the highest compliment I can give. Not to be missed!

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Review: Steve Lowe’s Muscle Memory

December 10, 2010 at 8:13 pm (Bizarro, Review, Writing)

It’s always a risky proposition: to take a well known trope (especially one that peaked in the films of the 80’s) and try to find a new way to spin it. In Muscle Memory, Steve Lowe takes his cue from movies like Freaky Friday and Like Father, Like Son, presenting a tale of bodies switched and swapped all over a small community. Using some clever writing however, Lowe transcends the typical structure of those stories and takes it to a whole new level of absurd and hilarious wonder.

Billy wakes one morning to the dog meowing at him, next to his own body (which happens to be dead) and inside the body of his wife. Soon, his best friend Tucker (who now inhabits the body of his own wife, Julia) and other friends and neighbors (including one poor fellow who’s now stuck inside a sheep, leading to some hilarious accusations about his personal life) set out to solve the problem.

A number of theories are put forward in the story, including everything from government conspiracies to alien interventions. In lesser hands, this might become nothing more than a farce, but Lowe creates depth for his characters. They are developed indeed, from the way they talk to the way they think and act. Steve Lowe has obviously spent some time around small town America, because he nails the little mannerisms, casual sexism and low speed drawl of the community, leading to a realistic and funny bunch of people. The protagonist, Billy, is especially interesting, with his everyman charm and his laid-back street smarts, it’s easy to find yourself hoping that he’ll make it through the chaos okay.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the ending. Without spoiling anything, I have to commend Mr. Lowe on writing a bizarro book with a truly poignant and literary final moment. It feels like an earned ending, and is surprisingly powerful in the midst of a really silly sequence of events that lead the reader to it.  It’s fun to watch the madness unfold, and it never feels like Muscle Memory is piling on weirdness just “to be weird.” Everything moves the plot forward nicely up that final, “nailed it” moment.

This book is part of the New Bizarro Author Series, which exists to promote new authors of the weird. I would highly recommend Muscle Memory to anyone looking for a fun, quick and comfortable read. It’s a short book, which is unfortunate, as it seems like Lowe could have mined this setting and these characters for even more fun, but the bottom line is: This is good, solid writing from an author I know we’ll be seeing more of in the coming years. Buy it now so you can say “I bought his first book before everyone knew he was cool.” You won’t regret it!

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Review: Pickled Apocalypse of Pancake Island

September 8, 2010 at 9:45 pm (Bizarro, Review, Writing)

A review of Pickled Apocalypse of Pancake Island by Cameron Pierce

It takes a special sort of writer to craft a fairy tale that works for adults. In Pickled Apocalypse of Pancake Island, Pierce has woven a finely crafted fairy tale that works on several different levels at once, making it a delight to read no matter what level of depth you’re looking for.

The story revolves around a pickle, Gaston Glew, who comes from a planet where happiness is entirely unknown. There are no birthdays, only “sad days,” and suicides are not only common, but expected. Gaston decides to act, breaking the existential cycle of malaise that binds him by building a rocket and taking off for parts unknown, driven by the motto of his favorite TV character Captain Pickle who advises everyone to “unchain yourself from this briny fate, oh pickled prisoner.” In doing so, he ends up on pancake island, a joyous place of constant celebration. It is here when the philosophical underpinnings of Pierce’s story begin to shape the narrative: can something that knows nothing but misery and horror survive in a place where happiness is omnipresent? Can it survive him?

The book is incredibly fun to read, and Pierce’s simple prose belies his ability to talk about deep matters. On the surface, this is simply a fun fairy tale, with a romantic subplot straight out of Romeo and Juliet and a lot of fun imagery. If you feel like diving into the meat, however, there’s a lot happening here that’s worth thinking about. Is the Cuddlywumpus symbolic, or is he just awesome? Does Fanny Fod (the most beautiful pancake in the world) lactate maple beer because it’s weird and unsettling, or because she’s an integral part of the world Pierce has created? Sure, Cameron Pierce can shock (he proved that with his previous book Ass Goblins of Auschwitz) but he can also rip open the underbelly of the human condition using very simply and elegant storytelling techniques.

The characters are fun, the plot and setting are a joy, and much to my surprise, the ending is quite beautiful in a way, and certainly earned. Occasionally, things enter the plot and almost immediately disappear without much exploration (like the history of the races appearing in the book, for example), but this is a minor quibble. Instead of raising dramatic plot questions, those things become added set pieces, and help the reader see the world that Pierce is trying to create. You don’t have to be interested in food to love this book, and it’s a quick and delightful read. Perfect for those new to the bizarro genre, lovers of adult fairy tales, or anyone just looking for a great commuter book. You won’t regret the sweet, sweet taste of Cameron’s maple syrup.

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An Open Letter to the Grinch…

June 23, 2010 at 11:38 am (Art, Bizarro, Parody, Writing)

An Open Letter to the Grinch,

Dear Mr. Grinch,

Greetings, I hope this letter finds you well. Your activities have come to my attention through a variety of sources. I read your biography (by a “Doctor” Seuss, who I have reason to believe was not licensed to practice medicine at all) and also seen the film based on your holiday performance project. I hope you pardon my intrusion, but as someone with a performance background, I thought perhaps you might be open to some constructive criticism re: your stealing Christmas.

First off: green fur? Come on, Grinch, they’ll see you coming a mile away… at least dye yourself black. I understand the metaphorical connotations of the color choice: green, envy, etc. But ultimately, it’s undermining the entire project.

The Santa Suit? Again: huge red flag. While I agree that it makes your actions timely, it also limits you to a very specific time period and outside of that, you’re just going to alienate your audience and make yourself that much easier a target for hassling from “the man.”

Also, there’s a narrator talking about you while you walk around doing your thing… did you know that? You might have to take him out. He sings songs about you, catchy little tunes espousing the negative traits of your personality. I’m rather surprised you haven’t been made aware of this character assassination and sued him for libel. If you need the advice of a good lawyer, I might be able to recommend one.

Now then, regarding the actual chain of events comprising your holiday larceny project “Stealing Christmas” (is that trademarked? copyrighted? You may want to do some research on branding). Let me say first that I truly appreciate your grasp of deconstruction. Your reverse Santa routine was sheer genius. I do however, question your commitment to the delivery of your message, as you obviously allow the emotional state of the audience to affect your performance. Much like Maplethorpe, or Annie Sprinkle, you intend to shock and subvert the dominant paradigm, however on the occasion of your performance, when a child asked you why you were doing what you did, you were unwilling (or unable) to explain your methodology and aesthetic.

Perhaps one solution would be to target an audience more in touch with your style. I understand that you live on a 3000 foot mountain just north of Whoville, so a local audience is easy and safe for you to utilize for previews, but as this was a one-time performance, I would urge you to look into small theatres in larger cities: New York, Chicago, Portland for example. The fact that your biography is a bestseller certainly gives you the name recognition.

I believe you need a clear mission statement. Your current artistic statement: “To stop Christmas from coming” is a bit stale. Let me suggest a few possibilities:

1. To spread awareness that by experiencing the lights, glitter and rich foods leading up to the big day when a magical stack of free gifts are awarded, children quickly adapt to the artificial thrill of acquiring shiny but usually unnecessary things.

2. To express the pagan origins of the yule holiday by subverting the status quo and denying the Juedo-Christian tradition of gift-giving and merriment, showing the emotional resonance of such materialistic celebrations to be hollow.

3. To steal shit from whos.

It is my sincere hope that you take these critical notes as they are intended – from one performance artist to another as a friend. Please feel free to ask for clarification on any of my points. I would love to assist you in future endeavors. Currently, I am working with a cat who expresses himself through haberdashery, but I do have openings available if you’re looking for life coaching and feedback.

Yours,
Michael-I-Am

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Great screaming toxic Jesus, it’s happening!

December 8, 2009 at 2:16 pm (Personal, Writing)

I don’t care if it’s self-indulgent drivel, it’s MY self-indulgent drivel. And it’s back from the grave. I found a way to integrate my old blog into this one, and the entries have been imported. For more things than you ever wanted to know about me, look back through the archives!

I’ll be tagging and categorizing things as soon as possible, because there are a few hidden gems here and there, most notably the “thought experiments” which I think you’ll enjoy if you’re a fan of philosophy and other weirdness. There are a few creative pieces buried in there too.

Anyway, I’m just glad to have it all back. There’s something about your life being spread out all over the web that makes one decidedly uncomfortable.

Enjoy. 😉

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A review of Fistful of Feet by Jordan Krall

December 7, 2009 at 5:25 pm (Bizarro, Review, Writing) (, , , , )

A review of Fistful of Feet by Jordan Krall
by Michael A Rose

I feel like I’ve been riding through the desert on a half-dead horse, dry and aching for water, skin raw from the sand and sun blasting by me, a bullet wound festering in my side, and the scent of a woman’s sweat-soaked high heel lingering in my nostrils. Surprisingly, this isn’t a bad feeling – it’s a good one – because thanks to the transformative power of literature, I’m able to vicariously experience the wild west of the old spaghetti westerns through Jordan Krall’s “Fistful of Feet.”

I’m not a Western genre aficionado, I’ll admit that up front. What struck me immediately about this book though, was the style. It’s deceptively simple and straightforward, which I was not expecting. Stay with me though – this was carefully and exactly intended by the author, and therein lies his genius: Krall crafts a tale using melodramatically simple black and white characters who (mostly) wear their motivations on their sleeves. He front-loads the book with a huge number of characters, all with their own weird fetishes and motivations.

At first, this is difficult to swallow; the juxtaposition of complex cast of characters and simple narrative structure and language, and then the magic of Krall’s stylistic choices began to reveal itself. Through the clever storytelling contained in Fistful of Feet, Krall starts to weave the stories of these people together, and he not only brings in the bizarre, he actually utilizes all the standard tropes of the genre, making this as much a literary grape-stomp as it is an homage to a long-neglected literary genre. This is the straight-forward narrative of the classic Westerns, but with twisted sex. This is Louis L’amour gone haywire and driven half man by ancient unspeakable gods. This, in a word, is bizarro.

The story follows the archetypal lone wanderer, Calamaro, a rough and tumble stranger with many mysteries following behind him (my favorite mystery by far is the wooden donkey he drags along, which holds many secrets of its own). Calamaro drags himself to the local brothel in the small town of Screwhorse to set himself up with a room, but of course, as the genre demands, nobody’s comfortable with the new stranger in town (save a madam with a heart of gold and a few others). From there, things get perverse and hilariously wild, and that’s good: Krall is at his best when he taps into the reader’s prurient interests. This book is delightfully filled with sexual depravity and otherworldly references to unspeakable acts. The descriptions of the various delights at the town’s whorehouse are alternately stimulating and grimace-inducing, and that’s exactly how Krall holds the reader’s attention. A careful balancing act of alien starfish and four-footed prostitutes on one side with all the classic tropes of the old Clint Eastwood films on the other.

All in all, a fun read, and a must for any fans of genre-mashups, westerns with a twist, non-traditional lit fans and of course, strangers with nothing to lose. You might find yourself punching a horse just because you know they’ve been talking about you behind your back.

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Zerostrata Review

December 3, 2009 at 9:25 am (Bizarro, Review, Writing) (, , )

A review of Zerostrata by Anderson Prunty
by Michael A Rose

If Zerostrata was a tea, I would call it “bracing, with a hint of undeniable sweetness.” I would drink it on Wednesday mornings at work to make me feel on edge with anticipation of the day to come, and awaken me to the possibilities while simultaneously clearing my sinuses. But Anderson Prunty’s Zerostrata is not a tea – it’s a book – and a damn good one.

Zerostrata follows the story of Hansel Nothing as he returns to his childhood home in an effort to find himself and give his life some sense of meaning. He has no memory of where he’s been for the last decade or so. In a normal story, the plot would quickly become a tiresome cliche in which the focus is getting back lost memories, but in Prunty’s capable hands, the story stays firmly planted in the present – a present where a beautiful girl runs naked in the rain and a mysterious therapist named Doctor Blast prescribes a strange series of events that shake Hansel Normal’s world up completely.

One of the best things about reading Zerostrata is the juxtaposition of bizarro humor and strange events with a real sweetness. Sure, there are gang members who make the world’s most delicious salad from their own flesh, and liquid-like airspace complete with magically mobile trampolines to keep falling victims safe for their therapy, but at its core, Zerostrata seems to be a love story. Not in the traditional sense, but in the sense that once we find the right person, nothing else matters outside of that, no matter how difficult or mundane. There is a beautiful scene which I will not ruin for you involving raindrops toward the end of the book that contains a monologue I may ask Prunty for permission to use in my wedding vows some day. That’s the kind of experience this book gives a reader – being carried through the strangest of places, only to come out on the other side and find some sort of magic.

This is a quest story where the protagonist doesn’t know what the ultimate goal is, and as it is revealed to him, the reader sees it as well. That conceit alone makes this truly worth the read; highly recommended.

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Help, Mykle Hansen is Eating Me!

November 29, 2009 at 10:32 am (Bizarro, Personal, Writing)

I am sure that many of you think you know fame. You do not.

No matter what you have done, no matter how far-reaching your accomplishments, how many books you’ve sold or how many lovers you have taken to your bed, you do not know fame.

You wouldn’t know fame if it bit you.

I say this, because it did bite me.

At Bizarro-con 2009, I was bitten by famous author, Mykle Hansen.

I shouldn’t have been wearing a bathrobe – that was probably mistake number one. That’s practically an advertisement, really. “Hey famous author Mykle Hansen, look at my soft, pink, exposed forearms; my lean but hearty man-calves…” If I had known then what I know now, I would have worn pants that night; perhaps a parka. Maybe I could have borrowed a furry hat from Bradley Sands to complete the illusion that I wouldn’t make a delicious mouthful for famous author Mykle Hansen.

The signs were all there. We all know about famous author Mykle Hansen’s famous book “Help, a Bear is Eating Me.” Does he write in a vacuum? No, the book rings true with the voice of an experienced carnivore. His authorial voice certainly plays the part of the victim, yes, but the bear’s motivation and single-minded focus could only have been written by a man-biter.

Famous man-biter, Mykle Hansen.

But surely, the suits must belie his voracious nature! The perfectly fit suits? A clever ruse. Ed Gein wore suits too – suits made from human ears. Famous man-biter Mykle Hansen keeps his own ear suits underneath the outerwear, the feeling of severed human flesh against his famous skin giving him sick authorial thrills as he goes about his business.

How else do you imagine the tears in that bathrobe I wore at the convention were opened? An accident? There are no accidents. There is only famous robe-tearer, Mykle Hansen, flashing incisors that could cut through a can of tomatoes (or several layers of terry-cloth) in one vicious bite, swooping in savagely to grab a mouthful of bathrobe and pulling, endlessly pulling!

Famous deranged cannibal, Mykle Hansen, what with his dashing good looks and stories of elderly crack whores and giant rampaging penises!

You might say that I contributed to my own mauling, but what was I doing on that fateful night? There I stood, happily sipping my drink on the porch of the old administrative house on the grounds of Edgefield Manor. The sun had long since set, and the scent of beer and saltwater floated through on the night breeze. My robe flapped lightly in the night air as I held aloft a basket of orphaned kittens that I had recently rescued from a flaming charity hospital. Humbly, gently, I told my fellow bizarros the story of how, on my way to the saltwater hot tub, I had felt in my bones a tingling sense that I was needed, and how my heroics had saved the day. “Three cheers for Michael Rose, the bathrobe enthusiast/heroic savior of everything!” someone cried, as I blushed demurely. I regaled my new friends (humbly regaled) with tales of my selfless courage and heroic efforts, and everyone seemed to be in good spirits.

What I did not know – could not know – was that famous Satan worshipper Mykle Hansen listened from the darkness, his talons quivering in anticipation of his next meal.

Without warning, he struck, as horrified literati looked on, their mouths agape in shock and horror. Famous panda molester, Mykle Hansen, was upon me, his hideous antennae and oozing sores gleaming in the moonlight as his mouth loomed larger and more savage by the second, growing and pulsating with the rhythm of the ancient elder gods which cannot be named.
Unhinging his jaw like a serpent, famous snake-impersonator Mykle Hansen swallowed me up into what can only be described as a void. “I can not allow such an unabashed force for goodness and joy to exist in the world,” he exclaimed, as I felt holes in my flesh tear into the indescribably chaotic shape of witty satire.

And then, almost as quickly as it began, it was over. I awoke staring up into the moonlight, bizarro authors and fans all around, talking amongst themselves about walruses and buffet breakfasts, Cameron’s proclivity for hurling meat and the disturbingly familiar taste of Jordan Krall’s ass juice. Mykle stood nearby, his trademark smile gleaming under the moth-killing light of the outdoor incandescents by the ad-house.

Had I dreamed the whole episode? Had I imbibed too much ass juice? I went on with my business and tried to forget about it for the rest of the weekend, despite people asking how my bathrobe had been torn. I must have tripped and fallen into some shrubbery, or perhaps the disposable razors that bizarro fan Zoe was handing out had taken on a life of their own and juggled themselves around my tender torso. I tried to forget… to heal…

But now, friends, now the hideous truth has revealed itself. Even now, I feel the pulsing of the moon. Its waxing and waning have a bitterly poignant effect on me… I have been cursed.

Let this tale serve as a warning, dear reader. Beware. The actions of famous maniac baby-eater Mykle Hansen must be brought to light, lest future bizarro authors suffer the same fate. Heed this incredibly well-written story, unless you are willing to disregard the horror – the indescribable terror – of a complete lack of vowel control.

As time creeps toward the full moon, I become:

Mychael A Rose.

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Passive-Agressive vs. Persuasive-Impulsive: Random Events

July 23, 2008 at 12:44 pm (Personal, Writing) (, )

I love it when I come across examples of smarmy, not-quite condescending enough to get mad at, but still vindicating speech and text in real life. This site, Passive Aggressive Notes, is the perfect way to get your fix of some of the funniest rudeness available. For those of us who enjoy using condescension in our daily lives (ie: anyone who works with the public) or even those who are affected by employers and authority figures with a witty mean-streak, it’s totally worth your time.

A woman just asked me to help her spell the name of her insurance company. “Montgmento, Monsurnetall,” she said, over and over, as I frantically looked for anything to assist my google. After a minute or two, I asked her for an address. “1st Avenue and Oak Forest,” she replied. So now I’m looking for a “Montugmeatballs” or some such thing at the corner of 1st and Oak Forest. Turns out it’s MONUMENTAL. You know, an actual word? And it’s in Oak Forest, IL. Not in Chicago on a street called Oak Forest. And besides that (excuse my elitism) she couldn’t spell Monumental.

There is a form our office uses from the Chicago Housing Authority that always prints off a blank page after the first page (which is the actual letter). They will not let us change this, even though all it would take is one back-space, and despite the fact that it wastes twice the amount of paper that could be used by printing a little “2” in the corner of an otherwise untouched page of paper. And people wonder why government agencies are losing money.

Play idea: Based on an actual true-life experience of mine from a few months ago, I am finally writing out the dramatic version. A homeless man engaged me in conversation at an El stop. Being friendly, I talked to the guy, and he asked me strange questions such as “Do you hate homeless people?” I, of course, said that I didn’t, and felt my liberal bleeding-heart ire rise. Turns out this was a strategy. To make a long story short (until you see the play, anyway), he followed me onto the train, sat next to me at the end of the car (effectively pinning me in my seat) and proceeded to ask me if he could come home with me and use my shower. This was a 300 pound man with ranting/inappropriate laughter volume problems. When I said that I couldn’t have anyone over, he told me I was full of shit (because I had previously said I didn’t hate homeless people) and threw cold pizza at me. Should make a fun 10-minute. I’m still not entirely certain how it will end though… it needs to be taken further than it was in reality (with me walking home looking over my shoulder)… thinking…

I haz a tired.

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11-year-old got tired of shouting at cars to slow down on his street

July 17, 2008 at 4:47 pm (News, Writing) (, )

(Hey Keith, I’m stealing your news blog format. You’re the old hand at this, of course, but I like stealing. It makes me feel alive.)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Landon Wilburn, 11, has a future as a cop – a traffic cop.

(They do say that childhood obesity is on the rise, after all. Insert donut joke.)

The youngster, who used to shout at speeders to slow down as they drove through the Stone Lakes subdivision in Louisville, now has taken matters into his own hands.

(He’s only 11 years old and he’s already shouting at passing cars to slow down in his neighborhood? What it neglects to mention is that his favorite drink is prune juice, he can’t stop watching Matlock, and he hates it when his school friends stand “on his lawn.” Also, doesn’t the quote about him taking matters in his own hands sound kind of sinister? “Landon likes to lay spike-strips and landmines near his house to prove a point…”)

Dressed in a reflective vest, wearing a bicycle helmet and armed with an orange Hot Wheels brand radar gun, he points and records the actual speed of passing traffic.

(Oddly enough, this is also a pretty apt description of the homeless guy near my bus stop who rants about Jesus.)

Landon also carries a flashlight with a built-in siren.

(In case of terrorists.)

“When I saw it happening, I got the biggest kick out of it,” said resident George Ayers, 61. “People were locking up their brakes when they saw him.”

(“Cars skidding all over the road… screaming people running from the wreckage… ah, youth…”)

Many in the subdivision are frustrated that motorists tear through the neighborhood at 55 mph despite signs posting a 25 mph limit.

(Wouldn’t it be nice if we could send a feisty 11-year-old outside to solve all our suburban troubles? “Hey, George won’t paint his fence white like the rest of the block. Let’s get that Landon kid to stand on his lawn and yell until he caves in.”)

Officials said the city will install speed humps in the neighborhood if 70 percent of residents agree and are willing to put up half the money.

(Glad they’re shooting for 70%, because half of Landon’s allowance won’t even pay for the tar.)

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