Archive for January, 2015

Western Watchins #114

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I’ve always loved Frank Herbert’s DUNE. Beneath volumes of political intrigue, genetic manipulation and socio-economic commentary lies a story about one man’s destiny. One guy who stood up, faced fear and moved the fuck out of the entire universe. Of course his empire crumbled and more bad times came but that only meant that new heroes would hear their own calling, and find their own courage, as the series progressed. Paul Muad’Dib, from way back in the original book, called it his “terrible purpose” and the fact I’m a Fremen fanboy, a Romantic (with a capital “R”) and a dreamer means I’ve always felt that something great was waiting inside of me too. I know I’m not anything special Mr. Durden but here, at the midpoint of my life, as other faculties dull my hearing has quite oppositely improved and that sets me apart.

There are no great men, only great actions. We all hear, few listen.

Anyone who’s ever discovered a passion or sensed even a sliver of why the hell they’re here knows what I’m talking about…it’s pandemonium as potential energy gets off its ass, turns kinetic, and kicks you in yours. Recently I wrote a little book about a buffalo for my wife and also watched this movie. Some of my own terrible purpose revealed itself along the way.

Facing the Storm: Story of the American Bison isn’t an easy watch. Not lots of fun having the decimation of a species rubbed in your face. Ten thousand years of life nearly snuffed out in just over ten as America expanded and likewise, her national hunger. The only things hindering that manifest feast were a lot of “savages” and a lot more buffalo. The solution was simple. If the herds were gone the tribes would soon follow suit. The government cried “destiny”, the Plains cried at the devastation.

 

 

99% of the bison population was killed off in thirteen years. Facing the Storm does a great job of showing how senseless the slaughter was. Don’t confuse that with thoughtless though. All the thought that went into this little land clearing project was apparent once the Native American population began to decline. Their once strong backs broken leaving their corpses, along with those of their beloved buffalo, paving a solemn path for the U.S. to tread upon triumphantly as it marched like a bloated bitch towards the Pacific. Fields of bison left to rot with only their hides taken for shipment back east, human beings treated like horse shit, an inability to understand the long term consequences of these actions combined with a willingness to lie and cheat every tribe at ever opportunity. Wastefulness, cruelty, shortsightedness and disloyalty sure sound like immensely worthless cornerstones to build upon don’t they? And yet we built. A century plus later and in my experience many still cling to these vile virtues like a security blanket with no idea how to function in this world aside from being a fucking fuck. But bad times are good times for good guys. Lots of things to keep you busy. Like the government and cattle rancher conspiracies this film was exposing. Those can gain a lot of ground when no one stands to oppose them.

I felt a twinge in my terrible purpose. 

This documentary was discussing the ominously obfuscated closed-door dealings that lead to the slaughter of any buffalo that wander out of Yellowstone National (along with the even more confounding practice of trapping the beasts within the park for shipping to meat processing or chemical testing facilities) all in the name of disease abatement and “population control.” I smelled bullshit, and bison shit and many, many other kinds of shit.

The government spent about five million dollars last year to remind us all to “get fruved” and offered a grant so that college kids could learn what’s funny. If you don’t want to be healthy, an asshole dressed like a bunch of grapes will not convince you and no amount of studying will make an un-funny fuck into someone fucking funny. We wipe Uncle Sam’s ass with tons of cash each year but spending money ostensibly to save a species to turn around and spend more money on culling that same species has to be up there on the goddamn ridiculous scale right next to electing someone with no pertinent experience to the presidency based on his skin color alone. Maybe I digress, but Obama is that horrible, and Washington is such a cesspool beyond just him so screw it all, this Libertarian is gonna’ help the goddamn buffalo! 

Facing the Storm reminded me of how folks used to live hand in hoof with these beautiful brutes. An old Lakota Chief, Luther Standing Bear, once commented that “the Indian was frugal in the midst of plenty.” He was lamenting the way things once were, today he’d lament all we’ve sown from those first seeds of squander. Society’s highest value today is disposability. Enjoy your new iPhone, it’s obsolete as soon as you open the package. Don’t like the news at the moment? Just wait 24 hours, it’ll change. Friendships are just tools to toss away once they’ve been used. Nothing has meaning if nothing is meant to last. As with the buffalo, so too has gone everything else. In one generation we went from using every single part of the creature to this:

 

 

We shouldn’t run over Nature and we can’t bend over for it either so we must remember, or learn again, what it is for man and beast to share this world. Respect must be re-cultivated along with an attention span that lasts more than thirty seconds. Desire in our hearts must extend past the “latest” and towards the lasting . My little buffalo Ohno inspired me and this film confirmed that inspiration. I will give of my funds, my talent and my time to do some small part to help conserve these critters. I will educate the ignorant and combat those determined to remain so. I don’t have a rating then for Facing the Storm: Story of the American Bison but I do have this challenge for you.

Listen.

This planet is a terrible place and we all have a terrible purpose in us ready to fight fire with fire. Something awoke in me last week. This movie and my journey up to that point were obvious keys but had I been deaf to those thundering hooves it would not have mattered in the slightest, the next day coming with its cubicle cowardice, its dead ends, its missed opportunities. Opportunities I’ve missed in the past and ones you’ve missed too. To change our lives for the better, by reaching beyond ourselves. For me, I know now I’ll always be willing to raise the buffalo’s banner high, but your own calling is coming. You won’t be ready, but you will be able. You might not save the whole world but that should never deter your ambition. Your something, whatever it is, will need you. And you will need it. 

Be a hero for that something.

And maybe that something, like the buffalo, can simply continue to be.

Western Watchins #113

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I’d like to preface this week’s Watchins by asking you all to recall the greatest pain you have ever known in this life. You know the one, when nerves screamed and your mind’s grip on reality wavered. The one that left you emotionally shattered and maybe even spiritually compromised. Rest on that remembered misfortune for a moment now as I convey to you that nothing in your experience thus far or likely hence will ever have the potential to bring you as much suffering as this fucking film. Using your urethra for giving birth to a baby made of napalm and thumbtacks would make for unparalleled peace by comparison. A short list of better ways to spend one hundred and fifty eight minutes in lieu of watching Paint Your Wagon include, but is not limited to, having a dozen strokes or sifting through a dump truck filled with shit looking for a toothpick made of more shit!

On paper, Clint Eastwood, Lee Marvin and Jean Seberg together in a western musical seems like it can’t miss. In reality, FUCK!

Now you know Clint Eastwood from the Dollars Trilogy and you know Lee Marvin from your local liquor store, who you might not be familiar with is Jean Seberg.

 

 

She’s a beauty, don’t let that blank, traumatized stare fool you. And let her boobs also not fool you. That cigarette in her hand leads me to believe that this pic was snapped in between takes just as she’d seen some of the dailies and realized that the horrors their movie’s release was about to unleash upon humanity would rival those of the Third Reich. Everyone on set seemed to be having issues. Eastwood citing the oft delayed and fantastically over budgeted experience as one of the reasons he became a director while Marvin cited anything that would get him another drink. No iced tea stand-ins here, if you saw “whiskey” in his cup it was whiskey and if you saw “gin” it was gasoline. He had fought repeatedly with the director on the issue and refused to work, couldn’t work and didn’t work unless he could actually drink on set. An edgy move from and edgy man. When one reporter asked him if he was an alcoholic, needing booze simply to function, he silently replied

 

 

Even with a blood alcohol level of “all of my blood is alcohol” Marvin sang well and took the most memorable tune, Wand’rin Star, to number one on the charts in the UK and Ireland, even holding off The Beatles Let It Be for a bit, because no one ever wants to hear that shit. Not even the Irish.

Everyone including the Irish, however, seemed to like this movie as it enjoyed moderate success in the theaters although it never recouped its immense production costs. Paint Your Wagon was the sixth highest grossing film of 1969 even beating out the famous The Wild Bunch the most bloviated the pile of the shit I have ever the seen. I know Once Upon a Time in the West was even further down that list but it wasn’t appreciated then as it is now…as the greatest Western of all time. Before you beg to differ, you might want to shut that whore mouth of yours so The Wild Bunch doesn’t come along to drop it’s useless balls down your throat.

Goddamn that movie sucked.

Paint Your Wagon sucked too but in different sucky ways. It sucked the light from my eyes and the warmth from my heart. It meanders so relentlessly that all the worthwhile plot directions are, well, directionless. You want an exploration of greed and where that will take you? It’s here, somewhere, in almost three hours of asinine asides. What about a treatise on loyalty, through thick and thin, business and pleasure, sticking to your brother while both dealing with the damages life brings to your table? Sure, great underlying thread about all that. Underlying mounds of misguided attempts to turn this formerly popular stage production into an epic up on the silver screen. The movie should have ended once the topic of open marriage was broached and subsequently accepted with aplomb. Oh yes, Paint Your Wagon deals with having your wife’s wagon painted by another man. The very term, “open marriage”, as we know it today wouldn’t even enter the vernacular for another three years so this idea was a tad progressive. In a wholesome western setting it was unexpectedly shocking and instantly refreshing.

None of these interesting messages though, not one bite from any of this food for thought was enough at the end of an awfully long day to move me towards even a passing appreciation for this film. A grand cast, a grandiose location, an entire town built in the middle of nowhere with saloons, hotels, brothels and even grandstands…all of this spoke to the fact that everybody involved was expecting big things. The Hindenburg was big too and, like this film, largely empty. That dirigible failed spectacularly in an instant, Paint Your Wagon has failed slowly with time.

2 rounds in the cylinder though I’m sure the powder is wet and useless due to my tears. Tears not from the doldrums this film subjected me to but from out that sad and special misery born when you can clearly see an opportunity was missed. By minutes and miles. I was so upset by the thought that maybe one of you, my faithful few, might somehow think despite my fervent words of warning that Paint Your Wagon could still perhaps be an amusing aside at some point in your future that I took it upon myself to conceive of, engineer and construct a camera capable of capturing on film a true image of the human soul. I did just that, watched Paint Your Wagon once more and then as the final credits waned hesitantly took the following photo to stand for all time that you may stare into the face of exactly how this movie made me feel:

 

 

So, if now you decide to throw caution, along with all good goddamn advice to the wind, by watching this movie know that you have but one person to blame. Skip past this one, or run if you’re able. Like a gold nugget shoved up an elephant’s ass, there might be something valuable in there but amigo, it’s not worth the trouble.

Western Watchins #112

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I saw this movie a long time ago, then I saw it again recently. Enjoyed it both of those times and will enjoy it again on other somedays I’m sure. It’s not a movie you should ever have trouble understanding but one you should always struggle to completely grasp. Bleak, weird, passionate, funny and unsurprisingly bittersweet Dead Man is the biggest downer of an uplifting movie I’ve ever seen. If The Cure and Hieronymus Bosch had ever made a movie it was probably this movie. Like life, the story is perfectly Point A to Point B and, again like life, ultimately inexplicable to any but the one actually on the journey. A complex simplicity, it’s mental but not meaningless. There’s abundant meaning here even if not all of it can be described, quantified or precisely understood. And it all starts on an LSD trip of a train ride from Cleveland headed towards an unknown heart of western darkness. Unsettling, and then Crispin Glover sits down. 

 

 

Crispin Glover played Marty McFly’s dad in 1985’s Back to the Future and now makes his own movies including WHAT IS IT? and It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. If you’re interested in those films follow these two easy steps for more information:

#1 Google those movies

#2 Don’t blame me

The guy is bat-fuck crazy. As in a bat biting your balls while you’re fucking would be less crazy than this guy. The fact he appears as one of the first folks you meet in Dead Man should convince you beyond the shadow of a ball-biting bat that this film is very different from most you’ve probably seen. Johnny Depp’s William Blake shifts uncomfortably in his seat, I was soon shifting uncomfortably in my soul. You see, Blake is a greenhorn dork with glasses from Ohio who’s about to find the emptiness in his heart filled with the vast terror and beauty of the American frontier. Hits kinda close to home.

 

 

Blake arrives in the Town of Machine with the promise of a lame-ass office job exciting him to no end but soon runs afoul of John Hurt, Robert Mitchum and Gabriel Byrne. He meets a sweet girl, she makes a swift exit and then this one awkward accountant leaps out a window and headfirst into an adventure he would have never counted on heading his way. Covered in filth and guilt, with a death sentence hanging over his head, William Blake is reborn just in time to die. Maybe.

 

 

That’s Nobody, played to humorous and gentle perfection by Gary Farmer. He’s healer, guide and casually comedic foil to Depp’s bruised and befuddled Blake. Finding a true friend is one of the most important life quests any of us will ever hope to complete. Someone who can help you get to where you’re going even when you don’t know where you’re going to. Someone with vision well beyond the horizon who is never blind to your immediate, intimate needs. Someone who would take a bullet for you or give you a hand if you’ve already found a bullet of your own. Everybody needs a Nobody. The more selfless and sarcastic the better.

Dead Man is a buddy pic then on both sides of its odd little coin. Depp and Farmer are on the run from their past lives sprinting slowly towards that next one. Hot on their heels are some right frightful mother fuckers:

 

 

When Bishop, Top Dollar and an angry black man are after you either you’re at DragonCon or just outside of Imgollygodddamnfuckedville. Our emergent heroes aren’t at DragonCon. Two dudes runnin’, three dudes gunnin’ and all kinds of funnin’ along the way. This Western has a lot of traditional settings, familiar themes and standard participants but these tropes are mostly there to keep you slightly grounded to a film with its head high in the clouds. Blink and go from “oh, I’ve seen that” to “now what in the hell is this?” We spend time in a stereotypical saloon but soon enough find ourselves gathered around a campfire with Iggy Pop, Billy Bob Thornton and Jared Harris:

 

 

Bad ass punk hero, Bad Santa and the big bad from Fringe? This can’t, won’t and didn’t end well as once again Dead Man messes with any notions you were trying to have about what this movie was saying. And speak it does. I’m not much for art house fare, finding odd for odd’s sake the mark of a poor or lazy storyteller, but this film doesn’t suffer from lack of effort or of heart. Oh its art most certainly farts but never in a useless or overblown fashion.

 

 

I could continue, explaining, extolling, philosophizing, convincing, but this trip has to be, must be, yours. This is a beautiful film, one of the comeliest I’ve ever seen, and sounds beautiful too with a minimalistic soundtrack composed off the cuff, in seclusion, by Neil Young and a giant mound of narcotics. Bold imagery and bold listening both accompany William Blake who, like his namesake, was a tortured traveler learning that discomfort is one of life’s greatest teachers and one of its greatest blessings. I ran a marathon a few months back and as I slogged on that pain and despair unique to 26.2 miles gifted me a deeper understanding of myself. If either Blake or I had quit the paths we were on our revelations would have been lost. You ever gone through anything like that and you’ll know what it takes to go from this look in your eyes…

 

 

to this one…

 

 

You will damn well know and, past the tears and the losses, be glad you do.

6 rounds fired in memoriam for this Dead Man. I sat stymied in a haze of my own fear watching this while realizing that doubt will forever plague the human condition. To be truly brave is to accept that you will never be completely ready for anything but to go forth anyway. This movie isn’t for everyone. It might just be for me and that might just be the point. What anyone gets from Dead Man is directly proportional to what they bring to it. A black and white mirror like the surface of a strange body of water whose depths you can’t know until you plumb your own. It’s bleak and weird and so sad sometimes but it still makes me smile. To ride true is my highest ambition in life, through those bleak and weird and so sad sometimes but still with a smile on my face. Being honest with yourself is the only way to live like that.

Because we’re all dead men.

Western Watchins #111

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Two of my favorite comic book heroes have always been the Punisher and Daredevil. Over the years these guys have been mishandled across nearly every imaginable form of media. Some of the lowlights being when Frank Castle turned into a horrible Frankenstein monster or when Matt Murdock turned into a horrible Ben Affleck. I loved these characters, knew them inside and out, so I sat open to be traumatized by the many representations that couldn’t even grasp essential qualities much less live up to my heightened expectations. Like your anguished butthole moments after washing down too much Taco Bell with just enough castor oil, I watched those beloved comic chums of my childhood be so vigorously abused as to become nearly unrecognizable and of barely any further use. I count it then as a blessing that I know relatively little of one Jonah Hex.

Hex has been around as long as dirt having left scores of punk assess sleeping down in it. His face is mightily scarred and his soul even more so. He’s a Western anti-hero who while derivative never comes off as caricature. He’s fast on the draw, probably one of the fastest ever, and he’s a Confederate so he knows that Abe Lincoln was a douche. That’s it. That’s just about all I know of this tremendous, storied icon and that I believe is why I’ve been able to enjoy him every time our paths have crossed. Yep, even that live action version starring Thanos and the pair of boobs from that first Bayformers movie. As to the Hex I am naive and thus blissful, to the point I didn’t even know this showcase existed until a friend gifted it to Ang and I unexpectedly. It was originally released as an extra along with Batman: Under the Red Hood but has now been collected with a few other “we’re never gonna get a movie of our own” kind of working class rogues gallery types. Like a young naked Danny DeVito it’s short, violent and gorgeous to behold. And to be-hear as well! The voice cast of this production reads like a who’s who of who I fucking want to perform in every cartoon. Michael Rooker (America’s favorite redneck stereotype), Linda Hamilton (America’s favorite mother of the savior of humanity besides Mary I guess) and Michelle Trachtenberg (awesome sister on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and awesome snatch on Gossip Girl) play a scuzzy drifter, scuzzy madam and possibly scuzzy whore respectively. Plus, Ron Perlman isn’t officially in this but I’m almost sure he played a staircase bannister in one scene.

And then there’s the main man himself, Jonah Mother Fuckin’ Hex, given life by none other than Thomas Mother Fuckin’ Jane. That’s a lot of fucking but your ears will take all of it then ask for seconds. Jane’s voice is a silky smooth phantom riding a razors edge down a gravel road through a ghost town. Haunting you with a calm surface that you know is just barely containing a rage, and the hell-honed abilities to see that rage to completion, one quick breath below the surface. I could listen to this man read me whole warehouses of IKEA instructions and that shit doesn’t even have words. That’s how talented Thomas Jane is. And as good as he is, he’ll need some right offensive folk to square off against. And one or two scrotes, like this scrote.

 

 

 

As soon as Jonah Hex blows into town this jackass tries to blow smoke up his ass and if you ever try to blow smoke up someone’s ass make sure it’s not Jonah Hex. He has a strict no smoke up my ass at all sort of ass-smoke policy. You know this guy was going to mouth off as soon as you saw him right? You could argue it’s his youth that gave it away but allow me to illuminate the fact that he’s also wearing a bowler. I have a bowler, my wife loves the way I look in a bowler, I don’t even really mind a bowler but, goddamn, just about every time you see someone wearing a bowler in a Western he’ll always be a pile of turds stacked on a pile of crap directly downwind from two piles of shit. Bowler wearers (besides positive role models like Butch Cassidy or Billy from Young Guns) include the smarmy Sheriff, price gouging merchant, town drunk, obvious coward dude, backstabbing bastard and/or insane rapist hatchetman dude. Am I exaggerating? Search for “westerns bowlers” and try to explain why this shows up in the results:

 

 

It shows up because God obviously hates bowlers. He’s called up this fucking thing to make sure, should you dare seek one out, that it’s the last thing you’ll ever do before your soul and sad attempt at period fashion is dragged down into Beelzebub’s bloated bowel there to sit for all eternity swearing you thought it’d look cool while the insane rapist hatchetman next to you says “yeah, I thought so too!”

That kid, that bowler wearing goddamn kid, starts Jonah’s visit to town off on the wrong foot. And it just get’s worse from there. Sure he gets a taste of whiskey and a little polite conversation from Michelle Trachtenberg’s standard I-don’t-know-where-I-went-wrong-but-I’m really-just-working-my-way-towards-something-better-in-the-meantime-a-rimjob-costs-two-dollars sort of girl:

 

 

He’s all like “wait, aren’t you that vicious slut from Gossip Girl” and she’s all like “you mean Chuck Bass?” No one except my wife will get that joke but man it’s still a good one. Mysterious madame Lorraine is telling jokes too, in Linda Hamilton’s sultry voice to boot, but no one’s figuring out her punch lines either. Except Jonah. And he’s not laughing.

 

 

She’s hot, but play with her and you’ll get burned and not in that “it sure felt awesome getting gonorrhea” kind of way as much as the “I think I’m shot and dying” other not as sexually awesome way.  What a devious doxy she is, ready to lie to your face before she fucks you in the ass. Again, the bad kind of ass fucking going on here not the fun don’t you judge me kind. Well she sure seems scummy, heartless and conspiratorial. If Wanted taught me anything it’s that anybody acting thus, male…female…centaur, anybody acts like that and they deserve to get punched. In the face. Hard. Madame Lorraine doubts our hero has it in him to go to those lengths. Bert from Sesame Street disagrees.

 

 

So fists and floozies fly, then the horse shit really hits the fan. There’s more discernible and engaging action in ten minutes here than in all four live action Transformers movies combined. Hex is no nonsense and this short doesn’t make any attempts to change that as veteran writer Joe R. Lansdale pens a piece that shows both respect for, and knowledge of, the source material. Jonah Hex lives in a nasty world and does nasty things to stay above ground every damn day. Here he is blazing his way out of a saloon (note Ron Perlman in the foreground):

 

 

Every syrupy cell in this DC Showcase drips down from a different time, the colors, costuming and set design are immersive to the point that after not even a quarter of an hour you realize this world is much richer than you’d expected it to be. You stepped into a kiddie pool but found yourself in the deep end of an Olympic sized one as you watched this solemn story unfold filtered through an old pane of amber glass and whatever’s left in that old bottle of whiskey you were nursing. It’s a ripe and hopeless affair and therefore as perfect a place as any for Jonah Hex. 

 

 

5 rounds in the cylinder for this brief but wonderfully grizzled production. I had little idea what to expect beyond some things likely hardcore and some things possibly offensive. DC Showcase: Jonah Hex delivered both with fantastic efficiency. You can rent it for a few dollars or just buy the collection for a few dollars more. It’s worth a watch and worth your support. Of course there’s always creator non-compensatory versions to be found on YouTube if you want to go that route.

Just make sure to wear your finest bowler when you do.

Western Watchins #110

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I’m home sick from work with a high fever and a peculiarly upset stomach. I’ve slept more in the past two days than I normally do in a week. My body is a litany of soreness buttressed by stiffness. All of this though is not as painful or discouraging as watching the above film. It’s aptly titled because about as soon as it began I wanted it to stop. Not much to say this week, I’m beat up, but my pride and dedication to you select few and loyal readers won’t allow me to leave you high and dry when at once y’all come looking for these weekly reviews. Still, this movie is hardly deserving of too much effort so I’ll move on past the first hour and a half, past nothing new you haven’t seen before, past boring upon bland after the uneventful and get right to the last fifteen minutes or so. All of the former gets 1 round in the chamber, that last quarter hour earns itself a 5. Long story short (because I’m on borrowed time before the next bout of narcolepsy or nausea comes a calling) this Western is your standard “a guy gets framed for murder so he and his buddy have to find exoneration before a rope finds his neck” kind of story.  

 

 

There’s “the guy” Gary Ryan, played by Giuliano Gemma from The Price of Power and several other movies you should never watch. That’s “his buddy” Martin Heywood on the left hand side played by no one you’ve ever heard of (not important) but what he’s about to do most certainly is (important) so stay with me! Evelyn in the middle is also significant in that she’s the only one who can reveal the truth about the conspiracy to send Gary to the gallows. She lied in front of the judge and now an innocent man is going to swing unless she somehow decides to recant. She’s a horrible person willing to end an innocent just to improve her position in town. That’s why when she invites Martin up to her room for some sexy shenanigans it’s wonderfully refreshing when instead he just brutally beats a confession out of her.

Outrageous Tentacle Chris! Violence against women is never justified.

Wait. A woman wrongfully accuses some dude of a capital crime in order to cement her status as the territory’s preeminent kept woman and you’re cool with that? Fancy dresses versus a fucking life? You can say you’re a feminist and I’m a misogynist all you want. In reality you’re goddamn naive and, upsetting to you as it is, I’m completely right. When that Doc Holliday looking mother fucker took it to that backstabbing bar babe over and over and over again we all cheered, men and women both. You reap what you sow and this cruel harvest was well deserved. Also entertaining as hell. We rewound it four or five times because watching vengeance dished out and justice served never gets old. The fact it all happened in the boudoir was just bonus.

So not much to see here this week but as always there are lessons to be learned. Lessons like “be careful who you trust” and “don’t be a lying bitch.” Not necessarily the strongest review to start out the year amigos but truth here nonetheless.

See you all in a week, less sick and more savvy I’ll wager.

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