Winter is that boy your mother warned you about

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You know the one that can’t keep his hands off you. Always trying to touch your bare skin. Winter always goes too far; you can ask him to stop, but he never will.

 

He’s like that wild boy in high school that spent all his time trying to be cool. Every minute of every day, as if being cool was all that mattered.

 

 

Sure, he brings you lovely presents, like that a line of snow-covered trees glittering in the sun, pretty as a rhinestone bracelet. But he’s cold-hearted and time after time leaves you out in the cold.

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He likes to keep you guessing. One day he’ll warm up to you a bit, and the next day he’s standing in the street, shouting sleet at you, wearing that white muscle T-shirt and pushing you around.

 

He’ll chase you in and out of buildings; stalking you and moaning like a lovesick calf.

 

The relationship seemed so charming in the beginning when he would throw down that sparkly white carpet every time you walked out the door. For the holidays, he filled the sky with confetti, and you loved it. These last few months, though, you’ve been living in denial, telling yourself you can get used to it. But you can’t.

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Winter has a cold and bitter heart. He thinks that pinching your cheeks and fingertips so hard you almost cry is acceptable. If you’re not careful, you’ll start believing that his behavior is normal. That, my friend, is a slippery slope to slide down.

 

When you finally tell him to get lost, he will wait on your porch every morning and blast you when you walk out the door. And as if that weren’t enough harassment, at night he’ll come by and rattle your windows, huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf that he is.

 

Fool that you are, you think you can reason with him. You decide on a date that he will move on and out of your life. You get out your calendar and circle the day, embellishing it with flowers, hearts, and butterflies. (I really don’t know what your mother would say about that.)

 

Then on the very day marked for his departure, he shows up at your door, stomping his boots and flashing his icy blue eyes, as if to say, you are mine forever. Then he points to the trees he has decorated, and you have to slam the door shut because as mean as he is, he really is a great decorator.

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Me? I’m done with him. One of us has got to get out of town. If he’s not gone by the end of April, I’m going to have to leave or get some counseling.

 

Click the links to find the photographers: 
Snow pond   Firs   Rime

 

 

 

 

 

Is it 1984 yet?

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Spring has arrived, but winter has barricaded the door. I’m in a dark mood.

 

At times like this, I admit that I don’t always keep my paranoia on a leash. In fact, I often let it run wild, allowing it to chase hare-brained rabbits down various trails or follow the scent of little chickens warning that the sky is falling.

 

Naturally it’s not my fault I’m so paranoid. I blame it on the book 1984 by George Orwell. I don’t know about your mind, but in my mind, for pure fear, no other book comes close. * On the dystopian spectrum, it’s on the far end of terror.

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On the other end, in what could be called the “happy” dystopia, lies Aldous Huxley’s novel Brave New World. Published in 1932, it envisions a world of people manacled by drug-induced happiness, materialism, and sex, a world that sounds surprisingly like our own. Seventeen years later, post-World War II, Orwell published his book, depicting a world enslaved by fear, with a seemingly benevolent Big Brother in control of past, present, and future.

 

In the actual year 1984 at a panel convened to discuss Orwell’s dystopia and the modern world, the educator Neil Postman proposed that contemporary Western society reflected Huxley’s view of the future rather than Orwell’s. Postman equated the entertainment industry with the drug soma that people in Brave New World used to escape into happiness. The following year Postman published his insights in a book called Amusing Ourselves to Death. If you haven’t had a chance to read it, I encourage you to do so.

 

I tend to agree with Postman, yet North Korea stands as a reminder that Orwellian governments can and do exist. My own fear is that the two will blend, and we’ll end up with a Brave New 1984: a populace condemned to artificial happiness found in drugs, sex, acquisition, and entertainment, who relinquishes all control to a Big Brother who will not allow anyone off Paradise Island.

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While brooding through winter’s siege, I have been reading about school libraries closing due to budget cuts and others removing their books because of the availability of so much online information. Why bother funding libraries and librarians when you have Google? Why house all those dust-loving books when they can be downloaded and read on e-readers?

 

My paranoia and I find this disturbing. Online information is stored at physical locations. Whoever owns these data centers effectively owns the information, as does whoever controls the electricity and power grid that allows people to access the servers or charge their electronic devices. As long as there are everyone checks and balances, and everyone involved believes in net neutrality and open access, we are fine. But what happens if unchecked power controls access?

 

You can’t turn off a book. And you don’t need electricity to read one. We need books, and we need libraries full of books. Children especially need a place to go to explore the world of ideas, a quiet place to read books of their own choosing.

 

I’m not against e-books and online copies. I enjoy my electronics. They have their place, and that place is next to books, not in place of books.

 

Stitched Panorama

 

*Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road would equal 1984 on the terror scale if it were a sustainable world. It is a dying world that will end; the horror of 1984 is that there is no end in sight.

 

Photos: 
Big Brother: Paternm
Surveillance Cameras: Hustvedt
Books: © Hans Hillewaert / CC-BY-SA-3.0

 

Is it 2013 or, well, 1984?

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R5 Bismarck-spotted

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not paranoid. Really. I’m just very wary, chary, leery, and highly caffeinated. I take after my Big Brother that way. He feels compelled to spy on me all of the time because you just never know about those older teachers who live in the Midwest and teach English to foreigners. Foreigners who come from foreign countries and are foreign. And since you never know about those Midwesterners or other Americans or other people in the world, based on super-secret, too-critical-for-anyone-to-be-told-so-don’t-ask national security reasons, highly trained cryptologists need to monitor e-mails, phone calls, and Internet usage of all users, including LOL cats. (There’s a special clause that covers cats.)

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Of course, text messages also can and must be intercepted. So specially trained agents spend hours reading texts from potentially dangerous teenagers who write indecipherable messages like: wuzup…your L8!!!! NGL im bord…this moveez a wot! WUWH1

 

By now the NSA (National Snooping Agency) knows more about you and me than our own mothers or even than we do about ourselves. Remember that story you told about your boss? Oh, you forgot already, well, not to worry, it’s all been recorded and soon to be stored away in Bluffdale, Utah. I am not bluffing. Real name, real story.

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Meanwhile cryptological experts sift through all our data looking for snarky references to Big Brother’s clubs like the NSA and the TSA (Touch, Scan, Annoy). Then they flag you. And the you I’m referring to is me. The me that reported a theft by TSA agents in New Orleans who kindly recycled my iPad because they knew it was time for me to get a new one. Now when I fly, I get body-scanned. Often.

 

Earlier this month on my trip to Texas, I was scanned three times: once in Wisconsin and twice in Texas. According to the TSA agent in Houston, I moved. Actually I think it was because I asked why I was selected to be scanned again. The whole procedure is something out of Star Trek: Stand still and don’t say a word or we will radiate you! And yes, I realize I could opt for groping instead, but that too is something out of Star Trek: To boldly go where no man has gone before….except my husband and not in public.

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Afterward I complained to the agent, fully expecting to be taken away, have all my body cavities searched, and be put on a no-fly list. It didn’t happen, but you’ll have to excuse me for a moment while I speak to a NSA representative.

 

Hi! How are you? I didn’t mean a thing by my comments to the TSA officer. Really. And I love my new iPad. Please pass my thanks to the officers in New Orleans. By the way, could you do me a favor? Last month, around the 4th or 5th I deleted an email with Aunt Edith’s secret fowl sauce. My goose is now cooked, and I need something to cover it ASAP. It was the only existing copy of the recipe. Sadly Aunt Edith died last week, but of course you already knew that from the email that Uncle Willard sent me. Thanks a bunch, and remember I’m nothing if not patriotic.

 

Now, where were we? Oh, yeah, once upon a long time ago, reasonable people drafted a reasonable document called the U.S. Constitution. Just to make things perfectly clear and reasonable, they included amendments. The Fourth Amendment mentions that U.S. citizens have certain rights:

 

…the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be searched.

 

Since the U.S. government can access all of my personal and professional information and everything I say or write electronically, what probable cause do its representatives have that warrant searching my person? Like the great majority of people, I present zero threat. I know it and the government knows it. In order to appear fair, TSA must consider all of us as potential terrorists: guilty until scanned.

 

Are you bugged by all of this? I am, and I bet you are, too. In fact, I know you are. All us of are bugged now, continually, and by our very own government.

 

This is a rant.

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1Translation: What’s up? You’re late. Not gonna lie, I’m bored. This movie is a waste of time. Wish you were here.

Want more wary, chary, scary, leery stuff? Read this New York Times opinion piece or  this story on AOL.

 

 

Beware of acronyms

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Someday I plan to tell a story of loss, accusation, denial, and the TSA, but not yet. I have been warned by my paranoia to be careful here. I hesitate to spell out TSA as Transportation Security Administration because, for all I know, they flag every mention of their name on the Internet. (Hi, Mr. TSA! You are doing a great job. No need to read further.)

 

Unfortunately, the acronym mentioned above already has my name and address because I made a formal complaint about an incident in New Orleans. I’m sure that had no connection to being singled out on my last trip through Chicago and made to stand in one of those see-through booths waiting for an agent who never came. I was not far from the conveyor belt where my purse and valuables waited for me, but half of the time my view was blocked by other passengers grabbing things from trays and walking away. I got a good ten-minute workout, bending right and left, standing on tiptoes, straining my neck to peer around people and moving from one corner of my glass booth to the other to make sure the passengers weren’t walking away with my things. Finally an agent walked over to me and said I could go. Maybe being forced to stay in a glass cage is their equivalent of time-out for whiners.

 

(Note to reader: Sometimes I am stupider than I look. I plan to travel this summer, but now I wonder if I will make it back home. If not, I have really enjoyed getting to know you.)

 

But that is not what I want to write about today.

 

Apparently the DHHS, the Department of Health and Human Services, resents the power of the TSA to open your luggage and remove items deemed unsafe or possibly too valuable for you. (You don’t really need that iPad.) The department’s Division of Childhood Development and Early Education, DCDEE, mandates all pre-kindergarten programs serve food that meets guidelines determined by the United States Department of Agriculture, USDA. And now, they have the power to open your child’s lunchbox or breakfast box and decide what is safe for the child to eat.

This concerns me for two reasons. First, if you put all those acronyms together, you come up with DHHSDCDEEUSDA. That hardly trips off the tongue the way TSA (Takes Stuff Away) does. It is ugly, gross, and hideous, or what I like to call UGH. Second, the USDA considers chicken nuggets and batter-coated French fries with ketchup healthy food. These are the foods our children receive at day-care centers and schools because we must take into consideration their taste preferences. Never mind offering good food to children and allowing them to develop a taste for fresh food. Give them what they want: processed food with lots of fat and sugar. And if you must serve vegetables, drown them in cheese sauce, mix them in a casserole using canned soup full of excess sodium and additives, or serve huge dollops of dressing to dip those carrot sticks in.

 

Can you tell this is a rant?

 

Last week, my daughter received a note from my grandchild’s day-care warning parents not to send any breakfast food such as donuts or pop-tarts. Only healthy breakfast foods are allowed. The following day, my daughter joined her child for lunch. You can imagine her delight at what was served: hotdogs in white buns, oven-baked French fries, canned tangerines, and lots and lots of ketchup. Nutritious, no?  Everything a growing child needs, assuming you consider any of that healthy food and you consider ketchup a vegetable.

 

 

Now, excuse me while I bite down very hard on a carrot.

 

 

 

Too busy to blog

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Yearstricken is a whiner. I love her and all that (I’m her beloved iPhone), but seriously, she is a whiner.

We talk a lot, so I know all about her schedule this semester: six different classes plus student event scheduling. In fact, I know it by heart because I’ve heard her say it a hundred times or more. Yes, two of her classes are in the evening, so she has some long days, but, people, I am on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week! You don’t hear me whining about it, do you? I have to hear her repeat the same things over and over, day after day, and do I complain? No, I do not. And do you want to know why? Because I am not a whiner.

She said this morning that she was tired and didn’t have time to write on her blog, so I thought I’d do it for her. Right now it’s 9:37 a.m., and we’re in the classroom. She’s at the board writing and I’m in her pocket. It’s a lower level English class and they’re working on pronunciation, one of her favorite subjects.

She’s had them practice saying “Good morning, y’all” and “howdy” for the last 10 minutes, so they’re pretty good at it now. On the board she just wrote three of the possessive adjectives: his, her, your. Next to those she wrote: “Bless _____ heart.” The students can say “Bless his heart” and “Bless her heart” without much problem. She’s careful to tell them not to pronounce the “h,” so in unison they repeat several times “Blesses heart” and “Blesser heart.” It’s taking a bit longer to get them to pronounce “your” correctly. She writes on the board “Bless yer heart” and underlines “yer.” Then she blabs on about how people in Wisconsin speak a dialect; it is not Standard English, which is the correct way to speak and which happens to be spoken in Texas, where she is from. It’s warm there most of the times, she says, as the students watch her mouth move. Then she whines about how people in Wisconsin say “You wanna come with?” and then leave you hanging because they don’t finish the question, so you don’t know if the person wants you to come with you or me or her or him or them, and if you don’t know who you are going with, how can you know if you want to go. This way of talking, she says, has something to do with the weather; it’s cold, too cold to even finish your sentences. Her students, of course, only hear and understand two words of what she said: Wisconsin and cold. They all nod and smile, some of them even repeat the word “cold” out loud, so she’s satisfied they understand. She loves her students for that.

She prides herself on teaching her students proper pronunciation, or as she calls it “talking purty.” When her students have classes with the other instructors, those teachers have to try to break the students of talking “purty.” Yearstricken feels like she’s doing a great job and even thinks the other instructors are complementing her by calling her “Miss Pronunciation.” I love her for that.

The road to riches

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Imagine that 100 people live in America. Ninety-nine of them are not millionaires. Just one is, and it’s not me.

 

Now, imagine that 535 members of Congress spend time in Washington failing to enact legislation to balance the budget. What percentage do you think are millionaires? Since one American in a hundred is a millionaire, you might guess that 5.3 of them have at least seven digits of net worth. (I know you’re troubled by the thought of  the .3 member: he’s been divorced twice and is paying alimony.)

 

Bipartisanship at its finest: everyone working together to create wealth for people that are themselves (See more information at: http://www.opensecrets.org/)

 

But really, you don’t have to worry about the divorced guy because if you go to opensecrets.org, you find that 40-50% of those who speak in sound bites are millionaires. Many, it’s true, are what we would call “poor” millionaires; they have assets worth less than $10 million. Not because they aren’t trying, but because so many congressional shoppers are out there looking for deals. Every day is Black Friday for Congress, and the mall is always crowded. Of course the assets listed on the website don’t necessarily reflect their spouse’s income, their congressional income, or the true value of their assets, so maybe some of them are just being modest.

 

I am upset.

 

I, too, can sit in chairs and fail to come to a consensus. I have had years of bitterness training, so I could add a lot to bitter partisanship. I get cold easily and would not mind cozying up to rich corporations with a few hot deals to share. I like to fly around in private jets and bring my family. I can talk for hours without saying anything of substance, and I love flip-flops. Why am I not in Congress getting rich off of the 99%!

 

If we want to get out of this economic slump and create wealth in this country, we need to enact mandatory Congress duty. It would be just like jury duty; all eligible Americans would serve one to two terms, enough time to double or triple their wealth. And I think that whoever she is in northeastern Wisconsin but originally from Texas that thought of this should serve first.

Familiarity and its offspring

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Then seat yourself

The sign as you enter the restaurant says, “Wait to be seated.” So we waited last night until the young hostess appeared. She asked if we would mind using a booth and then pointed behind us and said, “Over there, it’s the only one open. You’ll figure it out.” I suppose I should have been flattered that she believed a woman my age recognized what an empty booth looked like and wouldn’t accidently sit in some gentleman’s lap and complain about the lumpy cushions. After we sat down, my brother, who is ten years younger, suggested we trip her the next time she walked by. When she asked why, he would say, “You’ll figure it out.” He refrained.

Then our nice young waiter brought me some bruschetta chicken that looked like it had crawled onto the plate by itself and collapsed just at the edge from all that effort. “It kinda slid on the plate on the way over, but it’s okay; it’s still good,” he explained, but without the punctuation. The little icicles of cheese dripping slowly over the edge of the plate gave it a somewhat festive look, but Christmas is over, so it didn’t make me feel jolly.

The restaurant, named after a piece of fruit and some insects, serves average food at average prices to average people, so I wasn’t expecting to be greeted in French or have a personal sommelier. But it was so informal that I expected I would be asked to take my plate to the kitchen and wipe the table before I left. If I wanted to be treated like that, I would have stayed at home.

When my children were small, we didn’t want them to call adults by their first name without using a Mr. for men and Miss for women. It’s a Southern thing. When we lived in Japan, and one of the children used Miss in front of a married woman’s first name, the woman patiently explained to that child that Miss was only used for unmarried women. The woman was American, but she was not from the South, so it may have sounded strange. Eventually, she warmed up to it and grew to like it.

I like it, too. Formality is the fence around my house. It’s not so high that you can’t see over it, but it’s there. On the gate is my name: my full name. If the gate’s unlocked, you can ring the bell or knock on the front door. I’ll invite you in; I’m on the friendly side. Get to know me well enough, and I’ll tell you to just open the gate, and if the door to the house is open, walk in and make yourself at home.

But if you have never once been around the block, and then climb over my fence, barge into my house and help yourself to my food or my chocolate and talk to me like we go to junior high school together, we are gonna have words, and it will not be purty. You can run, but you cannot hide ’cause I have a broom, and I know how to ride it. When I catch you, you had better be prepared to call me  ma’am.

This is a rant.

(Photo on loan from: http://the-travel-garden.blogspot.com)

Every story needs to end

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I recently read a collection of short stories and hated almost every minute of it. If they were so bad, you ask, why didn’t I just close the book and move on? That’s a question for a different post. So, I finished the collection with my hate in tact because most of the stories didn’t have a resolution.

 

Many things drive me wild, but lack of resolution in a story drives me wilder. What is it with these writers? They get to the next to the last paragraph or the next-to-the-next last one and stop. The reader (me) is left thinking – oops, maybe they accidentally printed the draft or ran out of ink. But no, it’s supposed to be that way – very cool and artsy. There is no end to the story.

 

Author, why do you feel compelled to leave me hanging? Do all these unanswered questions and possibilities reflect some kind of existential angst based on your philosophical underpinnings? Author, unpin thyself from this philosophy.

 

I just want an ending to the story all right already. Step by step (often through misplaced cow pies) the writer brings the reader (me again) up to what I think is the last door opening into a room where I will come face to face with the Resolution, who always looks taller in person. (Of course, I have to stop and clean off my shoes because of those cow pies.) Mr. or Ms. Author opens the door slightly, and then says, go down that hallway and pick another door. And every one of those doors says “Exit.” When I turn around, the author is gone. Wait, I call out, come back! Sometimes I call very loudly, which disturbs my husband.

 

Stories have beginnings, middles, and ends. Remember all those cartoons we watched as kids? When the action was done, two little words appeared: The end. We learned that a story – always the same one, Sylvester the Cat or Wily Coyote being creamed, diced, or sliced in any number of satisfying ways – began, something happened, and then ended satisfactorily for Tweety Bird and the Road Runner and gloriously unsatisfactorily for the bullies.

 

Haven’t any of these writers read any fairy tales? How about Shakespeare?  Good guys don’t always win, but somebody does, or it’s a draw and it’s clear. When you get to the end of the story you know it. You may not like it, or may wish it were different, but you know it is the end.

 

That’s all, folks.

 

The Law of the Toilet and Stephen Hawking

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This is a rant and it’s short. Like my temper sometimes. Or my dollars. (A day late and a dollar short.)

 

It’s bad enough that toilet paper in public places has to be locked up in plastic boxes. Boxes designed to hold two rolls: a new roll on one side and a roll with five sheets of paper on the other side.

 

There’s a reason for this. It’s the law. Physics said so.

 

You may remember learning about the law of the toilet in physics class. This can be written as N > 5. Let N stand for the need of the toileter who gets down to business and 5 stand for the maximum number of toilet paper sheets allowed on the first roll.

 

Dispenser designers are constrained by this law. They must obey. This means you have to put your hand up the contraption to push open the plastic flap that is hiding the new roll of toilet paper. Said plastic flap only opens about an inch, so you have to use your fingertips to spin the toilet roll in hopes that you can find that loose piece of paper that gets the whole thing rolling. Good luck with that.

 

That was actually my pre-rant.

 

Maybe the designers had an Edison moment and all their light bulbs turned on at once, or maybe they heard that some talented people with long, skinny fingers were getting the second roll started and so the thrill was gone. We’ll never know (unless we hunt them down and force them to talk). But one day, they decided to make it easy for us to get all of the toilet paper we want.

 

They designed dispensers with a small hole at the bottom. These have one gigantic roll of toilet paper in them, and there is always a sheet or two hanging out for you to start pulling. Go ahead, take as much as you would like. Thoughtful, no?

 

No, because as you pull it through that hole in the bottom, the nice flat sheets of toilet paper are transformed into toilet floss. Yes, just like the floss you use for your teeth, only not as strong.

 

The two-roll dispensers obey the law  N > 5 and are based on mechanical physics. The new dispensers are based on string theory. I blame Stephen Hawking.

 

Why I Will Never Say “Oh Shoot!” Again

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While in exile, Ovid the Roman poet wrote:

 

The country here is grotesque, the people savage, the weather awful, the customs crude, and the language a garble. . . . [The people] all carry knives at their belts and you never know whether they’re going to greet you or stab you. . . .

 

Like you, when I first read this, I thought, “Whoa. He was exiled here in the States?” But as you know, just as many of his works are no longer extant, he himself is no longer extant. And considering the number of angry people out there, it’s amazing how many of us are still extant.

 

People seem to be getting stabbier. So you’ve got to wonder why here in Wisconsin, we are going to be allowed to carry concealed weapons at our belts or in our pockets or, for larger people, in our coin slots. November 1st we can all start carrying things that make us more confident and sure that we are right, and if you think differently, would you mind stepping over here. I have something to show you that will help you see my point: a gun, or as I like to think of it, a consensus builder. We are the 49th state to get in on all the fun of being not only belligerent, but also deadly. (The very reason I miss Texas so much.)

 

We are going to need new ways to describe new behaviors. Road rage is not enough. To save valuable time for the psychiatrists who will be defending all those shooters who were drunk and temporarily insane, and also were traumatized as children by clowns with inappropriately sized shoes (and, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, balloons!), I have created a list. I’m using bullets because that’s so apropos, and also fitting:

 

  • Avenue anger
  • Boulevard blowup
  • Freeway fury
  • Interchange ire
  • Underpass umbrage
  • Expressway exasperation
  • Street heat
  • Highway hotheadedness
  • Path provocation
  • Bicycling belligerence
  • Overpass outburst
  • Sidewalk surliness
  • Hall huffing
  • Roundabout rampage
  • Footpath frenzy
  • Pew pushing
  • Mall malice
  • Blog bulleting

Concealed weapon and concealed weaponer