Book Recommendation: Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir

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Publisher: Scribner

Publication Date: 1st Touchstone Edition (May 25, 1999)

Page Number: 368

Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir is written by Frank McCourt about his alcoholic father, Malachy, and music loving mother, Angela.  They immigrated to the United States from Ireland for a new beginning.  They had a son while living in New York.  His name was Frank, but Malachy’s inability to keep a job forces the family back to Limerick.  Their outlook is not much better in their “new” home, and the McCourts survive off welfare and begging much to Malachy’s disapproval.  Yet, the couple continue to have more children despite having trouble to adequately care for the ones already born including Frank.  He finds enjoyment in school, which reinforces his desire to one day move back to the United States.  Things begin to look up for Malachy when he finds a job in England at the start of WWII, but leaves his family when it ends once and for all.  This leaves Frank and his siblings to fend for themselves and needing to rely on other family members for shelter.  As you can guess, things don’t get any better either, and Frank breaks from his family to join the military.  He gets a job delivering telegrams and saves money for his future move.  Frank finds himself the “man” of the family when his mother and siblings come to live with him.  Dependent on his income, they are able to eat and sleep in relative peace.  He eventually comes into enough money and at the age of nineteen fulfills his dream of returning to the country where he was born.

*******

Angela’s Ashes won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography in 1997. 

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Movie Recommendation: The Basketball Diaries (1995)

Quote from The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll: “You’re growing up.  And rain sort of remains on the branches of a tree that will someday rule the Earth.  And it’s good that here is rain.  It clears the month of your sorry rainbow expressions, and it clears the streets of the silent armies… so we can dance.”

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Producers: Chris Blackwell, Dan Genetti, Liz Heller, Kathie Hersch, and John Bard Manulis

Director: Scott Kalvert

Writers: novel by Jim Caroll and adapted screenplay by Bryan Goluboff

Major Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio as Jim Carroll, Lorraine Bracco as Jim’s Mother, Mark Wahlberg as Mickey, Bruno Kirby as Swifty, Juliette Lewis as Diane Moody, Michael Imperioli as Bobby, Ernie Hudson as Reggie, James Madio as Pedro, Patrick McGaw as Neutron, Michael Rapaport as Skinhead, and John Hoyt as Billy the Bartender

Rating: R for graphic depiction of drug addiction with related strong violence, sexuality, and language

Running Time: 1 hour and 42 minutes

The Basketball Diaries is drama biography about Jim Carroll’s years as a drug addicted teenager in New York.  Jim is surrounded by students who have a love for basketball as much as him, but this leads to experimentation with drugs and sex in all the wrong places.  Peer pressure will forever be a mainstay in high schools and while this is nothing new, it isn’t something to disregard.   Jim eventually gets sucked further into the trap called heroin where he spends time more time on the streets than at home.  He flirts with crime when he’s not high and has not a care in his world besides supplying his addiction in any way possible. It is finally with the help of a neighbor Jim finds himself on the path to mild redemption, but it isn’t until he is forced to give up heroin does his life turn around.  When The Basketball Diaries ends, he is now older and wiser with things to say.  There are mixed reviews concerning this movie, but I liked it.  The soundtrack is good and the story of teenage angst is still relevant.  I saw this movie quite some time ago, and wouldn’t mind seeing it again.

I rate The Basketball Diaries GOOD at 80%.

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TV Recommendation: Killing Eve (2018-)

Quote from Killing Eve by Villanelle: “Letting yourself into my apartment and drinking from a tiny cup doesn’t make you intimidating, by the way.  It’s just rude.”

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Creator: Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Writers: Luke Jennings, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Emerald Fennell, George Kay, Vicky Jones, and Rob Williams

Directors: Damon Thomas, Jon East, Harry Bradbeer, and Lisa Brühlmann 

Cast: Sandra Oh as Eve Polastri, Jodie Comer as Villanelle, Fiona Shaw as Carolyn Martens, Darren Boyd as Frank Haleton, Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Elena Felton, Owen McDonnell as Niko Polastri, Sean Delaney as Kenny Stowton, David Haig as Bill Pargrave, and Kim Bodnia as Konstantin Vasiliev

Rating: TV-14 for Sex & Nudity, Violence & Gore, and Profanity

Episode Number: Eight

Episode Length: 42 minutes

Killing Eve is an BBC America adaptation from Luke Jennings novella series called Codename Villanelle.  This show is about a cat and mouse game played out beautifully between Eve Polastri (Oh) and Villanelle (Comer).  It begins with Eve and her superior, Bill, being recruited by Carolyn Martens to find the assassin going by the name of Villanelle.  As more bodies pile up, Eve and Bill feels the pressure but more desire to get closer to this assassin in order to stop her.  Villanelle seems to be a few paces ahead of Eve whether in a spacious apartment, sprawling grassy fields, or Russian prison grounds.  While things may seem to come a little too easily for Villanelle, it is the way Comer portrays her that makes it believable.  She is the type of character where it is a fool to call her “crazy” or “psycho.”  She is methodical and her tenacity is what drives Eve on her quest to destroy Villanelle.  Oh’s performance as Eve is the other strong point of this show.  Their need to play mind games with each other is the dysfunctional relationship they crave.  The necessary questions are answered by the final episode to bring you back for season 2 (coming out in Spring of 2019), but whether the puddle of blood on the floor will lead to something Eve can’t even predict remains to be seen.

Pisaries Creator rates Killing Eve at 98%

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Today is Bryan Cranston Day

Quote from Trumbo by Dalton Trumbo: (challenging John Wayne) “If you’re gonna talk about World War II as if you personally won it, let’s be clear where you were stationed – on a film set, shooting blanks, wearing makeup, and if you’re going to hit me, I’d like to take off my glasses.”

Quote from The Infiltrator by Robert Mazur: “Roberto, I am glad you are here.  But there is a part of me that wishes you hadn’t taken that risk.”

The first thing I actually remember Bryan Cranston starring in was an X-Files episode called “Drive” where he played Patrick Crump although is most known for his role as Hal in Malcolm in the Middle and Walter White in Breaking Bad.  Trumbo and The Infiltrator are based on true stories, which lends itself to interesting subject matter.  There were more opportunities to inject humor into the dialogue in Trumbo versus The Infiltrator, but Trumbo didn’t have the opportunity for the tension you’d find in crime drama.  I put them pretty much neck and neck in terms of production value.  Below are short descriptions and ratings for both.

Trumbo (2015) is a drama about the screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo, who was blacklisted in Hollywood during the late 1940s, and the result of it impacted his family, friends, and most of all himself.  His story is adapted from the book by Bruce Cook and the screenplay is written by John McNamara.  It is directed by Jay Roach and stars Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo and Diane Lane as Cleo Trumbo.  In addition to Cranston and Lane, David Maldonado plays Rocco, Helen Mirren as Hedda Hopper,  Michael Stuhlbarg as Edward G. Robinson, Alan Tudyk as Ian McLellan Hunter, and Louis C.K. as Arlen Hird.  It has a MPAA rating of R for language including some sexual references and is 2 hours and 4 minutes long. 

The film opens with Trumbo being a top screenwriter for the studios until his Communist Party alignment comes under the spotlight by the House Committee on Un-American Activities.  He is forced to serve eleven months in a federal prison and when he gets out, as the saying goes, he’s a changed man.  He now has to write under the radar and does so with the help of his family and screenwriters who weren’t blacklisted.  This lead to him not being able to accept the Academy Awards for Roman Holiday (1953) and The Brave One (1956), but also lead to hardships on a personal level.  He was contacted to write Spartacus (1960) and because of the change in political climate including the election of a new President, the power of Hedda Hopper and anti-Communist Hollywood elites lost their traction.  Trumbo and the other blacklisted writers were no longer seen as villains, and his family was able to resume to more of a level of normalcy.  I give Trumbo a rating of 90%.

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The Infiltrator (2016) is a crime drama about a U.S. Customs Service agent, Robert Mazur, who infiltrates the drug underworld using the alias Bob Musella.  It leads him to the key players under Pablo Escobar and their money laundering schemes.  This adaptation is based from Mazur’s own book and the screenplay is written by Ellen Sue Brown.  It is directed by Brad Furman and stars Bryan Cranston as Bob Musella, John Leguizamo as Emir Abreu, Diane Kruger as Kathy Ertz.  Other cast include Juliet Aubrey as Evelyn Mazur, Joseph Gilgun as Dominic, Yul Vazquez as Javier Ospina, Michael Paré as Barry Seal, Benjamin Bratt as Roberto Alcaino, and Elena Anaya as Gloria Alcaino, and Carsten Hayes as Rudy Armbrecht.  It has a MPAA rating of R for strong violence, language throughout, some sexual content and drug material.  It is 2 hours and 7 minutes long. 

The film opens with Mazur finishing an undercover operation, only to be sucked into another one after some convincing by Emir Abreu.  With the help of Abreu and Dominic, Bob Musella takes shape and works his way up the underworld food chain where he goes through a series of tests.  Operation C-Chase would last two years, which proved hard on himself, but he eventually finds himself where he wants to be.  He is now near the top of the food chain and befriends Robert Alcaino and his wife, Gloria.  Mazur likes to work alone, but is given no choice to work with another undercover agent named Kathy Ertz.  She plays his fun-loving fiancée who has an eye for finer things, but as they continue to work as a team, Ertz becomes even more of a vital part of their undercover operation.  Using the backdrop of a wedding as the operation comes to a close, it is clear to Mazur and Ertz that even though you are paid to bring down the “bad guys” it doesn’t mean relationships aren’t formed.  By the end of Operation C-Chase, these were broken as well as the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) members arrested and charged.  I give The Infiltrator a rating of 90%.

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Five Random Quotes

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Poem: Connection

Connection

When I finally got the courage to look, she was pressed against the bench.

Her flesh had become the color of wood, and was now disappearing.

I knew my brain had been altered by drugs from the past,

but I never considered myself unable to

control my mind.

I wanted to ask someone around me if they noticed anything,

but no one would make eye contact with me. 

It’s not easy being a person with many needs in an unforgiving world.

Her lack of being drew me to her where she sat. 

She had unnerved me, but still I searched in between the slats for her.

She could’ve been stuck or might have fallen through.

I sniffed the air.  She was definitely gone.

Her absence hadn’t taken my problems away.

In fact, they were sitting on the bench she once sat, begging me to pick them up.

They must’ve fallen when I bent over. 

They eventually would find their way back to me so best to pick them up now.

I shuffled back, past the bench I sat, and made my way to the door.

This is when I saw her again. 

She was in different clothes now, less gloomy and more colorful.

I wiped my eyes with my finger to see if she was really there.

She was still there. 

I closed my eyes for a few seconds and when I opened them,

she was no longer there.

I wasn’t so confident in this vision anymore.

I could’ve created it to combat my loneliness for being an outsider.

I wanted connection, but I wasn’t willing to lose myself in the process.

As my body braced for the change in temperature, for a brief moment, I wondered

if she was an angel.

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Netflix TV Mini-Series Recommendation: Godless (2017)

Quote from Godless by Mary Agnes McNue: “Safe is one of those funny words.  Sometimes means something different to the person who says it and the person who hears it.”

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Producers: Mick Aniceto, Scott Frank, Jessica Levin, Michael J. Malone, Mimi Munson, Casey Silver, and Steven Soderbergh

Director: Scott Frank

Writer: Scott Frank

Major Cast: Jack O’Connell as Roy Goode, Michelle Dockery as Alice Fletcher, Scoot McNairy as Bill McNue, Merritt Wever as Mary Agnes, Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Whitey Winn, Tantoo Cardinal as Iyovi, Jeff Daniels as Frank Griffin, Adam David Thompson as Gatz Brown, Samantha Soule as Charlotte Temple, Kayli Carter as Sadie Rose, Keith Jardine as Dyer Howe, Rio Alexander as Bud Ledbetter, Samuel Marty as Truckee, Justin Welborn as Floyd Wilson, Luke Robertson as Bill Chick, Tess Frazier as Callie Dunne, Joe Pingue as Alonzo Bunker, Russell Dennis Lewis as Daryl Devlin, Matthew Dennis Lewis as Donnie Devlin, Travis Hammer as John Doe, Marie Wagenman as Trudy McNue, Kim Coates as Ed Logan, and Duane Howard as Shoshone Brave

Rating: TV-MA

Episodes: 7

Running Time: 60 minutes

Godless is a seven episode western drama mini-series about a town called La Belle, New Mexico during the pioneering days.  It is in this town, primarily made up of women due to an earlier mining explosion that wiped out their husbands, where power and revenge is sought.  Three major stories play out.  The first is Frank Griffin and his gang seeking revenge on Roy Goode.  You learn how Roy came into Griffin’s life and his supposed wrongdoing.  While Frank’s only mission is to find Roy, more than one person has eyes on Frank.  The second is the sheriff of La Belle, Bill McNue.  He is dealing with his own personal issues and searching for answers on the road when he should be staying put.  His sister, Mary Agnes, has become a pseudo mother for his children when he is away and is a voice of reason for the women of La Belle.  The third is Alice Fletcher and her family including her son, Truckee, and mother-in-law, Iyovi.  There are two minor stories involving men offering their services to the women of La Belle and the outsiders who have built up a community of their own.  The reason for liking Godless besides it being a western was the overall production value.  There was enough realistic dialogue to tell the audience what was happening without overly stating the obvious.  Some of the cinematography shots, especially of the horse riding, were first rate.  The main cast including the supporting cast had a complete naturalness to their acting.  I know these are general things to like about a TV show, but watching this was like eating a four course meal where the dessert tasted just as great as the appetizer.

I rate Godless GREAT at 90%.

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Hardest Damn Puzzle So Far

This 1000 piece puzzle was more difficult than anticipated.  It took way too long, but finally I’m done with it  The next one is going to be just as challenging.  Bring it on.

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Netflix Recommendation: Outlaw King (2018)

Quote from Outlaw King by Robert the Bruce: “I’m done with running and I’m sick of hiding.”

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Producers: Gillian Berrie, Richard Brown, Brian Coffey, Rob Kettlewell, Danny McGrath, Claire Moorsom, and Stan Wlodkowski

Director: David Mackenzie

Writers: Bathsheba Doran, David Mackenzie, James MacInnes, David Harrower, and Mark Bomback

Major Cast: Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce, Aaron Taylor-Johnson as James Douglas (Lord of Douglas), Florence Pugh as Elizabeth de Burgh, Billy Howle as Edward (Prince of Wales), Tony Curran as Angus MacDonald, Lorne MacFadyen as Nigel Bruce, Alastair Mackenzie as Lord Atholl, James Cosmo as Robert de Brus (6th Lord of Annandale), Callan Mulvey as John III Comyn (Lord of Badenoch), Stephen McMillan as Drew Forfar, Squire Paul Blair as Bishop Lamberton, Stephen Dillane as King Edward I of England,Steven Cree as Christopher Seton, Sam Spruell as Aymer de Valence (2nd Earl of Pembroke), Rebecca Robin as Margaret of France (Queen of England), Stewart Brown as the Ginger, Jamie Maclachlan as Roger De Mowbray, Benny Young as Sir Simon Fraser, and Clive Russell as Lord MacKinnon of Skye

MPAA Rating: R for brutal war violence, some sexuality, language, and brief nudity

Running Time: 2 hours and 1 minute

*******

This has minor spoilers.

Outlaw King starts with Robert the Bruce in 1304.  William Wallace has recently been killed by King Edward I, but Robert still pledges allegiance to King Edward in exchange for land promised him.  He marries Elizabeth de Burgh, and finds himself at odds with the king after he doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain.  It is here you realize Robert is respectful of Elizabeth’s new role as wife and is a tender leader and fighter.  Two years pass between them and his ambition to revolt against the English is solidified when he becomes the newly crowned King of Scots.  This doesn’t make King Edward pleased, and  Robert is now considered an outlaw.  A series of events forces him to leave Elizabeth and his daughter, Marjorie, from his first marriage.  He loses men along the way and finds himself under the thumb of the Prince of Wales.  Hoping to bring Robert out of hiding, the prince takes Robert’s wife and daughter from Kildrummy Castle to England.  They become prisoners, at the mercy of a hanging cage and religious nuns.   Robert continues his quest to free them.  When King Edward dies and the prince now known as Edward II replaces him, Robert fights him in a battle at Loudoun Hill.  The Scots are outnumbered six to one, but with Robert’s plan he is able to overtake the English soldiers, leading to a duel with Edward II.  It is a fight leading to more fights where Robert the Bruce’s place in history is secured as well as his descendants.  While this movie was good, I wasn’t at the edge of my seat.   It scratched the political surface of Scotland when it should’ve dug the nails in deep.  In other words, I wanted more screen time between Robert and Elizabeth.  I wanted to see more emotions behind Robert’s actions.  I wanted to see the power struggles beyond swords and crowns.  Usually by the end of this type of movie, I’m persuaded to learn the craft of sword fighting after I gain 20 pounds of arm muscle (even if it lasts for only a few minutes).  This time I was not.  This doesn’t make it unworthy to watch, but it’s missing some of the energy one feels when the downtrodden (so to speak) rises to the top.  Yet, I still recommend it.

I rate Outlaw King GOOD at 80%.

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Netflix TV Review: The Last Kingdom (2015-)

Quote from The Last Kingdom by Ragnar the Younger: “The kingdom of Wessex will surrender or burn.”

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BBC Two, BBC America, Netflix

Executive Producers: Stephen Butchard, Nigel Marchant, and Gareth Neame

Directors: Peter Hoar, Jon East, Anthony Bryne, Ben Chanan, Nick Murphy, Jamie Donoughue, Richard Senior, Erik Leijonborg, Jan Matthys, and Edward Bazalgette

Writers: Bernard Cornwell, Stephen Butchard, Sophie Petzal, Ben Vanstone

Major Cast: Alexander Dreymon, Ian Hart, David Dawson, Eliza Butterworth, Harry McEntire, Arnas Fedaravicius, Emily Cox, Adrian Bouchet, Millie Brady, Mark Rowley, Jeppe Beck Laursen, James Northcote, Toby Regbo, Tobias Santelmann, Ewan Mithcell, Julia Bache-Wiig, Simon Kunz, Eva Birthistle, Timothy Innes, Cavan Clerkin, Adrian Bower, Peri Baumeister, Thea Sofie Loch Naess, and Magnus Bruun

Rating: TV-MA

Episodes: 10

Running Time: 60 minutes

*******
The Last Kingdom finally returned to Netflix. The fans were waiting a long time for this. Uhtred (played by Alexander Dreymon), son of Uhtred, continues where he left off in season two: fighting lengthy battles while trying to knock the reality of being part of a royal family into the head of Aethelflaed (played by Millie Brady). The third season continues with Uhtred continuing his desire to recapture his birthright despite the precarious line he walks in his allegiance to King Alfred (played by David Dawson) and his brother, Ragnar the Younger (played by Tobias Santlemann). The following will not have any major spoilers, but will mention there were a few surprises I didn’t see coming or maybe more wishing it hadn’t ended that way.

Season three’s opening is different because King Alfred is no longer a young king. He is ripe with knowledge, but for the first time you see his body and mind not in congruence. He now concentrates on his family’s longevity and mainly through his son, Prince Edward (played by Timothy Innes).  It also includes his vision for Wessex to ensure its survival and a place in history.  In the land of the Danes, the story continues with the relationship between Uhtred and Ragnar as well as Uhtred and Brida (played by Emily Cox) where loyalties are tested.  Uhtred’s wife remains a part of life, Gisela (played by Peri Baumeister), and Skade (played by Thea Sofie Loch Naess) becomes a thorn in his side he’s trying to remove throughout the season. Patience is a key word when it comes to Skade as she is passed around from Sigurd Bloodhair (played by Ola Rapace), Haesten (played by Jeppe Beck Laursen), and Uhtred.

While some characters got what was coming to them, the precursor to it left me stunned because again, I never thought it would play out that way. The last episode includes a jockeying for power among the royalty including Athelwold (played by Harry McEntire) as well as among the Danes where Haesten probably misses Erik and Sigefried from the previous season. We end with Uhtred having the same goal he began with, and whether he got any closer to it remains to be seen. I’m wondering how the relationship between him and Brida play out in the next season as her commitment to Ragnar is fiercer than ever, and what will happen to Beocca. It wasn’t hard for me to enjoy the show because I like historical fiction. For all the other shows out there dealing with kings and queens, mystical beings, and jealous enemies, The Last Kingdom is also worthy of your time.

I rate The Last Kingdom EXCELLENT at 97%.

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Flash Fiction: Some Dreams Don’t Come True

(This is based from two dreams I had recently.  You can decide how crazy they are.)

sugargliderIt all started with a sugar glider.  Actually, it started with a dream of a sugar glider.  I was minding my own business on my way to the hospital.  My best friend was having a necessary surgery, and I was the one to pick her up.  She was busted, if you want to be utterly frank.  Her parts weren’t working.  It wasn’t as if she cared about them because she was always the type of person not to give a damn about this kind of stuff.  If she stood next to a person with his arm ripped off and he didn’t ask for help, she’d glance at his pool of blood and walk away.  She only helped you if you asked, and even if you asked for help, it didn’t mean she would spend a few minutes of her time with you.  Often, she thought it was a waste.  You could call her a nihilist in some ways, but since I popped into her life, she isn’t so boastful anymore.  I’m hoping during her recovery, she isn’t so brutal with her words. 

I learned a long time ago not to expect her to be aware of my needs.  My other friends wonder why I stick around and why I keep her as a friend when she clearly is mentally absent when I need a shoulder to lean on.  I thought about this, but concluded it wasn’t that big of a deal when you have nothing else going on in your life.  I was a giver, not a taker so on that night when I locked eyes with this nocturnal marsupial, I couldn’t look away.  His eyes were big, tempting me to come closer as if speaking to me.  Actually, they might have been speaking because it came out sounding like one letter at a time. 

I-A-M-Y-O-U-R-F-R-I-E-N-D.  D-O-N-O-T-F-E-A-R-M-E. 

I had made the decision to scoop him up and bring him home if he would let me, but the longer I studied his face, the more it blended into the face of someone I recognized from my past.  A past boyfriend?  My crush in high school?  Was my mind playing tricks on me now?  I wasn’t certain because this seemed like a dream, and people aren’t supposed to have dream when they are awake.  I turned away from him, not sure why, and when I turned back he was even closer.  He walked onto my hands when I put them out, staring at me with his black eyes. 

I-W-A-N-T-T-O-S-L-I-D-E-D-O-W-N-A-G-L-A-S-S-W-I-N-D-O-W.  -H-E-L-P-M-E.

My watch chimed.  He jumped.  It was two o’clock and my friend was ready to be out of surgery soon.  I decided my sturdy legs were good enough to run the rest of the way.  I cupped him in my hands and hurried to the nearest window when he clawed at my palms.  He turned his head to a bigger window a little further down.  I went to that window, hoping people wouldn’t think I was crazy, and lifted him to the top.  Good thing I had parents who were tall.  Hesitant to let him go, I did.  He could’ve been laughing all the way down, and when it was done he had the biggest grin on his face although it might have been my imagination.  Standing on his hind feet, I told him my friend was expecting me. 

He turned and scrambled his way up the brick wall.  I watched him slide down until he contorted and landed on the ledge.  He had that goofy smile again.  He scrambled his way up again and slid down but faster this time.  This sugar glider was a user.  It warranted a disapproving look.  His face blended into a dark circle and begged me to come back tomorrow.  I was never one to question the oddities in life, but this one remained with me as I opened the hospital door. 

S-H-E-I-S-M-Y-F-R-I-E-N-D.

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Trifecta #23 (December)

Word of the Month: Ingress

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Picture of the Month: Glass Window

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Video of the Month: Holiday Lights

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