It’s just fun to say: Mulch.

Jon Carroll wrote a column about mulch earlier this week. It so happens that I came across not one but two mulch crews on my bike ride yesterday. Mulch is absolutely essential for suburbia to exist, right up there with gasoline and espresso. Ninety percent of it is useless and/or decorative; there’s no reason for a well-established tree to have a collar of mulch rising halfway up the trunk, although it does make mowing around it easier. So finding, say, a teenage maple with mulch piled at least eight inches high at its base is as easy as looking out the nearest window. Over winter mulch will compact, degrade, etc., and in the spring a crew comes around and adds three more inches. Since it only lost one or maybe two inches over the winter, this is a net gain for the mulch pile, and you see some really stupid-looking mulch setups. I’m not a gardener, but my guess is, this can’t be good for the tree. If your feet needed to be wet you might wear wet socks, but adding wet pants is certainly unnecessary, and would be like laying out a welcome mat for pests that like moist, dark places to burrow. But no one asks me. I’m just the dumb lady rolling past on the bicycle.

Anyway, one of the mulch crews I saw yesterday was typical, a bunch of dark-skinned men speaking Spanish. I wondered the same thing I wonder when I pick up, oh, say a small rendering of a stained-glass window featuring praying hands and the “Footprints” verse, all executed in lovely plastic with “made in China” stamped on its base. I think of the sweatshop factory, the miasma of hot plastic coming from the non-OSHA-approved machinery, a life measured out by coffee spoons while this crap goes by on the conveyor belt. I wonder what the person who made it thought of the distant Americans who will display this in their homes. And so I wondered about how mulch is used in the Spanish-speaking world, if the village in Chihuahua or Guatemala or wherever these men came from contains mulch, what they thought when they learned that Americans in one of the wettest places on the planet grind up old trees and heap them up around the trunks of other trees for reasons no one can precisely fathom.

I told myself I was going to think of story ideas on this bike ride, by the way, showing I’m capable of procrastination even in my recreation.

Bloggage: From my ace advertising source JohnC, I know the term for detailed photographic advertising placed on high-rise buildings is a “wrap.” (GM frequently wraps the RenCen; this was for the All-Star Game in 2005.) So. Warner Bros. building in Burbank gets a wrap promoting Madonna’s new album. Worker therein notes that his office seems to be in Madonna’s vagina, more or less. Post gets linked on Metafilter. Hilarity ensues: I used to work there until I got my pink slip. And so on, and on, and on.

GOP operative gives the gender version of the “well, there’s black people, and then there’s n*ggers” defense, here.

One of my favorite newspaper blogs is the Detroit News’ Tax Watchdog, written by reporter Robert Snell and dedicated to the proposition that if you throw a rock in southeast Michigan, you’ll hit a tax deadbeat, and many of them are famous. At the top of the blog today, Anita Baker, on the hook for $481K and change. Bonus: A picture of her Grosse Pointe house.

I also liked this audio slideshow about Red’s Jazz Shoe Shine Parlor, a Detroit institution.

The News is rich this week: I also learned that Sam Wagstaff, the man who discovered, promoted and loved Robert Mapplethorpe, did a three-year stint at the Detroit Institute of Arts as a curator, where he promoted avant-garde pieces such as “Dragged Mass Geometric”: Conceptual art at its highest and most abstruse, “Dragged Mass Geometric” involved two bulldozers lugging a 35-ton slab of granite across the verdant sweep of the museum’s north lawn, with the goal of embedding it in the earth.


And now, off to the gym for Rob’s Torture Class, which I skipped Tuesday for my meeting, which means it’ll be even more torture-ific. Send moral support.

Posted at 9:43 am in Uncategorized |

45 responses to “It’s just fun to say: Mulch.”

  1. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on May 22, 2008 at 9:58 am

    Mulch should stop at the surface roots and not pile around the trunk, since it promotes fungus and rot in the bark. Save a tree, pull back some mulch.

    Easton shopping center near here has to put out little elegant signs stuck in the mulch when first applied — saying something close to “The smell is actually a natural thing and not something to get all bothered about, people.” Suburbia is a strange, strange place sometimes.

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  2. Connie said on May 22, 2008 at 10:07 am

    We are working on this year’s big project: removing all the stones that “mulch” our landscaping in front, and replacing them with cocoa bean hull mulch. The lovely dark brown color that doesn’t fade will go nicely with our house, and my yard will smell like Cocoa Krispies after the rain.

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  3. brian stouder said on May 22, 2008 at 10:29 am

    where he promoted avant-garde pieces such as “Dragged Mass Geometric”: Conceptual art at its highest and most abstruse reminded me of this guy who considered it art, of a sort, to take an ‘Abstract Expressionist’ pencil work of another person, Willem de Kooning, and simply erase it!

    Brooding seriousness and majestic aspirations were anathema to Mr. Rauschenberg and his art. “You have to have the time to feel sorry for yourself,” he once said, “in order to be a good Abstract Expressionist.”

    Sounds like a house painter, to me

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  4. del said on May 22, 2008 at 11:04 am

    Cocoa bean mulch. Love that choclatey aroma. Used to walk by it on Wayne State’s campus. . .

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  5. coozledad said on May 22, 2008 at 11:05 am

    Conceptual art is worthwhile mostly for the hilarious unintended consequences. During a discussion in one of my figure drawing classes, a fellow student described an installation that featured rutting hogs doused in brightly colored wet paint. They spilled out of their inadequate fencing and proceeded to rut among the board members and trustees of the museum, along with the rapt spectators who learned that day that genius is pain. Or just a pain the ass.

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  6. nancy said on May 22, 2008 at 11:15 am

    Well, I can tell you the trustees of the DIA were not amused by “Dragged Mass Geometric,” either. Some of them demanded Wagstaff pay to repair the damage to the lawn out of his own pocket.

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  7. LAMary said on May 22, 2008 at 11:16 am

    Everyone in my office is now planning to schlep up the street to Warner Brothers to wave to the guy in Madonna’s hoo hoo.

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  8. Joe K. said on May 22, 2008 at 11:51 am

    Some of the remarks on the Madonna pictures are down right funny. Lots of clever people out there.
    Joe K

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  9. MichaelG said on May 22, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    The filters on my office computer won’t let me look.

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  10. Julie Robinson said on May 22, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    On the other end of the Rauschenberg spectrum, this story on Morning Edition about a new museum in Portland: the Velveteria. Yep, you got it: paintings on black velvet. Here’s the link, with some hilarious photos. Dogs playing poker? Check. Liberace and Elvis? Check. Sammy Davis, Jr as Jesus? Got that too. And if you ask nicely, you can touch the portraits.

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  11. Jen said on May 22, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    Ick, modern art. It’s not that I don’t like good art – I loved my trip a few years ago to the Art Institute of Chicago – but I only like the art that depicts something rather understandable, not “art” that looks like a 2-year-old threw his peas at the wall or installations of various pieces of construction equipment laying on the floor.

    I’m a tacky person – I’d much rather go to the Velveteria and see the painting of dogs playing poker, because that’s just funny.

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  12. Hattie said on May 22, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    Mulch is a good thing, but don’t put it right up to the trunk of the tree.
    And abandon the idea that there is anything left in this world that is local. You will be much happier.

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  13. ellen said on May 22, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    Most awesome velvet painting ever (spotted along roadside in the Ozarks): Semi truck curving around a mountainside on a rainy road, being watched over from heaven by Jesus and Elvis.

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  14. Dexter said on May 22, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    I never noticed the hills of mulch around trees until the past few years. In this small city I reside in, jail trustees in comical cartoon-like horizontally-striped zebra jumpsuits do the hard work at the city parks, which I am a denizen of, all year round, cycling and dog walking daily, rain, snow , or shine.
    The jailbirds are given free, basically unsupervised reign over the landscaping drudgery work, mulching away happily.
    They transport loads of mulch from a depository heap and make huge piles, then use trailered 4-wheelers to work from, shoveling the stuff into cones as high as gravity allows all around every tree in the parks. It’s quite an operation.
    On the plus side, the general population (of the city, not the jail!) has unlimited access to free mulch when it’s there in the home pile; on the negative side, ya gotta make DAMN sure you lock your vehicle up good and tight, and it helps to have a LOJAK , just in case. Every now and then the most reliable jail trustee gets, as Boss said in “Cool Hand Luke”, “…rabbit in his blood…”

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  15. Dexter said on May 22, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    Hopper’s “Nighthawks” has been my desktop for years. I used to drive three hundred miles just to see a Peter Max exhibit.
    Here’s a painting I have developed affection for in the past several years.
    I am sure you folks recognize it as a Van Gogh…it’s “Wheatfields”.

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  16. Sue said on May 22, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    Ellen, I’m assuming it’s hanging in your living room now. Artwork like that is an investment.

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  17. coozledad said on May 22, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    Hopper was a sound draftsman, and one of the stylistic heirs of Winslow Homer. Rockwell Kent is also beginning to get his due as a painter, but his major contribution is to book art, and almost singlehandedly instigating the Melville revival.
    I have to admit I just don’t get purely nonobjective art. I don’t know how the artist knows when they’re finished with a piece, for one thing. But I honestly believe it’s a personal failing, and I’m poorer for it.
    Still, I think Walton Ford can kick anyone’s ass, living or dead, in terms of painting. Maybe it’s the black humor beneath all that luminous color.

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  18. Kirk said on May 22, 2008 at 3:21 pm

    By now, someone must have added Dale Earnhardt to the heavenly guardians in that velvet semi picture.

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  19. brian stouder said on May 22, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    Other words that are just plain fun to say:










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  20. Danny said on May 22, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    On the plus side, the general population (of the city, not the jail!) has unlimited access to free mulch when it’s there in the home pile; on the negative side, ya gotta make DAMN sure you lock your vehicle up good and tight, and it helps to have a LOJAK , just in case. Every now and then the most reliable jail trustee gets, as Boss said in “Cool Hand Luke”, “…rabbit in his blood…”

    Some men … you just cain’t reach.

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  21. brian stouder said on May 22, 2008 at 4:28 pm




    exacerbate (if you don’t stop doing that, you’ll need glasses)




    PS – What we have heyah, is a failyah to communicate!

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  22. Dexter said on May 22, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    Nearly nine years ago The Chicago Tribune ran a Hopper feature.
    They printed a photo and named the road Hopper’s Cape Cod home was located on.
    I spent an hour once I got onto the little road attempting to catch a glimpse of Hopper’s home, which was totally obscured by brush and trees. That cured me of celebrity house-gawking.
    Oh well…we were vacationing close by anyway….36 years ago we vacationed in Hyannis, and I drove to a point where I was told I could see the Kennedy compound from. I think I saw it, so damn far away , we couldn’t even tell. That should have cured me of that dumb practice, but I guess the fuel was fired on a trip to LA and the movie stars’ homes tour.

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  23. LAMary said on May 22, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    We made a lunchtime pilgrimage to the Warner Bros building, and we all waved at Madonna’s crotch. Then we went out for medianoche sandwiches.

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  24. Julie Robinson said on May 22, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    Way back in 1985 we visited LA, and naifs that we were, thought we would see movie stars everywhere. And sure enough, there was Jeff Bridges and family at the airport, with lots and lots of luggage. That ended up being our one and only sighting.

    We also did stupid things like stand in line all day for tickets to The Tonight Show and Family Ties. What a waste of time! I think that cured us.

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  25. deb said on May 22, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    late to the party, as usual, but mild-mannered jeff and hattie are right: mulch heaped against a tree trunk is a bad thing. arborists call this a mulch volcano. cocoa bean mulch is pricey in the milwaukee area, but oh, that heavenly aroma!

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  26. Dexter said on May 22, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    haha! My sighting was Bob Hastings (Lt. Carpenter on “McHale’s Navy”, Kelsey on “All in the Family”) He was out of work and relegated to greeting us on our tour…but…helluva NICE man!


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  27. coozledad said on May 22, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    Dexter: When I lived in Durham, NC, I kept trying to find where J.J. Lankes lived while his girlfriend was being treated for mental illness at Dorothea Dix Hospital. he was a woodcut artist who illustrated a number of books of Robert frost’s poetry. The two were apparently good friends. Lankes did stunningly beautiful work, ominously similar in tone to William Blake (who he admired greatly) and yet contextually and stylistically worlds apart.
    He died in Durham the year before I was born, and I never got to talk to any of the old newspaper people who might have known him. Bob Sherrill hadn’t started writing for The Herald-Sun Newspapers then-he was still in Manhatttan, being elegantly and hilariously drunk, and the paper didn’t keep back issues on microfiche at the time his obit would have been published.

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  28. nancy said on May 22, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    My favorite comment on Madonna’s giant coochie was one of the very first:

    Too bad the window doesn’t open a bit. You could stick your hand out & wave at people

    And I would wave back, oh yes I would.

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  29. joodyb said on May 22, 2008 at 6:53 pm

    the st. paul machine has a plan to wrap the skyways (for $$, certainly) during the RNC. no word what kind of advertisers are interested or if there will be any left in the metro by the time the GOP rolls into town. HA! (patented Chris Matthews laugh)

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  30. coozledad said on May 22, 2008 at 7:17 pm

    I think it would be more appropriate if someone were waving frantically and shouting for help from Madonna’s snizz.
    Help! I don’t believe in Kabala!

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  31. caliban said on May 22, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    A remarkable letter from an SI writer to Jon Lester on the occasion of his pitching a no-hitter. This is not just for Red Sox fanatics. Not even just for sports fans.

    PETA people take an unerringly overly-optimistic view of their effect on the larger world, but maybe this is an authentic ray of hope in the brutish sphere of thoroughlyoverbredbred racing.

    NN‘s comments about fashion and Rachel Maddow reminded me of the OJ-trial makeovers. Greta seemed to make out better than Marsha, but she also seemed more competent during the TV ordeal. Maddow is very smart, and she‘s funny by way of sarcasm leavened with good nature. Here‘s an interesting bit of analysis regarding the Dem nominaqtion race.

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  32. Linda said on May 22, 2008 at 9:23 pm

    Damn. Cocoa hulls are the best mulch, but the smell makes me hungry. Stones, however, are a pestilence for years. They make it hard to shovel and last forever, and weeds grow through them anyway.

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  33. brian stouder said on May 22, 2008 at 10:06 pm

    Caliban – thanks for the link to Rachel’s article on the simmering Clinton/Obama shemozzle. The fellows and I went to lunch today, and had exactly that discussion. The cleverest one of us (the one who always wins at gamenight!) was firmly of the opinion that HRC will indeed go all the way to the convention, and will press her case to the absolute end on the convention floor, by fighting for a motion to release all the delegates from their pledges, leaving them ALL as ‘super delegates’ – free to vote for her.

    I argued that this surely would be a case of destroying the village in order to save it (if indeed it ‘takes a village to raise a child’, then in that case it takes a Clinton to raze the village to the ground, if the bastards there won’t vote the way they should!) – whereupon the question became: what’s the downside?

    Thinking about it – McCain looks absolutely hopeless; he has no real opposition to his campaign, and yet he seems to be floundering (when he’s not holding cookouts back home) and fumbling……and by God, one CAN imagine that Hillary Clinton sees this and knows that – whatever damage is done to the Democratic Party – she can whip McCain’s ass, six ways to Sunday. That is to say, she may well believe making this fight with Obama HAS no down side for her, and who is to say she’s NOT right about that?

    ‘Course, no matter how masterfully the Clinton folks play the game, they cannot make Obama’s cash reserves go away. If it comes to a bitter fight to the finish, what is to stop Obama from running in November, even if HRC earns the Democratic nomination? One supposes the Clinton logic will be that Obama has more to lose from that scenario, since at his age he could wait out 8 years of HRC and then run…..but that would be a very, very bitter pill to swallow, I think.

    A genuinely split Democratic party in November IS the one way that John McCain might win the presidency.

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  34. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on May 22, 2008 at 10:55 pm

    Y’know, i’m not here to pitch hand-grenades, but before everybody writes off McCain as a hopeless case who could only win if Karl Rrrrrrrove sacrifices some babies to Moloch . . . look at the Electoral College numbers (John King does it engagingly on CNN with his hyper-map) and check out some polling numbers that make a key distinction.

    That distinction? Likely voters, or registered voters. As Obama supporters have noted to their bemusement, 50K at a rally doesn’t automatically translate into votes. Some support can be “a mile wide and an inch deep,” because a rally is a low investment activity, as is (today) giving to a campaign (hellp, PayPal), while voting on a rainy day or even voting at all is a higher investment activity.

    So polls of “all Americans” with Obama tapping 70% may be valid, including youth and non-registered and never voted folk, but doesn’t tell you much about a Tuesday in November. When you poll for those who will vote, McCain is still very much in this thing.

    Every four years, we hear about how candidate X is changing everything because the polls mean nothing because people will vote who never have or never will except for candidate X. Can Obama actually do that? Some evidence indicates that he will generate some new voters, more than Dukakis or Kerry did. But the state-by-state, electorally distributed, “likely voter” numbers don’t support a McCain pancake.

    A Republican hammering, yes, but that’s not the same thing.

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  35. moe99 said on May 22, 2008 at 11:55 pm

    Not to be too Machiavellian, but with the exception of the appointments to the Supreme Court (which with a veto proof majority in Senate could take care of that issue), I’m not sure I’m opposed to a Republican in the WH. Because the next 4 years we are going to see the wheels come off in Iraq big time, and if a Dem’s in office, it will all officially be the Democrat’s fault. Regardless of who put us there. Regardless of who had no after the invasion strategy. Regardless of who had no exit strategy. This would be a Vietnam redux in other words. With a Republican in the WH the blame falls squarely where it belongs.

    I’ve become accustomed to trying to make caviar out of shit sandwiches lately.

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  36. Catherine said on May 22, 2008 at 11:58 pm

    The CNN clip is my final piece of proof that racism is not OK anymore, but sexism is still fine. As the mother of two daughters, I’m, uh, not OK with that.

    And going back to yesterday’s comments & Jeff’s “effective energy policy” links, yes, absolutely. Imagine if we’d devoted every dollar spent in Iraq instead to achieving energy independence. Would we be there? Probably not. Would we be a darn sight closer than we are now? Yeah. Not to mention, not mired in an unwinnable war.

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  37. Dexter said on May 23, 2008 at 12:37 am

    So…..four people here are rooting for the Penguins and only I am a Red Wings fan. So be it. Be advised: Sidney Crosby will be cutting his Stanley Cup teeth on the puck McCarty shoves in his mouth and seven-million-dollar man Marian Hossa will be going in for dental work on every off day! We do NOT mess around! Here’s an amazing stat: Crosby, who has captured the imagination of fans the way Gretsky and Lemieux did a generation ago, is paid just $850,000 per season…he’s worth fifteen million, and he’ll get it within a few short years.
    Here’s some real bullshit: both the NHL and the NBA have games on at the same time Saturday.
    C’mon! The NFL doesn’t go against the World Series on those Sunday nights !!

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  38. Cosmo Panzini said on May 23, 2008 at 7:36 am

    Small things, certainly, but important nonetheless: 1) The idiocy we’re involved in over in Iraq is not a war (and hasn’t been since about three weeks after our incursion), but an occupation. 2) Just how many words are there for pussy?

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  39. Jolene said on May 23, 2008 at 7:49 am

    Your second question occurred to me too, Cosmo. And for the threadweaver award, how about words for pussy that are fun to say? One such is vajayjay, which I first heard from Oprah.

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  40. brian stouder said on May 23, 2008 at 8:24 am


    A few of the less prosaic ones that I have come across (so to speak) include ‘kitty’, ‘cream doughnut’, and ‘tunnel of love’. In child-birth classes they kept referring to “the birth canal” – and I thought referring to that region as a “canal” lent itself to all sorts of silly puns!

    Steve Martin’s ‘The Jerk’ had his “Special Purpose”, which strikes me as a useful, unisex reference!

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  41. MichaelG said on May 23, 2008 at 8:47 am

    I once heard a five year old call it a “shiner”.

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  42. Kirk said on May 23, 2008 at 8:52 am


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  43. brian stouder said on May 23, 2008 at 9:44 am

    In “How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days”, what name did the female lead affix to Matthew McConaughey’s tool of manhood,? (funniest cheap-novel euphemism for an erect penis: Steaming Stalk. Can’t remember where I read that, but what made it particularly funny was that I think the author was not trying to be funny; I recall a sex scene in a Blackford Oakes novel by William F Buckley, where he said something about the woman’s hand “seeking its prey”….which struck me as vaguely troubling!)

    nonsequitur – our young folks, on the way home after a weekend at grandma’s

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  44. MichaelG said on May 23, 2008 at 10:07 am

    Brian, my daughter was so bad she’d fall asleep when I was backing out of the driveway.

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  45. brian stouder said on May 23, 2008 at 10:25 am

    I was driving along, muttering to myself about the cd Pam picked to listen to, when I noticed she had fallen asleep, so I killed the cd and switched to a worthwhile radio station*….

    and then I saw that the young folks were all out cold…and then nudged Pam, so that she could see the sight…and then she: a) started her cd over (arrrggghh!!); b) groused about being awakened; c) fished the camera out of it’s bag and snapped the picture; and then d) fell back into a light sleep (meaning, kept one eye on the cd/radio)

    * the rule is – if she’s driving, she’s in command; and if I’m driving, her duties include running the entertainment

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