The writerly stuff.

Another quiet morning with Ruby. (Hop. Hop. Hop. Scratch-scratch-scratch. STOP CHEWING THAT! It’s a loop.) A mild day. Rain seems to be gone for a while. It brought down a fresh load of leaves, so the work I did over the weekend, raking and piling, looks completely undone. Ah, well. As soon as the coffee kicks in I’m going to get to work for reals.

Don’t I sound stupid, writing that? “For reals?” Just like the kids say. I look at Kate’s Facebook postings, and I want to faint: “hangin wit my besties CALL TEXT ME PLEEEEZE.”

“I know you know how to spell ‘please.’ Tell me you do,” I say.

“I write the way I talk,” she replies. In other words: Bug off, geezer.

The other day I retrieved one of her short writing assignments off the printer tray. With the exception of one exclamation point, I wouldn’t change a keystroke. I guess she’s mastered the art of being one thing for the adults in your life, another for your pals. A key adolescent coping skill.

Well, she’ll never take writing advice from her mother, at least not for a couple more decades. I just sent an e-mail to our Wayne State student interns at, recommending yet another Detroitblog gem. You can learn a lot from breaking down a piece like this to see how it sings:

Helen Turner has a mean scowl on her face. Always. It’s the look she gives customers at the diner where she works.

“I don’t take no shit off of nobody,” she spits in an Appalachian accent.

She’s behind the counter at White Grove Restaurant, a tiny, genuinely retro diner on Second Avenue near Charlotte, in Detroit’s skid row. Her customers are the city’s underclass — addicts, prostitutes, the homeless and the insane. They spend their days aimlessly roaming their neighborhood here like zombies, slowly killing time and themselves, waiting for the next handout or the next quick score.

And nearly all of them come into the diner at some point, trying to pull a fast one.

It was a pleasure to read, start to finish. It’s hard to paint a portrait like that without lapsing into cliché and stereotype. I was left wondering how the place even keeps the lights on, if Turner and her colleague, a man with whom she’s guarded the counter “for decades,” spend virtually their entire working day yelling at their customers. I guess they’ve figured out a way to make it work. It helps when Mrs. Take-no-shit guards the register; the place has only been robbed once in recent memory, and the thief escaped with his loot only because the manager didn’t have it in him to pull his own gun on a 16-year-old boy.

So let’s get to the bloggage, then:

Vanity Fair has a piece by a former member of the Letterman staff. A woman. She gets to the heart of the flaw in the it’s-only-consenting-adults argument, right here, with the extra emphasis mine:

Without naming names or digging up decades-old dirt, let’s address the pertinent questions. Did Dave hit on me? No. Did he pay me enough extra attention that it was noted by another writer? Yes. Was I aware of rumors that Dave was having sexual relationships with female staffers? Yes. Was I aware that other high-level male employees were having sexual relationships with female staffers? Yes. Did these female staffers have access to information and wield power disproportionate to their job titles? Yes. Did that create a hostile work environment? Yes. Did I believe these female staffers were benefiting professionally from their personal relationships? Yes. Did that make me feel demeaned? Completely. Did I say anything at the time? Sadly, no.

Boss/underling relationships will be with us forever. That doesn’t mean we should stop saying it’s wrong.

Shower, work, more coffee, crossword.

Posted at 10:53 am in Current events, Detroit life |

56 responses to “The writerly stuff.”

  1. judybusy said on October 28, 2009 at 11:10 am

    Regarding Kate’s ability to write and speak in multiple “dialects”: I would imagine most of have figured this out. I know I did as a teen. I’d use certain language in English class, a very different one when speaking with friends. Today, in my social work job, I use different ways of speaking to my clients based on level of education, sophistication, and sadly, psychiatric symptoms.

    It’s all about using language most effectively, and of course, having fun in breaking the rulz. (This brings to mind some recent inchoate emails sent by a case manager. My boss and I had some laughs copying the style as we communicated about the case. Hint: when communicating professionally, don’t randomly capitalize words, overuse those exclamation points, or substitute ellipses for actual punctuation.)

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  2. Zannah said on October 28, 2009 at 11:16 am


    First, hi, I’m Zannah. I’ve been visiting your site for about a year now, and I wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your posts and the (sometimes very) active discussions that follow. You’ve grown a tight-knit community here, and it’s a pleasure to read every day.

    Does your daughter even let you read her assignments? My mother is a rhet/comp professor, and I wouldn’t even let her in the same room when I was writing for school (and she was never overly critical). But that was only for formal writing.

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    • nancy said on October 28, 2009 at 11:19 am

      Not if she can help it. But the printer wasn’t working, and I was fiddling with the connections to try to coax it to life. I succeeded, and the first job it spit out was hers. She was mortified, I’m sure.

      She wrote a hilarious description of my brother last year, and the only reason I know about it is because the teacher pulled it out to show me at teacher conferences. I begged her to let me have it when she was gone, but she refused, and I’m sure it was shredded.

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  3. LAMary said on October 28, 2009 at 11:18 am

    I should share my boss’s emails or even better, the guy who fancies himself a genius and an Anglophile. Both make me weep.

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  4. paddyo' said on October 28, 2009 at 11:36 am

    We do love using the letter Z where no Z’s really go, don’t we, boyz and girlz? Mostly, I think we love to write phonetically when we’re in casual lingo mode . . .

    Your rain has ended, but our first big snow in Denver began overnight. They’re talking 10-15-20 inches before it’s over sometime tomorrow. It’s pretty white out my office window right now.

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  5. Zannah said on October 28, 2009 at 11:41 am

    Maybe she kept it and years from now, she’ll pull it out of a box, remember her mother begging for it, and mail it right off with a loving note. Hope is what keeps us going!

    (Edit: And I hope that last part didn’t come across as twee as it looks right now.)

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  6. Dorothy said on October 28, 2009 at 11:43 am

    Speaking of seeing what the “kids” say on Facebook to each other, I probably committed some kind of Facebook crime last month when I sent this private message to my cousin’s 14 year old daughter, but I could not help myself. I had to send it after seeing a certain word appear in just about every one of her status updates for a week straight:

    You know I love you, and think the world of you. But seriously, Lauren, we can all see that you like the word ‘fuck’. And we all know how to use the word, too. But after awhile it loses it’s effectiveness. And it becomes rude to use it so often. I really wish you would be more judicious in your use of it. You have a big vocabulary. Please try to find another word to use once in awhile, okay?

    Cousin Dorth

    I am happy to report that she hasn’t used it since! Well maybe once, but she did not “un-friend” me and I even bumped into her and her mom when we were in Pittsburgh the day Mike’s dad died. And she gave me a hug. So I guess she doesn’t hate me for asking her what I asked.

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  7. paddyo' said on October 28, 2009 at 11:43 am

    And P.S. — damn! “Land of the Lost” was a fine blog-post . . . between you and Sweet Juniper and this guy (and others), Detroit is covered.

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  8. Julie Robinson said on October 28, 2009 at 11:57 am

    We haven’t watched Letterman since the whole sordid saga began and I’m not sure his humor will work in light of what we now know. Back when the DH’s job was so horrible Letterman was sometimes the only fun part of the day, and we were pretty loyal viewers. Now I’m thinking “ewww” and feeling sad.

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  9. beb said on October 28, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    What paddyp’ said. You do have to wonder how some of these old, rough neighborhood diners stay in business. The amount of business they do each day doesn’t seem enough to cover bills and pay wages.

    Kids are easily mortified by their parents. It must be in their genes (or jeans).

    One of my hobbies is reprinting pulp fiction from the teens and twenties. The worst part is trying to proofread through some phoenetic spelling. There are apostrophes everywhere and half the time the dialect doesn’t even sound like natural speaking.

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  10. Peter said on October 28, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    Dorothy, that’s a great piece of advice – my niece is the sweetest thing and her facebook entries must be 20% f—. I think drill instructors didn’t say it as much.

    And, Julie, speaking of that, my lovely spouse seconds your opinion.

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  11. Jeff Borden said on October 28, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    It’s not just kids who know their audience. My grad school class includes a majority of African-Americans. In their posts on our assigned work –about 60% of classwork is done online– several have noted that they speak differently at the office than at home. They excise dialect, slang, etc. they believe would be unwelcome to white ears at work.

    Don’t most of us use more than one voice? I curse way too much around friends, but rarely did it at the office because I knew it would land me in hot water.

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  12. Zannah said on October 28, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    I think everyone does, to some extent, even if it’s just self-censoring depending on the situation.

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  13. brian stouder said on October 28, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    And leaving aside dialect, conversational subject matter selection itself is very….subjective, too. Maybe I’m just an up-tight guy, but self-censoring is second nature, anymore

    Politics at work? Idiot-trap.

    Money? Ditto.

    Actually, that’s one of the coolest parts of lunching with an nn.c person; you can just yap and yap – and the comfort level is constant.

    (which reminds me; I have a library story for Connie)

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  14. ROgirl said on October 28, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    Merrill Markoe commented about the Dave situation on her blog by saying,”Dave promised me many times that I was the only woman he would ever cheat on.”

    Not a new story, in other words.

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  15. Deborah said on October 28, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    Merrill Markoe has a blog! What’s the address? Please.

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  16. ROgirl said on October 28, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    It’s very droll, witty, quirky and funny, with some seriousness in the mix, as one would expect from Merrill.

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  17. Sue said on October 28, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    brian stouder: Almost all the naughty stuff/”conversational subject matter” I’ve learned in the last few years has come straight from this comment group, mostly courtesy of Coozledad.
    Hey California commentors: What do you think, did the Governor really toss an F-bomb at the Legislature?

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  18. mark said on October 28, 2009 at 3:40 pm


    Good advice and good for you having the courage to give it. Life is sometimes coarse and vulgar and it inevitably wears away at the gentleness of spirit that exists naturally in children. But that process should be fought and lamented, not embraced.

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  19. coozledad said on October 28, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    Sue: I started around age two. My truck driver uncle would wait until we got out of earshot at family gatherings and say stuff like “Now I’ll bet your Sunday school teacher has a sweet ass. Have you ever told her that? You probably don’t want to tell her that.” Translation: “Go get your ass beat for old Uncle Ed.”

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  20. Sue said on October 28, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    ‘gen­tle­ness of spirit that exists nat­u­rally in chil­dren’
    mark, that applied to my own children, dear little things. Everyone else’s kids with the exception of my sweet nephews and nieces were nasty little shits.
    Cooz, your truck driver uncle sounds like my pipefitter brother. Perhaps we’re related.

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  21. alex said on October 28, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    Brian, I know just what you mean re: self-censorship. Life in the Fort these last five years has damned near suffocated me, and it has carried over into my writing as well.

    Self-preservation in this place means ya gotta play dumb 24/7. Use the vocabulary of the educated person you are and people think you’re putting them down. Say anything even vaguely off-color and people are mortally offended.

    I’m supposed to attend a costume party this weekend and will probably go costumeless because I don’t want to piss anyone off. I mentioned to the hostess that I wanted to do a full drag rendition of Sarah Palin and the hostess, herself a liberal, told me I’d better not even dare to think about it.

    EDIT: the gentleness of spirit that exists naturally in children

    Huh? The only thing that exists naturally in children is polymorphous perversity, along with self-centeredness. Gentleness of spirit is a learned trait, and generally learned much too late, if ever, by most.

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  22. Dexter said on October 28, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    Cooz: my little brother stepped in a cow pie. The neighbor kid said “What’s on your shoe?” “Cow shit!”.
    Li’l Bro’ was just old enough to speak and the other kid knew better, but he trained Li’l Bro like a magpie…on command…”COW SHIT!”
    In church, “The Lord bless you and keep you–the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” And on command, perfect timing…at “..peace”…”COW SHIT ” reverberated through the gathering. It was the best day I ever had in church.
    The laffs lasted all summer.

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  23. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on October 28, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    You gotta have really strong cheekbones to portray Sarah Palin; that, or have large book contracts.

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  24. crinoidgirl said on October 28, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    OMG, I just got a book contract! Does that make me a real writer (even though I’m still, officially, unemployed)?

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  25. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on October 28, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    Real writers are usually unemployed, strictly speaking. And congratulations! Those are hard to come by these days. Unless your contract is with Vantage Press or iUniverse.

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  26. Sue said on October 28, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    crinoidgirl, will it be available through the kickback lounge?

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  27. alex said on October 28, 2009 at 5:05 pm


    I’ve got better cheekbones than Palin. Nance will vouch for it.

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  28. Julie Robinson said on October 28, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    If you dare it, Alex, we’d love a photo.

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  29. MichaelG said on October 28, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    Sue, the message was in a veto letter the Gov sent to a gay legislator from San Francisco with whom he has been sort of feuding.

    Read the first letter of each line going down.

    Congratulations Crinoid Girl!! It sure do. If the money’s real, you’re real.

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  30. Jeff Borden said on October 28, 2009 at 5:33 pm


    If you are man enough, in the way Mark Wahlberg was man enough in “Boogie Nights,” perhaps you should go to the party naked as Levi Johnston. The estranged would-be son-in-law of Our Lady of Wasilla will be revealing all in a Playgirl photo spread. For a not particularly bright high school dropout, and son of an indicted Oxycontin dealing mom, young Master Johnston is certainly mastering the ways of staying in the public eye. He’s one classy laddie, that Levi.

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  31. Jeff Borden said on October 28, 2009 at 5:34 pm


    Bonus for being Levi: You will not need to speak in that annoyingly nasal “valley girl” voice perfected by Gov. Palin. So, you’ll have that going for you. . .which is nice.

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  32. alex said on October 28, 2009 at 6:34 pm

    But I was so looking forward into getting into character. Simpering and calling people RINOs and commies and unAmerican. I do a great vapid slut impersonation.

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  33. LAMary said on October 28, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    Off topic, but the best I can muster right now:

    Jon Stewart’s opening monologue was great last night.

    Now I’m going to go back to feeling like I’m coming down with something and feeling dread and self pity at the same time.

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  34. Holly said on October 28, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    Two of your nephews and your one niece can be nasty little shits.

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  35. cosmo panzini said on October 28, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    Nancy—Won’t you share with us some of Kate’s comments about your brother? Inquiring minds need to know, you know.

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    • nancy said on October 28, 2009 at 8:37 pm

      It was a descriptive piece — the assignment was to make the reader able to visualize the subject if s/he walked into a room. It started, “My Uncle Charlie sits at the table, salad dressing on his shirt, his fork held in the air as he makes a point…” Or some such. I could certainly see him.

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  36. crinoidgirl said on October 28, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    “crinoid girl, will it be avail able through the kick back lounge?”

    Yeah, next year. I better get started. 😀

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  37. crinoidgirl said on October 28, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    Photo, Alex!

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  38. Laura Lippman said on October 28, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    I have Facebook privileges with some young’uns and the implied contract is that I won’t post and I won’t criticize what I see there. And I don’t. But, man, I am so disappointed by the homosexual slurs these kids throw around. I also find some of the male hets I know have a hard time letting go of homophobic language, want to maintain that it’s homoerotic, but I think that’s just bullshit. Hank Stuever’s piece on MILK should be required reading for anyone who thinks it’s okay to use gay slurs.

    Then again, I’m behind the curve. There’s actually a PSA ridiculing people who use “gay” as an adjective.

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  39. crinoidgirl said on October 28, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    Yeah, Laura, but the PSA focuses on the current phrase, “[xxx]’s so gay.” I think being gay is a good thing (and THAT’S a good thing, or I’d be a self-loathing sack of crap), but the phrase means something else entirely.

    And please tell me you weren’t joking, because it occurs to me now that my above paragraph might indicate a lack of humor! 😀

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  40. Jolene said on October 28, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    What sort of book are you writing, crinoidgirl?

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  41. alex said on October 28, 2009 at 10:25 pm

    Some folks more nervy than me, when they hear gay as an adjective fire back, “No it isn’t. It’s [whatever slur is appropriately offensive to the offender].”

    People who didn’t get it suddenly do, I’m told.

    The trouble with the PSAs, in my humble opinion, is that they reek of DARE and Officer Friendly and everything else kids have come to distrust. Obviously they’re well intended, but my gut tells me they’re received like a henpecking lecture.

    My sense is the word’s working its way from being synonymous with “fucked up” to something more like “ballsy” or “cool,” so I’m not all about discouraging it, frankly. The corrollary to “you break it, you own it” is “you own it, you break it.” So use the word, please, by all means. Please help wear it out so we can all get on with our lives.

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  42. moe99 said on October 29, 2009 at 2:57 am

    OT: I’m catching up with all of you late tonight PDT, but will probably fall off the map tomorrow.


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  43. nancy said on October 29, 2009 at 8:07 am

    Moe, I’m pulling for you, and so is everyone else. Luck and courage.

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  44. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on October 29, 2009 at 8:14 am

    Humor heals, as you say, so i look forward to hearing about the humor you find in the ordeal (irony, incongruity, inappropriateness, overcompensation, etc.), along with all of us here continuing to make stupid but well meaning remarks! And we’ll be praying for you, too.

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  45. brian stouder said on October 29, 2009 at 8:58 am

    moe – what Nancy and Jeff said.

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  46. del said on October 29, 2009 at 9:06 am

    Yes Moe, what Brian said.

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  47. Julie Robinson said on October 29, 2009 at 9:15 am

    Moe, you are as well prepared as anyone can be, and I pray that your thorough approach has led to the best therapy possible. We cannot be there for you physically but we are there in spirit.

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  48. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on October 29, 2009 at 9:20 am

    And if we were all there for you physically, the nurse would kick us out of the room anyhow, and tell us to go down one hall, turn left, go to the second door, and read Home & Garden’s 2003 “Spring Renewal” edition. “We’ll come down and let you know as soon as she’s done,” which of course they don’t.

    So we might as well stay where we are and send good thoughts and prayers.

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  49. judybusy said on October 29, 2009 at 9:30 am

    moe, I only know you from here, but I hope the chemo kicks a** on the cancer and treads lightly on you! When gardening time comes again, I promise to garden in your stead. Any favorites you’d be planting but can’t? I can always find room for one more thing in my garden, and could post a pic or two! I would be at quite a loss if I couldn’t garden, so anything I could do there for you is on offer. Name your flower, herb or vegetable.

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  50. crinoidgirl said on October 29, 2009 at 9:58 am

    Go, Moe!

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  51. moe99 said on October 29, 2009 at 10:00 am

    Judybusy, I have a bag of crocosmia in the back of my Subaru Outback that I separated out this fall and have been giving away to any who are interested. They are small red orange lily type blossoms that bloom in late July-Sept. and they spread like wildfire, making you think you might have some talent (but no, it’s just that they are that hardy). I’ll send you some of the bulbs, if you email me your address! I’m sure if I glove up I can do that small job–they’ve already been dug up from the soil.

    Thanks for all your support.

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  52. crinoidgirl said on October 29, 2009 at 10:17 am

    Jolene @42: Grass-fed beef. A real page-turner.

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  53. crinoidgirl said on October 29, 2009 at 10:18 am


    If you feel like sending me some too, let me know.

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  54. Rana said on October 29, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    I’ll be thinking of you, moe. Hang tough, and do let people help you.

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