The phantom sweater.

Every year there’s a perennial between-the-holidays story to be written, at least here in Michigan. It’s about the unclaimed property office in the Department of Treasury, and how to search and claim what might be yours. And every year I try, because there’s a $50 gift card from Lands End waiting for me there. I have zero memory how it got there. Maybe it was a Christmas gift I never redeemed, or store credit for a sweater I returned, or something else, but there it sits, year after year, with my name on it, mocking me.

It mocks me because I can’t seem to claim it. One year it required a notarized statement, which was probably more than I could get around to that year. But every time I see it in the database, I fill out the form, and at some point the form asks me to submit proof the unclaimed property is really mine. I have said, over and over, that I don’t have the gift card, so I can’t do that.

This year, I wrote a more detailed letter. I explained the concept of Catch-22, and said it several ways: If I had the gift card, it wouldn’t be unclaimed, but I don’t, so it is. And I asked, politely, that if I was going to be denied again, I would appreciate the Department of Treasury using the card to buy clothing for a poor child, and just delete it from the database.

Most years, I never hear back at all. But this year, I opened it, and the first word was Congratulations, so it’s a 2023 miracle.

And it gets better: They’re not sending me the gift card, but a $50 check, and that’s good, because Lands End quality has really slipped over the time I’ve been angling for my phantom gift card. So I guess I should donate it to a clothing bank, or something, because I already sent that intention out in the universe. Or I could combine it with the $180 that Michigan Democrats want to send me as part of their policy package this year (“inflation relief checks” is what they’re called), and have a nice dinner with Alan somewhere.

Oh, and I should add: This year’s stories about the unclaimed property office notes that the biggest single piece it has is a $2 million life-insurance payout, so if you’ve lost any relatives in Michigan lately, might want to search that database.


One of the irritating things about Madonna, to me, is how thoroughly she has snowed people who should know better. (I’m not talking about her music – even I have a playlist on my Spotify account. It’s called “Tolerable Madonna” and is about 40 minutes long. I use it on short bike rides.) As long as she’s been around, she’s been bullshitting academics, critics and others with the idea that her “reinventions” are thoughtfully calculated, thick with carefully considered details, cultural references and other frippery that makes her, basically, a walking/talking PhD dissertation in pop-culture studies. She used to tell interviewers about how well-informed she is, and that her IQ was 140, so obviously, y’know, this is all real.

When it was pretty obvious to anyone who pays attention that what Madonna does well is scan the outer regions of pop culture, the place where her soccer-mom fans don’t spend much, or any, time, and import them into her routine. Also, that she is a narcissist without peer.

This has been going on for decades now. Camille Paglia, I’m looking at you.

Now the torch has been passed, in this case to Jennifer Weiner, who takes note of Madonna’s new face, which has been there for a while but got its widest exposure yet at the Grammys:

All of Madonna’s features looked exaggerated, pushed and polished to an extreme. There was her forehead, smooth and gleaming as a porcelain bowl. Her eyebrows, bleached and plucked to near-invisibility. Her cheekbones, with deep hollows beneath them. The total effect was familiar, but more than slightly off.

…Beyond the question of what she’d had done, however, lay the more interesting question of why she had done it. Did Madonna get sucked so deep into the vortex of beauty culture that she came out the other side? Had the pressure to appear younger somehow made her think she ought to look like some kind of excessively contoured baby?

Perhaps so, but I’d like to think that our era’s greatest chameleon, a woman who has always been intentional about her reinvention, was doing something slyer, more subversive, by serving us both a new — if not necessarily improved — face and a side of critique about the work of beauty, the inevitability of aging, and the impossible bind in which older female celebrities find themselves.

Oh, pfft. Madonna is 64, and can’t stand it. So she fell into a trap many people, most of them women, have fallen into already. She’s probably had dozens, scores of procedures already done to her face and body, most of them good; until recently, she looked great. But at some point the body says, “Girl, it’s time to stop,” and she ignored it. This is not a critique of “the work of beauty.” It’s a sad woman grasping for relevance.

Has anyone noticed that Madonna always wears gloves, and has for years now? I’d bet plenty that it’s because the veins on her hands bulge, a common side effect of exercise and vigorous physical activity: Exercise delivers lots more blood to the muscles, and veins return that blood to the heart. Athletes have larger veins than non-athletes, and that’s okay.

Madonna has always been proud of her commitment to fitness; she was trained as a dancer, after all. You’d think she’d display her hands without shame. And she’s going around these days talking about how the most controversial thing she’s ever done was to “stick around.” OK, then! Look like someone who’s been sticking around for a while. Patti Smith is almost aggressively old and gray these days, as she continues to make music and write. Most of the older female musicians at the Grammys that night, like Bonnie Raitt, looked their age. What’s so terrible about being old? (Other than knee pain, she said, wincing.)

OK, enough. I’m going to wait by the mailbox for my $50.

Posted at 11:08 am in Popculch, Same ol' same ol' |

54 responses to “The phantom sweater.”

  1. Julie Robinson said on February 8, 2023 at 12:05 pm

    Madonna has always been great at self-promotion–remember the sex book? Music, less decidedly so. How she looks in the mirror and finds that facw attractive is beyond me, but she’s hardly the first nor will she be the last.

    After my sister died a friend told me they’d seen her name on the Illinois unclaimed list, and that spurred me to check the one for Florida. Sure enough, she had three claims there. It all added up to a couple thou, so well worth the time. (Which was considerable.)

    Then I found my grandfather’s name. He died in 1972 and both his executors are also long gone. There’s no way to retrieve it.

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  2. Brandon said on February 8, 2023 at 12:20 pm

    What songs are on your “Tolerable Madonna” playlist?

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  3. Pam said on February 8, 2023 at 12:22 pm

    Madonna’s daughter, Lourdes, is soooo much more beautiful than her mom ever was, her mom just can’t stand it. That’s the reason for the nip/tuck. I read where the folks at the grammies were texting, “Madonna? WTF?” and other things. I hate to be mean but, Madonna WTF?

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  4. Connie said on February 8, 2023 at 2:04 pm

    I have $17 on the Indiana unclaimed property list. Last time I checked it seemed like too much to bother with.

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  5. Mark P said on February 8, 2023 at 3:01 pm

    Does anyone remember those red wax lips you could buy at the corner store (not a convenience store but an actual general store)? That’s what Madonna’s lips look like, although not as bright red. I keep expecting her to spit them out.

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  6. Sherri said on February 8, 2023 at 3:16 pm

    $11.01 on the Washington unclaimed property list, from a Dell Computer class action suit. It looks like I can file all the claim forms and documents electronically, so maybe I’ll do it.

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  7. Jeff Gill said on February 8, 2023 at 4:31 pm

    “Porcelain bowl.” Heh.

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  8. Icarus said on February 8, 2023 at 4:33 pm

    I have one on the Illinois unclaimed property site. I tried before but you have to send in documentation and I don’t know what documentation is needed. Luckily the site has a chatbot and they were able to clarify so I’m gonna try again.

    Honestly, the site is better than because I see a bunch of names that could be relatives on my deadbeat dad’s side. Speaking of, I’m selecting “heir” and going after the ones listed next to his name. Julie Robinson if it works for me, it might work for your grandfather’s stuff.

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  9. Julie Robinson said on February 8, 2023 at 5:37 pm

    Icarus, details escape me but I think it started with a death certificate and executor letters. It wasn’t much money,and I don’t feel like it belongs to me anyway.

    And I just read that if your state gave you a pandemic or economic stimulus check in 2022, you should hold off on filing your taxes. It seems the IRS hasn’t decided if they’re taxable income yet. It’s the kind of penny-ante crap that makes people hate them. The checks were pretty small, just let it go.

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  10. Deborah said on February 8, 2023 at 5:50 pm

    Why in the world would you wear an AR15 pin on your lapel?

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  11. susan said on February 8, 2023 at 6:19 pm

    Deborah, you clearly are not a Republican, or you’d understand that “reasoning.”

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  12. Jeff Borden said on February 8, 2023 at 6:35 pm

    Well, whatever you might say about Madonna, she has a brighter future than Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the tRump press secretary and nepotism governor of Arkansas who was given the opportunity to rebut Joe Biden’s State of the Union address last night. Dear dog, it was beyond awful. . .tired “culture war” references, lame attempts at cleverness and a turgid delivery. She is exactly where she ought to be. . .in Arkansas. . .where she can carry on the mighty works of daddy Mike.

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  13. NancyF said on February 8, 2023 at 8:25 pm

    I paid zero attention to the Grammies, and haven’t paid attention to Madonna in years. I’m here to meekly point out that Diane Keaton also always wears gloves, and they’re damn chic. They also prevent sun damage if you’re fair-skinned.

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  14. Mark P said on February 8, 2023 at 8:32 pm

    When I was in graduate school in the early eighties research assistantships were not taxed. After I left school the IRS decided to try to collect taxes on them. After a lot of hassle, including paying a filing fee for tax Court, they gave up. I thought, “Yeah, let’s go after graduate students — that’s where the big bucks are.”

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  15. alex said on February 9, 2023 at 1:40 am

    During her stint as Trump’s press secretary, Huckabilly-Sanders redefined crazy as normal without ever once saying it out loud.

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  16. Dexter Friend said on February 9, 2023 at 2:30 am

    I can’t remember one thing we got from Land’s End, but we used to get a lot of stuff from there.
    Now this little tale is true, but I understand if you think not.
    Wednesday was recycle day, cans and bottles. My smaller basket was full, and I dumped it into the bin and wheeled it to the curb. As I readied for bed, my wallet was not in my pocket…no problem, surely it was on my desk. I checked the vans, the chair , the kitchen, the entire house. I racked my brain…could it have somehow have been jostled out of my vest pocket and fell to the ground as I dumped the stuff into the bin? I checked, no. One last possibility, it must have become attached to the basket and flipped into the bin. I dumped the cans and bottles onto the lawn. I swear, the damn thing was laughing at me as I harvested my billfold out of the mess. I had to scurry to get the cans back into the bin as the garbage truck was rolling towards here. Just made it.

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  17. Kristen said on February 9, 2023 at 5:51 am

    Madonna’s new face resembles Jocelyn Wildenstein as seen through the Handsome Squidward filter.

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  18. Jim said on February 9, 2023 at 6:16 am

    Cosmetic surgery – when a substance is pumped into your body. Normally, when you get old, your body sags. When you have cosmetic surgery, that stays in place, as a blob, and does not sag .

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  19. ROGirl said on February 9, 2023 at 7:06 am

    Maddona, oy. I remember Letterman’s line about her from back in the day: she likes to shock people.

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  20. A. Riley said on February 9, 2023 at 9:35 am

    Re: Madonna’s gloves.

    Hands show their age, too, and there’s apparently nothing a plastic surgeon can do about it. The contrast between an artificially youthful face and naturally aged hands, on the same famous beauty — Madonna and her stylists wouldn’t let that happen.

    Dolly Parton wears gloves, too — hers are very thin and match her skin tone, so not obvious. I bet Cher does.

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  21. JodiP said on February 9, 2023 at 9:51 am

    Dexter, that is quite a story! I’m glad you made it out there in time to get our wallet.

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  22. Deborah said on February 9, 2023 at 9:59 am

    I don’t really think Madonna’s face looks ugly, it’s just so different from her former one that it’s creepy. The lips are weird though.

    As I’ve said here before, I’ve had big old lady hands all of my life. My age finally caught up with my hands, so except for their bigness they look normal for a woman in her early 70s. An art teacher I had in 7th grade said about her own gnarly hands, “these hands make things”. That’s what I tell myself about mine.

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  23. Heather said on February 9, 2023 at 11:20 am

    Another big tell with aging is the neck. From recent photos, Madonna seems pretty good at camouflaging or hiding hers, but if she found a way through plastic surgery or fillers to make it look better, I’d be curious.

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  24. Julie Robinson said on February 9, 2023 at 11:42 am

    Man hands here, square and peasanty, at the end of long arms with huge bony wrists. D also has humongous hands but they look good on him. But life goes on and who really cares.

    Dexter you got lucky!

    The other day we talked about authors not getting geography or other facts straight. Well, I’m reading a book by Jennifer Weiner, mentioned above by Nance. I had already concluded it’s not well written and I probably won’t read anything by her again. Then a character is diagnosed with plantar fasciitis and starts wearing flip flops all over the house, supposedly to help with the PF.

    I’ve battled PF for 25 years, and flip flops are the worst shoes possible. You have to wear very supportive shoes with a rigid sole, even in slippers, and never, ever go barefoot. Learning this will take less than five minutes of research.

    So now I’m suspect of anything the lady writes. Hmpf.

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  25. Deborah said on February 9, 2023 at 12:23 pm

    Nora Ephron wrote a book called, “I Feel Bad About My Neck”. I could so relate to it, I’ve often said if I could afford to get work, I’d have my neck done, I don’t care about my wrinkled face but my neck, I feel bad about it. I wear turtlenecks and scarves a lot.

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  26. Icarus said on February 9, 2023 at 3:02 pm

    I think Nancy posted about this event a while back. And as Nancy called it, they found the body about 6 months later.

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  27. Bitter Scribe said on February 9, 2023 at 4:31 pm

    Sometimes I just think that being a sex symbol—a genuine, famous, acclaimed, big-deal star of a sex symbol—has got to screw up a woman’s head, long-term. I keep reading about how maladjusted so many of those poor women are, especially as they age out of their looks.

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  28. Brandon said on February 9, 2023 at 5:40 pm

    @ROGirl Speaking of Letterman and Madonna, her 1994 appearance on his show was notorious enough to merit its own Wikipedia page.

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  29. Peter said on February 9, 2023 at 9:43 pm

    My Patti Smith story: Years ago a bunch of us saw her perform at the Riviera in Chicago – it was a Christmas for the Kids concert. After the show, the lady in our group needed to use the toilet, and while she was washing her hands, who should walk in but Patti.

    “Nice show” my friend says; Patti points at the urinals on the wall and asks “You sure this is the Women’s Room?” My friend says “it is now…” and Patti nods and goes into the stall.

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  30. Alan Stamm said on February 9, 2023 at 10:02 pm

    Comes now Washington Post columnist Monica Hesse:

    There was nothing subtle or easy about what had happened to Madonna’s face. There was nothing that could be politely ignored. The woman showed up as if she’d tucked two plump potatoes in her cheeks, not so much a return to her youth as a departure from any coherent age.”

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  31. Dexter Friend said on February 10, 2023 at 2:53 am

    Madonna after weight lifting experience

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  32. Dexter Friend said on February 10, 2023 at 3:33 am

    more Madonna: (because WaPo has a goddam paywall)

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  33. alex said on February 10, 2023 at 7:54 am

    Plastic surgery is always a gamble and some people don’t know when to leave the casino.

    I remember an interview Cher gave maybe 30 years ago where she said she was having a helluva time leaving well enough alone and worried she had already gone too far. Pneumatic Cher is at least still recognizable as Cher.

    I used to think the stories about Michael Jackson’s prosthetic nose were apocryphal, just gossip rag garbage, that someone of his means could surely afford to fix anything. But, no, indeed you can lose blood flow to the nose, lips or whatever you have too much “work” done on and it will turn necrotic and slough off.

    I still think, on some deep psychological level, that Ivana Trump was secretly gaining revenge on The Donald by turning herself from a luscious babe into a living monstrosity. In her own way she was saying “Hey, world. Everything he touches turns into shit.”

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  34. Suzanne said on February 10, 2023 at 9:40 am

    Speaking of super rich people, have any of you watched White Lotus? I am visiting relatives who have HBO Max and binge watched all of it. It held my attention and is very well done but I am not sure ultimately what I thought of it. It was kind of depressing.

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  35. Julie Robinson said on February 10, 2023 at 12:47 pm

    Suzanne, I wondered about that one too. We currently have access to HBO though our son keeps saying he’s gonna cancel. I didn’t expect to like Succession, which is about the super wealthy, but it pulled me right in. Maybe it would help pass all these hours with my foot elevated. I’ve listened to a LOT of audiobooks.

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  36. tajalli said on February 10, 2023 at 1:38 pm

    The library holds line is pretty long for White Lotus, leaving me to wait for probably a couple months still.

    Julie, if you haven’t seen these series yet, This is Us and A Place Called Home are very engaging. I’m a DVDs-from-the-library person, but IIRC both are/were Netflix productions.

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  37. alex said on February 10, 2023 at 7:29 pm

    A rollicking etymology lesson in a ribald takedown of Trump. Enjoy!

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  38. Julie Robinson said on February 10, 2023 at 7:33 pm

    No White Lotus for me; kiddo has canceled HBO.

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  39. Dexter Friend said on February 11, 2023 at 3:27 am

    S1 White Lotus was generally panned and I think I posted here what I thought of Mike White’s weird thought process. Then magic happened and holy shit! S2 was a masterpiece .Jennifer Coolidge as Tanya McQuoid stole the show, or would have if the rest of the cast wasn’t so brilliant.
    I can’t wait for S3. I bet it’s really gonna be something. I now view Mike White as a genius. Who in the hell else could think up such a masterpiece?

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  40. ROGirl said on February 11, 2023 at 7:45 am

    Jennifer Coolidge is a delight, but I thought her story line got increasingly cartoonish and seemed to end up being dropped in from a separate universe like a reverse deus ex machina. F. Murray Abraham was wonderful and hammy as the lecherous old patriarch, and the tech bros and their wives were the awful people one would expect them to be. Ah, the temptations and corruption of the super rich.

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  41. LAMary said on February 11, 2023 at 12:54 pm

    I like the trump insult, “looks like a villain in a movie where the hero is a dog,” so much. It’s perfect.

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  42. LAMary said on February 11, 2023 at 11:25 pm

    Ron DeSantis is protecting children from learning about Roberto Clemente.

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  43. Dexter Friend said on February 12, 2023 at 4:27 am

    LA Mary…every National League team wants to forget about the destruction Roberto Clemente brought down upon their heads, over 50 years ago or not. Once as a youth I “snuck down” to Wrigley Field first-row box seats on the last day of the 1968 season…sparse, quiet crowd. I booed Clemente, just because he was an opposing player. It was really, really quiet…Clemente must have been surprised to hear a boo like that…he stepped back and glared at me. I have pulled some embarrassing stunts in my life, non more lame than that. I felt bad for a long time for that.
    But, not at all for screaming at Pete Rose on another day, calling him a goddam son of a bitch and another epithet which is so un-woke I do not dare write it.

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  44. basset said on February 12, 2023 at 7:12 pm

    Dexter, we had a situation similar to your wallet adventure recently, was only a t shirt instead of a wallet though.
    Mrs B and I had gone to the Country Music Hall of Fame to see a new exhibit about California country rock and its effects and legacy, was really interesting and I recommend it if you’re anywhere near Nashville.
    Anyway, I bought a Flying Burrito Brothers shirt on the way out and threw it into the back of the car. Had a bunch of cardboard back there too, waiting to be recycled, and you see where this is going.
    Got home, couldn’t find the shirt, and headed back to the recycling point with a step stool, a headband flashlight, and one of those gripper things you use to get jars off the top shelf- our cardboard recycling goes into a full truck trailer sized roll on and off dumpster with horizontal slits about eight inches high to put the board in, a little over eye level. Figured there would be no way to reach the shirt even if I could see it, but you have to try. Didn’t work so I looked at the full width unloading hatch at the end of the dumpster, wasn’t locked so a few minutes of fiddling with latches and safety bars and I was in. Less than half full, shirt was on top so all was good. What happened when I wore it to Costco was another story.

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  45. alex said on February 12, 2023 at 8:39 pm

    Rihanna’s red plastic titties are more obscene than Janet Jackson’s naked one. And the music’s meh, and so are the ads, and it’s so nice to have a computer as a distraction from this so-called spectacle.

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  46. Joe Kobiela said on February 12, 2023 at 9:47 pm

    Didn’t see the half time show, but Chris Stapleton had grown men crying with the National Anthem, the rock star commercial was pretty good, ram electric truck commercial was funny and it’s a 8 point game mid fourth quarter, what more could you ask for?
    Pilot Joe

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  47. LAMary said on February 12, 2023 at 9:49 pm

    Yeah, but what about the laptop?

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  48. alex said on February 12, 2023 at 9:58 pm

    Agreed about the rock star commercial. HR snowing people by calling them rock stars really is a thing and I’ve lived it and it cost them my respect a long time ago.

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  49. Dave said on February 12, 2023 at 10:19 pm

    Basset, what happened at Costco, you get mobbed by Gram Parsons fans?

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  50. Dexter Friend said on February 13, 2023 at 1:40 am

    I don’t bet so no losses there, as I wanted Philadelphia to win, and they lost. I watched the halftime show and the commercials with impending doom lingering, as my 17 year old cat suffered another stroke and lay on the floor paralyzed and I was comforting him as he slowly faded away. He’s gone now. So I had the game and the show and the ads on but not much was getting through to me as my buddy left me.
    Basset, once I went shopping and threw four new shirts into a city trash barrel, then had to go get them. I grabbed the wrong bag. This was like 35 years ago,

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  51. Dorothy said on February 13, 2023 at 6:51 am

    Dexter I’m so very sorry about your cat. I’m thinking of you.

    I was in a play once where I was the housemaid. Black and white skirt and blouse, and an apron was my costume. After the first performance weekend I laundered it, and put it in a grocery store bag (my big mistake), tied up the opening, and hung the bag on the doorknob going out to the garage – to remind me to put it in my car for the next performances. My husband didn’t know what was in the bag and he assumed it was trash. So of course you know what that means. It didn’t have a happy outcome like some of these stories shared here. It was trash day so I never saw that costume again. I had time to scramble and find replacements but boy howdy I was mad – mostly at myself. But also at the hubs who should have asked me first if it was trash intending to be thrown out.

    I don’t understand the fuss about Rhianna. She’s not all that talented. Her voice is just so-so. But I’m old so what the hell do I know?

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  52. Dexter Friend said on February 13, 2023 at 6:57 am

    Thanks Dorothy. We all know how a pet’s demise just kills us.

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  53. Julie Robinson said on February 13, 2023 at 7:57 am

    Dexter, I’m so sorry about your fur baby. I know how much it hurts. Sending you a big virtual hug.

    Didn’t watch the game. Can’t stand football.

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  54. JodiP said on February 13, 2023 at 12:26 pm

    Dexter, I’m so sorry your kitty passed away. It’s always so hard. I am very sure he was very loved and spoiled.

    I was at a lovely baby shower yesterday for a couple who are new friends. I ended up sitting at a table with another couple and conversation ranged far and wide. But I think we spent the most time sharing pet stories–it’s clear they are a huge part of our lives.

    The organizers also did something really fun I’d never seen before: Onsies in many sizes were provided, along with stencils and water proof markers so we could decorate onsies for the baby. It was way better than any of the usual games and my tablemates and I had fun chatting while drawing.

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