dispatches from jazz fest, day one (II).

desk.png

someone i didn’t know that Kiki knew – typical – was selling a desk.

she lived in the neighborhood, and it was just before 2pm, maybe time to venture out into Jazz Fest, 2018. i put on the jeans i’d found in my first New Orleans Apartment, red shirt. slipped shoes over mismatched socks. Kiki slipped into something – typical – that looked perfect on her. she motioned with her head, red hair swaying: “ready?”

only day one, so maybe this was why the shit had yet to meet the show. a few strolling groups, loners, couples. big old man with a blue Hawaiian had set up shop at the edge of our driveway. table a mushroom grove of varied hats. our landlord had warned us about him. currently unable to remember the warning, i took a hit of my beer and took to the streets.
we ambled past the entrance, down Fortin. winnowed dodges past tourists, residents, noting those who were out selling water, charging for port-a-potties, suggesting tips in exchange for cold domestics.

“shit.” i said. “we forgot to come up with a hustle.”

“there’s time,” Kiki said.

“how about an irony booth? tune the radio to WWOZ and charge shitty hipsters to listen to Jazz Fest live.”

“kissing booth,” she said. “one dollar for a kiss. if we don’t like who’s paying, we just kiss each other. wasn’t that great, we can say?”

“doesn’t happen too often in this world, but win-win.

we swung right on Gentilly Blvd, cars crawling to the whim of drunk pedestrians. more booths, pop ups, clever shills chasing the dollar. we crossed over, passed the Seahorse Saloon. i glanced through the windows. saw some actual ass in those seats.

“never seen it crowded,” i said. sipped my beer and lit a cigarette, grated sunshine through green leaves. “will there even be room for my memories?”

“yes.”

“the night you, me, Hobbes, Dalia, Cali holed up here after the meeting? you me and Dalia after the Star Wars movie, both of you swimming in your sad smiles, talking about Carrie Fisher? Sitting with Tara, blackout drunk with our backs to the building, laughing about come for the music, leave for the music?

“those memories aren’t going anywhere, Lucky.”

“ok.”

we kept walking, turned down a few chances at bottled water, found strange footprints in the beat. passed a table lined with purses, vender a woman stretched out over the hood of her car, round lips, large teeth teaming up to present a beautiful smile just beneath sunglasses surrounded by oaken skin and studded piercings.

took a right on Castiglione. the world suddenly turned suburban, and save for that particular brand of Louisiana heat, i could close my eyes and dream of early mornings after poker games on Long Island.

Kiki guided me up some stairs, pressed her finger beneath a sign reading RING DOORBELL.

brief peek from beyond blinds, and we were let in.

gentleman with a beard, accidental mohawk, and sleeveless shirt. his partner had a round face, friendly smile, and shaking her hand felt guarded and serene.

they led me to the desk.

antique. couldn’t say as to what kind of wood, but the surface was a multiversity of circles, fossilized drinks, and that much made sense to me. i sat down in the chair. came with the desk. sturdy, not a fold up. vinyl covered cushioning for the back and the back. i tried out a series of poses. mimicked writing, keyboard and pen. slouched over, head down, thinking of my worst memories. absently reached for a bottle of red.

“goddamn,” i said. “are these drawers?”

“yes,” he said.

“for over twenty years i’ve been writing at a card table with fold in legs. it was easy to carry. always had to keep moving, pack things up when things ended.”

“welcome to storage space,” she said.

i turned my head, just to see how my other cheek would feel as i stared out the window. “don’t worry,” i told them. “not going to sweep imaginary implements off the top and pretend to go to town on someone.”

they laughed. “please don’t.”

i sat back, looked up. gave Kiki the nod.

she paid them. we arranged for the pickup, Monday. after the first weekend of Jazz Fest was put to rest. we shook hands, left the way we came.

Kiki held my hand as we walked down the street. “you have desk, now.”

the light grew bright on Gentilly, and i gave a squint. “yeah.”

“you alright?”

“thank you for the desk.”

“you should have one.”

“forgot to check how it works while watching pornography.”

“it’s a little low,” she said. “you might have to pull the chair back.”

“taking that as a compliment.”

“you oughta.”

we walked for a bit more. a water vendor called out, large woman loving her lawnchair, told Kiki, “Girl, you is fine!”

i glanced back and smiled. she laughed. we knew what we meant.

i went back to my thoughts as the crowd thickened, music thumping, once more.

“baby?” she asked.

“i’ve been writing at a card table for so long,” i said. “i carried it along the streets of New York, took it for rides in the subway. always had someplace else i had to be.”

“it’s ok,” she said, as we passed the Seahorse. “those memories aren’t going anywhere, Lucky.”

so we had looped back around.

weaving in and out, Jazz Fest 2018.

i lit another cigarette and silently hoped this desk would be the one.

hat vendor still outside of our house.

still unable to remember whatever warning our landlord had doled out.

went inside, poured a Jack Daniel’s – typical – and sat down at the table, fingers working, waiting for Monday to make a manic scene.

###

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dispatches from jazz fest, day one.

jazzfest01

i live directly outside the fairgrounds. i live directly outside the entrance to jazz fest, 2018. for those who don’t know, which i realize now, includes myself, the street outside my house is a conga line of blurred individuals. the sunlight has formed a pact with this first weekend, demanding a secret suspicion that this may be the last time anyone will hear the music.

Kiki and i have spent days preparing for this.

toilet paper.

booze.

batteries.

ice.

red electrolytes.

canned goods.

water.

it’s as though hurricane season hit early and our GET THE FUCK OUT prep kit now serves as a slapdash attempt to sequester. even as we drank ourselves to sleep last night, we didn’t actually think jazz fest would honestly happen.

to be fair, we did.

to be unfair, we didn’t.

i rolled out of bed at 10am, wondering why. base. the cry of the crowds, babble of a thousand bulbous lips, sound of a packed bar floating within the walls of an ordinary world. stepped out into a compact back yard, still unwilling to look out the window and witness. had a beer and listened. heard Kiki from inside, observing:

“i can hear the music from the gospel tent, but none of the words; which is great because it’s my favorite part of gospel.”

i nodded. wondered for a moment why this wasn’t as bad as i thought. recognized a strange reality. the bulging beats, sounds, layered under a saturated buzz turned out to harmonize perfectly with the control track that’s been living in my brain for years, years, years. just coming in through my ears. inside out. i’ve introduced myself to the world without having to shake a single hand, and i can finally choose whether or not to smile and nod, so maybe this won’t be so bad.

then again, it is only, at this point, 1pm.

day one.

weekend one.

i watched a bee land on a flower. exploring.
the petal fell off, and the bee didn’t have the presence of hive-mind  to use its wings.
never thought i would see a bee, fall, actually fall, but it did.
buzzing towards the grassy ground, and i went inside to have a drink and listen.

###

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you need me.

swan

 

“You got close this time,” the man said. Took a seat next to me on the steps. All sunlight and sounds of some well meaning sucker mowing his lawn at 7 am some 2 blocks down.

I took a pull of a cigarette. Took another sip from a plastic pint of Jack. “What time is it?”

“It’s morning, and who cares; you are out here by yourself.”

I nodded. Remembered when I used to wonder why he dressed odd as he did. Black button up, black tie, jacket, shoes. Man in black, except for one brilliant detail…

“Used to wonder,” I told him. “I wasn’t ever even sure what the pink rubber gloves meant.”

“You needed me to stand out,” He said. “You needed someone to listen to.”

I tugged at my jeans, watched a car go by; New Orleans Sheriff’s Department. “Have to admit… I was doing well there for a sly minute or so.”

“Well, I’m here to remind you,” Mr. Blank said.

“Please don’t.”

“I’m here to tell you all about it.” He helped himself to a cigarette, even though he didn’t need it. Only felt it through zeroeth person. Lit the tip off the sunlight, puffs bursting into crowded clouds before taking it between two gloved fingers. “I’m here to tell you how it is.”

I nodded.

“At least you know it won’t be heavy handed. You’re a better writer than you once were. Which is a shame, because apart from the fact that it elevates you to absolutely nowhere, there’s the other little problem you know I know you know…”

Opened my mouth, felt his words. “Nobody has ever cared less.”

A stately blonde from down the block, walking her beagle, sent her eyes towards me and moved a little faster.

“So you thought you’d give happiness a chance.” He shrugged. That one motion flattening every tire on the block, changing polarity, sending birds crashing to the ground. We watched them twitch, one of us helpless, the other just trying to help. “And here’s what happened, I can tell you all of it, based on what you were doing seconds before I showed up.”

“No,” I said flatly, still a little fight in me. “I do not want to buy a watch.”

“You’ve still got a little fight in you,” he said. “That’s cute.” He pointed a pink digit towards the sky. Right at the sun. Traced semicircles around it, until that yellow started spinning. Turn table. Sounds of rewind unraveling the world around us for just a split before he stopped. Sent things back on their course. Flipped it on 45 so we could both dance to it.

Felt myself fall back into what was once myself, maybe five minutes ago. Staring at this pint of Jack. One fourth from gone, reasons known only to me, save for Mr. Blank’s voice in my head, my creation come to life.

“So you sit there,” He told me. “You sit there, Lucky, for that one moment, on the steps. On some sort of trip you suspect you might have actually taken. You’ve already reached for that pint of Jack. Now you give the cap a decent screw or two and stare at the rim. Remember through lipstick stains, and take a drink, just knowing her mouth was once where yours is now.”

I did as I was told, it tasted what it meant to share my whiskey with others.

“Confident you would have hunted, searched for every last butt of each cigarette you gave her, which, maybe you can now face, is what you have always been there for. Story teller to cigarette dispenser.  You would have picked every last one off the ground, and lit those bare remains because that’s as close as you would ever come to whatever it is you’ve been hoping to find.”

He tossed his cigarette into the street. It burned a punch hole, dug deep. Went right to the core and started rotation one last time on my behalf.

“I don’t need you,” I told him.

“You’re still thinking about me,” He said. Turned to face, featureless face, running like watercolors. Had to wonder if creating him was the one thing I didn’t regret. He leaned close, got right into my face and as the lines blurred, I could swear I saw where this would all end. “Listen carefully, because I’m only going to say this a thousand times; in your thoughts; in your sleep, dreams, whatever you consider to be your mind. Over and over, until you do what you should have done in that shitty little room at the Capri, four bare walls and nothing but four bottles of Cathead that nobody had the good sense to kiss, because nobody knew who you were, and will still never care…”

He leaned close, lips with bristled teeth touching my earlobe.

And I listened.

And he told me something that I didn’t already know.

###

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red meat.

red meat

Kiki Capri kissed my cheek with lips painted an emergency red. Smiled at me, catastrophically blue eyes, and told me she would be right back. I smiled back, ten times over in love, and nodded. Watched her hips make change with the world, stray strands bobbing with her head, everything that should have been perfect with the world.

But I went back to my whiskey and soda. Arms crossed over the bar of The Valiant . Stomach tense. What few muscles I had all bound up in a secret. Brain stuck on an endless paragraph. Terrified. Remounting the same production in my head. Staring straight ahead at a litany of high end bottles, half of which I couldn’t name because I was still stuck in the well, such a familiar sight that it felt this familiar feeling wasn’t just an accident.

“Hey, Lucky.”

Hobbes was at my side. Wavy hair, handsome features. Thin body of close knit, well maintained sinew. Healthy cheekbones, eyes dark against pale skin, pupils shifting along the bar he owned, nurtured. Fought for on a nightly basis.

Brought me back to the moment. Details of my brain scenario replaced for what passed as reality. Slow night. Empty couches and low riding cocktail tables. Dim light. Walls painted a wandering gray. Music on a steady Jazz kick, bartender on an old school swing. Candles. Crystalline dessert bowls filled to the brim with multi-colored mints.

“Hey, Hobbes,” I managed.

“Hey, me…” He paused over his beer. Dark bottle of something I probably would have found repugnant. “What do you have to say for yourself?”

Hobbes didn’t have any male friends. Then again, he was a mover, shaker, carnival barker. People who work the room don’t always have real friends anyway, so I wasn’t sure whether his lack of male companionship had anything to do with mine.

I hated sports. I hated beer. I hated talking about high end whiskey, unless it was in my mouth, in which case, why bother opening it?

I still didn’t know Hobbes very well, but I sensed. Had a notion.

So oddly enough, it felt as though I had been waiting for this moment to say

I can’t shake this vision from my head. It’s been with me for a few weeks now. And it won’t leave. Hangs in, hand in with two things that happened two years ago.

And maybe Hobbes paused before saying, Oh yeah?

Bit of a back story. I moved down here with, originally, the reason I moved down here. Wait. I moved down here with the intention to kill myself.

And maybe he nodded.

Second thing. I’m a vegetarian.

And maybe he said, I know. It’s fucking shame. Go on.

A few months before I moved, still living in NC, and a few days after deciding that New Orleans would be where it would all end… I ordered a hamburger.

And maybe he asked, and I hoped his eyebrows would slant with a certain concern: What did you get on it?

Hard to say. I met two idiot friends of mine for a half-off wine special at bar nearby. I was living paycheck to paycheck and didn’t have all that much to spend. Wasn’t feeling much of anything.  That empty sort of sense you get from watching a bad play. And I thought, why not? When the waitress came up to take our order, I asked for  burger with bacon, blue cheese, because, let’s face it, nobody on this planet would be kissing my face anytime soon. Also, cooked medium rare. Red. No lettuce. Mayo, tomato, all the rest was fine.

My dinner companions cheered, figuring I’d turned a corner, or some such shit. Finally enjoying life, or some other such even more shit. Truth was, I thought maybe biting into a dead cow, topped with two strips of dead pig in the city might release the right endorphins. Make me feel something.

And maybe Hobbes took an understanding pull of his beer and asked, Did it?

No. They forgot the bacon, blue cheese. The burger was done well, past well, made me wonder who this cow had to fuck to get where she was, and the bun was broken down the middle. Didn’t complain, because it didn’t matter. Every bite was like what kale or broccoli must taste like to someone like you. It was nothing. A hail Mary with none of the trimmings.

And maybe Hobbes took a sip of his beer, eyes deepening, and motioned with the bottle.

I’ve been getting this vision. In my head, this vivid daydream… I’m in a restaurant. A fancy one. The kind with cloth napkins, black ties at your table. White dishes set to the side for your bread and butter… I’m at a round table for two. But set only for one. Because it’s just me. Next to a floor to ceiling window. And it’s midday outside, and grey. I can see the people walking by in my head. The ambient noise is so full, I can isolate every sound. Silverware scraping. Ice cubes popping in fresh water glasses. Twist of a salt shaker some two tables down. Every last moron who thinks others care for their conversation conversation, amplified. Every goddamn commentary, the goddamn problems they have with their domestics, the fucking Peterson Account, enough to make me vomit in my mouth, only there’s nothing left in there, but soon

in front of me is a plate with a burger. Perfectly cooked. The kind you see on billboards.  Perfect melt of cheese. Bacon that you barely have to chew because the fat is going to dissolve in your mouth the moment it makes contact with your tongue. One of those twenty-one dollar hamburgers, meal before an execution level of perfection, it is so nice… So great to be alone with this simple burger, and such a happy feeling to know it’s there because I have just, frankly, and to be clear, just given up… I’ve given up.

And maybe Hobbes wouldn’t say anything.

I’ve been thinking about it, I might say, swallow hard… and this vision won’t. go. away.

And maybe Hobbes never would ask the question, rocking us both back into the moment and then I said, insisted

“I don’t have anything to say for myself.” Downed my whiskey soda and added: “I am an intensely uninteresting person.”

Hobbes gave me a fuck you kind of look.

He licked his thumb and pressed it against my cheek. “got some Capri still stuck on you.”

He went about his business and left. Me to my own, I brought my fingers together. Intertwined. Terrified. The bartender asked if he could get me anything.

I asked for a burger with bacon, blue cheese, and no lettuce. Cooked medium rare. Red.

He laughed and served me another whiskey soda.

I didn’t laugh, but took what was given.

Drank deep and crossed my fingers that this chapter would melt along with the ice under New Orleans memories, and maybe, shit, fuck, goddamn, look at those bottles behind the bar, that it wasn’t all just starting up again.

###

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what was now.

cigarette

If you were the kind of person she didn’t like, then you were also that sort in severe need of reconciliation. An entire week with the shades drawn. Ceiling fan hypnosis, maybe take the time to wonder if every last thing you thought you knew was simply untrue. Dalia noticed everything. Didn’t bother with the corners, if it was you that needed a second glance, she would turn her face towards yours. Didn’t care if she was caught in her curiosity. She would observe, soft brown eyes hidden by a cresting wave of blond hair, but it never took her too long to catalogue, and she would turn away. File it under future analysis. Go back to her cigarette. Focused on the what was now; a conversation that might illicit a slight frown, mini skirt smile, disbelieving raise of her eyebrows. She didn’t just nod with her neck. The entire top half of her torso would lean in with each movement, led by her head. If you said something to tickle her funny bone, she would pull back slightly. Her eyes would squint, practically disappear, and her lips would widen, shuddering peals, but it wasn’t just the joke landing. As she laughed, you could see each layer of implication rolling over her, gathering, culminating, leaving behind a smile, aftermath of a wave, pulling away, then back to position one. Eyes focused, moving on. Ready for the next moment in the what was now.

One night in late July, she sent her wondering eyes, entire face in my direction from over her side of the bench. She nodded. I placed my gin and tonic on the table, picked up my pack. Kiki was sitting between us, and I reached around, behind her shoulders, to hand Dalia her cancer stick. It slid between her fingers, easily. Eyes meeting, she nodded once more, and I reached for my lighter. An operation that required silent synchronicity. We crossed our legs, respective thighs pressed against the underside of the picnic table, allowing us to rock back. Abdominals working. Simultaneously reaching out. My left arm, her right, taking hold, hands clutched around wrists. She leaned in. Cigarette in her mouth. I reached out. Anchoring each other as I extended my right one, sparked a flame. It was a hot summer night in New Orleans, no wind to put the fire out, and the smoke went swirling between us. We released, withdrew our arms and returned to neutral ground. She turned her face towards mine. I met her curiosity with a nod.

And Dalia returned to position one. Nodding with her upper half, focused. Ready for the next moment in what was the now.

I went back to my drink and thought about Dalia

and thought about what were the moments before this one.

###

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lucky.

win

I could let the hours glide, seconds tick along to the radiator, watching Anya sit on the window sill. Cigarette between her fingers. Elbow resting on her knee, drawn up. Secondary leg stretched along the outcrop. Brown eyes between wide lids, watching the tower of neighboring apartments. Half-two in the morning, and most all those rooms have their midnight oil burning bright. Stained glow, mingled with lamppost illumination, it brings out a deeper hue from her pallid skin. Smoke trickles from feline lips. Sketch artist circles, up through the open window. Swirls headed for a waning moon, and this darkroom does wonders for those blonde curls falling past bare shoulders. Vaccination scar. Back arching against the breeze. Giving in to the cold, curvature leading down to a penny, stuck to her hip for how long now?

Turns with a tilt of her head, just for the sake of a question: “What?”

My lips work against the cotton filter, cherry highlight twitching. “So close to perfect.”

“What would be perfect?”

“If it was raining right now.”

“Yeah?”

Propped up in bed, thinking just maybe… “Yeah.”

Anya tosses her hair back and gave the sky a smile.

Lightning strikes somewhere in the city.

All we see is the light, waiting for thunder to shake the walls.

And when it does, it comes with rain.

From where, I don’t know. Not a cloud in the sky, but I think Anya doesn’t bother with details, and it takes less than seconds. Four or five drops against the glass before thousands make their way in through the open window. Their friends and family beating against the building. Begging to be let inside.

Anya laughs. Her body turns wet, water running down her face, landscaping, rivers taking detours past chest, breasts, belly, from the top of her knee, flowing to join the rest down past her thighs, and the moon is still out, her entire body shining.

Turns to face me. Hair soaking, engrained against her face, mouth open.

Water bursting from her lips as she asks, “How about that, Lucky?”

And her cigarette miraculously continues to burn bright in the window, allowing for all outsiders to stare in wonder at this warning, while miles away, the oceans crash against the shallows.

###

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Elixir.

elixer

Put Elixir in a police lineup, and if she’s the one behind that hold up then she’s fucked. You’re not going to find anyone else with those eyes. One second so spherical, you’d be inclined to step inside, make yourself at home. The next, her lids would take the thousand mile journey halfway along those snow globes. Turn into a sleepy, inward gaze where her own secrets slowly evolved into private jokes to be cultivated. Waiting for release. The moment her eyes would go wide once more.

So when she stepped forward, into the floodlights, number five out of five, and delivered the line, I kept the adoring smile to myself. Had my own secrets to contend with.

“Number five,” I said.

“Are you sure?” the detective asked. He was a six-foot two powerhouse. Shaved dome gleaming white, even in the darkness of this one-way room. Thick set, white undershirt tucked into jeans, aqua and pale-red Hawaiian shirt. Sharp blue eyes. Friendly and mischievous grin that might have been sincere up until the day he discovered it worked for him.

“Am I sure, what?”

He rolled his eyes without actually following through with the action. “Are you sure she’s the one from the bank?”

I’d tangled with this particular cop before. Back during the dark, early days in New Orleans. He’d been assigned to me after those two kids had forced that front door open, shotgun and nine millimeter, a misunderstanding, bad tipoff regarding where the weed was at. After they had left empty handed, I made the mistake of dialing 911. Most of the officers at the scene treated me like shit, no small surprise. Not to say detective Daisuke had viewed me through rose colored lenses. He was sure as any of them that I was a dealer without a clue. I could read this in a single moment, but acting smart, intuitive, never played well with the boys in blue. Even if they were dressed down to the same jeans, undershirt and Hawaiian they were wearing this second time around, this time treating me as the only one whose blindfold had slipped during the heist.

But these were special circumstances.

“I’m sure of several things,” I told him. “I’m sure that she has half-notes in her head going whole while she secretly sings to herself in the shower. I’m sure that if I were picking rhythm out of this line up, then I wouldn’t even need her to dance. Sometimes she sways from side to side when anyone else would be standing still. I’m sure she glows. I’m sure that stripped of outgoing thoughts, layers, you’d still end up with the same person. I’m sure she laughs fast and hard. I’m sure you don’t get to second base in her thoughts without some kind of proof you’re willing to round first like you really mean it. I’m sure if you saw her half naked onstage, you’d need a compass to find your way back from the places your mind would wander…” I shrugged. “Sure I’m sure. I’m just not positive.”

This was the time to be every bit the idiot I had always been.

“I’m sure you can find your way out,” he said, cracks so clear in the laid-back persona.

I strode out of the station and hailed the bus. Paid an extra two bits for a transfer. Got on the crosstown taking me to the intersection of Broad and Tulane. Lit a cigarette. I walked along the east sidewalk, under the crumbling eye of the courthouse across the street. Shoes sidestepping wasted beer cans and Taco Bell wrappers.

Saw Elixir waiting for me. Dressed in a scantly clad, black and white prison mate outfit that hugged her tits, thighs, drew my eyes to all the proper places.

God knows what she had been up to when they picked her up.

“You didn’t put the blindfold on tight enough,” I told her.

She shrugged, eyes moving into a half-lid moment. “I’ll know better next time.”

“I think it worked.”

“None the wiser?”

“I think we confused the fuck out of them.”

“Guess all we can do is wait.”

It was a cloudy day, and for once, the humidity was humble enough to let an October breeze push past us, tussle moments of her thick, bleached Mohawk. It occurred to me that Elixir’s eyes weren’t so different from the traffic lights at my back. But I would have to wait to explain that one to myself as I went ahead and said:

“I know a good Jamaican place, Boswell’s. Just up the road.”

“Yeah?”

“Got a rum cocktail that’ll bring you three steps to God.”

“I don’t believe in God.”

“Then it turns out they’ve just got a rum cocktail.”

“I don’t really drink.”

I nodded. She motioned with her head, and we went our way, past government offices, bail bondsmen, decimated motels, feet taking us over sidewalk cracks, and I reached out to hold Elixir’s hand.

She smacked it away, sent me a sideways smile. “I’m actually quite hungry.”

I nodded.

Tossed my cigarette aside, and we

made our way, still unsure whether Elixir and I had pulled this off, making time along Tulane and up towards the lake.

###

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