This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

A portly man sits in a gilded chair atop a dais. His hands are folded over his long red tie which cascades down his belly like a bloody waterfall. One hand lifts to cover a yawn, then descends below its partner to scratch a deep red, neglected rash on the underside of his belly, the part that hides the zipper of his navy blue suit pants. He makes a mental note to to ask his assistant to make an appointment with his doctor only to toss it away to make room for the delicious cut of beef and the pungent cigar his favorite lobbyist had given him. He longed to be free of this drudgery and enjoy them with him. And his family, of course.

He clears his throat and looks around and straightens his back. A thumping, beating sound, the type of sound you feel more than hear, vibrates through his ribcage. He coughs on the loosened tar. A draft tickles his fine hairs and sends a chill down his spine. He leans to his side and asks his aide to close the window. The sound deadens as a quieter, almost timid one finds its way back to his ear.

A hunched and sweaty man read breathlessly from Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle to the chamber of bored and aggravated senators as the glassy stare of the portly man bore into him. Between every word the chants from outside would rattle the windows, rattle his chest. The horrible sound of glass shattering. The image of his daughter’s mangled body on the hospital bed, only 26. He trips over the next word and his legs are about to give. He reads on even though his daughters matted hair and the tubes from her mouth bleed into every silent space.

The windows continue to rattle. His mind wanders out of the chamber, past his daughter’s dreary hospital room, through the rattling old windows to the mass of protesters outside beating their voices against the capital building’s walls like would-be trumpets at Jericho. He was with them, no, more than that he was them. He stood there holding a heavy poster-board in one hand and his daughter in the other, he chanted with them for the powers that be to do the right thing.

So long ago.

Long before he became a senator. Before the complications and attacks on his integrity. Before the piles of gifts, ignored, and the expensive dinners, politely enjoyed. Before the car crash, before the promised check. Before he stood up from his seat, book in hand, to stand up for the wrong thing. Before long it became too much.

“Alright, alright,” the portly man booms from his dais, waving his hand dismissively in the way a father would dismiss a child from an arduous punishment. The hunched and defeated father slumps into his chair mid-sentence as the other continues. “That’s enough, senator, that’s enough. We’ll table this issue for another time. And really, I never expected this from you who seemed to like the idea of ‘free’ healthcare.”

“It isn’t free if the taxpayers have alre-“

“Now, I said that’s enough.” He repeats in the same fatherly tone. “You made your point quite clear that you didn’t want the vote to go through today, and I think we’d all like to go home to our families.”

“Of course.”

As they descend the steps of the capital building to the deafening singular voice of the protestors chanting “do your job” the portly man adjusts his suit and lifts his head high. He wraps his heavy arm around the slouched shoulders of the tired and worried father slipping a check into his coat pocket and whispering, “you did the right thing.”

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Swiftly Go the Days

The Sun hangs low in the sky
On my early morning drive.
She rises just below the visor
Directly in my eyes.
Our eyes
Just one in a river of cars
Barreling toward the morning Sun

What does the sun do all day?
Does it get to go out and play?
Does she watch the children play ball,
Or the first time they walk or crawl?

I may never know,
Because I only ever see her
Shining directly in my eyes
Just under my visor
On my late evening drive
When the Sun hangs low in the sky.

Float On

After months on vicious, roiling seas
A blind man steps into the crows nest
And we ask what he sees.
“Why, an island in the mists,” he cries
And everyone believes knowing it’s a lie
Because the alternative is starvation,
Is loneliness,
Is loss of control.
But nothing is that easy.
There is no plan, no destiny.
No island, no land.
Just reeds
Too wet to grasp
in a river flowing too fast.
No one is in control.

There’s nothing we can do.

So settle into the calm reality
That even to the best of our ability
We can’t escape that cold inevitably.

Lay back, and float downstream,
Let go of struggle,
Let go of control,
Because we never had it anyway.

What Can Happen in a Second

(My best friend for christmas gave me a book called 642 Reasons to Write this was the first prompt. A simple question, “what can happen in a second?” brought this about, idk if it’s worth a read that’s for you to decide. It only takes a second to decide what you’re going to occupy the succeeding seconds with, so in that second I decided to be arguably productive.)

What can happen in a second? If you think about it a second is a long time. It takes a second for a bullet to reach your heart. Only a second from when a beautiful girl catches your eye until your heart starts racing. A second can make or break a relationship, there is only a fraction of a second difference between “I love you,” and “I think we should break up.”

A second is the difference between winning or losing. I was in a race in higschool, 100 meter freestyle swim. My opponent and I were neck and neck way ahead of the other racers. Each stroke put us ahead or behind the other. We had no idea, however, we only wanted to be the fastest we could. It’s hard to see your opponent in the pool and looking would cost an all important second. A second away from your time and in a race that often takes a minute ± 4 seconds that is a lot of time. The race ended in just under a minute; 56 seconds for him, 57 for me. In that second all of the immense effort I put forth into swimming my ass off became meaningless as it only meant 2nd place. I’d beaten my best time, and most of my teams best times, but in that second I became second place.

Paramedics work in seconds. In that second that they lost getting stuck behind a wall of idiot drivers at an intersection they lose the heart attack, spider-bite, stroke victim they were racing toward. Same with police or firefighters. Any emergency is measured in fractions of a second. I’m sure and have heard stories of people being saved on 9/11/01 by the second they “wasted” at a stop sign, or turning back for their keys, or dressing their kids.

Songs and film even paintings work in seconds. In a second a piece of music can swell to a heart wrenching crescendo, or an actor can deliver that one line that brings the whole plot reeling from twist after twist to that final satisfying conclusion. When observing a painting, the extra second one takes to breathe and truly open their eyes to it can mean the difference between understanding or disregarding the piece.

In writing a second can mean everything. In the second that a potential reader takes to read the title or the first line of a story is the subconscious decision to continue reading or putting the book down.

The universe was created in a second, it took several more for it to become what it is, but it only took a second to explode into being. You, me, and everyone who’s ever lived were created in that final climactic second of passion. Well, speaking technically (read: less poetically) some people were created in that second of fertilization when a sperm – be it from the oh so satisfying natural way or the miraculous life changing science of insemination – all humans were created.

So there you have it, all life, humanity, animals, everything began in a second, and every second afterward can mean the creation or destruction of any number of things. So, and I usually steer away from such platitudes, but it seems so appropriate to say now, make every second count.

What Have I Done?

I was too scared
At that critical moment
Rife with indecision.

Could I have known
That their absence
Would reveal perfection?

I am terrified now
That I’ll never know
If it was love or infatuation.

I chose me over us
in a moment of weakness
Now I wish for the moment I missed.

I hold my pillow close
Wishing for their warmth
On a night I’m feeling selfish.

Nonproblems of a Member of the Privileged Class

This afternoon I was struck with the dire decision of where to get first meal. I’d slept in later than normal and when I got up my roommate was watching the episode of sherlock with That Woman. So, of course, I had to stay and watch before getting on with my routine of yoga, breakfast burrito, coffee and writing.

Anyway after watching I was way to hungry to do yoga but also feeling fat so the breakfast burrito was out of the question. Now incredibly hungry, a little stoned, and without the predetermination of a routine I got into my car and haphazardly drove off to figure it out on the way. As some of you may know that was a terrible decision.

As I waited at the first stoplight the true weight of the matter fell upon my feeble mind. Where would I eat? The myriad restaurants passed through my mind faster than I could process them as every car on the road seemed like they wanted to slam into me. It had to be somewhat healthy (veggies, no grease, etc.). I know I was disgusted with myself too however I skipped yoga, my dubious excuse for eating like an american, but everything that came to mind was the opposite.

Breakfast bagel from my favorite spot? No, right direction but too late. Breakfast burrito? No, stupid. Okay fine, something from the coffee shop? No not enough food. The buffet of choice overwhelmed me as I drove aimlessly. I lamented the plethora of choice and my own indecisiveness. It seemed there would be the perfect solution if only I sifted through the proverbial haystack.

That or I should just pick something, anything, and get on with my day. I mean, it’s all clean, edible, and in most cases delicious. How was this even a problem. In fact it wasn’t and shouldn’t have been at all. The plethora of choice of food is the pinnacle of society.

I began imagining a nondescript third world community of huts, scavenging the slim amount of edibles from the plain on which they live. They had no problem deciding what to eat all they could do was happily accept the bland wheat and whatever meat would pass by. Their entire life is based around scarcity. Everything from what they could eat to their job in the community is determined by working with what they have.

I envied them. In The States, well at least the part in which I live, there is no scarcity. We have an abundance of places to eat, types of jobs and anxieties about which to choose. It reminded me of an episode of Malcom in the Middle where Malcom was caught in the middle of the indecision the plethora inevitably creates. He was faced with choosing a career, and only told he could be whatever he wanted. Some would see that as nice problem to have, especially the fictional third world community I made up above, others would point out it’s fiction.

However, it points to a very real problem what do you choose when you could literally do anything and nothing seems right.

Then my stomach growled and I was on a road with no food at all so I pointed my car toward the coffee shop and settled on the terrible sandwich shop next to it and wrote this.

No More Clowning Around

Richard sat in the mirror meticulously applying his make up. He painted the white foundation in long smooth strokes making sure to flatten any clumps along the way until it covered his entire facade. He then made a caricature of a smile in red and blue around his mouth. Finally he pinched the big red ball so the slit on the side opened up. He stared into it for a second before he placed it around his nose. He looked himself in the eyes and smiled; no longer Richard, he exhaled and said to himself, “Hello, Boppo,” and squeezed his big red nose twice making a honking sound with his mouth each time.

Sarah sat in the kitchen repeatedly tapping her thumbs together between her folded hands. She stared at the space between their dirty refrigerator full of half checked to-do lists and invitations to children’s birthday parties, and the semi-doorless, paint chipped cabinet that surrounded it. She then got up and paced the wobbly kitchen table they’d picked up from a craigslist curbside ad. Finally she stopped at her framed bachelors degree. She traced the lettering through the glass before she thoughtlessly turned her head to his clown school diploma framed in cartwheeling clowns attached hand to ankle, dressed in all manner of brightly-colored, tasteless outfits. She sat herself back down and frowned; no longer able to cope, she exhaled and said, “What’s taking him so long?” her rage built each time she heard him honk from the bathroom.

He walked in with a goofy grin plastered across his face. She wanted to smack it off.

“You look like an idiot.”

“That’s kind of the point isn’t it?”

“Funny,” she said laying her slender arms on the table.

“Exactly,” he said not looking at her as he opened the fridge.

He bent over at the waist looking into the fridge. His vibrant rainbow covered, egregiously large ass seemed framed by the light emanating around it.

“You know it’s better to bend at the knees.”

“Yes, Mother,” he said removing the peanut butter and jelly and placing it on the counter.

“Won’t they have food there?”

“I’m hungry now.” He said turning to her, biting his sandwich with his lips peeled back.

“You just going to leave that there then?”

“You seem aggravated, Sis. Can we skip the passive aggressiveness and jump to the yelling? I’m kind of on a time crunch.”

She stood from her chair with such force it toppled over backward, he started. This made him look more surprised than his perfectly painted eyebrows intended.

“Fuck you, Dick.”

“Go on.” He nodded causing his pastel blue/green afro to bob.

“Our house is turning to shit; Nothing ever gets done around here except your stupid make-up. ”

“Okay, valid point, but you know I’m gone all day-“

“Don’t you dare say it.” She said stepping toward him.

“-Clowning around. I wasn’t going to until you said something.” He explained, “what I was going to say was: I’m gone all day working two jobs so we can keep the house, what are you doing? Maybe if you spent less time on the computer and more time checking off all these fucking to do lists you keep making then maybe the house would be in better shape.” He punctuated this by shoving the rest of the sandwich in his mouth.

“I’m talking to professors and applying for internships trying to better myself. Plus, dad never taught me how to be handy, you’re the big brother isn’t that your job.”

Swallowing, “My job… my job? Just because I’m a guy means I’m supposed to be handy? You went to college what’s your stupid degree worth if you don’t even know how to use a screw driver.”

“Oh, my degree is stupid.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Oh I’m sorry I forgot you went to clown college let me explain it to you. Your. Degree. Is. A. Joke.”

“Fitting, I mean, I am a clown. At least mine wasn’t a $500,000 joke. Who’s hiring physicists right now? No one? Oh weird, at least I knew going into it my degree was going to be a joke.”

Her arms flailed in rage. “You know that’s not how it works, you have to get your- why am I even explaining this to you?”

“Just because I’m a clown doesn’t mean I’m a fool.” His oversized shoe squeaked as he stepped forward in anger. “If I didn’t have to pay all of the bills, buy all the food and pay your fucking student loans I could be a clown full time, I’d never have to take off my costume. I could be living my dream.”

“God forbid you can’t live your stupid dream of being a clown. What about my dream, huh?”

“Your dream? How is going to school indefinitely a dream?”

“It’s not indefinite, I can’t be a professor with only a bachelors degree. I need at least a master’s and that’s if I just want to teach at a community college,” she shutters. “I need you to support me in this you’re all I have.”

“I do support you, that’s what I’m saying. I need you to support me too, and maybe help out around the house some when you have nothing better to do.”

With the fury only years of rumination could build she yelled, “How am I supposed to support you if all you want to do is clown around?”

He retorted with the same energy, “How are we supposed to both live our dreams if we can’t even support each other. Everything we’ve ever done has been one sided always you, you, you. I’m sick of it, I have to go.” He turned to leave and his oversized trousers clipped the jar of jelly shattering it on the floor. “Ah, shit. I got shit on my fucking… fuck”

“You’re just going to leave that there, huh?”

He’d already left the room, faintly he heard, “always fucking cleaning up after you.”

“Eat a dick, Sarah.” He yelled.

“Eat a bullet, Dick.” She yelled back.

He slammed the door causing a shudder to go throughout the old house. Sarah’s framed diploma shook off the wall and shattered in front of her.  She bent down to pick up the jelly covered, broken glass.

A clearly audible scream emanated from the house as Richard opened the door of his ’98 Honda Civic. He didn’t look back as the suspension creaked under him as he got in and drove off to the child’s birthday party.

Parked out front of the gaudy McMansion which vomited rainbow colored streamers and the laughter of children Richard downed 2 tiny bottles of Makers Mark he’d bought on the way. He looked at himself in the rearview mirror and said, “Hey kids… No that’s not right,” this time in a higher register, “Hey, kids!” He cleared his throat and belched then said in the same pitch, “Hey, kids! It’s me Boppo, ready to have some fun?” Then affecting a ridiculous expression he laboriously climbed out of his tiny sedan, dropping his emptied bottles into the pristine gutter as he stood.

Sophie, adorned in jewels and a flowing, crisp-white sundress, greeted him at the door. “You must be Boppo,” she said curtly ushering him through the door, “follow me, the kids are in the back.” They passed through the wide open french doors decked with streamers and a banner exclaiming, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY PRESTON!” It opened to a sunwashed patio brimming with Tommy Bahama decorated adults and GAP adorned children. The patio led to a vibrant green lawn where a petting zoo and a bounce house had been set up. “You can set up there in the corner by the refresments.”

“So where’s Preston?”

“He’s right over there. Preston!” she called.

A small toe-headed child turned to look. A plastic, silver spoon dropped from his mouth as his eyes widened in fear. He wheeled on his heel and ran through the crowd, through the open doors and up to his room.

Sophie turned to Boppo in disgust, as if he’d drop-kicked her precious Preston. He shrugged.

“Why don’t you just get set up I’ll have my brother bring the other kids over.” She huffed then turned and briskly walked into the house.

No sooner than he’d dropped his duffel bag and started unpacking did children gather wide-eyed around him.

“Hey, Kids! It’s me Boppo!” He said, exuberantly opening his arms to them. “Who wants a balloon animal. I can make worms, snakes, and armless lizards.” He began pumping air into a balloon but let it go early, purposefully hitting himself in the face. the children walking away with their punch turn to laugh. A couple of children poked their heads out of the bounce house and some dropped their petting rabbits to giggle at the silly clowns antics. There was even a chuckle from the adults keeping an acceptable distance.

As he pratfell and bounced through his routine the sweet sound of children’s laughter washed over him. Normally, this assuaged the pain of what happens outside of his costume, but it failed to wash away the poison from this mornings argument. The end of his act had come but his sister’s terrible scream replayed in his head and preston never returned while Sophie stood at the back of the patio with crossed arms and furrowed brow.

Boppo exclaims, “Where is the birthday boy I haven’t seen him all day!”

“He’s inside crying,” one boy gleefully explained, hand raised.

“That’s too bad maybe a song will cheer him up, now sing loudly so he can hear,”

Boppo led the children in singing;

“If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

“If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

“If you’re happy and you know it, and you really wanna show it, clap your hands.”

“No Preston?” Boppo said planting his feet and raising his hand to shield his eyes from the sun. As he pretended to search for Preston the memory of Sarah crying for hours after the clown had left Richard’s 7th birthday pressed itself to the fore of his mind. A fresh wave of guilt washed over him. As the mornings argument replayed he saw his sister crying in her childhood room while his mom convinced his clown to stay. Richard halted, locked in the memory of tugging on the his clowns pant leg saying, “please stay, I never laughed so hard as when you fell on my sister”

Boppo exclaimed, “One more time kids!” and led them again in singing;

“If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

“If you’re happy and you know it, tell me how,” Richard slipped.

“If you’re happy and you know it, I want you to show me.

“Tell me how.”

A few surprised looks specked the faces of the crowd of adults, and another toe-headed boy matter-of-factly said, “That’s not how the song goes.”

Shit, Thought Richard. “Tell Boppo why you’re happy, kids, maybe that will get Preston out here,” He recovered. “How about you little boy? Yeah in the red striped polo.” He said pointing.

“I’m happy because I have a mommy and daddy who love me.”

A pair of adults wrapped their arms around each other’s waist, and an invisible hand squeezed Richard’s heart.

“Uh, what about you little girl?” Boppo mechanically pointed to a golden haired girl in a pink dress.

“I’m happy because I love my brother and he loves me,” she said hugging the boy next to her.

“That’s great.” Boppo mustered as Preston and his mother emerged from the house wiping tears from his cheeks. With renewed gusto Boppo exclaimed, “we did it kids there he is: the man of the hour! What makes you happy, Preston?”

Preston sniffled then, with pride, said, “I’m happy and I know it, ‘cause mommy said I gets to tell you to leave.”

“Oh.” Richard’s frown was strong enough to pull even Boppo’s painted-on smile down with it. He looked at the mother whose hands draped her little boys shoulders in a gesture of comfort and transferred will. She met Richard’s pitiful gaze with a mother’s immutable pride.

“Why don’t you gather your things and meet me inside,” then leaning down to her child she encouraged him, “go play with your friends, the scary clown is leaving now.”

Richard reluctantly gathered his things and met Sophie in the house.

“Kids, am I right?” He said jokingly.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing, nothing. Listen, I’m sorry Preston was so scared, I had no way of knowing.”

“I didn’t expect you to.” She said maliciously as she snatched her wallet off a shelf. She wrote a check and handed it to him.

He stared at it for a second before saying, “what’s this?”

“A check.” Her expression might as well have said, “idiot.”

“This isn’t even half of what I quoted you.”

“Well you made my kid cry, he didn’t even see your act.”

“Do you think what I do is some kind of joke?” He said waving the check held in his overly large, white gloves.

She stared at him blankly, “what’re you complaining about? You’re lucky I even paid you.”

“Do you think I’m some kind of fool?” His jester’s staff fell from his unzipped bag as he waved the paltry check at her.

“I’m the one who should be mad. You traumatized my precious Preston, who knows if he’ll ever recover? You’re lucky my husband isn’t here.”

Picking his staff from the floor and waving it furiously in the air above him as he walked away he retorted, “fine, whatever, bitch, tell your husband I said ‘hi’ when he gets home from whatever’s more important than his kid’s own birthday.” He said slamming the front door behind him.

At the end of the driveway he put a cigarette between his lips. While searching for his lighter a man called out from behind him, “Boppo, Boppo. Hey you heading out?”

Richard quickly removed the cigarette and hid it in his palm as he turned to see a man in a silky, collared shirt with palm trees framing his protruding beer-gut and a kid hanging from his arm walking briskly toward him. “Yeah, Boppo’s job is done here, off to make the next group of kids smile and laugh.” Boppo waved his hand into a bow.

The kid stood silently in his vibrant blue polo and khakis as his dad explained, “My boy, here really loved your act.” he leaned in to whisper, “can I get your card his birthday is coming up in a couple weeks.”

“Of course,” he reached into the pocket of his duffel bag searched around affected a surprised look. “Oh no, it looks like I’m all out of cards,” he exaggerated his dismay, then looked down at the kid, “what’s that behind your ear?”

The kid looked around in surprise and frantically brushed his ears, “What, I don’t know?”

“Here let me get that for you.” Boppo reached behind the kid’s ear and presented his business card to the wide-eyed and elated child. “Give that to your dad so I can come to your party.”

The child held the card in both hands as if it was the golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s factory.

His father said to Boppo, “thanks, man you were great,” then to his kid, “didn’t you have something you wanted to say to the clown, Jimmy.”

Jimmy raised his eyes just above the card and said almost in a whisper, “I wanna be just like you someday.”

His father held his gut laughing and said, “Kids say the darnedest things don’t they,” as he patted Boppo on the shoulder.

Richard affected a laugh and said, “yeah, yeah they do.”

They waved goodbye as he crossed the street and got in his tiny sun-damaged sedan. He lit his cigarette started his car, stalled. Turned over the engine once more, then drove off.

He looked at himself in the rearview mirror, Boppo stared back. He talked as the cigarette bobbed between his lips, “Is this what you wanted? Is this what you dreamed it would be?”

“Shut up, Boppo. Don’t you start in on me now.”

“What did she pay us, let me see the check.”

Richard removed the check from his pocket.

“Ooph, ouch. What a bitcharooniedoonie,” Boppo observed.

“Yeah life probably just isn’t going her way and she has to take it out on whoever will let her get away with it.”

“You’re right about that, man.”

Richard took a long drag of his cigarette, “fuck.”

“Yeah that was brutal. What were you thinking when you let that ‘tell me how’ shit slip. That was a just us thing.”

“I don’t know, man. I guess that fight with Sarah was really getting to me. That was some good thinking asking the kids what makes them happy. Even though they… kinda hit me where it hurts you really saved the act.”

“Yeah what the fuck was Sarah’s problem this morning?”

“She’s probably not happy with how her life turned out either. Ever since our parents died she’s been pulling further and further away from me. I just need to talk to her about it.”

“Yeah because that worked so well all the other times.”

“I mean a real conversation, no bullshitting around the bush.”

“Do you really think you can do that?”

“Yeah, well I’m pretty sure I can. I mean it’s like I’ve been hiding behind this mask from everyone, especially her, and all it really does is make everything worse.” Richard said to the mirror as he rounded the corner to his street and flicked his cigarette out the window.

Boppo parked the car in the driveway and said, “whelp, I guess it’s showtime, Richard.”

He entered the house. The only sound was the door latching behind him walking towards the kitchen. When he passed through the doorway he noticed the jelly had been cleaned but there was broken glass and pieces of wood on the ground. He looked up at the wall and notice his diploma had been taken from his frame and replaced with Sarah’s. Infuriated he stormed into the living room. No one. He then raged into the den. Not even a tumbleweed. Finally, with his temper boiling off his make-up he busted through Sarah’s door to find her crying.

“Get out!” she screamed.

Richard saw the girl sitting alone in her room crying and immediately forgot his temper. “What’s wrong?”

“I said get out of here.”

“Sarah, come on I’m your big brother tell me what’s wrong?” He said removing the big red ball from his nose.

“Just shut up. You wouldn’t understand, everything… just, just goes your way doesn’t it? Get out of here you fucking clown.”

“I just-“

She looked him in the eyes “This isn’t a joke, get out.”

Defeated Richard left to his room. When inside he pulled out a half emptied bottle of Makers Mark and spit cleaned his tumbler with a dirty shirt from the hamper. He set them on his desk, sat down and began drinking. After the second glass he poured a third and left it as he got up to rummage through his closet. He parted the hanging t-shirts and clown pants, and tossed aside an overly large banana, a deflated inflatable parrot, and a several pastel colored wigs until he lifted an ornate box from the heap. He took it back to his desk and placed it between the bottle and the glass. He sipped his whiskey as he opened the box. He pulled from it multicolored ribbon over and over and over until he had to giggled at the absurdity. Finally reaching the end he took from it an ornately carved pistol. Richard held the gun to his temple and said, “Goodbye, Boppo.” Then pulled the trigger.

BLAM, read the tiny flag.