Monday, May 28, 2007


transitive verb

1. to dissolve (an organization or entity) because certain threats, which are exacerbated in its absence, are erroneously thought to be associated with it

2. to disband a defeated army and allow its members to become adversaries anew

3. to liberate (people or peoples) to pay the cost of freedom

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Check Out This Dress!

This American tango routine is the fourth dance demonstration my partner and I have done. We did this back in February this year. Thanks to her for getting me into this, for all this dancing we've been doing, for the longest running partnership I've had with any person for any reason. And thanks to the cameraman for taping a rehearsal and traveling with us that cold night to make this video. Your smooth operation brings tremendous improvements to our performance!

As always, we felt really good after we did it, but watching the video revealed lots of things to improve. Then compressed video, the great equalizer, skips enough frames to conceal some of these blemishes, and makes everything look more snappy overall! Watch it here, or on YouTube where it's a little smoother. (And I have to say, if you watch it on YouTube, then check out some of the wonderful tango videos that appear in the "Related Videos" list just to its right. Lots of really awesome performances there.)

We've been learning the Dance Vision (DVIDA) American Silver syllabus for a few years now, and many of the moves in this routine come from that. But while our past mambo and cha-cha routines consisted mostly of syllabus moves with slight variation, we really tried to really cater this routine to the music whole-hog.

And this time, the music has many varied moods. You've heard of Cell Block Tango? Well this is the cell phone tango. I don't know why we chose "La Cumparasita" by Rodriguez, but I do remember the day my partner brought in a CD with 6 different versions of this song by various orchestras for us to choose from. Once we picked that, we had to make up the routine. My partner can make something up in an instant -- you could put on any song, any style, she would not have to have heard it before, and she could dance something to it that looks like a planned routine. So she improvised a lot, and where we could we brought in a portion of a syllabus move. There was also a move she had seen on a TV dancing shows that she wanted to use, and for the softer middle section we wanted to bring in some Argentine tango which I had had a tiny bit of instruction in, and have since taken up again. (This Argentine part could use a lot of improvement, and I'd like to revisit it in the future.)

For my part in it, I kept saying things like, "This is cool, but we gotta do something that reflects that little run in the music there." Or, "We gotta do pivots here, so that means we have to take out 4 measures of something earlier." One day she just told me to go home, work on it, and have it straightened out when we met again. I made an Excel spreadsheet with each column being a beat, eight beats to a measure, one measure per row. In most of the boxes, I wrote a description of what we were doing at that moment. I played the music over and over, moved my measures around, worked it out so it all fit.

We had the routine ready to demonstrate in January, but I got work that day and could not do it. So it was put off to February, and in the extra month, we added more stuff. Then one day we had someone videotape it, and it looked like crap. We had made up this bitch of a routine, and we could hardly do it. That was seriously one of the most depressing things that has happened to me in, say, the past half year. (Which I guess means things were going okay, overall, since this hardly qualifies as real hardship.) At that point we had just two more weeks before the February demonstration. And we never really know how much we'll be able to practice in a given week, because so much of my work comes up at the last minute. But we got it together, had it taped again the next week, and it looked much better.

Right now, there are no more routines on the horizon. We really have to get this syllabus done, get tested, get it out of the way so we can start learning some new stuff.

Continue . . .

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"We Got Attacked And Had To Respond"

Some folks say that about the Iraq war. I got into it on someone else's blog, and spent so much effort on a mere comment that I decided to paste it up here.

Yes, I understand that we are actually threatened to some degree by enemies in the Middle East. But in the wake of our invasion of Iraq, that country has become one of the biggest incubators of terrorism the world has known. (Maybe not the very biggest.) Just in the past few days, the Saudi minister of the Interior said that the lax security in Iraq has created a fertile ground for terrorists and a great danger to the region.

Anyone who understood that region before we invaded is not surprised by what has happened. Journalist George Packer published an article in the New York Times Magazine before our invasion called Dreaming of Democracy (free login required) in which several experts on democracy said that the ingredients for democracy do not exist in Iraq, that politics would take the form of vigilantism if we did not establish strong security right away. Also, in his archives from before the invasion, Juan Cole predicted much of what is happening now. Here is the permalink to Cole's essay called "The Risks of Peace, the Costs of War." Read this and try to tell me that no one could have known we would get into this mess in Iraq. Cole said that if we invade Iraq, we are likely to exacerbate the problem of terrorism. He also acknowledged the depravity of Saddam's regime -- he is not coddling our enemies here, as pro-war folks may say about him. He is understanding the complexity of the country and, to give my own summary, saying that we don't know enough about what we are doing to take on this task.

And according to George Packer's The Assassin's Gate, in the meeting with Bush and Cheney where Iraqi exile Kanan Makiya said that we would be greeted as liberators, there were two other Iraqi exiles (Hatem Mukhlis and Rend Rahim) who issued warnings: if we did not garner respect within two months of invading, we would have another Mogadishu on our hands; if we disbanded the army, we would be viewed as occupiers, not liberators; that tribal loyalties were very important to Iraqis; that none of the exiles that the Bush administration was listening to had been in Iraq for decades, so none of them really knew their countrymen that well any more.

But Cheney chose to listen only to Makiya, ironically the most liberal and idealistic of the Iraqi exiles. Cheney repeated Makiya's words to Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" in the famous greeted as liberators statement.

Meanwhile, the intelligence about the existence of WMD's in Iraq was not conclusive. We could also not confirm their absence. But given this uncertainty, plus the warnings about the dangers of an invasion, I am very surprised that anyone, conservatives especially, thought the risk was worthwhile -- or, at least, that it was worthwhile without sending plenty of troops to make darn sure that we would be able to make the country secure, and without a very comprehensive and thorough plan for post-war reconstruction.

So no, I'm not convinced that our invasion was a legitimate response to the 9/11 attacks. Honestly, it really does seem to be the pursuit of a neocon dream which had been written about long before 9/11, at the Project for a New American Century and the American Enterprise Institute, to name just two places. Go back and read old William Kristol/Robert Kagan articles for a good laugh about how Shiites would establish a democracy on their own if we liberated them.

By invading Iraq, we took a huge chance. The results of our invasion are commensurate with our government's understanding of Iraq, and its planning for the war.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Like Hydrocortisone for Handgun and Crackwhoreation

There's this new venue at our town's most dilapidated area, the heart of our decay, the corner of Handgun and Crackwhoreation. I have never dared to stop there. I drive through some mornings, see the folks hanging around, and presume that they convene there because the location offers the same things you can get down the street in jail: tattoos, religion, and lots of iron bars (over the storefronts). I'd see the bright yellow Cadillac parked, and presume where the money for it had come from.

Now, some folks like to talk a little smack about the "Creative Class" rising to possess our city. I may have slung a few stones myself, as it seems, you can stick some mic stands and speakers out anywhere, generate a little feedback, and the hipsters will come and sit on the pavement and clap like it's bible school.

But tonight I went to this venue at this dilapidated corner, and I'm here to tell you, while hipsters may swing in many diverse directions, the ones who opened this venue have some serious balls. They have gone to this place where no one has ever heard of an espresso machine, where there's not a Prius in sight, where one might feel lucky to be treated to a mere homophobic or racist slur rather than a bullet -- and they have actually started a club for local music, bicycle repair, and general love of one's fellow humans. And a contingent of the creative class comes out of their downtown lofts and cafes at ATC to attend. None of the folks I used to see hanging around this street corner were present tonight. Maybe the indie rock scared them off. I've heard classical music can be used to scare teenagers out of parking lots, but this is ridiculous. And what's truly amazing is, tonight, I saw this band Watercolors which has no website that I can find, and they actually sing with melody, harmony, and good intonation, something I hardly expect find on Franklin or Ninth, let alone here.

So keep it rolling and let's see where this venue takes us. If there ever were a locale that needed an influx of the creative class, it's the intersection of Handgun and Crackwhoreation, and what do you know, the class is fluxing in and making a stand.

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Like Hydrocortisone from the DOT

I have often thought that if the cuticle on my right middle finger would grow back, that would be a sign that my eczema has completely subsided. It is from the juncture of nail and skin on this finger that the condition seems to emanate and spread, not traveling down the middle finger and back up the next, but jumping from fingertip to fingertip as a forest fire from treetop to treetop.

For years, in our city, we have suffered an I-85 fractured and chopped, stricken with a rash of orange barrels. Birth pangs of a new freeway some called it, but most just bitched. Many times, while running late for a job, I found my exit ramp had changed like a river in an overnight flood, and myself in the wrong lane and having to backtrack.

It was the Guess Road interchange that was the worst, and had been the worst before the work began. Of all the city streets connected to I-85, Guess was most potted, its lanes the most constraining, causing the most backups for turning left. The renovation process brought even more constriction of lanes, more awful gouges in the pavement, the biggest flareup of orange barrels. This was where, most likely, you would find the very ramp you needed closed, with no alternative provided -- just drive past, turn around, come back, and if you don’t like it, tough toenails, we’ve got a job to do.

About the Washington Street bridge being closed for years, friend “S” said that it was a sign of extreme incompetence. He had never heard of road repairs taking so long. As for me, I live two blocks from that bridge, and I had never crossed it in my life. Now it’s back, wider than before, with an extra cross-hatched no-man’s lane in the middle for safety, and extra shoulder width on the sides for bicycles or maybe just safe walking, plus sidewalks on each side. I now do walk out on that bridge and admire our interstate.

We’ve got handsome brick sound barriers that will glow burnt orange in the summer evenings, echoing the color of the haze in the sky. We’ve got crape myrtles all down the center. Where else on earth do you have crape myrtles all down the center? If they like CO2, heat, and humidity, they’re in for a joyous summer.

Friend “G” always hated the 15-501 northbound to I-85 northbound entrance ramp; now, he says, the ramp itself has as many lanes as the interstate used to have, and the interstate at that portion now has, like, 4 lanes.

From the Washington street bridge, counting the lanes is like counting stripes in a suit. Your eye tends to skip a few, there are so many.

And that Guess Road interchange? Now Guess has two through lanes going each way, plus the left-turn lanes going each way, plus a large median with a brick border and plantings of shrubbery and flowers.

Our disease has been cured at its center, and we can all enjoy a safer, more supple, wrinkle-free, youthful interstate-driving experience. Passers-through may not be inclined to stop in our city, but they will certainly be inclined to pass back and forth before continuing on their way.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

One of Those Days

I was called Sunday about a job Tuesday. I said I could do it, but that I don't have equipment, so I hoped I could get that together on Monday. The job would have two or three people talking on camera and the producer warned that there would be a few wide shots. I said that for those wide shots I would probably rely on wireless mics. To this, the producer replied, "I am not a wireless mic person. Don't you hate the sound of wireless mics?"

There are darn few people who make small videos who like boom better than wireless. I've had reality TV producers tell me to put the boom away. They just want the camera to fly, they want the body mics to get everything, the sound guy to stand back and be neither seen nor heard. It doesn't matter to them that mixing body mics makes them sound phasey, or that one person's coughing ruins another's good sound bite. They just need those quick bites they can grab, like when the daughter goes into the newly remodeled kitchen and exclaims, "Mom, you've got THREE ovens!"

Here was a producer with the opposite leanings. Old school. Like they did it in the day when boom mics ruled the Earth, and wirelesses were mere rodents lurking in the underbrush, running from everything. When I first worked on a movie in audio about 15 years ago, I was a cableperson for a sound guy who hated wirelesses and pretty much trusted all audio to one boom operator, sometimes two, with me filling in as second boom. Sometimes he did use up to 3 wireless mics, but these were mostly on outdoor wide shots. And sometimes he preferred to plant a mic on the set -- in a windowframe or on a column -- than to put it on a person. Constantly frustrated by wireless mics, he would sit at his audio cart and, during down time, fuss with them, trying to figure out ways to put them on people to make them sound decent. I think this is the biggest challenge I face too.

So anyway, here was a producer who wanted me to make the boom work. But we decided we'd still get wirelesses, because we wanted to be sure we had it all covered. Who knew what surprises the lighting guys would make for me, throwing lights everywhere and possibly thinking that I could just stick wirelesses on the actors.

I had to get up at 7:30 am Monday just to get ready to make calls at 8am. At 8 I left several messages about gear. Lights were already coming from one rental company, so it might make sense to rent audio gear from them. But they only had two units of the latest model of fancy-schmancy wireless systems, and I would need three. The cameraman for the job was known to have some wirelesses, but his probably were not this new model, and there is a theoretical problem that can develop when mixing the old and the new, because the new have a 3 millisecond delay in their sound, and as every sound guy knows, 3 milliseconds is just enough. Then there was this other company in Raleigh that I work for a lot that has 4 of these top-model wireless systems all rigged up in a 4-channel mixer bag with ergonomic shoulder harness. I tentatively asked if I could just make my own arrangement with this company, and the producer said sure, go ahead with that.

Luckily, this audio package was available.

But still, the boom mic needed to be a really good one, and the company in Raleigh does not have a really good one -- just the kind that everybody uses. So I arranged to get the really good one from the rental company providing the lights.

So then I had to wolf down breakfast and meet my dance partner at her and her husband's new house. We used to practice at a theater space in town, but she has left that place and plans to build her own studio on her property. Until that is built, she has to teach her students wherever she can, and she and I practice in her bare wood-floored living room. Their new house is a ways out of town, so now it takes 20 minutes for me to meet her.

Knowing what all I had left to do that day, it was hard for me to concentrate on how much turn to make on each step of each move of American Rumba, which is what we have space to work on in her living room. 5/8 turn here, 1/4 turn there. This is what we are memorizing for the American Silver Certification. I only had an hour to spend with her before I had to leave and bust-ass to the next city over to pick up the gear for Tuesday.

I made it there, got the gear, turned around and came back partway along the interstate and stopped to do a half-day afternoon gig at a major networking corporation in their studio. They do live webcasts from there, and these are the most stressful gigs I get these days, because I have to have deep understanding of the audio routing that someone else made up, and I have to react quickly and pot up and down on the fly, and sometimes insert sound effects like applause, and cross-fade to musical selections or "commercials," while sitting right next to about three folks who outrank me give me sometimes conflicting information on how things work, or what to do next. And there are all these voices going at once -- the ones on the studio monitors, the ones on the feed from the central corporate office, the people in the room, and for some reason, somebody down the row from me had a radio going.

Anyway, that went okay. Then I had to get to the rental company in the next town over in the other direction, and get the really nice boom mic.

Then I had to get toilet paper because we were out, and we had two prospective housemate interviews to do that evening.

Then I had to get home and be there for the two interviews. I and the current housemates quickly swept a little, put toilet paper on the rolls in the bathrooms, took out the kitchen trash. I also brought in the audio gear before the first interview and rigged the mic from one place to the boom and mixer from the other place and checked all that out.

The interviews went okay, but what with everyone's uncertain plans, we don't have anything nailed down yet.

Then I had to make dinner, at 10 pm.

All day I had been trying to memorize the actors' lines (5 pages or so) for Tuesday, because I would have to operate boom. I rarely have boom-intensive days, so I really wanted it to go well. But I've been having terrible problems concentrating on anything these days, 'cause my mind is always jumping around and obsessing. Last summer I tried two different kinds of ADD medicine, and they didn't make any difference.

Today, Tuesday, I got up at 5am and studied the lines some more, ate breakfast and showered, and went to the job. I was 10 minutes late because of a confusing thing on Google Maps' directions that I should not have let confuse me.

Setup was easy there. We had to wear our socks because we could not get the white-painted floor for chroma-keying dirty. I paced around and continued to work on the lines.

And I was not my best, not really. It had been so long since I had used this really nice boom mic, and I had forgotten how sensitive it is. Sheesh. I had boomed with it a lot of times in the past, but never had to do so while carrying the mixer and receivers in a bag slung around my shoulders. It was a lot to think about. I kept shaking the boom and jarring the cable inside it, something that causes no trouble on common boom mics, but on this one causes a rattle.

So I was cautious in the first scene. I didn't grab all the off-camera lines on boom like I usually try to do, but I got them the on-camera stuff okay.

The second scene had one actor sneezing loudly and the other comforting him in a softer voice. I had to position the boom to even these levels out some, and I did manage this okay. So I felt better about that.

The third scene had lots of moving in and out for me to cover the actors standing far apart. The rattly boom was extended nearly all its 16 feet, and I was springing back and forth on my toes, in socks, again with the mixer and receivers suspended from my shoulders. By the end of the last scene for the day, I felt like I was kind of in the boom operating groove again. But I had to turn that nice boom mic back in, and I won't be using it for a while. I'm back to the mundane interviews and simple shots for now.

After work, I went to another Argentine tango lesson. Then I was sitting at home eating fruit and yogurt, with the audio gear from the company in Raleigh on the other end of the dining room table. I was looking at it, thinking about how I had picked it all out for this company a year ago, when we were getting very demanding reality TV work and we barely had the gear to cover it, and a deal fell through one time to rent gear for a job, so the company owner told me to tell him what to buy and he would get it. So now there's the gear. If I were to buy my own, I'd get the same stuff. But then, so many folks around here have gear and want me to use theirs, I probably would not be able to pay off my own gear if I had it. And this particular gear from Raleigh doesn't get enough work anyway for itself. So it makes sense that I rent it from them when I do need it.

It's just that I imagine having gear like it. 4 excellent wireless mics and a mixer that you can really put your name on, 'cause it will last probably 8 years in rough conditions. Of course, those mics and that mixer allow you to mix 3 or 4 wireless mics together in one muddy track which sounds mediocre at best, and terrible to a studio recordist. And the wireless systems don't sound as good as a $25.00 hardwire connection, and cost 100 times that. Still, with such mics and that mixer, you can keep up with today's wild and crazy camerapeople and talent, and that's pretty much what you gotta do in audio these days. You get hired if you can keep up. Nobody ever gives feedback on audio quality.

Continue . . .

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Scum is Coming

Readers of this blog well understand the significant role that algae cultivation could play as an alternative energy source. For one thing, it can grow in human-made tubes or ponds or other containers on land that’s not good for much else. In our country, who was relegated to poor land? Native Americans. What can you do on a reservation? You can gamble; and now, you can also cultivate algae. Don’t believe me? read this.

Meanwhile, that same oil drilling company is making arrangements to start algae farms in Australia.

And they’re doing it in Alabama!

That other company mentioned earlier in this blog that is using power plant emissions to grow algae (cutting emissions drastically and producing crude oil and feedstock that the power plant can sell) has built a facility in (these links are to pdf’s) Arizona and is going to build one in Louisiana.

And there’s someone else in on the smokestack emissions to biofuel game.

This editor says that the means to combat global warming will be cheaper in the future than in the present day, so it is economically feasible to wait until the future to take these steps. But I say, how will we know how to make it cheaper in the future if we don't start making our mistakes now? You never know what you're in for until you get started on it. I am very happy that some companies are starting algae farms today, rather than tomorrow. This is what will make tomorrow's algae farms more efficient.

Continue . . .

Friday, May 11, 2007

Back to the South

I waited a year before trying out a different Argentine tango instructor. Actually, all this time, I had not even known about this second instructor. I had thought this area had only the first, and I had had trouble relating to much of his instruction. “You don’t get what you want by making her do it,” he would say. “You ask a question, and she answers. ‘Would you like to go this way?’ ‘Yes I would.’ Or maybe she doesn’t. So, you adapt. Just like you do in life.”

I mean, I wasn’t (and rarely am) in a relationship; I was just there to start learning a new dance. And sure, Argentine tango is about mindset as much as anything else. But in those classes it seemed almost like I was supposed to think a certain way, and it would happen, like Clint Eastwood flying Firefox. The internationally renowned Lithuanian ballroom teachers in town are more down-to-Earth.

Argentine tango dancers say their dance is a more natural way to move than ballroom tango, but I had serious trouble with the Argentine body positioning. In ballroom, our arms are firm and held out to the sides, making a big steering wheel with plenty of leverage for leading. The woman plants her lower right front rib firmly against my belly, and she pretty much stays there, rolling around to my right side for promenade position, and back for closed. Our upper bodies and heads are apart from each other, giving us room to breathe and to see, respecting the “my dance space, your dance space” convention à la Dirty Dancing.

In Argentine tango, we keep our arms softer and lower by our sides. Our bodies are closer at the top and more separate lower down. So, while ballroom tango looks wider at the top like Vermont, Argentine tango looks wider at the bottom like New Hampshire.

I couldn’t give a clear lead. I was knocking knees with women, stepping on their toes, because they didn’t feel me coming at them. Hadn’t I taken care of this in ballroom? Apparently I had to learn it again here.

I let my butt stick out backwards, which folded my body at the waist and lessened whatever slight connection I had with my partners to begin with.

I couldn't visualize turning my partner and myself, especially with that tilted New Hampshire shape. I kept nearly falling over. Anyway, how do you turn your partner when your arms are so soft?

Then there was close embrace. After only a few lessons, partners were supposed to actually touch chests to each other. What if the woman is much shorter than I? Then she’s staring into my chest. And if she’s taller, I’m staring into hers I presume, but this did not happen in those classes. Regardless, I am a fairly standoffish person. In fact, a few people have told me that I am just about the most sensitive to personal space of anyone they know.

In ballroom, personal space is preserved in a sense. Though your stomach and pelvic regions are connected, that’s down there, out of sight, where God intended men and women to connect; and you’ve got room to breathe in front of your face. In Argentine tango, I can hardly see because her head is in the way, and the problem with stepping on her feet is compounded.

I gave up. I wasn’t getting it. Bad attitude, I know. This was a drag, because Argentine tango had seemed to be the most vibrant and accessible social group for someone my age in our area -- more so than swing (more peppy than though) or salsa (more sexy than though) or ballroom (too insular and more populated by folks over 55 and under 22). So when I heard about this other teacher, I decided to give it another try.

He started us on close embrace the first day. But he explained that you don’t really lean on each other at the upper body in the way I had thought. Instead, our legs are inclined forward some, but then our torsos are upright, and my partner and connect over much more surface area, from the stomach up through the chest. We look not like New Hampshire, but like an upside down “Y,” or a peace symbol. Already, this new understanding is helping me. Still, I struggle.

In the first classes I took a year ago, I had harbored the question of whether my troubles were entirely my doing, or maybe caused in part by my partners. I never said anything about this ‘cause it’s bad form to raise this question in a dance class. This second instructor sees when you’re struggling, takes the woman, tries her out, and then decides whom to lecture -- me or her. It’s not really so reassuring when he lectures her. I’d just as soon take the heat. Though he is blunt, he's clear, and I’m getting a lot more sense of technique here. That’s what I need. Tell me how to do it. I am a shape and movement imitator. Don’t expect me to improvise or make it up myself -- I just wander that way.

In the first class with the second instructor, there was this other woman who, dancing with me, wanted us to extend my left/her right arm out to the side like ballroomers do. “It’s prettier like this,” she said. I still had the scars from being corrected on this a year ago. “Nope,” I said in a rare instance of directly contradicting a partner. “This is Argentine tango. It’s all in here,” and I drew our arms in to be lower by our sides.

I had to get her used to reality. She had probably seen some ballroom movie and wanted to glide around the floor. Sorry, sister, you came to Argentine class. Keep your eyes downcast and concentrate on your abdomen. If you're good, maybe, in a year, we'll let you raise your leg and wrap it around mine.

After this second instructor had taken her for a turn and showered her with instructions, she came back to me an said, “Have you been to the other instructor? Is he different?” She was asking about the first one I had been to.

I said he was different, but I didn’t have a chance to elaborate. I have not seen her come back in subsequent lessons.

I’ve been two more times now. Days are turning into weeks, which may turn into months if I stay with it this time. It’s like being in some abstinence program. I tried it once, and relapsed. Maybe it will stick this time.

Continue . . .

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Racehorse Names from the Parlance of Our Times

Who knows what racehorse names mean? "Secretariat"? "Seattle Slew"? The inventive naming is the coolest thing about horse racing. After seeing "Wildandcrazyguy" in the recent Derby, I starting thinking how we could use the parlance of our times, as expressed in The Big Lebowski, as a way to derive more racehorse names.

Trophy Wife
Abiding Dude
Laziest Worldwide
Catch You On Down the Line
Cut and Run
Five Deferments
And In English Too
Swift Oat Brethren Forsooth
Good Sasparilla
Ties the Room Together
Fahrenheit 9 to 1
Some Chinaman in Korea
Like Lenin Said
Suck Your Cock for a Thousand Dollars
Three Thousand Years of Beautiful Tradition
Goldbricking Ass
Parts at Least

. . . who's got some?

Continue . . .