One man’s knick-knack is another man’s Bric-a-brac,

Last week I sat down to write my weekly column about a visit to a thrift store and wondered if describing it as ‘an upscale thrift store’ would be considered oxymoronic. I never came to any conclusion but decided to use it anyway, figuring that this would not be the first time I had offended someone’s grammar sensibilities.
Susie and I went to the store looking for bargains and I did find one; a leather jacket that makes me look a little bit like an elderly Alan Ladd.
At the store, I was also fascinated by the wide array of baubles which puzzled me since I have never had even the slightest interest in any of that stuff. I took a lot of pictures, deciding then that i would use my column to reflect on what a life devoid of knick-knacks is like but then I got side-tracked as I often do anymore.
I had no more than gotten into the piece and was searching for the right word to describe this stuff when I found myself reflecting on what the differences might be in knick-knacks and Bric-a-brac. After consulting my internet sources which described both as useless objects, I came to the conclusion that there is no difference other than the fact that knick-knacks are featured in a children’s nursery rhyme that contains several verses beginning with this one:

This old man, he played one,
He played knick-knack on my thumb;
With a knick-knack paddywhack,
Give the dog a bone,
This old man came rolling home.

As a child, I used to wonder if there was any connection to the afore-mentioned old man who came rolling home and the little pig who went ‘we-we-we-we- all the way home. If there is, I never came across it although I was intrigued by nursery rhyme writers who were interested in ways of arriving at home. None of this speculation made it into my column -I didn’t want my readers to think me weird.

KNICK-KNACKS

I have been spending a lot of time recently reflecting on the life I have led thus far. I suppose it’s because I have a birthday coming up shortly, one that will mark my 75th year on this planet. All that reflecting has left me with the conclusion that, aside from meeting Susie, growing up in a small town in Southern Indiana was probably the best thing that ever happened to me.
Oh, I know there were times when I was dissatisfied with my laid back life in Loogootee, Indiana where time seemed to move at about a quarter of the speed that it does now. Sometimes, in the evenings, sitting on the porch of our home on Dewey Street studying the stars, I dreamed of having been born the son of a St Louis Cardinal baseball player or a Chicago railroad engineer or a fishing boat captain who plied his trade in the Gulf of Mexico waters around Apalachicola, Florida. I even wished that I could have been a close relative of a bar and grill owner in some Polish or Hungarian Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania neighborhood. Also, even though I now wonder why I would have ever wanted this, I have to confess that at one time I was jealous of some cousins of mine who lived in the hustle and bustle of Gary, Indiana with its plethora of pawn shops, stop lights and interesting characters leaning against the corners of downtown buildings.
By and large however, I was happy as a child even though I grew up in less than stellar surroundings. I won’t say I didn’t know we were of modest means; other than ours, very few homes in our neighborhood had outhouses in the back yard or coal piles outside the back door to ward off the winter cold. I suppose that today, folks who live in circumstances such as what we grew up in are considered underprivileged but I would never describe my early life using a word such as that. Even had I wanted too, I doubt that the word had even been invented in 1946.
I cannot envision having a better childhood anywhere although it is correct to say that I wasn’t always crazy about the times when we chose up sides for our baseball games on the field behind John Graves’ house and my name was called after Mary Beth’s, the girl across the street. I will say that can finally admit that she had a better arm than I did. I tell you these things not because of some recently discovered sense of ‘woe is me’. Instead, what I set out to tell you today is this; I made a startling discovery while going through the ‘lot of time reflecting on my life’ I mentioned at the beginning of this piece.
It all came about a few days ago when my wife Susie and I were patrolling the numerous upscale Thrift shops in the area of Southwest Florida where we are waiting out the cold weather in Indiana. I watched as Susie paraded through the aisles, picking up objects and examining them with all the thoroughness of a Los Angeles Coroner performing a post-mortem autopsy on an unfortunate murder victim.
Susie could do this all day if we had the time. I used to pester her about ‘hurrying up a little’ but I am growing to learn that I am better off just keeping my mouth shut while she goes through this exercise. I am learning the art of patience while also trying to figure out what exactly is so interesting in these hundreds of used items lining the shelves of these places.
I stood in front of a brightly lighted glass cabinet studying the small curios, trinkets , baubles and other worthless objects lining the shelves within and that is when I made the aforementioned ‘startling discovery’.
“Good Lord, I am standing in the middle of knick-knack, bric-a-brac Heaven.” I mumbled to myself, looking around to see if anyone heard me. Decorated teacups, wax flowers, wind-up music boxes, glass bells, small vases, intricately carved salt and pepper shakers, rightly painted German beer steins, tiny elaborate jewelry boxes and even compositions of bird feathers clung to the glass shelves of the glass cabinets.
As I stood there staring, it hit me that these things were never a part of my life and I didn’t even know it. There’s no way my widowed mother , bless her heart, could never have afforded any of that fancy stuff. About the only things of this nature that we had was a framed picture of FDR and a bowl full of book matches bearing the logo of Nippie’s pool room, the Diamond Café, Burch’s Garage and the Southside tavern.
This realization has been traumatic for me. Even though I now consider myself a suave and debonair individual, I have come to understand that, among all these items, I have no idea what constitutes knick-knacks and what might be classified as Bric-a-Brac. And what’s even worse, by not having these things in my childhood, I have concluded that I may have led an underprivileged life after all.
Sweet mother of Pearl, Woe is me.

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photo (21)

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small appliance OCD. A sad disease.

I fell in love with small electric appliances shortly after my wife and I received our first 2 speed Electric Mixer, a General Electric Model, as a wedding present. This was in 1964 and by mid-1965, I got the hang of moving the mixer around the edge of the bowl and began turning out cake batters and mashed potatoes by the bucket load. It gave me such satisfaction that I traded that unit in for a 3 speed model which allowed me to refine my mixing capabilities by several degrees of proficiency. As we added additional appliances, I became obsessed with the things, leading to the subject matter of this column written near the end of January, 2015.

Last Fall, when Susie and I were preparing to come to Florida for the winter, as we always do we had a discussion about what needed to go with us and what needed to stay home. There is not room for many things, including small appliances. I have spoken before about my affinity for small appliances; a kinship I’ve felt since the days of my grandmother’s toaster; a model with a frayed cord and 2 little doors that opened on the sides, requiring a pause midway through the toasting process and a careful flipping of the bread. One careless move and you had a burned finger or two.
As soon as I was old enough to begin accumulating my own appliances, I did. Even today, an electric skillet, a Crock pot, mixer, electric knife and can opener, coffee pot, electric griddle and a toaster that will also boil an egg are all still in their boxes and stored away for the day when we finally decide we’ve had enough of living in Fiona II’s 400 square feet of living space where there is no room for such luxuries.
Before you ask why I have not mentioned waffle irons it’s because I do not have a waffle iron. I just cannot abide waffles; all that syrup standing around in those little waffle pockets making me queasy. However, there is an electric ice cream maker in my stash of future appliances. It’s not in a box though because it’s not new. I bought it at a yard sale. Susie does not share my kinship with these little wired beauties. She thinks I’m nuts. Is this weird or what?
She threw a fit some months ago when I came home with the latest new crockpot.
“We already have a crockpot under the sink and one in a box in the attic.”
“I know. This one is for the future when the other new one breaks.” I told her. “These things do wear out, you know.”
I have tried to explain to her that my obsession is perfectly normal; even one of her closest friends is called ‘the gadget lady’ because her kitchen is filled with things that even I have no use for; food dehydrators and the Ronco instant glass froster to mention a couple. If it’s in a box is marked ‘as seen on TV’ , this lady has it. There is even an autographed 8 x 10 photo of Ron Popiel hanging above the battery operated lid of her stainless steel trash can.
Susie sees no problem with the gadget lady so that’s why I couldn’t understand when she objected to taking our toaster oven to Florida. I love that oven but she does not care for it. Something in her distant past, I suppose, although I can’t imagine what it might be.
“We don’t have room for that thing.”
“I’ll make room for it outside when we get to Florida. It will really come in handy. “
“Outside?”
“Duh,” I said. “It’s Florida. We practically live outside anyway.”
It took some persuasion but I finally won that argument and now our toaster oven is perched on top of the dorm refrigerator that sits outside on the patio. I haven’t used the oven yet this winter but that’s only because I’m saving it for a special occasion. I don’t want to wear it out, you know.
That stance resulted in a discussion yesterday as I was preparing our lunch; two pot pies and a salad. I was busy lighting the oven in Fiona’s gas range; RV ovens are peculiar in that lighting them requires sticking your head in the oven and lighting the pilot light with a match. This is something that Susie refuses to do because this operation is a bit sketchy. The pilot light is stubborn and there is usually a small buildup of propane before it finally catches, resulting in a small ‘POOF’ as the gas ignites.
“Why don’t you use the toaster oven? It’s perfect for that and an added bonus is that you won’t blow us all to kingdom come with that stove.”
I mumbled something about making messes with bubbling over pot pies. In reality I couldn’t bring myself to use my oven, I believe General Electric has built-in only so many uses of that appliance and I didn’t want to waste one of them on a pot pie, for God’s sake.
Instead, I went on my lighting the gas oven and was eventually successful in my efforts, losing only a bit of my eyebrows. Not to worry, however. My eyebrows always grow back at an astounding rate. I ask you, ain’t Mother nature grand?
* * * * * * * *

Note from Susie: , I’m sorry to tell you folks that this guy is so full of it. I don’t mind that toaster oven. Just don’t ask me to use it.

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Interesting stuff.

I was working on my column for next week and found this web site this morning while looking up the origin of the phrase ‘worth one’s salt’. I don’t know the protocol -if there is one- on how to treat the web sites of others but I found it to be interesting and thought some of you folks might as well so I am going to give you the link. Check out:

http://www.phrases.org.uk/quotes/last-words/index.html

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Christmas Shopping story #61.

 I have never been one of those folks who is enamored with shopping. Of any kind. And that goes double for with Christmas shopping. I expect that’s why I experienced the incident described below in my Newspaper column.

It was warm when we left Florida a couple of weeks ago but it sure wasn’t when we arrived back here for the Christmas celebrations. Since I’ve gotten older, I’m not much for cold temperatures but the first few days of it are invigorating as long as we have some sunshine to go with it.

Another good thing about cold weather is that it gives me an excuse to make Chili. I don’t think there’s a better way to warm your innards when the cold winds blow. But even though Chili is one of my favorite foods, we never eat it in Florida because it just doesn’t taste right in 80 degree weather. 

When we left our campground early in the morning to head for Indiana, it was sunny. The temperature was already in the seventies and remained there until we stopped in Cordele, Georgia for the night. It was partly cloudy and the temperature was still hovering in the mid-sixty range when we went through Chattanooga the next day and only moved into the fifties when we were negotiating the horrendous Nashville, Tennessee traffic.  Then the sun disappeared and the rain started.

Somewhere around Madisonville, Kentucky, the temperature had dropped into the low thirties, the rain was turning to sleet and I started thinking about a bowl of Chili. By the time we reached home, I was checking the pantry for ingredients and made a trip to the meat market for two pounds of coarse ground Chuck Roast.  I was taking a chance on purchasing the coarse ground because Susie and I disagree on its use. The fat particles are more visible in this grind but I feel like it gives the Chili a manly heft. Susie thinks it’s a little more primeval than that and likes to point out that is probably the way cavemen ate prehistoric Chili.

Nonetheless, I am the Captain of the ship when it comes to making this dish so coarse ground Chuck it was going to be. After the batch was made, I set the pan outside in the cold to let the flavors meld. –This may just be an old wives tale but it does seem to taste better after it sits for a while.-   

Later that evening, that pot of Chili started calling me. This was bad news; I can’t eat Chili after six o’clock in the evening anymore. Both the mental and physicals results are unpredictable. Nonetheless, even though I know better, I warmed up a bowl and added a few flakes from a jar of ground red pepper that I had found on sale at the grocery store. –I also knew better than to buy that hot stuff but Good Lord, the price was half off and I’m a sucker for marked down products. That gets me in trouble on occasion.-

The next morning we awoke early. I dropped Susie off at our daughter’s house for a cookie making session and I went in search of a Christmas present for her. The day before, I had found a notice in our mailbox of a private sale at a large department store just for their most valued customers.  Wow, I thought. Somebody finally appreciates me. My self-esteem went right through the roof. I was headed to the Department Store until I looked at the front of the flyer. It was addressed to ‘Occupant’. Deflated, I tossed Mr. occupant’s mail in the wastebasket and decided I would just visit their competitor.  

The big double doors swung open and a Sumo wrestler sized, air-filled Santa Claus greeted me while the sound of Jingle Bells blared out from a loudspeaker mounted high in the recesses of the building’s roof. I could barely get by him and I had to maneuver around this huge perversion of a blow-up doll. His massive oxygen laden stomach half blocked the aisle way so I pushed in on his belt buckle and forced that huge belly out of my way. This had the effect of making his head swell up to alarming proportions but I managed to squeeze through before his eyeballs exploded.  The strains of  ‘Oh Holy Night’ suddenly made their way over the public address system. Good Lord, can they do that? Religious songs in a Public establishment?  I immediately looked around to see if the ACLU had set up shop and brought in the protest troops but nothing of that sort was in evidence.  

Getting by old fat Santa, I confronted the next obstacle. A ten foot high plastic snowman also filled with air towered in front of me. The broom under his massive snow arm didn’t have enough air in it and it drooped down like the ears on a ten year old bassett hound. I tried to straighten it but it fell right back down, limp as a goose. Suddenly, I realized a lady was watching me try to prop up the broom. I give her a sickly little smile hoping she wouldn’t think I’m some sort of snowman pervert and dropped the broom handle. 

That was enough for me. I headed for the outside and some fresh air. I watched as a tiny, elegantly dressed young lady climbed clumsily into what looked like a….. a…..  huge military vehicle. My God, What is she doing driving an assault weapon around during this season of joy and love?  What has happened to our Christmas? Our beautiful, old fashioned Christmas. Did it ever exist? What have we done? How did it degenerate into a retail buying frenzy? ‘

I screamed. AAAAAGH! When do we stop this madness?  Suddenly, I woke up. I looked around, still in bed and tangled in the covers. Sweat was popping out, soaking my forehead. My God. It was all a dream. A terrible, chili induced nightmare.  It wasn’t real at all; there are no air filled plastic snowmen. Our traditional Christmas must still be intact.  I bounded out of bed, flung open the window and yelled: ‘Thank you, Bob Cratchett and you too, Tiny Tim.’

Actually, I didn’t say that. What I actually said was “Sweet Jesus. That scared the crap out of me.” but you can’t say stuff like that in the newspaper. I also omitted that part about the ACLU in the newspaper version. I don’t want them knocking on my door looking for religious objects. Also, you probably should know that I am not a strong advocate of blow-up figures with the possible exception of…… Well, never mind.

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Fool me once…. #32.

A week or so ago, my wife, Susie and I trekked our way North from Florida to Indiana. I did get a column for my weekly effort as well as an aggravated backbone out of the ride. We left our fifth wheel in Florida so this necessitated a stop in a motel. Advertised “Continental breakfasts” can be a crapshoot ranging anywhere from an apple and a dry muffin in a paper bag (Erie, Pa Red Roof Inn) to a spread with real coffee and real, honest bacon (LaQuinta and Hampton Inns). Anywhere, our Motel stay is where I found material for the column that follows.

Shame on You

My wife, Susie and I just completed a 2 and a half day trip from the warmth of the Deep South to our home in a frozen Indiana. We spent the month of November attending to some duties we had to accomplish in the Florida State Park where we volunteer during the winter. However, there was never any thought given to celebrating the Christmas holidays away from our family and friends so when December rolled around, Susie and I started making plans to head north.
The easiest way to get home would have been to call the Airline and book a flight but our dog, Poco, was going home with us and she hates flying more than I do. Susie considers her a member of the family so there was no way we could leave her behind. On the other hand, for obvious reasons, Fiona II, our home on wheels, was left in the Campground.
This 1150 mile drive was not a trip any of us, including Poco, were looking forward to. There is nothing new to see and over our years of travel, we have grown tired of being cooped up in the truck for hours on end so we decided to split the trip up into 3 days of driving, spending 2 nights on the road in Motels.
I don’t leave our choosing of motels to chance. I have a list of questions that I always ask the clerk. When I got a lady on the phone at a motel in Cordele, Georgia, I started the interrogation.
“What’s the rate with an AARP or Triple A discount?”
“Are you close to the Interstate?”
“Are the beds comfortable?”
“Are the non-smoking rooms really non-smoking?”
“Is the parking lot well lit?”
The answers were all satisfactorily answered, but before I made a decision I had one more question. Even though I only frequent Motel chains that I know include at least a continental breakfast, I asked the clerk: “Do you serve breakfast?”
“Yes Sir,” the lady said enthusiastically. “We have a wonderful hot breakfast including omelets served your way.” Wow! I decided to look no further. She had me at ‘Omelets’.
The reason for that is I’ve been a big fan of Omelets since I was a kid growing up in the late 1940’s. Although now that I stop to think about it, I’m not even sure that Omelets had been invented yet. I suppose what I remember eating was not an omelet but it certainly could have been at least a precursor to this dish.
On special occasions, my mom would fix us a big breakfast with bacon and eggs. She would fry the bacon, remove it and then drop our eggs in the inch or so of bacon fat that remained in the skillet. -That’s the way we fried eggs in those days. I guess we had bigger arteries back then.- When she set our plates on the table, I would chop up my eggs, runny yolk and all, into a yellowish white mess, crumble the crispy bacon over this and then tear up small pieces of Honey Krust bread and drop them into the pile. My younger brother Ron had already developed a sense of order in his young life and was a person who would grow up to be a fastidious diner so naturally he protested vociferously.
“Mom, Gordon is making me sick.” Our mother agreed with him.
It didn’t get any better when I got older. When we first married, I tried to serve this treat to Susie and she sounded just like my mother. “Good Lord. That is sickening.”
Now when I look back on those occasions, regardless of whether Susie or Ronnie recognized it or not, I believe it’s safe to say that right there in my mom’s kitchen, I had invented the omelet. I’m tempted to file a patent claim and the fact the ingredients were a bit unusual is the only thing stopping me.
When we got to the motel, the weather was cold and wet so we went to bed shortly after arriving. Thoughts of an omelet had me up early; eager to have an omelet my way. I was already planning bacon, peppers, some broccoli, Colby cheese and a medium hot salsa to top it all off. When I got to the dining area, there were no omelet fixings anywhere in sight. I asked the girl wiping off the coffee pot where the omelets were and she pointed to a dormitory size refrigerator on a table in the corner. A little warning bell went off in my head. Inside the refrigerator, I found 2 little plastic wrapped pale yellow things about the size of a Pop Tart. ‘Cheddar Cheese’ was all that the wrappers said. I held up the package and the girl at the coffee pot shook her head in the affirmative.
Obviously, my idea of an omelet was not the same as theirs. I had been fooled again. As I looked at this product lying limply in my hand, I wondered if it had come from an assembly line deep inside China. No way am I putting that stuff in my mouth.
I turned to pack up and go find a Cracker Barrel as Susie’s words from long ago jumped into my head.
“Good Lord. That is sickening.”

This is an Omelet?

This is an Omelet?

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Father’s Day

I’m putting my Father’s Day column out here on my Weblog because because I like how it turned out.

Normally, when I sit down to write something for these pages, I don’t expect to hear from anyone about what I had to say and usually I don’t. A few weeks ago, however, I wrote a Mother’s day column about mothers and my mom in particular and I heard from several folks about that one.
“Why don’t you write something about your father for Father’s day?” My wife, Susie said after I told her about the letters I had received.
“I can’t.” I told her. ”I barely remember him.” He died in an accident 19 days after my 6th birthday and when I try to recollect what I knew of him, all I get are 2 or 3 fleeting glimpses of this man racing through a fog in my brain like an MTV commercial. I can never catch those thoughts long enough to nail down a good picture of him. Ihere are few photographs; an army boot camp picture which is of no help since he’s wearing a gas mask and a high school class picture. And now, thanks to my advancing age, the fog surrounding my memories is getting worse each time I try to remember. There’s not much I can say.
“Can’t do it, Susie.” I told her after staring at my computer monitor for a while. Where was I to find nine hundred words to write about this fellow, my father who, thanks to a ride on a pre war vintage motorcycle, one day was in our lives and the next day he wasn’t. This meant that my brother and I had to get along without our designated male role model for a few years. It leaves me wondering if he had not taken that ride, would the two of us been entirely different people then we ended up being? .
Last week, on an overcast afternoon, I was on my way to my hometown for a visit. The windshield wipers staccato beat cleared the drizzle from my view as I rounded the curve on the hill east of the 4-h fairgrounds where the motorcycle left the road and tumbled down a shallow ravine all those years ago. In hundreds of trips in the intervening time, I have never even so much as slowed down as I went by. But on this trip something told me I should.
I pulled over a few hundred yards beyond the scene and then walked back in the rain to the spot where I imagined he died. The oncoming traffic, much of it made up of coal trucks, blew drizzling raindrops, bits of dirt and flecks of coal in my face as I made my way along the side of the road. I don’t know what I was looking for; it’s been almost 70 years after all. I was hoping for some sort of epiphany or revelation perhaps but sad to say, nothing came of it. It was just a shallow ravine with a couple of dead trees rotting away at the bottom.
I suppose I will have to be satisfied with what others have told me about him. My mother told me of his prowess on the dance floor and I don’t doubt it for a minute. However, my own clumsy efforts at tripping the light fantastic tells me that either I did not inherit that skill or else my mother’s opinion could have been biased by her love for this man.
I have also heard that my father was a sportsman. One of those fleeting glimpses I spoke of earlier reminds me that I tagged along on a fishing trip to the river on a couple of occasions. My cousin Jack contributed the fact that my father was indeed, an avid fisherman. Because of this, I feel like I should be a fisherman but try as I might, I have never learned to love the sport.
Although it’s neither true nor fair of me, it’s easy to blame the loss of my father on my athletic abilities. I tell myself that his absence left with me no one to teach me how to hit a curveball or shoot a foul shot. All of you folks who were wondering why I ended up a member of the high school cheerleading squad now know why.
The age of Puberty was another problem. I never had the birds and bees talk with my father and the duty should have fallen to my poor, almost Victorian-age mother but she could never have done that. I had to learn from my older neighbor, Eddie Joe, who filled me in on some of the particulars, I didn’t believe him.
”You’re crazy, Eddie Joe. My mom wouldn’t do that.” I said, whopping him in the stomach as hard as my 9 year old muscles would allow.
And speaking of that puberty business, I also didn’t have my father around to teach me the art of courtship. Being on my own, I bungled my first few efforts and it’s only by the grace of God that I didn’t become a priest.
Looking back, it’s easy to see that I am who I am because of that motorcycle ride my father took 68 years ago and to a lesser degree, the effects are present in my children. They are who they are because of that same trip. In the end, I guess it can be said that for better or worse, most of us are who we are because of our parents.
On this Father’s day weekend, If your father’s still around, give him a big hug on his day and no matter how hard it is to get the words out, tell your dad you love him.

I had to delete a lot of what I wanted to say because there just isn’t room in the newspaper to put all of my ramblings but here I can show you some of what got left behind.

Not having a father to teach me how to drive left me completely clueless when I climbed behind the wheel of the Drivers Education car, a 1956 ford with the first padded dashboard seen in North America. In our school, most teachers had a nickname, thus a slow-moving Drivers Ed teacher named Mr. Zip was in the passenger seat, teaching me how to negotiate the hills and dales of Southern Indiana. It’s no wonder the poor man lit one cigarette after another as I tried to keep the car between the roadside ditches. Mr. Zip actually did move fast on this day; setting that revolutionary padded dashboard on fire while parking his cigarette in the dashboard mounted ash tray surrounded by all that vinyl covered foam. That was also my first lesson in poor dashboard design.
I was also told by my older sister, a young woman when our dad died and a person who was hurt terribly by the loss, that our dad was a person who thought he could do anything. “But he couldn’t.” she said. “He didn’t have any goddamn business being on that motorcycle. He didn’t know anything at all about riding one of those things.”

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thank God there are some things we can still count on.

Gas is pushing 4 dollars a gallon again because of the unrest in Iraq brought on by the uprising of Islamic terrorists, the same group of barbarians who are busy dragging us back to the middle ages while we stand by and let them do as they please.

But all is not lost; Cheezits now comes in a new shape and a new flavor – cheddar ranch-.

cheezits

I have no musical talent so I can’t fiddle while Rome burns but by God, I can eat Cheezits while our ship of state slowly sinks into the god-awful mess that is the middle east.

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