I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain…

Have you ever felt, at times, like you’re standing on the edge of a cliff, not knowing what will happen next? Will you fall backward, safe and grounded, or will you tip forward just enough that you plunge into an abyss of who-knows-what?

Okay, that’s a bit melodramatic, but I’m trying to make several points at once. First, I don’t know if I’ll even get through this writing, since my almost-new computer has warned me that its hard drive is failing. I called the people I bought it from and they’re going to send me a new hard drive, but I’ve got to install it myself. Kind of a weird warranty, huh?

Then there’s the election thing. I’m sure many of you thought, as I did, that come November 9th all the political ranting would finally stop on social media and we could get back to life as we knew it. Well, that ain’t happened. Far as I can tell, all the self-made political pundits online still want to tell us mostly-untrue stories about Donald and Hillary since we apparently didn’t get enough in the months before the election.

Attention, guys: Trump won. He’s going to be president. Ain’t really anything we can do about it, so let’s just accept what is and move on, make the best of it, get ready for the next big voting day and hope that the world’s still around.

Next, and really more importantly, as we all prepare for Thanksgiving and revel in the many good things about our lives, let’s remember that there are still people who don’t have homes to go back to in eastern North and South Carolina more than a month after the devastating floods. Still plenty of things we can do for them, not the least of which is praying. Also in this world of climate change (it’s real, politicians, and we’d better do something about it sooner than later) while flood victims struggle, now we have the fires in the western part of the Carolinas that are literally blowing smoke across the rest of this beautiful land, creating situations where people in cities hundreds of miles away are being warned not to go outside because they may not be able to breathe.

“I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain.” It’s James Taylor’s ballad come to life. Gonna have to do a lot of praying for a while, especially with no rain on the horizon for the fire victims.

There are a few good things, more or less, to ponder. One is that I’m considering offering up writing classes for online prognosticators who apparently didn’t pay attention to spelling, grammar and punctuation in their youth. Good lord. All you have to do is scroll down on any social media site and you see every language known to mankind being butchered mercilessly. If you’re going to share on the sites, please at least use SPELL-CHECK, for cryin’ out loud!

Another is that, for movie buffs – especially the millions of Harry Potter fans – a new J.K. Rowling franchise is about to cut loose with the opening of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”

The astonishingly prolific Rowling wrote this for the screen and promises at least five chapters of the pre-Potter saga. Doesn’t hurt that it’s directed by HP veteran David Yates and stars the amorphic Eddie Redmayne as the curator of those creatures.

Redmayne’s character, Newt Scamander, is loosed in 1920s New York City to search for the beasts while he encounters – no surprise here – all manner of magical and diabolical types on two legs or more.

Potter fans will absolutely rejoice and anyone who loves magic on the silver screen will absolutely have a wondrous time.

Though I’ve more to share as I stand here on the cliff’s edge, I’ll have to hold it until our next time together, since my marvelous Dell is making strange noises and I don’t want to ‘blue screen’ before I publish this.

Hang in there.

Note to readers: Depending on the agility of whomever may end up repairing this machine, I’ll be back next Monday. Until then…

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Dazed and confused…

The more we see of President-elect Donald Trump, the more it becomes obvious that he had no idea he was going to win this thing.

There have been scores of ‘Oh, crap!’ moments since November 9 when, in the wee hours, he was declared the winner. Trump has continually looked stunned in the wake of the elections and, as most expected, has already started back-pedaling on several of the declarations and promises he made to fan the flame of no more ‘business as usual’ on Capitol Hill.

His Mexican wall will do fine as a fence in places; instead of throwing all illegal immigrants out of the country he’ll target “the criminals”; parts of Obamacare are “okay”…that kind of stuff.

And instead of “draining the swamp,” he’s already populating it with some of the denizens that made it so, putting veteran politicos in power positions right out of the gate. Why? Because they know how Washington runs and what has to be done to keep it running, no matter who’s at the helm.

Look, whether you voted for or against him, the fact is that he’s going to be the 45th president of the United States and you’re going to have to live with it. You voters did this (or didn’t, to all those 49 percent who didn’t even vote), so you need to start figuring out how to handle a Trump presidency.

The big problem is that you all had the same chance to get rid of the idiots who’ve been running things for the past several years. You know, those professional politicians who have been in office longer than many of this year’s voters have been alive. But you re-elected them, so you’re going to have to live with that, too.

When Trump met with President Obama two days after the election, he basically asked him to “stick around and advise” the new guy “as long as possible.” The New York billionaire said he would look to the incumbent “for counsel.” Honestly, that’s probably a good thing.

Washington has, for decades, been a whole different planet when it comes to the way things are run in the halls of government. Obviously, America wanted change and wanted someone at the helm who was outside politics. The trouble is, an outsider can’t get a single thing done without dealing with those on the inside. It’s just a fact of political life.

We don’t live in a dictatorship. A new, inexperienced face at the helm isn’t going to magically change our lives. We’re a ‘democratic republic’ for a 240-year-old reason that’s held up pretty well so far.

All those protesters can’t suddenly say “Oops!” and throw out the guy they just elected. At least not for another four years.

So now you’ve got to go back to those folks you re-elected to office and say “Hey, what can we do now?”

Get your act together. Something good might actually come of it if you go about it the right way.

Note to readers: Thanks for dropping by. We’ll all get through this if we keep our heads. No, really.

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Salute our veterans. Always and forever.

Life. Liberty. The pursuit of happiness. Rights the forefathers set out to guarantee to all Americans in our Declaration of Independence. “Unalienable,” they called them.

And we still have those rights to this day, 240 years later, thanks to the brave souls who put on their uniforms now and did in centuries past, men and women who have taken an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed.”

Words crafted so long ago but that ring true to this day. A solemn vow that every veteran of every branch of the military took seriously the day they said it and will not forget it until they are gone from this earth.

Americans and countries around the world honor their vets with ceremonies, holidays and other special occasions. The two that stand out most on a calendar are Memorial Day, when we pay tribute to the fallen, and Veterans Day, when we extend our gratefulness to those who still walk among us.

There has been a growing and welcome trend in the U.S. among merchants and vendors to provide special discounts or free meals or event admissions to those who have served. From free doughnuts at Krispy Kreme to meals at Applebee’s or K&W or Golden Corral, if you’ve worn the colors of the Armed Services your tab is on them, and that’s pretty neat.

But just about any veteran will tell you that the most welcome recognition for them, whether on the holiday or any day of the week, is when someone says “thank you for your service.”

There have been times when our soldiers have been unappreciated, even scoffed, and while the right to do that is but one of the freedoms they’ve fought for you to have, these days you see far less of that and more of the gratefulness from the people of our great land.

When National Guard troops helped keep peace on the streets during a local period of unrest, there were many among the protesters who walked up to those soldiers and hugged them or shook their hands.

For any number of reasons, there almost always is some kind of civil unrest within our borders. In some lands, that would get you in front of a firing squad.

But here, we’re fortunate enough to have those brave and dedicated souls who swore to protect us all.

And for that, friends and family in uniform, we are and will be eternally grateful.

Thank you for your service.

Note to readers: Whenever you have the opportunity, thank those who wear or have worn the uniforms of our country. They are the defenders of our freedoms, and for that we owe them all our sincerest gratitude.

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Election 2016: the saddest side-effect.

No matter whose victory is being celebrated (or loss vilified, in the context of this awful contest), there will be a distinct and sad side-effect, at least for me.

There are people I have respected for years whose opinions I will, now and forevermore, take with a massive grain of salt. Individuals who have, for the most part, taken so much of the blatant lying and deception (on both sides of the political aisle) as gospel, even when all the crap being broadcast during this election cycle has been proven with little doubt to be absolute prevarication.

Don’t get me wrong: if they’re friends, they’ll still be friends, but their opinions on pretty much anything won’t carry a whole lot of weight in my household.

Too many folks have embraced the unbridled meanness that Election 2016 has spawned, and that’s just plain sad – and will be hard to overcome for a long time.

Once-trusted news sources, too, have so often taken the low road through all of this that they haven’t just besmirched their own reputation, but have ground an oozing, rancid stain into the very fabric of the once-noble profession of journalism.

I’m way more often reluctant to tell acquaintances that I was once a reporter, opting instead to simply say that my life-long profession has been as a writer. I figure that’s generic enough not to be lumped into what appears to be a now-shameful category.

The vitriol is still flying as of this writing. It has even been ramped up a bit in some quarters as though any last-minute sling of mud might have some positive effect on the ultimate outcome, which it won’t. Most people made up their minds a long time ago.

Likely any poll taken today (and aren’t you getting tired of all those polls, most of which mean absolutely nothing in the real world?) would post an overwhelming sentiment of the masses just wishing November 9th would get here and all this garbage would be over.

Those who still cling to lives grounded in common sense know, as I’ve said before, that no matter who is at the helm on any level, local, state or national, very little will actually change and life will go on. People struggling now will continue to struggle; individuals who believe in the basic goodness of humanity will keep on clinging to that hope; haters will continue to hate, sadly, and liars will just keep on lying.

Many of you have probably done what I’ve been doing the past several days: when a political ad comes on – any ad, regardless of the content – I quickly change channels, mute the sound or just turn it off.

We channel-changers aren’t trying to deny any perceived reality, because we know what reality is and somebody shouting at us that we’re wrong isn’t going to wash away what we know to be the ‘real world’.

So to all you Facebookers, Tweeters and ‘TV terrorists’ lambasting us with your versions of whatever, I say just one simple thing: you aren’t going to change my mind and you might want to consider a little remedial work on yours.

Tomorrow’s going to come, no matter what anyone does or says. And we’ll all deal with it like we always have.

At least the ads will be gone.

Note to readers: Most of you are probably as tired of all this mayhem as I am. Hang in there. It’ll be over soon.

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Go all “Strange,” and remember “the Ridge.”

Hollywood being Hollywood, all the movie moguls typically save their best for last, pumping November and December with an overload of what are usually the best movies of any given year.

It’s November. And it has started.

The first spectacle out of the chute is Disney and Marvel’s “Doctor Strange,” with Benedict Cumberbatch as the title character in this tale of Marvel Comics’ ‘superhero wizard’ that emerges as one of the best-ever in the action-fantasy genre.

Marvel pretty much owns the comic hero genre (sorry, DC) for so many reasons. They’ve learned to weave pretty well-written stories with a modicum of humor and just enough pathos to make you feel sorry for somebody. And their casting is always spot-on. Cumberbatch shines as the cocky neurosurgeon-turned-sorcerer after an accident takes away his initial career.

He makes his way to a Far East bunch of time- and space-benders trained by ‘the ancient one’ (Tilda Swinton) who quietly protect the world from dark forces. In the process of that defense, there are all kinds of reality-bending clashes, in this case with one pretty nasty villain (Mads Mikkelson – remembered by most as TV’s Hannibal Lecter) and all kinds of visual world-warping as Strange ultimately earns his cloak, so to speak.

This is one of those movies you pretty much have to see on the big screen so that you can soak up all the skills of effects masters Stephane Ceretti and Richard Bluff (Ceretti earned his bones on “Guardians of the Galaxy”). Still, while those astonishing effects hold your attention, it’s Scott Derrickson’s directing and the script by Derrickson, Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill that propel you through this absolute Marvel of an adventure masterpiece.

“Hacksaw Ridge”

And then there’s reality.

Mel Gibson directs a fairly flawless performance by Andrew Garfield to tell the true story of Desmond T. Doss, a Virginia man who, though a conscientious objector when it wasn’t very popular in 1942, ended up winning a Congressional Medal of Honor for his valor in battle in World War II’s Pacific theater – without ever firing a single shot.

Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist who firmly embraced his belief that “thou shalt not kill,” became a medic in the war and ultimately saved some 75 of his combat brethren on Hacksaw Ridge during the bloody Battle of Okinawa in 1945.

As he did in his Oscar-winning “Braveheart,” Gibson doesn’t hold back on the brutality of war. You see all the horror that was Okinawa, but you also see the incredible bravery of those who risked all in defense of their country.

Doss’s little-known history is as much a tribute to detemination as it is a story of the sacrifices soldiers made in a war too often painted in rosy heroics for years after it ended.

“Hacksaw Ridge” is both a portrayal of war and a lesson on why wars should be avoided at all costs.

Rated R for its graphic presentation, it’s a movie all Americans should see.

“Doctor Strange” is rated PG-13 and is suitable for adolescents and up.

Note to readers: Let the movies begin! And I’ll do my best to steer you to the ones you won’t want to miss!

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Trick or treat…with a twist!

One of the fondest Halloween memories of many of our past trick-or-treating antics was going door-to-door on behalf of UNICEF, collecting donations for the international childrens’ charity.

In my case, kids from our church would “trick or treat for UNICEF” early on Halloween evening, then go out and be our usual rambunctious selves for those bags or plastic pumpkins or, for many, pillowcases full of sweet treats.

Even to our young, energetic minds, it was pretty cool to be doing something good for youngsters in faraway lands and doubtlessly energized millions of toddlers to teens to eventually embark on adult philanthropies as we grew older.

Talking with a few friends and reflecting on those days, we came up with a timely idea: why not encourage today’s kids to do what we did back then with something of a twist – and dedicate this year’s neighborhood adventures by collecting candy, cash or whatever offering a willing donor would give to help the flood victims from Hurricane Matthew?

Across cities throughout the southeastern U.S. various groups, churches and other organizations are still loading up trucks with supplies to help the flood-stricken in places like Lumberton, Kinston and Princeville in North Carolina to thousands more who’ve lost so much in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

Wouldn’t it be neat to add some packages and piles of candy and goodies for the kids down east who will likely have to skip Halloween altogether? Young folks whose once-happy neighborhoods, in many cases, don’t even exist anymore?

There are any number of sites on the Internet where you can find resources to offer up a “trick or treat surprise” for flood-stricken families if you simply Google the name of any town that was devastated in the aftermath of Matthew.

Bottom line, Halloween is supposed to be about fun, and giving your flood donation a “holiday twist” would be, well, a fantastically thoughtful twist that would prompt some smiles where there haven’t been many for a few weeks, wouldn’t it?

Here’s as good a place as any to start:  https://www.gofundme.com/lumberton-nc-disaster-relief-2tyspfpb .

Tell you friends! Let’s get something started!

Halloween is all about fun and laughter. Maybe we can bring a little of that to folks who could really use it right now.

Note to readers: Hope you all have a happy and safe Halloween. Thanks for dropping by!

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Scare tactics.

Doesn’t matter if you’re a Hillary hater or a Trump thumper, come November 9th the world will keep on spinning, people will find something to complain about, and things won’t be all that much different than now – except we won’t have to suffer through those horrible political ads anymore.

The Democrats aren’t rigging the election. Think about it. If they were capable of ‘rigging’, wouldn’t they hold the majority in the House and Senate as we speak?

Republicans will continue their beat-down of anything Democrats have ever suggested, something that’s been going on for, oh, a century or more.

Regardless of the victor, ‘Obamacare’ will be, at the very least, modified by the new occupants of both the White House and Capitol Hill because – and we can all agree on this – it definitely needs some kind of tweaking.

The U.S. Supreme Court, which, by the way, upheld Obamacare while the late Antonin Scalia was still on that august panel, will continue to tick off one group or another with its decisions.

President Obama is not going to declare martial law if Donald Trump is elected (honest to God, there are people who are trying to make you believe that), UN forces are not massing around the U.S., Putin is not going to press the nuclear button if Hillary Clinton wins.

There will still be little green apples and it will continue to rain in Indianapolis in the summertime. At least a few of you will get that reference.

Scare tactics, sadly, have been around as long as there have been elections in this country. Trouble is, these days there are so many more ways to communicate them that millions more are intimidated and too many actually believe them.

There are still people alive today who will remember that his opponents said Harry Truman would let Communists take over the world. We were also warned that, if elected, Barry Goldwater would plunge us into global nuclear war. Harry didn’t buckle under the Commies and Goldwater eventually disappeared from the American political landscape.

One of the scariest campaign commercials ever made, televised and paid for by Democrats in 1964, was of a little girl plucking daisy petals. At the end of her count a countdown, presumably for a nuclear missile, begins in the background. There is an LBJ voice-over in which he says “We must either love each other or we must die.”

Lyndon Johnson won by a landslide.

The great thing about American government is that it’s riddled with checks and balances, beginning with the Constitution and continuing now for some 240 years.

This greatest of countries was established so that our leadership wasn’t crowned but was instead chosen by its people.

So far, the people have done pretty well surviving elections.

Note to readers: I honestly try hard to stay away from talking about politics, but it’s kind of unavoidable these days. Regardless of which side you’re on, I’ve still got faith in the majority, however it turns out.

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They still need our help…

While the headlines have shifted to such earth-shattering news as grabbing body parts or deleting e-mails, the victims of Hurricane Matthew’s devastating floods still need our help.

Going on three weeks after much of eastern North and South Carolina was inundated in record-shattering high water, there are still thousands who don’t have homes to go back to, food to feed their families, clothes to wear, hope to cling to in lives so dramatically swept away.

We can’t forget them.

Especially in the hardest-hit places. Lumberton, Kinston, Princeville, Nichols, Manning and other rural communities and neighborhoods, many without names, are only now seeing drier land, much if it covered with the debris of shattered homes and radiating the scent of unspeakable pollution from the floodwaters.

As the survivors piece together what little they can recover, those of us who stayed high and dry must do what we can to help.

Make no mistake, the “angels” have been many in the wake of the storm. There are those we know about, like the Salvation Army or Red Cross or Samaritan’s Purse, bolstered by legions that don’t get a whole lot of publicity, such as North Carolina Baptist Men or the volunteers from churches and civic groups too numerous to even identify.

Not to mention all the fire departments, police departments, sheriff’s deputies, rescue squads, EMS crews and first responders who turned out in droves even before the rain stopped falling.

Even the Duke University football team sent a tractor-trailer load of love to the area.

Nothing shows more of the character of the American people than response to a disaster. No matter what the negative political ads beat you over the head with as election day approaches, the vast majority of folks in this greatest land on earth are good, caring souls who’ll do everything they can to get a ripped-apart community back on its feet.

But as we get into the ‘short rows’, the help is still needed, perhaps more now than ever.

The basics of daily life, food, water, clothes and such, are routinely in short supply. You’ll see the various drives being fielded by your local groups and organizations where trucks are being filled for transport.

Money, of course, helps most of all, because dollars can be steered toward specific needs by the people on the receiving end who have the best handle on what’s what.

You can text donations to the Salvation Army by typing the word ‘STORM’ to 51555, and direct donations can be similarly transmitted to the Red Cross by punching ‘MATTHEW’ to 90999.

There are also a host of websites where you can learn more about what you can do to help. Many of them are on Facebook, and you can simply Google ‘Lumberton NC’ or any specific area you’d like to target to find one site or another.

And don’t forget to tell your friends, of course.

You’ll feel better for it, they’ll be thankful and, ultimately, we’ll help the world heal.

Note to readers: So many are the places that could use your help they’re simply too numerous to mention, from Haiti to the Homeland. A heartfelt thanks for whatever you can do.

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Cooking for one…

You have to be ‘of a certain age’ or an 80’s movie buff to remember the classic Steve Martin film “The Lonely Guy,” but, boy, was it filled with truisms you probably weren’t aware of at the time. Unless, of course, you were, you know, pretty lonely.

Based on Bruce Jay Friedman’s book “A Guide for the Lonely Guy” and directed by Arthur Hiller, the 1984 flick featured Martin as greeting card writer Larry Hubbard, a man who just couldn’t break out of his ‘oneness’ until he wrote about it and became, essentially, an overnight sensation.

One of the greatest scenes in the movie is when Larry goes into a restaurant, is asked how many are in his party and he replies “One.” Everyone in the place freezes and stares at him, a spotlight follows him to the table and he orders a ‘todka and vonic’ cocktail.

Though the story’s basically a sendup of singleness, there’s a lot of truth to it. Then and now (and pretty much always) we live in a world that’s terribly prejudiced against the single guy or girl, from the grocery store to the rental house or apartment to virtually every known social activity anywhere.

Especially if you’re over, say, 30, the deck is overwhelmingly stacked against you.

Run into someone you haven’t seen in a while and you’ll be asked if you’re married, have kids, all that stuff. While that’s okay and socially acceptable, how most of them react when you tell them you live by yourself often isn’t. They’ll deny it, but if you give them that response you instantly know that a plethora of assumptions is running through their minds.

And you aren’t likely to be invited to drop by or join them for lunch because, well, you know, you’re alone and stuff.

The thing is, many single people are perfectly fine with their status, don’t feel that they need someone to “complete” them and, for the most part, enjoy life just as much as any couple or family.

At least to the extent they can. Try to find ‘single serve’ anything in the grocery store. Yeah, you can cook for an army and freeze the leftovers, but if you’re normal, what you want to eat you want now and you know those frozen leftovers will eventually be tossed out, oh, in a couple of years.

You rarely see any ‘onesies’ in movie theaters, and if somebody’s sitting alone in a bar the automatic assumption is they’ve probably got a drinking problem or are cruising for a mate.

Hey, Match.Com and eHarmony and all those Internet dating sites all grew out of the “popular” concept that nobody wants to be alone.

News flash: lots of people enjoy being single. Don’t hate them for it. Odds are that they’re not serial killers or antisocial or against being a couple. Really.

And a good many of them do like to date every now and then and don’t mind having friends who aren’t on their own and may, eventually, decide to ‘become a couple’ if the time is right.

Remember that commercial a while back with the “lady in red” who looks at the camera and says “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful”?

Well, take a look at your single friend, neighbor or new-found acquaintance, and don’t hate them for that. They’re okay.

Except maybe in the grocery store.

Note to readers: If you’ve got a single friend, maybe give ‘em a call every now and then. Not out of sympathy, mind you, but just to say ‘Hi’. Wouldn’t hurt.

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What the world needs now…

We don’t need the political ads; we don’t need relentless news bytes about death, destruction or misery; we don’t need those pop-up commercials on Internet sites that won’t let you ‘x them out’.

No, what the world needs now is a genuine, tight, sincere hug.

We need to take a few minutes and surf for ‘good news’ sites. We ache to see the post-disaster stories of the thousands of folks who’ve turned out to help eastern N.C. flood victims.

We could actually use a few of those cute animal clips or pictures right about now. Something – anything – to counteract all the crap we’re being bombarded with on an hourly basis.

People are waking up each morning and just wanting to pull that blanket back over their heads and avoid dealing with media-hawked stuff that’s beating us down.

In spite of the seemingly endless terrible things Channel Whatever tells you, all that is good about the world in which we live so dramatically outweighs the bad that, regardless of what lives matter, we can and will survive the current assaults.

Come November 9, the planet will keep on spinning, the sun will rise, you’ll do those things you always do, and little, if anything, will change in the day-to-day regularity of the life you’ve survived thus far.

You’ll go back to being annoyed by those prescription drug commercials instead of that candidate attack ad, and all those dire warnings of perceived apocalypse will vanish for another four years.

It’s a shame, isn’t it, that instead of being wooed by admirable individuals with sincere motivation to do something good for the populace we’re beaten black and blue by faceless hucksters bent on telling us how bad life will be if we elect so-and-so.

And no, it’s not a new thing. Smear campaigns have been around for centuries. It’s just that back in the old days, they couldn’t tweet or text or chat or post or rail in 30- and 60-second spots shoved in the electorate’s faces.

To see how relentless it has become, you just need to watch television for five or 10 minutes or scroll down a few inches on Facebook. Most of us have become more adept at working the ‘mute’ button or changing channels with lightning speed, haven’t we?

Boy, do we ever need that hug.

The sun’ll come out tomorrow; bet your bottom dollar that, tomorrow, there’ll be sun.

You go, Annie.

Note to readers: Hang in there. We’ll get through this. Because we’re stronger than they are.

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