Sometimes being a Sergeant in the Army is exactly like being a zookeeper.

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I’m a medic in the Army National Guard.  It’s a great part-time gig, I have no more student debt, and I have an exorbitant amount of interesting life stories.  Plus, now I’m a nationally-certified EMT, which is a fun random thing that I never thought I would ever say about myself.  So, all good things.

About a year ago I was promoted to Sergeant, which means – for the layman – that I get paid a little more money for a lot more work.
Also it means I’m in charge of other people.  Oy.

There are few other jobs in the world that can compare to this, a member of the Non-Commissioned Officers Corps, the “Backbone of the Army.”  Except for maybe Zookeeper.
Why, you ask??

  1. You are given charge over a certain amount of living creatures (i.e. Privates).
  2. You have to feed and water your charges three times a day, because they never remember to do it themselves.
  3. You have to herd them where you want them to go, which is no easy task because most of them like to keep pace with their pet snail.
  4. Once they’re where they need to be, you have to keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t wander off, which they often do. (Anything shiny is highly distracting.)
  5. If they wander off, you have to go get them, which makes you late for something you personally need to do.  (Yes, you have tasks as well – your entire life is not nannying.)
  6. Once they’re back, you have to scold them and punish them so they don’t do it again.  (After which, they will hate you.)
  7. When they do it again, see steps four and five.  Repeat as many times as necessary.
  8. You have to teach them tricks like saluting and standing quietly in formation without pulling out their cell phones and texting their boyfriend.  (And shaking hands and rolling over and playing dead for treats.)
  9. You have to keep them from interacting too much with the general public.  They might very well frighten small children.
  10. You have to take responsibility for anything they do wrong, and you’re the one who’s punished, because you’re the one in charge.  After all, they don’t know any better…  Right?

Finally, you have to train them to one day take over your position.  I can only hope that I’ll be gone when that day comes – the idea of the animals running the zoo is a little unsettling.

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Sometimes you feel like a nut. Because nuts don’t have summer vacations. And neither do you.

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Remember summer vacations?

Remember that time when they were all you thought about the last few weeks of school?
Remember how, as soon as that last day of school (usually a half-day) was over, there was this enormous weight lifted off your shoulders and the world literally felt different?  The smells were different, the sounds were different, the feel of the sun on your skin was completely different than the sun on your skin the day before.

Remember how you would go home and wake up at your leisure for three months?  And, even if you didn’t, it was because you were going to band camp, or Boy Scout camp, or basketball camp, or generic summer camp, or some other kind of definitely-more-fun-than-staying-at-home camp.  Or getting up early to fly or drive to a vacation destination.  Or just because you could, because it was summer and you could do whatever the heck you wanted.

Remember how you would go to the beach and it would be completely packed with everybody else in the world on summer vacation?  And how it didn’t matter, because that was the only time the kids were out of school, so it wasn’t as annoying as it should have been?

Remember how you felt like you were doing something wrong when you went to a store or a restaurant in the middle of a weekday?  And how you kept waiting for someone to ask you why you weren’t in school?  And how it felt really really really good to be doing that something wrong?

Remember those days in the middle of the summer when you were bored out of your mind because you had absolutely no idea what to do?  That was when I started to employ my younger brothers to lip-sync along to musical soundtracks as I filmed them on the trampoline.  But that’s another weblog post…

Remember how, after that mid-point, you realized that summer was already halfway over and you didn’t do a fraction of what you wanted to?  So you put on your gettin’-stuff-done cap and you packed as much fun as you could in that last month.  This, unfortunately, contributed to the old adage “Time flies when you’re having fun,” so the summer was over long before you were ready for it.

Back-to-school shopping was fun, don’t get me wrong, but it was always the last vestige of a dying way of life, and the stress of a new school year with new teachers and new classes and new responsibilities and new things you have to do loomed out there on the horizon.

Remember how that last day of summer before you went back to school was a complete blur?  How you could never quite remember what happened, because your mind was clouded with so many different thoughts and feelings?

And then remember that first day of school, when you were at once excited to be doing something new but still mourning the death of those three lovely months of nothingness?

I miss that.

These days, my summer vacations are haphazardly thrown together and stuck in all over the calendar.  I took a week in the winter, I take a day or two here and there, I have these weeks off so I do some stuff there…  Gone are the days of a large time-frame given to me to use exclusively for vacationing.  In that respect, I envy those who work in the field of education.

Still, I always seem to make it work, even if it’s rushed and slapdash.  Unfortunately, summer now resembles the rest of the year.  It smells the same, it sounds the same, and that sun feels exactly the same as it did before.  The magic of it has disappeared a little.

I think, as adults, we need to strive to get that magic back.  And that’s my summer resolution.  🙂

What’s yours?

 

(Also, I’ve used the word “magic” in A LOT of my posts…  What’s up with that???)

 

Sometimes you learn things from Jungle 2 Jungle.

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I watched Jungle 2 Jungle today.  It was the first time since I first saw it in theaters when I was a kid.  Here are the life lessons I took away:

1. The stock market is difficult.  Also, they wear bright colored jackets and nametags so people know who they are.  They’re like costumes, and they even have a coat check dressing room adjacent to the trading floor.  So basically the stock market is like a big play.

2. Mimi-Siku means “cat piss.”

3. Fruit increases flatulence, according to Tim Allen.

4. The 90’s were a very different time, when a thirteen-year-old boy could fly on a plane and walk through the airport shirtless, shoeless, and carrying a bow and arrow.  And nobody gave him a second look.
Also – You could crawl out one of the windows of the crown on the Statue of Liberty and nobody would try to stop you – they’d just take pictures.  Also, you could get released from the police within hours of committing this act.

5. No one in big cities carries a bag or has anywhere to go ever.  They’re just always completely bagless and purseless, totally game for some impromptu dancing in front of a street performer who doesn’t look like they have a license.

6. I miss the original Game Boy.  And the cool light/magnifying glass you could get with it.

7. Unconscious cat humor is always effective.  Especially when it is paired with tranquilizing blowguns.

8. David Ogden Stiers is amazing.

9. It’s always funny when someone says “That’s gotta hurt” after watching someone else get kicked in the crotch.

10. If you live in Lipo Lipo and you give a girl a pot, it’s like friending someone your crush on Facebook – things are gonna get real.

Sometimes you’re going to be a part-time millionaire when you grow up.

This weblog post is a confluence of many different things and thoughts and dibbles and dots, all of which seem to be swimming about my grey matter today.  So stick with me through the end – I’m covering a lot of ground here.

First, let me start by saying – today is Father’s Day.  My father has had a profound influence on my life from the beginning.  A multi-talented percussionist now, he was not always so.  When he was a young buck, he was more of what you’d call a drummer.  Not so much with the marimbas and guiros, he was a set man through and through.  When I first met my father, he still had the same blue Pearl trap set that he acquired as a teenager.

He was in a band (as all cool dads are) and they would practice in the garage (as all cool bands do).  I would sit in the living room and listen to them belt out everything from Buddy Holly to Garth Brooks.  I’m not certain what their set really was with such a wide range – perhaps he was actually in a few bands and I’ve melded them together.

But either way, I decided there and then that I was going to be a songwriter.
I found, no doubt tucked away in the darkness of my father’s office, a small black notebook with a yellow pad inside.  Here – I decided with great romance – was where I would write the world’s best songs.  (I’d like to point out I was seven or eight at the time.)

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The first song I ever wrote was “I Can Drive You,” shown above.  It was, without a doubt, the wittiest ditty a normal eight-year-old boy can produce in Middle America while still remaining a normal eight-year-old boy.  It had everything – a catchy tune, brilliant wordplay, an intoxicating hook, and it was even written in rural American vernacular.  (Please note the apostrophes after such words as “ridin’” and “goin’.”  This, no doubt, paved the way for my later musings in character dialect.)

I followed this obvious A-Side tune with so many others:

“The Bear,” a folk ballad about the bear who went over the mountain and his internal monologue during the aforementioned event.

“The Night My Toys Came To Life,” which might as well have been optioned to Pixar.  I’m still waiting for my royalty check.

“I Wish It Never Happened Anymore,” a foray into rockabilly with astoundingly adult lyrics: “Went to the store and I met this girl; We went on a date; The next day I met up with her; And she had another man.”

And the list goes on and on.

I even had an “Unfinished” sleeve on the left side of the book, where I have the first verse of a profound love song: “All I want is your love, darling; All I want is your golden hair.”  I just can’t remember knowing an eight-year-old girl with golden hair, so the subject of the song will remain a mystery for a few more years, at least.

Armed with these dynamic tools of auditory splendor, I decided I was going to be just like Dad, and I was going to be in a band (though why I never offered my father’s band this treasure trove of music I do not know – it seems I could have started my career right there and then).  I would make so much money that I’d be a millioinaire.

BUT.

I only wanted to be a part-time millionaire, because I also wanted to be a part-time policeman.  (This was the civic duty in me coming out.)  When I wasn’t out catching bad guys, though, I’d live in a mansion.  Not wanting to be far away from my parents, I told them they could live there with me: Mom could be my maid, and Dad could be my chauffer.  It all worked out for everyone.

Well, I’m still not a part-time millionaire.
I am an artist, though, which is something.  I’ve written a good many things and have even started to sell some.  I actually just started writing custom songs on my girlfriend’s etsy website: http://www.etsy.com/shop/JustAddLoveNYC.
(By the way, her baking mixes on the site are TO DIE FOR.  I eat them.  All.  All the time.)

Anyway, my latest sale was a song written for a young childrens’ acting class in the UK called “Jelly Roles.”  In the class, the children act out different stories every day.  They sing this song at the beginning of each session, which ends with the teacher opening up the Magic Book to show them the story they will be performing.  Adorable.
Hear it here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=heUix6jZYKs&be

But anyway, back to Father’s Day – if it weren’t for Dad and his weird bandmates and Mom and her classical musicianship, I may not have written those silly songs when I was eight.  Which means I wouldn’t have gone into music.  Which means I wouldn’t have gone into musical theatre.  Which means I wouldn’t have started to write musicals and plays.  Which means I wouldn’t have started to write anything else.  Which means this post wouldn’t exist.

So, thanks Mom and Dad.  (But I guess especially Dad since, after all, it’s Father’s Day and everything.)

And that’s the end of my rant for today.  We covered some ground, but it all came together in the end, right?

What did you want to be when you grow up?  Do you have a secret notebook filled with brilliant pop songs tucked away somewhere?  Do you know my dad?  Isn’t he great?

Sometimes you start a story at 16. And finish it at 26.

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Ah, high school.  Those ripe and rare salad days.  The virgin landscape of yesteryear.  That delightful time when anything can – and does – occur.  When all roads are open to you, and everything is possible.

It was during this impressionable time in my life that I explored every creative outlet I had in my body.  I acted, I sang, I danced, I composed music, I wrote plays, and of course – I wrote fiction.  Although recently undertaken as a solid professional goal, the urge to write was bred in me long before a whisker showed its face on my chin.  Now, there have been little stories swimming through the river of my mind for as long as I’ve been a sentient being, but it was in high school that the idea of THE NOVEL first reared its head. 

THE NOVEL came to me one day after watching a performance of Puccini’s La Boheme at a waterfront amphitheater.  It was a beautiful evening, and Rodolfo and Mimi sang of their love as the sun set behind them.  I was with my first love, and I had never felt more alive before.  I went home and immediately knew what I was meant to do with my life.
Well, not really.  That never happened.

Really, I have no idea where or how I got the idea for THE NOVEL in the first place.  But it appeared one day and I said, “Hey, that’d be a cool book.”  So I sketched out some ideas and wrote a chapter or two in a journal and promptly forgot about it.

Cut to my sophomore year of college four years later.  Going to school in Philadelphia, I was working part-time at Adventure Aquarium across the Delaware River in Camden, NJ (which, at the time, was considered the most dangerous city in America – fun fact).  Every day I had to get on the PATCO train which connected the two cities and ride it across the Ben Franklin Bridge.  While on this commute one day, I suddenly remembered THE NOVEL.  (I should mention I was going to school for musical theatre at this time, so I had entertained no intention of writing.  Ever.  Not that I was against it – it had just never occurred to me.)

Being an ambitious lad with an hour of nothing to do every day while commuting, and not being one of those silly bookworms who read on the train, and not being one of those crazy teenagers who listen to music on the train, I decided I liked the romance of writing a novel on the train.  I found my old red notebook and set to work with a serious mind.

I plotted out THE NOVEL and created a map of the world (Yes, it was an epic fantasy.  Of course.).  I wrote a few chapters and was so pleased with the novelty of it all.  This was so different than going to voice lessons and dance class and crying in Meisner studio and dealing with hot girls who were actually crazy.  Alas, all good things end, however, and my time at the aquarium drew to a close.  I typed out what I had written and saved it on my computer.  And promptly forgot about it again.

So it went for the next few years – I graduated and got my first professional acting gigs.  I fell in love, fell out of love, moved in with people, moved away from people, had other day jobs, and eventually moved to New York.  During all of this, THE NOVEL would stop by my head to say hello every now and then.  I wrote a couple of chapters between acting gigs, I rearranged a bit of dialogue when going through a breakup, I edited the map anytime I saw a cooler map in another epic fantasy book.

I actually got a lot of writing in during Army basic training.  After the day was over and our drill sergeants released us for the night, I’d sit up in bed with my little notebook, scribbling away about fairies and magic with my M-16 semi-automatic rifle by my side.

Anyway, there came a point when I realized I had finished the darn thing.  So I said, “Neat!” and promptly forgot about it.

Cue me making the decision that I’d like to start writing fo’ realsies.  THE NOVEL is ecstatic.  Happily, I read through it, prepared to start the editing process.  I am appalled.

Here is the problem with beginning a novel at 16 and finishing it at 26:  it was written by at least ten different people. 

I could point out exactly what section each author wrote.  And not because I remembered when I wrote what.  It was because it was so blatantly obvious.  I will highlight a few of these authors:

The 16-year-old wrote like Tolkein or Dickens:  long, luxuriating sentences that carried such weight of import that you wanted to take a nap after every period.  You lost track of the subject of the sentence after hearing how beautiful it was in the moonlight.

The 21-year-old wrote like David Mamet:  whole chapters filled with dialogue.  Occasionally there’d be a “he said” in there, but that was about it.  Otherwise, it was action-action-action.

The 26-year-old wrote with a sense of motivation: whole pages where we followed the characters’ thoughts and feelings, their wants and desires, and then a little blip about what them doing something to get it.

It was like somebody with multiple personality disorder wanted to write a book.

So here we are, a year later, and my agent suggests (not wrongly) that I give it yet another go-through to clarify some points.  Sigh.  How much longer shall I continue to edit, trying desperately to unify these many voices into one?  Only time will tell. 

Hopefully it’s not another ten years.

Sometimes you turn your cat into a human. (A 7-step program)

The following is a guide to fully anthropomorphize your cat.  Although there are other methods available on the market to create humans from non-humans (i.e. – evolution, creationism) this is the only surefire solution when time is constrained to less than a full eon, or when total omnipotence is not possible.

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Step One: Get a cat.
–          Cats can be found in most countries of the world.  I would recommend a domesticated version, but if you’d prefer to attempt the anthropomorphization with a lion or panther, more power to you.

Step Two: Name the cat.
–          This is a very important milestone on its way to human being.  Take a day or two and study the cat, its temperament, its coloring, and choose a suitable moniker for the feline.  Please bear in mind that the closer its name is to one commonly found on a human, the easier it will be to treat it as such.  It would behoove you to stay in the Bill/Ted/Margaret/Joan region and to steer clear of the Snuggles/Fluffy/McGrowly/Mr. PinkPawPads region.  And names of Jellicle cats are right out; no Macavity or Jennyanydots has ever been known to be a full-fledged subject of anthropomorphism.

Step Three: Live alone.
–          For the process to be completely successful, there cannot be any other humans present in your home.  If you live with roommates, you must move out.  If you live with your family, you must move out.  The preferable environment for a cat to become a human is a dingy studio apartment in a major metropolis.  You should be able to look out your window and see directly into someone else’s kitchen in the neighboring building.  These places are not difficult to find and are often well within one’s price range.
NOTE: This step does not apply to those in a committed relationship.  For those with a partner or spouse, you are allowed to live with each other.  But you must be certain there are no apparent signs of having children in your future.

Step Four: Find a frustrating, unfulfilling job that is completely different from what you actually want to do with your life.
–          Try to find something in customer service.  If you are a writer, perhaps a retail environment would be a good fit.  If you are an actor, catering companies or restaurants usually work best.  If you are a dancer, you may want to seek out a yoga or spinning studio and apply for a front-desk position (NOT instructor).  This job should make you hate people enough that you want nothing more than to come home, drink wine, eat chocolate, and talk to your cat.  Which brings us to:

Step Five: Interact with your cat as if it were human.
–          This is, without a doubt, the most important tenet of the seven-part system presented here.  It cannot be stressed enough that your cat should not be treated as an animal, and NEVER as a pet.  Consider it your roommate, your child, your best friend.  Call yourself “Mom” or “Dad.”  Continually speak with the cat while you’re at home.  Remember, awkward silences can exist with felines as well.  Work up your conversational skills so the cat remains interested.  Ask about its day, schedule your meals to be eaten at the same time as theirs, scold it when it has done wrong, give it a bath and brush its teeth often, and be certain it has plenty of toys, bags, and boxes to play with.
Also books.  Cats love books.  They read them when you’re not home, so try to have as many as possible sitting around during the day for them.  And be certain they’re open – cats aren’t that good at turning pages.

Step Six: Take as many pictures as you can of your cat.
–          It is useful for this step to invest in a smartphone.  Also a photo-sharing application such as Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.  This way you can fill up your entire camera roll with pictures of the cat squeezing into a cardboard box, lying in the sun, yawning, or curled up on your lap, and then immediately post the pictures on the internet so that everybody you know can see them.  Pictures of cats are always preferable to pictures of food.  And the more pictures you post, the faster the anthropormorphization will be.  It also helps if you create a Facebook profile for your cat, so you tag them properly in the pictures.  Share the pictures with your cat and make sure it sees that it has an online presence.

Step Seven: Train your cat to use the toilet.
–          This is the last step presented here, and can be the most difficult.  There are plenty of items for purchase in the consumer market these days such as Citi Kitty, Litter Kwitter, and Kitty Whiz.  Most act under the same principle: litter is placed in a tray that fits over your toilet.  The cat will notice the litter box in the new location.  As the cat becomes accustomed to doing its business there, a small hole is taken out of the center.  Gradually, over the course of several weeks, the hole is made larger, until there is only a small ring of litter around the edge of the toilet.  By now, the cat has learned that it is to go in this odd watery contraption.  You can then remove the tray and the cat will successfully perform (only with the seat down, mind you) on the toilet itself.  Your cat is now a complete human.

Follow Up:
There are known cases where the anthropomorphization has been so successful that the cat will begin to mimic other sorts of human behavior.  The following video is an example of such an occurrence.  Our cat, Franny, has been trained to use the toilet for some time now.  Recently, however, she has begun to progress even further into human being.  She now uses toilet paper after her business is finished.  Next step: speech.

Sometimes you write a post about your thinger.

A few posts ago, I recalled a childhood story regarding me, magic, shoplifting, and prison.  You can find it here: https://rtcvers.wordpress.com/2013/05/31/sometimes-you-tell-your-six-year-old-hes-going-to-prison/

As a response to that story, I found several people in my life bringing up another traumatizing event from my more tender years.  It is a tale of pain, misunderstandings, and body parts (as is any good tale).  And since it is perfectly acceptable to put embarrassing stories about your childhood on the internet, I present it to you now.  Sit back, relax, and journey with me to suburban Maryland, circa 1990.

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In my family, we have all boys.  Three boys.  No girls.  My poor mother never got to pass on her womanly wisdom to another of her own kind.  She instead had to learn to live peacefully among this alien race of men, not unlike Leia and her brief stint among the Ewoks.

There were no Barbies in this strange land; there were no dresses and tea parties; there were no Easy-Bake Ovens (well, except for the one time my little brother asked for one for Christmas, but that’s another story).  My mother had to learn the practice of alien customs, the use of alien tools, and – most importantly – the language.  And the word around which our world was built was THINGER.

Now, Artie, what in the world is a thinger, you may very well ask.  Well, reader, please allow me to expound.

Urban Dictionary likens the use of “thinger” to something akin to “whatchamacallit” or “thingamajig.”  It purports that “thinger” can be used to describe that which has no name, or that whose name name cannot be recalled at the moment of description. i.e. – “Hand me that orange linking thinger, Billy Bob,” or “I went to the store and bought one of thos paper towel dispensing thingers.”

This was not necessarily the case with my family, however.  In my family, it was a moniker for that certain special something that all of us boys had but my mother lacked (and I don’t mean moxie, kid).

I should have really queried my parents before I sat down to write this, as I’m not certain as to the date or origin of the word.  I’m not certain who coined the term, and under what pretenses.  Was it used to replace the scientific descriptor?  Was it adopted after I, as the eldest child, discovered my own and created a suitable sobriquet?  Or was it just a vernacular handle that was founded before I even entered as the third wheel into my parents’ relationship?

Whatever the case may be, “thinger” was as much a part of me as, well…

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[I would like to take this opportunity here to showcase the pronunciation of the word.  The g is not stressed as in “finger,” but is softened as in “singer.”  It lives quietly in the back of the throat.  (Insert joke about a thinger in the back of the throat here.)]

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Now that you’re introduced to my thinger, I shall relate the story:

One day little five-year-old Artie was sitting at the kitchen table.  He had before him a bowl of chicken noodle soup, the steam billowing over the edges.  It was a cold winter’s day, and the soup was perfect to warm little Artie up.  His mother busied herself with something or other by the stove or the kitchen cabinets or something.  She was off to the right, if you’d like to picture it in your mind.

Artie sipped bits of broth from the spoon, slurping with glee.  What a wonderful lunch he was having.  All was right and good in the world. 

Treachery brewed nearby, however.  Something distracted little Artie.  Was it a chunk of chicken that was slightly too warm for his sensitive little tongue?  Was it something heard on the television in the next room?  Or was he just a clumsy little boy, too proud of his own motor skills to really monitor them in the way he should have?

Whatever it was, Artie spilled the soup. 

And oh, a spilled spoonful of soup was never so fraught with (the aforementioned) treachery.  The piping hot liquid spilled directly into the lap of little Artie, creating a sensation between his legs that made him cry out in anguish.  Little Artie let out a yelp of pain, throwing the spoon across the kitchen in agonizing rage.

Mother called from the other side of the room:  “What’s wrong, Artie?  What happened?”

“I burned my thinger!” Artie screamed, his speech garbled in torment.  “I burned my thinger!”

Mother cooed in a sympathetic voice: “I’m sorry about that, hon.  Just put it in your mouth.”

Artie’s breath caught in his throat.  His eyes widened in bewilderment.  He froze, at once confused and horrified at the suggestion by his own materfamilius. 

Poor Mother – she had misheard the boy.  Thinking little Artie had said “finger,” she assumed she had given him a perfectly logical suggestion for what to do until she had completed her own chores and could come over to look at it herself. 

Now she gazed at her son and saw the befuddlement in his eyes.  She saw the wheels in his mind churning, trying to decipher the real meaning behind what she had just said, and trying to decide how to actually make the suggested action happen, if that was in fact the proper procedure for such a set of given circumstances.

Suddenly, it clicked.  She had made a terrible mistake.  “Oh no!” Mother cried.  “No, don’t try to put that in your mouth!” 

The aftermath of the event is lost to the ages, as it has never been included with the story told to me.  (This anecdote has been included in the catalog of Little Artie Stories since I can remember.)  Mayhaps little Artie went to change his pants.  Mayhaps a bag of ice was used to lessen the burning sensation.  Did he finish the bowl of soup?  Did he run screaming from the room?  Alas, we do not know.

I am happy to report, however, that my thinger is fully operational and suffered no residual damage after its harrowing ordeal that fateful day.

 

Did anyone else have child-speak words for body parts?  Have you ever burned them?  Has your mother ever told you to put them in your mouth?  Please share.