Saturday, May 31, 2003

On A Sunny Friday Afternoon

That wasn't the way it was supposed to work out. I was planning to tell you the news myself, but it was certainly too far to drive on a Friday. Still I thought at least we would talk on the phone.

Although I dreaded giving you the news, because you had been so supportive of me, I fixed my resolve and came up with a way and called you at noon, which was plenty of time, plenty of time before the staff meeting when you'd find out anyway.

I have a couple things I'd like to talk about, I said on the message I left on your phone. Give me a call when you get some time.

But the hours passed without the phone ringing. 1:00 came and went. 2:00. 3:00. And at 3:30 I called again, hoping perhaps to catch you there just before the meeting started, but you still weren't there; the phone just rang.

It wasn't supposed to work out this way. You were supposed to hear the news from me.

And all this on a sunny Friday afternoon. What a lousy thing to do to someone's weekend. I wish it had worked out differently. I am sorry.

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 Friday, May 30, 2003

They Were Good To Him

It hadn't been just any job. It was a job with bright people who did their work well. It was a fun job with people who loved what they did. And the company had always been good to him.

They were good to him when the times were great, when the contracts were won and new tasks begun.

They were good to him when the times got harder, asking for advice, listening to suggestions.

They were good to him when the times were bad, hiring him back when the bubble burst, finding work when the work wore thin.

They had always been good to him. And this made his leaving all the more hard. How could he tell them he was leaving again? How could he put another problem on top of their pile?

So although the sun was shining brightly on a new tomorrow, and his heart and mind raced to embrace the possibilities, he dreaded this day, because they had always been so good to him.

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 Thursday, May 29, 2003


Bunker? What bunker?
Be quiet.

Treasury report? What Treasury report?
Be quiet.

Amnesia? What amnesia?
Be quiet.

Debt ceiling bill? What debt ceiling bill?
Be quiet.

WMD? What WMD?
Be quiet.

Press? What Press?

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 Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Tattle Tale

Look. Look at this! I said to Trudy sitting next to me on the sand by the water in the breeze under the dappled shade of the Willow tree. We stared in disbelief as a man poured oil on the sand around his towels to keep the ants away.


My heart was racing as I flagged down the LCRA pickup truck. The security guard behind the wheel rolled down the window.

I don't know if you can do anything about this. I don't know if you even want to, but I have to tell you...

She listened to me and looked over the the picnic table in the distance. She asked a few questions to confirm what I had said.

I will call the ranger, she said as she picked up her radio.


When I got out of the pickup truck, the ranger walked up to me. He was holding a radio, a clipboard, a pen, a driver's license and the yellow plastic oil container. Clearly it was too many things to hold, since the container was upside down and drops of black oil were dripping out of it onto the ground.

Here, I said, and I took the container from his hand and turned it right side up.

He thanked me and set it on the ground by his feet.

What did you see? he asked. I told him.

Who was it you saw? he asked. I told him.

He gave me some papers to fill out and said he would come by later.


It was late. It was dark. The truck stopped. The ranger got out.

Well, he said. I don't think he'll be back any time soon. He's probably pretty frightened. I told him he could be arrested. That close to the water, it's a federal Clean Water Act violation.

I handed him my written statement.

If you need any more information, you can call me, he said as he handed me his card. We'll do what we can, he said in an optimistic tone. Then he added, Keep in mind that this is Llano County. Don't get me wrong, I love it here. I moved here from Austin. But this is Llano County.

We wrote them a ticket for having glass bottles on the beach. At least that will stick.


It rained that night. Thunderstorms rolled out of the west several hours before dawn and dropped torrents of water on the park as we slept.

Certainly by morning the oil was washed into the lake.

Blackrock Park, Lake Buchanon, TX

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 Tuesday, May 27, 2003

To Keep the Ants Away

The wind was cool off the water. The waves were lapping gently on the pink beach. The sun was warm but not hot, and for those who sought it there was the shade of the nearby Willow trees.

They had taken their folding chairs down to the water after lunch -- folding chairs and inflatable floats and sand toys and towels. They were well fed from lunch, slathered in sun block, and looking forward to the coolness of a dip.

But whereas most of them had napped and were now gleefully anticipating an afternoon in the sun even as their toes were wiggling in the pink granite sand, he was tired, and the prospect of sitting in the sun (gentle though it was) did not entice him. He excused himself from the group and moved his chair into the shade, where he leaned back and closed his eyes.

A while later, he was joined by one other who perhaps thought the shade was a better plan. Or maybe she just thought he looked lonely sitting there under the Willow trees. She moved her chair and sat down next to him.

And so they sat there together, feet digging into the cool shady sand, facing the breeze that blew off the lake. They sat and watched the others sit. They sat and watched the swimmers swim. And the Willow leaves above them rustled in the wind.

To the left, a second couple stood up from their spot at the water's edge and retreated to another shady spot by a picnic table laden with bottles of drink and opened bags of food. They threw down two towels on the pink sand. As she laid on hers, he walked back to the table and picked up a yellow plastic bottle -- a yellow plastic container of motor oil.

Look. Look at this!

From their chairs in the shade, the first couple watched the second in stunned, speechless silence.

The woman on the towel looked up at the man with the yellow bottle and smiled. He held it upside down, and they watched the top, waiting for something to come out. In a few moments, a thin stream of black started running onto the sand. The man walked in a ring around their towels, making sure not to miss a spot, making sure that the ring surrounded them on the sand without a gap.

When he was thru pouring his black oil on the sand, when he was thru pouring it on the pink sand within a stone's throw of the waterfront, the man tossed the yellow container over his shoulder without looking and joined the woman inside the ring. She smiled again, and they kissed.

Blackrock Park, Lake Buchanon, TX

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 Friday, May 23, 2003

Blue Dutch Oven

Do you remember the dutch oven? You know, the iron, aqua-colored pot with the black handle on top? The one that matched the aqua-colored linoleum kitchen counters? You know, the counters in front of the white and gray brick-patterned wallpaper? You know, the wall paper in the kitchen. The kitchen with the Kitchenmaid oven. The oven that had the timer on it. You know, the timer that we used to set for everything, including the limit on discussion when we had our family conference on how to draw clouds?

That dutch oven. I'm sure you remember it. Do you remember giving it to me? You must. Well, I've found a perfect use for it.

It sits in a position of prominence in our kitchen now, on the faded beige counter next to the sink in front of the window that looks out on the backyard. The window that looks out on the compost pile in the corner. I've found the perfect use for it. We put our vegetable scraps in it during the day, before we take them out to the pile in the back.

It's a position of honor in our house.

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 Thursday, May 22, 2003

Lunchtime Celebration

He did something different the other day -- something he had not done in a very long time. He pushed back his chair and took off his glasses and paused his computer and left for lunch.

He went out for lunch the other day -- something he had not done for a very long time. And as he waited for the waitress to wander by, with the room filled with birthday revellers eating cake and talking loudly amid floating balloons, he realized something.

He realized while he was at lunch the other day that he had not done this for a very long time, that he had eaten at home (from his telecommuter's office) every day for two years.

So with the birthday behind him, he decided to celebrate a little on his own. When the waitress asked him if he'd like something to drink, he ordered a Dr. Pepper.

R.J.Pitts Barbeque, Westgate Blvd., Austin TX

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 Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Goodbye, Brett

Brett had a chuckle that went well with his smile. Sitting at his computer listening to all that went on in the room, periodically it would erupt.

Heh heh, he would chortle, and if you looked over at him, you'd see a wide grin on his face.

He was always smiling, although something about him made you think that there was sometimes something else going on inside. He clearly worked hard to put a good face on it, and he succeeded.

The last time I saw him, Brett was sitting at a desk in a room full of computers, three rows of them extending to the far wall. Sitting at a monitor near to the door, positioned so that he could see folks come and go, he noticed me and called out my name. We hadn't seen each other for years. He shook my hand firmly as his smile crept across his face and leapt over to mine.

Brett died the other day, sitting at the monitor at the job he loved so much. They don't know why. He was too young to die so soon.

I didn't get to see him often, but knowing that he is gone, I will miss that grin and those chuckles and the sincere happiness he radiated whenever he said hello.

Goodbye, Brett.

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Do Not Ask

Do not ask me to talk to you, for I must not. I must not open my heart. I must not speak.

Because banners are waving in the wind.
Because patriots are on the prowl.
Because these are difficult times.
Because the lawyers have no standing.
Because the courts have no jurisdiction.
Because they are listening to way we say.
Because I am afraid.

So do not ask me to talk to you.

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 Monday, May 19, 2003

She Didn't Know

She didn't know it when they met. She couldn't have. They only spoke online, so she wouldn't have had a chance to see.

She didn't know it when they were dating. She wouldn't have. Their minds were focused on different things.

And she probably didn't know it when they married. She certainly didn't fully comprehend.

But at some point, she must have realized. She must have finally known. It must have occurred to her. His clutter must have become obvious. At some point, she must have seen it for what it really was: piles and boxes and stacks of stuff.

And he knows this. He knows that she just keeps it to herself: those piles and boxes and endless stacks of stuff. He knows that she knows but says not a word.

So at a pace that's barely noticeable but a pace that's positive nevertheless, he clears this clutter, unpacks a box, reduces one of the various piles. And in the garage, where the piles loom high, empty space begins to appear.

Where boxes once stood, there is room for a lawn mower again. And gradually they can walk freely once more -- after a fashion.

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 Friday, May 16, 2003

Barkin' The Blues

The city of Stevie Ray Vaughn. Congress Avenue looking north across the river and over to the capitol, where this morning the Killer D's were welcomed home by cheering fans and perchance some scowling Republicans.

The heat is abating. For heaven's sake, how does this happen!? It's half way thru May already! The high today was but two degrees from 100. What happened to the spring? Didn't we just have an ice storm?

The day is over. The sun has dropped behind the trees on the hill. The band is playing. Roots rock. R&B. In the city of SRV. Outside. Under a darkening sky. The band is playing. To the people. To their dogs. There are many dogs. It is Friday night. Barkin' the Blues.

The stars come out. There is iced coffee, iced tea, cold Orangina to drink. And beer -- there is beer. Overhead, the stars begin to twinkle, one shining thru the branches of a young Live Oak, another thru the sprouting flower of a 20 foot yucca bloom.

Night descends. The air gets cool. The band heats up: the bass, the drummer, one sax, two saxes, and a guitar-playing, tall-haired man at the microphone. Nick Curran and the Nitelifes. Their stage is pink crushed granite and white limestone blocks. Their audience of a few dozen is spread around: on stools and in chairs under the wooden shade shelter, on chairs of their own bringing spread in the motel parking lot, and on other chairs next to the sidewalk next to the curb next to Congress Avenue.

Cars honk. Pedestrians walk by. The blues fill the air. Feet tap. Heads nod. The saxaphones stand in the sidewalk for room. Neon lights glow and turn: El Sol y La Luna, Austin Motel, Amy's Ice Cream/SoCo across the street.

Barkin' The Blues at Jo's Hot Coffee.

Dang! I love South Austin.

Barkin' the Blues. 16 May 2003. Sponsored by Animal Trustees of Austin and Jo's Hot Coffee.

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But Tell Us What You Really Think

Reading this (linked by [Naked Tears] who found it somewhere in [Write Only Media]), all I can say is Yikes! (emph. added):

Saddam was a tyrant, butcher, and serial aggressor. He jerked around the U.N. Security Council for 12 years, and the council did nothing about it. Even if all his biological and chemical weapons were destroyed years ago, his refusal to prove it -- as he had pledged to do -- by turning over records and personnel defied any hope of enforcing nonproliferation rules for gross offenders. Something had to be done, and Bush did it.

But don't tell us this was a triumph in the war on terror, Mr. President. Don't tell us the defeat of a secular dictator has turned the tide against a gang of religious fanatics. And don't talk about patience. You inserted a battle that could have waited into a war that couldn't, precisely because you lacked[~]or thought we lacked[~]patience for the slow, diffuse, half-invisible struggle against the people who hit us on Sept. 11. You wanted a quick, clear victory, and you got it. But don't flatter yourself. You haven't changed the world in 19 months. You've only changed the subject.

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 Thursday, May 15, 2003

Delongs Save The Moon

On this evening of the eclipse, Delong talks to his kids about saving the moon. They have some thoughts of their own.

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On Grackles

They screech and squawk from the treetops all day. They are driving the native songbirds away. Flying in from the country, they roost overhead and fill morning pedestrians with feelings of dread.

I confess, I am not a fan of grackles. They are to the animal kingdom what kudzu is to plants. Ok. Not quite. But you get the idea.

Anyway, I'm sitting here at my desk periodically admiring the garden outside: the salvia, the verbena, the lantana, the hummingbird bush. I'm sitting here and a butterfly flutters by. It is orange-yellow and sweeps by on a southerly breeze.

Then: squawk and bang.

A grackle swoops down from its roost in the Ash tree above and grabs the butterfly out of the air. The orange-yellow wings fall to the ground and the squawking beak picks them apart and flies off.

So much for the butterfly garden.

Wait. Was it a butterfly after all? Maybe it was just a tortilla chip lying in the street. And wait. It might have been a mockingbird. And maybe the wind isn't out of the south but rather the west. And isn't this just mother nature at work?

Oh, never mind.

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He Skipped His Calculus Final

From The Universal Church of Cosmic Uncertainty... He was outside watching a lunar eclipse when it was time to go inside and take the test:

[UCCU]: I'm going to sit here and watch this eclipse. You're going to go take your calculus final. I guarantee you that in 10 years I'm going to remember this, and you're not. Good luck. [...]

I sat there for the length of the test, and watched the moon disappear and reappear completely. I remember the change in color of the sky. I remember the tree line off in the distance, beyond the slope of the parking lot, 4 rows deep. The couple-few bugs in the air. The feel of the roughly-hewn rocks cemented into the wall on which I sat, and the texture of the cement of the wall against which I leaned. The crispness of the air, whispering through the trees lightly.

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 Wednesday, May 14, 2003

That Old Mac

Don't say I haven't tried. I have, but he hasn't shown any interest. I sat down with him one day and introduced him to HTML, the nuts and bolts of web pages. He wasn't interested. I've pointed suggestively to a book in the bookstore, "How the Internet Works" or something like that. He wasn't interested. We've asked if he'd like to go to computer camp. He wasn't interested.

So don't tell me I haven't tried.

But then, this evening after we got home there was silence for too long in the house. And it got to be late. So I walked into the dining room, and there he was. There he was, huddled in front of the 11-inch, black and white monitor. There he was, huddled in front of that old Mac recently rescued from the rain.

It hurt me to say it, but it had to be said:

Ben. Time for bed.

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 Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Ottine Itch

This is high ground, yet once upon a time it was a marsh. There used to be springs and mud pots and hot water coming out of the ground here. It was called Ottine Swamp.

Today most of the springs are gone, the mud pots don't bubble, and the hot water doesn't come to the surface anymore. The water table has long since been pumped too low. But 70 years ago, they sunk some artesian wells and hydraulic ram pumps, and the land was bought by the state, so a piece of that swamp survives.

Here you can see Palmettos in the woods, thriving in the muddy, mucky places where the water still collects. And in the early spring the Red Buckeyes thrust up their blossoms beneath the forest canopy. Here the air is thick. And here and there, some springs still seep out of the ground.

Down by the riverside, there's a trickle of water coming out from the face of the sandy bank. It emerges from the dense undergrowth and runs down the hill making a little beach where it joins the river. This is a place for a boy to spend the afternoon coating himself in mud, wallowing in the mire, hidden from view by the lush green on the forest floor.

This is also a place of poison ivy. It is everywhere, creeping and climbing and reaching out from the bushes at the side of the path, grabbing for unprotected legs and arms. And between here and that sandy spot down by the river where a boy might spend the afternoon, the woods is full of it.

Pity that boy when his wallowing has ended.

Palmetto State Park, Gonzalez TX

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 Monday, May 12, 2003

Discarded Mac

Side of the Road

By the side of the road there were piles of stuff inviting the attention of incurable pack rats, confessed cheapskates, and garage sale scroungers. Piles of 2x4s here. Garage shelving there. Old washing machines. Dead lawn mowers. Discarded Macintoshes.

Wait! A discarded Macintosh!?


In the dark of night, he walked silently down the block to the pile where the computer lay. He picked it up and put it under his arm.

Down the street, a man came out of his garage.

Hello, the man said, eyeing the computer. How are you?

Fine! And you?

Just fine, said the man. He got in his car and drove away.

Moment of Truth

Back home, he set the computer on a table by an outlet. He plugged in the power cord and turned on the switch. The machine beeped with that old Macintosh beep that took him back to the fall of 1984.

A smiling mac icon appeared on the screen.

Welcome to Macintosh, it said.

Sharing the Thrill

Does it work? she asked.

Yes, he happily answered. And it has HyperCard!

Oh. ... What's HyperCard?

Sharing the Thrill (Again)

Ben, come see what I found by the side of the road.

Hold on, came the (typical) distant reply.

It was Monday morning. Holding on took longer than usual. But when he saw the computer sitting on the table the boy's jaw dropped.

Dad! You found this by the side of the road!?

He began mousing around.

Look! It has HyperCard! he shouted with glee.

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 Friday, May 9, 2003

A Few Extra Minutes

I had an appointment with a friend. I was early. I was early, but it wasn't a problem. It wasn't a problem, since John was playing Beethoven on the radio. John put on one piece and then another. And as the pieces played, I pulled into the parking lot and turned off the car.

I turned off the car but left the power on. And with the power on, I listened longer to the radio. I listened to the Beethoven that John was playing. I listened to the tympani rolling and the cellos carrying the melody for a while and the surprising bassoons and the oboes peaking out from behind the corners.

And although the oboes only peaked (as oboes are want to do), there was no mistaking them. There was not mistaking them, because the volume was turned up loud, and because it was Beethoven, and because of the melody, and because I was enjoying sitting there. I was enjoying listening to those oboes and the bassoons and the cellos and the rolling tympani. And as I listened, chills threatened to run down my spine and tears threatened to fill my eyes.

So I sat there in the parking lot for a few extra minutes with the radio volume turned up high until the Beethoven was done. Then I turned the volume down and turned the radio off. I got out of the car feeling remarkably fresh and walked across the parking lot and into the building to see my friend, now that I was no longer early.

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 Monday, May 5, 2003



He received a disturbing phone call from a friend who told him of a pilot in trouble, of a plane with faulty landing gear. The jet was circling the airport dumping fuel, getting ready for a crash landing.

He walked outside to see for himself. He looked up and saw it going around, its landing lights shining brightly. He waved to the plane, wondering if the pilot could see him offering his support.

His emotions were on edge. With the phone still in his hand, he tried contacting people to join him in prayer. He looked for his church directory but could not find it. Instead, he made a few frantic calls to people whose numbers he knew. And after each, he would step outside and look up.

At some point, he stepped outside and could see no lights and hear no sound. His phone rang. It was one of his friends. She told him the pilot had come thru ok.

The next day, he proclaimed to his colleagues at work, Prayer works! God is good!


She spoke of a woman she had met on a weekend trip she had taken: twenty years old this woman was, but she had four children: a four year old, a three year old, a toddler, and one younger than a year. The woman was pregnant with her next.

And after she spoke of the woman, she spoke of the father, too. How he locked the children alone in a room when they were with him but he had to leave the house.

And she spoke of the news she got just today of a storm. How a tornado had hit the house where the woman lived, and how the children were not there.

She looked up with a determined focus in her eyes. It was God's will, she said, His way of freeing those four children from that woman.

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 Sunday, May 4, 2003

A Bend in The River

70 years ago they labored here. Drive in on Park Road 11, and you see their handiwork -- retaining walls and terraces and culverts made of red stone cut from the hills. 70 years ago they did this and their work still stands.

Perhaps 70 years ago crews of them ate here in this building they built on high ground, with a massive fireplace in the kitchen at one end, and a sheltered breezeway for the mess with open walls facing into the wind this way and out over a bluff on the San Marcos River that way.

Stand here and look at what they built, this red stone building with flaring walls that push out like buttresses, and listen to the voices of the men at the end of the day after working with the rock and the sand in the woods and the swamp and the tangled thicket of the bottom lands. And feel the cool breeze blowing across their hot arms as they sit at the tables.

Last year when the skies opened on Central Texas, the waters came down the river in a flood to find the Gulf. Here they crested ten feet or more above flood stage, washing away the bank and flooding the high ground where no water is meant to be. Today, standing in the woods 20 feet or more above the swift-moving water of the gray-green San Marcos River, we stared up and saw the flotsam and jetsam of that day caught in the branches of the trees several feet above our heads.

The waters must have come crashing down the riverbed, slamming against the bends in the river, tearing away the roots and trees and sand, carving a new path. It must have come smashing down in a frightful torrent. And for a time, it must have looked as if the red stonework of those men was in peril, for their building sits at a bend in the river that tried to move downstream, and the wash-out came within 20 feet or so of the red stone buttresses.

Yet it stands here still.

Did they know? Did they know to build well back from the brink as they knew how to face the prevailing breeze, as they knew how to cut their rock from living hills? Did they know this, too?

No they could not have known. You can never know what water will do. And were it not for a new buttress of trucked-in stone holding up the bank that almost washed away, the red stone building where maybe those men ate and sat in the evening breeze... that red stone building from 70 years ago might not be here anymore.

Palmetto State Park, Gonzalez TX, May 2003

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 Friday, May 2, 2003

Mornings Like This

It's Friday morning again, a misty-drizzly day with no blue sky to be seen. The sidewalk and streets are wet. The ground underfoot is soft. And that boy is walking to school again, as he does every day, walking down the street with his trombone in his right hand, his duct tape repaired backpack on his shoulders, his lunch box swinging from its attach-point on the left side of the pack.

There he goes again. And here I stand, coffee cup in hand, watching him go.

Is it silly to feel this way about this? Does he wonder, on those days when he does look back and sees me still standing here? Does he wonder what on earth I am doing?

He might, but it is not, because as I stand here watching him walk into the mist down the street around the corner, I know that he is walking into his own life, and I won't have many more mornings like this.

So I'll just stand here, thank you very much.

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 Thursday, May 1, 2003

Dropping Off Kids on Weekday Morning

Delong contemplates the traffic jam from down below:

I cannot go forward: I am blocked by a Chevy Suburban. I cannot go backward: I am blocked by a Dodge Caravan Special Edition--a vehicle substantial enough to carry all the supplies of a substantial expedition across the Oxus and into the shadows of the Tien Shan. To my left is a Mercury Villager. To my right a GMC Yukon. Peering th rough them I can see the next circle of surrounding vehicles: here a Jehovah Behemoth, there a Tiamat Leviathan, over in that way a Ford Expedition Limited Edition Brutalizer, behind that one is a full raiding party of Cherokees, and is that the Great Sun Barge of Amon-Ra not-so-patiently waiting behind the Hummer?

And his 10 year old has some observations about having a good time at school:

[...] What would you call a school where you had a good time?

What would you call a white duck that is black? Bye Dad.

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