The Haunted Coconut

The Meaning of Being Unemployed and Staring at Cow Arses

Sometimes the universe sculpts an entire day out of mockery and disillusionment.

Today I was asked to herd cattle for the first time in my life, which is a very Green Acres experience for someone who has only seen a real living cow up-close at the zoo or (once or twice) at a petting farm. The cows from the next pasture had invited themselves into the road and my yard for some green snackage, and somehow this became a situation where I was walking through my front gate and into the road, with my cellphone to my ear, following bobbing cow rumpuses toward my farmer neighbor. It seems like it should be easy to keep the cows going down the road, but I had doubts about being too aggressive. What if I anger one of the mamas, or worse yet, the bull? Even if they don’t turn and charge me, they could spook and cause a massive upset much like the antics caused by Billy Crystal’s coffee grinder in City Slickers. So with the cell phone in my jeans pocket, I casually picked up a stick long enough to tap on the ground and strolled behind the stragglers, tapping the stick on the asphalt whenever they slowed to munch some grass. It worked, albeit very slowly. I thought it was a lovely stroll. The farmer who was waiting with the open gate was less than impressed at my leisurely approach. He smiled and shook his head, then made a remark that I didn’t have an ounce of farmer in me–and it wasn’t even a zippy come-on line.

I laughed and agreed, but that surprisingly stung. Okay, it’s true, I have no farm experience outside of video games and children’s books. I’ve watched Babe a lot, and Baby Boom. But those don’t prepare you to drive cattle down a road while wearing a faded “Nasty Woman” t-shirt and blue jeans. I didn’t have any Paulie Shore chaps or straw hat, nor did I have any John Denver playing. I wasn’t ready. We’ve only just moved to rural-rural Ireland, and I was raised in Metro Detroit.

On my equally leisurely stroll back to my rental house I silently curated quips to explain my “urban skillset” that farmers wouldn’t possess. I came up empty. I know that you should chain your barbecue grill to the house or it’ll get stolen (my dad lost three Weber kettles that way). I know how to time rush hour to the best advantage and when the mega grocery stores are emptiest, but them I’m out.

And that really bothered me, because today’s developing theme is “SKILLS!”.

It first emerged when I updated my LinkedIn profile. See, I quit my job of six years this past weekend, and now I need a new one. Nothing is a more haunting assessment of one’s life than staring blankly at the “Add New Skills” section of LinkedIn. The mouse hovers and my mind is a dark sea. I can reenact The Big Chill. I can cook homemade chicken noodle soup (on tonight’s menu). I can move my fucking family across an ocean. I can draw a very wonky Garfield cat. I know the entire Greek alphabet. I can drink an entire bottle of wine in one sitting. I can take my bra off without removing my shirt.

And still the mouse hovers waiting to add a skill. SKILLS! After six years of wonderful and instructive employment, shouldn’t I be overflowing with credentials? I have had a mad and exciting life!

I’m a certified Master Gardener. I am a citizen of two nations, and I live in a third. I was a ghost writer for a squirrel guide booklet. I buried a beloved sister. I won awards for my charity work. I published an article in Canada’s History magazine about an ancestor of mine. I’ve gone from assistant to manager in my last three jobs. And I can complain really, really well. I mean, like an art form. I vote in every election and I diligently recycle. Kind of.

Still the mouse hovers. My life has been anything but boring, but I can’t drive cattle. And I haven’t gotten any certifications in “project management”.  I wasn’t training for another company’s job this whole time, I was training for my job. My job! The one I left so I could watch cows eat my freshly planted shrubs and leave liquid brown puddles in my gravel driveway. And the farmer’s laugh echos in my brain, and my phone buzzes with texts from my husband. He’s on a business trip and showing me the exciting new machinery he’s overseeing. Or something like that. I try to listen whenever he explains, but then “The Ride of the Valkyries” starts playing in my brain and…I lose track. But whatever makes him so proud of those machines, I bet that’s a skill. He and the farmer and the cows and the people at LinkedIn are probably somewhere together right now laughing and laughing.

While they’re off chomping cigars and toasting their lives of deliberate purpose and clarified direction, I will just keep telling myself how scrappy I am, damnit. I haven’t cultivated my life around corporate labels or agricultural knowhow, but I’m damn good at working hard and being a lovely, bold monster. And tonight, after I settle in with my bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup, I’m going to flick off my bra from under my t-shirt and celebrate being skilless. Tomorrow, I order steak. Lots and lots of steak.

 

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2020 Democratic Candidates Compared

Everybody, we have a long and bloody road ahead of us until Election Day, 2020. The Monster Politic is just starting to awaken from its very short slumber, and the cable news channels are already feeding the beast and prepping the arena for some of the most ungladiator-like combat in the history of the worrrrrrld.

So, Dems, who are we going to throw in the arena with Lumpy the Orange Foul-Mouthed Blob? Will it be the DNA-tested woman who likes to video herself drinking a beer according to a script? Will it be the fuzzy-domed muppet who admits to loving socialism? Or maybe the dude who brags about watching porn with his mom.

So many choices!

Realizing you might need a little help picking which hero to give your favor to, I have devised a very helpful, very scientific overview of every current 2020 Democratic primary candidate:

2020 Democratic Candidates - HauntedCoconut.com

Choose your candidate wisely. We only get one chance to crowbar that orange lump out of the White House and spray for crabs.

How to Play Shanghai Rummy

A card game for 3-8 players that is good for a quiet evening at home, or some time ’round the campfire.

Many years ago I went on a camping trip with a friend’s family to a remote cabin in the Canadian wilderness where you could see the stars at night, and smell the fish during the day. I was only thirteen, but even way back in those ancient times, this was a vacation free of television, phones, and air conditioning. During those days when it poured rain, and late at night when the crickets sung to the stars, we had little to do but play card games, and my friend’s family had a clear favorite: Shanghai Rummy. It was competitive and exciting…and it helped pass long blocks of time without counting the cricket chirps.

Decades have passed and that friend and I had a very ugly falling out long ago, but I still remember loving that card game. Much more than I love her. So I pulled out a couple decks of cards not long ago to pass a quiet night, and realized I couldn’t remember a single damn rule. And worst of all, the interweb tubes cannot agree on any part of the rules.

In advance, I beg your forgiveness for not playing the way you and Granny or cousin BuberToober used to play. There are eighteen billion (no exaggeration) variations on how to deal, how to score, and even the round requirements. Are Jokers wild? Or should deuces be wild? Are there penalties for accidentally discarding a valid card? Make up your mind, Al Gore! Well, this is the awesomest, most consensusy set of rules that matches my memory.

Overview:

This is a card game that take a couple hours to play, and involves collecting cards in your hand until you have the right combo to dump them onto the table in front of you. The cards in your hand are your enemy, and threaten to saddle you with points that keep adding up until your shameful, shameful defeat.

Needed:

  • 2 decks of cards + 1 Joker (3-4 players)
  • 3 decks of cards + 2 Jokers (5-8 players)

Basics: Read More

The Shawshank Redemption: Andy Dufresne’s Questionable Tax Advice

The Shawshank Redemption is one of the most peculiarly loved films of all-time. Something about a clever man dreaming behind bars speaks to more people than I would’ve ever thought possible. But Rita Hayworth and I have one little question about a pivotal plot point: Was Andy Dufresne’s tax advice to the Warden bullshit?

Here’s how it goes: It is 1949, and atop a roof at the Shawshank Prison, Warden Hadley loudly groans that he has inherited $35,000 from his brother, but he is livid that the government is going to “take a big wet bite out of [his] ass” in taxes.

Prisoner Andy Dufresne dangerously interjects himself into the conversation insisting that the Warden need not suffer any tax burden at all, suggesting:

“If you want to keep that money, all of it, just give it to your wife. See, the IRS allows you a one-time-only gift to your spouse. It’s good up to $60,000…Tax-free. IRS can’t touch one cent.”

But is that true? Or was it at least true in 1949? Or was Andy just bullshitting for some beers and the fun of it. Let’s take a look at the tax law to understand.

One reason this plot line may have crept into the deliciously warped mind of Stephen King (and therefore, that of character Andy Dufresne) is because there was a major reform of the United States Tax Code in 1948, specifically impacting estate and gift taxes–including marital exemptions. But did it provide a tax shelter for Warden Hadley’s inheritance?

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The D&D Alignment Game: Game of Thrones Edition

Okay, RPG fanatics, it’s time to play one of my favorite time-killing games, “The D&D Alignment Game”! Which of your favorite characters falls into which Dungeons & Dragons-prescribed boxes?

I think the most fascinating aspect of categorizing the Game of Thrones characters is how  passionate every character is. It was surprisingly hard to select a “true neutral”, because even characters who should have been completely neutral (read: maesters), weren’t. Pycelle was evil. Luwin was good. Hodor was good. Granted, “true neutral” is supposed to be the rarest of alignments, but I think it speaks to just how electric each character is in a massive cast.

Forgive me in advance for not being able to list more characters. Varys is “neutral good”, as is Daenarys and Jorah Mormont. Hodor is good. Joffrey is mostly “neutral evil” (though at moments, the argument could be made for chaotic evil). Jon Snuhh is “lawful good” just like his foster father. And Bran Stark? The jury may be out for some. But I have made a very strong argument that Brandon Stark is “neutral evil”. Oh yes. So evil.

Game of Thrones D&D Alignment Grid

DD Alignment Game GoT - Haunted Coconut.jpg

A Few Definitions

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Know Your Irish Road Signs

Thinking of visiting Ireland this year on vacation? Getting around in a new country can be tricky, confusing, and startling. Don’t panic.

This is why I have assembled the following guide to help you navigate the unfamiliar roads of the Irish countryside*. It is based on my wisdom gleaned from living here for just under a year’s time. And let me tell you, at first these signs were a bit befuddling, but I think I’ve finally caught on.

Irish Road Signs-from HauntedCoconutcom

*Sign instructions are probably wrong. Do not consult for actual safety or driving purposes. 

Traffic_Jam,_West_of_Ireland

The West Wing: Every Episode Ranked

PART THREE

The West Wing ranking continues! We have made it through the good, the bad, and the Ted McGinley in PART I and PART II. There are a few flaws with some of these episodes, but on the whole, they’re classic–warts and all. And by warts, I mean Commander Crap Reese. So put on your oversized Josh jammies, grab some whiskey and Blow Pops, and snuggle up with Marion Coatsworth of Marblehay. It’s time for the best!

Here are the Top 50:

50. “Evidence of Things Not Seen” (season 4, episode 20)

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I love that Toby’s accoutrements for poker include a giant bottle of whiskey and two Blow Pops. With that noted, let’s play some poker! Oh wait, other things keep getting in the way, including a job interview with an actor who just got out of rehab, a telephone farce with a Russian leader, and a shooting in the Briefing Room (!!). The titular evidence and things not seen relate to each of these distractions, including Josh not seeing Joe Quincy’s (yeesh, what a name!) little Republican sticking out, and suppressing any feelings over the shots fired. The spy plane, the egg, Will hitting the fifth row. Get it? Hope? Faith? Skepticism? Fear? This is Sorkin being a little cutesy, and also trying to scare us a bit. See, we all know the season finale is approaching, but know not what shape the menace might take. Last episode we wondered about a plane crash. Now we wonder about another shooting. In the meantime, this fake spider under the sheets doesn’t move us very far but allows us to enjoy our favorite characters for a bit. That ain’t all bad.
Points Lost For: Very special guest star Matthew Perry. Blech. Joe Quincy is written like a pancake.
Awkward Suspension of Reality Moment: Remember back in “20 Hours in LA”, when Donna’s at the fancy-pantsy party and she wants to try and meet Matthew Perry? That makes Joe Quincy’s appearance less believable than his name.

49. “Manchester: Part 2” (season 3, episode 2)

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Finally, we’ve settled at the Bartlet Farm! Can I just say that every single White House speech should be written in a barn with a serpentine test audience? Ach, but we’re doing the time warp again and it really dampens any dramatic crescendo that I might’ve enjoyed. What elevates this episode over its previous counterpart is the levity that we get from apple cider and Toby handling all the campaign signs with his magic marker.
LOST Crossover Theory: Has anyone considered that Evan Handler’s character, Doug, might actually be a figment of Sam’s imagination, just as his character on LOST, “Dave”, was Hurley’s imaginary tormentor? He is Sam’s conscience and coping mechanism after his recent paternal meltdown, followed by the revelation that his father-like President was also leading a secret life. He wants an apology from everybody. So he has invented Doug, who shouts at him and pushes him. Just like Dave. Connie might be his therapist who tries to explain what Dave Doug means and help him through this troubling time. Hmmmmm. I’m on to something here.

48. “Stirred” (season 3, episode 17)

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It seems to me that over the past few episodes, Josh and Donna really don’t have much to do. First, they were prank calling the Flenders of Hartsfield’s Landing, and then they were blowing up Lemon-Lyman.com. Now they’re debating the legitimacy of making a teacher appreciation day. Donna really is sweet, though, and I love the solution that they eventually cultivated. Most of us really did have one of those teachers, didn’t we? Mine was Mrs. Barbara McClanaghan. English teacher. Twelfth grade. She told me she saw something in me when really no one had to that point in my life. A friend, a wry mind, and really supportive mentor. She passed away from breast cancer in 2002. Darn you, Donna, for digging all of that up.
Points Awarded For: PB’s commentary on James Bond’s snooty martini order
Points Lost For: The gang seriously floating High Priest Leo’s name for V.P. He brings nothing electorally, he isn’t the folksy yin to the President’s brainy yang, and…I have a premonition that Leo might be really bad at campaigning.

47. “Bartlet’s Third State of the Union” (season 2, episode 13)

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Do any of you people have accents? How about you, you special bastard, Ted McGinley? Is that gum in your filthy Alpha Beta mouth? I’m interested, because, see, I just do not get a lady-boner for the State of the Union. Never have, doubt I ever will. As a matter of fact, I loathe it. But at least my annoyance can be channeled into Abbey’s anger. She gives such good wrath. And just to tie a big ribbon on this episode, I’ll note that any day, any time, I’d rather be dancing and drinking a Pink Squirrel in the steam pipe trunk distribution venue over watching even two minutes the SOTU.
“Women in Government? That’s Crazy!” Moment: Two of the most high-profile women in the White House are so bubble-brained they both sit on a bench with wet paint, in spite of signs. Therefore, they must go on TV bottomless, or dance in bathrobes. Why isn’t Rob Lowe in a banana hammock, damn it all?
Side Note: It always bugs me that Ted’s show is spelled “Capital Beat”, instead of “Capitol Beat”. The former isn’t exactly wrong, but the latter makes so much better sense.
Pink Squirrel Recipe: (Because you’re dying to know) 1 part almond liqueur, 1 part creme de cacao, and 1-2 parts heavy cream or vanilla ice cream. Mmmmm.

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The West Wing: Every Episode Ranked

PART TWO

The Bartlet fun never stops. We’ve already ranked West Wing episodes #101-155 in PART ONE. Now it’s time to move on from the awful episodes that Curtis had to carry around, to some truly lovely stories, killer lines, and classic moments. Most of these episodes below have some serious flaws, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worthwhile. Get ready to enjoy Chicken Bob, a goldfish pin,  and Toby singing.

On we march to the top 100:

100. “Han” (season 5, episode 4)

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I have han just watching this episode, even though it’s a sweet little LOST reunion of sorts (or was LOST a “Han” reunion? Time riddle!). Listen, this is an episode where PB and Leo are just wrong and so adrift in an ocean of uncertainty that they missed the obvious inevitability that the North Korean talks would fall apart. They sacrificed the young confused musician, and then PB had the nerve to blame the pianist’s lack of understanding of “freedom”. Really, Jed? Teach him freedom. Ack, the writers have positioned the POTUS as doddering, weak, confused, and myopic. Not cool.

99. “The Lame Duck Congress” (season 2, episode 6)

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Zzzzzz. ZzzzzzZzzz. This is one snoozer episode. I don’t care a fig about the drunken Russian getting to see the President. And Donna is petulant and ridiculous in this episode about repetitive stress injuries. Nothing about this episode is particularly offensive, it’s just boring and overly focused on procedures.

98. “The War at Home” (season 2, episode 14)

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You know they’re seriously spinning their wheels when the SOTU takes up the better part of two episodes. The speech isn’t exactly a thriller movie, so I can’t believe we’re still listening to Ted McGinley and a very fake Detroit cop who is busy explaining his “Jump to Conclusions” mat while C.J.’s auctioning him off to the friendliest press outlets. The real point of this episode, of course, is the building tension between POTUS and FLOTUS. For the record, I am complete on the side of FLOTUS, and she is the mature, brilliant, feisty voice of reason among a mob of ostriches gathered in a sandbox. Quick bit of trivia: You could skip this entire episode, and apart from a handful of clever lines, you really wouldn’t miss it. Episode 13 to 15. Woosh! C.J.’s running crazy, Ainsley gets humiliated, Toby is frustrated. You’d never notice.
Points Awarded For: In the moment before Donna describes monogrammed towels, Josh gives her a brief look like he might rip her clothes off. And for three heartbeats I don’t breathe.

97. “The Black Vera Wang” (season 3, episode 20)

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Alternate Title: “Mark Harmon Episode #2”
Oh, Sam. Sam, Sam, Sam. My cats saw that ploy coming. But this is how much effort the writers are willing to dedicate to the re-elect campaign. After all, we know Bartlet’s going to win. They know Bartlet’s going to win. James Brolin knows Bartlet’s going to win. So a lot of this is marking time until PB can begin his second term (and, *cough*, season 4). That leaves us twiddling our thumbs while Toby argues about balloons, and Josh argues about moose meat, and CJ pouts around a department store with Special Agent Handsome. Our thumbs only stop twiddling when, in the last five minutes, the writers dangle a big, fat, juicy carrot in front of us: Shareef’s plot to blow up the Golden Gate Bridge.
Great Line: “Nah, I’m hoping it’s porn.”

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The West Wing: Every Episode Ranked

PART ONE

Well, damn. If I’m going to go to the trouble of ranking every Gilmore Girls episode, then I’d better get on the ball and fire up…whichever digital service has the licensing for… The West Wing as well! This paragon of American political optimism and snark is simply one of my favorite shows of all-time. But, it might also be the trickiest show to rank. See, I have to balance entertainment with political views. That’s dangerous stuff right there. So dangerous I might need the full box of Franzia and a big block of cheese to get through these tough negotiations. And maybe some pie. Definitely all the doughnuts and bagels in the land.

Let’s start with the worst, or as I call it “the Angela Blake end of the list”. The top 54 will take you through some pretty rough territory–Camp David negotiations, Brian Dennehy, heart attacks, some Harry Potter vomit, and human fruit fly.

From the bottom:

155. “Isaac and Ishmael” (season 3, episode 0)

WW - isaac and ishmael.png 

Alternate Title: “The 9/11 Episode”
Airing less than a month after the 9/11 attacks, this was never supposed to be an episode. This was thrown together in a matter of about two weeks, from writing to filming to post-production, specially to address the attacks. And it’s awful. Preachy and dark and utterly self-aware. This is an after-school special mixed with a 70s variety show, with a whole lot of racism thrown in. The shockingly prejudiced, rude, and naive teens–who accuse Toby of being a terrorist for wearing a beard, and ask P.B. if he thinks he’s a “man of principle”–are treated to a cast of characters who pop “on stage” one at a time. First Toby drops in! And then it’s C.J. And then a very special appearance by P.B. and the First Lady! The characters are each condescending as shit, using Biblical stories and and patchy WWII analogies to try and explain terrorism in short-prose form. Diarrhea would be more fun than watching this episode. If you ask me to swear on it, this is not West Wing canon. It isn’t even television canon. It does not exist, anymore than does the finger puppet show in which I pretend that Andy accepts Toby’s marriage proposal and loves the house he bought. They eat pie a lot.

154. “Here Today” (season 7, episode 5)

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My Toby. My brilliant and beautiful Toby. What have they DONE TO YOU? Let’s do a quick rundown of this episode: It’s crammed packed with Charles Frost (zzzzzzzzz), Oliver Blabbish questioning (please god nooooooooo!), the President reprimanding and firing Toby (sniffle), and the introduction of fucking Vic the Human Fruit Fly (ewwwww!). I thought Vic was super-duper skeezy and icky when he was banging Miranda on Sex and the City. And now he has impregnated Ellie? Gross! If I’m looking for something to believe in, my only hope is that Josh fired Negative Ned.

153. “Ninety Miles Away” (season 6, episode 19)

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Alternate Title: “Leo Takes On Fidel Castro”
What the fuck is going on? Why is the former White House Chief of Staff meeting Fidel Castro? How is the Cuba issue a single-serving flyby? Why is Brian Dennehy on my screen? And why is he making orange juice really creepy? What is the point of setting up an intertwining history between Kate and Leo? Oh, and speaking of Kate, why has every episode become about her analysts cultivating some new urgent international crisis? Has the Bartlet administration given up on domestic issues so much and has decided to go legacy shopping internationally? This is a baaaaad episode. Baaaaaaad.

152. “The Birnam Wood” (season 6, episode 2)

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Alternate Title: “The Third Israeli-Palestinian Episode”
Camp David negotiations keep going. Hhhhhhhhhhhhh. Okay, we can do this. It’s like getting a pap smear–no one enjoys it, but it’s something we have to do, so we slide down and relax, make polite chitchat with the well-meaning jelly-fingered doc, and get ready for the negotiations to come. I love how the director decided that we’d have an easier time getting us to swallow the conflict debate if we heard it over basketball, skeet shooting, and NERF football. SPORTS! It doesn’t work. All that truly comes of it (because there are no good answers to this quagmire, not even from TV writers), is that Leo quits. Leo quits. Then, like a wounded animal, sweaty and gray, he staggers into the woods away to isolate himself while he has a major cardiac attack. Oh, Leo. I almost feel bad for all the horrible things I’ve said about you lately.
Suspension of Reality Moment: While the early-morning gang is still trying to decide on talking points, PB shows up in a dark three-piece suit that seemed a little stuffy for the gnat-infested cabin in the dewy hours of the morning. But then he shows up to the initial review of topics a few hours later with the other two leaders wearing a sweater? While they’re wearing suits? What’s going on, wardrobe?
Points Awarded For: The way they do skeet shooting in Brooklyn. Heh. Oh, Toby.

151. “Impact Winter” (season 6, episode 9)

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Alternate Title: “The Second Stupid China Summit Episode”
Ever since this episode, I can’t hear the Mamas and the Papas without thinking of Josh and Donna. Sigh. But let’s get to it: PB is making a huge mistake–I have already made this point to perfection during the previous episode’s review–but let me reiterate: This season of international healing is not only ridiculous, it’s brain-stabbingly boring. Oh, and there’s a thing where Phil from LOST comes in with bags of Utz potato chips and warns that the world might end. And, yes, the episodes of LOST and Mad Men I just referenced are more entertaining than this story. Oh, and did I mention that this is this year’s Christmas episode? CHRISTMAS! This episode is everything dry and irritating that this Sorkin-less era embodies. Fail. Christmas Fail.
Points Lost For: Jed’s “LOOK AT ME!” moment of leg pounding. The self-pity may be realistic, and I’m not attempting to judge his angst, but this isn’t the show we signed on for. And my mom has been a drama queen in a wheelchair her entire life, so I’ve heard the “LOOK AT ME!” speech every time she’s brushed her teeth since 1986. Actually, probably longer than that, but my younger self blocked it out.

150. “Access” (season 5, episode 18)

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Oh no. John Wells, this isn’t E.R. And this is hack filler crap that tries to treat this show like it is a hospital procedural is irritating because it doesn’t add to the Bartlet universe. Moreover, this adds nothing to the overall narrative or the characters. This was a gimmick. And a really unwatchable one.
Suspension of Reality Moment: Casey Creek. No fucking way. You can’t rewrite the history of the administration to which we have been such close witnesses. Casey Creek never happened.
Suspension of Reality Moment #2: C.J.’s phantom staff that magically materializes, and then instantly vanishes. Maybe they’re all really ghosts…from Calvin Coolidge’s administration! They died there and didn’t realize they had passed, so they just keep holding imaginary ghost staff meetings with whomever is Press Secretary once every seven years on the day of the full moon.

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