Archive for the ‘My Life and Meh Times’ Category

Zenzele: A Letter for My DaughterZenzele: A Letter for My Daughter by J. Nozipo Maraire

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the most beautiful and poignant books I’ve ever read. It was given to me by Ms. Seaton, an English teacher at my high school. I had never had a single class with her, but she was apparently so taken with me based on what her colleagues said about me that she gave me this as a graduation present and said she wanted me to have it, that she thought I could learn and appreciate a lot from it. And she was right. I should add that we’d never before spoken, aside from hello’s in the hall, when she gave me this book. I remember that fondly and with surprise: that a (white) woman that was basically for all intents and purposes a complete stranger would read me so well and be moved enough to give me this as a present. I have to reread it now.

And yes, it matters that Ms. Seaton is white. It informs this little anecdote that she is Caucasian, and thought that I needed to read this book, and recognized some kind of cultural struggle in me, if not at that point in my life, then in the future.

“How could I allow you to grow up reading Greek classics, and watch you devour The Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet, yet be ignorant of the lyrical, the romantic, and the tragic that have shaped us as Africans?”

So begins a letter to a daughter named Zenzele.

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So I was talking to Andy today, and the topic of yoga came up. I think he was saying that if I did yoga, I would be flexible enough to do … something. I don’t remember what. I only pay attention to like 14% of what that kid says. Any more is hazardous to my health.

Anyway, I was like, um, I survived a month of Bikram yoga, and I totally owned at it, so, trust me, I am more than flexible enough to do whatever the heck it was that we were talking about. And then I remembered this mildly amusing yoga story and I told him about it, and I figured it was mildly amusing enough to share here.

A sculpture of a Hindu yogi in the Birla Mandi...

Image via Wikipedia

So once, not too long ago, I was just doing yoga in my room. My bedroom is the biggest one in our house, and the center is completely open and bare, save for a really pretty area rug. I sprawl out on that rug with my books, with my computer, I pray salaat on that rug, I spread out whatever project I’m working on (painting, sewing, Legos, whatever), I sit or lay on it for my meditation crap, and I roll out my yoga/exercise mat on it.

You know, the two times a year I take it out with the intention of actually working out. Actually, no, I take it out more than that, but usually I spread it out and then I fall asleep on top of it in my yoga shorts and tank because working out is too much work and naps are too pleasant.

So yeah. Suffice it to say, I love my room and the big area rug in the middle.

This isn't my room, but I get the same sanctuary-type vibe from it. My room has less colors. Colors are too stimulating, and cause me to make trouble. :/

Full disclosure: I don’t work out. I don’t run, I don’t belong to a gym, I don’t use any of those exercise videos with the too-cheerful instructors that make me want to punch kittens, and the only time I did anything that could be called working out was that one-month Bikram yoga class I took, which I took mostly because it was half off and I wanted to prove myself I could do some kind of hardcore work out (it’s done in 120F temps in a closed studio) since I, again, never worked out. I’ve never done it again, because it costs too much for me to justify spending, and because I think Bikram Chaudhry is an asshole, but I’m looking into reasonably priced hot yoga classes in my area. Hot yoga is the same as Bikram yoga, except Bikram Chaudhry doesn’t get any of my money.

So, the two or three times I’ve dragged out my yoga mat, I’ve always done it on my island of a rug in the middle of my room.

So I was doing a bunch of ashtanga poses, the sun salutations, all of that, and I was doing really well because, again, I’m flexible enough. Note: I’m not strong. Not at all. I’m just flexible *enough.* I’m certainly not some awesome yogi over here.

But I got cocky.

I got cocky, you guys. I flew too close to the sun. :/

I decided to do the turtle pose. And not the wimpy turtle pose: I decided to do the hardcore turtle pose. I decided to do this:

Yeah. THIS.

I stole this picture from Yoga In My Life, which some of you more consistent yogis might want to check out.

THIS was the pose I attempted.

And THIS was the pose I totally pulled off.

It wasn’t difficult at all. At that point I’d been working on my yoga poses for about an hour, so I was pretty limber already. I had no trouble getting into the pose and I really stretched into it, totally feeling it in my hamstrings and arms. It was awesome. I loved it. I must have held that pose for five minutes, easy, stretching into it and maintaining the steady yoga breathing.

And then my brother came running up the steps and knocked on my door (he never enters – cultural thing) and told me I had a phone call.


Um, okay.

I prepared myself mentally to get out of the pose. And then I tried to get out of the pose.



I was stuck, you guys. I was stuck GOOD.

And yes, I looked ridiculous. I looked … well, exactly like this picture I showed you earlier:

Naturally, Andy found this hilarious. My brother found it pretty hilarious at the time, too.

I’d attempted this position without the guidance of a yoga teacher, and nowhere near a yoga studio. I was just doing it on my own. And had I been doing it in a studio, the teacher would have seen my confusion and come over and told me, step by step, exactly which part of my body to move so that I could get out of it. And I think I tried the reverse-of-how-I-got-into-it like you’re supposed to when doing tricky yoga positions, but who knows? Maybe I didn’t. Maybe I just panicked and squirmed for a good FIVE MINUTES before I worked myself free.

And when I ran down to get the phone my friend was like, dude, what took you so long? And because I have a problem with not really realizing until it’s too late that my stories make me sound like a hopelessly inept fool, I was like I WAS STUCK IN A TURTLE AND IT WAS SO SCARY. :C

This seems like one of those times.



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I wasn’t really going to post anything about the strife in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and the Middle East. I mean, everything I have opined on the matter is on my Twitter timeline. I’m actually at the top of my Twitter game when there’s a revolution going on. During the Egyptian revolution, an NPR editor or something included me in a Follow Friday re: Egypt/Cairo/Tahrir, which was exciting. In a very vain, pointless, ego-stroking kind of way. But still. Occasionally I have those vain, pointless, ego-stroking moments.

Certain things have bothered me for a while now regarding these protests and revolutions. In no particular order:

Stop saying stupid things like, “In the MidEast, people are dying, and here, teachers don’t want to pay an extra 12%.” That is a bullshit argument and I have no patience for it. I got into an argument with a dude named Atraqchi who’s some kind of Iraq war analyst, a while ago. He’s a HuffPo writer (I know, who isn’t?) and he tried to advance the argument that Muslims in the US shouldn’t donate any money to the Park51 Masjid because Muslims overseas were dying in Baghdad and Pakistan and Sudan and Palestine.

That is straight bullshit. First, you can support both, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make in this context. Yes, it’s true that people are dying in the MidEast while workers across the country protest a crack-down on unions. But making that argument creates a false equivalency and is just plain disingenuous.

In this country, we are lucky enough to know that whatever happens, we will not be gunned down in the street en masse by the army or police. En masse, I said. (RIP, Oscar Grant, and the tens of thousands like you.) If we take to the streets in protest (say, about unions) we know that the President will not order air strikes on us, and we know the police won’t open fire on us as we do nothing but walk the picket line. We know this. Call it a product of American exceptionalism, that we don’t think the same things that happen in other countries can happen here, whatever.

We know this won’t happen here. We’re lucky enough to live in an environment that affords us that kind of security. We’re luckier than a lot of the world’s population. Great. Good for us.

But what we do hold dear and what we do fight for are our rights in this country. Currently, one of those rights is under attack – collective bargaining. You can’t put a price on collective bargaining. Stop trying to raise the 12% number. Just stop. The wealthy in this country have lobbyists (and, well, money). The working and middle class? We have unions. Unions are one of the top donors to the Democratic party for much the same reason, along with plaintiffs’ attorneys. And, of course, two of the things on the GOP agenda? Cracking unions and tort reform. Gee. Shocker.

The argument that people in the MidEast is are dying so we are idiots to be upset about a 12% raise is just ludicrous. The contexts and environments are two entirely different things. Yes, they’re fighting for their lives there. Here, we’re lucky to be fighting for our rights, not our lives. And just because people in Libya are being mowed down by Qaddafi’s security forces, we should shut up and sit down and twiddle our thumbs while we have our collective bargaining rights watered down and eventually stripped away?

Unlikely. If you honestly think that, step to the back of the line.

Tear gas in Cairo on Jan 28. Source: Boston.com (click)

And this 12% business is really pissing me off. “Just pay the 12% increase.” I’ve heard this over and over. Um, why? Are we Americans so glued to MSNBC and FOX that we’ve forgotten the very nature of pensions and how they work?! Pensions are not a gift by some kindly employer. Pension funds are PART OF YOUR COMPENSATION FOR THE WORK YOU DO. It is YOUR money. It’s not being given to you by the employer or the government, given at will to be taken at will. It is YOUR entitlement for the work you do. That is how pensions work.

I could go on about this and hash out the economics of it all (my mom has been teaching economics for twenty years – really, I got this, it’s basically all we talk about at the dinner table) but this article says it better than I have time to.

“Really Bad Reporting in Wisconsin: Who Really “Contributes” to Public Workers’ Pensions?”

Read this. If you read nothing else on Wisconsin and labor relations in the US ever, read that. Understand how pensions work. Understand where your money is.

Source: Inquistr (click)

This isn’t about unions, it’s about the budget. No, it’s not. First, Wisconsin isn’t broke. They have a projected deficit of something like $137M, I think. Which is nothing, really, since the last time I checked, IL was about 6 or $7B in the hole. 😛 We really don’t know what we’re doing here. Anyway, $137M is low when compared to the rest of the states in the US. WI isn’t in dire straits. Yet. Or at least, not when it comes to its finances.

Aside from that, the Public Worker’s Union AGREED to Walker’s demands for pension/benefits cuts. They agreed. And Walker told them to go screw. And he admitted in that prank phone call from David Koch, I believe, that it was about cracking down on unions. I’m sure FOX News has found some clever way to spin it, but really? Really? When it comes straight from the ass’s mouth? I mean, horse’s ass? I mean, horse’s mouth? Really?

Also refer to what I said earlier, about unions being one of the largest donors to the Democratic party. Follow the money. Always follow the money and you will have your answer to just about everything. And you will be severely depressed and need lots of chocolate.

Om nom nom.

Source: Feet in 2 Worlds (click)

All those countries in the MidEast that are revolting – they’re all the same. Okay, no one actually explicitly said this, verbatim. But it’s the prevailing attitude. The glibness of it all – “Oh, what Arab/Muslim country is protesting today? Har har har. Eh, heard it before when Country A was doing it, now it’s just Country B’s turn.” It really just – grr.

First of all, try to be a bit more precise. Not all Muslims are Arabs. Not all Arabs are Muslims. I have the feeling the world just got a lot bigger for some people. (God, could I be any more condescending today? Fine.) In a lot of cases, these are NOT even Muslim countries! Sure, most of the population is Muslim, but that doesn’t mean the country is necessarily an Islamic nation and not a secular one. That’d be like saying that just because most Americans are Christians, America is a Christian nation.

… Okay, that’s a bad example, because America basically is a Christian nation, especially if you listen to those idiot Teabaggers. For more on that, if you’re interested, read American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century by Kevin Phillips. You can find it here on GoodReads.

More importantly, Country A is absolutely NOT anything like Country B. That’s nothing more than a racist, xenophobic perspective that reeks of American exceptionalism. (Hm. That seems like a theme with me today.) Bahrain is not Egypt is not Libya is not Yemen is not Sudan is not Jordan is not Syria is not Iran.

I bet it’s easy to think in those terms. Break yourself of that habit. These are countries with different governments, different rulers, different histories, different cultures, different population demographics (the Egyptian revolution, for example, was led by a youth movement as I think some huge percentage of the population is under 30 so it just makes sense; in Libya, it’s the business and middle class that is leading the revolt with the youth movement close behind), different relations with other countries in the region, and different relations with the US.

Don’t lump them all together. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because Egyptians threw off Mubarak, Iranians can throw off Ahmadinejad or Pakistan can throw off Zardari. Don’t do it. It displays nothing but ignorance, and you’re going to anger a lot of people along the way.

I’ve gotten twitter replies to that effect: Oh, those countries are all the same. I never trusted myself to reply, so I didn’t. Because I would have said something really, really mean, and made the person feel like an absolute idiot. I just know I would have. I figured it was better to hold my counsel and let someone a little more patient somewhere down the line explain the folly of that mindset.

Just … don’t do it. You’d never say that Portugal and Spain and Andorra were basically the same just because they all share the Iberian peninsula. You’d never say that Sweden and Norway and Finland were the same, even though they’re all crammed up there in the Scandinavian peninsula. You’d never do that because everyone would look at you like you had a second grade education.

Don’t do the same in the Middle East.

Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt

Pearl Roundabout, Bahrain


Benghazi, Libya

Also, stop being so surprised that the people in the Middle East are standing up to their rulers. I’ve seen it all over the place – from lay people and from pundits on news shows and from writers for news sites. “Oh, wow, I never thought the Arabs would do this!” What? Stand up for their basic human rights? Really?

All that says is, “I never thought the Arabs were capable of doing this.” Because they’re weak and stupid and subordinate and don’t have the same taste for freedom and liberty like we do in the developed world or in the Western world. That they’re just not capable of standing up for themselves.

It reminds me of the romantic paternalism I despise so much. It sounds like a great compliment – “Yay, Arabs!!!1!” – but it’s just xenophobic and racist.

I mean, it’s an easy thing to fall into. I’m sure I’ve done it plenty of times. We generally do do it often enough – like when people remark that an African American is ‘eloquent’ or ‘articulate.’ The implication, of course, being that most usually aren’t, so we’re surprised when a black person actually is. It’s horrible and cringe-worthy but we’re used to it. That’s why few really notice the implication when someone says “I never thought the Arab world would do this.” The implication being, somehow, that they’re used to living in dictatorships, that they can’t imagine living under anything but a dictatorship, and that they could never be stirred to fight for anything more than living under a dictatorship.

And the only way to fix this is to really think about the underlying meaning of what we’re saying. It would be far more appropriate, for example, to comment on how astonishing it is to see regime after regime come under attack by protesters so quickly, like a domino effect. I think that’s what most of us are getting at – we’re surprised that Tunisia fell, and then all of a sudden everyone was packed into Tahrir with roses, and then Bahrainis retook Lulu Square after the bloody massacres there and all crammed into Pearl Roundabout, and then Libyans freed Benghazi and a day later, Tripoli fell.

That’s what we’re surprised about. That’s what we should say.

Click for source

The Democratic Senators in WI (and also IN) should just COME HOME AND DO THEIR GODDAMN JOBS. You can’t say this and support the notion of the filibuster. You can’t. The Democratic senators are doing what they were elected to do – represent the will of those that elected them. And if you can find a Democrat in WI that wants those lunkheads back in the Senate so that Walker can get his bill rammed through, you deserve a cookie, because there aren’t going to be that many WI Democrats thinking that way right now.

And I’m sick of some Republicans saying this and railing against the WI 14 for bailing. With all of the filibuster threats from the GOP we’ve had to endure this past year? Really? What is Boehner’s threatened government shut down but a giant, “Screw you guys, I’m going home?” Some Republicans are just mad because it’s their legislation that’s stalled.

Hell, I’d have been mad if Republicans pulled this over legislation I wanted passed. But again, I understand filibusters and am fine with that, for the most part. Sure, we’ve been seeing a lot of them in our Congressional sessions recently, and they seem to be on the rise, which isn’t a good thing. But too much of anything isn’t a good thing; it doesn’t mean the concept of the filibuster itself is horrible and ungodly and turrible. So I’d have to grow up and deal with it if the legislation I liked was stalled because of a GOP filibuster or mass exodus to another state.

Also, a funny little aside: Abraham Lincoln jumped out of a fricking window so there would be no quorum and a vote couldn’t be held.

I think that visual is a good one to end on, don’t you? Abe Lincoln, hat and coattails and all, jumping out a window? I like it.

I’m sure there are more things that are bothering me. But for now, this will do. Plus, I have a hell of a lot of work to do today. And unfortunately, I can’t hole up in a hotel in Rockford to escape it. Don’t think I haven’t considered that, though.

I’ll end with a picture of a masjid in Cairo.

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BetterWorldBooks is, far and away, my favorite online retailer. I love these guys. Whenever I can, I buy my casebooks and supplements from them, and all of my non-lawschool books come from them. They ship super quickly and have great prices, but the best part is that a portion of the proceeds go to fund libraries and literacy initiatives worldwide. Plus, they reuse/recycle books and their packaging is all 100% recycled post-consumer product. Also? They ship free. YEAH, IT’S LIKE THAT.

Also, they’re partnered with organizations like Books For Africa and Invisible Children, which is lovely. They were founded in 2002 by three kids from Notre Dame, and are based in Mishawaka, Indiana. Also, their (free worldwide) shipments are carbon balanced with Green-e Climate certified offsets from 3Degrees. They collect books from campuses, libraries, and more across the country, and buy them from readers as well. They sell them online and donate them to sister programs across the world.

I particularly love their Bargain Bin. Right now, if you buy 4 books, they are $3 each, with each additional book an additional $3. And even their Bargain Bin section is just jam-packed with titles, and it would probably take days to wade through it all.

But you know what I really, really love about BWB? The dorky little emails I get whenever I buy books. They’re so hilarious and cute and cheesy and lovely. They’re just dorky and lame, and I love them because I am also dorky and lame.

Here’s the email I got just now after I spent about $57 rooting through the Bargain Bin:

Hello Huma,


(Your book(s) asked to write you a personal note – it seemed unusual, but who are we to say no?)


Holy canasta! It’s me… it’s me! I can’t believe it is actually me! You could have picked any of over 2 million books but you picked me! I’ve got to get packed! How is the weather where you live? Will I need a dust jacket? I can’t believe I’m leaving Mishawaka, Indiana already – the friendly people, the Hummer plant, the Linebacker Lounge – so many memories. I don’t have much time to say goodbye to everyone, but it’s time to see the world!


I can’t wait to meet you! You sound like such a well read person. Although, I have to say, it sure has taken you a while! I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but how would you like to spend five months sandwiched between Jane Eyre (drama queen) and Fundamentals of Thermodynamics (pyromaniac)? At least Jane was an upgrade from that stupid book on brewing beer. How many times did the ol’ brewmaster have one too many and topple off our shelf at 2am?


I know the trip to meet you will be long and fraught with peril, but after the close calls I’ve had, I’m ready for anything (besides, some of my best friends are suspense novels). Just five months ago, I thought I was a goner. My owner was moving and couldn’t take me with her. I was sure I was landfill bait until I ended up in a Better World Books book drive bin. Thanks to your socially conscious book shopping, I’ve found a new home. Even better, your book buying dollars are helping kids read from Brazil to Botswana.


But hey, enough about me, I’ve been asked to brief you on a few things:



We sent your order to the following address:




We provide quick shipping service to all our customers. You chose Standard shipping. It should arrive in 7 to 14 business days.


The delivery confirmation number is [redacted]


If you have any questions or concerns, please email my friends in Customer Care at help@betterworldbooks.com. If you could please include your order number (redacted) that would be very helpful.


Eagerly awaiting our meeting,



The Wildlife Photographs
A Kiss Is Just A Kiss
The Wisdom of Islam (Wisdom Of Series)
American Islam: Growing up Muslim in America
Dog Observed
A Massive Swelling : Celebrity Reexamined as Grotesque Crippling Disease Other Cultural Revelations
Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America (Oxford American Lectures)
Obsessed by Dress
The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book
The Essential Calvin and Hobbes
It’s A Magical World: A Calvin and Hobbes Collection
Hello, I’m Special: How Individuality Became the New Conformity
A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now
It’s In the Bag: What Purses Reveal—and Conceal
Bad Girls and Sick Boys: Fantasies in Contemporary Art and Culture
The Indispensable Guide to Classic Men’s Clothing
Justice Brennan: The Great Conciliator
When the Birds Stopped Singing : Life in Ramallah Under Siege

Tell me that’s not adorable. 🙂

carbon balanced with Green-e Climate certified offsets from 3Degrees

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Narrative of the Life of Frederick DouglassNarrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This isn’t exactly a fun read. It’s not something that will lift your spirits and put you in a fabulous, animated mood. Instead, it’s heavy, it’s grave, it’s heart-wrenching, it’s fascinating, and it’s compelling to the end.

The writing is at times stark, at times stoic, and at times so passionate that it leaps off the page and into the heart. That’s the only way I can possibly describe it. I had so many thoughts while reading this book that it was impossible not to journal about it, which you can read here if you are so moved. (The tag is being added to; I still have some back-logged journal entries I haven’t gotten around to posting there yet.)

Suffice it to say, Frederick Douglass was an amazing man, so far ahead of his time, and this is one of those books that I want as many people as possible to read, because I honestly think doing so can inspire us all to be better than what we are. A tremendous autobiography.

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Bravo for the Marshallese: Regaining Control in a Post-Nuclear, Post-Colonial World (Case Studies on Contemporary Social Issues)Bravo for the Marshallese: Regaining Control in a Post-Nuclear, Post-Colonial World by Holly M. Barker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was certainly a compelling read, and quite difficult to get through at times. It is written by a young Peace Corp volunteer that lived in the Marshall Islands with her host family and learned through first hand accounts the horrors wreaked on the indigenous population by the US’s nuclear missile testing and the resulting radiation. The illnesses and birth defects described are too horrific for me to recount, and to say that I found this story shocking and disturbing is a vast understatement. The suffering of the Marshallese is absolutely unconscionable, and though this is a challenging read that I had to put down several times while reading it, I’m glad I did. Not for the faint of heart, or the complacent.

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The Scarlet PimpernelThe Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This. Book. Is. Legendary.

There aren’t enough words to do it justice. It’s a fast-paced, swash-buckling tale of a young English nobleman and his gang of daring friends that rescue French aristocrats and their families that have been doomed to the guillotine by the revolutionaries during the storm of the Bastille. It’s a tough sell – getting us to be sympathetic to the aristocrats after the horrors the French commoners lived through before the Revolution, but the author somehow manages.

What I particularly liked was the irreverence with which the hero’s motives were explained: the Scarlet Pimpernel does this mainly because he is young, rich, and bored. Simple enough, no? Why trouble ourselves with notions of gallantry and justice and mercy? Rich boy needs something to do. 😉

The only reason I’m not writing a lengthy review of this book is because I really don’t want to spoil the surprise. No, I’ll save those thoughts and reflections for my book journal. (Yes. I have a book journal. This is because I am a nerd extraordinaire.) This is one of the best love stories I’ve ever read, in an odd way. Sure, it’s overly dramatic at times, and there’s quite a lot packed in such few pages, so the love that grows between the hard covers here doesn’t burn slowly and steadily like the love in Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre, for example, but it’s still a love story through and through: passionate and ardent and desperate and fraught with angst and misunderstanding and pride.

This was nearly impossible to put down, and I’d read it a thousand times more. I often do that with books I love: I start rereading no sooner than having turned the last page. This book will be no exception, I’m sure. I think it will also be one of those books where I will absolutely never be able to watch a film adaptation, because I just know it will ruin the grand imagery I’ve built up in my head. Besides, the one man that could have and should have played the Scarlet Pimpernel has long since passed on. That man is Errol Flynn, of course. And his frequent on-screen love interest, Olivia de Havilland, would have made an amazing Margot. (As would her sister, Vivian Leigh, but I much prefer Livvie.)

Tell me these two gorgeous people wouldn't be perfect to play the Scarlet Pimpernel and Marguerite Blakeney. Just you try and TELL ME.

I recommend this to anyone that loves intrigue, history, and a tale of a swash-buckling hero with a dual identity. The Scarlet Pimpernel truly is the Silver Age’s Superman, and it’s a pity so few have read his tale. Demmed pitiful, at that! Sink me!

In related news, Errol Flynn is perhaps the most gorgeous man that ever lived. But then again, we all know my thing for Irish boys. So this should come as no surprise to ANYONE.


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