Callahan Chronicals

( 5 )


Callahan's Crosstime Saloon is the neighborhood tavern to all of time and space, where the regulars are anything but: time travelers, talking dogs, alcoholic vampires, cybernetic aliens--and a group of people who really, truly care about each other. It's the rare kind of place where bad pun are as appreciated as good conversation.

Time Travelers Strictly Cash is their policy, but then again everybody pays cash at Callahan's. Lay your money on the bar, name your poison, step up ...

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Callahan's Crosstime Saloon is the neighborhood tavern to all of time and space, where the regulars are anything but: time travelers, talking dogs, alcoholic vampires, cybernetic aliens--and a group of people who really, truly care about each other. It's the rare kind of place where bad pun are as appreciated as good conversation.

Time Travelers Strictly Cash is their policy, but then again everybody pays cash at Callahan's. Lay your money on the bar, name your poison, step up to the line drawn on the barroom floor, and after drinking make a toast and throw the glass into the fireplace. It's an odd tradition (don't worry about the cost--Callahan gets the glasses at a bulk discount), but one's that's led to some interesting stories.

Callahan's Secret may be something even the regulars would never guess. then again, it may be as simple as listening to those post-toast stories. After-all, like Callahan says, shared pain is lessened and shared joy in increased--a simple concept that could, after a few drinks, lead to saving the world....

This omnibus edition contains the trio of books that introduced the world to Mike Callahan, Jake Stonebender, Doc Webster, Mickey Finn, Fast Eddie Costigan, Long-Drink McGonnigle, Ralph Won Wau Wau and the rest of the regulars of Callahan's Place in the stories that helped Spider Robinson to win both a John W. Campbell Award and a legion of fans.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Nobody's perfect. But Spider comes pretty damned close."--Ben Bova

"If one were ever give the task of creating Spider Robinson from scratch, the best way to do it would be to snatch James Joyce from history, force-feed him Marx Brothers films and good jazz for the better part of a decade, then turn him loose on a world badly in need of a look at itself."--Vancouver Sun

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812539370
  • Publisher: Doherty, Tom Associates, LLC
  • Publication date: 10/15/1997
  • Series: Callahan Series
  • Edition description: REV
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 5.24 (w) x 7.92 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Meet the Author

Spider Robinson, winner of three Hugos and a Nebula, was born in the Bronx and raised on Long Island, and has been a Canadian resident for 30 years. Holder of a bachelor's degree in English from the State University of New York, he worked as a folksinger and journalist before publishing his first story in Analog in 1973. He now lives with his wife Jeanne Robinson (co-author of the Hugo- and Nebula-winning Stardance trilogy) on an island outside Vancouver, B.C., where they raise and exhibit hopes.

Eleven of his 31 books are set in Callahan's Place, a fabulous tavern founded by a time traveler, where puns flow as freely as beer, and smell far worse. The most recent is Callahan's Con [Tor July 2003]. He has contributed a regular editorial column, "Future Tense," to Canada's national newspaper, The Globe & Mail, since 1995. In 2000, he released Belaboring the Obvious, a CD of original music with the legendary Amos Garrett ("Midnight at the Oasis") on lead guitar, and in 2001 he was a celebrity judge at the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam.

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Read an Excerpt

Of course we should have been expecting it. I guess the people at Callahan’s read newspapers just like other folks, and there’d been a discotheque over on Jericho Turnpike hit three days earlier. But somehow none of us was prepared for it when it came.
Well, how were we to know? It’s not that Callahan’s place is so isolated from the world that you never expect it to be affected by the same things. God knows that most of the troubles of the world, old and new, come through the door of Callahan’s sooner or later—but they usually have a dollar bill in their fist, not a .45 automatic. Besides, he was such a shrimpy little guy.
And on top of everything, it was Punday Night.
Punday Night is a weekly attraction at Callahan’s—if that’s the word. Folks who come into the place for the first time on a Tuesday evening have been known to flee screaming into the night, leaving full pitchers of beer behind in their haste to be elsewhere. There’s Sunday, see, and then there’s Monday, and then there’s Punday. And on that day, the boys begin assembling around seven-thirty, and after a time people stop piddling around with drafts and start lining up pitchers, and Fast Eddie gets up from his beat-up upright piano and starts pulling tables together. Everyone begins ever-so-casually
jockeying for position, so important on Punday Night. Here and there the newer men can be heard warming up with one another, and the first groans are heard.
“Say, Fogerty. I hear tell Stacy Keach was engaged to the same girl three times. Every time the Big Day come due, she decided shecouldn’t stand him.”
“Do tell.”
“Yup. Then the late Harry Truman hisself advised her, said, ‘Gal, if you can’t stand the Keach, get out of the hitchin.’”
And another three or four glass hit the fireplace.
Of course the real regulars, the old-timers, simply sit and drink their beer and conserve their wit. They add little to the shattered welter of glass that grows in the fireplace—though the toasts, when they make them, can get pretty flashy.
Along about eleven Doc Webster comes waddling in from his rounds and the place hushes up. The Doc suffers his topcoat and bag to be taken from him, collects a beer-mug full of Peter Dawson’s from Callahan, and takes his place at the head of the assembled tables like a liner coming into port. Then, folding his fingers over his great belly, he addresses the group.
“What is the topic?”
At this point the fate of the evening hangs in the balance. Maybe you’ll get a good topic, maybe you won’t—and only way to explain what I mean is by example:
“Fast Eddie,” says Callahan, “how ’bout a little inspirational music?”
“That would bring the problem into scale,” says Doc Webster, and the battle is joined.
“I had already noted that,” comes the hasty riposte from Shorty Steinitz, and over on his right Long-Drink McGonnigle snorts.
“You’ve cleffed me in twain,” he accuses, and Tommy Janssen advises him to take a rest, and by the time that Callahan can point out that “This ain’t a music hall, it’s a bar,” they’re off and running. Once a topic is established, it goes in rotation clockwise from Doc Webster, and if you can’t supply a stinker when your turn comes up, you’re out. By one o’clock in the morning, it’s usually a tight contest between the real pros, all of them acutely aware that anyone still in the lists by closing gets his night’s tab erased. It has become a point of honor to drink a good deal on Punday Night to show how confident you are. When I first noticed this and asked Callahan whose idea Punday had been in the first place he told me he couldn’t remember. One smart fella, that Callahan.
This one night in particular had used up an awful lot of alcohol, and one hell of a lot of spiritual fortitude. The topic was one of those naturals that can be milked for hours: “electricity.” It was about one-fifteen that the trouble started.
By this point in a harrowing evening, the competition was down to the Doc, Noah Gonzalez, and me. I was feeling decidedly punchy.
“I have a feeling this is going to be a good round Fermi,” the Doc mused, and sent a few ounces of Scotch past an angelic smile.
“You’ve galvanized us all once again, Doc,” said Noah immediately.
“Socket to me,” I agreed enthusiastically.
The Doc made a face, no great feat considering what he had to work with, and glared at me. “Wire you debasing this contest with slang?” he intoned.
“Oh, I don’t know,” interceded Noah. “It seems like an acceptable current usage to me.”
“You see, Doc?” I said desperately, beginning to feel the strain now. “Noah and I seem tube be in agreement.”
But Doc Webster wasn’t looking at me. He wasn’t even looking in my direction. He was staring fixedly over Noah’s right shoulder. “I regret to inform you all,” he said with the utmost calm, “that the gent at the bar is not packing a lightning rod.”
About thirty heads spun around at once, and sure enough, there was a guy in front of the bar with a .45 automatic in his hand, and Callahan was staring equably into the medicine end. He was holding out a saltshaker in his huge horny fist.
“What’s that for?” the gunman demanded.
“Might as well salt that thing, son. You’re about to eat it.”
* * *
Now your run-of-the-mill stickup artist would react to a line like that by waving the rod around a little, maybe even picking off the odd bottle behind the bar. This fellow just looked more depressed.
He didn’t look like a stickup artist if it came to that; I’d have taken him for an insurance salesman down on his luck. He was short, slight, and balding, and his gold-rimmed glasses pinched cruelly at his nose. His features were utterly nondescript, a Walter Mitty caricature of despair, and I couldn’t help remembering that some of our more notable assassins have been Walter Mitty types.
Then I saw Fast Eddie over at the piano slide his and down to his boot for the little blackjack he carries for emergencies, and began trying to remember if my insurance was paid up. The scrawny gunman locked eyes with Callahan, holding the cannon steady as a rock, and Callahan smiled.
“Want a drink to wash it down with?” he asked.
The guy with the gun ran out of determination all at once and lowered the piece, looking around him vaguely. Callahan pointed to the fireplace, and the guy nodded thanks. The gun described a lazy arc and landed in the pile of glass with a sound like change ratting in a pocket.
You might almost have thought the gun and shattered a window that kept out a storm, but the whooshing sound that followed was really only the noise of a couple dozen guys all exhaling at the same time. Fast Eddie’s hand slid back up his leg, and Callahan said softly, “You forgot the toast, friend.”
I expected that to confuse the guy, but it seemed he knew something about Callahan’s Place after all, because he just nodded and made his toast.
“To progress.”
I could see people all up and down the bar firing up their guessers, but nobody opened his trap. We waited to see if the guy felt like telling us what his beef with progress was, and when you understand that you will have gone a long way toward understanding what Callhan’s Place is all about. I’m sure anywhere else folks’d figure that a man who’d just waved a gun around owed ’em an explanation, if not a few teeth. We just sat there looking noncommittal and hoping he’d let it out.
He did.
“I mean, progress is something with no pity and no purpose. It just happens. It chews up all you ever knew and spits out things you can’t understand and the only value it seems to have is to make a few people a lot of money. What the hell is the sense of progress anyway?”
“Keeps the dust off ya,” said Slippery Joe Maser seriously. Now Joe, as you know, has two wives, and there sure as hell ain’t no dust on him.
“I suppose you’re right,” said the clerical-looking burglar, “but I’d surely appreciate a little dust at the moment. I was hip-deep in it for years, and I didn’t know how well off I was.”
“Well, take this to cut it with,” said Callahan, and held out a gin-and-gin. As he handed it over, his other hand came up from behind the bar with a sawed-off shotgun in it. “I’ll be damned,” said Callahan, noticing it for the first time. “Forgot I had that in my hand.” He put it back under the bar, and the balding bandit swallowed.
“Now then, brother, pull up a chair and tell us your name, and if you’ve got troubles I never heard before I’ll give you the case of your choice.”
“Make it I. W. Harper.”
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Harp-oooooooch!” said Doc Webster, that last rising syllable occasioned by Long-Drink McGonnigle’s size nines having come down hard on the Doc’s instep. Pretty quick on the uptake, that Long-Drink.
“My name is Hauptman,” the fellow said, picking up the drink. “Thomas Hauptman, I’m a…” He took a long pull. “That is, I used to be a minister.”
“And then God went and died and now what the hell do you do, is that it?” asked Long-Drink with genuine sympathy.
“Something like that,” Hauptman agreed. “He died of malaria in a stinking little cell in a stinking little town in a stinking little banana republic called Pasala, and his name was Mary.” Ice cubes clicked against his teeth.
“Your wife?” asked Callahan after a while.
“Yes. My wife. No one dies of malaria any more, do you know that? I mean, they licked that one years ago.”
“How’d it happen?” Doc asked gently, and as Callahan refilled glasses all around, the Time-Traveler told us his story.
* * *
Mary and I (he said) had a special game we played between ourselves. Oh, all couples play the same game, I suppose, but we knew we were doing it, and we never cheated.
You see, as many of you are no doubt aware, it is often difficult for a man and a woman to agree (sustained audience demonstration, signifying hearty agreement)…even a minister and his wife. Almost any given course of action will have two sides: she wants to spend Sunday driving in the country, and he wants to spend it watching the football people sell razor blades.
How is the dilemma resolved? Often by histrionics, at ten paces. She will emote feverishly on the joys of a country drive, entering rapture as she portrays the heart-stopping beauty to be found along Route 25A at this time of year. He, in turn, will roll his eyes and saw his hands as he attempts to convey through the wholly inadequate vocabulary of word and gesture how crucial this particular game is to both the History of Football and the Scheme of Things.
The winner gets, in lieu of an Oscar, his or her own way.
It’s a fairly reasonable system, based on the theory that the pitch of your performance is a function of how important the goal is to you. If you recognize that you’re being out-acted, you realize how important this one is to your spouse, and you acquiesce.
The not-cheating comes right there—in not hamming it up just to be the winner (unless, rarely, that’s the real issue), and in admitting you’ve been topped.
That’s why when Mary brought God into the argument—a highly unfair, last-ditch gambit for a minister’s wife—I gave in and agreed that we would spend my vacation visiting her sister Corinne.
I had given up a congregation over in Sayville, not very far from here. Frankly Mary and I had had all the Long Island we could take. We hadn’t even any plans: we intended to take a month’s vacation our first in several years, and then decide where to settle next. I wanted to spend the month with friends in Boulder, Colorado, and Mary wanted to visit her sister in a little fly-speck banana republic called Pasala. Corinne was a nurse with the Peace Corps, and they hadn’t seen each other for seven or eight years.
As I said, when a minister’s wife begins to tell him about missionary zeal, it is time to capitulate. We said good-bye to my successor, Reverend Davis, promised to send a forwarding address as soon as we had one, and pushed off in the winter of 1963.
We divided the voyage between discussing the growing unpleasantness in a place called Vietnam, and arguing over whether to ultimately settle on the West or East Coast. We both gave uncertain, shaky performances, and the issue was tabled.
Meeting Corinne for the first time I was terribly struck by the dissimilarity of the sisters. Where Mary’s hair was a rich, almost chocolate brown, Corinne’s was a decidedly vivid red. Where Mary’s features were round, Corinne’s were square, with pronounced cheekbones. Where Mary was small and soft, Corinne was long and lithe. They were both very, very beautiful, but the only characteristic they shared was a profundity of faith that had nothing to do with heredity, and which went quite as well with Corinne’s fiery sense of purpose as with Mary’s quiet certainty.
Pasala turned out to be a perfect comic-opera Central American country, presided over by a small-time tyrant named De Villega. The hospital where Corinne worked was located directly across the Plaza de Palacio from the palace which gave the square its name. De Villega had built himself an immense mausoleum of an imitation castle from which to rule, at about the same time that the hospital was built, with much the same sources of funding. Pasala, you see, exports maize, sugar cane, a good deal of mahogany…and oil.
As Corinne led us past the palace from the harbor, I commented on the number of heavily armed guardias, in groups of five each of which had its own comisario, who stood at every point of entry to the huge stone structure with their rifles at the ready. Corinne told us that revolution was brewing in the hills to the north, under the leadership of a man named Miranda, who with absurd inevitability had styled himself El Supremo. Mary and I roared with laughter at this final cliché, and demanded to be shown someone taking a siesta.
Without cracking a smile, Corinne led us around behind the hospital, where four mule-drawn carts were filled with khaki figures taking the siesta that never ends. “You cannot deal with the problems of Pasala by changing the channel, Tom,” she said soberly, and my horror was replaced by both a wave of guilt and a wistful, palpebral vision of Boulder in he spring—which of course only made me feel more guilty.
We dined that night in a miserable excuse for a cafe, but the food was tolerable and the music quite good. Considering that the two women had not seen each other for years, it was not surprising that the conversation flowed freely. And it kept coming back to El Supremo.
“I have heard it said that his cause is just,” Corinne told us over coffee, “and I certainly can’t argue otherwise. But the hospital is filled with the by-products of his cause, and I’m sick of revolution. It’s been worse than ever since De Villega had Miranda’s brother shot.”
“Good God. How did that come about?” I exclaimed.
“Pablo Miranda used to run this cafe, and he never had a thing to do with revolution. In fact, an awful lot of militant types used to drink in a much more villainous place on the other side of town, rather than embarrass Pablo with their presence. But after El Supremo blew up the armory, De Villega went a little crazy. A squad of guardias came in the door and cut Pablo in half.
“Things have been accelerating ever since. People are afraid to travel by night, and De Villega has his thugs on double shifts. There are rumors that he’s bringing in trucks, and cannon, and a lot of ammunition from the United States, for an expedition to clean out the hills, and the American Embassy is awfully tight-lipped about it.”
“What kind of a ruler is De Villega?” Mary asked.
“Oh, an absolute their. He robs the peons dry, rakes off all he can, and I’m sure the country would be better off if he’d never been born. But then, there are some conflicting reports about El Supremo too: some say he’s a bit of a butcher himself. And of course he’s a Communist, although God only knows what that means in Central America these days.”
I began to reply, when we heard an ear-splitting crash from outside the cafe. Glasses danced off tables and shattered, and pandemonium broke loose. Three men scrambled to the door to see what had happened; as they reached the doorway a machine-gun spoke, blowing all three back into the cafe. They lay as they fell, and Mary began to scream.
“Tom,” Corinne shouted above the din of gunfire and panic-stricken people, “we’ve got to get to the hospital.”
“How do we get out?” I yelled back, rising and lifting Mary from her seat.
“This way.”
Corinne led us rapidly through the jabbering crowd to a back exit, at which were gathered a good number of people too frightened to stick their heads out the door. I was inclined to agree with them, but Corinne simply walked out into the night. I glanced at Mary, she returned my gaze serenely, and we followed.
There were no sudden barks of gunfire; the revolutionaries were not really interested in anyone within the care, they were simply shooting anything that moved back in the plaza.
As I helped Mary through the dark streets behind Corinne I tried to figure the way back to the hospital, but I could not recall where the back door of the cafe lay in relation to the door through which we had entered. But it seemed to me that we would have to cross the plaza.
I called to Corinne and she halted. As I came up to her a volley of gunfire sounded off to our left, ending in a choking gurgle.
“Considering what you’ve told us about Miranda’s egregious charm,” I said as softly as a heaving chest would let me, “had’t I better get you two ladies to the America Embassy? It’s built like a fort.” And it lay on this side of the Plaza.
“The hospital is very short-staffed, Tom,” was all Corinne replied, with a total absence of facial expression or gesture. But I knew I could never equal a performance like that is a lifetime of trying. As she spun on her heel and continued walking, Mary and I exchange a long look.
“And she’s a rank amateur,” I said, shaking my head sadly.
“She and I used to do summer stock together,” she said, and we followed Corinne’s disappearing footsteps.
Crossing the plaza turned out to be no more difficult than juggling poison darts; the few who shot at us were terrible marksmen. By the time it was necessary to cross open space, most of the fighting had centralized around the palace itself, and both sides were in general much too busy to waste good bullets on three civilians running in the opposite direction. But as we reached the hospital, I glanced over my shoulder and saw trucks pulling around the corner of the building into the plaza, towing cannon behind them. As we raced through white corridors toward the Emergency Room I heard the first reports, then nothing.
The artillery provided by the U.S. State Department got off exactly three rounds. At that point, we later learned, a bearded man appeared on the palace balcony, overlooking the carnage in the square, and heaved something down onto the trampled sward. It was De Villega’s head. Sensing the political climate with creditable speed, the uniformed cannoneers worked up a ragged cheer, and the revolution was over.
But not for us. The maimed and wounded who continued to be brought in through the night gave me my first real understanding of the term walking nightmare, and until you have spent a couple of hours collecting random limbs and organs for disposal I will thank you not to use the term yourself. I had rather naively assumed that the worst would be over when the battle stopped, but that turned out to be only the signal for the rape and plundering and settling, of ancient grudges, which got a good deal uglier. I tried to get Mary to take a few hours of sleep, and she tried to get me to do the same, and although we both put on the performance of a lifetime neither of us would concede defeat.
It was about three the next afternoon when I heard the scream. I left one of De Villega’s rurales to finish sewing up his own arm and sprinted down a crowded hall toward the surgery where Mary and Corinne had been for the past thirteen hours. It sounded as though the scream had come from there…
It had. As I burst in the door I saw Mary first, in the impersonally efficient grip of the largest man I’ve ever seen in my life. Then I saw Corinne, struggling with a broad-backed revolutionary who was throttling a uniformed patient on the operating table. The crossed bandoliers over his shoulders rose and fell as he strangled, as though he wanted there to be more to it than simply clenching his fingers. Corinne’s flailing fists he noticed not at all.
She was undoubtedly stronger than I—I wasted no time in tugging at the madman’s shoulder. I picked up the nearest heavy object, a water pitcher I believe, and bounced if off the back of his skull as hard as I could. He signed and crumpled, and I whirled toward the giant that held my Mary.
“You should not have done that, seóor,” he said a deep, soft voice. “The man on the bed, he once did a discourtesy to Pedro’s wife. A grave discourtesy.”
“Get out of this room at once,” Corinne snapped in her best drill sergeant voice, shaking with rage.
The big man shook his head sadly. “I am afraid not, seóorita,” he rumbled. Hands like shovels tightened around Mary’s biceps, and she still had not uttered a sound since I burst in. “Seóor,” the giant said to me, “you must please put down that pitcher, or I will be forced to do your own wife a small discourtesy.” I started. “Ah, you see? I know who you are; and I would not wish to be discourteous to the wife of a man of God.”
The gorilla on the floor began to stir, and the huge man sighed, “I am afraid it is all over for you, Padre. Pedro, he is a most unreasonable man when he feels his honor is at stake. You hit him from behind.”
Corinne snarled and leaped at him, and I followed suit. Even together we could not budge him or his iron grip, but we kept him too busy to hurt Mary, and I think we might eventually have prevailed. But suddenly something large and heavy smashed into my left kidney, and I fell to the floor gasping with pain. Through the haze I saw Pedro, his tangled hair soaked with blood on the side, step over me and reach for Mary, and my soul died in my chest.
Then my ears rang with a shot, and I twisted about on the floor to see a tall man with a bristling mustache framed in the doorway, a smoking automatic in his hand. He wore the shapeless khakis of the mountains and there was an easy arrogance in the smile with which he regarded all of us.
Behind me there was thud as a body hit the floor. Half-blind with pain, I contrived to roll over again and saw that the pistol shot had taken off the top of Pedro’s skull.
“There is that about martial law,” said the man in the doorway with sardonic amusement. “It is addictive.”
I finally managed to sit up, bracing myself against a large oxygen bottle. “Who are you?” I managed.
The lean, mustached man bowed low. “Permit me to introduce myself, Padre. I am El Supremo e Illustrisimo Seóor Manual Conception de Miranda, the current ruler of this republic. You in turn, lady there—release her at once, Diego—is your wife Mary.”
His excellent English bespoke an unusual degree of education, and his bearing was a studied claim to nobility. I began to believe that we three might survive the afternoon for the first time in what seemed like hours.
“How do you all seem to know who we are?” I asked. “We only arrived yesterday, and I don’t think we’ve spoken to more than a handful of Pasalans. Yet that monster over there knew us…and I’m sure I’d remember him.”
“I know all about the comings and goings of all American nationals in Pasala,” he said smugly. “Your country has been a source of much inconvenience to me, and I am a thorough man, as are my lieutenants. Diego is one; Pedro there was another. I cannot abide a lieutenant who loses his head.” He holstered his gun and entered the room, and I struggled to my feet with Mary’s help. We clung together, and she trembled violently.
El Supremo looked about, failed to find a place to sit. He strode to the operating table, shoved the wounded and unconscious soldier off onto the hard floor quite casually, and sat down with his legs dangling over the edge.
Corinne went for him, but before she covered three feet the giant Diego intercepted her and lifted her clear off her feet. She struck at his face with balled fists, but he appeared not to notice. She was sobbing with rage.
“Diego,” said Miranda with a grin, “since you do not seem to be content unless you have a woman in your hands, why don’t you take the young lady to my apartments and keep her there until I come, eh?”
Mary and I both cried out.
“My friends,” said Miranda, still grinning, “this is only justice. I had a woman, Rosa, and she was heart of my heart. She was killed last night, by an American cannon shell. Because of your country, I have no woman. It seems only fair that America give me a woman. I prefer an unmarried woman, and I do not think the sister of a minister’s wife will disappoint me.” He laughed, a gay laugh that froze my blood.
“There is that about martial law,” I heard myself say. “It is selective.”
“Explain,” El Supremo barked.
“I believe the man on the floor over there was shot for attempted rape,” I said quietly.
Padre,” said the tall revolutionary, drawing his gun again, “in the absence of a lawful constitution for Pasala I must do the best I can myself. Occasionally I may be inconsistent, as I am now in sentencing you and your wife to ten years’ imprisonment for disturbing the peace.
“But you will find that there is this about material law: it is effective.”
The next twenty minutes were the last free minutes I would spend for ten years, and the last free minutes of Mary’s life, but I don’t remember one of them. El Supremo marched us at gunpoint across the plaza to the palace, down many flights of stairs, to the lowest of the three basement floors which made up the palace’s dungeons. There he locked us personally into a nine-by-twelve stone cell, and left.
We were there for nine years, and I will not speak of those years. After Mary died, I was alone there for eleven months longer, and I will not think of those months. I will only say that in the first weeks, I thanked God for giving Miranda the spark of humanity which caused him to put both Mary and me in the same cell…but soon, as I began to see the subtlety and horror of his true intent, I came to curse him with a black hatred. Ten years inside a stone cube with no heat, no ventilation and a pail for a toilet can do much to a marriage, and that Mary and I survived as long as we did was. I assure you, due only to the depth and strength of her character. And even she couldn’t keep me from losing my faith in God…
* * *
The minister was silent, staring into his glass as though he read there a strange and terrible secret which he could not quite believe. The stillness was absolute; no flames danced in the fireplace. I caught Doc Webster’s eye, and he seemed to come back from something else with a start.
“What happened to Corinne?” he asked hoarsely.
Hauptman put down his glass suddenly, and looked around at us incuriously. “I’ve been told she died that night,” he said conversationally, “and I rather hope it’s true. Miranda was…an animal.”
“Couldn’t the American Embassy do anything to get you out?” asked Long-Drink quickly, and I saw Callahan nod approval.
“The American Embassy,” replied Hauptman bitterly, “neither had the slightest knowledge of our incarceration, nor cared to know. If anyone at all was aware of our presence in Pasala, he must have assumed we had been killed in the uprising, and he undoubtedly heaved a great sigh when he realized he had no idea who to send condolences to.” His words came like machine-gun bullets now.
“We were listed in he prison records as ‘Hidalgo, Tomaso and Maria, subversives,’ and that was quite good enough for the State Department, if they checked at all. El Supremo was quite an embarrassment to the United States, and when they had him assassinated two years later, the puppet presidentes they installed were far too busy entertaining American oil executives to be bothered inspecting the palace dungeons. The only human we saw for nine years was a perpetually drunken jailer who brought such of our food as he didn’t eat himself. I’d be there now, except that when…when Mary died, th-they…” He broke off, got a fresh grip on himself and continued, “Someone noticed her body being removed for burial, and became curious as to why Maria Hidalgo looked like an American. It was a year before I was released, owing to, let me see now, ‘political complications of an extremely delicate nature in the Middle East,’ I think they said…my God, I just realized what they meant! It sounded insane at the time, and I hadn’t thought about it sence.” He laughed bitterly. “Well, what do you know? Anyway, for the last six months I was there I had Red Cross food and a blanket, so that was hunky-dory. Turned out there was a man from Baltimore four cells down, part of the hospital staff, and he was released too. If Mary hadn’t died we’d both still be there.” The minister laughed again, gulped down the rest of his gin-and-gin and made a face. “She was always getting me out of scrapes.”
More gin appeared before him; he gulped it noisily.
 “You know,” he said with a dangerous high note in his voice, “in all the nine years the prayers never stopped rising from that filthy little cell. For the first three years we prayed that someone would depose El Supremo. For approximately the next three years, Mary prayed constantly that my faith in God would return. Then, for about a year, I prayed to I-don’t-know-who that Mary would live. And after malaria took her, I spent my time praying to anyone who would listen for a chance to kill El Supremo with my own hands.
“I mean to say, isn’t it ironic? All that prayer, and none of it did the slightest good. El Supremo was dead all the time, I never seemed to get that belief back, and Mary…” He broke off short and began to laugh softly, a laugh that got shriller and shriller until the glass burst in his hand. He then just sat and looked at his bleeding palm until Doc Webster came over and gently took it away from him.
“Well, at least this damned thing is disinfected,” the Doc grumbled. “Don’t ever pull that with an empty glass.” Someone fetched his battered black bag, and he began applying a dressing.
Along about that point, everyone in the place got real interested in the floor or the ceiling. It somehow didn’t seem as though there was a single intelligent thing that could be said, and it was slowly becoming necessary that somebody say something.
Callahan was right there.
“Reverend,” he rumbled, hooking a thumb in his belt, “that’s a right and story. I’ve heard an awful lot of blues, and I can’t say I ever heard worse. But what I would like to have explained to me is how, if you follow me, the hell does all this bring you into my joint with a heater in your fist?” There was steel in his voice, and the minister looked up sharply, guilt replacing the agony on his features. Bravo, Callahan, I thought.
See, I knew what the preacher couldn’t: that when there’s anger in Callahan’s voice, it’s just got to be theatrics, because when Callahan is good and truly pissed off he don’t bother to talk at all.
The little minister was a while finding words. “You see,” he said finally, as the Doc finished bandaging his hand, “it was ten years. Ten years. I…I don’t know if you can understand what I mean. I know it’s been two years since Mary died—it’s not just that. But you see, she was all I knew for such a long time, and now I don’t know anything at all.
“You must understand, in all that time we never saw a newspaper or a magazine or a TV broadcast, never heard so much as a radio. We had utterly no communication with the outside world; we were as isolated as two human beings can be.”
“Hell,” said Tommy Janssen, “that sounds like what I could use to straighten out my head once and for all.” I was thinking about a Theodore Sturgeon story called “And Now The News,” and I kind of agreed with Tommy, which shows how well I’d read the story.
“Straighten your head out!” Hauptman exploded.
“Now, you know perfectly well what the boy means,” Long-Drink interceded. “No one is saying those years weren’t nightmares for you, but you know, they were nothing to write home to mother about for us. You missed a lot of turmoil, a lot of bad times and trouble, and maybe in that at least you were better off. I know most of us here have probably wished we could get away from everything for a long spell, and you did it. What’s wrong with isolation?”
“Nothing, per se,” Hauptman said quietly. “The problem is this: the world won’t wait for you. You drop out for more than a short time, and brother, the world goes on without you.”
“I think,” said Callahan slowly, “I begin to see what you mean.”
“You don’t even begin,” Hauptman said flatly. “You can’t You’re too close to it. The whole world turns upside down in ten years, but you turn upside down with it, and so to you it’s right side up. It all happens over days and weeks and months, and most people can adapt that fast. But I don’t recognize the first thing about this world—I didn’t live through it.
“Let me give all you good people a history lesson.”
He got up, walked to the bar and put out his hand. Callahan put a glass of gin in it. He turned, faced us all, took a long swallow, and cleared his throat pedantically.
“Mary and I left for Pasala in February of 1963,” he said. “I’ve since had occasion to supplement my own memories with references from The New York Times, and you may find some of them interesting.
“On the day of our departure, for instance, there had been a total of thirty-three Americans killed in Vietnam since the start of U.S. involvement. Not that anyone was aware of it: it wasn’t until a few days after we left that Senator Mansfield’s study group issued a warning that the Vietnam struggle was becoming an ‘American War, that cannot be justified by present U.S. security interest in the area.’ Why, the godforsaken place was costing us a whole four hundred million dollars a year!
“Of course, General O’Donnell replied the next day that all those combat pilots among the ‘advisers’ were there to train the Vietnamese, not to take part in the war themselves.
“Lot happened since then, hasn’t it?
“How about another area, my friends? In November of 1962, Dean Munro of Harvard University warned undergraduates against use of ‘the stimulant LSD that depresses the mind,’ and censured Professors Alpert and Leary for promoting its use. Dr. Leary replied that hysteria could only hamper research, and pointed to the absence of any evidence that the drug was harmful.
“In California, meanwhile, authorities were sounding a similar warning note concerning a newly-discovered drug which was beginning to appear on the streets. It was called Methedrine.
“The New American Church was still fighting unsuccessfully for the right to continue using peyote in its religious ceremonies, a practice which predated while settlement of America. Harry Anslinger had just retired as head of the Federal Narcotics Agency, and there was some talk of controlling the sale of airplane glue to those under eighteen.
“Incidentally, while Leary and Alpert (who I understand calls himself Ram Dass lately) found little difficulty in preserving their academic autonomy, others were not so lucky. Professor Koch was fired from Illinois University for daring to suggest in print that premarital sexual relations should in some cases be condoned. By the time Mary and I got on the boat, the efforts of the American University Professors’ Association to have him reinstated had been entirely fruitless. A month after we left, the Illinois Supreme Court declined to intervene. Whatever Masters and Johnson were doing, they weren’t talking about it. The sexual revolution was still being vigorously, and apparently successfully, ignored.
“Hard to remember back ten years, isn’t it? How about the space race? The latest news I’ve heard puts us quite a few moon landings and space probes ahead of the Russians, and most people I’ve spoken to seem to assume it was always that way. America has felt pretty cocky about the Big Deep for quite a while now. Did you know that by February of 1963, the Russian Vostok series had racked up 130 orbits, a total of 192 hours in space, while the U.S. had a total of 12 orbits and 20 hours? A couple of years earlier, President Kennedy—remember him?—had publicly committed us to putting a man on the moon in the next decade, and he was widely pronounced deranged. Eight years later, Armstrong took the first lunar walk, and the nation yawned. Oh, you people are so damned blasé about it all!
“I could go on for hours. When I dropped out, assassination had not yet become commonplace; J. F. K. had not yet been canonized, and R. F. K. was just arguing his first case in any court, as Attorney General of the United States. Cinerama was just getting started, hailed as the ware of the future, and the New York World’s Fair had not yet opened. Two months after we left, Cleopatra premiered, and Twentieth Century Fox stock dropped two dollars a share—”
Hauptman broke off, began to laugh hysterically. Callahan reached across the bar and gripped his shoulder with a hand like a steak, but the minister shook his head.
“I’m all right,” he managed, chocking with laughter. “It’s just that I haven’t told you the funniest joke of all. Nearly killed me at the time, and I didn’t dare break up.
“You see, when I was finally released, they brought me directly to Washington, where some very cheerless men wanted to ask me a number of questions and help me memorize what had officially happened. But first they decided to compensate me for my troubles with the thrill of a lifetime. I was conveyed before the President of the United States for a hearty handclasp, and I thought I was going to faint from holding in the laughter.
“I hadn’t thought to ask who the President was, you see. It didn’t seem especially important, after all I’d been through, and I didn’t expect I’d recognize the name. But when Richard Nixon held out his hand, I thought I’d die.
“—You see, three months before I left, Nixon lost the race for governor of California, and assured the press with tears in his eyes that they wouldn’t have Dick Nixon to kick around any more…”
This time the whole place broke up, and Doc Webster almost lost his tonsils trying to whoop and swallow at the same time. Fast Eddie tried to swing into “Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep,” but he was laughing so hard he couldn’t find the keys, and a barrage of glasses hit the fireplace from all around the room.
Which was fine for catharsis. But as the laughter trailed off we realized that this catharsis was not enough for Ton Hauptman. As his impassioned words sank in it began to dawn on all of us that we had adapted to an awful lot in ten years, and in some crazy way this confrontation with a man who was forced to try and swallow a whole new world in one gulp seemed to drive home to all of us just how imperfectly we had adapted, outselves.
“You know,” Long-Drink drawled in the sudden silence, “the little man had a point. Been a lot goin’ on lately.”
“It occurs to me,” Tommy Janssen said softly, “that ten years ago I’d never heard the word heroin,” and he gulped at his beer.
“Ten years ago,” Doc Webster mused, “I thought that heart transplants were the province of science fiction writers.”
“Ten years ago,” Slippery Joe breathed wistfully, “I was single.”
I was thinking that ten years ago, I wore a crewcut and listened to Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino. “Christ,” I said, as the impossible burst over me. “Nobody’d ever heard of the Beatles in 1963!” The whole electric sound, the respectability of rock and its permeation of all other forms of pop music, had taken place while Hauptman was rotting in a cell, listening to his fingernails growing. What must the music of today sound like to him? Jim McGuinn of the Byrds had pointed out in the late sixties that the Beatles had signaled a change in the very sound of music. He compared pre-Beatles music to the bass roar of a propellor plane, and the ensuing post-Beatles rock to the metallic whine of a jet engine. From what I hear on the radio, it seems that we’re already up to the transonic shrieking of a rocket exhaust, and Hauptman was getting it all at once. From Paul Anka to Alice Cooper in one jump! Why, the sartorial and tonsorial changes alone were enough to boggle the mind.
We all stared at him, thinking we understood. But he looked around at us and shook his head, and took another drink.
“No,” he said. “You still don’t understand. What you are all just beginning to see is what I would, if I were a science fiction writer, call the Time-Traveler’s Dilemma: future shock, I believe they’re calling it now. But my problem is the Time-Traveler’s Second Dilemma: transplant shock.
“You see, you’re all time-travelers too, traveling through time at a rate of one second per second. In the past few minutes, you’ve all been made acutely aware of just how much time you’ve passed through in the last ten years, and it’s made you think.
“But I’ve traveled ten years all at once, and I don’t have your advantages. Strange as this particular time is to you, you have roots woven into its fabric, you have a place in it however tenuous, and most important of all, you have a purpose.
“Don’t you understand? I was a minister.
“I was charged with responsibility for the spiritual development of other human beings. I was trained to help them live moral lives, to make right choices in difficult decisions, and to comfort them when they needed comfort. And now I don’t even begin to grasp their problems, let alone the new tools that people like me have been jury-rigging over the past ten years to help them. Why, I went to a fellow cleric for advice, and he offered me a marijuana cigarette! I called an old acquaintance of mine, a Catholic priest, and his wife answered the phone; I told her I had a wrong number and hung up. This whole Watergate affair is no revelation to anyone who was in Pasala in 1963; it’s been a long time since I believed Uncle Sam was a virgin. But I used to be in the minority.
“Gentlemen, how can I function as a minister when I don’t even begin to comprehend one single one of the moral issues of the day? When I can’t, because I haven’t lived through the events that gave them birth?”
He finished off his gin, left the glass on the table, and began tracing designs in the moisture it had left there.
“I’ve looked for other work. I’ve looked for other work for nearly six months now. Are any of you here out of work?”
Which was a shame, him, saying that, because it caused me to pitch a perfectly good glass of Bushmill’s into the fireplace.
Hauptman nodded, and turned to the red-haired mountain behind the bar.
“And that, Mr. Callahan,” he said quietly, “is the long and short of why you find me in your establishment with a pistol I bought in an alleyway from a young man with more hair than Mary used to have. I simply didn’t know what else to do.”
He looked around at all of us.
“And now that didn’t work either. So there’s only one thing left I can do.” He heaved a great sigh, and his shoulders twitched. “I wonder if I’ll get to see Mary again?”
Now, we’re a reasonably bright bunch at Callahan’s (with some notable exceptions), and nobody in the room figured that the one thing Hauptman had left to do was start up a chain letter. But at the same time, we’re a humane bunch, with a fanatical concern for individual liberty, and so we couldn’t do any of the conventional things, like try to talk him out of it, or call the police, or have him fitted for the jacket that’s all sleeves. Truth to tell, maybe one or two of us agreed with him that he had no alternative. We were pretty shaken by his story, is all I can say in our defense.
Because we just sat there, and stared at him, and felt helpless, and the silence became a tangible thing that throbbed in your temples and made your eyes sting.
And then Callahan cleared his throat.
“To be or not to be,” he declaimed in a voice like a foghorn. “Is that the question?”
* * *
Like I said, we’re a bright bunch, but it took us a second. By the time I got it, Callahan had already lumbered out from behind the bar, swept a pitcher and three glasses to the floor, and wrapped the tablecloth around him like a toga. Doc Webster was grinning openly.
“Listen, ya goddamn fathead,” Callahan declaimed in the hokey, stentorian tones of a Shakespearean ham, “’tis damn well nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, than to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, let ‘em lick ya. Nay, fuck that…” His eyes rolled, his huge hands sawed the air as he postured and orated.
Hauptman and orated.
Doc Webster heaved himself up onto a chair, harummphed noisily and struck a pose.
“Do not go gentle into that good night,” he began passionately.
Suddenly Callahan’s Place became a madhouse, something like a theater might be if actors “tuned-up” as cacophonously as do orchestras. Everyone suddenly became the Ghost of Barrymore, or thought he had, and the air filled with praises of life and courage delivered in the most impassioned histrionic manner. I unpacked my old guitar and joined Fast Eddie in a rousing chorus of “Pack Up Your Sorrows,” and I guess among us all we made a hell of a racket.
“All right, all right,” Callahan bellowed after a few minutes of pandemonium. “I reckon that ought to do, gents. I think we took the Oscar.”
He turned to Hauptman, and tossed the tablecloth on the floor.
“Well, Reverend,” he growled. “Can you top that performance?”
The little minister looked at him for a long spell, and then he began to laugh and laugh. It was a different kind of laugh than we’d heard from him before: it had no ragged edges and no despair in it. It was a full, deep belly-laugh, and instead of grating on our nerves like a knife a piano wire it made us feel warm and proud and relieved. Kind of a tribute to our act.
“Gentlemen,” he said finally, clapping his hands feebly, still chuckling, “I concede. I’ve been out-acted fair and square; I wouldn’t try to compete with a performance like that.”
Then all at once he sobered, and looked at all of us. “I…I didn’t know people like you existed in this world. I…I think that I can make it now. I’ll find some kind of work. It’s just that…well…if somebody else knows how tough it is, then it’s all right.” The corners of his mouth, lifting in a happy smile, met a flood of tears on their way down. “Thank you, my friends. Thank you.”
“Any time,” said Callahan, and meant it.
And the door banged inevitably open, and we spun around to see a young black kid, chest heaving, framed in the doorway with a .38 Police Positive in his hand.
“Now everybody be quiet, an’ nobody gonna get hurt,” he said shrilly, and stepped inside.
* * *
Callahan seemed to swell around the shoulders, but he didn’t move. Everybody was frozen, thinking for the second time that night that we should have been expecting it, and of all of us only Hauptman refused to be numbed by shock any more, only Hauptman kept his head, and only Hauptman remembered.
It all happened very quickly then, as it had to happen. Callahan’s shotgun was behind the bar, out of reach, and Fast Eddie had been caught with both hands in sight. The minister caught Doc Webster’s eye, and they exchanged a meaningful glance across the room that I didn’t understand.
And then the Doc cleared his throat. “Excuse me, young man,” he began, and the black kid turned to tell him to shut up, and behind him Hauptman sprang from his chair headlong across the room and headfirst toward the fireplace.
He landed on his stomach, and his hands plowed straight into the welter of broken glass. As he wrenched over on his back, his right hand came around with that big .45 in it, and the kid was still turning to see what that noise behind him was.
They froze that way for a long moment, Hauptman sprawled in the fire place, the kid by the bar, and two gun-muzzles stared unblinking across the room at each other. Then Callahan spoke.
“You’ll hurt him with a .38, son, but he’ll kill you with a .45.”
The kid froze, his eyes darting around the room, then flung his gun from him and bolted for the door with a noise like a cross between the sneeze and a sob. Nobody got in his way.
And then Callahan spoke up again. “You see, Tom.” he said conversationally, “moral issues never change. Only social ones.”
* * *
One thing I’ll say for the boys at Callahan’s; they can keep a straight face. Nobody cracked a smile a Callahan fed the cops a perfectly hilarious yarn about how the minister had disarmed a thief with a revolver he had only that afternoon taken from a troubled young parishioner. Some of us had even argued against involving the police at all, on general principles—I was one of them—but Callahan insisted that he didn’t want any guns in his joint, and nobody else really wanted them either.
But when I was proudest of the boys was when the police asked for a description of the thief. None of us had given any thought to that, but Doc Webster was right in there, his dragon-in-the-shower voice drowning out all others.
“Description?” he boomed. “Hel, nobody was ever easier to describe. The guy was six-four with a hook-nose, blonde hair, blue eyes, a scar from his right ear to his chin, and he had one leg.”
And not one of us so much as blinked as the cop dutifully wrote that down.
Perhaps that kid would have another chance.
Tom Hauptman, however, didn’t come off so well in the aplomb department. As one of the cops was phoning in, Long-Drink called out, “Hey, Tom. One thing I don’t understand. That cannon you had was in the fireplace for a good hour or so, and that hearth is plenty warm even when the fire’s been out a while. How the hell come none of the cartridges went off?”
The minister looked puzzled. “Why, I have no idea. Do you suppose that…?”
But the second cop was making strangling sounds and waving the .45. At last he found his voice. “You mean you didn’t know?”
We looked at him.
He tossed the gun to Callahan, who one-handed it easily, then suddenly looked startled. He hefted the gun, and his jaw dropped.
“There’s no clip in this gun,” he said faintly. “The damned thing’s unloaded.”
And Tom Hauptman fainted dead away.
* * *
By the time we recovered from that one, Callahan had decided that Doc and Noah and I were Punday Night Champions, and we were helping ourselves to just one more free drink with Tom Hauptman when Doc came up with an idea.
“Say, Mike,” he called out. “Don’t you think a bunch of savvy galoots like us could find Tom here some kind of job?”
“Well, I“ll tell you, Doc,” said Callahan, scratching his neck, “I’ve been givin’ that some thought.” He lit a cigar and regarded the minister with a professional eye. “Tom, do you know anything about tending bar?”
“Huh? Why, yes I do. I tended bar for a couple of summers before I entered the ministry.”
“Well,” Callahan drawled, “I ain’t getting any younger. This all day and all night stuff is okay for someone your age, but I’m pushing fifty. Why I hit a man last week, and he got up on me. I’ve been meaning to get myself a little part-time help, sorta distribute the load a little. And I’d be right honored to have a man of God serve my booze.”
A murmur of shock ran through the bar, and expression of awe at the honor being accorded to Tom Hauptman. He looked around, having the sense to see that it was up to us as much as it was to Callahan.
“Why the hell not?” roared Long-Drink and the Doc together, and the minister began to cry.
“Mr. Callahan,” he said. “I’d be proud to help you run this bar.”
About that point a rousing cheer went up, and about two dozen glasses met above the newly-relit blaze in the fireplace. Toasts got proposed all at once, and a firecracker went off somewhere in the back of the room. The minister was lifted up onto a couple or three shoulders, and the most god-awful alleycat off-key chorus you ever heard assured him that he was indeed a Jolly Good Fellow.
“This calls for another drink,” Callahan decreed. “What’ll it be, Tom?”
“Well,” the minister said diffidently, “I’ve had an awful lot of gin, and I really haven’t gotten back into training yet. I think I’d better just have a Horse’s Ass.”
“Reverend,” said Callahan, vastly chagrined, “whatever it is, you’ve gonna get it on the house. ’Cause I never heard of it.”
All around the room conversations chopped off in mid-sentence as the news was assimilated. The last time in my memory when Callahan got taken for a drink was in 1968, when some joker in a pork-pie hat asked for a Mother Superior. Turned out to be a martini with a prune in it, and Callahan by God went out and bought a prune.
Hauptman blinked at the commotion he was causing, and finally managed, “Well, it, uh, won’t set you back very much. It’s just a ginger ale with a cherry in it.” He paused, apparently embarrassed, and continued just a shade too diffidently, “You see, they call it that be—”
“—CAUSE ANYONE WHO’D ORDER ONE IS A HORSE’S ASS!” chorused a dozen voices with him, and a shower of peanuts hit him from all over the room. Tommy Janssen heaved a half-full pitcher at the fireplace, and Fast Eddie snatched it out of the air with his right hand as his left picked up “You Said It, Not Me” in F sharp.
Hauptman accepted his drink from Callahan, and he had it to his lips before be noticed the remarkably authentic-looking plastic fly which Callahan had thoughtfully added to the prescription. The explosion was impressive, and I swear ginger ale came out his ears.
“Seemed like a likely place to find a fly,” said Callahan loudly, and somehow Fast Eddie managed to heave the pitcher at him without interrupting the song. Callahan fielded it deftly and took a long drink.
“That’s what I like to see,” he boomed, replacing his cigar in his teeth. “A place that’s merry.”
Copyright © 1997 by Spider Robinson
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  • Posted May 4, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Shared Pain is Lessened, Shared Joy is Increased. That is the g

    Shared Pain is Lessened, Shared Joy is Increased.

    That is the glorious theme of this book, its people and its stories. Read them, fall in love, and gain back some hope for humanity. Plus good science fiction as icing on the cake.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2005


    this book is takes place in bar, and most of it's about the various probelms customs have, such as 'im an ailen sent to destroy your planet but i dont want to, please help me.' their problems tend to be hilarious

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    Posted February 2, 2010

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    Posted June 17, 2010

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