The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

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Overview

Ken Kesey was a Golden Boy -- scholar, actor, star athlete, one of the outstanding novelists of his generation. But his life took a turn. He did drugs, publicly and flagrantly, and became the 1960's incarnation of all that was meant by "hippie."

Tom Wolfe turned a tour with Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters into THE ELECTRIC KOOL-AID ACID TEST. He recounts their romp across America in the first psychedelic bus, their alliance with the Hell's Angels, their conversion of the ...

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Overview

Ken Kesey was a Golden Boy -- scholar, actor, star athlete, one of the outstanding novelists of his generation. But his life took a turn. He did drugs, publicly and flagrantly, and became the 1960's incarnation of all that was meant by "hippie."

Tom Wolfe turned a tour with Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters into THE ELECTRIC KOOL-AID ACID TEST. He recounts their romp across America in the first psychedelic bus, their alliance with the Hell's Angels, their conversion of the biggest anti-Vietnam rally of all time into a freak-out, their games of hide and seek with the law -- all with a depth and inventiveness that makes this book one of the most memorable journalistic odysseys of our time.

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Editorial Reviews

Studs Terkel
Some consider Mailer our greatest journalist; my candidate is Wolfe.
--BookWeek
Eliot Fremont-Smith
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is not simply the best book on the hippies, it is the book...the pushing, ballooning heart of the matter...Vibrating dazzle!
--The New York Times
Washington Post
A Day-Glo book; illuminating, merry, surreal!
Newsweek
Among journalists, Wolfe is a geniune poet; what makes him so good is his ability to get inside, to not merely describe (although he is a superb reporter), but to get under the skin of a phenomenon and transmit its metabolic rhythm.
Village Voice
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is an amazing book...A book that definitely gives Wolfe the edge on the non-fiction novel.
From the Publisher
"Tom Wolfe is a groove and a gas. Everyone should send him money and other fine things. Hats off to Tom Wolfe!"—Terry Southern

"The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is not simply the best book on the hippies, it is the essential book . . . the pushing, ballooning heart of the matter . . . Vibrating dazzle!"—The New York Times

"Some consider Mailer our greatest journalist; my candidate is Wolfe."—Studs Terkel, Book Week

"A Day-Glo book, illuminating, merry, surreal!"—The Washington Post

"Electrifying."—San Francisco Chronicle

"An amazing book . . . A book that definitely gives Wolfe the edge on the nonfiction novel."—The Village Voice

"Among journalists, Wolfe is a genuine poet; what makes him so good is his ability to get inside, to not merely describe (although he is a superb reporter), but to get under the skin of a phenomenon and transmit its metabolic rhythm."—Newsweek

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553257946
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/1/1982
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback

Meet the Author

Tom Wolfe is the author of a dozen books, among them such contemporary classics as The Bonfire of the Vanities, The Right Stuff, and I Am Charlotte Simmons. He lives in New York City.

Biography

Tom Wolfe was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia. He was educated at Washington and Lee (B.A., 1951) and Yale (Ph.D., American Studies, 1957) Universities. In December 1956, he took a job as a reporter on the Springfield (Massachusetts) Union. This was the beginning of a ten-year newspaper career, most of it as a general assignment reporter. For six months in 1960 he served as The Washington Post's Latin American correspondent and won the Washington Newspaper Guild's foreign news prize for his coverage of Cuba.

In 1962 he became a reporter for the New York Herald Tribune and, in addition, one of the two staff writers (Jimmy Breslin was the other) of New York magazine, which began as the Herald Tribune's Sunday supplement. While still a daily reporter for the Herald Tribune, he completed his first book, a collection of articles about the flamboyant Sixties written for New York and Esquire and published in 1965 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux as The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. The book became a bestseller and established Wolfe as a leading figure in the literary experiments in nonfiction that became known as the New Journalism.

In 1968 he published two bestsellers on the same day: The Pump House Gang, made up of more articles about life in the Sixties, and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, a nonfiction story of the hippie era. In 1970 he published Radical Chick & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, a highly controversial book about racial friction in the United States. The first section was a detailed account of a party Leonard Bernstein gave for the Black Panthers in his Park Avenue duplex, and the second portrayed the inner workings of the government's poverty program.

Even more controversial was Wolfe's 1975 book on the American art world, The Painted Word. The art world reacted furiously, partly because Wolfe kept referring to it as the "art village," depicting it as a network of no more than three thousand people, of whom about three hundred lived outside the New York metropolitan area. In 1976 he published another collection, Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine, which included his well-known essay "The Me Decade and the Third Great Awakening."

In 1979 Wolfe completed a book he had been at work on for more than six years, an account of the rocket airplane experiments of the post-World War II era and the early space program focusing upon the psychology of the rocket pilots and the astronauts and the competition between them. The Right Stuff became a bestseller and won the American Book Award for nonfiction, the National Institute of Arts and Letters Harold Vursell Award for prose style, and the Columbia Journalism Award.

"The right stuff," "radical chic," and "the Me Decade" (sometimes altered to "the Me Generation") all became popular phrases, but Wolfe seems proudest of "good ol' boy," which he had introduced to the written language in a 1964 article in Esquire about Junior Johnson, the North Carolina stock car-racing driver, which was called "The Last American Hero."

Wolfe had been illustrating his own work in newspapers and magazines since the 1950s, and in 1977 began doing a monthly illustrated feature for Harper's magazine called "In Our Time". The book, In Our Time, published in 1980, featured these drawings and many others. In 1981 he wrote a companion to The Painted Word entitled From Bauhaus to Our House, about the world of American architecture.

In 1984 and 1985 Wolfe wrote his first novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities, in serial form against a deadline of every two weeks for Rolling Stone magazine. It came out in book form in 1987. A story of the money-feverish 1980s in New York, The Bonfire of the Vanities was number one of the New York Times bestseller list for two months and remained on the list for more than a year, selling over 800,000 copies in hardcover. It also became the number-one bestselling paperback, with sales above two million.

In 1989 Wolfe outraged the literacy community with an essay in Harper's magazine called "Stalking the Billion-footed Beast." In it he argued that the only hope for the future of the American novel was a Zola-esque naturalism in which the novelist becomes the reporter -- as he had done in writing The Bonfire of the Vanities, which was recognized as the essential novel of America in the 1980s.

In 1996, Wolfe wrote the novella Ambush at Fort Bragg as a two-part series for Rolling Stone. In 1997 it was published as a book in France and Spain and as an audiotape in the United States. An account of a network television magazine show's attempt to trap three soldiers at Fort Bragg into confessing to the murder of one of their comrades, it grew out of what had been intended as one theme in a novel Wolfe was working on at that time. The novel, A Man in Full, was published in November of 1998. The book's protagonists are a sixty-year old Atlanta real estate developer whose empire has begun a grim slide toward bankruptcy and a twenty-three-year-old manual laborer who works in the freezer unit of a wholesale food warehouse in Alameda County, California, owned by the developer. Before the story ends, both have had to face the question of what is it that makes a man "a man in full" now, at the beginning of a new century and a new millennium.

A Man in Full headed the New York Times bestseller list for ten weeks and has sold nearly 1.4 million copies in hardcover. The book's tremendous commercial success, its enthusiastic welcome by reviewers, and Wolfe's appearance on the cover of Time magazine in his trademark white suit plus a white homburg and white kid gloves -- along with his claim that his sort of detailed realism was the future of the American novel, if it was going to have one -- provoked a furious reaction among other American novelists, notably John Updike, Norman Mailer, and John Irving.

Wolfe's latest novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons, explores the unique antics of college life. He lives in New York City with his wife, Sheila; his daughter, Alexandra; and his son, Tommy.

Author biography courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Thomas Kennerly Wolfe Jr. (full name)
    2. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 2, 1931
    2. Place of Birth:
      Richmond, Virginia
    1. Education:
      B.A. (cum laude), Washington and Lee University, 1951; Ph.D. in American Studies, Yale University, 1957
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Black Shiny FBI Shoes

That's good thinking there, Cool Breeze. Cool Breeze is a kid with three or four days' beard sitting next to me on the stamped metal bottom of the open back part of a pickup truck. Bouncing along. Dipping and rising and rolling on these rotten springs like a boat. Out the back of the truck the city of San Francisco is bouncing down the hill, all those endless staggers of bay windows, slums with a view, bouncing and streaming down the hill. One after another, electric signs with neon martini glasses lit up on them, the San Francisco symbol of "bar"--thousands of neon-magenta martini glasses bouncing and streaming down the hill, and beneath them hundreds, thousands of people wheeling around to look at this freaking crazed truck we're in, their white faces erupting from their lapels like marshmallows--streaming and bouncing down the hill--and God knows they've got plenty to look at.

That's why it strikes me as funny when Cool Breeze says very seriously over the whole roar of the thing, "I don't know--when Kesey gets out I don't know if I can come around the Warehouse."

"Why not?"

"Well, like the cops are going to be coming around like all feisty, and I'm on probation, so I don't know."

Well, that's good thinking there, Cool Breeze. Don't rouse the bastids. Lie low--like right now. Right now Cool Breeze is so terrified of the law he is sitting up in plain view of thousands of already startled citizens wearing some kind of Seven Dwarfs Black Forest gnome's hat covered in feathers and fluorescent colors. Kneeling in the truck, facing us, also in plain view, is a half-Ottawa Indian girl named LoisJennings, with her head thrown back and a radiant look on her face. Also a blazing silver disk in the middle of her forehead alternately exploding with light when the sun hits it or sending off rainbows from the defraction lines in it. And, oh yeah, there's a long-barreled Colt .45 revolver in her hand, only nobody on the street can tell it's a cap pistol as she pegs away, kheeew, kheeew, at the erupting marshmallow faces like Debra Paget in . . . in . . .

--Kesey's coming out of jail!

Two more things they are looking at out there are a sign on the rear bumper reading "Custer Died for Your Sins" and, at the wheel, Lois's enamorado Stewart Brand, a thin blond guy with a blazing disk on his forehead too, and a whole necktie made of Indian beads. No shirt, however, just an Indian bead necktie on bare skin and a white butcher's coat with medals from the King of Sweden on it.

Here comes a beautiful one, attach? case and all, the day-is-done resentful look and the ...shoes--how they shine!--and what the hell are these beatnik ninnies--and Lois plugs him in the old marshmallow and he goes streaming and bouncing down the hill . . .

And the truck heaves and billows, blazing silver red and Day-Glo, and I doubt seriously, Cool Breeze, that there is a single cop in all of San Francisco today who does not know that this crazed vehicle is a guerrilla patrol from the dread LSD.

The cops now know the whole scene, even the costumes, the jesuschrist strung-out hair, Indian beads, Indian headbands, donkey beads, temple bells, amulets, mandalas, god's-eyes, fluorescent vests, unicorn horns, Errol Flynn dueling shirts--but they still don't know about the shoes. The heads have a thing about shoes. The worst are shiny black shoes with shoelaces in them. The hierarchy ascends from there, although practically all lowcut shoes are unhip, from there on up to the boots the heads like, light, fanciful boots, English boots of the mod variety, if that is all they can get, but better something like hand-tooled Mexican boots with Caliente Dude Triple A toes on them. So see the FBI--black--shiny--laced up--FBI shoes--when the FBI finally grabbed Kesey--

There is another girl in the back of the truck, a dark little girl with thick black hair, called Black Maria. She looks Mexican, but she says to me in straight soft Californian:

"When is your birthday?"

"March 2."

"Pisces," she says. And then: "I would never take you for a Pisces."

"Why?"

"You seem too ... solid for a Pisces."

But I know she means stolid. I am beginning to feel stolid. Back in New York City, Black Maria, I tell you, I am even known as something of a dude. But somehow a blue silk blazer and a big tie with clowns on it and ... a ...pair of shiny lowcut black shoes don't set them all to doing the Varsity Rag in the head world in San Francisco. Lois picks off the marshmallows one by one; Cool Breeze ascends into the innards of his gnome's hat; Black Maria, a Scorpio herself, rummages through the Zodiac; Stewart Brand winds it through the streets; paillettes explode--and this is nothing special, just the usual, the usual in the head world of San Francisco, just a little routine messing up the minds of the citizenry en route, nothing more than psyche food for beautiful people, while giving some guy from New York a lift to the Warehouse to wait for the Chief, Ken Kesey, who is getting out of jail.

About all I knew about Kesey at that point was that he was a highly regarded 31-year-old novelist and in a lot of trouble over drugs. He wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962), which was made into a play in 1963, and Sometimes a Great Notion (1964). He was always included with Philip Roth and Joseph Heller and Bruce Jay Friedman and a couple of others as one of the young novelists who might go all the way. Then he was arrested twice for possession of marijuana, in April of 1965 and January of 1966, and fled to Mexico rather than risk a stiff sentence. It looked like as much as five years, as a second offender. One day I happened to get hold of some letters Kesey wrote from Mexico to his friend Larry McMurtry, who wrote Horseman, Pass By, from which the movie Hud was made. They were wild and ironic, written like a cross between William Burroughs and George Ade, telling of hideouts, disguises, paranoia, fleeing from cops, smoking joints and seeking satori in the Rat lands of Mexico. There was one passage written George Ade-fashion in the third person as a parody of what the straight world back there in the U.S.A. must think of him now:

"In short, this young, handsome, successful, happily-married-three-lovely-children father was a fear-crazed dope fiend in flight to avoid prosecution on three felonies and god knows how many misdemeanors and seeking at the same time to sculpt a new satori from an old surf--in even shorter, mad as a hatter.

"Once an athlete so valued he had been given the job of calling signals from the line and risen into contention for the nationwide amateur wrestling crown, now he didn't know if he could do a dozen pushups. Once possessor of a phenomenal bank account and money waving from every hand, now it was all his poor wife could do to scrape together eight dollars to send as getaway money to Mexico. But a few years previous he had been listed in Who's Who and asked to speak at such auspicious gatherings as the Wellesley Club in Dah-la and now they wouldn't even allow him to speak at a VDC [Vietnam Day Committee] gathering. What was it that had brought a man so high of promise to so low a state in so short a time? Well, the answer can be found in just one short word, my friends, in just one all-well-used syllable:

"Dope!

"And while it may be claimed by some of the addled advocates of these chemicals that our hero is known to have indulged in drugs before his literary success, we must point out that there was evidence of his literary prowess well before the advent of the so-called psychedelic into his life but no evidence at all of any of the lunatic thinking that we find thereafter!"

To which he added:

"(oh yea, the wind hums time ago--time ago-- the rafter drums and the walls see ...and there's a door to that bird in the sa-a-a-apling sky time ago by-- Oh yeah the surf giggles time ago time ago of under things killed when bad was banished and all the doors to the birds vanished time ago then.)"
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 70 )
Rating Distribution

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(43)

4 Star

(16)

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(6)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 70 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2004

    simply AMAZING

    a very well researched and organized piece of literature. extremely accessable and interesting. provides a front row seat to the excesses and travelings of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. a remarkable book, highly HIGHLY recomended... amazing style of storytelling.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 20, 2002

    Unique Intellect

    Wow! this is most definately my favorite Tom Wolfe book, and probably my favorite book ever! the merry pranksters remind me of a greatful dead-esque typical 60's hippie group. even people born after the time of 'the hippies' (they're still everywhere in Berkeley!) can appreciate the descriptive and unique style of writing posessed by Tom Wolfe.This book gives intellectual qualities to a people thought to be the most unintelligent of their time. Trippy.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 4, 2010

    Acid-Induced Excellence

    The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is a first-person dissertation of Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters. After Kesey wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, he discovered the mystical experience of taking LSD (acid). In 1967, He and his Pranksters wanted to share this wonder with the rest of the world, so they bought a 1939 International Harvester school bus, painted it with day-glo, and they were off, traveling the country soaring on acid, speed, and grass. Tom Wolfe rode along on this journey, although he passed on the narcotics in order to bring his readers an accurate representation of their trip. His writing style is like nothing I have ever seen. He sometimes breaks into poems or uses large numbers of colons in succession. His thought process is all over the place and, at times, difficult to comprehend. Overall, I thought this was a GREAT book because it tells about how acid was introduced into mainstream America, and it shows an outsider's perspective of countless trips, highs, hallucinations, and lows. Anybody who has seen and liked The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour would enjoy reading this book. They have similar themes, and The Beatles actually were inspired to make that movie because of the Merry Pranksters' adventure. I would rate The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test at 9.961 out of 10.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 24, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Furthur....

    Once in a great while there is a sociological convergence, a synergy, that leaves it's mark on the world. It often takes an outsider to recognize it, tie it all together and objectively capture it for posterity. Read Hunter Thompson's "Hell's Angels", Kerouacs "On the Road" and Wolfe's "Electric Koolaid Acid Test", and you have a front row seat to the end of the fifties and the early sixties, the end of the beat generation and the beginning of the hippy culture, psychedelic drugs, the Hell's Angels, Nixon, Tim Leary, Kerouac, Neil Cassiday, Allen Ginzberg, the Gratefull Dead, acid rock, and especially the late great Ken Kesey, with "acid test" being the most objective account of the three. It was a magic, almost mythical time. We will never be that free again. EKAT is the best of Wolfe's sociological explorations, largely due to it's larger than life subject matter.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 3, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Striking Portrait of 1960s Acid Culture

    Was it a good idea for intellectuals, social advocates, musicians and young trendoids to go "further" with LSD and other psychedelic drugs? No matter your opinion, if you are interested in the subject, Tom Wolfe's creative journalistic account will not leave you feeling misinformed. The bliss and the paranoia, the spiritual revelations and the mental breakdowns, Wolfe includes it all; you will understand the powerful pull of "the bus" and also those who feared it. Reading about the charismatic persona and edgy social experiments of Ken Kesey, you will feel as if you have not only encountered his character, you have gone into and through it and come out the other side.

    For atmosphere, you've got to listen to some psychedelic jamming. The Grateful Dead were the house band for Kesey's Merry Pranksters, but there were others.

    Wolfe pays tribute in style and voice to Jack Kerouac's "On the Road," which in its time was the touchstone for young intellectuals beginning the journey "further" from middle class comforts, into experiments with drugs and contemplation of new social and sexual mores. Charlie Parker was the master "house musician" for Kerouac's "mad ones".

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2008

    The truth and nothing but the truth.

    I've been interested in the counter culture of the sixties since my early teens. I read this one about 3 years ago and finished it in 2 days. It's very funny and a real page turner. Kesey and Babbs were quintessential figures of their generation and this is a must read for any 60's lover.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2004

    The Start of Acid and the Hippies

    As soon as I came across this book while searching for books about the betnik population, this book struck my eyes first. Not only was it a great and entertaining read, but also gave a lot of information about Ken Kesey and his revolution. I had no idea that Ken Kesey was such a prominant figure in the whole era of the hippies, but after reading this book I now see all that Kesey did to promote the betnik population. The book begins with Kesey leavnig jail, on account for arrests dealing with drug charges. I new Kesey as the authro of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's nest, and the book describes his rise to fame from that book. It then goes on to tell of the early beginning of LSD, which was developed by Timothy Leary. Kesey starts a group, which gains many followers that gain the name The Merry Pranksters. They go on a crazy bus trip all across the United States, live aimlessly in La Honda, meet with the Hell's Angles, get arrested numerous times, and finally begin partying with the Warlocks, who are later to be known as the Greatful Dead. The book sis a time capsule through the sixties, from the time acid was first tested, until finally when Kesey escapes to Mexico. Not only does Tom wolfe vividly describe the adventure, but also along the way describes the scene of the whole American population and how the people of the United States were affected by they new wave of hippies and betnik's during the sixties.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2001

    Magical Mystery Tour What?

    In EKAT, Tom Wolfe, with his superb, flowing dialogue, gives humanity to a group long since thought to have no minds at all. The Merry Pranksters, led by Ken Kesey (One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Sometimes A Great Notion), gave rise to a whole new generation of 60's culture, influenced by LSD, love and freedom. Wolfe, although not present for most of the events of the book, beautifully words the breakthroughs and heartbreaks that severely forward thinking can bring. Swirly and surreal, the Merry Pranksters are immortalized by Wolfe with a respect and understanding that few people can bring to the table. Knowing that the Grateful Dead, the Who and even the Beatles took ideas and examples from the Pranksters' lives, one would think by now the whole world would know them, but alas, there are only a sad few. If you want to know about the Magical Mystery Tour, The Magic Bus or Truckin'...read this first, it's a MUST!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2014

    Long live "Furthur"

    An interesting read, especially for those intrigued by the psychedelic movement. The first half of the book is a bit more fast-paced and thus causes the second half to drag a bit. Flaws and all, this is a great documentation of a sub-culture and generation.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2013

    Carrie

    No problem

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2013

    Liv

    Luv ya:) <3

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2013

    Zay: i love u babe

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2013

    ATL

    Who wants to chat

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2013

    Blake

    Follows twirling a dagger.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2013

    Ashley

    Umm..

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2013

    Zay

    Oh thanks

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 5, 2013

    Liv

    Smiles

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2013

    Tali and leah

    Auora: daddy? Leah: mhmmmmmk talie: sings

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2013

    Lindsay

    Walks out confused

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2013

    Jessie

    Love u too

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