Dad · Family

Getting to the End is the Point

The month of June will forever spin the threads of two momentous occasions together in my mind.

Graduation and Father’s Day.

The last time I graduated college in 1993 there was no pomp but plenty of circumstance.  The day I received my degree I simply opened my mailbox, ran my fingers under the edge of the thick manila envelope and slid my diploma into my hand.

I lifted up the heavy silk cover: Bachelor of Arts it read in fancy font. I stood there in the driveway looking at it for the longest time. Finally I snapped the cover shut, walked into the house and tossed it onto the stack of papers spilling over my desk.

I was lost. Even worse, I was hurt. I didn’t care that I had missed attending my graduation ceremony held over 3,000 miles away.  What was the point now? So I barely finished college. So what?  My dad was dead. He didn’t get to see me graduate. He didn’t get to see anything I did anymore.

At a deeper level I knew that wasn’t true, but I was determined to remain angry, to continue to feel cheated and hopeless. Why should I bother chasing my dream when the world proved to be so cold? I had no motivation because my biggest cheerleader was gone forever.

So I spent the majority of my early twenties lamenting my pain, my loss that no one else could ever possibly understand. Losing my dad was my excuse for everything. Doubts took root in my mind.  I gave up. I would never succeed. I would never become the person my dad thought I could be. My world was dark so why should I waste energy trying to create sparks?

Ah, but life has a strange way of seeing things through whether you’re on board or not. Fate intervenes and things correct themselves. Lessons are eventually learned no matter how hard you try to refuse their gifts. Threads in the tapestry connect and the circle closes.

It always closes.

A few years ago as I sat in the back of my first college class I felt that old familiar fear creeping in, threatening to suffocate that tiny spark.

But this time I had my cheerleader again. He sat in the empty chair next to me. I felt him there in every classroom for the past two years whispering, You can do it, Punky. He was seeing everything I was doing after all.

And I had to do it right this time. I wanted to show my dad I could do it. That I could finish this and see it to the end. I had to close the circle I had carelessly left open and frayed over twenty years ago.

Last month as I crossed the stage in my cap and gown in front of a thousand people, the sparks inside me creating a supernova of joy exploding in my heart, I had one thought:  I did it, Dad. I actually did it.

After I walked back to my seat with my diploma in hand, I glanced up into the stands searching for some sign of my dad. Did he see me now?

Laughing and cheering, I stood up with my classmates and ceremoniously turned my tassel from the right to the left. Of course, I knew the answer.

And my circle closed.

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Congratulations to all my fellow graduates.

And thanks Dad, for being there with me every step of the way.

Happy Father’s Day.




So I Wanted to Be a Rock and Roll Star

Blind Melon.

Strawberry Alarm Clock.

Death Cab for Cutie.

The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.

Just a few of the actual band names out there. How did they come up with these? I’m convinced they knocked back a few shots of cheap whisky then opened up the dictionary to a random page.

Back in 1991 when I was 19 years old, I was in college out in Olympia, Washington practicing my right to wear Kurt Cobain grunge and dabble in recreational drugs. (I never inhaled.)

One day my three roommates and I cooked up a brilliant plan to become famous. Right after we cooked up yet another steaming bowl of Ramen noodles laced with patchouli incense dust.

“Hell, yeah, dudes! We should form a rock band!”

But we needed a name. Sure, we didn’t actually have instruments. Or knew how to play any. And none of us could sing. But the name was everything, right? I mean, just look at Hootie & the Blowfish! Our ticket to stardom was just a dictionary away!

So we took turns closing our eyes, flipping open the dictionary and randomly pointing at words. Hey, it was a slow day in the great Northwest — there’s only so much rain-soaked Starbucks lattes a person can stand.

Yesterday I was digging through a tote full of my old college papers and found a ripped page from my notebook that listed these gems. I laughed so hard I was crying. Crying tears full of lost dreams and laced with patchouli incense dust. (That’s right — I still like to burn incense, don’t judge)

I’d like to repeat that we actually thought we would form a world-famous band with these names.

I still think we can.

Hydrogen Paycheck
Impregnate Solomon
The Suede Turtlenecks
Scrod Hodge Podge
Flying Lemur Gas
Flaccid Cabbage
Magic Stash
Mercy Custard
Mind-blowing Anonymity
Allspice Milkshake
Cozy Offbeat Snot Rag
Quiet Fungus
Awesome Pretext
Darla and The Dandy Deputy Moonstones (my favorite)
Desperation Flare-up
Diphthong Cake
Liquid Lion
The Frightful Zits
Devil’s Food Cake 4:00
Odious Bread
Chastity Belt Nation (I think this band actually exists)
The Stodgy Boondoggles
Mudpuppy Game Theory (might have been a Seattle band pre-Nirvana)
Undersexed White Sauce
Nickelodeon Crapulence

Good stuff, huh. I think all of them were worthy of a popular rock band name.  We finally chose one name and stuck with it. We only played a few gigs on campus, most of them in our dorm’s living room to an audience of zero.

Yes, we were Liquid Lion.

I even composed a song for us that went something like this…[imagine me with flowing dreads wearing an oversized fuzzy green cardigan layered over a dirty plaid shirt and banging my head while playing bad air guitar]

Liquiiiiiiiiiid, Liquid Lion!

Liquiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiid Liquid Lion!

LIQUID LION!” [insert Wayne’s World riff here]


Sadly, Liquid Lion broke up due to creative differences and the drummer’s numerous rehab stints — not to mention my brief and torrid fling with a man named Jingo who’s singing voice sounded like a pig in heat yet somehow he convinced me to leave the group to collaborate on a double fantasy album, effectively killing my musical career forever.

John -- I get you, man. Love trumps all.
John — I get you, man. Love trumps all.


What’s the strangest band name you’ve ever come across? Let me know in the comments so I can steal it for my own band.


The New Adventures of Old Darla

Going back to college at my (ahem) advanced age has been quite the eye-opening experience.

I’ve learned many valuable things, like the medical term bradycardia actually does not mean when one’s heart rate goes up upon seeing Tom Brady’s tight end.


Also, never open your eyes during ‘eye irrigation’ practice when your smirking lab partner comes at you wielding a eyedropper full of questionable fluid.

And — I suppose it should go without saying — never get caught in the bathroom stall etching a crude image of your lab partner with a giant arrow over their grotesquely inflated head and the words: Suck It, You Brown-Noser Poopy Head!!!

Oh, and never argue with your professor when he deducts three points off your pharmacology paper because you think whopping cough is a real ailment that strikes people who have inhaled too many Burger King Whoppers. (Damned spell check never works.)

But aside from the above lessons, the biggest thing I’ve learned this time around?

I’ve changed. Yeah, turns out I’m not the same wild-n-crazy chick I used to be in my days of misspent youth.

  • After listening to a few young classmates whine on and on about how they can’t find time to study for the big exam:
    Old Me: Day-um! I know, right? School’s a bitch! High-five!
    New Me: Are you serious? What, you can’t find time because you’re too busy uploading stupid youtube videos while your mom does your laundry and serves you Yoo-Hoo with bendy straws and triangle-shaped bologna sandwiches with the crust cut off? Try studying while taking care of an entire household, two hyper little kids, an elderly mother who thinks Dr. Oz is speaking to her through her smoke alarm, AND a husband that sits around and watches reruns of Married With Children while falling asleep with his hand in his pants. Yeah! Then we’ll see how much time you have to study, bucko! That’s right, I said bucko, bucko! Now just run along and go tweet yourself to death, kids. Oh, and in case you’re not pickin’ up what I be layin’ down:
    #boohoo #growthehellup #beingoldblows #IHeartRichieCunningham
  • While walking by the group of ‘cool’ kids huddled together outside the school taking a smoke break:
    Old Me: Yo, whassup? Need a light? Man, school’s a huge suck-fest, amirite?
    New Me: [scowling] For shame! [knocking cigarettes out of their hands] You guys realize that cancer stick’s gonna kill you, right? But it won’t be quick. Oh hell no. It’ll be a slow, agonizing death where first your lungs will turn to cottage cheese, then you’ll start coughing up blood until finally you’ll end up gasping for every breath for the rest of your days. But by all means, keep on tokin’ it up, morons! See if I care!
    #blacklungdisease #COPD #YouSmellLikeAnAshtray
  • After someone asks me if I want a hit off a bong at an off-campus party:
    Old Me: Hell yeah, duuude!
    New Me: Hell yeah, duuuude!
    (What? It’s for medicinal purposes.)
    Besides, I gotta fit in with my peers somehow.
    #hash #didnotinhale #DoritoLocosTacoFoodBaby

Turns out you can teach an old broad new phlebotomy tricks.

Welcome to my nightmare, kids.

Plaid student

It’s always the same thing every time: I’m sitting in a classroom full of students and everyone knows the material except me. The walls close in, my heart pounds and the flop sweats kick into maximum flopping mode.

My professor bears an uncanny resemblance to Sam Kinison in the 1986 movie, Back to School, while I’m Rodney Dangerfield, the bumbling old fart student. And I just know Sam’s going to call on me again.

Quick, what’s the answer?? Dammit, think, Darla, think! Is it angina pectoris or 1492? Oh, god!  I am going to die, right here, right now.


“Say it! SAY IT! SAY IT!”

I fight the urge to burst into tears, stand up and run away because I’m afraid instead I’ll faint, keel over and crush my lab partner to death. And none of us have taken our CPR course yet.

Is this a nightmare? Just a recurring bad dream?

I wish. No, this is my real life, people. Every day of the week. Why?

Because I’m a full-time college student.

I’m twice the age I was the last time I was in college. The only difference now is the reason I’m acting bewildered in class. Back in my 20s, it was due to all the ganja (involuntary second-hand inhalation from my roommates, of course).

Now it’s due to early-onset senility/foggy-perimenopause-brain/not-knowing-any-of-the-goddamned-answers-anxiety.

And the ganja.

(I kid — I get high on life.)

But hey, on a positive note, I’m continuously forced to face all of my big fears during this fall semester:

  • Fear of meeting new people.
  • Fear of learning new things.
  • Fear of medical terms.
  • Fear of phlebotomy.
  • Fear of not knowing the definition of phlebotomy.
  • Fear of drawing blood from my lab partner’s arm.
  • Fear of not remembering new things I learned ten seconds ago — like how to stop blood gushing from open wounds in my lab partner.
  • Fear of speaking in public.
  • Fear of being called on and drawing a blank, turning red and mumbling, “1492?”
  • Fear of burping in public due to extreme nervousness due to speaking in public.
  • Fear of burping the answer “1492” just to impress the cute guy in the back row.
  • Fear of realizing cute guy in back row is only 24 and therefore young enough to be my son.
  • Fear of cute 24 year old guys calling me “Ma’am” and asking me if I need help crossing the street.
  • Fear of doing math.
  • Fear of doing math in public.
  • Fear of inhaling too much second-hand ganja smoke from the dorm party I went to the previous night.
  • Fear of professor Sam Kinison catching me eating an entire box of Twinkies during an exam or chugging PBR from my coffee mug, then making me do complex fractions on the board in front of the entire class, while simultaneously burping and drawing blood from my lab partner’s arm.
  • Fear of him ever reading my blog.


It’s all pretty overwhelming and scary, this learnin’ stuff.  It doesn’t help that the girl in the purple shirt in the above photo is Miss Know-It-All McSmugerson.  God, I hate her.

But I thank my lucky stars I have you guys here to complain and vent to.

Just tell me what the answer is.

Please. Or this might happen to me and it’ll be all your fault.

What’s your recurring nightmare? Are you afraid of not knowing any of the answers? Or do you have fears of going back to school?  If not, or if you DO know all the answers, I will pay you big money to sit in my classes for me. Thanks.


But I Ain’t No Good At Talkin’ About the Thing and Stuff!

What are some of my greatest fears in life?

  • Spiders
  • Heights
  • The dark
  • Skydiving at night while covered in spiders.
Or this. Yeah, this would freak me out too.
Or this. Yeah, this would freak me out too.

But the biggest fear I have? The one thing I still haven’t conquered after all these years? Looks like this summer, I’ll finally have my chance.

I sat down with my college advisor last week so we could bang out my 2013 fall schedule. I’ll be taking 15 credits, full time, with classes like pharmacology and medical transcription. I’ve already taken Anatomy and Physiology I and II and I’m still on the Dean’s List, so I was feeling pretty smug. (Dean was the name of my lab partner.)

Bring it on! I thought as he pulled up my past college transcripts from 20-odd years ago. (I already have a bachelor’s degree in psych. Stop laughing.)

“Oh,” he said, squinting at his computer screen. “It seems you never took one subject! I’m sorry, but you’ll have to take it this summer.”

I peered at the monitor and felt my heart stop.

Public Speaking.


The last time I spoke in front of a large group I do believe they had to take me away on a stretcher.

This may come as a shock to you guys, but I’m an introverted person. I know, I’m a writer who’s a little shy! I love to be alone with my thoughts. I can handle intimate one on one conversations, sometimes with other people. But I detest speaking on the phone. Even with people I like. (Except you, Jules)

How in the hell am I going to endure a course that revolves around the very thing I’ve avoided my entire life?

Something odd happens when I speak in public: my voice starts to shake, my face turns red, I can hear myself droning on and on from a distance, almost like I’m having an out of body experience.  Then when I start to feel everyone’s eyes on me, boring into my skull like lasers, I think things like, I could start speaking gibberish right now! I could bust into a song and dance routine! What if I start rapping “Ice, Ice Baby”? What if I start burping uncontrollably? (some of these things happened during one memorable speech back in 1989).

So please, wish me luck this summer. I will be enduring Public Speaking for four hours a day!  Twice each week!  For over a month! And my guess is the class won’t be impressed by my Vanilla Ice impressions.

What is your biggest fear? Have you conquered it yet? If so, any tips? (I’ve already considered valium, but you need a prescription for that.)


How Going Back to School is Like Jumping Out of an Airplane


When you get to midlife, you start to realize a few things. Big things. For instance, how you’ve managed to bury insecurities so deep down, you didn’t even know you had them.

Like my doubts about doing well in school.

Maybe it’s due to the recurring nightmares I’ve had all my life, usually depicting some sort of general school-based anxiety like: not knowing there was an exam, not knowing any of the answers, not showing up to class wearing a stitch of clothing.

They say life is like a big school. We’re here to learn, make mistakes, then learn some more.

I guess. Whatevs. I wasn’t really paying attention and they said it wasn’t gonna be on the exam, sooooo….[shrugs]

I know I’ve got the making mistakes thing down pat. When I was first in college, over 20 years ago, I made the mistakes only a 18 year old girl could make: I blew off class. Specifically, chorus. Yeah, I was a rebel back then. I loved to sing, I loved to be in a choir. I didn’t love to drag my butt across a frozen campus to the late night rehearsals. My choral director informed me I would be getting an F because I missed three rehearsals.

No biggie. No big thing. Only that F would be forevermore the first grade at the tippy top of my transcripts. And it brought my GPA down more than a few pegs. Not than anyone ever cares about your GPA anyway, right? (I do)

So now that I’m back in college at the ripe old age of 42, pursuing another degree full-time, I was nervous. Petrified. We’re talking panic attacks on the drive to my first class. Would I be able to study? Would I remember how to take notes? How does a pen work? Will I ever get those old brain cells of mine to wake up again after being pummeled into submission by an endless loop of the themes to Jimmy Neutron and Spongebob?

I knew my anatomy class would be hard as soon as my lab partner leaned in to tell me this was her second time taking it. My professor started the very first lecture discussing the complicated idea of how our cells process energy and used terms like mitochondria and receptive mediated endocytosis. Halfway through the semester, nearly one-third of the class dropped the course because they were failing.  These were students half my age and with twice my brain cells.

Fine, three times my brain cells.

I thought, I can’t learn this! What the hell is she talking about? I can’t figure this stuff out! I’m no good at science! I will get an F! I’m gonna fail, I just know it!

Then something shifted. I thought, aw, hell, what do I have to lose? One thing at a time. Just learn one tiny thing at a time, then the rest will snowball and I’ll finally ‘get’ it. I will. I can do this.

My first exam I got a C. Not great, but still I wanted to do much better. I had to do better, our degree requires we maintain a B average. So I studied hard. Harder than I ever did twenty years ago. I made sure I understood everything backwards, forwards, upside down and sideways. My next big exam, I got a 95. My professor even put a little red smiley face next to my grade. No gold star, but I was happy. My lab partner got a D.

She asked me what I got, then smirked at my reply and said,

“You suck.”

“Yeah, I suppose I do,” I said, failing to hide my grin. And my fist pumps. And my sporadic cries of “YES!!” during lecture. And my gangnam style dance I performed out in the hallway later on during break.

Eventually, I mastered that material in anatomy. Me, a middle aged stay-at-home mother who thought she wouldn’t learn much of anything new ever again.

After finals week, I cringed as I opened up my final course grades on my computer. At the top of the list was my final anatomy grade. I got a D.

Just messin’ with ya. Making sure you’re still reading. But yeah, I got an A. I did it. I took that gnawing fear that I could never learn science and I kicked its sorry cytoplasm ass.

What did I learn last semester?  I can start something and finish it. I can succeed even if I fail. I can dive headfirst into my fears and survive.

And the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. Boo-ya!

Next up, jumping out of an airplane.



I doubt it’ll be nearly as scary as going back to school.



Note to my readers: I will be taking a bit of a blogging break over the next few weeks. Once I get back into the swing of studying again and can spare a few brain cells, I’ll start writing once a week again.  I did ask my advisor if the college would consider offering the How To Effectively Blog Your Brains Out In 100 Easy Steps course but she said no dice. Happy Winter! I’ll miss you!


The leg bone’s connected to the…butt bone….?

Some of you may know that I’m currently back in college as a full time student. I’m a little over halfway through my first semester and finally finished with my midterm exams.

Unfortunately, whenever I take an intense exam, like in my anatomy course, a few things happen: my heart starts to palpitate, my eyesight gets blurry,  my breathing becomes shallow as I start to hyperventilate, and finally, my brain completely shuts down.

Maybe one day I’ll know what all that means medically so I can resuscitate myself when I faint, fall forward and slam my forehead onto the cold, hard lab table. Good thing my classes are also attended by an EMT and a couple CNAs. Although, the fact they’re all taking Anatomy for the second time concerns me a little.

So how did I do on my exams? Well….you be the judge. I think my professor was trying to trick us with the multiple choice, but I was onto her.

8) In the diagram below, label the sections of a typical female brain:

Whew! That was a killer test! How’d I do, guys? I’m guessing I might have scored the lowest anyone has ever scored on a test in human history. An F-? Or a Q? Maybe I reached a letter grade that’s nonexistent.

How do you do with tests? Do you have nightmares and anxiety about them, like I do?  Yeah, well, I am living my test-taking nightmares every week now, really helps crank up my insomnia a notch.

Humor · Top Lists

Top Eleven Things That Tick Off My College Professor

11) When I raise my hand to ask her to repeat the last thing she said.

10) When I raise my hand to ask her to repeat the thing she just repeated–only this time, louder.

9) When I raise my hand to tell her I have to go pee.

8) When I then pause to say, “Wait a second…oops…nope. Huh. Guess I don’t have to go pee after all. False alarm. Carry on.”

7) Whenever I find the lecture boring, I light up a cigar and start knitting a sweater.

Yes, dearie…a flash drive is a small storage device that plugs into a computer’s USB port…fascinating…please…continue…

6) Midway through a lecture, I interrupt her with my best grumpy old lady voice, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Blah, blah, blah. Is this gonna be on the exam or what?”

5) When I pass him a note that reads:

Pssst! Is this gonna be on the exam?
Please Check Box: YES, NO or MAYBE.

P.S. If your answer is maybe, can you be more specific?


4) When I say, “Y’know…I’m very close friends with a certain Mr. Ben Franklin, if you catch my drift….and Ol’ Benji here thinks it’d be swell if I got an A on that upcoming Lab Exam.” Then after digging around my pocket, I lay a penny, my grocery list and an old moldy Sucret on his desk.

3) That I regularly show up to Anatomy class wearing my skin-tight body suit of the major organ systems.

2) That I have the words: PASS ME tattooed on my eyelids.

This might work as well.

and the number one thing that ticks off my professors…

1) Whenever I’m in the midst of an intense exam and don’t know the answer, I bust out my kazoo and start skipping around the room, singing, “Pump-pump pa-pump, pa-pump pump-pump pump-pump…PUMP YOUR BLOOD!”

(it’s a shame Fonzie never shows up to convince Teach to give ME an A+ though…)


Too School for Cool: College Revisited

Well it’s official, kids! I am a student again. I just registered for my fall semester classes. Now all I need to get by is a hot plate, an economy-sized box of Ramen Noodles, a bean bag chair, and a giant bong.

Oh, wait. I’m not 21 years old anymore.


Well, looks like I’ll have to give up the noodles.  (Trying to watch my sodium intake.)

I am about to start a full course load for my associate’s degree. Last time I was in college was um…oh…about 20(cough) years ago. Wish me luck. I’m hoping I don’t end up at the geek table in the cafeteria. Or a jock saunters over, calls me Old Lady and knocks my tray to the floor, leaving me sobbing and covered in oatmeal, raisins and weak Earl Grey tea with a twist of lemon because it really helps settle my stomach and keeps me regular.

So far, I’ve only gone to my new student orientation, but I’ve already noticed how different things are this time around.

For three solid hours, I listened to the dean and an English professor tell us not only how to study, but that we had to study if we wanted to get a good grade. I know! I was as flabbergasted as you. Next they informed us that, yes, we have to show up for our classes. And take notes. Then they showed us how to take notes. Finally, the dean announced (I kid you not) we actually had to buy the books for classApparently, in the past some students thought this was an option.

What? Where? Why? Hey, isn’t it enough I showed up here? What?

It was all I could do to not let out a huge snort of disbelief. Seriously? Have we come to this? Students these days have to be told how to be students? Why can’t they just cut to the chase and hand us our final grades on the first day?

And they say our country is in trouble.

But for once, being an advanced age is on my side. I can already see how my college experience this time around will be very different.

Going to College:

THEN: Statistics class at 8 am? Fffft! Let’s blow it off and get drunk!
NOW: Statistics class at 8 am? Perfect! I’m already up at 5 am so why the hell not?

THEN: Eh, who needs to take notes? I can retain all the professor’s lecture just by using my half-assed listening skills!
NOW: Wait, slow down….I need to copy this word for word or I’ll never get it. What did you say after “Good evening, class, let’s begin”?

THEN: Dude! Let’s get wasted!
NOW: Now children, don’t waste this opportunity. We need to apply ourselves academically or we’ll never land that job in a few years.

Things That Have Changed Since Last Time I Went To College:

  • The chairs seem to be smaller.
    Or my butt’s bigger.
    I think I’ll go with the chairs being smaller.
  • The blackboard up front looks fuzzier.
  • The blackboard has been replaced by some bizarre space-age technocrappola PowerPoint nonsense gobbly-dee-gook.
  • The dean is my age.
  • The professor could be my son.
  • All of my fellow students look so young, they resemble Justin Bieber.
    When he was a baby.
    Inside his mother’s womb.
  • Instead of going to the library and looking up stuff on card catalogs, we are expected to have our own laptops and utilize this new-fangled thing called The In-ter-net.
  • I find all the professor’s lame jokes hilarious and actually laugh out loud at them.
  • I want to study.
  • I will study.
  • I will pay attention during class. Too much attention. I’ll even make eye contact and nod my head to whatever the professor says, like we’re in this together.
  • I will be raising my hand and asking annoying questions all the time.
  • I will answer all the professor’s questions by doing my best Horshack impression.
    (RIP Ron Palillo)

  • I will never blow off a single class because I know I’ll be paying for this with interest for the next 10 years.
  • Whenever the professor mentions “the real world” or “real life”, I’ll glance at my fellow 18 year old students and shake my head because they really have no freaking clue, do they? None. But I do.  I know about all about “real life” crap to last a lifetime.
  • I have become that ‘know-it-all old lady’ student I used to roll my eyes at when I was young.
  • Ramen noodles taste like chicken-flavored dishwater when you’re not stoned.

If you went to college, did you study or blow off class? How many pounds of Ramen noodles did you consume? Will you go to my 8 am  Anatomy class tomorrow and record the lecture for me because I have to go to this party tonight, but I swear I’ll do the same for you next week?



Just an FYI, (don’t you hate it when someone starts a sentence with ‘just an FYI’?) in case you’re wondering in the future where I am…I am either in class or studying. Or passed out in a rather large bucket of Ramen noodles. I hope to post on my blog once a week in the meantime. But if the rest of you could just stop blogging until say, December when the semester ends, that’d be great because there is no way in hell I can keep up with all the brilliantly funny and touching posts you people crank out on a daily basis. Thank you.

Catch ya latah, alligatahs.