Category Archives: kensington

The $327 Teachable Moment

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Cars are stupid.

This has been one of those weeks. This is a week that began with the kids finding tap shoes and whistles at 6:30 a.m. on Monday. This is a week wherein, if I handle an egg, it inevitably leaps to the floor. This is a week of Spring Break, which means no school, holidays I never ended up figuring out how to celebrate and, apparently, snow. So you will not be surprised to learn that on Monday afternoon, my car was towed.

Allow me to set the scene: it was a beautiful (pre-snowstorm) spring day, and we had a lovely plan to meet a school friend of Harper’s at the Botanic Gardens. Did I know the Botanic Gardens were closed on Mondays? No I did not, though by this point in my day I should have seen the writing on the wall.

Once we discovered the Gardens were closed, Harper did a celebratory dance. She had not wanted to leave her game at home after all, and thought this meant a return to the great-apartment-dweller’s-whistles-and-tap-shoes performance. But this other family — four children and all — had already mobilized and I felt terrible, imagining that their kids like mine probably took forever to get ready to get out the door, and thus guessing they had been getting ready to meet us since three weeks ago — so we decided on the Prospect Park Zoo nearby. Unfortunately, I have been abusing our zoo membership lately, and the kids were getting a little meerkat-weary, so Harper proceeded to cross her arms and plop down on the sidewalk next to the car, screaming that she refused to go anywhere, and there had been much SIMPLY TOO MUCH not-being-at-home-with-tap-shoes-and-whistles. I responded the way any good, tired, frustrated, premenstrual mother would, by yelling loud enough to scare her into the car. Ollie responded by sitting in his carseat and taking deep, exaggerated breaths and singing, “Grownups Come Back.” (If there is a more heartbreaking response to a parental lack of composure, well, I’m sure I’ll see it soon.)

We made it to the zoo and it was impossible to park but I found a spot on a block where I’d parked once before on a morning visit to the zoo. And by found I meant STOLE a spot from a car that was making a U-turn for. Instant Karma is going to get you indeed.

The only caveat with this parking spot (or so I thought then) was that it was near the entrance of the zoo that involves a carousel and obviously I didn’t have cash, so it also involved a walk to at ATM, carousel ride, etc etc. This cheered everyone up enough to provide for a nice afternoon playdate, and everyone ran around and got really tired out, and then it was 5 p.m., late for us to be out and about still, but the sun felt so nice and the kids’ begging for ice cream on the way out so very loud that we stopped again, and ran around the park some more. Then, sun-stained and bleary-eyed, we went to to spot where the car was parked. Had been parked. Was not any longer parked. I went through the stages of grief in an eyeblink and then took a deep breath like I’d learned from somewhere, oh right from Ollie, and said, “Oh! Oh dear. Our car has been towed. Well, my mistake, I guess we weren’t supposed to park there after 4. Golly! Let’s take the bus home, doesn’t that sound fun?”

The kids burst into tears.

Ollie: “The bus is STINKY! I HATE the bus!”

Harper: “What about our CDs in the car??”

Ollie: “Well I don’t actually hate the bus but I want our car!”

Harper: (through heaving sobs) “When I grow up I’m going to be a police officer – wait no the PRESIDENT – and I am going to send a special tow truck to all the police cars and SMASH THEM!”

We trotted over to the bus stop. I’d already performed my most-self-loathing-inducing parenting move that day when I lost my shit and yelled, so I felt extra motivated to do this one right.  “Hey guys!” I said. “When you think about it, we are actually kinda lucky! Look, the bus stop is right here, and there’s a bench. It’s a nice day — what if it were cold and rainy right now? And we’ve taken this bus before and it goes right to our building, and I have a metrocard with money on it, and hey here’s the bus! Isn’t this actually kinda fun?”

They shook their heads and continued to weep at the thought of their precious Magic Treehouse: The Musical CD cold and alone, belting out show tunes about Camelot somewhere without them, . We got on the bus, much to the delight of the tired commuters, and found some nice seats for scream-weeping in.

The thing is, the more I repeated this to the kids — “This could have been so much worse. It’s really okay. It wasn’t the tow truck’s fault, it was my fault for not seeing the sign! And the next steps are really quite easy. You eat dinner, Daddy comes home, I go get the car, no big deal. Weren’t we lucky we were right by the stop for the bus with the route we know that goes right home? Weren’t we lucky it was a nice warm night?” — the more it felt true. Even as I headed to the Navy Yards at dusk. Even as I paid the unspeakable towing fee. Even as I got in the car with the police escort — at least they try to help you not get murdered on your way through the lot — to go find my poor lonely car.

“Miss Amy,” said the elderly man, looking at my paperwork, “You’re doing really well. I see a lot of angry people on this job. You’re doing really well.”

“Thank you,” I said, the teacher’s pet in me absurdly pleased at this thought. “I have been doing deep breathing.”

“They are really cracking down on parking violations. I’m about to throw in the towel, to be honest. I’m too old for this. Nice young ladies like you out here because you were parked in the wrong place for a few minutes. It’s too much.”

Torn between loyalty to the new mayor I did after all vote for and have a weird friend-crush on, and indignance at the expense and inconvenience of the mishap (wasn’t there some sort of regulation that if they see two car seats in the car they let you go with a slap on the wrist? Maybe a $0 warning parking ticket like they had in sweet old Iowa City?) — I nodded.

“Now, Miss Amy, did they tell you there will also be a ticket on your car?”

I was so flattered by his complimenting my coping skills that I wanted to maintain my facade as someone good at dealing with stress, so I took another deep breath, hummed “Grownups Come Back” to myself, and said, “Oh? Well that figures! What a day, right?” I pictured the angry red chart my accounting app would show again this month. I took the parking ticket off the windshield, got in the car, and accidentally listened to a full song of the kids’ eardrum-bruising CD before I remembered I could turn it off.

The kids were very shaken up by this whole experience, and wanted to recap the next day. I repeated the importance of seeing the bright side, starting to actually believe myself. Ollie switched songs to Peg + Cat‘s “Problem solved! Problem solved! We solved the problem, now everything is awesome, problem solved!” (Don’t judge, that PBS app saves my life some days.) A few minutes later, he threw up his still-chunky cheerios all over the floor. Harper stared, a hand over her mouth. Then she shrugged and said, “Oh well! This is good practice for me for when I’m a doctor some day! I bet I’ll have to get used to seeing throw-up!”

Everything is awesome, indeed.

Why Do So Many Children’s Librarians Hate Children?

“Don’t worry. The children will never find us back here.”

Tell me: is this a New York City thing? Because it’s true that libraries here are different breed than those shushy places I grew up with – our dim little branches vibrate with screamy computer games, noisy kids (often mine), homeless-ish eccentrics waiting for their computer time and sharing theories on where the anti-Christ lives. (Brooklyn, I heard recently.) And oddest of all: the child-averse children’s librarians. What gives?

I love the library. I always have. I used to work in a library, for goodness’s sakes. I think they are so super duper important to civilized society and for that matter life in general. I go to the library several times a week; Harper shrieks and claps with delight at each fresh stack of new reading material. I’m writing all this so I don’t seem like a library curmudgeon. Because really, I’m annoyed with my local library right now, for there a grumpy librarian hath committed an act most foul: she snubbed my son.

Ollie’s obsessed with trains lately, so because I am attentive mother who wants to encourage my kids’ interests, the other morning while Harper was at school, I took him to the library. On the train! We took the train there. See, it relates. We took this most-fun-transportation-ever-invented to the shiny new Kensington library branch at 18th Ave, which I will take a moment here to recommend, in theory, because it’s actually the most gorgeous branch library I’ve ever seen. Two stories, a lovely atrium, eco-friendly tables and chairs in the kids’ section and an amazing selection of all brand-new books, plus a special kids’ activity room with bright, friendly Marimekko-esque wallpaper and an assortment of wooden toys – it’s a dream of a library. So I was excited when we got there for tot storytime. And I was greeted by the children’s librarian who said, “Welcome to you and your beautiful child!” JK, she said, “You’re late.”

“Oh!” I said, smiling, super pleasant, making nice, sending the brain message, Don’t be mad at me, lady. I am your people. I am bookish. I am the most bookish. We are allies. “I’m sorry. I thought the website said it was at 11?”

“That one is for babies.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought it said up to 18 months.”

“It does. How old is your – is that a boy or girl?” (ed note: Ollie is dressed in blue jeans, black and white sneakers, a blue button-down shirt, and is holding a train toy. Yes, he has luxurious curls, it’s true, but give me a break.)

“My son is 18 months old.”

“Sure, sure he is. That’s what everyone says. You may stay if you understand it is for one time only.” This, leaning close, a touch menacingly.

What a welcome! So I thanked her and told her it was a really beautiful space and we were excited about it. She sniffed and mumbled something about trying to keep it that way and then scurried around kicking families out of the room, because that storyplaytime was over and the next storyplaytime was about to begin. A few parents asked if they could stay and she assured them they could not, and that they didn’t want to anyway, because it would be the same stories again. I think this was probably an oblique, playful reference to the classic novel Catch-22, because similarly to that novel’s central catch-22 (war is insane, you’d have to be insane to want to go to war, but if you’re insane you can’t go to war, etc), it didn’t make a lick of sense. Why did it matter what age anyone was, if both programs were the same? Why couldn’t people stay? Why couldn’t the toys stay out? Because the room had to be cleared for the 2 babies who were reluctantly approved to stay for storyplaytime 2. One of which was Ollie.

Now the babies were told to sit on tiny chairs, and scolded when they moved, which makes for a very enriching educational experience according to the most up-to-date parenting trends of 1840, I’m sure. They weren’t even making any noise, these wee people, I swear! Just moving around. The librarian said to me that if Ollie couldn’t sit still, “There’s a beautiful park – Prospect Park – nearby, and luckily we don’t live in the arctic!”

So I screamed, “Are you kidding me? There’s a PARK?! How come no one told me?!!!” JK, I creepily-calmly said, “So you’re saying that because my 18 month old doesn’t want to sit in a chair while you mumble-read a picture book about planting bulbs that’s clearly for 6-year-olds, I ought not to take him to the library at all, but belong only in the park on a freezing winter day? Lady, do your job and I’ll do mine!” JK, I mumbled, “Hm, yeah.” Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I didn’t stalk out until 5 minutes later, when finally Ollie started protesting the banishment of all those delightful toys.

Anyway, if anyone is still reading this, thank you for indulging my therapy session, whew, and my point is: WTF. Why be a children’s librarian, why be the storytime lady, if you clearly are disinterested in kids, in the funny squirmy ridiculous kidness of them? If you clearly have nothing but disdain for parents? I recall one storytime when Harper was a baby when a hilariously misanthropic librarian visibly shuddered at a toddler’s touch. Why?

My real question ought to be why I keep dragging my kids to these things. Harper flat out refuses library storytimes of any kind. “I don’t think that lady likes doing storytime,” she said after a particularly lackluster session at a different branch this summer. This is a kid who loves books and stories and telling stories more than any kid in the world. She just got a storytelling medal at playschool! A medal, I tell you! And she hates storytime. Poor thing.

Okay, so I guess I don’t completely un-get it, now that I’ve had some time to cool down from the horrific outrage of subpar toddler storyplaytime. I mean, these people have the jobs they have because they love children’s literature, not children. It seems to me that these ought to be connected, but I understand that they might not be. I loved reading Gone Girl and that doesn’t mean I want to hang out with sociopaths. Fair enough.

PS: 3 notable exceptions to the child-hating librarian rule: the storytime ladies at the Central Library and the Cortelyou branch were pretty baller last I checked, and Miss Cindy at our own Windsor Terrace branch is completely amazing, what with her ukelele and all. So I probably shouldn’t complain so much.

But I’m just so good at it.

20121129-230509.jpg “Mama, not only are you going to get chided for taking this picture, I don’t even want to be here. When do we get back on the damn TRAIN ALREADY?”

When The Tragedy Isn’t Yours

Jane’s Carousel, beacon of light in the storm. Harper has vowed to try a horse that goes up and down next summer and by gum those horses better be ready.

A little ago Harper asked me “Are there mean people in real life?” I debated for an instant before admitting, “Yes. Yes there are.” There was a long pause and then she said, “But not in New York.” “That’s right,” I told her.

When you think about having kids you say things like “Oh, how can people bring an innocent little baby into this world,” but it’s usually just something you’re saying because you think you should at least entertain the thought, when really your mind is whirring with tiny chub-thighs and screen-printed onesies and that intoxicating baby smell. Then you have the kids and then you know what that statement means, you know your crazy love for them, you know the chilling dread of something bad ever happening to them. Because it probably will.

In the past two weeks, the world, the news, and my brain have been churning with terribleness. First there was the horrifying, haunting Krim family tragedy, which was none of my business, none of anyone’s business but that poor broken family, that mother who lived through every mother’s nightmare – the very story seemed custom-made to torture every parent who has ever had to leave their child with someone and felt uneasy — the senselessness, the horrible imagery.

Then a few days later came Hurricane Sandy (excuse me, Super-Storm Sandy), which hit the city worse than I think any of us really believed possible. Yes, we heard on the news about the evacuation zones and the potential for floods and all that, but we also heard a lot of that last year circa Irene and nothing much happened, and besides, hurricane damage just isn’t the kind of story we’re used to around here. And even here in good old KWT it feels abstract. It was windy and ominous feeling the days before the storm, but in our big tank of an apartment building we scarcely heard a thing. I slept soundly the night of the storm (I always do, the benefit of exhaustion). The kids hardly noticed anything. On Halloween, playschool had a party, we trick-or-treated. I worried that Ollie had too much sugar. And yet here, just miles away, in our own city, in our own borough, people are suffering. People have suffered unimaginable losses. Their homes, everything. A friend’s friend was killed by a falling tree. In another specially-designed-mother-torture story, a woman in Staten Island saw her two young sons swept out of her arms by flood waters. It’s a cliche to say you don’t have words but…I don’t have words.

So, probably because stories are too much for me to really comprehend, I find myself fixating on the aquarium, Coney Island, ruined books, the trees in the park – these losses are significant, but on a scale I understand. These things make me really, really sad – but not despairing.

Then today I found out a dear friend’s brother was murdered – senselessly, narrativelessly. She is drowning in sorrow and shock. I just never thought murder had anything to do with my family, she said, and I knew exactly what she meant. That’s why all three of these horror stories (one encompassing so many others, an anthology of destruction and mess and sorrow) have me feeling adrift – none of them makes any sense. This one aches particularly, because one of my best friends in the world — a bright, creative, compassionate, completely unique and hilarious and kind person — has had her life blown apart.

But I also feel like I don’t actually have any right to be shaken up, to feel sorrow. None of these stories is actually mine. In each instant I think, selfishly, awfully, I’m so glad that wasn’t my family, my kid, and then I feel disgusting, like that’s exactly what I would think people were thinking and hate them for if it really were happening to me. In each case, there is an initial thought to be fought, that urge to prove to yourself that it couldn’t actually happen to you, because of… because of nothing, there is no protecting your own family by somehow finding a way to blame others for the blameless act of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

How do you deal with tragedies that aren’t really yours? It’s a privileged question to ask, and possibly a silly one. But I still feel so sad. I guess I should just feel lucky that I have the luxury of a dull, thick-headed sympathy pain. I’m going to go help make food for an evacuation shelter tomorrow morning. I feel like this is a lame effort, a bandaid flung into a river of blood. And I know it’s mostly for me to feel a little better, but okay, I’ll take it. I want to be around New Yorkers who are trying to help, to feel like I’m a part of something, I guess, or trying to be anyway. That’s probably not the right reason, I realize this.I want to live in Harper’s world, where mean people seem imaginary. Where nothing bad B-A-D bad happens to us, or people we know, because it’s just not part of the story we know, so how could it?

Sorry to be such a bummer. Everything else seems lame to write about right now. And it’s daylight savings time, FML, which means the kids will be up at 4 am, and they are my cherished loves-of-my-lives but fuck if I love anything at 4 am. File under non-problem problems, I know.

PS: The week before the storm, Adam happened to take the kids to the Aquarium:

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The Boy/Girl Bedroom

I keep meaning to post some beautifully set-dressed and well-photographed evidence of our new home. “Look at that sun-washed room with the casual vase of peonies just so, and that teacup which I hardly notice but which lends the whole image a subliminal coziness!” You would exclaim. But I don’t have time for any of this. I’m revising the novel in every spare instant and chasing Ollie down off the ceiling in every unspare instant. Anyway, so for now some iPhone pics of the kiddo room. I just think it’s a really cute little room, with its wacky, mostly accidental mix of patterns and the well-hung (snicker snicker) artwork arranged by professional art handler, Uncle Doug. Harper loves it, though she doesn’t understand why they can’t have bunk beds yet. (Because I’m mean, pretty much.) And the other day she got all teary, missing the silver stars in her tiny old closet of a room. Recreating those stars is actually on my to-do list. Number 947. Getting there.

I think we probably still count as a tiny kids’ room, though to us it feels huge. To have room to play! In the bedroom! How novel! They even have a closet, half of which is dedicated to clothes and books. We are living the life over here, people. Don’t even get me started on the elevator. Or the parking garage. Park Whope? Anyway. So behold: the room: as it actually is every day. (Imagine the sunlight, flowers, and achingly lovely photography. And tidiness, imagine some tidiness too.)

PS I wrote this post on my phone while kind of supervising Harper taking a bath. I’m such a good mom!

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Spring Festivities and a First Birthday.

A year ago at this time I was basking in the unique glow of motherhood, swathed in the womb-like confines of a shared room at NYU Tisch Medical Center, toasting my new son with the endless ice waters the rosy-cheeked nurses kept bringing me. And/or, I was sitting in a paper dress all stunned, like, WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED? After miserable weeks of sort-of-labor, after reaching that too-pregnant psychosis where you start believe the baby is just staying in forever, after passing the due date and sailing on to the next week and infinity beyond, actual labor was so fast the kid was almost born in a taxi cab. And not to wallow in cliche here, but I can’t believe Alton King turns one today.

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Ollie.

Likes: Harper, cheese, drinking from a glass, throwing a ball, walking around, slapping things.

Dislikes: clementines.

Skills: Walking, running, falling, getting up, climbing, falling, getting up. Can say Mama, Dada, Hapa, that, and cake.

Goals: Getting bigger than Harper by age 2.

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We celebrated by chasing Ollie, as he has somehow come to be known, around various locales and pulling him down off stools, chairs, and tables. First, an adorable Easter egg hunt in the backyard of our new building. This building has just been charming me to death. All the kids! The shoeless playdates! Look at this shit:

ImageImageImageImageOkay, so that was cute. At promptly 1 pm, both of my young combusted, so we went home (all the way upstairs) for naps, and then in the afternoon headed into Prospect Park. Harper had suggested some weeks ago that we go to the carousel by the zoo on Ollie’s first birthday and that she would make sure he didn’t get scared. So we did, and she did. She forgot, however, to make sure that she didn’t get scared. But she played through the panic and then afterward walked away uncertainly, saying, “Maybe that’s for when I’m older,” and “The brave ones get treats.” (?!) Ollie: completely unfazed.

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ImageImageAnd then some park frolicking, and a long stroll home, and then, of course: cake.

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The 2-for-1-Special Springtime Birthday

One thing you have to admit for our family planning, we are really going to save money on birthday parties. Man, have we beat the system!

Last year I was convinced Alton was going to be born on Harper’s birthday, and so we had her tiny tea party a little early, but he had the good manners/laziness to be born weeks later. That was fun! I’m kidding, it was miserable! Anyway. So their birthdays ended up being two weeks apart, in different months even so they each get their own little sector of spring, but close enough that for the next few years anyway we can force them let them share a birthday party.

I decided a spring theme made sense, which meant some fake cherry blossom sprigs, some springy bunting, and two cake-foods. For the Harper side of things, dainty pink cupcakes with gum paste cherry blossoms that I lovingly crafted by hand. Come on, my kids eat nuggets every night. I ordered those suckers online. And for the Alton side of things, a chocolate cake that looked like mud, which is to say, slathered in chocolate pudding and crumbled cookies and gummy worms and slugs. For some reason, some of the guests found this to be off-putting. There was pin-the-tail-on-the-robin, but more importantly, tons of balloons. And that was it. We played records. We gave the grownups mimosas and bagels. Alton wandered around like a puppy, climbing into people’s laps and stealing their food. Harper occasionally reminded her guests not to take home her presents. Murray got shy at the last minute and stayed home with all his cats in Paris. It was really so much fun, and we felt so thankful to all the friends and new neighbors who came by, and very house-warmed and heart-warmed.

Here are some photos Adam took. And you can also get a peek at our new place, which we are semi-settled into. So without further ado, here is why is my novel revisions are not into my editor yet:

This is Kensington. Or Windsor Terrace. Or Something.

ocean parkway and caton avenue

Our corner, as it was in the 1940s. Thanks, Brooklyn Collection!

Well! So! We did it! We moved! It went kind of like this:

March, 2011: “Hey, we’re having another baby! But wait, we live in a 1.5 bedroom. Okay, a 1 bedroom. Oh, who cares.”

August, 2011: “HOLY SHIT WE HAVE TO MOVE.”

November, 2011: “Wait, what? After some months of getting super depressed about how super depressing Brooklyn real estate is, we found a non-depressing apartment? Weird! Let’s buy it!”

February, 2012: “Wait, what? We bought an apartment? HOLY SHIT NOW WE HAVE TO MOVE.”

From thence followed very shoddy packing, some chaotic days of moving, including panic attacks about whether or not our voluminous books-n-records collections were going to make our movers commit seppuku, some very shoddy unpacking, still not finished. Oh, I forgot the spirit-crushing anxieties over retiling the kitchen and bathroom and repainting and changing light fixtures and doorknobs and whatnot, which caused me to guiltily remember every time I’d mentally answered someone’s “Man, my renovations are killing me” with a resounding (albeit silent) “SHUT YOUR PRIVILEGED LITTLE TALK-HOLE!” (Turns out that stuff actually really is stressful. Who knew!)

So anyway, we made it, we’re here, in our new little corner of Brooklyn. If you’re from Brooklyn, we are on the border between Kensington and Windsor Terrace. If you’re not, we are still kinda near Park Slope, on a different corner of the park. Or, as our Manhattan-bound real estate lawyer put it, “Kinda near the ocean?” Exactly. Actually, you know, all of New York City is an…oh, never mind.

In EB White’s great essay Here is New York, he writes:”A woman friend of mine moved recently from one apartment to another, a distance of three blocks. When she turned up, the day after the move, at the same grocer’s that she had patronized for years, the proprietor was in ecstasy–almost in tears–at seeing her. “I was afraid,” he said, “now that you’ve moved away I wouldn’t be seeing you anymore.” To him away was three blocks, or about seven hundred and fifty feet.”

This is precisely so. We’ve been moaning about how weird it would be to leave the place we lived for 7 years, our beloved best-ever neighborhood, and then sniffling and saying things like, “Well, I guess if we really miss the bakery/bodega/block we could always…walk over one day. It would take like 15 minutes though.”

But I have to say, so far we really love it. First of all, the space. We have our own bedroom! Adam and I, that is. The kids have their own bedroom! Shared, that is. (If you’re from Brooklyn: I know, isn’t that exciting? A bedroom! With a window and a closet and a door! If you’re from anywhere else in the country excepting possibly San Francisco: Yes, the kids share a room, get over it.) We have  multiple closets and multiple doors! The kitchen has these storagey things called “cabinuts” or something! It’s all quite thrilling. And the building is full of friendly kids and neighbors and dogs and such. Harper’s favorite thing ever is pushing the elevator buttons. My favorite thing ever is pushing my SUV of a double stroller into the elevator. People, this is the life.

I’m already feeling protective of Kensington, though. I was just about to write about how I love my new coffee shop/office, our new playground, our new library branch, our new playspace, and then I was about to write something about how none of these places are as ridiculously crowded all the time as their shinier Park Slope counterparts (we’ve never waited in line for a swing at the playground here, if you can believe it), but then I thought, Waaaaiiiit- If I tell everyone how great it is here than everyone else will move here and then where will I be? In line for a goddamned swing is where.

Then I remembered that, thank goodness, I hardly have that kind of influence. Or readership. And also, we’ve only been here a few weeks. There’s plenty of time to realize we’ve made a TERRIBLE MISTAKE AND RUINED OUR LIVES AND THE LIVES OF OUR INNOCENT CHILDREN.

Nah. Come on, Steeplechase Coffee has red velvet twinkies! What could go wrong?