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The Last Democrat in South Carolina


Part 2

Back in New Ellenton cousin Willie gave me heck. “Reverend Dennison sure likes you a lot!” he giggled, as we trudged our way through the slush of Lee Meadow heading up to the school. We was gonna meet some of our friends there and then do who knows what.

“I bet you gonna be doin’ the Holy Rollin’ by the time he done with you,” Willie teased.

“Now don’t you be actin’ so superior like,” I replied. “He just want to help me pray.”

That was on Friday. Two days later I told momma I was gonna take my bike and go to Jackson, and when she asked why, I explained that Rev. Dennison had told me he wanted me to pray with him. Momma knew who Rev. Dennison was. The grapevine in that rural part of the state is pretty good. Momma was, like I said, religious in her own right, but she’d heard that Rev. Dennison was “one of those,” which is how the ladies of the Second Methodist Baptist Church referred to Pentecostals, whom they regarded as just a little too eccentric to be proper Christians. She was quiet for a moment, eying me the way I knew so well: the left eyebrow arched higher than the right, her lips tight and disapproving.

“You sure you want to go?”

“Well, momma, I said I would, and besides, Auntie Esmina wants me to.” The eyebrow remained arched; momma was not a big fan of Esmina Hunke.

“All right. But don’t you dawdle, and you be back here by three or your poppa’s gonna be angry with you. We eat proper at four.”

I can’t say I really wanted to go see Rev. Dennison, but I also can’t say I didn’t. After all, he’d singled me out, not Willie, not even Uncle Mitch. That was sort of special recognition, I guessed, and besides, there’d been something about Rev. Dennison I liked. I couldn’t put my finger on it. Maybe it was his hair that went over his collar. All the other adult men in the area kept their hair close cropped. Some of the younger ones, who’d been in the world war or Korea, even had what we called buzz cuts. It was unusual for a grown man to let his hair grow out. (Ten years later, mine would be halfway down my back, but that’s another story.)

Rev. Dennison had told me to go up to the rear of the church, where there were two little steps leading up from a muddy yard that led to a screen door. I rattled on the screen and a second later he opened it. He was wearing what looked like pajamas, which surprised me because he was supposed to preach. He must have seen the surprise on my face, because he looked down at himself, then back up to me, and laughed. “Oh, I canceled the service,” he said, almost apologetically. “Weather’s too bad. Didn’t want to make folks come out in this slush and mud. I don’t think our Lord will mind.

“But come on in, Bertram, make yourself at home.” He was allowed use of the small apartment at the rear of the church, which had a tiny kitchen and a Murphy bed, as well as a T.V. set. An old wooden dresser with a mirror stood by the wall. I wiped off the mud on my boots on the mud scraper and then Rev. Dennison told me to sit down on the couch. “You wanna watch T.V. or something?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said. Rev. Dennison said he was just scrambling up some eggs and hash browns and would I like a plate. I’d already had breakfast, but the trip from New Ellenton—about ten miles—had made me hungry again, and besides, I was growing like a weed in those days and always seemed to be famished.

As he stood at the little stove and cooked the eggs, his back to me, Rev. Dennison kept up a steady pace of conversation. “I recall bein’ your age, Bert. You prefer Bert, or Bertram? Okay, Bert it is. I couldn’t wait to grow up and start going out with the young ladies. Know what I mean?” He turned around and winked at me, then back to the eggs and taters. “There was this one gal, Katharine Ann, we called her Katie-A. She was a beauty. Only eleven, but she was already fillin’ out. My oh my, yes, she was a special little gal. You got yourself a sweetie?”

“No, sir.” I replied.

“Well, that’s all right. Plenty of time for that. But I bet you think about it, don’t ya?”

I squirmed a little. “Well, to tell you the truth, sir, there is a girl I kind of fancy. Her name’s Betty Lou, you might know her daddy, he’s the deputy sheriff.”

“Betty Lou,” Rev. Dennison repeated, tasting the words in his mouth as though it were the eggs we were about to eat. “All right, Bert, grab yourself a plate from over there by the sink and let’s dig in.”

We ate away. Rev. Dennison turned on the T.V. but the reception was terrible, just a bunch of gray static and wavy lines, so he gave up. “I need to put up some kind of antenna but I never get around to it,” he said, absent-mindedly. Then: “You’re an athletic kind of boy, ain’t ya?”

That caught me kind of by surprise. “A little bit, sir.”

“What’s your sport? Or sports, as it may be.”

“Well, sir, I like fishin’, and ice skatin’ when Crockpot Creek is all froze, and baseball in the summertime.”

“What’s your position?”

“Third base, mainly, but sometimes I pitch.”

“Ah, pitchin’,” he said. “Pitcher’s gotta be in prime shape. You lift any weights?”


“You know, barbells, dumbbells, that kind of thing? At the gym?”

“No, sir. We aint—uhh, don’t got no gym in New Ellenton.”

“That’s a shame. A damn shame. We have a couple in Aiken. Myself, I worked out a lot at the Y.M.C.A. Great place for a young man to meet other men. Pool, Turkish bath, dry sauna. Meet some mighty nice folk there.”

I didn’t know how to reply to that. I didn’t even know what a Turkish bath was. So we was silent for a couple seconds.

“Tell you what. I got some weights over in that there closet. Just a couple of five-pound bells, but I like to have ‘em around. Let me show you how to use ‘em.”

Rev. Dennison proceeded to teach me bicep curls and tricep curls. “Whenever you work a muscle, you gotta work the opposite muscle, or you get unbalanced. See?” He did ten quick curls in both directions. “Now you try it. Take off your shirt, Bert, and stand there in front of the mirror and watch your muscles as you work ‘em.” As I watched my bicep tense and bulge, then relax, Rev. Dennison kept talking. “You see, God wants us to have perfect bodies. He gave us perfect bodies when we was born—well, most us, anyhow. But too many men let it go to pot, what with all their beer guzzlin’ and bacon eatin’ and such, ‘til by the time they’re thirty they got these great big bellies. It’s an affront to our Creator.” I thought of poppa.

“Keep on doin’ it, Bert,” Rev. Dennison instructed. My arm was getting tired. As I strained, Rev. Dennison put his hands on my arm, lightly, just enough for me to feel his fingertips on my aching bicep. It was warm and strong. “See? You gotta do it until it starts to hurt. No pain, no gain.”

An hour flew by, maybe more. Then I told Rev. Dennison I had to go home because we ate Sunday dinner early.

“Sure, sure, Bert,” he said. “That’s a good boy. You be careful, lots of slush and ice out there. Two weeks time, you come back now, y’hear? We gonna work on your lower body.”

It wasn’t until I reached Jackson, halfway home, that it occurred to me we hadn’t prayed at all.

The Last Democrat in South Carolina


Part 1

Crockpot Holler is just a bend in the woods in southwestern South Carolina, hard by Crockpot Creek. Its 457 souls live mostly along Route 278, a two-lane blacktop that winds along the Georgia border from Bluffton up to New Ellenton, which is where I’m from. I never would have had any reason to go to Crockpot Holler if it hadn’t been for Willie Hunke.

You see, Willie was my cousin, on my mom’s side. He was from Jackson, just a toad hop from New Ellenton; his mom, Essie, my mom’s sister, had married a farmer, Mitch Hunke, who had a little auto repair shop in his garage. He also grew alfalfa and corn in the summer and Christmas trees for the holiday season. Willie and me was best friends from the time we was babies. I used to help Uncle Mitch harvest the Christmas trees. He’d pay me $5 a day, a lot of money for a 12-year old kid in 1958. Mitch was originally from Crockpot Holler.

Now, long before I ever went to Crockpot Holler, I’d heard it referred to as “Crackpot Holler.” That was what the kids in Jackson and New Ellenton called it. You see, Crockpot Holler was famous for its Pentecostals. Now there was a bunch of holy rollers fit to be tied! We had some pretty good Christians in New Ellenton and my mom, Winona, read the Bible a lot, but she never whirled and spun like a dervish the way the Pentecostals was supposed to in Crockpot Holler. So one cold December day, when the snow was piling up in the Blue Ridge and the wind ripped right through you, Mitch told Willie and me to hop into his old Chevy pickup because we was driving down to Crockpot Holler to visit his momma, Willie’s grandma, Esmina.

The three of us squeezed into the front seat. Route 278 was a mess, with slush and patches of black ice, and Mitch almost went off the road two or three times, but we made it to Esmina’s little house. The old lady came out to meet us, wrapped in a black shawl that had seen better days. Snowflakes flicked through the air and dotted the shawl. I knew she was a widow for a long time; her husband, Floyd, had died during the War, in a place called Iwo Jima. Mitch was her only child.

We went into Esmina’s house, where a hot wood fire was burning in the old potbelly stove. Esmina invited us to take off our boots and coats, which we hung on hooks by the front door, and then she said she had oatmeal cookies and coffee for us, but first, she wanted us to know, we would pray. As she was talking, I noticed someone in the parlor, a tall, middle-aged guy with black hair parted in the middle that swept below his neck over his collar and a black suit that made him look like a scarecrow.

The man was Reverend Dennison. Esmina explained that the Reverend had recently arrived in Crockpot Holler from Aiken, which was a big city by our standards—population 30,000. He had come to Crockpot Holler, she said, because the Lord had whispered to him that’s where his ministry lay. “And I knew,” Esmina told us, smiling, looking at Rev. Dennison as though he were her own flesh and blood, “as soon as I set eyes on him that he was a holy man God sent to us, praise Jesus.”

Rev. Dennison beamed. “Well, howdy, boys, nice to meet y’all. Y’all set to open your hearts and talk to Jesus?” Now, I knew that Mitch wasn’t big on that old time religion. In fact, I’d heard him call the place of his birth “Crackpot Holler.” Neither was I, nor Willie. But this was Mitch’s momma, and he had that respect for her that even the roughest, toughest southern men have for their mothers. So we gathered in a little circle near the stove, got down on our knees, took hands, and waited for Rev. Dennison to begin.

There wasn’t too much fire and brimstone; I expect he held that for Sunday mornings. Afterwards, we sat down at Esmina’s little table, with its cracked formica top and stained plastic doilies, and Esmina served everybody up their coffee and cookies. Rev. Dennison seemed especially interested in me.

“Well, there, young man—Bertram, you say, right? Now what grade would y’all be in school?”

I wasn’t used to being questioned by preachers. I expect I muttered something under my breath. Esmina said, “Bertram, speak up. We can’t hardly hear you.”

“I’m in seventh grade, sir.” Rev. Dennison took that in. “Seventh grade. Well, I’ll be. That sorta puts you right in the middle of bein’ a boy and a man, don’t it.” He looked right at me, and that’s when I noticed his eyes were blue, like a robin’s egg you find in the woods that dropped down out of the nest. “You got right with the Lord, boy?”

No one said anything but I could hear Willie chewing on his cookie and Uncle Mitch slurping his coffee. I didn’t know what to say so I kept my mouth shut. “I asked you, you got right with the Lord, Bert?” Esmina was looking at me in such a way as to make me feel I had to answer the question, but I didn’t know what to say.

“I don’t know, sir.”

“You don’t know? You don’t know if you right with our Lord and Savior? Well, Bert, how long’s it gonna take before you know? Because you’re gonna be a man soon—I ‘spect you already are in some respects—and every man’s gotta know if he’s right with his Lord and Savior, ‘cuz that’s what it’s all about. Am I right, Brother Mitchell?”

Uncle Mitch put down his coffee cup. “That’s right, Reverend,” he replied, without, I thought, much conviction. I noticed Willie out the corner of my eye. He was delighted it was me, not himself, that was being picked on.

“Tell you what,” Rev. Dennison said. “You live in New Ellenton, right? Why, that’s not too far from Jackson, and you know every two weeks I travel up there for some preachin’ at the old church, right there on 278. Tell you what, next Sunday I want you to come, and we’ll spend some time afterwards, jes the two of us, talking about gettin’ saved and repentin’ your sins and all that. All right, now, let’s enjoy these fine cookies that dear Esmina baked herself, God bless her.”

And that’s how it started.

The Day After Election Day

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An Anticipatory Memoir

I went to bed at 2:30 a.m. the night of Election Day—actually, the morning after Election Day. I’d spent the night glued to the T.V. (MSNBC, occasionally flipping to CNN). By 10 p.m. Tuesday night, Brian Williams made it official: NBC news analysts were calling the election for Biden. Moreover, they were predicting the Blue Tsunami that had been widely expected.

I might have gone to bed then. But memories of the 2016 election kept me up. Was this real? Had the American people finally come to their senses? With a few glasses of red wine inside my belly, I was getting sleepy. I actually had reached for the remote and was going to switch it off and stumble to bed when the BREAKING NEWS red alert flashed on. Rachel Maddow this time: Trump had tweeted. It was after 1 a.m. Eastern time. My T.V. screen put up his tweet. “DEMOCRATS TRYING TO STEAL ELECTION!!! I WILL NOT ALLOW THEM!!! GET READY FOR A FIGHT!!!”

Well, if that wasn’t enough to bring me fully awake, I don’t know what would have been. Maybe a 7.2 magnitude on the Hayward Fault. Trump had evidently taken to twitter in a frenzy; the tweets were coming faster than MSNBC could put them up. I went to @RealDonaldTrump but couldn’t get in: the screen simply froze. I suppose a billion people or more were trying to find out what he was saying.

“I HAVE ORDERED NATIONAL GUARD TO SEIZE POLLING STATIONS!!!” MSNBC aired another of his onscreen tweets. And “TO MY WONDERFUL SUPPORTERS!!! LOCK AND LOAD!!!” The MSNBC hosts were now getting frantic. Rachel: “We’re not sure what to make of this, folks.” Brian Williams: “The election results evidently have caught the attention of the President, although we can’t be sure what he has in mind.” Steve Schmidt, a guest panelist, knew. “I don’t mean to sound the alarm”—

–“Yes, you do!” Rachel interjected—

–“But it looks like Trump is not going to accept the results of this election. He’s calling on his armed supporters to get ready for their marching orders. This evil sociopath looks like he’s fomenting an armed rebellion.”

I poured myself a steadying glass of cognac. This was going to be a long night.

At 2:27 a.m. on the morning of Wednesday, Nov. 4, Rachel and Brian Williams, both looking haggard and frightened, went off the air, replaced by Lawrence O’Donnell and Joy Reid. “We still have no idea what’s happening out there,” Lawrence said. Added Joy, “We have correspondents across the country. We’re finding stuff out as it happens. Stay with us.” But I just couldn’t. As I said, I went to bed at 2:30 a.m.–collapsed into bed is more like it—but after fitful, crazy dreams I didn’t remember, I awoke at 6:05 a.m. Rushed to the T.V. and turned it on.

Still Joy and Lawrence, now joined by Steve Kornacki, who was at the Big Board. “To call this a Blue Wave or Tsunami is putting it mildly,” he accounced excitedly. “Look at the red states that flipped blue: Pennsylvania. Ohio. Michigan. Wisconsin. Florida. Arizona. Georgia. Biden is ahead in Texas, although our election analysts are still calling that race too close to call. Huge Democratic victories for the Senate in swing states. There’s no doubt about it, Joy and Lawrence, this is turning into a rout of Republicans of historic proportions.”

Suddenly, more BREAKING NEWS. It was 9:20 a.m. in Washington, D.C., where NBC now turned for a Bill Barr announcement. Live, from his desk in the U.S. Department of Justice, the Attorney-General told the American people that “We are actively challenging the results of this election, which has been compromised by massive fraud, especially in mail-in voting, where it is likely that millions of fraudulent ballots were submitted.” There were no journalists to ask Barr any followup questions. “President Trump has asked me to assure the American people that he has no intention of submitting to a fake election. The President himself will address the American people later today from the Oval Office.”

The screen switched back to Joy Reid. “Wow,” she said, shaking her head. “Just wow.” “What we’re seeing,” Lawrence O”Donnell said, “is a coup.” Suddenly, more BREAKING NEWS: Joe Biden was speaking live, from what appeared to be his study or living room. “We Democrats have won this election in a landslide, as the American people have decisively rejected the anarchy and insanity of a rogue regime. Sadly, the current occupant of the White House is unable to accept the reality that he, through his criminality and incompetence, has brought upon himself. I urge the American people to be prepared to resist Trump’s attempt to undo the result of a legitimate election.” Exactly how he expected the people to resist, Biden did not say.

And so, as I write these words mid-morning here in California on the day after Election Day, the country has been thrown into absolute chaos—even as the number of infected Americans exceeds 15 million and deaths are mounting. The streets outside are strangely empty: I suppose everyone else is glued to their T.V. sets. A few minutes ago, CNN reported that “a mob of gun-toting Trump supporters” attacked the State House in Jackson, Mississippi, claiming to have seized control of that state and established a new Confederate State for Trump. And I just got an email alert from the Oakland City Manager stating that protestors have planned a huge march and rally to begin today at noon.

Gus looks up at me with wide eyes from his little bed. He knows something’s up. He can always feel these things. I nuzzle him. “It’s okay, pups,” I say soothingly. “Everything’s cool.” If only I could convince myself.

A cautionary tale


Imagine, if you will, a criminal investigation—say, a serial killer has been caught; the evidence against him is overwhelming; the District Attorney indicts, and a trial date is set. The media covers the breaking story thoroughly; after all, the killer (whom we’ll call Mr. X.) has terrorized a great swathe of America, and people are following developments closely. Surely, the killer will be convicted—most people who follow the news know how overwhelming the evidence is. Surely he will be dispatched appropriately, according to the law.

But wait! Suddenly, one morning, there’s a new development. The killer, it turns out, is a very wealthy man; moreover, he has wealthy friends. Together, they have pooled their resources, in order to fund a defense. The core of their defense is bizarre: the District Attorney himself, they allege, is the real killer, and is framing Mr. X., whom he hates. They have no proof. They offer no facts. All they can do is allege. But the allegation, backed up with their money and power, is enough to convince some people that where there’s smoke, there must be a fire.

Around water coolers at the office, at dinner tables, in bars after work, Americans talk about the case. “How could the District Attorney be the killer?”

“Well, why not? Anything’s possible.”

“Yes, but it seems so odd. We all know that Mr. X. did it. Didn’t you see the stories on T.V., or read the reports in the newspapers? The DNA evidence, the fact that Mr. X. had no alibis, and he had the underclothing of the victims in his apartment.”

“Yes, but Mr. X.’s lawyers say that was all made up. How do we actually know? Did you conduct the DNA tests yourself? Did you find the underclothing? How do you know it belonged to the victims?”

“Well, I admit that I’m taking other people’s word for it. Of course I didn’t conduct the DNA tests myself! I wouldn’t know how to.”

“Exactly. And how do we know that the supposed ‘experts’ who did conduct the DNA tests knew how to? Besides, what if they were secretly in cahoots with the District Attorney himself?”

“You mean–?”

“Yes. It could all be a huge conspiracy.”

“Like the Moon Landing?” asks a third man, who’s been listening in.

“Yes, like the Moon Landing. I heard that was staged at a Hollywood back lot.”

“I did too!” chimes in a fourth man, a construction worker. “I also heard that it wasn’t Al Qaeda that took down the World Trade Center. I heard it was the Mossad.”

“I heard it was the CIA” said another man, an electrician by trade.

“Don’t the CIA and the Mossad work pretty close?”

And so it went. The more people talked about the case, the more confused they became. That there actually was a mountain of evidence against Mr. X. was irrelevant. There also was a mountain of evidence against the District Attorney. Well, not exactly “evidence,” but a mountain of allegations, some of which came from some credible people.

Polls were taken of the public at regular intervals by the major polling companies. It was found that one-third of the population thought that Mr. X. was the killer. Roughly one-third thought that the District Attorney was the killer. The remainder didn’t know. The country was evenly split.

Many years later, when nearly all the principles in the case were dead—the District Attorney, Mr. X., his rich friends, the lawyers, the journalists—a scholar wrote a book about it. Piecing together all the facts, he concluded that Mr. X. had indeed been the killer. But it was too late to do anything about it; Mr. X.’s trial had ended in a hung jury. Twelve men and women of good will could not agree on the facts. In fact, the jury itself was split right down the middle: six to convict, six to acquit. Mr. X. went free.

The journalist who wrote the book went on a book tour, appearing on many  T.V. and radio interviews. He was often asked what was the lesson of the case of Mr. X. Here is what he replied:

“The evidence against Mr. X. was overwhelming. In retrospect, we know he was a monster, who should have been stopped. My reporting found that in all likelihood he continued to murder innocent victims. Sadly, his lawyers were very clever. They succeeded in bamboozling the public, in overwhelming them with false information, with smears, with allegations that were so patently absurd, many people felt they had to be true, for who would dare to say such easily disproved things? In the end, I think the lesson is that democracy is always threatened, not so much from external enemies as from within. People have to keep their wits and use their common sense. Once reason and logic are undermined, so is democracy itself.”

Have a lovely weekend. If you live in the Red Flag areas of California, be safe.

From the Private Diary of Donald J. Trump


Dear Dairy,

They say I’m a Racist. Well that’s just a dirty lie from the failing New York Times. I’m not a Racist, I just don’t like most Black people. Some are okay. Herman Cane is great. So’s Ben Carson. Did you know he’s a doctor? And that Clarince Thomas, what a guy! He was a great Womanizer you know although I don’t know what he saw in that Anita Hill. A real dog I’ll tell you.

You know who I also have a lot of respect for whose Black? O.J. Simpson. Great athlete, that I can tell you. I don’t know what sport he played—was it golf, or was that the other one, the one with the animal name? But I know he was famous and then he had that career as a movie star. As a T.V. star myself I can appreciate the hard Work that goes into success as an entertainer. I never met O.J. but maybe one of these days we can play a round at Bedminster. Memo to self: Ask Melania what she thinks of giving him a Metal of Freedom. That’s one of the things I’m entitled to do as POTUS. I was thinking of giving one to my friend Kim Jong Un. Maybe we could have them both together at the White House.

But this racist stuff bothers me. Just look at all those Demon-crats having a field day saying I’m Bigoted. Don’t they know the Republican party is the most Racially-integrated party in America? Just look at our House delagation. Many, many black, brown and yellow faces, that I can tell you. In fact Leader McCarthy, who I understand is part Black, was telling me that the Demon-crats are 99% white. Talk about Racists! I don’t know why these Blacks vote Demon-crat. Who freed the Slaves? Lincoln, a Republican! Who wrote the Civil Rights act? Newt Gingrich, that’s who. Who has appointed more Blacks to the Courts than me? Nobody has more respect for the Blacks. My father always said, “Donald, always try to rent to a Black in the slums.” That was good advice. We made a lot of money off renting apartments to the Blacks in New York, and I’ll tell you something else, they weren’t always screaming for new paint and carpets the way these Asians are.

Look, I kind of like AOC. I mean, she’s hot! Sure she has those big bug eyes but if you throw a paper bag over her head she’s not too shabby. A little older than I like ‘em, though. Poor Jeff Epstein. It’s a shame they got him. You know he’s just a surrogate for me, right? I’m the one they were after but they couldn’t get me because I’m too smart to get caught so they went after Jeff. I’ll tell you, we had some Hot times back in the day. Mar-a-lago in the 90s. We’d get 15, 20 girls, all under 17, the pick of the crop, the hottest, juiciest, sexiest pussy you ever saw, right? Just me and Jeff and buckets of Champagne, KFC and lines of coke Jeff got from his connection in Columbia. I miss those days. Of course, I can always have my Secret Service smuggle girls in to me wherever I am, but I try to limit that to 3,4 times a week. Melania’s been awful loyal and I wouldn’t want to hurt her.

I’m gonna win this election, that I will tell you. It will be such a landslide it will shock you. Most Americans agree with me when I tell them we don’t need those foreigners here. All those gooks and geeks and freaks, keep ‘em out! Send ‘em back to wherever the hell they’re from. Starting with those Sqaud girls. I think they’re from Somalia. Imagine, they come over here from their nasty little slums and all of a sudden start parading around putting down America and siding with El Qaida and helping the terrists plant bombs in Jewish places. I’m gonna remind the American people over and over what disgusting, horrible atheists those girls are. The fact that they’re all Black is irrelivent to me. By the way, did you notice they’re all Black?

But like I say I’m not a Racist! Here’s a list of the Demon-crats I’m gonna go after in the next few weeks. Elijah Cummings. Barbara Lee. Oprah Winfrey. Obama (Worst President Ever!). Corey Booker. Kammalla Harris. John Lewis. That awful James Cliburn. Most of ‘em white, right? Oh, and that Communist, “Doctor” Martin Luther King. I put the “doctor” in quotes because what the hell was he a doctor of anyway? Doctor of lies, that’s what. My F.B.I. showed me a file proving King hung out with Communist terrists. From what I understand lots of Blacks still do. That’s what I hear, anyway.

Well, the Secret Service just delivered my Cheeseburgers, so I gotta go now, Dear Dairy, but more tomorrow! That, I will tell you!

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