I’ve Had The Time of My Life

New Orleans is, of course, more than Mardi Gras; but whenever anyone mentions New Orleans, most people’s minds immediately go there.

It is probably the most famous thing about New Orleans, no matter how hard we try to convince outsiders that there’s more to the city that our annual bacchanal…Mardi Gras is always the default; so much so that the entire season is collectively (and incorrectly) called Mardi Gras; Mardi Gras is merely Fat Tuesday (mardi gras literally translates into fat Tuesday) and the rest of the season is Carnival. No matter how often you try to correct people, it never takes and so I’ve gotten to the point where I no longer correct people. It is what it is.

Likewise, people think of Carnival as a debauched event, and there is some truth to that–women do show their breasts for beads, and I’ve seen guys drop trou as well. However, I can also honestly say I’ve never seen that happen on the actual parade route on St. Charles Avenue; perhaps that happens down on Canal Street during parades, but it doesn’t happen in Uptown. I’ve only witnessed it happen in the Quarter–people on Bourbon Street displaying the required flesh for people up on balconies with a seemingly endless supply of beads, demanding boobs or butts or balls in exchange for a strand of beads. I’ve personally never dropped trou for beads–never will; why on earth would you when they are thrown with such reckless abandon from floats during the parades?

Like most New Orleanians, I had some vague knowledge of the history of Carnival in New Orleans; I knew that the theme song “If Ever I Cease to Love” came about because of a visit from a member of the Russian Romanov royal family in 1872; the Carnival colors of purple, green and gold were also in his honor. I knew that Comus, Momus, Proteus and Rex were the original krewes that paraded; that the flambeaux carriers originally were necessary to light up the parades in the darkness of the night; I also knew that the members of those original krewes–that still exist today, even if some of them no longer parade–were made of the city’s ruling class elites, and the krewes were offshoots of the exclusive Gentlemen’s Clubs in the city–the Boston Club, the Pickwick Club, etc.–that also still exist today.

But I didn’t know a lot about the history; I didn’t know much beyond what I would read in the annual Arthur Hardy’s Parade Guide, which I buy religiously every year. It’s easier, of course, now; there are parade apps that track the parades so you know where they are; whereas before you just had to stand on the route and wait, or (if you are lucky enough, like we are, to live close to the parade rout) listen for a marching band before heading down to the Avenue.

So I decided recently, since I’m reading a lot of New Orleans history, to read James Gill’s Lords of Misrule: Mardi Gras and the Politics of Race in New Orleans.

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The white men in jackets and ties were obviously out of their element. Normally, at this time of day, they would be preparing to leave home or office for a couple of drinks, lunch, and maybe a card game at their clubs. Now, on December 19, 1991, they shifted in their seats, returning hostile glances from a large contingent of black men and women in the packed basement of New Orleans City Hall. The city council was meeting in spartan surroundings while its regular chambers were being renovated, but the physical discomforts were nothing compared to the general psychic unease as everyone waited for the great debate on an ordinance to desegregate Mardi Gras parades and gentlemen’s luncheon clubs.

New Orleans is a Southern city, with all that entails and perhaps even more. There were slaves here before the Louisiana Purchase; both the French and the Spanish brought slaves to New Orleans and Louisiana. New Orleans didn’t hold out long as a Confederate city; it surrendered to the Federal navy fairly early in the war, and with that surrender, the Union plan to control the Mississippi was one step closer to fruition. Racism, Jim Crow, and all the horrible white supremacy that comes with those things were evident here; the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision that established the horrific doctrine of “separate but equal” was a case that originated in New Orleans, and had to do with segregated railroad cars. Several years ago Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the city council finally agreed to remove the Confederate statues and other memorials commemorating the city’s racist past; General Lee no longer stands with his back to the North on his plinth in Lee Circle; the statue of General Beauregard outside the entrance to the New Orleans Museum of Art was removed, and the statue of Jefferson Davis on the neutral ground along Jefferson Davis Parkway was also taken down. Perhaps the most egregious memorial–the Battle of Liberty Place memorial–was also removed in the dead of night.

New Orleanians like to pretend that New Orleans doesn’t have that same vein of racism and white supremacy the rest of the South does; but it’s definitely there. It might have more a genteel veneer over it, but it’s definitely there. Orleans Parish is probably the most progressive parish in the entire state–but that’s also an incredibly low bar to set. The vast majority of people I know were in favor of the removal of the memorials, and whenever it came up on a local news website, the comments against the removal were almost inevitably from non-New Orleanians, and usually ginned up the standard Louisiana complaints about New Orleans: out of control crime, poverty, crumbling infrastructure. But all of those things were also true when the city was segregated and operating under Jim Crow; anyone who reads New Orleans history knows that the city was always a hotbed of crime and sin and debauchery.

Lords of Misrule opens with the attempt by the city council in 1992 to desegregate the krewes; my first-ever attendance at Carnival was a mere three years later, and people were still talking about it. The result was three old-line krewes (Comus, Momus, and Proteus) decided to stop parading rather than desegregate (there is a krewe now parading under the name of Proteus again; I don’t know if it is actually the same, original Krewe of Proteus or a newer krewe who took the name). Opponents of the ordinance claimed it would kill Carnival, which is now one of the primary economic engines of the city; nearly thirty years later we can attest that didn’t happen. Modern Carnival attendees don’t now about those krewes and they aren’t missed. But Gill uses this battle at the city council as a jumping-off place to examine the history of the racial politics in the city, and throughout, he uses Carnival–and how racist events in the city, such as the Battle of Liberty Place–to illustrate and illuminate that history.

It’s an enjoyable read, a little eye-opening in places, but a good read, and he also does an excellent job of exploring how Comus was not only  Confederate, but later, if not directly tied to, then definitely sympathetic to the Klan and the cause of white supremacy. Some of these civic leaders who would be, or had been, King of Comus or King of Rex also were leaders of the rebellion, the Klan, and so forth.

And it isn’t until the final chapters that any bias on the part of Gill becomes even remotely obvious; I got the distinct impression in the final chapters that Gill opposed the desegregation of the krewes–but he never comes out and says that; the final chapters simply read that way to me. I could be wrong.

But I do recommend it. It’s a good, interesting read, and sheds some important light on forgotten parts of New Orleans history.

Lost in Emotion

And somehow we’ve managed to make it to Thursday again, which is a lovely thing to contemplate.

I have to say, it was lovely to get back into writing and editing mode this week, having not had the time or energy for the last few weeks; much as I always seem to loathe writing while i’m actually doing it, it’s always enormously satisfying when I do it. I also tend to be more on the side of depression and so forth when I am not writing, or don’t have the time to; writing, much as I always seem to be loathe to do it, always somehow evens out my personality and blunts the edges somewhat.

I should put that on a sticky note and glue it to the wall above my computer, really.

Much as I want to get back to the Kansas book, I think I’m going to start revising Bury Me in Shadows instead. There are simply too many versions and too many changes that need to be made on the Kansas book–so many that I don’t think there’s any way I could get the draft finished by the end of this month, whereas Bury Me in Shadows is more solid. It needs some language correction, obviously, and more character development and there are more things that need to be woven into the text of the story, but I think that’s far easier than the massive overhaul the Kansas book needs–which means probably a draft to overhaul it and then another draft to correct it, and there’s simply no way I’d be able to get that done this month. I probably–because of my laziness and my tendency to be distracted by shiny objects–won’t get it finished this month, either, but a good strong push might just do the trick. One never knows.

I also want to work on “Fireflies” and “Never Kiss a Stranger” this month, and I’d like to get some other short stories polished and out to markets as well.

I finished reading James Gill’s Lords of Misrule yesterday (more on that later) and have started reading Robert Tallant’s Ready to Hang: Seven Famous New Orleans Murders, which is interesting–but at the same time, since it’s an old book it’s filled with questionable language and attitudes towards people of color–always an issue when you’re reading an old book about New Orleans (Voodoo in New Orleans, also by Robert Tallant, is another one of those)–which also made me think about the problems of doing historical research. Newspapers, the go-to in the archives, have not always been the bastions of truth and integrity we assume them to be today (although…), which of course means the only actual reporting on things is probably heavily biased (Lords of Misrule in particular pointed out how horribly biased the newspapers of the times could be, particularly in regards to trumpeting the values of white supremacy), which blurs and muddies the truth. But I am really enjoying my trip into my favorite city’s often horrific and terribly bloody history; there are times when I wonder if there’s some kind of weird curse of some sort on this city–similar to the town of Derry in Stephen King’s It, where horrible things happen….and then everyone just moves on like it never happened. I’d never realized how brilliant that aspect of It was; King tried to explain that away as part of the power of Pennywise…but it’s actually a terrible honest truth about humanity: we tend to move on from bad things and eventually lock them away into the darkest parts of our minds.

I slept pretty well last night, only waking up once or twice, and feel pretty rested this morning, which is lovely. I have to put in eight hours at the office today, but we aren’t doing clinic, just walk-in testing, which means it won’t be as busy as it usually is. I’m still trying to get adjusted to switching my eight hour shift from Wednesday to Thursday; I keep thinking it’s Thursday on Wednesday, and then today I’ll keep thinking it’s Wednesday. *eye roll to infinity* It’s really strange how much routine in my life I have, and how much comfort I actually draw from said routine.  I’m not sure what that says about me, but hey, there you go.

All right, time to get ready to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader!

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Only in My Dreams

Sliding into Wednesday and pay day–or as it’s known around the Lost Apartment, Pay the Bills Day. Heavy heaving sigh.

But I sent in two stories for submission yesterday, which is always a lovely accomplishment. One is for a blind read so I can’t talk about that one, but the other is “The Dreadful Scott Decision,” for an anthology I was asked to write a story for. I’m never quite sure if that means we’re taking your story or what, but I tend to never take anything for granted when it comes to this literally insane industry I find myself a part of these days. And even more exciting, I woke up to a very pleased editor and a congratulatory email re: “The Dreadful Scott Decision.” Always lovely, particularly when one has little to no self-confidence when it comes to writing short stories.

I won’t find out about the other one for months. As it is a blind read, I can’t really talk about the story, but it’s for the next Mystery Writers of America anthology, this time being edited by one of my writing heroes, Michael Koryta. Getting into an MWA anthology is one of my bucket list items, and while I’ve submitted numerous stories to them over the years, I have yet to get into one. The competition is fierce, of course; there are only so many slots and lots of entries, which is what makes getting into one a major accomplishment. It probably won’t help in the self-confidence area for more than a day or two, of course, but one also never knows.

I also started revising another short story last night, which I’m probably going to try to get submitted somewhere today. I think this week’s focus is going to be on revising short stories, to cleanse my palette before I dive back into the manuscript of one of the books I’ve got in progress. Since the LSU game is so early on Saturday, I can spend the rest of the day rereading Bury Me in Shadows and making notes while flipping back and forth between other college games–I only have to give LSU my full attention, after all. I think Auburn and Florida are playing Saturday as well; both are in the top ten, and both are on LSU’s upcoming schedule. Auburn looked really good spanking Mississippi State last weekend–their offense looked very much like LSU’s, frankly, scoring at will–which means Auburn-LSU is going to be another one of those heart-stopping shootouts.

Then again, Auburn-LSU has always been a heart attack game, pretty much coming down to the last minute of every game most of the time.

I started reading Deliverance yesterday, but it’s not really grabbing me yet–but then, they haven’t gone into the wilderness so far.

We finished watching The Politician last night, which took a really surprising–and highly entertaining–turn last night, with the additions of Judith Light and Bette Midler to the cast to set up season two, which I wasn’t so sure about going into last night’s episode. but they did a truly terrific job of jumping ahead a few years, and letting us see what was going on with the kids from the high school now that they’re in college…and, like I said, they did an amazing job setting up the second season.

I’m also finished reading Lords of Misrule as well, which takes the history of Carnival (and it’s racial politics) up to the year before I came to my first Carnival, and two years before I finally moved here and got my life started. Since that’s also the approximate time period for my story “Never Kiss a Stranger,” reading this has been enormously helpful. It catches me off guard a little that the 1990’s is now so far away; kids born in the 1990’s are in college now, after all–are old enough to marry and have their own kids.

I also realized, last night as I was reading after we finished watching The Politician, that it’s October, which is when I usually read horror fiction–and since starting the Diversity Project, I was waiting for October to read some diverse horror. So, I will try to get Deliverance finished this week, do my annual reread of The Haunting of Hill House, probably over this weekend, and then next week I am going to read Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things, or her more recent Gods of Jade and Shadow.

And since today is Pay Day, I should probably go pay the bills. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

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I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

Monday morning. I don’t feel tired this morning; we’ll see how long that lasts, won’t we? The Saints won a squeaker last night, 12-10, but they did end up winning the game despite scoring no touchdowns–when was the last time that happened?–and I went to bed shortly thereafter. We continued watching The Politician, and predictably, it’s plot has became more scattered the deeper into the season we get, like so many other shows from Ryan Murphy. We’ re still watching because it’s entertaining enough, and the acting is top-notch, and we only have a few more episodes to go before it’s finished.

I also am almost finished reading James Gill’s Lords of Misrule, which will probably be finished tomorrow. I haven’t decided what my next fiction read will be just yet–I started pulling James Dickey’s Deliverance down from the shelves last night, but couldn’t make myself start reading it. I was quite young when I saw the movie–we saw it at the drive-in, and I don’t remember what the earlier feature was, but I do remember I fell asleep while it was playing and only woke up near the end, not knowing what had happened. Deliverance was one of those movies whose plot became a part of the zeitgeist; people today may not completely know where the reference comes from, but any time someone mentions being somewhere so rural “you can almost hear the banjoes”–it’s a reference to Deliverance. It also may be James Dickey the poet’s only work of fiction; I don’t know how true that is or isn’t, but it certainly used to be true.

I also finished watching episode three of Murder in the Bayou yesterday, which has also given me some ideas (along with the thinking about Deliverance) for my own book, Bury Me in Shadows, which is what I actually think I’m going to work on for the month of October. The Kansas book is still messing with my head. I can’t figure out what to do with the plot and there are so many different ways I could revise that story that I think it might be best to leave that mess alone for now. I still want to get it finished and out of my hair, but if I can’t decide precisely how to move forward with it, well, that makes it a little more difficult to get it finished.

I need to revise my short story today, and then give it some polish tomorrow before turning it in. It’s kind of a mess right now, but I am confident once I reread it today and make some notes, it’ll all fall into place for me. The pieces are all there, but they aren’t in the right place as of yet, and that’ll have to result in some moving of shit around to make the story more cohesive. I also need to work on that other story; I think I need to change its ending in order to make it more powerful.

And now it’s off to the shower to get ready for my day. It’s a long one, alas; but I am confident I can make it through to the other side.

Like there’s a choice or something. 😉

Happy Monday, Constant Reader!

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Mony Mony

Wednesday.

So, the short story is coming along, which is a good thing as it is due in a week. I just wish I could find a good three hour break to just sit down, listen to Stevie Nicks, and get it finished.

One can but dream.

I’ve been very tired this week. Not sure what that’s about; my sleep might not be deep but it’s been restful. I’m trying to wean myself off sleep assistance, and have cut back even further on my daily caffeine intake, but there it is, you know? I think it’s mostly because I work the long days on Monday and Tuesday, plus I’m always tired when I wake up to an alarm as opposed to organically. Today is half-day Wednesday, and I get to make groceries and run some errands when I get off at three-thirty this afternoon before coming home to make dinner. I still need to get my short story written; after I finish this and answer some emails I’m going to see if I can get some work done on that before I have to get ready for work. It is, after all, due a week from today.

I also want to spend some more time with Lisa Lutz’ The Swallows. I’ve been too tired the last few nights to read, so have been watching television when I get home from work. But I think tonight I’ll have some time. My primary concern is the reluctance to put it down and do other things I need to get done. The Lost Apartment is a disaster area, to say the least. Since there isn’t an LSU game this weekend, maybe I can spend some time writing and editing and cleaning this weekend. One can hope, at any rate. The windows around my workspace are filthy, I don’t even want to look at the baseboards and the floor, and as always, there’s a sink full of dishes. I’m doing some laundry this morning, and maybe can get those dishes and some other things here in the kitchen taken care of before I head in to the office.

I’ve been watching a documentary series about Southeastern Conference football on ESPN, Saturdays in the South, which I highly recommend. College football is huge in the South, and always has been; the series is doing a great job of exploring the reasons behind that as well as the history of college football in the region. The episode I watched last night took a look at the conference from the 1970’s through the early 1980’s–and these are the games I remember watching, all those years ago. It was kind of fun seeing the “Punt Bama Punt” game explored, as well as the great Alabama goal line stand against Penn State that won them the 1978 national championship. I’ve always wanted to write about SEC football–maybe someday I will, mainly from the point of view of being a lifelong fan of the sport and the conference.

Perhaps for my book of essays.

I’m also still reading James Gill’s Lords of Misrule, and it’s spurring a lot of interesting thoughts. I’m greatly enjoying the book, even as I am appalled by the horrors of white supremacy in New Orleans over the rich, dark history of the city; as I always say, I am not, by any means, an expert on New Orleans–what I don’t know would fill a library–but it’s a lot of fun to become more knowledgeable about the city’s dark, bloody, and violent history…which of course only inspires me to want to write more about the city’s past. I’m so behind on everything writing related–this volunteer project has really knocked me for a loop, delaying everything and pushing everything further back, and it never seems to end–but I am going to focus on writing and cleaning this weekend. I want to get all my errands taken care of before the weekend so I can have yet another weekend–like last weekend–where I don’t have to leave the house other than to take out the trash. Errands drain me of energy and leave me with no desire to write, for some reason.

Maybe because I am getting close to sixty. Who knows?

All right, perhaps it is time for me to head into the spice mines for a while. I’m on my second cup of coffee and the clouds in my head are starting to clear a little bit.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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Always

Would you look at that–somehow it’s Friday again. How did that happen? Where did this week go?

I literally have no idea. It seems like just yesterday I woke up on Monday morning, tired, and dreading facing the week. And yet, like everything, it has come to its inevitable end and here I am on Friday morning, awake  yet still sleepy and hoping to have enough coffee to get my ready for the day. Yesterday’s errands, which consumed my entire day like Pac-man eating his way through the maze, have to be concluded this morning, which means another drive out to Harahan and then back to Uptown before I can (hurray?) head into the office for a shorter day than usual. My Fridays recently got another hour added to them, but that’s fine. I don’t mind Fridays–primarily because it is, after all, Friday–and then this afternoon when I’m finished for the day I can come home to my comfortable easy chair and watch mindless television for the rest of the night if I so desire, or read, or clean, or whatever it is I need to get done today. I have some other errands I’ll probably run on Sunday, and other than that I am going to try to spend the weekend resting and recuperating and trying to get a firm grip on everything that I’ve let slide over the last month or so–and there’s quite a bit.

And yes, I am not in the least bit excited about it. It’s daunting, and terrifying, and scary, but I have to get caught up. I don’t have a choice. I have to.

While daunting–waking up, for example, to over a hundred new emails in my inbox–I refuse steadfastly to be daunted. I am inevitably always behind on most things, and somehow manage to always get everything done without having a breakdown of sorts–mini-ones, yes, but not major ones–and I know it’s more about me getting physically rested and allowing my brain to roam free. I was so tired last night after all of yesterday’s running around I wasn’t able to do much of anything other than finish Rob Hart’s superb The Warehouse and watch a movie on Amazon Prime last night before retiring to bed. (There will be more on The Warehouse later, as well as on the film–Giant Little Ones, which was very well-done and well-acted and interesting; I am sure there are people who will take issue with the plot and what happens during the course of the film, but at the same time its exploration of male teenage sexuality, homophobia, and the fall-out from teenage sexuality was highly original and nothing I’ve ever seen before; which isn’t easy to do with a film.) I also slept really well last night but was untimely ripped from bed by the alarm, as we have to drive out, as I said, to Harahan in a few moments and then I’ll be running around all morning before going to the office, which means today will probably be another one of those ‘too tired to function’ evenings to look forward to. The kitchen is a mess–I made pho on Wednesday night, which always results in a mess–and yesterday I just didn’t have the energy or wherewithall to do anything about it.

Of course, all the running around this morning means I’ll probably be back up to over one hundred emails by the time I am able to check them again, but there it is, you know?

I also continue to read Lords of Misrule, and just finished the “Who Killa Da Chief?” chapter, about the murder of the police chief, the scapegoating of Sicilian immigrants for the murder, their trial and acquittal, and of course the lynch mob that followed. The darkness of New Orleans never ceases to amaze and interest me. This crime was explored also in Empire of Sin, but it’s always nice to get other perspectives, and I think there’s a story somewhere buried inside this loathsome piece of the city’s history. It’s also strange to ever think of the French Quarter being called “Little Italy” and being filled with Italian immigrants loathed by the rest of the city; there are some Italian restaurants still there, of course, and there’s probably some truth to the legend that the gay bars and bath houses were originally owned by the local Mafia. (There’s a story in there as well; the Mafia generally did own gay bars in major cities, back in the day, and those bars were probably used for money-laundering.) Lou Berney’s brilliant November Road briefly touched on the mob history of New Orleans; I have a memoir somewhere written by a purported New Orleans mob figure that I can’t wait to read.

And on that note, looks like Paul is ready to head out, so I am going to bring this to a close. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and talk to you soon.

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Everybody Have Fun Tonight

Well, we made it to Wednesday and survived, did we not? It’s payday, aka pay-the-bills day (yay) and I also only have to work a half-day, which is lovely.

I didn’t want to get up this morning; the big project I was working on was officially finished yesterday and turned in; and I was amazed at how much it had taken out of me. I was exhausted when I went to bed last night; emotionally and physically. Today I get to start digging out from under; my email inbox is completely out of control, and I’ve been trying to keep up with it as much as I can lately, but also haven’t really wanted to face some of them while I was so vested in something else, frankly. Today I have my half-day, and tomorrow I have the day off because I have to deal with some personal issues that will involve me driving all over New Orleans and Metairie–and no, none of it is anything that will resolve any issues I’ve been having with other things; I still need to figure out when to get to the dentist and to the Apple Store with my laptop and get the oil changed in my car. But as most of tomorrow will be spent driving somewhere and then waiting, I can hopefully get a lot closer to finished with Rob Hart’s wonderful The Warehouse, which I am greatly enjoying but have been too tired to read.

The goal for the rest of this week is to get some good work on writing done, get the email inbox cleaned out from top to bottom, and figure out what I can get done the rest of this month before I have to work on another project. I started some prep work for the Kansas book yesterday, which is basically being completely overhauled, just brainstorming name changes as I realized I used many of these character names in Sara (which is also a Kansas book), and therefore really can’t use them a second time. There’s definitely a couple of short stories that need to be finished, and of course, the Lost Apartment really needs to be cleaned thoroughly from ceiling fans down to the floor.

Something to do while college football games are on Saturday, I guess. LSU is playing Vanderbilt, but I don’t know if it’s a day or evening game–haven’t had the time to look it up, but definitely will, obviously, before Saturday–and other than that, I don’t know what other games are on tap for this weekend. But it’s lovely to know that I can have my usual Saturday again–writing in the morning before errands, then cleaning while watching football games the rest of the day, and reading as well–after several weeks of not having normal weekends.

I do rather think that once my brain has rested, it’s going to probably explode into another episode of mass creativity; which is daunting to think about, quite frankly, but always winds up being fun of some sort, and who knows what creative efforts might come forth. I’m still so discombobulated from all this work that I don’t know whether I’m coming or going to be honest; it’s kind of like that time after the Great Data Disaster of 2018, when I was literally on fire with creativity and balancing multiple projects and having a great time with everything…until the betrayal of my electronics.

I am now up to the lynching massacre of Italians in New Orleans that took place after the chief of police was murdered in the 1890’s in Lords of Misrule; another disgraceful period of history but at least one that wasn’t memorialized like the Battle of Liberty Place. I’ve read about this mob violence against Italians before, in Gary Krist’s Empire of Sin (which I highly recommend), and I know there’s a story in there somewhere for Monsters of New Orleans, but I can’t quite figure out what it is.  But I will get there someday.

And oop–there it is. I just figured it out. See what I mean? This is how my mind works. It’s seriously crazy. But it also solved a problem for me with one of the short stories I have in development; ah, if I just tweak this and add this bit, now the story works much better and maybe I can now sell it. How cool is that?

Pretty fucking cool, methinks.

Okay, time to get to the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, everyone.

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