Getting held up by New York

I’m working on a novelette about the meningitis madness of last month. Until I get it done, let me entertain you with another tale of traveling with pain.

About five years ago, I fled an intolerable situation in California and, being pretty sure I was in my last few months of life, went back to the Northeast to visit with my nearest and dearest and stay until I mended or died, whichever it turned out to be. In short, I was not at my precarious best. I’d thinned my belongings down to what would fit in a suitcase small enough for me to handle, plus a spare set of “smallclothes” and meds in my laptop bag.

I flew into JFK airport and made my way (eventually) to a New York suburb down the street — and downmarket — from Scarsdale. I thought flying across country was hard work. Leave it to New York City (and environs) to adjust that perception. Anything worth doing is worth doing BIG!

It started with getting my luggage — the carousel changed 3 times. It had my supplements and laptop power cord in it, so there was no leaving it behind, as there was no knowing where it would wind up if I abandoned it and tried to get it tomorrow — it could land in Athens stuffed with either explosives or maple candy, or in the garbage scow on the Hudson stuffed with random bits of unsuccessful mobster; the contents would be more oddly distributed still. I’ve been flying into and out of JFK since the early 1970s, and I never leave my luggage uncollected there.

Each time a new carousel number was posted next to our flight number, herds of wilde travelbeests lumbered across the linoleum plains, flowing around eyots of irrelevant carousels and travelers from other flights, who huddled against treelike pillars and carousel islands in order not to be trampled underhoof.

I limped gamely after, unwilling to leave my luggage to the mercies of the feral crowd. We ultimately wound up back at the first one, which somehow didn’t surprise me.

I managed to get my bag unhooked from the carousel lip, but no further. It was just about to throw us both into the guy next to me, when he kindly popped it out and dropped it neatly next to me, with a brisk nod. Then went back to field the hefty steamer trunk of the twitchy Givenchy skeleton behind him.

I debated taking the bus to Penn Station ($3.50) vs train-shuttle (unstated) to the shuttle-bus($1.50); figured train-shuttle would be free, as my training in UI & signage, and casual acquaintance with the law regarding same, made it absolutely clear that prices must be stated up front. No price stated, ride is free. Sweet!

Of course, every other international airport I’d been to in the past 20 years provided free transport within the airport complex. This was New York, where you’re charged even for the gum on your shoe, so I was a little wary, but I was also exhausted and poor.

Got off at the end of the train-shuttle, pulled my wheeled suitcase to the exit door, and there found a sign stating it cost $5 to exit the train-shuttle station.

Stared at sign for 2 solid minutes, flies drifting in and out of my open mouth. SO. BLEEPING. WRONG.

Briefly considered going back, but too tired. I gave up my prospect of a little “real” food in the city to get out of the shuttle track area (why did I think $5 would buy anything in NYC?), and got to the shuttle bus.

The leaderboard read, “Penn Station.”

I asked the driver when the bus came that would take me to Grand Central. He said, “This bus goes to Penn Station.”

I asked again when the bus came for Grand Central Station, and the bus driver again said, “This bus goes to Penn Station.”

I said, “I understand that. I’m wondering when the bus is that goes to Grand Central.”

“This bus goes to Penn Station, lady.”

It finally dawned on me, as he was about to close the door in my face, to ask if there WAS a bus to Grand Central from the airport.

“Nope. This is the only shuttle into the city.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Nope. You have to get from Penn to Grand Central yourself.[I interjected, in shocked squawk, “STILL?” He nodded.] You can take a bus or the subway, but with your luggage, you’ll want to take a cab.”

I hitched up my jaw and hauled self and luggage in. He almost waited until I was seated to take off.

A teenager tripped over my suitcase on the wide, spacious, brightly-lit shuttle-bus. My suitcase came up to mid-thigh and was HOT PINK. Somehow, he walked right into it and went down with it — wrenching my wrist and elbow of course. After looking around blearily, initially wanting to blame someone other than his own clumsy butt, he very sweetly picked up all 38 pounds that encompassed every object I owned other than the clothes I had on, which was more than I could do, and put the handle back in my hand. I re-wrapped it with the scarf I used to cut the vibration and, with an added loop around my forearm, provide some stability against my weak grip. But, in case of other spaced-out passengers, the loop didn’t go back on until I was off the bus… at Penn Station.

Because it’s NYC, where a good conflict should never be resolved but should be handed down for posterity, they have NEVER IN THE PAST CENTURY figured out how to link up the northbound train station with the southbound train station, despite the fact that the trains are the lifeblood of the city and, on top of that, millions of customers travel from south of NYC (Baltimore, Washington DC, and points south) to north of NYC (from White Plains to Buffalo, all of New England, and Canada) every. freaking. year.

The JFK shuttle comes into the southbound train station, Penn. I needed to leave from the northbound train station, Grand Central. It was up to me, as it has been up to every single individual traveler in the past 100 years, to figure out how to get from provincial-sounding Penn to the arrogantly misnamed Grand Central. Let’s review my choices:

  •  A cab was out of reach, especially as I’d just blown $5 on a ride that should have been free.
  • The subway meant more confusion, bumping, and stairs (the elevators and escalators are always out of order or being fought or pee’d on, sometimes both at once) than I could even think about without screaming.
  • The bus required finding secret, unmarked bus stops where they WILL ignore you if you’re off by a few feet and, I’m not kidding, either one or two transfers for one of the most essential routes in the city. There was no direct bus between the two major terminals of this train-dependent conurbation.

I can’t make this stuff up!

I decided to haul myself and my hot-pink suitcase the X blocks of crappy city sidewalks to Grand Central. “It’s not that far” — famous last words. “I’ve done it before” — 20-odd years ago, pre-injury.

I checked the map, got a sighting on the sun, went one block to read the street sign and check my direction, turned left, and marched off — for about 5 steps.

There were many adjustments to work out: soft tethering scarf, arm used (eventually, both), length of stride, and what to focus on — the directions, the pedestrians who mostly swerved nicely, the truly awful surfaces I had to traverse. The surfaces won in the end, out of sheer necessity. The occasional bozos, who thought I could steer better than their unladen selves, bounced off of either me or my sharp-edged case, spitting vile things without drawing breath. I kept on, pushing through the yawing wobbles the collisions caused as I pitched and heaved steadily onward.

Dear heavens, it was arduous.

Halfway there, dripping soot-laden sweat and hauling my grimy, now ashy-rose suitcase which had accumulated about 15 pounds of pollution by then, I found myself heading towards a cluster of burly cops standing between a parked cruiser half in the road with its butt half blocking the driveway, and the loading dock behind.

They gave me that dry, supercilious stare that city cops learn in the Academy. It says, “For our comfort and convenience, we’re deciding whether or not to kill you right now. Don’t try to make our day.”

I thought about that for a moment, trudging along with my case baulking at the bad paving, yanking my swollen wrists around like a fighting tarpon. I glanced at the path around the cruiser, involving 2 curbs, bad patching, and a pothole; quite apart from the random, fast, and dangerous traffic in the street. Definitely worse than the sidewalk.

I realized what I looked like: a grubby, chubby, oversocialized, White middle-aged female, evidently too poor for a cab. Very low on the food chain.

I realized I didn’t care.

I flashed back to the Jaguar my friends used to call me.

It was a youthfully arrogant and vigorous period of my life, when an off-duty cop in a bar in Manhattan wanted me to tie him up and beat him black and blue, because he’d really enjoy that. (I refused ever so courteously — which went curiously with the well-worn motorcycle jacket and wash-and-wear lack-of-hairstyle — and walked away, eyebrows twisting at the sheer novelty of the experience.)

I refused to walk around into the street. It was insane and vile to expect it, when I could clearly hardly put one foot in front of the other and was towing my life with battered arms.

No. Not playing that game.

One tactic of successful women:
If the game is rigged against you, change the rules.

This clot of cops got the twin-engined, diamond-drill stare from under my beetling brows, the burning power of pure womanly disgust and exasperation doing the work of 5 bodyguards and a million dollars.

Great shot by Bernard Dupont of France, via Wikimedia.

New York’s Finest peeled back from my path like an amateur drill team, stumbling slightly and eyes wide.

Yeah. That was more like it.

Same photographer, same cat, relaxing after she made her point.

I heard their startled and admiring voices behind me. I almost smiled. I wondered what they’d say if I turned around and demanded a lift. It was almost worth the effort, but turning back was unbearable, even for that entertainment — so I kept on.

NYC cops weren’t so racist then; it might have worked even if I weren’t White. The good old days.

Stumbled into Grand Central, at last.

Just what it’s like. Image by diego_cue

After dropping my sweat-sodden self onto a bench until my breathing evened out, I got up on pure willpower (my legs certainly didn’t have much to do with it) and wobbled up to the ticket window (One of those funny alcoves on the right.)

Despite the unmitigated chaos and relentless interference of my cross-City odyssey until now, I had the pleasure of getting good instructions, delivered clearly; the right ticket to my destination; explicit directions to exactly the right track and the right train; and which cars to avoid — “The drunks use that one, and it’s never clean.”

I fell into the seat nearest the door, then slid to another when someone dumped a heavy bag which fell over onto me, edge first of course. I let the bag lie and he eventually picked it up.

A lovely young woman, the quintessence of perfectly-formed and perfectly-presented modern American beauty, got on in one of the suburbs, sat down across from me, and gave my weary, grubby, chubby, middle-aged self the sweetest and most open smile. I did my best to repay such sweetness from out of the blue with the best smile I could dredge up in return, and a nice word.

I got off at the Scarsdale stop and there was a slight pause in my progress as I resisted the boisterous flow of commuters scenting their stables. Clutching the rail that had kept me from being swept under, I saw a car door open. In a few steps, I fell off of the train station and into the arms of my old friend.

I asked her later why such a beautiful, clean, discreetly made-up, perfectly turned out young woman would greet such a gargoyle’s appearance with such sweetness. My friend replied, “I’m not sure how to tell you this, but it’s envy. You can afford to let yourself go [finger-quotes.] She can’t. She wishes she could be like you.”

It finally penetrated what a trap the relentless and expensive looks-slavery of upscale New York is for women. My lifelong sarcastic envy of “Barbie dolls”, not to mention “Givenchy skeletons”, died on the spot and I was glad I’d added the nice word. Anyone who could envy me at that point was in really bad shape.

The cross-country flight was originally going to be the funny story I told to amuse my hostess — delay, changed gate, dashing around in a wheelchair, turbulence, sick babies, nervous lady with long arms and huge rings taking up the aisle and risking the eyesight of those nearby — but it really paled next to the story of the last few miles. She laughed and applauded and then, once I was fed and pilled and washed, tucked me into a soft bed with endless pillows. I slept better than I had in months, safe and still and comfortable at last.

I haven’t tried to cross New York City since, except when I can afford a cab all the way from the airport to Grand Central. Life is too short for that much work and physical battery… and the NYC cops have changed.

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Burning Mercury and the story of Bathsheba

This was written a week ago. Enjoy…

We’re on an extended camping trip, simultaneously waiting for my broken foot to mend, waiting to find out when we can move our travel trailer into a long-term spot, and figuring out how we are going to manage this relationship over the long term — which involves a lot of waiting. So things are quiet and scenic, but, on the whole, not very comfortable.

I was sitting by the cold firepit, looking out across the sere grass and low hills, in a quiet reverie in a quiet hour. I sent my imagination off to find something utterly irrelevant.

What came back was the sign of Pluto, which approached in a portentous manner —
astrological glyph for Pluto
And, in the sideways manner of dreams, said it was Mercury, which normally looks like this:
astrological glyph for Mercury
Then it grew flames, starting from the ball.
pluto glyph with small flame on ball
The flames spread, and as they spread around the symbol and over it, the symbol came close to me.
Pluto glyph nearly engulfed in flames on top
Closer.

Closer still.

Then it hooked its barbs into my side. It was intrusive as dammit. It poked right into my flesh, as if it wanted to climb in.

Trying to pull away, I said, “What the heck are you doing? What do you want?”

It said, “We need your stories.

I thought of my science writing at my biowizardry blog, and it said No. I thought of my anecdotes here, and it said No.

It waved a few pages of books and stories I’ve half-written and said, “We need your STORIES.”

Oh. The imaginative stuff. Didn’t think that was the most unique thing I had to offer, but hey, I’m a writer … I usually do what the little voices tell me.

So here’s a story.

One day, there was a woodcutter and … no, wait, you’ve heard that one. How about this, and I’m writing it from sentence to sentence, no idea what comes next, so be kind…

The story of Bathsheba

Bathsheba was beautiful and did not know it, despite her luscious name. She wanted little, and got slightly less, but she had a gift for appreciation and made the most of it.

One day, while dumpster-diving (she did even that with grace), she came across half a salmon, nearly fresh, cooked with red wine and oranges. It was heavenly. She was only three bites in when a bully named Tom came by, heard her happy little sounds, and cursed and smacked her away so he could have the rest. He never learned that it’s wrong to hit people smaller than you, especially girls.

She scrambled out in a hurry, but he didn’t come after her, so she calmed down and wandered away to somewhere more peaceful. She was glad she had gotten the three bites, and sat on the curb in the sun, licking her lips and enjoying the aftertaste.

A car drove by, spitting fumes and loud music, and a half-empty can nearly beaned her. She leaned aside to dodge it, and went back to soaking up the sun. It was part of city life — she could tell that they hadn’t been aiming.

Another car pulled up, partly blocking the sun, large and with something sturdy on the roof. She pulled her feet in neatly. The occupants didn’t seem to notice; they were busy talking, sounding uncomfortable and distracted. The one on the street side got out and opened the back up, then returned to the front. The two occupants opened out an enormous sheet of paper between them. A map.

Bathsheba loved maps. It had been ages since she’d been able to just relax and look at a map. Curiosity flashed a fin.

Very quietly, she sidled closer to the car’s rear end.

No reaction from up front.

Very gently, very quietly, she leaned — oh so casually — against the rear bumper.

They were having technical issues: the space was too small to turn the map over in, but they were trying.

Bathsheba put one foot on the bumper, experimentally. The piles of clothing and sleeping gear obscured her view.

Up front, the map turning had not gone well, so there were some knocked mirrors and banged knuckles and bumped heads. The trivial dip of the bumper didn’t even show up in the chaos up front.

She shifted her weight, oh so carefully… just to see …

And, up front, the map tore.

One of the occupants burst into tears.

Bathsheba leaped towards the front of the car, then remembered herself — you don’t just go up to strangers, even if all you want to do is comfort them!

Instead, with wide eyes, she crouched behind the back seat, half-buried by piles of clothing and pillows, her back against the hard plastic side of a cooler, looking all her sympathy, yet terrified of the very questionable position she found herself in. She had absolutely no idea what to do.

The conversation up front shifted gear, from frustration and recrimination to apology and comforting. Eventually, and more or less in the middle of a word, the driver put the idling car into gear and pulled away from the curb.

Bathsheba clutched the clothing under her, eyes now very wide indeed. She definitely didn’t belong here, but the car was going too fast to jump out; all she could do was hold onto the clothing, which she was now half-buried in, and hope with all her might that it didn’t fall out the still-open back.

Some time later, she was startled awake by a thud. The driver had stopped the car and put the back lift-gate down. He apparently hadn’t noticed Bathsheba, curled up among the tumbled clothing. The car lurched forward and took off again at highway speed.

She peered over the cooler and gazed out at the darkening sky. There was a great big wall along the road and city smells blew in through the vent, but not the strong stenches she was used to.

She wondered if being homeless out here was any better than being homeless in the heart of the city. She couldn’t even begin to think of how she’d get back. It wasn’t a great life, sure, but at least she knew where the good dumpsters were, and who to avoid. Mind you, it smelled better out here.

She wanted to cry, and maybe she whimpered very quietly so nobody else could hear, but she didn’t dare to announce herself. She had no idea how she was going to get out of this, but maybe something would go right… later…

With nothing else to do and a short lifetime’s experience of stress under her belt already, she burrowed in and went back to sleep among the strangers’ clothes. They smelled kind of nice, like cotton and lemon and something crisp and soft which she couldn’t name, but felt so at home with.

She woke later to a voice, a nice gentle man’s voice tinged with wonder: “Kate, come look.” It was one of the occupants.

The car was still. The air was full of that crisp, soft smell. The sky was dark, with millions of points of light — stars, so rare in the city. There was a fire burning nearby under a grill loaded with wonderful things. The other occupant got up from her seat by the fire and came over.

The two people looked down at Bathsheba, utterly tangled in their clothing, utterly helpless, and curiously at home.

They didn’t snarl. They didn’t throw cans. They didn’t invade her privacy or try to grab at her.

They just smiled — two kind, sweet, wondering smiles. They looked like they were witnessing a minor miracle, and like Bathsheba was someone they already considered a friend.

Bathsheba couldn’t help herself. The clothes under her fingers curled. Her chest stretched. Her eyelids squished gently closed, then opened again. She purred.

“I think you’re going to like it a lot better out here, kitty,” said Kate.

Bathsheba wanted to correct her, and say her name was Bathsheba, not Kitty. But just then, Kate reached out with two hands and gently scooped her in. Bathsheba felt Kate’s slow, solid heartbeat — thubump, thubump, thubump — against her own soft little body, and melted into joy.

Don’t worry. There will be plenty more science, and plenty more stories too.

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Bringing chocolate

I have to be back up North by noon on Thursday, to collect my mail, get the paperwork, meet one of J’s many brothers, and catch up.

A friend is going to come up and visit me when I’m up North.  I actually have a friend in SF who likes me enough to make the drive. Pretty cool 🙂

J has been making friends with the neighbors, and there is nothing like friendly neighbors.

I didn’t find a place to land in LA for my upcoming doctor stuff, but I did cultivate one real, very charming possibility for the future. Not open now, but maybe in a month or two. Which would be better for me anyway.

I’ve been meditating and doing a lot of spiritual work, and am bent on making as little room as possible for mean-spiritedness and ill-will in my life. This is a wonderful exercise because let’s face it, it’s a challenge to have no ill-will in these (apparently) increasingly mean-spirited times.

But I have a very welcome houseguest to see, a bf who’s a bit challenging but extraordinarily loving, and the sweetest dog alive to get back to.

My bf’s brother is going to be hanging around for a few more days. I find that comforting. I’m bringing chocolate.

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Something like rest

I thought I would get laundry done today, but I’m still too shaky. I got a good walk in, and finally set up voicemail on my “dummy” phone.

I’m trying to think outside the box with the shattered remnants of my brain. My next doctor appointment is in February, and I expect to be in an intensive 2-month program for March and April. I do need a reasonable place to land, although there’s no knowing if I’ll get a permanent home here.

A package arrived for me up north, forwarded from my mailing address in Massachusetts: a present, several cards, and one or two letters. J, with controlled pain, asked where he should send it all. At this affirmation of distance, I broke down in tears. Once I could speak, I asked him to hold it until I got back. He said, “I like that.”

This forced separation is for the birds, but I’m certain he is fine without me, and that I can’t go back yet.

We went to a great deal of trouble to find a nice place to be, and it was far better than we dared to hope for. My feelings at being driven from it are beyond words.

All right, so it’s a little idealized here…

His brother made it into town last night… but then J’s car broke down at the airport, and he was improperly ticketed… Fortunately, he has AAA Plus and got towed most of the way home for free, and could afford the rest of the trip to the shop. The kindly, dog-loving, competent woman tow truck driver got the car safely stashed and took them all safely home afterwards. How cool is that?

Tow truck drivers can be really cool.

He’s enjoying the visit, though it’s bittersweet. He says it might be for the last time; this brother does not take care of himself, and his next trip will be to go stay with his daughter in another state, where he can get checked out by a whole stable of medicos.

Mortality sucks.

I’ve noticed, though, that J’s voice is stronger and brighter and deeper (a delicious combination!) so I think it’s doing him a ton of good to have someone around who reminds him of being the capable older brother. He was in the upper third of a brood of 9, and it seems he had a real gift for getting things done and making everyone like it… As long as there was an element of mischief involved.

Surprised? 🙂 I’m certainly not. He has the gift of getting others to play. He thinks he’s a lone wolf, but wolves choose their leaders according to who can get everyone to play well together…

There are so many layers of person there, that, even at this distance, and under this strain, he continues to unfold in my eyes. I don’t know what the future holds, but I believe he’s in it somehow.

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A bit of flow

All in all, a successful day, by rational markers…

  • Two huge problems taken care of at long distance (the combination of phone and internet is a wonderful thing). 
  •  J has a brother with him now, a good-hearted dude who totally has his back. Just the kind of person I want him to be seen with around town! 
  • I saw properties in, and did a reasonable checkout of, the nearest town covered by Craig’s List and within any version of my budget. 

It didn’t result in housing, but it did result in info and a certain amount of clarity…

Benefits: more than one color among its inhabitants, both middle-class and poor people, all the usual stores, houses reasonably recent and reasonably well-constructed (by California standards.)

Drawbacks: the classes are strictly segregated, and the gates and walls shut the poorer people IN. That’s just a bad sign… All the stores are big box; I think I saw one non-chain store in my whole tour. A town with shallow roots.

Fun bit: A scam claiming that a house worth $1400/mo is posted on craigslist as being rented at $550/mo; my email query got a fulsome reply from a “pediatrician” (who can’t even spell the word) who just moved to Florida, and might possibly go to Texas next, don’t worry, just fill out all this personal, identifying info and send the money and he’ll FedEx the key…

And if you believe that….

I  checked out the house, called the number on the sign, had a lovely chat with the receptionist for the real-life management company, and forwarded the email after informing her that a thoroughgoing scam like that really is a police matter. (It was at least the third call.)

Unfortunately, the bogus price was the only one I could really afford…

Given the way my credit got trashed by my descent into destitution a few years ago, and the problem with sublets (and therefore getting a roommate), I think this will take a lot of footwork.

I’ve always, always paid my rent. My bills go,

  1. Rent
  2. Warmth
  3. Phone
  4. Food
  5. Everything else

But try proving that, in an economy that means houses and harbors get bought and sold every time you turn around, and housing managers and harbormasters get moved and downsized even more often than retail clerks.

Which brings us to the next thing. I spoke of being out of the flow, nothing feeling right. Well, that seems to be shifting — all things being subject to change without notice, and not assuming I’m right or anything. But there is a blossoming of hope and possibility, and whatever brings it, I am truly grateful.

I have the thundering inward message to spend at least the next 18 hours on self-care. No running around until I have done so. No house-hunting until further notice.

This is painfully hard because I’m spending a lot per night (for me) and I want every day to be worth what I spend on it. That’s a bogus, above-the-neck, able-ist thing to say, though. I have to damn well take care of myself. Otherwise there is no worth, no day, no useful activity.

I got enough food for a couple days, detergent for dishes and laundry, and need nothing more that I can’t get within a short walk in this reasonable neighborhood from my safe, upper-story room.

Time to take care. There are far worse things!

with a tip of the hat to Zorba the Greek 😉
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A day, still in life

Today was good: sent a care package to J, did some research, and plotted out a town to look at homes in. Tomorrow is a big day: lots of househunting.

Still struggling with the feeling of being off the rails completely but there is so much to do that it almost seems irrelevant. Two completely different dramas are unfolding which aren’t mine to discuss, but this blog post is going to be a lot shorter than I’d intended so I can get back on the phone.

Meanwhile, I’m hoping for a lack of interference in the hunt for a safe home. That’s all I ask….

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An upside down day

Today was a day when everything seemed to turn at least one somersault, including my mind. In fact, I just took off the headset and turned one myself, to complete the set.

Extreme stress makes me a little whimsical…

Food & housing

I woke up this morning in a motel that was as creepy as it was the night before, when the desk clerk had looked up and down at sweet, white, worried me, and said in her most reassuring tones, “I’ll give you the room on the second floor, on the corner, right where I can see you.”

On the one hand, I was glad there was someone to look out for me. On the other, it was horrifying that it was so baldly necessary. A bit like my relationship lately.

Today was the last day of intestinal meltdown before heading into real wasting syndrome: relentless nausea, episodes of dizziness, and nearly volcanic indigestion. The next step is relentless diarrhea. I’ve had wasting syndrome once this year already, and that was enough.

The automatic drive is about to go in reverse…

Time to put more money into staving off physical self-destruction: I called a good hotel with monthly rates, and made a 30 day reservation.

The indigestion is considerably better, and at least I can eat past the nausea. Success! I WILL save this system!

I finally had a good, real conversation with boyfriend J this evening. For all our mutual problems, there’s a lot of love there. This separation is agony for both of us.

I finally got to say what I have been tripping over all day: nothing feels right. I usually have a strong sense of flow, of what should happen next and how to get there. But it’s as if I got washed up on the riverbank weeks ago, and however hard I try, I can’t catch up with the current. I’m more lost than I have ever been.

Being away from my sweetie, and pouring so much money I really need elsewhere into the painful boondoggle of a separate life, is lonely and brutal.
So I have some thinking to do…

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