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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Our Maximum Leader, in his meatspace manifestation, tagged Ol’ Robbo on FacePlant the other day with a literary meme.  Says my liege:

I was recently challenged….to post the covers of 7 books I love. These photos are to be without reviews, explanation, or other comments. Like [my challenger], I will post my covers in one go. Also, like [my challenger], I will break the rules in a number of ways. I am going to post 8 covers rather than 7.

He then invited me to play along.

Well, as I remarked in a post below, I really don’t bother with FacePlant much anymore, except to check out all the vacation, graduation, and college move-in pics posted by family and friends.  Also, to be honest, I wouldn’t even know how to post photos on FB in a way that wouldn’t take years to accomplish.

So I thought I would transplant the meme over here, where I have a better grasp of the technology and also a bit more room to express myself.  Although I may incur the Royal Displeasure and a one-way ticket to the Tower for doing so, I am also going to include some brief commentary along with my choices.

Finally, I would hasten to point out that these are not necessarily my eight favorite books (the instructions don’t call for that, and anyway I don’t think I could winnow down such a narrow list), or even necessarily my favorite books by these particular authors.  Instead, they are eight books that I have read over and over through the years and keep coming back to because I get that much more entertainment and insight from them at each visit.

Ready?  In no particular order, then:

France and England In North America, Volumes 1 & 2 by Francis Parkman.  Colonial history from the very beginning of French and British exploration (with a side of Spanish activity in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas, most of it pretty bloody) up to the withdrawal of the French after their loss of the Seven Years’ War.

The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse.  It and Right Ho, Jeeves rank, to me, as the very best of the Bertie and Jeeves stories.  Also, a pro tip about Plum:  His peak years ran from around 1933 through the 1940’s.  If you’re looking to jump in, start there.  The earlier schoolboy stuff is an acquired taste, and the later stuff tends to run to retreads.

The Complete Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant.  Even apart from his military achievements, I just like Old Sam.  So modest, and yet so determined.  One of the truly greatest contributions Samuel Clemens ever made to books was to persuade Grant to write his memoirs even as he was dying of throat cancer.  (Not only did said persuasion give us this book, it also provided for the financial comfort of Julia Grant after Sam’s passing.)

H.M.S. Surprise by Patrick O’Brian. I’ve read the whole Aubrey/Maturin series many times, but this book (the third) is where I think POB really hit his stride.  (I enjoy all of the books following, up to and including The Wine-Dark Sea.  After that, it seems that POB started sickening of the whole biznay, as the later novels become much darker and more bitter – as well as more formulaic.  I rarely read past WDS anymore.)

That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis.  The third of the so-called Ransom Space Trilogy,  Lewis’s foray into science-fiction.  It seems most apropos these days, since it explores at great length (through the workings of the N.I.C.E.) the diabolical underpinnings of all exercises in totalitarianism, including those which claim to seek the Public Good.

The Dog of the South by Charles Portis.  I agree with those critics who argue that Portis is the most infuriatingly under-appreciated American author ever.  Portis wrote five novels altogether (including True Grit, which is unique in the canon because of its historickal setting, whereas the others take place in the 1950’s through 70’s). Each one is my favorite while I’m reading it, but I think this one has to top the lot when I stand away.

The Sword of Honor trilogy by Evelyn Waugh.  I will only say here – and there is so much more I could say -that I find the whole episode of Apthorpe and the “thunder-box” in Men At Arms, the first book, to be one of the funniest sequences I know of. “Biffed” indeed.  Also, I’ve always wanted to write a paper exploring the development of Waugh’s anti-heroes, from Paul Pennyfeather in his first novel through William Boot, poor old Tony Last, and culminating in Guy Crouchback in this series.

The Complete McAuslan by George MacDonald Fraser.  Semi-fictional humorous (and sometimes more serious) stories of GMF’s service as an officer in a Highland Regiment posted to North Africa just after WWII.  I like his smut-as-cover-to-indulge-Victorian-military-history Flashman Papers series very much too, of course, but I think these are actually better written.  (McAuslan is described as “the dirtiest soldier in the world” and a “Tartan Caliban”.)

So there you have it.

Comments are, of course, more than welcome.  Those of you with blogs of your own? Consider yourselves tagged.  (And yes, I will be checking!)

UPDATE:  Sorry, this post crashed about half-way through composition and I lost several direct linkies in the titles.  When I went back to try and edit them, WordPress went hinky on me.  Rather than lose the whole post, I just bolded them.  I reckon if you’re interested enough, you can always look up the titles for yourselves.


“Haaaappy BLOG-day! Missster….Robbo…(tee-hee, *hic*)”

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

I would invite all of you to fill your glasses, gunn’ls under, and raise a toast with three times three and no heeltaps, because today is the tenth anniversary of Ol’ Robbo’s pulling of the cork here at The Port Stands At Your Elbow.  Huzzay! Huzzay! Huzzah!!

As a matter of fact, I can’t really believe it myself.  On the one hand, it seems I’ve been slogging along forever.  On the other, seems like just yesterday that I decided I needed my very own bloggy platform away from the Llamabutchers.

I was musing on this blog-framed decade last evening.  What’s the same now? Well, Mrs. R and I are, of course, still manacled together. (A joke, people.  A joke!)  I swam the Tiber the Easter before I started here, and still consider that to be one of the best decisions I ever made.  I still live at Port Swiller Manor, although we’ve done a lot to it in that time.  I still have the same job, which I really enjoy, and which would be a positive gold mine for posting material if I didn’t care about losing it.  (Oh, the ridiculous stories I could tell.  Think John Mortimer.  Perhaps if I’m still blogging when I retire……)

What’s changed? Well, the Gels are pretty much all grown up now.  We’ve had various family losses. Friends have come and gone, both on the Innertoobs and in Meatspace.  Society has become downright psychotic.

In other words, Life has gone on….

So, what about this place?

First, I know perfectly well that there aren’t all that many of you ’round the table, but I truly appreciate those of you who drop in for a dram, either regularly or even only now and again.  You have all certainly had an impact over the years on me, and I like to think that I have had at least some small impact on some of you.  Cheers!

Second, I feel I should apologize again for the feebleness of my posting, especially lately.  As I said in the gardening post below, it’s been a rough year for me, and sometimes I have slapped things up here knowing perfectly well I was only phoning it in.  Also, I have been loathe to get too deep into some subjects near and dear to my heart due to the toxic politickal climate that has existed for some time now.  Curiously, even as it seems to be reaching a point of frenzy, I actually feel less concerned about the consequences of saying exactly what I think.  Perhaps I’m finding a second wind to get back into the Culchah Wars.  Perhaps I’m just getting too old to care much anymore about potential fallout.

Which leads me to Thirdly.  It’s my hope to start putting out better quality posts going into this second decade – more in depth, more substantive, more thought-out ahead of time instead of served on the half-volley, more topical.  And more organized.  Alert friends of the decanter may have noted that Ol’ Robbo recently has got into the habit of throwing up a regular Saturday Gardening Post.  I find this regimen really helps me focus and concentrate, and very shortly I hope to start doing the same thing on Sundays with regular posts on Matters Religious.  On the other hand, I’m not yet at the point of trying to assign out specific themes for other days of the week since I don’t want to give up spontaneity completely and I also find that the traffic rate really doesn’t warrant more than one post a day.

Finally, who knows what we’re going to see going forward in terms of the future of blogging in general.  I doubt that we’ll ever quite get back to the Golden Age of the early 2000’s in terms of ubiquity and interconnectivity, but I do like to think that the general disillusion with other social media platforms like FacePlant and Twooter (I almost never post on the former anymore, and have never had an account on the latter) might push people back towards the good ol’ Blogsphere, at least enough folks so as to re-establish some of those nifty little circles that were such a joy back in the day.  Whether this pans out or not, I plan to be around at any rate.

So once again, pray raise your glasses!  Here’s to the next ten years!  Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzay!!


(**NOTE: About the pic, just in case you were wondering, Ol’ Robbo wouldn’t have had anything to do with Marilyn if you’d served her up to him on a plate with watercress round her.  Never, ever understood the appeal.)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Yesterday Mrs. Robbo took the two Younger Gels to San Francisco for a couple nights sight-seeing, leaving Ol’ Robbo home with Eldest.

A day or two earlier, we had noticed that the eldest of our three cats (she’s about 13 or so) was suddenly, ah, spewing rather copiously from, ah, both ends.  So Mrs. R decided to take her to the vet.

After trying to fleece us**, the vet decided he didn’t really know what was wrong with her other than some kind of bowel irritation.  He nonetheless prescribed some meds that he hoped would clear things up.

Just before she left yesterday, Mrs. R said to me, “Oh, you’ll have to give the cat her meds while I’m gone.  She gets a squirt of this liquid twice a day, and this pill once a day. You’ll have to force the pill down because if I put it in a pill-pouch, she just nibbles around it.”

Well, Ol’ Robbo tried to implement this regime.  Once.  In case you were unclear, I’m here to tell you that a cat does not take kindly to having a syringe stuck in its mouth and squirted.  I didn’t even bother trying with the pill.

“Damn this,” I said. “The cat’s probably fine, anyway.” ***

“You’re not going to give her the meds?” asked Eldest.


“But Mom said you have to.”

“Look, it probably won’t matter, anyway.  Why don’t we just not say anything about it.”

“But Mom said.”

This is a girl, you have to understand, who for most of her life completely ignored the very existence of our cats.  In fact, for a long time she didn’t even bother to remember their names.  Now suddenly she’s Florence Nightengale of the Animal Kingdom. Oy, vey!

“Well, you saw what happened just now.  Do you think I want to go through that same song and dance and risk getting my wrists torn open twice a day? No bloody thank you!”

Then, the Gel suddenly had an inspiration.

“Why don’t you just mix it into her food instead?  She gobbles that down so fast, I’m sure she won’t even notice.”

Brill. Yant.

And it works!

So now Robbo’s happy, Eldest is happy, Mrs. R will be happy, and the cat doesn’t even have to care one way or another (which should make her happy, not that she’d ever let on of course).

** We have some kind of pet-care health plan.  It covers check-ups, teeth-cleaning, and basic diagnostic stuff.  But when Mrs. Robbo got to the vet, he started carrying on about x-rays, ultrasounds, and other non-covered procedures that quickly would have added up.  To her credit, Mrs. R was very firm: the cat is already middle-aged, and although we like her, she’s not so central to our lives that we’re going to shovel out large amounts of coin on her for extraordinary vet care.  (Mrs. R did say, however, that if it were the case of our dog…….)

*** I really do believe this, by the bye. She’s got a thick brindle coat and I think the heat just gets to her from time to time. (She insists on spending long periods of time out on the porch even when it’s very hot.)  She’s been fine with the cooler, drier weather this weekend.




Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ma Nature decided to cut us a break from the cycle of storms and high heat n’ humidity we’ve been enduring for the past two weeks or so.  It’s a sunny, cool, dry day at Port Swiller Manor, so Ol’ Robbo was up early mowing, trimming, weeding, and taking down some nasty chicken-wire from the top of the garden fence that I don’t feel the need to endure anymore because the deer seem to have stopped coming into the yard since we got the dog. (I’m still keeping my rose bushes penned, though. Rabbits and groundhogs, y’know.)  And to top it all off, I even took the time to whack back the forsythia hedge.  (Which, true to form, although it grows like a weed, had a thoroughly anemic bloom this spring.  I’m finally going to try experimenting with plant food to see if I can get any more lead into its pencil for next year.)

When Ol’ Robbo is that far along his list of priorities this far into the summah, you know it’s going to be a winning year in the garden.

It’s a curious thing, too.  If you’ll pardon my going all Internal Robbo on you for a moment, I should note that it’s been a very rough time for me since the Mothe died.  (It’ll be a year ago a week from tomorrow.) Although I only now and again still get those fits of the blue devils that absolutely sandbagged me for months, I still feel like I haven’t completely reconnected with the world – family, friends, church, work – and I also haven’t yet much picked up on those things that I really enjoy in life – like music and so forth.  I say all this not out of self-pity, but just because it seems (as I say) curious that I have done so well in the garden while still feeling relatively removed from everything else.  Perhaps zer ist zum gunnegshun in zee mind, ja?

Anyhoo, enough of that.  The garden itself is really coming into its prime, with the Buddleia and Joe-Pye in full bloom and absolutely covered in bees and butterflies as I had intended.**  Also going great guns is Ol’ Robbo’s Prairie Cup Plant.  Its history is rather interesting, and if I have told this story before, which I don’t recall, it was so long ago that I feel at liberty to tell it again.

As you might gather from its name, the Cup Plant is primarily a denizen of the high prairie.  (Now that I type this, I do remember telling this story before, because I recall a commenter tsk-tsking at me about the eeeeevils of introducing non-native species into one’s home environment.  I can assure whoever that was that the local ecosystem remains intact, and my garden visitors really seem to appreciate its presence.  Also, at least according to Wiki, it is native to the Great Commonwealth of Virginny, so there.)

This particular sample, however, had quite the strange odyssey, because it (or its parent) originally was discovered by Mrs. Robbo’s brother-in-law in a roadside ditch in the Boston suburbs.  (God alone knows how it wound up there.) Being a gardener himself, he stopped, dug it up, and took it home, where it thrived so well that he divided it up and spread it all along various back borders around his yard.  I noticed it when we visited and complimented him on it.  He immediately separated out a couple offshoots, wrapped them up, and presented them to me. I, in turn, brought them home and planted them here.

This must have been eight or nine years ago.  For the rest of that summah and on into the following year, they did very well.  But then they went into a decline and died away, and I saw nothing more of them for some time.

Then, about four years ago, I suddenly noticed that a cup plant was coming up again.  (Their square stalks and cup-like leaf base are easily recognizable.)  Since then, it’s got bigger and stronger each year. (About seven feet tall and six wide, now.)   And as I say, it’s going great guns this year.

The one thing it hasn’t done yet is self-seed, which is too bad, because I’d really rather like to have some more of it. Indeed, I am now toying with the idea of simply going out and buying some companion plants to put in other corners, even if they wouldn’t have the same family connection.  Perhaps I’ll wait one more year for any seedlings before I do this, though.

In the meantime, I think I’ll have another glass of iced coffee and sit on the porch watching the butterflies…..

**”Prime” is a relative term, here. My plot is still largely scraggly and under-developed, but when it comes into bloom it takes on a certain dryad loveliness, especially when, like this year, I am able to keep the morning glory and other weeds relatively at bay.  For years I have fought off successfully Mrs. R’s desire to level it and install a tennis court instead.  (No, my garden is not the size of a tennis court.) Since she has recently taken to gardening herself, however, we are now talking about plans for raised beds, balanced soils, proper groupings of seasonal plants, a formalized path, and, of course, the latest defenses against the beasties.  (And yes, I plan to save some of its current occupants, too.)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo found himself behind a car this evening that had a sticker on the back window which read, “Loved Baby On Board”.

Of course, “Baby On Board” has been with us for a long while now, but I don’t think I’ve ever noticed such a sticker with “Loved” added, and frankly found it a bit odd.  I mean, “Loved” as opposed to what? “Unwanted Baby on Board”? “‘Mistakes Were Made’ on Board”? “‘Baby I Don’t Really Give Much of a Damn About One Way Or The Other’ on Board”?

And is the implication that without specifying that the baby is loved, other drivers should feel free to go to ramming speed?


I had a friend in college who had a bumper sticker on the back of his car that read, “Baby In Trunk”.   I still think of this every time I see one of these stickers, and admit that I also still chuckle about it.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

The household inventory of Port Swiller Manor, at least on paper, contains about a dozen bath towels.  A spot audit this evening, however, produced no more than one of them present and accounted for, and that one already damp when Robbo jumped in the shower.

Of course I questioned the Gels afterwards as to whether they were possibly taking multiple towels and squirreling them away in obscure corners of their closets rather than hanging them up and reusing them until they needed to be washed.  And of course I was met with stout denials and even incredulity that the question should have been posed in the first place.

Nonetheless, the vast majority of our towels remain MIA.  So, where are they?

I have a couple of working theories:

♦  A wormhole in space.  Somewhere in our galaxy, there is a planet devoted totally to the comfort and maintenance of towels, reachable via tiny and secret interstellar portals.  From time to time, towels from our world and others simply slip quietly away to enjoy this happy Towel Eden. (A glass of wine with Douglas Adams.)

♦  The Underpants Gnomes have decided to diversify. (Step 1: Take towels. Step 2: ? Step 3: Profit!)

♦  Big Cotton has finally come up with a biochemical agent that causes their fibers to disintegrate after a short period of time, reducing a towel to nothing more than a small pile of dust and forcing their customers to buy more.  (I believe Big Cutlery has made a similar breakthrough since our forks and spoons disappear on a regular basis as well.)

Well, if the Gels profess their innocence in the matter, it has to be one of these alternatives, right?  What was it Sherlock Holmes said?  Once you eliminate the impossible, the improbable, however unlikely, must be the answer.


**  Yes, I’ll bet that was an easy one.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

The Ewok (PBUH) had a post this afternoon about a new NBC poll that, among other things, puts PDT’s approval rating at 45%. The poll purports to survey the feelings of registered voters.  Ol’ Robbo would suggest that no, it in fact only surveys the feelings of registered voters who choose to participate in the poll.   I’d be willing to bet several dozens of port that there are a whole lot more such voters out there who actually prefer to keep their cards close to their vests and their heads down, especially given how polarized and poisonous the times are.  I’d also speculate that a substantial percentage of that silent faction probably have the same general opinion.  So while comparing these polls against themselves over a period of time may illustrate upward or downward trends in opinions, I doubt seriously if any one given set of numbers means very much in and of itself.

I bring this up because Ol’ Robbo is often accosted by hipsters with clipboards during his lunchtime walkabouts, eager and bright-eyed young things who can’t wait to “engage” me on behalf of their favorite causes.  Usually I just keep walking, perhaps giving a brief shake of my head, a disarming wave of my hand, and a murmured “sorry, not today” as I pass.  But every now and again, especially when I’m dealing with one of the more determined and aggressive members of this band, I’ll stop, look him or her (or “xer”) in the eye, and say:

“All right, I’ll hear what you have to say.  But before you start, know that the three things you absolutely will not get out of me are my name, my opinions, and my money.  Okay? Now…fire away.”

They usually don’t bother.  (I suppose that’s part of street-corner clipboard solicitation training 101.)  However, once in a way, some intrepid spirit will soldier on, thinking they can talk me round to coughing up said responses.  Those who do get nothing more for their pains than the famous Robbo scowl squint.**

Stupid hipster-doofuses.

**Just trying to enjoy myself.  (Spot the quote.)


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

This weekend saw the Family Robbo head on down to Eldest’s new school for orientation.  Because she’s a transfer instead of a freshman, a lot of the program was fairly unnecessary from her point of view, and indeed we didn’t even bother to stay for the second day.  However, she got her picture done for her school ID, we got to see where she’s going to be living and otherwise nose about campus some, and she picked up some valuable information on some of the social, religious, and service organizations available (which were her main reasons for transferring in the first place).

Of greatest interest, however, we got to sit down in an extremely small group with the chair of the History Department.  (The Gel has decided to stick with her history major, although she’s now also going to minor in non-profit management.)  It was nice to sit and chin-wag with the fellah, and it was plain that he takes a real interest in what happens to the majors coming up under his guidance.  (He insisted that, as a rising junior, the Gel should not be taking a Western Civ survey as recommended by the guidance counselors, but instead should be jumping straight into 300-level classes.  We duly got the change made. He also has a very real sense of what can and cannot be done with an undergrad history major these days.)

This particular prof specializes in military history, and as I sat looking about his office, I found myself drooling over his books and gewgaws (many of which seemed to be centered around the Napoleonic Wars). But the thing that really got me was a very large table in the middle of the room.  It was covered by a large diorama with lots of little Union and Confederate troops all over it, plus a couple of D&D dice.  Eventually, I couldn’t resist asking what it was.

“That,” he said, “Is basically “Risk” on steroids.”  It turned out that he and whatever faculty and students were around at the moment, were busy gaming The Wheat Field.  He said that he held wargames of various sorts every Friday afternoon, and that anyone interested was invited to stop by.  The only rule was that the first time, one could just watch.  The next time, one had to play as well.

I think I like this man.  I think the Gel does, too.

Anyhoo, the visit was so successful and the Gel was so pleased with what she saw, that she’s decided she doesn’t need us to help her move in next month after all.  This was especially good news because Middle Gel has her freshman move-in the same weekend about four hours away, and we’ve been going through contortions of logistical analysis trying to figure out how to be in two places at once.

(Incidentally, the Gel will be about half an hour from my brother’s house.  We stayed with him while we were down there.  All three of his kids will be in college starting this fall.  As we all sat at the dinner table – furiously debating whether Macbeth could have become King per the Weird Sisters’ prophecy without all that dirty work – I looked about me and was astonished again at just how grown up our family’s next generation has become.)

Vought F4U Corsair, courtesy of Wiki

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Quite some time ago, perhaps a year or more, Ol’ Robbo tossed the teevee series “Black Sheep Squadron” (1976-78) into his Netflix queue.  My request immediately went to the “Oh, we can’t find that right now” bin, and I reckoned I’d never actually ever see it.

Whelp, surprise surprise, “BSS” suddenly rose to the surface this week, so instead of watching the All Star Game last evening, about which I cared little or nothing per my post below, I instead checked out the, er, pilot episode.

I loved this show when I was a kid (I was 16 when it first aired) and was curious to see if it still had any of the old appeal now that I am so much older and (debatably) wiser.

Well, I think it does based on what I’ve seen so far.  For one thing, I enjoyed hearing the theme musick again, ( I remembered it perfectly even after forty years or so.  This is not a brag, just a thing with me.) For another, I again enjoyed Robert Conrad as the no-nonsense tough-guy Pappy Boyington character. (Show of hands for those who remember Conrad’s later I-dare-you-to-knock-this-battery-off-my-shoulder commercials.) I was further delighted to discover that John Larroquette was one of the squadron regulars. (Back in the day, how was I or anyone else to know who he was?) And while the dynamics and tensions among the flyboys, and between the squadron and the brass, were pretty predictable, even formulaic, the writing seems pretty good, too.

Also, in the past few years Ol’ Robbo has read Pappy Boyington’s autobiography on which the series is based, and I now see (as I couldn’t have back then) how the writers evidently have tried to incorporate his style and tone (which, frankly, are quite rough) into the screenplay.  I appreciate that effort.

But for me, the real enjoyment now is still what it was back then: Watching a bunch of Vought F4U Corsairs being put through their paces.  What a handsome aircraft!  That extra-long cowling and those gull wings just radiate power and force.  I’d argue that the P-51 Mustang was probably the best all-around American fighter plane of WWII, but I still put the Corsair in a class by itself.

Even though I tossed the whole series into my queue, I’m non-committal about sitting through all of it.  But I’ll at least check out the next few episodes that I have in hand, and I’m very glad I was able to circle back and confirm one of the good memories of my misspent yoot.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, here we are at the All-Star Break, a week of pure media spectacle which has never had any appeal for Ol’ Robbo.  Indeed, even though the festivities are being held this year at Nats Park and Middle Gel had been after me for a long time about getting tickets to the game itself, I simply have/had no desire to go.  Indeed, I probably won’t even bother watching it on the teevee.

In fact, the only really good thing about this week to me is that it gets my beloved Nats off their feet for a few days and maybe gives them the opportunity to figure out just what the hell is going on with their season. With a final win over the Mets this past Sunday, they staggered into the break at 48-48 and in third place – hardly what we were hoping for back in April, when many folk predicted we were finally going to go deep in the playoffs and even had a shot at taking all the marbles.

Yes, we’ve been plagued by a lot of injuries this first half, but that goes with the territory.  From what I’ve seen, we’ve just been sloppy and unfocused, making stupid mistakes, leaving runners stranded all over the bags, and just seemingly not “hungry for it” as my old crew coach used to say.  I think often of the line by that old southern radio announcer in “Bull Durham”: “Ah dunno whut these boys are thinkin’ bout, but it shore ain’t baseball!”

Watching all this has been very, very painful so far this season.

Anyhoo, with 60-something games left and no sign of collapse yet by either the Braves or the Phils, we sure as heck better come screaming out of the gates next week if we hope to have a shot at the division title even a wildcard berth this year.  And if we don’t make it, somebody bring me the head of Dave Martinez!


And speaking of “Bull Durham”, obligatory:



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July 2018