Dragons

Every  night the dragon came and every night Keri fought it.  At first, it was a minor nuisance.  A small little lizard that appeared at sunset, scratched at her window and was easily chased away.  But in the past months, it had grown. Not only was the dragon larger and more fierce, but it was fighting longer and longer. Still, it was always beaten back by sunrise.

Keri continued to deliver wood to the villagers. A few of them whispered of seeing strange lights and noises coming from Keri’s land at night, but few thought much of it. Keri continued to bring wood and what business of theirs was it? After all, nobody really believed in dragons.

The monster continued to grow and Keri’s battles now stretched throughout the night.  While once, she had been simply able to chase the dragon away, she now spent the evenings fending off its attacks.  She no longer troubled herself with trying to beat the dragon back but simply tried to survive until the dragon grew bored and fled.  Worse yet, the dragon now brazenly stayed until the first rays of sun stretched over Keri’s land.

Keri began having difficulty making her deliveries on time. Most of the villagers quickly forgave her, but whispers began.  Some wondered why Keri continued to wear long tunics in the heat, but others caught glimpses of the bruises or the long, bloody claw marks that ran the length of Keri’s arms from where the dragon had raked her.  While Keri’s deliveries had once been a source of peace, she now caught glimpses of the dragon stalking her.  Even during the day.  A tail disappearing beneath the underbrush beside the road.  A curl of smoke coming from behind a pile of rock.  Always there. Always waiting for sunset.

At the town festival, a battered Keri was approached by the Men in Orange.  Her head swam from her drink, but she eventually told them that she was fighting a dragon. To  her surprise, they did not mock her. They believed her. They slammed their steins on the table and swore their allegiance. The Men in Orange told her to light a signal fire when the dragon next attacked. They would come riding and together they would kill the dragon.

For weeks, Keri lit a fire every night that the dragon arrived.  As the dragon pummeled her, she stared down the road desperately searching for a sign of orange. It never came and she stopped lighting fires. Occasionally, a neighbor would wander by and throw rocks at the dragon, but it had grown far too powerful to be repelled by stones.  Finally, at dawn, the dragon pinned her to the ground. The morning sun hit its face and it was unfazed. It leaned forward and hissed into Keri’s ear, “This is the last time I leave. You will never be rid of me” and flew off.

Keri delivered wood and feared the coming night.  She did not know if the dragon’s threat was a promise to torment her forever or if it intended to carry her away.  Her last stop was a reclusive old man. He noticed Keri’s bruises and told her that he had seen the dragon following Keri. He pitied her and produced a sword that he claimed had killed dragons for generations.  Keri skeptically took it and and returned home.

That night, the dragon came and Keri killed it. There was no battle. The dragon approached and the sword easily pierced its scales.  Keri looked at the dead dragon in disbelief. Its body began to shrivel and shrink before her. She quickly cut off its head and hid it away.

Every night, Keri slept beside her sword but no dragons came.  With the dragon gone, smaller monsters that troubled all of the villagers began to occasionally approach Keri’s land. Goblins, spiders, and trolls were quickly disposed of. What chance do they stand against a sword that kills dragons? Eventually, even they stayed away from Keri and nothing bothered her.

A year later, Keri no longer slept by her sword and had it safely hidden underneath her floor boards.  The village prepared for its annual festival.  As the people danced in the commons, Keri rode into town and mounted the dragon’s head on a stake in the village square. The crowd momentarily hushed before everyone began talking at once. The children ran to the head in order to see a monster.  Some sat in silent disbelief as they had never believed in dragons.  Others murmured that they had thought they had seen dragons around.  Neighbors apologized for not having better weapons than stones. The Men in Orange swung their swords in the air and roared that they would stand beside anyone to kill dragons if they would only light a signal fire.  Some claimed to have killed dragons themselves.

The festival wore on for days and the dragon became less of an oddity. Merchants traded goods.  People gamed. The Men in Orange filled their cups and danced.  Someone produced a chicken with two heads. Children flocked to see a dancing bear.  Keri removed the dragon’s head and threw it in the lake.

Keri lives quietly on her land now.  She delivers wood to the village. Time has passed and she barely remembers the dragon.  Occasionally, she is startled from her sleep by a scratching noise at her window but it is always a branch from a tree.  A shadow falling over her causes her to flinch but she knows the shadow is only a hawk and not dragon wings. Still, she watches.

The village exists. Its wheels turn. They still gather every day to work, talk, and play before returning to their own lands and whatever waits for them there.  Keri believes there may still be dragons out there but does not believe they will bother her again.   She delivers her wood with a smile and confidently walks through her lands unarmed.

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Real parenting milestones

You always hear about the cute little milestones.  First steps, first words, first tooth falling out, first haircut, first time going to school.  These moments are supposed to be so magical, but I am going to be honest with you.  All the little Hallmark milestones are nice but they have not elicited the biggest emotional responses out of me.  Let me break down the real parenting milestones.  The milestones that actually elicit the biggest emotional responses. Some good, some bad, but these are the important ones.

First Day without the Diaper Bag

More than any other day, this day brought a tear to my eye.  The first time you can yell into the other room, “Hey boys, we gotta go” and then simply walk out of the house is the single most liberating moment of parenting.  No more hoisting a 75 lb diaper bag onto your shoulder. No more checking their shoes.  No more wondering if you restocked that bag with back-up underwear, wipes, flares, or snacks.  No more wrestling the boys into the car seat.  No more pinning down the flailing little monster with 17 layers of coats while you desperately try to fasten a 5-pt harness onto what looks like a writhing mini-Michelin Man. No more trudging into the snow looking like a Sherpa.  The day when the time between announcing that it’s time to leave and putting the key in the ignition is under 37 minutes has been the greatest day of my parenting career.

“Dad, don’t put it into reverse until I buckle my own seat and you stop crying?”

“I’m sorry son. I’m just so happy.”

First time ordering off of Adult Menu

This one just sucks.  “Dad, I don’t want a mini grilled-cheese with apple slices and a plastic cup of juice.  I want the Bomb-Burger with fries and a Coke with refills!”

This milestone is not sad because you realize that your son is becoming a young man.  There is no moment when you sadly look at the boy before you and see a pudgy little baby cramming Puffs and Cheerios into his mouth. You do not flash back to a tiny infant drinking 6 oz of milk, belching and falling into a bloated, post-meal coma.

What you see is your bill tripling.  What you see is the waitress carrying away about a third of that Bomb-Burger because your little glutton power chugged 40 oz of carbonated sugar before the meal even showed up.  You are sad because you know you are going to be eating out far less.

Toileting

Obviously, when the kid starts using the toilet there are a million obvious pluses.  Obviously, you are done with diapers. You are done with wiping stinky butts.  The diaper bag shrinks or disappears.  Your hands are not longer chafed from the constant washing after handling wet underwear.  There is no longer that hint of “used-diaper” smell that has always lingered in your house.

Here is the real pay-off.  You no longer shackled to a littler person’s excretory system.

“Dad, I need to use the potty.”

“Yup. Better do something about that.  Hey, when you’re done, why don’t you grab me on of those Girl Scout Tagalongs on your way back?”  Pure magic.

First sleep-over

Yes, your child is growing up.  Yes, this is a new level of independence.  Maybe some people are even a little sad that the child no longer needs them quite as much.

But you get to have sex again! And foreplay does not involve the phrase, “Do you think they are asleep?”  You do not have to sneak into each room to double check that they are deep into the REM phase of sleep. You do not have lock your door and set so many security cautions that even semi-sane Tom Cruise from Mission Impossible can not drop in.

True the ultra-erotic bedroom banter of “Wait..Shhh.. shhh.. be quiet! Do you hear Ben?” ends.  You do have to live without my personal favorite, “Don’t move.  I’m serious. DON’T MOVE! Maybe he’ll just flush, wash his hands and go right back to bed. Steady… steaaaaady.. I think he’s almost back in his room… Hooold.. Hooooold… I think he just closed his door…Hey! wake-up!” but it is so worth it.

I got my fist speeding ticket after dropping my boys off at their sleep-over.

First Time Watching Awesome Movies

I had no problem living through years of animated movies and TV shows when the biggest danger was that maybe, just maybe, Daisy wouldn’t be able to finish Goofy’s birthday before the surprise party. Will the Wiggles eat their fruit salad? Will the Imagination Movers finally not be able to brainstorm an idea to get Warehouse Mouse his cheese? Will a Higglytown Hero please just save the day! I’m fine with that.

However, it’s a very special day when you can sit down as a family and watch a Hobbit slog across Middle-Earth for over nine hours without fast-forwarding, editing or trying to explain that those forty arrows probably just tickled Baromir. No son, he’s dead. In fact, every time you ever see Sean Bean, you can just start preparing yourself that he’s going to die. Cows kill Sean Bean.

 

The expansion of movies that we can now watch produces sentimental, deep conversations such as…

“Dad, Aragon just chopped that orc’s head off!  That was awesome. Why are you crying again?”

“Come here and hug your dad.”

I’m not stupid. My boys are not watching anything related to Westeros and I have limits, but being able to watch a show that we all enjoy is an incredible parenting milestone.

“Dad. Are the clones good or bad? I mean, they help the Jedi, but they will eventually be Stormtroopers and they are bad, so are they good, bad, or just do what they are told?”

“Sshhh, little one.  Yoda is about to lay the hurt on Dooku. This is going to be awesome because for years I have carefully planned out the correct order to show you these movies so that when you eventually suffered through these prequels, you would find these next forty-five seconds amazing. Why?

Because I know what the important moments really are.”

THE Day

It was not supposed to go down like this.  There is a bead of sweat rolling down the side of my face as I realize I have made a terrible mistake from which I am not sure I can recover. Staring across the ping-pong table from me is a grim-faced eleven-year old boy who is flexing his knees and taking every shot seriously now.  He thinks today is going to be the day.  He thinks today is the day he takes down his old man.  I have always let him stay close before pulling it out at the end but today I regret that. I have intentionally flubbed a bunch of shots but a few errors on my part (and great shots on his) has left me three points from losing.  He thinks today is the day.

“They” say the happiest and saddest day in every boy’s life is the day that he realize he can beat his father. Video games do not count. It is the day a boy can beat his father at some physical activity.  It is the happiest day because the boy realizes that he is growing up and becoming a man.  However, at the same time the boy suddenly has to face the fact that his dad is not a mythical, invincible deity, but simply a man. A man who is starting to lose the fight with Father Time.  Essentially, the boy kills his hero.

I vividly remember my day. In middle school, I was fast. I was very fast. At an extended family gathering, I mentioned this and my dad made some comment about keeping me in my place.  Not thinking he would ever accept, I challenged him to a race. To my shock, he accepted and my aunts and uncles, and cousins, and grandparents all headed out to the street to watch.  I trudged through the yard already embarrassed because I knew there was no way I could beat my dad. I just never thought he would accept the challenge and now I was going to look dumb. My mom even pulled me aside and said, “Why are you doing this? You know you can’t win. You’re still a boy.”  I knew she was right and I knew that I had put myself in position that I was going to be hearing about for a long time.

At the start line, my dad looked down at me and said, “We are only doing this once. This is you’re only shot. No excuses” I nodded and got ready.  My entire family was out there and my uncle started the countdown.  “On your mark.”  Deep breath.  “Get Set…..” and my old man cheated. He was three strides down the street before I realized I had to move. This was my one shot and I started from behind.

I remember going as hard as I could. I also remember feeling a bit puzzled at how quickly I made up the “head-start.” I was surprised at the half-way point when  I was a couple strides ahead of him and feeling like I had not really even hit my stride. I was in a little disbelief by how much I won by and how I eased up a little at the end because it did not feel right.  Later, I snuck back out there and stared at the street. I was elated because I knew I could out-run grown men and I had beaten my dad. At the same time, there was an odd sense of disappointment and general weirdness. I was too young to put words on it, but later I realized it was the sadness “they ” say every boy feels when he beats his dad. Sad that his hero is really just a man who is starting to get older.

And now Ben thinks today is the day.  I can see it in his eyes. He is not jabbering about Pokemon anymore.  He is not talking about soccer. He has stopped trying to do fancy shots.  The only smile I see is the smile he is desperately fighting to stifle every time he scores. Ben thinks he is three points away from something special.

I know it’s not the day because I have intentionally let him stay close and then made some mistakes. It still takes effort to make the game close without making it obvious that I am tanking.   However, he does not know this. The scoreboard does not know this. The scoreboard says the day is three points away.

I know the day is coming. It is inevitable.  I will feel proud and a little sad.  He will be elated with a weird feeling he can not pin-point.  When that day comes, I want it to be real. For him and me.

I have three points left to make sure I push the day back. Fortunately, Ben is eleven-years-old and is starting to choke. All I have to do is keep the ball on the table and he screws up two points.  On the third point, I put a ton of backspin on my shot and watch his little dreams crumble as he bashes the ball into the net.

He drops his paddle, falls to his knees with a huge smile and yells, “Nooo!”  Ben gets to his feet laughing and gives me a huge hug.  “Dad! I almost beat you!  I thought I was really going to do it today!”

“Yeah buddy. It was close!  You will get me some day.  Today is just not the day.”

The day?”

“Don’t worry about it. You’ll know it when it gets here.”

**Addendum:.  My dad read this blog and recalls our race.  He told me today that he knew the only way he stood a chance was by cheating.

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Discovering the True Legend of Manitou Island: One Man’s Journey

Sorry for accidentally posting an unfinished draft earlier. Like many men, I suffer from premature post-ulation sometimes when I am really excited.

I recently had the privilege of backpacking on North Manitou Island for four days and three nights with a Boy Scout troop. For those of you unfamiliar with it, North Manitou is a primitive island in the middle of Lake Michigan with no electricity, running water, no designated campsites, or raccoons. No raccoons! Raccoons can live anywhere. They live in my yard. The fact that raccoons have forsaken this island should tell you something.

Chippewa legend says that a mother bear and her two cubs tried to swim Lake Michigan to escape a fire in Wisconsin. The two cubs could not make it, drowned, and formed North and South Manitou Island. I have discovered how the islands were truly formed. Centuries ago, Hades was married to a beautiful, but equally evil, bride. One day, the bride consumed the last of Hades’ bacon. Upon discovering the betrayal, Hades killed his wife and cast her body from the underworld and into Lake Michigan. Today, her body floats below the surface of Lake Michigan with only her breasts poking above the water to form North and South Manitou Islands. Manitou is actually Chippewa for “Lucifer’s Lost Love Lumps.” The natural beauty of the demi-goddess’ cleavage draws many-a-man to her, but what they discover there is horror…..

Day 1
The ferry drops my family off. As the ferry departs, I glance back at the boatman. Before my eyes, his images shimmers and slowly transforms into the hooded figure of Charon. The cloaked figure slowly raises an arm and extends a long, boney middle finger to me and fades into the mist.

The troop fills up with water at the only portable water site and begins its 7 mile death trek across the island. After 1.5 miles a figure slithers next to me and asks, “I wonder why you did not fill those extra water bladders at the fill station? Would have made less water filtering later.” I wonder why this helpful question was not asked 1.5 miles ago but I notice the filed teeth as she grins at me. Quickly I recognize the Harpy and realize there is no point in bandying words with this one. I put my head down and prod James and Benjamin onward. Camp is made and endless trips to Lake Michigan to collect water for filtering begins.

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Day 2

The morning reveals another Legend of Manitou. When Jabba the Hutt was finally slain by an ultra-hot Princess Leia he was cast into the underworld. Hades took his body and hovered over North Manitou. Hades proceeded to place the fallen gangster into a giant colander and pushed his body through the billion tiny holes. The resultant billions of tiny slug-like Jabbalings were showered over North Manitou Island.

Every morning, the billion sluggy Jabbalings attempt to gather together to reform into Jabba and earn passage back to the land of the living. My tent, shoes, and other property was the gathering site for this unholy Ragnarok every morning. My tent and rain fly were so covered in slug juice that I was convinced Slimer from Ghostbusters had a wet dream over my campsite. My mornings consisted of destroying hundreds of Jabbalings to prevent the Hutt’s return to earth.
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The Harpy notices I have brought two books. She approaches and states, “Nice books. That’s not how I would pack books, but whatever.” I begin to use rocks to sharpen a stick.

Day 3

Day three dawns with the promise of the return seven mile hike. It also dawns with massive black clouds and high winds coming toward us. In a panic, our camp is broken down and a fastpack is started. We are going to get very wet and just hope we can get packed and rain gear on before it hits. During the frantic packing, Ben declares, “I have to poop and bad!” I grab the shovel (remember no plumbing, no pit toilets) a roll of toilet paper and run to a field with Ben. The wind and black clouds are really very cool but I have no time to enjoy them as I set to digging. Ben jumps up and down yelling, “Dig faster! It’s coming!” I am not sure if he is referring to the apocalypse in the sky or the earth-shaking bowel explosion that I am about to witness. As I hold his shoulders while he hovers over the pit, the first thunder crash explodes as Hades’ slams his refrigerator door after another search for bacon is unsuccessful. Life is about to suck.

At the site the fully-packed-Harpy skips past and states, “I started packing earlier.” The Harpy is about to die. The last bit of equipment is packed and Armageddon breaks loose. Hades’ baconless temper tantrum is unleashed in a torrent of driving tears, slamming of doors, and flashes in the sky as his refrigerator door light flickers on and off while he continues his fruitless search for bacon. We begin the walk of the damned.

The storm stops and the sun beats down on us. Hades has placed a curse on Ben’s backpack. When it is on, he transformed into a mopey, crying, injured shell of a boy. Once the cursed equipment is removed, he bounds through the trail with joy and abandon. I spend almost two miles in a rubber raincoat with the sun beating down on me, my 45+ lb backpack on my back and Ben’s 25lb cursed pack in my arms. My sweaty, dehydrated body drops his pack at the check point and straps it on him for the remainder of the trek. No matter how severely cursed, he will carry his pack the rest of the way or be left for the scavengers. After all, that is why I had two kids. I always have a spare. Be prepared.

Camp is made. My wife and I crash in our tent. After three days and nearly 20 miles of hiking the odor in the tent serves as a natural bug repellent. I roll over, look her in the eyes and say,
“I love you, but you are disgusting.”
Our eyes lock. My wife stares deep into my soul and states, “You repulse me.”
We lay happy and silent as a married couple who will never be able to look at each other sexually again.

At 2 A.M., I leave the tent to look at the stars. It is breathtaking. With no light pollution, the sky is incredible. I stand for nearly half an hour just staring at the sky. From my spot in the Underworld, I wonder which of the million stars that I see is the land of the living. I wonder if I will ever be able to return.
 

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Day 4

Final camp is broken and the exit point is only a mile away. As I eat another breakfast of trail mix, I reflect on the things that I have missed for the last four days. Ice, chairs, food that I have not had to carry, a shower, a new set of clothes, a pillow, the list goes on. I pull the dirty laundry bag out of the tree. Yes, it was that foul. The last Jabbaling is evicted and camp is broken. We get to our extraction point three hours early. I take no chances.

I sit on the dock and realize that I will forever be a changed man. One does not spend four days on the breasts of Hades’ discarded bride without losing a part of his soul and a gallon of blood to tics and mosquitos. I only hope that there is enough left of me to return to the real world.

The ferry emerges from the mist. Charon makes no disguise this time and my party recoils at his site. I step forward and drop four coins into his skeletal hands and state, “Passage to the Living.” He nods and allows my family to board before rowing us back to land. As I step off the ferry, he hisses into my ear, “Do not return.” I nod. Charon once more cloaks himself in the disguise of a college student and allows more damned souls to enter his ferry to cross to Manitou. I wonder how many will return.

Lying to my Kids

I think every parent strives to be truthful and transparent with their children. At least that is what we say. Truth be told, any real parent delicately sprinkles in a healthy dose of lies to their children. It is kind of like trying to sneak vegetables into their food. Sometimes it is just easier. Below are some of the bold-faced lies I tell my kids.

Lie: Go ahead, Ben. Take the last piece of bacon. I would rather you have it.
Truth: I want that bacon. Sometimes when you are cleaning up every bit of food on the table and I walk away hungry, I wish you still ate out of jars. Wild animals have it down. The alpha gets all the bacon he wants and the cubs get what is left. I am still the alpha but I am stuck here watching you inhale all the bacon and acting like I am happy about it. Lies.

Lie: I really have no idea what happened to your Halloween/Easter/Christmas candy.
Truth: For years I actually told you that evaporation and erosion were the causes of your depleted candy caches. However, you are older and wiser now. You no longer buy that line. At least now, I can just blame it on your mother and you accept it.

Lie: Knock that garbage off or there will be no movie night or extra video game time.
Truth: Nothing short of murder is going to cancel those events. Those hours of electronic babysitting are probably more important to me than they are to you. If the digital respite gets cancelled, I bet that I would be shedding more tears than anyone else in the house. Cancellation of those events is more of a punishment to me than anyone else.

Lie: I was just taking a nap.

Lie: You’re right, this show is awesome!
Truth: Most of your shows are crap. You are older now, so getting to watch movies and shows that are actually cool (Avengers, Star Wars, etc) saves me. However, do you remember when I told you that “Walking with Dinosaurs” rocked? Remember how I said that the 17th viewing of the Curious George movie was just as good as the first? Doodlebops, Planes, Thomas, the Yogi Bear movie, and any DVD that came with a toy? Cinematic Lobotomies.

Lie: Mom and I will talk about it.
Truth: The answer is “No” and that is not going to change. I mean, mom and I will laugh about it later, but that is the extent of consideration this idea is going to get.

Lie: Just smile. I won’t put this on Facebook.
Truth: I am going to get sooooo many “likes” for this!

Lie: You are just going to have to trust that I know best.
Truth: I am an idiot. I am stumbling through this whole parenting thing like a frat boy at Mardi Gras. I have absolutely no clue what I am doing. Do I know what’s best? Probably not. Honestly, I am just trying to not mess you up to much.

Lie: I have no idea what those rabbits in the yard are doing.
Truth: Lucky rabbits. I know exactly what’s up. Hope you’re having fun while I am sitting in here watching Rugrats. Rabbits get Easter, Trix, Jessica Rabbit, front-yard follies, and a whole series of Loony Tunes adventures and I am cleaning up Cheerios.

Let us be honest. When it comes to our kids, most of us are pathological liars. Want a real truth?

Lie: Sometimes those lies bother me.
Truth: I’m totally cool with it.

My Father was Right… Darn it.

You were right on so, so many things. I get it now. I am sorry.

I am sorry that I thought you were a complete moron for not being able to understand the difference between an X-Wing Fighter, Y-Wing Fighter, or Tie-Fighter. Quite frankly, I now have no idea what an Enderman, Creeper or HeroBrine is. Honestly, I do not even care what they are and have put zero effort into learning. I now understand that glazed look you got in your eyes when I tried to explain the differences between storm troopers, Imperial troopers, and biker scouts. Yeah. I get it.

I am sorry that I mocked you for not being able to make Mario run faster by simply holding down A and B. I am currently taunted because I can not hold ZR, flick the direction pad, tilt the whole unit left, and rapid tap a trigger while doing sit-ups or whatever else I need to do to keep Ben from fragging my butt back to the Stone-Age. I also now admire your ability to keep the obscenities to minimal and not to backhand me while I toyed with you. I get it.

I am sorry that I goofed on you about the bald thing because, well….

You were right. Picking on a child who is angry is hilarious. It drove me nuts as a kid and I swore I would never do it, but.. wow…. It is so much fun. There is nothing like having a kid all hacked off about something stupid, wrestling him down, whispering goofy stuff at him about his little problem and tickle/poke him until he bursts out into a tortured combination of anger and laughter. As soon as you stop, they are angry again and you get to start it all over. It is a complete donkey-cavity move but it is completely irresistible to a father. It is behavioral crack. You were so very right.

Hey, guess what? You were right. Being told a kid is bored is not informative. It is freaking annoying. I always thought putting us to work brought you some sort of sadistic joy, but now I get it. A dad could actually use a hand with some things and when that kid is whining about being bored, it seems perfectly reasonable to ask them to stop being a parasite and pitch in a bit more.

So many more things. I get while you drove lame vehicles, wanted to stop kicking a soccer ball non-stop after “only” an hour, and got mad when I had “only” lost three pairs of gloves. I get it.

What I will never understand is why you always made me cover my eyes during a movie when the sex scenes came on. Seriously, the FF button? It meant Fast-Forward. All you had to do was push the stupid button and I would not have to sit there like a loser desperately trying to peek between my fingers. I suggested it. You ignored it. Easy solution old man.

Who am I kidding? I get that too.