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SOUNDTRACK: JESCA HOOP-Tiny Desk Concert #965 (April 3, 2020).

I really liked the Tiny Desk Concert that features Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop.  So much so that I bought the CD and it made me want to see both of them live.

Jesca Hoop last appeared at the Tiny Desk as a duet with Sam Beam (Iron & Wine) in the spring of 2016. They sang songs from their collaborative record Love Letters For Fire.

This time it is just Jesca and I have realized that I liked her more as an accompanist rather than a lead singer.  Actually, that’s not exactly right.  Her voice is lovely.  I just find the songs a little meandering.

This time around, Jesca Hoop came to the Tiny Desk with just her guitars, her lovely voice, and brilliant poetic songs. She has a magical way with words, and she opened her set with “Pegasi,” a beautiful song about the wild ride that is love, from her 2017 album Memories Are Now.

“Pegasi” is nice to watch her play the fairly complex guitar melodies–she uses all of the neck.  The utterly amazing thing about “Pegasi” though comes at the end of the song when she sings an amazing note (high and long) that represents a dying star.

She wanted to sing it today so it could live on Tiny Desk.

The two songs that follow are from her latest album, Stonechild, the album that captured my heart in 2019, and the reason I reached out to invite her to perform at my desk.

“All Time Low” is a song, she says, for the “existential underdog.”  She switches guitars (to an electric) and once again, most of the melody takes place on the high notes of the guitar.  Her melodies are fascinating.  And the lyrics are interesting too:

“Michael on the outside, always looking in
A dog in the fight but his dog never wins
If he works that much harder, his ship might come in
He gives it the old heave-ho.”

After the song, she says, I’m going to tune my guitar, but I’m not going to talk so it doesn’t take as long. If you were at my show, I’d be talking the whole time and it would take a long time.

And for her final tune, she plays “Shoulder Charge.” It’s a song that features a word that Jesca stumbled upon online: “sonder,” which you won’t find in the dictionary. She tells the NPR crowd “sonder” is the realization “that every person that you come across is living a life as rich and complex as your own.” And that realization takes you out of the center of things, something that is at the heart of “Shoulder Charge” and quite a potent moment in this deeply reflective and personal Tiny Desk concert.

This word, sonder, came to my attention back in 2016 when Kishi Bashi first discovered it and named his album Sonderlust for it.

The song is like the others, slow and quite with a pretty melody that doesn’t really go anywhere.

I found that after three listens, I started to enjoy the songs more, so maybe she just writes songs that you need to hear a few times to really appreciate.

[READ: March 2020] Ducks, Newburyport

I heard about this book because the folks on the David Foster Wallace newsgroup were discussing it.  I knew nothing about it but when I read someone describe the book like this:

1 Woman’s internal monologue.  8 Sentences. 1040 pages

I was instantly intrigued.

Then my friend Daryl said that he was really enjoying it, so I knew I had to check it out.

That one line  is technically (almost) accurate but not really accurate.

The story (well, 95% of it) is told through one woman’s stream of consciousness interior monologue.  She is a mother living in Ohio.  She has four children and she is overwhelmed by them.  Actually she is overwhelmed by a lot and she can’t stop thinking about these things.

She used to teach at a small college but felt that the job was terrible and that she was not cut out for it.  So now she bakes at home and sells her goods locally.  She specializes in tarte tatin.  This is why she spends so much time with her thoughts–she works alone at home.  Her husband travels for work.  Whether she is actually making money for the family is a valid but moot question.

So for most of the book not much happens, exactly.  We just see her mind as she thinks of all the things going on around her.  I assume she’s reading the internet (news items come and go in a flash).  She is quite funny in her assessment of the world (how much she hates trump).  While I was reading this and more and more stupid things happened in the real world, I couldn’t help but imagine her reaction to them).  She’s not a total liberal (she didn’t trust Hillary), but she is no conservative either (having lived in Massachusetts and New York).  In fact, she feels she does not fit in locally at all. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PUP-“Free at Last” (2019).

PUP has been on my radar for a while now–I’ve heard amazing things about their live shows, although I always seem to miss them. I was really surprised to find out that this year’s Morbid Stuff was only their 3rd album (for about 100 minutes of total music released), because they’ve been touring forever.

I was very amused to see that at the beginning of the video for this first single they wrote

Prior to its release we wanted to see if anyone would cover our song “Free at last” without hearing it first.  We posted the lyrics and a basic chord chart.  The rest was up to interpretation.

253 people tried.

The beginning of the video shows many of these interpretations (wonderful variety) before the song properly starts.

The song is a wonderful punk blast of fast chords and a big chanted chorus of “Just ’cause you’re sad again, doesn’t make you special at all.”

What I particularly like is the slow heavy metal sounding opening guitar riff (it seems like it should be a very different song from the way it starts).  I also love that Eva Hendricks from Charly Bliss gets a cameo line “Have you been drinking?” although I wish she was a little louder in the song, because it goes by so fast.

I will keep an eye out for the next time PUP comes around.  I hope to catch them.

[READ: April 20, 2019] “Dominion”

I really enjoyed this story, the way it unfolded and the way it was broken into relatively discreet sections.  I found the ending to be really unsatisfying, though.

The story opens with Michael and his wife talking to their son Paul.  Paul is 12 and wants to go hunting with his father.  Michael thinks that when he’s 14 he’ll be old enough to go on this annual trip, but that right now he’s still too young.

Paul gives the unexpected argument that in Christian Ethics class, he debated that man has dominion over the animals and that hunting them is okay.

His parents are on the fence about sending him to Catholic school–they both had horror stories about their own upbringing.

The ironic thing is that Michael himself doesn’t really like hunting.  He often walked the woods with the dog ostensibly hunting for pheasants.  But that was mostly because he liked walking in the woods and fields.  The locals though there was something suspicious about you if you didn’t have a gun in your arms doing it.  So he carried a shot gun and planned on shooting nothing.  Of course, if the dog spooked a bird he would try for it.  If he did hit it, it was just more work because he felt compelled to eat it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MINISTRY-“(Every Day Is) Halloween” (1984).

Ministry is now known for being/industrial band.  But before the first album of that ilk, he played a kind of industrial dance music.  Even though I love Ministry’s heavier noisier stuff, I have a huge soft spot for this song and all of the music from Chicago’s WaxTrax records.

I also love that this song get regular airplay (especially at Halloween) and makes all kinds of Halloween Top Ten song lists (who knew such things existed).

In addition to the song being incredibly catchy and surprisingly dancey, there’s a really fun “scratching” solo in the middle of the song.

Al Jorgensen may not like this song anymore, but it’s a favorite for me.

[READ: October 22, 2018] “The Striding Place”

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar and The Ghost Box. comes Ghost Box II.

This is once again a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening and a ribbon) which contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

The Ghost Box returns, like a mummy or a batman, to once again make your pupils dilate and the hair on your arms stand straight up—it’s another collection of individually bound scary stories, edited and introduced by comedian and spooky specialist Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, Patton Oswalt will be reviewing a book a day on his Facebook page.

Much respect to Oswalt, but I will not be following his order.  So there. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKMARILYN MANSON-“This is Halloween” (2006).

Thirteen years after The Nightmare Before Christmas, Marilyn Manson covered this song for the Nightmare Revisited project.

He’s the obvious choice to cover this song.  Manson is a cartoon character himself and he was, at one time, feared, perhaps, by some.

Manson has proven himself over and over to be a chameleon with looks and voices, and that attribute makes his version work pretty well.

His version uses crunchy metal guitars instead of Elfman’s synths.  But I think the synths and strings are scarier.

There is also something far more sinister about the voices in the original.  Manson may be able to “do” voices, but they are for all intents and purposes, him. The wonderful range of voices on display in the original are entirely more creepy.

Having said all that if the original wasn’t as good, this version would be pretty cool too.

[READ: October 20, 2018] “The Watcher”

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar and The Ghost Box. comes Ghost Box II.

This is once again a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening and a ribbon) which contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

The Ghost Box returns, like a mummy or a batman, to once again make your pupils dilate and the hair on your arms stand straight up—it’s another collection of individually bound scary stories, edited and introduced by comedian and spooky specialist Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, Patton Oswalt will be reviewing a book a day on his Facebook page.

Much respect to Oswalt, but I will not be following his order.  So there. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DAVID GREILSAMMER-Tiny Desk Concert #676 (November 24, 2017).

It has been quite a while since there has been a classical pianist on Tiny Desk.  I’m unfamiliar with the Israeli pianist David Greilsammer, but his playing is wonderful and his selections are quite fun and diverse.

For this Tiny Desk appearance, Greilsammer begins with his muse Domenico Scarlatti, the 18th-century Italian whose 500-some keyboard sonatas are compelling, colorful snapshots of his decades-long service to Spanish royalty. In the “Sonata in E, K. 380” you can hear a little street band processing along with trumpet fanfares.

Greilsammer describes the piece as sounding very contemporary.  Scarlatti lived 300 years ago and his music sounds ahead of its time.  He says it’s almost jazzy or pop-like harmonies.  He says it feels like he is playing a Beatles song.

Greilsammer follows by jumping ahead 175 years to the eccentric Frenchman Erik Satie, who not only owned seven identical gray velvet suits but, with a freewheeling spaciousness and humor in his music, is often thought of as the precursor to everything from minimalism to new age. His series of mysterious pieces called Gnossiennes strike a particularly sedate mood, capable of neutralizing any source of anxiety.

Greilsammer plays “Gnossienne No. 3” which he describes as full of pop and jazz and colors and harmonies.  He was writing these strange short pieces that at the time people in Paris didn’t understand.  Everybody loves Satie now but just over 100 years ago he was completely misunderstood.

I absolutely love the way the final notes ring out in this room–they are quite haunting

Lastly, Greilsammer takes a left turn to Leoš Janáček, the idiosyncratic Czech composer from the early 20th century, acclaimed for his operas. He set one of them on the moon; another, the dramatically taut and emotionally wrenching Jenůfa, is perhaps the most undervalued opera of a generation. But Janáček also wrote in smaller forms. His piano cycle On An Overgrown Path plays out like a diary of musings, nervous tics, simple pleasures and mysteries. Within the claustrophobic tension that pervades “The Barn Owl Has Not Flown Away,” you can hear the rustling of wings and the repeated four-note bird call.

Greilsammer says that Janáček lived in the Romantic period and all of his music is enigmatic, with many secretive things.  He wrote things related to dreams and wild scenes with things obsessively haunting him.  In “The Barn Owl Has Not Flown Away” (from On An Overgrown Path) the theme of the owl comes back many times.  Every time you try to get away from it, it comes back.

For Greilsammer, who recently performed in a working crypt in Harlem, threading these disparate musical fabrics together comes as naturally as, well, playing behind a desk in an office building.

These are some really beautiful and nicely unexpected pieces.

[READ: May 31, 2017] Audubon

I have really enjoyed most of the French graphic novels that come across my desk.  This book, translated by Etienne Gilfillan, is no exception.

It is a biographical sketch of John James Audubon (born Jean-Jacques Audubon in Haiti in 1785).  His story, aside from the whole birding aspect, is quite fascinating in itself. He was an illegitimate child (his father has seduced a servant) who was eventuality adopted by his father (!) and called Forgèére (which means fern).  His father wanted him to escape military conscription, so the boy was sent to Mill Grove in he United States in 1803.  He became a US citizen and there met his wife Lucy Bakewell.

The book actually begins in 1820 with Audubon and two other men sailing on the Mississippi river.  They hit bad weather but all he cares about are his drawings.

Then we jump back to 1812 in Kentucky.  Audubon climbs into a tree to study the swallows who are living in it–some 9,000. He took home more than 100 birds to study them.  And then he tagged some others to study their migratory patterns.

As the end of the book points out, Audubon was one of the world’s greatest naturalists who did a lot for birding. Except he was also responsible for the death of thousands of birds.  There’s a section where he kills two ivory billed woodpeckers.  He is so excited at his luck because they are becoming a rarity. (more…)

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sep2000SOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Rift (1993).

riftRift has a kind of story to it (albeit it’s not a real concept album) and you can tell by the full cover (see the bottom) that the story is complex–thank you gatefold sleeves).  The album starts with “Rift” a fast guitar spiral that opens with a harmony vocals on the opening lyric and then a call and response between I believe, Page and Trey as they each take a line of the verse—it’s a cool and surprising opening.

“Fast Enough for You” is a slow country-tinged song (with slide guitar).  This is the first song of their early records that I really don’t know that well.  So it must not get played very much.  It’s a pretty song.  “Lengthwise” is a cute little a capella song (with snoring and clock ticking) which I think about whenever I am alone in a bed: “When you’re there I sleep lengthwise and when you’re gone I sleep diagonal in my bed.”

“Maze” is one of my favorite Phish songs and it sounds great here.  I love the bomp bomp at the end of the verses and the fugue vocals at the end of the song.  This version is fantastic.  “Sparkle” also features fugue and barbershop type vocals (with Mike’s deep voice added in) in a funny silly roping song.  It’s another highlight.  “Horn” has a great opening guitar line (that reminds me of Pearl Jam for some reason).  I’ve always enjoyed this one.  It sounds great here (because you can actually hear what the harmony voices are saying (something you usually can’t in the live setting).  “The Wedge” is a mid tempo song that sounds different from their live versions.

“My Friend My Friend” is a pretty dark song (“My friend, my friend he;s got a knife”) but the opening is a beautiful instrumental with lovely guitar sequences until at 2:30 when the piano takes over and the song becomes slightly menacing.  “Weigh” is a weird song that I rather like.  It’s very piano heavy and very boppy despite the crazy lyrics:  “I’d like to cut your head off to weight it, whaddya say?  5 pounds, 6 pounds, 7 pounds.”  “All Things Reconsidered” a nice NPR joke.  This is a 2 and a half minute instrumental of guitar and keyboards that sort of plays with the NPR “All Things Considered” music.

“Mound” starts with some wonderful out of time signature riffing—4/4 drums and bass and then super fast guitars that don’t quite match until the drums and bass then catch up.  It’s hard to believe that that unusual opening leads to the big catchy bouncy chorus: “And it’s time, time, time for the last rewind.”  “It’s Ice” is a little slower here than live but I kind of like it in this slightly slower version (you can really hear the riffs).  This is another song with fugue-like vocals (they do all of their vocal tricks very well).  “The Horse’ begins as a beautiful Spanish style guitar piece and morphs into a simple acoustic song (it’s al of 90 seconds) which bleeds into “Silent in the Morning,” another highlight from their live shows and a standout here.

Rift might just be my favorite Phish album.

[READ: October 23, 2013] “Escanaba’s Magic Hour”

Once I found out that Tom Bissell had written a number of articles in Harper’s I decided to read them all, especially since some of them already appeared in his book Magic Hours.  This was his first piece for Harper’s and it is the one I remembered most from the book.  So I enjoyed reading it again.

I’m also glad I read the Harper’s version because although I don’t think it varies from the book version at all (and I’m not willing to check), it had pictures from the movie and from Escanaba, which brought a bit more reality to the article.

So, what’s this about a movie?

Well, this article is about Jeff Daniels making a movie in Escanaba, Michigan called Escanaba in da Moonlight (which I haven’t seen, but as I said after reading this the first time, I now feel invested enough in it to want to watch it–reviews are mixed).  And it sounds kind of interesting.  I also really enjoyed the comment that Daniels’ appeal “has something to do with the fact that many men, if asked to cast their lives without undue conceit, might settle on Jeff Daniels to play themselves.” (more…)

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After enjoying yet another article from Outside, I figured it was time to subscribe, you know, give the magazine makers some money for their work.

I decided to wait for three issues to offer a verdict because the first two were really disappointing.  Subscriptions run $2 an issue with a list price of $7.  I haven’t really talked about subscription prices of other magazines before but this one is quite high.  It’s staggeringly high for the amount of ads that are in the magazine, too.  They have a half a dozen advertorials which look like articles (which I hate) and all those personals in the back.  Plus the mag is littered with ads for gear (which I know gear people love but still  it should impact the price of the magazine.  Sheesh).

So the articles I’ve enjoyed in the past were personal stories (from the likes of Wells Tower, etc).  They are extended pieces by reasonably famous authors and they have a great voice.  In the issues I’ve received so far, the feature stories have been the 50 Best Jobs and Are You Tough Enough?  That Jobs one seems like a fun article and indeed the places they chose were interesting.   Although this was more of a fluff piece than a real article–no one is getting a job looking at these companies–certainly not just because they read about it here.  Also, note that none of the companies are East of the Mississippi.  There’s also later article on adventure seeking entrepreneurs.  Yawn.  I gather that the Are You Tough enough type of article is the real meat and potatoes of the magazine, with headlines like “Eat Like a Champion” and “Surfing Monster Waves,” the actual target audience for this magazine must be slim indeed.  I know it’s not me. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-Due to High Expectations…The Flaming Lips are Providing Needles for Your Balloons EP (1994).

This EP came after the success of Transmissions from the Satellite Heart and the single “She Don’t Use Jelly.”  Naturally that is not the single here, rather it is “Bad Days,” a new song tha sounds of the period.  As does “Jets Part 2 (My Two Days As An Ambulance Driver)” a fuzzed out trip.

“Ice Drummer” is a primarily acoustic but still distorted song.  It’s kind of boppy and light which is odd since it is a cover of a Suicide song.   “Put the Waterbug in the Policeman’s Ear’ is a demo with strings and piano.  It also has a very lengthy introduction in which Wayne explains his brother’s proclivity for drugs and his belief that he can control bugs (and have them attack the policeman who is trying to arrest him).  It was recorded on a boombox.

“Chewin’ the Apple of Yer Eye” is a live version recorded at a record studio.  It has nice guitars with scritchy violins.  “Chosen One” is a cover of a Bill Callahan song at the same venue.  There’s a lengthy introduction explaining that it’s a cover and why he likes it so much.  It’s a nice version, very stripped down.  “Little Drummer Boy” is a travesty, but a good one (and is 1,000 times better than their version of “White Christmas.)”

“Slow-Nerve-Action” is a live version apparently broadcast on a Top 40 radio station.  The squall of noise as the song opens would frighten off anyone listening to Top 40, but the middle of the song’s acoustic section is rather pleasant (if not a little scratchy and staticky).  Although this EP racks in at 44 minutes long, it’s really not that essential (although the live versions are nice).

[READ: May-July 2012] Deadly Kingdom

If you have any kind of animal phobias–literally any kind: snakes, sharks, spider, rodents, bugs, stay away from this book.  Indeed, even if you don’t have this kind of phobia, you may after reading this book.  As the title says, this book tells you every single conceivable way that an animal can kill you–from biting to clawing to stomping to crushing to infections to diseases to parasites to long lingering diseases to numbness to elephantiasis (and that’s just chapter 1).  Somehow the author is not afraid of everything that moves, and is even a collector (with his wee son) of all manner of unusual creepy crawlies–tarantulas, hissing cockroaches and the like.

Sarah bought me this book for my birthday because David Sedaris recommended it when we saw him speak.  When Sedaris read from it, it was funny but dark.  Sedaris’ comment that “Monkeys are such assholes “was certainly borne out by the book.  Sedaris’ other comment–if you ever feel bad about eating meat, just read this book–is also completely accurate.  Even cows can be assholes.  This book is hard to digest in large doses.  I found that I had to put the book down after a section or two because there’s only so much you-will-die-if-you-do-this reading that I could take.

Grice has done a ton of research–he has looked into all manner of medical and death records and talked to lots of scientists around the world.  And he breaks the book into five major categories: The Carnivorids, Aquatic Dangers, The Reptiles and Birds, The Arthropods and Worms and Other Mammals.  The introduction more or less explains his origin story for being interested in deadly animals–a cougar was on his Oklahoma panhandle property when he was six years old.  His grandfather dispatched it, but he had to stay safely in the car during the ordeal.  And he has been curious ever since.

The introduction also contextualizes the violence that animals do to humans.  Is it all defensive (as we take over more and more land, it’s hard to know exactly what is defensive) or is it straight out aggressive. But he says the hardest part about this kind of descriptor is that “besides our usual biased views of all the parties involved, is that violence rouses strong emotions.  We are almost forced to take sides with the injured humans or the slandered animals….  Many writers depict virtually all animal attacks as “provoked” by the victim.  On the other side, some writers are at pains to paint dangerous animals as monsters of cruelty.  All of these views are simplistic.” (xxiii). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MUMFORD & SONS-Sigh No More (2011).

I had assumed that this album was massive until an email sent around to some of my friends revealed that many of them had never even heard of the band.  So I guess it’s massive in my own little world.  Well that’s fine, I’ve always liked rougher folk music.  And there are two or three songs on this album that absolutely deserve to be massive.

If you’re like my friends and you don’t know Mumford & Sons, this album is a kind of rocking folk album (lots of banjos and harmonies).  But it’s less Fleet Foxes and more Waterboys–earnest folk with updates to the traditional sound.  The disc opens kind of slowly with “Sigh No More.” It take about two minutes to get going (and for the banjo to kick in).  In addition to the banjo (seriously, who knew a banjo could be so catchy?–well, bluegrass musicians, for one), the main selling point is main Mumford’s voice–it’s powerful, bellowing and quite emotive.

“The Cave” is the first indication that this album is going to be impressive.  It starts out deceptively simple. Once you get to the second round of the bridge, “and I….” the song soars to the heavens in catchiness, (the singer’s enunciated vowels are weird and fun too).  “Winter Winds” has a bit more Irish feel to it (Irish via The Pogues), but it also has the same kind of soaring qualities as “The Cave.”

“Roll Away the Stone” features the banjo heavily and is all the better for it.  And “White Blank Page” really features the rough-hewn vocals that are the signature of Mumford & Sons.  Never has the word “raaaaage” been so singable!

Some of the slower moments of the album kind of bog the disc down.  Of course you couldn’t play everything at breakneck speed and still have your dynamic parts sound dynamic.  So a song like “I Gave You All” opens slowly but it builds in power.  The break is welcome (although quite a lot of songs start out slow and then get faster).  But the chorus is outstanding.

The pinnacle of the album comes with “Little Lion Man” an amazingly catchy chorus (with a very bad word in it) and more raucous banjo playing.  It’s almost impossible not to stomp your feet along.  “Thistle & Weeds” is another slow builder–you can really hear the angst in his voice by the end.  The end of the album is kind of a denouement.  On my first few listens I didn’t care for the end of the disc so much but by now the album has so won me over that I can just enjoy this folkier ending.

In many ways there’s no major surprises on this disc–it’s rocking folk after all–except for just how damn catchy the band is.

[READ: February 22, 2012] “Corpse”

I wasn’t too keen on reading this story (one of the Walrus‘ longer stories) because of the title (and the accompanying picture of two boys with a deer in their sites).  I didn’t think I would enjoy a hunting story.  And yet, it started out so peaceful and zen that it sucked me right in.

It opens in a very female space.  Maura and Angie are relaxing in Maura’s house.  Well, Maura is doing yoga while Angie is relaxing.  Maura is talking about the yoni, the great universal twat. Angie visualizes a massive latex vulva that she and her boyfriend Gordon enter.  After a few moments, Angie and Maura look at each other and start cracking up.

The female space is penetrated by Malcom, Maura’s 13-year-old son, carrying the beginnings of a bow and arrow.  He wants to know what’s so funny.  They pass of a few lame jokes which he doesn’t fall for until Angie comes up with a really funny one.  One that is especially funny in the printed delivery, in which you’re not entirely sure that  joke is being told (a nice trick!).  So I won’t spoil it here.

Malcolm informs them that he is just going to shoot his arrows at cans with his friend Andrew.  But in fact they have bigger plans.  A deer has been spotted in the local dog park (they live in the city so the deer are a rarity).  After laughing at the joke, he runs off with Andrew to go hunting. (more…)

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