I’ve taken up counted cross-stitch again.  Right now I’m doing a portrait of TV’s “The Golden Girls.”

Something’s off.  Sophia’s glasses, I think.  Or maybe it’s Blanche’s turtleneck.

I started too high and now the top half of Dorothy’s head is missing.  It’s too late to take the stitches out though and Bea Arthur will just have to forgive me.

Like sands through an hourglass, so are the slow and empty days of my life.

***

I went to visit my friend Andrew in D.C. last weekend.

An undertaking of this sort is never a simple matter for me.  It involves serious thought and preparation.  Weeks of storing up interesting anecdotes with which to enchant and amuse.

The thing is, I am not an interesting person.

I’m best in small doses.  I’m good for a 45 minute phone conversation.  Three hours.  Five hours tops.

But once my cache of funny stories is gone, once my well of salacious gossip has gone dry, I’ve got nothing.

I’m deathly afraid of being exposed for what I am: boring.

***

My friend Brian once asked me, “You don’t drink.  You don’t do drugs.  You don’t have sex.  What DO you do?”

I didn’t have a proper answer so I just smiled.  I tried for a mysterious Mona Lisa smile, but I don’t think I quite pulled it off.

***

Andrew met me at the bus station.  It had been a hellish ride.  A two-and-a-half hour trip had somehow become six hours.  In anticipation of my eventual arrival, I’d jotted down some thoughts.

“The bus is not so much a Greyhound as a three-legged asthmatic Poodle.”

I perched on the window ledge of the Baltimore Travel Plaza.  Trapped between a Sbarro and a KFC, not a magazine rack in sight, I set to editing.

“Three-legged asthmatic poodle.”  Is that funny?  Or is it too much?  Maybe I ought to choose just one descriptor.  Three-legged OR asthmatic, not both.  And how to capture the dingy splendor of my current surroundings?

I smiled at a towheaded twentysomething in a Towson State sweatshirt.

“Where are you headed?” I asked.

He didn’t hear me and I felt silly, embarrassed.

“The Baltimore Travel Plaza,” I write, “is how I’ve always imagined purgatory.”  A woman seated at a plastic table next to me screeched into her cell phone. “Girl,” she starts, “you won’t believe what just happened to me.”

“The bus station is attached to a Best Western by a dirty hallway full of broken arcade games.  This is the place where hope goes to die.”

When I see Andrew, I’ll tell him these things.  I’ll try to make him laugh.  I will sculpt the minutiae of my days into something resembling a life.

***

I’m unemployed again.

Again sits at the end of the sentence, wagging its finger at me.

I’m unemployed again and, frankly, prospects for long-term employment are bleak.  This means that I have little to say.  I’ve taken to telling the same stories over and over.  “Stop me if you’ve heard this one,” I start.

I don’t leave the house much.  I have three sweatshirts, three pairs of slipper socks and two pairs of black lounge pants.  I rotate these.  Today was a WVKR sweatshirt day.  Or, more accurately, this has been a WVKR sweatshirt week.  My pants have a hole in them and I keep telling myself that I should go to Target and buy another pair.  It’s cold, though.  And there’s nearly three feet of snow on the ground.

Moreover, of I go out, I run the risk of seeing someone I know.  They will ask me what I’m doing with my life and I’ll be forced to respond.  To make some quip about majoring in unemployment.

The other day I went to Barnes & Noble to buy copies of BUST and Lilith. Both magazines had published pieces of mine and I was excited.

As I stood in front of “women’s interest,” a thin figure came up behind me.  Someone I’d gone to high school with.  We exchanged news and commiserated over our shared state of limbo.  She said she was thinking about culinary school.  I said I was considering social work.  I laughed a lot.  Loudly.  This is what you do when you are uncomfortable and have nothing of interest to say.

“Well, I’ve got to-” she began.

“Yes!” I told her.  “I understand.”

This happens to me a lot on the phone.  There’s a long pause.  Someone begins to speak.  “I should probably-”  The other jumps in.  “Absolutely.” Nervous laughter from me.

I paid for my magazines and walked back to my car humming a Bishop Allen song.  “The News From Your Bed.”  It was a University of Haifa sweatshirt day.

***

Back at the Baltimore Travel Plaza, I’m talking to an older woman.  She’s from Ohio, I’ve discovered.  In town visiting her mother.

“My sister and brother-in-law live in Cleveland!” I exclaim.  This is not a particularly scintillating factoid I realize, but I say it with conviction, willing her to view it as revelatory.  We are connected.

Because she is kind, she acts interested.  We make small-talk about the incompetency of Greyhound employees.  I feel cheered.

When we finally arrive in D.C., the woman’s greeted by her adult daughter.  I wave at her, but she doesn’t see me.  I put my hand down quickly, hoping no one noticed.

***

I learned how to do counted cross-stitch in fifth grade.

In the middle school at Tower Hill, there was no recess.  After lunch was chorus and band.  You were required to do one or the other and if you did both, your week was covered.  If you didn’t, you had Octave.  Octaves were short-term electives.  One for each trimester.  The most popular Octave was table-top football.

Needless to say, counted cross-stitch was somewhat less well-attended.

It was the first Octave I ever took.  My first choice at a new school.  There were two of us and Ms. Pepper, a somewhat forbidding eighth grade math teacher.

I took to cross-stitch quickly.  I like order.  Following a pattern.  I like directions and endpoints and knowing how things ought to look.

At the end of the trimester, I’d made a small floral scene with a hummingbird.  I gave it to my mother and signed it in thread.  “Love, Marni.”

I never did table-top football, preferring silent reading or study hall.

Order, stability.

Synonyms for “dull.”

***

I gave Andrew a tight hug.  Andrew is anything but boring.  He is beautiful and wonderful and maddening.  He’s impossible to pin down.  There are things I want from him that I’ll never get but I keep coming back anyway.

It was past 7:00 and I was nearly three hours late.  As we navigated the still-slushy streets of D.C. I kept up a constant steam of chatter.

I gave him my best material.  Nursing home stuff, mostly.++  Stories about the aged and the addled.  Old-people-do-the-darndest-things type shit.

After several minutes of this, he stopped me.  “Okay buddy,” he said.  “This is your last one.”

Slightly panicked I said,  “but this is all I’ve got!”

***

I cried myself to sleep every night the first summer I went to sleep-away camp.  My counselor Robin would come and smooth my hair and I liked that.  But I was nine and I missed my mom.  She sent me a letter, chiding me.  “Stop crying,” she wrote, “you’re making your cousin Abby homesick.”

I cried a lot during the semester I spent in Israel in college, too.  I was 21 then so there were no excuses for my behavior.  And yet.  Many long-distance calls home consisting of stifled sobs and hiccups and “o-o-oh G-d”s.  I made very few friends – five, actually- and wrote far too many self-indulgent e-mails.  I’d gone abroad partly to see if I could do it.  I could, it turned out.  Just not very well.

I’m bad at parties.  I hide.  I’m bad at parties and also new people and new places.  I like the familiarity of hour-long procedural dramas.  I like reading Anthony Lane’s nasty reviews in the New Yorker. I like long friendships and old photos.  I’m a nice girl.  Nondescript, maybe, but nice.

My friend Claire once told me that she gets bored with people easily.  “It just happens,” she said.

I couldn’t understand it.  Once I like someone, that’s it.  I’m in it for the long haul.  You cannot shake me.  I’m fiercely, stubbornly loyal.

I met my friend Jill when I was 10 and I’ve spent almost every New Year’s Eve with her since.

The world places a high premium on “new.”  New is cool.  New is now.  I’m not that.  Not cool, not new, not interesting.

I’m boring.

And sometimes I wonder if there isn’t something to be said for that.

“Okay buddy,” you’ll say.  Enough whining.  Enough self-justification.  “Okay buddy.  This is your last one.”

 

 

 

++In the fall, my grandmother broke her leg.  She hadn’t been able to walk properly in years- a possible side-effect of radiation treatments- but could, if needed, get herself in and out of wheelchairs, car seats, etc.  The fall made it impossible for her to stay in the apartment she shared with my grandfather in independent living.  It also fostered a precipitous decline in her cognitive abilities.  Since she’s been in “skilled nursing,” my mother and her sibling have been spending several days a week there.  I’ve tried to go as often as possible.  Hence all the nursing home stories.

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Marni holds a B.A. from Vassar in Women's Studies. The degree turned out to be of little practical value, but nonetheless holds a lot of sentimental weight. She's written for BUST, Playgirl, Heeb and gURL.com. Her interests include subverting the patriarchy, reading, and "Law and Order": the Jerry Orbach years. She'd like to know why the inhabitants of the tiny Maine hamlet Cabot Cove so frequently come to violent ends. She'd also like someone to hire her.

54 responses to “The News from My Bed: Play it 
Again, Sam”

  1. Greg Olear says:

    If you’re going to be home in sweats watching daytime TV, you should absolutely be drinking. Get a bottle of white zin, pour it over ice and half a glass of seltzer, sip through a straw, repeat as necessary.

    I have a friend who was like you — didn’t drink, do drugs, have sex, etc., well into her 20s. Didn’t want to relinquish control. Then she started drinking, and probably smoking pot, and certainly having sex, and she’s much happier now. Balance. It’s all about balance. Less time knitting with Rue and Betty, more time dancing on the bar at Coyote Ugly. ; )

    Also: BUST and LILLITH didn’t send you free copies?

  2. Ben Loory says:

    hey marni. being in BUST is pretty cool. not that i read BUST. you know. just saying.

    and look, i’m the last person in the world to be giving advice about anything, but you should know that it’s not having nothing to say that makes people boring, it’s not listening. if you sincerely take an interest in other people’s lives, they’ll never ever want to leave your company. even if you never say anything but “wow.” so don’t sweat it; just listen and nod.

    and you shouldn’t be watching TV and doing cross-stitch. you should be writing a book.

    and don’t do drugs. it’s bad for your brain.

    and and and

    i don’t know why i feel so protective of you. maybe because you’re so hot in your picture.

    • Marni Grossman says:

      Don’t worry. No drugs for me.

      I think it’s too late for that now.

      If you go through college sober, chances are…

      • Richard Cox says:

        I agree with Greg about the occasional drink. And I went through college sober, too. So it can be done.

        Not so much with the drugs, though.

      • Matt says:

        Hey, I didn’t start until I was 21, and I’ve never been one to drink excessively….most of the time.

        Crap, it kind of looks like we’re starting to pile-on with the peer pressure, doesn’t it?

        • Marni Grossman says:

          I’ve been drunk. Twice, I think. Or maybe three times. The last time I ended comforting a friend and telling her, teary-eyed, “I just want you to be happy!” Then I broke kashrut.

  3. Irene Zion says:

    Marni,

    When you look in the mirror, what you see isn’t what other people see.
    We see talented, beautiful, young and loyal.
    We like what we see.

  4. Marni, Marni, Marni– from the moment I read your first piece way back when — you had me. You have such a unique voice– such a wonderful blend of pop culture and serious lit crit– you create wonderful worlds with your words. Tim Burton-like in absurdity, yet sitcom-like in familiarity. Stop editing yourself in social situations. You don’t need to be entertaining all the time. I’ve found that people, with minimal encouragement — will often fill in the blanks– and then some. You are too hard on yourself. Writers by nature aren’t very social creatures– and they certainly– with rare exceptions– aren’t entertainers– at least not of the stand-up variety kind. So why do you feel like you need to be?

    And it’s too bad that BUST didn’t send you a sweatshirt. That would have shaken up your weekday uniform. Perhaps you can cross stitch one?

    Take heart, Marni— you are a fabulously talented woman– and I’m not just referring to your uncanny ability to recreate the Golden Girls in thread.

    • Marni Grossman says:

      Thanks for the pick-me-up, Robin.

      I’m not sure why I’ve always felt the need to sing for my supper. I’ve always been afraid that, if I don’t, I’ll lose people. That if I can’t entertain, then what good am I?

      Also I hate silence.

  5. Anon says:

    Marni, the difference between “boring” and “centered” is desire. Plenty of people actually do less than you (my mother-in-law, for one – I frequently check for a pulse when she visits) and yet consider themselves “content” or “secure”. She has no desire to do or be anything else and happily believes she has reached her zenith. I, on the other hand, do what I’m told is interesting work, am a regular in a local coffee shop where I am surprisingly well-liked by the staff and owners that see me every day, am adored by my children, loved and supported by my wife… and I am miserably bored with my idyllic life almost every waking second of every single day because my desires are overshadowed by the responsibilities I have embraced. Had I not stumbled onto TNB, I’d spend all this commenting time trying to figure out how to fake my death without scarring my kids. Seriously.

    If you feel you are boring, find out what desire is not being fulfilled and then fulfill it while and if you can. Shy away from nothing except loss of life or freedom and go for it. But, if you truly have no such desires, embrace who you are and don’t be ashamed or annoyed by it because, from what little I’ve been exposed to here, you are an incredible woman!

  6. Mary says:

    Dude, for someone who considers herself so very boring, you’ve managed to write a very interesting piece about yourself and your experience. I dare say this isn’t the first interesting one either, so there! You are lovely, Marni, and also “three-legged asthmatic poodle” is perfect.” Give yourself more credit! You know if someone else had written that same line, you would’ve laughed.

  7. angela says:

    love this piece, marni! i laughed out loud several times.

    with almost every section, i thought, that’s like me! for instance, since graduating from college more than 15 years ago, i’ve made exactly one new friend. and since i quit my job and took up writing full time, i find i have nothing to say when people ask me how it’s going. “oh, i’ve been writing a lot. and i go to the gym. the end.”

    i also wear the same two pairs of jeans every day, and the same handful of shirts. doesn’t help that in SF the weather is the same every day too.

    • Marni Grossman says:

      I think that’s completely okay, right? One new friend seems like a decent haul. And being able to write full-time is an accomplishment in and of itself.

      We should meet up and wear our uniforms. I bet it would be pretty fantastic.

  8. Amanda says:

    A friend and I have long tossed around the idea of a webcast/ tv show that’s just he and I hanging out. Chatting. We get together, get a couple martinis into us, and suddenly we are *so* funny. We say things like, “these ribs are delicious but the portion is small–it should be served like gin. Bartender, I’ll have four fingers of pork, please!” We say other things like, “I’d watch us! I’d totally watch us! If there was a show of us on the Internet, I’d totally watch us for ten minutes a day! We’re hilarious!”

    You could travel to Toronto by bus, store up your gags, and be our special guest star. Like PeeWee’s Playhouse, where someone dropped in each week by surprise and told a handful of clever one-liners then off they went to wherever they were needed next.

    • Marni Grossman says:

      I would absolutely watch you. With or without the gin.

      Also, this is the benefit of being sober around drunk and/or stoned people: you become infinitely more hilarious.

      • Amanda says:

        Excellent. Once we hammer out the schedule for our pilot and first season, we’ll send you the directions to the bar we’re propped against and you can prepare for your close-up.

  9. Zara Potts says:

    Darling Marni,
    Your words are like water, they way they flow so graciously and gentle across my page (screen). Your words are like you – soft and flowing and full of emotion.
    Your writing to me feels like a tightly wrapped bunch of wildflowers, cautiously held together with ribbon around the stem, while the blooms burst out, all colourful and beautifully perfumed.
    There is nothing boring about you. You have qualities that are to be prized: loyalty; grace; kindness. Not to mention, your wonderful ability to write, your obvious intelligence and your beauty.
    Marni, when I see your name on this site, It makes me smile and I am anxious to open up your page and see what gems you have left. I fear that you see yourself in black and white and grey, when you should be seeing yourself in much brighter, rarer colours; the colours in which we see you.
    You shine, my love. You really do.

    • First off, Marni, HUGE congrats on your recent mag publications! Wow, I’m impressed. I’m going to go buy your articles!
      Second: I think Zara has just put my feelings into words here. When I see your name on a new TNB post, I seriously get that tingly, excited feeling because you just know it’s going to be good. Not just funny-good, but sick-to-your-stomach, look-at-the-hard-stuff, and still-somehow-funny-as-hell good. It’s like getting a letter from a dear friend overseas. Tonight, I had limited time and saved you for last, because I wanted to end my TNB evening with you and your words. I’m so glad I did, as I knew I would be.
      You must be an absolutely wonderful friend to have. Your New Year’s buddy is lucky to have you. Loyalty is not a trivial quality. It may be the best quality there is. I am Italian: trust me on this. We are all about the loyalty.
      Marni, I think maybe you have that kind of shimmery brilliance of those 19th century women novelists who led reclusive lives. You’re one of those girls who is simply too talented for her age, and too scary-smart for most of the world around her. It can be lonely to be one of those people. It can make you feel “boring,” because most of what you have to say–what you really think–doesn’t fall under the perimeters of normal conversation. You know why? Because “normal conversation” often leaves much to be desired.
      There ARE others of your ilk, though. Sounds like you’ve found a few. As you age, you will find more. You’re still just emerging from that stage of life where everyone is supposed to be so trendy and wild and focused on partying and hooking up and having “fun” that you haven’t found your niche yet in the wider culture. Some people are just born better suited to being 35 than to being 15 or 24. My husband is a person like that. It took him a long time to catch up to his real age, and for the world around him to catch up to him.
      Sex and drinking will very plausibly be more appealing to you when they become more divorced from that party culture of youth. You seem like someone who likes to keep hold of the reigns. When you’re young, a lot of drinking, much less drugs, and sex with people you don’t know very well . . . well, it’s pretty easy to lose control during all of that. For some people that’s fun and for others it’s just not appealing at all. For everyone, it can be dangerous. For some danger is PART of the fun. But if it’s not for you, count yourself lucky.
      Um, as long as you don’t remain celibate forever. Because you are way, way too fucking hot for that.

    • Marni Grossman says:

      You are too too nice to me. Both of you. You know, of course, that I feel the same way about you.

  10. Marni,

    Thankfully, ecstatically, I know, once again, I will never, never, EVER have to find a synonym for “dull” to describe your work. But I will have to find synonyms for “ecstatic.”

    Matt

  11. Thomas Wood says:

    yeah, I’m with everyone on this (look how easily I sweep “everyone” into my arms, like the head of the family, so paternal), you’re writing is too engaging for me to quite buy the boring girl claims. Of course, I like an empirical showoff so I suppose I’ll have to be extra keen on your conversation come the next TNB get-to-gether.

    Meanwhile, love the bit about saving up anecdotes. I have this Dutch buddy. He’s a diplomat, lives and breathes world history and politics. Has like seventeen degrees and speaks 6 languages well (a few others not so well, but one of those is a rare African dialect, and damn near gets full credit in my book). I see him once every couple of years when I head back to Europe and, this last time, I spent five hours on the plane getting through my weekly Economist just so that I would be entirely caught up on world affairs so he’d think me interesting (in truth, he thinks me quite interesting, so the entire charade is a bit of vanity of my own creation).

    • Marni Grossman says:

      I imagine that discussing world affairs is a lot more compelling than the incredibly lame anecdotes I come up with.

      Lately they all start out, “My grandfather was telling me…” And while I think Zadie’s fascinating, I’m not sure everyone shares my opinion.

  12. Richard Cox says:

    Once again a powerhouse post. Your writing is scary good. And it’s only going to get better. I’m totally jealous.

    I think it’s hilarious you jot down things to say and then edit them, as if you could script your interactions with people. Which is a completely natural thing for a talented writer to want to do.

    And as everyone has said, you’re not boring. Far from it.

    • Marni Grossman says:

      It’s such a weird affectation, isn’t it? I’ve never quite gotten the hang of living in the moment. Which is probably part of the reason I was never able to go out and get drunk and do all those things you’re supposed to do when you’re 20.

  13. Matt says:

    Marni-

    There is a world out there full of people ready to eagerly sell you short. Don’t do it to yourself.

  14. Erika Rae says:

    Marni, you write like I feel, only don’t express as well as you. Man, I love a good Marni post. I agree with Ben, btw. Write a book. The cover should be The Golden Girls in cross stitch.

  15. Simon Smithson says:

    As Greg says, boom. It’s all about balance.

    Also – have you ever read The Dice Man?

    • Marni Grossman says:

      No. But now that wikipedia tells me that there’s “sex, rape, murder and ‘dice parties,'” I think I’m going to have to.

  16. Marni:

    I wouldn’t really pay much attention to anyone like Brian when they give you grief about not drinking or doing drugs. Heck, I bet hanging out with you while you cross-stitch the Golden Girls in bed is far better than sex or X or booze.

    Or maybe that’s just me…

    • Marni Grossman says:

      The nerdiest part is that I listen to Harry Potter books on my iTunes while I cross-stitch.

      There. I’ve officially jumped the shark.

  17. J.M. Blaine says:

    There’s a lot I like about this so I’ll start here.
    You have a titliating, it might be dirty title
    and it’s about Cross-stitching!
    The Golden Girls!
    Do you have any clue how lovable that makes you?

    The only truly boring people are the one’s who think they are fascinating.
    The rest of us all think we are boring and best tolerated in small doses.

    I really love this trend lately of TNBers
    riding Greyhound buses.
    You, Reno, Duke – who is next?
    Me? I wonder.

    Wouldn’t it be quite a story
    for random TNB people to ride a Greyhound
    together on some hellish 12 hour trip?
    Nothing else – just the bus ride.
    I wish I had the resources for literary experimentation.

    Don’t tell anyone but I love the Golden Girls.
    I used to hate that show but then my wife used to watch it
    with her granny so she watches it now every night
    and soon enough I fell in love with it. How could you not?
    So much that I’ve even seen all the episodes of The Golden Palace – the spinoff
    with Blanche, Sophia, Rose and Don Cheadle and Cheech.

    Well, its late and I’ve had my Cocoa Pebbles so I am too chatty.
    So much for Mr Mystery, I’m really a 12 year old girl.

  18. Marni Grossman says:

    I didn’t think about the title being salacious until I mentioned it to my grandfather today. He raised his eyebrows.

    I can’t believe you’ve seen “The Golden Palace.” The next question is whether you’ve seen “Empty Nest” with Richard Mulligan and Dinah Manoff. Also a GG spin-off. But in a more oblique way.

  19. jmblaine says:

    I hated Empty Nest but loved Golden Palace.
    If you really enjoy something
    and you want some more if it
    you want it to be what you want it to be
    you know.

    Golden Palace is, Empty Nest was just awful.

    I love that TNB is a place
    where we talk about this stuff.

    • Marni Grossman says:

      I think I liked “Empty Nest” because I identified with Carol, the neurotic divorcee daughter. She seemed Jewy and crazy and I did- do- too.

      You didn’t find Park Overall’s quips hilarious?

  20. D.R. Haney says:

    I don’t, for a second, believe you’re boring. You’ve got a crackerjack mind, and you’re one of the best writers at TNB, as I’ve said to you before. I’ve had conversations with other contributors — off the comment boards, I mean — and the verdict in unanimous.

    Also, loyalty is one of the best traits a friend can have, and in no way to be confused for “boring.” Plus, every experience you’ve here described — waving to strangers after a brief conversation and finding yourself ignored, for instance — is one I’ve had, and one, I’m sure, that’s been had by everybody.

    Finally, you might be surprised at how boring my life is. I rarely hear from people, and I spend most of my time in front of a computer screen, and, at the moment, transcribing interviews for a documentary about video games — for very little money, I might add.

    I am going to have a look for the articles you’ve written, and if I only had the influence to make it happen, you’d be writing articles all the time — and for damned good money, too.

    • Marni Grossman says:

      I am going to buy BFL myself. I mean, at least that way several cents will go to you, right? Also, I earned big bucks (read: $250) from my articles. AND my grandmother sent me a check for Valentine’s Day. Totally raking in the dough.

  21. Jill says:

    marni, loved this piece.
    and reading all the comments– you deserve every kind word. especially the one that said you’re hot.

  22. Gwen says:

    You never bore me, my love!

  23. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    Really loved this piece, especially some of the wonderful transitions you make from funny to heartbreaking like “this is all I’ve got!” to “I cried myself to sleep every night…” Then there’s the line about calls from Israel saying “oh G-d” which is just about the greatest thing I’ve heard all week. So thanks for posting this and being the kind of person everyone wishes they could run into at a Greyhound station.

    • Marni Grossman says:

      I hate to admit it, but I didn’t even realize-until you mentioned it- the irony in that line about Israel. Isn’t it awful when your best material is totally unintentional and you’re forced to admit that whatever good writing you do is totally accidental?

  24. New Orleans Lady says:

    Boring? Never.
    You are one of my favorite writers at TNB!

    You can take, what may be a mundane day, and turn it into a smile, a giggle, and an escape from my house-wife life.

    Talent and guts. Talent and guts is what it takes to do what you love for a living. You have the talent, now use your guts and write us a novel!

    *almost-four-year-old screams at me*
    *scrolls back to top to re-read.*

    • Marni Grossman says:

      I think that’s the nicest thing anyone’s said to me!

      I, consequently, would me happy to babysit your almost-four-year-old and give you a break for a few hours.

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