“Joi, I hear you’re moving! Where ya going?”


Kansas?!” they would shriek. “Why are you moving to Kansas?!” As if I had said, “Siberia,” or “New Jersey.” Why, even banshees cry, Kansas, don’t they?

I’d have to go through some variation of the above several times a night in the months prior to leaving New York City. Most often, this would be shouted across a bar. Typically this would be one of the two bars I was tending at the time, but it just as easily could have happened when I was on the other side of the bar, already halfway done with my Hendricks martini, or Hendricks Collins, or hell, Hendricks and tonic if I knew the bartender was inept at making a 2- or 3- step cocktail. I had developed quite the Hendricks habit once I started my drinking-for-free career in New York. It’s inevitable once you are a bartender. Ok, not the Hendricks habit per se, but definitely a top shelf habit.

Sometimes I stuck to Chianti.

I have a penchant for good Italian wines. Actually, I also have a penchant for cheap Italian wines, if it’s on my dime. I truly believe you can’t ever go too wrong with an Italian red (I rarely drink anything other than red wine, so I can’t vouch for the whites). My golden rule for wines: You can always trust the Italians. The French, not so much. And forget the Australians with their far too sweet Shiraz nonsense. California can suck it, for the most part.

You might want to trust my opinion, but if you don’t, I wouldn’t blame you either, as I know I can be bombastically opinionated. I’m not just a drinker with refined tastes. I’m not just a bartender either (no worries. I will not refer to myself as “mixologist.”) I’m all that and more! I owned a bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for 4 years and managed or worked in several others after that. This was to supplement my main source of income (a career in social services is my chosen profession, but it’s not exactly going to let you lead a comfortable existence in a city as expensive as New York).

“What the hell is in Kansas?” they’d persist.

Bar customers are a demanding lot and I’ve come in contact with all kinds. I had a remarkable stint at a downtown strip club. I actually worked in the clothed portion of the club, a room with a separate entrance above the strip club itself, where they had a decent sized performance space for bands, etc. By “etc” I mean burlesque shows, comedy nights, porn parties. “Anything goes,” I was told. The catch was, I had to be the “anything goes” booker 6 nights per week. A big part of the job was dealing with my oh so charming Ukranian boss (the venerable owner of the strip club and unintentional downtown celebrity) who annoyingly reeked of salami. He didn’t speak to many of the girls who worked for him. In fact, he usually just referred to his female employees as “The Girl.” He called me by my name from day one, I’ll have you know. On better days he was prone to utter such bon mots as, “I am not a lawyer…but I am very…legal,” and during less jovial moods would sit upstairs in his office glaring at the security cameras to make sure none of the other bartenders were pouring too much, or heaven forbid, stealing (“I once caught a girl stealing from me. I fired her but gave her one more chance. I caught her again. Very bad things will happen to her.”)

I thought I had seen it all after working some pretty crazy nights in my own bar, but working above a 35-year-old Manhattan strip club attracted a whole different end of the spectrum. There was the night I was serving Kurt Russell on one end of the bar, and Moby on the other. They were attending someone’s engagement party. Kurt was very effusive when it came to complimenting the ladies present, including me. At one point he asked me, “Why are you so goddamned beautiful?” and then opened his wallet and splayed out all his cash on the bar. “Take it. Take it all!” he insisted as I rolled my eyes and ignored him. I mean, I’m no Goldie digger. I had a giant little girl crush on him in Junior High. He suddenly seemed so greasy and awful in that moment of indiscriminate generosity. Ok, in retrospect, he was kind of cool. Moby was just quiet and in a raucous environment such as this, it was unsettling. He also complained to the DJ that he needed to play something more dancy. It should be mentioned that my friend was playing 80s pop music. Kids in America, for fuck’s sake. And everyone except Moby was into it! So, deal with it, Mr Grouchy pants who only tips $1 a drink despite having sold all of his songs to various commercials, thereby making him a a billionaire. Yeah, fuck Moby. Not that I’d want to, I assure you. Kurt Russell, maybe. Moby sure as hell wasn’t telling me I was beautiful.

“But, how can you leave this? What are you gonna do in Kansas?”

After leaving the strip club, I got a job as a booker/bartender/Assistant Manager at a world famous drag queen/tranny club/restaurant in the East Village. Here, I was mistaken for a tranny almost every day of my workweek, usually by hopeful “tranny chasers.” In theory, I wouldn’t mind this. In fact, I’d take it as a huge compliment because, hello, have you seen these girls work platforms or stilettos? I sure as hell couldn’t do more than hobble down the rickety staircase to the bathroom in my sensible 5 inch Nanette Lepore sandals. They apply make-up better than any born female I know and they have bodies that would tempt Hugh Heffner out of his smoking jacket. So, go ahead, think I’m a tranny. This wasn’t the problem. The problem was the way these men would assume that I didn’t deserve respect because I was a tranny. And that, I’m sorry, is disgusting. Basic human decency seemed to be a lost art these days in a place such as this. I miss working there, despite the often rude clientele. Sometimes I miss the girls I worked with more than I miss my mom, although, I’ve never had a dysfunctional relationship with a job as much as I did at…Fortunate Chinaman’s. I loved it. I hated it. I loved it. I’d go in on my nights off. That’s typically a no-no in The Unofficial Bartender’s Guide To a Healthy Lifestyle, but when drinks are free and you are surrounded by your friends, why would you go elsewhere?

But, they don’t have Hendricks. Or, a decent Italian red.

Nor did the other place I worked one night a week in Park Slope, Brooklyn in the 4 months preceding my move to Kansas. I will plug this bar here, because it is, for the most part, drama free, as far as I’m concerned. Of course you’d be hard-pressed to find a bar or restaurant that is drama free. Hell, I daresay you’d be hard pressed to find any workplace to be drama free! Anyway, I worked at Park Slope’s only full time metal/punk/goth bar every Thursday night, Lucky 13 Saloon and this was my favorite, and easiest experience working as a bartender.

I digress. You probably will notice that I do that an awful lot. This isn’t about Hendricks. This isn’t about Italian reds, either. This is barely scratching the surface of my New York City bar experiences and that is all beside the point. And I’m still not answering the question of “Why, Kansas,” am I?

“You can always come back,” they’d assure me. “New York will always be there to come back to.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I hope so. No, I know this is true. I lived through 9/11 (ahhh, no worries, no gratuitous 9/11 stuff here for at least another 3 weeks). If 9/11 could happen and New York could still survive, well, I think it “will always be there.” New York. It’s in my blood. Of course it will always have to be there as long as I’m alive.

Still, how to deal with the ache of missing it. At any point, some tiny memory will hit me. I’ll miss the rumble of trains on the elevated tracks overhead while sucking the dregs of a white fluted paper Italian ice cup in Ozone Park, Queens. I’ll think of my grandfather shuffling along with his beloved old mutt alongside of me on this day and think of how I’d scream as loud as I could to compete with the squeal of the trains. My grandfather is gone. So is most of what I loved about many neighborhoods. Yet, I still get mad when people say “New York isn’t what it used to be.” Can’t you say the same of Rome, Italy? Give New York a break, haters. I love New York. I will always love New York. I’ve traveled the world and I have traveled this country. There is NO place like New York. I grew up privileged and I don’t mean in a material sense.

In fact, I’ve always loved my city. My earliest memory is being in the backseat of my parents’ car. I could have only been 2 years old, as my brother was not yet born. I recall being enthralled with the tall buildings surrounding me. I recall lying down on the floor their car, the hump hurting my back, to try and see the tops of the buildings. As I did this, I remember the commercial playing on the radio. “More Park’s sausages, mom, please?” And I just had a feeling of love swelling up in me for this moment, for these buildings that became the night sky for me. Even for the kid’s whiny voice in the stupid commercial.

I had lived my entire life in New York and traveled to Europe, Africa and Central America. In this country, I’d been up and down the East Coast, to California, Nevada and Louisiana, but I had never been to the Midwest before last September. I admit it. How limited, a life without even a brief fling with the Heartland, and now I fucking live here.

Why, Kansas?

It’s crazy. I do love it here. Part of me always wanted to live in a big old house with a porch, which seems simple enough to anyone who doesn’t live in a big city. I adore my summer nights spent writing or reading to the relentless sound of cicadas outside where it is pitch dark and I wouldn’t be able to see my hand in front of my face. Hard to think not too long ago, summer nights were spent walking home from work over the Williamsburg Bridge with Jeremy, drinking from a concealed bottle of Montepulciano and admiring the Domino sugar factory sign still lit up, not to mention the half-darkened Manhattan skyline seemingly looming right on top of it. Standing at the edge of the bridge, I vowed that I could swim the East River home on such nights, although I knew the strong current made it next to impossible to swim from Brooklyn to Manhattan. The distance appears to be much shorter than it actually is. New York is chock full of illusions, and many people become disillusioned living here, but that person would never be me. I still sob for such nights.

“So why are you moving to Kansas?!” they would all but demand after I’d ignore them for a while, or try and change the subject. But sometimes when I was feeling more generous, I’d answer.

“For love. I am doing it for love.”

This, the best of them usually accepted.

TAGS: , , , , ,

Joi Brozek is the author of Sleeveless (Phonylid Press), along with numerous chapbooks on independent presses. She is just about finished writing her second novel, I’ll See You Soon at Coney Island. She holds a BA from New York University and an MFA from Brooklyn College. She lived her entire life in New York City until 3 years ago. Fearing that she was too New York-centric, she decided that a change of pace was necessary and moved to Lawrence, Kansas, and soon thereafter Kansas City. She now resides in the "city of her dreams," New Orleans. She splits her loyalties between NOLA and NYC, and is a constant state of missing one or the other. Read her daily ramblings on joibrozek.blogspot.com and joi.yelp.com

4 responses to ““Toto, I’ve a Feeling We’re Not in Brooklyn, Anymore,” or The End of My New York Life”

  1. Joi Brozek says:

    Original Comment Thread Below:

    Comment by J. Hova |Edit This
    2009-08-19 10:52:48

    Thank you for making me laugh so heartily. This was awesome. I spent some years in New York City and made a few friends. When it was time to move on and I headed to the Midwest, I actually had one Italian fellow bequeath me a stovetop espresso pot. He did it as somberly as if he was handing me his father’s shotgun as I mounted into the wagon that would take me into “Injun’ country”. Apparently, there was no espresso to be had between New Jersey and California, so…. It was touching in a comical way.

    And, speaking of Italians, what do you think of Toscanas? I’ve fallen in love with a few recently – Monte Antico (even if they broke my heart by recently going to… God, I don’t want to type it… screw tops) and Villa Antinori to name just two. I believe they’re mostly 2007 but I found a few ’05s on the shelves here and there and squirreled them away pronto. DaVinci has a really pleasant Chianti as well, not as lightweight as most. It was a 2006, I think.

    Great. Now I need a drink….
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Joi Brozek |Edit This
    2009-08-19 11:06:36

    My absolute favorite is Lacryma di Christi, which comes from grapes grown in the ashes of Pompeii! 🙂 I also recently discovered this Sicilian red I love, and I need to find the name of it. I do like DaVinci’s Chianti and it’s totally affordable.

    I love your story about the espresso pot. Many posts about my crazy Sicilian American family forth coming!
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by J. Hova |Edit This
    2009-08-19 11:13:03

    I will be looking for Lacryma di Christi and awaiting the Sicilians, both appellation and tales. 😉
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    Reply here

    Comment by amanda scuglia |Edit This
    2009-08-21 04:49:42

    hi joi,

    a friend sent me this link because i, too, am moving to kansas from new york city. and here i thought i was the only one! haha. i’ve heard lawrence is the closest to brooklyn you can get in the state. i, however, am going to wichita. also, for love. i will be keeping a blog about the transition. keep up the great writing!

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    Comment by Joi Brozek |Edit This
    2009-08-21 08:10:13

    Hi Amanda!

    Are you really moving to Wichita for love?! Awesome!!!! I haven’t yet been there (it’s about 2 hours from here, I think). But keep in touch and I can’t wait to read your blog about the transition. When do you move? Make sure to send me the URL of your blog, too.

    Reply here

    Comment by Zara Potts |Edit This
    2009-08-19 10:53:19

    Hey Joi,
    What a great post and a fantastic introduction, I feel like I’ve known you for years!
    Loved the bit about Kurt Russell and Moby in your bar.. I had to interview Moby once and he took himself so incredibly seriously, it wasn’t funny. The press conference he gave was though, when a reporter asked him if the dancers in ‘Praise You’ were untrained. Ooops that would be Fatboy Slim. Hah! Moby being mistaken for Norman Cook. he didn’t find it funny but I snorted. Loudly.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Joi Brozek |Edit This
    2009-08-19 11:08:02

    Thank you 🙂

    AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! Why doesn’t that at all surprise me?
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Zara Potts |Edit This
    2009-08-19 11:13:25

    It was very funny. The look on his face was priceless.
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    Comment by Megan DiLullo |Edit This
    2009-08-19 11:25:22

    Well, Hi there.

    I’m glad you found your way onto these pages and into this loving dysfunctional land of happy that many of us call home.

    Why do so many foreign men like salami? It’s fascinating, yet I don’t like to think about it.

    My mom lives in Lawrence, it’s a great town. Small and pretty with lots of old trees and some inbred folks thrown in for flavor. It’s a good place to be.

    Looking forward to more of your stories.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Joi Brozek |Edit This
    2009-08-19 11:30:15

    >>My mom lives in Lawrence, it’s a great town. Small and pretty with lots of old trees and some inbred folks thrown in for flavor. It’s a good place to be.

    LOL!!!!!!! I really love living here. Love the old houses, the downtown area with its bars, restaurants and cafes and, of course, “The Local Flavor.” 🙂
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Will Entrekin |Edit This
    2009-08-19 11:40:24

    Hey! We’re the new kids this week, I guess? Welcome! Awesome stuff.

    I just moved back to Jersey City, myself, which I affectionately call the sixth borough and would defend if I could decide whether comparing it to Siberia is insulting. Because have you seen Siberia? It’s lovely. But I grab the PATH into Manhattan all the time. I used to have favorite bars back when I was here the first time around (I was here for 9/11, too), but they (Light, Candela) all seem gone now.

    I’m looking forward to finding new ones. And reading more of your posts.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Will Entrekin |Edit This
    2009-08-19 11:47:16

    Oh, and I also meant to say: if there is a better answer than “For love” as a reason for doing anything at all, I am not aware of it. It justifies almost anything, and elevates even the most mundane action to beauty.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by J. Hova |Edit This
    2009-08-19 11:52:06

    Well put, sir, and absolutely correct.
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    Reply here

    Comment by Joi Brozek |Edit This
    2009-08-19 12:33:19

    I absolutely agree.
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    Comment by Joi Brozek |Edit This
    2009-08-19 12:30:11

    I actually really like Jersey, especially Asbury Park, which feels as remote as Siberia is rumored to be (yes, I hear it’s beautiful, too). People speak of both places and Kansas (also beautiful, albeit in different ways) in the same manner and tone though. And I’d bet they know nada about any of these places 🙂
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Marni Grossman |Edit This
    2009-08-19 12:04:38

    My father- a resolute martini snob- ranks Hendrix highly. But not as high as Plymouth which, apparently, is the creme de la creme of gin. You two could have a lively argument on the topic.

    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Joi Brozek |Edit This
    2009-08-19 12:31:18

    Thank you for the welcome!

    I hear Bafforts is top notch. I’ve tried Plymouth in a swanky bar recently and had no problems with. I just recently purchased New Amsterdam because, of course besides the name, I love the bottle!
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Simon Smithson |Edit This
    2009-08-19 15:08:06

    Joi, welcome aboard. You’ve already earned my grudging respect and enmity for writing an excellent debut post, but one in which you insult my country’s wines. I’ve got friends, Brozek. Powerful friends.

    In the Australian wine lobby.

    I loved this; it made me miss being a bartender a lot, and made me miss the States a lot. I’m really looking forward to reading what else you’ve got in store.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Joi Brozek |Edit This
    2009-08-20 07:00:14

    Thank you, Simon and good to meet you on here. Looking forward to reading your posts, too.

    PS. I WILL drink Australian wines over Californians 🙂
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by James D. Irwin |Edit This
    2009-08-21 05:05:48

    I enjoyed this and, like Smithson, it made me miss the US— despite the fact I’ve not been to any NY bars. I just generally miss New York. More than I thought I did actually…

    Did Kurt Russel eat nachos like an animal at the bar and offer you a ride a home?

    Oxford Landing is a good australian red wine. excellent in fact.
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    Comment by Matt |Edit This
    2009-08-21 09:30:18

    One of my local groceries sells Koonunga Hill. Which I rather enjoy.

    Reply here

    Comment by Don Mitchell |Edit This
    2009-08-19 15:23:18

    I took a leisurely drive through Kansas a few years ago, looking for my father’s past. I spent a pleasant-enough night in Lawrence on my way to Hoisington, near Great Bend. I’m still not entirely sure what Texas Toast is, but they had it in Lawrence.

    Probably there’s no Plymouth or Hendrix in Hoisington. Maybe in Great Bend, maybe.

    Three things. First, never eat Chinese food in any Kansas small town. Don’t do it. Mexican, probably you’ll be OK. Great Bend Mexican was fine. Chinese — imagine ordering . . . no, I can’t go there.

    Second, I liked talking to the small-town folks, but I steered clear of abortion, evolution, and the like.

    Third, if you haven’t read “The Worst Hard Time,” by Timothy Egan, you should take a look at it. Dust Bowl, journalist/history account. It’s very good.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Joi Brozek |Edit This
    2009-08-20 07:03:51

    Ahhh, I thought the very same thing about Chinese food and you’re probably right in MOST small towns, but I recently discovered GOOD CHINESE FOOD here in Lawrence!! I kid you not! Then again, I’ve had meals here that rival meals I’ve had in NYC. I was shocked at how good the food is here. I’m sure it’s because it’s a college town and probably the most “international” place you’re going to find in all of Kansas.

    That said, I’ve yet to find decent pizza, unless I want to get a gourmet pizza at a pricey Italian place. No cheap, good slices to be found, alas. KCMO has SOME options, but it’s just not the same.

    And don’t get me started on bagels.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Mary McMyne |Edit This
    2009-08-20 03:29:14

    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Joi Brozek |Edit This
    2009-08-20 07:00:43

    Thanks, Mary 🙂
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Aaron Dietz |Edit This
    2009-08-20 18:59:11

    You know…I was born there, so it can’t be ALL bad (though I grew up in Iowa, so look at the kettle…). William S. Burroughs put up with it for quite a time. And unless things have changed recently, Deb Olin Unferth teaches there, which essentially would validate any place in existence.

    Nothing trumps love, of course, but if you have to go, you might as well have Burroughs history and Unferth presence.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Joi Brozek |Edit This
    2009-08-21 08:01:11

    Yes, I loved Burroughs’ words about moving from NYC to Kansas (in his biography, they showed an excerpt from a letter he wrote).

    I know you think of Kansas as Nowheresville and think I’m caught up in nostalgia. Really, it’s the other way around. The whole concept of place is dead and it’s nostalgia to cling to it.
    -William Burroughs
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
    2009-08-21 02:33:24

    Welcome aboard, Joi.

    One of the misconceptions inveterate New Yorkers tend to have — I lived there for years, so I’m speaking from experience — is that the rest of the U.S., with the possible exception of parts of LA and SF and maybe New Orleans, is full of arts-challenged hicks. I am pleased to report that this is not the case. I’m sure you will have fun in Kansas.

    This is the third mention of Lucky Cheng’s (I’m assuming it was Lucky Cheng’s) in this space in a few weeks. Hmm.

    Moby, we knew he was cold fish. His great-great-whatever he was was much funnier.

    Which bar did you own? If it can be revealed.

    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Joi Brozek |Edit This
    2009-08-21 08:04:28

    Thanks for the welcome, Greg and yes, you’re right. Many of my more open-minded friends, however, were like, “you’re moving to Kansas? I hope you’re moving to Lawrence!” Why, because I have cool friends 🙂 OK, so that amounted to about 5 of them.

    Yes, Lucky Chengs. I will now have to look around and see who else mentioned them!

    My bar was in Williamsburg and called Lucky Cat.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
    2009-08-23 02:53:01

    Didn’t have the pleasure of chilling at Lucky Cat. But I never made it to W-Burg much…my activities were usually confined to the East Village.

    And if the Pete below this post is my friend Pete who lives in Lawrence with his gf and whom I sent your post to, you guys should totally hang, because he’s awesome.
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    Reply here

    Comment by Pete |Edit This
    2009-08-21 06:55:46

    Great post. I moved from Brooklyn to Lawrence three years ago, for school, and my girlfriend came with me, for love (I guess), and is now in school, too. We love living here after having lived in NYC for so long (she for ten years!). And the liquor stores sell Hendricks, so even better. Where do you work now (if you can say)? I’ll drop in and say hello, and we can commiserate and/or celebrate together.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Joi Brozek |Edit This
    2009-08-21 08:06:52

    Oh wow, three years!!! Good for you.

    Sadly, I am not yet working anywhere here. Job market blows everywhere but it’s been four months and still nothing. Ah well. I’ll keep on trying. I’m really just looking to work in Social Services at a non profit full time, as I have 12 years experience doing that. Bartending was fun in NYC (sometimes) but if I can, I prefer not to do it here. Not to say if a job came my way I wouldn’t take it!
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Matt |Edit This
    2009-08-21 09:27:20

    What, California produces over 80% of the fruits and vegetables for the rest of the country, but somehow our wines don’t cut it? You’ll eat our grapes but not what we make from them?That’s just baseless hateful descrimination, I says!

    I’m with my soul-brother Smithson: grudging respect. Welcome, and good post.

    But I’m watching you….
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Joi Brozek |Edit This
    2009-08-21 09:37:18

    I think I have a bias towards California wines solely due to the movie Sideways. There, I said it! I can’t bear drinking the wines that those two dumbasses celebrated!
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
    2009-08-21 14:28:16

    This was really fun, Joi, we are from Brooklyn and this all sounds so homey and warm to me.
    Do you remember the EX-LAX building? It was all brown? It’s a condo now.
    When we moved from “The City” to the midwest, no one ever got our addresses right.
    Iowa was Ohio,
    Illinois was Indiana,
    but, don’t worry.
    The zip code always gets the letters there.
    (If they still write letters, that is.)

  2. […] Flashbacks *Alison Aucoin loses her bus control.  *Joi Brozek leaves New York for Kansas. *Suzanne Guillette goes on date, has panic attack. *Sung J. Woo gets trained by his dog. *Richard […]

  3. amanda says:

    hey there! remember me, the other new yorker who moved to kansas for love….

    i didn’t actually see your response to my original comment until now! ugh! so.. i moved at the end of august 2009 to wichita. you can see the blog i’ve kept (but recently decided to take a break from) at http://www.takingchancesinkansas.blogspot.com … if you scroll down and start from the beginning you’ll get the full effect.

    and if you’re interested, i have since started brand new blog (about food) at http://www.askinnyfoodiesays.blogspot.com.

    so are you still here? what do you think of the place? how can we keep in touch? i will find you on facebook.


  4. richard says:


    I’ll admit that although we’ve been facebook friends for quite sometime (you do realize that we are facebook friends, do you??), and we were pals way back when we both worked in FEGS (yes..this is THAT Richard) this is the first time that i’ve read your work in years (i’d say over 10 years at least).

    what a breath of fresh air…love it..love it..love it.

    Does that not say enough?

    Can’t wait to dig into some more Joi stuff. Its just great prose.

    For me, its a great trip down memory lane. Love ya Joi!


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