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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

New Orleans Brother

UPDATE: I've just learned that on Sunday morning, my brother was evacuated to the Superdome, then may have been taken to an emergency center set up for the medically needed in Alexandria or Monroe, Louisiana. Still no contact from him.

I have a brother in New Orleans.

My older brother - Sean Romanek (at left in the picture) - has survived greater hardship than many marines, but I confess I'm a little worried, especially given that he needs daily medication to maintain his health and it seems like the New Orleans pharmacies may be out of commission for a while.

At present, there seems to be no way of knowing his condition. He is probably perfectly fine. But it's not knowing anything definite that is so bothersome. Maybe that is the very definition of "bothersome":

BOTHERSOME, adj. - producing a feeling of not knowing anything definite.

The last my family heard - Sunday, August 28 - Sean was going to hole up at home. He had food and some medicine - cigarettes too, I hope (a hurricane without cigarettes - unbearable!).

He lives in a residential hotel right where Chef Menteur Hwy/90 interesects the 10 Freeway, in the New Orleans East area, south of Lakefront Airport. The address:

Highrise Inn
6324 Chef Menteur Highway
Room 612
New Orleans, LA 70126

The hotel's front desk number is/was (504) 244-3109

Sean is 6' 6" tall, slim and is often seen carrying his guitar.

If anyone has any information, or information sources they could pass on, I'd appreciate it. Please post information here on the blog. Or you can email me at ask@nealromanek.com

The best New Orleans information I have found so far on the web has been at:


The site has frequently updated local reporting from the Times-Picayune and a variety of continuously updated forums.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Dickens The Cat Pt. II

Dickens - the sleek, black, rumbunctious, orphan boy cat we have been fostering - may have a new home.

One of the librarians at the Motion Picture Academy's Fairbanks Center for Motion Picture Study not long ago lost her own beloved black cat, and Dickens seems to have appeared in her life at just the right time. And vice-versa.

Dickens will go over for a stay in the next week or so, and spend a few days getting to know the resident female cat, Elise. If there are no obvious difficulties and Dickens and Elise get along, Dickens will become a permanent member of their family.

Of course, Janet and I will miss Dickens.

Worse, our little girl cat, Vladia Velocicat, who has mothered, sistered, and schooled the boy-kitty will be substantially distressed and bewildered at Dickens's sudden disappearance.

King of the house, Cheop the Cat, probably won't notice the difference.

But our tabby Sri Lanka, who has spent most of Dickens's stay sulking under the bed, will be greatly relieved.

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Monday, August 29, 2005

Lancelot of the Lake (1974)

I watched French auteur Robert Bresson's "Lancelot of the Lake" (1974), via NetFlix.

Bresson's dour medieval drama opens with a montage depicting moments from the dogged, ruthless quest for the Holy Grail - knights behead other knights, blood sprays this way and that. Naturally, I didn't want to laugh, but I had to laugh. I had to laugh because...well...
..."Now stand aside, worthy adversary."
"'Tis but a scratch."
"A scratch!? Your arm's off!"
"No, it isn't."
"Well, what's that, then?"
"I've had worse."
"You liar!"
"Come on, you pansy!"...
The quality of the spurting blood, the small-scale budget, the gloomy 1970's photography - if you can watch the opening of "Lancelot of the Lake" without remembering "Monty Python and The Holy Grail" (1975), well, then you probably haven't seen "Monty Python and the Holy Grail". It's juvenile, but Bresson's gore gave me the giggles.

It's the same kind of idiocy that once caused an audience to rock with laughter at a screening of "The Wild Bunch". Pike Bishop said "We'll make a run for the border" and the audience busted up. You see, it happened that there was a Taco Bell commercial on in those days that employed the slogan "Make a run for the border." Yep. We laugh good. Good laugh long time. Then Pike shoot shoot all bad men with gatling gun not so funny. It's the same immature foolishness that makes me giggle like a 12 year old when people in 1930's films declare how very gay they are feeling. Sometimes I'm just ashamed of myself - but not that often.

But back to "Lancelot" - the Grail quest has ended badly, knights dead and lost, and no Grail to be found anywhere. In fact, maybe there is no Holy Grail at all. Maybe the Grail never existed. The story begins at the end - the end of the days of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, the end of the golden age embodied in the persona of Lancelot, the perfect knight. And in the wake of the failed Grail quest, these ideals of chivalrous nobility degenerate into mere infatuation between a man and a woman, selfish - and all too human - desire that will destroy the whole kingdom, destroy the whole world. That is perhaps the central message of the movie, perhaps the message at the heart of the Arthur / Guinevere / Lancelot story. When our idol, our ideal knight, decides to become an ordinary flesh and blood man, when our perfect queen decides to become an ordinary woman, then doom is near.

"Lancelot of the Lake" is an eerie and haunting telling of the story in large part because its characters and situations are rendered in their most symbolic aspects here - in deep contrast to the more literal, swords & sorcery vision of, say, "Excalibur" (1981). These characters are archetypes, resounding throughout all of western civilization - the embodiment of the noble husband who is also a blind fool, the idolized and elevated queen of the castle who longs for a life of the flesh, the outsider hero whose concealed desires will bring destruction to those he most loves. Bresson understands this and amplifies it so that the actors seem to be filling the roles of characters who are themselves filling the roles of mythological archetypes.

The characters seem to move from scene to scene out of a sense of obligation, they are merely showing up to deliver their lines, in a predetermined series of events on which they can have little effect. They are subject to the myth they inhabit, only along for the ride in this titanic, eternal struggle. The film succeeds very well in this sense of tragic inevitability, the individual subordinate to the grand story he is part of. George Lucas's "Star Wars" prequels attempt a similar thing, reducing character personality to a minimum in order to make the mythology stand out more, but in that case the technique reveals that there is very little worthwhile mythology to emphasize, and so we are bored, rather than enlightened.

I spoke to my mother and father this morning. Mum said she was sending me "King Arthur" (2004), directed by Antoine Fuqua, which I have not yet seen. I gather it is a de-mythologizing of the Arthur story, though I dread that there will be less de-mythologizing and more deliberate ignorance of the mythology. I have no hard information on which to base this prejudice, only a general observation of a trend in recent movies' attempts to depict "larger than life" characters. But I am curious. It does seem difficult to irretrievably mess up the Arthur story. "Excalibur", "Camelot", "The Sword and the Stone" - and "Lancelot of the Lake" - each offer up something worthwhile. The exception may be "First Knight", which I did see once on a plane. I try not to take too seriously my impressions of films watched on flights, but--John Box's production design notwithstanding--it seemed a real stinker.

Despite its minimal production value - because of it, in large part - "Lancelot of the Lake" is probably the most sophisticated of the Arthurian films, also one of the saddest, and certainly one of the strangest.

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Sunday, August 28, 2005

Stories of Great Operas

I don't like to work on Sunday, because when you work on Sunday, you feel weary on Monday. So, in an attempt to keep today's work at a minimum, here is some old work:

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Saturday, August 27, 2005

Monologue 1 - Powersander

"You’d be amazed what a power sander can do to a human face. You’d be amazed. You don’t think you’d be amazed. You’re thinking, man, I know you could sand away a nose and a chin and a forehead and an ear into absolutely nothing in maybe a minute or two. You don't think you'd be amazed. Trust me. Trust me. You’d be amazed. On this here--I don’t know if you can see it good under this light. Here. This here is forty grit sandpaper. That’s rough. 'Coarse' they call it. The stuff that’s smoother—two hundred grit, three hundred grit, more--they call that 'Fine'. 'Coarse'. 'Fine'. Those are the two extremes, the two types of sandpaper. Coarse and fine. That’s like black and white, or hot and cold, or night and day. Every type of sandpaper is somewhere in between coarse and fine. You got me? You got me. This is grade six. It’s really coarse. It’s like--you know how sharks are? When a shark slides up past a person, when a shark rubs his body against you, it takes the skin off--because the shark’s skin is very coarse. Like this. See? That’s what she said. My aunt. She’s a scuba diver. My aunt is a professional scuba diver. She took movies of sharks and eels and rays and skates. Some of her film has been shown on National Geographic. On the TV show, not in the magazine. Obviously. I don’t think she does any still pictures. Maybe she does. Her husband. Her last husband--she was married close to three times--her last husband was a boat pilot. The two of them would go on these shoots to take pictures of sharks. They were down in the Keys, I think. Somewhere down there. My aunt was down there by herself. I don’t think she was down there for more than a few minutes before the sea--the water all around her--was filled with about twenty sharks. I don’t know. I’m probably lying--or, you know, making that up, I mean. But she did tell me when she told me the story that it was a lot of sharks. She was just in a small swimsuit, I guess. She didn’t have a full suit on. You don’t need one down there. If you’ve ever gone swimming down there, you know what I mean. It’s warm. So she was in just a small swimsuit. I don’t know if it was a bikini. I guess it was. She has the most gorgeous body ever. I really swear. My aunt’s really just got the most beautiful body in the world. Trust me. But she was down there taking pictures of these blue sharks. Blue sharks are the most popular species of sharks that they have down there. And one of them came at her, she said. Right at her. And she tried to swim out of the way, twist out of the way, and the shark turned at the last moment. Like the last second. Not even that. Like the last half a second. Or even less than that, I’m guessing. And it rubbed right up against her. Right against her side, against her waist. Right here. It rubbed against her right here, almost on her stomach, and it scraped off all the skin. From here, down to her hip right here. And this wasn’t even the biggest one, she said. It was about a medium one--kind of an averaged-sized one. She has a scar now. It’s always white. It doesn’t tan. I was watching it and it didn’t tan the whole summer. That is how coarse the shark’s skin was. And that’s how coarse this grade six paper is on this sander. It’s just like shark skin. I’ve never felt a shark, but when I rub my fingers on here on this sandpaper, I kind of pretend like I’m touching a shark’s skin."

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Friday, August 26, 2005

Dickens The Cat

This is Dickens The Cat:

Dickens is a black, rambunctious boy cat, about 3 months old.

Dickens was rescued by Sante D'Or Foundation, a Los Angeles-based pet rescue agency that holds weekend pet adoptions at For Pets Only, 1903 Hillhurst Ave., L.A., CA 90027.

Dickens was found - and I'm not making this up - by a driver who saw that a cat had been hit by a car. The driver stopped to check the cat's condition. It was dead. But this mother cat had a tiny kitten - miraculously still alive - in her mouth. True story.

My wife I have been fostering him during the weekdays - tutoring him in the ways of righteousness and allowing our own cats to impart to him various cat skills - then bringing him in to Sante D'Or on the weekends in the hope that he will be adopted by a loving family, preferably one with other companion cats. But he is becoming attached to us and our cats - and vice-versa. We feel like it's important to adopt him out soon to avoid trauma all around.

Dickens is energetic and fierce, curious and brave, social and communicative.

Dickens can climb a six foot tall man from foot to head in less than three seconds.

Dickens delights in playing with other cats.

If you have a burning desire to help Dickens be all the cat he can be, let me know, or contact the Sante D'Or Foundation directly (323-788-3638) and say "I'm interested in making sure that Dickens has a long healthy happy life."

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Thursday, August 25, 2005

New Design Countdown!!!

ONE WEEK, dear friends, until the new Rabbit + Crow design is available to you, ONLY via the Rabbit + Crow Shop!

7 DAYS until you get to buy t-shirts, mugs, stickers, and t-shirts sporting a brand new, never before seen by anyone - not even by me - completely thrilling original image!

A QUARTER MONTH from now you can be the first on your block, or street, or the first in your city, or country, to own a brand new staggeringly beautiful Rabbit + Crow design, which is GUARANTEED* to make you laugh, think, ponder, laugh, weep, giggle, swoon, convulse, gag, flap about, and laugh, and think!

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 1ST! That's the day to mark on your calendar, or calendars. Wake early. Eat a hearty breakfast (avoid heavy starches though, as these may make you feel sluggish). And go to the Rabbit + Crow Shop with your card of choice in hand!

Or you go there NOW and buy more of the old stuff.Outsider Button

* not an actual guarantee

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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Favorite Assassinations

Marion Gordon "Pat" Robertson has suggested that the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, might be a good candidate for assassination (per NewYorkTimes.com), although he's far from the first public figure to say so.

The word "assassin" has its roots in Crusader accounts of a heretical Islamic order called the "Hashshashin" - so named because their fighters, according to medieval historians, would get high on hashish to summon courage for suicide missions (although anyone who has ever used hashish will tell you that the "get up and go" one would need for a suicide mission can become a little blunted).

Assassinations can change the course of history at a stroke. Here are 10 of my Favorite Assassinations, presented in chronological order:

  1. Gaius Julius Caesar (44 B.C.) - the part where he looks over at his trusted friend Brutus and says "Et tu, Brute" - the whole assassination is worth that one moment
  2. Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus aka "Caligula" (41 A.D.) - there are lots of great Roman assassinations, but I especially love the way John Hurt dies in "I, Claudius"
  3. Thomas a Becket (1170) - assassinated not by Hashshashin, but by the knights of Peter O'Toole - er, I mean Henry II
  4. Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria (1914) - his assassination started one of the most aesthetically interesting wars of the 20th century!
  5. Leon Trotsky (1940) - done with an ice axe - how cool is that!
  6. Mohandas Karamchand "Mahatma" Gandhi (1948) - that such a man of peace should die in this way - ironic, no?
  7. Sonny Corleone (1948) - a fictional assassination, but a really good one!
  8. John F. Kennedy (1963) - the "Gone With The Wind" of assassinations!
  9. Lee Harvey Oswald (1963) - the "Wizard Of Oz" of assassinations!
  10. Malcolm X (1965) - gangland-style shooting meets high-profile political assassination - very sophisticated!

There are so many, many more good assassinations. I would love to hear what your favorites are.

Of course, as we know from our history studies, some of the best assassinations are those that don't appear to be assassinations at all. Sure, it's great to leap onto the world stage and shout "Sic semper tyrannis!" every now and then, but often you just want a bothersome individual removed with the minimum of hoopla. I think those less flashy - more workmanlike and humble - kinds of assassinations are the best kind. Unfortunately those "anonymous" assassinations don't qualify for consideration on my list (it's a Rule Book/Standards & Practices issue - it would take too long to explain), but I encourage you to look into them yourself.

Studying assassinations is informationful and fun!

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Tuesday, August 23, 2005


For ICE CREAM, what was your favorite flavor as a child, versus your favorite flavor now? Me?...

CHILD: Strawberry Ice Cream or Rainbow Sherbet

NOW: Cookies & Cream or Vanilla

(In England - because England is such a strange country filled with many strange and tragically strange people (my mum being the exception, of course) - they are eating Bacon & Eggs Flavoured Ice Cream)

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Monday, August 22, 2005

My Symptoms

These are my SYMPTOMS:
  • Slightly dry mouth
  • Lips coated with sticky film, particularly in morning
  • Easily fatigued
  • Pain in lower right back and leg
  • Itchiness
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Compulsive nail biting
  • Retarded urination
  • Inconsistent motivation levels
  • Unfulfillable longing
  • Dread
  • Denial
  • Unpredictable stool consistency

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Film School: The Documentary

I usually wouldn't work on a Sunday, because when you work on a Sunday, you become very unhappy. But I was eager to report that today was the first day of the shooting of my wife's documentary, provisionally entitled "Film School: The Documentary".

We shot at Highland Grounds, a familiar haunt of many years. My wife and her sister were behind the camera. USC colleague Asbed Bedrossian and I were the subjects. My wife used her therapist skills to conduct a preliminary interrogation of Asbed's and my experiences attending USC's Cinema-Television Production program. I ate the Enchilada Scramble. I enjoyed myself.

We have just now returned from shooting. We will watch the footage shortly. I like seeing myself on camera.

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Sunday, August 21, 2005



Some days - and I can't say exactly why - but some days I just want to shout...


Shout "CORYTHOSAURUS". You'll feel better.

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Friday, August 19, 2005

Dentrifigual Force

In mid-May, I was scheduled for a dental checkup. I had a conflicting appointment and so cancelled the dentist date. I never rescheduled.

Months have passed. Soon I will have been a year without professional dental care.

They say that dreams about losing your teeth are dreams expressing fear of castration or, in the broader sense, fear of losing power.

But this is not a dream. It is REAL.

Why have I not rescheduled the dental appointment? Do I want to lose my teeth? Do I secretly want to lose power? Or do I not want a man to work his fingers in and out of my mouth for 3o minutes?

When I was a child I was very afraid of vampires - so afraid that I always slept with the sheets and blankets carefully wrapped to protect my neck. I did that well into my teens.

One of my greatest fears is to be eaten by sharks - the bigger the teeth (Great White, Tiger Shark, Mako) the greater my dread.

At USC, I made a short film called "Deadly Smile" about a wretched nobody with rotting teeth who is suddenly given a perfect smile - that kills whoever sees it.

My childhood dog, Snowball, bit me once on the hand. I still have the scar.

Saint Apollonia is the Patron Saint of Dentists.

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Thursday, August 18, 2005

Image of Akhenaten

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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Artistic Temperaments - Marshall Vandruff

I attended Marshall Vandruff's real good seminar "Artistic Temperaments and Achievement" last night. It covered a lot of ground that I have trodden in other workshops and classes, but last night's treading was trodation with a good strong flashlight and a canny guide, as compared to treading in the dark with some smug bastard far behind you shouting "Go left! Now go right! You're doing fine!..." - which has been a lot of my educational experience.

The fact that Marshall is himself an artist makes all the difference. Many art classes I have taken are presented by people who are teachers first and artists second. Many books and seminars about screenwriting I have been subjected to are presented by people who are teachers first and screenwriters second - if they are screenwriters at all. Robert McKee's "Story", Linda Seger's "How To Make A Good Script Great", Syd Field's "Screenplay" are superior works of criticism and analysis - the screenwriting equivalent of anatomy textbooks. But ultimately those books can only teach anatomy. They cannot show you how to write. Only other writers can show you how to write, which is why it is vital to get into the same room with fellow writers, preferably writers who are better than you are, and to read - as has been discussed lately over at ScreenwritingLife.com - as many good writers as possible. I want a teacher who has done more of what I want to do than I have done - someone who has made more mistakes than I have.

"Can writing be learned?" you ask. Don't be stupid. Of course it can. You might as well ask "Can pole vaulting be learned?" Not only can it be learned, it MUST be learned. Now whether, having learned pole vaulting, you're a gold medal winner, or just some weirdo with a pole and a fence, is subject to the same mysterious factors that make some people alcoholics and cause others to be eaten by sharks. But I think it can only be truly learned from other writers. Most of the time we learn it through absorption. We read a line, we hear a story, and a bell goes off in our heads and we say "Aha! That's it! That's exactly what I want to do!" and we try to emulate that. It's love really. We fall in love and we want to participate in and perpetuate that love. How much better it is to have a person who has also fallen in love, fallen in love more times than we have, to say, "I know how you feel. I felt that way. I still feel that way. Feeling that way is sure is trippy. Based on my experience, I suggest..."


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Tuesday, August 16, 2005


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Monday, August 15, 2005

Jesus vs. Fission Bomb

I'm not a Christian, but I am a fan of the life, work, example, and thrilling story of Yeshua of Nazareth (aka "Jesus"). The great Roman historian Tacitus mentions Jesus in his description of the scandal and chaos that followed the terrible Fire of Rome (of "Nero fiddled while Rome burned" fame):

"...the blaze came to be believed to be an official act. So, in order to quash the rumour, (Emperor) Nero blamed it on, and applied the cruellest punishments to, those sinners, whom ordinary people call Christians, hating them for their shameful behaviour. The originator of this name, Christus, was sent to execution by Procurator Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius, but although checked for a moment, the deadly cult erupted again, not just in Judaea, the source of its evil, but even in Rome, where all the sins and scandals of the world gather and are glorified. ("The Annals" xv.44.2–3)

Today is the 60th anniversary of VJ (Victory over Japan) Day, the end of WWII. Following the dropping of a uranium fission bomb named "Little Boy" into the city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 - which killed approximately 140,000 people - then the detonation of a plutonium fission bomb named "Fat Man" over the city of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945 - which killed approximately 70,000 people - the Japanese surrendered, and the war ended.

FUN FACT: If you could regenerate the bodies of all the people killed in the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and lay them end to end, the line of corpses would stretch 200 miles, and their combined weight would near 6000 tons!

"Hiroshima" is a household word. Whenever we look forward to the use of nuclear weapons in the future, we use the name of the Japanese city as short-hand for "13,000 tons of TNT". We say: "If this XYZ device exploded in the middle of a pre-school in New York City, it would do so with the strength of 10,000 Hiroshimas!" We tend to say it gleefully, as if we were happy that our nuclear weapons have so admirably outdone the quaint Little Boys of our forefathers.

FUN FACT: Today, Hiroshima is the home of the Hiroshima Toyo Carp baseball team, six-time champions of Japan's central league and winner of 3 of the Japan Series.

Most citizens of the Allied nations are less familiar with the city of Nagasaki. Nagasaki, capital of Nagasaki Prefecture on the island of Kyushu, was the center of European influence in medieval Japan and so was one of the first Japanese cities to be Christianized. In fact, it was Europeans - Portuguese traders who ran aground near the town - who literally put the insignificant little village on the map. In 1945 Nagasaki had the largest Christian population in Japan and was home to Urakami Cathedral, which had been the largest Cathedral in eastern Asia. Nagasaki's Christian population blossomed still further after World War II.

FUN FACT: The names of both "Hiroshima" and "Nagasaki" have appeared in the titles of French films!

If I'm not mistaken, scientists have proven that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved many thousands of lives.

Following are some of my favorite lines of dialog from the story of Yeshua of Nazareth (aka Jesus). These are from his biographies. We don't really know for certain whether the biographies were "authorized biographies" or not, or if they were just fan fiction. But I am a trained writer of movie scripts and have a pretty good ear for language, and it's interesting to sometimes read lines that sound more like real human speech and less like movie dialog. I tend to like those realistic sounding lines the best. Some of Jesus's greatest hits are in a collection called "The Sermon On The Mount", which reads a bit like a college student's lecture notes, as if one of the Disciples was sitting there scribbling as fast as he could: "Dude. Wait. Can you say that last thing one more time? 'Ed Meese shall inherit the earth'?? Oh, 'the MEEK'. Gotcha. Okay. Go on..."

Happy VJ Day!


(his words in GREEN)

1. "...Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God..."

2. "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets."

3. Then came Peter to him, and said, "Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?" Jesus saith unto him, "I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven."

"Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet."

5. Jesus said unto him, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me." But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

6. "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you."

"For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."

"O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?"

9. "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye."

10. "For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them."

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Sunday, August 14, 2005

How Am I Doing?

Normally I wouldn't work on a Sunday, because when you work on a Sunday they send you to Hell when you die, and in Hell you have to work a 14 hour day and there's no union. But I think it's okay to work on a Sunday as long as you can get other people to work too - that way you'll have company in Hell. Sure, they'll resent you for luring them into Eternal Damnation, but I've always thought that it's better to be surrounded by people who hate you, than to be completely alone.

So, sorry for asking you to work on Sunday and, as a result, condemning you to the Everlasting Fires, but I'm wondering:

How am I doing?

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Saturday, August 13, 2005


The Guillotine - that devilish device by which Louis XVI, found guilty of treason, met his end in the French Revolution - was in fact based on a British predecessor called the "Halifax Gibbet", which was used for executions as early as the 13th century.


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Thursday, August 11, 2005

My New Rock Band

I will tell you a secret. And I beg you ... reveal this secret to no one else, for I tell it only to you, and in the strictest confidence.

My secret is ... My secret ...

My secret is ...

(deep breath)

... When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a ROCK STAR!

There. I've said it.

These days, now that I am older and mature, and pretend to understand and enjoy jazz, there is very little I can think of that sounds more revolting than being a Rock Star. Okay, maybe the thousands of adoring fans would be okay. Or MILLIONS of adoring fans? Wealth and fame, that might be okay too. And maybe if I were really brilliant at it, if I changed the face of popular music forever? Yeah, that might be alright. Sure. To go down in the Anals Of The History Of Rock!! The Beatles, Elvis, The Sex Pistols, Neal Romanek.

Hmmm ... Maybe I could be a Rock Star. I mean, how hard can it be?

I'm thinking the most important step in becoming a Rock Star is selecting your name, or the name of your band (of whom you will be absolute master and guiding genius). The name tells you everything - who your audience is, what kind of music you will be playing, and what kind of wardrobe you will wear on stage. I think any one of the following 10 names would work well for my new rock band:

  1. Enveloping Karma of Minty Flavour (British spelling essential)
  2. Hot Pants
  3. Incomparable Dejah Thoris
  4. Kwisatz Haderach and the Girl
  5. Mighty Apartment Makeover
  6. Neal Romanek & the Squeamish
  7. High Sanctum of the Bedarkened Pharisees
  8. The St-St-tut-tut-tutters Yeah!
  9. The Thrashing Coots
  10. Yang Yuppies, Man

Your speedy feedback would be appreciated. I need to get this thing going. I am feeling the call of ROCK!

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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Ichthyosaurs Feeding

I offer you the only - and I feel quite confident in saying this - the only poem in existence about a pod of feeding Ichthyosauri.

It appears in the Aug./Sept. 2005 Issue (#73) of "Prehistoric Times", the world's best magazine by and for paleontology enthusiasts (not just paleontologists - I mean ENTHUSIASTS!). Many thanks to editor Mike Fredericks for producing a venue where a guy can get his prehistoric nature poems published.


An Ichthyosaur cow and her pod have cornered
a lagooning school of silver-scaled fish.
Agitating outboard tails, they cut loose,
the spiral cloud

With a nod, the cow's snout swings wide,
toothy arc squared by jaw length,
chopsticking a glittering fish.
A shake -
as if to shake it dry,
as if to shake the eyes out -
and down it goes,
and she crows with a grand outside loop,
shooting into the milky blue

- making way for the rest to deftly plunder -

zooms back in to further undo,
snapping down another one, or two,
then pops to the mercury ceiling,
and there draws down a lungful of oh-too-rich air,
then from her reflection
recoils, acrobatic,
and knocks fish this way, that,
happily extracting bright bounty at will.

Upcoast currents deport the silver school at last -
amnesiac to its decimation.

Sun lulls the pod, fish-drunk, to spend
the day wrapped in gibbous lagoon.

The cow parries dopey, double-belly suitors,
diverting them to sisters, then
finally flaunting ventral white,
selects -
cheloniate paddles slapping,
broadcasting satisfaction over the sunny bed.

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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Drawing Animals - Marshall Vandruff

Last night I attended the first of four nights in a Crash Course In Animal Drawing, taught by Marshall Vandruff, whose Comic-Con sketchbook panel we wrote about last month.

Is the class worth it? Is Marshall a great teacher? I'll let YOU decide:




I'm kidding, of course. The second "Study of Cat Movements and Positions" is by Sergio Aragones.

Marshall presents solid information enthusiastically, maintaining a nicely modulated balance between theory and practicality.

One of Marshall's great tips was: "Always draw with your left hand. NEVER your right! Leonardo was left-handed. What does that tell you?"

A girl in the class had been in a recent accident, her left arm in a cast. She wondered if she might, until the cast came off, use her right hand for drawing.

"GET OUT!!" Marshall screamed.

The girl left sobbing.

I'm lying again. I should wash my mouth out with soap. But that wouldn't make sense, because washing out the mouth with soap is a treatment for swearing, not for lying. And the only thing it would be likely to accomplish is to make people say "Neal is sitting at his computer, eating soap. Should we call someone?"

The seminar so far seems to be excellent. I count myself fortunate for landing in it. I had several "Aha!" moments as I drew along with the exercises, and a single "Aha!" moment is worth the price of admission. Driving home I found myself thinking "Animal drawing is all so obvious and simple!" Then I got home and looked at my cats.

Do cats even have bones? Marshall said they do, but I'm not so sure.

I'm learning those things I have seen in books for years, but just didn't have the fortitude--or the multiple personality disorder--to fully teach myself. I really think it's vital--skip ahead if you're sick of hearing me say this--to be among real live people who are attempting the same thing you are. And there is something irreplaceable in the transmission from teacher to student. There is more occurring in teaching than just a mere downloading of data. I suspect that there is some kind of other "unseen element" at work. Perhaps some of it is just a kind of unconscious imitation, but something does seem to "rub off" from a good teacher that is well outside words and diagrams and helpful hints.

In "Zen In The Art Of Archery", the author Eugene Herrigel talks about his trials in learning the Japanese art of kyudo. When a student was in a rut, the Master might simply pick up the student's bow and pull on the bowstring, or shoot a single arrow with it, then hand it back to the student. The bow would invariably shoot more accurately after that. I'm sure there are sound psychological reasons for this phenomenon, but I imagine it holds true through multiple disciplines. No human being can get what he needs all by himself. He requires a group. The transmission of ideas, the sharing of revelations transforms the group entire, which in turn transforms the individual, then back again.

The image of a newborn colt comes to mind--maybe because there were an awful lot of horses to draw in Marshall's seminar. Or maybe because last week I went riding for only the second time in my life. Or maybe because some morning's I wake up feeling like I'm covered in placenta. In any case, the colt doesn't learn to stand up because there is information imparted from its mother. Perhaps it's entirely hard-wired into the newborn's brain, but I suspect it helps that its mother is already standing herself, modeling a mature example. I wonder: Do colts learn to stand as easily if they are isolated from their mothers? To paraphrase Mark Bryan of "The Artist's Way": "The Self-Made Man is a myth."

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Monday, August 08, 2005

2046 (2004)

Last night, my wife and I saw, "2046" (2004), Wong Kar Wai's sequel to "In The Mood For Love" (2000)

I feel wholly inadequate in trying to write about this movie. I was knocked out. It is Wong Kar Wai's best film.

Though "Chungking Express" (1994) has a permanent place in my heart, I recognize that Wong Kar Wai's masterpiece - until now - is "In The Mood For Love", a melancholy and beautiful story about a man and woman living next door to each other in a cramped Hong Kong apartment building, whose growing attraction for each other is complicated when they learn that their spouses are having affairs - with each other. A Hong Kong "Brief Encounter" with a twist.

"2046" continues the story of "In The Mood For Love's" protagonist, played by Tony Leung Chiu Wai, and his attempts to continue with his life, broken-hearted and crippled by the memory of The Perfect Romance That Never Was. Tony Leung's character is a writer - writing for newspapers and tabloids, sometimes writing cheap romances or martial arts novels - and is a dead ringer for Marcello Mastroianni's spiritually bankrupt writer character in "La Dolce Vita" (1960). I wonder if the similarity between the two was not entirely accidental. The allusions to other works, Wong Kar Wai's own films primarily, are many and beautifully subtle. In fact, "2046" is one of the better movies about a writer that I've seen in a while, showing nicely how the writer's personal life and his creative work do interact with each other but only indirectly. The artist's inspiration may be born out of the mundane life around him, but often, ironically, it is the most insignificant moments that end up bearing the most fruit - the strange way someone stares, mesmerized, at the smoke from a cigarette. Also nicely shown is how that the writer (or filmmaker?) never really knows what his story is truly about while he is working on it. But if he is honest, he may finally discover that he is only ever writing about himself.

The film's performances are excellent and it is a joy to take such interest in a movie's characters. Tony Leung - along with cinematographer Christopher Doyle - has been Wong Kar Wai's collaborator throughout both their careers and, as with other great director/actor collaborations, his performances keep getting richer. The movie is not hurt by the fact that it features several of the best actresses in China.

Wong Kar Wai's use of music, usually of popular songs, is predictably effective. The appearance of one of my favorites, Nat King Cole's rendition of "The Christmas Song" was nicely repeated, almost ritually, as an introduction to the movie's several Christmas scenes. I was also shocked and delighted to recognize the opening music cue of the film as from Krzysztov Kieslowski's "The Decalogue" (1989), which like much of the action in "2046", takes place among the residents of a single apartment block.

I wish everyone could see the film as I did - in a first-rate theater with a very good print (though there was some dirt on the heads and tails of reels). Christopher Doyle ("the world's only famous cinematographer") may win his first Academy Award for "2046" - not that he hasn't deserved one for his other work. Despite the fact that gazing at the images in "2046", whether of grimy peeling rooms in Singapore or the shimmering silk of 1960's Hong Kong fashion, is a sensual pleasure in itself, I was always eager to watch the characters. Often in movies, I find myself enjoying the cinematography as a welcome break from having to look at unremarkable characters for reel after reel, but in Wong Kar Wai's movies, the photography inevitably seems to create a time and space that frames the characters more clearly, communicates their experiences more eloquently.

The film is currently available on DVD. Do your best to see it in a theater. But if your local megaplex is stuffed full of "Stealth" (2005) and "The Dukes Of Hazzard" (2005) and you have no choice, I will forgive limited non-theater viewing. In such a case, make it a Wong Kar Wai weekend - "In The Mood For Love" first, then "2046", then repeat.

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Sunday, August 07, 2005

Lepus californicus

Normally I wouldn't work on a Sunday, because when you work on a Sunday, God comes and burns down your house. But my conscience, my burning, burning conscience, searing, burning, infernal conscience would not let me rest.

I am a liar. Such a liar.

Oh, why can I not stop lying? It's like a...a sickness, a disease, an ailment, an affliction, an ague, etc. I keep lying and lying, even though I am in danger of losing my credibility, of becoming known as a "Boy Who Cried Wolf Hare".

I must now openly declare to one and all - to all my loyal, trusting, sweet, innocent, unsuspecting readers - that not only is there no such thing as the Cutting Hare (Lepus lupus, aka the Wolf Hare), but that there is also no such thing as the African Brush Hare (Lepus saurensis, native of Tanzania). I have lied about it all. All of it! Heaven have mercy on my wretched soul!

The animal that has been pictured in both of these my vile dissemblages (from Old French "dissemblages") is in fact the common, good ol' American Black-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus) - which is a type of a hare actually.

My apologies to God, my family, the Cutting Hare, the Brush Hare, and most importantly to the Jackrabbit himself, who has been a pillar of fortitude and patience throughout this trying time.

Let us all join together to give the Jackrabbit an ovation - a standing ovation - lest we forget that without the Jackrabbit, there would be no...

(image used without any permission from Warner Bros. Inc. whatsoever)


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Saturday, August 06, 2005

Brush Hare (Lepus saurensis)

Alright, alright.

I am forced to confess - pressured by great public outrage - that there is no such thing as the Lepus lupus, the Cutting Hare, aka the Wolf Hare. But there should be.

I apologize to everyone. But most especially to God and to my parents.

For those interested, the electron microscope photo of the Cutting Hare's tongue was in fact an artsy picture of a cactus. Hence the name of the image file "cactus.jpg". The animal depicted is quite a wonderful little critter however. It is the common African Brush Hare (Lepus saurensis), one of the fastest of the Lagomorphs. It can attain 40 mph in short bursts! It lives in Tanzania. Check out the cool pics!

Lepus saurensis

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Friday, August 05, 2005

Cutting Hare (Lepus lupus)

Readers know that I am fascinated by the natural world. My wife and I can hardly be asked to dinner without steering the conversation toward the brilliance of David Attenborough's various nature series. So here's post #1, of who knows how many, about the world's coolest animals.

The Cutting Hare of South Asia - which was named the "Wolf Hare" by Europeans (a designation expressed in its taxonomic name Lepus lupus) - is one of only a handful of venomous mammals in the world, and the only venomous member of the order Lagomorpha (which include rabbits, hares and pikas). The male Platypus, also the only egg-laying mammal, has a sharp, hollow spur on the inside of each ankles, which is connected to a gland which produces a very strong toxin. The primitive Solenodon of Haiti and Cuba has grooves in its front teeth which channel venom. Short-tailed Shrews too have venom that is used to paralyze their prey for later eating.

(false-color electron microscope image of envenomation spurs
on tongue of Lepus lupus - courtesy PsiTec Images)

The Cutting Hare has thousands of microscopic "spines" on its tongue, making its texture a little like a cat's tongue - but you don't want the Cutting Hare licking you for too long. The spines in the tongue help to retain an envenomed saliva, which is secreted when the Cutting Hare feels threatened. Anyone who was nipped as a child by a pet hamster knows that a pair of well-exercised incisors can deliver a nasty bite. The Cutting Hare when cornered by predatory animals such as Eagles or Owls, or even snakes like the Indian Cobra or Python, becomes, for a moment, the most unrabbit-like of the rabbit family.

A Cutting Hare will dig in with its powerful incisors, sometimes clinging for three or four seconds, and with tongue thrusts it will "scrub" its toxic saliva into the bite wound. Only then does it fall back into line with the behavior of its relatives and dash like mad for safety. At least one Cutting Hare was seen to cling to its would-be Eagle predator even as the fleeing Eagle was taking to the air.

The toxin is not strong enough to seriously threaten a predator. But there is enough irritation caused by the combination of bite and venom that predators are unlikely to stick around for a second try and will be occupied in soothing the burning wound rather than hunting, and will probably move along to look for easier pickings. This may explain why birds of prey are seldom seen attacking fully grown adult Cutting Hares. In fact, birds of prey and Cutting Hares have occasionally been seen sharing the same patch of ground, apparently observing an uneasy truce.

It has been suggested that the Cutting Hare's own toxin helps give it a limited immunity from the venom of some of its predators, such as the Indian Cobra. Cutting Hares have been reported to survive Cobra bites that would likely have killed other mammals of similar size.

The Cutting Hare is listed as Endangered. Much of its natural habitat has been lost due to human cultivation and settlement, forestry, grazing; also predation by dogs.


Range: Eastern Asian subcontinent from Eastern India to Bangladesh to southern Nepal.

Habitat: Prefers tall grass-scrub savanna, in flat, thinly forested country.

Social Organization: Not gregarious, sometimes lives in male-female pairs.
Venomous: Symptoms include itching and burning sensation; only one fatality known due to rare allergic reaction.


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Thursday, August 04, 2005

SIGGRAPH Electronic Theater

OvertimeOne of the great treats of SIGGRAPH is seeing the "Electronic Theater". I don't know why it's an especially "electronic" theater. It is digitally projected, but that can only have been fairly a recent development. Before digital projection, it was merely a...well...a...a theater, that happened to specialize in projecting films whose elements had originally been created using some sort of electronical computer graphics basis. I'm counting on one of my helpful readers to sort me out about this.

At SIGGRAPH's Electronic Theater, which I attended this afternoon, one is treated to the magnificent fx demos of the major animation studios and visual effects companies and these are impressive--in the way that the B-2 bomber is impressive or a top-notch pro basketball team or the population of China. It's the size and scale of the resources and what those allow that bowls one over. Hire enough experts, wield enough cutting-edge technology, squeeze out enough man-hours, and some mighty impressive results are sure, sooner or later, to develop.

However, I couldn't help but chuckle--then sigh wistfully--at Industrial Light & Magic's reel for "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith", which featured a montage of visual effects shots from this final Star Wars installment and the steps in achieving those shots. The montage was set to some thrilling music cues--cues which stirred my emotions, and brought back powerful memories of the heroics and derring-do of a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. The first of these music cues was the "Tie Fighter Attack" music from the original "Star Wars" ("Episode IV: A New Hope", if you insist), a cue so good that it was repurposed to prop up the final battle seen in the nauseating "Return Of The Jedi". The other half dozen cues were also from the original "Ep. IV: A New Hope" score and "The Empire Strikes Back", with perhaps one "sinister Emperor" cue which had its origins in "Return Of The Jedi". Not a single music cue from any of the three prequels was in evidence. Like a hideous Space Vampire, the unholy Star Wars Prequels continue, to the very last, to suck every bit of their vital energy from the original three classics. They are a fungus, a parasite on our beloved Star Warses. And forever they will draw what power they can, in whatever way they can, from the originals, like baby spiders consuming their own mother! O, truly are not these Prequels themselves a most potent and undeniable manifestation of the Dark Side of the Force!?

Anyway, the Electronic Theater...

So, at the Electronic Theater, they show these gigantic, megabucks, knockout showreels, like the afformentioned ILM Star Wars reel. But then there are the short films and animations--sometimes just samples thereof--by smaller companies, often by individual artists and their comrades, and it is these that cause one's crotch to become bruised from continuous jaw-dropping.

Particularly remarkable was the Electronic Theater's "pre-show" provided by John "J. Walt" Adamczyk, doing a live performance called "Autocosm: Gardens of Thuban"--a visual concert, a live "Fantasia", and something Walt Disney would have been over the moon about. The effect was like watching a Deity paint, in real time, with an invisible cosmic brush, the long stalks and coiled branches, the madly-textured rainbow flora, of an alien world truly in a galaxy far, far away. It was mesmerizing, hypnotic, and it magnificently illustrated how 3D graphics software, aided by a powerful NVIDIA processor, can become a fine instrument--like a musical instrument--for visual expression. Despite the long streaks of computer generated textures and forms, certainly produced within strict mathematical parameters, the tools of Wacom Tablet & stylus and a joystick that allowed minute control of various settings, allowed Adamczyk The Human to clearly manifest himself in the images created. There was an undeniable organic intelligence guiding the strange visual symphony and I felt a similar kind of enjoyment that one might get from watching, though on an epic scale, an accomplished draftsman conjure images out of a blank piece of paper, combined with the rhythms and moment-to-moment choices of a dancer. Delightful.

Every film or segment shown at the Electronic Theater was created digitally, yet most of them sought to produce images that evoked concrete, mundane realities, antithetical to most ideas of digital art. There were repeated references to mechanics and gear-based engineering, and non-digital media like projected film, paint and ink on paper, and the cathode-ray tube tv screen.

The following three shorts impressed me especially, and were among the best movies I've seen in a few years:

"La Migration Bigoudenn" - A nocturnal cabal of grannies, gathered on a cliff edge, seek to produce the perfect crepe. Awarded SIGGRAPH's "Jury Honors".

"9" - Shane Acker's story of a lone hero battling a monster in a benighted (possibly post-apocalyptic ?) world. Awarded SIGGRAPH's "Best Of Show".

"Overtime" - French student film in black & white. Kermit The Frog-style muppets perform a strange, moving elegy of music and dance for a motionless, presumably dead, human. Stunning.

Seek these films out. Watch them. And continue to watch out for their creators in the years to come.

By the way, I'm real sorry I slammed the Star Wars prequels so hard there before. It's just that sometimes I get so mad. Rest assured that the first stop I made on SIGGRAPH's main exhibitor floor was the Industrial Light & Magic booth, in order to procure the newest ILM/Star Wars t-shirt design for me and all my friends. It's a pretty good shirt. Not as good as the ones they've done in the past, but it's still pretty good.

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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

MomsCancer.com Pt. II


Thanks for your great work. And congratulations on the Eisner!

I have written a brief blog entry about momscancer.com and wondered if you wouldn't mind my including one of the images on your site. Normally, I'd just steal it outright from a site and not tell the person. But I am doing it differently in this case. Who can say why?

Check out the blog entry at:


I'd hoped to include the introductory "Superheroes" image.





Thanks very much for writing, and for asking to use one of my images. Of course you're welcome to it. I read your blog and appreciate your opinion very much, particularly given your own family's experience. By the way, I'm actually visiting Mom right now, and she's doing pretty well.

Thanks again, and best wishes to you and your aunt.





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Monday, August 01, 2005

New T-Shirt TODAY!

The NEW T-SHIRT DESIGN is available TODAY!

Check it out now!

Buy! Buy! Buy!

If you don't wear t-shirts, that's okay, because the NEW DESIGN also appears on cups and stickers and posters, and those can also be worn too, more easily than you would suppose!

Go to the Rabbit + Crow Shop now by clicking on: Rabbit + Crow Shop

or by clicking on:

Click here to go to the Rabbit + Crow Shop

also by clicking:

This Way To Rabbit + Crow Shop

or if instead you want to learn about Zambia, click on:

Learn About Zambia

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New T-Shirt Tomorrow

Today is Sunday. The Sabbath.

Normally I wouldn't work on a Sunday. But since tomorrow there will be a new Rabbit + Crow t-shirt design available, I thought I'd...I mean it's not like it's Commandment Number I, right? It's way down the list isn't it? "Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy, kick it and chill, watch some sports" - I forget how it exactly goes. In any case, it's like Commandment VIII or something. It's not like "Do not look 'pon thy neighbor's ass with covetous scowlings" which is Commandment II or III, I think.

So, yes, tomorrow the new design goes on sale.

Go to the Rabbit + Crow Shop directly at: http://www.cafepress.com/rabbitandcrow or click on the Rabbit + Crow Shop link on the sidebar. Or you can access the store via the menu bar at NealRomanek.com. Merchandise will be ready to buy tomorrow - Monday, August 1 - after 9am Pacific Time.

And the great thing is that you can buy as many as you want. If you wanted to buy 350 shirts, 10 mugs, 8 stickers and a pair of underpants, you could! No one could stop you! How wonderful is that?!

Anyway, it's a cool design. I like it a lot. I hope you will too.

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