Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Scenes From my Front Porch

 

The thing about living in a place with four seasons — bear with me, I spent about 80 percent of my life in California — is that the beginning of spring is inevitably frantic. As the trees bloom, all your rationales for putting off home improvements start to wilt. And so, at the Senik household, there’s been a parade of contractors, plumbers, handymen, and the like ascending the hill in recent days.

After awhile, they become virtually indistinguishable from one another. Each explains, with the thinly-veiled contempt of a teacher that should have retired years ago, highly technical concepts in impenetrable jargon that bounces off my skull like a bird flying into a window. Each next proceeds to request an amount of money that would imply they’ve taken one of my family members hostage. Each then dutifully gets paid because…well, I’m a writer. The odds are pretty good that my death will be premature, but I’ll be damned if it’s going to happen on my roof.

‘Viktor’ was different. Him I’ll remember.

As we sat on my front porch discussing the cost of some electrical work (short version: it’d be cheaper for me to figure out how to produce my own lightning), we discovered that we had attended the same college. Because I’m congenitally miserable at small talk — and because his actual name was much more unmistakably Russian than the one I’ve given him here — I followed up by asking where he was from originally.

What followed was a story of a Cold War migration from Siberia to the nation of Georgia to Estonia to West Germany to Middle Tennessee. A story of homes abandoned and belongings forsaken. A story of underground churches using handwritten bibles and trying to avoid government scrutiny. A story of the fear that came from living in the shadow of communism.

“You never knew when there’d be a knock at the door and someone would get dragged out by their hair never to be seen again,” he said. He added, almost as an afterthought,“That’s what happened to my grandfather.” He said that with no drama whatsoever. Without even a moment’s pause before the next thought. Imagine that: having someone you love disappear into a totalitarian abyss and being able to mention it as a dispassionate footnote.

That’s Viktor in a nutshell. Not a note of self-pity or despair. A wide smile and an easy laugh. He’ll tell you how America was his salvation. How we went from being persecuted for his faith in the Soviet Union to touring the United States with a Christian rock band. How he’s settled down now with an American wife…and six American kids (“some people would say that’s a curse, I say it’s a blessing”). How America’s critics have it wrong (in a brief aside about our perpetual “national conversation” about race: “After what I’ve seen, I don’t know how anybody could call anything in this country oppression.”)

I don’t wish Viktor’s experiences on anyone — but I wish everyone had that perspective. I wish that everyone who prattled on about the intrinsically oppressive character of this nation was forced to defend their convictions against the three most important words in the English language — “compared to what?” I wish more of us had as much love for what we’ve inherited as Viktor has for what he had to fight for. Tom Paine had it right: “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.”

As he was leaving, Viktor told me about a trip he had taken to California years ago when one of his sons was young. Never having been to the West Coast, he and his five-year-old headed down to the beach. As they stood in the waters of the Pacific, Viktor pointed to the horizon and told his boy, “I used to live on the other side of the water.” His son asked him if it was different over there. Viktor recounted his answer to me with a pregnant pause and half a wink: “It’s better here.”

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  1. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy CarterJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    #I’veNever had a Russian contractor on My porch.

    • #1
    • April 10, 2015, at 7:14 PM PDT
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  2. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western ChauvinistJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    That’s a perfect Midwest front porch story. We need more of these, please.

    • #2
    • April 10, 2015, at 7:16 PM PDT
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  3. PHCheese Member

    I had a similar encounter with a satellite dish installer. We lived way out in the country and his company forgot to pick him up, so we were with him for about six hours. Our guest did not speak a word of English nor a word of Russian for us. With the help of a hot meal and some wine we had an unforgetable evening. We somehow got his life story. He was placed in a prison for escaping a German POW camp. The Reds called him a traitor .After some twenty years he escaped and walked thousands of miles to far eastern Russia. He stowed away on a Japanese ship and eventually made his way to the US. Like Viktor he married an American and had six kids. He was in his sixties when he started his family. I don’t know if I have ever meet a happier person in my life.

    • #3
    • April 10, 2015, at 8:02 PM PDT
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  4. Hammer, The Member

    Western Chauvinist:That’s a perfect Midwest front porch story. We need more of these, please.

    south. ;)

    • #4
    • April 10, 2015, at 8:09 PM PDT
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  5. LunaticRex Inactive

    Excellent piece. Thanks for sharing this.

    • #5
    • April 10, 2015, at 8:22 PM PDT
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  6. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western ChauvinistJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Ryan M:

    Western Chauvinist:That’s a perfect Midwest front porch story. We need more of these, please.

    south. ;)

    Flyover country! ;-)

    • #6
    • April 10, 2015, at 8:26 PM PDT
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  7. Kay of MT Member

    Thank you for this story Troy. In my genealogy searches, I have come across several relations that have similar stories. We have the greatest country in the world, just not enough of us believe it. It’s enough to make one cry on a daily basis.

    • #7
    • April 10, 2015, at 8:44 PM PDT
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  8. Instugator Thatcher
    InstugatorJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    People have to tell their “war stories”.

    A few years ago one of my friends asked me to “retire” him. In Hollywood, that would mean “to kill” but in this case it meant “be the officer who presides over the ceremony and tells a good story.” Part of the task is to tell the prospective retiree to give you all of his officer performance reports and a copy of each of his “awards and decorations”.

    When I reviewed my buddy’s decorations I noticed he was awarded a “single-sortie” Air Medal. (Normally Air Medals are given after successfully completing X number of missions – but in rare cases what one does is so extraordinary as to be awarded one for a single mission – it saves the USAF from having to give out Distinguished Flying Crosses to Captains – unless they are in the newest, most favored, airframe.)

    In my buddy’s case it was because he was the first aircraft to identify and coordinate the rescue of the F-117 shot down over Yugoslavia. (contrary to the Wikipedia Article, my buddy in a EC-130 was the dude to get the call.)

    I, of course read about it initially as part of my pal’s decoration package – my later knowledge came about as part of my research.

    When I spoke at my friend’s retirement I hit on two themes. The first was that it was imperative of our families and friends to prod us for our ‘war stories’. We don’t have Earnie Pyle anymore and big name reporters like Brian Williams are more apt to tell the stories that affect and reflect on them positively as opposed to focusing on the stories of our troops. The second point I made was to the Vets in the audience – to remind them that their service didn’t end with what they did, but that they had an obligation to tell their stories to others, because our country seemed not to care about the heroism our troops have displayed in the last quarter century. Our children need to know the truth.

    So I told my pal’s war story. His family had never heard it. Although my buddy and his dad are estranged (Dad is a pro(re)gressive who thinks Boosh is the devil incarnate) his dad made a point of coming up to me and thanking me for the story of his son’s dedication he had not heard before.

    I wish Viktor well and I hope he tells his son more detail.

    • #8
    • April 10, 2015, at 9:23 PM PDT
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  9. Hammer, The Member

    Kay of MT:Thank you for this story Troy. In my genealogy searches, I have come across several relations that have similar stories. We have the greatest country in the world, just not enough of us believe it. It’s enough to make one cry on a daily basis.

    Troy does too much news, don’t you think? Talent should take time for narrative stories, for the benefit of those of us who find the news all too depressing.

    • #9
    • April 10, 2015, at 9:51 PM PDT
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  10. Kay of MT Member

    Actually Ryan, it’s the fact that not enough Americans believe that we have the greatest country in the world, that makes me cry.

    We have ignorant people like our flous, who wasn’t proud to be an American until her husband became president, and she had mega $$ to play on from the American taxpayers.

    • #10
    • April 10, 2015, at 10:08 PM PDT
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  11. Cow Girl Thatcher

    At one of my parent/student conferences this year, I remarked on their surname. The mom indicated that it was Laotian. I smiled and told her of my good friends and neighbors from 30 years ago who had come to live in SoCal from a refugee camp in the Philippines after escaping Laos. I said how much we had learned from each other. The mom leaned in and said in a fervent voice, “My mother carried me on her back as they sneaked out of our country. We, too, came here like that.” Then, she got tears in her eyes, “America saved my family! It is such an amazing country! It has done so much for us Laotians. I can never be thankful enough.”

    This from a woman who came here when she was a toddler. She has learned this from her parents. My friends from 30 years ago were just as grateful to be living in America. They urged their children to do well in school. They worked hard at learning English (our church helped them). They were such good friends and neighbors that we shared my chickens and pickles, and their spicy grilled meat skewers. Their grandmother watched my young son when I worked part-time.

    I already loved our nation, but their stories made me realize what a beacon of freedom the United States is for oppressed people. And those who consider themselves “oppressed” who were born and raised here, don’t even have a clue.

    • #11
    • April 10, 2015, at 10:35 PM PDT
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  12. JoelB Member

    My family too, has enjoyed the friendship of those who came over from the former Soviet Union with nothing as religious refugees. I remember how one day we were looking at pictures of the USSR in the World Book Encyclopedia. Children in a picture of a school there were wearing red scarves. “This is very bad!” said my friend. “The children must proclaim themselves to be atheists to get it”.

    Only the children with the red scarves would get to go on field trips and participate in the “fun” kinds of activities at the school. Only these children would later be allowed to go to universities. There were stories of children being taken from their families and imprisonments of parents if the family was too overtly religious.

    It struck me that one of the phrases that my friend used often concerning things here in the USA was “No problem.”

    • #12
    • April 11, 2015, at 3:56 AM PDT
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  13. OkieSailor Member
    OkieSailorJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    We have the luxury of complaining about things that matter much less because we have never been conquered or suffered overt oppression. May it always be so. At the same time, eternal vigilance really is the price of liberty. A serious study of history combined with a sober look at conditions in most other countries (not all) could give us the perspective to appreciate the liberty we do have along with a greater impetus to preserve and expand liberty for us and our posterity.

    • #13
    • April 11, 2015, at 4:35 AM PDT
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  14. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron MillerJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Generally agreed, but with the usual caveat:

    Americans demanded and secured an exceptional standard of freedom. If we are willing to accept less, we will get less.

    • #14
    • April 11, 2015, at 5:06 AM PDT
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  15. Eeyore Member
    EeyoreJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Troy Senik, Ed.: The odds are pretty good that my death will be premature, but I’ll be damned if it’s going to happen on my roof.

    You can minimize the likelihood of a precipitous death from such work if you deny Mr. Jack Daniel’s request to be your roofing helper.

    • #15
    • April 11, 2015, at 5:56 AM PDT
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  16. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western ChauvinistJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Mr. C had a professor in engineering school who was a Soviet defector. He was a very gifted mathematician and had managed to get the attention of American authorities who helped get him out through the Eastern Bloc countries.

    Upon arriving in the US, he was given a “handler” and assigned quarters in a decommissioned military barracks back east somewhere. After days of being driven around and shown what life in America was like, he told his handler he didn’t believe it. The freedom and abundance was too much. American authorities must have built a Potemkin village to impress defectors such as him.

    His handler threw him the car keys and told him to go wherever he liked. He drove to and “toured” as many supermarkets as he could find until he was convinced it was how Americans lived. He’d never seen anything like it.

    And, mind you, he’d been one of the more fortunate Soviet citizens.

    Stories such as these helped convert me to conservatism. It disgusts me that so many Democrats want us to be more like other nations. “Give us a king!” (big government), they cry.

    He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle[c] and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” — 1 Samuel 8

    • #16
    • April 11, 2015, at 5:58 AM PDT
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  17. Jim Chase Member
    Jim ChaseJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Great post, and great comments too. I am all for more stories. Even here in my corner of the south, front porch (or back deck) time seems somewhat in decline. Many folks just seem less intentional about it.

    I concur with Paine’s axiom, but would add that values and history properly taught can increase the probability of a more healthy perspective and appreciation for that which we have been given. For what I have obtained ‘cheaply’ was not in fact, cheap. It came rather, at great cost. Stories are an essential instrument in that process.

    • #17
    • April 11, 2015, at 6:27 AM PDT
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  18. Songwriter Inactive
    SongwriterJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Troy’s story of the immigrant is great. But my take-away is that Troy, having no truly useful skills, will be among the first, along with me, to be pushed outside the protective walls of the enclave in the coming Zombie Apocalypse.

    And since he is younger and can no doubt run faster, I will have to knock him out cold the moment they shut the gates behind us. Sorry for that, Troy.

    • #18
    • April 11, 2015, at 7:22 AM PDT
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  19. Hammer, The Member

    Kay of MT:Actually Ryan, it’s the fact that not enough Americans believe that we have the greatest country in the world, that makes me cry.

    We have ignorant people like our flous, who wasn’t proud to be an American until her husband became president, and she had mega $$ to play on from the American taxpayers.

    oh, yes, I totally agree. :) Our flous is kind of an ugly, bitter person, it seems… maybe I’m biased because I abhor her politics and those of her husband.

    • #19
    • April 11, 2015, at 7:32 AM PDT
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  20. Al Sparks Thatcher

    Instugator:

    The second point I made was to the Vets in the audience – to remind them that their service didn’t end with what they did, but that they had an obligation to tell their stories to others, because our country seemed not to care about the heroism our troops have displayed in the last quarter century. Our children need to know the truth.

    Part of what makes people like that so admirable is that they don’t talk about themselves in that way. It’s a bit of a conundrum, but that’s the way it is.

    I grew up in New Mexico. I’m a baby boomer, so it means that as a kid I was around middle-aged adults whose defining experience when they were young was World War II, even if they had missed it by a year or two, age-wise, to serve (my uncle served in the Navy, underage, until they found him out).

    If you are a World War II buff, you’re probably aware that a significant number of New Mexico National Guard members “participated” in the Bataan Death March.

    Once a year, signs would pop up on front yards that said, “I Survived the Bataan Death March.” But beyond that, they didn’t talk about it.

    It’s only looking back that I realize that I was surrounded by people who had done and seen a lot, but didn’t talk about it, and had moved on with their lives.

    That’s part of what makes them honorable.

    • #20
    • April 11, 2015, at 8:08 AM PDT
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  21. Instugator Thatcher
    InstugatorJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Al Sparks:

    Instugator:

    The second point I made was to the Vets in the audience – to remind them that their service didn’t end with what they did, but that they had an obligation to tell their stories to others, because our country seemed not to care about the heroism our troops have displayed in the last quarter century. Our children need to know the truth.

    Part of what makes people like that so admirable is that they don’t talk about themselves in that way. It’s a bit of a conundrum, but that’s the way it is.

    I grew up in New Mexico. I’m a baby boomer, so it means that as a kid I was around middle-aged adults whose defining experience when they were young was World War II, even if they had missed it by a year or two, age-wise, to serve (my uncle served in the Navy, underage, until they found him out).

    If you are a World War II buff, you’re probably aware that a significant number of New Mexico National Guard members “participated” in the Bataan Death March.

    Once a year, signs would pop up on front yards that said, “I Survived the Bataan Death March.” But beyond that, they didn’t talk about it.

    It’s only looking back that I realize that I was surrounded by people who had done and seen a lot, but didn’t talk about it, and had moved on with their lives.

    That’s part of what makes them honorable.

    You are right about that, true. They had people who told the truth about them – so they didn’t have to.

    We have not been told about the buildup to Desert Storm – or the 1990 Christmas bombing campaign in Utah – or the frenetic movement of people and stuff on January 14, 1991. We haven’t been told about the B-52G guys from Wurtsmuth AFB who were tasked to fly from the CONUS, bomb Iraq on Jan 16 and were expected to land and turn their jets the next day. Those guys (with a couple of crews from other units) dropped 1/2 of the munitions expended in the entire Gulf War. They achieved a utilization rate of 1.25 sorties per day per jet – in the large bomber world, that is phenomenal.

    But those stories don’t get told. I made a post back in August Asking which of the WW2 movies you would let an 8 year old watch. It ended up being a chronological compilation of WW2 movies.

    The USAF has been at war now for a quarter of a century. How much gets told about it?

    • #21
    • April 11, 2015, at 8:29 AM PDT
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  22. Herbert E. Meyer Contributor

    I was in San Francisco a few weeks ago on business, needed a lift back to my hotel, and tapped the Uber app on my iPhone. Five minutes later I was stepping into a small Toyota driven by a man who, from his name and looks, obviously was Moslem. I gave him the name of my hotel, and as we headed down the road we exchanged the usual pleasantries about the weather and the traffic.

    Please excuse my English. I am here only four years and still learning.

    No problem. Your English is just fine. How do you like driving for Uber?

    It is wonderful. I can set my own hours, and for me this is important. I am musician.

    What kind of music do you play?

    I am saxophone, but I study to be a composer.

    What kind of music do you want to compose?

    Classical music. It is so beautiful.

    This set us off on a conversation about classical music, and five minutes later — after discovering that we both were fans of the great Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich — we were listening to one of his symphonies on the car’s audio system. I asked my driver if he’d ever heard Shostakovich’s “Romance” from the Gadfly Suite. He said he’d never heard of it, and two minutes later — this while racing down 101-North at about 60 miles per hour — we were figuring out how to connect my iPhone to his audio system. Traffic was a mess, but we were in heaven listening to Shostakovich and chattering about his “Romance” over the road noise.

    By the time we reached my hotel we were old friends sharing our love of music. Along the way I learned he had “a beautiful wife and a beautiful baby daughter.”

    He pulled up to the curb, we shook hands and I wished him good luck with his career.

    Thank you. I am so lucky to be in this country.

    I replied that we were lucky to have him and his family among us.

    What’s amazing about this little story is that it isn’t amazing. This sort of thing happens all the time to people like me, who travel a great deal. If this is what immigration brings to our country — let’s have more of it.

    And it raises another thought: Why aren’t more young Americans like this young Uber driver — busting their rear ends to pay their bills instead of whining, and grateful to be in America?

    • #22
    • April 11, 2015, at 9:38 AM PDT
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  23. Troy Senik Contributor
    Troy Senik

    Eeyore:

    Troy Senik, Ed.: The odds are pretty good that my death will be premature, but I’ll be damned if it’s going to happen on my roof.

    You can minimize the likelihood of a precipitous death from such work if you deny Mr. Jack Daniel’s request to be your roofing helper.

    Let’s be honest — sometimes the reward leaves the risk in the dust.

    • #23
    • April 11, 2015, at 10:38 AM PDT
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  24. Troy Senik Contributor
    Troy Senik

    Songwriter:Troy’s story of the immigrant is great. But my take-away is that Troy, having no truly useful skills, will be among the first, along with me, to be pushed outside the protective walls of the enclave in the coming Zombie Apocalypse.

    And since he is younger and can no doubt run faster, I will have to knock him out cold the moment they shut the gates behind us. Sorry for that, Troy.

    Factor in that I’m a smoker and you can probably forego the coldcocking.

    • #24
    • April 11, 2015, at 10:40 AM PDT
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  25. Instugator Thatcher
    InstugatorJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Troy Senik, Ed.:

    Factor in that I’m a smoker and you can probably forego the coldcocking.

    I thought my opinion of you couldn’t be lower.

    • #25
    • April 11, 2015, at 2:42 PM PDT
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  26. Vance Richards Member
    Vance RichardsJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Back in 1990 I got to spend a few weeks in the the Soviet Union and I quickly realized that all of the stereotypes and propaganda that our government used to tell us about the USSR was true.

    People were very friendly to me, the foreigner, but they didn’t trust each other. I met one man who was embarrassed to admit that his brother was sent to Siberia. He was sent there because he had started his own newspaper which criticized the government. I went to grocery store where 80% of the shelves were empty.

    So yes, it’s better here. Hopefully we can keep it that way

    • #26
    • April 11, 2015, at 4:22 PM PDT
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  27. Profile Photo Member

    Thanks for this in so many ways, Troy….I had so much fun Friday night video visiting with everyone! Verandahs have always appealed to me,

    • #27
    • April 11, 2015, at 11:36 PM PDT
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  28. Songwriter Inactive
    SongwriterJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Troy Senik, Ed.:

    Songwriter:Troy’s story of the immigrant is great. But my take-away is that Troy, having no truly useful skills, will be among the first, along with me, to be pushed outside the protective walls of the enclave in the coming Zombie Apocalypse.

    And since he is younger and can no doubt run faster, I will have to knock him out cold the moment they shut the gates behind us. Sorry for that, Troy.

    Factor in that I’m a smoker and you can probably forego the coldcocking.

    Yeah, well I’m overweight and out of shape. So – back to square one.

    • #28
    • April 12, 2015, at 8:18 AM PDT
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  29. iWe Reagan
    iWeJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Troy Senik, Ed.:

    Songwriter: But my take-away is that Troy, having no truly useful skills, will be among the first, along with me, to be pushed outside the protective walls of the enclave in the coming Zombie Apocalypse.

    And since he is younger and can no doubt run faster, I will have to knock him out cold the moment they shut the gates behind us. Sorry for that, Troy.

    Factor in that I’m a smoker and you can probably forego the coldcocking.

    Nah. You’d leap on the first passing giraffe and gallop off into the sunset.

    • #29
    • April 12, 2015, at 11:59 AM PDT
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  30. Instugator Thatcher
    InstugatorJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    iWe:

    Troy Senik, Ed.:

    Songwriter: But my take-away is that Troy, having no truly useful skills, will be among the first, along with me, to be pushed outside the protective walls of the enclave in the coming Zombie Apocalypse.

    And since he is younger and can no doubt run faster, I will have to knock him out cold the moment they shut the gates behind us. Sorry for that, Troy.

    Factor in that I’m a smoker and you can probably forego the coldcocking.

    Nah. You’d leap on the first passing giraffe and gallop off into the sunset.

    Or the passing Giraffe would leap on him – Troy’s love is not unrequited after all.

    • #30
    • April 12, 2015, at 5:23 PM PDT
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