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Monday, August 31, 2021

After the initial shock from this early-morning’s news of Disney buying Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion in cash and stock, my reaction was, well, it’s about time.

I always thought that Marvel’s intellectual property — namely, those iconic superhero characters like Spider-Man, Hulk, and Iron Man — was ridiculously undervalued. That was apparent a decade ago, when the Carl Icahn-Ron Perelman fight over the bankrupt company was playing out. It wasn’t until those blockbuster movies started rolling out that the business world suddenly realized what unique commodities Marvel possessed, which led to this payday.

Beyond the pure business angle, there is a bittersweet aspect to this deal. This is Marvel Entertainment being validated by that $4-billion pricetag — not Marvel Comics, per se. Had the company not unlocked the value of its creative holdings through those box-office performances, it would still be considered “just” a comic book publisher. And that core business isn’t enough in the media world. That’s not new, as Marvel’s post-bankruptcy life under the former Toy Biz Inc. management was as a feeder system for toy/collectible products. No matter what, the comic-book heart of Marvel gets lost.

As for Disney, the synergies from the movie business are paired with this bulking-up of their strategic refocus:

One point of the deal is to help Disney appeal to young men who have flocked to theaters to see Marvel superheroes such as Iron Man in recent years. That contrasts with Disney’s recent successes among young women with such fare as Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers.

Marvel television shows also already account for 20 hours per week of programming on Disney’s recently rebranded, boy-focused cable network, Disney XD, and that looks likely to increase, [Disney CEO Robert] Iger said. The shows are “right in the wheelhouse for boys,” he said.

So this means Disney’s designated “kid whisperer” is out of a job, I guess.

Back to that “it’s about time” idea: Marvel will now be a creative cog in a big-media behemoth, after years of mostly stand-alone existence. This was in stark contrast with its chief publishing rival, DC Comics, which has been part of the company that’s now known as Time Warner ever since 1969. Again, it’s a long-overdue assimilation of a creative stable into a broader media organization.

So now, finally, Superman and Spider-Man are on equal corporate footing. And, it should be noted, both work for rodent-based mascots: Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny. Rich.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 08/31/2009 08:25 PM
Category: Business, Media, Pop Culture
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If speed dating is making an emotional mess of your social life, then I suppose the pro bono shots of “speed shrinking” found in bookstores and cafes is an appropriate remedy.

Otherwise, it sounds like cracking open a fortune cookie would be just as effective as this three-minute therapy. And a lot quicker. And tastier.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 08/31/2009 02:35 PM
Category: New Yorkin', Society
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Despite overall user growth for Facebook, Virginia Heffernan detects the beginnings of disenchantment, backlash, and decline:

Is Facebook doomed to someday become an online ghost town, run by zombie users who never update their pages and packs of marketers picking at the corpses of social circles they once hoped to exploit? Sad, if so. Though maybe fated, like the demise of a college clique.

To answer that question: Yes, Virginia, just as every other online community site has fallen to the fickleness of the Web, Facebook too will eventually succumb to the social networking lifecycle:

1. They launch amid much hype over attracting groups of enthusiastic, hip, pretty young things

2. They attain a critical mass of a couple million members

3. They start to cross-promote and sell ads like crazy, cashing in on what’s assumed to be a captive audience

4. They roll out premium add-ons for nominal fees

5. They get so large and ad-driven that they turn off the very members that flocked to them in the first place, leading to defections and a loss of cool-cachet

6. They sputter on, devolving into purely affiliate-marketing/spam-generating subscriber rolls of questionable value

And so on, until a new crop of sites roll out. What I can’t figure out is why people continually buy into them, swallowing the hype about how they’re new and innovative, when they’re far from it. Maybe the average joiner goes into it knowing that it’s got a short shelf life.

It’s been years since I cooked up that stage-by-stage progression/regression. I can’t say I’ve detected anything different lately about the interaction between people and their favorite Web hangouts to necessitate any changes to that list.

I’d say Facebook is well along this course; MySpace is further down the same road, and yes, Twitter is also on this ride. Nothing new, since has-been socnets like Friendster have already covered this territory. A limited shelf life for social media hubs is looking like a predictable fact of online life.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 08/31/2009 01:06 PM
Category: Social Media Online, Society
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Sunday, August 30, 2021

Perhaps a furniture purveyor that prides itself on promoting a clean-line aesthetic shouldn’t be surprised when its customers go ape-shit over a little thing like a new featured font in the print catalogue:

Ikea said that in order to reach many people in many different ways, it needed a font that works in both digital and print media.

“Verdana is a simple, cost-effective font which works well in all media and languages,” [spokeswoman Camilla] Meiby said.

But some Ikea fans were outraged, finding Verdana less elegant than [former typeface] Futura.

Coulda been worse. Ikea could have bean-counted that cost-effectiveness down to the inkdrop, and decided to go with the pinhole-chic Ecofont. In which case all those font-snobs, in disgust, would have blown matching holes into their skulls.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 08/30/2009 08:45 PM
Category: Creative, Tech
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dropI first read this product description for “Da’ Bomb” in Mo Hotta Mo Betta’s novelty hot-sauce catalogue some 15 years ago:

When a sauce gets this hot, flavor is not really an issue. Pain is the issue.

Da’ Bomb is the hottest we’ve got, so if it’s scathing heat you’re after, you’ve found your dream sauce. Ka boooom!

Nothing drives home the tastebud-searing sensation of blended habanero peppers like those first two sentences. That little snatch of marketing copy stayed with me through the years, in no small part due to my having sampled this hellish concoction — barely a drop, which was enough to set my mouth on fire for literally hours, and keep me from ever cracking open that little bottle again. (It wound up sitting on my desk for years afterward, giving me and visitors a kick just from the warning label.)

It’s amusing that Mo Hotta has preserved that marketing language for so long. I’d like to think it’s because it’s been so effective all this time. But judging from their fairly basic website, I think they simply haven’t bothered to update the copywriting that they transferred online from the old print catalogues. The giveaway is that second part of Da’ Bomb’s description: At 119,700 Scoville Units of heat, this little vial of pain still ranks up there, but is well behind several other of the company’s extreme-hot sauces. Aside from the 1-million Scoville beasts, one notable concoction clocks in at 283,000, earning it the horrific tagline “Dresden in a bottle”.

Indeed, death’s-head imagery pairs up well with these barely-edible flavoring/pain agents. I haven’t seen such gratuitous mixing of food and violence since Suicide Food’s chronicle of barnyard self-immolations.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 08/30/2009 12:15 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Creative, Food
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Saturday, August 29, 2021

I moved out of Florida nearly four years ago. It took a Great Recession for others to follow: The Sunshine State lost 58,000 in population last year, the first non-wartime drop in more than a century.

“It’s dramatic,” said Stanley K. Smith, an economics professor at the University of Florida who compiled the report. “You have a state that was booming and has been a leader in population growth for the last 100 years that suddenly has seen a substantial shift.”

The loss is more than a data point. Growth gave Florida its notorious flip-flop and flower-print swagger. Life could be carefree under the sun because, as a famous state tourism advertisement put it in 1986, “The rules are different here.”

But what if they are not? Or if those Florida rules — an approach that made growth paramount in the state’s sales pitch, self-image and revenue structure — no longer apply?

“It’s got to be a real psychological blow,” said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution who predicted that census data in December would confirm the findings. “I don’t know if you can take a whole state to a psychiatrist, but the whole Florida economy was based on migration flows.”

All that sounds like gloating from the North, the main source of Florida’s former 1,100-per-day new-resident influx. But the mindset is certainly real. Attractions like a low tax rate, non-wintry weather, and cheap land have kept folks flocking to the peninsula for decades; the housing meltdown and lack of a truly diversified economy show how fragile the state’s foundations are.

I’m sure the trend will reverse again, as early as next year. But for now, I’ll take smug satisfaction in having been ahead of the curve.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 08/29/2009 05:00 PM
Category: Florida Livin', Society
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swatch dogs and diet coke heads
Deeming that the ghosts of Westerberg High have lain dormant long enough, a modern-day, small-screen remake is being planned for the ’80s dark satire Heathers.

I think this nerdy bird’s reaction sums it up best:

Fox is planning a “contemporary take” of Heathers for television. I’d throw up but bulimia’s so ‘87.

As cherished as the original is, there’s no ignoring its extreme datedness today. Look-and-feel is easily overlooked in a period piece, but the movie’s overall low-budget quality isn’t: The cheesy synthesizer soundtrack, bad cinematography, and shaky plot points stick out like sore thumbs. Still, the whole wound up being greater than the parts, and any attempted redo — especially as an instantly-disposable TV movie or series — is ill-advised.

Easy prediction: The rebooted Veronica character chronicles her torments not in a hard-copy diary, but on her (”real”) Facebook page. Or is Twitter more optimal for teen-angst bullshit with a body count?

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 08/29/2009 02:52 PM
Category: Movies, Pop Culture, TV
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Friday, August 28, 2021

tittering tweeters
From the same lady who brought us her own personal Vagina Twitter-logue, here’s Heartless Doll editor Andrea Grimes with the top ten things her tits would tweet.

And let’s give a special shout-out to the No. 1 punchline on that list:

1. @boyfriendspenis you are so dramatic. always trying to come between us.

Yeah. I like the idea of both breasts collectively expressing themselves within the same tweetstream, but with occasional left-right intra-dialogue. A sort of mammarial schizophrenia, played out online.

Disclaimer: The above photo is my stock-photo contribution to this Twitter-tittering. I have no idea how close it comes to representing Ms. Grimes. Although if she possesses anything close to these proportions, I’d say her rack doesn’t need Twitter — they already speak volumes, without the benefit of social media.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 08/28/2009 07:43 PM
Category: Comedy, Social Media Online, Women
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I’m sure I’m not the only Web-media geek who finds this exercise in excessive URL structuring to be amusing:


(I cleverly imaged that text to ensure no sloppy line-breaks or other peculiarities.) The explanation, from that same sub-directoried page:

The SEO Consultants Directory is currently performing a test on sub-directory depth. This document resides 23 levels below the root with two internal links; one from the SEO Articles (/articles/) section and the other from the SEO Consultants Directory Sitemap (/directory/), both of these are top level pages. We needed a live example for proof of concept purposes.

It is not the directory depth that counts but how many clicks it takes to get to the final destination, referred to as the “Click Path”. I’m wondering just how far we can go with sub-directory depth before there are challenges with getting the destination document indexed.

A lot of forward-slashing setup to lavish on the browser’s navigation toolbar, considering that most people are downright allergic to viewing the average computery-code Web address. And ironically, this particular depth perception yields shallow results.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 08/28/2009 02:28 PM
Category: Comedy, Creative, Internet
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Recently, an ex of mine surprised me with news that she was ditching her lifelong career in sales to become a nurse. It surprised me because, while I knew she was tired of the 20 years of sales pitching, I didn’t see her transitioning from that high-pressured spiel to a primary-care environment. She certainly has a compassionate, nurturing side to her; I just don’t see her making a living with it.

But she’s set her mind on it, and if all goes as planned, she’ll be a Registered Nurse within two years. Thus, she’ll turn the same trick that many second-career nurses have turned.

This ex isn’t the first person I’ve met who’s switched gears and gotten into nursing. I can think of a former business associate who accomplished her goal of becoming a nurse, after a divorce and other major life changes. There are a couple of others I remember who had the same intention, although I lost touch with them before finding out if they actually followed through or not. The common thread: All of them were on the edge of, or well into, middle age (late 30s to late 40s), and, yes, all were women.

So: Is the pursuit of a nursing career a later-in-life rite of passage for women?

I realize men become nurses too. But let’s face it, women still dominate the field, so it remains primarily a female’s professional destination. And I’ve yet to meet a man who’s declared a desire to chuck all work-related experience to this point, in favor of becoming an RN.

Second-career nurses aren’t new; the trend’s been noticeable for decades. And its allure seems strong, regardless of how accomplished the “starter” career is. From my perspective, it even overrides seeming incompatibilities in personality and temperament — such as in the case of my ex-girlfriend, whose nursing intentions sparked my speculation on this in the first place.

Maybe it’s a gender-issue thing, combined with routine midlife anxiety. Makes me wonder what first-career nurses wind up pining for when they reach that restless stage…

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 08/28/2009 01:09 PM
Category: Business, Society, Women
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Thursday, August 27, 2021

written up
What do I think of Chicago Blackhawks star forward Patrick Kane’s court-ordered penalty for assaulting a taxi driver in Buffalo?

The 20-year-old player and his 21-year-old cousin, James Kane, were given conditional discharges, meaning they will avoid any penalties if they stay out of trouble for a year and write apologies to cabbie Jan Radecki.

That written apology condition, oddly enough, reminds me of my long-ago critique on how writing is regarded by authority figures:

As someone who does a lot of writing for a living, it still blows my mind when I encounter so many people who have a built-in aversion to doing any real writing (i.e., non-email/IM sentence fragments). And it’s really easy to figure out the root of that aversion: Teachers who inflict, rather than instruct, writing on their students. When you frame the act of writing as the consequence of doing something wrong, naturally the student is going to develop a distaste for that communication skill, and it’ll probably stay distasteful for their entire lives.

And that distasteful feeling now extends into the criminal justice system. I realize this is probably standard procedure, and hardly as punishing as jail time. Still, nothing reinforces the idea of writing as a negative exercise like making it a criminal reparation. Small wonder most people avoid it at all costs, even in a Digital Age that relies on the written word more than ever.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 08/27/2009 08:52 PM
Category: Hockey, Society, True Crime
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If Twitter is like a stereophonic tweeter — short-burst output that encourages high-frequency — then Woofer is the long-form (1,400-character minimum) low-frequency complement, resembling the eponymous speaker. Because all the work it takes to fill up that supersized input box pretty much ensures fewer answers to that “What Are You Doing?” query.

Following that stereo-equipment analogy, you’d assume that you need both of these micro- and macro-blogging services, for full-coverage social media expressive capabilities. But since Woofer is just a parody homage, I’d say you’re safe in going mono-sound with just Twitter. And starting a real blog for your 140-character overflow.

As for filling that gaping Woof-hole, there is an auto-generating solution: Just as Twitter works better with URL shorteners like TinyURL, Woofer practically demands HugeURL. In fact, I think Woofer should integrate HugeURL to automatically lengthen any permalink that’s pasted in there — instant threshold! It’s like this link-lengthening “service” now has a real(?) reason to exist…

I’ve posted only one woof; don’t see adding to that, given that I’ve got this here blog on which to string together words indefinitely. And yes, I cheated by HugeURL-ing this blog’s Web address into that woof. I simply don’t have a spare 6,700-odd characters to contribute, like some other bloggers do.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 08/27/2009 12:45 PM
Category: Comedy, Internet, Social Media Online
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Wednesday, August 26, 2021

prop master
Everyone is entitled to personal touches in the office space, including California’s “People’s Governor”. And when the Golden State’s executive office is occupied by Arnold Schwarzenegger, you’d expect him to decorate with some outsized souvenirs from an outsized former career:

Only in California can the Governor have a barbarian sword and a human hunting robot lying around in his office. Even with California’s increasing state budget deficit, less than average educational system, horrible pollution, and insane traffic, I still would have to say that I am proud to be a Californian.

Yes, as confirmed via his Twitter account, and the accompanying TwitPic photo, Ah-nold keeps the prop sword from his Conan the Barbarian days prominently on display in his Sacramento digs. Less prominent is a miniature T1 figurine near his desk. Of the two, I’d think the big honkin’ blade makes more of a Governatoring statement.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 08/26/2009 05:24 PM
Category: Celebrity, Movies, Politics, Pop Culture
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Wish I could drag myself up to Midtown today so I could catch a glimpse of the Williams sisters lobbing tennis balls in Bryant Park:

The lawn will be transformed into two regulation US Open tennis courts for exhibition matches between USTA pros, including Venus and Serena Williams; former pros-turned-TV commentators the Jensen brothers; the World’s current No. 1 Men’s doubles team the Bryan brothers; and James Blake.

Like I said: A glimpse of Venus and Serena, and then, well, whatever. I don’t know nor care who those other chumps are.

Not that I’m much of a tennis fan to begin with. And now that I’m clued in on the double-swinging wonders of two-racket tennis, I’m afraid that old-fashioned one-armed volley just doesn’t suffice anymore. (I wonder if the Williamses could be persuaded to show off the two-handed method this afternoon?)

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 08/26/2009 02:49 PM
Category: New Yorkin', Other Sports
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As far as I can tell, sentiment analysis is just the latest spin on a continuing attempt to discern deeper insights from a fairly shallow expressive vein:

The simplest algorithms work by scanning keywords to categorize a statement as positive or negative, based on a simple binary analysis (“love” is good, “hate” is bad). But that approach fails to capture the subtleties that bring human language to life: irony, sarcasm, slang and other idiomatic expressions. Reliable sentiment analysis requires parsing many linguistic shades of gray.

“We are dealing with sentiment that can be expressed in subtle ways,” said Bo Pang, a researcher at Yahoo who co-wrote “Opinion Mining and Sentiment Analysis,” one of the first academic books on sentiment analysis.

To get at the true intent of a statement, Ms. Pang developed software that looks at several different filters, including polarity (is the statement positive or negative?), intensity (what is the degree of emotion being expressed?) and subjectivity (how partial or impartial is the source?).

For example, a preponderance of adjectives often signals a high degree of subjectivity, while noun- and verb-heavy statements tend toward a more neutral point of view.

As with most such semantic Web exercises, sentiment analysis relies far too much on keywords to interpret Web media and users. Tags, metadata, and just plain old descriptive text are all, by their nature, subject to ambiguity. Because people often imperfectly choose their words, wholesale analysis of those keyworded markings never will be wholly reliable. The 70-80 percent accuracy that Scout Labs, Jodange and other firms claim is probably the upper limit, and even those results aren’t useful beyond surface public opinion (and only a sub-sub-segment of that, since a minority of the total population actively engages in blogs and other social media).

Naturally, such research focuses on Web keywords and written communication because that’s all there is by which to navigate Web data. But that avoids the inherent problem: Keywords reveal only so much. Because the Internet is still primarily text-based, there’s a distinct limit to how, and how much, people will populate it. Tinkering with grammatical syntax and such builds great algorithms, but it’s never going to uncover particularly deep sentiments from the online hive-mind.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 08/26/2009 02:09 PM
Category: Business, Social Media Online, Society
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Tuesday, August 25, 2021

If you find your free hand is unduly idle while your forehand is whacking that ball, consider taking up two-racket tennis.

And — as if that preceding sentence wasn’t suggestive enough — prepare to play with yourself. Because despite a long history, this unconventional approach to the sport isn’t catching on, despite one man’s promotional efforts.

Personally, I stink at the single-racket game. So the only advantage I can see to adding another cat-gut to my arsenal is that, when I reach my inevitable frustration point, I can double the game-ending destruction by sending two rackets into the ground.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 08/25/2009 03:38 PM
Category: Creative, Other Sports
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I’ve been meaning to get around to visiting The High Line ever since it opened this summer. The elevated greenery hasn’t been enough of an enticement for me, but the Meatpacking District sideshow overlooking it might be:

The Standard Hotel, which towers over the newly opened High Line park, features floor-to-ceiling windows — and guests with a penchant for leaving the curtains wide open when they shouldn’t.

In recent days, guests have been spotted having sex, toweling off, and pleasuring themselves — all to the viewing wonderment of tourists and New Yorkers strolling the High Line.

The Standard vows to cut down on the lewdness. Too bad. Parkland propriety aside, a hotel-based equivalent to the Mile High Club would be something to strive for.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 08/25/2009 09:21 AM
Category: New Yorkin', Society
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Monday, August 24, 2021

tops out
Well, a million is an exaggeration, even if you count by them two-by-two. But even one exposed boob was probably one too many for some onlookers yesterday, when advocates for National Go-Topless Day marched the streets near Central Park, with bared breasts on display.

And in the Empire State, it’s all nice and legal:

New York is the only state in the country where women can be topless legally, after a 1992 ruling in the state’s highest court. That means any woman can walk around the city at any time with no shirt on.

Among the speakers was Ramona Santorelli, of upstate Rochester, who was the plaintiff in the 1992 case.

“It’s not about baring your breasts,” she said. “But the true meaning is to normalize women’s bodies.”

I could get used to this kind of normalization. Although considering that this Go Topless stunt was organized by the cuckoo-go-nuts Raelian Movement, I think any claims to “normal” are forfeited.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 08/24/2009 01:16 PM
Category: Fashion, New Yorkin', Society, Women
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I’ve always liked the expression “addition by subtraction”, because a related, dual meaning underlies it: A negative action results in a positive effect, as in when an under-performing or damaging asset is removed, making the remaining whole more cohesive and, therefore, stronger. A power-packed turn of the phrase.

In fact, it’s deserving of a mathematical ramp-up: I propose “multiplication by subtraction” to really emphasize an improvement accruing from such a purge-and-surge. When addition doesn’t cover it, multiplication will.

I never realized that the original phrase is primarily regarded as a sports-media cliche. I guess I probably first came upon in that vein; but I freely use it in other contexts, and don’t see it as exclusive to any particular subject area. By contrast, “multiplication by subtraction” hasn’t gained much traction yet, so there’s room to grow — by an appropriately large margin.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 08/24/2009 10:58 AM
Category: Media, Sports, Wordsmithing
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It’s apparently been around since the mid-1960s, yet this past weekend was the first time I’ve ever heard the coining of the phrase “faction”. That’s a meld of “fact” and “fiction”, as applied to books, movies, and other works that integrally incorporate real-life people and events into a fictional account/narrative. Just about any docudrama, historical fiction, and the like would qualify.

That crunching-together sounds good at first — until you realize that “faction” is already a word, with a distinctly different definition. The common description of a dissenting group within a larger one isn’t everyday language, but it’s far from obscure.

I wonder if “faction” in the literary sense is a British invention, and is used more widely in the UK than over here. Even if it is, it’s still a linguistic reach, given the existence of the established definition. Just stick to “fictionalization” for the fact-fiction combos, and be done with it; no need to get cute or pithy.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 08/24/2009 09:46 AM
Category: Movies, Publishing, Wordsmithing
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Sunday, August 23, 2021

I had an uncharacteristically restless night of sleep last night. I couldn’t account for it, since I’d managed to avoid the typical desperation that colors most Saturday nights. But instead of the usual zonk-out as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was tossing and turning, and actually woke up at least once — practically unheard of.

Today at lunchtime, I called up my cousin Adrianna, who I hadn’t spoken with for a couple of weeks. She gave me some surprise news: Late last night, without warning, she fell seriously ill and ended up rushing to the hospital for emergency surgery. Luckily, the best-case scenario prevailed, in that it was routine surgery without complications, and she was discharged back home today for about a week’s worth of rest and recovery.

Can’t say I ever believed in extrasensory perception. Rationally, I can accept that my night of moderate unease, and Adrianna’s night of extreme (to say the least) unease, were completely coincidental.

Beyond the rational? I dunno. The corker, for me: While I can’t really put a label on whatever it was that wouldn’t let me sleep — was it anxiety, dread, nervousness, or some other emotion? — at one point during the night I did manage to crystallize my thoughts. For some reason, I fixated on the idea that my cousin Billy — Adrianna’s brother — had experienced some bodily harm. It was completely out of left field, as I haven’t talked to Billy in a long while either, and had no reason to think that anything had happened to him. If not for what I’d found out the next day, I doubt I’d even have remembered that notion.

Turns out my instincts were onto something, but had targeted the wrong cousin. Given that misfire, I guess I remain a psychic skeptic.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 08/23/2009 07:10 PM
Category: General
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