There is a mystery man in the history of The Third City, a shadowy figure who toiled briefly at the blog, but whose influence is felt to this very day. Along with Benny Jay, he was a founder of the site. He called himself Big Rick, but Benny and I referred to him as the Barn Boss.
Not only was Big Rick a pompous windbag, which is a requisite for any blogger, he was also ruthless, eaten up by ambition. And he was a master at navigating corporate minefields. In no time at all, he had taken over the company.
By the time I signed on as Society, Lifestyle and Religion columnist for The Third City, he was in total control of the blog site – and he ran it with an iron hand.
Big Rick and I butted heads immediately. One of the first pieces I wrote was about buying some reefer from a guy who was working out of the parking lot of at Dunkin’ Donuts on Ashland Avenue. Big Rick didn’t like it.
“You ignorant motherfucker,” he said. “What if the owner of the Dunkin’ Donuts reads this and decides to sue us?”
“The owner is a Pakistani immigrant,” I replied. “He only knows about 10 words of English. Unless someone translates the blog into Urdu, I doubt he’ll read it.”
A few months later, I wrote another blog that Big Rick didn’t like. It was a think piece, meticulously researched, something I spent a lot of time on. It was called, “Eating Pussy.”
Big Rick confronted me angrily. “Are you trying to ruin this fucking blog? How could you write a piece of shit like this? A lot of our readers are little old ladies. How do you think they’ll react when they see that we’re writing about eating pussy?”
“I’m hoping it will bring back some pleasant memories.”
When Big Rick wasn’t terrorizing the staff, he was busy pounding out his own blog posts. He wrote two or three a week and they were all pretty much the same – heavy-handed, hard-hitting screeds based on the latest news. Like 20 million other bloggers, he’d scan newspaper headlines and comment on them from his own political perspective. He didn’t attract many readers, but he seemed to be enjoying himself.
Despite his failings as a Barn Boss and blogger, we needed him. Benny and I had no interest in the day-to-day business of the blog site. If it wasn’t for his guiding hand, The Third City would have descended into chaos. At least that’s what Big Rick told us.
But after a while, Big Rick began behaving erratically. He’d disappear for three or four days at a time. not answering his phone or returning calls. When we needed him most, when important decisions had to be made, we couldn’t contact him.
I recall one time when a representative from Al Jazeera contacted us and asked about buying The Third City. They offered a small fortune. Benny and I were wild about the deal. But we couldn’t do it without Big Rick.
“Where the fuck is that worthless bastard?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen him in a week.”
“He’s probably whoring or laying up drunk somewhere.”
“Well, the fucker’s costing us a lot of dough.”
It became obvious that Big Rick was losing interest in The Third City. When he came to work, he’d arrive late, take a three hour lunch, and leave early. The only day he showed up on time was payday.
He didn’t even bother working himself into a temper about some of the blogs I wrote.
“Hey, Big Rick, how’d you like the piece I wrote about the history of Tijuana donkey shows?”
“It was okay.”
“Next week I’m writing about proper whorehouse etiquette.”
“That sounds good.”
One day Benny Jay and I received an e-mail from Big Rick. It was his resignation letter. He said he was bored by The Third City and tired of working with a couple of dumbasses like us. He felt we were holding him back, not allowing him room to grow.
Big Rick informed us that he had a new mission in life. He had found his true calling. He was going to move to Southern Indiana and blog about arts, culture and politics for the edification of ignorant Hoosiers.
We thought it was an excellent idea.
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Denmark recently joined five other countries, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland and Iceland, in banning the Halal and Kosher methods of slaughtering animals for food. They say that cutting an animal’s throat while it is still conscious is inhumane. Naturally, Muslims and Jews, the people most affected by the bans on ritual slaughter, are upset.
Now, I’m a mild-mannered guy and I hate arguing with people. I especially hate arguing with Jews and Muslims. I find them to be extraordinarily hard-headed and stubborn.
In my opinion, a person who is willing to have a piece of his dick sliced off, in order to keep a bargain with God, is a person that’s unlikely to listen to reason.
That said, I have to disagree with my Jewish and Muslim friends. The Danes are right. Cutting an animal’s throat, while it is still conscious, is cruel and inhumane.
The proper way to slaughter a beast, the way it’s done in most civilized countries, is to stun the animal before cutting its throat. The theory behind stunning is that a groggy, semi-conscious animal is less likely to feel pain.
The most popular way to humanely stun an animal is to smash its head with a blunt object. This used to be done by a man wielding a sledge hammer, but now it’s done by a machine. This method is called “percussive stunning.”
Another humane method in wide use is called “electrical stunning,” which is basically nothing more than tasering an animal before slitting its throat.
Then there is the humane method called “controlled atmosphere killing,” used for smaller animals, like poultry. The animals are herded into an airtight space, gas is pumped into the room, either carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide, and the animals suffocate. Tolerance for these gases vary among animals, so some creatures take longer to suffocate than others.
Despite the availability of humane ways to slaughter animals, many people, like Jews and Muslims, cling to traditional methods of preparing animals for the table.
Serbians, for example, traditionally strangle lambs before placing them on spits. The Chinese beat puppies to death with two-by-fours before tossing them into stew pots. In New Zealand, it is customary to have sexual intercourse with a sheep before reducing it to mutton. And in England, animals are bored to death prior to becoming bland, tasteless meals.
No matter how it’s done, slaughtering a large animal, like a steer, is a brutal, nasty piece of business. There is nothing humane about the process. After it’s been bludgeoned, electrocuted or had its throat slashed, the steer is hung upside down on a hook to drain it of blood.
Every part of the animal is used. Nothing is wasted. The animal’s skin is torn off to be tanned for leather. Its head, lower legs and feet are removed. Then the steer is gutted, its viscera removed and used for making sausage or sold as organ meat.
When the carcass is quartered, the men with long knives, axes and saws begin their awful work. They carve out the filets, tenderloins, strip steaks, t-bones and roasts. When the choicest cuts have been taken, they start on lesser cuts, like chuck, flank, round, brisket and shanks. Anything left over is ground into hamburger. Bones that aren’t sold for cooking purposes are ground into fertilizer.
At the end of the day, there is nothing left but a greasy spot where a 1,500 pound animal once stood.
Last Sunday, we had guests for dinner, a small crowd, just family and a few friends. The lovely Mrs. Milo prepared one of my favorite meals, roast beef with all the trimmings. The roast was cooked perfectly, tender and savory, its pink juices pooling on the serving platter.
I had enjoyed several glasses of wine before the meal and was feeling real good. As I was carving the meat, I said, “Hey! Does anyone want to hear the gruesome story of how this fine piece of meat ended up on our dinner table?”
“Dad!” my daughter replied. “Nobody wants to hear about that.”
The lovely Mrs. Milo and my daughters were out of town for a week, visiting in-laws in Minnesota. I was on my own, without spousal or daughterly supervision, free to do whatever I wanted. Normally, when left to my own devices, I tend to fall back on dear and familiar pleasures, like gambling, drinking, smoking reefer, and whoring.
But this time I restrained myself. I needed a clear head, because I realized this was the best opportunity I’ve had in a long time to get rid of Otis, the mangy, rotten bastard of a tomcat who’s made my life a living hell for the past 10 years.
So, instead of wallowing in the comfort of low-life splendors, I spent this past weekend digging a Burmese Tiger Trap in my front yard. It wasn’t a full size tiger trap, which generally are 20 feet wide and at least 15 feet deep.
No, this was going to be a miniature tiger trap, built to scale, just large enough to accommodate an average sized tabby cat.
Even though my wife and children were out of town, I still had to be careful about digging the trap. I didn’t want the neighbors to see what I was doing. The folks on my block are nosy fuckers, always prying into other peoples’ business. A few months ago, one of them, I believe it was that slutty Cathy Ivcich, called my wife and told her that she had seen me trying to run over the cat with the lawn mower. Of course, I denied it, but now my wife makes sure to keep the cat in the house on the rare occasions I do yard work.
Most of the people on my street lead extremely boring and uneventful lives and are usually in bed by 10:00 o’clock. Just to make sure I wouldn’t be spotted I waited until after midnight to start digging the trap. Before going out to the front yard, I double-checked the Burmese Tiger Trap instructions I had downloaded from the internet. I even used my trusty slide rule to make sure I had scaled the dimensions correctly.
I finished digging the trap just before dawn. Although the internet instructions said that the final step in the process was optional, I decided to add a few dozen sharpened bamboo stakes, which I had recently purchased at the Ho Chi Minh Hobby Shop on Argyle Street. Better safe than sorry, I always say.
After carefully camouflaging the tiger trap, I went into the house to rest. It had been a long night. I was exhausted, but felt a deep sense of satisfaction. I had taken control of my destiny. My life was entering a new chapter, one I hoped would be filled with peace and contentment, and free of aggravation. I fell asleep and dreamed of angels.
I slept until late in the day. I was out on my back porch enjoying a whiskey with my wake-up cigarette, when suddenly the pleasant afternoon silence was broken by the most horrendous screeching and howling sounds I’d ever heard. It had to be the cat. The dumb fucker fell for the trap.
I rushed out to the front yard and was stunned to see that it wasn’t Otis in the Burmese Tiger Trap.
It was Irv, the elderly but still very dapper gentleman who visits my neighbor, the Widow Shimkus, several afternoons a week. Irv was grimacing in pain, holding his leg in the air and trying to pull out a few of the bamboo stakes that were sticking from his shoe.
“Holy fuck!” he groaned, “What kind of crazy shit is this!”
“Beats me, Irv. I’ve got no idea how this happened.”
“Some fucking moron dug this hole deliberately,” he said, pulling another sliver of bamboo from his foot. “It looks like some sort of animal trap.”
“Heh, heh. It was probably some of the local brats. They’re a nasty bunch of delinquents. I expect most of them will end up in reform school eventually.”
Irv pulled the last of the bamboo from his foot and rose unsteadily to his feet. “The damned idiot that did this should be arrested. You’d better fill in that hole before somebody else gets hurt.”
“No problem, Irv, I’ll take care of it.”
“There’s some sick fuckers living in this neighborhood,” Irv muttered, as he limped towards the Widow Shimkus’ front door.
The Third City fell on hard times after our last Barn Boss, the guy we hired to run the blog site, embezzled all of the company’s money and ran off with our slutty receptionist.
The damage to the company and staff was catastrophic. The Widows & Orphans Fund had been completely emptied. Our pensions were looted. We didn’t have enough money to keep up the rent on our plush Michigan Avenue Office, pay salaries, or pay the necessary bribes to keep our blogging license. The rotten bastard of a Barn Boss didn’t even leave enough money in the petty cash drawer to buy a round of drinks.
I was certain that our blogging days were over.
The financial damage was devastating, but the psychological impact on our staff was even worse. The thought that The Third City was finished, that everything we had worked so hard for over these past few years was gone, was more than most of us could stand.
It seemed that the entire staff went into a tailspin, a long free-fall into the bottomless pit of oblivion.
Benny Jay, my partner here at The Third City, seemed to take our misfortunes the hardest. He went on an epic two-week-long, tri-state, fried chicken bender. The private detectives his lovely wife hired to track him down eventually found Benny sleeping it off by a dumpster behind the Popeye’s Chicken in New Buffalo, Michigan.
Jonny Randolph, our world-class photographer, was inconsolable. He briefly considered selling all of his cameras and getting completely out of the photography business, but changed his mind when he realized he was unfit for any other kind of work.
Rolando disappeared without a trace. I heard a rumor that he was freelancing on the Wisconsin Chippendales circuit, but that information was never verified.
No Blaise went a bit crazy and sought comfort in shopping. In a short time she went through her savings, maxed out all of her credit cards and had to move back in with her parents.
Jim Siergey took the bad news in stride. He claimed that he always expected The Third City to fail miserably. As soon as he heard about the embezzlement he began negotiations with other blog sites.
Despite the abject despair, the palpable air of gloom and doom, that had afflicted my colleagues, I was determined to keep The Third City afloat. The blog site had become a beloved institution, an important part of many peoples’ lives. Tens of thousands of loyal readers rely on us for straight talk, sound advice, and spiritual guidance. I simply could not let it fail.
The problem, of course, was money. It takes a lot of it to run a proper blog site and the company was broke. A great deal of money would have to be raised, in a very short time, if The Third City was going to survive.
Benny had recovered from his fried chicken trauma and was able to help with the fund raising efforts. He sold his entire collection of Barry Manilow CDs and autographed Norm Van Lier basketball jerseys. He also made a pretty penny by selling off most of his art collection, including the poker playing dogs and velvet Elvis paintings.
I brought in a few bucks by selling off some of my possessions, but most of my contribution came from selling my sister’s brand new car to a guy I knew in Gary. My sister happened to be out of town at the time.
I don’t know how we did it, but somehow we managed to save the blog. Slowly, one day at a time, The Third City got back on its feet. The staff came trickling back and soon we were all hard at work, blogging, keeping our readers happy, and making big money again.
Benny and I learned an important lesson from this harrowing experience. We would never again be foolish with the company’s money. We would watch each dollar like it was the only one we had. The company’s fiduciary health was as important as its creative health.
That said, we still needed someone to run The Third City’s day-to-day operations. Benny and I just didn’t have time to oversee every minor detail of our blogging business. We needed a new Barn Boss.
“I think I found the right man for the job,” Benny said. “I’ve been corresponding with this guy through emails and he sounds like the real deal, a sharp businessman with a background in international finance.”
“Great, who is he?”
“Milton M’bogo, originally from London, England, but now he lives in Lagos, Nigeria.”
“When can he start?”
“He can start next week. But we have to send him a cashier’s check for $2,800 to cover his airfare and moving expenses.”
“No problem. Go ahead and send the check.”
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I used to take pills strictly for recreational purposes. Now I take pills because I have to.
Every day I take Nifedipine and Metoprolol for blood pressure, Simvastatin for cholesterol and Levothyroxine for low thyroid levels. I also swallow an aspirin every morning, just in case.
I understood and accepted the blood pressure and cholesterol issues. A lot of people of a certain age struggle with those problems. But a malfunctioning thyroid was news to me. Before my physician at the VA Hospital, Dr. Frankie “Disco” Lopez, told me about my thyroid, I had no idea that there was a problem.
“Man, I didn’t even know that I had a thyroid.”
“Don’t worry about it. We’ll give you some pills and you’ll be as good as new.”
“Ah, shit! Are there any side effects with this thyroid medicine?”
“Yeah, you’ll have more energy and you’ll lose weight.”
“I hate to lose weight. I’m kind of skinny already.”
“Dude, being skinny is a good thing. It makes your dick look bigger.”
“By the way, Doc, I need some more Vicodin.”
“What happened? I prescribed a shitload of Vicodin for you a couple of weeks ago.”
“The, ah, dog ate it.”
“Damn! How’s the dog?”
“The dog’s feeling real good right now.”
Until a few years ago I never took any medication at all. I was as healthy, rude and rambunctious as a North Woods wolverine. I ate what I pleased, drank to excess, smoked like Bogart and entertained impure thoughts on a regular basis. I enjoyed years of low-life splendor and had planned on enjoying many more, perhaps even picking up a few new vices when I reached my Golden Years.
And then something happened.
My doctor said there was a problem that required immediate attention – and it involved major surgery.
“Ah, fuck! Do I have any options?”
“Sure, you’ve got some options.”
“Well, what the hell are they?”
“You can ignore the situation, eventually get real sick, and die miserably in a couple of years.”
“We can do the surgery right away, fix the problem, and you’ll be able to live out a normal life span.”
“Okay, what are my other options?”
“You have no more options.”
I won’t lie. The thought of major surgery scared me so badly that I briefly considered giving up smoking, drinking, abusing drugs and eating red meat. I asked the doctor what percentage of patients died on the operating table while undergoing this procedure.
“About two percent,’ he replied. “But those numbers are skewed towards people who are in bad shape when they finally come in for surgery. Those numbers don’t apply to you. You’re in real good physical condition, everything considered.”
The percentages the doctor mentioned should have been a comfort to me, but they weren’t. I’m a veteran of this life, an old hand. I’ve seen too many aces spiked on the river to have absolute faith in odds, percentages or probabilities.
Despite my fears and misgivings, the operation was a success. Pain was minimal and the recovery ahead of schedule. I was the new, improved and upgraded Milo 3.0. In a couple of months I was up to my old tricks again, doing the same stupid shit I had always done. If there was a lesson there, I never learned it.
The only difference in my life before surgery and after surgery is that now I take pills.
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We had a 2nd Lieutenant, let’s call him Lt. Smith, who served as my platoon leader for several months. He seemed to be a nice enough guy, considerate of his men, easy to talk to and not too eager to cover himself in glory. He was an educated man, with a degree from the University of Pennsylvania.
Lt. Smith was madly in love with his college girlfriend. Whenever I talked to him the discussion would invariably turn to the love of his life. He carried a photo album of her and would whip it out at the slightest sign of interest. The photos depicted an attractive young woman in a variety of settings, on campus, at the beach, on the ski slopes.
“Beautiful, isn’t she?” Lt. Smith would always ask me, after showing me her latest pictures.
“Yeah, she’s a real looker.”
“We’re going to get married when I get back to the world.”
“That’s great, sir.”
“We were going to get married before I came in-country, but I thought it best we wait, just in case.”
“That’s real sound thinking, sir.”
One day Lt. Smith got a letter from his beloved, which mentioned that she and a few girlfriends were going to spend the weekend in upstate New York attending an outdoor music festival. As it turned out, the festival was Woodstock.
Just to remind those of you whose memories are shot, whose brain cells are fried, or who are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, Woodstock was the blow-out party of the 20th Century. It was a life-changing event for many people, changing their attitudes, redefining their reasons for existence and altering the trajectory of their lives. Lt. Smith’s girlfriend was one of the people who went to Woodstock and never looked back. Lt. Smith, who used to get a letter from his girlfriend every other day, never heard from her again, at least while he was in Vietnam. I’ve never seen a sadder man.
Packages from home were always a welcome treat. We called them “Care Packages” and they usually came from parents, grandparents, wives or girlfriends. The packages contained everything from homemade cookies to bottles of whiskey, porn magazines to editions of hometown newspapers. My father once sent me a wicked-looking Buck knife with a fine leather sheath. I lost it a couple of months after it arrived.
There was a guy – let’s call him Freaky Joe – who received a package from his girlfriend that contained a set of Day-Glo paints, which were very popular in the 60s. The paints glowed in the dark and were used for decorating t-shirts, making posters and face painting. I knew a guy in college who liked to get stoned, use Day-Glo paint to paint his teeth different colors and then go out at night and smile at people.
Freaky Joe spent one afternoon smoking reefer and painting a Claymore mine with his newly-arrived paint set. A Claymore mine is a plastic shell filled with C-4 explosives and packed with hundreds of BBs or ball bearings. It was attached to a long cord that had a manually activated detonating device at its terminus. When the device was set off, the Claymore exploded with devastating power, shredding everything in its range.
Freaky Joe was sitting with a goofy smile on his face, a Claymore in his lap, painting stars, half moons, polka dots and stick figures all over the mine’s outer shell. When asked what he was doing, Freaky Joe replied, “Just fucking around.”
That night Freaky Joe’s squad went out on night ambush. This was an exercise where a squad of eight men went out in the evening and set up an ambush along a well-traveled trail. Anybody who came walking by was in trouble. To be fair, the other side did the same thing.
Freaky Joe had his own idea of how to run a night ambush. He hung the painted Claymore mine in a tree, about head high. Then he went off about 40 yards, found a good place to hide, and waited for some poor soul to come by.
A while later, a lone Vietnamese came strolling along. He might have been an NVA regular, a Viet Cong, or just a luckless farmer. The man saw something odd hanging in a tree, something unexplainable. It was a group of stars, half moons, stripes and stick figures, all twinkling and glowing in the dark. His curiosity obviously piqued, the man walked up to the glowing vision and pressed his face close to see what it was. At that point Freaky Joe activated the Claymore and blew the man’s head off.
The boys got a good laugh out of that one.
Every couple of months my company would be taken out of the field and sent back to Division Headquarters in Chu Lai for three days of rest and relaxation that was known as “standdown.” There was plenty of relaxation but very little rest. It was basically a three-day beer bust, with lots of reefer and opium to grease the skids.
One of the best things about standdown was that Division HQ provided live entertainment, in the form of rock, country or R&B bands. The bands were generally from Australia, South Korea or the Philippines. I don’t remember if they were any good, but they were always fronted by attractive female singers.
One of the rumors going around was that these singers also doubled as whores. We had just finished watching a performance by an Australian group that featured three very good looking singers. They played mostly Motown stuff and did a credible imitation of the Supremes. When the show was over, I huddled with a guy named Duffy and a 2nd Lieutenant, whom I’ll call Bruce Diksas to spare him any undue embarrassment. We decided to take a shot at the the Aussie Supremes.
Lt. Diksas, being an officer and a gentleman, was able to commandeer the company jeep. Then he, Duffy and I went in search of the women.
“Oh, man, round-eyed women.”
“Yeah, and two of them are blondes.”
“Shit, man, I haven’t seen a blonde in eight months.”
“Did you bring the weed?”
“Brought a bottle, too.”
“Oh, man, this is gonna be great.”
“Fucking blondes, can you believe it?”
We finally located the entertainers’ compound. It was a heavily guarded area of Airstream trailers enclosed by barbed wire. The only reason we were able to get inside was that Lt. Diksas pulled rank, telling the MP at the gate that we were searching for an AWOL and had information that he might be in the area.
When we located the Aussie Supremes’ manager, a greasy looking guy who resembled a debauched Oliver Reed, we made our offer.
“We’ll give you a hundred and fifty dollars each for the three girls for the night.”
The manager lit a cigarette – I remember it was a Salem – and considered our offer. He pursed his lips, rocked his head from side to side, squinted his eyes, and then finally broke our hearts.
“I’m sorry, lads. That’s a nice offer, but the girls are playing the Field Grade Officers Club this evening and I’m sure we’ll get a better deal.”
When legislators from the other 48 states see the revenues that marijuana sales generate in Colorado and Washington, they’ll rush to legalize the sale of marijuana in their own states.
The huge amounts of money brought into state coffers by taxing, licensing and regulating marijuana sales, and the opportunities to skim, embezzle and misappropriate those same funds, will be more than most politicians can resist.
In five years, 10 at most, marijuana usage by adults will probably be legal in every state of the union, with the possible exception of Utah, a blue-nosed shithole known for moderation in all things except marriage.
I don’t enjoy reefer like I did when I was a younger man. These days, I smoke about one joint a year, and that’s only when I’m drinking and in the company of some of my aging hipster friends. Though I’m close to being a reefer teetotaler, I still consider it rude behavior not to take at least one small hit when a friend passes a joint around.
That said, it does my heart good to know that there are some places in this nation where a guy can smoke a little weed without worrying about getting his ass tossed into jail.
But, there is one thing that bothers me about buying marijuana legally – the mechanics of actually purchasing it.
According to some reports I’ve read, there are not enough marijuana outlets in Colorado. In Denver, people have to wait in lines, sometimes for more than an hour, just to get their hands on some reefer.
I don’t like the idea of standing in line for an hour, waiting to buy some weed from a clerk working in a store that will probably have a name like Mister Giggles. I’d much rather get my marijuana the old fashioned way – from my neighborhood dealer.
In the late 70s and early 80s, my connection was a guy named Gary, who lived on Sheffield, near Wrigley Field. Whenever I’d get down to seeds and stems, I’d stop by Gary’s place.
Hanging out at Gary’s was a pleasant way to waste a couple of hours. There was always good music on the stereo, stimulating conversation, and plenty of herb to sample. He enjoyed having people over and was a good host, generous with food and drink. I also met quite a few interesting people, and made some lasting friendships, while sharing joints in Gary’s living room. When I left Gary’s place, I usually had a smile on my face.
And that, my friends, is the way a civilized person, a real gent, buys his weed. When I was a pothead, I did things the right way. I shopped locally, patronized a small business, and kept my money in the neighborhood.
Gary’s been dead for about 15 years, but I was thinking about him recently, wondering how he’d react to the legalization of marijuana. My guess is that he’d be in full panic mode. Aside from a stint in the military, Gary had never held a regular job. He had always been a small-time pot dealer. And that’s all he ever wanted to be.
Legalizing the sale of marijuana in the state of Illinois would have ruined Gary.
Right now, in Colorado and Washington, there are untold thousands of pot dealers out of work, their livelihoods destroyed by arbitrary acts of their state legislatures. Like the ice man, TV repairman, the four-man pitching rotation, and Vaudeville, the neighborhood pot dealer is, or soon will be, relegated to history’s dustbin. These former pillars of the underground community now face a bleak and uncertain future, with nothing to look forward to but the dismal prospect of working for a living.
Good luck, boys. It’s been great doing business with ya.