I woke up with a hangover yesterday morning. It was one of those cruel, oppressive hangovers that linger all day and make you bitterly regret not only your excesses of the past 24 hours, but also just about everything you’ve done for the past 30 years.
As I was wandering around the house that morning, dressed in my ratty bathrobe and slippers, feeling sorry for myself and muttering about the essential unfairness of life, I happened to glance at a mirror and was shocked by what I saw.
I looked like an ugly old man.
My face was puffy, my lids were drooping, and my eyes were still bloodshot. I hadn’t shaved in a week, my hair was standing on end, and my skin was off-color, almost jaundiced.
To be honest, I looked like shit. And I didn’t like it one bit.
Of course, most people look terrible when they wake up. But after cleaning up — showering and attending to toiletry details — they generally look a lot better.
Unfortunately, that didn’t work for me. After showering, shaving, trimming my eyebrows and nose hairs, and tending to the follicular growths sprouting from my ears, I still looked like Shemp Howard after a rough night.
Rolando, Benny Jay and Milo…..
Maybe I was being too hard on myself. Perhaps the hangover was skewing my perceptions. So I decided to get a second opinion. I asked my wife, the lovely Mrs. Milo, “Honey, do I look okay to you?”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. I guess I’m feeling kind of old and ugly today.”
“Well, you’re not that young anymore.”
“I’m aware of that.”
“And if you quit drinking and smoking so much it might improve your appearance.”
“If I think of something I’ll let you know.”
Thankfully, I don’t have to rely on my looks to keep my job as Society, Lifestyle and Religion columnist here at The Third City. Nobody cares what a blogger looks like. It’s like being a radio personality. Appearance is meaningless.
Milo in his good-looking days….
Now that I think about it, except for Ms. No Blaise, who happens to be a fine looking young woman, most of my colleagues at this blog site are mangy looking fuckers.
Benny Jay, for example, is an ugly bastard. He’s got a face that would give Stephen King nightmares.
Jonny Randolph has seen better days. I’d be willing to bet that he hasn’t gotten laid since the mid-1980s. And I doubt things will improve anytime soon.
Rolando is a nasty looking brute. People cross the street to avoid him. The local kids dress up like Rolando on Halloween, just to scare the neighbors.
Jim Siergey is another homely bastard. Years of obsessive cartooning have ruined his looks. He’s come to resemble a cartoon character himself. If he had a handlebar mustache, he’d look exactly like Yosemite Sam.
I suppose I shouldn’t dwell on appearances. What could be more superficial than judging people by the way they look? After all, some of the great people in history were not much to look at.
Abraham Lincoln was homely, to put it kindly. Mother Teresa could have used a touch of lipstick and a little rouge. Winston Churchill resembled a bulldog. Golda Meir probably had a tough time getting a prom date.
That said, I couldn’t shake the thought that I was becoming an unattractive older man. I was walking along Clark Street later that afternoon, depressed by the notion that time was working against me, that I was only going to get older and uglier, when I saw a very attractive young woman walking in my direction. As she passed by she gave me a beautiful smile and said, “Hi.”
I started feeling better right away.
In Art Pepper’s brave and wonderful autobiography, Straight Life, the celebrated jazz saxophone player wrote about dreaming of heroin. Art had been a junkie for nearly 40 years and despite having been through three marriages and fathering a child, he claimed that the single most important relationship in his life was with heroin.
Pepper wrote that heroin was so vital to his existence that he, and most junkies he knew, regularly dreamed of the drug, and none of the dreams were good ones. The usual dreams were reflections of a junkie’s basic frustrations and fears – missed connections, lack of money, short counts, poor quality, rip-offs and police trouble.
When a junkie is experiencing the agony of withdrawal symptoms, the dreams became much, much worse.
When Pepper was kicking the habit, generally against his will in a jail cell, going cold turkey, he said that he had the most horrifying junkie nightmares imaginable. In these dreams, Pepper was usually trying to inject himself with heroin to relieve the bone-deep pain of withdrawal, but something always went wrong. He couldn’t find a vein, the needle was plugged up, he accidentally knocked over the spoon, or his outfit was faulty and the heroin solution gushed onto the floor.
Even worse were dreams that his family members were denying him access to his stash. In one particularly horrific recurring nightmare, he attacked his grandmother with a knife, stabbing her repeatedly, because she had hidden his heroin supply and refused to tell him where it was.
I’ve never had a heroin problem. I tried it once, about a month after I came home from Vietnam, and it felt so good that it scared me. I never tried it again.
If I have a substance abuse issue, it’s no doubt related to alcohol. But I don’t recall ever dreaming of bourbon whiskey or red wine.
That said, there are some things that are so important to me, so vital to my existence, I can’t help but dream about them. And, like Art Pepper’s junkie dreams, these dreams never turn out well.
For example, every once in a while I dream that my wife, the lovely Mrs. Milo, is planning to leave me for another man, usually some sort of celebrity.
“Darn, honey, I had the craziest dream last night.”
“I dreamed you were planning to run off with Robin Williams.”
“The comedian? He’s not my type. Now, if it was Steve Martin, you’d have something to worry about.”
Another nightmare I have is about losing my freedom, something that’s almost as important to me as it was to Patrick Henry. Specifically, this dream is about being drafted into the U.S. Army again.
In this horrid vision, I’m standing in a long line with a group of draftees who are all 40 years younger than I am. We are being herded toward buses by stern-looking soldiers who are wearing campaign hats pulled down low over their eyes. When I try to explain that a terrible mistake has been made, nobody will listen to me.
“Look here, fellas, you can’t draft a guy twice. I believe it’s unconstitutional. Besides, do I look like I’m of draft age? I’m too old for this shit. Here, take a look at my discharge papers. God damn it, will one of you fuckers pay attention to me?”
But, of course, they don’t. They just keep pushing us toward the buses. “Move it along. We’re behind schedule. Pick up the pace. Let’s keep it moving.”
As if those dreams weren’t bad enough, lately I’ve been having nightmares about computers. The problem, in my dream, is that I can’t get online. Everything that can go wrong with a computer goes wrong with mine.
I get incomprehensible error messages on my monitor, written in a language I don’t understand. The screen goes blank or shows a clown’s face. The keyboard crumbles in my hands. Smoke rises from the back of the computer stack. Weird noises screech at me from the speakers. When I try to reboot I get an electric shock. It’s just horrible.
Like poor Art Pepper waking from his junkie dreams, I wake up from my computer nightmare in the middle of the night, covered in sweat, gasping for breath, my heart beating at an impossibly rapid rate.
Slowly, surely, the computer nightmare fades away. I come to my senses. My breathing steadies, my heart rate slows down. Once I regain my composure, some frightening thoughts occur to me. Why was I dreaming of computers? Why were computers so important to me? Why had they become such a necessary part of my life? These unwelcome thoughts pointed to a radical change in my life and I didn’t know if I could handle it. I had mutated, become a creature I was unfamiliar with. And deep in my soul I knew there was no going back.
Great God in heaven! I had become a computer geek.
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This was going to be a great weekend, a spectacular weekend, a weekend so filled with excess and debauchery that, if everything went according to plan, I’d be lucky to escape with my life.
You see, the lovely Mrs. Milo was going away for the weekend with a bunch of her slutty girlfriends. They were going to a cottage in Michigan where, they assured me, they planned to enagage in good-natured gossip, exchange recipes and knitting tips, and perhaps share a bottle or two of Chardonnay.
I would be alone for three glorious days, free to indulge in low-life pleasures on an epic scale. I was going to swim in rivers of Tennessee whiskey and float on clouds of fine California reefer. I was going to frolic with women, lots of women, preferably two or three at a time. And I intended to spend at least one evening in a brutal all-night poker game, where all the players were sure to be drunk, heavily armed and had aces up their sleeves.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go according to plan. Shortly before my wife left for Michigan, I caught the damned flu.
I felt the first symptom on the morning my wife was leaving, waking up with a slight tickle in my throat. I didn’t think much of it. I often wake up with aches, pains, cuts, scratches and bruises of unknown origins. By late afternoon my nose was running and I was firing off sneezes four or five at a time. I felt like shit and sensed that things would only get worse.
The lovely Mrs. Milo exhibited the requisite spousal concern for my well-being.
“Darn, I hate to leave just when you’re getting sick, but we’ve been planning this trip for weeks,” she said, as she snapped her suitcase shut and edged toward the door.
“Don’t worry about a thing, dumpling. This is a mere bump in the road. It’s probably just one of those 24-hour nuisance colds.”
“I hope that’s all it is. Try not to drink too much. I doubt alcohol will help your condition.”
“Your advice is duly noted.”
When I awoke the next morning the flu had settled in my chest. I was feverish and coughing as harshly and steadily as a chain-smoking West Virginia coal miner. By early afternoon I was at death’s creaky door, and the door was slowly swinging open.
I called my physician at the VA hospital, Dr, Frankie “Disco” Lopez and explained my plight. He told me to come down to the hospital. “Make it quick,” he said. “I’ve got a horse running in the eighth race at Arlington and don’t want to miss it.”
Somehow I managed to drag my ailing ass down to the hospital in good time and was quickly admitted into the doctor’s office. When Dr. Lopez saw me, he shook his head and said, “Dude, you look like shit.”
“Is that your professional opinion?”
“I’m pretty sure that would be Stevie Wonder’s opinion, too.”
After a cursory examination, Dr. Lopez said, “You’ve got a real good dose of the flu. There’s a nasty strain of it going around now. I’ve seen a lot of cases in the last few weeks.”
“What’s the prognosis?”
“It depends on your lifestyle and, most importantly, your age. I had a patient last week who had a case similar to yours. He was a heavy drinker and smoker, and had a real bad cough like the one you’ve got.”
“Were you able to help him?”
“I gave him some pills, told him to drink lots of fluids and get plenty of bed rest.”
“What happened to the guy?”
“The fucker died.”
“Jesus! He must have been an old man.”
“No, I believe he was about your age.”
I’ve had a fear of the flu ever since I read “The Stand,” by Stephen King. The disease has been responsible for tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of fatalities over the years. Not only is it deadly, it’s treacherous, too. The virus mutates at an alarming rate. Every year science has to come up with a new vaccine to battle the latest variation of the fiendish and opportunistic affliction. Unfortunately, the vaccines don’t always work. I know people that have had flu shots and still caught the flu.
But I wasn’t worried. I was in good hands. Dr. Frankie “Disco” Lopez is a master of the medical arts. When I left the hospital I figured I was well on the way to recovery.
The good doctor had sized up the situation and come up with a solution. On my way out of his office he handed me a vial of pills and said “These will make you feel real good.”
He also recommended I drink lots of fluids and get plenty of bed rest.
I’ve probably got the worst looking front lawn on Eastwood Avenue. It’s an epic eyesore, a pathetic patch of ground, mostly bare dirt and weeds, with a few tufts of grass making a valiant effort to survive in extremely inhospitable conditions.
The lawn is so ugly that dogs won’t even shit on it. I’ve actually seen the neighborhood mutts disdainfully eying my lawn, before deciding to trot across the street to find a more aesthetically pleasing spot to do their business.
I suppose it’s my fault that the front yard is in such terrible condition. Other than mowing the lawn once in a while, I don’t pay much attention to it. I’m a practical guy. I understand the utility of grass, especially to ruminants, but I don’t see the value in a well-maintained lawn.
In fact, there are a lot of downsides to keeping an immaculate lawn. For one thing, it’s a time-consuming business. Mowing, edging, weeding, fertilizing and watering a lawn uses up precious hours that could be better spent in drinking, smoking reefer, having sex, playing poker or taking naps.
Another negative aspect of maintaining a high-quality lawn is the expense. The tools necessary to care for a lawn – mowers, edgers, weed-wackers, clippers, etc. – cost a pretty penny, money that could certainly be put to better use. Several of my foolish neighbors have actually spent good money hiring lawn care companies to come by once a week to keep their lawns looking spiffy.
I refuse to invest time and money in something that serves no useful purpose, something that I consider to be absolutely worthless. That said, not everyone shares my low opinion of lawns.
My wife, the lovely Mrs. Milo, has been nagging me for years to do something about the lawn.
“Milo, the lawn is getting really nasty. It looks worse every year. Can’t you do something about it?”
“I don’t give a shit about the lawn.”
“I know you don’t, but the neighbors do.”
“Fuck the neighbors.”
“Well, I care about the lawn, too. I expect you to do something about it and do it soon. Do we understand each other?”
So, that’s how I found myself standing on the sidewalk in front of my house, staring at my wasteland of a front lawn, wondering how in the hell I was going to fix it. After giving it a great deal of thought, I came to the conclusion that the best thing to do was to cover the lawn in concrete and turn it into a handball court.
I was just about to go into the house and announce my decision to my wife, when I was interrupted by Leonard, a neighbor from across the street, who came up to me and said, “You’ve got lawn grubs. That’s why your lawn looks so shitty.”
“I’ve got what?”
“Lawn grubs. They eat grass roots. If you don’t do something about it, they’ll kill what’s left of your lawn. Eventually you’ll have to dig up this mess, treat it with pesticides and lay down new sod. You should have taken better care of your lawn.”
Leonard is a true lawn snob and I despise him for it. His lawn is immaculate. It looks like the 18th green at Augusta National. He spends his entire weekend, and parts of his weekdays, working on his lawn. I’ve actually seen him with a ruler, measuring the height of the grass before he mows it. He’s even got a digitally timed sprinkler system that automatically waters his yard, mornings and afternoons.
I don’t mind Leonard’s lawn obsession. We’ve all got our quirks. What pisses me off is his attitude. He looks down on people whose lawns don’t measure up to his high standards. I imagine he sees people like me, who care nothing for lawns, as lesser, deeply flawed beings.
Later that afternoon, as I was enjoying a whiskey and cigarette on my back porch, I thought about the lawn grubs devastating my front yard. They had been on my mind ever since my earlier conversation with that arrogant bastard, Leonard. After having another drink I decided I had to see what these grubs looked like.
I grabbed a trowel, went to the front yard, and dug around until I found a few of the grubs. They were disgusting little things, a sickly shade of white and about an inch long. I rooted around some more until I had about a dozen of them in the trowel.
As I watched the grubs squirming on the trowel, I wondered how such tiny creatures could do so much damage. How long did it take them to ruin a lawn? How quickly did they reproduce? How soon did the damage become evident? Those were just a few of the thoughts going through my mind. Some of the thoughts, I must admit, were wicked.
As the sun started to set and it grew darker, I walked across the street and dropped the grubs on Leonard’s lawn.
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Recently, the lovely Mrs. Milo asked me what I would like to have done with my remains in the unlikely event that I should someday die.
“Jesus! That’s a hell of thing to ask a guy before he’s even had a chance to enjoy his morning whiskey and cigarette.”
“I’m serious, honey. Responsible adults have to make these kinds of decisions.”
“This is a thoroughly disagreeable conversation, but I suppose you’re right. What are my options?”
“Cremation or burial.”
“Neither of those choices appeals to me. I was thinking mummification would be the way to go.”
“I doubt we can afford that.”
“God damn it, if it’s a matter of money, just put me in a plastic bag and leave me out in the alley on Tuesday morning. The Department of Streets and Sanitation will take care of everything. It won’t cost a cent.”
There are actually many other ways of disposing of corpses than just burial or cremation. Bodies can be buried at sea, dissolved by caustic chemicals, donated to science, exposed to the elements, frozen in liquid nitrogen, sold to private collectors, or left in the trunks of cars parked at Midway Airport.
My personal favorite carcass disposal method is the eco-friendly practice of ritual cannibalism, which is generally frowned upon in the USA, but still highly popular in many parts of the Balkans.
Normally I wouldn’t have hesitated in gleefully pointing out my wife’s ignorance of less traditional burial customs, but I didn’t want to antagonize her. She has been in a nasty mood the last few months and I didn’t want to start another argument.
The sad truth is that we haven’t been getting along as well as I’d like. She finds fault with me on a daily basis. It seems that anything I do or say pisses her off. I hate to use a cliché, but I have been walking on egg shells.
Then, the other day, as I was enjoying some red wine and reefer, a disturbing thought occurred to me. Why was the lovely Mrs. Milo so interested in figuring out a way to dispose of my earthly remains? What was going on in that pretty head of hers? Was there something I needed to know?
I decided to keep a close eye on her, just in case. Soon, I noticed that she was exhibiting strange patterns of behavior. For one thing, she was spending much more time than usual watching movies on the Lifetime and Oxygen channels. She also started reading self-help books, like Accidents Rarely Happen By Accident, and Women Are From Venus, Men Are Rat Bastards. She also bought a new cookbook called Unusual Italian Recipes, by Lucy Borgia.
I realized I was probably being foolish. Still, a guy can’t be too careful. I decided to call my sister, a refined, accomplished woman, and get her advice.
“Hey, Sis, it’s your only brother.”
“What the fuck do you want? If you’re calling to borrow money you can just forget about it.”
“I just need some advice.”
“Make it quick. I haven’t got all day.”
When I explained what was on my mind, my sister said, “You’re an idiot,” and hung up the phone.
That night I wandered into the kitchen as my wife was making dinner. I didn’t recognize what she was preparing, so I asked, “What’s cooking?”
“Something different. I’m sure you’ll like it.”
“It’s got an interesting aroma. I don’t recognize some of the spices you’re adding.”
“Trust me, it’s to die for. I got it from a new Italian cookbook.”
When we sat down at the table my wife dove right in. She’s always had a good appetite. After a moment, she gave me an odd look and said, “Why did you do that?”
“I just saw you give the cat some food from your plate. You’ve never done that before.”
“Heh, heh, I don’t know what got into me.”
“Well, aren’t you going to eat?”
“Oh, yeah. I’m just letting it cool off.”
A bit later, she said, “What are you waiting for?”
“I think I’ll pour another glass of wine,” I said, keeping a very close eye on the cat. “Then, I’ll eat.”
This past Saturday I drove to Munster, Indiana to visit my 88-year-old mother at her nursing home. She’s been in the home for a few weeks now, but this is just the third time I’ve made the one hour drive to visit her. Fortunately, my sister lives about five minutes away from the home and visits Mom almost every day.
Mom wasn’t in her room when I got there, so I went to the nursing station and asked one of the nurses if she knew of my mother’s whereabouts.
“I believe she’s in the dining room, playing Bingo.”
Sure enough, that’s where I found my mother, playing Bingo with about 20 other elderly ladies. My mother recognized me when I greeted her, which made me very happy. The dear lady has Alzheimer’s Disease and I know that in another year, if she lives that long, she probably won’t know who I am.
Mom gave me a big smile and said, “What are you doing here?”
“I just came by to visit.”
She seemed puzzled. “Where am I?”
“You’re in a nursing home.”
She looked around the room, taking in the scene, then, nodded her head in understanding. “Well, I’m playing Bingo now.”
“Yes, I can see that. I’ll just go sit down and have a cup of coffee. We’ll talk when the game is over.”
While I was enjoying my coffee and watching the Bingo game, it occurred to me that most of the ladies playing the game were very much like my mother – blooded veterans of the cut-throat Northwest Indiana Bingo circuit.
In their prime, they had played Bingo in church basements, VFWs, school auditoriums and American Legion halls all over Lake County, from Hammond to Gary to Valparaiso and beyond. When they were younger, these Bingo stalwarts were fierce competitors, keen-eyed, quick-witted and aggressive. They were apex bingo predators. Some were so good that they played a half a dozen cards at a time.
At least once a week, these badass Bingo queens would hit the streets, looking for action. And they were hardly ever disappointed. Most of the time they came back as winners, bringing home supermarket and department store gift certificates, beauty salon coupons, and, occasionally, some cash money. When the holidays rolled around, the ladies usually came home with Christmas turkeys and Easter hams, bags of frozen shrimp, and boxes of Omaha steaks.
Sadly, the ladies playing Bingo in the nursing home, my mother included, were way past their prime. The skills they needed to succeed at high-level, competitive Bingo were long gone. Dementia, hearing problems, poor eyesight, and various other afflictions had robbed them of the considerable abilities they once possessed. Watching them was like watching one of your childhood baseball heroes hobbling painfully around the bases during an old timers’ game.
When the lady who ran the Bingo game spoke into her microphone and said, “The next number is G 16, G 16,” the old ladies did their best to swing into action.
“What did she say?”
“I think it was B 15.”
“No, that’s not it. The number was B 13.”
“Marge, did you catch the number?”
“No, I wasn’t paying attention.”
“Donna, did you hear the number?”
Donna said, “Lumma, lumma, lumma.”
The announcer, who, by the way, had the patience of a cicada, repeated the number. “Ladies, that was G 16, G 16.”
“See, I told you it was B15.”
A few minutes later, one of the players hollered, “Bingo!” When the announcer walked over to check the winner’s card, she said, “Edna, you don’t have Bingo. Two of those numbers were never called.”
“Darn, I thought I had a winner.”
A short time afterwards, another lady hollered “Bingo!?” When her card was checked, it turned out that she was mistaken, too.
I was hoping for the best when my mother called, “Bingo!” But, unfortunately, she had also gotten a couple of numbers wrong.
When the day’s Bingo action was over and the cards and markers had been cleared away, I walked over to talk to my mother. She gave me a big smile when she saw me. “Honey, what are you doing here?”
“I just came by to visit.”
She seemed confused. “Where am I?”
“Mom, you’re in a nursing home.”
She was quiet for a few moments, thinking things over, then she said, “You look skinny. You should eat more.”
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My children love their mother dearly, almost as much as they adore me. Next to me, their mother is the most important person in the world. I mean, what’s not to like about the lovely Mrs. Milo? She’s beautiful, charming, nurturing, a loving mother, in short, everything a child would want in a parent, and a husband in a wife.
There is one thing, however, that my daughters dislike about their mother. Dislike may actually be a poor choice of words. There is one thing Mrs. Milo does that the kids absolutely hate.
They hate when their mother does the grocery shopping. You, see, Mrs. Milo has an odd taste in food, probably instilled in her at an early age by her nutritionist father.
When Mrs. Milo goes grocery shopping, she stocks up on pasta, fish and skinless chicken breasts. Her grocery cart gets loaded with fresh vegetables, ripe fruit, freshly squeezed juices, whole grain breads, assorted soy products, low sodium and low sugar cookies, and other fat-free, low-carb, organically grown, chemical-free foodstuffs, all produced in non-communist countries.
When the children hear that their mother is going grocery shopping, they groan in misery. Their precious little hearts start fluttering and tears well up in their Bambi-like eyes. The way they act you’d think it was the worst thing that ever happened to them, worse even than having their cell phones confiscated or learning that they have to wear braces for another nine years.
“Daddy! Daddy! Mom’s going grocery shopping!”
“Can’t you stop her?”
“Why would I want to stop her?”
“She never gets anything good. Can’t you do something? Daddy, please.”
“Now, now, children, your mother has every right to go grocery shopping. Every American has the inalienable right to shop. It says so right in the Constitution. I could be arrested if I tried to stop her.”
The truth is, the kids like it better when I do the grocery shopping. When I go out for groceries, I do it in style. I not only bring home the bacon, I also bring home the sugar, the starch, the grease and that squishy, tasteless petroleum by-product that passes for white bread. I bring home the chips, the cookies, the ice cream, the red meat and the soda.
I am “Da Man” when it comes to shit that’s not good for you.
I truly enjoy grocery shopping. Next to bookstores, taverns and the race track, grocery stores are my favorite places of business. I love pushing a cart down the narrow aisles of my local market. I visit every aisle, grabbing anything that catches my eye.
I especially enjoy the produce section, although I rarely buy the green stuff. The reason I enjoy the produce section is that I get a thrill watching women handle produce, especially cucumbers. Ah, but I digress.
When I come home from a shopping trip, the kids squeal with joy. They go through the shopping bags like they were opening presents on Christmas morning. It does my heart good to see the kids happy. I settle back in an easy chair, pour a glass of wine and congratulate myself on another job well done. After all, I’m the man of the house and, once again, I’ve succeeded in providing food for the family. I am Mr. Elemental. I have hunted and I have gathered. And I have paid for it all with my debit card.
Mrs. Milo, however, is not quite so pleased.
“Jesus, honey, you really brought home a lot of crap this time.”
“It’s all in the eye of the beholder, dear.”
“Couldn’t you have at least tried to get some stuff that’s healthy to eat?”
“Sweetheart, I believe I’ve covered at least two of the basic food groups.”
“Some of the junk you brought home doesn’t fit in any food group. In fact, I doubt it actually qualifies as food.”
“Now, now, dear, let’s not be so quick to point fingers. I did bring you a very nice bottle of Pinot Grigot.”
“You did? That was sweet and thoughtful of you.”
Milo is no fool.