Ray & The Warthog

This is why I never take things for granted.

This time last week, I’d thought my life was pretty rough. My main point of misery centered on the contents of my tobacco pouch. The supply had dwindled, and what remained was dry, crumbling, and tasteless. My papers weren’t much better, being pages ripped from an old Bible I’d found in Silver City. Guess that’s karma. When you’re reduced to smoking Bible pages, maybe it’s time to rethink your life choices.

But oh, how things change. I’m getting some much-needed perspective. Cowered in a dry creek bed watching that damned A-10 circle back around, my cigarette-rolling prospects are the furthest thing from my mind.

If only Motia were here.

“I’ll send help. I promise,” she’d yelled over her shoulder. “Besides, it’s Earth. What’s the worst that could happen?”

Oh, it’s Earth, all right. One of ‘em. But it’s not just the where, as I’ve discovered in our travels. No, it’s the when. And seeing as how there’s an A-10 Warthog trying to raze the mining town about half a mile away (and, by virtue of proximity, me) I’m guessing I’m not the only person here that’s outside their original timeline.

It’s the damnedest thing, though. Seeing that flying anachronism, I think of the old Native American legend of the Thunderbird. Suddenly, shit makes sense. The Winnebago thought of the thunderbird as an omen of military victory. If you had a vision of one of the loud, lightning-hurling raptors, you were destined to become a great warrior. As I listen to the “BRRRR-R-R-R-R” of that thirty-mil and the throaty roar of the turbines as the thing flies low enough to send up a rooster-tail of dust and debris, I can imagine that the only way your run-of-the-mill War Chief in the 1800’s aboriginal population could even conceive of something like this would be through some sort of induced state.

And yet, here it is. No way this is a coincidence.

Footsteps, coming fast, crunching the dirt and rocks. I spin, the Navy revolver in my hand…and immediately aim it to the ground.

“Fuckin’ what is up, man!?”

Ray. It’s goddam Ray, here. Now. This is who Motia sent to help. And as he throws himself to the ground next to me, he reaches over my prone body to smother me in a huge hug.

“Good to see you, man! Sounds like there’s a lot going on. This looks interesting, no doubt. Dude, check this shit out…”

He pulls back, away from me, into a sitting position. I notice his garb for the first time. Ray’s pale blonde hair, the color if the inside of a banana peel, is back in a ponytail. His face and arms tanned so deeply that it’s hard to make out the detail in his tattoo sleeves. He wears what I can only call a pirate shirt…not the puffy, frilly, Captain Hook kind, but the roughspun beige linen sort with an open neck and billowy sleeves (which he’s rolled and pushed up over his elbows.)

“I shit you not, I’m first mate on a fuckin’ sloop of war! Check it!”

He turns his right arm over to show me a large swath of puckered, pink skin which runs from just over his wrist to about an inch below the crook of his arm.

“Cannonball burn. Know this: cannonballs are fuckin’ hot, son. This one nearly took my fuckin’ arm, and wiped this one dude out right at the knee, no joke. Dude stood there for like a microsecond, and then ‘fump!’ Over he goes. Unreal, dude. Oh, and—“

“RAY!” I shouted, louder than I intended.

“Right. Gotcha. Thunderbolt. Please explain.”

Thunderbolt. Or more accurately, Thunderbolt II. Damn, I’d forgotten. That was the official designation of the A-10. At least, in our timeline. In our universe. Ray seemed to read my thoughts, as he sometimes did.

“This is some real Dark Tower shit, my friend. Fuckin’ score.”

“That’s one way to put it. But the fact remains, that flying hunk of death is sort of in our way.”

Ray stares, and his hand absently tugs and strokes the tuft of corn silk on his chin.

Here’s the thing about Ray: he is fucking brilliant. Some people forget that. They lose sight of the fact that the guy could build an entire computer server and IT network from scratch, or that he’d spent two years in a Shaolin monastery or that his so-called “Superposition Drive Theory” was being seriously discussed (in an alternate timeline, anyway) as a viable means of interstellar, faster-than-light travel…an expression that he abhorred, because “You’re not traveling anywhere. You’re already there, you just aren’t aware of it!”

The other thing about Ray is that he’s totally nuts.

Well, that’s not completely accurate, either. He’s just…an unstable molecule. He’s chaos incarnate. When you scrap with him, the scary part isn’t his muscles or his training or anything, but the completely unpredictable, wild nature of his aggression. He and I scrapped once doing a thing on some damn world chasing down some quarry of Motia’s or whatever. It was a frustrating trip, and the trail had gone cold. We spent the night, all of us, drinking a whole crap-ton of this godawful booze punch we’d come across, and things got ugly. Everyone was cussing and punching, just pissed at everything out of general frustration and exhaustion. It bloomed into a full-on brawl, every creature for itself. Ray had thrown a good left cross at my head, one that I narrowly avoided. I countered by kicking him in the sternum. He grabbed my ankle and then did the unexpected. He could’ve twisted my leg, could’ve thrown me, could have done a lot of things, but what he did was to slam his forehead into the meat of my thigh. Hard. Yes, the fucker head-butted my leg. And that sounds crazy, and maybe even ineffective, but shit…imagine someone throwing a bowling ball, hard, and having it impact about three inches above your knee. My entire limb went numb. In all honesty, I couldn’t even stand on it when I came-to the next morning. The black, bone-deep bruise lasted weeks. It was horrible. Of course, when Ray saw it, he just laughed. Laughed and laughed. He cried tears of mirth and squeaked out “Oh, dude! Oh, shit! That’s why my neck hurts so bad! I tried to snap your leg with my skull, dude!”

Then a few days later, he’d saved my ass when we were ambushed by some Skinnies. That’s just Ray.

So he looks across the stretch of sand and rock and dust, through the waves of heat distortion rippling and blurring the horizon. And he concludes “That is definitely a jet airplane.”

Yes, it sure as fuck is.

“So, here’s the thing about jet airplanes. They need fuel. Lots of it, I’d imagine. So, this fucker is either hooked up with an alternate power source, which seems unlikely, the way it sounds and smells. Can you smell it? That oily, diesel-and alcohol smell? It’s on the wind. I think it’s him. It’s Mr. Buzzy. Or he’s got a refinery or some stash of fuel nearby. Not sure the range on these guys, but it’s gotta be finite.”

I stare at Ray for a second, then back to the grey-green terror swooping low again, strafing whatever it’s trying to kill in the town.

“Ammo, too…” I murmur. “Can’t have inexhaustible rounds, right? And it’s surely shooting projectiles. Those aren’t beam weapons.”

“Correct. So, ol’ boy there has a stash somewhere, hoss. I say we got find it and maybe end up getting us a flying machine. Dude, can you imagine? Ima take it back to my crew, back in the Caribbean.” Ray begins to cackle. “They will literally shit themselves, no doubt. CAW! CAW! DEATH CROW! CLEAR THE FUCKIN’ DECK!”

One thing at a time. It’s going to be dusk soon. And this strange quarry is going to fly off in one direction or another, I’m guessing. And we’ll track it somehow. And we’ll take it out somehow. And then I’ll double back to the mining camp and continue my quest. Maybe finally link up with Motia again. Jesus. Motia, the Indians, and now Ray. If we can just keep this crew together, we might just have a shot. We might just get things sorted.

And then, just maybe…maybe I can go home.

 

 

 

 

Waiting With Motia.

“What’s with the yellow glasses?” I was curious. Motia didn’t wear specs as a general rule, but she was sporting these sporty little numbers with sleek, black frames and yellow-tinted lenses.

“Glare, stupid.” She spat. Her head didn’t turn my way in the slightest. She kept staring out the glassless window, and I knew her eyes were sweeping the horizon and everything between it and us. Looking for nothing in particular except maybe movement. A shadow flitting between cacti or from gorse to sage. It was still that pre-dawn dusk, and I couldn’t imagine what sort of glare she was talkin’ about, since the world was shades of purple, slowly in places becoming more periwinkle and rose.

“Where’s that goddam Indian?” she muttered, taking a bite from her protein bar. All we’d had to live on since Outworld, it seemed. Oat-and-nut bars with some sort of grain, like maybe quinoa, baked into crumbly rectangles. Them and stale water. How the hell does water go stale? Maybe that’s not the way to describe it, but that’s the word that pops into my head when I think about those aluminum cylinders with the thick rims and screw-off caps that never seemed to want to screw back on correctly.

And then her gun was in her hand. It always happened so fast. One minute she’d be talking and laughing, snorting out her nose with mirth, and then BAM! Her face went blank, like someone had hit a reset button and you noticed her pistol was up and ready, the action pulled back so everyone knew it was ‘go time.’ And if you didn’t know that, you were sure to have it explained to you with a sudden explosion of gunshots and smoke and the sound of tables crashing onto their sides for cover and sometimes the sounds of yells or screams that were always someone else’s. Motia didn’t yell. She just went to work. Thanks the gods, too, because she’d already saved my bacon more times than I could count.

This time she stood there, looking at nothing. Listening. And then I heard it, too. The baritone rumble and crackle of a V-twin engine and motorcycle tires on a dirt and gravel road. This was good news or bad, because whoever was riding our way didn’t give a good godsdamn who knew they were coming.

The engine stopped. We waited. The sun was on its way up now, and the big front window to the old, long-abandoned deli now opened upon a stunning landscape of gold, brown, and red with a high, clear, hard blue canopy. I listened for footsteps in the dirt and heard nothing. But Motia did. She gave me the time-tested “Shh” motion with a finger to her pursed lips and slid noiselessly to the side entrance. Her tactical position was such that the door’d hide her if it swung open. I stood there like an idiot before her angry eye told me to make myself scarce. But I was too late to move. There was nowhere to go. Then I heard it…a voice that sounded as warm as good whisky and yet thin as smoke whispered “Moe-TEE-yaaa…”

I surprised myself just then. My pistol had found its way to the sweaty palm of my right hand and was in the process of coming up, up slowly, it seemed, too slow, agonizingly slow…in reality it couldn’t have been more than half a second, but I knew it wasn’t fast enough. Not in this reality or any other. Didn’t matter anyway, as Motia’s arm knocked my hand skyward, my aim towards the grimy, grease-covered ceiling tiles and away from the tall, thin, brown-skinned man that stood just on the other side of the open storefront window.

“For FUCK’S SAKE, Pappu. You’re the only human in ten worlds that can do that!” Motia had already holstered her sidearm and was wiping perspiration from her brow. Pappu laughed his crazy old man laugh. I say ‘old man’ but let’s be honest, nobody knows how many centuries Pappu (or Papuulu or Papunu or P-Smoke or any number of names people have given him) has stalked the universes, most recently astride his vintage Indian motorbike which was, I suspect, chosen to be deliberately ironic. From what I’d observed, Pappu was always maintaining at least a dozen inside jokes (which often ended up being part of some elaborate long con he was running) but it was hard to tell. The fact that his best pal and confidante was an old Navajo called Sicheii (I say ‘called’ rather than ‘named’ because no one except maybe Pap knew his real name) added to his love of deliberate puns. Seriously, two “Indians” running around on Indians. I guess that shit’s hilarious if you’re an ancient mystic or something.

“But I let you hear me! Look, I’m even wearing sandals!” He lifted a bony leg that could’ve passed for a mangrove branch to display what looked like a brand new multi-colored rubber flip-flop, one that could’ve easily been purchased (or stolen) from any Dollar General.

“Jesus, Pappu. Trim your toenails. That shit’s nasty,” Motia chided as she helped him step over the sill into our makeshift redoubt.

“Jesus doesn’t care of man’s old toenails. You should see his! Like black scales! No, he care uh-uh no. But enough foot language. You come with me now.”

And just as soon as he had both feet on the dirty grey-green floor, he stepped nimbly back out the window and into the desert. Motia sighed.

“Whelp, I guess that’s why we drug our asses out here, huh?” And she smiled. I hadn’t seen that in a while. It was really, really nice. White and bright and confident, like she knew everything was going to be okay.

“You’re the boss,” I replied, checking that my pistol was secured in its holster. Then I followed the others, over the sill that still bore a few crumbled pebbles of old greenish-blue safety glass, into the dust and growing daylight of the Big Empty.

Before and After

So, Motia (Mo-TEE-ya) says that I should blog more, and I should. Lately, though, she’s been very specific, suggesting blog subjects and the like. The nerve of some people. Telling me what to do. Directing my behavior. Punching me in the arm. Expecting me to get drunk at the company Christmas party.

I think she might be a prophet.

Anyway, we had a discussion the other day regarding certain moments when you realize that nothing will ever be the same. Events or moments in one’s life or in society, the arts, that forever change the medium. Rock ‘n’ Roll music is one of those. For example, in 1957 Elvis finished the year with the number one single on the pop charts with “All Shook Up.” The number two song overall? Pat Boone with “Love Letters in the Sand.” Yes, Pat Boone. By 1958, Pat dropped to #24 overall, and in 1959 he didn’t have a song in the top-100. Obviously, this was a more gradual change, but the point was made: rock ‘n’ roll is here to stay.

But let’s narrow our focus a bit. How about we look only at three different things that happened within the last thirty years or so. And we’ll keep it to one medium: cinema. There have been all sorts of innovators in film, and you could go back to Citizen Kane and Casablanca and discuss how groundbreaking those films were (and let’s be honest, I probably will one day) but I’ve narrowed it down to three events/watershed moments. We’ll start with perhaps the most obvious.

CGI

The original TRON was the first major Hollywood film to utilize the ground-breaking technology of “Computer Generated Imagery.” However, not only were the effects crude and clunky, but they only accounted for a small portion of the overall special effects.

Eerily lifelike.

Eerily lifelike.

The rest were old-school makeup, prosthetics, matte paintings, and colorizing/color replacing most of the footage. That same year, moviegoers had the piss scared out of them by John Carpenter’s The Thing. Carpenter’s film relied almost entirely on Bob Bottin’s stop-motion and puppetry (with a slight assist from the legendary Stan Winston) to create horrific and terrifying creature effects. However, within a couple of years after TRON’s theatrical release came 1984’s The Last Starfighter. In just two years (or less, since the movie was in production well before its release date) the ability of CG artists had leapt light-years ahead, rendering 3-D Gunstars that, while terribly crude by today’s standards, were still pretty cool.

Yeah, try and TELL me that ain't what a spaceship looks like, son.

Yeah, try and TELL me that ain’t what a spaceship looks like, son.

And in less than ten years’ time, we had Doctor Grant marveling at a herd of brachiosaurs. (Even though the famous velociraptor kitchen scene was done mostly by guys in dinosaur costumes.) Now we enjoy everything from Shrek to the Transformers series and everything Marvel Studios has produced. Think back to the “crawling spider-head monster” from The Thing. If filmed today, it would be completely rendered in CG. Would a CG version be better? Creepier? More realistic? Possibly. In the right hands, maybe. But the fact is that no studio would do it old-school today. Old-school SFX are still out there, but there isn’t a studio head in the business that would risk a shot like that without doing it CG.

Not to be confused with the Headcrabs from the Half Life series.

Not to be confused with the Headcrabs from the Half Life series.

Batman Begins

The argument could be made that 2000’s M. Night Shyamalan film Unbreakable was the first “realistic” super hero movie. But it wasn’t until Christopher Nolan helmed Batman Begins in 2005 that things got, well…serious. We’ve all grown jaded by the words “gritty reboot” but that’s exactly what Batman Begins was. After Joel Shumacher pretty much undid all the good work begun by Tim Burton’s time with the Caped Crusader in the late-80’s, ol’ Bats needed a new start. And when you spend the first part of the film showing millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne studying with ninjas in order to become a lethal assassin, people sort of forget about nipples on the Batsuit.

Until now.

Until now.

The phenomenon took off. Maybe it was perfect timing. In a post- 9/11 world, maybe glib one-liners and a vibrant color palette didn’t belong anymore. And yet, people still needed heroes. Enter The Dark Knight. Through three brilliant films, Nolan made us re-think exactly what we wanted from a comic-book movie. The ripples were felt as far away as M.I.6, as the following year a new, lean, hard, and violent-as-hell 007 debuted in a (all together now!) gritty reboot of the James Bond franchise. Casino Royale was also a dizzying success, and now even fluff movies like Guardians of the Galaxy contain enough gravitas (um, Peter Quill’s mom dying of cancer to start the goddam movie?) to make them feel “real.” Real enough, anyway.

Judd Apatow

Okay, this is actually the thing that got Motia and I talking about this concept of game-changers. I’d mentioned re-watching the original Dumb and Dumber recently, and here’s the thing: it’s really not that funny. Sure, it has its moments, and everyone can recite a handful of lines. But it just falls flat. What happened to cause such a diminishing return? Judd Apatow.

Apatow had been working for a while, writing, directing, producing, and often re-writing scripts for other people. Not many people watched Freaks and Geeks when it originally aired on FOX, probably about as many people as enjoyed The Ben Stiller Show (another example of Apatow’s handiwork.) But in 2004, Apatow produced a little film called Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Then he wrote and directed The 40 Year Old Virgin. And then Knocked Up and Talladega Nights. He produced films like Superbad and Pineapple Express, Step Brothers, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek, and Bridesmaids.

God damn.

In fairness, ol’ Judd had some turkeys in there, too. Year One, for example. And he co-wrote Don’t Mess With the Zohan. But when you look at the scope of comedic films he’s had a hand in over the last two decades, it’s hard to argue that he’s the King of Comedy in Hollywood. There’s a reason for that. Remember how we just discussed the gritty nature of superhero movies since Batman Begins? Comedy works the same way. Judd’s movies generally (not always) have an element of reality in the midst of all the ludicrous shenanigans. I mean, you can watch his films and know those characters. Yes, there are absurd people like Brick Tamland, but there are also kids drawing dicks and foul-mouthed best-friends. Jilted lovers and chronic pot-smokers (pun intended, if redundant.) You know those people. The plots for 40 Year Old Virgin and Bridesmaids could absolutely happen in real life. And as much as it was panned, I even found the Anchorman sequel to be a biting satire of modern cable news media. That’s reality, folks.

The plot of Me, Myself, and Irene could not ever happen. Ever.

Like anyone would seriously believe that these two, would...uh...oh.

Like anyone would seriously believe that these two would…uh…oh.

Speaking of which, I’m not saying the films of the Farrely Brothers or Adam Sandler or Mike Myers aren’t good, or even funny. Kingpin has some of the best sight gags ever, and even though it doesn’t hold up very well, Austin Powers was a fun little movie (and the sequels weren’t terrible, really.) It’s just that after Judd Apatow, when I watch those other flicks I feel like an adult listening to 8th-graders tell jokes. 8th-graders can be hilarious, but most of their humor is sort of one-note: farts, gays, lady parts, etc. And all of those subjects can also be hilarious in the right context. But if that’s all you’re going to give me, I grow tired of it all very quickly. Thanks, Judd Apatow. You’ve ruined me for stupid comedies.

And Then THIS Happened

I waited.  I didn’t sleep.

 

I waited.  I mean, I was lying on a thin pad of a mattress.  A mattress that felt like it was stuffed with dryer lint and potatoes. A mattress shoved into the corner of the room, right on the greasy linoleum floor. Waiting, not sleeping.  Propped up on one elbow, stamping out one smoke and lighting another.  My legs were covered by grimy grey sheets which I’d pushed down in the middle of the night simply because my torso rejected the very idea of them.  The one tiny window (or rather, the hard blade of yellow sunlight coming through it) told me it was daytime.  I didn’t give much of a fuck what time it was.  The only company was the smoke and dust and a gnat or two that swirled through the shaft of sunlight, reminding me of the old Star Trek transporter effect.  I waited, and I had to pee.

The door exploding inward startled me.

No.  No, that’s bullshit.  It scared the living shit out of me, made me jump literally to my bare feet, hand flailing at my hip, searching instinctively for a weapon that wasn’t there. Hadn’t been there for days.

Fucking Motia.  Give that crazy witch credit, she knew how to make an entrance.  She liked to announce her presence with her boot flying into something it shouldn’t, whether it be a man’s junk, a flimsy wooden door (like right that second) or a pit full of timber rattlers.

Then you know what that maniac did?  She laughed. She stood there with that psychotic smile and laughed out loud. Laughed at me.  

She stifled the guffaw with a hand to her mouth.

“Get your shit together and come with me.”  All business, Motia.  “He’s waiting, goddammit!”

My arm hurt right above the elbow, a yellowish bruise from the last time she’d grabbed my carcass, hauling it out of yet another predicament.  I didn’t give her the chance this time, shrugging her off and side-stepping.

“Okay!  Jesus!  Let me at least grab a shirt and–”

She didn’t grab my arm.  She grabbed a handful of hair on the back of my skull and threw me out the door.  One-handed.  Hard.  Like I’d imagine a linebacker tosses his laundry bag down the stairs.

So that’s how I came to meet Dan.  Barefoot, stinking, shirtless. I smelled of last night’s booze and this morning’s stale nicotine and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d eaten or showered.  Hell, I wasn’t even sure which one I wanted more:  to be clean or to be fed.

Except, of course, none of that is true.  Okay, let me switch gears here.

2014 has been the Ragnarok of Radio.  Yes, we’re going back to when I was in professional radio.  I lost my gig in June, for those of you that care and/or want backstory.  It was nobody’s fault, really.  I gave my employers enough of a way out, and they took it.  I won’t say it was amicable, but it really did work out for all parties.  And that’s all I’ll say about that.  I ended up being better off, and I’ll explain later.

But it wasn’t just me.  Ft. Wayne radio got shaken to its very core this year.  People got fired.  Lineups changed.  Stations disappeared.  Much of the change was actually just aftershocks from the big WOWO/Bob & Tom switcheroo from a few years previous, combined with a few new ownership groups playing chess with their properties.  The dust is still settling, and even though nobody likes the idea, the fact is that there could be more changes to come.  That’s business.  That’s life.  That’s radio.

But it wasn’t just this market. For God’s sake, South Bend got gutted. Ft. Wayne got shaken pretty hard. Some folks got displaced  (or left of their own accord) and found their way out of town. WAAAAAYYYY out, for folks like Chris Cruise, who’s now doing country (!) radio in the Pacific Northwest. Some folks are still waiting for a ride, and wondering if they should even try tho find another job in the biz.  And then there are people like Jenna.  The Jenna Raetor.  Former midday host at The Bear, and more recently employed as a social media guru and host at some station in California.  That is until she lost her gig there, too.  I’m telling ya, folks:  radio is a fucking pit of vipers and nobody knows what the hell they’re doing.  Remember that scene in Apocalypse Now where Martin Sheen asks the soldier “Who’s in charge here?” and the dumfounded guy responds “Aren’t you?”  That’s what radio is.  And that’s a big part of why I’m glad to be out.

So, what exactly am I doing?  I’m doing work, son!  My title is “copywriter” but as I quickly discovered once I joined the award-winning Asher Agency, that barely scratches the surface.  Yes, I write copy (the words, the text) for radio, print, and television commercials.  But I also conceptualize advertising campaigns, and come up with creative ways to get the message out.  I work with our graphic designers and artists, telling them what I want or need and then watch as they masterfully put it all together.  I storyboard TV shoots and cast the actors.  I pick the music for spots and the announcers. I direct.  It’s awesome.  As my friend and podcast partner Joe Schultz says “It’s like a modern-day Mad Men!”  And he’s absolutely right.  And it’s awesome.  And I am happy.  And it’s awesome.

EPILOGUE:  I’d long since tuned-out the beeping of the monitors or whatever the hell they were.  The distant low hiss of some respirator somewhere in the next room.  I just sat.  And watched.  I waited for her eyes to flicker open or something.  Anything.  It was terribly discomforting to see her like that.  I’d never seen Motia in any other condition but wild berserker blitzkrieg or falling-down drunk.  The person in that bed, the person recovering from surgery couldn’t possibly be the same woman.  And yet it was.

A grunting cough shook me from my reverie.  Caleb.  That guy hadn’t left her side for a second.  I don’t think he’d even slept.  And for most of the time since they’d wheeled her back in, he’d had his eyes bored directly into me.  The dude was a helluva watchdog, that was obvious.  He loved her.  That, too, was unmistakeable.

“Relax, cupcake.” I smiled at him.

“Hmmph.” He snorted back.  The only reason he tolerated my presence just then was because he knew that Motia respected me.  Sure, she may’ve tried to kill me a few times in the past, but there was a level of trust there.  Caleb’s huffing and puffing was his not-so-subtle way of saying “Thanks.  You can go now.”

He was right, of course.  She had a guardian.  A hulking, shaven-headed sentry with a snub .38 tucked into the back of his belt and brass knuckles in his left-front jacket pocket. It dawned on me that three of the most dangerous bastards I knew were in the room.  There really was no one that would dare mess.  Not here.  Not with her.  Not today.

I stood.

“Well, good luck.” I smiled.

“Brrrrrmmm.” Or something like that.  That’s what came out of Caleb’s throat

I smiled again in spite of myself.

 

(In all seriousness, get well soon, Motia!!)