Bellwether Vance

Hounds to the Left of me/Jokers to the Right

Bellwether Vance

Bellwether Vance
December 31
You'd like me. People like me.


Editor’s Pick
MARCH 21, 2012 8:49AM

The Anger Games

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Have you ever been so mad, so violently angry, that your upper and lower teeth started biting each other and you had to put a stick in your mouth to keep them separated? I have.

It's Spring Break, 1984, and I'm on a road trip with Ellen and our friends Pam, Christina and Holly. Holly and I are opposites in nearly every way. In the animal kingdom, she'd be a cat – moody and haughty, and I'd be a dog – upbeat and affable. Or, since this story is from my viewpoint, she'd be a rattlesnake and I'd be a Disney fawn.

Within the context of our hometown we'd negotiated an truce that at times approximated friendship. Seven hours in a Buick Regal with a busted air conditioner and five overheated bodies in a negative-star hotel put an end to that right quick. Tempers were already simmering when we were turned away from a disco after the doorman laughed aloud at our fake ID's. We returned to Hotel Black Hole woefully sober, boyless, pent-up, flammable.

Someone lit a match. All these years later I can't recall the insults hurled, the grievances uttered, loudly and ridiculously, but I do remember Ellen coming between Holly and me, and how I wanted, more than anything I've every wanted, to wrap a fist around Holly's brittle Sun-In wrecked tresses and yank out a handful.
After high school, Holly moved away. I followed her movements through friends. She's in Portland teaching belly dancing! She's in Costa Rica running a Buddhist yoga retreat! Her exploits served as contrast to my regressive path, husband and children, and highlighted the mendacity of my life. My mundane despair (a nail in my tire) and mundane happiness (the fabulousness of new shoes).

Last summer, Holly's father passed away. I brought a pie to her mama's house (mixed berry almond crumb.)  Holly's marriage collapsed soon after and she came home for good. If I had hoped her worldly travels would improve her disposition or soften her enmity toward me, I was soon set straight by the expressions that cross her face when I talk. Her face says, "When you speak I hear Ice Ice Baby on a loop and that's still less vacuous, less annoying than whatever it is you're saying." She keeps it real. Too real. 

Holly is as Southern as I am, but her mother was apparently remiss in comportment. Some emotions are kept behind a locked door, usually the bathroom with the shower running to hide any unseemly sounds. Boastful pride. Crushing disappointment and the ensuing ugly meltdown. Jealous rage. Bald dislike. You don't serve tea with those. My mother, upon encountering a mutinous scowl or a rolled-out lip on public display, would grasp my chin, lean in close and whisper, "You had better fix your face, Little Miss!"

So, last week when the woman behind me in the grocery store line, who drove a motorized cart and had one leg bandaged to the thigh, began telling me about her infections, for a split second I was slightly uncomfortable. Until I fixed my face. It was the least I could do for a lonely elderly lady with a foot the shape and color of an eggplant. I know one day I might have my own diseased eggplant appendage I need to talk about. You absolutely cannot depend upon the kindness of strangers, but it is a lovely thing. You can't count on the justness of karma, either, but  when something bad happens to me I like believing I didn't have it coming. Holly's unrestrained features are no more or less self-satisfying or authentic than the ones I carefully present.

Ellen says I have it all wrong about Holly. "It's just hard for her to trust people. We've talked some, about her experiences and her beliefs. She's deeply spiritual."

I say she's deep enough to drown a toddler. You know the warning on a five gallon paint pail, the graphic of a heavy-headed baby tipping in? That's Holly. She's a bucket you could fall into. "All I'm saying is that she has a dark side."

"So do you," Ellen replies. (Sometimes I forget I've known Ellen a long time. That I've been other people, and she's met them all.)

"She's darker," I say.

Shamefully, I admit none of Holly's character flaws would matter if she liked me. My regard is that cheap. Dime store prices. A buck will buy you ten.

My last encounter with Holly was in late January, a Girl's luncheon. When I turned to engage Holly in conversation, I heard the distinctive bass line from the Vanilla Ice classic, and I realized it wasn't just dislike she felt for me. It was anger. She was still angry about something that happened almost thirty years ago, something neither of us can remember with absolute clarity. I'm probably still angry about that same thing, and if she could take the stick out of her mouth, and if I could remove the one from my butt, we might enjoy a measure of fondness for our shared history.  Right then, though, I wished I had grabbed a hank of her hair when I had the chance. 

Thank goodness I fixed my face before I poured her a glass of tea.

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FIRST!!!! Now to read...
After all these years of wonder, doubt and plausible deniability I now believe - firmly! - in reincarnation. Scott Fitzgerald just had to come back and try it again, this time from the Southern female point of view. Bless his cotton-pickin heart.
It's okay to get anger out. It's necessary.
Love the "Fix your face Little Miss." My grandmother would just get that shaming look in her eye and say, "Don't be ugly." Yes ma'am.
Bell, this is fantastic. I think we've all had the proverbial stick up our appendage. Excellent read.
Ahh women and our arguments. My sister hasn't talked to me in 4 years because my son overslept when he was supposed to spend the day with her. He just spent 2 nights with her due to a major snafu and called to tell me: Hey mom! aunt Jen is just a gay You! [I should write a blog on this] anyhow, women and their conflicts are worse than VietNam. rated.
I'm always amazed when the Holly's of the world creep into my psyche - you tell this well Bell
Oh, I swear I was a Southern woman in another life.
"Shamefully, I admit none of Holly's character flaws would matter if she liked me. My regard is that cheap. Dime store prices. A buck will buy you ten." Sooo much to love in this piece.
I never heard about "fixing your face" until I moved below the Mason-Dixon line. xo ~r
Hurling the tea and glass might've felt sublime.

HOLY SMOKE. You captured so much of female relationships in this. I am going to have to read a second time and probably a third to pick up all the nuance. I think most of us have relationships like this. RRRR
My wife and daughter-in-law live in the same house in Marin and they haven't spoken to one another since Thanksgiving last year. Talk about anger and fixing your face.
Terrific piece.

Anyone who is said to be "deeply spiritual" is someone to be deeply distrustful of. (Say I, deeply cynical.)
Why is everyone always hatin' on Vanilla Ice?
wow! "fix your face" I kind of like that. and I love the way you write. But really Bell, couldn't you slip and spill a little on her? r
Wonderful writing, Bell.

So many of us are going through the motions and I hope I get the guts to confront some of the past demons in a couple of my friendships. This has inspired me.

Now about that pie? This would have been yet another great lead-in for the COOKBOOK you are writing. You are, aren't you? You will, won't you?
Fix your face? Now that is not fun.. but I do and I know a few Holly's of the world and they will never change. They will continue to carry around the weight of anger chained to their ankle for years.
I just move on and smile because those gals will continue to:

Keep checking out the hook while deshay revolves it.

Ice ice baby vanilla, ice ice baby
Ice ice baby vanilla, ice ice baby

We all have a Holly somewhere in our lives.

Fantastic writing. :)
My mother never told me to fix my face. It may have been helpful, we will never know NOW! I am with Lea, where's the funeral pie recipe?
Great piece. I love the "You don't serve tea with those" line. Unfortunately, some people you just don't mix with either.
great writing, bell. probably because i'm from missouri (which is a confused mix of south, midwest and west) and grew up in san diego, i roll my eyes a little at claims that southern (or northeastern or california) women act in certain ways that other women don't. what you describe so well and with such humor and self-deprecation is pretty universally female, at least in my experience. one thing i've recently (after five decades of getting it wrong) figured out is that it's completely unrealistic to expect my friends to love *only* the people i love and to intensely dislike the ones i dislike (and who dislike me right back). (my daddy used to say if i didn't pull that lower lip in, i'd trip over it.)
I wonder if each of us has a Holly. Mine has had two cancers, plus, her house burned to the ground a few years back–scorched earth, nothing left. She is also as mean as a stepped-on hornet. Our encounters are the richest mix of emotions from my side: heartbreak, compassion, as well as anger at what she just said/did to me, then regret that I could get so angry at someone whose life is such an open wound.

As others said, où est the recipe? Perhaps a nice sweet and sour soup? No need to fix my face. It is smiling, see? :-)
I like you. Always enough doe eyes and venom for all, I suppose. Great writing, as always, and I liked the "You don't serve tea with those" line, too.
like Joan, that one line- I love it's truth, and am the same way.

I lost a friend after my wedding (her choice- I don't let go for shit). Can I tell you what a relief it is to only have to hear about her drama though a third person, instead of getting the 2 hr ego version nearly every day? Perhaps one of you can just say enough is enough.
I like you, BV. Now about my occasional homicidal rampages ....
There seem to be some people for whom sustained anger is the drug that keeps them alive.
Terrific writing. I love your stories. Many great lines here, and I love the way you skewer yourself and your foibles while going after Holly.
Are you and Ashley Holt related? I just read his post and I hear the same rhythm and something I cannot quite put my finger on in your writing. Very enjoyable read. I could use some of your mother's advice. Midwestern childrearing left its mark on me.
You speak of women and holding onto our anger so well! While not Southern, my Mother never allowed us to be rude to others, regardless. it was just not considered proper. I have a 30th high school reunion coming up and the one mean girl who I went all through grade school and high school with will probably be there, and I really wish I had pulled her hair out when I had the chance. God knows, she deserved it(she spread nasty rumors about how I got my chest to grow-none true, obviously, or I would be rich from Jane's Big Boob cream by now). But she was always and still is a miserable bitch, and I am not, so I guess there is some poetic justice in that! I have a huge smile on my face from your Anger Games! R
Adored this. Can't imagine anyone not liking you but the insane. Loved the honest part about how if she liked you you wouldn't pick up on all those flaws. So damned true . We all have Holly's . I sure do.
So well written and so funny, Bell. You have such an interesting mind that I find it hard to see you at a "girls luncheon," but I guess that makes you even more interesting.
Adored this. Can't imagine anyone not liking you but the insane. Loved the honest part about how if she liked you you wouldn't pick up on all those flaws. So damned true . We all have Holly's . I sure do.
So well written and so funny, Bell. You have such an interesting mind that I find it hard to see you at a "girls luncheon," but I guess that makes you even more interesting.
Matt -- Scotty's rolling over in his grave right about now! But you're right about being "first."

Mary -- Yes,that's what blogging is for.

Midwest -- My mother and grandmother used that one too. "Ugly" meant being mean. They also told me "don't show your butt." Meaning, don't have a bad attitude or throw a tantrum in public.

Froggy -- I don't normally feel mine so acutely. Holly brings out the worst in me.

Deborah -- You should write a blog about that! I think I find Holly so perplexing because I have such great relationships with my core group of girlfriends.

Lamm -- She isn't really a bad person. We just do not understand one another. At all.

Jane -- I've had to say goodbye to friends over the years. I don't see Holly often enough that there needs to be any deliberate split. Really, it has become in many ways, a social experiment. I notice she has a hard time interacting with everyone. So it isn't just me.

Joan -- I can't get her to LIKE ME! Whhhyyy doesn't she like me??

Jon -- Now now...Don't be ugly.

Bea -- Thankfully I don't have any other female relationships like this.

jmac -- Really? That's some serious resolve!

Myriad -- She probably does think about things in a far more serious way than I do, given that her general approach to life is more serious. But I agree it can be red flag.

Larry -- Shamefully, I admit the song is on my ipod! I ain't hatin'!

hugs -- I thought everyone knew how to fix their face. But recently I was in distress about something, and thought my face was fixed and an acquaintance (who I really like and admire but have never been that close to) asked me what was wrong, saying it was all over my face. Maybe I'm not as good at it as I thought.

Lea -- I'm working on it!

Linda -- Sing it, sister.

Baltimore -- Holly!? Is that you? Not everyone gets my sense of humor, and that's okay.

Sweetfeet -- Hopefully, we all only have one.

Dianaani -- You probably know how to do it, without even thinking about it. It's a skill a lot of women have. It came to my daughter very naturally -- and I never told her she needed to hide her feelings or present a public persona.

jlsathre -- Exactly. We don't mix, except we are, on occasion, forced to.

femme -- You are right. It isn't just a Southern thing, as I said in my reply to Dianaani, I do recognize the "fixing" as a common practice among a lot of women, as we are told not to make waves or make other people uncomfortable. Maybe the Southern aspect is the deliberate and direct way it was conveyed to me. Hmmm. I was going for humor in this piece, but now I wonder if I should have addressed the harm done to women when we are pushed to hide our true feelings. I certainly never told my daughter to "fix her face." (Though she learned to do it on her own.) And there's a difference between fixing your face to be kind or to grease minor social interactions, and when you feel forced to hide every negative feeling in a public setting. But that would have been a different piece entirely...

greenheron -- My Holly has had a rough few years as well, and I feel for her. I feel for all people who have a negative energy about them. They never seem to bounce back, and they come to expect bad things to happen to them, and cannot recognize or appreciate the good things.

Consonants -- Deer bite. (Funny daughter was chased down and bitten by a little white bunny!)

Julie -- Being ignored and dismissed is better than what you experienced with your "friend."

Stim -- Hair pulling is just a hair's breath from homicide.

Sophieh -- It is true that some people equate anger with passion. I don't in general, which is why this anger with Holly is surprising and disconcerting.

onislandtime -- Oh, I realize I'm part of the problem, and I can see the relationship from her perspective. We confuse one another.
Simply wonderful. "She's a bucket you could fall into." Bless her heart.
I have researched Anger.
I tried to transcend Anger.
the editor
blaming the nasty behavior
on cheap booze
Maybe somebody said that?
I think something smell fish.

Oscar the Grouch get angry.
No kick waste-can trash tub.
Oscar needs his beauty rest.
There once was a brat named Holly,
Whose manners were awful, by golly.
One day her friend Bell
Wrote her up rather well
And made all her readers jolly.
"Someone lit a match." The Holly-style truces were always ruined by the pot stirrers. Answering your query? Why yes. Yes, I have.
Charlie Litkey received a Medal Of Honor.
President Johnson awarded him the medal.
He didn't show a former priest a butt behind.
Forrest Gump . . .
Poor shrimp farmers.
Charlie has been here.
He met his nun wife.
They both delights.
Charlie tells his rage . . .
He went to a DoD hearing.
I forget the (recall) name.
Abrams - big 'Dumbo' ears.
Charlie sat behind Abrams.
Charlie was tempted to Bite!
He giggle as he said that he
wanted to bite his ear like
a boxer up on Capital Hill.
There's Baltimore the scold again. Gotta (sorta) admire someone who doesn't mind being unlikeable.

I'm meeting someone next week who has a bagful of years-old complaints about me. I plan to hear her out, agree with some parts of it, and keep my complaints about her to myself. Cuz shit I don't care, but she obviously does (she ranted at a mutual friend about my sins). Perhaps I can get a post out of it!
I just finished reading "The Weird Sisters" by Elinor Brown. It's about three sisters "who love each other, but don't like each other very much." ... I agree with the other Deborah: Women's conflicts are deadly. Love your voice. You ought to pour this energy and tone into a novel.
This is just hilarious, BV. You know the whys, and that is more than enough. I loved reading this, you made my day. R
Bell, I love the honesty of your writing. My mother was southern and we were never allowed to express anger at anyone -- directly. But, oh, the myriad of ways one can express that emotion indirectly!
Ah, the complex world of female relationships. Love your honesty here, especially in the paragraph that begins "Shamefully..." I've come to realize that some people just rub us the wrong way no matter what. Still, you're right here to point out that there's a bit of each in the other ..(you did point that out, didn't you?) before the wanting to yank out the hair part. :)

You should post more often. I've missed your voice here, Belle.
Maybe you should have suggested to Holly that she "fix HER face." Faces do tend to speak louder than mouths sometimes. Great piece, as usual Ms. Vance.

It's really hard to accept, especially with people we've known a long time, but some folks are plain impossible. I'm afraid that's so with Holly. The hardest thing is to just walk away.
beauty -- Ashley is a favorite of mine, and I just read his latest piece. We do have a similar rhythm of writing (long sentences, intersected with choppy partial sentences) and self-loathing. Maybe that's it?

Jane -- Good luck with your reunion. I hope you discover that she's changed and that you've changed. Even with Holly I do have an understanding of her motivations that would have eluded me all those years ago (if I even cared back then). Just go and enjoy yourself! And if she turns out to be a miserable bitch, you can enjoy that too!

Fernsy -- You'd be welcome at our Girl's luncheon. It sounds fancier than it is. It's food. And women who are on their lunch breaks. There's dog hair in the air...

Firechick -- I can't even bless her heart. You're a saint.

Art -- I hide my inner Oscar. He eats sardines for breakfast and smiles with bones in his teeth.

Frosty Funk -- I'm sure Holly would cast me as the brat. Or as a silly fake. But I much prefer your sympathetic viewpoint.

Linnnn -- But you seem so....nice.

Myriad -- Oh, I don't mind. (That's easy to say when I solicit such encouragement.) But I do like criticism. I knew this piece might come across as whiney and hoped the humor would carry it through. I knew for some people that wouldn't be enough, and hearing it from a reader makes me want to go back through and edit. Candace's critical comment also made me rethink. I kind of lazily fell back on the "Southern" angle with regard to the face-fixing, when I could have -- even subtly -- tackled the issue from the viewpoint of how a lot of women mute or hide their emotions for social purposes. All feedback is educational. ...And I hope you do get a JUICY post out of your meeting!!

Deborah -- I finished that book a few weeks ago. I liked it but didn't love it. Somehow, I imagine if I had been blessed with sisters I would have loved them (the way I love my dearest friends). The reality of sisters might have been different.

Thoth -- The why isn't as important as the WHHHYYYY??? I need to call my therapist and work this out.

Pauline -- My arrogance is that I think I project "nothing" rather than something negative, when I've come to realize you never project nothing.

Scarlett -- Holly and I are two distinct creatures, and we both participate in the dysfunction. I get the impression that she views other females as adversaries, and, with all of my experiences, females are generally friends.

Lezlie -- I kind of admire her willingness to let loose with the face. I just wish her disdainful expressions weren't directed toward me!

Luminous -- I have stopped trying. Maybe. Aw hell. I'll never stop trying.

Kate -- Thank you. Kindness is most underrated. In the age of "me" there's a whole lot of emphasis on being emotionally self-indulgent and not enough on making the world a pleasant place for everyone to inhabit. And the thing is, it doesn't usually take heroic effort to accomplish, just a willingness to smile and let things pass.
You're such a great storyteller, Ms. Bellwether Vance! I wish I'd known your mom's expression, "You had better fix your face, Little Miss!" earlier--that could've come in handy. :)
Bell, I never know whether to comment on concept/content or just choose my favorite lines with you. To "Oh, I hear you!" and share my own story of female friendship run amuck, or zero in on the goods: "I know one day I might have my own diseased eggplant appendage I need to talk about. " Over tea, I'd do it all.
Good heavens Bell. Are you incapable of writing anything graceless, ill-formed or awkward? Should you need tips on these features, I have a few of my own posts I can refer you to.

Mendacity of your life? Pretty harsh judgment. I sure wouldn’t want my own subjected to such a glare. Anyway, you’ve a remarkable facility for animating any topic that crosses the transom. It’s a feature of smaller communities that your past is always around and that long ago incidents never fully recede. Having grown up in a small town (population 7,000), one thing I’ve very much enjoyed about city living is the easier opportunities for fresh starts and new lifestyles. Wonderful read here Bell.
You know how it is down South, "bless her heart, she can't help it if she turned out to be a whore -- just look at her momma." You know what I'm talking about -- that overdone sweetness, like Southern tea that's more like maple syrup. They smile in your face while they stab you in the back, but they have such good manners while they're doing it that at first you don't even notice how deep the wound.

William Faulkner approves of this message.
Bellwether, I have to say I've never had an anger encounter quite along the lines of what you have described! Life is too short and people need to look at the bigger picture. It sounds like Holly will never change and her life might easily been far better if she hadn't handled things the way she did (and does)!
Loved this! My mom used to say "fix your face" too. I was never any good at at it at all. And Mattt is right - the tone, pacing, everything is just perfect. Perfect!
Love your description of rage!
Honest piece here. I've left a group of woman kind of behind, it's been painful and there are times I want to go back to being young again and wanting to forget why I let go.
I don't like Holly either. ha!
You may recall that I wrote a tribute to a friend(of 8 yrs), not long ago. I received some wonderful comments on that story, mostly about what a great friend she must be. She sent me a letter ending our friendship. I must have flipped some switch in her. I deleted the post, but I'm still reeling from this because it makes no sense. We humans are definitely a weird mix of contradictions.
That Holly, bless her heart.

I'll echo all the others in saying "well done" to you for this story.
Anger blinds everyone it touches. So glad to have read this .
Great, true post. And I have a new mantra: "You had better fix your face, Little Miss!"
Two days late and probably a couple bucks short, but I'm here, Bell, just now finding your words. Holly is obviously not a reader because if she were, she would be caught up in your spell like the rest of us. As she is not a reader, I'm not sure this relationship will ever work. Serve her tea, bite your tongue, and let the words come out here. They have met a more receptive audience.
Brilliant writing: "We returned to Hotel Black Hole woefully sober, boyless, pent-up, flammable." "Some emotions are kept behind a locked door, usually the bathroom with the shower running to hide any unseemly sounds."
Utter honesty:"Sometimes I forget I've known Ellen a long time. That I've been other people, and she's met them all." "Shamefully, I admit none of Holly's character flaws would matter if she liked me. My regard is that cheap."

I don't believe I've ever been that angry at someone (have seen feuds like that in others). Though I'm powerful envious of you!
I was afraid as I started reading this I was going to get caught up in heavenly writing. It is that. I'm glad I found enough devilment sprinkled throughout to keep me from feeling too compromised.
Sh*t. My copy of this cut off before the almond berry crumble pie recipe. I know you wouldn't mind emailing it to me. Thanks.

On other matters, yes - I do get *that* mad. I told my mother this week that I needed to go to the antique store and get a phone with a receiver I can slam down. I'm beginning to think it's a necessity. It's so much cheaper than throwing the cell. (My aim isn't nearly as good as Naomi's or we'd be talking a really big time expense).

I feel a little sad though when I remember my time worn head full of "Sun-In wrecked tresses" too. They went nicely with my oily iodine stained skin. I must say Matt's comment up there was the best commentary on your literary gift as I've ever seen. It takes a great writer to evoke the memories of yore as you do... I can even taste that pie (but as I said, the recipe would be appreciated). Don't make me come yank your hair missy.

I was my pleasure reading you.
Clay -- It still comes in handy. I just hope as I get older I don't feel such a duty to do it, and that I can employ it when it's the kind thing to do to and not just the proper thing to do.

Dirndl -- Hopefully if we ever meet up, we will NOT have any eggplant appendages and can talk about a lot of other things!

Abrawang -- Yes, one of the things I envied about Holly's life was that she could reinvent herself. (The internet allows that too!) It was disillusioning to discover that -- at least in Holly's case -- when you go back home you are still the person you were before you left. Maybe that isn't true for everyone. Maybe one day I'll find out!

Tom -- I've met some syrupy back stabbers, but I've made it a point not to surround myself with them.

design -- That kind of anger is foreign to me. That's what made this occasion so memorable!

Laura -- Is that your "fix your face" in your avatar? ;)

Cedar -- I have had to use a stick with a couple of fighting dogs -- just to distract one, and then they bite on it and you lead them away.

Rita -- Good to know you're on my side!

Christine -- I remember that piece. Wow!! That must have been a blindside, and very confusing. Wow.

keri -- Thank ya!

Algis -- I'm happy to report I haven't been blinded by anger in a very long time. I've been angry at my husband and children at times, but anger toward people you love is quite different.

Ann -- You're such a kind person that I bet you do it automatically.

Lucy -- I do bite my tongue, and it is indeed cathartic to be able to let it out here. I feel soooo much better!

Pilgrim -- I can't imagine you angry at all! (My husband is the same way, and when he does get "angry" it's more of a sad simmery thing that makes everyone feel ashamed. Except ONE TIME, he had a hissy and threw a cookie against the wall and it left a skidmark. I left it there for years, until we repainted.)

Deadly -- Ha! I tried to leave my devilry behind in childhood -- when I was a wicked wicked child. Somehow, it lingers....

Gabby -- It's more of a lil-a-this, lil-a-that recipe, but I'll work something up for you. The more I think about anger, the more I think it's something we need to own up to. Anger isn't always ugly or inappropriate.
Relationships with womencan be so complicated. Strange that a little spat in high school can still color things so many years out. But Holly sure sounds like a pill. Too bad she wasn't ever taught you can catch more flies with honey. Coincidentally, my mother also taught me to put my game face on for public.
all I know, after reading this, is that I would love to have a sip of that southern tea (with mint leaves?) and I wouldn't have to pretend to be amused....

also, will have to remember that trick about the stick...

Oh, I so, so get this! And I love the expression "fix your face". I think Jane Austen taught me that, without using those words.
Amazing. There is just not another Bellwether. For rizzle.