Van Morrison - Astral Weeks Live

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... at the Hollywood Bowl.  If it matters.

I came to Van Morrison rather late as a fan, though it's notable he's continued actively as a respected recording artist since his heyday in the late 60's/early 70's.  He's one of those artists whose songs add variety to the radio - "Gloria," "Brown-eyed Girl," etc., and to the average listener, these probably hold no greater attention than possibly a greatest hits CD or, in this age, a few iTunes downloads.

iTuned in with "Down the Road," a 2002 bluesy release that for a number of lyrical and musical reasons suited my ears.  This was followed by "What's Wrong with This Picture?" in 2004, as energetic an effort with a jazzy tone throughout and superb musicianship.  Later releases didn't compel me as much as these two, but when I learned that he had recorded one of his two most highly regarded albums live (the other being Moondance), I was intrigued.

Why?  The entirety never before performed live - several of the original musicians - effusive reviews - jazzy treatments - extended songs to let vanmorrisonthe music fill out the mood...  sure, sounds good.

But it doesn't sound that good to me.  Long term fans who appreciated the original Astral Weeks may well favor a refreshed look at an old favorite.  But for me, despite the expected excellent musicianship, all I can hear is an artist who doesn't respect his work or his talent.

Listening to Van Morrison in one sense is to appreciate mood.  He excels at that.  And the mood or tone almost always suits the lyric.  But understanding those words is the challenge.  Even in his studio work, separating his consonants from the vowels can be a challenge.  Live, however, it's fairly hopeless.  To be generous, one could say that he affects a certain style by slurring his words and growling the dominating consonants in words or sentences.  

But that's being far too generous.  Simply, he comes across either as a man so full of self-regard that he believes the audience should be honored to hear him or... he's just lazy. 

I think it's the former for a couple reasons.  One is that most of his recent albums include at least one song reflecting on "woe is the life of the celebrity rock star."  Though likely a true sentiment, he's not exactly Sir Paul or the Boss.  In fact, it's hard to imagine anyone recognizing him outside of a recording studio.

More telling is the most annoying inclusion on this CD, that being a fellow band mate shouting his adoration to the audience such as "Vannnnnnnnnnnnnnn Morrison!"  and "Van THE Mannnnnnnnnnnnn!" ad infinitum.  Audiences are free to do so, and usually do.  But to basically ask for it?

Given that Van Morrison has a reputation for being very precise on his expectations from his session players, this proclamation of his greatness could not have come as any surprise, and if it did, I have to think the offending microphone could have easily been nixed before releasing the performance as a CD.  For the fans who were there, I'm sure they enjoyed the show and this makes an excellent souvenir.  For everyone else, save your cash or, better, buy the classic.

Rating: 1 Star 

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So You Want to be a Crafter?

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One aspect of good marriage is that each spouse supports and encourages the other in their endeavors.  For the past 10(?) years or so, my wife has been making glass jewelry, primarily sold at "craft shows" in a town near you.

Encouraging someone to do something isn't that hard to do; it just requires an intentional effort and primarily involves words.  Supporting someone, however, requires action.  My wife does 6-9 craft shows each year around the Atlanta area, plus others elsewhere.  This weekend was the Inman Park Festival.  Inman Park is one of the older areas in Atlanta, close in to the city, with many beautiful homes and mature trees.

nice house

nice house1

I doubt many romanticize the world of craft shows, except possibly loving the idea of life away from the 8-5 grind, featuring such benefits as rush hour commutes, a boss, and corporate (insert aggravation of choice).

In fact, attending into a craft show is very much a pleasant way to spend some time, if one likes to see handcrafted arts, to push a stroller, or to enjoy some time outdoors, among many others.  Well, it's nice for a couple of hours, and then you head out to other diversions thinking, "Wow, I wish I was a crafter."  

The devil is in the details.

This weekend was typical for my wife.  Friday night, she was up to 1:30 a.m. (um,  yep, that's technically Saturday), finalizing some jewelry pieces.  As it happens, a gallery placed an order depleting her supply, plus she just finished another local show the previous weekend.  When it rains, it pours, as the saying goes.  (Takeaway lesson - no she doesn't work from 8-5; during show season she works from about 11 -11, excluding meals).

Where were we?  Oh yes, to bed at 1:30 a.m.

5:15 a.m. Alarm.  5:20 Alarm again.  5:30 - we're out of bed.  6:00 a.m. we're on the road and on our way for the Breakfast of Champions!  McDonald's.  If you imagine that there would be time for a full breakfast at Cracker Barrel for a full day ahead, you would be mistaken.

7:00 a.m.  We arrive at Inman Park.  To coordinate unloading, the event organizers have to manage the traffic so that vehicles can be efficiently unloaded and moved out of the way for others to do the same.  Translated: this can mean a delay of anywhere from 5 to 40 minutes, the latter of which is rather infuriating when reflecting upon the time when the alarm first rang.

wait

Saturday was good - the five minute variety.  Next, we see what has ultimately become a jigsaw puzzle of packing the many items needed into our vehicle of choice.

cartrunk

As a local show, my wife didn't have to pack a suitcase for overnight travel, and she otherwise planned for a "lite" version of the setup.  She could have brought more, in other words.  Quick, unload the car, because other people want in:

DSC_0082

It looks brighter outside than it is.  Note the headlights on the car.  Anyway, that's all of it unloaded, some of it very  heavy.  Some craft shows make you haul it in from a dedicated parking area, or, worse, from wherever you can find to park.  There may or may not be volunteers to help, either.

On the whole, this doesn't look like much.  But, there's other items for outdoor shows, different displays for indoors shows, and even more for wholesale shows.  It kind of grows on you.  And your garage.  And your house.

And, after saying all that, I can still say that experienced crafters learn to get by with less.  You might notice in the foreground a marking for booth #131.  We're 133!  Um, right where that car is parked, thank you very much.  At least it's another crafter's car. 

One cartowdisadvantage  of a neighborhood hosting a streetDSC_0084 festival is that cars must be moved.  Don't say you weren't warned.  In any case, we wait.  Dang, it's early.

 

very early street

There are a few basic styles of tents, varying from $200 to $2k.  Some are easy to erect, and some, like ours, require assembly.midbooth  The pipes on the ground are filled with concrete and hung from the tent frame.  If the wind should blow, these hopefully will keep the tent on terra firma.  Unfortunately, it's important, as weather can change quickly and wreck both the booth and the contents.  As it turns out, St. Macarius of Unzha was with us this weekend (Google informs the inquisitive that he is the patron saint of crafters), and the weather was beautiful. 

An hour and a half later or so, we're pretty much done.  We opted for one less sidewall as we weren't crammed against our neighbors, a rarity.

finished booth

Although there are bicyclists and joggers passing through, the show doesn't formally open until 11:00 a.m.   But gradually, tent city takes shape. 

early streets

Notably, we were not located next to a digerroo musician, an incense burner, or a soap seller.  These may be of interest to many, but over the full course of a weekend, these tend to encourage more people to quickly pass by than to leisurely check out each space. 

In fact, a main challenge is not actually the art, but the presentation.  A certain percentage of people will have no interest in what an artist makes.  It's not rejection, but in the absence of sales, it can feel that way. Artists have to keep the faith as people glance over and keep walking.  But the point is, at least they glanced, even whilst tending to a demanding child or chatting with their show buddy.  It's not just about the art.  If your booth isn't set up to entice someone to look, you lose.  And you thought this was easy... 

Inman Park is a relatively large festival for the Atlanta area.  It has several streets for juried, hand crafted arts (primarily paintings, jewelry, clay, woodworking).  Most shows have application fees plus booth fees (no refunds for inclement weather), so getting things sorted as early as possible often helps cover expenses from a passerby, usually another crafter or a festival volunteer.

As for me, my main supportive task done.  My wife is the one who is built to weather the crowd, the heat, and the duration.  Meanwhile, I'm off to take a spin around the festival.  I generally look for something that looks "different" as even to my untrained eyes the art may be fine quality, but too much of it is also too familiar. 

Unusual for most shows that feature handcrafted arts is a separate section of "buy/sell" - generally imported junk (as viewed by a crafter's spouse) that sells cheaply and competes for the available disposable income of those attending.  Not a good thing.  On the other hand, one never knows exactly what they'll find that they might like.

Australian hats

Say, that's just the thing for a receding hairline!

There's also other aspects of the Festival.  Beer taps, three concert stages, a children's activity area, food vendors located throughout, and a parade even, in this case.

Sometimes, other surprises await.  Food vendors generally look like this, though often festivals do not have covered seating.  These vendors work hard - and it's often hot work also.  However, most crafters bring their own food and beverages...it's an expense thing.

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But, constant change is here to stay, and here's a 21st century luxury option for food vendors:

cooking

Sure, why not cook in an RV?  It was customized on the inside, and I think the air-conditioning was running.

Otherwise, the early walk around was boredunremarkable, with this bored fellow a fair example of the calm before (optimistically) a shopping storm.  That said, there seems to be a direct correlation between sales efforts and sales revenues.  People will only buy items that they like, certainly, but as often, they want to like the artists that made them.  Being accessible and friendly is also a requirement, and the majority of my wife's customers would tell you that they don't just buy jewelry, they buy from Nancy. 

My quick route completed, it's my turn to watch the booth for a few moments.  (Note the fashionable Australian hat if you can make it out).

DSC_0089

Meanwhile, my wife is off to meet with a few of her crafting buddies down the street and visit what might be considered an indicator of the expected crowd size.

portas

As for me, I surprised my wife with a return trip late Sunday afternoon to assist the process in reverse.  I'm supportive, after all.

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Derek Trucks Band - Already Free

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I've been listening to this CD a couple months, wondering if my opinion would change. I often find that music which puts me off at first later becomes music I really, really enjoy (The Flaming Lips' Soft Bulletin comes to mind). Conversely, some things that sound good at first lose interest.

In this case, I was worried that the latter might apply to DTB. Additionally, the CD sounds a lot like things I've heard before - Eric Clapton's No Reason To Cry comes to mind, particularly "Black Summer Rain" (a song which may only be average, but I love nevertheless). There's a friendly mood to this entire CD, possibly comforting or even joyous. It brings forth a variety of derektrucks styles - blues, gospel, soul, gritty rock - all of which shine with Trucks' slide guitar work.

Trucks is the nephew of The Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks, a group that he has also played with (in addition to Eric Clapton, Santana, and many others). Recording a CD in a home studio may sound cheap, but this recording is flawless and the comfort level is obvious.

It begins with "Down in the Flood," written by Bob Dylan but otherwise not likely to be recognized as a cover. The band is tight, and the tone says that you're among friends. "Don't Miss Me" is a stomper, "Get What you Deserve" powers by with a slide riff, "Days is Almost Gone" almost becomes a sing-along (despite the noun-verb disagreement), and "Already Free" suitably closes the CD with a nostalgic hiss and pop of an old LP.

Trucks also shows on songs such as "Our Love" that the band isn't trapped by fan based expectations or self imposed limitations that guitar solos must dominate the music. In fact, for someone generally known to showcase guitar solos live, this CD is all the more richer as this sounds like a group project. Trucks may be the draw, but he uses the slide technique to the benefit of each song, allowing others (notably bass, brass, and acoustic guitar) to shine as brightly. There's no grandstanding here, although there are ample beautiful guitar moments, both featured or subtle.

Trucks has played live locally numerous times; I won't miss the next visit. Great stuff.

Recommended Songs: "Down in the Flood," "Don't Miss Me," "I Know"

Rating: 4 stars.

Apologies for the short intro ads to the videos:

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Call Me Old-Fashioned

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Last week, the Vermont legislature was the first to sanction homosexual marriages, and they did so by a Veto-proof margin.  The three other States in which it is legal was so ordered by the Courts.  You might guess, correctly, that I disagree with that decision. 

Some may immediately leap to condemn my judgmental attitude.  If so, I would say they have already made the first leap to judgment, assuming the superiority of their position without having read my own, and possibly by assuming a moral higher ground from the start.  Am I immediately guilty of being a narrow-minded bigot for opposing what political correctness would suggest is a Vote to be praised? 

Let's begin simply.  My argument does not come from a religious moral framework or from some deep dark place that manifests itself in hatred of people unlike (WASP) me.  Fair enough?   Also, let it be known that I have gay friends; good friends are good friends, without other adjectives being necessary.  Nevertheless, I'm against gay marriage.

I understand the functional utility and desirability of marriage.  Taxes, loans, insurance, inheritance, adoption issues, other legalities - I confess I don't fully understand the barriers that gay couples face when a relationship falls outside of the legal parameters of terminology that is pervasive through our societal structures. 

But as the title says, call me old-fashioned.  Words mean things.  I don't deny that definitions can or even should change over time, but marriage is and has been defined as 1) the joining of two people 2) to live as husband and wife 3) in a life-long committed relationship.  That's my definition, but I checked out different references and they're pretty consistent.

I'll work at that definition backwards to make my case.

3) Marriage is already struggling to remain meaningful as a life-long, or even long-term, commitment in today's society.

Rather than get into the numbers of people who live together and raise families without seeing a need for marriage or a divorce rate that clearly infers "life-long" means "unless I become unhappy or find a better option," married heterosexuals aren't exactly living the ideal. 

In Europe, a new trend is beginning where marriage is negotiated in a literal contract for 5-7 years, after which the terms of separation are defined as are the options for renegotiation.  Some social architects think this is architecture for social progress.  In a world where it's all about me, "all about we" seems to be suffering.  This is just a comment on the definition - it's ironic that same sex couples seek acceptance under a term that is struggling to maintain its own definition in this separate regard.  That doesn't mean that this part of the definition should be changed. 

2) I do believe that marriage should be limited to heterosexuals.  Without getting into relational roles or the societal benefit of a traditional family unit, it's difficult to equate gay to hetero marriages. 

For example, if someone were to comment, "They're a very nice married couple," the understanding is immediately about a husband and wife.  A gay couple, married or not, would be remarked "a very nice gay couple."

This isn't meant to be a hurtful observation.  But just as gays celebrate diversity, it's a difficult proposition to seek being treated the same as heterosexuals by inclusion in a term that, by definition, excludes.   And that remains an understandable sore point that seemingly cannot be adequately addressed by other terms such as gay union, domestic partners, etc.  However, that does not mean that there is a societal obligation to change what is (or should be) a very specific, meaningful term.

1)  This is where the finger pointing really starts.  But as the duration of marriage is already challenged, and the genders involved are being tested, is it really that far-fetched to push the marriage envelope a bit further?

The seeming romanticism of the term marriage suggests that it's suitable for people who really, really care about each other and want to make a visible and legal commitment to each other to always seek the other person's best interest through the rest of their lives.  Or contract, but I digress.

If that is really the motivating sentiment on widening the definition of marriage, then, may I ask, is it not too far-fetched that a man and two women would ask for the same social approval?  Or a woman and two men?  Or a foursome? 

Why shouldn't marriage be interpreted to include a loving relationship by any number of consenting adults, or, in seedier parts of the world, children?

Think about it, and think of the social evolutions that have occurred just since the AARP card has become the status symbol for the 60's flower children.  I'm not casting judgment there, either, but look ahead in the course of time 20-30 years, and see where the trend leads.

As an added measure, look at the hands in which we place our hopes for good governance.  Regardless of the this specific issue or the political Party represented, "Statesmen" (as besmirched a lofty ideal as marriage) are in short supply.  Politicians, though, we have aplenty.  As follows, from the Wall Street Journal, April 7, 2009:

One who did [vote for the gay marriage bill] was first-term Rep. Jeff Young, D-St. Albans. He said he continued to be philosophically opposed to gay marriage, but decided that voting with his fellow Democrats would help him be an effective legislator in the future.

"You realize that, you know, it's a poker game in some ways," Young said. "Chips on the table. I'm a freshman. I have no chips. If I ... had 20 years of chips, I probably could play any card I want. I don't have that option."

He added, "It's the way the political game is played."

Ugh.

Please Note: My arguments against gay marriage stand as stated, without calling upon religious invective.

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Stupid Dog

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At some point years ago, it seemed a good idea to bring in this dark fluffy pile of puppy to the household.  We put a sock in her mouth and dragged her around the kitchen to her pleasure, and she was fairly effective as a broom.  We named her "Gypsy," I think in part to the seeming well traveled path of her genetic heritage.DSC_0453

She grew, of course, into a large dark fluffy pile of dog, all shoulders and girth.  She's no longer particularly effective for any noted purpose.   To be fair, she suffers in comparison to her predecessor, Ringo, an Australianringo shepherd who fairly well governed the household  in the absence of his masters.

He was a stately, intelligent, and protective element in our home, and even a fine Frisbee catcher before age caught up to him.  Guests might quake with his bark, but they admired his refined good looks nonetheless.

Almost cute, yes? Gypsy is capable of a cupcake pose, at least.  But gypsy3 she's still a stupid dog. My rule when adding any pet to the household is that "I'm not responsible."  I'm happy to enjoy the benefits of having a pet, but all the negatives are someone else's problem.  Some may be thinking, "stupid man," but with a few exceptions, it has worked out as intended.

As compared with our Aussie, whose bark impressed upon others the possibility that he might bite, Gypsy welcomes visitors with all the charm of Godzilla, giant teeth flashing.  Add a littlegypsy1 froth to her nose and mouth, and you get the picture.  People don't realize that this apparent hellhound doglike spawn of hell is actually smiling at them. 

Gypsy's most "endearing" trait is her manner of greeting guests, once her mandibles of death close to something smaller than the size of a human head.  She is actually a very friendly dog and, in a particular way, is very giving of herself.  Like any other dog, she loves to know newcomers by gaining a sense of where they've been, what fragrance soap or detergent they may prefer, what other animals they may have brushed against, or whatever else dogs can discern.  But, be it known, she likes to sniff.

The difference here, though, is two things.  First, people find it somewhat surprising that she is incapable of sniffing from a short distance.  In fact, she finds it necessary to place her cold, mucus covered snout on the person being sniffed.  If you will refer to her charming smile, many find this even more unsettling.

Only, she's not done.  In order for her to gain the fullest sense of others' aromatic story, she needs to draw a breath to her lung's full measure, and to do so first requires exhaling.  In other words, the moistness on her nose is only the tip of the iceberg, and, unexpectedly, guests find themselves fully slimed, with an accompanying Snort that brings to mind a classroom of children blowing their noses on cue.

But I digress.  This is supposed to be about stupid dog, not uncouth dog. 

As I explained, she's not my dog.  She knows this, as my wife is clearly the person who 1) cares for her (emotionally) and 2) cares for her (functionally).  I don't care for her.  For me, she is just an embarrassment to dogdom, and I'm left only with the amused contentment  that comes with others' sudden appreciation of her uniqueness when she greets them, as described.

So, why is it that when I return home, she's at the door waiting for me?  She puts the same "face" forward as she does with other guests, only she bucks like a bronco and spins around in her excitement. 

You might think that "Oh, that's so sweet!  He probably pets her, and she's happy for the attention."

You would be wrong.

You see, only my wife has mastered the technique of petting her, unless she's lying down and not expecting it.  Otherwise, any hand approaching her head is targeted by her nasal rocket launchers and summarily strafed. And they're radar guided.  She doesn't stop as long as your hand is within ballistic range.  Sorry, Gypsy.  It's just not worth it.  Stupid dog.

But then... there's this weird sense she has.  Weekdays, my wife usually sleeps while I shower and dress for work.  As I pass through the bedroom, she lies content on the floor in snooze mode waiting for my wife to wake later.  Good! I'm off to work. On a weekend, though, I can go through the same motions, and as soon as I exit the bathroom, there she is at the door, waiting for me to feed her and let her out.  What gives?

Today, I happen to be taking the day off from work, and I put on clothes to go to the gym.  There she is, waiting for me to let her out.  How did she know? There's plenty of other examples.

It seems she has an innate understanding that when I'm going to work, I really don't want to bother with feeding her.  On any other occasion, I really don't want to bother with feeding her either, but she knows I have no reason that I can't.

Stupid dog.

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Smokin'

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And you probably think this is about cigarettes.  I was recently listening to a concert by Boston back in 1978.  One of their bigger hits was "Smokin'," with lyrics as follows:

We're gonna play you a song, a little bit of rock-n-roll
You gotta let yourself go, the band's gonna take control.
We're gettin' down today
We'll pick you up and take you away
Get down tonight
Smokin', Smokin'
We're cookin' tonight, just keep on tokin'
Smokin', Smokin'
I feel alright, mamma I'm not jokin', yeah.

Rock and Roll! Good Times! Going back further, Sinatra and the Rat Pack regularly smoked.  It was part of society (and particularly high society,) and to smoke was not just permitted, it was an expected behavior.

Today, it's much different.  You can thank science, or mortality tables, or political opportunism, or a more vocal populace to debate on both sides of the issue.  But, seemingly, a smoker risks a scarlet letter in the court of public opinion.

There is a lady at my office building who is a chain smoker.  I know this because when I enter and when I leave, there she is, smoking by the exit.  There is other evidence.  She has an unnatural slimness, pronounced wrinkles about her lips, a look of desperate incompleteness when she's not holding a cigarette, and a lingering aroma when she passes in the lobby or steps off the elevator at an earlier floor.  I don't understand her choice to smoke, but I respect it.

I don't hate smokers.  I became acquainted with cigarette smoke as a 4-5 year old hanging out in the billiards room at the college where my Dad taught.  Hey, it beats nursery school, and I learned some useful language.  I smoked some (undisclosed) amount in the summer between 3rd and 4th grade (Parents, watch your kids), and I count many smokers among my friends today.  And I'm not "for" the oppression of smokers' rights, either by governmental fiat or societal do-gooders trying to protect others from themselves.

That said, I have a low tolerance for cigarette smoke and prefer to avoid it, whether in a restaurant, at a concert, or at the entrance to my workplace.  There is a great divide between those who thrive amongst smoke and those who find it (they'll be happy to tell you...) something closer to toxic.  The City of Montgomery, AL had a City Council meeting on the subject before voting to ban cigarettes in any restaurant.  Certainly favoring one side of the issue, it was nicely framed as follows:

"I think a smoking section in a restaurant is much like a peeing section in a swimming pool." 

My issues with the lady who smokes at my office entrance has less to do with a bias against smokers, a little to do with an unwelcome smoky ambience to the beginning of my workday, and much more to do with a sense of disbelief that she is such an exemplary performer that she can meet her job expectations in half a day, or less.

So why am I bothering to write at all about this?  Well, the quote above is a favorite - it seems a waste not to share it.  But, not that smokers need more societal angst heaped upon their heavy laden backs, another pet peeve has flowered with the coming Spring.

You remember Spring?  In the South, it's that special month or so when the temperature invites rolling the car windows down, enjoying the fresh air.  We need this brief period to quickly enjoy the outdoors before the oppression of Southern heat sets in.  And no, I'm not going to complain about the smoker in the car in front of me enjoying the same sense of, um, freshness.  (It's obviously okay to poke fun at the irony).

Recently, I was waiting for a left hand turn arrow on a divided highway, and happened to look at the median.

Cigs

There are leaves mixed in, but there's as many cigarette butts as weeds within the frame of this picture, literally hundreds. I paid attention only because the smoker in front of me stylishly flicked the stump of his cigarette onto the road.  And I have to ask myself...

Why?

Even in Georgia, we have rules against littering.  To see someone litter is a rare thing.  Know the difference between a redneck and a good ol' boy?  A redneck throws his empty beer can out the window; a good ol' boy throws it into the back of his pickup.  Indeed, my observations tend to point towards paper trash floating out from the beds of moving pickup trucks than anyone intentionally littering. 

But throwing cigarette butts out are very much intentional.  It surprises me that for an environmental activism issue that largely "won" people's minds and expectations years ago, no one seems to object to this particular form of litter.

It's also telling that auto manufacturers recognize that ashtrays are not needed in vehicles; their respective space in the dash have been replaced by holders for cell phones, sunglasses and coins. 

If an attorney is out there willing to accept the world's applause for making environmental headway, while also receptive to scorn for whatever monetary reward can be gained at taxpayer expense, then it seems logical that a legal action against the Big Three might result in a better mousetrap for things needing proper disposal.  Unless, of course, they backdate studies showing that smoking while driving is as dangerous as talking on the phone.  There's just no pleasing everyone.  Or, contrarily, it's easy to please anyone who funds a study.

Bonus Material!

There's a lot of people who, a cigarette is about the only vacation they have.  ~Trey Parker, mini-commentary on DVD South Park episode "Butt Out"

The public health authorities never mention the main reason many Americans have for smoking heavily, which is that smoking is a fairly sure, fairly honorable form of suicide.  ~Kurt Vonnegut

I used to smoke two packs a day and I just hate being a nonsmoker.... but I will never consider myself a nonsmoker because I always find smokers the most interesting people at the table.  ~Michelle Pfeiffer

Smoking is one of the leading causes of statistics.  ~Author Unknown

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