Join Zach Bonner For Final Mile In Homeless Awareness Walk

Zach Bonner is 12 years old and has spent the past 3 years walking across the country (from Tampa, FL to Los Angeles, CA) to raise awareness of homelessness and funds for homeless kids.  You can find out more about Zach and his Little Red Wagon Foundation here.

It’s amazing that one so young has been so committed to this social issue, and has now spent a quarter of his life thus far walking across the United States in support of his goal.  Please, if you’re in the Los Angeles area, join Zach Bonner for the final mile of his walk tomorrow, September 14, 2010.  Participants will meet at 2200 Virginia Ave. (Virginia Avenue Park) at 2:00 p.m. and will walk the final mile to Santa Monica Pier.

I was hoping to make it there, but alas, my car has not yet been fixed, so I’m stuck where I’m at for a couple more days, and I’ve also got a media interview tomorrow afternoon about the book.  Rats.  In any event, I hope some of my SoCal-based readers catch this and, if you’re free tomorrow or can get away from work, turn out to support Zach, the Little Red Wagon Foundation, and homeless kids everywhere.

Living (Healthily!) Below the Poverty Line With Vicki Day

OK, so you may have read a little bit about Vicki Day, in London, on this blog and may have wondered how we came to be acquainted.

Vicki discovered my blog in March of 2009, when I was freshly homeless and still anonymous.  She has followed the site since, and was one of the people instrumental in pulling strings with Walmart (Asda in the UK) and drumming up the media in order to have my trailer returned to me after it was towed.  She also sent me train tickets to London when I was in Scotland and did not have the Christmas that I was expecting, and she and her daughter Alice took me in for a couple of months at my lowest ebb, for which I am forever grateful to them.  Vicki has become a surrogate mom to me, and I couldn’t imagine a better one.

Vicki strongly supports World Homeless Day, the inaugural launch of which is coming up rapidly on 10-10-10.  A month away from today. As a lead-up, we wanted to do something which would highlight the date and also make people think about some of the issues facing homeless individuals today.  Globally, 1.4 billion people live below the poverty line, which means on average they live on $1.25 per day for food (81 pence in the UK).

As a transatlantic joint effort, from today and leading up to WHD, Vicki and I will attempt to live (healthily, no less!) on $1.25 per day or less for food.

For Vicki, who is well known at her local Pret a Manger (sort of our American equivalent of Starbucks), where a single cup of coffee costs £1.95 (two and a half days’ worth of food, according to her new daily allowance), this will make an impact.

I’m already well versed in the Tao of the 99 cent Store, so it’s a little easier for me, but the “healthy” part is the challenge.  The cheapest thing you can find is, of course, Top Ramen…just under 17 cents per packet.  However, it’s absolutely ghastly for you.  So, I’ve taken $8.75 to my local 99 cent store and stocked up on the following:

-A bag of kiwis ($1)

-Two packets  of wheat pasta ($2)

-A jar of tomato sauce ($1)

-Two bags of green apples ($2)

-A bag of red bell peppers ($1)

-A bag of roma tomatoes ($1)

This is my first week’s worth of food, so I need to budget it wisely.  As far as drinks go, I’m a water person, so I’m lucky in that regard.  Tap water is free.

If any of my readers would like to join in on this transatlantic effort, we challenge you to follow along with us in our endeavor – whether it’s for a single day living below the extreme poverty line, or for the entire month…or something in between, whatever you feel comfortable with.  You can follow Vicki’s progress at Fabulously40.com.

Think about every mouthful of food that you eat or drink and its cost.  If you wish, you can even donate some of the money that you save on food to one of the many charities and organizations participating in World Homeless Day!  More details on how to do so at worldhomelessday.org.

As of today, with a month until launch, World Homeless Day will be marked by participating representatives, charities, and organizations on 5 continents and in over 100 countries – not bad for an idea first conceived 7 months ago, in February 2010!

A Friday Quickie Musical Interlude For You…

“Heroes & Villains”, a music video created and put together by phenomenally talented homeless Londoners.

Freaking.  Uh-mazing.  That is all.

World Homeless Day PSA Release!

Today marks the release of John Mellencamp’s World Homeless Day public service announcement.  John lends his voice to the hundreds in cities worldwide with the intent to simply encourage you to do something to bring your community together and support those who have lost domestic autonomy.

Below is the press release put out last night by Mr. Mellencamp:

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JOHN MELLENCAMP PITCHES IN TO HELP UNHOUSED WORLDWIDE

(Toledo, OH) 1Matters.org today announced the release of Grammy award-winning singer John Mellencamp’s efforts to help those who have lost domestic autonomy worldwide.

These efforts include the global release of:

1) Public service announcements promoting World Homeless Day (WHD) to be held 10/10/10. The purpose of World Homeless Day is to urge communities to use their local resources to draw attention to the needs of the unhoused, as well as provide opportunities for the community to come together to respond to homelessness.

2) A print interview conducted with exclusive rights of distribution to the world’s street papers. This print exclusivity helps to provide financial autonomy for the poor or unhoused vendors selling one of the 110 street papers in 40 countries.

3) A call to other recording artists and celebrities, whether on the road or at home, to matter by making unprompted stops at local shelters and kitchens with the sole purpose of showing “every 1Matters.”

According to HUD, due to foreclosure and job loss, the number of families with children who have lost domestic autonomy and are on the streets and in shelters is up 30% since 2007.

“It’s not right that kids have to live on the street; it’s not right anyone has to live on the street,” Mellencamp says. “In this country right now there is no middle class, no place for middle class. You are either really rich or you are really down and out. It’s hard times in this country right now.”

Common perceptions of the “homeless” do not include many of those who are now unhoused, such as families with children. According to 1Matters founder Ken Leslie, “Most people associate the word ‘homeless’ with the stereotypes
of those living on the streets. Fact is they only represent 15% of those who are unhoused in the US. Those who do not have “domestic autonomy”, including those doubled-up with friends or family define the entire scope.”

Before a concert in 2007, John Mellencamp made an unprompted visit to an awareness-raising Tent City in Toledo, OH, which sparked the founding of 1Matters.org. 1Matters works to change public perceptions of the unhoused and to involve local communities in ending homelessness.

According to Mellencamp’s publicist Bob Merlis, “John was touched by the experience in Toledo and has continued his support not only for 1Matters, but all of those who have lost domestic autonomy in our nation.” Mellencamp’s involvement in promoting World Homeless Day on 10/10/10 is another act in his long history of standing with those whose voices are often unheard in their communities.

The public service announcement and exclusive interview can be located at Mellencamp.com or 1Matters.org website.

About 1Matters - Founded by Ken Leslie, a formerly homeless alcoholic, addict, comedian and a 20-year advocate with and for the unhoused, 1Matters is working to fund micro-enterprises to provide financial and domestic autonomy based on the principal of hard work, as well as creating an international platform to change the world, 1 person at a time. 1Matters.org.

About World Homeless Day – Started by a global network of activists and advocates, the purpose of World Homeless Day is to draw attention to the needs of the unhoused locally and provide opportunities for the community to get involved in responding to homelessness. The Official World Homeless Day website exists to resource local groups to apply the concept of World Homeless Day to benefit homeless people locally in their area.

About John Mellencamp – John Mellencamp’s career in music has spanned more than 35 years during which time he transitioned from pre-fab pop idol to one of the most highly regarded mature songwriters of a generation, with domestic sales exceeding 40 million units. A Grammy award-winning artist, John has been standing up and fighting for those with little voice by using his time, music and money for 35 years. October 2nd will mark the 25th year of Farm Aid which he founded with Willie Nelson and Neil Young. This month John released his 26th album, “No Better Than This”, produced by TBone Burnett, recorded in Mono and released by Rounder Records.

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Also, now I have “Little Pink Houses” stuck in my head.  Specifically, the Glee version.  Because yes, I’m totally a huge Gleek!

Oh, For Feck's Sake – the Drug Addict/Mentally Ill Question. Again.

Okie dokie.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, because there’s nothing more infuriating to me than when an article misquotes me or people begin making wild, unfounded assumptions/speculations as to my philosophy on homelessness without evidence, or without actually reading anything I’ve ever written about homelessness…especially based on the way I look or speak or the color of my skin or what I’m able to cram into a five-minute interview.

I do not believe that homeless individuals who struggle with substance abuse and/or mental illness are less deserving of assistance.  In fact, I believe that they are far more in need of it than someone like me, who is able to pull herself up by her bootstraps.  They don’t have bootstraps to pull themselves up by at all.  They’re often not in a position or frame of mind to do so, or even to realize that they need help, or to want help when it’s offered.  It doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve it.  Believe me, I get it.  I’ve had close encounters with both drugs and mental illness in my immediate family.  Plus, do we ever really know how often it’s a “chicken or the egg” situation?  Do we really know how many homeless people became homeless due to drug addiction and how many became addicts due to trying to cope with the intense depression and isolation that homelessness entails?  These are reasons why you will never see me judge a homeless person by their past or their current vices.

When I quote statistics from government studies about the actual number of homeless people struggling with mental illness/substance abuse being a comparatively low number, and say that I myself do not do drugs or have a mental illness (though I’m certainly dealing with plenty of other personal demons of my own), I am saying it because it’s a fact that many more cynical individuals need to hear, not because I am in any way disparaging the mentally ill/substance abusers, or inferring that they don’t deserve help and treatment.  My primary objective is, and always has been, to challenge misconceptions, myths, and stereotypes about homelessness.  It’s sad, but true, that there is a stigma to drug addiction and mental illness, and many feel that:

A) ”all homeless people are either crazy or druggies”; and

B)  human beings dealing with such issues “got themselves where they are and deserve what they get”.

Neither of these statements is accurate.  For many people, before they can even get around to reversing Opinion B, and viewing these homeless people as actual humans with faces and feelings and backstories…they must first get past Opinion A.  There are plenty of people out there who, if I did have problems with drugs or illness, would be skeptical of trusting anything that I had to say regarding homelessness.

I’m just one girl, one backstory, one facet of homelessness (and yes, check either the dictionary definition of homelessness or the federal definition of homelessness if you want to argue that I’m “not really homeless”, because “mobile homeless” like me are the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population, with the recession).  Though I currently consider myself in something of a “limbo” state and have been so incredibly, remarkably lucky to have been handed a platform to talk about homelessness, there are thousands – nay, millions – more out there, each with a different backstory, each a different perspective on homelessness.  I tell my story in the hopes that I can raise awareness and maybe connect with a few people, get them thinking, and tell them “hey, you know what?  Homeless people are just like you.  They are a wide array of very smart, cool people with feelings to share and talents to offer and stories to tell.”  In the meantime, I personally do not care if 100% of homeless people are on drugs or mentally ill; they are still human beings in need of treatment, and contrary to popular opinion, nobody deserves to be left in the lurch.  Nobody deserves to be homeless.

Not everybody feels that way, though.  I would love to convince them otherwise.  But I’ve gotta point out to them that not all homeless people fall within their predefined ideas of “icky” or “wrong”, that homeless people are just like them, that I/we could be their mother, their sister, their daughter, their friend…so that they’ll actually listen to what I’ve got to say, first.

Make sense?

Take That, Prop H8!

This doesn’t have much to do with homelessness, but I’m so overjoyed that I’m posting it here anyway, because it does have a lot to do with my personal values.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m big on equality.  HUGE on equality.  This is largely because I was raised to hate gay people and view them as abominations.  My mom casually bandied around the words “fag” and “dyke” and similar hate slurs a LOT at my house.  Don’t believe me?  Ask my friend Brandon.  He visited a year and a half ago and was deeply uncomfortable to hear my parents and another JW discussing whether Jon Stewart was still worth watching, since “now he stands up for all of those disgusting fags.”  I was embarrassed and ashamed.

You see, I realized early on that I’m not the hateful type. The first friend of mine to come out was in my dance troupe.  I was 18 and newly escaped from my home and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  He was someone I’d known for a couple of years, liked and respected.  When I was at my lowest, he handed me $100 that I knew he could barely afford himself, and wouldn’t take it back.  He spent hours one day helping me load and drive about sixty moving boxes.  (I should also add that when I was stuck living with the world’s absolute most evil, heinous, psychostalker of a roommate, he came over to my house and loudly – hilariously! – snark-talked about how ugly and rude she was within hearing range for a few hours, passive-aggressively whipping her into a glorious frothing frenzy of hatred and annoyance – something I didn’t have the spine to do.  You can’t buy sweetness like that.)  I couldn’t bring myself to hate a friend, or to view him any differently than I did before.  He was the same genuine, caring person that I’d known before he’d come out.  Absolutely nothing had changed.  It was the beginning of my awakening on this social issue.

I also learned last year that I have two half-sisters, and that one of them is a lesbian.  She is an intelligent, articulate girl with an incredibly bright future ahead of her and a seemingly unlimited capacity for affection and acceptance.  Her family has been encouraging and supportive of me while my own have offered deafening silence to my face and (a little bird tells me) a churning rumor mill behind my back.  But, I’m supposed to hate this girl, who’s a great person and has got half of the same blood as me, for no other reason than her sexual orientation.  Nope, not gonna happen.

There’s another friend.  We met at work, actually, before realizing later on that not only were we both ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses, but that our families knew one another, that we even attended the same congregation at one point.  It was one of those Twilight Zone moments.  This former coworker identifies as genderqueer.  She was never baptized a JW, but her mother is still one. Her mother still loves and speaks to her, but “doesn’t want to know” about the gay thing, so you can imagine that’s a smidge of an uncomfortable elephant in the room.

These are my friends.  These are my family.  They want what everybody wants.  To live their lives in peace, maybe fall in love and marry – or hell, maybe they don’t personally want to get married.  Who knows?  But they want the option.  They deserve the option; they deserve equality and the same basic rights afforded to the rest of us.  They’ve hurt nobody, they threaten nobody, and in fact they’ve loved and supported me when my own flesh and blood wouldn’t.  This “God” fellow saw me as a freak; Kris and Lexi and Danny are among the others who saw me as a fellow human being in need of a little TLC and understanding.  It’s possible that they don’t know the extent to which each of them touched my life and made a difference, so I’d just like to say so here, up front.

I love each and every one of them.  I have been privileged to be called their friend.  And I am especially pleased to learn that a few minutes ago, Judge Vaughn Walker overturned California’s ban on same-sex marriage, ruling Prop 8 unconstitutional.  Congratulations to my friends, and to California.  There’s still an uphill battle, and I’m sure plenty of appeals will drag on and on, but for now, for this moment, my home state is upholding equality.

The Girl's Guide to Homelessness Memoir Cover!

So I’ve been sitting on it for months, and have just gotten permission to post my book cover on the tGGtH blog for you guys to see!

Final approved cover!!!

Can I just say that I am in serious lust over that wingback chair?  I so want it.  Although, I think that model needs to eat a few slices o’ pizza and dye her hair red  ;)  Also, I would never willingly wear Pepto-Bismol flamingo pink, but that’s just me.  I have a hunch they chose that color to play up the “girly” part of The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness.

Just so you can see, below is the original concept art that Harlequin sent me back in February.  I was staying with Vicki Day and her daughter Alice at the time, for a few weeks, and going through something of a rough patch.  However, the concept art landed in my inbox unexpectedly, and totally put a freakish smile on my face for days (ask Vicki, she’ll tell you!) and made the entire personal mess of a situation that much more bearable because it gave me something positive and exciting to focus on.  I really loved what they were going for and think it fits the tone of the book.

Since then, I’ve been just waiting to share it with you guys!

Original concept art from February.

As you can see, everything’s pretty much the same as the final product except for the chair (which I’m not a fan of – much happier with the wingback one!) and the model, who they had to kind of recreate and reshoot themselves because of copyright and such (I think they cobbled together the concept art from stock photos or something).  Though to be completely honest, I secretly like the concept art model a wee bit more.  I like her pose (I would totally sit on a chair arm like that, haha) and I like the fact that her hair hides her face, and I like her vintage-y dress (or maybe just really flowy pajamas?  Either way.)  But in any event, LOVE the final product, and so very pleased with what they came up with!

I would love to hear your guys’ input and comments!  Squee!!!  It’s so hard to believe.  Seeing your name on a cover makes everything that much more real (which is actually pretty scary!)

So You Think You Can Dance Does Homelessness

Tonight, SYTYCD showcased a routine about, in the words of choreographer Stacey Tookey, a homeless man and a businessman who meet in the street and are shocked when they eventually realize that they were once old friends.
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The routine was set to Gary Jules’ cover of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” (which I must admit, I think is a great choice of music).  It was by far the best-reviewed performance of the evening and garnered unanimous heaps of praise and a standing ovation for Billy Bell.  Thoughts?

John Mellencamp Records PSA for World Homeless Day!

Image credit: Rollingstone.com

Check it out:  John Mellencamp has recorded a PSA for World Homeless Day, the brainchild of my good friend and esteemed colleague, Jon Glackin (aka “Beat on the Street”).  Congratulations, Jon (and thank you to Mr. Mellencamp)!!!  World Homeless Day, an international initiative “thinking outside of the cardboard box”, is coming to a city near you on 10-10-10 (catchy, huh?)  Learn more and find out what you can do to help at http://worldhomelessday.org!  It’s truly astounding; the people that Jon has somehow been getting on board.  I’ve been told that HBO and Oprah picked up on it and will be broadcasting a show about WHD.  My mind is blown.

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An existential metaphor for my futile existence. Or, you know, just an adorably heartrending turtle. "Almost there...yeeeesssss...FREEEEEEDOOOOOM! (Aw, fuck)."

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Also, I sold my engagement ring today.  I was lowballed for much less than I’d hoped (and my asking price was already waaaaaaaay below the appraisal value), and it made me a bit sad to watch the guy walk away with it, but at least I’m unburdened of it and it’s on to greener pastures with somebody who will love and cherish it (I hope).  Now I just need to sell my ex’s Georgian ring, and it’s all outta sight, outta mind.   *adds mental note to the to-do checklist*  What can I say?  Beggars can’t be choosers.  Times are tough.

But right this moment (caution: vanity full-steam ahead), the first thing I want to do is color my hair.  Finances have been tight and since I’ve practically been a shut-in while finishing the book, it took the backseat to more pressing, if less fun, issues…like, you know, food.  My poor hair; falling casualty to practicality  :-\  I don’t think I’ve ever gone 3 months without coloring my hair since I started dyeing it when I was 9.  So to me, my roots are disproportionately horrifying and must be vanquished at all costs, but the friend who cuts my hair assures me that it’s not all that noticeable, since there are red tones in my natural dirty blonde hair.  Sage said the same thing, so I guess that’s consolation.

I’m also a bit puzzled, since my stylist friend said she spotted several gray hairs this time around.  I’m kind of hoping that she’s wrong and mistaking “blonde” for “gray”, but she’s adamant.  So, great.  Stress has driven me to premature aging!  Seriously, 25-year-olds are not supposed to go gray.  What am I, Steve Martin?  In any event, it doesn’t really bother me as much as you might suppose.  I mean, I’ve been pretty damn committed to my redheadedness for over a decade and a half.  Other than this isolated incident, when do I ever get the chance to see my natural hair color?  NEVER.  I’m on that shite almost as soon as it sprouts, even if I’ve had to hide in a gym bathroom for an hour to do it.  Actually, to be perfectly frank, up until now I wasn’t even completely sure what my natural hair color was anymore.  So who gives a fuck if I’m secretly a little old lady underneath?  Nobody will ever know, not even me.  I’ll be rocking the red hair all the way to my grave.  Even if it comes out of a bottle, way too much of my self-identity is wrapped up in my Titian tresses.

I'm back!

"Homeless: The Motel Children of Orange County", airing on HBO this Monday (permission granted to use promotional material on this blog)

OK, so I know I’ve taken a month off, and you might not believe me, but I really needed it (in my defense, I have been working – mainly on business plan-related stuffness, just not on the blog.  Oops.)  The book is currently going through the refining/editing process and there are lots of little tweaks to be made, and it’s also been the worst heat wave in SoCal for who knows how long.  I’m serious, there have been days here where the heat reached 115 degrees, and the swamp coolers don’t seem to be working all that effectively in that kind of heat.  I don’t do well in the heat, and that just kind of makes me want to sprawl out like a fried eel, twitch a little, and die.

But things are better now, heat is abating a bit, and I’m feeling in a much better frame of mind!  So, without additional fanfare, here are some links for you, my lovely loyal readers:

Homeless Californian man breaks into closed-down bar, re-opens it, and sells drinks.  I’ve gotta admit, this one is my favorite.  No, I don’t advocate violating liquor laws, trespassing on private property, etc.  It can and will get you arrested, as you’ll read.  BUT, this guy is epic.  It takes vision and creative thinking to do what he did (OK, and also desperation and a set o’ big brass balls.  But still.)  He lasted for FOUR DAYS before he was busted.  That’s oddly brilliant.

Andrea Star Reese photographs underground homeless living in Harlem.  Check out the photoblog.  What I really loved about this story was how much respect and dignity Reese treated these people with.  She took a long time to slowly gain their trust, never photographed them without explicit permission, and never did so in an exploitative manner.  She established lasting friendships with them and allowed their humanity to rise to the surface.  She also uses aliases for their protection.

“Homeless: The Motel Kids of Orange County” documentary.  I’m an Orange County native, so this really hits home for me.  The documentary explores the interesting dichotomy – one of the wealthiest counties in California, with more bajillionaires per capita than almost anywhere…with over 30,000 homeless children, many of them living out of motels.  The documentary is premiering this Monday, July 26th, on HBO.

Panera Bread opens a St. Louis, MO nonprofit community café where customers pay only what they can afford.  That’s right, they’re on the honors system.  Homeless and needy people pay nothing at all, and others are trusted to donate what they can afford.  Watch the video; it’s pretty amazing!  Panera Bread is planning to open two more community cafés within the next two months.

And of course, the Obama administration has unveiled a plan for ending homelessness.  They say that their goal is to wipe out family and child homelessness within 10 years, and chronic homelessness/veteran homelessness within 5 years.  Which is all fine and dandy, but the lack of details leaves me a bit cynical, to be honest.  How are they going to achieve this?  And what are homeless people supposed to do in the meantime?  1 year is hard enough.  What do they do for the next 5 or 10?  4,000 Section 8 vouches is a start, but to be honest, it’s not going to make all that much of a dent, overall.  I’ll hope that this initiative makes some difference, but again, I’m kind of skeptical.

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Brief self-plug:  I was in Publishers Weekly a few days ago!!! They were interviewing my editor about how Harlequin is expanding its nonfiction line.  True, I was only in 2 sentences, but hey, out of 39 nonfiction books they’re releasing this year and next year, only 4 titles were mentioned, and mine was one of them, so I’m feeling all warm and squiggly.  Also, they have “high hopes” for me!  Wow, no pressure or anything, haha.

Also, I’m apparently going to be in Writer’s Digest magazine (just did the interview today).  I’m not sure when that will be, but when I know the publication date, I’ll let you guys know.  I’m going to be brave (or foolhardy) and put my complete ignorance out on display:  Is Writer’s Digest like Reader’s Digest, but for writers?   :-\  Update:  Readers, Facebook friends, and the interviewer himself have all e-mailed me to say that Writer’s Digest is apparently a BFG (Big Feckin’ Deal).  So, woot!

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Disclaimer: If you're on the more conservative side, please don't send me hate mail about the album title. I didn't name it, I just like listing to it. It IS (excellent!) ballroom music...

Additional (non-homelessness-related) shameless plug for a friend and all-around nice guy:

So, I won Lee Presson’s new ballroom album by answering a trivia question correctly (yay! I never win anything!!!) and it’s fantabulous and such. You guys should all check it out. Lee Presson and the Nails do quirky/gothic-y/awesomely slightly creepy swing, mostly. But this album puts their unique twist on several other kinds of ballroom, too. My favorite tracks are “The Resurrection Waltz”, “The Mr. Crowley Tango”, and their swing cover of Nirvana’s “Lithium” (the album is available on iTunes, but you only get the “Lithium” bonus track if you order directly from Lee’s website at the above link, so I advise going that route!)  Lee’s been having a rough-ish time lately (his beloved car just broke down, etc.) and he could really use the support.  Plus, the album is great listening.  So, yeah…I highly recommend. Buy it ‘n stuff!

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