Category Archives: Friends

Running out of gas leads to more of same …

Most Mondays (or in this case, Tuesday) the letters come together in a jiffy; 15 minutes tops from start to finish. In a sign of a surely fading memory, I keep a little notepad by the downstairs sofa and when I’m loafing (which is often) it makes it easier to scratch down a little ‘reminder’ about this topic or that.

Of course, when you write about the mundane goings on of daily life, it doesn’t make for the most scintillating reading. But a lot of weeks, that’s all a writer has to work with.

January 26, 2016

Ellen/Reid: I just ran out of gas yesterday when it came around to writing the perfunctory Monday letter. Despite the best of intentions, it just didn’t get done. But this morning, as I bid ‘Good morning, ladies’ to dear Emma and sweet little Georgia on my new go-to coffee cup, it suddenly became time to put pen to paper, or at least electronic, digital paper.

Your mom texted me Monday afternoon about those two little hooligans and we had a good chuckle between grandparents over how Emma is just growing, growing, growing. I loved seeing her splash and swim in the pool; those lessons are worth their weight in gold. She was just beaming when she came up for air, and no doubt Georgia takes in all that her sister is doing.


Sweet little Georgia is ready to take after her big sister in the pool.

Her tiny feet won’t be that far removed from joining her big sister in the water.

Reid, there is no way in hell I could make heads nor tails out of whatever that spreadsheet was you sent from your grad school studies. I have absolutely no clue as to what you were showing me, what it was used for and how it matters to what you’re studying. More evidence that your dad is, truly, dense as a loose stone. But it must mean you’re liking what your doing and the studies are going according to plan. Your mom and I also giggled about that. Remind me again, in layman’s terms, what I puzzled at and how it has any relevance to mankind.

I’ve become something of a binge listener to iTunes. This morning it’s listening, and replaying time and again, More Than This by Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music. It’s about 35 years old but a great, lilting tune that takes me way, way back. Yet before that, yesterday, it was 21 Pilots and Stressed Out. I’ve amassed a great playlist of the so-called adult alternative music. Reid, I sprinkle in a little Beck with the Kongos and Cage the Elephant, et al, and I’m good to go.

Those tunes will help keep me alert and bopping along on I-77/I-26 early this Thursday morning when Miss Emma and I head back exactly 211 miles to Bowens Island. The temps will be chilly but I badly want Continue reading


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A beat down on my book…

My friend Bob has reaped what he's sewn. A post-op picture of his swanky new cast, a result of rampant over-texting.

A couple of years ago I spent days, weeks and months on a book manuscript about my years of writing to Ellen and Reid.  It was chock full of helpful advice and tasty tidbits and what I presumed were fatherly witticisms.  A sure-fire best seller, I thought.  Who wouldn’t buy such a gem?

Well, I can name at least three non-purchasers: my former A.P. national editor Norm and my good friends Julie and Jenn.

That’s because when their edited copies came back, I knew the book was DOA.  They put a beat down on the manuscript.  To say they “hammered” the draft puts it mildly.  A lead balloon cannot sink any faster than my deflated hopes for publishing success.  Proving again the old journalistic adage that the greatest joy is editing someone else’s copy, their editing pens probably ran out of ink.

As I look back, of course they were correct.  The book was bad.  The three slice & dicers played their roles perfectly.  Editors are of no use if they pull punches.  The best editors are the harshest.  And this trio was the best of editors.  So much for my grand illusions as a book writer.  Poof.

Yet I remain undeterred.  After an appropriate period of gestation (and for mourning), I have mentally regrouped.  The book will make a U-turn in approach and tone.  The redraft is underway, and per the scribbled notations of Norm, Julie and Jenn,  it will be devoid of the preachy lectures and inanity that drove them batty.  Hell, it drove me batty, too.


Bridger Wilderness update: Our small band of hikers is growing.  Although an asterisk will go by their names, Jill and Troy Aleong* from Charlotte are tentatively on board.  Tom Andersen of Eugene, Oregon is our fourth walker.  The trip is set for the final full week in July, 2011.


Here is the typical Friday letter to my mom.  I hope the staff at her care facility keep reading the notes to her.  They say so, but there’s no real way of knowing.

October 15, 2010

Mom: I literally gave up on dinner last night.  I punted.  It boiled down to pancakes nuked in the microwave and peanut butter.  The peanut butter was on crackers, not the pancakes.  But it was the best I could do with the energy I could muster.  There was a grand plan earlier in the day to grill a burger but the meat stayed frozen and I went for the easiest thing available.  You eat better than I do.

Spend most of last night on my church newsletter.  Been doing it now for a couple of years.  It’s the one smidgen of creative work I do every month and it keeps me occupied and out of trouble although my pastor would beg to differ.  He gives me free reign and that’s fine by me.  It probably takes somewhere in the 20 to 30 hour range every month.  Hope the guy upstairs takes notice.

It has really cooled down.  We’re not in the 30s yet like you guys have been but it is a noticeable drop in temperatures.  Why, I even had to wear a jacket to work the other morning.  This weekend I’ll fire up the bike and head West and I will be sure to wear my leathers to ward off the cold.  It really is a beautiful time of year down this way.  I will avoid the “mountains” because all the leaf watchers will be out by the tens of thousands, clogging up the roadways as they gaze at the trees.  If the bike had a horn, I’d honk those slow pokes out of my way.

Good news for Reid.  He got a raise at his job, and they shuffled him around to give him some new big advertising accounts.  He’s pretty excited about it, and there’s some hope that he might get a real promotion in the not too distant future.  That kid is going to end up being a Chicagoan although he makes noise about moving to New York City every now and then.  As I tell him, kid, you don’t make enough money to visit New York, let alone live there.  But it would be a good time of life for him to be a little adventurous.  Heck, it would give me a reason to venture to New York to see him.

Ellen continues to battle through the educational turmoil.  Her first round of parent-teacher conferences were this week and I’ll be anxious to know how those went.  She must be a really good teacher because she spends a lot of time at the school working on lesson plans and things like that.  She just loves it.  I wish I’d paid a little closer attention to the teachers I had.  They must not have inspired me.

Nebraska is doing pretty well in football.  I know this because all the football experts on TV are saying what a good team they have.  The teams down this way are mostly lousy, especially the pro team (the Carolina Panthers) which has yet to win a game.  They are really, really bad.  El-stinko.  At least I don’t have tickets.  Heck, I don’t even watch it on TV.  Well, I’m gonna wrap things up.  Stay by the phone because I will call you real soon.  Keep eating that ice cream for me.

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Book the Bridger: July 24-30, 2011…


Okay, you saw this aerial view of the Bridger Wilderness a couple of weeks ago. But it's the best I have. Beautiful, but moderate, terrain.


A couple of posts ago, I said the Bridger Wilderness in Wyoming is my favorite place in the Lower 48.

I wasn’t kidding.  And now, you have a chance to see if I’m right.

Featuring six nights in the backcountry from Sunday, July 24 through Friday, July 29, 2011, I (and I hope to enlist Reid’s help as co-organizer) am assembling a backpacking trip in the Bridger for eight to 12 souls who are game for a wilderness experience.

We assemble in Pinedale, WY and hike the Northern half of the Bridger.  We will walk 3 – 5 miles per day (two to four hours) over moderate terrain.  I’ll pull all the food together (everyone carries their share).  Maximum altitude is probably 11,500 ft.  Any adult who is in moderate shape can handle this trip.  Incredible vistas.  Lots of good fishing, including Golden Trout in some high-country lakes.

If you’re interested, e-mail me or respond to this post.  It is an incredible place.


Here is today’s letter to my mom.

October 8, 2010

Mom: Last night I watched the Nebraska-Kansas State game and not a whole lot has changed.  When the going gets tough for NU, I turn the channel or get up and walk out of the room or just turn the TV off.  I’ve always been that way and probably will be forever.  Your other son is exactly the opposite in that you can’t pry him away from the tube.  But there wasn’t too much anxiety since Nebraska rolled all over K-State.

Been also watching the baseball playoffs and none of my teams – the Twins, Tampa or Cincinnati have done worth a darn so far.  Since Ellen lives in Minneapolis/St. Paul I sent her a message on her phone about the game, and she wasn’t even aware there was a game.  She’s just never been into those kind of sports.  Of course Reid follows the Chicago Cubs, and they will never amount to anything ever.  Cubs players are already on an extended vacation.

My tomato is at the end of its useful life.  The growing season here is rapidly drawing to a close although there are some little red tomatoes that just need a couple more days of ripening and they’ll be ready.  Down in these parts they fry green tomatoes (I’ve done it and they do taste good) so that’s how the remaining non-ripe tomatoes will end up on my plate.

One of my favorite neighbors, Mike, moved out yesterday.  He’s moving to San Antonio and he was a good guy.  He worked at the bank, too, and was a dedicated Harley rider.  In fact, he sent me a message this morning that he kept his bike out of the moving truck and is riding all the way to Texas.  Good for him.  That would be relaxing and fun.  Maybe some day I’ll haul my Hog out of the garage and ride out to Grand Island to see you guys.  That would be a lot of fun.

Things are going okay at the bank.  It’s a stressful time, what with all the foreclosures and stuff like that.  It’s tough on people to deal with, and I don’t mean those of us who are workers but the folks who are losing their homes.  It’s really hard to watch some of those things go on.  We’ll help them when we can but some are just too far gone.

I’m baking chicken in the oven tonight along with some Idaho potatoes.  I’ll dust it with a little flour laced with some spices.  I seem to have fallen into a rut where I cook chicken one night, rice the next night, tacos another night, and pasta the other night.  It all tastes okay but I need to expand the menu a little bit.  Hope your food tastes pretty good.  You sure wouldn’t want me to be cooking for you guys.

Well, that’s it from Charlotte.  Be good, stay warm now that the weather is cooling, and I’ll talk to you before much longer.  Have an ice cream cone for me.

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The meaning of good friends…

My friend Dave from Des Moines. His wife, Jane, made the whole Coeur d'Alene trip possible. (See all the trip photos at

If you ever want to see how the greats wrote letters, Google the writings of Thomas Jefferson, Emily Dickinson or Edgar Allan Poe, to name a few.  Of course, they were forced to write in the absence of other means.  But could they build a phrase.

Many of their missives were to business associates and other influencers (oops, bank terminology.   Slap my hands.).  But they wrote page after page to friends, too.

On the plane ride home from Coeur d’Alene, I wondered what could possibly be said to Jane and Dave to even remotely begin to thank them for their generosity.  Now and again it’s good to regain perspective on the meaning of good friends in our lives.  So it was with Jane and Dave.  Even so, whatever I managed to scrape together would be relatively paltry.

In particular, Jane needed to know the lay of the land.  Here’s what she got from me sometime late last week.  Far from what Jefferson, Dickinson or Poe might have penned, but even us lesser-lights have our moments.


Bob posted all the Coeur d’Alene photos at


September 22, 2010

Jane: By the time you get this we will be more than a week removed from what was an unbelievable trip.  Dave sent a post-trip e-mail that tended to put things in the proper perspective in terms of friends mattering most.  There was an article in this morning’s Observer to the effect that the older we get, the more worldly perspective we seem to gain.

There is no way I can properly thank you for including me and for your overwhelming generosity.  Before the trip it was hard for me to set aside, let alone contemplate stepping away from, all the things going on here in Charlotte.  That is, until we hit the ground.  All that melted away, and that’s a credit to the other three for bearing with me.  They’ve all been very successful in their own rights, and that was very heartening.  Dave seemed very relaxed to me, which was entirely the point, I suppose.  Hell, we were all relaxed.  Your hubbie’s mild snoring aside, he was a good roommate.

Literally, you left no stone unturned on this little adventure.  The travel arrangements, the food, the lodging, the golf, the spa treatment, the timetable.  By the time we got to whatever the next installment of our journey was, you’d already talked to the staff.  The skids were literally greased wherever we showed up.  In your next life you will come back as some high-ranking travel advisor to presidents and kings.  Even Furstenau, who is used to this sort of thing, was effusive.

This was literally the first time I’d been around cronies from Des Moines in quite some time.  It’s mildly upsetting to have you guys there and me here.  Your Dave was correct.  To paraphrase him, when you cut all of it away, what you are left with is your friends.  You both should know that I have an open door policy down here: the door is open and you walk in for however long it is you want to be here.  It would be great to have you visit Charlotte so you can see how those of us live on the other side of the tracks.  A stone’s throw away are the mountains and the beach.  (Somehow we got on the topic of Davidson and your Will’s college plans, and it is one hell of a little school just up the road from Charlotte.  Consider this your college search headquarters at least for the South.)

In a couple of weeks time I’ll blow through Des Moines (arrive Oct. 11, I think) and hope to at least see you guys for a few moments as I continue east and south.  I’ve got a book project in mind that I’d like to run by you (since you are already a published author and I’m still a wannabe.)  I’ve got both of your phones plugged away in my phone, so watch for a call.

But thanks again for including me in a trip that was beyond special.  I owe you in some significant way.  I may not have been the most deserving but I had the most fun.  Now if we could just get F____________ to toss his iPhone out the window…

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Texting = de Quervain’s Syndrome…

The little nodule on Bob's wrist is a sign his knotted-up tendons have rebelled against his rampant use of phone technology.

My friend Bob in Des Moines goes under the knife soon for an entirely self-inflicted, and typically painful, ailment known as de Quervain’s Syndrome (aka washerwoman’s syndrome or mother’s wrist).  Basically, it’s a repetitive motion injury.  It was first identified in 1895 by a guy named Fritz, and Mr. de Quervain had no idea his observations would apply to more than scrubbing floors and lifting babies.

Seems Bob has texted way, way, way more than a wrist can handle.  Look up the textbook definition of repetitive motion injury and you’ll see Bob’s name.  Bob is a tech guy’s techie.  He knows his way around an iPhone better than anyone alive.  That includes the developers.  Just as the rest of us are trying to figure out how to direct dial, Bob pushes the boundaries of tech-knowledge.  In Coeur d’Alene he drove us nuts with continual and usually unsolicited demonstrations of “apps” that ranged from a circular rotating compass to guide our way if we got lost to a hand-held seismograph that recorded his heart beat or jolts when the SUV hit bumps in the road.  We rode Bob hard (the derision was good natured) about his addiction to technology.  Bob’s loss is the hand surgeon’s gain.

Let it be said that unless I begin to sit awkwardly at my laptop keyboard, I should manage to avoid de Quervain’s Syndrome or a similar overuse ailment.  I suppose correct posture and proper ergonomic design of a keyboard are a saving graces to letters.  Bob will recover soon enough to rejoin the ranks of texters, although I hope he’ll subscribe to whatever  “app” will make it easier on his thumbs.


Here’s today’s letter to my mother.  A seven minute exercise from start to finish.  Things are improving for her medication-wise.  I hope this letter adds a minute or two of brightness to her day.

September 24, 2010

Mom: Officially it’s supposed to be fall right now but the weather guy says today will be another day in the 90s.  Your first frost can’t be far behind and we still worry about sun screen and tee shirts.  There are now drought conditions in some parts of the Carolinas.  I have a little drought situation in my own neck of the woods; the plants in my window boxes are goners since they had stopped flowering and I stopped watering them.  I’ll replant something in their place.

Was on the porch the other day when I noticed that my parsley plant was awfully scrawny and didn’t have many leaves.  On closer inspection, it was filled with a yellow and black banded caterpillar of some sort.  They had munched the plant to nearly nothing.  So I picked them off and squished them.  But in an idle moment I wondered what they were so I looked up North Carolina caterpillars on the Internet.  It seems these were destined to turn into Swallowtail butterflies, and here I’d just assassinated about 20 of them.  If I’d known that I would’ve let them live.  Incredibly, the background on the worms said they preferred plants in the parsley family.  Well, they found mine to their liking.

Was in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho last weekend with some friends from Des Moines.  These were guys I’ve known a long time, and it reminded me how I’ve not been able to see old friends for quite some time.  So it was good in that regard.  We played golf and had a great time eating and laughing (drinking wine a little bit, too).  We played a course where they had an island green you had to take a boat to reach.  The kicker was if you hit the green on your first shot you got a certificate.  I plunked my ball in the water the first day but got a certificate on the second day.  It wasn’t a gimmee in that it played about 165 yards both days.  Nice course, and it was in the mountains which I have missed.  Flew over some familiar mountains in Wyoming.  That was fun to see.

Ellen goes to Des Moines this weekend for some event.  Reid told me last night he wants a new computer but this time he’s going to build one.  How the heck do you build a computer?  He’s already got a jazzy laptop but he says that’s not powerful enough for all the stuff he wants to do.  Don’t ask me what he wants to do but he needs a mega-computer to do it.  Good for him.  He had a good review at his ad agency job this week.  That made his week.

Not much going on in these parts.  Probably take the bike out for a spin this weekend.  Likely will head to South Carolina for the day Saturday.  The forecast is for rain on Sunday which is sorely needed around here.  Of course, the big news is I leave for Grand Island in a couple of weeks and will see you very soon.  Just make sure the ice cream shops are still open, and I’m sure we’ll find a good joint for a burger and a beer.


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Along came Coeur d’Alene…

Dave, Bob and Dave afloat on Lake Coeur d'Alene. The tourist season had come and gone so it was the perfect time to visit. Next time: Pinehurst.

The real world took a breather last weekend.  Along came Coeur d’Alene.

Pure and simple, it was a junket.  A guy’s weekend.  Golf, food and wine.  You could reverse the order and still get the same results.  It was the better part of four days with the impact of seven.

It was my first time around old (figuratively, not literally) friends in quite some time.   Ellen and Reid knew of my misgivings about taking time away from my current predicament, but any apprehension dissolved quickly amid the camaraderie.  It was good to be there and to be with my boys.

The chief culprit/chief planner was Jane, Dave’s bride.  In her next life she will be an event planner to royalty and/or presidents.  A few weeks ago I posted the letter sent to her and Dave where I caved to her persistent invitation (effectively abetted by Bob’s equally persistent battering).  I don’t know where the renewed contacts with these guys will lead, but they will lead somewhere.


Housekeeping: this is the final week of three-day-a-week posts.  I’ll scale back to Tuesday-Friday postings.  I reserve the right down the road to return to the thrice weekly regiment as time allows.  As they say when interminable corporate conference calls end mercifully early, I’ll give you some time back.


But it is Wednesday, as it always is at midweek.  Here’s a prior message to my two young adults.

October 4


Whew, feels good to be back home again.  That’s enough driving and sitting around hotels for a little while.  Grandma and Grandpa were so glad to see you guys, although they were a little disappointed in your appetites.  I built you guys up as having bottomless pits when it came to food, but the best you could do was appetizers.  They enjoyed seeing you.

The house painters are here this week, both inside and out.  We’re debating colors right now and already it’s clear that my choices will lose.  Your mom was talking to Amy F______ last night as I got home from my walk, and they were conspiring with other paint selections.  Heck, it doesn’t matter all that much.  Just get the damn thing done.

Alas, the raspberries have come to an end.  We had raspberries every morning for weeks, not many, but enough for cereal.  But we still have plenty of tomatoes for BLTs.  Now that’s eatin’.

Too bad Iowa State got worked by Nebraska.  The papers here were all over the overtime loss.  It just goes to show that the Big Red is back, sort of.  Reid, have a good time in Lincoln.  Just don’t let us see your name on the police blotters.

It’s too bad that Afton is packing up for Grand Rapids.  Tough deal losing your job that way, but the Internet is a touchy thing with a lot of employers, especially on their time and on their PCs.  I hope you come out of this with another good roommate.  You guys have learned more out of college than you learned in it.

Very hot yesterday and today.   90+.   But it will be down in the 30’s by Thursday and Friday so it seems fall is about to come and go very quickly.  Pittsburgh sure was pretty but the downtown is on the dead side.  It was a steel town for a long time, but all those mills are long gone.

The one guarantee I can make this weekend is that I will be out of here on Sunday.  Your mom and Molly H______ are hosting a wedding shower here for Lynn G________’s son Aaron, and thankfully my services won’t be needed.  However, it’s been made abundantly clear that the lawn will be mowed, the weeds killed, and sidewalk edges trimmed and the mulch renewed at the front door.  Other than that, there’s not much to do.  I think I’ll ride down to Missouri since I’ve never ridden in that state.  That will lift my state count to 12.

Got a fair amount of work to do this week for ___________, ___________, ______________.  Mostly writing stuff.  Did you see the article in the Pittsburgh paper about your Grandpa’s reunion?  I can’t believe the editor’s there took a flyer on me and allowed me to write it.

Well, I’m off to the salt mines right now.  Give us a call if you need anything.  Except money.

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A friend in the nick of time…

Ellen in particular sends lots of photos via her phone. Loveable Henry appears to have become a Minnesota Twins fan, as is Ellen's hubby Tim.

Ever have one of those times in life when you badly, sorely, really needed a friend?  I’ve had my share of welcome friends recently; Betsy, Ferg, Bob, Felicia, Ann, Linda, John, Pam, Pete.  You know the type; supportive, empathetic, helpful.

Then along comes Jane.  Jane lives in Des Moines and I referenced she and her husband Dave a couple of posts ago.  We go way back.  28 years will have to suffice for way back.  Without getting into excruciating detail, Jane was a friend in the nick of time.

In a few weeks, I will be afforded the opportunity to rekindle the relationship in person.  It’s been five long years since we’ve last seen each other, and it’s high time for a reunion.  I couldn’t let this entire situation pass without some sort of correspondence.  On top of that, they know Ellen and Reid very well;  a here’s-what-the-kids-are-doing-now update is way, way, way overdue.  It doesn’t take much to get my motor running when it comes to letters.  Just point me in the right direction and I’ll take things from there.

Here is that letter.

August 30, 2010

Jane/Dave: This has been one hell of a forgettable summer and I’ve looked for some ray of light.  You two are apparently it, and just in time.

I have been woefully out of contact with virtually everyone from Des Moines except for F_________ and a little bit with Greg K_______.  The guilty party pops up in my mirror every morning.  From the sound of things, things haven’t changed up there markedly.  For some reason I was under the assumption that you guys had jettisoned DSM entirely for sunny FLA-USA.  But the weather pages of the paper did not paint a pretty winter picture of Des Moines this past season so no one would have held it against you had you pulled up stakes entirely.

As for North Carolina, my stake seems to be a little further in the ground as time goes by.  It’s a nice enough place.  Charlotte is a good town and it was at its zenith when I moved down here in ’06.  Wine and decadence for everyone.  Those were pretty heady times for the ‘burg, and it’s been in something of a free-fall since then.  The actual timing of the free fall can be directly pegged to my purchase of a townhome at the very tippy-top of the market.  Someone has to buy at full price.  Things have fallen downhill like a rock since then.  If you looked at a map, which you have utterly no reason to do, I would be in what locals like to call ‘South Park’.  My commute to the downtown (which is called Uptown for some flimsy reason) is about 20 minutes.  Not bad by these standards.  I like it here and like where I live.

But here is the real news.  Ellen (now 27) is by all appearances very happily married up in St. Paul.  She just landed her first teaching gig (2nd grade) after a long, long time searching and applying.  She just persevered.  She and her hubby, Tim (who works at _______) live in a little bungalow not far from the main East-West drag in St. Paul.  They love it although I persistently rub it in deeply in, say, in January, when it’s -31 there and 64F here.  I have to get in my digs sometime.  She was working at a property management firm which paid well but it wasn’t her dream.  Now she gets to live it.  _____________, St. Paul, MN  55105-2409.

On the other hand, Reid (25) is fully acclimated to Chicago where none of us see him leaving anytime soon.  He’s some sort of web/pixel/digital ad campaign geek at a big ad agency there.  I don’t fully understand what he does and he’s grown tired of telling me.  He’s dating a young woman from Des Moines, Jackie, and perhaps that hastened him moving just this week to a studio apartment.  He likes Chicago a lot although we have to wean him from being a Cubs fan.

Kathy has pretty much become a Californian with her new guy.  I plead ignorance on any of the details because I don’t butt in or ask, but from what I glean from the kids and others, it’s a good situation for her, too.  Her house in Clive will go on the market soon and should stand a fair chance of selling.

My father passed away at the end of June, and a few weeks later my job at the bank passed along, too.  This will be one summer that can’t move out of the way fast enough.  That’s why your pending trip is so exciting.  I may be bothered by dropping off people’s radar screens back there, but there’s nothing like rekindling old relationships, as long as we can keep the news out of the newspapers.  I owe you in more ways than one.  See you soon.

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