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Happy February everyone!  During this most romantic month, I am hoping to emerge unscathed from Lassiter’s predilection for tear-jerker movies.  Over the last thirty-six hours, he and Rhage have been fighting over who gets to have dominion over the movie theatre.  For some reason, Lassiter wants to cry in front of the big screen.  Like a TV the size of a kitchen table is not large enough, apparently. 
Rhage was able to tolerate When Harry Met Sally.  He did fine with Nottinghill.  Things started to get tense around Four Weddings And A Funeral (during the funeral.)  But then came P.S., I Love You, Dying Young, and Terms of Endearment.  After which... Titanic.  It was at the point that Rose and Jack were hanging onto the handrails, about to plunge into the ocean, that Hollywood up and walked out.  (He hadn’t seen the movie yet.  And he still hasn’t, really.  Because he didn’t see the floating in the ocean part... or what Rose has to do to save herself.) 
Anywho, Lassiter has been sitting in the front row of the seats since last night, a box of Kleenex at his elbow, wadded up tissues around his Stitch fluffy slippers, his nose like Rudolph’s.  He isn’t saying much, which is also a concern.  He’s clearly somewhere else in his head, but damned if any of us know where.  I’m worried about him.
In other news, Wrath and I are going to spend a day down in Manhattan for Valentine’s Day (but not on the 14th because we want to be home that night.)  When we go down, Bitty is going to take care of L.W. (with help from Bella and Layla.)  I’m looking forward to getting away for twenty-four hours, but I’m leery of leaving my kid behind.  I tell myself I can get back to him if I’m needed.  Still, I feel like breathing into a paper bag.    
Maybe we’ll just ask if we can borrow the Pit for a night lolol
Valentine’s night has been declared a holiday in the household, so all of the Brothers and the fighters are staying home.  Fritz is going to do a proper feast for Last Meal with a red velvet cake.  The kids are going to make cards.  It’s nice for me to see the human holidays embraced and enjoyed by everybody.  And hey, who doesn’t like hearts? 
However, as we gear up for the love-focused fourteenth, I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge both the commercial nature of the holiday, and the fact that it can be a lonely time for folks who may not be in a relationship, or may be getting out of one, or may be in one that is not a safe, supportive, kind place, or may have lost someone.  When it comes to matters of commerce?  The gifts and the cards and the flowers are great, but I would take a partner who really sees me 365 days out of the year over any of the purchased things.  And as for those who may feel sad or alienated on Valentine’s Day?  I’ve been there.  I was there.  Love comes in a lot of forms: friends, family, those with four-legs.  Romantic love isn’t the only thing that counts so on that day, let’s not restrict our scope only to the Romeo and Juliet stuff.  Wherever you are in your life, I hope you take a moment to let some love in wherever it comes from.
Anyway, I’m wishing everyone lots of love from us here on the hill!  The days are getting a little longer, but it’s cold and snowy still up here.  I don’t mind the excuse to stay in bed, though.  And neither does Wrath!
Until next month,
Welcome to February, everybody!  This month, Tohrment is joining us, and the topic up for debate is: Vishous is a Jerk-
Tohr:  Wait, what?
Lassiter: *leaning to the side* You’re not supposed to talk yet.
Tohr:  You told me this was Twix versus Snickers.
Lassiter:  Well, both are good.  Really, what is there to debate on that?  Then again, Vishous is a jerk, so the same could be true the substitute topic-
Tohr:  I am not going to debate whether my brother is a-
Lassiter:  Would you prefer we took out jerk and put in A$$HOLE?  Maybe that would help-
Tohr:  *gets up from sofa*  I’m out-
Lassiter:  FYI, if you leave, I’m just going to dub you in.  You know, figure out what you would have said, and put it into the holes.  *whispers*  Thatswhatshesaid.
Tohr:  *sits back down*  I don’t trust you.
Lassiter:  I’m hurt.  *feigns fainting*  So, here’s the way it works.  We have five rounds.  You can pick which side-
Tohr:  I am going with Vishous is not a jerk, thank you very much.
Lassiter:  *mutters*  Like that’s a surprise.  Then again, I was hoping to be the pro side on this.  *louder*  Fine.  You take against.  I take for- what are you doing?
Tohr:  *focused on his phone*  Hope someone, anyone, has called me so I can have a work excuse to get me out of this.
Lassiter:  Party-pooper.  Anyway, I take the for proposition.  We have five rounds, and Mary adjudicates the winner on the basis of who is the most persuasive.  Oh, and this month’s Doughnut of Victory is a lovely  Dunkin’ chocolate covered with pink sprinkles. 
Tohr:  *checks out the donut on the coffee table*  Wow.  That is a nice donut.
Lassiter:  Isn’t it?  I bought two, and ate the first one.  You know, to test for poison.  Heads or tails for who goes first.
Tohr:  Tails.
Lassiter:  *flips coin*  Heads.  I win the coin toss.  I go first.
Round I
Pro (Lassiter):  Vishous is a jerk because he didn’t follow your roster last night.
Con (Tohr):  *blinks*  What?  Yes, he did.
Pro (Lassiter):  No, he didn’t. 
Round II
Pro (Lassiter):  Vishous is a jerk because he hacked into the local news station’s website and posted that Van Halen is getting back together with David Lee Roth for a tour.  While he was out in the field last night.  When he should have been working.
Con (Tohr):  He did what?
Pro (Lassiter):  *takes out his phone*  Here’s the screen shot with time stamp.  It’s off the site now.  The tease broke my heart.  
Round III
Pro (Lassiter):  Vishous is a jerk because he ate all of your Pringles.   
Con (Tohr):  Wait, what?  No, he didn’t.
Pro (Lassiter):  Then why is the Pit’s recycling bin full of six empty tubes of the Extra Hots?  And no, it’s not Butch or the ladies of that house.  Butch says the aftertaste doesn’t go with scotch and those females think that Pringles are not actually food.  No offense. 
Con (Tohr):  *muttering*  What a jerk.  Those were the last six at Hannaford.  I bought them myself.
Round IV
Pro (Lassiter):  Vishous is a jerk because he cheats at pool.
Con (Tohr):  Okay, at least this I have no opinion about.  I’ve never been all that into it.
Pro (Lassiter):  You should care.  Cheating undermines morale, and you are in charge of the Brotherhood and the fighters.  Do you want to foster an environment where mistrust breeds in the dark corners of people’s hearts?
Con (Tohr):  Let’s not turn this into an episode of Only The Shadows Knows, k?
Pro (Lassiter):  Two words.  Mutiny on the Bounty.
Con (Tohr):  That’s four words.
Pro (Lassiter):  Only two count.
Round V
Pro (Lassiter):   Vishous is a jerk because he put glitter in my bed.
Con (Tohr):  I am not touching that one.
Pro (Lassiter):  Glitter is the herpes of arts and crafts!  It got everywhere-into places where I don’t need to shimmer!
Con (Tohr):  Says he of the a$$-less chaps.
Pro (Lassiter):  And it’s itchy.  Although that could just be my brain.
Con (Tohr):  Do not get me started on your mental status.
Judge’s Corner
Tohr:  *rolling eyes*  So now what happens?
Lassiter:  We wait for Mary to tell us who won and award the donut- excuse me.  What are you doing here?

V:  *comes out from behind the bar with some Goose in a tumbler*  Didn’t you see me?

Lassiter:  No, because you just materialized-
V:  I’m the judge this week.  *holds up hand*  Didn’t you notice Mary wasn’t in the room?  Dayum, son, you’re getting soft.  How did you think she was going to judge?  And Mary and I are partners, and I decided to take a little off her plate.  She’s been working so hard lately.  Now, where were we.  *eyes Tohr*  And sorry about the Pringles.  I couldn’t eat just one.
Tohr:  That’s Lays, not Pringles, FYI.  And what the hell, V.  You stole my stash.
Lassiter:  *points to V*  Liar, cheater, thief-
V:  I’ll pay you back.  *points at Lassiter*  Tacky, lazy, boring-
Lassiter:  *recoils on a gasp*  I am not boring!  How dare you.
Tohr:  *looks around*  I wish Mary were here.
V:  And as for the winner?  Lassiter wins.  I am a jerk. 
Lassiter:  *blinks*  Say what?
Tohr:  *shakes his head*  No, you’re not-
V:  And I get the donut.  *takes it**eats it in front of the other two*  Sh*t, this is delicious.
Tohr:  *gets up*  You are a jerk.  I wanted that donut.
V:  *nods out to the foyer*  You want we go get some more together?  We can dematerialize into town.  Grab a Dunkin’.  Chill.
Tohr:  I would love that.  Thank you.  And we really have to talk about you not following roster.
V:  I know.  It was my bad call.  But I felt like Qhuinn needed a little extra backup because Rhamp has been teething and he was up all day.  If it happens again, I’ll check in with you first.
Tohr:  *claps palms with the Brother*  Good deal.  Thanks.
Lassiter:  *gets up*  Hey, can I come with?
V:  No.
Tohr:  No.
Lassiter:  *stamps Stitch slipper as they leave together*  You guys are both jerks!
Dear Vishous,

I am a twenty-seven year old woman and in a relationship with a nice guy.  He and I have been together for three and a half years, and we’re talking about moving into an apartment later in the spring.  On the whole, I’m happy and so is he.  We have one problem that keeps cropping up, however.
Valentine’s Day is an issue.  Well, at least it is for me.  It’s not that I want him to shower me with chocolates and jewelry and perfume and roses.  I just think it would be nice to get a card or maybe be invited out for a dinner date or... you know, do something or have something that tells me he’s thinking about romance still on that particular day. 
I guess part of the problem is my work environment.  I feel like Pam in that episode of the office when Phyllis was getting all the presents from Bob Vance of Vance Refrigeration.  I work for a data processing firm and there are a lot of us in this open office area.  Every time there’s a delivery for someone, I look up- even though I know it’s not for me.  And every time it isn’t for me, I’m disappointed that this man who I love and I might even marry, won’t even send me a card or a single flower.  When lunch comes?  It’s a nightmare.  I have to sit in the break room and listen to everybody else talk about what their partners are doing for them.  I’ve told my boyfriend-in a non-confrontational way-how much I would enjoy a small gesture from him, but he dismisses anything Valentine’s Day-ish because it’s so “commercial.”
Can you give me any advice on how to handle this?  I don’t know what to do, and I hate the feeling I have as soon as the first of February comes up.  It’s like this dread creeps up on me and then the actual day hits and I’m miserable.  The feelings linger for a while afterward, too.  It just makes February a nightmare and this is going on the four year I’ve had to face this.
Hopeless in Romancelandia
Mary:  Hopeless, I want to start off by saying I’m sorry you feel this way.  Valentine’s Day is a tradition that can be enjoyable, but clearly, for you, it is a gauntlet, and that is no fun.  *glances at V who is lighting up*  V?
Vishous:  *exhales*  I’m not saying a goddamn thing.
Mary:  *blinks*  Um, you realize this is your column.
V:  I got criticized last month for being too harsh-
Mary:  To be fair, you were a little off the chain.
V:  -so I’m keeping my mouth shut.
Mary:  .......
V:  *shrugs*  Okay, fine.  The boyfriend’s an SOB.  Hopeless is perfect in every way.  She should break up with him because Prince Charming is just around her corner and unlike the rube she’s with now, the next guy is going to send her twelve dozen red roses in front of all her fellow workers and she’s going to win first prize finally in the Boyfriend Olympics.  There.  You happy now?
Mary:  V, you’re a jerk.
V:  I know.  That’s why I got the donut.  Moving on.
Mary:  *refocusing*  Hopeless, there is a part of me who agrees with your boyfriend, namely that Valentine’s Day is super-commercial and nothing more than excuse to spend money on gestures that may be, in some cases, quite hollow.  But the larger issue is your statement that you communicated your feelings to your boyfriend.  V’s point is right.  Your relationship shouldn’t be about proving your love in front of others.  It should, however, be about you feeling heard and seen in the relationship-
V:  Hold up, did you just say I’m right?

Mary:  I did.  With regard to that point.
V:  I love being right.
Mary:  I know.  *rolls eyes*  So Hopeless, how about you share your thoughts one more time, and we’ll see how it goes.  It’s really important that your boyfriend consider how you feel about the day, even if it goes against his opinion.  *V leans in and opens his mouth*  And V, before you speak, maybe you dial back on the hostility a little, and instead, really try to be constructive.
V:  *settles back and stares at the lit end of the hand rolled*  Well, okay... I can give the safe space sh*t a try.  See... that statement bothered me, too.  About her going to the guy and being all, I’d like you to do something for me on a just-case.  I think anything a couple does to impress other people is bullsh*t- Instagram, I’m looking at you.  But what does it cost him to override his distaste for heart sh*t if it’s important to her?
Mary:  *claps*  Exactly!!!  See, you can do this!
V:  I mean, f*ck him.  Like he can’t drop $2 bucks on a lame-a$$ card with some stupid poem in it- 
Mary:  *smacks forehead*  Your delivery is so terrible-
V:  Roses are red, violets are blue, I suck at being a boyfriend, but you just want to show-off, too.  They’re meant for each other.
Mary:  *mutters*  Annnnnnnd there it is.
V:  Look, Hopeless, just check your motivation, okay?  If you honestly only want him to send you something because it’ll make you feel good, give you a smile, and cheer your day up?  Then I’d sit him down, talk to him one more time, and if you believe he’s not budging or hearing you?  Then probably he’s doing the same thing in other parts of your relationship.  Maybe that’s more what the feeling of dread’s about.  Maybe it’s not the Valentine’s Day sh*t, it’s all the other times he’s not taking to you into account.  Like, vacations, money decisions, where to live, what to do.  Does he compromise when you two disagree?  Do you feel like there’s a lot of instances like that, where you go to him and make a request that’s not a screamer, but ultimately reasonable, and he just f*cks you off?  If that’s the case, you gotta get out.  The relationship’s no good.  On the other hand, if you’re really just going jelly over what your co-workers are getting?  And the rest of the relationship is going okay?  Then you gotta drop this sh*t.  There’s no reason to beat the guy over the head because you want to compete with the other people at work.  The answer to your question lies inside of yourself-  *double takes at Mary*  What.
Mary:  OMG, yes, V.  That’s what I think, too.
V:  *holds out knuckles*  Pound me.
Mary:  *knuckle taps**breathes sigh of relief*  I’m going to end this here because, hey, it’s a great place.  I agree with exactly what V said, andIwishyouluckletusknowwhathappenspeaceout-
V:  Man, you’re talking fast.
Mary:  Ending on a good note!  Fade to black!  Out, out, out!
This month, I want to talk about Cheer, the Netflix documentary on Navarro College’s championship-wining cheer squad.  I got into it because Bitty had heard about it online, and Mary and I have a rule that we watch content like that with her.  (By “content like that,” I am referring to something that Bitty learned about from her friends or from human sources that deals with adult themes or issues.)  Mary has been busy in the last month at Safe Place, so I volunteered to watch the six episodes with our kid.
SPOILER ALERT!!!! CHEER SPOILER ALERT!!!!  Do not read on if you do not want spoilers!!
So Bitty and I sat down with our Milk Duds and our popcorn, ready to wade into the Cheer world.  What I was not prepared for was six straight hours of binge-watching.  Bitty and I had talked about doing two epis at a clip over the course of three nights, but I couldn’t pull out!  In truth, I got into more than she did.  It was so gripping, and it wasn’t just about the will-they/won’t-they in the championship at Daytona Beach.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.  For those of you living under a rock, as they say, Cheer focuses on the members of a forty person squad coached by a woman named Monica Aldama.  It is one of the top, if not the top, cheer programs in the country, even though they hail from a community college in the small town of Corsicana, Texas.  The episodes reveal the personal stories of some of the athletes- as well as the coaches- against a backdrop of the punishing training and routine preparation as the squad gets ready to compete at the nationals in Daytona Beach.
It would be impossible for me to do a minute-by-minute reaction on the six hours of footage, so I’m going to break it down into big categories.
1.  #TeamJerry
OMFG, I am #TeamJerry all the way!  One of the students that gets a lot of screen time is a kid named Jeremiah Harris.  His story is just heart wrenching.  After struggling with economic adversity, his mother died of lung cancer when he was sixteen.  In spite of everything he’s been through, his positive attitude is a total example for others.  He’s amazing!  There’s this thing called “mat talk.”  Though there are forty people in the program, only twenty can be “on the mat.”  The others are there as backups, in the event of injury (more on that later,) but they go through the workouts and learn the routines just like the others.  To support the twenty who will compete, the cheer the sh*t out of their teammates and Jerry is the best mat talker out there!  His personality shined through over the course of the series, and just watching him get behind the ones who made the performance group, even though he wasn’t one of them, was... well, it reaffirmed my faith in humanity (and you know how I feel about humans for the most part.)

I love Jerry.  I wish him all the best.  I won’t give away where he ends up, but the ending?  It’s nice to see the good guy win, you know?
2.  The Athleticism
Holy f*ck from the physical requirements of the damn job.  These kids worked their a$$es off.  And the young women?  The ones getting thrown in the air?  I couldn’t believe it.  They are strong, lithe, and incredibly courageous.  The risk of injury to them is very, very real.  More on that later.  I have total respect for them, all of the team. 

A word on the routine.  So part of what they do in competition is the tumbling you’d expect, but the culmination is “the pyramid.”  This is exactly what you think it is, all of the squad members piling on each other’s shoulders, stacked in different layers- and then they fly off and fly back up and you’re like OMFG they’re going to die.  In order to be a contender for the championship, your pyramid has to be complex, dangerous and dynamic, with lots of moving pieces and people going in a million different directions.  Once the routine sequence is set, the athletes have to do it, like, forty-one times start-to-finish in the thirty days before the competition.  The goal is to get through the tumbling and the pyramid without any mistakes.  There are also have to be contingency plans in case of injury.

The training and practice requirements take a huge toll on the bodies of these kids and the injuries are gruesome and severe.  It killed me because I kept imagining Bitty working her heart out and hurting herself in the process.        
3.  The Coach

Okay, so let’s talk Monica.  Part of me admired and respected her commitment to excellence.  She was also able to motivate those kids- and I think this is where I started to have some problems with her.  SPOILER: as she’s developing the pyramid, and the kids are trying out her moves, there is one stretch where three flyers (the girls who are in the air,) get injured one after the other because they are dropped.  You can hear their skulls hitting knees or the mat.  It’s gruesome.  And yes, eventually, the team gets the moves down.  But I couldn’t help thinking that the coach’s desire to win and her perfectionism, when crossed with the devotion she inspires in these kids, is a recipe for injury or even death.  The kids are tough competitors, too, I get it.  But at what point does the adult have to pull back and stop pushing them so hard?  I wasn’t comfortable with this part.
4.  Other Students

Although for me, Jerry was the big draw (because I was rooting for him so hard to get on mat!) some of the other stories were really affecting.  Morgan Simianer just about made me tear up with her past and her willingness to please the coach.  Gabi Butler, who they refer to as a cheer-lebrity, has a million followers on Insta- and when you got a load of how hard her father was pushing her?  And everything she did to promote herself and her line of bikinis?  I just wondered when/if it was getting to be too much.  And PS, back off, dude.  Lexi Brumback broke my heart.  SPOILER ALERT: She was the best tumbler on the team, and at the end of the series, you got the sense that maybe she was falling back into old, bad habits after she was kicked off the team.  LaDarius Marshall is spectacularly talented.  I hope he goes really far in coaching.

There were others on the team I cheered- natch- for.  I just really appreciated how they came through for each other.  SPOILER ALERT: There’s this one scene, during nationals, after a kid got injured and they had to do the routine all over again (!!!!!), when the injured kid who is on the sidelines and whose leg is propped up on a chair, is slamming the chair up and down under his bad leg as he roots for his team.  Awesome.
5.  The Last Scene of Nationals
SPOILER ALERT:  In spite of a catastrophic injury in the middle of the routine, during the pyramid, they end up winning!  The tradition is that, if they win, they go into the ocean fully clothed in their uniforms with the trophy, and I couldn’t help thinking that the salty ocean was like their sweat and tears.  It was a great last scene.  I was so happy for them.  Sometimes, concerted effort and sacrifice doesn’t end up with a trophy or some sort of tangible reward.  You just wanted these kids to win, and when they did, it was feel-good all around.  (Not so much the coach for me, to be honest.  But definitely the kids.)
6.  What next?
Again, Navarro is a two year, community college, and one of the things they say throughout the series is that there is no professional cheer squad level, nowhere to go after college with all their talent, dedication and sacrifice.  Yes, they can coach, but it’s not like a football player trying for the NFL or a basketball player hoping to make the NBA.  It’s a cold hard stop after college, and it makes me wonder how the athletes will move on from what has been such a big part of their lives.
As for the series, it appears that there will be a second season!  I am all in, of course.  But I still worry about the coach and the injuries.
So, yeah, I highly recommend hitting Cheer!  And oh, Jerry, please come mat talk me and the brothers and the fighters as we head out for the night some time.  It would be awesome!
Happy viewing everyone, see you next month!
Rhage (and Bitty)

(Out 3/24/20)



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