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Lyrics by Joel Mabus

The Banjo Monologues

(Fossil 1707)

All material, words and music © 2007 Joel Mabus
all rights reserved -- do not post this material to another website!

Scroll down or click on title to read the lyrics or monologues.

To learn more about this CD, click here
To order this or any album, click here

Foreword Looking Back   
Cindy / Gerald & Jerald Lee      
Three Nights Drunk   
Cripple Creek / The Desert Island    
The Uncloudy Day / Leonard Lively   
No More Cane on this Brazos   
Roll Down the Line             
Liza Jane / WLS & Prairie Farmer          
Uncle Joe         
Crazy Water Crystals 

Down In the W illow Garden   
John Henry’s Hammer          
Cluck Old Hen / One Gentleman’s Opinion  

 

 

Foreword, Looking Back

I don’t know if the world needs another banjo record – but I do.

The banjo doesn’t get much respect. It’s always been the butt of jokes -- object of ridicule. That might be because it can be hard to tune sometimes.  

[tuning] There you go.

There’s a dozen different ways to tune a banjo, and all of them are wrong. That’s one of the old jokes.

No, I think they make fun of the banjo ‘cause it’s been played by poor folks mostly.  And making fun of poor folks is a very old sport.

The banjo came to America from Africa on a slave ship. Then it got picked up by hard-scrabble immigrants, mostly: tobacco farmers and day laborers.  It’s flirted with showbiz now and then, but mostly it’s played in kitchens and back porches.  Now to me that makes the five-string a noble thing.

Now, I’ve been playing the banjo since I was ten years old, so that’s more than forty years now. I think I’m starting to get the hang of it.  All the stories I tell on this record are true.  And most of the songs are too, in the stories they have to tell.

I’m gonna start – I’m gonna start off with a little tune I made up myself, on a summer’s day not too many years ago. It’s my wife’s favorite; it’s called  “The Dragonfly.” 

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Cindy / Gerald & Jerald Lee

You ought to see my Cindy, she lives a way down south
Is so sweet the honeybees all swarm around her mouth
Get along home , get along home , get along home , gonna marry you sometime. 

Now, Cindy is a great old tune – it’s one my folks used to play. 

My dad was a fiddle player – born in 1913 in Sesser, Illinois. That’s way down south there in the tip. 

Now, Dad was an identical twin.  Both of the twins were natural musicians. Gerald and Jerald.

That’s right.  One was named Gerald and his brother was also named Jerald. But you see, my dad was a Gerald with a G. His brother was Jerald with a J.

That’s how you could tell them apart.

Get along home.  Get along home. Get along home. Marry you sometime

Actually it is more complicated than that.  You see my dad was just plain Gerald Mabus, but his brother had a middle name. He was Jerald Lee Mabus. There you go.  So they were always known as Gerald & Jerald Lee, the Mabus twins. And they were always playing music, those boys.  They were both singers, too -- sang in that harmony that only brothers have. Daddy played the fiddle and Uncle Jerald Lee played most everything else – guitar banjo, mandolin. 

That was another way to tell them apart. 

Get along home. Hey, get along home.

Now, the Mabus Brothers started playing out in public and got to be a pretty popular hillbilly band down in southwest Illinois back there in the early 30s.  The twins would usually play with their older brother, Narvel. Now, Narvel was a pretty good singer and not a bad harmonica player.  But He wasn’t too accomplished on the guitar. Still he was a big strong fella, and could be counted on in case a fight broke out. Which was not uncommon at some of those old square dances. 

Where’d you get your liquor from – hey, where’d you get your dram
Where’d you get your liquor from – from a guy in Effingham
Get along home, Get along home, Get along home, gonna marry you sometime.

Well they played dances, homecomings, medicine shows, and all sorts of things like that like.  My dad won some fiddle contests, and the band would play on some of those small town radio stations there.  Of course they always got the twins confused in the announcements and in the handbills. 

But at least that middle name of Lee worked pretty well to tell Gerald from Jerald.  That was until my dad courted and married My mom. She was a singer too, played the banjo, mandolin and the accordion. Now, her last name happened to be Lee, and she took it on as her own middle name after they got hitched. 

So now it was Gerald and Ruby Lee to go along with Gerald & Jerald Lee.  To add to that confusion, Uncle Jerald Lee Mabus started running around with my mom’s brother, Charles Lee (they called him Bud).  So people that didn’t know ‘em very well, started thinking Jerald Lee and Bud Lee were brothers ‘stead of in-laws. 

Get along home, Get along home

What really complicated things was that they all traveled and played together for the Prairie Farmer – Now, I’ll tell you about that some other time.

But Uncle Jerald Lee Mabus and Uncle Bud Lee, they came across two young, good-lookin’ singers on a little radio station down in southern Illinois – the McCutcheon sisters, Virginia & Bess. Well, it wasn’t long before those two brothers-in-law married those two sisters. So it was Jerald Lee took Virginia, and Bud took Bess.

So there you got three sets of siblings marrying each other in the only way that’s legal.  Each one’s an in-law to another, and all my cousins on one side are cousins on the other side too. 
It makes the family tree just a little complicated. And I am not my own grandpa, though it seems that way sometimes.  

But the old folks were fine natural-born musicians, and hard workin’ decent people.  And when you see me playing that old-time music, now you know where I get it.

You ought to see my Cindy, she lives a way down south
Is so sweet the honeybees just swarm around her mouth
Get along home, get along home, get along home, gonna marry you sometime. 
Cindy, Cindy, get along home, gonna marry you sometime.

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Three Nights Drunk


I come home the other night just drunk as I could be
I saw a mule at the hitching post where my mule ought to be
Come here my loving wife, explain this thing to me
What’s that mule doing at the hitching post where my mule ought to be
You blind fool, you drunk fool can’t you plainly see
That’s nothing but a – milk cow your mother sent to me
Well I’ve traveled this world over a hundred times or more
But a saddle on a milk cow I’ve never seen before.

I come home the other night just drunk as I could be
I saw a coat on the coat rack where my coat ought to be
Come here my loving wife, explain this thing to me
What’s that coat doing on the coat rack where my coat ought to be
You blind fool, you drunk fool can’t you plainly see
That’s nothing but a – patchwork quilt your mother sent to me
Well I’ve traveled this world over a hundred times or more
But pockets on a patchwork quilt I’ve never seen before.

I come home the other night just drunk as I could be
I saw a head on the pillow case where my head ought to be
Come here my loving wife, explain this thing to me
What’s that head doing on the pillow case where my head ought to be
You blind fool, you drunk fool can’t you plainly see
That’s nothing but a – cabbage head quilt your mother sent to me
Well I’ve traveled this world over a hundred times or more
I’ve seen many a cabbage head, but I never heard one snore!

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Cripple Creek / The Desert Island

This is that old tune, Cripple Creek.  Cripple Creek.

Goin’ up Cripple Creek, goin’ in a run
Goin’ up Cripple Creek to have a little fun

Nothing at all wrong with this tune, except that every beginner learns it right off.  It’s fairly easy to play the basic melody, and that’s what everybody does when they learn it – play that basic melody.  They might go on to play lots of other tunes, but they never go back and get cripple creek quite right --  they just hack away at it like chopsticks.  

But it deserves better.

It’s all about rhythmic repetition and subtle variation.  That’s what the best banjo tunes are all about anyway.  It’s not a fiddle tune, by the way. Not a fiddle tune at all – it was born and bred on the banjo.  The other instruments: fiddles, mandolins, guitars, they can all play at it, but it only sounds “right” on the banjo.


People sometimes ask me what my favorite instrument is.  And I tell them, – all depends. 

Now if you were to tell me I was to play tunes for a square dance that might go on all night long, well, I’d choose a fiddle. ‘Cause a fiddle you can play for hours on end without your fingers gettin’ sore. The faster you play the easier it is. Besides, everybody knows the fiddler calls the tunes at a square dance. The fiddler drives the bus. 

But now if it were a jam session and who-knows-what-all kind of music might get played, I’d probably take a mandolin.  ‘Cause a mandolin can fit in pretty much anywhere. It can play rhythm or it can play lead, it can be right up front or laid way back. And the mandolin is second nature to me anyway, as it was my first instrument – I’ve been playing it since I was nine years old.  A friend of mine calls the mandolin “ear candy” – a mandolin can fit in pretty much anywhere it wants to, bluegrass, old-time, jazz, folk, you-name it.

Now, if I am to get up in front of a crowd and entertain folks, why the guitar is my first choice. Nothing like a guitar to back up a voice, or play solo pieces. It’s like a band in a box.  Got those rich low notes and the sweet high notes.  A guitar is good for all seasons – the universal instrument.

But if you were to tell me, Joel, nope, you’re goin’ off to a desert island for five long years. You can only take one instrument, what’ll it be?  Why I’d pick a five string banjo every time.  Because nothing – and I mean nothing – kills time like a banjo.

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The Uncloudy Day / Leonard Lively

Usually the teacher does the teaching and the student does the learning. But sometimes it’s the other way around. 

Some thirty years ago I was teaching banjo lessons at a little basement music store up in Michigan. Five dollars a half hour – one student after another. I probably gave a thousand lessons that way.

One day an older fella come in wanting to learn the banjo, so of course the store clerk pointed him over to me, and introduced him. His name was Leonard Lively.  

Retired coal miner from Kentucky – Leonard Lively.  Big man, stood at least 6 foot 8.  Broad shouldered and powerful.   Stronger than most men half his age – and he was eighty. And if it weren’t for the black lung that sidelined him, he’d probably still be working yet. 

I asked him what style of banjo he was interested in learnin’ -- old-time or bluegrass.  And he said all he wanted to do was learn how to play “the Uncloudy Day” like he used to hear Uncle Dave Macon do it on the Grand Ol Opry.

Well I told him, I didn’t know “the Uncloudy Day,” – ‘cause I didn’t – but if he could sing it once, I might be able to show him how to play it on the banjo.  So he leaned back and he sang it for me:

Oh they tell me of a home far beyond the skies
Oh they tell me of a home far away
Oh they tell me of home where no storm clouds rise
Oh they tell me of an uncloudy day

And that’s how I learned the song. I figured out the chords, which weren’t too hard. The trouble was Leonard’s hands were so big, his pinky finger was about as big around as my thumb. He’d go to press down one string and he’d mash down 2 or 3. 

So I tuned up his banjo to an open chord and I showed him how to play barre chords pressing one finger against all the strings at the same time.

Leonard came in for lessons every week, right on schedule, and everybody there got to like him a lot.  He had an easy charm about him. He’d come in, and one of the girls at the counter, she’d say, “How are you today, Mr. Lively?”  

And he’d say, “Oh, Not bad for a little boy my size.”  

Then he’d giggle, and she’d giggle, and there was no doubt Leonard Lively had a way with the ladies.

Then one day his wife called up the store and she said, “Leonard won’t be comin’ in for his lesson today.” 

 “Well, why’s that?” 

 “ ‘Cause he died last night.”

Well, the lesson time was reserved – I had nowhere else to go. 

So I took my banjo back into the little lesson room and sang one more song for Mr. Leonard Lively.

Oh they tell me that he smiles on his children there
And his smile drives their sorrows all away
And they tell me that no tears ever come again 
In that lovely land of unclouded day
Oh the land of cloudless day
Oh the land of an uncloudy sky
Oh they tell me of home where no storm clouds rise
Oh they tell me of an uncloudy day

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No More Cane on this Brazos

There’s no more cane on this Brazos, boys
Well, well, well, well
‘Cause I ground it all up to molasses, boys
Well, well, well, well

You ought to been on this old prison in 19 and one
Well, well, well, well
Just ain’t no way to tell you what all the things was done
Well, well, well, well

They give me a number and took away my name
Well, well, well, well
Sent me down to Sugarland and started cuttin’ cane
Well, well, well, well

There’s no more cane on this Brazos, boys
Well, well, well, well
‘Cause I ground it all up to molasses, boys
Well, well, well, well

You ought to been on this old prison in 19 and TWO 
Well, well, well, well
They was driving the men just like you would a mule
Well, well, well, well

You ought to been on this old prison in 19 and TEN
Well, well, well, well
They was driving the women just like they do the men
Well, well, well, well
 
There’s no more cane on this Brazos, boys
Well, well, well, well
‘Cause I ground it all up to molasses, boys
Well, well, well, well

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Roll Down The Line

Way back yonder in Tennessee, they leased the convicts out
To work down in the coal mine, against Free Labor South
Free Labor rebelled against it, the struggle took its toll
But while the lease was in effect, you bet they got that coal!

Buddy, won’t you roll down the line, roll down the line
Yonder comes my darlin’ comin’ down the line 
Buddy, won’t you roll down the line, roll down the line
Yonder comes my darlin’ comin’ down the line 

Every Monday mornin’ they made ‘em rise and shine
March them down to Long Rock, said look down in that mine
March you down to Long Rock, say look down in that hole
The very last thing the captain says, “You better get your coal!”  
[chorus]

Now the beans are all half-baked, the bread is not so well
The meat is all burnt up and the coffee black as heck
But when you get your work done, and you hear the call
You’re gonna love it every bite, whether done or raw! 
[chorus]

Now the banker is a hard man, one you all know well
If you don’t get your work done, you bet he’ll give you hallelujah!
Throw you in the stockade, and on the floor you fall
The next time that they call you, you bet you get your coal! 
[chorus]

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Liza Jane / WLS & The Prairie Farmer

I got a home in Baltimore – little Liza Jane
Lots of children round the door – little Liza Jane
Whoop de Liza – little Liza Jane, Liza.  
Whoop de Liza –  little Liza Jane

Oh, Liza Jane – it’s one my Uncle Jerald Lee used to sing back in the day. When the Mabus brothers, Gerald & Jerald were performing.

After they got married, my mom moved in to a farmhouse with my dad and two of his brothers, Jerald Lee and Narvel.  Now, that must have been some fun honeymoon.  They were trying to make a living at raising horses. But times were mighty tough back then in the early 30’s – the depression was really hit hard down there in southern Illinois. But they made a little money playing music whenever they could, and tightened their belts whenever they had to.

Then one day a fella in a big shiny car drove all the way down from Chicago and pulled up in the yard. Saying, “I hear you folks play that good hillbilly music down here.”  

Everybody called it hillbilly music back then.  Nashville hadn’t invented the notion of country music yet.

 “Yeah,” they said “We play music” – played the fella a few tunes.

Well, the man in the suit said he represented the Prairie Farmer, and was prepared to offer them a job. Back in the 1930’s in the Midwest, everybody knew what The Prairie Farmer was. Nowadays folks have no idea.

The Prairie Farmer was a well-respected and long-running progressive newspaper published weekly for the farmers of the Midwestern states. Burridge D. Butler, he was the publisher. His big contribution to the endeavor of the Prairie Farmer was buying one of those new-fangled radio stations to promote the paper. He bought the biggest station he could find – WLS – that stands for Worlds Largest Station. He bought it from Sears & Roebuck up there in Chicago and he turned it into the Prairie Farmer Station. 

Old WLS had all kinds of programs, but the most popular was the Dinner bell Show – it was on for 15 minutes every day at noon, when the farmers were in from the field for their big meal of the day. They’d broadcast farm reports, news, recipes, wedding announcements, all sorts of things people would send in on their cards and letters.  It made all of those lonesome Midwest farmers into a sort of extended family. 

The Dinner Bell.

The other big show was on Saturday night. Every Saturday night a live variety show from downtown Chicago, called the National Barn Dance. They’d have hillbilly singers, fiddlers, banjos, accordions, dancers, opera singers, comedians, – a little bit of everything.  Hugely poplar show, The National Barn Dance – went out on a clear channel over most of North America.  Imitated everywhere, too. That’s where the Grand Old Opry got the idea.

Whoop de Liza – little Liza Jane, Liza.  
Whoop de Liza – little Liza Jane

Well, now this fella in the shiny car, he told my folks what the job he had for them was. 
They’d be part of a troupe that would spread out on a given area and they’d call on farmers at their houses, door to door, sell them subscriptions to the Prairie Farmer. 

And if only they would sign up, they’d not only get the newspaper on a regular basis, but become members of the Prairie Farmer Protective union.  Get a big shiny No Trespassing Sign, big yellow sign with the Dinner Bell picture on it and the White Star with the letters WLS spelling out in lightning bolts.  Oh, those signs were real popular. You can still find them nailed to old barns and fenceposts all through the Midwest. 

The other thing you get with your subscription was a free ticket to the Barn Dance Road Show, coming to town next weekend.  And if you used those tickets, you’d see your salesman on stage, up there with the all the other salesmen, playing fiddles, banjoes, accordions, singing hillbilly and cowboy songs, telling jokes and doing a few dances. Of course, Daddy was the fiddler, and the Mabus Brothers band became the “White Star Rangers”

I got a gal and you got none – little liza jane
Circle round me like the sun – little liza jane 
Whoop de Liza – little Liza Jane, Liza.  
Whoop de Liza – little Liza Jane

Oh, it was good work. All got good cars to drive – worked on commission. If the farmer paid in cash, well they’d keep a percentage and send the rest to Burridge D Butler.  And, if the farmer paid in eggs and butter, well, then they ate the proceeds and made it up to the home office with the next payin’ customer. 

Well, they traveled all over downstate Illinois.  My folks weren’t the only ones in the Southern Illinois Troupe.  There were a few others. My mom’s best friend in the group was a girl named Opal.  Opal Ives. You see, my mom was named Ruby, so Ruby & Opal became known as a couple of gems.  Opal Ives was married to Arty Ives, who was in the troupe too. Arty was Burl Ives’ older brother.  Burl was a southern Illinois boy, too, you know, but off in New York trying to be an actor.  Scandalous. 

My mom and dad, aunts & uncles did this for the rest of the Depression. It was good work -- and the best time of their life to hear them tell it years later.  There was fast cars to drive, plenty to eat, and all those good tunes to play.  When you’re a young person in this world, it doesn’t get much better than that. 

I got a house in Baltimore – little Liza Jane
Streetcar runs right by my door – little Liza Jane 
Whoop de Liza – little Liza Jane, Liza.  
Whoop de Liza – little Liza Jane

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Uncle Joe

Are you heading down the river, Uncle Joe, Uncle Joe
Are you heading down the river, Joe
Are you heading down the river, Uncle Joe, Uncle Joe
Don’t mind the weather if the wind don’t blow

And it’s hop light ladies three in a row
Hop light ladies, please don’t go
Hop light ladies, three in a row
Don’t mind the weather if the wind don’t blow

Can your cart carry double, Uncle Joe, Uncle Joe
Can your cart carry double, Joe
Can your cart carry double, Uncle Joe, Uncle Joe
Well, the mule might pull it but the wheels won’t roll  (chorus)

Have you been a courtin’ Uncle Joe, Uncle Joe
Have you been a courtin’ Joe
Have you been a courtin’ Uncle Joe, Uncle Joe
Well I went to see the widder but my cake’s all dough  (chorus)

Are you heading up to heaven Uncle Joe, Uncle Joe
Are you heading up to heaven Uncle Joe, Uncle Joe
Are you heading up to heaven Uncle Joe, Uncle Joe
Watch me and Saint Pete do a DO-SI-DO  (chorus)

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Crazy Water Crystals

Back in the 1930’s there were folks down in Texas that got rich selling dehydrated water. 

Yes that’s a true fact.  

Down in Mineral Wells Texas they had water unfit for human consumption. What it was, was that the mineral water down there was a powerful laxative.  Well, some smart operators named it “Crazy Water” and they tried to market it as health cure. And built a big spa down there called the Crazy Water Hotel.  

Then they got the idea of drying up the water and selling the salts. Called it Crazy Water Crystals and sold it all over the country in packages large and small. They sponsored a transcribed radio show, what you’d call a syndicated show these days.  Every show  was 15 minutes of Colonel Jack and Shorty, pitching Crazy Water Crystals from deep in the Crazy Wells.

Old Colonel Jack, he was a real smooth talker. He’d talk about neuritis, neuralgia, arthritis, rheumatism, gout, shingles, ulcers, jaundice -- just about every ailment under the sun.  And then he’d add, in his old preacher voice, he’d say “Friends, all these conditions can be aggravated by faulty elimination.”  That’s where the Crazy Water comes in.

Now, the real reason people listened in to the show was the music. They always had top-notch old time music from an anonymous band called “The Crazy Hillbillies.”  To this day people are making guesses as to just who are all those Crazy Hillbillies.  You see, the line-up kept changing, so it was hard to tell who was who.

Well, some years back a friend gave me a bootleg tape of some of that music from the Crazy Water show. There was one point where Col. Jack turned to Shorty, he said “What the Crazy Hillbillies gonna play?”, and Shorty yelled back, “Rock The Cradle Joe!”  Then they launched into a great old-time tune. 

Trouble is, it’s not Rock the Cradle Joe.  At least not the tune that everybody else calls Rock the Cradle Joe. 

Well, I learned it -- and have been playing it for lots of my knowledgeable friends, but nobody can name that tune.   So until I hear different, I just call it “The Other Rock the Cradle Joe.” 

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Down In the Willow Garden

Down in the willow garden, I and my true love did meet
It’s there we courted each other, my love fell off to sleep
I had a bottle of burglar’s wine, my true love she did not know
It was there I would murder that dear little girl down on the banks below

I stabbed her with my dagger, it was a bloody knife
I threw her into the river, it was a dreadful sight
My father often told me his money would set me free
If I’d but murder that dear little girl whose name was Rose Connelly

But now he sits in his cabin door, wiping his weeping eye
Mourning for his own dear son up on this scaffold high
My race is run beneath the sun, cruel death now waits for me
For I did murder that dear little girl whose name was Rose Connelly

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John Henry’s Hammer

When John Henry was a little bitty babe
No bigger than the palm of your hand
He picked up a hammer and a little piece of steel
Said “I’ll die with this hammer in my hand”
“Die with this hammer in my hand”

John Henry said to his shaker, 
Shaker, why don’t you sing
I’m swinging ten pounds from my hips on down
Just listen to that cold steel ring
Just listen to that cold steel ring

The shaker said to John Henry,
I believe this tunnel’s caving in
John Henry said, “No no no, son
That’s only my hammer sucking wind
That’s only my hammer sucking wind”

John Henry had him a good woman
Her name it was Polly Ann
When John Henry got tired, and had to go to bed
Polly Ann drove steel just like a man
Polly Ann drove steel just like a man

John Henry went up on the mountain
His hammer was striking fire
He worked so hard til he broke his poor heart
He laid down his hammer and he died
Laid down his hammer and he died

We took John Henry from the mountain
Buried him in the sand
And every old rounder that comes down this line
Says “Yonder lies a steel driving man
Yonder lies a steel driving man”
He died with a hammer in his hand
John Henry was a steel drivin’ man

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Cluck Old Hen / One Gentleman’s Opinion

My old hen’s a good old hen, she lays eggs for the railroad men
Sometimes seven, sometimes ten, that’s about enough for the railroad men
Cluck old hen, cluck and sing

Another one of those good old-time tunes, Cluck old Hen. Takes ten minutes to learn and a lifetime to play.

Just two little phrases, one that goes up high -----

And one that goes down low ----

Then comes all that good rhythmic repetition and subtle variation.


One time I was doing a concert and after the show I was packing up.  You know, me and the sound crew, we’re always the last ones to leave the hall. 

But there was a fine-looking older gentleman there who hung around until I was nearly all packed up.  He was tall, and white-haired and dressed in a nice three piece suit and silk tie. I must say that’s not how my usual audience member dresses. 

He complimented me on the show and told me how much he liked my songs. But I could tell he had something else on his mind. 

He had a low voice, low voice, with a slow way of talking. He reminded me of that old-time actor and movie director, Mr. John Huston.

He said. “I see why – the banjo – never – caught – on.  

It’s just the same thing over and over – isn’t it?”


I looked up at him and I said,  –


“Yeah!”

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© 2007 Joel Mabus