Barn Burner

Lacy sat primly before the principal, her straight brown hair holding its artificial curl in his air-conditioned office, while outside the woods themselves seemed to be sweltering in the fierce summer heat of north central Florida. Lacy could see the heat shimmering through the tinted window behind the principal’s desk, where he was leaning far back in his chair now, unabashedly exhibiting the sweat stains around his armpits, hands behind his head.

Dr. Delmar Linet’s hair was ink black, although he must have been over sixty, and his face was tan and leathery. His Ph,D was in Agriculture. He’d spent some time behind a plow, and he was in the habit of tossing off his sports coat and un-cinching his tie the second he hit the friendly confines of his own office. He was the kind of man who chewed tobacco. He was the kind of man who would conduct a job interview around a toothpick, which he tongued now from the right side of his mouth to the left. This was a down-home interview.

“Imone tell you straight out I like you,” Dr. Delmar Linet drawled. “I like your . . . demeanor. Way you conduct yourself.”

Of course Lacy had dressed sensibly for an interview, if not the heat, her blouse buttoned up full to her throat in contrast to his half-mast tie. Lacy was a model of etiquette, and she had been forthright in stating her objective: she wanted to teach high school math, and she didn’t care where. Actually she did care, but there wasn’t much she could do about it.

“Thank you, sir,” Lacy said smartly.

“I like your experience too. Working in a bank, working as an insurance adjuster, working with numbers, ‘ats good.”

“I know my math.”

“I bet you do, missy.”

Lacy didn’t bat an eye and neither did Dr. Delamr Linet. He was in no hurry. It was after lunch in the middle of summer and the school was dead and empty except for the secretaries and administrators in the front office.

“I may not have a lot of teaching experience,” Lacy volunteered. In fact, she had none. “But my mother was a teacher for over thirty years and . . .”

“This is the dog days, aint it?”

“Beg your pardon.”

“Was over ninety when I got up this morning. And that was at five a.m.” Dr. Delmar Linet  swiveled his chair toward the window and looked out. “Sky started out blank. Few clouds bubbled up around mid-mornin. And they’ll prob’ly bust sometime this afternoon. It’ll wash out the sky, but you’ll see, it’s just clearing the way for more clouds. And then the rain will pour down.”

“If you’re worried about my lack of experience then . . .”

“You know anything about basketball?”

“Basketball.”

Dr. Delmar Linet kept his chair angled toward the window, and told Lacy out of the side of his mouth, around his toothpick, “We were the state champs not too long ago, didn’t you know that?”

Suddenly he was the Principal, and Lacy hadn’t done her homework.

“Sir?”

“How’d you come here? You come through Canterside, didn’t you?”

“I . . .”

“You didn’t stay on the highway. You didn’t see the sign, honey.”

“Sign?”

“Sign says HOME OF THE STATE CHAMPIONS.”

“Basketball.”

“’At’s right.”

“Why do you ask?”

“Cuz you gone be the coach.”

“I beg your pardon.”

Dr. Linet pitched his toothpick into the trashcan and leaned toward Lacy. “This a small school, missy. Everybody’s got to pitch in and hep out. Aint nobody does just one thing. You understand?”

“Sir.”

“I wanchoo teach math. But I wanchoo coach them girls too.”

“I don’t know. . .”

“You think I was talking ‘bout the boys?” He laughed long and hard. “Don’t worry ‘bout that. Daddy Combs coaches the boys. Daddy Combs won the state championship. I’m just asking you to coach them sorry girls. Don’t believe they’ve won a game in a while, and that’s . . . ok. If there’s a problem . . .”

“It’s just that . . .”

“You don’t know anything about basketball.”

“Not really.”

“That’s a point in your favor.”

“I’m not sure I . . .” Lacy met his stare finally.  “Just what are the issues here?”

Dr. Delmar Linet smiled. Talking turkey here. “Imone be frank and you gone be earnest. The issues are these. Race. It’s gone be ‘bout race, cuz you’re white and they’re black. It’s gone be ‘bout sex. As in teen pregnancy. It’s gone be ‘bout a lot of things. But it aint so much about basketball.”

“I see.”

“And of course they’re dirt poor. Which breeds crime and violence. But we don’t need to do some sociological study here. I just want you to coach the team. In addition to your duties as a Math teacher.”

“Seventh grade math and pre-algebra in the high school. Is that right?”

Dr. Delmar Linet glanced at the schedule on his desk. “At’s right.”

“Is anybody going to help me coach this team?”

“If you can get anybody to hep you, at’s fine by me.”

“Is they’re anyone you’d recommend?”

Dr. Delmar Linet turned back toward the window. “There’s them clouds I was talken about.”

https://www.amazon.com/Hall-Fools-Shamrock-McShane/dp/1542928419

 

Frank Notes

Frank Notes

 

You Are Not Frank Sinatra

Gainesville Florida

June 2007

 

Day

1                    In the Wee Small Hours

 

Bob is in the woods and on the run. He is being hunted. He has come a long way. He goes from the woods to a road.

 

Sham drives his car. His mind is elsewhere. And there on the side of the road is his best friend, whom he hasn’t seen in 15 years. What’s it all about?

 

Sham and Bob in the car. Bob explains. Somebody or something is after him. It’s hard to say who or what.

 

Sham and Bob at the Clock. Bob and Sham eat breakfast. Bob hasn’t eaten in a long time.

 

Sham’s got to go to work. He’s an English Professor at the University of Florida.

Bob disappears into the crowd of students at Turlington Plaza.

 

At Maude’s Café, Scot is talking to Tom on the phone. Tom is in the hospital.

 

In the Theater of Bob’s Mind, Bob reflects, alone on the anguish of lost love.

 

 

2                    Night and Day

 

 

Sham is telling the story of Bob and his strange arrival in Gainesville to Scot and Tom at Maude’s Cafe.

 

Scot in the country. The man of nature. Sham continues telling Bob’s story to Scot.

 

The story goes on at Burrito Brothers, where the idea of Don Quixote presents itself. Bob’s particular insanity elevates him and those around him into a higher form of life, the world of song and the nightmare world of crime.

 

On the Stage, we enter the world of crime. Gregg is a police detective and he leads an interrogation of Bob that points to horrific crimes.

 

In the Blackbox, Tom poses a question that goes beyond the physical world into metaphysics: Are you Frank Sinatra?

 

In the Blackbox, Bob sweet-talks Robyn with the words of deSade.

 

 

3                    When Your Lover Has Gone

 

At Maude’s, the fellas – Sham, Scot, and Tom, continue unraveling Bob’s tangled history and fantasy, but now add Gregg Jones to the mix. Gregg is a real-life police detective and his interest is not whimsical, but professional.

 

On the Golf Course, Bob continues to play the swinger. He is a scratch golfer. Sham and Scot play along, trying to deduce the source of Bob’s insanity.

 

In the Museum of Natural History, Sham has a heart to heart with Bob. It’s all about physical and natural causes. It’s about alcoholism.

 

At Maude’s, Sham and Tom arrive at a metaphysical theory that remains to be proved.

 

At the Top, at night, Bob speaks sanely, logically, profoundly, but he is Someone Else.

 

 

4                    No One Ever Tells You

 

 

Now, as the interrogation scene has shifted to Maude’s Cafe, casually, it is discovered that real crimes have been committed, such as the murder and dismemberment of Melinda.

 

Outside the Thomas Center, Bob entices Robyn into the Dream reality with him.

 

At the Shamrock, Bob arrives during the Tom Miller Show, which he disrupts by one-upping Tom in a Sinatra-Off. A fight develops, after which Bob is consoled by the bartender, as Tom, Scot, and Sham assess the damage.

 

In the Morning in a Bedroom, Robyn lives Another Life with Bob.

 

5                    I’ve Got You Under My Skin

 

At night at the Atlantic, Bob is in full Sinatra-Other mode. He has transmogrified Gainesville into a place called Poisonville, where crimes have been committed. Then he gathers together his rat pack, and they hit Nighttown.

 

 

6                    Oh Look At Me Now

 

Another night at the Shamrock, Bob is confiding to Sham about the time he did in prison. And now Bob is turning the tables, playing Detective with a girl named Ashley. They are playing Cops and Robbers.

 

At the Side Bar, the Sinatra-Off continues, between Tom and Bob, dueling on the downtown streets in a Midnight Masque.

 

7                    Until the Real Thing Comes Along

 

In the kitchen, in the morning, Bob and Ashely, his new girl, try to find a stolen Ferris wheel. It’s a matter of simple deduction.

 

At night, in the living room, life turns tragic. Maybe Bob kills Ashley.

 

At night, at the Shamrock, is Bob feeling remorse? Is it for killing Ashley, or is it for a past full of misdeeds, a misspent life? Is that where the depth of the emotion in his singing lies? Sham tries to figure it out with Tom and Scot’s help.

 

Later at the Shamrock, over last call, Bob and Sham try to unravel the silken thread that is twisted into the Gordian knot.

 

 

8                    Angel Eyes

 

In the Theatre of Bob’s Mind, we are now full-scale fucking with time and space.

 

At the Shamrock, at night, the punchline to Melinda’s dismemberment is shared among Bob, Sham, Scot, and Tom, the rat pack.

 

On the streets of Gainesville, at night, this is the city that sleeps.

 

 

9                    After You’ve Gone

 

 

Bob remembers emerging from the woods on to the Drake Farm.

 

On the farm, Sham, Scot, Tom, and Gregg, talk obliquely about what to do with Bob.

 

At the Shamrock, at night, Sinatra sings I Get a Kick Out of You.

 

 

10                I Get a Kick Out of You

 

In the Country, Sham takes Bob for a ride.  They are on a road that leads nowhere. There is a gunshot.

 

Bob starts to sing One for My Baby to the Bartender in the Shamrock.

 

The song takes Bob on to University Avenue.

 

11        They Can’t Take That Away from Me

 

Here is Bob in his prime at the Shamrock, regaling the crowd, shuttling between two universes, one inside, one out.

 

12        One For My Baby

 

At night in the Shamrock, the rat pack mourns the loss of its leader – who then walks in. It is like the Apostles the night Jesus came back.

 

 

Locations

 

Woods

Road

Drake Farm

Clock Restaurant

Turlington Plaza

Maude’s

Burrito Brothers

Blackbox

The Top

Thomas Center

Bedroom

Shamrock

Atlantic

 

 

Songs

  1. In the Wee Small Hours
  2. Night and Day
  3. When Your Lover Has Gone
  4. No One Ever Tells You
  5. I’ve Got You Under My Skin
  6. Oh Look At Me Now
  7. Until the Real Thing Comes Along
  8. Angel Eyes
  9. After You’ve Gone
  10. I Get a Kick Out of You
  11. They Can’t Take That Away from Me
  12. One For My Baby

 

 

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Much of a Muchness

Much Ado About Nothing

June 30 – July 16, 2017

Acrosstown Repertory Theatre

 

Comedies end in marriage, tragedies end in death. At least that’s the general rule. Shakespeare plays by whatever rules suit him. A bare stage works for him because his language does most of the heavy lifting. As for plot, he likes to weave two or three stories together. Why? For one thing, then your company of 10 or 12 actors can rehearse in teams.

In Much Ado About Nothing the woven stories are those of Don Pedro, the swaggering winner, Don Jean, the sore loser, and Beatrice and Benedick, two star-crossed lovers who know better. Caught up in the plot are two innocents in love, Hero and Claudio. To pull it all off you need a company of talented players and a plan.

Carolyne Salt has directed Much Ado with a steely vision that bared the stage except for backdrops, pared the play of props, minimalized costuming commentary, and thus has given us a straight-up staging of the script, which is to say, if you’re a Shakespeare purist, you’ll appreciate the way the text has been handled. At the same time, you’ll see why sets and props were invented. A set offers both obstacles and levels, and props give the actors something to occupy their hands. Combined, you have somewhere to go and something to do. So, here we have actors flying by their seat of their pants. Fortunately, they’re surprisingly good.

Chuck Lipsig as Leonato expresses a purity of anguish.

Lisa Varvel as Antonia, delivers her verses with verve and precision.

Chelsea Hoyt as Margaret is smart, hard-boiled, well-spoken, and, finally, human.

Tyson Adams as Don Pedro is debonair, a convincing gracious and affable privileged winner, and a fine singer.

Aleksandr Wilde’s Claudio is earnest, committed, gullible, and more.

And there are some swell dance numbers that liven things up downstage. Not only that, but the songs alone – in  case you didn’t know Shakespeare was a song writer – are  worth the price of admission. All with the upturn beat of a comedy, ending with a rousing curtain call.

In this rendering the chief conflict is not between Den Pedro and his evil bastard half-brother Don John, but, rather, his evil sister Don Jean, giving the sibling rivalry an extra dimension of friction and heat.

Lola Bond as Don Jean supplies the heat as a captivating villain, her presence and vocal power imbuing the role, one of the most curt of all Shakespeare’s villains, with sufficient strength to hold the frame of the plot together.

Anna Marie Kirkpatrick endows Beatrice with an immediate gravitas and grace that opens at the heart of the play when she grabs hold of a renaissance ax and nails that Shakespeare hit “Hey Nonny Nonny”. Beatrice is beautiful, talented, funny, smart, too smart maybe for her own good.

Beatrice has it figured out, this marriage thing, it’s just “wooing, wedding, and repenting”.

Emma Grimm as Hero is wholly winning, here presenting a poetic evocation of the archetype that so elevated These Shining Lives to empathic heights in the ART audience. Her Hero is an innocent victim who nonetheless won’t go quietly. She is alluring, then in love, then betrayed, and it’s just a good thing a girl’s got friends.

Like Beatrice.

Hero believes in love and is betrayed. Beatrice doesn’t operate on a belief system, trusting instead to native intelligence and instinct, and so, instinctively she sticks up for her friend, which is to say, she believes in Hero’s virtue when no one else does.

Sisterhood is strong in this Much Ado, which is another reason why Lola Bond and her androgynous crew are so intriguing.

Bryan Reilly’s Benedick is played emphatically, heavily, with dogged determination. We know what Beatrice is angry about – she’s the smartest person in the room and she’s a woman. But what’s Benedick got to be angry about?

The same thing.

You could play Benedick lightly, as if he’s not really angry, just pretending to be, but, no, he’s really angry, and that’s why this play is a reversal of Taming of the Shrew, except that Beatrice tames not only Benedick but everybody else too. She pretty much takes over. The main plot was supposed to be the nefarious one to sink Claudio’s and Hero’s marriage before it began. Instead it’s Beatrice and Benedick who capture our fancy – because of their wit.

Bryan Reilly’s Benedick is a guy with a bad attitude.

Lola Bond, Don Jean, more than makes the gender switch work, she makes the Team of Villains work, proving that Shakespeare was there long before the Marvel and DC crowd. Her crew is fleshed out in the devious and devilish personified by Cameron Pfahler as Borachio and Stephanie Birch as Conrade.

Daniel Lehnen is convincingly clueless as the constable Dogberry, heading up a Keystone Kops police force of Hillary Carter as Verges along with Elizabeth Rossen as Oatcake and Franxene Perez as Seacoal.

Harold Bloom, who famously claims that Shakespeare invented human beings, has also pointed out that it’s funny none of Shakespeare’s witty, brilliant, pithy characters ever seems to actually listen to anybody else.

That may well be true, but that’s no way to go about playing the parts. But if you take an actor like, say, Aleksander Wilde, he’s especially good at listening, so it creates a nice tension, because his stage persona is both self-deprecating and amiable, enhanced by marvelous musicianship, so it is unsettling when Claudio is so easily duped and turns on Hero and betrays her, and then just possible that he will see the error of his ways. Nice.

Much Ado About Nothing plays at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre, 619 S. Main Street, Gainesville FL through July 16.

American Triptych

 

 

 

The Road Not Taken

By Robert Frost (1874-1963)

 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth. Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same. And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back. I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I– I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.

 

 

 

There’s a Certain Slant of Light

By Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

 

There’s a certain slant of light, On winter afternoons, That oppresses, like the weight Of cathedral tunes. Heavenly hurt it gives us; We can find no scar, But internal difference Where the meanings are. None may teach it anything, ‘Tis the seal, despair,- An imperial affliction Sent us of the air. When it comes, the landscape listens, Shadows hold their breath; When it goes, ‘t is like the distance On the look of death.
 

Captain, My Captain

By Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

 

CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done; The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won; The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting, While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring: But O heart! heart! heart! O the bleeding drops of red, Where on the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead. O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells; Rise up–for you the flag is flung–for you the bugle trills; For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths–for you the shores a-crowding; For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning; Here Captain! dear father! This arm beneath your head; It is some dream that on the deck, You’ve fallen cold and dead. My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still; My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will; The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done; From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won; Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells! But I, with mournful tread, Walk the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead.

 

 

 

There was a time in the 1880s when Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and Walt Whitman all inhabited our planet. Frost was a boy. Dickinson and Whitman were approaching death, and both seemed to know it. Their poems here both revolve around death.  Frost’s poem is about the death of possibility once a life path has been chosen.

 

Frost’s poem begins in the yellow wood. Here is a wood that is in the sere, as Shakespeare might say. It is not spring green – it is past its prime. So that when the choice between two roads is presented to the poem’s persona we have a sense of mid-life, not unlike Dante’s state in the dark wood of The Inferno. The allusion is unmistakable. Frost’s poem contains from the start an echo of The Divine Comedy:

 

“In the middle of the road of our life, I found myself in a dark wood, where the right way was lost.”

 

Frost’s poem has a fairly strict meter – iambic tetrameter – with eight syllables per line instead of nine, so it fudges a little. But not much. The poem makes alternatives ambiguous but still somehow distinct.

 

Emotion in the form regret enters with the second line. The two roads are mutually exclusive – you cannot travel both. This is what raises the poem above the literal conclusively. It is only the life path, not the physical path that eliminates alternatives by simple choice. Once chosen, there can be no going back. As Thomas Wolfe would have it, “You can never go home again.”

 

If you go down one road, you become one person. If you go down another, you become someone else.

 

The poem is frozen in time. The choice has already been made, perhaps long ago. The life of the persona has been formed. The frozen moment of choice is held before us for examination. One road bends into the undergrowth – life’s myriad complications, a ribbon of cause and effect unraveling mysteriously. But the other road, the one taken, is in that moment equally mysterious.

 

The third stanza is one of unrest. Though one road is chosen, the other is not forgotten. Both roads were laden with possibilities, potentialities. In his conflicted soul, the persona has a yearning for both.

 

The final stanza leaps into the future, what “shall be”. Then the significance will be weighted with the gravity of time and accompanied by the exhalation of breath. The poem sighs. It is only the passing of time that can determine which of the roads is the less traveled, and even then the determination is ambiguous – because how can you know what road others have taken or passed by and what it has meant to them? The persona may be sure only that it was a road less traveled by him.

 

At the last moment the poem becomes intensely personal – the difference that road has made is all, a world of difference.

 

It is that difference that invited us into the poem in the first place – giving Frost’s structure that circular motion of all great poetry, that spiraling deeper and deeper to the core of being, so that it bears endless reading, viewing, like those eternally racing figures on the Grecian urn. The poem’s persona becomes the specific that universalizes. It seems like everyone knows this poem, because everyone makes a claim on it, everyone knows so very well his or her own Road Not Taken.

 

You look at Emily Dickinson and you wonder: How could she be a great writer if she never left the house? You think about that maxim: Write about what you know. So it makes sense that Herman Melville could write a great novel about whale-hunting because he had actually chased whales around the sea. It figures that Tolstoy could write War and Peace, he had been to war. The message seems to be: The greater your experience, the greater the story you can tell. But if you’ve never gone anywhere and you’ve never done anything, what in the world are you going to write about? How about the light coming through your window? And your art can be as penetrating as the vast complexities of War and Peace and Moby Dick.

 

As Henry James would have it, “Experience is never limited and it is never complete. It is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider web of the finest silken threads suspended in the chambers of consciousness, and catching every airborne particle in its tissue.”

 

Emily Dickinson’s experience was not limited. And see how she connects with Freud who believed that nothing is ever forgotten, that everything that ever happened to us is imprinted on our memories, that nothing is ever lost, just locked away maybe, and maybe one day you’ll find the key.

 

Look at Dickinson’s poem and see how it could possibly come to her word by word – because it starts so simply: There’s a

 

Nothing much there. You or I could write a poem that begins that way, but then . . .

 

Certain.

 

An adjective, but there can be no doubt that she’s narrowing her topic now, and that she’s after precision.

 

Slant.

 

A noun – a swing player of a word. And here she’s really taken a turn. We probably would never have gotten this far.

 

Of light.

 

An airy nothing? Hardly.

 

There’s a Certain Slant of Light bends space into unity with time and gives it heft – compressed into the simile: “like the weight of cathedral tunes.” The notes of music cannot be said to have physical weight. Therefore we have passed into the realm of the metaphorical.

 

In Dickinson’s poem persona becomes personification. Shadows breathe, the landscape listens, and death looks on.

 

Whitman’s poem is reckoned somewhat conventional for the hero of free verse. There would be little chance of a modern unread reader to guess – aside from its publication in 1865 – that Whitman’s poem is a lament for the recently murdered Abraham Lincoln. Knowing this, however, the poem takes on mythic proportions. The lamented Captain is the  leader of  a people emerging from a national nightmare.

 

The poem operates on the metaphor of a ship at sea – but the perilous adventure lies in the past. “We” have survived the ordeal. But our Captain has not.

 

The ship is the ship of state. To have survived the war is a near death experience, traumatizing, scarring, haunting. But the ship did not save itself. Our salvation comes from the Captain. For him the flag is flung, the bugle trills.

 

The Captain is an echo of Plato’s philosopher-king, our chosen leader, the good man of reason. We put our faith in him. Then reaching deeper into our soul’s history, the second stanza identifies the Captain with the father, and in the final stanza patriarchy comes to an end.

 

With the last lines of the poem comes the realization that we are on our own.

 

So, is the lament really for our Captain, or for ourselves?

 

And was he really our Captain, or only Walt Whitman’s? What is left out of the ship of state analogy is that the Captain was not felled by the storm at sea. “The bleeding drops of red” are the result of an assassin’s bullet.

 

The history that lies beneath the surface of the poem is like the mighty bulk of an iceberg. To penetrate it requires a historian.

https://www.amazon.com/Hall-Fools-Shamrock-McShane/dp/1542928419

 

Matters of Being

Look, if Jesus is not God, were not God, was not God, if He was just a man, then what matters is what he taught. But if Jesus was God, is God, then it doesn’t matter what he taught – because He is the Word Made Flesh.

What if Jesus is God and it matters what he taught?

It would only matter what he taught because He’s God.

What if it is right and just and true?

Then that’s what matters, not being God.

It’s a circular argument.

So is Life.

https://www.amazon.com/Hall-Fools-Shamrock-McShane/dp/1542928419

 

 

https://www.amazon.com/Hall-Fools-Shamrock-McShane/dp/1542928419

Grammar Test

Write a correct grammatical sentence for each of the following elements, and then diagram the sentence. Write a different sentence for each element. You may use your notes and a textbook.

 

1.    simple subject

2.    verb

3.    preposition

4.    object of preposition

5.    prepositional phrase

6.    adjective

7.    adverb

8.    subject complement

9.    direct object

10.conjunction

Bonus:

1.    Who was the first critic and what did he believe about art?

2.    What is the difference between the Epicurean and Stoic philosophies?

3.    What are the language arts and in what order are they acquired?

4.    Translate and identify this quote: “Audentis fortuna iuvat.”

5.    How do human beings learn to speak?

 

https://www.amazon.com/Hall-Fools-Shamrock-McShane/dp/1542928419

 

027

Son of Sham Publisher Mike McShane at the Center of the Universe