A Celebration of Light

One of the things I’ll never get used to here in the Pacific Northwest is that there is nearly 8 hours less sunlight per day in the winter than there is in the summer. In Florida, the difference is only 4 hours. But that means that people here really appreciate the daylight when they have it. It can’t be taken for granted. There is a definite morale change from summer to winter, and with it comes a lifestyle change. People seem to hibernate here in the wintertime.

Therefore, it doesn’t surprise me that Vancouver, Canada, our neighbor to the north, has a three day celebration of light each summer. The funny thing is, this celebration takes place at night. That’s because it is a fireworks competition.

Each year, three countries are chosen to put on a fireworks display over English Bay on three separate evenings. These displays are set to music, and they’re judged. They’re always spectacular. The event comes with food trucks, too, and usually draws about 400,000 people per night.

This year, India, Canada, and Croatia competed. Canada, the home team so to speak, won. Croatia won the people’s choice award. (Click on the country names to see full Youtube videos of the events. They’re incredible.)

I was lucky enough to experience Canada’s effort, and I must say that it was, without a doubt, the best fireworks display I’ve ever seen in my life. I saw at least 5 types of fireworks that I’d never seen bfore. They were wonderfully creative, surprising, and delightful.

If you’re ever in the Vancouver area in late July, early August, don’t miss the Celebration of Light. But please don’t bring your dog. If I lived in Vancouver, I’d probably take my dogs and leave town during this event. War veterans might want to give it a pass, too.

But everyone else… wow. Just wow. Three cheers for light!

Celebration of Light 2019

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A Strange Hobby

When I first heard about the latest craze, which originated in Finland, I must admit that I had a bit of a laugh. Girls, 7 to 18, riding hobbyhorses, and taking it pretty darned seriously. Seriously enough, it seems, that it merited an article in the New York Times.

This is really a thing. There’s even an annual hobbyhorse competition, where girls compete in dressage, jumping over rails and stuff. And there are classes where you can learn new moves. There are vendors that will sell you hobbyhorses in a variety of colors, and you can splurge on bejeweled harnesses. There’s even a documentary called Hobbyhorse Revolution, and an increasing number of Youtube videos.

At these competitions, adult judges will judge you, with straight faces. You can attend lectures with veterinarians about the proper care and feeding of your hobbyhorse, and are instructed on the correct schedule for their vaccinations. You trade grooming tips with your competitors.

Believe me, I know. This subject seems rife for parody. And I was poised to do just that. But then I investigated further, and started to think about it more.

First of all, why is this any more ridiculous than cosplay? In truth, it’s more legitimate than dressing up as a superhero in my opinion, because there’s actual exercise involved in leaping around with a stick between your legs. These girls train for these competitions. They run. They jump. They’re not lying around playing video games. They’re out in the fresh air, hanging out, socializing with one another, face to face. (Remember when you used to do that?)

They are also being creative, as they often make their own horses. And there’s a huge imagination element involved, and that part of our brains needs exercise, too. In addition, they’re learning to compete, which is something that is seriously lacking in much of the female universe, unfortunately. That winds up biting us in the butt when we enter the business world. It really comes in handy to learn to take criticism, and to strive toward a goal.

I also love the egalitarian aspect of it. Girls are often drawn to horses, but most of us can’t afford to have one, let alone participate in that high-end sport. This, on the other hand, is something that even the poorest girl should be able to do. I just hope it doesn’t turn into a “my hobbyhorse is better than your hobbyhorse” type thing. And in any female dominated activity, even those kiddie beauty pageants, there always seems to be some outside pressure to sexualize it. I hope this hobby maintains its innocence, whimsy, and accessibility.

So I’ll try not to laugh when discussing this new fad, because I think there’s more to it than meets the eye. More horsepower to them, I say.

hobbyhorse

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Greed

I’ve been learning a very unpleasant economics lesson lately. Attempting to buy a house in the Seattle, Washington area is leaving a bitter taste in my mouth indeed. This is the most booming seller’s market in the entire country, and therefore I’m experiencing cutthroat competition.

I’ve seen house values nearly double in the three years I’ve been here. There’s a good reason for that. Seattle is issuing 200 new drivers licenses every single day. That’s how many adults are moving to the area. And the number of available housing units isn’t even coming close to keeping up with that pace, so everyone, including me, is getting desperate.

Personally, I’d sit back a few years until this foolishness dies down, except that rents are going through the roof (pardon the pun), as well. I’ve had more than one friend experience a $500 a month rent hike when they went to renew their leases. If that happens to me I’ll be sleeping on a park bench, in the rain, using my dog Quagmire as a pillow.

The frustrating thing about this is that the “value” of these houses is hyper-inflated simply because it can be. I saw a little 900 square foot house with a tiny yard, built in the 1930’s, and the seller is asking 2.5 million, and will probably get it. Location, location, location.

But what is this city going to turn into if only the type of people who can pay that kind of money are able to live here? In terms of quality of life, it’s been my experience that any city is better off without an overabundance of rich, insufferable, entitled assholes. You need people like me to scrub your toilets and flip your hamburgers. You need diversity and culture to be a really stellar city. But that’ll only work if we have a place to sleep during our off hours.

A lot of sellers aren’t even bothering to tidy up their places before listing them, because they know they don’t have to. Somebody is going to buy it regardless, and probably for 75k above the asking price, so why waste your energy?

Recently I saw my dream house, and the asking price was within my range, so I bid on it. But 8 other people did, too, increasing the price so much that I couldn’t come close to competing, and the person whose bid was accepted not only waived the inspection, but paid cash. Cash. There’s no way I can keep up in this market. I’m going to wind up in a hovel right on the end of the airport flight line, or in a dangerous neighborhood, or with a 2 hour commute each way.

There is something wrong when a 52-year-old woman who has worked steadily since the age of 10 cannot afford to live anywhere within 50 miles of her place of employment. Did I pull the wings off flies in a former life, or something? This is a truly messed up situation.

Everybody knows that their houses aren’t “really” worth what they’re getting for them these days. But they’ll take it, by God! Greed trumps everything in this country. Granted, a lot of them kind of have no choice if THEY are trying to buy another house in this area. Some people are born greedy, and others have greediness thrust upon them. It’s not a good look either way. Sometimes “because I can” is not the best reason to do something.

If I were selling my house, I don’t think I’d take the very top bid. I’d also take into consideration if the person will continue to make the house a home, and be a good neighbor, and really loves what I’ve tried to do with my abode over the years. Better yet, I wouldn’t put it on the market at all. I’d find a deserving person and work with him or her to make it possible. I wouldn’t sell it to an investor or someone looking to turn it into a rental property, or worse, tear it down and put up a high rise, for Pete’s sake. Because avoiding that is the right thing to do. The decent thing to do. It’s the thing to do if you have any integrity at all.

But that’s the nasty thing this home buying experience is teaching me. People, as a general rule, do not have integrity. Their moral compasses are spinning in lazy circles.

The only way I’m going to find a home around here is if someone gives me a little bit of a freakin’ break. And here’s the thing. No one is going to do that.

So there you go.

Park bench

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Let’s Review

Every single day, my e-mail inbox is filled with requests that I review some product that I’ve purchased. Or someone wants my feedback on the service they recently provided me. (The only company I know that doesn’t do this is AT&T, because they already know that they give piss-poor customer service, and they couldn’t care less.)

I get it. It’s annoying. And I have to admit that like you, I often ignore these requests.

But by doing so, we are all shooting ourselves in the foot. Think about it. We all know that the larger the organization, the less they really care what you think of the goods or services they provide. They can afford a certain level of customer angst, because there are always more customers for them. Especially if they have the market pretty much cornered.

We as consumers benefit more when there are a large number of small businesses competing, rather than one big indifferent one. Competition brings prices down. Competition means much better customer service, because your business actually means something to these mom and pop companies. They desperately need your feedback. The only way most small companies can build up their reputations is through customer reviews. And who provides them? Us.

So help out that little company that’s selling stuff on Amazon. Give honest feedback on eBay. Give credit where credit is due. It may seem insignificant, but it helps us all.

Having said that, I’m one of those people who desperately needs your review. If you’ve read my book, A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude, please leave a review on Amazon.com. This helps me in many ways. Enough reviews will get Amazon’s attention, and they’ll promote the book more. And you might encourage someone else to buy the book. That’ll help keep my dogs in kibble.

C’mon. Do it for my dogs. Thanks.

A Bridgetender's View _ front cover only.jpg

Internet Dating Profile Tips for Men

Now that I’ve reluctantly dipped my toe into the internet dating pool, my biggest frustration is that I don’t get to see the profiles of other women. I can’t assess my “competition”. Why am I being passed over? Does my profile stand out too much? Not enough?

And should you be highly specific in your profile, therefore weeding out a lot of people that would be a bad match and thus not wasting your time, or should you be more general, thus drawing in more people, and having to weed them out yourself on the first date, but allowing for a lot more benefit of the doubt? I can see arguments for and against both sides, but I’ve chosen to be specific in my profile.

What I have had the opportunity to do is view about a thousand profiles for men, so I think I can speak with a little authority about them. So what follows are things that have become obvious to me in a short period of time.

Profile do’s and don’ts

  • Don’t lie. If you’re using a photo that was taken 20 years ago, or have gained 200 pounds, or are bragging about a Mercedes that you don’t own, or say you don’t smoke when you do, or say that your kids are grown and out of the house when actually you have a set of 8 year old twins who still live with you, the truth is going to come out when you meet. Where does that get you?
  • Proofread your profile. You could be the smartest man in the world, but if your profile is full of spelling errors or grammar issues, you’re going to look like a dummy. If writing isn’t your strong suit, have a friend proofread it for you.
  • DON’T USE SHOUTY CAPITALS!!!
  • Choose your profile name carefully. If you call yourself something like “TurboStud4you” many women, who would like to be thought of as more than a sex toy, will pass you by.
  • The majority of women on these sites are looking for more than sex. They’re looking for companionship. So talk about what you like to do for fun. If all you talk about is sex, many of us will pass you by, assuming you’re only interested in that one act. If your profile indicates that you’re not really interested in getting to know us as people, we’ll look for someone who is. If that really is your only interest, save us all a lot of time and just go straight to a prostitute.
  • Include a picture. Many of us won’t even look at profiles without pictures. If you can’t tell if there’s potential for chemistry, you’ll move on to a profile that does provide that information, and there are plenty of those out there, believe me.
  • Don’t leave huge sections of your profile blank. For example, if you leave the “What I’m looking for in a woman” section blank, then I won’t respond to you, because I have no idea if I would be what you’re looking for. There are plenty of other profiles out there that will give me this information. Don’t make me guess.
  • Don’t make demands. State preferences. No one likes to be bossed around.
  • Be original. Many of these dating sites will provide you with profile examples. They’re not meant to be cut and pasted into your profile. I’m amazed at how many profiles are identical, word for word. I skip those. I want some sign that you’ve given this process some thought.
  • Don’t say you’re a nice guy. Every profile says that. Instead, give examples. “I volunteer at the local animal shelter” makes ME conclude that you’re a nice guy, and that seems more genuine.
  • Also include candid shots of you out and about, doing what you like to do. It’s nice to provide context. Try to avoid including photos of you looking like a serial killer, and don’t include pictures of you intoxicated unless that’s your usual state. Ask a friend for photo feedback if necessary.
  • I understand the instinct to lead with a photo of you in a suit and tie or a tuxedo, but if you wouldn’t mind a woman who prefers to be more casual, that could put her off. On the other hand, if your lead picture is you in a wife-beater, that will put off women who may occasionally like to dress up. (Which of course is fine if you aren’t interested in that type, but otherwise…)
  • Tread lightly when discussing fitness. I appreciate that I’ve yet to see the word “fat” in a profile, but many men say they want a woman who is fit. That’s fine. It’s honest. But you have to realize that many women have warped body images, so you may think a woman is fit, but she may not, and will therefore not respond to you, so you’ll have missed out on an opportunity to meet someone wonderful. Perhaps a better way of saying it would be, “I would like someone who would enjoy riding a bike 4 times a week,” or something to that effect.
  • And if you are yourself fit but would be willing to date someone who is slightly less fit, don’t emphasize your fitness so much. I, for one, skip the fitness talkers, for fear of rejection. Just show your fitness in your photo and leave it at that, unless you really do want to eliminate certain body types.
  • If you’re into sports (for example) but would be okay with someone who isn’t, then don’t make sports the primary focus of your profile.
  • Don’t make your profile only about what you want. You’ll look selfish. Also make it about who you are and what you have to offer.

Making Contact

If you haven’t figured this out already, you will in short order: There are a lot of crazies and bottom feeders and scammers on these sites. You will hopefully be contacted by a lot of people, and make contact with a lot. There is a way to navigate past the crazies. Here’s a little contact etiquette.

  • If someone takes the time to send you a personalized message which shows they’ve obviously read your profile and have specific questions or comments, give them a courtesy of a response, even if it’s only, “Thank you for contacting me. Unfortunately I don’t think we’d be a good match, but good luck on your search!”
  • If someone sends you a generalized flirt, respond or don’t, it’s up to you. They’re testing the waters.
  • If someone contacts you from out of state, they’re most likely a scammer, or using the shotgun method. (If they contact a hundred men, one is bound to respond.) I strongly encourage you to blow these off.
  • If someone sends you a very generic message in chat, such as, “Hey, cutie! How are you doing today?” they are DEFINITELY using the shotgun method. Block them.
  • For the love of God, DO NOT send unsolicited photos of your body parts. (If you need to be told that, you probably need more help than this blogger can give you.)
  • If you read a profile and think you want to meet that person, don’t send a message right off the bat that says let’s meet. Talk for a while back and forth on the message forum before suggesting a meeting. That way you can get some sense of each other first, and the woman will not feel like you’re desperate or simply playing a serial dater numbers game.
  • If you read a profile, are interested, but don’t make contact, don’t be surprised if the woman doesn’t contact you. She’ll assume you’re just a “looky-loo” and have decided you’re not interested. Go ahead, reach out!

Safety

  • Do NOT put anything in your profile that even hints at your work or home location, your full name, where you can be found at any specific time, or outside contact info. Don’t even provide this in messages. Not unless you want to risk coming home to find a rabbit boiling in a pot on your stove.
  • Always meet in a neutral public place at first, like a coffee shop. Don’t reveal your address.
  • Tell someone where you’re going, how long you plan to be gone, and who you’re meeting.
  • Encourage the woman to follow these safety guidelines as well. She’ll appreciate your concern.

We’re living in a cyber world. Internet dating has become ubiquitous. Many people have success stories. But as with anything, you’ll get as much out of the experience as you put into it. Good luck!

[Image credit: destinationfemme.com]
[Image credit: destinationfemme.com]

Immortality would not be Pretty

Many people long for an ever-increasing lifespan. They want to live forever, it seems. Maybe it’s because I’m still decades away from my expiration date (one would hope), but I’ve never understood this philosophy.

In fact, it is stressful to me that the life expectancy keeps increasing. I have this fear that I’ll never catch up with it. When I was born in 1964, my life expectancy was 73.7 years. Now I’m expected to stick around until I’m about 83. One can assume that the leaps forward will be ever larger as we have more medical breakthroughs. I honestly take no comfort in that.

For starters, outside the realm of fiction, where it might be possible for the immortal to be forever young and healthy and surrounded by loved ones, I think the reality would be much more grim. Things fall apart. The center does not hold. So I would expect that immortality would be a miserable state indeed.

Not only would you need increasingly extreme methods to prop up your deterioration, but there would be ever-increasing competition for said methods. Overcrowding would be the order of the day, competition for resources would get violent, and the gap between rich and poor would be even more evident. You don’t really think that we poor people would get to live forever, do you?

And it’s likely that immortality would be cruel and arbitrary. It stands to reason that not everyone would be a viable candidate for whatever procedures and medications would be required. So odds are good that if you won that particular lottery over Father Time, you would outlive everyone that you came to love, and that sounds like horrible, never-ending loneliness to me.

I don’t long for immortality. I long to live a full life and then die peacefully and painlessly in my sleep, making room for the next wave of humanity as nature dictates. Maybe my opinion will change when I’m 80, though.

sand clock

[I want to get one of these! Check out the Paradox Sand Clock at conrad.com]

Having Your Heart Broken by a Career Choice

I was the morning of the third day of my dream job, and I was so excited. My life was changing for the better, It’s a rare gift when you can have a job that you love.

I fell in love with Dental Laboratory Technology as a student. I sold my house, left a 16 year relationship, and even commuted 3 ½ hours each way for a semester and a half until the house was sold and I could relocate, just so I could achieve the degree. I then moved down to a town where I knew no one to complete my studies, and I graduated with honors.

After three long years of study, applying for work at 198 other orthodontic labs, and having doors slammed in my face on a regular basis, I had finally got my big toe, at least, in the door of a lab. And I loved it. Every single second of it.

I’d been a nervous wreck at first because as I had explained to them, I hadn’t been in a lab in a year and a half, so I felt as wobbly as a newborn deer. But I showed them the work I’d done in school, So they knew what they were getting, but they also knew my potential.

My boyfriend, who has hired many an employee, gave me a pep talk before I started the job. He told me that I had the qualities that every employer wants but rarely sees. Enthusiasm. The desire to do well. The willingness to learn and work hard. He said you are lucky to find that in one out of every hundred employees, so I’d be an asset from the moment I walked in the door.

I had already learned so much in my first two days, and I was anxious to learn more. I’d spent long hours reviewing all my notes from school, at least getting back up to speed on my book knowledge, and as soon as I had decent tools to work with I planned to practice wire bending every waking moment, because I am enthralled by everything about orthodontic appliances. I love the variety. I love solving problems with the positions of teeth. I feel like a dental Sherlock Holmes.

I found myself humming as I got ready. I could see my future rolling out ahead of me, and it was so bright and shiny and full of happiness. I drove the 15 miles through rush hour, anticipating the day ahead, thinking of ways I could increase my productivity and efficiency and help them make money. It felt like being madly in love. I couldn’t wait to get there.

I walked in, smiled, said an enthusiastic good morning, and was about to jump into my newly established routine when I was greeted with, “Barb, we need to talk.” Suddenly I felt sick to my stomach. I stood there and let their words wash over me. “You’re just not good enough.” My ears started ringing.

No one expects the Spanish Inquisition. We are taught in America that if you work hard and apply yourself, your dreams will come true. But statistically speaking, sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel really is going to be an oncoming train. Statistics have no empathy or compassion. They just are. Lightning doesn’t care where it strikes. It just strikes. And here I was, apparently standing under a tall tree in an open field.

Could this really be happening? Was I being fired for the first time at age 48? Indeed I was. Tools. Must gather all my lab tools. There’s food in the fridge. Get that too. What are they saying? My ears are ringing. Humiliation. Must get out of here. Don’t say anything. There’s nothing to say. They’ve already made up their minds. Just leave. Leave with what little dignity you have left.

They’re handing me a check. Explaining it’s a dollar less per hour since they haven’t processed my paperwork and are paying me under the table. There’s something wrong with that. There’s something wrong with all of this. Just leave.

“Good luck,” they say.

Just not good enough. I wailed, I howled all the way home. My dream was dying right in front of me and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I don’t even remember the drive. I just remember my chest heaving and my boyfriend telling me over the phone to pull over and try to calm down, and me saying no, I want to go home. I just want to go home…

It brings back the horrible experience of driving 600 miles to Raleigh to interview for a job at another lab only to be told that he was afraid I’d just learn from him and leave and become his competition, and later discovering that that was the very thing he had done to his former employer 25 years previously. So, to get that job, I’d have had to appear incompetent and unambitious. If only I had been told in advance.

This, coupled with 198 other rejections…maybe I should get the message. This industry hates me.

An even crueler cut because I have made friends along the way who have successful labs and have shown me what my life could be, could have been, like. It’s like seeing a happy marriage but being deprived of one yourself. It’s painful.

I’m still in shock as I write this, but I’m no longer sad. I’m just monumentally pissed off. First of all, they told me that I was the only one who applied for the job with any experience at all. I cannot believe that my work sucked so badly that they’d prefer to hire someone who does not know what they’re doing. There’s more to this story. There has to be. Which means they lied. They lied, and I’ll never know the truth.

All I get is two days? Why? Why? Something about me slowing them down. I told them that I was rusty. Two days? That’s all I get? Two days? And half of those two days I spent making deliveries. I didn’t wreck their car. I didn’t set fire to the lab. I didn’t do anything other than try to cut my thumb off by accident. I bled for you people!

And then the pay thing. Not only is it illegal, but it sucks. They weren’t doing me any favors. They were saving themselves money. Profiting off my mortification. Much classier to say we promised you this amount per hour. We’re paying you under the table, but here’s the amount we promised. At least you’ll be getting a little more in exchange for the fact that we just shoved a wooden stake through your heart and made you question your abilities for the rest of your life.

And then today I woke up out of a sound sleep KNOWING what happened. I mentioned another job in town that I applied for. A lab that makes you do assembly line work, just one tiny task all day long, so you don’t get the experience to become competition, and on top of that they only pay 7 dollars per hour. I’m an idiot. I’m sure the next morning they waited in that lab’s parking lot, and hired someone for 9 dollars an hour, less than they were paying me, and with more lab experience. It’s the only thing that makes sense.

One mistake I make over and over again in life is assuming people will behave decently. I actually thought that once they hired me I’d be given a chance. So I’m not incompetent after all! I’m stupid! Yay me.

Quite the reflection on their integrity. They also showed an appalling lack of concern about Hepatitis B and Silicosis, two things that you have to watch out for in a lab, and two things they could easily prevent but choose not to. I’m probably better off.

Not only have they shown themselves to be unethical and short sighted, but they have taught me an excellent lesson on how I will not behave if I’m ever in the position to hire someone.

First of all, I’ll give someone more than 2 days to settle in, for the love of God. Second, before I even consider hiring someone, I’ll realize that their livelihood and their hopes and dreams and aspirations are riding upon the choices I make, so I’ll take it very seriously. And third, before firing someone I’ll make them aware of the red flags I’m seeing and give them the opportunity to rectify them. And finally, if I feel the need to fire someone, I won’t make them get up, drive all the way across town in rush hour traffic just so they can stand there and be mortified.

Another thing I’ve learned is that this is a cruel and unforgiving and impatient industry, and if by some miracle I manage to achieve my dream, I’m clearly not going to get help from anyone other than myself.

That spells a bleak future for an industry whose schools are disappearing right, left, and center and whose industry projections show 40 percent of their current people retiring in the next decade. If no one is given a chance for on-the-job training and if there are no people willing to hire out of the rapidly disappearing schools, then there will be a whole lot of teenagers out there with no retainers in the near future.

Would I recommend this field to anyone else? Good God, no. I’ve yet to see even an ounce of humanity in it. I just wish I had realized what a cruel mistress it was before I fell in love with it.

Wounded Heart w inscription

One of my fractals. Wounded Heart.

What’s Walmart up to Now?

Okay, I’ve already established in an earlier blog entry that I’m no fan of Walmart, but I felt this new development deserved an entry, too. To further their quest for total world domination, Walmart has begun branching out. They call these new stores “Walmart Neighborhood Markets”. Basically they are grocery stores, pure and simple. One just popped up in my neighborhood, like a mushroom, overnight. When I drive by that place it gives me the creeps.

Think about it. When the regular Walmart stores started cropping up everywhere, nobody thought much about it. But then they started appearing in small towns, and inevitably every small mom and pop store within a 10 mile radius wound up closing its doors. They just couldn’t compete with Walmart’s prices and extensive inventory. When those shops closed, the jobs went with them. Sure, a lot of those people got jobs at the Walmart–underpaid, soul-sucking jobs where they no longer had any personal connection with the customers.

Next came Walmart banking, and a scary number of people have put their money in the hands of this corporation, which already controls more money than many third world countries.  And now we have Walmart Neighborhood Markets. Tell me, how long will the other grocery stores in your area be able to compete with that kind of buying power once one of these places arrives on the scene? And once Walmart has wiped out all the competition, they will be in almost total control of your access to food. And they will also be in control of the price of that food.

When Bell Telephone monopolized all US communications, it took the Department of Justice to break it up into smaller companies, most of which are STILL too big for their britches. Imagine the damage a Walmart monopoly could do before our lazy government managed to intervene.

When I drive by this shiny new corporate fungus, I have images of a store stocked with food courtesy of Monsanto and China, at outrageous prices, with lines wrapped around the block. Maybe I’m being paranoid. I hope I am.  But when I talk about this, I kind of feel like Charlton Heston in the movie Soylent Green. He’s shouting, “Soylent Green is People!” to the masses, desperately trying to warn them that their sole food source is actually made out of human beings. Did they listen? Will you?

soylent-green-is-a-great-movie