Farewell Pizza Plus

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(Originally printed in today’s Patterson Irrigator newspaper.)

Do you hear the sound of muffled sobs? Yeah, that’s me. It’s the kind of emotion I only feel in very specific circumstances. Like when my childhood hero turned out to be a pervert. (Yes, I’m talking about Bill Cosby.)

It was also when I heard a rumor in middle school that Bonne Bell was going to stop making Dr. Pepper Lip Smackers. This led me to rush to the old Patterson Drug to buy all the tubes left on the shelf. Okay, I admit that this example might be too specific. But, if you’ll notice, there’s a theme to my experiences and the emotional memories of many of us. They are tightly woven to our childhoods.

The recent closing of Pizza Plus, a long-time local business, has been the subject of press in this newspaper. Our estimable publisher emeritus, Ron Swift, added his thoughts in a recent column and he encouraged me to offer my opinions on this subject.

It’s well-known that I’ve often lamented the proliferation of pizza establishments in Patterson in recent years. After all, they’ve popped up with such frequency that my jokes about them just seemed to write themselves. (Unfortunately, the same thing happens to me with Mr. Trump. My sarcasm seems to leak out before I even notice. Like a burp.)

But, that said, my concerns about our town’s collective pizza consumption faded away when I heard the news about Pizza Plus. I felt an instant sadness, which was surprising considering how my stomach feels when I eat too many refined carbohydrates.

Nonetheless, a slideshow of memories flashed in my mind. When Pizza Plus was located in the old theater building (yes, we once had a movie theater in Patterson!), my friends and I would meet there during school vacations. There was a party room in the back that had a large TV and a VCR— you know, the thing that people used before the internet? Anyway, we’d rent a movie from the video store across the street to watch while eating a combination pizza with extra ranch dressing. We’d split the bill using the crumpled bills and ragged change in our pockets. The only hiccup was the glass window that opened the room to the rest of the restaurant— allowing anyone to see exactly what you were watching on the big TV.

It’s important to note that a big screen TV in 1998 meant only a 32-inch square of viewing space. Nonetheless, this was still large enough that if we had a video that was rated more than PG-13, my friends stood up in front of the glass window partition to block people in the restaurant from seeing us watch Brad Pitt take off his clothes.

These memories were joyful, simple and sweet— so, to me, the closing of Pizza Plus feels like saying goodbye to an old friend. It’s important to note that Pizza Plus did a lot for our local community through the years, too— by supporting school activities and club fundraisers, and being the first employer of dozens of eager teenagers. Small businesses like these support a community in a way that corporations and franchises simply cannot.

The loss of Pizza Plus leaves a void. So, I’d like to call upon the other 612 pizza establishments in town to step up their game. What can you do to make Patterson a stronger community? What role can you play to help our schools? After all, we need more from you than just cheesy breadsticks.

So long, Pizza Plus. Thanks for the memories.

2018: The Year in Review

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The year 2018 was a year of contrasts— both here at home, and the world over. Amazing heights of joy and emotion were seen— followed by lows of discord and weirdness. You don’t have to look far to see these contrasts in action. For example, after much international pressure, in June, Saudi Arabia finally granted women the right to drive a car. Unfortunately, any ‘brownie points’ this move earned the Saudi government were quickly squashed four months later when they murdered a Washington Post journalist. While the Saudis have denied this, everyone knows that they are lying. Just like everyone knows that the one person that denies farting at the dinner table is always the one that did it.

Here in Patterson, we are not immune to the odd dichotomy seen in 2018, either. Both our amazing PHS varsity and junior varsity softball teams won conference titles with undefeated regular seasons. This is badass. Unfortunately, it was also announced this year that we are getting yet another pizza establishment in Patterson— to go along with the 95 places that we already have. So, while the girls’ championships bring much joy to our hearts, the advent of more refined carbohydrates isn’t good news for our colons.

In the international sphere, though, 2018 was a very successful year for dictatorships. Kim Jong-un burst onto the stage with meetings with Donald Trump and also by crossing the border into South Korea— where he quickly discovered that Dennis Rodman is far less famous than he thought.

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, strengthened his control over the nation by getting term limits abolished so that he can serve as “President for Life”— a position that comes with a really good dental plan. Forbes Magazine ranked Xi Jinping as 2018’s most powerful person in the world, a position previous held by Vladimir Putin.

Speaking of Putin, in March, he was reelected to a fourth term as Tsar— err, I mean President of Russia. In this hotly contested race, his only competitor was a Muppet.

In the world of sports, 2018 saw the Winter Olympics held in the mountains of PyeongChang, South Korea. It featured many dangerous and icy sports that no one understands. Norway won all the metals because most of their athletes descend from the Abominable Snowman. Meanwhile, back in the United States, disgruntled NFL football fans decided that ‘having principles’ meant they would set their own shoes on fire.

In further national news, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, often used as a measure of the strength of the US economy, bounced around this year, from awesome highs, to terrible lows as 2018 drew to a close. This pattern oddly matched the demand for romaine lettuce and the popularity of Rosanne Barr. I don’t think these things are related, though.

Finally, in digital news, the most popular video game of the year was Fortnite. I suppose it’s better than the Pokémon Go craze of a few years ago. At least no one’s falling off cliffs or getting hit by cars while playing the game. But, Fortnite still has its shortcomings. Thousands of addicted kids are secretly gaming in the classroom on smartphones that they aren’t even supposed to have in school. And if that wasn’t enough, it’s also teaching an entire generation how to incorrectly spell the word ‘fortnight.’ This might be the most upsetting problem of all.

So, I’d like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that the word ‘fortnight’ is actually what you call a two-week period of time. Let’s say your child gets in trouble at school for punching a teacher in the face that’s trying to take away their smartphone. An apt punishment for this behavior would be deactivating their Fortnite account for at least a fortnight.

Lastly, I dearly hope that 2019 brings a little more stability for all of us— and a little less uncertainty. And if we’ve got to eat so much pizza in Patterson, for the sake of our colons, I sure hope we can have some romaine lettuce to go along with it.

After all, 2019 is less than a fortnight away…

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Quarantines, Clipboards & Spinraza #8

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I’ve made it no secret that I am abhorrently afraid of cold & flu season. When you have SMA and your respiratory system is total shit, even a simple cold can turn nasty. You know the way a mother’s ear may alert to the sound of a crying child? My ears instead perk to the sound of a cough, a sneeze, and the tiniest sniffle. I can even detect the slightest change in the tenor of a person’s voice that may indicate secret congestion. I don’t mean to brag (okay, maybe I do), but I am the Sherlock Holmes of Cootie-Detectors. I’m so damn good at it that I may know you are getting sick before you do.

When I was scheduled for my 8th dose of Spinraza, I knew that I was entering a dangerous portion of the cootie-season. The post-Thanksgiving/pre-Christmas cornucopia of Microbial Abundance. So, I knew that this year I was going to have to employ every germ-avoiding tactic in my arsenal so that I could receive my Spinraza treatment on-schedule and unimpeded.

Thus, about 10 days before my injection, I announced to EVERYONE THAT I KNEW that I was going into quarantine. Literally everyone. Even the mailman knew that he had better not sneeze on my Christmas cards.

I became a certifiable hermit. I turned down invitations to holiday gatherings. I avoided crowds and eating food that wasn’t prepared at home. I threw away all my romaine lettuce.

The more isolated I became, the more I felt myself turning into one of those wingnuts that sits in their house and angrily begins to believe conspiracy theories that they read on the internet. That the Moon Landing was a hoax… that Barack Obama was born in Kenya… that Donald Trump’s hair is actually grown on his head.

The bitterness became real. And the further I got into my self-imposed exile, the more my anxiety grew about someone breaching my quarantine and infecting me. I knew that if that happened, I was truly inches away from turning into the actual Unabomber. Like I would send a bomb to that person’s house and curse their familial line for 46 generations.

As my procedure day approached, I became more and more tense. Xanax wasn’t quite covering the heights of my nervousness. My left hand began to twitch. Hallmark Christmas movies even stopped having their sedative effect on me.

I simply COULD. NOT. GET. SICK.

It was a horrendous amount of pressure. It consumed me. So, when the magical day arrived, and I woke up at 3:00am feeling okay, I nearly cried with relief.

And then I remembered that my reward was having a five-inch needle poked into my spine.

Strangely, this thought didn’t scare me as much as getting sick did. I think that speaks volumes to the depths of my emotional neuroses… and how bad Hallmark Christmas movies really are.

By the time I arrived to the Neuroscience Center, I was actually calmer than I had been in days. After being settled in my room before the procedure, the resident doctor performing the ‘needle poke’ came to introduce himself. As it’s a teaching hospital, there are different teams of doctors— one resident & one attending. You never know who you will have until the day of the procedure. It’s like playing roulette… but with your spinal canal.

Right away, I had a good feeling about the new doctor. He seemed competent and excited— which jived with my mood of the day. I also sensed his competitive nature when he asked:

So… uhh…how long did it take them to do this procedure last time?

While this may seem an innocent question, as a competitive person, myself, I instantly recognized the subtext to his question. What he really meant was the following:

“I want to do this better and faster than last time. I will win this game.”

And, I must say, the guy did deliver. He had the needle in my back so quickly, that I didn’t have time to begin daydreaming about lunch (my favorite way to pass the time). The whole procedure was done in thirty minutes.

As he removed the giant needle, the panicked mania of the past days all seemed worth it to have Spinraza floating in my cerebral spinal fluid like magic minions. But, as exciting as it was, I was ready to go home. To get the hell out of there. I was spent. It had been a tough week trying to not turn into a domestic terrorist.

Just as I was about to get ready to leave, though, a research fellow came into the room with a clipboard. He cheerfully asked, “I’ve got a few questions for you.

A little voice in my head whimpered, “Oh, fuck.”

A clipboard is never a good sign. If there are enough papers to warrant a clipboard to hold them, that’s too many papers.

I gazed longingly at my wheelchair and wished I was sitting in it instead of the hospital bed. It would be so much easier to zoom away from this man and his clipboard. But, then my conscience reared up and decided that I needed to be the scientifically-responsible person and submit to the questions.

This was a big mistake.

The questions went on. And on. And on.

He asked me questions that I had already answered on previous appointments. Questions that should have already been in their records.

I began to resent his perky face and his clipboard. And his inability to read my medical records. My mind began to race— does anyone take the time to read anything anymore?? Do they??

The minutes ticked by. Finally, he said, “Well, I think that’s it.

I sighed with relief and gazed at the clock. His survey had literally taken longer than my entire procedure.

Paper rustled on the clipboard, “Oh, wait, I’m missing a page!”

If I could have physically banged my head on the wall in that moment, I would have done so.

Just a second…

He located the paper and rattled off a few more questions. I would totally tell you what the questions were but, honestly, I wasn’t even listening by this point. He was like the teacher in Charlie Brown— all sounds, but no actual words.

When he finally went away, my nurse came back in, “My goodness, I thought that was never going to end.

I burst out, “I know, right??? Holy crap.

She clapped her hands together, “Let’s get you out of here, shall we?

Yes, please. I’ve got some Hallmark Christmas movies to watch.

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Beyond the #PAWECMHAA

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The other day, our heater was on the fritz for about 48 hours. Under normal circumstances, this would not be that big of a deal. You could just throw on an extra sweater or drink some warm tea. You could snuggle up on the couch with your cocker spaniel or a random stranger. Whatever you’re into, I don’t judge.

Or, perhaps— more likely— you’d say to me, “Get a grip, girl. You live in California. The gallon of milk in your refrigerator lives in a colder climate than you do.

When you have a disability like SMA, though, this isn’t so simple. Because many of us are in wheelchairs, our circulation isn’t the best. So, our bodies are often super sensitive to fluctuations in temperature. Putting on more layers of clothing can also become physically cumbersome. Meaning, if I wear that giant Christmas sweater on top of the thick fleece hoodie I bought at GAP, there’s a good chance I won’t be able to move my arms to do pretty much anything. Like grab the phone to call for help. Or, eat a bowl of warm soup. Or, even effectively pick my nose. I would be like the crying little brother in The Christmas Story that flails around in an immovable snowsuit. It wouldn’t be pretty.

So, when my heater went out, I quickly thought, “FUCK, this isn’t going to go well for me.” I immediately messaged the HVAC repair man and he said he’d try to make it out in the next couple of days. Then, I quickly consulted my weather app while I still had enough warmth left in my fingers to operate my iPhone. It said that we were in for a stretch of below-normal temperatures— lows around 34°. I felt my weak little muscles shrivel at the numbers— just as an insecure man’s penis shrivels up in the presence of a confident and capable woman. (I could easily make a reference to Donald Trump at this point. But, I won’t.)

Anyway, I can hear non-California residents guffawing at this forecast. And, before you claim that even hairless kittens can survive that kind of cold, I’m going to tell you that I really don’t care. IT’S STILL COLD!

At that moment, it became a race against the clock— to see how much I could get done before the temperature inside my house dipped too far down. To the Point-At-Which-Elizabette-Can’t-Move-Her-Arms-Anymore. Also known as its scientific acronym, PAWECMHAA. If you are curious, this measure is roughly around 56° Fahrenheit. So, in a whizzing flurry, I dashed around my house doing all the things that I had been procrastinating from doing for a while. I balanced my checkbook, updated my Christmas card list, wrote some emails, and then plucked a few stray hairs from my chin. I was more productive in those few hours than I had been in days.

But, eventually… as the day progressed, the PAWECMHAA was reached.

I pulled out my rechargeable hand warmer and held it in my palms like a fragile premature infant. It was wonderful. I praised it. Cooed at it adoringly. It was a cozy bubble of warm bliss.

However, I quickly discovered that it only worked for about 1.5 hours on one charge.

As the heat faded from my palms, I cursed the cradled device, “This baby is a piece of shit. Argh!

So, I had to come up with a new plan. Drinking tea helps me think, so I had some. And while my hands were cupping the warm mug, I had a thought.

I would get the largest coffee mug in the cabinet and fill it with water. Then, it could be microwaved for two minutes until the water grew super hot. Due to the magical properties of water to retain heat (yay, science!), I could use it like my rechargeable hand warmer. But, it would only take two minutes to rewarm the water— a major plus when dealing with extended PAWECMHAA temperatures.

I started by holding the outside of the cup… then, as the water slightly cooled, I began dipping my fingers inside the water. The plan worked brilliantly.

The next day, as the temperatures continued to dip, my morale grew low. And as I sat in my kitchen dipping my fingers into my giant pumpkin mug of hot water, I had a dramatic realization. I would never survive in a cold climate. Never. In fact, if I had been a member of the Donner Party that attempted to cross the snowy Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1846, I would have been the first one dead. Without question.

And then they would have eaten me.

To be frank, they wouldn’t have even had to wait until I was dead, because once PAWECMHAA was reached, I couldn’t put up much of a fight, anyway.

So, it was in this state that the HVAC repair man, Ricky, soon found me: bundled in a knitted blanket, dipping my fingers in a mug of hot water and muttering about nineteenth-century cannibalism.

It was a good thing he came when he did.

Within an hour, or so, Ricky had located the issue, and got the heater running again. As I heard the whoosh of hot air burst from the vents, I felt a tear of joy on my cold and numb cheek.

And, after a short while, the thermostat climbed beyond the PAWECMHAA. I said a prayer of thanks.

I would not be on the menu tonight.

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The World’s Slowest Confetti-Maker

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Tearing a folded piece of paper is not something that most people put much thought into. In fact, folks probably do it all the time without thinking of the physical effort that such a motion takes. Especially if it’s thick computer paper— the fancy kind that you can only buy at an office store. The tangible, professional-grade that big banks, mega-corporations and white-collar criminals use right before fucking over a bunch of middle-class homeowners. Or stealing the identities of poor old people that don’t know that Windows isn’t just something that you cover with drapes.

For those of us with SMA, tearing a folded piece of paper may actually be hard… if not impossible. Prior to beginning my Spinraza treatments, it was a task that I had not been able to do in a very long time. Not even the thinner type of paper that you buy at the dollar store. The kind they sell next to the cheap neon highlighters that smell like meth.

But, this ability is tested during the very-important PT assessments that measure my progress with Spinraza. While it seems an odd thing to test, it’s actually a good measure of hand strength and changes in grip. I’ve had two assessments so far, and I could not complete this particular task on either try— which royally pissed me off. As I’ve demonstrated before, I’m not the kind of person that does well with failure. If there’s an exam, I had better get an A. And if I don’t, I will not be happy about it and I will work myself into a damn tizzy to score better the next time. If you know me at all, you’ll understand that this is not an exaggeration. In fact, you’ve probably also worried that at some point I’m going to give myself an ulcer.

Next month, I will undergo another full PT assessment, which means that I will be confronted with that piece of paper. And, I really don’t want to fail that task once again. I don’t want to be a sad loser like the Mets or Hillary Clinton. So, yesterday, I began to practice this task. Fiendishly. Surprisingly, after about seven minutes, I achieved victory. I tore that damned piece of paper in half. And then, about twelve minutes later, I did it again. I was so happy that it didn’t seem to matter that I was sweating through my Secret Powder Fresh deodorant.

Today, in the time it took to watch two episodes of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, I tore a piece of paper FIVE FUCKING TIMES. If you don’t believe me, here’s a picture of the paper:

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If you’re wondering how long it actually took me in real-time (not Netflix-time), it was about 30 minutes. So, roughly six minutes per tear in the paper. Although, I did two of the tears in less than 30 seconds— which, interestingly enough, is the same duration of President Trump’s attention-span.

I’ve got several more weeks to prepare for my next assessment, so wish me luck. Maybe, if I keep at it, I will no longer be the world’s slowest confetti-maker.

A girl can dream…

The Great American Taco Challenge, Part Dos

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It is no secret that I adore tacos more than most foods on this earth. I have definitive opinions about them and I’ve eaten them in various cities and places. And, while I might be biased, I firmly believe that in Patterson, we’ve got some of the best tacos— anywhere. In fact, I’d be willing to stack our hometown tacos against any big city taco joints. I don’t care how fancy or hipster those other places may be.

This is why, five years ago, my high school friends and I conducted The Great American Taco Challenge by sampling some local taco spots. The results were published in my column in The Patterson Irrigator. Never before had tacos been examined with such scrutiny and, frankly, love. In fact, each time we’ve seen each other since, my friends and I talk about that day and how much carne asada we managed to consume. It was glorious.

So, this last Saturday, we decided to do it again. Given the large number of taco joints in Patterson and the fact that our stomachs can only hold so many corn tortillas, we had to limit our sampling to just six— Taqueira Zamora, Morelia’s, Taqueira Barajas, El Paisa, El Portal, and Ernie’s Taqueira. Believe me, if we could have eaten from more places, we would have. But, my cardiologist said no.

We sampled them blindly— meaning we wrote the names under the plates, mixed them up, and didn’t reveal the origins until after the tasting and scoring was complete. We judged the tacos on flavor, spice, texture, tortilla quality, and even presentation (yes, we watch The Food Network!).

I’d like to tell you that this was an easy process. But, this time it was much harder to judge the tacos than it was five years ago. The taco scene in Patterson is truly at a high level. As we sat around my dining room table, a slight sheen of sweat tickled our brows. And it wasn’t just because the tacos were spicy. It was because selecting the winner was nearly impossible.

In fact, it got to the point where we felt like parents being forced to choose a favorite child. Everyone knows this is a painful and treacherous thing to do. Unless you are Donald Trump, of course. Because, then, it’s Ivanka.

We nearly abandoned the whole enterprise because the margin between each taco score was so slim. Mere decimals separated them, and we even tried computing the results in different ways to make sure we were correct. But, this had a Vladimir-Putin-Election-Rigging feeling to it, so we stopped.

In a straight average, El Portal’s “juicy” taco edged out a win over Taqueira Zamora’s “meaty and smoky” taco by a minuscule 0.37. An even smaller margin separated the other establishments— which were huddled evenly together in the rankings. It was like a photo finish in the Olympics— where you can’t tell if the guy from Barbados, Ghana, Jamaica or Cleveland had his toe over the line first.

In fact, each sampling had something of note about it. Ernie’s Taqueira took the award for “spiciest taco,” while El Paisa had the “best corn tortilla.” Morelia’s included some of their amazing homemade chips in the order, which was like getting a surprise from Santa Claus. And, lastly, the presentation of the plate from Taqueira Barajas was so beautiful that it should have been featured in a food magazine. Seriously, it was so pretty. Those hipsters can just kiss our ass.

To be honest, it was a great day to be eating tacos in Patterson. And these were just a small sampling of what this town has to offer. I do apologize if we didn’t make it over to your particular taco establishment, though. This doesn’t mean that we don’t like your tacos, only that my arteries can only handle so many at one time.

My cardiologist thanks you for your forgiveness.

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A Cure for Cold Feet

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It’s been a little over a month since my 5th injection (first maintenance dose) of Spinraza. As I was getting over a respiratory virus at the time of the injection, it took a little longer to feel the effects of this latest dose. But, about 10 days ago, I felt a little zing… the burst of feeling when my three SMN2 genes decide to be mini versions of The Hulk— turning from nerdy Mark Ruffalo into a green, CGI shirtless monster.

The muscles in my arms and torso were more responsive and almost… tingly. I often feel the same way if I drink too much red wine— only this time I didn’t have a purple-stained mouth as a memento.

I noticed new abilities. In the winter months, my feet and legs are always cold. So, when I get into bed at night, I have to use a heating pad to warm them up. To stop a person from scalding themselves or setting their bed on fire, my particular heating pad as an “auto-off” feature that activates after about 45 minutes. This is exceedingly annoying. While I’m appreciative of the consideration for my safety, it takes me longer than 45 minutes to warm up. So, I have to press the button on the cord to turn the heating pad back on again.

The past few years, I’ve had a hard time reaching the cord and pressing the button. But, last week, I noticed that I was able to grab the cord more easily, and to press the button more firmly. My icy toes were super stoked by this development.

I also grew hungry again — similar to what I felt at the beginning of my Spinraza journey. I wanted to eat. And I specifically wanted protein. Meat, beans, yogurt, eggs— and oh-so-much peanut butter. I would have slathered peanut butter on a steak if my inner foodie hadn’t cried out in horror, “You aren’t a kookie pregnant sidekick in a romantic comedy! No one wants to see you put Skippy on a filet mignon!

This burst of energy coincided with the arrival of the Winter Olympics. If you know me at all, you’d know that I’m a die-hard fan of the Olympics. It doesn’t matter if it’s the summer or the winter games, I love it all. I watch it ALL DAY. And this isn’t hyperbole. From dawn until dusk, that’s what I do. My life practically stops. I’m like Donald Trump with his Twitter account. Nothing else of any importance happens in my life.

So, this week, I’ve been glued to the TV. I’m not sure if it’s because of the endless hours staring at the LCD screen while listening to the Olympic music, or all the extra protein grams floating around in my body, but I’ve started having delusional thoughts.

What is wrong with that figure skater? Landing a quad jump can’t be that hard.

Every Norwegian baby comes out of their mother’s uterus wearing tiny skis.

I bet with just two or three more years of Spinraza, I could totally do Olympic Curling.

Now, this doesn’t make any sense. And it has no basis in reality. But, this doesn’t mean that I didn’t think it.

Perhaps it’s a good thing that the Olympics only come around every couple of years. These delusions aren’t good for me. Frankly, if they continue much longer, I might become convinced of something truly crazy. You know, like that North Korea is a magical place where a man named Kim Jong Un gives hot fudge sundaes to everyone that comes to visit.

Unfortunately (but, secretly, amazingly!), my friend Joahn sent me this Olympic scarf two days ago in the mail— which has only fueled my obsession. I wear it around the house while I watch the Olympics and eat hummus. If you look close enough, you might see crumbs on it.

I think I’m a lost cause.

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