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It has been the usual summer in the Washington, DC area with high heat and high humidity followed by storms that temporarily blast the humidity away and make things pleasant outside until the high heat and high humidity reasserts its dominance over the area. The one consequence of this weather has been a few white mushrooms growing in the grass.

#mushrooms grow after heavy rainstorms.

#mushrooms grow after heavy rainstorms.

#mushrooms grow after heavy rainstorms.

Not too long ago I saw this vintage yellow vintage Volkswagen bus parked in a parking lot. I can remember when my late aunt and uncle owned a Volkswagen bus for a few years which they used to drive to my parents’ home when I was a kid. (My aunt and uncle had four daughters, which was why they even owned the Volkswagen bus in the first place.) It has literally been years since I’ve seen a Volkswagen bus anywhere on the streets so it was a bit of a surprise to see a yellow bus with a large peace sign in the front.

Vintage Volkswagen Bus

I’ve learned via Facebook that one of my cousin’s dogs have just passed away. His name was Gonzo and he was 15 years old. I have a few photos of that dog that I took when I visited my cousin’s home on Thanksgiving Day back in 2013. It was a time when I had purchased my current smartphone the day before (a Droid Ultra) because my previous smartphone had literally died. (In a weird irony, that smartphone totally died a day or two after I received a flyer from Verizon saying that I now qualify for a new smartphone. So I ended up purchasing a smartphone the day before Thanksgiving.) I was playing with the camera feature when I took pictures of my cousin’s pets, including Gonzo.

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Gonzo was an all-black furry dog and he could be hard to photograph at times. Here’s another shot of Gonzo with the other dog, Lucy.

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When I took those two photos back in 2013 my cousin had two dogs and two cats. Since then one of the cats, Cookie, has died and now Gonzo is dead. So my cousin is now down to one dog and one cat.

It’s very appropriate that I did a certain action today just a few hours before the start of the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Today I did something that I once considered unthinkable and it’s also the sort of thing that will shock some members of my family when they learn this: I have joined the #DEMEXIT movement by changing my voter registration from Democrat to Independent. This is the first time I have ever changed my party affiliation in my life and I’m now glad I did it. In a way I felt I had to after seeing the horrible shenanigans on the part of the Democratic National Convention and Hillary Clinton that had been going on for many months and it came to a crescendo in Philadelphia just a few months ago.

I have followed in the footsteps of other longtime Democrats by quitting the party entirely such as this person and that person.

In some ways it’s sad that it has come to this for me. When I was 18 my high school held a special assembly that was only for students who were either already 18 or who will turn 18 before Election Day that November. The assembly was led by two women who were from the local elections board and they were there to register us as new voters. We were given voter registration forms that we could fill out then return to the two women. I registered my name and address. When it came time to check party affiliation, I chose the Democrat Party. It was a no-brainer for me. I lived in a heavily Democratic state (Maryland) and I come from a long line of mostly Democrats, especially on my mother’s side of the family.

In fact I had a distant cousin named Harry Banahan, Sr., who was devoted to Democratic politics. I don’t remember whether my Grandfather Banahan was also Harry’s uncle or cousin but Harry was definitely my cousin on my mother’s side of the family. Grandfather Banahan died a few years before I was born and I was never in contact with the other members of his family when I was growing up. (For some reason that have become lost in time since most of the people directly involved are now deceased, the members of my grandfather’s family decided to cease most contact with my grandmother after my grandfather died.) I didn’t meet Harry until after I was an adult and I only saw him in person twice—once when my Grandmother Banahan died and once when my aunt (my mother’s older sister) died a few years later. Both times were little more than a brief meeting at the funeral and I had never gotten into any in-depth conversations with him. (He was a few decades older than me. I remember he socialized mostly with my mother and other people who were either her age or older.) We never called each other or exchanged letters or anything like that. To me he was just a distant relative whom I only met twice in my life but had no other contact with him.

Harry Banahan, Sr. died back in February at the ripe old age of 98. I only learned this because one of my other cousins said that she had found his obituary in The Baltimore Sun. (For the record I didn’t go to his funeral because I didn’t know about his death until a couple of months after he was laid to rest.) Reading his obituary online, it was no mystery as to why he was a loyal Democrat his entire life. At 16 he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was one of the many New Deal programs that Franklin D. Roosevelt created to help those who were burdened by the Great Depression. He left the CCC to serve a machinist apprenticeship at the B&O Railroad’s Mount Clare Shop but later returned to the CCC when he was furloughed. He was called back to the railroad but he later went on to serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. After the war he owned and operated a couple of sporting goods stores and he also was a purchasing director at the Baltimore Civic Center (now known as the Royal Farms Arena).

According to family lore (which I haven’t been able to independently verify) he ran as a candidate for the Baltimore City Council a few times in the 1950’s but he lost every election he ever ran in. He most likely ran as a Democrat because Baltimore was—and still is—heavily dominated in local politics by the Democratic establishment. Despite those defeats, he still kept tabs on local politics. His obituary mentioned that William Donald Schaefer (who was both former Baltimore Mayor and former Maryland Governor) was a friend. Harry Banahan was mentioned in this 2007 Baltimore Sun article where, at the ripe age of 90, he spoke with then-Governor Martin O’Malley about how he strongly supported the erection of a statue dedicated to Schaefer. Cousin Harry was probably thrilled when he got his wish because one can now find William Donald Schaefer’s statue in Baltimore at the Inner Harbor between Harborplace and the Maryland Science Center (both of which were built and opened during his days as Mayor).

It’s easy to understand why Harry Banahan was loyal to the Democrat Party his entire life. He benefitted directly from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program at a time when he needed the work. Thanks to that start from the CCC, he eventually became a successful businessman while supporting his wife and children with no help from anyone else. He was even able to spend the last years of his long life with complete dignity. There’s a charming story on the Little Sisters of the Poor St. Martin’s Baltimore website about how, at the age of 95, he was crowned the King of Valentine’s Day. Harry’s wife had passed away by then so an older woman was selected to be his Queen: 101-year-old Florence Curtis.

While Harry Banahan, Sr. was personally and professionally well-served by the Democrat Party throughout his life, unfortunately I can’t say the same for myself. Despite my own lifelong loyalty to the Democrat Party, that party hadn’t done much to benefit me personally. In fact that party seemed to have gone out of its way to alienate me. It started when I was a student at the University of Maryland. I was a Journalism major while minoring in Government and Politics. I was looking for a potential summer internship when I saw a notice through the College of Journalism where the Democratic National Committee (DNC) was looking to hire a few interns for the summer. I thought it would be the perfect opportunity. I was a registered Democrat and that internship would have tapped into both my major and my minor so I applied.

I received a callback where they wanted to talk to me and we were trying to set up an appointment where I would meet with someone for a face to face interview. I was trying to schedule a time where it wouldn’t conflict with classes, especially if there was an important exam being held that day. While we were trying to figure out an appointment time that would work for the both of us, the woman I spoke with suddenly blurted out, “You don’t really want this internship, do you?” That was totally out of the blue because I don’t recall giving any kind of vibes of not being interested. (Hell, if I wasn’t interested, I would never have applied in the first place.) I protested that I really did want that internship. We finally settled on a date and time. But then the DNC called either a few hours later or a few days later (I don’t remember which) and found that, for some reason I don’t remember, we had to reschedule my interview. Again while we were trying to figure out schedules I got the same “You don’t really want this internship, do you?” question over the phone. I felt like I was being discouraged from even trying to get this internship, which made me more insistent that I get an interview for this internship just so I could show those people that I could do the work.

I managed to get an appointment that worked for everyone concerned. On that day I used public transportation (I didn’t have a car at the time) to go to the DNC’s offices in downtown DC and did a few interviews with the various departments that were looking for interns but I didn’t get an internship. But I still remember that “You don’t really want this internship, do you?” sudden jab all those years later and I especially started to remember it even more in recent months given how I’ve seen the DNC behaved. I’m at the point where the DNC thinks of rank and file members like me as riffraff who don’t really matter because we aren’t the 1% with incredibly deep financial pockets and I really don’t want to belong to an organization who doesn’t really want me around. This recent link I found has a headline that says it all about the current Democrat Party’s attitudes about its own members who aren’t powerful and wealthy: Liberal Elites Hate the Left.

Despite that early disappointment regarding not getting that internship at the DNC, I still remained a loyal Democrat for many years. As time went on I discovered that my relationship with the Democratic Party was becoming more and more one-sided. It was like a woman who falls in love with a conceited yet charismatic man who frequently ignores her while screwing around with several other women at the same time (and he might even be already married to someone else). Yet when he says a few kind words to her (and maybe even give her a single red rose) that are little more than throwing a bone, she starts to hang on those words while thinking “He likes me! He really, really likes me!” She continues to remain loyal to that cad while he continues to screw around behind her back. I never wanted to be in that situation in my private life so why should I expect similar treatment in from my affiliated political party?

Ever since Jimmy Carter lost the 1980 elections to Ronald Reagan I’ve seen the Democrat Party shoot itself in the foot over and over again.

In 1984 Ronald Reagan was running for re-election while running those now-classic “It’s Morning in America” ads, which definitely resonated with a lot of people. Gary Hart had thrown his hat in the race in the Democratic primary yet the establishment wanted former Vice President Walter Mondale to be the nominee. Gary Hart won the first few primaries, which would echo Bernie Sanders’ primary wins a few decades later, and I remember those victories freaked out the establishment in the DNC who really wanted Mondale. I started seeing results in later primaries where, in a close race, the DNC enabled Walter Mondale would get the lion’s share of the delegates even though the popular vote was tied. Despite the DNC’s love for Walter Mondale, I remember seeing footage of the two on the campaign trail and, to be blunt, Gary Hart performed way better than Mondale. And he had the charisma that matched Regan’s and, well, Mondale just didn’t resonate with a lot of people despite the DNC’s insistence that Mondale be its nominee. While I can’t say for sure whether Gary Hart would’ve defeated Ronald Reagan in 1984, I’d like to believe that he would’ve come much closer to Reagan than Mondale’s dismal results on Election Day.

In 1988, when Reagan was constitutionally prohibited from seeking a third presidential term and Gary Hart decided to try running for president as a Democrat again, the DNC decided that Michael Dukakis was the man who would beat Reagan’s vice president, George H.W. Bush. This time Gary Hart’s campaign was done in by a scandal of his own making (remember the ship Monkey Business?) so the DNC got its way again by having Dukakis as its candidate. I remember Dukakis was just as timid on the campaign trail as Mondale was. Whenever Bush or any other Republican tried to pin the dreaded “L” word (liberal) he would go to great lengths to avoid discussing being a liberal. Then there was that idiotic photo he did of himself in a tank while wearing military gear, which earned him total ridicule nationwide. I remember reading in The Washington Post about two or three days before the election where Michael Dukakis said that, yes, he’s a liberal in the tradition of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman. It was a lovely rebuttal that would’ve been awesome had he uttered it months earlier. Sadly that rebuttal was too little, too late and George H.W. Bush became the next president.

In 2000 Bill Clinton’s Vice President, Al Gore, ran against George W. Bush, the son of President George H.W. Bush. It was also the year that Ralph Nader received a lot of attention because he decided to run for office on the Green Party ticket. For years I’ve heard loyal Democrats blame Nader for splitting the Democratic vote and ensuring the reality of a President George W. Bush. At one point I believed this. Recently there have been web pages debunking the idea that Nader was the spoiler in that election, such as this one. And there are my memories of Gore as a campaigner. I remember he came across as stiff and cautious on the campaign trail. He seemed like he was literally afraid of taking any kind of risks. I remember when I watched An Inconvenient Truth a number of years later and I saw a different Al Gore who was arguing passionately on why the U.S. needs to focus on climate change right now before it’s too late. It was too bad that Al Gore didn’t show that passionate side of him when he was on the campaign trail because he probably would’ve ended up in the White House by a more decisive margin that wouldn’t needed the intervention of the Supreme Court.

In 2004 John Kerry ran against incumbent George W. Bush but he ran a totally lackluster campaign. I remember when the Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth challenged John Kerry on his Vietnam War record and John Kerry didn’t even respond at all. In fact I remember when he seemed to make himself scarce after the Democratic Convention and there were no calls for volunteers to help on his campaign. He did perform brilliantly in the debates against George W. Bush but that was about it. It was no wonder he lost that year.

Even when the Democrats win the White House they turned out to be disappointing. In 1992 the economy was going through a recession and the Democrats had a chance to regain the White House for the first time since 1980. Bill Clinton was elected president and he proceeded to act so cautiously to the point where he supported the Defense of Marriage Act (which was a big “FUCK YOU!” to LGBTQ persons who wanted the legal right to marry their partners) and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (which was also a big “FUCK YOU!” to LGBTQ people who wanted to serve their country in the military). He championed NAFTA by calling it the best thing for American jobs when, in reality, it hastened the corporations sending well paying jobs outside the U.S. because they could pay impoverished Mexicans less money while not being required to care about such things as occupational safety. Despite his cautious nature, his siding with corporations who wanted to ship American jobs overseas, and willingness to constantly appease the Republicans (especially those who really loathed him and were out to get him) I voted for him again in 1996 because I fell into the whole “we must unite to re-elect Clinton because Bob Dole is far worse and he’ll outlaw legal abortion and destroy the country if Clinton is defeated” argument and, besides, I was still a loyal Democrat at this point. I even remained a loyal Democrat when Bill Clinton was impeached during his second term because he lied about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. (It says it all when the Republicans have been trying to find something on the scandal-prone Clintons that could hold up in a legal setting—ranging from Whitewater to the Rose Law Firm—and the only thing they could make stick is that Clinton lied under oath about getting blowjobs from Monica Lewinsky. And even that didn’t last long since Clinton ultimately prevailed and he stayed in his President job until his second term ended.)

In 2008 I chose Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in the primaries because he was promising hope and change. Given the economic crisis when Wall Street literally tanked the economy I felt that a latter-day Franklin Delano Roosevelt is what this country needed and Obama talked like he was FDR reincarnated. I didn’t even care about the color of his skin—he could’ve had blue or purple skin and I still would’ve voted for him because I loved what he was saying at the time. But once he was elected he started putting in Wall Street types like Tim Geithner in prominent positions in his administration. Even his primary rival, Hillary Clinton, was given the position of Secretary of State. I’ve written in the past about how let down I felt about President Obama (especially when he did this compromise with the Republicans where the wages of federal employees like my ex-husband has been frozen for the last few years just so he could prove that, yes, he’s not a stereotypical “tax and spend liberal”). Despite my disappointment I voted for him again in 2012 mainly because the Republicans had put Mitt Romney as its candidate and this is the guy who loved to say stuff like “I like being able to fire people.” Plus I heard the message from Democrats saying that “we need to vote blue, no matter who, because the alternative is worse” and I believed it enough to help reelect President Obama. But it turned out to be all for naught because it ended up being the same old thing as before. At that point I declared myself as being through with supporting President Obama.

Over the years I didn’t just vote Democrat. When I was married my husband and I used to donate to Democrats running in various races, especially on the state and local level. (I haven’t made a financial donation to any political candidate or campaign mainly because of tight finances stemming from my divorce.) I even did some volunteer work on a few campaigns for Democratic candidates (most recently for Bernie Sanders during this year’s primary). But, in the end, the Democrats only did a few token things that I approved of (such as keeping abortion and birth control legal) while not doing much to help average people getting back on their feet, especially after the 2008 economic collapse.

Things really came to a head this year with the primaries and I finally came to my senses and decided that enough is enough. I decided to support Bernie Sanders because he was someone who had long fought for the underdog in the Senate and he felt that this country needed an ambitious program similar to FDR’s New Deal as a way of revitalizing America one again. He was also determined to run a clean campaign by refusing to accept large donations. Instead he encouraged average people to donate small amounts of money and he managed to raise enough money to be able to take on Hillary Clinton and her benefactors (mainly Wall Street). He remained strong throughout the primaries and he even won several states. But then Hillary Clinton’s campaign did some shenanigans that have really lowered my opinion of her even more than previously.

First there were the reports that the Clinton campaign had hired Internet trolls who went around to various social media sites, write multiple posts praising Clinton while trying to start fights with Bernie Sanders supporters. But starting online social media fights weren’t enough. These people tried to shut down pro-Bernie Sanders Facebook groups and one troll was accused of posting child pornography in some of those groups then report those same groups to Facebook for having child pornography that he posted online.

One result of these professional Internet trolls is that I no longer take any pro-Hillary posts seriously on social media because I have no way of knowing whether he/she is really a genuine Hillary Clinton supporter or if that person is really a professional troll who was hired by the campaign to post favorable stuff while bashing Bernie Sanders. I tend to ignore whatever argument that supporter makes regarding how favorable Hillary Clinton is because there’s always the possibility that this person is just a paid plant who really doesn’t really believe what he/she posts. The downside is that real Hillary Clinton supporters (the ones who really believe in her candidacy and who aren’t being paid by her campaign) are now unfairly lumped in with the paid trolls and their arguments get dismissed by myself and many other people as well. I know it’s not fair to the true believers but that’s on the campaign for hiring these professional trolls in the first place instead of cultivating voters to their campaign and electrifying them in a way that Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have done.

But the one thing that has made me resolve to never vote for her is that Hillary Clinton has her own election scandal. There have been reports of frequent voter fraud in favor of Hillary Clinton in places like IllinoisMassachusettsKentuckyArizonaNew YorkCalifornia, and Nevada. In addition a hacker known as Guccifer2 has been hacking into the DNC’s servers while providing plenty of data dumps on how tight Hillary Clinton is with the DNC and the mainstream media. Then there is the recent Wikileaks release (which happened just days before the start of the Democratic Convention) of some previously confidential emails from the DNC that pretty much proves that the primary elections were rigged in favor of Hillary Clinton from the very beginning at the expense of other candidates (especially Bernie Sanders).

As a woman I would love to see a woman occupy the Oval Office in my lifetime. But just having breasts and a vagina isn’t enough for me. The woman who deserves to be known as the first woman president would have to represent the vested interests of the 99% instead of the 1% and, based on that alone, Hillary Clinton is ill-suited for such a historic first given her close Wall Street ties while showing little interest in any kind of reforms (such as reinstating the Glass-Steagal Act that was originally passed during the Great Depression in order to regulate the financial industry and was repealed during her husband’s administration). If she does get elected she will have way too much baggage to be an effective leader, as this next link puts it:

A Hillary Clinton presidency, then, would face a national majority of citizens in open rebellion. Either intuitively or consciously they are incensed with the dominance of corporate political power. This is the template of governance Ms. Clinton helped create, the one in which she is historically and demonstrably comfortable, and the one which finances her campaigns for elected office.  Wed to those donors, and locked into this mindset of the New Democratic Party, her presidency could not and would not alter significantly the status quo. Proudly she claims as much: “Let’s not start from scratch,” she says.  Corporate dominance would remain unchallenged, the rebellion ignored.

Rebellion scorned will escalate; first to spirited demonstrations we have already seen, conceivably to violence.  Only substantive reform can accommodate it.

Reform is neither difficult nor unprecedented.  Our history displays a number of means of subordinating corporate interests to the welfare of the American people. More than a century ago—in the “Gilded Age”—the nation faced a similar crisis and dealt with it successfully.  And a century before that, effective mechanisms were in place to restrain corporate dominion, even though the threat of it was already visible.

If all that isn’t enough, Hillary (and her husband, Bill, for that matter) just can’t avoid getting involved in some scandal. Starting with Bill Clinton’s days as Arkansas Governor, there has been one scandal after another that resulted in investigations of the sort that would have ended other people’s political careers a long time ago. The Clintons seem to be the type of people who just can’t avoid getting into trouble. Sure sexism (involving Hillary’s gender) and classism (regarding Bill growing up in a poor family) may have something to do with it but crying sexism and classism can only get you very far before people conclude that you’re crying “Wolf!” way too many times. And then there is the one common denominator to all of these scandals: a Clinton was involved (either Bill or Hillary or both).

If Hillary Clinton was the only Democrat who had issues, it would be bad enough. But it seems like the entire Democrat Party is out of step with its traditional supporters (workers). A few weeks before the convention in Philadelphia the party decided against adding a platform that would’ve opposed the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, a multi-nation trade agreement that was negotiated completely in secret and it would not only have a negative impact on workers but it could also affect the environment as well as national sovereignty. (The TPP has been derided as “NAFTA on steroids.”)

The biggest irony is that had ex-Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, both Bill and Hillary Clinton, and other neoliberals had been dominant in the Democrat Party back when my cousin Harry Banahan was 16, there would have been no CCC or any other New Deal program available for him and it’s most likely that he would have lived the bulk of his life in poverty instead of the long and fruitful life he actually lived. It’s also possible that he would not have lived as long as he did since poor people generally tend to have less access to things like healthy food and medical care. And I seriously doubt that he would’ve been as loyal to the Democrats as he actually was.

Right now I’m registered as an Independent. I might have converted to the Republican Party had they not gone off the deep end years ago by catering to fundamentalist Christian extremists, white Southern men who pine for a return of the Confederate States of America, and devotees of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. The Republican downward spiral started with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and I think it may be on the verge of hitting rock bottom. The fact that a total buffoon like Donald Trump became the official nominee on the Republican Party while channeling both Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini by saying all kinds of outrageous hateful stuff against everyone except heterosexual white Christian men with no disabilities says it all about the GOP these days and I don’t want to have anything to do with them. (The only good thing I can say about the Republican National Committee is that at least they provided equal resources to all 17 candidates who ran under their banner and there were no reports of election rigging to favor one candidate. In other words, Donald Trump got his nomination the old fashioned way—he earned them in totally fair and clean primaries.)

Even though I will probably vote for Jill Stein on the Green party ticket because I agree with nearly everything on the Green party platform, I decided against registering as a Green. That’s because I had a brief encounter with them back in the 1980’s when I was still in college and they were then-known in the U.S. as the Citizens Party and I soon became unimpressed because they had organizational problems back then. Basically they would field a candidate for the presidential elections then you wouldn’t hear from then until the next elections. While some of the organizers talked about needing to field candidates on the state and local levels in order to build a genuine grassroots movement from the ground up, they frequently didn’t follow through. Had they done so starting in 1984 (when they fielded excommunicated Mormon and feminist Sonia Johnson as their presidential candidate), they probably would be a real force to be reckoned with today instead of a being a marginal party that is rarely taken seriously by many people.

I know my friends on Facebook are begging people to not vote for a third party candidate because of the threat of a potential fascist Donald Trump Administration. If it weren’t for the fact that I’m now 99% convinced that those rumors of Trump running a fake campaign to both destroy the Republican Party and elect Hillary Clinton to the White House are actually true, I might have held my nose and voted for Clinton in an effort to thwart a modern day Hitler or Mussolini. But those back and forth exchanges between Trump and Clinton seemed so forced and scripted that I’ve seen the children in my church act more convincingly in special plays that are held during the annual Religious Exploration Sunday service each spring. That’s why I’m convinced that this year’s race is totally fake. Sadly this is something that some mainstream media outlet could’ve uncovered a la Watergate in the 1970’s if it weren’t for the fact that much of the mainstream media is dominated by just five or six corporations—with nearly all of them making donations to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

In any case I refuse to take part in a fake campaign by voting for either Trump or Clinton and I am looking forward to voting for my first woman for president—Jill Stein. I will also vote for the people running for lower offices as long as they are people whom I respect, regardless of whether they are Democrats, Republicans, or some other party. To me a vote for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton would be rewarding them for unethical behavior that is probably illegal as well and I refuse to do it. My friends can beg me or cajole me either on social media or real life but I’m not going to budge on this. If I end up losing friends over this, so be it. I’d rather follow my conscience and be at peace with my decision than to give in to peer pressure and do something I’ll end up regretting years later.

I’m sure my late cousin and loyal Democrat Harry Banahan would’ve been disappointed to hear that a member of his extended family had left the party. But I’d like to believe that he would’ve understood had I spoken to him about how I feel that today’s Democrat Party is not the same Democrat Party as the one that gave Harry a job in the CCC when he was 16 and I had been getting increasingly alienated from my own party because of it. In some ways, I feel like the Democrat Party had left average people like me a long time ago and I doubt that they’ll miss me at all.

I was a Girl Scout when I was a child. The official handbook for Junior Girl Scouts (which is the level I was at when this story began) had a list of badges that each Junior Girl Scout could earn. I saw one badge that intrigued me. It was called “My Camera” and it dealt with photography.

Up to that point I hadn’t taken any photographs but I was the subject of a lot of pictures that were taken by my relatives (mostly by my mother although my father took pictures from time to time as well). I looked at the requirements and they sounded interesting to me.

I convinced my parents that I wanted to pursue this badge so they bought me my first camera, which was a Kodak Pocket Instamatic. This camera used film cartridges that dropped into the back of the camera. If I wanted to take indoor pictures I had to put a little flash cube in the top slot.

Unlike digital photography where I can take a huge amount of photographs as long as I have adequate disk space, film photography was way more limited. The film cartridge for this camera came in either 12 exposure or 24 exposure with the latter being way more expensive. I remember my parents started me off with just 12 exposure, which is why I don’t have super extensive photos of any of the events I covered in order to get my Girl Scout badge.

Basically I took enough photos that I earned this badge, which I still have to this day.

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In order to earn the “My Camera” badge I had to photograph a couple of events and put them in a picture album. My parents bought me my first album that was titled “Brag Book” and had this pretty peacock design on the cover.

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I wrote my name in as neat cursive as I possibly could write along with 1972, the year I took all of these photos in this album.

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Now on to the photos themselves. The first event I shot for this album was for the birthday party of Diane, my youngest cousin on my mother’s side of the family who was celebrating her sixth birthday. The original caption of the next photo reads “First view of the house.” (There’s also a portion of my own thumb covering the camera lens on the right side of the picture, which is a dead giveaway that I was a photography newbie.)

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Caption of the next photograph: “The Birthday Girl Diane Lipp.”

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Caption of next photo: “Birthday Girl with the presents.”

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Original caption: “Opening the presents.” Diane’s older sister, Eileen, looks on while Diane opens her presents.

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Original caption: “Looking at the presents.” The blonde woman holding a book on the left is my mother while my cousin (and Diane’s oldest sister) Bernie looks at the pages. Diane is seated on the right with her back to me. Strangely my mother was the only adult I actually photographed at that birthday party despite the fact that my father, grandmother, and my aunt and uncle (Diane’s parents) were also present. (Of course I was dealing with the fact that, unlike today’s digital cameras, I had a limited amount of exposures I could make with film so I had to be very picky as to what pictures I would take.)

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Original caption: “The guests at the party.” This is a group photo of Diane and her sisters (my cousins). Diane is seated at the head of the table. Standing from left to right are Debbie, Bernie, and Eileen.

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Original caption: “The birthday cake.” My cousin Debbie’s back partially obscures the cake, which was a homemade chocolate frosted cake that had Diane’s name and the number 6 spelled out in M&M’s while a small train held the birthday candles.

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Original caption: “Blowing out the candles.”

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Original caption: “My cousin Debbie at the party.” And she’s sucking on a lemon as well.

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Original caption: “The cat with the party girls Bernie [located on the right], Debbie [holding the cat in her arms], Eileen [holding a doll on the left], and Diane [second from the left].”

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Original caption: “Pussy Cat behind a chair.” (Yes, my cousins actually named the family cat “Pussy Cat.”)

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The next few photos are of another event that also took place in the same home where my cousins grew up. Diane’s birthday is in January so, based on the clothes that the girls wore in the next few photos, I have to guess that these were taken sometime between May and August. The original caption of the next photo reads “Another view of the house.”

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Original caption: “Debbie holding Pussy Cat.”

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Original caption: “Debbie, Diane [holding the cat] and the cat named Pussy Cat.”

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Original caption: “Debbie [seated at the left holding Pussy Cat in her lap], Eileen [lying in the entrance to a tent that was erected in the backyard], and Diane at the tent.”

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I’m going to pause right here and provide one of those “Where are they now?” updates. Pussy Cat has crossed that Rainbow Bridge to wherever pets go in the afterlife a long time ago. My aunt and uncle (my cousins’ parents) are both dead. So are my father and grandmother. My mother is still alive while dealing with multiple sclerosis. As for my cousins, the birthday girl, Diane, now works for the Social Security Administration. She’s married with two sons, the younger of whom have just started his freshman year of college. Eileen is a schoolteacher. She’s married with a teenage stepson. She also has two grown sons from a previous marriage. Debbie works in security at NASA Kennedy Space Flight Center in Florida. She’s divorced and the mother of two grown daughters. Bernie is a physical therapist. She’s married with four children with the younger two still living at home and attending high school. (Her two older children have moved out on their own.)

The next few pictures are of a different event. Sue was a cousin on my father’s side of the family and I remember she was my father’s first cousin (which makes her my first cousin once-removed). We were invited to a party held at her house to celebrate the baptism of her first child, who was less than a month old at the time. (For some reason we were only invited to the party but not to the baptism itself. I suspect it’s because of the fact that my Protestant father was married to my Roman Catholic mother and I was being raised as a Catholic so there was some kind of organized religion bullshit going on. I’ll admit that I’m not much of a fan of organized religion and if it weren’t for the fact that I am currently a member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation that has no creed or dogma, I wouldn’t even bother with organized religion at all, but I digress.)

The original caption to the next photograph reads “First view of Sue’s house.”

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Original caption: “The guests at the baptism party.” Unfortunately I took a photo of everyone’s backs while they were getting food so I really can’t tell you who was who. But you can at least get a good look of some of the early 1970’s hairstyles and fashions.

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Original caption: “Grandmom at the table.” My late grandmother was my father’s mother and she’s the only relative whose photo I took whom I could identify. (Unfortunately I have no idea as to the identity of that girl who’s to the left of my grandmother.)

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Original caption: “The guests at the kitchen.” Unfortunately I can’t identify any of the people in that photograph (and the fact that the picture is a bit on the blurry side doesn’t help at all).

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My parents lost contact with my father’s cousin Sue after that baptism party so I have no idea whatever became of her (or if she’s even still alive now). Nor do I know whatever became of that baby whose baptism party we attended. My grandmother has since passed away.

The last pictures in this photo album are of the annual family week-long vacation in Ocean City, Maryland. This was an era when the beach was dotted with small cottage-like apartment buildings that had anywhere from 6-24 rooms in each building. Starting in the late 1970s developers began building these huge condominiums which obliterated the beachfront views of the smaller apartment buildings. In a lot of cases these older buildings were torn down in order to make room for these larger condos. The original caption in the next photo reads “Mom and Dad” and, yes, they are my parents.

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Original caption: “Last year’s apartment.” This shows the place where my family stayed on the previous year’s trip (in 1971).

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Original caption: “This year’s apartment.” You can get a sense as to what the architecture was like in Ocean City before all of these huge condos were built.

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Original caption: “Peir [sic] 78.” I think Pier 78 was the building in the background. I don’t remember why I decided to take that picture since I don’t recall my family ever staying in that building. I also don’t recognize the woman sitting on the blanket in the foreground either. (She was probably a stranger.)

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Original caption: “Cathy and Smiley.” I remember my parents got me a Smiley pillow for either my birthday or Christmas (both are just 10 days apart from each other) the previous year. This was at the height of the Smiley Face craze of the 1970’s when there were all kinds of products featuring the Smiley Face. I remember I brought that pillow with me to Ocean City. That trip to Ocean City was one of those years when we shared an apartment with my aunt, uncle, and four cousins (whose pictures I posted earlier in this post). A friend of my aunt’s (whose name I’ve since forgotten) was also staying in Ocean City with her family at the same time so she dropped by the apartment with her toddler daughter named Cathy. I remember Cathy took a liking to my Smiley pillow so much that she carried it around with her everywhere she walked in that apartment and I decided to take that picture. I think the girl in the background may be my cousin Eileen but I don’t know for sure because this photo is a bit on the blurry side and the colors have become faded with age.

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I never saw Cathy or her mother again after that photo so I don’t know what became of either of them. My father passed away in 2000. Like I wrote earlier, my mother is still alive and well despite having to deal with multiple sclerosis.

Here’s the back of the Brag Book. Note the name “Japan” printed in gold on the lover right hand corner. Japan was the nation that many companies frequently went to when they wanted to manufacture cheap goods at a fraction of the cost of manufacturing these same goods in the United States. Japan has since been overtaken by China, India, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and many other Third World countries as the place to go to manufacture goods as cheaply as possible so Japan is no longer synonymous with cheaply made imports.

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So now you know how I began as a photographer. Here’s another look at the “My Camera” badge, which I’m still proud of to this day because it ranks as my earliest accomplishments that I did because I wanted to, not because my parents/teachers/other adults told me that I had to do.

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I looked up the “My Camera” Girl Scout badge for Junior Girl Scouts online and I found that it has sine been replaced with one in Digital Photography including a completely redesigned badge. I suppose it was inevitable given the great strides in photography in the years since I started taking pictures with the Kodak Pocket Instamatic camera on film. At least today’s Girl Scouts still have the opportunity to earn a badge by trying their hand at photography, which is a good thing. I know that if it weren’t for the “My Camera” badge from a long time ago, I don’t know if I would have discovered how much I love photography and my life would’ve been way different (and so would the content of this blog).

I’m really loving my new Droid Ultra smartphone. I’ve been playing around with the camera and the pictures it takes are way better in quality than my old smartphone. Here’s are a few examples below.

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I was invited to spend Thanksgiving Day with my mother, three of my cousins, and their families. I decided to bring a cake I baked myself. I chose to purchase Duff cake mix because I was such a fan ofThe Ace of Cakes(which used to run on The Food Network for a few seasons). This particular cake mix creates a black and white zebra effect. The night before Thanksgiving I baked the cake while following the instruction on the back of the box. Here’s the result.

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I let the cake cool down overnight. The next morning I frosted the cake while I was watching the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television. I used Pillsbury Funfetti Pink Vanilla frosting that also came with multicolored sprinkles.

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Here is what the cake looked like after I finished frosting it.

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I was curious to see if the cake looked like a zebra but I had to wait until after I brought it to my cousin’s place and ate the traditional Thanksgiving turkey. We eventually got around to dessert and we sliced the cake (along with other desserts like pumpkin pie, lemon meringue pie, and apple pie). As the next two photos show, the zebra stripes turned out well plus the cake was very tasty. (Other people told me they liked my cake as well.)photo6

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I took a few other photos with my new smartphone during Thanksgiving Day yesterday. This next photo is not of my cousin’s house. Both this home and the Thanksgiving decorations belong to a neighbor who lives just a few houses away from my cousin, who later told me that this same house gets even more decorated for Christmas.

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The animal in the next picture is my cousin’s cat, Purdy. I was really impressed with the photo quality.photo9

This dog is Lucy. On special occasions my cousin’s husband likes to dye her hair in a variety of colors using food dye, which explains the blue and pink fur. You can also see Purdy’s head in the upper right corner of the photo.

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The dog in the next photo is Gonzo. His fur is never dyed because it is pure black.

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Gonzo and Lucy lie down together in the next photo.

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In addition to the three photographed pets, my cousin also has another cat named Cookie but he is a very shy pet so he remained hidden the entire time I was there so I don’t have a picture of him.

I really enjoyed myself yesterday. For the last several months I have been reeling from my husband’s sudden walkout and subsequent divorce and I’m still struggling emotionally. I really felt comfortable around my family and, for once, I wasn’t fretting over my personal troubles. I was also having fun playing with my new smartphone. I am thankful that I have a very supportive family and friends.

I enjoyed myself that I didn’t even feel tempted to check out the chain stores that were opened on Thanksgiving Day. I feel sorry for the workers who were forced to cut their Thanksgiving celebrations short because they had to work at the cash registers or provide security or perform other retail-related jobs.

I attended the Planned Parenthood fundraiser in Baltimore on June 17, 2011 when I briefly met the MC, Misty Barfly, at that event. I sought her out during one of her breaks because she mentioned onstage that she came from nearby Glen Burnie and I lived there myself from the time I was 5 until I left home to attend my sophomore year at the University of Maryland at College Park when I was 19. After I graduated from College Park, I moved back to Glen Burnie and I lived there for 10 months until I left home for good when I got married.

When I told Misty Barfly that I also came from Glen Burnie, she referred to it as a "hellhole" and I agreed with her sentiment. I grew up in the sourthernmost part of town (which bordered on Severn) and there was no bus service. If you wanted to go somewhere (like to a store or a library), you had to get in a car and drive at least 5 miles. It really sucked as a child because there was really no place within walking distance. It didn’t help that there were no playgrounds available until I was well into the upper grades in elementary school and even then you had to walk at least 15 minutes to get to the nearest one. My mother, who grew up in Baltimore City, said that she loved the idea of living in a place with no bus service (the nearest bus stop was 3 miles away) because she just didn’t want to deal with the kind of people she encountered in Baltimore and my neither of my parents didn’t really consider the impact living in a neighborhood with few recreation resources and no public transportation would have on kids like me. For many years our neighborhood had problems with vandalism (kids would place firecrackers in mailboxes or soap up a neighbor’s windows) because they had nothing else to do for entertainment. I saw kids who turned to drugs and alcohol because they had nothing better to do since everything was at least 3 miles away.

On top of that Glen Burnie was a town that was (and still is) full of shopping malls, shopping centers, and car dealerships. (In fact, Glen Burnie has been called "The Car Dealership Capital of Maryland" because there are so many car dealerships of all kinds—including an Oldmobile dealer that also sold a few Rolls Royces.)

And then there was my school days. I had problems with kids threatening to beat me up and calling me "mentally retarded" for reasons that even I cannot fathom. I grew up in a majority white area and I’m white myself. I’m living proof that if white kids can’t find minorities to harrass and beat up, they’ll get creative and turn to other white kids who are somehow "inferior" for whatever reason.

The high school I attended—Old Mill Senior High School—really sucked for me because that school placed a really high priority on its athletes at the expense of everything thing else—including academics. The principal used to get on the PA system and announce with pride whenever the football or basketball team did well but didn’t feel the same sort of pride for the latest accomplishments of—let’s say—the Chess Club. I still have memories of how the school administration reacted with shock when a guy who was a year ahead of me was accepted to Cornell University because Old Mill basically had pretty low expectations for us kids, with the exception of sports. (Ironically, no Old Mill star athelete have ever made it to the NBA or the NFL. Heck, I don’t even know of any Old Mill athletes who made it to the Olympics or World Cup Soccer either.)

Of course, some of the kids continued to peg me with the "mentally retarded" reputation that I never deserved. (I was NEVER in Special Education and I am a college graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism.) In fact, the main reason I was dateless was because most of the boys didn’t want to be seen dating a "mentally retarded" girl like me. I didn’t attend my junior or senior proms because no boy wanted to date me for that reason.

(In case you were wondering, my parents didn’t seem care that I was dateless in high school. My mother, who married my father at 19 and had me at 21, strongly discouraged me from dating because she was afraid that I would marry soon after high school graduation like she did. In addition, she came close to eloping with a previous boyfriend when she was 16 but decided against it at the last minute and she was afraid that I would do the same if I even dated any guys. Heck, they didn’t even care that I had few friends at all. I still have memories of the numerous times my mother would tell me that having lots of nice things is better than having lots of friends—even though the Roman Catholic faith she raised me in would preach that excessive materialism is wrong and sinful. I was pretty confused growing up with two conflicting sets of ideas and morals—one espoused by my parents and the other espoused by the Roman Catholic Church they raised me in.)

This "mentally retarded" reputation even followed me to my freshman year at Anne Arundel Community College when many of my fellow Old Mill graduates—especially the ones who were the cheerleaders—talked to me in a way like I was still inferior. Ironically, I made new friends from people who never attended Old Mill and my first boyfriend also never set foot in my high school. One of the reasons why I ended up transferring to College Park a year early was because I really couldn’t stand it anymore with the disrespect I felt from the former Old Mill jocks and cheerleaders. It was only after I attended the University of Maryland that I finally started to thrive socially since very few of the students there knew me from my days at Old Mill.

The only high school reunion I ever attended was my five-year and I really didn’t enjoy it very much. I saw people there who used to be rude to me and they pretty much ignored me. Sure it was nice meeting up with the few people I was friends with but we didn’t get a chance to exchange addresses or phone numbers so we never contacted each other. I’ve skipped all of my other high school reunions since.

I have pretty much severed all of my ties to my former schoolmates from Old Mill. I have a Facebook page but it’s under my married name, which makes it more difficult for a former high school enemy to find me. I also have not sought out any old schoolmates via Facebook or any other social media.

A few days ago, when I was checking out the Boardwalk in Ocean City, I had an unwanted encounter from my past. I came to the Boardwalk after a major rainstorm and it was drizzling while I walked around. On top of that, I needed to get back to my condo in time for dinner. I decided to head for a soda machine to buy myself a Diet Pepsi before I returned to my car and made the 100+ block drive to the condo that was located in the northermost part of Ocean City.

So some woman suddenly approached me and asked me if I was this certain person and she used my former name. I looked at her and I didn’t recognize her at all. She had red hair and the only classmate I remembered who had red hair was this girl who I never want to hear from again. It’s possible that she may have dyed her hair red. In any case, I didn’t recognize her face. She was accompanied by a guy who looked like he was in his late teens and I assumed that he was either her son or nephew.

I was in a quandry because I was afraid that this woman was either 1) she was one of the former cheerleaders who used to harass me and call me "mentally retarded" or 2) the red headed classmate whom I don’t want to hear from again. I was also in a hurry to get back to the condo since my husband and sister-in-law were going to serve dinner and they were waiting for me to arrive.

I decided to make things easy on myself and I basically said "No." The woman apologized and said "You look like someone I went to school with." With that, her and the teenaged boy walked away.

I know some of you will think that I was foolish to pass up a chance to reconnect with someone from my past. But I really didn’t want to risk it. If she had been one of the cheerleaders who called me "mentally retarded", I had visions of her talking to me about the good times she had when she used to diss me and taunt me. I really didn’t want that.

I was also afraid that she may be the red headed classmate whom I don’t want to hear from again. Why? Well, here’s a story about that girl, whom I’ll refer to only by her first initial—"D". D was a girl in the same year as I was and I saw her around in the hallway. I never shared any classes with her other than Homeroom. In fact, I only got to know D because she was a friend of a friend of mine. I happened to sit at the same cafeteria table during my senior year with my friends and D sat there too.

D and I started to talk and she seemed like a really nice girl. One day, she asked me for my phone number and I gave it to her. I didn’t think anything of it. I thought she was a nice girl to talk to. When I got home from school, she called me that night. She started to talk about the same things we talked about during lunch and she started to make this one-sided conversation without letting me get a word in edgewise. The conversation lasted about 15 minutes and I thought that she was just testing out the number I gave her.

The next day I sat next to her and things went on as usual. That night she called me again and she started to talk about the same things we talked about during lunch and she started to make this one-sided conversation without letting me get a word in edgewise. From time to time D would say that she only called to see how I was doing then she didn’t let me answer her question because she kept on yakking.

From then on she would call me every single night, including weekends. Those phone calls were always all about her and her latest dramas regarding her family and the various boys she dated. She repeated everything she spoke about during lunch and she rarely let me get a word in edgewise.

She called on the only phone we had in the house. This was in the days before cell phones, answering machines, and Caller ID. Back then when the phone rang, you usually had to pick it up no matter what because you didn’t want to miss any calls that were important. Also, each family had one phone. I didn’t know any kid who had his/her own separate phone line. If someone was calling on a regular basis, the kid’s parents would know.

My parents knew that D was calling me excessively. In fact, I told them that she was a nuisance. Yet they made me take every single call that she made.They told me that I had to learn how to be considerate for others.

On the rare occasions when I was bold enough to be assertive and tell D that I was too busy to talk to her (especially if I was in the middle of doing homework), my parents would chide me for being rude. They also took me to task if I asked her to stop calling me so much or if I asked her to please keep the phone call short or to even tell her that she had already told me about it at lunch. It seemed like they took her side and they didn’t care about why I didn’t like her calling me every single day.

She became more and more like The Friend From Hell as the school year went on. When her birthday rolled around, she told me to mark the date of her birthday in my datebook. At first I thought she was planning a party and she was going to invite me to it. But then she told me that she wanted me to give her a birthday present. That’s right, she demanded a birthday present from me. Never mind the fact that she never asked me when my birthday was nor did she get me a birthday present. Yet she wanted me to give her a birthday present and she would even call me on the phone to remind me to give her a present.

It turned out that I had purchased a record that I was disappointed in so I gave that record to her as her birthday gift. It not only shut her up but I got rid of an unwanted album. To this day, D is the only friend who ever demanded a birthday present from me.

What was even galling was this one incident that convinced me that she was no real friend. I had received a notice that I was getting two awards at the special Senior Awards Ceremony. That night D called and I immediately blurted out that I was getting two awards this Saturday. D responded "Well that’s nice. Good-bye." Then she hung up.

I was really hurt because I listened patiently all those times she poured her guts out about the guys she wanted to marry yet she brushed me off when I wanted to share an achievement with her. I even told my parents about this because I wanted them to know what kind of girl she really was.

Even after high school graduation, she continued to call me all through the summer every single day. My parents still made me take those calls even though they KNEW about how she acted towards me regarding the Senior Awards Ceremony. There were times when I thought that they seemed to care more about her than about me.

The phone calls began to taper off when I started my freshman year at Anne Arundel Community College. I began a serious relationship with my first boyfriend. I told her about him and she stopped calling me for a while. I guess she didn’t like hearing about how happy I was that I had a boyfriend. Which sucks when I think back about all those times I listened to her when she talked incessantly about some guy she liked or the latest guy she was in a relationship with yet she wasn’t willing to do the same for me.

She would call every now and then so it wasn’t so bad. But then the daily phone calls started up again in late spring after I had mentioned that my boyfriend had dumped me so she began to resume calling me every single night. She was now talking about this great guy she had met, they were dating really seriously, and he had asked her to marry him. I became really annoyed about her calling me every single night and relaying the details of her relationship.

D and her guy got married quickly after she told me that she was pregnant then she began to devote her daily phone calls to telling me details about being blissfully married and how she couldn’t wait to become a mother. At that point, I stopped caring for D as a friend because she seemed to care about only herself and I felt that she was using me as a sounding board instead of a person with feelings.

I also began to make preparations to transferring to the University of Maryland. That summer I worked the night shift as a telephone interviewer. When D found out, she simply shifted her daily phone calls from the evenings to the afternoons. My grandmother, who lived with my family, insisted that I take her calls, just like my parents did.

Before I left for College Park in the fall, I told D that I didn’t have a new phone number available to give to her, which was the truth. She told me to give her a call when I got the new number but I never did. I was able to finally escape from D’s frequent phone calls for good.

The following spring, D called my parents and left a message for me, which they gave to me when I was home for spring break. The message said that D had given birth to a baby girl and she left her phone number. When I returned to school, the first thing I did was to trash that message. I haven’t heard from D since and I never want to hear from her again.

Now you understand why I lied to that woman on the Boardwalk.

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