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This was while I was riding a stoned and angry (see also, hungry) elephant along a very narrow trail while trying to motivate it by encouraging it to move in about 7 different languages.

It eventually got annoyed with me after I'd cycled through Karen, Thai, French, German, Japanese, Russian, English, and English Vernacular. It decided to uproot a tree with its trunk and threaten me with it, and also lean over the edge to try to tip me, Jovon, and one of the germans off. I don't know if you can see it in the photo, but the cliff on the right is STEEP! It would have been unpleasant to fall down that. We all screamed and held on. I also laughed. I did that a lot in Thailand, snicker after nearly dying.

We behaved after that and let it satisfy it's munchies.

Anyway, this photo was taken soon after that event. Note the "Oh god, I think it might try to kill us again... HILARIOUS!" look in my eye.

Also, looking at this photo it isn't hard to see why the Germans thought I was Mexican, is it? Of course, I'm not a Mexican. It's possible that I could be a a MexiCANT, though. ;)
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Our tale opens with our arrival at a village of the Karen Hilltribe in Northern Thailand in the region between Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai. Photo )

We arrived with our guides (Bon and Chai) and several other backpackers (from the US and Germany). Evening was quickly approaching but we had enough time, however, to explore the beautiful village and learn a little bit about the culture. In many villages (such as this one) the huts are all raised up on stilts to help mitigate the damage of flooding due to the heavy rains that saturate northern Thailand. Photo )

This particular village was Animist, but there were other Karen villages that were Christian or Buddhist. Once we were made aware of this fact, it became hard to comprehend how we didn't know it instinctively. For example, over the doorways and around their homes were bird wings and various other items or apendages that held significance. While walking through the dirt paths that lead between the huts we noticed that there were pigs under many of the huts. Photo )

Some of the pigs were actually really fucking huge. So after a little while Patrick said to Bon "Hey Bon, what's with all the pigs tied up under the huts?" Bon explained that it signified that there was an eligible woman living in there. You raise the pig and then, on the wedding day, slaughter the pig and offer the majority of the pig to the spirits and eat a little bit of it. This is the only time they eat pork.

Suddenly the grey haired pigs started to make a little more sense. There was one UGLY woman in there. Heh. So it was with this same sardonic sense of humor that I decided to chime in and ask a question.

"So Bon, what do you pick? The pig or the woman? Do you just walk around the village and then go 'WHOAH! That's a niiiiiice pig!' and propose?" I said with a laugh. Bon, on the other hand, didn't laugh. Heh, oops.

I never got an answer (which leads me to suspect you pick the pig, hehe), and soon it was time to go get some tea with the Political Leader. Each village has two leaders, the Village Leader (like an Elder) and a Political Leader. The Village Leader deals with all things that happen internally, they're the leaders in the traditional sense. The Poltical Leader, on the other hand, functions as a liason between the Karen village and the Thai government. He is educated in Thai schools, can speak Thai, and is generally young (in his 20's.) So we spent the evening in his hut discussing the lives of the Karen. At one point tea was produced, that is to say "Hot water likely brewed with spiders" was produced. It was in a cast iron kettle on an open fire in the the hut, and looked like it had boiling there since the dawn of time. The Political Leader's wife grabbed the damn thing barehanded, said "Hot hot!" and then poured us all some tea. This tea was possibly the most hot stuff that has ever hit my tongue. Bon noticed the looks of shock on our faces and he said something that stuck with me.

"Karen hands.... very strong."

During all of this it came up that, like Patrick, the Political Leader's wife was a teacher. The way schools work in the Karen is that each village has a school. This village had the preschool, some other village had the primary school. Now these villages are NOT close together, and getting from one to the next involves marching through the jungle. It made me feel like a total pussy for complaining about a 40 minute bus ride to get to middle school.

Anyway, we all were eager to meet the kids and see a class, so we decided to get up ass early in the morning and meet the kids. We were invited to help with the class, something Patrick dove into with gusto. He taught them english for a little while and then we decided to teach them some songs and games. A brief discussion broke out as to whether to use english or german songs. English won. And then the real battle began.

Patrick and his girl wanted to sing "Row Row Row Your Boat." I had other plans, however... I wanted to teach them some Crunk.

That's right, I wanted to teach them "Aww Skeet Skeet" by Lil Jon. Think about it, a ton of little Karen kids singing "TILL THE SWEAT DRIPS OFF MY BALLS!" It isn't like anyone there knows what that means anyways. Hell, most Americans don't even know what Skeet is.

I was, unfortunately, overruled.

But listen to "Row Row Row Your Boat" without the connotation and imagery, because they were singing it by sound rather than by words, and you'll realize that it sounds like a goddamn funeral dirge. So that was a flop. So we started playing Duck Duck Goose. And here is where we nearly got in trouble, but before I start I should mention something...

Prior to the trip, I looked at a site that detailed the various popular ways of dying in Thailand. I did this for two reasons. The first was to scare the hell out of my Mother, which should be an Olympic sport. The second was because I had an eerie feeling that I wasn't going to come back from the trip. The number one way for farang (foriegners) to die, as you might have imagined from my Motorbike story, was death by Motorbike/Car. The second, without explanation, was "burning."

"Burning? Wtf does that mean? Is that sunstroke, severe sunburns, or angry people with bonfires?" said I, with a laugh. On retrospect, I think I hit the nail on the head with the latter.

So there we are, thousands of miles from home and hundreds of miles from civilization with NO IDEA where we are. And we decide to play games with these kids under the watchful eyes of their parents and the Political Leader's wife. Innocent, right? I mean, they're just games! Nothing bad could happen, right? WRONG!

So we play a few rounds and teach them the rules. The kids love it. Then we wisely stepped back and let the kids and Patrick play. Indoors. In the huts with low ceilings, because the Karen people (like all Thai people) are rather short, especially compared to Goliath-like Americans. You can see where this is going, can't you? Patrick, a very tall American, was "it."

This cute little kid, who's pants were constantly falling off, was chasing him while holding his pants up by the seat with a free hand. It was adorable and Patrick, a soft touch, slowed down to let himself get caught.

It should also be noted that this wouldn't have happened with me or my family. I was raised on the theory that if you are going to win, you'd better earn it. So I would have ran like... hmmm, what would make me run fast?.... I would have run like an angry hilltribe was chasing me. But Patrick is more suited to being a teacher than I, so he let himself get caught and then did something that many father's would do with tiny little kids to congratulate them. He cheered and lifted him up in the air.

*THUNK*

It was at this point that I realized that despite cultural differences, there are certain things that are universal. One of those things is the reaction to seeing a child get his head bashed in by a gargantuan American. Myself and the Germans all covered our faces, turned away from it, and went "OOOOH!" We also, in unison, started to edge towards the door. Why? Because we noticed that the adults in the room were looking less than happy with us. There was, what can only be described as, a growing menace that threatened to blow.

Thankfully, Patrick knew exactly what he was doing (perhaps because he has bashed in other kids heads... who knows?). He smiled at the kid and laughed. The kid, who was on the verge of tears, got confused and started to smile and laugh too. This caused the parents and the political leader's wife to crack up. We joined in, nervously, images of bonfires still dancing in our heads.

Minutes later Patrick rejoined us and we left in a hurry, walking so fast we were almost running. Patrick laughed and said to us "Jeez, I thought I just killed us. I was prepared to make a break for it." To which we replied "Karen heads... very strong."

****A couple villages, an angry and stoned elephant, and a ton of jungle... I'll tell you about those another time.*******

Words cannot express the vile stench that had absorbed into us. Especially me. Why me, you ask? Well, I fell into a rice field. I actually have a photo of me taken seconds before my fateful fall. If you look about 5 feet ahead of me you can see a muddy slope where the levy was breaking down. Photo )

I don't know what they fertilize with, but it was so bad that I had to throw away my shoes and my Che shirt. The stink would just NOT go away. Combine that with angry elephant sweat, tired welshman sweat, and the bizarre sweet/nasty smell of the jungle and you'll begin to discover what I smelled like. The only shower I was getting was the occasional rain shower.

... I should mention another side note. I was the group's weather spirit. It would PISS IT DOWN anytime I didn't have my poncho out. If I put my poncho on the sun would come out immediately and thus turning the poncho into a portable sauna in a matter of seconds, only heightening my stink. After a little while, I got bitter and refused to put my poncho on. This lead, of course, to accusations that I was a lazy weather spirit and should take a hit for the team. *laugh*

So it was with this stank that I approached the next village. It had been raining most of the day, on and off, apparently due to my refusal to wear the stupid poncho. We left the dense jungle and started walking along a red clay road. This might have made the journey easier if things were dry, or even if it just fully monsoooned. The occasional rain, however, had turned the clay into red glue. For reasons that escape me, my fake Berkinstocks (the shoes were destroyed by the rice field, remember?) attracted this clay like a magnet. Before long I was walking on clay platforms. Oddly, it gave me MORE traction rather than less, which was handy for walking down this muddy, slippery, and illegal grade road. Of course, that didn't last forever. Halfway down this long steep road the mud gave way and I fell.

"OH SHIT, MY CAMERA!" I thought, and started to roll and shift in an effort to stay off my backpack. Have you seen Predator? You know that scene were he slides through the jungle and gets all muddy in the process? Yeah, it was sort of like that, except I didn't fall off a cliff at the end. I just came to a thudding stop and remained still for a minute.

Why was I laying there, you ask? Well, I hit the ground so hard that I couldn't be sure that I wasn't in shock and so I wasn't sure if I broke anything. So I was slowly moving all my joints checking to see if everything was moving the right way. Next I checked my camera. Everything was ok. There was a new change to my situation, however. In addition to smelling like a Yeti, I now looked vaguely like an Aborigini on a holy day. Mud all in my hair making it stand up, mud all over my body, mud everywhere.

It was at this point that I noticed that I had slid right to the front of the damn village. I had backpackers snickering at my fall and appearance, and hilltribesmen looking at me like I was an alien. Think about it, though. Some dude is laying down in the mud, looking like he should be hunting Predator with a homemade bow, slowly moving joints with a worried look on his face. Wouldn't you be weirded out? Photo )

Bon immediately directed me to the stream (which was muddy from all the rain) so that I could clean up a little. I went straight there and tried to clean up as best I could without showing any skin (because that's considered very rude). The Germans, who were a continual source of amusement, stripped off, grabbed some Chang Beer, and jumped into the stream without hesitation (much to the dismay to the Karen kids who were watching). I had a good laugh and took a photo. Photo )

Thankfully, they didn't hold it against us too much... However many of the villagers kept their distance from us and weren't as friendly. Not surprising, though, since their introduction to us was a crazed aborigini and a bunch of guys jumping in their stream and looking like they're in a gay German beer commercial. They did, however, sell us some of their EVIL EVIL MOONSHINE! Holy mother of god, I've never had anything so potent and nasty in all my life. So we did what any self respecting backpackers would do with stuff like that. We played German drinking games until we were all smashed. Photo )

Walking through the jungle the next day, with sore livers, was a bit rough. Heh.
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This story opens up on Koh Phangan at Ao Thong Nai Paan.

We had arrived the day before during a monsoon. Due to the Full Moon Party, the only accomodations available were these little out-house shacks at Ao Thong Nai Paan. So we got a Song Thaew (a pickup truck that is used like a taxi) to take us out there. You sit in the bed of the truck on benches that go flush against the side of the truck. So a slight turn and, if you aren't holding on, you're airborne. Getting there involved going across the island's narrow and steep red clay roads. These roads had turned into rivers of mud due to the downpour. They were also single lane, with quite a lot of traffic coming the other direction. And given there were cliffs and whatnot, this involved some pretty creative driving and dodging to get us there.

The Song Thaew driver, being a nice guy, grabbed a tarp for us to hold over our heads (we were with two sisters we met on Koh Tao). So the 4 of us had to decide whether to hold the tarp over us (and protect our possessions from being soaked through) or to hold on to the benches to keep from being thrown backwards out of the Song Thaew by the sharp turns and bumps. We elected to use the tarp and if anyone looked like they were starting to lean out, you'd reach over and grab them. We went speeding through the single lane mud "roads" that had pot holes and trenches that you could drown a horse in, laughing like maniacs. At one point we hit a particularly nasty bump and I turned to Jovon and, with a sardonic grin, said "I told you I wasn't going to survive this trip..."

But I did survive it, and we arrived unscathed at Ao Thong Nai Pan. The "Sandee bungalows" were something to behold. They were wooden shacks with corrugated steel roofs. Well, that doesn't accurately describe it. The slats of the wood had 1-2 inch gaps between them, allowing free passage to all but the largest of spiders. Inside was a full sized mattress with a 1 foot clearance on all sides. I suspect they built the shacks around the mattress.

We were given a mosquito net, which was kind of them, but they had massive holes in them. We're talking holes that allowed Jovon and I to stick our heads out of them. They were only effective to repel giant mosquitos that belonged in King Kong. What was worse was that Jovon and I had to share the damn bed. Why, you ask? Well the girls we were travelling with were pissy about our accomodations and we were left bunking together on this tiny bed.

Now let me tell you about how I lost my fear of spiders. As many of you know, I was deathly afraid of spiders for most of my life. I wasn't even able to be in the same room as them. Now they can crawl on me and it doesn't really bother me. What caused this momentous change? The bathroom at Sandee Bungalows.

I needed the bathroom something fierce, took my key and headed into the out-house. Yes, it had an out-house. I unlock the padlock and open the door. There is a single dirty 50 watt bulb that casts the scene in a moldy yellow hue. What I saw was surreal.

The bathroom consisted of a dirt floor, a hole dug into that dirt floor, and a hose (for showering, washing, flushing, and acting as a rudimentary bidet... it was an all purpose hose). That's it. Now that would have been no big deal if it wasn't for the additional "feature" of this out-house. The army of spiders guarding the bathroom. These things are as big as your fist and have a real menacing aire about them. There was on very large one, in particular, that was hanging out over the hole.

He looked at me as if to say "What are you gonna do about it, asshole? Now bring me a newspaper, I'm going to be here a while."

This was just NOT going to do. I needed to go, and no fuzzy fanged arachnid was going to stop me. So I swallowed my fear, and bared my pale blue (I'm welsh, we're not white) ass to his drippy fangs and did what I needed to do. The spider, wisely, decided that he really didn't need to stick around for this. *poof* No fear of spiders. However, this wasn't something I really wanted to repeat again. I'm pretty sure this spider spend his days hunting small dogs, after all, and I just didn't want to tangle with him again.

The next morning we decided to find new accomodations, and found a decent place. It was more expensive than the $0.25 a night we were spending at Sandee, but it was worth it. The downside was that we needed more money and there was no ATM in Ao Thong Nai Pan.

We realized we would have to go back to Thong Sala (since that is the closest ATM... about 15km). We could pay 100 baht a person to get there and, if we're lucky, find a Song Thaew to take us back for 100 baht. OR! We could rent a motorbike for 250 baht for 24 hours. I say 'motorbike' advisedly because I suspect a lawn mower had more horsepower. It didn't go "ROAAAAAR!" It went "Eeeeeeeee!" Despite that, we opted for option two, being that the roads, while trecherous, were largely empty and also we thought it would be cheaper.

Oh how wrong we were.

It is important to point out that at no point during this story did we wear helmets... they didn't have any to give us.

I was wearing my Che shirt, and little did I know how appropriate it would be. On our little 'La Poderosa III' we took off, nearly crashing several times before leaving the village. It was a scene right out of The Motorcycle Diaries, I'm telling you. Once out of the watchful eyes of the villagers we hit a patch of graven and wiped out. Jovon turned to me and said "Damnit, you leaned the wrong way!" I broke out into hysterical laughter, given the ridiculousness of the statement. I was leaning the same way as he was, after all. So I just laughed. This was to be the theme of the trip. Me laughing and dusting myself off.

I hopped back on (Jo was driving, I was supposed to drive back) and said to Jo "All throughout my childhood I had nightmares of being dumped off the back of motorcycles, do NOT be the guy to make my childhood nightmares come true." Jo shrugged the comment off and set off for Thong Sala.

We were too heavy to effectively use the breaks, so we were forced to stop the bike Fred Flintstone style. Fair play to Jovon, despite the INSANE roads, trenches, cliffs, and various other dangers he got us to Thong Sala without another incident. Feeling brave, we turned and headed to Hat Rin.

To get to Hat Rin you have to go up a really steep road. We were on pavement, rather than mud, however so Jovon was feeling brave. However, we were losing speed on the crazy steep hill and were in second. So what does Jovon do? He shifts to first and guns it, because he was under the impression that our bike didn't have the power to pop a wheelie, despite the illegal grade of the hills.

Jo was wrong.

Jo dumped me off.

We were driving up and one minute I was serenely looking at the ocean (we were near the top of the hill and had a great view) and the next I found myself airborne trying to work out how this sudden change of events occurred.

My reaction, as I flew through the air and tried to arrange it so I would land on my feet was to again burst out into laughter. I'm even laughing as I write this.

Why was I laughing? Because I had cliffs to either side of me and I thought "That son of a bitch made my childhood nightmare come true... I can't believe Jovon killed me." The absurdity of it all just had me cracking up. I had quite a lot of time in the air because of the grade of the road and the force in which he kicked me off the back.

I had enough time to see Jo trying to maintain control of this damn bike as it is doing a wheelie. He crossed in front of traffic, crossed back to our side and nearly fell of a cliff, and then crossed traffic again and went into a ditch.

It was about this time I landed on the ground. I landed on my feet, no joke. I completely lost it. I was literally doubled over laughing. It was one of those laughs that is so intense that it looks like you're crying.

Meanwhile a couple aussies pass us (the guy driving had a leg bandage and the guy riding behind had his arm in a sling) and one says "no worries, mate, that happened to us earlier today."

This was too much for me. All the air left my lungs, my knees went weak, my eyes watered, and I laughed so hard my face and stomach hurt. A super hard, yet silent (because I was laughing so hard I couldn't breathe), laugh.

Jo didn't think it was as funny as I did, which is odd because I was the one who was thrown off the bike much like a cowboy off the back of a bull at a rodeo. He did, however, confess that he believed I gave us a "gypsy curse" by telling him about my nightmare. Yes, you heard it here first. The accident was my fault, despite the fact I was a passenger. *laugh*

I discovered that, much like Jesus, Jovon is perfect in all ways. Let me explain this... You might think that he screwed up. You might think that shifting to first and gunning it on a steep hill was his fault. But you would be wrong, Jovon is perfect. It was, in fact, YOUR fault, not his. *laugh*

So we get to the top of the hill and see Hat Rin below us. The pavement on our side of the road ends, however. It's still paved on the other side, but not ours, and for reasons that are beyond me there are big fucking rocks every 6 feet between the two lanes. No worries, we think, we'll just cruise down to the bottom.

Well, there was something to worry about. WAAAAAY down at the bottom was a barricade on our side of the road. Jo shouts "WE NEED TO STOP!" So I put me feet down, as does he. But we're hauling ass at this point and we're on gravel, so it isn't doing shit.

Jo realizes that we're going to have to get on the otherside of the road, but is preoccupied with the fear of catching my feet (or the bike) on one of the rocks, so he forgets a key thing about riding: When hitting bumps you want to do it at a sharp angle, not a shallow one.

We hit the ledge at a shallow angle and dumped the bike going probably around 35mph without helmets. I ended up landing on top of Jovon and we were face to face, my hands underneath him. Immediately, I thought he had hit his head and died. I did the only thing I could think of, which was to use my hands on the pavement (which was still speeding underneath us) to try to lift his upper body off the pavement. Consequently I scarred the shit out of my hands. This description doesn't give you a true picture of what this was like, though.

Essentially, I was surfing Jovon down the street, craddling his upper body with one hand, planting the other hand firmly on the pavement like a skater (sans gloves). It must have been quite a sight. Hehehe.

I rolled off him and Jovon sat up, I was relieved he was alive. And then I saw my hands. I had opera gloves of blood. Jo looked PISSED at me for something (like jesus, remember?) until he saw my hands. "I think I need some stitches, dude." And with that phrase, all anger evaporated.

The bike was broken, however. We couldn't get the fucker started. So Jovon announces that we need to do a push start. So we have Jovon, a football cornerback, and we have me, a scrawny nerd with bloody hands. Who does the pushing? That's right, me. Two big bloody hand prints on the back of that stupid bike, and then I had to run to catch up. Hehehe.

So off in search of a clinic we go.

However, there was a traffic jam. No surprise, it was Full Moon. Ahead of us was a big black pickup truck that threw on its reverse lights. "That's not going to back over us, is it?" "Nah, he sees us."

And then he started coming back at us.

"NOOOOOO!" we screamed, and waved our hands at him, but the bastard ran us over nonetheless. *BANG* I rolled out from under the bike, stood up, and was clearly on the verge of going into shock. So what does the driver do?

He jumps out of his truck, shouted at us in Thai, gets back in his truck, and drives off. No shit.

Licking our new wounds from the Thai hit-and-run, we got the bike started again, and finally made it to the clinic (noting a lot of other people with big bandages down at Hat Rin) and the medic at the clinic just laughed and told us we had Thai Tattoos now. I still have some tendon damage from the whole thing.

All in all our "cheap" option gave us several scars, over 2000 baht of repair bills, 250 baht of rental fees, 100 baht of gas, and 350 baht of hospital fees.

So there you go, that is my experience with motorbikes and Koh Phangan. 4 accidents and due to injuries I drove the fucking thing for about 5 minutes before I realized that I couldn't grip the handles well enough and gave up.
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I recommend listening to Jack Johnson while looking at my photos.  Why?  Because Thailand LOVES Jack Johnson.  Specifically, Flake. 

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On the ferry to Koh Tao.  The chicks in blue were the girls from NY we travelled with for about a week. I got a BAD sunburn on that ferry. Spent the first few days on Koh Tao with Chelsea's sarong wrapped around me because the sun hurt so bad. Heh. I looked like a Roman Senator when I wore that thing. Hence, I called myself Fattius Maximus. ;)

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Jovon and I relaxing on Koh Tao, watching the sunset, and drinking Singha (also Sangsom + Redbull... this was before the Sangsom incident of the Full Moon Party)

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While in Ayutthaya Jovon and I got mobbed by school children wanting our autographs.  We were treated like celebrities because we were Farang.  It was super cute.  I wrote about 100 before my hand started cramping and I had to stop.

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Ayutthaya again.  Climbing up there was trecherous.  Hehe.

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Jovon caught this moment while I was wondering around Wat Arun.

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Trekking through the jungle with Fuzzy (German behind me) and Mr. Food (guide in front of me)

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Me and Mr. Food Trekking through the hills in between Mae Hong Son and Pai.
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Mentally, I'm still very much in this photograph.  A pad of paper on my lap, a book by Che at my feet.  I still can't accurately capture what happened out there. 
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Chai, Bon, and their friend in one of the villages we were in. It was their friend's birthday, so we hang out by the fire and played music.

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See that bottle next to the beer cans that looks like water? That's not water. That's Karen Moonshine. It was some beefy stuff. German drinking games + karen moonshine = painful hike the next morning. ;)

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Tattoo

His name was "Sadistic Aht." :D

Taken by Jovon.
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So there I was, hanging out on Koh Samet (with a bit of a sunburn) when I spotted a chair with an umbrella. 30 Baht later, and the chair and shade was mine for the day. I put my coconut drink down and start to put up the umbrella, hoping that the shade will be enough to let my sunburn heal (despite the fact the sun is super bright and the sand is pure white... thus bouncing most of it right back at me despite any shade I could find), when a dog darts out of the bushes behind me. He takes a long look at my drink, decides it isn't good enough for him, and lays down in the shade of my umbrella... thereby taking up the spot I was going to put my chair in.

He gave me a look that was like "Look, pal, I've been kicked, beaten, and shot at nearly every day since I was born. You don't want to fuck with me. Now sit down next to me and scratch me behind my ear... I've had a hell of a day."

And that's what I did.
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