Category Archives: Humor

Gas Station Life Lesson

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As we learned in Princess Bride, “…Ha ha, you fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous of which is ‘never get involved in a land war in Asia,’ but only slightly less well-known is this: ‘Never go in against a Sicilian when DEATH is on the line!’ ”

I’ve learned some lessons in my life, most of which require a refresher from time to time. It’s not my fault. I was educated here in Arkansas, suffered more than one head trauma, and accidentally watched an episode of “Survivor,” so stupidity comes naturally to me. If someone approaches you at the pumps of a gas station, scream “Help!” immediately and without regard to the person’s intentions. No matter what. No matter what they’re wearing or how they look. Nothing good will ever come from a gas pump walk-up.

While returning from New Orleans a few weeks ago, the gas pump rule once again came up. A fortyish gentleman approached. He wore clean coveralls and claimed he was a preacher raising money for blah-blah-blah. In his right hand, he had a wad of cash, which was confusing. I politely declined. He responded with a follow-up. Since I could tell he wasn’t going to listen to reason, I told him to please move along. He called me an asshole. For a second, I was convinced he was going to tear my arm off and beat me with it. The doubtful light in his eyes had turned dark as soon as the initial “No” came out of my mouth. Luckily for me, I had finished with the pump and got inside the car in one fluid motion and started driving forward without warning, even as my wife confusedly questioned what in blazes I was doing. In my defense, at least she was inside the car, unlike that time I left her in Mississippi. Crazy Coveralls Preacher lost interest in me; his shouts in my direction dwindled.

The only time I can move with such skill and concentration is if a bag of pork rinds is nearby or someone just announced ‘free pizza’ on the intercom.

So convinced was I of this gentleman’s internal violence that if I had a gun, I would have fired a warning round into the air. It’s better to be arrested in Louisiana for shooting clouds than it is to be beaten to death with one’s own arm. That should be on a t-shirt.

As I looped around to exit, I noted that Crazy Coveralls Preacher was walking fast toward an older white male standing next to his white cargo van. The door was open and the faux preacher invaded his personal space and essentially trapped the man from escape, or even the ability to throw a punch in his own defense. I almost stopped and intervened. The only thing that stopped me was that my wife had noted that I was genuinely alarmed, a condition I’m not prone to.

I’ve had issues with nutjobs in public places. As my friends know, I’ve had trouble BEING a nutjob in public places. This was the first time in a long time that it occurred to me that violence might result from the encounter. Keep in mind that I had just vacationed in New Orleans, so exposure to con-men and charlatans wasn’t an unknown experience – and that was at the front desk of the hotel.

Talking to other people and reading stories of violent surprises in public reminded me that nasty things do happen to people and I’m not referring to the 2016 election, either. We’re in open places, assuming that daylight, other people, and cameras will dissuade the demented folks from bothering us.

If you see me at the gas station screaming like the old man in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” I want you to drive your car into my vicinity as if you are re-creating scenes from the “Dukes of Hazzard.” I don’t care if you run me over in the process as long as you also run over whoever is trying to talk to me at the pumps.

You’ll get bonus points if the gas pumps explode and possibly a cut of the YouTube profits. I want to be cremated and I can think of no greater honor than by public explosion.

P.S. This also goes if you see someone is trying to sign me up for an MLM or a religion with an asterisk next to it on Wikipedia.
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Interlude

“Love the one that’s your width.” – X’s new take on an old cliche and song lyric.

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Some people burn propane, others butane, and the rest insane.

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I see a really surly guy a couple of times a week. He’s a bastard – one of those you’ll see arguing with the sunrise.

I went outside and fed a crumbled biscuit to the duck and the myriad finches who’ve learned to congregate around me.

Mr. Surly, who I’ve previously and politely asked to go jump off a cliff with an anvil tied to his face and leave me alone, sneered at me.

“Bread is bad for birds!” Mr. Surly said it at high volume for the sake of bystanders. He should’ve known better.

Without hesitation, I loudly said, “Well those 3 DWIs and smoking habit aren’t exactly points in your favor.”

Yes, I looked over my shoulder 200 times that day.

Still a win, though.

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They told me to take more pictures while I was on vacation, so I took all 17 from the lobby of the Holiday Inn Express.

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For those who missed the four a.m. show, the sky repeatedly and explosively turned neon and gauzy purple as tendrils of lightning snaked across the sleepy sky. I found myself driving five miles out of the way, watching thick varicose veins of lightning find its way to the ground. Bolts shook the air, and I could feel the car vibrate.

I wanted to drive on and lose the day.

Though I arrived first, I parked on the top level of the parking garage to watch the lightning roll above.

Nothing that fills this day will surpass the violent and thunderous purple of the dead hour of this morning.

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*Reviews That Matter
If you haven’t seen Avengers: Endgame… Put on some energetic movie soundtrack music. Invite your very young nephew or niece over and have them flush the toilet for 180 minutes. #endgame

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“Doctor, why I do break out in a rash every time my boss approaches? Is it stress-related?”

“No, it’s an allerjerk reaction.”

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X’s Humor Relativity Perspective

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This post is going to hit you over the head. It’s personal and genuine. Weirdly enough, it’s about humor. If you read it to the end, the turn it takes will probably bother you, much like a Twilight Zone episode using electric shocks as language.

More than ever, I find myself in awe with people who appoint themselves as gatekeepers for humor and appropriateness. Personally, I can’t get my foot out of my mouth long enough to start gatekeeping other people’s humor.

Eventually, everyone’s sense of humor will land them in hot water with friends, in-laws, pastors, politicians, the Girl Scouts, and strangers. You can’t control another person’s reaction. My sense of humor is darker than average. It’s a claim I make from truth rather than an idle part of my story. If someone is not addressing me or a person specifically, I interpret it differently than I do other humor.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a new rule named “Hanlon’s Disposable Razor.” It preaches that we all stop assuming we know the intent of humor, especially if from someone who generally isn’t guilty of malicious behavior – and no actual harm results from it. The term ‘actual harm’ is subject to context, as is every single human experience, so don’t start quibbling over semantics or issues unaddressed by this post.

Since then, my social media filled with examples of people failing to realize that they can’t read the minds or hearts of others. “Well, that’s not funny!” seems to be taken as a blanket justification for anger in response to something that someone finds a bit uncomfortable. Adam Sandler’s last ten movies weren’t funny, either, but plenty of people disagree. “You can’t joke about some things,” is another typical gatekeeping statement. It’s rare that the person making such a statement has a smile on his or her face when they say it. Or matching socks, now that I think about it.

I’m not advocating that we run willy-nilly over people’s feelings under the guise of humor. Quite the opposite. Likewise, 7-8 billion people surround you, all with differing takes on life. It’s impossible to avoid all possible topics of contention. Elevating all humor to the level of spiteful is a fool’s errand. As you know, nincompoops are always employed.

Mother’s Day, April Fools’ Day pranks, Avengers spoilers (as if the movie wasn’t terrible enough), euthanasia, illness, falling and breaking one’s arm: all of these can be funny in the right context. They are not amusing to the people currently embroiled in any pain associated with the topics, however. Humor is universally told from the point of view of an imaginary third person. We don’t laugh or joke with the intent of hurting anyone. Not if we’re reasonable, I mean. If we accidentally say or do something without realizing that it’s causing specific pain, it’s not a reason to lash out in righteous anger. Mistakes are going to happen. Compounding the innocent error with anger serves no one.

On two occasions since I posted my new rule, people attacked me for not showing the required gravitas to an issue or for the sin of laughing at a horrible post even as I cringed that someone had posted it. I did what any reasonable person would do: I printed a picture of that person’s face, laminated it, and taped it to a urinal at the bus station. (That last comment was humorous. FYI.)

Now, I’m going to get personal and provide an example that will erase any doubt that all of us sometimes pull back from humor that we find to be misplaced. The difference is that I avoid objections to ‘third person’ humor, generalized humor, or humor that references shared experiences. I have to be personal because it’s not only the only way I know how to write but because it strikes directly to the point I’m making.

The humor we allow ourselves and in others is a direct measure of our depth and appreciation for our error-prone lives.

It is not the content per se that brings problems; instead, it is the motivation of the person creating the humor. Most people don’t require much study. We’re stupid more than we are malignant.

There’s a popular meme of a white cat near a woman lying dead on the floor. It’s comprised of three panels, each with the cat approaching the deceased woman, meowing for attention at her side, and finally, sitting on her hip. “Your cat’s reaction to finding you dead on the floor,” or something similar usually serves as title or footnote to the pictures.

There’s a problem with the meme if you look at it from the vantage point of unintended humor. What many people don’t know is that cats tend to stay near the body of their deceased owner, exactly as pictured in the meme. Many people have their own stories relating to this tendency.

As thick-skinned as I am, if you don’t know this about me, I was in the exact situation pictured. My wife died late one Sunday night, the night before Labor Day, years ago. She lay in another room for hours before I woke up for work. Our white cat, Quito, stayed with her for most of the night. I found him with her the next morning when I went into the kitchen.

Now, imagine the pain that came from that situation.

It’s such a specific scenario that it seems unlikely that it would ever be the subject of one particular meme.

However, it is.

It’s not a general observation or bit of humor: it describes precisely one of the most significant traumas I’ve experienced in my entire life.

The meme or ones similar to it come up on my social media and the internet with a higher frequency than you’d imagine. It’s not ever going to be likely that anyone posts such content with the intent of trying to barb me.

I could, of course, lash out at people, as if they are responsible for my biography. I could casually mention my past, which would needlessly traumatize the person sharing the meme as a joke.

Alternatively, I could get a sharp jab and then move along.

In general, take the short jab and then move along. Not always, of course, because sometimes people do misbehave and troll their fellow human beings with ill intent.

But not most of the time. Move along.

If I can overlook a cat meme accidentally mocking this substantial trauma in my life, you can overlook jokes about pregnancy on April Fools’ Day, funny anecdotes about cancer, or insensitive humor scattered throughout your social media.

It is not an invalidation of your perspective or feelings for others to joke at the heart or fringes of subjects which overlap with your life’s discomforts, losses, or challenges unless it’s done with malice aforethought or callousness. I hope you don’t have many people in your life that would subject you to such behavior.

I’d rather live in a world in which I sometimes cringe at humor than to reside in one devoid of the richness of human creativity and whimsy.

I ask that you strive to assume that my humor isn’t personalized or weaponized to offend, which is a favor I’ll reciprocate. If there’s doubt, we owe it to one another to further give the benefit of goodwill unless the preponderance of evidence tells us that someone is speaking or acting out of spite.

When someone lashes out at me for a badly-timed or placed joke, I’ll repay their impatience and impoliteness with a reminder that I probably have the upper hand in this argument.

Do unto others – and I certainly do. I welcome all humor, from tripping down the stairs to jokes that would cause many to burst out in tears.

P.S. If you heard 1/50th the nonsense that goes through my head or that I say in private, your head would explode indignantly. The truth is, though, that we both know that you undoubtedly have at least a portion of my dark bent in your own head. That overlap is what gives us hope.

Also, I’m in the picture on this post three different times.

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A Saturday of Fracas

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Since the cake option wasn’t on the table, Dawn listened to me and opted to get Julia multiple culinary items of interest. I wanted to choose 15 distinct items but Dawn insisted that diabetes was an impediment to my whimsy. I almost forgot to mention we surprised Julia with a nice Chromebook laptop that I stole from Best Buy last Saturday at 12:35 p.m. I’m just kidding; I wrote that last part to determine with what attention you’re reading my post. Chromebooks are awesome devices. If Julia hates it, Darla’s cat Apollo will continue on its quest to tear it to pieces. It’s a win-win for our consumer economy. No sooner than I had started showing Julia how to use the new laptop than the cat somersaulted on top of the pristine keyboard in Julia’s lap.

Note: it is VERY important that no one notices that Julia joined us upstairs at Darla’s in her duster-gown. At any rate, you have to give her the benefit of the doubt. Anyone who can listen to me explain technology without falling into a deep, trance-like sleep is a saint.

 

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After we departed the in-law’s house, Ty decided that we should eat at Pieology, otherwise known as “The Subway of pizza.” Usually, it falls to us to bemusedly stare at Ty and his antics. As this photo clearly proves, Ty is giving his mom Dawn the ‘wtf’ face. (As Phil Dunphy says, “What the fracas.”) I’m not sure what exactly Dawn was saying at this point, as I had just reached that decision point of whether to shove the entire slice of pizza in my cavernous mouth as if it were accidental. Since I’m a multitasker, it was at that moment that I continued to snap a couple of dozen pictures in the hopes that at least one would earn me a Pulitzer prize. I had to choose between wastefulness and gluttony.

 

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I also pranked my stepson when I went to pick up his to-go box. Carrying around a permanent marker and note cards at all times has its advantages when inspiration strikes. I blurred it out because no one needs to see proof that my sense of humor is tasteless. (Observation: your imagination is probably leading you to worse conclusions than what I actually wrote).

Afterward, with horror on my face, I realized that I had inadvertently described the picture of my stepson Ty as “cute.” I’m not sure if he’s getting funnier or those repeated blows I took to the head as a youngster are finally catching up to me.

Because we enjoyed ourselves during the day, Dawn informed me that my penance was to accompany her to a Walmart market for groceries. I wisely chose to drive through MLK and the traffic snarls resulting from the behemoth graduation ceremonies nearby.

Walmart market was the perfect blow to the nether regions after a great day. Balance was restored.
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Feng Shui, Tableclothcovercloths, and Kondo-Kookiness

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One of the hacks I often see is a fitted sheet over a table to replace a tablecloth.

Note: a ‘hack’ is an ill-advised method to self-delude oneself into believing that you’ve saved yourself time. We’re all going to live to be 117, stuffed inside houses brimming with goofy and astounding assortments of knick-knacks and paddywhacks. First, though, we’ll need to watch 76 shows dedicated to the pursuit of efficient households, followed by 256 hours of Etsy and internet browsing.

Can I point out that a tablecloth itself is a waste? As are placemats – and the herpes of household annoyances, the drink coaster. If we build things to be used ‘as is’ and make them interesting to begin with, we wouldn’t need additional nonsense. I know what you’re thinking; not having them would dramatically reduce our available choices for holiday gifts. Aunt Bernice needs more redundant layers of protection in order to live a normal, mundane existence.

“I wish I had some more tablecloths and coasters” is not something a rational person ever needs to say, along the same lines as, “These wooden slippers are perfect,” or, if you live in Arkansas, “I think I’ll vote for a Democrat.”

I’m still considering inventing the tableclothcovercloth, which of course is a clothcover for the tablecloth, in order to prevent the first tablecloth from being soiled. Look for it soon at Target and Hoarder’s Paradise.

Instead of putting a fitted sheet over a table, use it to capture and bag the ‘lifestyle hacker’ who wants to put it on a perfectly good table. Drive to the nearest peak and toss him/her from the precipice.

Yell, “Use the tablecloth as a parachute!” as they plummet.

It’s important to be helpful.

Gringo Needs a Taco

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One of the worst restaurant experiences I’ve ever had happened this week. It wasn’t because my stepson was with us, either, because he coined one of my new favorite phrases/restaurant names: “Gringo Needs a Taco,” in comedic response to our increasingly despondent faces as we realized that we were in the middle of a culinary catastrophe.

We have some amazing restaurants in Northwest Arkansas, especially Tex-Mex ones.

Our closest go-to Tex-Mex place, Acapulco, is still closed due to a kitchen fire in January. They claim they’ll re-open in July, although I don’t believe it. Most of the great staff they had have found positions at other restaurants. One of our favorite people surprised us at Las Palmas in Springdale. The other similar eatery on this side of town has never managed much success. (Which basically applies to any restaurant on the east side of Springdale.) I’m convinced that Americans mistakenly believe that the other Tex-Mex place is taqueria-style. It doesn’t help that it’s in a shopping center that seems like the shooting stage for season one of the Walking Dead. By the way, Playa Azul has a buffet some days. It’s great, especially since it’s impossible to find a Tex-Mex buffet anywhere.

The shining grace was an effort by one of our favorite waitresses – one not assigned to our table or area of the restaurant. We tried to reward her with a tip before we left. She noticed that my 4-lb. order of pico de gallo had been left negligently on the serving shelf. Evidently, I’m the only one who orders massive quantities of this delicious menu item. She came back later to hesitantly ask, “Has someone taken your order?” I think her first clue was that we had read the entire first book of the Harry Potter series since we entered. Our assigned waitress seemed like someone had swapped her favorite beverage with a chilled cup of straight white vinegar.

She might have been Amish, as her shunning ability was expert level.

It seems like we were unwitting participants in a customer dissatisfaction experiment. We felt terrible about the experience. The manager was simply speechless at how badly things had gone and struggled to explain it. He was relieved when I told him, “No harm, no foul,” even as I complimented the waitress who wasn’t assigned to our table. We left and were rewarded with a torrential downpour. Our spirits were so hammered that we all drove to Burger King. As you probably know, its new motto is, “Where Dreams Go To Die.”

Saturday, Dawn and I went to another Tex-Mex restaurant. We walked out after 15 minutes. On the way over, we discussed the consequences of not following our instincts. The person seating walk-ins could not have been more reluctant, with the exception of the admiration and attention she was giving her personal cellphone. The matriarch of the family by the door was throwing eye darts as she uneasily shifted back and forth, waiting, while attempting to corral two young boys. We had the misfortune of being seated in the far back corner. The matriarch and her family received great attention. I could tell that woman simply wouldn’t tolerate shenanigans or inattention. It’s difficult for me to be pushy, though. The manager was so engrossed in something unrelated to work that I couldn’t even let him know that we were leaving.

I’ve been known to get up, go outside, and then go back inside sometimes as if I hadn’t just walked out. Usually, this either makes people confused or laugh. We left. I’m glad we did because our final choice was a delight.

We ended up at another restaurant and were delighted. The food and service were impeccable. We joked with all the staff. I drew pictures on my index cards as we chatted with everyone, even as watched a table of gringos make their faces numb with way too much alcohol. (The one bad moment was when one of the gringos was a little violent with a precious curly-headed little girl. He doesn’t know how close he came to being force-fed a plate.) It was strange to have such a great eating experience after two terrible ones.

As I always do, I ensured that karma was paid forward by tipping the waitress 100%. She was delighted. So was I. Belly full, and smiles for all.

One consequence of a bad dining experience is that I always find a way to pay it forward to the next great person we encounter.

P.S. I didn’t even order pico de gallo at this restaurant, as I didn’t want to tempt fate.

Gringo needed a taco.

Hanlon’s Disposable Razor

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Worse than an assassin is the self-appointed gatekeeper of humor.

Humor, one of the most authentic human emotions, often treads in the mud.

My sense of humor lurches into the darkness and dwells there. I’ve uneasily enjoyed much of the social fire through the years, watching as people without any real intention of cruelty are publicly drawn and quartered for something they’ve said, or for an action that violated someone’s norms for humor. “Well, that isn’t funny!” Often, they are right. It wasn’t funny. But it wasn’t intended as an attack. It was just stupid or poorly stated. Most such humor harms another person’s sensibilities and those things they find to be sacred. As someone smart once said, “You can tell who is really in charge by what you can’t make fun of.”

Hanlon’s razor is a saying that reads: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

Here’s my take: Hanlon’s Disposable Razor: “If no actual harm was done, never insist that you know the mind of someone who said or did something in jest. Accept an apology, but watch for a relapse.”

Given freely, humor should always be first interpreted as an imperfect and fluid expression of a shared human emotion, rather than a malicious attack on one’s viewpoint. In the larger scheme of human interaction, humor seldom produces observable harm. Weirdly, it often produces anger in the mind of the beholder, an anger that is often disproportionately harsh in comparison to the expression of a badly-worded or executed attempt at humor.

Even though we know the above to be true, we often jab humorously at funerals, cancer, parents, patriotism, sex, and just about every other possible thing common to people. All of them will wound people in the wrong place and at the wrong time.

Age has taught me: sooner or later, we all face the guillotine of error.
Some people seem to stand guard adjacent to the guillotine and wait for perceived breaches of humor and intent.

Because people so often bring their own arguments to these thoughts, it’s important that you understand that my comments bend more toward passive humor, such as when one person sees a billboard written in humor and becomes angry or the refrain is, “I don’t find that humorous.” I’m not pointing my finger at interpersonal humor.

Distrust anyone who is righteous and quick to anger in the face of humor.

Absent evidence, it’s unwise to assume that the accused had ill intent.

The volume of the objection doesn’t always coincide with the magnitude of the offense.

Like all human interaction, mistakes are going to happen.

Given that mind-reading is still out of our reach, it’s wise to take a look at the context and the totality of whomever and whatever you’re about to rail against.

And remember that no matter who you are, you’ve said and done some vile nonsense to other people.

P.S. Once, when I was telling a version of this, someone said that I should call it the “…But Did You Die?” rule. Perspective.

Dunder Mifflin Canvas Art (Suitable for “The Office”)

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Because it is hard-wired into every white person’s DNA, I love “The Office.” (The TV show, not the place of servitude so many of us inhabit during a routine workday.)

We recently started re-watching the defunct series. Since we’re old, not only are we newly surprised by the antics of the workers of Dunder-Mifflin paper company but in many ways have found a new appreciation for the themes. Every story transforms into something new as you grow older. The hard-and-fast world of the known and certain turns to mist as the sublime supplants it.

Starting with another person’s concept and picture, I created a 16X20 canvas of the main characters of the show, as a gift for my wife. She certainly wasn’t expecting THIS. I’m going to have to nail it to the wall before she changes her mind. On the other hand, I still have my 16X20 wood panel in my bathroom, the one of Jeff Daniels from Dumb And Dumber on the toilet. It still gives my bathroom that touch of class that all American bathrooms desperately need, the kind that guest towels and little bowls of soap can’t seem to convey.

For those who find it to be sacrilegious instead of humorous, I say, “Look away,” an approach which works amazingly well for those who are capable of implementing it.

Signed,
X Teri, Amazing Artist & Doubtful Decorator

Please Try This At Home

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My wife and I don’t have kids at home, at least none that I know of. I think it’s time I finally get permission to pull one of my favorite prank ideas, one I read about years ago. Hire a babysitter and tell him or her, “Little Brett is asleep and won’t wake up the entire time.” When we come back, pretend that our kid is missing and film the babysitter’s reaction. Bonus: if the babysitter checks in on the imaginary kid before we get back home, we can watch the meltdown on the security camera. The police love this sort of prank. Trust me. They can only sleep in their patrol cars for so long without getting too bored.

I got to thinking about stupid pranks after I reminded someone that the best way to get your point across to wayward utility painters is to go outside with your own marking paint and play tic-tac-toe there or draw an elaborate maze on the entire utility easement. It’s not necessarily nice, but hey, it’s your property. You get bonus points if you go out and paint WHILE the utility guys are marking your yard.

Also, I’ve noted that if you act crazy every once and a while, your range of acceptable behaviors greatly expands.

You’re welcome, X