Sunday, July 30, 2006

Troubling juxtaposition

part of front page of Valley News Dispatch, July 30, 2006There is something vaguely troubling in the juxtaposition on the front page of today's Valley News Dispatch of the heartwarming pictorial "feathered friend" and the article "Municipalities now winging it on bird flu."

The news story itself raises concerns about the local lack of planning for a pandemic of H5N1 - avian flu.

Why did they have to put the picture of a seven-year old playing with a friendly blue jay right above it?

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Failed camouflage

unidentified mothI came across this moth in the parking garage of a local hospital.

It looked very much like a dead leaf, but its appearance was not very effective camouflage against a white wall.

Could anybody tell me what kind of moth this is?

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Festivity at a family wedding

Peter and Diana, July 22, 2006I was in Cooperstown, New York for a few days to participate in the wedding of Peter and Diana. My brother Peter got married on Saturday, July 22, 2006 at the First Presbyterian Church of Cooperstown, in the same worship space where I was ordained 26 years ago. I am very grateful to the Cooperstown Presbyterian Church and its pastor, the Rev. Dr. Patricia Schick for inviting me to officiate at this service when Peter and Diana asked me to participate.

The service on Saturday was joyful, with a lot of personal touches introduced by many different people. The day started out with dreadfully torrential rains that threatened to spoil the festivities. Well in advance of the wedding the couple had selected the scripture lesson to be read: Song of Solomon 8:6-7 ("many waters cannot quench love"). That was a helpful thing to remember in the middle of the service. And by the end of the service, the rains had stopped so that family and friends could gather outside for greetings, conversation, picture-taking, rejoicing, etc.

There was an "Easy Button" from Staples at the back of the church. If you have not actually seen one, it is a big red button that does one simple thing when you push it: a voice says "that was easy." This prop was present to be pushed by any of the people leaving the service (and perhaps even by Peter and Diana).

Godzilla license plate
If you know my family, you know that Peter has a thing about Godzilla. His car's license plate uses a Q in order to get the name Godzilla past the censors at the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. During the service I was surprised by a small figurine of Godzilla present to "witness" the proceedings. And before you ask -- no, I did not ask the figurine to sign the marriage license as a witness.

During the service one of Diana's daughters was to play Pachelbel's Canon on the piano. She prefaced it with a few bars from a silly song that Peter's siblings had used to tease him when we were children. (By the way, have I ever mentioned that I am convinced that the old Burger King jingle "Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce. Special orders don't upset us." stole its melody from Pachelbel? I hope that doesn't ruin your appreciation of Pachelbel's Canon next time you hear it.)

A basket of bubble-makers
At the reception there was a basket of bubble-makers: small vials of bubble solution with a plastic loop. They were a very simple and inexpensive addition to the festivities. If you get twenty people making bubbles at one time it creates a very fun and magical feeling.

The wedding was the high point of a great weekend!

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Monday, July 24, 2006

Preparations in Cooperstown with Pittsburgh connections

While I am visiting in Cooperstown, New York I see preparations all around the village for the induction ceremonies for the Baseball Hall of Fame this coming weekend.

There is a huge tent set up at the site of the induction ceremonies, the Clark Sports Center just outside the village.

This will be a really big event for the Hall of Fame, with the largest class of inductees ever. Seventeten of the inductees are from the Negro leagues and pre-Negro leagues eras. Three of them have a Pittsburgh connection through the Homestead Grays: Raymond Brown; Cumberland Posey, Jr.; and Ernest "Jud" Wilson.

The class of inductees will also include the first woman ever inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame: Effa Manley, who had been the co-owner and business manager of the Newark Eagles.

The location for the induction is near a number of large athletic fields with a cornfield in the distance. I couldn't help thinking about the movie "Field of Dreams"when I noticed the corn.

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Sunday, July 23, 2006

Thoughts on messages given

Sign saying: There are are no dead atheists

I am in upstate New York for a family wedding that took place on Saturday. While here I have had occcasion to drive past the church sign shown above a few times. It keeps me puzzled.

The first time I drove by it I was trying to figure out what it meant. The first meaning that came to my mind was that it was claiming that atheism causes immortality, a claim that I would not expect an atheist to make any more than I would expect a community Bible church to make.

Eventually I came upon a second possible meaning: that when any person dies they immediately meet God and know that God exists, and if they were atheists before dying they are atheists no longer. Perhaps this is what the writer had in mind. Of course, there is no way to test the truth of the statement on this side of the grave.

But that leads me to my next set of questions. Who was the intended audience for this sign, and what does it say to them?

Perhaps the intended audience is those who believe in God. What they would hear is a message that validates their own faith while putting down the opinions of those who might disagree. I guess it is comforting to many people to hear someone say things with which they already agree.

But if the intended audience is those who do not believe in God, what would they hear? I am afraid that what they would hear is a form of discourse that starts from a position of disrespect, offers no substantiating evidence or rationale, and does nothing to begin a discussion of why it might make sense to believe in God. Sloganeering does not seem to me to be an effective way of getting into a genuine, respectful conversation.

I hope that there is a better way of bearing witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ.

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

The offense of love: some thoughts on language used in worship

When the PCUSA General Assembly received with amendments the report "The Trinity: God's Love Overflowing" some people got worked up over some of the suggestions for language that could be used to express in worship the Church's understanding of the Trinity,

One of the silliest misreadings of the report is that it somehow gives congregations permission to experiment in worship. False. I've commented earlier on the fact that our church's constitution already gives local churches the responsibility to use language in worship that is as broad and inclusive as the Biblical witness and our traditions. The exploration of Scripture and its related experimentation with language in worship has been going on at least for decades. The Trinity report that was received gives some warnings about the consequences of some of the formulas that have been in use, and identifies many of the currently identified possibilities.

Some of the possibilities listed in the report can be made to look silly when separated from their context and the Scriptural basis for using them. Some critics took offense at the suggestion of "Lover, Beloved, and Love" as a liturgical formula that could be used to describe the Triune God. Apparently they were unaware that Augustine had suggested the same explanation of the Trinity.

Mike Geis offered his critique that this formula was "surprising since 'lover' has a very clear primary reference to someone engaged in illicit sex." If it is the case that illicit sex is the primary focus of the term "lover" then that is a sad commentary on the culture in which the PCUSA is functioning. There is the risk that our language will be misunderstood, but there is also the possibility that we might be able to help the culture understand that love and love imagery for God are good things.

I wonder if the critics of the report would have wanted to have John Donne's poetry burned for including such verses as:
BATTER my heart, three person'd God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow mee,'and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt towne, to'another due,
Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weake or untrue.
Yet dearely'I love you,'and would be loved faine,
But am betroth'd unto your enemie:
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you'enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee. [online here]
And if that poetry is not scandalous enough, should the worshipers at Central Presbyterian Church blush with embarrassment when they sing, "Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to thy bosom fly?" Get Fox "News" on the phone right away! Heavens, we're using a culturally dirty word to talk about Jesus, and even mentioning a bosom in the same breath!

As far as I am concerned, that hymn worked in the 18th century, and still works today as a valid, Biblically informed, expression of the relationship between the believer and Christ as experienced by the people who sing it. It is appropriate to address God in our worship as "Lover".

All that being said, there remains a problem with using the "Lover, Beloved, Love" triad as an description of the Trinity. Even in Augustine's explanation, the First and Second persons of the Trinity gave and received love, and thus were each mutually both "Lover" and "Beloved". Neither of the first two terms of that triad can refer exclusively to one person of the Trinity.

The problem is similar to the report's caution about the "Creater, Redeemer, Sanctifier" triad. The report points out that each of the persons of the Trinity are involved in creation, redemption, and sanctification.

All analogies break down eventually, but in the meantime I believe Christians do well to continue to allow the full message of Scripture to inform our worship. If we will let the culture intimidate us from celebrating the love of God in public worship, then where will we allow ourselves to do so?

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Kromatics harmonize in Tarentum

Kromatics harmonica trioThis evening the Kromatics harmonica trio performed at the third of the 2006 Summer Concert Series in Tarentum. With beautiful weather the concert was able to take place in Riverview Memorial Park.

The trio played pieces relevant to folks of all ages. They used various harmonicas, and at one point even a wooden train whistle.

Crowd at the concert with the Allegheny River in the background.There were over 100 people in the audience enjoying the music in the open air, with temperatures that had moderated somewhat since the weekend, and with the Allegheny River flowing placidly nearby.

The food served at Captain Jacks (the concession stand raising funds for Tarentum's Recreation Board) continued to be great. In addition to the items on the menu from last week, they offered krupy. I did not try it to find out what it was; instead I went for what has now tied for the best hot sausage sandwich with peppers and onions that I have ever had.

This summer concert series is sponsored by Old Friends Guitars and the Borough of Tarentum. The next concert is to be August 2 at 7:00 PM with Curt Marino.

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Monday, July 17, 2006

When Unicorns Attack, Part II

This is a follow-up to my earlier article about "When Unicorns Attack".

Over the last few days it appears that the parishioner who suffered the severe unicorn attack this month now has an infection in the wound. I drove her to the emergency room to get it checked out this morning.

People usually think of unicorn horns as objects of healing, but I have learned that they are not always so.

The parishioner is now very angry at the unicorn. Ebay may be too mild a fate.
unicorn that may meet a bad fate
Even being tethered to a parking meter may be too kind.

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

It might be a crime wave

When I was learning about Tarentum before moving to Western Pennsylvania, I did what I could to research the area over the internet. At that time, a Google search for "Tarentum" brought up a number of pages with listings of strange laws that are still on the books (one example here):

Tarentum: Horses are not to be tied to parking meters.

Maybe they pass laws such as this to address real problems. In the time that I have lived in this area, the closest I have come to seeing a real horse in Tarentum has been at the pony rides at the Tarentum Fest (blocks away from any parking meters).

Doesn't this law seem overly strict? It strikes me as far more draconian than than the law in Florida:
If an elephant is left tied to a parking meter, the parking fee has to be paid just as it would for a vehicle.
Perhaps in Tarentum elephants would be ok, but horses can't even be tied when the parking fee is paid!

Anyhow, imagine how I felt when I saw the following sight:
horses tied to parking meters in Tarentum, PA
This could be the start of a serious crime wave around here. If you spot any horses tied to parking meters in Tarentum, send me a photo. We've got to start tracking this rampant wickedness before it gets out of hand!

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Hogs Gone Wild in Tarentum

"Hogs Gone Wild" banner
Today Gatto Cycle is having the first ever Gatto Block Party: "Hogs Gone Wild" along two blocks of East Sixth Avenue and a block of Wood Street in Tarentum.
Sixth Ave in Tarentum for the Gatto Block Party

On a midway at the first block of East Sixth there is a huge balloon for WDVE that is making a remote appearance, and there is an inflated gecco representing GEICO. Great rock and roll music fills the air.
motorcycles being shown at the Gatto Block Party
There are also a lot of motorcycles being shown.

Knowing that I work in the motorcycle capitol of Western Pennsylvania, I should probably take some time to learn more about Harleys. Maybe next year I can give you more insightful commentary on the block party.

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Friday, July 14, 2006

Getting ready for VBS

sign advertizing Fiesta VBS at Central Presbyterian ChurchMany volunteers are hard at work preparing for the Vacation Bible School at Central Presbyterian Church in Tarentum, July 31-August 4, 2006.

One of the members of the congregation just finished this large sign that we will put outside in "Central Park" sometime next week. Excitement is building.

Village being painted for the Fiesta VBSBuildings are also building. Volunteers have been painting a village as a mural to decorate the church fellowship hall for the Vacation Bible School.

Parents may register children K-5th grade online at the church website.

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Cooperation in widening the bridge road

This week has been the week when PENNDOT restarted work on the project to widen the Tarentum Bridge Road in New Kensington. The wider road will be welcomed when it is completed, but this week there have been massive traffic tie-ups along the road.

Today I thought I recognized some familiar faces directing traffic along the road. They looked like some of Tarentum's finest, and sure enough, they were!

Tarentum's chief of police, Bill Vakulick helps keep traffic flowing in New Kensington
Among the familiar outsiders directing traffic in New Kensington was Tarentum Borough's Chief of Police, William Vakulick.

The traffic mess has affected a huge area this week, and the high humidity and temperatures have not helped. Keeping the traffic flowing will certainly contribute to a lessening of incidents of road rage on the other side of the bridge.

Tarentum's police function outside Tarentum for a number of reasons. Frazer Township has contracted with Tarentum to provide police coverage for the Pittsburgh Mills. At the last Borough Council meeting there was discussion of a magnetic marker for the Tarentum police vehicles to show when they are patrolling at the mall. It will name both Tarentum Borough and Frazer township.

Last month I broke out laughing when it was reported to me that someone (who maybe saw one of those automobile markers) was convinced that Allegheny County had merged Tarentum Borough and Frazer Township into a new "Tarentum Township." Further evidence of this imagined merger was allegedly to be found in the fact that the Pittsburgh Mills gets its mail through the Tarentum Post Office.

How strange, I thought, that the Tarentum Borough Council could keep plowing ahead with its own business oblivious to a county or state-imposed addition to its territory.

I only hope nobody starts any rumors that "Tarentum Township" has just annexed New Kensington.

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Water on stone

Tarentum has a number of different kinds of sidewalks in addition to the standard slabs of concrete. There are a couple of different kinds of laid-brick walks in town, and in a few neighborhoods such as along First Avenue or lower Lock Street there are places where the sidewalks are made of large blocks of stone.

Yesterday morning the rains left some interesting patterns of water on stone on some of those older sidewalks along First Avenue.
Water on stone in Tarentum

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Lilly Abreu plays Brackenridge

Lilly Abreu
The second event of Tarentum's 2006 Summer Concert Series had to relocate from Riverview Memorial Park to the Brackenridge American Legion because of the rain that has drenched the area over the last couple days and was falling even during the concert.

The performance this evening was Brazilian jazz by Lilly Abreu with an all-star group of musicians from Pittsburgh (Eric Susoeff, guitar; Eric DeFade, flute/sax; Dwayne Dolphin, bass; James Johnson III, drums).

I had to arrive late for this concert, but was delighted with what I was able to hear.

During the concert Ms. Abreu asked for volunteers from the audience to teach the samba.

Lilly's finale was "Mais Que Nada", a song that has been popular in the U.S. since the 60's.
Lilly Abreu performing in Brackenridge
The Summer Concert Series is sponsored by Old Friends Guitars and Tarentum Borough. The next concert will be next Wednesday, July 19 at 7:00 PM in Riverview Park. The Kromatics harmonica trio will perform.

Update 7-14-06: It has been pointed out to me that I failed to comment on being treated to the best hot sausage and onion sandwich I've ever had. The Tarentum Recreation Board has been developing a menu of refreshments for the summer concerts, and are discovering that many of their offerings are quite popular. At this week's concert they sold halushki, sausage sandwiches, and popcorn in addition to many of the popular items that were offered in years past.

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Believing that there still is a way through

I appreciated Dave Walker's cartoon on his blog The Cartoon Blog:
I am hoping we might be able to meet

Although he addresses the cartoon to a current debate within the Anglican Church, it is relevant as well to the PCUSA, where many if not most of the same tensions are present.

However severe the tensions feel today, I continue to believe that unity in Christ is both a possibility and a mandate.

Coffee, anyone?

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Flexibility and openness keep Habitat for Humanity of Allegheny Valley moving toward its goal

Yesterday morning I went to the McCargo Street site to meet up with John Renock and Diane Belitskus for a conversation about the web presence of our Habitat for Humanity of Allegheny Valley. John is in New Kensington for the week with a youth group from the First Lutheran Church in Galion, Ohio. This group brought along a group from the First Presbyterian Church of Eaton as well, and they were at work doing a variety of projects on the first of three Houses our local Habitat affiliate plans to complete in 2006.

The walls were raised on the McCargo Street house only last month. (Article on this blog here and in the Valley News Dispatch here) A lot of progress has been made since the first two walls were raised. The two youth groups from Ohio were working alongside local volunteers on a number of different tasks.
Preble county champion preparing to insulate roof
Meanwhile, a youth group from St. Scholastica Roman Catholic Church in Aspinwall arrived to help out. Jamie Dillon led the group of 17 who will be helping over the next three days (at one point it was anticipated that this would be a group of 10). Diane Belitskus gave this group a brief orientation to the purpose of Habitat for Humanity.
HFH Allegheny Valley Director Diane Belitskus orients group from Aspinwall
This group ended up working two blocks away at a site where Habitat for Humanity of Allegheny Valley will fix up a house that needs a lot of work. She gave the group a tour of the interior of the house, where the previous owner had started a renovation but decided not to continue. The first order of business was to start cleaning up the yard that had not been maintained and was quite overgrown.
922 Walnut before Habitat work team started cleaning up, July 10, 2006
922 Walnut before Habitat work team started cleaning up, July 10, 2006
Diane explained that this home became available to our affiliate during a week when there appeared to be roadblocks in the way of another property on which we hoped to build a home. This was very timely because the affiliate has a grant to increase building capacity that depends on finishing three homes this year. This late in the year it would be especially difficult to have to build two other homes from the ground up. "When God closes a door, God opens a window," she explained.

This is a rather large house to fix up, and is perhaps larger than would be used by most Habitat families, but there is a family with whom Habitat is working who may be ideal for this space because some of the extended family are currently homeless.

By the end of the day the group from Aspinwall had made a significant improvement in the site.
922 Walnut after one day of cleanup by Habitat work team, July 10, 2006
It was late in the morning when I was finally able to have the conversation about our web presence, but I had learned a lot during the morning about the incredible flexibility that our local teams have to exercise in making use of new opportunities as quickly as they appear.

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Saturday, July 08, 2006

A confidential matter

sign in the New Kensington Donut Connection
What happens at the Donut Connection stays at the Donut Connection.

The sign saying "We won't tell" promises a lot but leaves me wondering. If they were going to tell, who would they tell?

Until now I have never been concerned that as I walk away from the counter the cashier might lean forward and whisper to the next person in line, "See that guy leaving the store right now? The one carrying the box? He bought ... donuts!"

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Friday, July 07, 2006

There must be something wrong with this blogthing

There has to be. Please tell me it is broken.

You Are Most Like George W. Bush

So what if you're not exactly popular? You still rule the free world.
And while you may be quite conservative now, you knew how to party back in the day!

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Trinity: God's Love Overflowing

Today while I was having lunch with the Central Quilters someone showed me the column in this Sunday's Valley News Dispatch, "I believe in Larry, Moe, and Curly Joe" by Kathleen Parker and asked what I thought about it.

I don't like the column which appears to be commentary on the report "The Trinity: God's Love Overflowing" which was received by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) last month.

I question whether Ms. Parker actually read the report herself before publishing the column, and note that she does not claim to have done so.

The first four paragraphs of her column are total speculative fiction. The "gender-neutral version of the Apostles' Creed" that she offers appears nowhere in the Trinity report. Nor does her phrase "sorta-holy (lowercase) trinity." (Nowhere in the report does the word "Trinity" appear in lowercase.) Nor does her phrase "dad-boy-ghost scenario." Nor her phrase "patriarchal leftovers."

Ms. Parker characterizes the theological statement on the doctrine of the Trinity as a "policy paper on gender", but she ignores the theological resources cited in the document. She claims that the motivation for receiving the statement was attentiveness "to the world's evolving feelings" (again, her phrase). Her sole basis for claiming this to be the case is that she guesses it to be so. Having made a blind guess about the motivation behind the production of the report and the Assembly's reception of it, she is now freed from any need to acquaint herself with the actual rationale or content of the report.

She quotes the report as saying that the traditional language leads some people to believe that God is male. That is true. I had a phone call from a woman who believed God was male for that very reason. If that isn't evidence of the need for better teaching about the Trinity, I don't know what would be.

Parker cites the phrases that are likely to get the most attention -- "Mother, Child, and Womb" and "Rock, Redeemer, Friend" -- but omits the scriptural citations that were included in the report. Why the omission?

(Personally, I see how Mother, Child, Womb, Rock, Redeemer, and Friend can work separately as metaphors to talk about God, but I do not yet see how the triads work to illuminate the nature of the Trinity.)

I am glad the report was received the way it was. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) needs it. The PCUSA adopted a Directory for Worship in 1988 as part of our church's constitution. One relevant provision concerned the language to be used in worship
W-1.2006b. The church shall strive in its worship to use language about God which is intentionally as diverse and varied as the Bible and our theological traditions. The church is committed to using language in such a way that all members of the community of faith may recognize themselves to be included, addressed, and equally cherished before God. Seeking to bear witness to the whole world, the church struggles to use language which is faithful to biblical truth and which neither purposely nor inadvertently excludes people because of gender, color, or other circumstance in life.

Long before the Trinity Working Group started their task, worship leaders in PCUSA churches were mining the Scriptures for diverse and varied language that would help all of God's people to lift their hearts to God. Some of the attempts worked well, and some failed to capture the fullness of what we believe about the Triune God. The report, with the amendments made by the Assembly, will help us continue a necessary conversation about this core doctrine of the church.

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Monday, July 03, 2006

When unicorns attack

bad unicornI learned three things today:
  1. People who live with unicorns can be taken by surprise when they attack.
  2. The Alle-Kiski Medical Center Emergency Room is equipped and staffed to handle such injuries.
  3. Unicorns that attack should not be surprised if there is retaliation from the victim.
"I saw the unicorn moving, but I never expected it to attack me," said the member of Central Presbyterian Church as I drove her to the emergency room. She had been moving books from a bookshelf when a bronze unicorn toppled off the shelf and punctured her lower leg. She was so angry, she told me, that "I left the unicorn right there on the floor until just before you got here."

At the Emergency Room for the Alle-Kiski Medical Center in Natrona Heights the staff were surprised when they were told that they were treating a victim of a unicorn attack. But they effectively put their training and skills to work, cleaning out the wound, putting in eight stitches to close it up, and leaving the victim with follow-up instructions for caring for the wound..
AKMC banner for the Readers' Choice Best Hospital
As I watched them work, I thought to myself that these people could probably treat people attacked by any kind of fantasy creature. If you've been scorched by Godzilla's fire breath, squashed by King Kong, or mauled by a werewolf, go to the Alle-Kiski Medical Center in Natrona Heights. They'll know what to do.

As she was being discharged from her brief stay in the emergency room, the victim said. "I'm not sure what I should do with that nasty unicorn."

"That's what ebay is for," was the suggestion from one of the staff.

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