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Category: Opinion & Reader Forum

Thoughts & Views: Flying with the ‘comrades’

Is “fugitive intelligence leaker” Edward Snowden still languishing at Moscow Airport? As of press time, he was, but things do change.

Perhaps he has finally finagled asylum somewhere and perhaps he is fool enough to accept it.

However, this column is really not about Snowden, other than (moral issues aside) the pity I have for anyone trapped that long in any airport.

Everytime the Snowden/ Moscow Airport story airs, I get the shivers. And I shall tell you why.

I am a child of the Cold War. I grew up expecting to be obliterated at any given moment by H-bombs dropped from Soviet planes. I know all about “Duck and Cover” and what the symbol indicating an air raid shelter looks like and I have vivid memories of huddling under my desk at school during air raid drills and wondering why the teachers thought this would offer any protection at all. We kids knew better. We knew we’d be toast.

When the Iron Curtain was lifted and I had a chance to visit Moscow, I jumped at it. How better to finally overcome my childhood terrors than to confront them in their homeland?

It turned out to be a terror-free trip, but tinged always with a sense of unreality.

When I was in the city, I was with a gaggle of other journalists from around the world. But I had to travel to and from Moscow by myself. Travel arrangements had been made for me, but I was otherwise on my own.

I also had the “luck” to be booked on a Aeroflot flight that the Russians referred to the state airline as Aeroflop.

Still, it could have been worse. I had been given a first-class ticket, though I was warned that on the return flight I’d be in coach. I could not imagine what coach was like, since (way back then; I am certain Aeroflot has improved vastly) “first class” was awful.

No movies, no headphones, no lights for most of the night, so you couldn’t even read. Did we get vodka? I can’t recall. Maybe we got too much. I also cannot recall what they fed us, though I had suspicions that somewhere back in coach, they were grilling goats.

In any case, I made it to Moscow safely, had a great time, and, the day before I was due to leave was told, wonder of wonders, that my return ticket had been upgraded and I would again be spared sitting in steerage.

In the pre-dawn dark next morning, once again all on my own, I got a taxi to the Moscow Airport. The driver was most friendly and I tipped him well, and he actually came into the airport with me to make sure I got to the right check-in counter. (Did I mention my Russian was limited to “Nyet” and “No problemo” and “Zhivago”?)

When it was my turn, I said to the counter clerk, “First class.” And she said, “Nyet!” We repeated this exchange several times, each of us getting more and more annoyed, until I finally gave up and entered the waiting area, convinced that’d I’d be soon grilling goats.

NOTHING in the airport was open. There were gates and bars on everything. You couldn’t even get a cup of coffee. So I just sat on a bench and studied the ticket that had betrayed me.

But lo! On the flight over, I had managed to decipher a cyrillic phrase that obviously indicated “First Class.” And there it was again!

The counter clerk had lied. She probably had expected a bribe, someone suggested later.

I lept to my feet and ran over to the steel fencing that separated the benches from an open area patrolled by soldiers or policemen (I couldn’t tell which; they all dressed alike and they all carried automatic rifles over their shoulders). One was walking by a few yards away, and I called out, in an angry voice: “EXCUUUSE me! Do you speak English?”

He stopped and said, quietly and in perfect English, “Do you speak Russian?”

He had gently put me in my place, and I couldn’t help but laugh, which broke the ice I had created. He came over, I explained my predicament and showed him my ticket, and he told me to follow him.

We walked, he on one side of the fence, me on the other, until we reached a gate. He let me out of my pen and guided me through a door. I found myself in what apparently was the airport police station.

My gallant rescuer began explaining things to the “desk sergeant,” in Russian of course, so I really had no idea what was being said. And then he told me I would be allowed back into the check-in area, but I first had to hand over my passport and visa. Which I did.

I was then shown to another door, walked through it alone, and it locked behind me. It was then I felt the jolt. One of my childhood nightmares had come true.

I was in Russia with no papers.

No proof of American citizenship.

No ID at all.

Visions of the gulag danced in my head.

Luckily, the witchy clerk must have been spoken to because, as soon as she saw me, she scurried over, spouting what sounded like apologies, took my ticket, circled that cyrillic phrase and stamped it.

I was vindicated, but I didn’t breathe again until I knocked on that locked door, was allowed entry and, finally, was given my documents.

My rescuer had gone back on his beat, so I could not thank him. But I shall never forget his kindness.

Or that momentary terror.

God bless the U.S.A.

–Karen Zautyk


A story about the Harrison East Newark Elks published July 3 contained two misstatements. First, as two readers noted, Larry Bennett held the office of exalted ruler during 2003-2004, followed by Lynn Luciano in 2004-2005; then Bennett continued in the post for the following nine years. Secondly, the name of a former Elks exalted ruler and current trustee that appeared in the story and photo should have read Larry Kelly. The Observer regrets the errors.


Who’s protecting the river?

Our community is worried with regard to the future of our town and we have reached out to the DEP for their records regarding permits relating to the Rt. 3 project only to discover there are no permits for “block the block the river.” The DEP says there is “latitude” for this to be done during construction. Gee, does the mean the contractor can freely set up housekeeping and dump debris from their construction job in the River?

“Latitude” – a unique word for something that impacts an entire community. “D” “E” “P” – DEPARTMENT of ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION. Are we the public to assume this eminent department of public safety affords latitude to companies to act without regard to potential hazards and consequences to the public and they can turn a blind eye to sites under construction, or is that “latitude” granted to a chosen few? “Department of Environmental Protection” – what exactly do those words mean? Who are they protecting?

Effort has been made to obtain copies of permits that showed that the DEP or the like examined the impact on the flow of the river. It is our tax dollars that were used to clean up what we endured during the last storm and it will be our tax dollars that will be used for the inevitable damage from the next storm. We are entitled to answers post-haste. We are currently in what has been referred to as an “active hurricane season” We still have crane platforms under the Rt. 3 bridge which, based on the consensus of opinions, is another engineered nightmare. I strongly suggest anyone attempting to enter Rt. 3 West not bring suit against the driver that hits you but to seek remedy from the company that engineered that nightmare maybe if they are held responsible for their lack of foresight they would be more concerned with the safety of those that will be using their handiwork. I wonder how many studies were done at taxpayers’ expense for that engineering feat. Exiting on the east side has its own challenges.

Sen. Paul Sarlo indicated in May that he was going to get those crane platforms out of there. We are still waiting.

A meeting with the public is scheduled for Aug. 15 at the Lyndhurst Senior Building to discuss the river. We cordially invite the Governor, Sen. Robert Menendez, Congressman Bill Pascrell, Assemblyman Gary Schaer, Assemblywoman Marlene Caride and last, but not least, State Sen. Sarlo.

An Internet search shows that State Sen. Paul A. Sarlo (D-Bergen) was listed as the chief operating officer for Joseph M. Sanzari, according to the NJ Legislature website. On his own website, Sarlo lists that he is a licensed professional engineer, licensed professional planner and a certified municipal engineer, and that he holds both a Bachelor of Science degree and Master of Science degree in civil engineering from the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He is also listed as the borough engineer for Carlstadt and is currently the chief engineer of Bishop-Sanzari Heavy Construction.

But has stated to me personally that he had nothing to do with the Rt. 3 engineering feat of the company of which he is the COO.

I truly believe a great deal of latitude was given to that project.

We are witness to extreme weather conditions and it borders on criminal if something is not done very, very soon to dredge the “mud flats,” eliminate the creation of a flood plain and to remove any and all obstructions in the river that hinders its flow.

A meeting is being planned to be held in Lyndhurst on August 15 at senior center to discuss the river. I believe it would be advantageous for representatives from our neighboring communities, such as Rutherford, North Arlington, and Kearny, to attend in an effort to force a remedy as soon as possible without the need for the boiler plate response of “a study needs to be done.” Those of us who live in these bedroom communities have studied the issue up close and personal. Our findings are the riverbed is too high due to years of neglect creating a floodplain, flotsam not removed be it a 30 foot boat or crane platforms and the river is contaminated. These are the results of our studies through four major storms that have hit this area in recent years.

My uneducated opinion (you see, I am not an engineer or environmentalist) is get the obstructions out of the river and lower the riverbed. Then you can deal with the contamination because that is not going anywhere for a very long time.

Common sense dictates that you fix what is fixable, which is the height of the riverbed and study the other issue of contamination, which has been studied for years already, you see that contamination was caused by the very significant reply of “there is latitude given”: that is why the river is contaminated because of that kind of latitude.

Ladies and gentlemen our tax dollars pay these people that have allowed these problems to continue. If each of us were paid 5 cents on every dollar that has been spent on studies I believe it would amount to a significant amount of money.

Marie Cush


Thoughts & Views: In case you hadn’t heard…

If raconteur Will Rogers were still among us today, he’d have a storehouse of anecdotes about the world’s strange predicaments to share with his audience.

I couldn’t shine Will’s shoes, much less those of his horse, but please allow me to share some musings on these events on the world stage:

Egypt, said to be the cradle of civilization, continues to rock our world with the latest pronouncements of the nation’s military. President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood cannot be trusted to run the country, the generals have pronounced, with the tacit assent of America’s envoys.

Perhaps Morsi will now be whisked off to some wait station at some Middle East airport and somewhere cross flight paths with the American fugitive leaker Edward Snowden. If so, Snowden can probably shed some light on why Obama & Co. lost patience with the man in Cairo.

Turns out this Arab Spring phenomenon has more twists and turns than the Secrets of the Sphinx.

So the military has taken control in Egypt, which as the press pundits point out, sounds like a coup – in which case, the country forfeits the $1 billion-plus aid we use to prop up our Near East ally, mostly for weaponry, by the way. Which we’ve already given them this year. Oops.

Maybe we’ll take it away next year and hand it over to Israel. They can use the dough to build more border settlements, just in case the Palestinians want to explore the notion of statehood again.

The cause of social media is advancing in the Far East. Japanese politicians are learning about Facebook and Twitter and transparency. Seems their media-savvy consultants are cautioning them not to overtax their constituents with a lot of heavy talk about the meat-and-potato issues … just tell the voters what you had for lunch, for example, so they know you’re a real person. At least that’s what The New York Times has reported.

In the U.S., we’ve got some fun stuff happening in Wyoming, where the cattle outnumber the people, and where Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, is itching to run for U.S. Senate as the Republican nominee and dad is stumping with her, the Times notes. Only problem is her opponent would be the incumbent Republican Sen. Michael Enzi, a longtime fly-fishing pal of Dick. Enzi isn’t backing down. Put down those shotguns, fellas.

Then there’s Frank Serpico, the ex-New York cop who, you’ll recall, blew the whistle on what he claimed was widespread police corruption in the late ‘60s, retiring on a disability pension after being shot during a drug bust. Serpico, now 77 and living in a rural upstate N.Y. town, is upset again, the Times reports, this time with his neighbor in a property dispute. The neighbor, aiming to sell his land to a developer, has bulldozed the grounds and, in the process, according to Serpico, has uprooted trees on his land which the ex-cop says he’s maintained in its natural wild state. Maybe there’ll be a new movie in the making.

– Ron Leir


Another religious viewpoint

To the Editor:

While certainly respecting the writer, Swami Mukundananda, personally, I wish to set forth the true God of the Bible – far different than set forth in the article.

Yes, indeed, there is certainly One Creator.

However, the God of the Bible has not at all set forth in His Bible that there would be a merging into Him at the time of what the writer calls the “time of annihilation.“ Just the opposite!

The God of the Bible (“all Scripture is God-breathed”) has revealed that each of us is born a sinner, sinners by nature, falling short of His glory, which is why we die. (“We’ve all gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” … “There is none righteous, no not one. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.”)

God sets forth in His Bible that we have all broken His law, and that if we break one we have broken them all. Not good news.

However, there is good news for those who have, and for those who will, put their trust in the finished work of a glorious Person, Jesus Christ, God come in the flesh (“And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and the Word was God”) Who paid our debt by His shed blood (“there is no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood”), His crucifixion (“It is finished”), and (“justification i.e. “rendered innocent”) by His resurrection. There is a glorious eternity for those of us who have, and those who will, receive the Savior and the gift of salvation. (The promise is “a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”)

We know that Michael Phelps broke world records with his Olympic swimming, but he can’t swim to Europe. In the same way, we cannot in ourselves, in the condition in which we are all born, hope to satisfy the sin debt we owe to a perfectly holy God by anything we can do, whether good we do, religion, etc. But the Bible is 100% clear – “it is appointed unto men to die once and then to face judgment.” And what follows that judgment is anything but annihilation.

With outstretched arms and unfathomable love, He makes the one-time offer of the free gift of salvation, that of receiving Him and putting trust in Him and His finished work when He did what none of us can do for ourselves. His invitation is for all from every background. Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever comes to Me, even though He dies, He will live.”

Also, the writer of the article mentioned wars – having a label of “Christian” in any period of time in no way means that a person(s) has repented of his/her sin and received Jesus as Savior, having a personal relationship with Him.

It should be noted that untold numbers of people have walked among the very lands and events described in the Bible. Also, over 300 prophecies have been accurately fulfilled by the first coming of the Lord Jesus Christ; and now again the world scene for future events is accurately unfolding according to the continued prophecies in the Bible.

Virginia Desmond

North Arlington

A kind gesture

The Lyndhurst Girls’ Association is a small group of women who maintain “The Libbie Lindsay Little House” as a meeting place for Lyndhurst Girl Scouts and their leaders. Recently, we had an unexpected emergency when the commode was not working properly and needed to be replaced. With scout meetings and several other events scheduled, we needed to get this done as quickly as possible. I placed a call to Carl Carbone Plumbing who came first thing in the morning, and replaced the toilet. I asked for the bill, only to be told there would be no bill. Carl donated the fixture, materials and labor to the “Little House.” On behalf of the ladies and the Girl Scouts of Lyndhurst, I would like to thank Carl Carbone for his very kind and generous donation. He is a wonderful asset to the community and we wanted to publicly acknowledge him.

Kathy Isoldi

Lyndhurst Girls’Association

Thoughts & Views: The foundations of our nation

Tomorrow being the Glorious Fourth, I decided to give myself a little refresher course in American history, and wouldn’t you know, I learned something I never knew before.

On the day in 1776 when the Continental Congress approved (this is the original wording and capitalization) “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,” it apparently marked the first time the former British colonies officially referred to themselves as “states.”

If I’m wrong about that, would some historian please correct me?

In any case, I wanted Observer readers to get a little refresher course of their own. We all (I hope) know bits of the introduction to the Declaration of Independence, but this is a suitable occasion on which to repeat the initial sentences, which set the stage for the birth of a nation:

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands [I always thought it was “bonds,” didn’t you?] which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. . . .”

I would also like to offer for your consideration, the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

More than one of these has served as a flashpoint in recent national debates, but I did wonder how familiar those on the sidelines are with the precise wording. TV’s talking heads offer scraps and phrases, but rarely enlighten the public by reading the entire amendment at the heart of an argument.

So here, for your edification, is what they say, in their original form. Take into consideration such things as subordinate clauses and (18th century) punctuation and you can get a bit of feel for what it must be like to be a Supreme Court justice:

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Amendment VII

In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Reading all this over, I am struck by one thing: These truly are living documents, as relevant today (except perhaps that $20 reference) as to when they were written. Therein lies the genius of our Founding Fathers. Please give a little thought to, and thanks for, that tomorrow night when our skies are ablaze with fireworks.

– Karen Zautyk


Beware of barbecued bugs

To the Editor:

Whatever happened to the good old days when the worst things we had to fear on the 4th of July were traffic jams and wayward fireworks?

According to the Department of Agriculture’s Meat and Poultry Hotline, this year’s top threat is food poisoning by nasty E. coli and Salmonella bugs lurking in hamburgers and hot dogs at millions of backyard barbecues. The Hotline’s advice is to grill them longer and hotter. Of course, they don’t bother to mention that the high-temperature grilling that kills the bugs also forms lots of cancer-causing compounds.

Luckily, a bunch of enterprising U.S. food manufacturers and processors have met this challenge head-on by developing a great variety of healthful, delicious, and convenient, veggie burgers and soy dogs. These delicious plant-based foods don’t harbor nasty pathogens or cancer-causing compounds. They don’t even carry cholesterol, saturated fats, drugs, or pesticides. And, they are waiting for us in the frozen food section of our supermarket.

This 4th of July offers a great opportunity to declare our independence from the meat industry and to share wholesome veggie burgers and soy dogs with our family and friends.

Cory Baker


Thoughts & Views: Death of ‘Sopranos’ star a harsh lesson

James Gandolfini, the man we came to know as the strangely endearing and intriguing Tony Soprano from David Chase’s breakthrough TV series about a fictional mob family from New Jersey, is dead at the age of 51.

That’s a real tragedy, not just because we’ve been deprived of the talents of a wonderful actor but, more importantly, because the New Jersey native apparently gave more attention to learning his lines than to learning how to take care of himself.

Weighing 275 pounds, and given to binge eating and drinking, according to published reports, Gandolfini – much like his character in “The Sopranos” – wouldn’t – or couldn’t – restrain himself.

And, for that unwillingness – or inability – to adjust, he paid the ultimate price, suffering a fatal heart attack while on a trip with his 13-year-old son in Italy.

Am I setting myself up as Gandolfini’s judge? Heck no, I don’t presume to hold myself above anyone, particularly since I myself am no slim Jim (pardon the pun) for someone my size.

And I am a victim of my own self-neglect, having become a Type 2 diabetic some years ago, undoubtedly from downing too many beers and sugar drinks. I control my blood sugar with meds.

But Gandolfini’s – and his family’s – misfortune, given his extraordinary popularity, can serve as a valuable lifesaving lesson for all of us.

The common sense approach to living life in a productive, healthy manner is a virtue we can – and should – all strive to achieve. The ancient Greeks had it right – moderation in all things.

The nation’s First Lady, Michele Obama, has taken the lead in raising awareness about the dangers of obesity in our population, particularly among our youth, and she is right on the money there.

Too many of us are content to sit on our couches and watch the boob tube or fiddle with our electronic games when we could be in the gym or biking or taking a brisk walk, exercising the mind and the body.

Me? During the summer, I’m a weekend warrior, playing softball doubleheaders on Sundays in New York’s Central Park with the Appalachian Mountain Club. But that’s about it. I have a bike sitting, collecting dust, in a basement storage room and I hardly bother to ride it. There’s a health club in the building where I live and I don’t use it. So shame on me for failing to exploit the resources easily available to me.

There is one area, however, where I am, I think, improving: watching what I eat and when I eat it. I’ve been trying to incorporate more salads and veggies into my diet. Even fresh fruit, now and again. I’m avoiding heavy stuff like pasta, bread and potatoes. And I’ve been getting better about not packing away my dinner meal late at night.

It’s still a work in progress.

But unlike the mysterious scene that ended the last episode of “The Sopranos,” I’m striving for clarity as I move through my twilight years.

I hope I can pull it off. I hope we all can.

– Ron Leir


A story in last week’s issue about the North Arlington Board of Education mandating school uniforms for its students misidentified BOE President George McDermott. He is a police dispatcher.

Thoughts & Views: Hey, LEGO, put on a happy face


From the Department of You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: Down under, at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury, the head of its Human Interface Technology lab has been studying the faces on LEGO mini-figures.

I am not sure exactly what Human Interface Technology is, but it apparently has something to do with “improving human computer interaction.

” I’m not sure what that is either, but the first thing I thought of was:

‘’Hello, HAL. Do you read me, HAL?”

“Affirmative, Dave. I read you.”

“Open the pod-bay doors, HAL.”

“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

But I digress.

The HIT expert, Dr. Christoph Bartneck, has reportedly examined 3,665 LEGO minifigures produced from 1975 to 2010 and has discovered what is, to some, an alarming trend.

According to the university’s website, he found: “The number of happy faces . . . is decreasing and the number of angry faces is increasing.”


Said Bartneck, “Children’s toys and how they are perceived can have a significant impact on children. We cannot help but wonder how the move from only positive faces to an increasing number of negative faces impacts on how children play.”

Hey, this is important stuff. Bartneck will present a paper on his findings at the International Conference on Human- Agent Interaction, to be held in August in Japan.

Suppose we are raising a generation of children who can never outgrow the psychological effects that growly, grimacing LEGOs had on them as tykes. Eventually, I am sure, there will be a “Criminal Minds” episode based on the predations of a LEGO-warped unsub.

And LEGO’s response? According to Britain’s The Guardian newspaper, the company’s communications manager, while not directly addressing the New Zealand research, “said every toy developed by the manufacturer was tested by a range of children, while child psychiatrists, parents and teachers were also consulted.”

He also noted that in LEGO games, “the good guys always win in the end.”

And, he told The Guadian, if parents are still concerned, “they can always just switch heads with another figure.”

By the way, the name of the LEGO spokesman is:

Roar Rude Trangbæk.

You can’t make this stuff up.

On another matter entirely, up in Boston, the murder/ racketeering trial of the infamous James (Whitey) Bulger is beginning. According to The New York Times, the defendant is apparently irked most by reports he had been an informant for the FBI, since “nothing was more despicable in his insular Irish enclave of South Boston than a rat.”

This reminded me of a joke I heard during The Troubles in Northern Ireland:

Q. What do you have if you have one Irishman?

A. A secret.

Q. What do you have if you have two Irishmen?

A. A conspiracy.

Q. What do you have if you have three Irishmen?

A. An informer.

The subtle subtext of this is not that there would be an actual informer, but that (the Irish having a mistrustful streak) one of the three would inevitably begin to suspect one of the others.

This riddle was told to me by a supporter of the Provisional IRA, which I mention only because I do not wish to be accused of ethnic profiling. The Provo and I both thought it was funny.

– Karen Zautyk