They’re Gonna Find You

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It all seemed to be going so perfectly.  I figured I’d need to get DJ a new car when she graduated from high school, the old 1998 Subaru just wasn’t likely to make it much longer.  Besides, DJ had built enough character driving the most embarrassing car in Raleigh for two whole years.

Interestingly, it died, earlier this month, two weeks before graduation.

I wasn’t stressed because I had the inside scoop.  I knew her grandfather was going to give her his car, a 2007 Mini Cooper, for graduation.  It’s about the size of a bathroom stall, but it sure is fun to drive.

The plan went off without a hitch.  She was thrilled!

And then, I went down to the DMV to transfer the title.  As I was leaving work to snag DJ who was going to accompany me on this task, I asked a group of folks in my office if I had to have cash, not sure if this government agency would take my credit card.

My boss overheard us.  “I don’t think you do.”

“How much do you think it will cost?  I might take some just in case.”

“About $35.”

I ran by the bank and snagged two twenties just in case.  I like to be prepared.

When we got there, I unscrewed the license plate.  I wasn’t sure if we could keep it or if we had to get another.

When I gave Lisa’s old car to the junkyard, I kept the tag – told them I lost it.  In reality, I just needed it.

Amazingly, when we got inside the line was short, perhaps because we went on the Friday morning before Memorial Day weekend.  When it came our turn, the clerk began punching buttons on the computer.   I also noticed a card swiper in front of her station – VISA would have been OK.

Her keyboard was noisy, like the old ones you had to press down an inch or so to get a response.

Clink, clink, clink, clink, clink. 

DJ and I were casually chatting while she worked.

She handed me the new tag in an opaque envelope.

“Thank you.”  It was clean, straight from the prison I imagined.  I was admiring the First in Flight when I heard the news…

“That’ll be $530.85 Mr. Tanner.”

“Excuse me?”

DJ later told me my facial expression was priceless.

“It’s $530,85.”

“Come again?”

She handed me the printout in Courier font, and she began to go through the seven charges listed.

“This is for DMV technical improvements.”

A worthy tax I guessed.  Besides, it was just a dollar.

“This is the Highway Use Tax.”

“What the heck is that?”  It was $279.60!

“It is 3% of the value of your car.”

“What if she promises to only drive on back roads?  DJ, you don’t need highways do you?”

“Sir.”

“But it’s just a little car.  It won’t take up much space!  And it doesn’t weigh much, and neither does she!  DJ, what do you weigh?”

My child began to look away.  She could see there were five more charges for me to dispute.

“What is this ‘Mercury Bill Payable’ charge?  We won’t be driving on other planets?”

“Dad, it’s only a dollar.  I can pay that for you.”  DJ reached in her pocket.

The clerk patiently went through the NC Certificate of Title, the plate calculation fee and the registration Transportation Authority fee.

Then I noticed the property tax.

“My father in law just paid property taxes on this car last month, he told me this week!  And now you’re telling me I have to pay them again?”

“Yes.  Sir, these are your taxes.  This is your property now.  Those were his taxes.”

“I don’t mind paying them next year, but why do we have to pay twice in one year?”

She repeated herself, “These are your property taxes.  This is your property now.”

“Damn Sam.”

Politicians say they want to simplify taxes.  I guess they think if they take it all, it is simpler than if they just take some of it.

When we got to the car, DJ reminded me that it was a gift, that we didn’t have to pay for it.

“Yea.  I know.  We got a deal.”

“Then why did you make such a scene?”

I didn’t really have an answer for that.  When it comes to taxes, something just comes over me.

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Taking It In For Two

Bailey at commencement

As wonderful as special occasions can be, I still find them hard.

For some reason, I can head to work each day without incident.  When Lisa died, we stopped eating dinner at the table and moved to the bar in the kitchen.  Ironically, I was the one who insisted on the table.  I think I like the Leave It To Beaver image of a man, me, sitting at the head looking out on all that I had – my kingdom – beautiful wife, three charming daughters and a nice backyard with very green grass.  Stools at the bar seemed to solve my emotional food disorder; even sleeping in that bed alone has become comfortable to me.

But toss in a high school graduation, a wedding or a funeral and I resort back.  Not necessarily to her death.  I harken back to what should have been.  She should have helped address the graduation announcement invitations.  She should have OK’d the white dress.  She should have read over DJ’s last speech to the school as Student Body President.  She should have been behind the camera lens, at the Apple Store picking out her college computer; there when grandpa gave her his old MINI Cooper – her character building Subaru in the junk yard.

As my beautiful senior walked down the brick pathway through the Grove at St. Mary’s School, I leaned over to my sister-in-law, “I feel like I need to be watching for both of us; like I need to be Lisa’s eyes too.”

It’s unfair to me to have to carry the emotional insecurity of sending my kid off into this big world alone.  It’s unfair to Lisa not to see her daughter soar.  She’s missing the tough parts and the glorious.

And I get it all.

Congratulations GW!

GW Logo

I am so proud!

My girl, DJ, has finally made her college decision.  Selfishly, I was hopeful she’d end up near home.  We have some great universities right here in the Triangle:  Duke, UNC, NC State.  Selfishly, I wanted her to end up at a public institution for obvious reasons, $$$.

She narrowed it down to three:  UNC, Furman in Greenville, SC, and George Washington University in DC.  Three weeks ago she visited UNC, ate dinner with a friend and came back pumped.  I thought we had a winner.

Two weeks ago, we visited Furman for accepted students’ day.  She met a girl she really liked.  They talked about rooming together.  I thought we had a winner.

But last week we took our trip to DC.  At the end of the day, I headed to get the car from the parking garage, only $23 for the day.  As I walked down H Street, I thought to myself, This IS it.  I can just tell in my gut.  This is where she’s going.  It is the furthest away from our house.  It is the most expensive of her choices, but I can really see her here. 

A small lump settled in my throat.

This is not what I want.  I want her to live at home and go to Meredith college .5 miles from the house!  I want to drop her off at school on my way to work!  I want her to eat dinner with the family on Sundays after church!  I want her to be three again!

I was convinced this would be her choice and actually, I was a little excited.  It was the excited you get for someone else, especially your kid.  It just felt right.  I began to mentally prepare, she’s really not going to Meredith.  Her deadline from me to decide was last Monday, I had to make a deposit and complete paperwork by Friday.  At 7 PM that night, she walked in the kitchen and said, “I can’t decide.  I think I want to go to UNC.”  We talked for an hour and decided to wait another two days.  She was volleying like a shuttlecock.  In the meantime, I convinced myself she would stay nearby.  I was pumped!  I’d see her occasionally!  I’d be able to afford to feed my other two children!

It’s now Wednesday night.  After dinner I went to her room, we were cutting it close; decision day was only 48 hours away.  I wasn’t sure what to expect. I approached the bed with caution (she hasn’t been the easiest person to deal with lately; come to think of it, neither have I).

“Have you made a decision?  Where do you want me to put the deposit?”

“GW.  Don’t ask questions.”

The lump returned.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

And there you have it.  The kid that sprang from my loins is growing up.  It’s hard to let go.

As one of her friends said, “Congratulations GW!  You got DJ!”

I love some Michael Coors

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It’s that time of year again.  Time to find the costume for the Winter Formal.  It’s in two weeks.  Both DJ and Stephanie have dates, which is no easy feat at an all girls’ school.  Appropriate clothing may be a more difficult challenge this year.

I took Stephanie to six dress stores last weekend.  If it had arm and neck holes, we tried it on.  Salesclerks give me the oddest stares.  I know they wonder why this dude is the sole adult with teenaged girls in their boutique.  I want to wear a sign across my chest:  Wife died, shut your pie hole.  Instead I try to act like I know what I’m doing, like Clinton from What Not To Wear:

“Texture…nice.”

“Shuuuut-Up!”

“Fit IS everything.”

“A line, much better than the B line.”

After a frustrating Saturday, I sent DJ on the prowl.  Within 30 minutes of their departure, I got a text with a pic of THE dress.  I thought Stephanie had it on backwards because the zipper was in the front.  Why would you need a zipper in the front?  It’s not a jacket.  You ain’t gonna need to get it off in a hurry!

Whatever…

This weekend we tackled shoes.  I took her to a store I thought was called DWI – but it’s actually DSW.  There were so many shoes there it upset my stomach.  I was overwhelmed.  I felt dizzy.  I didn’t know where to start.

I felt like a bird; I headed for sparkly shoes.  That’s what she used to like.

“Dad.  I haven’t worn sparkling shoes since I dressed up like Snow White, Halloween of 2004.”

Although she told me, I kept being drawn to shoes with jewels on them.

“Dad – DO NOT PICK OUT ONE MORE SHINY SHOE!  I AM NOT WEARING SEQUINS TO THE DANCE, especially on my feet!”

I pulled boxes off the shelf,she tried them on.  I then took pictures and sent them to DJ.

She responded to my first text:  “Put them back now!  They actually made me throw up a little bit.”

They weren’t that bad.

We finally settled on two pair, both returnable, both by Michael Coors.  I liked that cause he makes beer too.

When we got them home, I was told one pair looked like a 50-year-old lady and the other like a Hay Street prostitute.

“Well she must be good because these puppies were expensive.”

The crazy thing is that when DJ returned from her first dance at St. Mary’s School, I asked her if her feet hurt.  Her response?  “Oh no.  We took them off the minute we walked in the door.”

I’m gonna send her behind in bedroom slippers.  Shiny bedroom slippers.

New Year’s Eve and the IRS

In 1997, I ushered in New Years in Washington, DC.  I remember it well.  I have a photo of Lisa, me and the two other friends who joined us on that trip.

Lisa was pregnant with DJ but rallied for a long night that concluded with a 2 AM Metro ride Metro back to our hotel.  On our walk to our stop, my bladder was about to burst.  I had few options walking down Pennsylvania Avenue in the wee hours of the night but noticed a couple of trees ahead of me in front of a large white limestone building.   As I pondered my choices, I took full advantage.   As I walked up to the elm, I noticed the words cut into the cornerstone of the French Renaissance facade: Internal Revenue Service.

Yes, at 2 in the morning on January 1, 1997, I tinkled on the IRS.

I got no issues with our government or paying my fair share of taxes, but I will have to say there was something very rewarding about that act.

In December, my high school senior, DJ Tanner, asked if she could go to DC for New Year’s Eve with a friend.   I wasn’t excited about the two of them driving up there alone, but they were staying with the other girl’s extended family.  And frankly, I would much rather her be up there happy, than with the rest of the family miserable.

I gave her the dad speech:

  • Be responsible
  • Be aware and safe
  • Don’t spend too much money
  • Don’t pee on any governmental facilities

-all the normal things a parent worries about.

With some prying, I got a decent summary of the trip when she returned home on New Year’s afternoon.  DJ, who has a knack for knocking out some pretty neat videos, took the photos from their adventure and tossed together his short film:

I love social media when used to give me a glimpse into my kids’ lives.  I also love that there are no photos of the IRS building in this montage.

DJ’s College Essay

I’m proud of DJ, my senior in high school.  Even though she sort of cracks on her father in this college essay, I thought she did a pretty good job!  Hope she gets in!

When I was younger, my mom and I performed in Ira David Wood’s A Christmas Carol. This play has been running each December for 40 years in the Raleigh area, and more than 25,000 people see the annual performance. It is a spoof on Charles Dickens’ book with musical numbers intertwined. We were two of approximately 70 cast members singing and dancing across the stage. 

What I enjoyed most about the play was that I got to spend time with my mom. It was special, just for the two of us. When she passed away from cancer in 2010, I decided my sisters needed to pick up where mom and I left off, experiencing the magic of performing. We dragged my dad along with us. 

We tried out the year after mom died and surprisingly, we were all cast in the show. Our first rehearsals were easy, we practiced songs that we already knew because they were regularly played around Christmastime at our house. The next week got a little trickier. We were required to put dance steps with our singing. My sisters and I picked up the choreography in a heartbeat, but my dad struggled; he has two left feet. We spent the next few months teaching him how to do a jazz square while simultaneously lifting his arms in different directions. It was a challenge, but by the end we had him flawlessly placing his hands and feet in the right position on the right words.

In addition to vocal tryouts, each year I also attended the dance auditions for more advanced dance numbers. I have taken dance lessons since I was three, and it has been a way for me to escape. The problem was that I had never tap danced before, and one of the main dance scenes required that skill. I didn’t even own tap shoes. I returned to the dance auditions three years in a row, but never got cast as a dancer. I was only put in the chorus along with the rest of my family.

This year, I decided to give it one more go. I’ve spent thousands of hours in dance studios throughout the years, and I wanted to prove that I could perform at a higher level. I’d been working hard on my tapping skills at home teaching myself steps as I walked through my kitchen each day. Determined, but not expecting much, I arrived at the audition. The choreographer quickly yelled out tap lingo that was unfamiliar to me. I tried to act like I knew what I was supposed to do, but I really had no clue. I put on a huge smile and moved my feet in the general direction I thought they should go. When the cast list came out, I was thrilled. I was finally going to be a dancer in five main numbers, and one was tap! My persistence and hard work had paid off. 

This December, I will be performing at the Duke Energy Center and the Durham Performing Arts Center for thousands of people, tap shoes and all. My passion for dance and the energy I have put toward it over the past decade and a half have paid off in ways too numerous to count. Not only do I find great joy in performing personally, but it also means a lot to be on stage with my family next to me.

40th Anniversary of Ira David Wood’s A Christmas Carol

Biff’s Biceps

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I applied to one college.

I did not visit multiple institutions.  I took the SAT once.  We didn’t even have the ACT that I can recall or any other test that required a number 2 pencil and an interruption of much needed Saturday morning teenager’s sleep.

Maybe I wrote an essay.  If I did, it wasn’t a big deal.  It was one.  Perhaps my dad proofed it.  But that was about all.

These days I truly think it would be less work to be confirmed to the Supreme Court than to get into an institution of higher learning.

Over the years, many dandy tools have been created to help you figure out which college might be a good fit.  You can go to a web site and look at a scattergram showing you little colored dots on a graph that tell you the average high school GPA of those who applied to get into each college.  The green dots got in, the red ones did not and the blue ones got in but went somewhere else.

It was one of these web sites that unveiled that the average GPA for the University of North Carolina is 4.58.

So to be clear, you can have straight A’s, a 4.0 average, and you ABSOLUTELY WILL NOT get into one of our state’s largest institutions of higher learning.  Unless, of course, you play football.

I have encouraged DJ to join the city league.  Certainly she could be a kicker.  She says that’s ridiculous, that shoulder pads are out.

My standards are not that high for DJ’s college choice.  There are two criteria:  She has to get accepted and I have to be able to pay for it.

Thus far in our quest for the right secondary educational fit,we have:

Taken the SAT twice

Taken one prep course for the SAT

Taken the ACT twice

Visited 11 institutions

Completed the common app (which most colleges don’t take)

Had 17 arguments

And she has written six essays which I have proofed.  There are many more to go.

Why is there a common application if more than half of the schools she is applying to refuse to accept it?

At NC State, which does not accept the common app, you have to enter your top ten extracurricular activities and explain them in 25 characters or less.  For UNC, you have up to 150 characters to share the same exact information.  Errrr.

Although DJ has done the lions share of the work, at times we will sit together, two computers open, trying to enter info onto one application by interpolating info from another application.  Working to add or pair down the 62 characters to 22 characters because some bozo decided not to use the common app.

At times we get a little punchy, and I’ll start answering questions like this:

Question:  Discuss any obstacle and/or hardships you have encountered and how you dealt with them.

Our Answer:  I was a breech baby.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  My toes were above my ears and the umbilical cord was wrapped around my chest.  I tried to turn but I simply could not.  I could hear the doctor going nuts!  I pressed on the lining of my mother’s uterus and bravely shimmied down the birth canal.  It was the most difficult day of my life.

There are some schools that really want DJ to attend.  I am not familiar with Mercer, but I feel like we have a special relationship.  They email me daily.  Right now they are, one by one, sending me the top 15 reasons to attend their school.  We’re on number 6.  I can’t wait to see what 5 will be.

I do fear that DJ might decide to go to a school for the wrong reasons.  A few weeks ago we toured the University of South Carolina.  When we got back into the car after walking around the campus for an hour and half I asked, “What did you like the most?”

She said, “The tour guide was HOT!”

All of this work, and she may make her choice based on Biff’s biceps.  Heck, the local community college has hot guys.  Think we’ll go there next week.

 

 

My Political Dynasty

Like Joseph Kennedy, I’m working to build a political dynasty.

When DJ announced that she was seeking the position of Student Body President at her all girls’ school, I wondered where she found the confidence to put herself out there like that. I guess she thought she had a chance to win. At that age, I would have simply pondered the potential to lose.

She put together a cracker-jack campaign committee with representatives from all the grades. She handed out home-baked cookies (the whole family helped decorate them), and bacon. Yea, we got up at the butt crack of dawn one morning, cooked bacon and shoved each piece in an individual baggie with her campaign slogan written in Sharpie marker on the Ziplock.

“Why are you handing out bacon,” I questioned.

“Do you like bacon,” she retorted.

“Yah. Everybody does.”

“Well there ya go.”

I gotta give it to her. It worked. Plus, she had a really good speech.

I can already see her in the White House. She’s pretty good at problem solving.  And, her sisters would say that she’s mastered bossing others around.

A few weeks later, Michelle followed in her footsteps by running for Secretary of her middle school. This was her speech:

Roses are red, my granny is swell,

If you want a good secretary, vote for Michelle!

 

I am an honest girl, never committed a crime,

I’ll be prompt, and I’ll get to the meetings on time.

 

I am not very good at basketball, I can’t really dribble,

but when I take notes I am neat, and I do n’t scribble.

 

Student council sells biscuits, they’re only a dollar,

I’ll serve them hot, and you will holla.

 

I’ll be quick with communicating, I won’t be slow,

I’ll work really hard to keep you in the know.

 

I am very dependable, don’t worry about me,

If you vote for Michelle, you will see!

 

I could see her being the Ambassador to Spain in her future. Don’t they just throw parties and stuff?

And the middle kid? Well, the Peace Corps might be in her future, Stephanie has such a heart for serving others – she sincerely cares about people.

This is her on a mission trip attempting to demo a ceiling:

I’ve been told that tearing out ceilings was not her sweet spot but that she can spread insulation like a champ!  Talk about confidence, this kid left home to go to New York with 30 other teens, most 3 to 4 years her senior.

I was pondering their recent accomplishments as I opened their report cards this past week.  When I was their age, I was solidly churning out B’s and spending my free time watching Gilligan’s Island.   I would have no more run for office or gone on a mission trip without my best friends than I would have hang glided over the Grand Canyon.

They may get their humor from me, but I think the rest of their genetic makeup came straight from their mom.  Wish she was here to see all this.

 

 

 

 

She’s Got a Job!

CSF counselor

DJ has a job!  Employed!  A tax paying citizen.  Well, I don’t think she’s gonna make enough to be a tax payer, but she will get a paycheck.

She’s going to work at Camp Seafarer this summer.  It’s a resident camp on the coast with a focus on boating.  I think she’s gonna have a great time.  She attended as a camper and loved it.

I worked at Seafarer’s brother camp, Sea Gull, back in 1988.  It was fun, but it was hard work.  I was the Head Counselor for the first 18 cabins – the youngest kids.

I have a ton of fond memories about the summer I spent down in Arapahoe, NC.  The Tuesday lunch of fried bologna and cabbage was not one of them.

Each week the campers had to write home to their parents.  One day a boy in cabin 1, he was six, sent a postcard to his mother.  He forgot to address it so the note was returned to camp.

The office manager pulled me in, “Danny, I think you have a problem.”

Because it was a postcard, we could read what he’d written.  It went something like this:

Dear Mom,

There’s these boys here and they’re talking about your boobies.

Mikey

Apparently during rest period a couple of the kids were having some conversations about Mikey’s mom’s breasts.  I saw her on opening day – some of the counselors were also talking about Mikey’s mom’s upper half.  We were just smart enough not to do it in front of him.

One morning at camp I was awoken at 6 AM by the senior counselor in Cabin 2.

“Danny, where are you?”

He was in a panic.

“I’m missing a kid.  Christopher is gone!”

I sprinted to his duplex.  He was right.  Christopher’s bed was empty, and we’d checked the entire cabin, twice.

I ran to camp’s headquarters and instructed them to make an announcement over the camp intercom system.  Mind you, very few people were awake at this time of day and the camp was huge, over 1,000 people on campus.

Christopher Miller, please report to Cabin 2 immediately.  The loud-speaker blared.

I sent counselors to the riverfront just to be sure.  We were running in and out of the camp 1 cabins waking staff to get their assistance.

About 10 minutes into the search, the counselor from Cabin 4 emerged with our missing person.

Apparently he slept walked out of cabin 1 and moseyed down to cabin 4 in the middle of the night.  He jumped in bed with another kid, snuggled up and went right to sleep.

I never went to camp as a kid; I wouldn’t leave my mom that long.  I didn’t even particularly enjoy spending the night at Stephen Mozena’s house, and he was my best friend.

There was a younger camper that summer named Josh.  He was seven years old, perhaps a little young for a four-week stay away from home, and Josh missed his mama.  He’d tear up when his counselor would dip his green beans.  He’d sob as the camp would stand on the mess hall benches and sing the favored camp song:

Oh they built the ship Titanic and when they had it through

they said they had a ship that the water could not go through

but the Lord’s almighty hand said that ship would never stand

Oh it was sad when that great ship went down.

Come to think of it, that is an odd theme song for a boating camp.

Anyway, poor Josh cried and cried and cried.  When I wasn’t frustrated with him because he was blowing his summer and an incredible opportunity, my heart went out to him.

There were 200 campers under my direction so I tried to spread my time wisely hanging out with groups at a time.  But one day, I decided I’d spend the entire afternoon with Josh.  I asked him what he wanted to do.

“Danny, will you take me sailing?”

What Josh didn’t know was that I wasn’t a sailor.  I’d been on a Sunfish once, and it was three weeks earlier during staff training.  But it actually didn’t look that hard to me so I strapped our life vests on and we headed out to the moorings.  I signed us out, and we got on this two-man vessel.

The wind was strong that day, perfect for sailing. Well, perfect if you knew what you were doing. I did not. And I think it freaked Josh out when we capsized the first time. I know it did the second time. And the third time was just too much. The dingy came and drug us landlubbers in.

Interestingly, the next day was the first that Josh didn’t cry. Maybe it was because I shared with him about my hesitance to sleepover at Steven ‘s as a child. Or perhaps it was because he figured if he could survive the Sunfish with me, he could take on anything at camp. Who knows? But he loved the last week he was with us.

I think DJ is going to be a super addition to the Seafarer summer sailing staff primarily because she actually knows how to sail.

 

 

 

UNC or USC?

USC

For 16 years I’ve dreaded the day my kids go to college.  How in the heck did the junior year get here so quickly?

Don’t get me wrong. I want them to grow up, and I want them to experience the world.  I just want to be there when they do so.

I do think that God prepares you.  DJ isn’t really home that much anymore.  It’s more rare for her to actually make the family dinner than to not.  And, frankly, there are times she’s just not as much fun to be around as she used to be.  She barely snuggles anymore, she gets most angry when tickled and don’t even try blowing her stomach.

Regardless, I want her to find a school that she absolutely loves.  And if it is Meredith College, three blocks from our house, SUPER!  I could drop her off on the way to work – wouldn’t that be fun?

And, if she decides to go somewhere that is a six-hour drive, so be it (I ain’t taking her anywhere further than that).

Two weekends ago, DJ and I went on a weekend long college tour, just the two of us.  It was really nice to have some time with her alone.

We hit Chic Fil A three times – once we saw the sign and had a hunkering for a shake.  It was Saturday night at 9, and that meant we had two hours or we’d be done for the weekend.  I mean, I’m all about the Sabbath, but seriously, couldn’t they just open at like 1 when everyone is through with church?

We pulled off the interstate and realized it was a 3.8 mile drive to the cookies and cream.  There ought to be a law against that – more than 1/2 a mile and it should not be on official FOOD signage.

We toured four schools:  Clemson, Furman, South Carolina and UNC.

I asked our student guide what I thought were fairly good questions:

“Are all of the dorms same-sex facilities?  She’d be more comfortable with all girls.”

“Could you expound on the Honors curriculum?”

“Now, where is the Presbyterian Student Center?”  It bothered me that one of the guides did not know.

“Is there a curfew?”

I pointed out the amenities of each school to my daughter:

“DJ, look, they have brocoli in the lunch room!”

“There is a YMCA right near the campus.”

“I don’t think you’ll even need a car here.”

“The teachers seem so nice.”

It was difficult to get a real read on what she liked.  I think she wants to surprise me.

She didn’t seem very impressed with the brocoli and honors courses.  But I did see her pupils expand when she drove by USC’s frat court.

I don’t think Meredith has a frat court – that could be a problem.

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