3541

In 1995, I moved to Chicago to pursue improv greatness. I wanted to take classes at the Second City and the ImprovOlympic, specifically from this guy named Del Close. My college friend from New York, John Mulhern, had been aiding and abetting my weekend dalliances with Chicago improv and his group had even been kind enough to let me sit in with a few rehearsals where I did not completely disgrace myself.

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The rear-entrance to 3541 N. Clark BEFORE the annex was added.

Classes for ImprovOlympic were just beginning at its new resident space at 3541 North Clark. The neighborhood at the time was empty, and I mean, M. Tea. Empty storefronts, a tiny bar, a small grocery. And that’s about it. There was Sluggers, Cubby Bear and Exedus. That’s it. John Barleycorn was a futon store. No Salt & Pepper, no Goose Island… After ImprovOlympic was up and running, the space to the left of it became El Pollo Loco. But everyone got sick after eating there so it closed up. There was a WrigleyDawg (great hot wings, brats, etc… oh! they had a Galaga machine. That was awesome) where Red Ivy is now.

 

During my level 1 class (which was simply called “Charna”) the July 1995 Chicago heatwave hit. John and I lived a few blocks from ImprovOlympic and like many people we were without electricity for several days. I had no job, no power, and it was 110 degrees for 5 days. One Saturday, with little sleep and less food, I was stumbling zombie-like through the neighborhood when I was discovered by Charna Halpern and her dog, Gracie. I told her my story and she invited me to come to ImprovOlympic. There was power there

The annex, under construction (photo taken 2/21/98!)

The annex, under construction (photo taken 2/21/98!)

and air-conditioning; she had paperwork and I could rest before our class later that day. What’s now the back of the cabaret (AKA The Hamlet Lounge) had several couches and she stashed me there with a blanket (it was that cold in there) and a pitcher of water. She would wake me in time for class. And I became, definitely not the first nor the last, one of Charna’s strays.

 

A few months later and I was in Del’s Monday class. At the time, the cleaning guy (Armando) only came Wednesdays and Saturdays mornings. So, by Monday, the place stank like, well, a bar. and cigarettes because you could still smoke in public back then. Del had undergone chemical aversion therapy for alcohol and the smell made him retch. So between the coughing from emphysema and the retching from the smell, we were getting every third word. I worked at Blockbuster and was off on Mondays, so I began going to class at 6pm so I could sweep and mop the entire cabaret. That began a personal tradition for me; I would sweep and mop before my team shows and I still do before Whirled News Tonight.

 

Me, cleaning up in the DCT bar. Note my "Central Perk" t-shirt. Oy.

Me, cleaning up in the DCT bar. Note my “Central Perk” t-shirt.

In my Level 2 class, I was told to commit to a character by my teacher Miles Stroth. I was in a break up scene and was told to get on my knees and beg, which I did and I stayed on my knees, following my scene partner around the stage. When the scene was over I stood and I had rubbed holes into the knees of my pants and friction burned my knees bloody. There were traces of my blood on the stage.

 

I began doing a lot of shows at iO and before each “big show” (usually a Halloween show or something based on Star Wars) I would sand, paint and lacquer the Del Close Theater stage. I did that two or three times. After the shows or classes (usually about 10pm back then) and I would stay and work till 3 or 4am. I know that stage pretty well.

 

Once, during Space Dreck, (the improvised Star Trek we did in 1996) I was Kirk and, of course, had my shirt off. As I squeezed by another cast member back stage, a random nail scratched me right about my left nipple and it bleed copiously. Which was weird because the show had just begun,,, why was Kirk bleeding? We were plagued by such continuity problems.

 

iO Christmas Party. Sometime in the 90s? Check out the schedule board. (Chin, Grondy, Cackowski, Mullaney, Gwinn)

During rehearsals for Jedi! the Tour De Force Musical, we rehearsed on Friday nights from 10pm – 2, maybe 3am. Only to reconvene at 10am on Saturday. I didn’t have keys to the building at the time so I simply slept in the green room to open the doors in 7 hours.

 

Behind the coat area in the Cabaret there is a door to the AC and furnace. Once, I was back there and stood too suddenly. I have a nice crater in my head flesh you can sink your finger in.

 

Before there was an annex, Mike Click, Charna and I worked out of what is now the Training Center office for years. I would arrive first (around 9am) and then Mike, then Charna… we would rotate the two people in the office and the third person would work at the bar or go for lunch.

 

For many years, I had Halloween shows that culminated in a giant costume party. We felt bad about leaving a mess for the

The chase finale to Thriller Theater 1. It was the Scooby Gang, the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown.

The chase finale to Thriller Theater 1. It was the Scooby Gang, the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown.

cleaning man, so not only would we host the party we would clean up the DCT afterwards. I mean, all the garbage, mopping, etc… we would get out around 4am. We did that for years. And, you know what? I fucking loved it. A great Halloween party is like a show and vice versa.

 

I had a show called Dinner for Six, a small improvised romantic comedy. No one came to see it. Once it was just Charna Halpern and Susan Messing. One night it was five people from Close Quarters (which was running at the SC etc) After the show, Charna came up to me and said, “Don’t worry about the rent, just keep doing this kind of work.”

 

There have been nights where it has been 90 degrees in the theater. There have been nights where water floods the entire cabaret (I remember water up to my ankles as I looked directly at the… fusebox.. “Eh, if it was going to kill me I’d be dead by now…”) There have been great shows with no audience and awful shows with sold out houses. Within the walls of 3541 N. Clark I have hidden from stalkers, ex-girlfriends, ex-friends, myself, and reality. I have cried, ranted and raged both on-stage and off. There have pure crystal moments of unadulterated happiness and transcendental nirvana at that address. All of these things housed under one roof for the past twenty years, but the walls didn’t tell me they loved me. The stage didn’t tell me to keep pushing, to keep learning and growing… it was the people, the friends and lovers and colleagues that did that. It was the people that made it a home.

iO Christmas Party. Maybe 2002? Far right, Erica Reid. I'm having lunch with her on Tuesday.

iO Christmas Party. Maybe 2002? Far right, Erica Reid. I’m having lunch with her on Tuesday.

The treasured old memories will be where they belong; in our memories, in our hearts, as we go on to build new ones with friends old and new. Maybe it’s all the terrible chores and blood (both literal and figurative) that went into 3541 that make me relatively unsentimental but I can’t wait to see what we do with 1501 N. Kingsbury. A new sandbox! What wonders will be wrought?! I have so many shows in my brain and I can’t wait to do them all! I can’t wait to share them!

As a great poet once wrote,

Fish don’t fry in the kitchen;

Beans don’t burn on the grill.

Took a whole lotta tryin’

Just to get up that hill.

Now we’re up in the big leagues

Gettin’ our turn at bat.

As long as we live, it’s you and me baby

There ain’t nothin wrong with that.

No. There sure isn’t.

Aunt Anna

So there’s this.

Don’t give me your condolences, I wouldn’t know what to do with them. Please keep them and use them for you and yours. They make me uncomfortable.

“All-You-Can-Eat”-Dim-Sum-Lunch-at-Silver-Waves-Restaurant-1-1024x681As I was saying, my Aunt Anna passed away a few days ago which is coincidental because I was just telling one of my favorite stories of her to the crew/cast of “Day Drinking.” This is not that story but a much better one.

My Uncle Ben (Anna’s husband and my father’s older brother) was, shall we say, a friend of ours. Nothing too extravagant but, you know.

Anyhow, in my young adulthood, I was deeply in love with a beautiful girl named Peggy; she of the golden curly tresses, big green eyes and be-freckled face. As young Queens-dwellers are wont to do, we decided to take the 7 train into Chinatown. As is often the case in the Big City, we were seated at a large round table where there were already customers (a big ten seat table.) The three elder Chinese ladies were not happy with my choice of luncheon companion and it was readily apparent to Peggy and me. Racism and snide comments breach any language barrier. It didn’t really bother us, we enjoyed a snide comment ourselves and it looked like they were wrapping things up anyway.

Suddenly, my Aunt Anna appeared from no where! She was a grand dame of Chinatown and preceded to say hello to just about everyone in the restaurant. When she finally made it to our table she chatted (in Chinese) to our three table friends and then she eventually noticed me and a louder greeting there never was (I don’t see my family often). “Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?” I introduced her to Peggy and she was so nice and so welcoming to her. Aunt Anna introduced me and Peggy to her friends, our table companions and they (in Chinese) told her how they were talking about how handsome a couple we were (Anna later told me.) After much table side chatter Aunt Anna left and so did our table companions. Maybe 20 minutes later, Peggy and I asked for the bill and our three table companions had already paid it. And that’s the power of my Aunt Anna. It’s one of a few stories I have of her, but I love it.

Thanks Aunt Anna. Rest in Peace.

Why Chicago IS Star Wars

Lucas-Death-Star-Chicago-skyline-2Chicago will soon be the home of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts! It will be a 17(!) acre facility on the lakefront and what better city for it to be in than CHICAGO?! Chicago is the perfect city for this interactive education installation and blah blah blah here’s a hilarious list:

 

City is plagued by evil droids with weird names like Parking Meter and Street Corner Surveillance Camera.

Last September my taun-taun froze before I reached the first marker.

Homeless people ride in your redline car to hide their numbers (but not their smell.)

One is a racially segregated mess of violence and the other is Star Wars.

o-CHICAGO-PARKING-ALDERMEN-facebook“That’s no museum; that’s a tourist trap.” The innocent people in the movies had to deal with an evil empire building a giant, unnecessary, expensive monstrosity.

Combined Potholes > Sarlacc Pit.

Plenty of concern and speculation over who will lead the franchise next.

Wrigleyville on a hot summer day during a doubleheader: You’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

Evil leader is missing upper appendage but is dangerous none-the-less.

When you tell this city that you love it; by recycling, volunteering, paying taxes and moving ALLL the way into the car, it responds, like a jerk, “I know” and raises your taxes, drops 20 degrees in 4 hours, and sneaks a pound of cheese into your pizza.

 

You've failed me for the last time, Alderman...

You’ve failed me for the last time, Alderman…

I Am a Collectible

Two of the times people reminisce the most are birthdays and moving. I did both in one month so I’ve been waxing nostalgic for the past few weeks. (And besides poetic, why don’t we “wax” anything else?)

I found some fun things amongst the extraneous boxes of JasonChinmemorabilia (it’s like the last shot of Raiders in here). I’m exactly middle-age now and never has this been more apt. My generation straddles the analog and digital ages; I have vinyl, cassettes, mini-disks, CDs, flashdrives and tiny MP3 players. At one point I was working at a place where I got film and developing for free so I have tons of photos (actual physical photos) from that period of my life. That period lasted for many years. In fact I just discovered some wonderful photos of Halloween shows from the past… Once I get a desk, I’ll hook up my scanner and get them online. I don’t know why she swallowed that fly.

Ages ago, I was the coach for Deep Schwa. I had coached them for maybe more than a decade when I decided to hang it up (the cast had been solid/stable for years and in fact, now is almost completely different from the people I had coached… Craig Uhlir IMG_0743would move to Las Vegas for a few years and then return. Same for Jeff Griggs (he went on many a SC boat.) So, we had a nice little get together at Buca de Beppo on Clark Street (since defunct). They all chipped in and had Dave Gilley (who was a performer at iO at the time) whip up my very own personal action figure! Check it out!

That background behind the figure is an exact replica of what the iO cabaret looked like. It was like we were sponsored by Warner Brothers cartoons. And… yes, the hair is accurate.

At the time, I was doing a Halloween show and the delightful Piero Procaccini was playing Fred, from the Scooby-Doo show. (Check out his old, forgotten blog here.) Wigs were not working out with Piero’s lustrous and thick ebony hair. So, we made a deal- he would bleach his hair IF I did as well. So, one night after rehearsal (and in those days, rehearsal could begin at 10pm) we stayed and the wonderful Erica Reid bleached our heads!

It was not fun. I hated it but anything for the show. Here’s what I looked like… (please forgive some of the photos… they’re pics I took with my phone… like I mentioned before, I don’t have a desk so my computer stuff is not hooked up… I should uh probably buy a desk soon. I love desks.)

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My hair grows really fast (and I heal quite quickly as well)- I’m the Low-Rent Wolverine. I have to admit, I think I look cute in that pic. And thinner. Sigh. Trust me, age and sadness add the pounds.

I have no idea what year this is… I think 99? Maybe?

When my desk is set up I’ll scan some more ridiculous things but this is me with what many assumed were my frosted hair tips. Sadly, this is far from the worst hair I’ve ever had.

Also, I love Halloween shows. I want to do more.

 

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Ten Most Used Villain Quotes

I love the villains of the piece; your Lecters, your Vaders, your Belloqs. They’re always the most fun part of the movie, definitely the person you want to be, uh, before they’re thrown into a pit of lava or killed by their own men or disintegrated by their own invention… Most tend to be a bit on the loquacious side, so here are some of the lines they use the most:

And what have we here…

1399313915_rodartestarwars5dressesPerhaps I’ll visit him/her/them after I kill you!

You’ll pay for that!

Kill him!

Goodbye/Farewell, (protagonist’s name).

(as villain is revealed to be a close friend) Didn’t I tell you to trust no one?

When this counter hits zero…

Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the film adaptation of Diamonds Are ForeverPlease, enjoy. (villain eats fancy dinner with protagonist)

We’re not so different, you and I.

There’s supposed to be ten, but there’s only nine! How villainous!!

 

 

 

Season Cliffhanger! Who Will Live? Who Will Die!?

Who shot JR? Who shot Mr. Burns? The wedding massacre from Dynasty. Buffy is dead. Picard is Borged. Big season finales with character changes and a shuffling of the status quo.

IMG_0381I feel like this summer is the big season finale for my life. Not only have I moved to a new neighborhood which changes my entire outlook and life, but so many of my friends have moved (or even bought houses!) recently. And, just like a television series, the iO Theater is moving to a bigger facility which completely changes my life as well.

So, what will happen next season? New friends, new shows, new plot twists. As with all shows that kind of relaunch, there’s a certain risk involved. Do you meddle with proven qualities and stand where you are or do you roll the dice and hope for evolution? We have to evolve. We have to invite and welcome change.

—————

NEXT SEASON:

  • strange adventures in exotic lands!
  • supporting characters become full cast members
  • broader, more accessible comedy mixed with weirder, more niche larfs
  • exciting super famous cameos
  • thrill to the exciting new sets and costume design
  • more acting! more writing!
  • delicious foodstuffs
  • and more sex.

 

Ted_McGinley-Happy_Days

 

All we have to avoid is the dreaded mid-series cliche of adding a kid. Or Ted McGinley.

The Truth in The Dream

Last night, I was doing lights for The Incident, the Harold team I coach, at the iO Theater. Traditionally, the improvisers do a Dream before the last team of the night. It consists of an audience member being interviewed and then the improvisers perform a dreams-2“dream-like” riff on the subjects fears, hopes and details of their day. It’s a fun bit of audience interaction. Sometimes, however, like last night, it doesn’t go as planned.

The audience member said that he had killed a hooker the night before (which, you know, is pure hilarity.) The host and the improvisers tried to course-correct and tell him to just tell the truth about his day, but sometimes people feel like they have to be funny on stage. It just wasn’t going well. When asked “What time do you get off?” he replied, “Oh, I get off all the time.” I (and the audience) had had enough so I pulled the lights and cranked the music super loud (it was “Turned Down for What.”) and the final team (The Ruckus) just danced for a good minute. That was awesome.

I was pretty blasé about it all… I’ve seen too many Dreams gone wrong and I’ve been thinking about some of them. Here are some of my best/worst Dream memories:

When I was hosting and interviewing a young lady, I asked if she had a significant other. Julia Wolov from Deep Schwa exclaimed, “God, Jason, stop hitting on her!” I turned to tell Julia to shut up and when I turned back to the interviewee, she (the audience member) grabbed me, dipped me and kissed me long and hard. That was a funny Dream.

 

sandman_dreamslibrary2I was interviewing an uncooperative, has-to-be-funny audience member when suddenly a voice rang out, “This guy’s no good, Jason. Let’s get another person up here.” It was Charna (the theater owner) and she was right. Switched out interviewees and everyone was much happier. Lesson learned.

 

Once a young lady was being interviewed and she said she spent most of day drinking and screwing her boyfriend. She was mad at the US Army for taking him away (he was returning to duty). Eventually, we discover that A) she’s only 19, B) she met him last week. Her future plans? To move to LA and start her porn career. The ensuing scenes were actually quite brutally honest and honestly brutal. So much so that she and her friends left.

 

So long ago… iO student Mary Archbold was the audience volunteer. My teammate Pat Shay was dating her. The host asked her to describe her boyfriend. She pointed at Pat and said dreamily, “Beautiful. He’s very beautiful.” Years later, I would be the Best Man at their wedding and today (2014) they have two children.

 

There was a large group of intellectually disabled adults and one of them volunteered to be the Dreamer. As they were being interviewed, it was Paul Grondy who began whispering to everyone on stage, “He’s a superhero.” and we did The Dream where the subject was the greatest person in the world- always there to help and be a great friend. It’s my favorite version of the Dream ever.

 

We used our powers to lift up and inspire instead of ridicule and criticize. That Dream was pure wonder and imagination and I’m glad to have been a part of it. I think, sometimes in the fast-tag-out version we do, we forget that these are all real people being portrayed.

 

The Dream, sometimes, can be just that.. made of Dreams.

Alright, Youse Mugs!

How do you measure a life? Moving from one place to another is a good way to take stock (literally) of your past, present and future. When I started to pack up my stuff for my recent move, I thought “maybe I should get rid of some of these mugs” but as I looked at them I realized that each and every one of them represented an important chapter of my life. Here are some of my mugs and what they represent (in no order whatsoever.)

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Years ago, back in NYC, I was the manager of the world’s only Amiga computer-only retail store. I eventually moved to Champaign, IL to work for the world’s only Amiga computer-only distributor as the marketing director. As such, I was in charge of running our computer show presence. This one was at the Queen Mary in Pasadena. It was a great 4 day weekend for me. I think that was 1993.

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In 2004, I was Charna Halpern’s “+1” to the world premiere of the movie Anchorman. It was at Gruman’s Chinese Theater (I don’t think they call it that anymore). Watching the movie with the entire crew and cast was simply amazing but the party afterwards was even better. Met a bunch of seemingly random celebrities, but best of all was meeting (again, but first since he became famous) Adam McCay, who said, “Hey, Jason! Thanks for coming out for the movie!” What a super nice guy.

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MIX 94.5! A better mix of the 70s, the 80s, and… today. While I was in Champaign, IL, I became a DJ at this radio station (WLRW). Since there was a Jason already, I became known as the Sandman. As with most pop music stations, they were a few years late on trends.. so this was a hyper color mug. It was blue and then changed to red when a hot beverage was pouring into it. It got stuck at red.

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AHIMA, the American Health Information Management Association. One of the best jobs I ever had. I was a temp and I had to enter about a 1000 info sheets every day. I kinda set my own hours (7am) and left around 3pm when I entered about 1000 forms. I listened to the Howard Stern show and entered data. My boss, Susan was awesome. Years, later we would end up as neighbors. She didn’t remember me until i showed her my mug!

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My sister gave me this mug for a Batman themed birthday I had when I was, uh, in high school. I like it a lot

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I love Cheers. Always have. The lovely John P. Glynn & Brooke Becker were in Boston this year and bought me this wonderful souvenir! It’s my newest mug and I love it.

 

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In 1987, my family went to Disney World. I got to stay at the house by myself. It was awesome. They brought me back this stein with Goofy on it. Why? Because that’s the Disney character they associate with me the most.

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Earlier this year, my friend Caroline Sabourin was in Chicago for some improv intensives. She had to stay with me for a few days and for a thank you she got me this Star Trek Classic mug. The other side has the schematics of the Enterprise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are my mugs! Come over and we’ll have some tea! Oh, I love teas. Or whiskey. It’s fun to drink booze from a mug. I don’t know why, but it is.

Flash!

Wow. This trailer for the upcoming FLASH tv series is amazing. I want to see the series and now I want to watch Green Arrow.

I’ll be perfectly honest, I got a little choked up watching this. They seem, just from this 5 minutes, to have Barry Allen down.. his optimism and decision to do good (as opposed to vengeance or a mission.) I hope that’s proven (though I was not overjoyed by the fairly recent comic book storyline that introduced the murder of his mother. Didn’t feel that was necessary for the character to seek justice) for the rest of the show.

Not only are there tiny tiny hints of stunning things to come, but one of the very first comics I ever bought was this:

$(KGrHqFHJFIFJtglLW7ZBScUZ4MBig~~60_35It was a giant tabloid-size comic that had the origins of the original/Golden Age Flash, Hawkman, Johnny Thunder, and other characters lost to time. But it was one of my first personal purchases… I must have been ten, maybe eleven and I found it (and some other other tabloid-size comics) at a garage sale. Now, this comic and others were first published in the late 30s and early 40s. (1940 specifically for the Flash) and these are the comics that I grew up on.

I have such fond memories of the Golden Age of comics (and Abbott & Costello and various black and white movies) that I sometimes feel much older than I actually am. My childhood stories and toys are that of someone born in the 30s. It’s a strange feeling. This guy knows what I’m talking about (points to Dr. Cyclops in the front row.)

 

Anyway, I’m excited for the continuing adventures someone called Flash!

Ode to Salt & Pepper

The ImprovOlympic opened on Clark street in 1995. At the time, the neighborhood was just about a ghost town, with empty stores, vacant offices and less. 3541 was ImprovOlympic- to the left, empty office; to the right, empty offices. Just a few months later (probably early 96) the Salt & Pepper Diner opened. What a godsend. Before that, there was just McDonalds on Addison and Penny’s Diner on Roscoe. There were little to no bars on Clark street (there was the Wild Hare, Exodus and Sluggers and Cubby Bear.)

snpS&P was like an old school diner. Good food for great prices with little pretense. Broke and with little life outside of ImprovOlympic I became, like many other improvisers, a regular visitor to S&P. Del Close would sit there and have a cup of coffee before his classes.

I love the Salt & Pepper Diner. I love seeing people meet up before/after classes to debrief, discuss and dissemble. I love watching teams meet before their shows to laugh, to work off some nerves, to break bread with their friends. I love the meetings; shows, teams; teachers and students. I love the obvious “is this a date or not” rendez-vous and the even more obvious “God I wish this was a date.”

I love the weekday mornings there; the just-about-to-go-on and the just-finished-duty police officers, the Wrigley Field office workers, single parents with their kids, and the best/ longest tenured wait staff.

I love going there with the Whirled New Tonight cast after our shows (when there isn’t a baseball game.)

 

Because of my strange hours at iO, I was both an office morning person and a late night diner hawk. As the staffing there ebbed and flowed I get to know them and they get to know me.

Eventually, I fell in love with someone working at Salt & Pepper. Let’s call her “Mary.” It began slowly, as a good then great friendship and then one day we decided to meet up outside of our respective workplaces. It was odd… like meeting in a No Man’s Land. I wrote about her once before and even talked about her in an Armando show once. Out of all the unknown things about our relationship, I know that for a brief wondrous time I loved someone and she loved me.

She’s off somewhere now being happy and sometimes I wonder if I ever will be. At the time, I considered her my last chance. I don’t know if that’s true but sometimes it really feels like it does.

 

This morning I had breakfast at Salt & Pepper and I decided to write an Ode to a Diner. I didn’t expect it to become maudlin. But I guess that’s what happens when you decide to say goodbye to something you’ve know for just about two decades. I’m moving. iO is moving and so will Salt & Pepper Diner. I hope we all move on as well.

Thank you and farewell, O Diner.

and randomly, here’s a story from great comedian John Mulaney about S&P: