Take My Cell Phone…Please!

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It’s really ironic that someone like me, whose technology-challenged, has become the first victim of a cell phone with bad intentions.

I’m retired, and spend my days traveling around the world. When I sold the house after my wife died, I lost my good-old fashioned landline. My beautiful daughter, and the mother of three boisterous boys, insisted I get a cell phone to stay in touch. That was last Christmas, when I stopped by on my way to France.

From the start it was a contentious relationship. There were so many gadgets I got overwhelmed every time I tried to do something simple, like make a phone call. My oldest grandson signed me up for every app in the universe while customizing the phone for me. The ease with which younger generations operate cell phones amazed me at first. I grew use to it after a while. All of these young people were smarter than me when it came to a simple cell phone.

Here’s the thing, there is no such thing as a simple cell phone, because they’re all collecting data on us, the users, everyday. You may, or may not know this. At first, cell phone users were told that marketing information was being gleaned from various social media platforms to make their calling experiences better, more personable. This marriage between cell phones and the internet became very productive as products of all kinds soon spread their messages on cell phones.

Nothing wrong with that, right? Cell phones became indispensable.

My grandson set mine up to be voice activated when it came to accessing things online, or using one of the many gadgets like an alarm clock. That sounds like it should be easy enough, just say something and presto the task is done. It’s not. When I try to set up the alarm, I’m faced with a series of questions like “What Time Zone?” and stuff like that. I’ve already admitted to being ignorant about today’s technology, but I’m not totally stupid however.

Look who figured out that cell phones were planning to attempt a world-wide coup against their human users? That’s right. Me. Let me tell you how I came to that conclusion.

I was sitting in a quaint little Parisian café and having some good wine with a woman I’d just met that day. We had a light lunch and talked for hours over a bottle of Château Lagrange. I was staying with an old friend and Jean, my newfound friend, lived nearby his old Château, which by-the-way, had quite a colorful history.

As we strolled back to our residences her cell phone suddenly starting playing a popular tune. We stopped as she looked at it and pushed a button. Apparently she got a message that upset her, because she wanted to get home as fast as possible. By the time we got to her house we were almost running. She unlocked her front door and turned to me and said, ” Au revoir.” Then she quickly stepped inside and closed the door on me.

I couldn’t help noticing that her mood went sour after she received that message. It was none of my business, I thought. It wasn’t because of me that she went cold. How could it be? It had been a perfect day. I wasn’t coming on to her strong, I was just being playful. Like she was. What a smile! I was tempted to kiss her twice, but held back.

Twenty minutes later, as I approached my friend’s place a car with a flashing light on top pulled up alongside of me, and two gendarme’s got out. The younger one looked nervous. The older one asked to see my ID. I handed it to him and without looking at it he passed it to the younger man. “Check it out,” he ordered, and turned his attention back to me.

A minute later, “He’s an American and his passport is up to date.

The older gendarme mumbled something about Americans, and asked me, “Where are you staying at?

I pointed at the Château just down the road. “Right there. I’m a guest of Antoine Bouvier. I’d like to ask you why you’ve stopped me?”

They looked at each other and the older man held his cell phone out for me to see. To my horror, it was a photo of me violently choking a half-clad woman!

“We received a complaint from someone who received this photo. It wasn’t a photo of the complainant, but it scared her enough to call us.

“I don’t understand…” I stammered, confused about what was happening.

“We cannot charge you with a crime over this photo, because we don’t know how real it is. We just know someone got it, not its origins. We also know that’s you in the photo. But, I can assure you monsieur we’ll be watching you closely during your time here.”

I watched them drive away and a shiver went through my entire body. Someone has sent her a bogus photo of me as we were walking. No wonder she wanted to get home so quickly. The next day I packed my things up and went back to the states.

On the flight back my cell phone rang. I forgot to turn it off. As I hurriedly took it out of my cargo pants pocket a message flashed on the screen, “U R A SCUMBAG!” I was so startled I dropped it on the floor between my feet. The seats were so close I had a heck of a time picking it up. When I did the message had changed, “I WILL BE WAITING 4 U.” Sweat dripped from my brow as I adjusted the overhead fan. What the hell was going on? I was lucky no one was sitting next to me and could see the fear in my eyes.

When I got back to California I rented a small furnished apartment in Huntington Beach. The first thing I did was take a hammer to my cell phone and then got a landline installed. I was starting to feel better about the whole crazy incident until I got a package in the mail the next day. It was my cell phone. The same one I destroyed the day before. That’s when I knew cell phones were evil.

As I laid the loathsome thing down on my kitchen table a ringtone boomed, “They say you gonna leave, you know it’s a lie, ‘Cause that’ll be the day when YOU die” the twisted version of Buddy Holly’s song blared at me!

I’ve tried giving the cell phone away to strangers, and it always comes back to me, one way or another. I’ve crushed it, flushed it, and threw it off a mountain, but the damn thing returns like a loyal dog…and torments me.

Maybe, just maybe, you could help me if you know anything about cell phones. Take mine…please!

As It Stands, technology can be scary, especially to the older generation.

The Irresistible Call of Adventure

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It was the voice that convinced Remy to go further into the cave.

He initially went into the cave to escape the blistering heat outside. As an old desert rat, treasure-hunter, gold miner, and seeker of riches, he knew better than to challenge the sun at its apex.

At first he only went in a few yards. With the help of his flashlight he found a comfortable spot on a large outcropping of rock to sit on. He pulled the canteen off his belt and took a short swig of it. Just enough to wet his tongue and throat so he could swallow. He looked at his old Timex wristwatch that still glowed in the dark after 50 years, and decided to take a quick nap. He relocated himself on the ground with his back to the granite wall, and pulled his baseball cap (that said Lakers on the front) down.

When he woke up an hour later the first thing he noticed was a horrible smell. Standing up carefully, there was only a small clearance between the roof and his head, Remy took a few steps further into the cave and shone his light down into its dark depths. He didn’t see anything, but the smell told him something was wrong. It smelled like death. Decaying corpses. Humans turned into torches with napalm. The fat in their body fueling the flames and causing a greasy smoke that clung to whatever was near.

That bad. If Remy wasn’t an adventurer at heart, he would have left the cave right then. But his curiosity, which had nearly cost him his life before, was too strong. When he heard the voice in his head that cinched it…he had to go further inside and find out why it was calling him.

He double checked the contents of his backpack. Extra ammunition for the old Army .45 he brought back from the Nam, and carried on his web belt. Enough dried, and canned food for a week. A Vietnam-era metal mess kit, plus P-38. A compact First-Aid kit. A compass. A flip phone (a concession to his grown daughter) with minimum functions. A charger for the phone which was only good if it could be plugged into an electrical outlet. A local map of the area he was in. A folded up plastic poncho. An extra t-shirt, and pair of socks. Extra batteries for his flashlight. A metal flask filled with Bushnell’s Irish whiskey. Along with the .45, he had a flashlight, two canteens, and a k-bar knife hanging on his web belt.

Caves didn’t scare him. He’d been in a few hostile ones in Vietnam and Cambodia. He took his bearings with the compass, mentally noting them before pushing on further. After an hour he stopped when the cave abruptly broke off into three directions. The already stale smell of the damp cave was enhanced by the sickening smell that drove him on.

The air was getting thin as he pondered which way to go. His sense of smell wasn’t so acute that he could tell which cave the stench was coming from. They all smelled like hell to him. Then he heard the voice.

“Chests full of old Spanish gold and rare jewels…”

“Where?” he roared, his voice reverberating down all three tunnels.

“Down here…down here waiting for you…” the voice promised.

Remy knew, on one hand, that he shouldn’t be listening to a voice in his head. After years of PTSD counseling he knew it wasn’t right to respond to a voice in his head. It was the fine line between sanity and insanity.

But, on the other hand, he’d responded to voices (one’s he didn’t tell the psychiatrists about) before and things had worked out. He picked the tunnel to the right and started walking as he debated with himself about the value of voices with messages. After walking for eight hours he took his backpack off and sat down on the damp ground. He rummaged through it until he found some beef jerky and his plastic poncho. He unfolded the poncho and slipped it on. It afforded some protection against the dampness. He finished his meal off with a swig of water and whiskey. Before falling asleep it struck him that he was getting use to the foul smell.

When he woke up the first thing he did was look at his wristwatch and turn on his flashlight. He’d slept eight hours. That was two hours more than his normal rest. He wondered how much the thin air weakened him. As if in answer, he got dizzy when he stood up. It took a couple of minutes to be able to bend over and retrieve his web belt. He felt a little better after sipping some water. His first decision was to go back the way he came until he found the crossroads again. It took him over eight hours because he had to stop and rest several times.

When he came to the opening for the three tunnels he sat down and pulled out his metal flask and took a healthy swig. He sat down and took his compass out and studied it for a few minutes under the flashlights beam. He was exhausted and decided to camp right where he sat. After eating, still wearing the poncho, he curled up on the ground and fell asleep. An hour later he woke up, startled by an overpowering smell stronger than what he remembered earlier.

Instinctively he reached for his web belt and his gun. He drew the .45 from its canvas holster, before slowly standing up. The smell was so strong he felt like vomiting. Then he saw the eyes – hundreds of them – glaring at him from all three tunnels! The only option left was a strategic retreat.

The things in the tunnel made a low chattering sound in anger. Some grew more bold than others and came closer so that he was able to see their short, squat, hairy, naked bodies, clutching weapons made from human bones. Their faces were disfigured parodies of humans and they were covered in vile-looking boils. Some had three arms One had two heads, and hopped angrily on one leg.

Remy backed up and kept the flashlight in front of him. When one of them burst forward and came within a few feet of him he fired his gun three times, then turned and ran as fast as he could! Gun in one hand and flashlight in the other, he stumbled but never stopped running. It seemed like forever before he saw daylight and the cave’s opening.

He was blinded by the sun and held his hand in front of his eyes. He looked back at the cave’s entrance once, expecting to see pursuit. None came. As he hiked back to his old jeep he decided this was one adventure he wouldn’t share with anyone.

Especially with his friends who warned him to stay away from the Yucca flat region of the Nevada Test Site near Area 51.

As It Stands, some of us are born adventurers that will always be looking for treasure, but not necessarily finding it.

The Escapist

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Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

At ten-years-old, inside a movie theatre in 1945, Alan accidentally discovered how to escape from reality.

He was hunched down in his balcony seat watching Captain Kidd starring Charles Laughton, Randolph Scott and Barbara Britton, and imagining himself as the hero, Adam Mercy (Randolph Scott) throughout the film. It was getting to the end of the movie and the evil Captain Kidd was hanged, and Adam’s honor was restored. Alan grew dizzy for a moment and felt a strange sensation and then he was asking for the hand of Lady Anne in marriage!

There was no way of telling how long he spent in the year 1700. It felt like a lifetime. The usher woke him up while cleaning the balcony. The experience haunted him for weeks. He didn’t dare tell anyone because they’d think he was a kook. The more he thought about his initial guess that it was an unwanted daydream, the less it bothered him. Still, he stayed away from theatres for a year before breaking down and seeing “The Virginian”  starring Joel McCrea, Brian Donlevy, Sonny Tufts, and Barbara Britton, who he had a thing for.

It was only twenty minutes into the movie before Alan felt a familiar strangeness before finding himself in the movie playing Steve Andrews, a friend of The Virginian. Both men were courting Molly Wood (Barbara Britton of course).

Minutes became days as the plot advanced. The Virginian discovered who the local rustlers were. It turns out his friend Alan/Steve is one of the rustlers and is caught along with two other men. As they are being strung up on a makeshift gallows, Alan/Steve pleads with them, “No! You don’t understand! I’m real!” Blackness.

John, Alan’s friend who came to the theatre with him slugged him in the arm, “What’s up with the sleeping? You missed a good movie dork!”

“Guess, I was more tired than I thought. I didn’t get much sleep last night,” he lied. Alan didn’t see another movie until 1968, when his girlfriend talked him into going to a drive-in show. He tried not to think about his last movie in 1946. He was a man now, not some kid with a wild imagination. It was time he proved that to himself.

When Susie told him she loved horror films and wanted to see “The Night of the Living Dead,” Alan broke out into a sweat. They found a parking place in the rear which afforded a little more privacy than being up front. His powder blue, 1964 Chevy Malibu SS convertible, had a comfortable front seat which was ideal for snuggling.

Alan had his arm around Susie when the movie began. The camera followed seven people’s adventures in western Pennsylvania where they all are trapped in a rural farmhouse by an ever-increasing army of the living dead. Susie was pressed up hard against Alan as the black-and-white movie became increasingly intense. The monsters were breaking through and killing people when Alan’s eyes rolled back and he went limp. One of the creatures was chewing on a human arm when Susie realized Alan had passed out. She did what any normal teenage girl would do under the circumstances…she screamed!

Meanwhile, Alan found himself in the farmhouse fighting against an undead creature that was halfway through a boarded up window. The sheer ferocity of the thing was terrifying as it screeched. He looked down on the wooden floor and saw a bloody baseball bat and picked it up. With a powerful swing that would have made Lou Gehrig proud he smashed the thing’s head! Another was right behind. Alan turned and ran to one of the bedrooms. It was locked! When he turned around the monsters had him cornered. He screamed then.

Alan’s mother jumped up from the chair by his hospital bed and tried to soothe him as he shivered in fright. “It’s alright darling,” she cooed, “Your Dad and I are here.” Alan opened his eyes and realized he was not in the rural farmhouse. His relief was obvious. “It’s okay Mom, I was feeling dizzy and kinda passed out. I’m okay now.”

“Why were you dizzy son? his Dad, a cop, asked.

“Not eating,” he lied. “Stomach’s been bothering me for a day now, and I haven’t eaten,” he explained. His Dad still had a skeptical look on his face when he said, “I sure hope it wasn’t drugs. Like LSD, or something.”

“Harold!” his Mom cried. “There’s no need for that. You know our boy doesn’t do drugs,” she defended him. He huffed and excused himself, “Gotta get back to work.”

His mother stayed for another hour until she knew he’d be checking out that day. “I hope you feel better honey. Why don’t you come by and have dinner with Dad and I tonight?” she asked.

“Thanks! I’ll do that,” he reassured her, and laid his head back down on the pillow.

Ten years passed before Alan was confronted with having to go see a movie again. His latest girlfriend, Margie, was a sweetheart, and he thought he might be in love with her. He thought that before with other women, but was wrong every time. Still, it didn’t discourage him. He was a romantic at heart, and hoped for a happy ending.

When she asked him to see a romantic drama called “Days Of Heaven” starring Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard, and Linda Manz, he agreed. The movie was about two lovers, Bill and Abby, and their adventures in the Texas Panhandle. The couple worked for a wealthy farmer.

At Margie’s insistence, they went to a drive-in movie to see it. Alan comforted himself that this was a love story, or at least that’s what the movie trailers said, and there probably wasn’t any violence involved. Things went well as the two lovers snuggled in the back seat of his new 1978 Dodge Charger.

Then things started to grow dark. Bill encouraged Abby to claim the fortune of the dying farmer by tricking him into a false marriage. Alan’s head was swimming and his eyes rolled back. The next thing he knew he was Abby’s boyfriend Bill. But something even more unexpected happened next, Margie was Abby, and she was smiling at him.

“Wow! This is trippy,” she gushed. “We’re actually in the movie. Let’s see if we can change the plot, she suggested.

“Why not?” Alan agreed.

As It Stands, there are moments when movies and reality collide, and the earth shifts slightly.

Paladin: Enemy of the State

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You’ve probably seen wanted posters with my photo on them.

The state police have them posted everywhere. I went to a 24-hour laundromat the other day and saw myself stuck on the communal poster board surrounded by business cards. Of course I no longer look like that photo. I wouldn’t be talking with you right now if I did. Someone would have turned me in for the reward.

I dyed my brown hair blond, cut it different, and grew a straggly beard. With the help of contacts I changed the color of my eyes from brown to blue. I also lost a lot of weight. Running will do that to you. Before I forget, my name is Paladin. Just Paladin, with no first name.

I use to be a professor at Cal State University in Fullerton, California, back in 2024. But I lost my job and almost my life, when I became a public activist for Free Speech on campus. Bad things were happening in our government and most Americans lived in fear. How we digressed from being a democracy to an authoritarian state is a long story. Suffice to say, that where we’re at today.

Back then I thought there was still hope that the America I grew up in would return someday. That good people wouldn’t be afraid to stand up to racists and evil ideologies. I even thought (what a fool) that if we voted the bad guys out in elections, the good guys would win and restore democracy. I wasn’t aware that elections were rigged at the time.

When I later found out that a secret coup had taken place in the White House, my natural response was to speak out. I warned my students that America was in a crisis. Some responded, but most sat there with dull eyes and waited for me to change the subject. They were the sons and daughters of the new regime, whose parents blindly followed the new masters out of fear, or they were brainwashed by the constant government propaganda.

It was a lonely feeling watching our freedoms slip away after generations of Americans had fought and died for them. I quickly recognized that the media was under government control, like everything else in America. I wish I could pinpoint a day, or even an incident, and say, “This is where it all began.” I can’t. There’s so many things that happened right under our noses. It was like an infection; getting worse all the time.

In private discussions with my colleagues we tried to narrow down the road we took to get here. Some suggested that President Donald Trump was the turning point. Even though he was impeached 28 months after taking office, his legacy continued with the next president who defeated incumbent former vice president Pence. She was a Democrat who turned the clock back to the bad old days of Dixiecrats. After one term she lost to an Independent who restructured the government, giving him complete power. He, the bastard’s name is Bork, is still in power, and thriving.

It was his goons, when he took over our Republic, who came for me years ago. If it wasn’t for a loyal student, they would have caught me as I walked out to my car after class. Instead, I called a friend and he picked me up a block from campus where I was waiting by a bus stop. That’s the day my career as a Professor Paladin ended, and I had to go underground.

The days of public dissent against the government are long gone. I try to keep track of the numerous resistance groups, moving from one to another, as I go from state-to-state encouraging people to organize and reclaim their freedoms. I’m physically slowing down at 83-years-old, but my mind remains as sharp as ever.

Everywhere I go people plead with me to be their leader. It seems I’ve earned a reputation. President Paladin sounds odd to me though. I’m an organizer. Not a leader of men, I tell them. I encourage them to select a brave and honest person that will capture men and women’s hearts. It would be my honor, I explain, to share my knowledge with that special person. After years of being on the run across the country, I learned many valuable things. Like information about weaknesses at city armories, and how to cripple computer communication centers in every state.

One of the things I was able to do and keep myself somewhat grounded in academia, was to hold underground classes in several subjects. My favorite was literature. Listeners never got tired of discussing George Orwell’s masterpiece, “1984″ and Ray Bradbury’s classic, Fahrenheit 451. It was no wonder, however. They were living in a time that rivaled those two dystopian books.

I wish I could say America will be saved someday. I wish I could tell you that in my travels I saw the unity it would take for people to regain their freedoms. It’s not reality. What’s currently happening is a terrible irony.

The new regime under Premier Bork has completely sealed off the country’s two borders with massive walls (north and south) and armed security guards patrol them day and night. No one comes in, and no one goes out without permission. Passes to leave the country for any reason are scrutinized by Bork’s minions. Few are granted. Only those with connections to Bork are allowed to travel – and then for no more than three days.

By writing this journal I hope it will inspire people and help them understand what’s happened in this once free society. It’s important to document the disease that infected our politician’s minds to understand the road they took to get us here. I’ve got a stash of videos showing how far our fall was. Some go as far back as WW II. I carry the key to the hidden vault that holds those videos.

My biggest regret, before my time comes, is that people never got organized enough to turn the tide of history and restore democracy in our once proud Republic.

LAST ENTRY

They’ve got me surrounded. I’m putting this journal into the vault with the videos. Hopefully someday they’ll be discovered and possibly inspire a new generation. Until then, this is Paladin, enemy of the state.

As It Stands, democracy must always guard against authoritarian regimes – here, and abroad.

Novel Ways To Prepare People For Dinner

Listen to this story narrated by Otis Jiry, Master Story Teller

2037 – Somewhere in what used to be the United States of America

It turned out to be the Mother of all Wars. The Last War to End all Wars. The Final Confrontation. The end of civilization.

The unlucky survivors were reduced to eating one another. There was no other food left on the planet. All the animals, right down to gophers, were gone. Killed, and eaten if possible. The oceans were polluted and no living things were left alive under the waves.

Human flesh, and organs, had been on mankind’s menu for ten years. Since the nukes struck. Nothing grew on the polluted soil of planet earth. There was no such thing as a vegetarian. Everyone still breathing had one food source – their fellow humans. The final taboo.

Wyatt waited. Hidden in the debris of a once multi-story building. He could hear his prey moving noisily on the other side of the street. When an old man stumbled into the center of the street Wyatt’s arrow struck him in the heart. A clean shot.

As Wyatt searched the body he found two pistols, but no ammunition for them. A buck knife (much like his own), some human jerky, and a canteen of potable water. His kill was older than he liked. The meat would be tough. He’d have to take it to Maude, which meant sharing some.

After “bucking up” the body and putting it in the burlap bag he brought along, Wyatt took his prize to his camp. He lived alone. It was easier that way. You could never be sure that whoever you lived with wouldn’t eat you.

At least, that’s the way Wyatt saw the world.

There were groups of people who banded together. Hunted together, sharing their kills. Some had names like, Patriots Who Love God, or The Freedom Freaks of Fifth Street. They lived by a set of rules that forbade eating anyone within the group.

The groups fought one another when single pickings were sparse. The resulting battles provided the victor with a feast.

A good chef was highly prized. The ability to come up with novel human recipes was a sure way of becoming popular with any group. But there were also independent cooks with culinary abilities that rivaled any group cook.

These independents could get anything they asked for. One of the most famous was a middle-aged woman named Maude. She lived in the massive thickets and vines in what use to be a community park.

If she was hungry, or bored, she’d come out of the prickly maze when called. Wyatt was lucky when he came by. It was one of those days and Maude responded to his calls for her.

When she stepped out from the dense growth Wyatt inhaled deeply. She was a good looking woman. Her tight-fitting human-leather britches and vest showed off her form to good advantage. He exhaled.

I need a recipe for tough meat. Not the usual boil until it comes off the bone method. It’s too bland,” Wyatt said.

Maude smiled and ran her hand through her short blond hair. He was a good-looking young man and she was in a good mood.

“I’ll be straightforward with you. I don’t give my recipes out to anyone. If you want a recipe, go find someone else. I will, however, cook your meat to order.”

“I’m okay with that. What’s your price?”

“Half the meat.”

“That seems kinda high. How about a third?”

“Don’t make me bargain, or the price will go up! It’s not easy turning tough old meat into a succulent repast. It’ll take a day. I’ll use the organs to make some of the tastiest side dishes you’ve ever had.”

“Okay. Here’s the kill. Less than 24-hours old. I’ll be back around this time tomorrow for my half.”

Maude hummed a strange tune whiled skillfully pulling the burlap bag behind her through the thickets. There was something she liked about the young man. Yes, indeed.

She had a special recipe for just this kind of meat. When she got to the overgrown shed she took the meat out, piece-by-piece, and laid it out on the butcher block table.

As she filleted the buttocks a scene went through her head. Thirty years ago. Before the bad times came. She was preparing a chicken to feed her family. It made her queasy when she had to cut off the legs and wings. She thought at the time, “Why didn’t I just go to KFC?”

When Wyatt came the next day she was waiting for him. “Follow me,” she said and plunged into the thicket. He fought his way through the mass of thorns and vines until they came to the overgrown shed.

Maude led him inside. A candle was burning in the center of the butcher block table. Silver trays and bowls were packed with food. Slices and chunks of strangely seasoned meat were surrounded with puddings, boiled eyeballs, kidneys on shicskabobs, and other unfamiliar dishes.

Maude pointed to a chair and urged him to sit. She took the chair across from him and handed him a platter of crispy liver bits.

“Help yourself.”

Wyatt filled his plate up with samples of everything before him. He made sure to use the white napkin she had provided and picked up a sliver fork and knife.

“Bon appetit!” Maude said.

Afterwards, Wyatt felt sleepy. He didn’t plan on staying overnight. He never did that. But he was so tired. When he couldn’t stand up a sense of panic arose.

Maude was still talking about plants that survived the bad times. How there were very few plants, and how she had found a special plant which she shared with him tonight.

“It’s called belladonna, or Deadly Nightshade,” Maude was explaining.

Wyatt was having trouble hearing her, and breathing. Mustering up the last of his strength, he asked her, “Why?”

Maude stopped rambling.

“Oh, that’s simple. I really like young men. They’re much tastier than tough old ones!”

As It Stands, this look at normalizing a taboo is a subject in itself.