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By Garry Leech

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Arts and Culture

Masturbation: The Typing Requirement

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Posted on Jun 23, 2011
Mr. Fish

By Mr. Fish

(Page 2)

This was back in the ’90s, when mail was still made out of paper and submitting one’s work to an editor involved much more legwork and menial labor than it does now. (Try explaining to anybody born after 1985 the concept of licking a stamp and he’ll look at you as if you just crapped your pants and started reminiscing about how cheap sodie pop and illegal abortions used to be.) In fact, the chore of writing, itself, was much more laborious in the past and required a greater commitment to all the many stages involved in the job of being an author. 

Think about it. Before there were word processors and email and Wikipedia, there were dictionaries (I’ll wait while you take a minute to Google the word: dic·tion·ar·ies), which one had to leaf through in order to confirm word definitions and proper spelling and usage, and there were libraries which one typically had to leave the house in order to find, and there were books which had to be opened and closely examined for the purpose of corroborating facts and theories and assumptions, and there was the collecting and the collating of research data and the handwriting of notes into notebooks, then there was the returning home and the pounding on the keys of a typewriter, which included the whiting out of mistakes with a tiny paintbrush and the blowing on the paint to make it dry, and then there was the leaving again and the xeroxing of all the pages of original type and the assemblage of copies for both storage and distribution, then there was the buying of the envelopes and the paying for the double postage, which included the self-addressed stamped envelope wherein the form rejection letter would be contained, and then, as I indicated earlier, there was the licking of the stamps and the mailing—followed, of course, by the waiting for weeks, sometimes months, for a response. It was easy then to make the sloppy deduction that all the hard work inherent in the preparation of a submission translated directly to the significance of the product.

Of course it only makes sense, given the preposterous verbosity of the human animal, that most published writing is exactly as useless and uninteresting as all the unpublished writing that comes out of nonwriters as longwinded uninterrupted speech, the only difference being that, by virtue of the printed page, a writer is less likely to shut up even when the reader puts his or her hands over his or her ears. And while such immunity to outside interference may sometimes inspire the kind of fearless intelligence necessary for the writing of such books as “Native Son” and “The Catcher in the Rye,” most of the time it simply inspires the kind of fearless stupidity that imbeciles use to publish “Going Rogue: An American Life” and “The Bell Curve” and to make like-minded publications the kind of loud and wacky bullshit that enjoy the same kind of mass circulation as herpes, hula hoops and all the different mispronunciations of Sartre and Goethe.

Only when I first started reading what other people had written did I begin to realize that possessing the ability to write shouldn’t automatically demand that a person become a writer, just like being able to swallow a live mousetrap shouldn’t automatically demand that a person become an idiot. More often than not, being able to write about something has very little to do with having something worthwhile to say about it. My best friend all through college, for example, spent the first 15 years of his life learning how to draw with an attention to detail that made his pencil drawings appear as precise and realistic as photographs, only to piss away the 10 years after he graduated copying publicity stills out of music magazines of his favorite rock bands and implanting himself in the lineup. Not only should a person like that not be encouraged to believe that his art is anything more spectacular than a beautifully illustrated, albeit terrifically longwinded, suicide note that would guarantee no confusion among friends and family as to why, upon entering middle age, he decided to kill himself, but a person like that should probably have his air guitar confiscated and replaced with the Help Wanted section of the newspaper, which it was, thankfully. Now he’s a top-notch alcoholic with a mortgage and a shitty office job and absolutely nothing to live for. Ironically, minus the office job, he’s a more legitimate artist nowadays, being more like Jackson Pollack than he would’ve been had he continued doing what he was doing.

One thing to recognize about writing, too, is that the job of being a writer is populated by those who began as fans of the profession. In other words, wanting to be a writer is all that it takes for somebody to become a writer, especially when no one ever becomes a writer because he or she has to become one the same way that somebody has to become a dishwasher or a cashier or a house painter in order to pay the bills. As a result, the abilities of a writer are seldom what determine his or her talent, but rather it is his or her ability to simply wish to have talent that’s enough to qualify him or her as a recognized artist—which, by the way, is why art has come to have no more value to the public at large than money would if everyone were allowed to print it. Most writers, in fact, are no more able to write spectacularly than baseball fans would be able to play baseball spectacularly if all of them were suddenly put into uniforms and organized into a league of teams made to define the sport. Not only would such a scenario dumb down the game to the point where the truly gifted players would be unable to demonstrate what previously made them great because the pitches they’d be getting would either be rolling across the plate or sailing over the backstop, but the yardstick necessary for measuring the talented against the untalented would be nonexistence because everybody would be crammed onto the same diamond, their feet rubbing out all the chalked boundaries, the mass misconstruing the consensuality of the chaos with a deeply meaningful camaraderie.

I hope that clears everything up.

* * *

Mr. Fish’s debut collection of political cartoons, “Go Fish: How to Win Contempt and Influence People,” is now available on Truthdig.


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By zanz, June 27, 2011 at 5:29 am Link to this comment

Hey, Mr. Fish, looks like the universe is paying attention to your column! It wasn’t Ryan Howard; it was an amateur in the stands, but I think it still counts. Friday, at the Yankees-Rockies game, Michael Kacer, a “lucky” mono-armed Iraq War vet caught a baseball with his cap. “Kacer, a 29-year-old from Scranton, Pa., stuck his cap out over a railing with his right arm in Section 121A of Yankee Stadium, snatching Curtis Granderson’s foul ball in the first inning.” (quote from the article on the Yankees website) Random acts of war v random acts of art? Random splotches of paint from Pollack? Perspective. Perspective. Perspective.

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By X@n@d00d, June 26, 2011 at 10:12 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Isn’t it ironic how a writer who thinks so highly of himself and his abilities can
spew so much triteness on the evils of the marketplace and the dumb sheep who
lap up all the manufactured content dumped into the trough for them at the
expense of true geniuses like the famous Mr. Fish.

I have to go take a shower and purge this art school flashback from my memory

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By zanz, June 26, 2011 at 7:26 pm Link to this comment

Am I way too behind everybody’s infinitely bending curve here, or is Mr. Fish’s use of the word “nonexistence” kind of fishy in his 2nd to last graph? - “. . . but the yardstick necessary for measuring the talented against the untalented would be nonexistence because everybody would be crammed onto the same diamond,. . .” ‘Cuz, I can go with the whole not being here thing, especially if that’s the measuring yardstick. Wait, if I’m talented, it means I’m not here, right? OK, watch. See, now, I’m gone.

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By wmmbb, June 26, 2011 at 6:00 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Writing is a craft, requiring the same respect as
carpentry, or sculpture. In the absence of a carpenter
we just have to make do. Yet analogies have their
limitations, and if nothing else exercise care in
making our case.

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By culheath, June 26, 2011 at 4:32 am Link to this comment

consider it a pithing contest, perhaps?

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By katsteevns, June 26, 2011 at 4:17 am Link to this comment

Picture this:

Mr. Fish and Chris Hedges rolling on the floor in side splitting laughter as they swap Jesus jokes.

Here’s another for your collective collection:

Jesus’ father, Joseph, was out in the yard making some prehistoric cabinets while Jesus and his mother Mary were in the kitchen. All of a sudden, Jesus runs out to the yard and says,

“Father, did you call me?!?”

Joseph replies, “No, I just hit my thumb.”

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By christian96, June 25, 2011 at 11:00 pm Link to this comment

Such a waste of words when they could be used

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By zonth_zonth, June 25, 2011 at 8:55 pm Link to this comment

oh yea, i forgot my favorite suicidal author…
John kennedy Toole. 

there are some nice kernels in your verbal swill Mr Fish.. but a lot to wade through to get them

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By culheath, June 25, 2011 at 7:05 pm Link to this comment

You still use your hands? Wow, that is sooo last century.

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By TDoff, June 25, 2011 at 4:33 pm Link to this comment

Obviously, masturbation leads to one-handed typing, which slows the thought processes.

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By culheath, June 25, 2011 at 2:34 pm Link to this comment

Nay, you naysayers. Fish should be passed out as on the mount to feed the multitudes waiting for the word.

God damn that was satisfying reading.

Thanks again, Mr Fish.

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By Gzoref, June 25, 2011 at 1:25 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’ll consider Mr. Fish’s opinions on Stephen King when he writes his own “The
Stand,” “The Shining” or “It.” Until then, keep up the cartooning. I admire your art
work, but I don’t give two shits if you think Stephen King is for idiots.

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By KISS, June 25, 2011 at 12:32 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Right wing defenders of profit-at-all-cost use short sentences with single syllable words. The poor want to be rich. We make things you like. We don’t care. Much of the left wing however, cannot counter this clarity.

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By stephen p. craig (AKA Joe Burger), June 25, 2011 at 11:10 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Phishing for Barricuda”, title. “Referendum Addendum”, subtitle.


Body blows, low blows, and sucker blows. Negation of the negation yields a positive intonation, (Hegelian). Would Mr. Fish heed the “cries in the night” of the drowning woman who had lept from a bridge in Paris? At this juncture it is a mute question. I have risked it all in the combat zone for a stranger. Relativity of morality, weltschmirtz! Gramercy; I shall heed the contemptuous declamations of malaproped syntax. Finis.

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By Jrichard, June 25, 2011 at 9:09 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Publishing this bit of self-indulgence is analogous to a lengthy and fumbling
round of public self pleasuring and then asking your appalled audience, “Was it
good for you?”

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By EmileZ, June 25, 2011 at 8:05 am Link to this comment


I don’t want to get involved in your pot/kettle masturbation debate with Mr. Fish and Mr. Cyr. I just wanted to say that I loved the mysterious Charlie Chaplin “cell phone” time traveler footage. It was truly chilling. I will never forget it as long as I live.

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By Potent_Placebo, June 25, 2011 at 7:44 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sometimes I wish Fish would use more periods…......... B =(

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By Gordy, June 25, 2011 at 5:48 am Link to this comment

It is hard to gauge what the writers could possibly do to get fired when it seems everything they do displeases/enrages at least half of their regular hardcore audience of heavily medicated schizophrenics.

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By rico, suave, June 25, 2011 at 5:08 am Link to this comment

It won’t be long before Fish is fired from truthdig. He’s way too conservative.

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By David J. Cyr, June 25, 2011 at 4:55 am Link to this comment

QUOTE, Gordy:

“it’s ‘effect’ change, not ‘affect’ change.”

No it isn’t.

If “both kinds [of activism]” cause a change, or influence the what, how or when of a change, then those both kinds of activism affect change.

The change would be the effect resulting from the activism that affected it — if activism could.

Also, Fish’s use of “both kinds” had nothing to do with genders or sexual preferences. The “both kinds” referred to were “organized” activism and “individual” activism.

Fish should have referred to the first of the two as being organizational rather than organized, since an individual can be as organized as organizations are. Some individuals are considerably more organized than groups can be.

Whether or not Fish’s article was masturbation might depend upon what the meaning of “is” is.

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By Gordy, June 25, 2011 at 3:52 am Link to this comment

Oh Fish, pot-kettle…

The fifth paragraph (“Both kinds have benefits that…”) is stonkingly tortuous and ugly. The he/she him/her stuff does more harm than good; just use your own gender or choose one arbitrarily; it’s not so ‘fracking’ important to the cause of gender equality that you should feel obliged to make an already clunky paragraph virtually unreadable. I would like to see how you would cope in French or Italian, where even inanimate objects are gendered. And this prim PC-speak from one who pretends to be beyond twee moralism (although what you escape from moralism TO is never articulated).

Overall I thought this piece was ironically both badly written and masturbatory. Again and again I find that you adopt a pretentious register - you avoid clarity and plain speaking because this would expose the paucity of coherent argument or even serious thought. You are, here, a dilettante pretending to be more, throwing insults at the people just a step beneath you in the artistic pecking-order - and I’m not at all sure Stephen King really belongs in that category: as far as the writing fundamentals go, he smokes you.

Also, it’s ‘effect’ change, not ‘affect’ change.

Because writing has been stored up for generations we have mountains of stuff produced by a super-elite. People grow up reading this and want to reach that level. But it’s by definition a virtually unreachable super-elite. If we can stop trying to deceive ourselves that we are geniuses perhaps we can appreciate being merely quite bright, or quite dumb, or whatever it is that we are. The vanity, overreaching desire and pretention cause you to suffer, not the lack of genius. Genius is overrated. And there’s some genuine Buddhism for you.

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By EmileZ, June 25, 2011 at 3:14 am Link to this comment

Personally, I would do away with airplanes.

There are just too damn many of them.

Weather satellites we can keep.

Also, a person should only be allowed to act in one movie every ten years.

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By zonth_zonth, June 25, 2011 at 12:59 am Link to this comment

Speaking of writers…
Kurt Vonnegut, Hunter S Thompson, David F. Wallace.

Writers of verbal diarrhea at times. Some sparks of genius with some coherence.  Nonetheless they all have one thing in common.

keep the wheat, rid the chaff

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By capital F, June 24, 2011 at 7:56 pm Link to this comment

That’s life in a society where everything is for sale.  Writing a book on aliens with laser pistols can get you more money and fame than a book of philosophy, but that doesn’t mean it gets you more artistic success.

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By vote, June 24, 2011 at 7:42 pm Link to this comment

meant to type “Not one of them writers.”
Pretty bad when one messes up masturbation…

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By vote, June 24, 2011 at 7:37 pm Link to this comment

Democratic societies are unfit for the publication of such thunderous revelations as I am in the habit of making.
Salvador Dali

Progressive art can assist people to learn not only about the objective forces at work in the society in which they live, but also about the intensely social character of their interior lives. Ultimately, it can propel people toward social emancipation.
Salvador Dali

In order to change the world, you have to get your head together first.
Jimi Hendrix

A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.
Albert Einstein

It is not clear that intelligence has any long-term survival value.
Stephen Hawking

Not one of the ‘writers’

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By David J. Cyr, June 24, 2011 at 6:53 pm Link to this comment



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By thethirdman, June 24, 2011 at 6:33 pm Link to this comment


While I am flattered that you remember who I am, what part of my comments
seemed like an endorsement?

I was actually try to be nice and say that I appreciate when Mr. Fish sticks to his
fiction and not some kind of boring preachy essay. 

I’m with you brother; this is junk.  But now, I actually am endorsing your
comments, so…

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By Nietzsche Preache, June 24, 2011 at 5:55 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why are so many atheists obsessed with bashing religion?  Oh, I suppose it’s all religions’ fault, it wouldn’t have anything to do with your own self determination.  Let’s lump them all together, all religions and all people who follow them in all of history.  Discrimination is bad, though, don’t discriminate, but those religious people, they are all wrong.

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By Frightwig, June 24, 2011 at 5:29 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I get a drunkberry vibe from this whole post.

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By Dr. Dashwood, June 24, 2011 at 5:23 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Wow, an everything I don’t like is shit rant by a sub-mediocre writer who is complaining about all the other sub-mediocre writers.  Maybe Steven King is successful because people like his writing, not because they are too dumb and uncultivated to perceive what you wanted them to like.  Can you do a piece on entitlement among American brats?

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By jaquifer, June 24, 2011 at 4:42 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ha ha, wonderful commentary. Go get ‘em fish!

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By Lea, June 24, 2011 at 4:24 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

<<When Buddha said, “There has to be evil so that good can prove its purity above it,” he ...>>

Um, no. Where do you get that quote? Please cite the sutta reference or stop making things up out of your stereotypical view of Buddhism.

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By LadyR, June 24, 2011 at 4:02 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What absurd, immature, narcissistic drivel.  And your “letter” to publishers who refused to consider your “writing,” proves it.

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By JDmysticDJ, June 24, 2011 at 2:56 pm Link to this comment

I was going to write that I was on the fence until I saw thethirdman’s endorsement, which had enlightened me to Fishy’s nihilistic reprobation, sort of a killing of two carrion eating scavengers with one stone, but that would be a lie, I noticed Fishy’s reprobation at first glimpse.

Virtue is vice and vice a versa, amoral is moral and moral is immoral, as seen from Fishy’s scummy little feces clouded bowl.

Fishy’s attack on Christianity is oh so tiresome, sophomoric, and irrelevant. Concepts of good and evil are no longer dictated by an ancient fraudulent religious document, but I value the “ Sermon on the Mount” for its Daoism like ethics and morality, and the book of “Ecclesiastes” for its wisdom; “vanity of vanities, everything is vanity.” Carly Simon could build a new career with Fishy in mind. Incidentally, Chomsky describes the prophets as “dissident intellectuals,” I’m on board with that description.

I suspect that the likes of Fishy and thethirdman will be ecstatically getting their rocks off as the world crumbles around them, actually, I seriously doubt that their ilk experience any semblance of ecstasy unless it comes from a drug, or from a maniacally deranged cynical hysteria.

Fishy’s time would be better spent watching “TMZ.”

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By caped amigo, June 24, 2011 at 2:30 pm Link to this comment

I even like Fish’s writing and thoughts when they are as clear as mud. I’d have
dinner with him anytime.

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By bran, June 24, 2011 at 1:44 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Mr. Fish: Spot on rant. Having the ability to write does not make one a writer by default, and in the polluted-by-blog America we live in today we’re certainly a-drown in shitbrained writers and their shit writing. Your sarcasm and criticism draws blood, which is increasingly necessary in this sleep-walking country. Kudos.

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By Alan Lunn, June 24, 2011 at 1:36 pm Link to this comment

I’ve been a good writer for as long as I can remember
(which doesn’t mean I haven’t written some crap).
People like me are called “graphomaniacs” (word

Where do you go with this compulsion? Back in the
day, you aspired to the “great American novel.” When
I was 19,the most inspiring writers I knew were
William Burroughs and Bob Dylan. But then I got
religion and fracked-up that whole thing.

Today, though, I don’t devour books like they were
going out of style: I daintily pick at them like a
plate of liver and onions. Books aren’t as
interactive as social networking—it’s just you and
the author in anonymity.

Am I premature to say the book is dead? When I find
one I want to read, I want to speed up the process—
cut to the chase. I want all this fanciness broken
down into a quick learning experience. Time is short.

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By gerard, June 24, 2011 at 12:00 pm Link to this comment

Wow!  Finally we find out what we’re all doing here: 
“...  misconstruing the consensuality of the chaos with a deeply meaningful camaraderie.”

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By John R., June 24, 2011 at 10:24 am Link to this comment

I don’t agree with a lot of what Fish has to say in this piece, I actually dislike a lot of it.

But, I prefer to hear what he has to say, and the way that he says it.

Sometimes, there are opinions inside of us that others will certainly hate. But don’t expect to shape Fish’s opinion. We have not walked in his shoes.

And since it’s his column…

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By kerryrose, June 24, 2011 at 8:23 am Link to this comment

For Mr Fish


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By asld, June 24, 2011 at 7:43 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Wow this is the most insufferable article I’ve ever read. Get over yourself?

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By Mr. Fish, June 24, 2011 at 7:08 am Link to this comment

For Kerryrose:

As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice.
– Adolf Hitler

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By kerryrose, June 24, 2011 at 6:25 am Link to this comment

‘Typically, when one decides to save the world, he or she is deciding to save only the parts of the world that he or she finds most flattering to his or her ego and sense of right, wrong and beauty. After all, what good is a savior’s concept of moral law without the implied lawlessness of contrarians who embody a contrary point of view?’

Thank god for the people who try to save the world, and are capable of choosing one issue to attack in the myriad of injustices and pain… for whatever reason they devote themselves to it.

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By Egomet Bonmot, June 24, 2011 at 6:11 am Link to this comment

Better a chowline of stale mints than a heapin helpin of sour grapes for one.

I like Stephen King!

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By thethirdman, June 24, 2011 at 12:10 am Link to this comment

Wow.  Usually a big fan of both Mr. Fish’s art and writing.  Definitely think he
shines brightest with his fiction.

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By litlpeep, June 23, 2011 at 11:57 pm Link to this comment

I love finding some merely mortal wit
Trumping a huge pile of immortal shit.


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