The Book of John

“Hang on to this as it will prove invaluable down the road!”

John Ballard

When my wife, Joleen, and I had a house built in 2004, Lake Havasu City resident John Ballard was hired to oversee the construction of it. We were in Alaska at that time. John was an expert in all phases of home development. Sometime during our hassle-free working relationship, we became very good friends.

Because of John’s vast expertise, several times he caught sub-contractors trying to cut corners and not follow building code. A few didn’t like it when he made them correct their mistakes. One burly framing contractor in particular challenged John’s suggestion to use hurricane straps on our garage.

Hurricane straps are metal strips used to connect roof trusses to wall top-plates. They help the roof stay in place during high winds. When John pulled out a copy of the local building code showing they needed to be there, the guy grumbled having no choice but to add them.

Another time he discovered the builder was not planning on installing LP Tech Shield® in our walls and roof. Tech Shield is a condensed-foam temperature barrier that’s quite costly to add. When John pulled out a copy of our contract showing it was part of the package, the man quickly changed his tune.

Something that John Ballard told me regarding workmanship stuck in my mind. He mentioned that he could tell the quality of a retaining wall before it was ever built. His comment made me curious enough to ask.

“How’s that?”

“I drive by a work site where a block wall’s about to be built and look at the amount of steel rebar that’s been dropped off. Pallets of concrete blocks sitting around without bundles of steel rebar is a sure sign of cost-cutting. There’s a wall in your neighborhood constructed that way.”

He pointed to a vacant lot just up the street with a gray concrete block wall. Several years after he said this, a large gust of wind blew the ill-designed structure over. John was right on the money in his analysis.

Over a 12-month period, John compiled a book of photos of our project from start to finish. It’s nearly four-inches thick with at least 1000 photographs. Joleen calls it “John’s Book”. I candidly refer to it as, “The Book of John”.

My friend once told me as we thumbed through the album,

“Hang on to this as the pictures will prove invaluable down the road!”

He was correct. They’ve done so time and time again when we needed to see what lay behind sheet rock, or under the ground, before updated home modifications were made. Little did I know the album would come in handy on a new house project.

The whole construction process was meticulously documented

The first thing needed on our latest endeavor is construction of a retaining wall. I instantly turned to John’s book for information. Color photos taken by him in 2004, show plain as day, that our old wall has plenty of steel in the footings. The images specifically identify how the rebar was to be bent and tied together with wire. Showing our masonry contractor these photographs, I informed him it needed to look like this. The man nodded his head in approval.

Unfortunately, John is no longer with us. He passed away in 2017 at the age of 79 from mesothelioma. Having this book at my side makes me feel as if he’s still around overseeing yet another job.

John told me that should we ever sell our Lake Havasu City home, we should leave the book behind to help new owners. John Ballard was always looking out for other people whether he knew them or not.

I’ll follow through on his suggestion, yet won’t give the original away. That one goes with Joleen and me to our new place. I’ll have a duplicate made instead.

John was very meticulous and organized in everything he did. As I mentioned throughout this story, he did so with the construction of our home. I plan on emulating him as close as I possibly can with this latest dwelling. Through John’s teachings, I know more on what to look for in the construction of a house than I ever did.

Pity the poor framing contractor that decides to forego hurricane straps. I have the building code printed and ready to go. John Ballard would be proud!

Close to four inches thick with over 1000 photographs.

HAVASU REFUGEES

“Our hopes are that living in a vegetation free canyon at a slightly higher elevation will solve my nagging, yet serious problem.”

“Desperado”
  • This is a slightly revised story from the one titled, “Desperado”.

I never thought we’d leave Lake Havasu City. It’s a beautiful place to live although my wife and I don’t call it home. We always think of our stay as an extra-long-vacation.

For the past seven years, like clockwork, I developed bronchitis during the winter season. Bronchitis is a serious infection for older people because it can lead to pneumonia. Just recently, doctors discovered I’m highly allergic to sage which grows abundantly in the Mohave desert, especially in the Colorado River basin. The weed as I call it blooms and then spreads like wildfire. Pollen from this bush irritates my bronchial tubes, causing inflammation and ultimately a nasty congestion.

During windy days, I wear a bandanna over my face while outside much like cowpokes do to filter out dust. There’s no way I’m going to be seen sporting one of those paper hospital masks. Joleen claims I look like an urban terrorist of sorts. I view it more as a desperado, because I’m extremely desperate to overcome scratchy eyes and a constant dry cough. Folks with allergies know what I’m talking about. If it takes a scarf over my nose and mouth to overcome such – so be it.

One of my physicians suggested I move elsewhere as there’s nothing she can do to make things better. Pills and shots failed miserably. Where would we go? I suggested Alabama, but Joleen is deathly afraid of tornadoes and hurricanes. Alaska is definitely out of the picture. Been there. Done that. We put up with cold and dark Alaskan winters for many years, along with endless rainy days in summer.

Good friends, Jim & Pat Brownfield, suggested we relocate to Prescott, Arizona where they recently purchased a home. We seriously considered it, until I found out the place is crawling with juniper trees. That’s something the medical tests showed I can’t be around. It’s worse than sage.

Last week, we decided to take a drive and discuss the problem. Picking up lunch from FIVE GUYS BURGERS in Kingman, we chose a small canyon near Cerbat Cliffs to eat. The place is beautiful with huge red rock and cliffs much like those viewed in western movies. Joleen and I came to this location approximately 14 years ago by accident. Back then, we thought it would be a killer site to build a house, but there was no property for sale. We elected to live in Lake Havasu City instead.

This trip to the rugged canyon was different. A newly placed sign sitting on a large piece of property at the bottom of a flat-top-mesa advertised the land as being available. It appeared the sign hadn’t been there for long. We called the listed phone number, and after a couple of days of negotiating with owner, Pat Carlin, a deal was made. Joleen believes God led us to this spot for a reason. I tend to agree.

Recently, I mentioned to a friend about our plans to leave Havasu. His initial comment was,

“So you intend on building your dream house?”

That thought never crossed my mind. What I didn’t tell him is that our dream home is already constructed. It’s actually a mansion perched high above the vibrant-blue Arizona sky.

Our new pad in Cerbat Canyon is simply going to be a place to shed our shoes until heading on to higher ground. The dwelling will be small and easy to clean with wide doors just in case. All new houses should be constructed with wheelchair access. Having to add such changes afterwards can be a major undertaking.

Our hopes are that living in a vegetation free canyon at a slightly higher elevation will solve my nagging, yet serious problem. Just driving to Kingman I can tell the difference in my breathing. The cooler Kingman summers will be a relief as well. To put icing on the cake, the home site’s only two miles from Kingman Regional Hospital where Joleen goes for cancer treatments. Our closest grocery store will only be one mile away.

Last weekend we were able to meet our neighbors to be, Scott & Rhonda. The couple are also Lake Havasu City refugees. They’re extremely nice people with much of the same ideology as us. When Scott told me one of his reasons for moving to the canyon, his comment brought a smile to my face.

We came here to get away from allergies!”

It seems Scott had problems with dust and pollen in Havasu much like I do. Since relocating, his problem disappeared. That was great news to hear!

It’ll take at least a year to get the house built. That’ll work perfectly with the time we need to pack our goods, sell the old place, and hit the road. Joleen and I are looking forward to our new adventure in Kingman. I’m especially elated to be leaving all the nasty Havasu dust and pollen behind!

Cerbat Cliffs

Desperado

“This world ain’t my home, I’m just a passing through!”

Cerbat Canyon property

I never thought we’d leave Lake Havasu City. It’s a beautiful place to live although my wife and I don’t call it home. We always think of our stay as an extra-long-vacation.

For the past seven years, like clockwork, I developed bronchitis during the winter season. Bronchitis is a serious infection for older people because it can lead to pneumonia. Just recently, doctors discovered I’m highly allergic to sage which grows abundantly in the Mohave desert, especially in the Colorado River basin. The weed as I call it blooms and then spreads like wildfire. Pollen from this bush irritates my bronchial tubes, causing inflammation and ultimately a nasty congestion.

During windy days, I wear a bandanna over my face while outside much like cowpokes do to filter out dust. There’s no way I’m going to be seen sporting one of those paper hospital masks. Joleen claims I look like an urban terrorist of sorts. I view it more as a desperado, because I’m extremely desperate to overcome scratchy eyes and a constant dry cough. Folks with allergies know what I’m talking about. If it takes a scarf over my nose and mouth to overcome such – so be it.

My physician suggested we move elsewhere as there’s nothing she can do to make things better. Pills and shots failed miserably. Where would we go? I suggested Alabama, but Joleen is deathly afraid of tornadoes and hurricanes. Alaska is definitely out of the picture. Been there. Done that. We put up with cold and dark Alaskan winters for many years, along with endless gray rainy days in summer.

Good friends, Jim & Pat Brownfield, suggested we relocate to Prescott, Arizona where they recently purchased a home. We seriously considered it, until I found the place is crawling with juniper trees. That’s something the medical tests showed I can’t be around. It’s worse than sage.

Last week, we decided to take a drive and discuss the problem. Picking up lunch from FIVE GUYS BURGERS in Kingman, we chose a small canyon near Cerbat Cliffs to eat. The place is beautiful with huge red rock and cliffs much like those viewed in western movies. Joleen and I came to this location approximately 14 years ago by accident. Back then, we thought it would be a killer site to build a house, but there was no property for sale. We elected to live in Lake Havasu City instead.

This trip to the rugged canyon was different. A newly placed sign sitting on a large piece of property at the bottom of a flat-top-mesa advertised the land as being available. It appeared the sign hadn’t been there for long. We called the listed phone number, and after a couple of days of negotiating with owner, Pat Carlin, a deal was made. Joleen believes God led us to this spot for a reason. I tend to agree.

Recently, I mentioned to a friend about our plans to leave Havasu. His initial comment was,

“So you intend on building your dream house?”

That thought never crossed my mind. What I didn’t tell him is that our dream home is already constructed. It’s actually a mansion perched high above the vibrant-blue Arizona sky. I also didn’t mention that this world ain’t my home, I’m just a passing through. All of us are for that matter.

Our new pad in Cerbat Canyon is simply going to be a place to shed our shoes until heading on to higher ground. The dwelling will be small and easy to clean with wide doors just in case. All new houses should be constructed with wheelchair access. Having to add such afterwards can be a major undertaking.

Our hopes are that living in a vegetation free canyon at a slightly higher elevation will solve my nagging, yet serious problem. To put icing on the cake, the home site’s only two miles from the hospital where Joleen goes for cancer treatments. The closest grocery store is one mile east of us.

Last weekend we were able to meet our neighbors to be, Scott & Rhonda Johnson. The couple are also Lake Havasu City refugees. They’re very nice people with much of the same ideology as us. When Scott told me his main reason for moving to the canyon, the comment brought a smile to my face.

We came here to get away from allergies!”

It seems Scott had problems with dust and pollen in Havasu much like I do. Since relocating, his problem disappeared. That was great news to hear!

It’ll take at least a year to get the house built along with a shop. That’ll work perfectly with the time we need to pack our goods, sell the old place, and hit the road. Joleen and I are looking forward to our new adventure. I’m especially elated to be leaving all the nasty dust and pollen behind!

Urban terrorist?

Armchair Quarterback

After getting pushed around almost every day, my mother took me aside and said I had the right to defend myself.

December 7, 1941 – Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

A neighbor told me the other day that the United States shouldn’t have assassinated Iranian General Qassem Solemani.

“Why not?”, I asked.

Solemani never did anything to us. Trump’s trying to start WWIII!

It was this man’s personal opinion. Everyone seems to have an opinion on the subject. My neighbor evidently didn’t know about American blood on Solemani’s hands. Logic dictates the general was thirsty for more. I truly wonder how this fellow came to the WWIII conclusion? He continued to ramble on about the evils of President Trump. The fellow offered no real solutions to the Iranian terrorism problem. I quickly labeled him an Armchair Quarterback. I’ve been called the same.

Not one to argue politics or religion, I decided to avoid verbal conflict by remaining silent. Where did this fellow get his information. Does he have a direct line to the Central Intelligence Agency? Is there someone at the Pentagon supplying him with pertinent data, showing that the renown Islamic terrorist was not out to further hurt America? There are professionals within our government and military that have the answers. It’s doubtful that highly-secret military intelligence was at my neighbor’s disposal.

I’d say he based his opinion entirely on what he read in the newspaper or watched on television. It seems many people make this mistake, including me. Do newspaper reporters and television analysts know more than military experts? We know the answer to that, or at least most of us do.

Oftentimes, reporters shoot from the hip. In certain type stories they take secondhand or third party information and feed it to the public as fact. Where classified military info is concerned they do such all the time. Some news agencies are now denouncing the killing as unnecessary. Instead of factually reporting, they’re handing out biased innuendo. That’s totally unprofessional but these people don’t seem to care.

During the 1960’s, newspapers and television reporters had the Russians bombing us with nukes regarding the ‘Bay of Pigs’ incident in Cuba. At schools across the country, drills were practiced where kids, including teachers, were instructed to crawl under desks when attacked. As a ten-year-old, I wondered what good would that do? I couldn’t fit under mine. Most likely I’d die because of my size.

History now shows that the media was wrong. There were people back then convinced that President Kennedy and Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev had us on the brink of WWIII. Some Americans went so far as to build bomb shelters in their back yards. Many folks were acting and saying things out of fear. It seems history has repeated itself.

In my own life, I learned early on that the best defense is to have a good offense. In 1965, I was transferred to an all Hispanic school in San Antonio, Texas along with a few other military kids. It was rough going at the start!

We were the only white students at Salado Elementary. After getting bullied and pushed around almost every day, my mother took me aside and said I had the right to defend myself. A metal lunch box became my equalizer. I only used it one time to take out the biggest troublemaker. After that I wasn’t bothered again. Sometimes drastic measures are needed to keep the peace. That was proven at Salado as well as during WWII.

By 1939, Japan had built up its military in preparation of going to war with the United States. Intelligence sources showed that Emperor Hirohito and Admiral Yamamoto intended to hit this country sometime in the near future. That tragic day came on December 7, 1941. We had the resources to take out the crafty admiral beforehand but didn’t.

WWII ended nearly four years later after we dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Perhaps WWII could’ve been averted and many lives saved had President Roosevelt exterminated Yamamoto prior to 1941? At this point we’ll never know.

I believe the killing of General Solemani makes the threat of war with Iran less likely. Some will agree. Others will disagree. It’s highly possible that WWIII was avoided by taking out the Iranian military leader. Having no high-level intelligence to go by, I use my 1965 lunchbox incident to solidify this opinion. In my way of seeing things, that’s better reasoning than what mainstream media has to offer!

It’s a good thing armchair quarterbacks aren’t running the country!

The “End” Crowd

Oh, if it’s square, we ain’t there!

The “In” Crowd

Years ago, after listening to the classic 1960’s hit, The “In” Crowd by Dobie Gray, my daughter asked if I was part of that group during high school. I told her I didn’t think so. To be honest, I didn’t know who the in crowd was back then? Thinking about it this past week, I decided to Google the song title to learn more.

**********************************************************

The “In” Crowd

I’m in with the in crowd.
I go where the in crowd goes.
I’m in with the in crowd.
And I know what the in crowd knows.

Any time of the year, don’t you hear?
Dressin’ fine, makin’ time.
We breeze up and down the street.
We get respect from the people we meet.
They make way day or night.
They know the in crowd is out of sight.

I’m in with the in crowd.
I know every latest dance.
When you’re in with the in crowd.
It’s easy to find romance.

At a spot where the beat’s really hot.
Oh, if it’s square, we ain’t there!
We make every minute count.
Our share is always the biggest amount.
Other guys imitate us.
But the original’s still the greatest.

We got our own way of walkin’
We got our own way of talkin’, yeah.

Anytime of the year, don’t you hear?
Spendin’ cash, talkin’ trash.
Girl, I’ll show you a real good time.
Come on with me and leave your troubles behind.
I don’t care where you’ve been.
You ain’t been nowhere, till you’ve been in with the in crowd, yeah.

Oh, with the in crowd (yeah, yeah, yeah).
We got our own way of walkin’, yeah (yeah, yeah, yeah).
We got our own way of talkin’ (yeah, yeah, yeah).
In the in crowd.

**********************************************************

If the in crowd went fishing and hiking I suppose I was part of that elite group. On the other hand, what did these cats know that I didn’t?  I’m guessing it was algebra. Never did catch on and still haven’t. I might’ve had a tinge of square in me but only a small dose. Most of my friends had the same.

Should blue denim jeans and flannel shirts be considered dressin’ fine, then I was hip. That alone would’ve placed me into the prestigious group.

Without doubt I loved to breeze up and down the street. Dobie Gray had to be talking about cruising. What else could it be? Yeah, after analyzing Gray’s song, it appears I had more in crowd traits than I realized.

One important item I noticed after reading through all of the lyrics, was that walking and talking were top notch criteria for being part of that group. Dobie Gray mentioned those items two times in his song.

Friends often told me that I had my own way of walking. They weren’t impressed. Years later I discovered it had to do with an inner ear problem. While ambling down sidewalks or hallways I generally veer to one side. Yeah, I was a big part of the in crowd during high school and didn’t even know it.

These days I can say without question I’m a bonified member of the end crowd. Just being able to walk and talk is highly important to us cats. Sadly, Dobie Gray’s no longer here to compose a revised senior citizen version of his song. I did my best in constructing this slightly shorter version than the original:

The “End” Crowd

I’m with the end crowd.

I go where the end crowd goes.

I’m with the end crowd.

I wear end crowd clothes.

Any time of year, can’t you hear?

Dressing fine, with half a mind.

Who cut the cheese? We need a breeze.

Turn up the heat, can’t feel my feet (yeah, yeah, yeah).

I’m with the end crowd.

I go where the end crowd goes.

Parked on a line.

Is that a crime?

Quick to bark.

While others gripe.

A few of us,

can hardly wipe.

I’m with the end crowd.

I go where the end crowd goes.

Just where that is,

only the end crowd knows (yeah, yeah, yeah).

The “End” crowd

Honey Run

“Sugar in the gourd – gourd on the ground. The way to get the sugar out is to roll the gourd around.”

Mike Hankins and his wife Ruthie Jane Hankins (circa 1920’s). Photo credit: John & Retta Waggoner

I came across the strangest story titled, Mike Hankins, in a December 2, 1906 – The Tennessean (Nashville) newspaper. The cleverly written piece was first published in The Hartsville Times newspaper in 1906. Composed in somewhat riddle form, it took some deciphering on my part to figure things out. All-in-all, the reporter was giving Mike Hankins a fond farewell, while at the same time delivering a literal rebuke of sorts. It seems Mr. Hankins was one of the ringleaders where town gossip was concerned in Hartsville. Honey-Run evidently relates to gossip flowing freely amongst a certain group of citizens. At the end of the story is the saying, “Sugar in the gourd.” Those words refer to simple lyrics from an old square dance tune going back to the late 1700’s. Sugar was placed in gourds during pioneer days and oftentimes it was hard to get out. The metaphor in using this term relates to gossip being contained within a container, instead of allowing it to seep out. This story was copied verbatim.  

*******************

Mike Hankins  

Mike Hankins, the blacksmith at “Honey Run,” left with his family Monday for Lake County, west Tennessee. Mike is a good fellow, and will be missed very much from “Honey Run.”

So Mike has gone west, at last. He heard it was better further on, and often talked of moving out into the world and trying his fortune among strangers. Not that he was unappreciated in his old home, for everybody in the county knows Mike, and all wish him mighty well.

But he is “a good fellow,” and fun and poverty seem to have chosen him for boon companion and running mate. He is capable in his line, but he would rather joke than work.

He knows as much scripture as the circuit rider, is conversant with the fine points and literal quotations concerning baptism, also the exact formulate for foreordination, and the final perseverance of the saints, but his convictions are not deep enough to root the turnip seed of truth. Day after day he will argue, ever sticking to the literal word.

Leaving his eldest hopeful and the striker to run the shop, he frequently foregathers at the village post office with the congenial spirits to sample the gossip of the countryside that the rural carriers have brought like honey to the hive, to discuss the candidates and the issues of the most important campaign since Sherman marched with fire and sword to the sea.

There is never real want at his house, but there are times when the wife and children feel that they would rather do without than ask the grocer to “charge it.” Mr. Grocer has not yet lost anything to Mike, but the quid pro quo sometimes comes on crutches; and besides, a man with a trade, and a family, and at his time of life, ought to have a home of his own and should have achieved a secure standing in the church that would enable him to read his title clear to “mansions in the skies” on the slightest provocation.

But nothing sticks to Mike, for Mike will not stick to anything more than three days in succession. “Mike is a good fellow.”  He has done nobody harm, except himself and those for whom he would gladly lay down his life in an emergency.

He is as ready to sit up all night and keep an ice towel on the fevered brow of a friend as he is to grab a horn and away to the meadow and the woodland on a moonlight night, following the melody-making hounds as they give on the hot trail of “that old red fox.”

The smithy fires have glowed and the cheerful anvil rung till late; many a night to accommodate the emergency of an energetic neighbor, whos team must be afield ere dawn.

Because of these characteristics, he “will be missed very much.”  His quaint sayings and curious riddles will be repeated again and again as the boys gather to settle the momentous matters of state and fix with unerring certainty the destiny of aspiring genius.

His crude philosophy, crystalized into provincial epigrams, will be the familiar tongue of generations yet to come. Yes, Mike Hankins is gone from “Honey-Run.” It is not worth while to wish that his tribe may increase, for there will be Hankinses in every settlement when the bones in the valleys begin and the seas give up their dead.

So, let us the rather trust that his new post office is “Sugar-in-the-Gourd.”   

Old train depot at Hartsville, Tennessee.

Reverse Aging

If it works for Tom Selleck then it works for me!

A friend told me that Tom Selleck is 98 years old.

Some people age gracefully while others age ungracefully. Unfortunately or fortunately, I’m firmly mired in that latter category. You’ll understand why I use the word fortunately in short order.

I don’t count movie stars or celebrities in my gracefully aging synopsis except Tom Selleck. A recent National Enquirer article mentioned that Selleck has never done a thing cosmetically to reverse his aging process.

On television I believe he promotes something called, “Reverse Moreage”. I didn’t catch the entire commercial, but most likely he’s peddling some type of de-aging pill or elixir.

A friend of mine claims that Selleck is 98 years old. I looked it up and the actor’s only 74. Perhaps Tom Selleck tells people he’s 98 to hawk his product? Wise thinking!

Most Hollywood types use plastic surgery and other outlandish measures to try and keep their youthful appearance. Not that there’s anything wrong with such. I suppose if you have the money go for it.

When I say age gracefully, I’m talking about ordinary people here; those folks we’ve met that travelled through time without doing anything outlandish to their skin.

I decided a couple of years ago to grow a long beard so that I could accurately play Santa Claus for my grandchildren. Using phony facial hair for the gig didn’t seem the right way to go. After two years of being Kris Kringle I’ve kept the beard for other reasons.

I used it as a prop in becoming a homeless person for a story. A fake beard would’ve never worked. Thankfully I was able to pull the stunt off to near perfection. An article I composed about my experience was published in several periodicals. I also used it on the reality show Pawn Stars in trying to come cross as a grizzly old desert rat. That act never quite materialized as they cut some of the best footage.

A friend of mine, Rod Sanborn, after seeing me in a long beard said that I needed to cut it. He claimed the thing made me look 10 years older. Well hopefully it did. Santa must be at least 400 years old.

That got me to thinking for a change. One friend already pegged me four years older than I really was without the beard. I decided to keep growing the bush and then ask strangers to guesstimate my age.

Rod was right. People that I didn’t know believed I was around 75 years old. When I told them 65 they gasped and quickly apologized for the insult. I decided to take the experiment one step further. I wanted to know if it was more savvy for seniors to appear older than they really are, rather than younger. It didn’t take long to get my answer.

I was in a grocery store one morning chitchatting with a middle-aged cashier. When I asked how old she thought I was the woman politely replied,

“Ummmm… seventy one or seventy two?”

“Thank you for the compliment!”, I told her. “Would you believe I’m ninety eight?”

Being able to say this with a straight face helped to seal the ruse. Taken completely by surprise the lady couldn’t believe how much I hadn’t aged. She wanted to know my secret.

“Donuts.”, I informed her. “A donut a day will keep the wrinkles away!”

I’ve decided to keep my beard another year so that I might have more investigative fun with it. Some folks say it isn’t right to lie about anything. They’re correct! I look at things a bit differently where this joke is concerned.

“In my case it’s not actually a lie. It’s part of an unscientific study!”

From what I’ve learned thus far, it’s better for seniors to claim they’re older in their golden years than the opposite. If it works for Tom Selleck then it works for me!

Camo hat: $4.99 – Invicta diver’s watch: $99.99. – Claiming to be 98 with a straight face: Priceless