Archive for the ‘Salt Lake City’ Category


After a year working with the talented folk at the Salt Lake Film Society, and my friends in the Utah Screenwriters Project, my debut feature-length screenplay is finished.

This week the USP had our graduation ceremony, where a group of local actors read a scene from each of our scripts, giving us a first taste of what our work could actually look like off the page.

My screenplay is titled “Brother, Father, Sister, Mother” and it’s about an empty-nester named June whose life is thrown into uncharted territory after she stumbles into bed with the brother of her daughter’s new boyfriend.

You can watch the live reading in the video below (please do! AND TELL YOUR FRIENDS!) but fair warning it includes what the MPAA would describe as “Brief strong language and adult situations.” Technically the video is PG-13, but the script itself is an R-rated dramedy.

But wait, there’s MORE EXCITING NEWS! I was selected by the Film Society as one of two USP Honorees, which means a professional script consultation by Dave Trottier, author of The Screenwriters Bible. I’ll be sending him my script this week, at which point he’ll run it through a meat grinder and hand it’s bloody, mangled carcass back to me with some constructive criticism, it’ll be great.

After that I start the long, soul-crushing process of pitching the script to agents and producers, which, if my self-published novel is any indication, probably won’t end well. But who cares! I’m really happy with my script. Here’s hoping I get to see it – or something else I wrote – on the big screen some day, but if not just watching the actors at graduation was a treat by itself.

Check out the video, and if you know any indie producers looking for their next hit, send ’em my way.

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I never thought I wanted a tattoo. As a general concept they were frowned upon in the environment I grew up in and I always struggled with the idea of permanency.

I figured my tastes would change after I settled on a design. If I had gotten a tattoo when I was in 8th grade, for example, it probably would have said “Creed” or been the symbol for American Ant Farm. I mean sure, “Smooth Criminal” is my jam, and Scott Stapp has a Grammy, but I’m happy I had the freedom to move on to other things.

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But a few months ago, as an intellectual exercise, I started trying to think of things that I love, that I’ve always loved, and that I know I will always love. Three things immediately came to mind: movies, my first and truest love; writing, my livelihood and oldest pastime; and biking, my transportation mode of choice and pretty much what I’d rather be doing at every moment of every day.

Then I Googled “bike tattoos” and it was game. set. match.

FullSizeRender 10I didn’t want to just copy something I’d seen on pinterest so I started sketching a few ideas and ultimately settled on the one pictured above. I wanted a tattoo of a bike, not a biker, and I wanted it to be somewhat abstract as opposed to photo-realistic.

As far as the process, it was considerably less painful than a chest wax. Granted my design is just outlines, but the whole thing took less than 30 minutes and it felt like a concentrated pinch. The Artist, John Raftery of Cathedral Tattoo in Salt Lake City, told me the forearm is a more “mellow” location, which is good, because I’m a big baby.

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As for movies and writing, I couldn’t really think of a way to represent writing that speaks to me, and I’m very tempted to get a projector tattooed on my ribs. I’ve also started playing around with the idea of turning my left forearm into a ukulele. If I’m not hanging my head in shame a year from now over the bike, that’s probably going to happen.

Sorry mom 🙂


While we were at Cathedral, we got Liz one-half of her latest piece. She already has a blank music staff on her arm that I love and now she has “I solemnly swear I am up to no good” on her thigh. I’m conflicted about it because I’m not really a Harry Potter fan, but I think it’s crazy hot on her.

I’ll let her to tell you what the other half will be.

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It’s been a particularly drab December here in Utah, where an atypical lack of snowfall has failed to make a winter wonderland of the otherwise lifeless inversion-bogged post-Autumn mountains of the Wasatch Front.

So I wanted to go somewhere pretty. Somewhere like the spa at the Grand America Hotel, Salt Lake City’s largest and only AAA rated 5-diamond hotel. This is the big daddy of Utah’s hotel industry. When U.S. presidents visit the Beehive State, this is where they stay.


As far as the actual Treat Yo Self experience, I was intrigued by the Sugar Body Polish offered by the spa, which promised a “sweet treat to pamper deprived skin” through a blend of sugar exfoliate and moisturizing coconut and safflower oil, rich in Vitamins B-6and E.

I love vitamin B-6, it’s my favorite of the Bs! (Note: I don’t actually know the difference between B vitamins). I was sold, and I invited my friend Liz to come along.

I met Liz in February during the Legislative session. She’s a southerner who likes Mexican food. She’s my polar opposite. Literally. We have the Myers Briggs test results to prove it.


She’s ok.

We checked in at the Grand Spa and were promptly shown to our locker rooms, which were located on separate floors and which included their own gender specific lounges. I can’t speak for the women’s lounge, but mine had two large plasma screens, a shoe polisher and complimentary tea, pretzels and granola.

I was shown to my locker by an attendant, where I found a very comfortable robe (pictured above) and a pair of Jesus sandals waiting for me. There was also a dry sauna and steam room and a row of showers, including the “experience” shower, a behemoth monstrosity advertized as having 17 separate shower heads (I counted 18).

FullSizeRender(14)After a few minutes in the lounge, I was picked up by my — masseuse? scrubber? — the person who would be performing my body scrub, who led me upstairs to my treatment room, which included its very own experience shower.

She gave me an option of scents to choose from, from which I selected a eucalyptus grapefruit blend. I was also a little congested from a cold so she added some essential oils to help me breathe better.

The scrub itself was very similar to a massage: I lied down on a bed covered by a sheet and she proceeded to pass her sugar-coated hands around my body. But instead of the pressured kneading of a massage, she moved in a back and forth motion similar to what I imagine my teeth feel when I brush them.

After the sugar was applied, she stepped out of the room while I went and rinsed off in the experience shower. I was really excited for this but the shower itself turned out to be mildly terrifying, a disorienting onslaught of scalding hot water coming from all directions with no escape.

I rinsed and toweled and laid back down. She returned to the room, applied some moisturizing oil and that was that. I met back up with Liz in the lobby and we picked up our to-go bottles of sugar scrub for an at-home sequel.


Properly pampered, we skipped over to Simply Sushi to conduct our interview over some miso soup and tuna rolls.


Wood’s Stock: Who are you and what do you do?

Elizabeth Converse: My name is Elizabeth and I work in politics.

WS: What did you think of the body scrub today?

EC: It was weird.

WS: How so?

EC: It was like a massage that was cut in half and instead you were scrubbed for the first half.

WS: Did you like it though?

EC: Yeah it was fun.

WS: Have you ever had a scrub before?

EC: No

WS: Walk me through it, what it was.


EC: You get naked and you get on a table and instead of a massage they rub you down with exfoliates and things that smell good.

WS: What does it feel like?

EC: Tingly. I enjoyed it. A lot.

WS: I’ve had a massage, it’s very smooth. But this was scratchy.

EC: It didn’t feel scratchy to me. It didn’t hurt.

WS: I don’t mean that it hurt but it was scratchy, kind of sandy.

EC: Yeah

WS: Like someone with sandy hands was rubbing my body.

EC: Yeah. You and I define words differently. Scratchy to me has a negative connotation. It was awesome.

WS: So then what?

EC: You jump into this really weird shower with a million shower heads and light reflectors.


WS: What did you think of that?

EC: I was completely overwhelmed.

WS: Right?

EC: I told her that after I got out. She laughed and said she always has to turn have the heads off, it’s over-stimulation.

WS: It was too much. She turned it on for me and she turned it on way too hot.

EC: With mine some of them were cold and some of them were hot and I couldn’t figure out how to adjust them so they were all warm. I just kept turning awkwardly and making sure all the sugar was off of me. And that’s another thing. Sugar gets places.


WS: Sugar gets places?

EC: Yeah and I didn’t…

WS: Should we just leave it at that?

EC: Yeah let’s leave it at that.

WS: So after shower what then?

EC: You lay back down on a clean set of sheets. That’s another thing, it was weird laying in sheets with food in them. I haven’t done that in a long time.

WS: You mean the sugar?

EC: Yeah, it’s gross. No eating in bed.

WS: So how does it finish out?

EC: You lay down on the clean sheets. They rub you down with oil, like a mini massage and that was pleasant. I enjoyed both sides of that, really it was just the shower that was weird. She did my stomach, which was really nice and felt interesting.


WS: When you say she did you stomach, you were laying there topless?

EC: No she covered me with a towel. She just rolled the sheet down and I had a towel.

WS: I’m just mad that I didn’t get my stomach.

EC: It was kind of awesome.

WS: I mean, it’s easy to scrub my stomach.

EC: It was really fun and super relaxing. It’s one of those body parts that people don’t often rub so it was quite pleasant.

WS: How does your skin feel?

EC: I don’t know yet. I kind of want to go home and get naked and test it out. Putting my clothes back on was weird. They were dirty and I was all clean and soft. The hair on my legs is super soft right now.

WS: You’re a sports fan yes?

EC: Yeah

WS: Who do you cheer for?

EC: NBA is Oklahoma City Thunder. I currently do not have an NFL team. I’m looking.

WS: You’re in the market?

EC: I’m in the market for an NFL team. I love Peyton but the Broncos are just a raging disappointment. And then of course college ball, Oklahoma State for life and most SEC teams when they’re not playing someone I care about.

WS: Are you more of a collegiate level fan or professional?

EC: Growing up in Oklahoma there weren’t professional teams so college ball is life.

WS: I don’t know a lot of women who are big sports fans. Where you grew up is it just sports everywhere, every day, everything?

EC: Yeah during the season its just part of life. The only season that I wasn’t invested in was baseball but down there baseball is still pretty huge. It just depends on where you live and what the major sport was in the town you grew up in and for us that was football.

WS: Is it weird to you if someone doesn’t’ like sports?

EC: Yes.

WS: Why? Let’s say, hypothetically of course, that right now you were speaking to someone who didn’t care about sports.

EC: Hypothetically.

WS: What would be your argument to why they’re wrong?

EC: I don’t necessarily think they’re wrong it’s just odd to me. That’s what you do in high school and college, it’s how you show collegiate pride. One thing I loved about my high school experience was that we had players in our drama department. There was no divide there. The directors worked hard to make sure everyone was well-rounded so you became friends with people. You wanted to support them in their careers.

WS: I’m a huge film fan and people are often dismissive of entertainment and I have a speech that I sometimes give as to why I think it’s important. So why is sports important. Why does it matter?

EC: It’s the alternative to modern warfare. I don’t know how to explain that. It allows for a healthy level of competition and aggression where other people might not have an outlet at that time. I think people and young adulthood is a very stressful time and sports and sports fandom allows people that outlet.

WS: What about people who argue that it heightens and fosters aggression?

EC: I think they’ve never seen a bunch of bored teenagers in a neighborhood with nothing else to do breaking stuff. You put those same teenagers who want to break stuff on a football field and they might get to go to college because of it.

WS: It’s bowl season. Are any of your teams still in the running?

EC: Oklahoma State. I don’t know what bowl they’re in.

WS: Would you recommend a body scrub to someone who has never had one?

EC: No.

WS: Why not?

EC: I think it’s something that can be done at home and I’d rather spend the entire time being massaged.


WS: I can see that. I liked the variety of two experiences. Felt like I was getting a lot out of my trip to the spa. Are you on twitter?

EC: No.

WS: Anything you want to promote.

EC: No.


Normally, that would be the end of this post. But seeing as how this was the final Treat Yo Self I thought I’d check in with some of our friends from adventures throughout the year.

I asked them a few questions and then invited them to turn the tables and interview me. Here’s what they had to say.

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Adam Blair, from Treat Yo Self: Barbershop Shave

Wood’s Stock: Have you repeated your Treat Yo Self activity? Or have you had any other Treat Yo Self experiences this year?

Adam Blair: Yes, I got a mani-pedi with some friends. And it so happens that I booked a straight razor shave yesterday at Ray’s.

WS: Now that it’s not so fresh, would you still recommend/not recommend your activity?

AB: Absolutely. Straight razor shaves make you feel real classy.

WS: Any questions for me?

AB: Would you rather have rackets for hands or flippers for feet?

WS: Flipper feet would only be useful in an aquatic scenario, but racket hands would interfere with more of my day-to-day activities. I choose flipper feet.

AB: How do you feel about ugly sweater parties?

WS: I support themed parties but I don’t believe in intentionally wearing ugly clothing.

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Cody Titmus, from Treat Yo Self: Chest Wax

Wood’s stock: Have you repeated your Treat Yo Self activity? Or have you had any other Treat Yo Self experiences this year?

Cody Titmus: I think I am going to limit myself to just the one waxing this year.

WS: Now that it’s not so fresh, would you still recommend/not recommend your activity to others?

CT: That’s a hard ‘No!’

WS: Any questions for me?

CT: Why? Whyyyyyyyyyyy?


Neil Schiffman, from Treat Yo Self: Spray Tan

Wood’s Stock: Have you had any other Treat Yo Self  experiences this year?

Neil Schiffman: The only treating myself I’ve ever really ever done was a pedicure. That was heavenly.  No headaches, crazy soft feet, and crazy Asian ladies making fun of me added up to a delightful experience.

WS: Any questions for me?

NS: When you read Ayn Rand what was your initial reaction and how do you view her writings now?

WS: I still consider myself a Rand fan, much like I consider myself an Upton Sinclair fan. I don’t think either author’s work should be the sole foundation of society or an individual’s philosophy, but I enjoyed Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead and think there’s valuable nuggets in there, particularly about inter-personal relationships. I even gave Atlas Shrugged a shout-out in my novel Committing.

NS: With this Rolling Stone article blowing up in their face, what, in your opinion does this story do to the cause of raising rape awareness? Do people respond “told you rape like that doesn’t happen” or completely ignore any discrepancies and continue to see men as pigs?

WS: I think we’re seeing both reactions, and I worry about this controversy setting the conversation back several years. But many universities, including UVA, continue to be under investigation by the Department of Education for their handling of campus sexual assault and a lot of schools are moving forward with their reviews of campus policies even though the article has been (at least partly) discredited. TIME had an interesting article about the post-Rolling Stone landscape that suggested the conversation is still moving forward.


Emily Milam, from Treat Yo Self: Hot Stone Massage

Wood’s Stock: Have you repeated your activity or treated yo self in other ways?

Emily Milam:  Probably once a day since February I have thought to myself “I need to get another hot stone message,” but sadly, I haven’t gone back for another. However, this year I went skydiving (which was definitely a treat for me) and I got a couple facials which were awesome.

WS: Any questions for me?

EM: If you had to pick 3 movies that were the only three movies you could watch for the rest of your life, what would they be?

WS: Casablanca, Jurassic Park, Silver Linings Playbook.

EM: Your escorts excluded, which Treat Yo Self was your favorite?

WS: The hot stone massage was the most enjoyable and probably the one that I’m most looking forward to doing again. But in the sense of discovering new and interesting things, I would say the sensory deprivation tank was the most memorable.

Float tank at Salt City Float Spa

EM: What is the most importation news item people should be aware of at this time?

WS: The American diet is a joke, setting us on a trajectory for widespread diabetes in the coming decades. While we were all enjoying our diet Coke, they stopped referring to Type 2 as “adult-onset” diabetes because people are getting it at younger and younger ages. Big sugar is the new big tobacco and common sense reform efforts, like listing added sugar on nutrition labels, are being blocked by very powerful and well-funded lobbying groups. Stop. Drinking. Soda. And watch ‘Fed Up.’

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Chelsey Gensel, from Treat Yo Self: European Facial

Wood’s Stock: Have you repeated your activity or treated yo self in other ways this year?

Chelsey Gensel:  I have not repeated my activity but only because new york is so damn expensive. I have thought about treating myself a few times after reading your blog posts, but I’ve always put it off because of timing or cost – maybe I’ll make a list of my own for 2015.

WS: Would you still recommend getting a facial?

CG: I would recommend trying it at least once, especially if you have problems with your skin. Find a treatment suited to that specifically.

WS: Any questions for me?

CG: Do you feel like you were “successful” with the project?

WS: I do. I like to say that “I fear the life un-lived” and this project really gave me the push I needed to open myself up to new experiences. Most of the things on this list were things I’ve been curious about for a while, but I never had the right motivation to pull the trigger.

CG: Is there any treat you wish you had or hadn’t done?

WS: I don’t regret any of the activities, even though some of them were horrible. Liz and I were supposed to end it with a hot air balloon ride over the Wasatch Front but the pilots cancelled at the last moment because of inclement weather. That was a bummer. I had also hoped to do acupuncture but everywhere I looked sold service packages instead of single visits, which was just too cost prohibitive.

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Committing by Benjamin WoodOne year ago this month, I published a little novel called “Committing.” It’s been called “interesting” and “very book-like” by members of my immediate family and currently has 4.5 stars on Amazon.

I’m currently working on a new project, my first feature-length screenplay, but I wanted to commemorate the first birthday (second? birthday numbering makes no sense) of my debut novel.

As always, the entire second chapter of Committing is available as an excerpt here on Woodstock (along with information about how you can get your very own copy). But in celebration of Committing book-iversary here’s the entire FIRST chapter. Enjoy!



There is a beautiful library in downtown Salt Lake City. It is made up of two seemingly separate structures: the first, a glass tear drop, four stories tall, housing rows of books, computers, and conference rooms; the second, a sweeping arm topped by a sloped stairway that rises from the plaza outside to the roof of the main building.

The two structures are, of course, connected, but within the library’s glass walls they are divided by an atrium with café tables and used books for sale where musicians occasionally perform. The arm contains a row of study tables on each level, offering a quiet space for reading and studying. From there, you can look across the empty space to the organized sea of volumes and tomes that lie beyond.

It was there, on a Saturday morning, that Charles was sitting – the top floor of the Salt Lake City Library. His elbows were rested on the table in front of him, causing his body to pitch forward in the kind of youthful slouch that would have prompted his mother to swoop in and straighten him in his younger years. He was staring into the dull glow of a computer screen, his head weighed down further by a chord connected to the headphones that tethered him to where he sat.

The video he was watching ended and slowly he closed his laptop and cast his gaze across the void to his right at a mother and two small children climbing a curved staircase to the third floor. Gathering his things, he began walking back across the atrium to the other side and stopped on the breezeway that connects the two sections. From where he stood he hovered in the air directly above the library’s main entrance and as he peered over the breezeway’s edge at the atrium floor some 80 feet below he allowed his weight to carry him over, and down. The cool air licked at his face, forcing his eyes closed as he fell, weightless and free, to the floor.

But it wasn’t real.

Charles remained sitting in front of his laptop, his headphones over his ears playing an instrumental soundtrack as credits panned up the screen in front of him. In his mind he could hear the dull thud as his body struck the floor below. There was a swath of light pouring in through the windows where his body would land and he wondered if somehow, even though his soul – if there was such a thing – was slipping away, he would feel the warmth on his skin.

There were about a dozen individuals meandering just outside the doors, not to mention the countless people within the library’s walls. Among them, as always, was no small number of derelicts, offensive to all five senses and taking advantage of a quiet space to sit and spend the day near public restrooms. Charles often thought how it made for an odd combination, as the public library always seemed to be evenly split between khakhi-shorts-wearing children and their parents, hipster bookworms and homeless, drug-addicted lowlifes. Then again, Charles’ mind always seemed to say, where would you go if you had nowhere to go? It makes more sense than the mall.

There would be an immediate panic. A piercing scream would echo through the vast, silent space, bouncing off of glass, concrete and paper. The confusion would not last long. Officers patrolling the grounds would respond immediately, call for an ambulance and begin diverting the rubbernecking public from the area. His body would be removed, covered in a plastic sheet and wheeled off to some forgotten and seldom-seen corner of the city where suicide victims were taken prior to being released to their families. The floor would be cleaned and by the next morning, at the latest, the library would open its doors and greet the public.

What would they use? Charles thought. A mop? A broom? A shovel?

For his family, of course, the emotional clean-up would not be so swift and it was the arrival of that thought, the sense of pain that his death could cause to others, that finally broke Charles from the macabre fantasy. The music in his ears had stopped and the website was asking him if he wanted to continue on to the next episode. On the screen was the frozen image of some busty brunette, a promise of the kind of zany, escapist shenanigans you can only get from a television sitcom.

The mother and her children reached the top of the stairs. Upon seeing a full row of nothing but gleaming comic books the boy, probably 10 or 11, darted off and begun pulling volume after volume from the rack with a face of pure, ecstatic joy while several issues spilled to the floor.

Charles closed his laptop. Gathering his things, he passed over the breezeway, pausing briefly at the center only to enjoy the sudden beat of sunlight at his back and then, with a breath, he continued on to the other side, down the stairs, and out the lobby doors below.

It begins at a funeral.

Stories like this one always seem to start with some catalyst, like a birth or a wedding. As it happened, this one begins with a death.

After more than six years, Devin Wallace had lost his valiant battle with leukemia. Charles met him in 2006. By some twist of fate they had been assigned each other as dormitory roommates. They had no way of knowing then that in a matter of months Devin would be diagnosed.

For most of their friendship his disease was simply a part of him. It defined him. He was Devin, “the one with cancer.” He had beaten it before and he would surely do it again.

Except he didn’t.

So Charles biked through the dirty sludge of a fading winter back to his one-bedroom apartment and changed into a black suit. He slipped on his black shoes, which he had shined the night before, over his black socks. He fed a black belt through black beltloops and fastened the silver buckle. He buttoned up the collar of his white shirt and stood before the mirror as he fixed a narrow black tie.

The tie’s slim cut, he thought, was a little Friday night for a funeral but it was the only black tie that he had. His others were all of the bright, solid color variety – “power” ties in commanding reds, purples and greens –

which obviously wouldn’t do. As he looked at his reflection he wasn’t sure if he looked too somber, or not somber enough. He looked good, he thought, but then thought that he ought not try to look good, which immediately gave way to the thought that he certainly ought not to not look good.

Devin was 26. They both were, technically speaking, except Devin was dead. Charles would turn 27 in three months but in photographs, old videos and memories Devin would stay perpetually 26 for as long as Charles lived. Longer, actually, since as long as there were people still living who remembered Devin alive he would continually be Mr. Devin Wallace, deceased March 2, 2013 at age 26. Charles could die tomorrow, he reminded himself, and that would have no effect on when Devin had finally succumbed to the disease inside his blood.

But what about when everyone who once knew Devin was dead? How old would he be then, when every trace of him was erased from the earth and everyone who had ever held a lingering knowledge of his existence was gone? At that point Devin would not be 26, Charles thought, he would be nothing at all.

Devin was also married. He and Stephanie Elizabeth Wallace, maiden name Christensen, had been legally and lawfully wedded on October 4, 2008 after dating for just under two years in college. Much like the cancer, Charles had met Devin shortly before Devin met Stephanie, and so she had come to define him as well. Charles’ best friend Devin, the one with cancer, Stephanie’s boyfriend/fiancé/husband and now Mr. Devin Wallace, deceased March 2, 2013 at age 26.

Their son, Daniel, was born February 24, 2010. Devin’s cancer came soaring out of remission the month after Stephanie got pregnant. It had always been a possibility, one that they had accepted and planned for as best as possible. Every milestone was an event, checked off an imaginary list like a game show contestant scrambling to win a prize before the buzzer rang.

Devin won many prizes. He saw his son’s first steps, he heard his first word. He helped his wife with the potty training, took a photograph of his son on Santa’s lap and lived long enough to see Daniel turn three years old. Charles knew how happy that had made Devin.

He scooped up his keys and wallet on his way out the door. Locking his apartment behind him, he started making his way down the cold, echoing stairwell, arriving one level down before the door to his floor swung shut with a reverberating boom that rippled down the walls like the sliding bars in a prison. For whatever reason, Charles suddenly became fixated on the idea that he was alone in a concrete cylinder that stretched six flights above the ground and two flights beneath it. In his mind he stripped away the walls, floors and ceilings that surrounded him and instead imagined himself floating, 20 feet in the air, standing tall and rigid in a black suit and skinny tie.

Charles bounded down the remaining flights to his car in the basement parking lot, arriving slightly out of breath. It had been a few days since he had driven last and when he turned the ignition the car sputtered slightly in the cold before the speakers blared to life, blasting him back against his seat with the sound of a rousing instrumental chorus from whatever CD he had been listening to. He quickly reached out and shut it off, plunging the space into abject silence.

He sat there for a moment, staring forward into the empty parking stalls in front of him. His fingers where white, the blood having left them at the request of his awkwardly tight grip on the wheel. Glancing up he saw his reflection in the rear-view mirror and straightened his tie.

Charles turned the volume down on his stereo and pushed play. As the music began he shifted his car into drive and inched slowly forward, and out.

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Tarot cards

We’re reaching the end of the Treat Yo Self project and as I’ve looked back over the year, trying to plan out the end, I wanted to make sure my activities didn’t become redundant in the final months.

Coming up with these adventures is not as easy as it might appear, and as I’ve said before Salt Lake City is not exactly a bottomless well.

But I was talking to someone the other day who told me about having their star chart read. It occurred to me that with the exception of yoga, I’ve had relatively little exposure to new-age, meditative and spiritualistic therapies.

So I looked for a place where I could have my fortune told, and I invited my friend Lia to come along.

I met Lia two years ago through a religious congregation that we were both attending at the time. I had recently moved back to Utah and she, myself and two other friends became a social unit, much like a mixed gender and less-boozy Utah-ized version of Sex and the City.

Lia’s a total Samantha. I don’t actually know what that means.


She’s OK.

We checked in at Crone’s Hollow for our appointment and Lia went first while I perused the shop’s selection of crystal balls, incense, candles and birch bark.


Her reading went well over her allotted 20 minutes, but then it was my turn to pass through the beaded doorway of a makeship velvet tent set up in the shop’s lounge area.

Crone’s Hollow employs a number of readers, with names like Starfyre and Lady Luna, who specialize in various methods of divination.

Our guy was a card reader named Rob.

Rob gave me the choice of the tarot deck, which he said is more emotional and esoteric, or the Lenormand deck, which is more literal and external. I’m a literal guy. I’m certainly not esoteric.

He asked me what I wanted to talk about and I gave him the usual response: work and relationships. Then he proceeded to lay out a square of nine cards (the “Nine Witnesses” he said), which represented my ambitions and aspirations (the top row) and what I have the most control over (the bottom) moving from the past (the left column) to the present (the center column) to the future (right column).


But he also made sure to emphasize that no matter what the cards said I still possess free will. “The cards are not set in stone,” Rob said. “The future is plastic.”

We talked a lot about what I’m looking for in love and in life and Rob advised me to live in the present, be genuine and not worry about things I can’t control.

It was interesting and pleasant but I remain a skeptic. I’m not sure it takes a gift to tell someone to be assertive at the office and sincere in the bedroom.

Properly pampered, Lia and I headed over to Curry Fried Chicken to conduct our interview over some shwarma.


Wood’s Stock: Who are you and what do you do?

Lia Bliss: My name is Lia Bliss. I work as a hairdresser and I work at a women’s gym and I am a mom.

WS: Was today your first tarot reading?

LB: It was absolutely not.

WS: Are you a frequent…reader?

LB: Readette?

WS: Readette.

LB: I have my own tarot deck so I’ve done my own. I’ve gone to the farmer’s market and had some done and I’ve had friends of mine who are fairly clairvoyant do them, but nothing as serious or professional as today was.

WS: So you’re a believer?

LB: Totally. I’m deep in.

WS: Walk me through today, what it was and what you did.

LB: Like when I woke up this morning?

WS: No just the tarot reading.

LB: We went to a wiccan/pagan kind of coffee shop supply center and there’s a little booth that You walk into.


WS: That was a great booth.

LB: It was. It was dark and velvety and you feel all mystical. The guy, a bald man with a fantastic goatee, tells you about himself and there’s two different decks that he does. A tarot deck and another one.

WS: Which one did you pick?

LB: The other one.

WS: Lenormand?

LB: Yeah.

WS: Why did you pick that one?

LB: He could tell that it piqued my interest because I didn’t know anything about it. I knew about tarot and he used the same deck I use. So I did the other one.

WS: So at least that part of the experience was new to you.

LB: Totally new. And he did the 36 card spread, the whole thing. And it was interesting because the first three that he laid down he said “Oh, you’re moving soon” and “Oh, you have a soon, not engagement, but renewal of commitment.” Oh do I? Great news! But the way that the deck works, as it was explained to me, whatever is closest to the card representing you are the things you have the most effect on. The further away the less effect.

WS: He arranged mine in a 3 by 3 square. Is that not how he did yours?

LB: No he did all the cards of the full deck and laid them all out. And he told me it’s usually an hour and a half reading but he thought I needed it.

WS: Without telling us too many intimate details, what was your reading? What did he say?

LB: I don’t have necessarily a career to talk about so I wasn’t worried about that. He knew I was moving soon but knew it was just happening. We talked about how me and my boyfriend are very much in line with our timelines. We’re very synced up that way. But I also take on a lot of emotional burden and he was concerned about my physical health. Right next to my card was the representation of physical health in a negative way so he asked if I was OK. He said that I take on a lot of responsibility for the emotions of people around me.

WS: Do you?

LB: Absolutely. 100 percent. When you’re a parent and when you’re essentially a spouse that’s what you do. You take on responsibility for people’s emotions. You want them to be happy. You try to make a loving household. But he said there was a lot of negativity that it was stressing me out so bad it would start affecting my physical health.


WS: Moving away from the tarot reading, you are a woman in society yes?

LB: Correct. I agree that I exist in this society and I am a woman.

WS: I’m a man in society and can’t really comprehend the female experience. What do you think is different about being a woman?

LB: With women there is no right. Regardless of what you do/are/say/believe, you are wrong. If you were to interview a group of women and ask if they see themselves as an accommodating person, the women who say “yes” would be considered a doormat or a pushover and the women who answer “no” would be seen as a bitch or overly aggressive.

WS: Like the idea of how a man is a boss but a woman is bossy.

LB: Yeah.

WS: Would you consider yourself a feminist?

LB: Yes but not in the bra-burning, I hate men, radical sense.

WS: In what sense, then, are you a feminist?

LB: I obviously think women have a place in society and they shouldn’t be kept at home. I didn’t really consider myself a feminist until I read an article about how women exist in public in a male-controlled space.

WS: Like male gaze?

LB: The article described how a woman can walk down the street and an older man will reach out to her and say “Sweetheart, you’re so beautiful, you should smile more.” It’s so degrading and so disrespectful because fuck you, I should be allowed to not smile whenever I want. Just because I’m a woman doesn’t’ mean I need to smile and be pleasant and attend to your, whatever. I’m allowed to have a personality and bad moods and things like that.

Do I get up in arms about the wage gap? No, it’s not my fight. Do I think the rape culture needs to change? Absolutely. I have five sisters. That should not be a thing. But I’m not a crazy person.

WS: What do people who haven’t thought about gender not realize about gender?

LB: I think there are times when women don’t realize what it’s like to be a woman. And that’s almost worse.

WS: Such as?

LB: When I became a mom I had the biggest internal personality shift, which I thought was supposed to happen. But then I had to have this huge intropersonal, introspective crisis basically where I said I can still be a good mother and raise my child nurturingly without necessarily liking to crochet or quilt. I can still like to twerk on the weekends and also sing lullabies to my baby.

WS: We men often see the pressure that women put on another women and it’s quite strong.

LB: I think men inadvertently compare women to each other because they think all women have the same base level. But people are complex emotional creatures and they’re all going to be different. But I don’t think men are necessarily tough on women, I think often it’s a woman versus woman situation and the men are just around because we need them to procreate.

WS: Are we men caught in the crossfire?

LB: Absolutely. We say that we want attention from men, and attention from men is nice, but it’s like how there’s girl hot versus guy hot. Mila Kunis is guy hot.

WS: Oh yeah.

LB: But Lady Gaga is girl hot.

WS: Gross.

LB: Right. Women like crazy painted acrylic nails and men do not give a shit.

WS: So to wrap up, would you recomend that someone do a tarot reading?

LB: Absolutely. It makes you feel better after.

WS: Anything you want to promote.

LB: Health?

WS: Are you on twitter.

LB: Yes @bestliabliss

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My skin is not, and never has been, built for a tan. At best I freckle. At worst I burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.

That’s not to say I’ve never been tanning. When I was in high school (in Utah in the early 2000s) I had a friend who was a metrosexual before any of us knew what metrosexuals were. He would regularly go to Bahama Bronze on Harrison Boulevard after school and drag us with him. (Further proof that without productive and educational after-school activities, America’s children will fall into bad habits).

Tanning beds are the worst. Putting aside the fact that studies suggest they’re as cancerous as cigarettes, they’re sweaty, uncomfortable and more than a little bizarre. I’d hand over my money, cook in a glass oven for 20 minutes, and then have a weird pinkish hue and itchy dry skin for a few days before returning to my natural, Irish white.

But I confess that from time to time I long for the chiseled abs and flawless tanned skin of the men in the magazines. It’s hard out there for us guys. We’re so objectified by modern society.


50 Shades/50 shades darker

So for October’s adventure, and just in time for my upcoming cruise to the Bahamas (Boo-Yah!), I decided to get a spray tan and invite along my friend Neil.

Neil and I met in a former life when we were both somewhat-begrudgingly working as missionaries in northeastern Brazil. We’re both highly-opinionated, vocally argumentative people, and most of our time together is spent arguing the merits of capitalism versus socialism and libertarianism vs progressivism.

FullSizeRender(2)He’s OK.

We checked in for our appointment at European Tan, where a nice young lady immediately went about describing how our lives would be changed by the VersaSpa Skin Care System, the “most technologically advanced spray bed” in the world.

She chatted with us about the three different levels of tan available to us, and assured us that it was impossible when using the VersaSpa Skin Care System to come out with an unnatural skin tone because the spray was made up of an aloe vera-based mixed with snake oil.

Once in the room, she gave us a demonstration of how we should stand, walking through the four positions that lead to optimum color.

IMG_3555The spray itself was surprisingly chilly, making a series of passes over your body similar to a car wash. After each set of sprays, a computerized voice would remind you to move to the next position and after all was sprayed and done a “dry cycle” started, passing a fan over your body.

Properly pampered. Neil and I headed next door to The Kathmandu to conduct our interview over some Lamb Vindaloo and Naan.

Wood Stock: Who are you and what do you do?

Neil Schiffman: My name is Niel Shiffman and I help set up retirement accounts, usually for teachers but for anybody.

WS: Have you ever had a spray tan before?

NS: Never.

WS: What did you think of the experience?

NS: I thought it was wonderful. If this could keep me from getting sun burned in the summer I’m so in. They have sold me forever. You stand there, you get sprayed down. There was no experience like Ross from Friends.

ross-tanWS: That’s exactly what was going through my mind.

NS: I had to look that up when you said we were doing this. I looked that up and thought “I do not want eight 2s.”

WS: Walk me through the experience, paint me a word picture.

FullSizeRenderNS: You come in, there’s a lovely young lady standing behind a salon desk in front of 8,000 bottles of different colored lotion that say things like “sexy,” and “irresistible” and “tremendous.” They ask you if you’ve ever tanned before, make sure you get the right tan for your skin tone. They ask you why you’re tanning, lucky Ben here is going on a cruise.

WS: That’s right.

NS: I will be staying in delightful Utah in October.

WS: And you’ll definitely need a tan for that.

NS: Yes, that will be tan-worthy. When it’s your turn they take you into a booth. They explain how you’re supposed to stand. Little Egyptian poses to make sure you get your underarms and the sides of your torso. You walk in and the booth says “stand in position 1” and you stand there, nervous as can be. Is this going to sting? Is this going to be cold? Is it going to be hot? What’s going to happen? Do I close my eyes? I had better close my eyes.

FullSizeRender(3)WS: Yeah I closed my eyes. I didn’t need tan eyes.

NS: You gotta stand with your hands away for the Egyptian pose so you don’t get the bottom of your hands. Oh that’s the one thing I forgot. There’s lotion if you don’t want a body part covered with spray tan to block the spray tan.

WS: Where did you put that?

IMG_3558NS: I chose my palms and bottoms of my fingers and the bottoms of my feet. And I went totally naked.

WS: Oh yeah. You have to.

NS: If they were going to spray me down (manually), I came prepared.

WS: Even if. Bring it on.

NS: I suppose that is always an option.

WS: Was there anything that surprised you?

NS: It was quicker than I expected. I think that I was not expecting the machine or whatever they call it to dry me off, which I thought was nice. It smells better than I expected.

WS: Yeah it kind of has a chocolate-y smell right?

NS: It’s a nice smell. Definitely chocolate. It’s sweet, not quite exotic but just, it’s pleasant.

WS: Obviously we won’t know exactly how it went until tomorrow. Are you worried at all about your tone?

NS: So far I feel darker. It could just be a little placebo effect going on but I feel darker.

IMG_3559WS: So you are a father, correct?

NS: I am a father of two.

WS: For how long now have you been a father?

NS: Two and a half years. I have a two and half year old and a 3-month old. Almost 3 months.

WS: Were you ready to be a dad? Were you prepared?

NS: I was prepared in more ways than I expected and less ways than I expected at the exact same time. It seems like a cop-out answer but like, changing a diaper? Rock and roll. I don’t care. Peed on, pooped on, puked on, that didn’t scare or bother me in the least.

WS: I have a really hard time with that.

NS: Crying babies, no big deal. I was dumb and thought I was smarter than the car seat so I waited until after the baby was born to install that sucker. I didn’t do it right for like 6 months so my baby was riding in the car for 6 months in a very precarious situation. You’d be driving down the road and the baby would just be tipped over because you went around a curve. That’s not going to work.

WS: What is something surprising about becoming a parent?

NS: The surprising thing for me is how much I enjoy it. I didn’t think it would be that cool and for the first couple of months I was proven right. It was not that cool. They just sit there. My wife breastfed, for the most part, so I didn’t get to participate in any feeding. They just hung out and were boring to me and I kept thinking when is this going to be cool? At about 6 months it was “Holy cow that baby smiles at me and laughs when I make a face.” That’s when it got really cool for me because before that I was totally not in.

WS: So it really is cool? That’s not just a communal lie to perpetuate the species?

NS: No, but it does take a while. For my wife she was all in when they put that newborn baby on her chest. I was just like “that is an ugly baby.”

WS: Brand newborns are a little crazy to look at.

NS: My kid’s face was good, he didn’t have a messed up face but he was the longest baby that they said they had ever delivered. He was 24 inches long.

WS: So, a nice prized trout?

NS: Oh yeah, he was rather large. So his head was kind of squished like the alien on Aliens. Big huge monster thing coming out the back. That was kind of gross but his face was good.

WS: Is it easier the second time around?

NS: Totally. Totally easier the second time around. You know what to expect at the hospital. You have everything ready to go. You got diaper changing down. One baby wipe takes care of the most massive poop with the expert hands of a second-time father. You are prepared to not sleep. You are prepared to anticipate what the kids wants and what they need.

WS: To what degree are you cognizant that these children will grow to be obnoxious teenagers?

NS: Totally, totally cognizant. He has started getting an opinion on what he wants and has started punching my arm to get my attention. That could be because I’m a bad dad. It’s not hard, he’s not doing it maliciously, just “hey dude, I want to play ball now. I want to watch a movie.” He’s definitely figuring out what he wants and he knows how to get it.

I was not expecting him to show preferences to movies already, which is nice because he mostly prefers Pixar. There’s not a bad Pixar out there.

WS: Yeah, there’s lukewarm Pixar but there’s not bad Pixar. But there are some bad cartoons out there.

NS: Yeah and maybe that’s part of the blessing of our modern life. We have access to Netflix and the movies so we don’t ever watch TV. He doesn’t know what’s out there except what I expose him to. So we only watch the movies, really, that I want to watch.

WS: What would be the one bit of advice you would give to an expectant father?

NS: There was a concern by a certain someone that perhaps God gets bored being God. Because you just do the same stinking thing every day for forever. Regardless of who that God is to you, that would get boring after a while.

The advice that I have for expectant fathers is that it doesn’t get old. I learned this on child 2 because child 1 it was like every day I’m watching him do something new. Now I’m watching kid 2 go through that same experience and my daughter is just starting to smile, it like makes me cry. It’s so dang cool to watch her learn how to smile, learn how to use her body. She’s starting to suck on her thumbs and stuff and holy cow, it’s so cool that I get to watch her doing that because I saw that two year’s ago with my first son.

Now, whether or not I want to do that again as a mortal man remains to be seen and that really will be my wife’s decision.

IMG_3557WS: Would you recommend a spray tan to someone?

NS: Yes. If it works.

WS: Right, with the asterisk that we’re not orange in the morning.

NS: If tomorrow, one of two things, I don’t look like a carrot and I’m a shade darker than I was today then this is the greatest invention ever made for skin beautification.

WS: Anything you need to promote?

NS: Fatherhood is cool.

WS: Are you on Twitter?

NS: I am. @chiqueman

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Chest Wax 1

When I was a teenager my sister, a cosmetologist, talked me into letting her wax between my eyebrows. I remember sitting in her salon, surrounded by women who likely waxed various body parts on a regular basis, and screaming in agony over the horrendous sensation on my forehead.

I drew a lot of skeptical glances steeped in thinly-veiled mockery, as if the entire female population of that salon was collectively thinking “this kid has no idea.”

They were right. I did not.

Even now, with a greater understanding of the art of waxing, I can only begin to imagine the pain associated with waxing some of the more delicate areas of the human form and I have no intention of ever finding out.

As I write this, one day after my chest and stomach wax at the Garden Day Spa & Salon in Bountiful, my torso is in a uniform state of discomfort and covered in ubiquitous red sores that give me the appearance of a person with Rosacea. This is extra fun since I’m going to a pool party and barbeque later tonight.

Good planning, Ben.

Chest Wax 2

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For this month’s Treat Yo Self I invited my good friend Cody to join me for a little manscaping and his wife Kelsey to join us afterward for some dinner.

I met both Cody and Kelsey in college, though they did not start dating until we had all graduated and moved to Salt Lake City. The three of us and our friend Krista formed a nice little group of four who would meet regularly for platonic dinners, but then of course they had to go and screw it all up by falling in love.

photo 2(13)

They’re OK.

Me and Cody checked in at the spa and were quickly ushered to an dungeon-esque subterranean keep where we waited for our waxer to arrive.

She took us (separately) into a back room with a massage table and some soft music playing, at which point I disrobed and laid down and surrendered my fate into her hands.

Chest wax 3

She warned me that my stomach would hurt more and started with my chest, working her way around in excruciatingly small increments. If you’ve never waxed, the process involved applying a small amount of hot wax to the skin with what looks like a tongue depressor, applying a strip of fabric and then tearing that off in one swift motion. Repeat ad (seemingly) infinitum.

The sensation itself, as best as I can describe it, feels like having your sunburn slapped repeatedly for a half hour, or an unending series of very precise belly flops.

The nipples were quite sensitive, but nothing compared to the agony of the skin around my belly button, which was compounded by the fact that my body hair is thickest at my belly, thus requiring several repetitions to smooth me out.

Whereas my chest would sting but immediately dissipate, my belly button was a searing pain that didn’t go away and only got worse and worse as she went back again and again. I didn’t scream, but I groaned a few times and my eyes were watering uncontrollably.

chest wax 4

The Situation before/The Situation after

Properly pampered, we picked up Kelsey and headed over to El Matador to conduct our interview over carnitas and fish tacos.

Wood’s Stock: Who are you and what do you do?

Cody Titmus: My name is Cody Titmus and I am a copywriter

WS: And Kelsey who are you and what do you do?

Kelsey Titmus: I am Kelsey Titmus and I’m an employee relations consultant.

WS: So Cody, how was your waxing experience?

CT: It was something I will always remember

WS: You said you have had some waxing done before?

CT: Yes, my sister went to esthetics school and she has waxed between my eyebrows, inside my nose and once on a dare she did the side of my leg.

WS: How did those compare to today’s experience?

CT: The eyebrow is not painful at all. The nose stings, it always makes my eyes water, and the leg hurt a lot. This one, I felt like up on the chest it didn’t hurt that bad, it definitely stung for a bit, but down around the belly and the belly button was super painful. Like a lot.

WS: Walk me through the experience.

CT: We walked into the spa and checked in upstairs, then they sent us downstairs which was totally dimly-lit. Did they have music playing?

WS: I don’t think so.

photo 1(13)

CT: Yeah, it was just really dark. It didn’t seem like drab but it was just dark and so we sat and waited for probably 5 minutes. Then I had to go first so the girl took me into a very small room with a massage table and she left the room for a few minutes so I could take my shirt off.

WS: Why?

CT: I don’t know, I didn’t ask her to. She just said ‘you can take your shirt off and put your stuff wherever and I’ll be  back in a few minutes.’ So I did and she came in and I quickly informed her of what the status of our visit was.

WS: Cody was a little concerned that she was under the wrong impression when I said I was paying for his chest wax.

CT: I guess I get really weird about that kind of stuff but I always am very quick to clarify that I’m married every time I get my hair cut or do anything like this, which I don’t do anything like this very often, obviously.

She asked whether or not I had ever done this and then just quickly proceeded to lay a thin coat of wax on a small area of hair and then she put a piece of tape on top of it and just ripped it right off.

WS: What did it feel like?

CT: It feels exactly like what it is, you’re getting the hairs of your body ripped off by a piece of tape. I mean, it feels like when you’re a kid and you would put a piece of tape over your mouth and rip it off really quickly. I don’t know any other way to describe it.

I just kept talking to her, that was my way of keeping my mind off of what was going on. So we just went through everything: where she lived, where she grew up, where I live, how long we’ve been married. I talked about our dating story, where we went to school and every time I knew it was coming I would brace myself and hold the sides of the bed and it really wasn’t bad at first but the more we got into it the more it hurt.

WS: Where did it hurt the most?

CT: Around the belly button. That really hurt a lot.

WS: Are you a man who does any manscaping?

CT: No.

WS: So it was completely uncharted.

CT: Yeah.

WS: Kelsey give me the 15 second version of how you and Cody met?

KT: We met at Utah State through my roommate Krista and I asked him out and then he asked me out in 2010 and then we didn’t’ date for a while and then we both moved to Salt Lake and started doing bi-weekly dinners with my roommate and you.

WS: And me! And then you guys got married when?

KT: March 1st, 2013.

WS: What was something you didn’t know about Cody until after you married him.

KT: I didn’t know that he put yogurt in his oatmeal.

WS: Is that good?

CT: I think it is.

WS: I’ll have to try that.

CT: I usually get the big things of oatmeal from Wal-Mart or whatever,  and so it doesn’t have any flavor to it or anything and I like to get something in there to mix it up a little bit.

WS: What’s a surprising thing about married life, or something that you weren’t quite anticipating?

KT: It’s just normal.

WS: Absolutely normal, so if I got married tomorrow it would be like, whatever?

KT: Yeah.

CT: There’s some adjustments. Obviously if you weren’t living together beforehand and then you do live together, sleeping on the same bed.

KT: That’s true, that’s an adjustment. But I feel like it was normal. I didn’t feel weird, maybe he did.

CT: No I like it. Now it’s weird when we don’t sleep in the same bed.

WS: Why do you say it might be weird for Cody? Are you a mover and a shaker?

KT: Probably. It was an adjustment actually for me, I’m a light sleeper.

CT: Kelsey just likes to be really close when we’re in bed.

WS: You’re a close-sleeper?

KT: I’m a close-sleeper.

WS: Are you (Cody) a close-sleeper?

KT: And he is not.

WS: How do you reconcile that?

KT: I cuddle in for a minute and then I move away.

WS: So you make the decision to move away?

KT: Usually.

WS: Even though you would like to stay close?

KT: Sometimes, occasionally, I’ll scoot back.

CT: I don’t need a bunch of space to fall asleep but I feel like I need a little breathing room.

KT: It gets hot.

WS: Yeah, I’m not a close-sleeper.

KT: And he snores a little bit sometimes.

WS: So what’s good about being married? Or is there anything good?

CT: Marriage is awesome.

KT: You just have your best friend around all the time, always someone to talk to who cares about you and helps you.

CT: We’re really open about everything, we like to involve each other a lot in whatever happens to be going on which I feel is really healthy and good. Previously I was the type of person who didn’t rely on my parents much if I was ever faced with anything, I just took it all by myself. So it’s been really nice to have a second pair of eyes, a second opinion on everything. We talk things out and figure them out together.

WS: What do we think about waxed Cody? Good or bad?

KT: I really don’t care. It would probably be weird if he did it regularly.

WS: Cody do you have any plans to be a regular client?

CT: No.

WS: Would you recommend chest waxing?

CT: I feel like it would probably depend on the situation. I wasn’t that hairy so it wasn’t a problem and Kels doesn’t mind it. If Kels liked it I would do it for her. I would.

WS: Really?

CT: Yeah I would. It hurt, but it was only like 20 minutes.

WS: But it really hurt.

KT: Doesn’t it hurt now?

WS: Yeah I’m in pain, are you in pain?

CT: Right now I feel like I was sunburned and applied aloe vera and then put a shirt on. It’s really sticky but then it’s kind of painful. It hurts but my pain level right now is only like a 2, it doesn’t hurt that bad.

WS: Do either of you have anything to promote?

KT: Everyone should watch How I  Met Your Mother.

WS: Are you guys on twitter?

KT: I am not.

CT: I’m on twitter but I don’t tweet. But I am on twitter @ThePaperBadger.

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