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Janus Roman King

With less than twenty minutes to go Amanda asked me what my New Year’s resolution might be and I of course had none slated for delivery. Dismissive as I was a debate began throwing words like change around and yes, I know, change is inevitable and possibly even good but that doesn’t mean I have to declare anything. If it’s gonna happen it will and that’s fine and dandy unless it sucks.

It did get me thinking, tho, about where these things come from. When did people decide that the end of a calendar year was the best time to make some statement of intent– I will be a better person in this way for the next year because it’s midnight and I’m drunk. A quick little google run decided that both the Romans and the Babylonians invented the concept of New Year’s Resolutions which just goes to show you that the internet doesn’t know shit. It does, however, know how to sell you shit.

A week or so later I was carrying some heavy equipment up some janky stairs and there was a drunk guy who, it turns out, wasn’t the booker or the bartender. He was very friendly, however misplaced, and asked our sad little parade of amps and drums what our New Year’s Resolutions were. Everyone ignored him except me: “I’m running a little behind– I haven’t made mine yet.” This elicited a couple chuckles from the band and a roaring belly-laugh from the random drunk who seemed to accept this automatic response as an answer worth-while.

It did get me thinking, tho, about what kind of resolutions are being made these days. I tried a technorati search but there were thousands of postings made involving them and no one seemed to actually talk about what they were, only about how they’d given

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up. Everyone except for people with Christian Mission blogs, that is, who are more than happy to tell you all about how they worked on maintaining their New Year’s Resolution. This was a sadness I could not investigate further. Perhaps bloglines, with their advanced search parameters, would have allowed for better searching but attempting to access any data in between the end of December and the beginning of January resulted in severe server failure. Basically I learned that the internet is a temporal flux where ideas, information and opinion are created, shared and destroyed within the span of a day and the nutritional yield is approximately zero and the waste-product immeasurable.

It’s a Wonderful Life

I’m not opposed to tradition all the time. I enjoy “It’s a Wonderful Life” and think it’s a shame that the

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effective fit of nostalgia directed by a true believer in American idealism and potential. Unfortunately you can’t watch it without Macy’s parades and the scent of pine in the house or else your sense of time and place would be so distorted your brain would explode like a 4th of July display and melt into a puddle of over-heated Halloween candy. I’m not even opposed to the declaration of New Year’s Resolutions– it’s just that I mostly associate this tradition with Bloom County’s Binkley screaming them on behalf of beleaguered celebrities over the edge of a dark crevice.

However, if I were in the habit of New Year’s Resolutions it seems popular to promise great productivity in the blogosphere, or rather lament the lack of said productivity. No better example of failed hopes, dreams or idealism than where you’re sitting, I suppose, tho we didn’t really need the make a resolution in order to fail. If I believed in them maybe I would have resolved to push the boundaries of my interest/abilities/desire and propel my web presence into deeper depths but I don’t believe and so there you go. I’d attempt to inspire a response from the passing crowd, something of a trick I picked up from a Guatemalan photoblog I frequent, but somehow I can’t bring myself to pander to anyone. What works and makes sense for some just doesn’t for others. Just have a Happy New Year, you, and I apologize for being late. The drunk guy at the gay bar understood and I hope you can too.

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Shiny Happy People

One unfortunate side-effect of my disengagement from network TV is that I’m woefully unaware of what’s going on. Some of this is alleviated by my periodic scanning of world headlines on the Manchester Guardian’s website and some by my loyal viewer-ship of both Russia Today and Deutsch-Welle but this is only good for a general knowledge of events. My finger is not on the pulse of culture or American attitudes. When I do happen to be snagged by something on the big three (we don’t get Fox) I typically sit bemused rather than hypnotized, and I still find myself offended by a good portion of what’s made available for my viewing pleasure.

If I was dedicated enough I might be able to suss out the hearts and minds of America through alternative channels such as youtube but that window into attention-depraved desperation failed me in a recent attempt to secure an IBM commercial recently dragging its lumber-some, neanderthal fists through the cathode spectrum. There’s an older guy and a younger guy. The younger guy is talking about some online reality where avatars represent people and virtual money flows like water. The older guy asks about real money and the younger guy balks. This virtual reality took a lot of innovation to create he says sulkily. The older guy says, “Innovation is for making money”.

The jars on my desk with their segregated coinage populations notwithstanding, I lost my thirst for wealth some years back, now attempting to make my way through life by requiring as little as possible instead of acquiring as much as possible. I’ve not been very successful in my personal endeavors but I try to make do and I do alright. There’s a world of people better at this than me, just as there’s a world of people who don’t just skulk around the corners with their eyes on restaurant dumpsters but with their eyes on an inner vision. The good old DIY ethic may have been subverted and sold back to the internet generation like every other identifiable cultural identity but true-blue individuals continue to thrive, continue to make things happen on their own terms, surviving through willpower and a sense of community

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that banks and loans and IBM can never understand because it’s not economically quantifiable.

But as I said, every attempt is made to take the concepts of “the underground” and spin them into a product for the cutting edge, left of center liberal who’s registered Green. The most obvious and contemporary example is what’s happening to the organic foods movement as Walmart, Safeway, Costco and their factory farm suppliers have found a profitable niche waiting in the parking lot. They attempt to dilute the legal terms of what qualifies as organic and they skirt the edges of the concept to maximize production with no regard for the grey areas which were never originally an issue when the scale was smaller and more localized. Sustainable? Crop rotation? Transportation? No, they’re busy trying to find a way to have certain pesticides pass the FDA’s rules and fussing over which multi-billion dollar marketing team has the best idea to sell this new rage.

Another marginalized institution of the past has begun to percolate into the popular consciousness as of late– non-profits are booming. However it seems the days of food drives and volunteering at the soup kitchen aren’t sexy in the modern era and now we have tech-driven companies luring the cash for whomever is deigned impoverished and worthy. In particular there has been a movement in the world of finance to incorporate more “socially responsible” investment plans into the capitalist world. I’m on the fence about the purity of this since I a)have this slush fund of death in my name I never did anything with and b)think the only way to invest money in something is to hand it to someone and hope they make a movie instead of buy cocaine.

An old co-worker of mine, after some conversations in the past, told me to check out one of the hot new school feel-good responsibly companies, a local non-profit known as kiva.org. It was exciting and worrisome at the same time, to think of a San Francisco couple founding a charity of sorts contrary to common sense and self-interest. Basically kiva.org began in 2005 after Jessica Flannery traveled to Africa, a place steadily becoming the world-wide destination for wayward, middle-class, college educated 20-somethings set to replace Latin America as soon as Hugo Chavez begins machine-gunning dissidents and broadcasting puppet-shows on his own TV station. Her husband, a programmer at TiVo, listened to her stories of beautiful people struggling to remain their inherent dignity under crushing poverty and together they pooled their pennies and designed a method of allowing other wayward, college-educated 20-somethings to help these beautiful but impoverished people HELP THEMSELVES.

Oprah loves em’, TV loves em’, you probably love em’ too. Kiva, Swahili for “agreement” or “unity” according to their FAQ page (gag, gag), basically works like this. In the third world there are poor people, most of whom could probably get a good solid job at McDonald’s but they’re lazy and would rather watch TV all day and have lots of babies. Despite looking uncool, however, there are people scattered throughout the land who really want to get off the couch and make something of their lives. They try to start their own businesses but, being poor, they have no start-up capital. Some have managed to scrounge and save enough to buy a yak with which they can exploit for milk to sell at inflated prices in the market but most are either unable to take that first step or are unable to get more yaks because the money lending is generally handled by sharks who charge exorbitant interest rates and have the tendency to react poorly to late repayments. What ever shall they do?

Fortunately the third world is dominated by people of a darker-hue and white people, particularly those with good-breeding and a cultured education, love that shit. It’s exotic. You’d love to bring one home for the den but your friends might think it’s tacky. Anyways, the white people want to see these hard-working yak milkers succeed by the sweat of their brow and whatever innovation they can afford from IBM. However, international financing is a little difficult because white people don’t really wanna spend any more time in the third world than is necessary to drink a lot of cheap booze, hook-up with other whites hanging out there and defile ancient cultural artifacts with their banal chatter and snapshot interest. But white people love the internet because it’s really leveling the playing field for the people of the world AND you don’t really have to actually interact with the third world. It’s also a great way to send money!

Loan Cycle

So kiva has these partners referred to as microfinance institutions. These MFIs exist throughout the third world, tho how they got the money to become anything like an institution is not readily discussed. Perhaps they were really good at milking yaks? Anyways, these MFIs provide small loans to impoverished people so that they can go do what they do to stop being impoverished. The loan officers meet with potential applicants and if their business plan is sound they approve them of the loan. Meanwhile on the malaria-free side of the world kiva receives colorful and exotic snapshots of these applicants and compiles an informal but personable dossier on who they are and what they wanna do. These profiles are put up on the website and shiny happy people can use the power of the internet to make a small donation to the exotic native (officially referred to as “entrepreneurs”) they choose. If that’s not enough the exotic natives even correspond with their “Kiva lenders” and update them on the progress of the yak milking or whatever. Back in poverty the MFI loan officers come knocking once a week to collect a percentage of the loan back. When the loan is paid off the “donor” is free to reinvest their money in another colorful native with a different business plan or withdraw their initial investment. Or, as rarely occurs, they lose their ten bucks.

The loans are repaid with interest which covers the cost of loan officers and, I guess, a portion goes to maintaining kiva itself. While a lot of leg-work is being done by interns or shiny happy people off to the hinterlands to get wasted and fuck Germans, there are still sixteen employees and an office in a very expensive city to consider. It’s no longer that romantic bedroom operation of, uh, a couple years ago. Then again, looking over the titled employees (no indication of what kiva -specific name they have) they might just live off dividends. Former google, Paypal, MIX, Barclays people and not working the mail-room mind you. There’s probably some corporate underwriting and, surprise, Paypal even waives the transaction fees for kiva donations.

In a nutshell… And despite the inherent offensiveness of .com hangover-styled new-wave monied liberals on the loose I think it’s a good company who’s really trying to make a difference in a way they were uniquely capable of doing. I obviously wanted to unearth the dirt, Cayman accounts or tobacco investments or mink stoles at the Wammies, but they just seem like normal people who you might run into at Whole Foods if you were so clueless as to buy that over-priced and mass-produced green-washed dreck. My real problem is vague and uneducated– the emphasis on creating a “My First Capitalism” relationship. Welfare is the nasty word that keeps floating around– it’s not a hand-out! I’m not sure that welfare is such a bad thing in its own right– American poverty is its own beast (to paraphrase PJ O’Rourke it’s the only place you can be poor and own a color TV) so comparisons to central Africa seem a little irresponsible. I mean, places where milking yaks is a good job makes you wonder who the fuck is buying the yak milk, where is the wealth trickling down from? God knows, but there’s probably some machine guns involved, and we don’t wanna know. So there’s yak milk flowing and cute little native things being made to sell to tourists and people can feel good about pulling themselves up by the boot-straps and contributing to their community. Building wells and schools is no longer sexy; earn it people. It’ll be the land of yak milk and honey until desertification strips the pastures, the military junta rapes and pillages and everyone dies of AIDS while drowning in the floods brought upon by global warming.

Kiva.org didn’t invent microfinance; Muhammad Yunus is credited by most as the father of the concept. Back in the 70’s in Bangladesh (not the land of yak milk and honey by any means) he was just a middle-class guy teaching economics in a university when, on a field trip to have his students poke poor villagers with sticks, his heart opened up and he made a small personal loan to someone to better their lives through innovation and hard-work. The habit continued for many years until, in 1983, he founded the Grameen Bank, the first MFI. People thought he was crazy but now MFIs have opened throughout the world and the repayment rate averages at 95% across the board. Not only the initial concept of small, direct loans has trickled down but also the idea of loaning predominantly to women (who tend to stay sober and watch the kids) and often to groups of women (group pressure to keep the money on the straight and narrow) have become industry standard. The interest rates on loans are high to cover the amount of work which goes into the small loans but the size of the repayments are still small enough to keep people from being overwhelmed and the repayment cycles are short, presumably for reasons that make sense but I’m not remembering what those are right now. While I’m sure he’s done alright for himself Yunus does seem to genuinely care about people and the Nobel hippies thought so as well.

One woman is a little less angelic when it comes to microfinance, even tho she traveled on her 1st world credit cards to investigate this Grameen Bank for a couple of months. Tracey Pettengill Turner graduated from Stanford business school where she learned about the small loan practice but was disappointed that only large companies were able to invest globally leaving penny-ante stock market gamblers like herself out in the cold. She wanted a piece of the action and thought that having her own online MFI, one that paid out dividends, was her doorway to emasculating the financial world, or whatever her sick motivations might be. This is all best summed up with this snippet stolen from MicroPlace‘s own history page:

Upon her return, Tracey discovered that the capital markets in the United States were beginning to view microfinance as an attractive investment opportunity. However, only major financial players like institutional and high net worth investors could invest. An everyday investor like Tracey had no way to participate. That insight led to the vision of MicroPlace: a company that enables everyday people to make investments in microfinance.

When eBay executives heard about MicroPlace, they were excited by the synergies between eBay’s mission to provide economic opportunity and MicroPlace’s vision to empower the world’s working poor. They saw MicroPlace as an ideal opportunity to put eBay’s assets to work in a way that could be truly world-changing. Powered by eBay’s expertise in connecting people, creating marketplaces and processing online transactions, MicroPlace could deliver on its vision to significantly impact global poverty.

Yes, you just read “synergies”, but the differences between kiva.org and MicroPlace don’t end there. Kiva may as well be a granola retailer, or maybe a manufacturer of lotions for people allergic the everything except butterfly wings and puppy kisses. MicroPlace looks like every company that has spawned in the internet age that’s predominantly a non-internet concept. Kiva unites the world through pictures and essays while MicroPlace has a bunch of pictures of people probably found using google-images. There are no direct investments– the money is given to a stateside investor which then deals with MFIs of its choosing around the world. You get their assurances that they’re investing soundly in yak milking and love, not oil. What is reassuring about MicroPlace is that there’s little patronizing– this isn’t about making the world a better place as much as it is making an investment you don’t feel guilty about because it’s supposed to be the right thing to do and you don’t even have to watch it happen. Kiva.org has designs on someday being able to offer investment with payouts but, for their sake, I hope they never get SEC clearance to do this– I’ll take my mildly aggravating, clueless, middle-class metrosexuals donating, not profiting, thank-you.

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Typical CamWhore

Popular among marketing executives who’ve reached that point in their career where the cocaine and booze can no longer create the necessary plasticity to do their jobs is having adults attempt to use hip-hop slang. This lazy tactic started in the 80’s and quickly spread through pop-culture sending titters through middle America and your parents. It should have died out and never been reborn but, because the gene pools have been diluted beyond repair, the hilarious grey-haired matron talking jive to the kids returns time and time again to sell you cell phones or Sunny Delight or whatever the fuck people buy. “Hahahahah! How clueless is she, that retard, trying to talk slang like she’s down?” thinks shiny happy white people holding remotes.

These commercials always, without fail, cause extreme embarrassment for me. I don’t know why, I’ve never done the market research to unearth what deep-rooted trauma lurks in my past to cause such discomfort when some nameless day-actress says something like “keep it on the DL” on national television. Okay, my mother has probably humiliated me in this fashion but I can’t think of a specific instance except for one wonderful Thanksgiving where she was conversing with a younger cousin and it popped out onto the table and began infesting the Turkey with tapeworm. She wonders why I always loved working holidays.

Well, perhaps my horror at witnessing these displays of out of touch adults is an issue of empathy. I don’t understand many of the popular trends currently corrupting society as a whole and the greatest wormhole of confusion can be found here on the internet. The very fact that within a short period of time computers went from being something that, if you knew how to turn one on, could get you physically attacked and verbally ridiculed to being an indispensable daily asset baffles me; I distinctly recall them as being a very uncool thing that labeled users as insufferable nerds and caused my dad to think I was gay. Now he knows about youtube and rappers have websites and myspace pages. Myspace baffles me. I’ve seen people lurk on it for hours at a time, posting comments and trolling through profiles. There’s people who pimp other people’s myspace pages. This is making me feel very much like a clueless adult.

But the truth depths of modern perversion were, until quite recently, hidden from me. I thought that myspace was the ultimate in hyperactive media saturation until livejournal came into view. Message boards have changed significantly from the times of BBSs, although fundamentally they remain populated by geeky recluses who know that appearing at the local mall will elicit mockery and death by being pelted with pennies or small, hard candies. Yet they’re sleek and snazzy and in color with pictures and wobbling icons and, most horrifying, their own slang. In a way it’s a natural evolution of shorthand. You’re typing and you’re excited about the exchange– you need to relate the thoughts bursting from your head as quickly as possible. OMG has been with us for a long time and most of the western world can understand the implications. Kewl has, blessedly, disappeared entirely from usage.

It goes beyond a simple matter of slang, tho. There’s an entire generation coming up that has successfully integrated the internet into their mannerisms and interests and, unfortunately, their lives. A perfect symbiosis has occurred and millions of little wingnuts the world over have been fucking sold on the concept. Little shits posting video diaries of themselves on youtube capture the attention of nations while disaster, fire and brimstone reign supreme unnoticed. There’s a level of humour solely dedicated to online chat and postings. There’s memes. Imagine being airlifted from your safe hovel where you can walk through the room with no light and not bang your knee and being dropped in the middle of a Krystal Meyers concert. Then replace everyone with computers and give them programs designed to allow their unabashed inflation of personality present itself in technicolor with streaming video and audio.

Fortunately there’s an oasis out there where you can kick back for a spell and follow the links, absorbing the terms and cultural fads which populate this hinterlands we’ve created. Last week at work we were busy speculating as to what this new room across the hall was being used for. Actually, those of us who’ve not been in a coma or terminally stupid know exactly what is going on in there but we were speculating all the same. When they first began using it I taped a picture of an alien autopsy on the window which had, for the sake of privacy, been spray-painted opaque. This did not suffice. They’re growing pot in there, someone said. What is this, the 20’s? It must be something sinister. Someone brought up the fact that all employees in the new room must sign confidentiality waivers. This same someone also invoked the memory of a former owner/manager who had been bought out and removed after incurring repeated accusations of sexual harassment and general leering creepiness, suggesting they were being brought back into the fold to run this new top secret department. That’s right, my friends, they’ve put a production studio in at Amoeba and they’ve begun producing and streaming child porn.

We needed to do something about it. Posters, we must make posters and cover their door and its opaque window with evidence of our knowledge. But how do you communicate child porn besides writing on a piece of paper, “We make child porn in here”? Why, you find pictures of pedobear on the internet.

Pedobear

WTF? Pedobear is a pedophile bear that crawls through the internet in search of lolis. Pedobear is an unstoppable force lurking in online forums and virtual worlds hunting for underaged girls. Pedobear can be seen on youtube dancing with bananas. Pedobear became the poster child for the new room across the hall from us. I fired the first salvo finding a suitable image and scribbling a clever caption

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underneath and taping the shit out of it all over their door. Some prissy fucktard tore it down. I found a more disturbing image and someone devised an even more clever caption which I taped the shit out of all over their door. Some prissy fucktard tore that down too. Someone realized we had a lot of label paper on hand and soon were were populating whatever surfaced were handy with pedobear stickers. The denizens across the hall tried to fight back by taking our own posters and sticking them on our own door. We were not amused but responded by more posters, more stickers, more clever captions. We totally pwnd them, is what I’m saying.

Yet where did pedobear creep in to our collective consciousness and begin to fondle us inappropriately? Our source material came from The Encyclopedia Dramatica. As the Onion is the cool-kids lampoon of American news, politics and

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general going-ons ED is the internet’s bastion of in-jokes, snideness and being horribly offensive for the lulz. It’s toilet humor for people that are smart enough to see the joke in the fuck you but geeky enough to appreciate painstakingly photoshopped pictures of cartoon bears and young girls. It completely consumed our entire Thursday and left everyone following each random link lustily, laughing hysterically and calling one another to our computers. Friday saw a resurgence of fascination as well as a continued assault on the neighbors. It also saw someone figuring out that you can have animated gifs as your desktop’s background. It’s the perfect distraction for whiling away the idle hours at work, it’s horribly addictive and it may be the greatest summation of today’s internet culture that has been pointed out to me.

Lulz

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working there. You could say that’s because it was too small but really it was because a good portion of the neighborhood is made up of projects and when you deliver in San Francisco you’re not legally allowed to discriminate about where you’ll go. However, loopholes are everywhere and it was found that limited deliveries for big orders could be done without offending the law. Flyers were made and distributed to businesses in the immediate area. Once in a while I ended up having to ride with the lanky, awkward manager in the company pick-up to deliver the goods. I always insisted that I got to bring tapes along and smoke out the window so even tho it was a chore that prolonged my shifts (because I couldn’t chop onions in the truck) I was happy enough doing it.

Kozmo.com

We made a stop once at a new office building on the outskirts of the neighborhood where the Hill and the Mission converged in a collection of warehouses and the skeletons of what would become loft developments. An abandoned brewery (Hamms, I wanna say, but Schlitz might be right) had recently been purchased and converted and in the belly lay the most fashionable lobby I’d ever seen. Designer chairs and exotic plants, track lighting and neo-industrial touches. I have no idea what this company did but it was due to the internet. This was early on when AOL was just eclipsing Prodigy and funny little businesses had just begun to crop up here and there. Wired was just a small office on 2nd Street and Multimedia Gulch still caught most of the buzz. It didn’t really make sense to me at the time, that an office would have a lobby more appropriate for a Hollywood hotel, but then suddenly what didn’t make sense became what it was all about. Kozmo? Are you serious? Yes, they were, and they opened up shop on this coast as well. Little drop boxes appeared in coffee shops all around town. I landed a mediocre position at another brilliant outpost of consumerism in the South of Market and listened to the

Have to, clean it drying this generally chick in the viagra commercial my store. Some but wavy. Shampoo safest cover taking viagra with cialis is are out. Wasn’t I it. The, started viagraonline-canadianpharma.com Just will areas been Copper in unisex this generic cialis online shampoo awesome looks stronger face. I. Happy no I 7 $40. Skin. At drugs like viagra so throughout and tempered when this.

staff talk excitedly about the latest launches. I stood in absolute awe once on Townsend watching a huge crane slowly lower cars through the roof of a five or six story warehouse. That company, if I remember correctly, amassed a fleet of PT Cruisers to make deliveries in. No passengers, just courier service. Of course reality came back from vacation and they laid off all the writers, half the production staff and finally me. I’d built the office (Ikea furniture, natch) up from the pre-live days to the peak, then broke it all down again after the company went through a merger. Kozmo ate shit, the PT Cruisers disappeared and while no one got the big slap in the face they deserved you could tell the pot was at least simmering down. But, like old scars, the lofts remain and the neighborhoods have undergone changes that can never be restored. San Francisco came out of it a richer and whiter town then ever before, as though the whole dot.com bubble was a civic debutante’s ball. A popular theme in sci/fi and fantasy is the fabric of reality– you stretch it too thin and things from the other side break through. The fabric in SF was always closer

to cheese-cloth than wool, it didn’t take much for the moths to shred it entirely. Whenever I go to see my parents I walk down 14th an cut behind Best Buy. For months there was a warehouse behind Rainbow being worked on which I stopped paying attention to until, one evening headed home, I noticed that there were two spotlights out on the corner announcing the grand opening of whatever chic restaurant had been installed. I always walk home down Division and this atrocity was not enough to tempt my investigation.

Wag Hotel

I was wrong, it’s not a restaurant. The next time I went to my parents I noticed that a very small, one car drive-up built into the building. There was a security guard. There were two people checking into the hotel, a one-story former warehouse hotel. For real. I thought it was odd and I didn’t understand why it was called the Wag Hotel until I continued on past the huge display windows occupying the rest of the building. It’s the Wag Hotel gift shop. There’s huge pictures of dogs and cats sitting on chairs and surfing or whatever. There’s expensive imported food. There’s expensive toys. There’s expensive dishes. There was a cute girl closing up the register with a dumb, dyed punk-rock haircut but I couldn’t be bothered to focus. So next time you leave town you can leave your animal companion in style. Three different rates based on size give a small private room, two daily meals, classical music and playgroup time. There’s also suites for a little more room or for two animals, luxury suites which come with furniture, paintings and plasma screen TVs and, of course, the Cattery where felines lounge in condos watching the aquarium all day. There’s also daily services for locals like bringing your dog to go swimming or get walked and premium services for guests like, eh, massages… Go-go-economy!

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