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Aberrant Tales (excerpt)

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This book will feature 12 stories (1 written by yours truly) that will grip you and twist you inside out if you let them. The book will be coming this September and promises to be something you won’t want to miss.

Common Ground

By Tom Foster

She woke to the feeling of cold cement beneath her cheek, the chill of the stone stiffening the muscles in her face.  A puddle of drool had collected beneath the left side of her head, its wetness unpleasant as she regained consciousness.  Her plain brown locks spilled all around her as she lay there, some of it catching in the wet puddle as she began to slowly move her head about.  A sense of vertigo hit her as she tried to crane her neck backwards, sending her crashing face first back to the floor beneath her.

“Hey, are you okay?” she felt a rough hand gently touch the back of her neck, its warm touch causing her eyes to snap open.  Trying as hard as she could she attempted to rise, her arms and legs moving in spasms no matter how hard she tried to regain her control.

“Hey relax, you’re still groggy.  Just take it easy.” Another hand clamped gently on her shoulder, further aggravating her.

Vanessa did not like to be touched.  Why this was so even she could not say, it was just a character trait that had been with her for most of her life.  The merest brush of another she did not know or care for set her teeth on edge.  Even those she knew didn’t always find that they could just offer a friendly touch.

“Get off of me.”  She managed to speak the words, but found that her jaw clamped shut immediately after.  Whatever had been done to her had yet to wear off, leaving her body still halfway paralyzed.

“Fine, have it your way”, the voice said, muttering as the speaker moved away.  She wanted to apologize, to tell whoever it was that she didn’t mean to be so rude, but first she had to rise.  Gathering the sparse strength she still possessed she attempted to work her arms, planting them beneath her shoulders as she struggled to push herself up.  Fire burned in her muscles as she ground her teeth together, keeping her eyes tightly shut as she struggled to raise herself from the ground.  The rough feeling of the cement was quite unpleasant, though it was nothing compared to the pounding in her head as she continued to strain herself, managing to rise halfway before she collapsed, her cheek meeting the ground quite rudely as she grunted in pain.

“See?  That’s why I tried to help you.  All of us had that problem apparently on waking up.  Do you want help?”  The voice became a little more distinctive as she lay there in pain, its masculine tone carrying a hint of irritation in it.  Vanessa ground her teeth together as she steeled herself against the answer she knew she’d inevitably give.  The fire within her body did not subside as she lay there, her muscles seizing even as she tried to lay as still as possible.  She could feel her cheeks burn with the shame of not being able to stand on her own two feet.

“Yes please.  If you don’t mind can you help me up?”  A short snicker caused her cheeks to flush even more as she heard the footfalls coming in her direction.  Keeping her eyes closed she could feel as her entire body tensed upon the stranger’s touch.  If he noticed he said nothing, picking her up quite easily before setting her back first against a wall that felt just as solid as the floor.  The chill touch of it even through her shirt caused her to at least try and arch her back, though she found that she couldn’t even do this as the fire in her veins surged yet again.  Her hiss of pain was followed by yet another short burst of chuckling from more than one throat.  Opening her eyes Vanessa prepared herself to glare at those who were laughing at her expense, though what she saw caused her to think twice.

She quickly counted nine other individuals within the well-lighted room, seven of them women and two of them men. They were in a round room that, as she could now see, was composed of concrete walls, floor, and nothing else.  Blinking several times she attempted to look up, but after just a few seconds her head began to swim as black spots started appearing in her vision.  Lowering her chin she gasped at the pain that had erupted at the nape of her neck, reaching back with one hand to feel for the sore spot. What she found left her wincing anew as her fingers probed the sensitive, raised portion of flesh along the back of her skull.

“You too huh?” spoke the voice that she now recognized, one of the two men she reasoned.  “I woke up with a pain inside my skull that I still can’t get rid of.  I suppose whoever put us here wasn’t too gentle in the doing.”

Vanessa didn’t answer, closing her eyes for a moment as thoughts of drifting off to slumber began to enter her mind.

“Don’t fall asleep,” she heard a woman say, “If you’ve got a concussion it’s likely you won’t wake up.  That’s what my mom always told me anyway.”

She had no intention of falling asleep, not when her head hurt this much, but it was at least good to hear another voice at this moment.  Her memories were so badly jumbled at that second that remembering her name felt like a grand accomplishment as she gently massaged around the tender spot on her skull.

Someone let out a long sigh as the sound echoed faintly in the chamber, “So, anyone have any ideas on how we got here and why?”

No one answered the second man as he spoke, though Vanessa was desperately attempting to remember the last thing she’d done, said, or even ate before waking up in this place.  What had she been doing?

“All I know is that I was folding my family’s laundry when I felt a sharp pain in the back of my head and I dropped. When I woke up I was here.”

“Me too,” said another woman, “I was coming out of my home and felt a jab at the base of my skull, right here,” Vanessa didn’t look, but could imagine the woman pointing at the spot, “and then I was out.”

“Where is ‘here’ though?” one of the men asked.

No one spoke for a moment, though as she opened her eyes Vanessa once again attempted to look up, but this time without craning her head back so far.  What she saw was absolutely nothing, just pitch black without any hint of an end, as though they’d been dumped in a pit that light never reached. Except there was at least some light, though it took her a moment to realize that it was coming from wall-mounted halogen lights that were burning just bright enough for them  to see by.  The cylindrical lights were located far enough up on the wall that jumping for them would be quite impossible.

Looking around the room with half-closed eyes she took in the state of her fellow captives.  No one was chained or bound in any way, and none of them appeared to have suffered anything worse than whatever had been done to subdue them and bring them here.  The seven women ranged in age from what looked to be two teenagers to one woman who could have been in her thirties.  The men looked old enough and rough

enough to be in their thirties and possibly forties in the case of one of them.

“I don’t know any of you,” she said plainly.

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Myth and Religion

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Said Religion to Myth, “I created the Earth and the Sun and the Moon and the Stars in mere days. The people know Me, they of Me, they recognize My name.”

Myth nodded, silently contemplating the role that Religion played in the lives of so many, “Once too did I stand in such high regard, the reason why they looked to the heavens and prayed fervently for answers. I too was their savior and their plague.”

“I seek to love them,” said Religion, “Though some of them do not love Me back. Still they are My children, My creations, and I shall not turn My face from them.”

Myth laughed long and loud, the sound shaking the heavens and scattering clouds before it as Religion scowled heavily.

“Why do you laugh?” Religion asked, “I love My children.”

“But you have turned your face from them plenty of times, so that you might avoid their suffering at your hands,” Myth replied, “Or do you enjoy their cries of torment as you unleash your wrath?”

“I do not not,” Religion replied sternly, “They are children, and must be treated as such. My will is that they learn to love Me, that they learn to worship Me. How they do this is important, as it gives them something to hope for, something to believe in.”

Myth smiled, nodding while speaking “So too did we, and our love, as well as our punishments, were forgotten as they grew.”

“They will not forget Me!” roared Religion, “I am their God, their Creator!”

“As were we,” said Myth in a knowing, pitying tone, “And as we passed, so too, one day, will you.”

Different Ideas, not Different Realities

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In this country, in this world, and in this life, people look for what is fundamentally the same thing. We look to stride forward and make the best of the life we’re given. We try our best to make a life for ourselves, for our families, and in many cases to continue the society to which we belong or to at least help the world we live in to continue to move forward as it is in our best interests.

The manner in which we do this isn’t bound to be the same as so many people living on one world across so such a vast space aren’t going to agree on everything. We all have our ideas about what needs to happen to sustain life and what has to happen in order to keep society functioning in an efficient and sustainable way. The trouble with this is that being human one of our first reactions to criticism of any kind is going to be resentment, possibly anger, at someone telling us that what we’re doing doesn’t work for them.

The more evolved among us tend to let it go and find another way, a compromise, that can help to bring opposing sides together in a manner that can accommodate both and create a lasting bond that can help to carry them into the future that awaits. But far too often it’s seen that humans just can’t seem to get on the same page and will allow ideological differences to keep us apart.

In fact it has become the premise of many a society that differences are what will define us, help us measure ourselves against others, and by some extension judge others when it comes to their manner of living and how they conduct themselves throughout the course of their lives. In our country it is particularly complicated as many people even go so far as to avoid speaking with one another if they happen to belong to a different political party or support opposing individuals come election time.

There are too many social constructs that divide humanity and not enough that seek to unite us.

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You can call it a conspiracy theory or a byproduct of granting those that lead us far too much power over our lives, but the truth is that we’ve been divided for a very long time by ideals that we are raised with and, at times, will believe because we’ve heard few other options in our lives. We are born into this system believing that we have to pick a side when it comes to following the same fundamental needs of all human beings, and we die within the same system, never seeming to understand that there is a life beyond it.

That system is the problem, while the people are the unwitting participants that keep it running.

Predictable Chaos

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The chaos that is the meeting of the past, present, and the coming future is a predictable mashup that continually meets, denies, and lowers our expectations as the world continues to move forward somehow despite the continuing debacle that is life. The plight of humanity is that nothing is ever fully learned from, and if it ever does inspire learning it is quashed almost immediately by the status quo that seems to want individuals to forget the ideas that don’t flow with what society accepts as the truths that are doled out by those that are in charge of our future. Those that have the reins and decide to drive humanity in one direction or another seem to thrive more on the idea of success, fame, and fortune than learning, and as a rule tend to ignore the warnings of the past in favor of the brighter, more lucrative future that is promised within the present.

The predictable chaos that ensues comes with a heavy price, and that is the fact that history rears its head once more in order to remind us just what horrors lay in the dark, shadowy past that our leaders would like us to forget and think of as inconsequential. Our destiny as a species is an uncertain thing upon waking and is no less certain when our eyes close for the final time. The only hope that seems to spark comes from those that will not be so easily cowed into the submissive and dismissive nature that those in power desire.

There is more to be learned throughout the failings of mankind than there will ever be from our success stories.

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Success is important, it is the final step that leads us onward, but the truth is that the failures that come before the success must not be ignore or forgotten as they are the lessons and the building blocks upon which that success was borne. There is no path to greatness without failure, there is no final goal that can be reached without falling more than once.

But unless we realize that history is our lesson, not our burden, then we will continue to make the same mistakes, as mankind is a species that operates on habit more often than not, and will go back to particular well far too often for our own liking.

A Good Leader Inspires

 

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I’ve spoken on this before but it still holds true and can’t be said enough. Real leaders will inspire their people, they won’t lead from the back, shouting orders and pointing the finger to guide their people to the future. They will be on the front lines, risking everything that they have in order to better the future for their people, to show that they are no better and no worse than those that follow them.

They will inspire others to stride forward, to become stronger, to become wolves in their own right rather than bleating sheep that will seek to follow when the path gets rough. Real leaders will be tough and they will know when to draw a line in the sand, but they will also know when to be wary of alienating those that they seek to lead, and those that could be possible allies. Real leaders to do not act solely on impulse and without thought of what might happen later in life. A good leader will take the time to weigh their actions and their words to insure that their people, THEIR PEOPLE, are cared for above their own interests.

A good leader, a REAL leader, will not stand in front of their people and feed them a smile and a great deal of rhetoric and pronounce that they are an expert of everything. A good leader knows that they are a servant to those that follow them, and must put the needs of the many above their own.

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Furthermore, a good leader will not cast blame upon those that come before them. They will not blame the sins of the past for their inability to deal with the present. Good leaders, REAL leaders, will find a way to move forward and continue to serve their people to the best of their capacity.

Do we have a leader that inspires people? It all depends on who you talk to.

America’s Educational Rank Worldwide

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Does anyone want to hazard a guess at where America falls on the educational charts when compared to other countries? Anyone? When last I checked the USA was either 15th or 17th in the world when it came to the quality of the education that the average student receives, and for a nation that prides itself on being the top country in the world that sets the pace for all others that just doesn’t seem right.

Why is that? Why in the world does a nation that seems to pride itself on so much fall so far below the world average when it comes to education? Well there are a few valid reasons that people might not like to hear since to many the USA is the greatest nation in the world and of course we can’t be faulted for the problems that are plaguing our own educational system. If you didn’t catch the sarcasm in that statement it’s because type doesn’t transmit it as well as live speech.

But anyway, here’s just a few ideas as to why we’re falling so far behind.

The quality of our education is lacking in many ways.

We’re raised to think that education is important, but at the same time as kids we see that even those that don’t have a college or even high school education manage to find jobs and do fairly well in life. The unfortunate part about this is that we don’t always see the hardship that comes from not having an education and being able to do what you want, where you want, and when you want to do it.

Education in other countries is fiercely competitive and unlike the USA, where shame is not deemed as acceptable and is in fact simply abhorrent, some countries simply don’t care who’s shamed in favor of someone else advancing. It’s a matter of who’s the best, who’s the most qualified, and who can reach their goals and break through their limits, not who’s feeling badly about themselves because they want to perform half measures and get by on doing the minimum amount.

This is where our educational system begins to fail. We consistently lower our standards so that those that either can’t or don’t want to try to succeed bring down the national average. Those that excel do so on their own, while the rest that simply want life handed to them are accommodated first and foremost in their adult lives by the system that’s charged with educating them and pushing them to new heights. It’s hard to learn anything when a D-average is able to get you an education.

Sports is our main concern, not the education that is required to earn it.

Granted, a lot of athletes will work hard in the classroom to get good grades and push themselves through school so that they can compete, but too many still bank on getting into their desired school for sports and have dreams and aspirations of reaching pro level to think about their education. By the time they either realize their dreams of going pro aren’t going to happen or their pro career is finished it’s imperative to know that they have something to fall back on. While some do in fact make good use of the education that was necessary to get them there, others treat their education as an ends to a mean, meaning that they have nothing left when all is said and done.

Sports in other countries are a leisure activity and not to be taken so seriously, but in the USA sports become everything for some athletes, even at the cost of a valuable and priceless education.

Too many of the students in the USA don’t believe the system has anything to offer them.

It could also be that by living in the “Me” generation that education has become more of an option than a requirement. Too many young folks these days, even those that work to maintain a solid GPA, are too self-oriented to believe that the educational system has anything to offer. They won’t give their undivided attention to the system largely because they want the end reward as incentive rather than the work that is meant to help them achieve that end result. It’s a matter of “I want” instead of “I want to learn”.

There are still many students that will put their nose to the metaphorical grindstone and do what is expected in order to achieve their goals, but too many these days want what comes after the work before ever opening a textbook or studying for a single test. The “Me First” generation is here and is in full effect, creating a very negative effect by demanding everything while learning nothing.

It’d be great if all these problems were easily solvable, but it’s going to take some time, and possibly the bottoming out of the system to finally realize where we’re going wrong.

You Know History? (part VII)

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(continued)

Seaside, OR

Current Day

Okay, so going off to see Vlad the Impaler was a bad idea. I’d no sooner arrived than I was under attack, which was not hard to understand why because somehow I landed in the middle of a damned battle. But I did see enough to know that Vlad was there, and that he was just as vicious as the history books say. I saw him impale a couple of people in the heat of battle, though he didn’t stake them into the ground as the legends go, at least not then and there. That came after, when I got to experience it a little too close and personal for my liking.

I’m not a fighter, so far be it from me to engage in the sort of behavior that I saw all around me when I was unceremoniously plunked into the middle of a battlefield that was pitting Vlad’s forces against the Turks against whom he’d been fighting for some time. The only way I could identify the dreaded Impaler was from a mental image I’d had of him and the fact that he fit the image quite well as I saw. Other than that however, I was at a loss. There were so many people around trying to kill Vlad and his guards that it was all I could to just stay out of the way and not get killed.

That didn’t go so well. I got knocked down, trampled, stabbed a couple of times in the back, once in the buttocks, and had my ankle stepped on so hard I think I actually heard the bone snap over the cacophony of battle. So in other words, I got hurt so badly that I passed out from the pain.

When I came to I wasn’t back in the water, and the pain had only intensified as my ankle was swollen like a balloon and my back was on fire from the wounds I’d been given. I couldn’t move if I’d wanted to, but given what happened next I really wish I could have. You see, Vlad’s forces didn’t just sit around and watch as he rammed people onto stakes and then stuck said stakes into the ground. Oh no. They helped, and managed to stick enough people with those sharpened stakes as Vlad ever did.

The only difference was who was I was placed next to when it came right down to it. Let’s get past the staking part first by saying that never in your life will you ever hope to feel the sensation of something the size of your leg being shoved up your backside, the sharp point used for entry and to widen the entry digging at your insides as you were stuck like a rotisserie chicken and then hoisted into the air. Imagine the sensation of sliding down said pole, stake, whatever you want to call it, as the damn thing cores you like an apple and eventually comes bursting out of lung to carry on through your chest. It took forever to die, and in that time I saw through pain and shock-filled eyes who was next to me.

It was Vlad. There’s no mistaking it, he’d been staked by his own people, or perhaps by the Turks, I don’t know. All I know is that the same man I’d seen on the battlefield was now riding the pine right alongside me. I know it likely wasn’t pine but give me a break, I had a giant pole shoved through me like a skewer and my body was taking its sweet time realizing I was already dead.

Thankfully shock took over after a while and I simply drifted off.

That almost turned me off to the whole experience of it. Almost.

(to be continued)

Honesty Bites (part VII)

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(continued)

Multnomah County Corrections

Beaverton, OR

September 27th, 2021

Sitting in front of the TV screen in the small, white-walled room as he watched the judge on the screen rifling through his file, Jim couldn’t help but blow out a breath. Looking to the camera that was broadcasting to the judge he winced inwardly as he remembered that the man on the screen could see him as well.

“Are we taking up too much of your time sir?” the judge asked. He was a mousy-looking man with a balding pate a thick pair of spectacles that rode low on his hawkish nose. Right now the dark brown eyes behind those spectacles were directed right at the camera, giving the illusion that the judge was looking right at him. He might as well been Jim supposed.

“No sir” he replied.

“I see here you’ve got only a few priors, misdemeanors all of them. I’ll be releasing you today and recommending that you remind yourself just what it would mean to gather up too many of these,” he shook Jim’s file lightly in one hand. “The law only allows me to do so much, but at this point Mr. Alain I am letting you out because I feel that there is still time for you to change your ways. I hope to never see you here again sir, and that you find something positive in your life to cling to. That will be all Mr. Alain.”

Jim nodded and said “Thank you sir” before rising to his feet, making his way back out to the gleaming white walls and hard benches of the waiting room for an officer to come and escort him back to his cell. He would be getting out soon now, but to be honest he didn’t have much to look forward to. His wife had kicked him out and given up on him, his kids wanted nothing to do with him, his friends had abandoned him, and even his distant relatives and business associates wanted absolutely no mention of him to cross their paths.

He was alone. The world didn’t care about him and it was probably for the best, as he’d never been the type to wallow in self-pity. He’d obtain the money that was his, and his belongings, and then make for the nearest liquor store. Most of them would cash a check, especially since they knew that it was likely that part of it would never leave the store. In all honesty, a part of Jim never seem to leave those stores these days.

Sitting on one of the hard benches he waited for an officer to come, listening to the ranting and ravings of those inmates that thought they were tough. One of them, a pint-sized younger man with his hair bound up in greasy dreadlocks and a thin, wispy mustache over his upper lip was talking about how he’d been sent to the hole numerous times and still kept doing what he wanted. Jim only paid him half an ear, knowing that young men like these might have been scrappers, but they were also the ones that tended to cry themselves to sleep when they went to the hole.

He’d heard enough of them to know.

(to be continued)

What Europeans are Coming to Think of America

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It’s easy to see that Europeans have had their own preconceived notions of Americans for a long time now, and it’s just as easy to see that it goes both ways as through use of propaganda and the clever manipulations of our media and leaders it’s been simple enough to set us against each other even as they preach that the world has to unite as one against common enemies. But lately one has to wonder just how the rest of the world has been seeing Americans, especially since the current POTUS took office and started exercising his thumbs and his mouth in an unending tirade of what he might call “taking charge”.

So he’s putting America first…..I heard the crickets too but many people believe that he’s doing what he can to make our country into a great place while at the same time he’s openly challenging and mocking those that would be better allies than enemies. His supporters, especially those that are ‘ride or die’ types would gladly say that he’s looking out for our best interests as a nation and pulling the country free of useless alliances that haven’t done much for us in the past. But in truth, having allies in this world is far better than alienating the rest of the landscape and having to stand utterly alone if the day ever comes that America actually needs the rest of the world.

Yes, America has come to the aid of several countries in the past, but it’s also had trouble policing it’s own back yard and taking control of situations in which it had no business being in the first place. America is not the end-all country that can be everything for everyone, and it’s not the one country among all that can solve all the ills of the world. In fact at this point our country can’t even solve its own ills but yet our POTUS seems to think that he can make everything go away and solve it all because no one knows how to do it better.

In essence the rest of the country is being judged by the things he says and does in this day and age, as from the night of the election until now Trump has been the driving force and the face of our country. He’s done great things so far? Wonderful, but his public image is that of a bully that simply expects everyone to follow his way or get out of the way, and that doesn’t work for everyone. What happens if he tries that with someone that decides to push back?

More importantly, he deflects and he casts a lot of blame in directions that are irrelevant to the current state of the nation.

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Even if previous presidents did mess things up, that’s not relevant at the moment as it’s his job to fix them and to guide the nation back into prosperity. Blaming those that came before is the act of a child throwing a tantrum while screaming “I didn’t do it! They made my job harder!”

The nation might hate to tell Trump this but many of us have felt this kind of pinch in the past, maybe on a much lesser scale, but still in the same manner. What have we done? We’ve sorted through the mess and made the best of it as much as we could. Unfortunately this man is how the world is seeing us at the moment, no matter that he is hardly the face of the nation and more of a figurehead that tweets too much and continually forgets to add a filter between his brain and his mouth.

He is our POTUS, but unfortunately he is also the representative of our nation. Europe, please don’t judge our country based on one man. He’s our president by election, but does not represent our hearts and minds.

How the Irish View Fake Irish Accents

First let me clarify that I’m not trying to make fun of anyone or ridicule any particular group of people. But hearing actual Irish people talk and then listening to them side by side is kind of amusing since there are times in Hollywood when actors tend to get it right and then, then there are times that their accent is just horrific. And listening to actual Irish people listen to them and then offer commentary is absolutely great because quite honestly if you belong to a country and possess the accent that’s being used you’re going to be able to spot a fake accent from a mile away most times.

So watching the clip is funny because you can’t help but wonder what they’re thinking before they start talking about each individual. Sean Connery is perhaps one of the best as they describe him going from Irish to Scottish to English all in the span of a single sentence. And to be honest, Connery is what a lot of people have thought was the exemplification of an Irish accent. But then you listen to Tom Cruise and Gerard Butler and you can’t help but agree with them that some of what they say is simply dreadful. The real surprise however is their reaction to Brad Pitt.

They love the guy.

A couple of them comment that his speed is what makes his accent so believable, which is amazing since understanding what he’s saying required subtitles for some folks. But the fact that Pitt was voted as the best and most spot on was kind of a surprise.

But hey, if you think that it’s funny when Irish folks pick out some of the most cockeyed accents that emulate their own then you’ll get a kick out of the clip below.

Remember, no judgment and no mockery, this is all for fun.

As hard as it is for many Americans to nail an Irish accent, no matter how many different dialects they might have, it’s even more difficult for a lot of Irish folks, let alone Europeans in general, to nail down the many different American dialects. Quite honestly American English is a mess as from east to west we have so many different dialects that change from state to state and region to region that trying to get them all is confusing. Listening to a bunch of Irish men and women trying to get them down however is just hilarious since it gives a bit of justification that accents are tough to pick up no matter where you go.

Some might think that a Canadian accent is fairly simply as you simply round a lot of your syllables and say ‘eh?’ a lot. But there’s a little more to it than that.

Then there’s the Southern accent with for some people is just a lazy drawl that lets you release a bit of tension in your voice as you let it just kind of hang on its own and allow certain syllables to drawl out, almost as if you’re just terminally tired and can’t be bothered to speak in nice, clipped sentences that other dialects are known for.

Then there’s the California surfer drawl that so many people think defines Californians. Sure, down in Southern Cali it might be a thing, but being as there are many different regions in the state you probably wouldn’t hear too much of the surfer accent up north near the border.

Take note that they don’t make it all the way to the Pacific Northwest, which is probably a good thing. Our accents in this region are so varied that even those of us that live here get confused sometimes.

It’s just fun to listen to people trying out different accents sometimes.