Season 7, Episode 12: Door to Door

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We open at Bartokomanor to find Balki ramming his fist into a doll’s orifice.

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Not Dimitri (curiously missing from this scene), but roughly 20 teddy bears.

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At this point, I have to assume that no one locks the doors in this house after they all obliterated their noses running into them.

Larry tells Balki that he has great news, but then stops to let Balki talk about the props, since that’s all they let him do most weeks.

Balki says that Mama’s birthday is coming soon and he wants to buy her something nice–some new phonemes, some prepositions, maybe a second joke for her character–and has taken on a job as a “bear stuffer”. Kudos to whatever toy company figured out how to lower their overhead by making employees work in their own homes.

Also, Balki needs extra money? Really? These fuckers are living in a fully (and differently from their apartments) furnished home not three months after moving out of their apartments. Hey, maybe they stole the tables, curtains, dinnerware, and hatrack on the night they raided Twinkie’s, but we’ve seen them buy a gazebo, a new classic muscle car, four car stereos, a car alarm, 57 turkeys, pave their backyard, have their backyard paved, fly to Mypos, cater a party for foreign nationals, and buy T-shirts instead of notepads, all while living in a house they’re paying 4 times the market value in rent on every month. They both got promotions two weeks ago! Did they not sue Clive Enright? Did Balki lose all ability to cook? All they’d have to do is just sit still for a day and they’d have extra money.

Oh, by the way, Balki left a half-eaten Snickers bar in one of the bears, and didn’t give enough of a shit to try and find it. Bringing capitalism into the home, the fully material approach to gift-giving, the lack of quality assurance, *sniff* sorry I’m tearing up here (*blows nose rather wetly*) Balki’s finally a true American.

Larry wonders briefly if he can turn this plot point into breaking into the neighbors’ house to rip open their plush toys, but then continues with his good news. His plan for turning over more of their free time to capitalist ideals of “productivity” is far better.

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(Larry jumps on the couch; Balki wears a simple shirt: do you see it?)

Larry had interviewed L. Bob Frederick–president and CEO of Clean for Life, featured in that month’s Biz Whiz magazine*–earlier that day and now has a plan to make them rich. L. Bob saw Larry for the idiot he is and offered him a position at the very bottom of his company’s totem pole: selling cleaning products to whatever percentage of women were still lonely, sexually-frustrated, and housebound in 1991. In case L. Bob’s name weren’t enough for you to figure out that it’s an L. Ron Hubbard reference, Larry claims that this development is “a miracle”.

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Larry brings in a dolly loaded with boxes full of the false promise that capitalism cures all ills, for good. It puts the “lean” in clean, he says, the “spark” in sparkle. Balki asks if, when applied to bare asses, if it makes them more lustrous and fuckable.

Psychology sidebar: why do we like shiny things, anyway? A couple of Belgian business researchers (and one from Houston) tested out their hypothesis that this preference originates in an evolutionary drive to locate fresh water. (They found evidence for that hypothesis, otherwise they probably wouldn’t have been published.) That explains why shiny apples look good to eat, and maybe why baby Bronson was always putting his mother’s polished high heels in his mouth, but we like oiled-up bodies, too, right? I can’t speak to what might give men “glowing” skin, but for women it’s estrogen, which they have increased amounts of both during pregnancy and ovulation. In addition to keeping a woman’s skin moisturized, it also prevents skin aging. So a shiny nekkid lady butt means she’s fertile and has access to fresh water, and by extension, so will your offspring.

Anyway, Balki and Larry talk about this bottle of blue soap that L. Bob has storehouses full of after Europe banned pentachlorophenol in household products earlier that year.

Larry sees in the soap money, fame, all the disgusting little cheese dogs you can buy, and Balki misunderstands his figure of speech, since those only exist in English.

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Then Balki says he sees Larry through the not-even-really-translucent bottle and god damn it, is this show just completely unable to either 1) make props to fit the script, 2) throw out lines when the props don’t work for them, or 3) keep Bronson from ad-libbing?

We know that they’re perfectly willing to throw out lines; hell, at this point, you could cobble together a whole episode’s worth of lines from Harriette, Lydia, Jennifer, Mary Anne and RT (Redacted Transcript) Wainwright. And last week we got pull-out stereos and a blow-up doll, so take the wildest guess you can manage.

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Anyway, Larry has wheelsappletoned in some 1980s-era wet/dry vacuum that he refers to as the “Omnisweep”, which is actually a good thing for a quasi-religious organization to call its product. If you’re expecting some sort of Frank Zappa “First Church of Appliantology” joke, I certainly don’t want to disappoint: once he’s made his money back, Larry’s plan is to whack ‘em and vac ‘em.

Hey, check it out, Balki can’t understand when Larry uses “see” in a figurative sense, but he knows instantly what Larry means by “gravy train”. By the time they got to the “gravy train” line, the writers consulted their Balki checklist and saw that “misunderstand” was already marked off for this scene.

All right, so, we’ve got our plot: the Cousins have decided to be door-to-door salesmen for L. Ron Hoover. In the next scene–

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–yeah, I completely agree, no possible humor to be had from anything approaching a montage of the Cousins trying to sell items to normal people. We didn’t do it in “Gobble This”, so why start now?

Larry is actively mining the show’s past for this scene: he wants to plan out their front porch pitch, and he claims to have more knowledge than Balki when it comes to sales tactics. Those things are in line with Larry’s character, but excuse the fuck out of me: don’t they both know that each of them sucks at salesmanship, having worked together in that capacity for two years? Well, nevermind, we don’t get to hear how either of them think selling works, here’s a book.

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That “FIRST EDITION” banner on the cover is the funniest thing in this episode. I get that they needed to have a prop that would read well for the cameras, and there’s some chance they hadn’t settled on what specific L. Ron Hubbard name spoof to use when they made the prop, so I get why the self-important celebrity author’s name and photograph aren’t on the cover. But this sight gag manages to have even more layers than the “Bridge Over Troubled Water” joke last week. It functions not only as a religious reference (Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock”), but the prominent “first edition” text is a tidy gag of the entrepreneur’s promise that getting in on the ground floor will provide the follower with relics whose value will only increase with time.

(The show’s first question answered anew, Larry at the door: do you see it?)

The Cousins fight over the book.

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It goes on for awhile. But! It’s a way for Larry to feel like he’s in power, and the religious parallels are both very clear and very subtle for Perfect Strangers. L. Bob gave Larry instructions that only he (he Larry) could interpret the text for the common man.

Have you ever been roped into doing some skit for some office “event”, like a holiday party or an annual retreat? And the person writing the skit has this very narrow sensibility that, if a word appears in the text someone’s narrating, or in the song that you’re all pantomiming to (god help you if they think they can write parody lyrics), someone has to be either evoking or holding the item, regardless of whether that has fuckall to do with anything else; this deep fearknowledge that whatever they’ve written is dead on arrival and they need to add more? Please tell me I’ve not suffered in this hell alone.

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When Larry says there are two rules and one of them is “get the money, get the money, get the money”, Balki counts this as four rules total. This is worse than normalized media violence.

So, Larry was given a book to tell him how to sell, and was told that in it is knowledge that he can distill and give to his unquestioning minions. This leads to There’s a completely separate joke where Larry hands Balki a 4”x6” card that L. Bob wrote containing all he (he Balki) needs to know.

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Now they’re just going back and forth to clarify, verbally, that the card is for Balki and that Balki should read the card and that L. Bob gave Larry the card and that Larry got the card from L. Bob and I don’t know why L. Bob needs more than one person to sit around all weekend and not sell soap, but maybe more importantly: why weren’t they going over this shit Friday night?

Larry sends Balki outside with the card to pretend to be a salesman. Forget bashing his skull in with a baseball bat, Larry, just pretend to never, ever again know who Balki is!

Larry coaches Balki through the door on what to say.

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(Larry says “knock knock” from the wrong side; do you see it?)

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After obliterating Larry’s nose (thank you, show), the Cousins finally get the order of operations right. Balki rings the doorbell, comes in and plays with Larry’s clothing, just like he would if this had been an actual housewife.

The joke is that Balki is holding the card upside-down while trying to read it out loud. The execution Bronson chooses for this is to make his voice sound like a reversed audio clip, which is two steps removed from what the joke is. I know you’re probably getting tired of me saying how bad Balki’s jokes are, but part of feels like I ought to prove to you, at least once, that 99% of them are terrible.

Credit where credit’s due: Larry has trouble conveying to Balki the idea that he shouldn’t take “no” for an answer from customers. That alone would have let it be placed alongside whatever episode years ago where Larry explained to Balki what American women want. (I cannot for the life of me remember what episode that is from and it feels so good to know that maybe I’ll forget all of them someday.) But Larry is blurring the lines of who he is (do you see it?), switching from a potential mark** to Cousin Larry, so Balki does not understand which one he should take “no” from. They really shouldn’t be spending so much time sitting side-by-side on the couch (call this one “Cheek to Cheek”), but the yes/no bit works. Larry finally clarifies:

Larry: To a salesman, “no” means “yes”.

Balki: Oh, so like with women.

Larry: Right. (double-take)

Larry says that a coward sells at a thousand houses, but a hero at only one: his (oh god) plan is to sell his entire stock to Lenora DuMont, owner of the DuMont hotel chain. Remember kids, this was 1991, when owners of nation-wide companies paid in cash for all cleaning supplies and drove them personally to every location.

By this point in his career, Larry Appleton must know all the big names in Chicago: mob bosses; media moguls for newspapers, television, radio; sports figures; aldermen; innumerable small business owners who have banned him and Balki for life; major players in the photography world. If he can pull together detailed specs on car makes and models and compare them against current stock at used car dealerships across the entire Chicago area, he certainly has access to information breaking down Chicago neighborhoods and subdivisions by median household income.

So who does Larry pick? A woman he just interviewed for the newspaper the previous month. Uncle Shaggy, in season 5’s “Throwing Up the News”, was gentle and had enough faith in his fellow man that he sought Larry out to confront him about lying to get an exclusive photo. But Larry’s blurring even more lines here, between his professional and home lives. If you were to theorize any depth here, you could say that Larry is so certain he’ll strike it rich that he need not worry about his newspaper job. Larry at least was trying to place the blame on Balki for the photograph, but I’m really having trouble understanding why the show would so casually have Larry shrug off any sort of journalistic ethics.

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Later, at DuMontmont, Larry enters a fancy sitting room decked out in all the same beiges and greens Perfect Strangers just can’t get enough of.

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Balki rides the Omnisweep in like a hobby horse (hobby hobby horse!) and Larry tells him no, not now.

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Guys–

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No, you–

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Lenora DuMont, founder, president, CFO, CMO, CIO, comptroller, accounting manager, sales manager, food and beverage director, general manager (and client) of the DuMont hotel chain, comes in and asks who the fuck Larry is. I guess they just wandered deep into this woman’s house without a butler announcing them. Everything I thought I knew about rich people has been shattered!

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Larry reminds Lenora that he had interviewed her before, and that he even met her children (Trust Fund and Capital Gain) when they all had lunch.  She doesn’t recognize him until Balki pipes up to remind her how Cousin Larry spilled gazpacho right onto her crotch.

The show held off on mentioning Ms. DuMont’s art collection until now, and I’ll admit Balki’s line that they’re there to “get the Monet” made me laugh.

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Then Balki starts hugging and kissing the woman until Larry pulls him off of her. And you probably thought I was being unfair with that fake dialogue earlier.

Last week, I enjoyed the show taking time to let the characters idly stand around and swap punchlines. It felt very true to the times when I’ve been woken up in the middle of the night and am just sort of waiting for someone to tell me they don’t need me awake anymore. Jokes can stray pretty far away from the situation because things get very stream-of-consciousness when you’re trying not to be too awake or too asleep.

But, here’s it’s hard to imagine what story the writers are trying to tell us.  By all appearances, we’re about to get one of those standard salesman scenes where someone deliberately dumps dirt on the floor so they can demonstrate their cleaning product; and the way that setup would play out is for the attempts at cleaning to cause bigger messes. But within that, the show has placed a situation where Lenora DuMont assumes Larry is there to interview her again and wants to show him her newest art piece. But within that, every line she or Larry says leads to a Balki misunderstanding, which then is parlayed into a further Balki punchline. For instance, Lenora’s mention of her newly-acquired portrait becomes, for Balki, a question of whether Ricky Ricardo and Fred Mertz were actually friends. When you’re getting that off-course two or three times in a scene, it starts feeling like the writers don’t know what they’re trying to do.¹

(*Sigh* It’s damage enough to my psyche that I give you weekly analysis of how this show fails on its details; why do I give myself more work by trying to rewrite jokes? When Lenora tells them that Reynaldo Ricardo has painted the royal family, Balki’s punchline should be “what happens when they bathe?”)

Let’s talk about Laverne and Shirley for a minute. I’ve been holding off on bringing this up because I kept hoping I’d find an interview where it’s mentioned; but I think this was probably on a little interstitial behind-the-scenes featurette on TV Land, so I’ll likely never find it again. In this little featurette, one of the show’s writers was talking about how they would deliberately take a standard sitcom trope and tweak aspects of it to see what new jokes they could find. The episode offered as an example was “Guinea Pigs”, where Laverne and Shirley go to a party. The standard setup, said this writer, would be for one to want to go, and one to not want to go; and they took a left-field approach and made Laverne sleepy and Shirley hungry.

All this to say that I get taking your comedy characters, putting them in a stock situation, and going somewhere completely unexpected. What I don’t understand is why they would shoehorn in the scene with Balki practicing how to talk to customers. That should have led to a scene where Balki was at someone’s door, and then the writers could have taken it off in some interesting direction. But Larry already knew he wasn’t going to put Balki in a situation where he could practice what he’d “learned”. There are always bigger problems–and we’ll get to one in a few minutes here–but in the meantime let’s keep moving.

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Lenora unveils the portrait and claims it will soon hang in the Chicago Art Institute. (ABC’s legal department knew that they’d get sued for libel by the Art Institute of Chicago for suggesting they’d ever house anything from this show.)

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Balki, who has never painted anything in his life, no, NOT EVEN ONCE, NEVER

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EVER

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thinks that this is a paint-by-numbers piece. I’m surprised they don’t just have him try to tongue-kiss the painting. Then the Cousins start fighting.

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Larry finally steers the plot back on course, but we’re 15 minutes in here, can we just skip to the Cousins projectile shitting onto the painting? Larry shakes a bottle and touts the 200+ varieties of Clean for Life products.

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Lenora tells them she doesn’t have time for this shit, she’s got to go hunt immigrants for sport at 3, please leave. Balki starts trying to sidefuck her.

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Larry insists on proclaiming the Clean for Life gospel, knocking a tray of desserts onto the carpet.  Lenora says she’ll have her maid tidy up… and then leaves the room. She doesn’t have a butler throw them out. She doesn’t make sure they’re gone. She just leaves the room.

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Oh god, they’re going to end up dumping Clean for Life down the maid’s throat, aren’t they?

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For some goddam reason, the bottles’ caps are loose inside the briefcase, and the soapshaking Larry gets his sudsy discharge on part of the painting’s periwinkle cloth covering.

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I know I’m belaboring this, I know that if I keep mentioning it, I’ll likely continue mentioning it, but: Balki has no reason to be here. The first time Larry shakes a bottle, Balki tightens the cap before handing it to him. And before Larry shakes the second one, Balki tries to stop him, and they do the thing where they talk over each other. Credit where it’s due, they set up the mini-situation where Larry not listening to Balki got him in trouble; but it’s (a reversal) the tail wagging the dog. Balki has to be there, so Balki has to try to stop Larry because Balki has to be the smart one when Larry is dumb, so they must seed a way for him to correct Larry. Yeah, I’m belaboring this, but let that reflect how clunky and awkward this show is when it refuses to either justify Balki’s presence or acknowledge it makes no sense. Balki’s sole purpose here so far is to add a shade of logic to a bottlecap being loose, and even there it fails, because it still makes no sense.

(Balki is a force for order: do you see it?)

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Rather than just leave right then and there and let the maid get deported, the cousins wait a full five minutes to uncover the painting. Balki notices Ms. DuMont’s mole missing from the painting.

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And nobody bothered to put a mole on the painting in the earlier shot.

And nobody bothered to put a mole on Ms. DuMont either.

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Eagerly this newsman cretin;–author of a script so wheaten

Vainly did he try to neaten–solvent from the host Lenore–

From the rare and radiant CEO whom the writers named Lenore–

Moleless here for evermore.

I guess Reynaldo Waldo Geraldo Faldo Ricardo is off taking a shit since there’s a palette full of freshly pooted paint close to hand.

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While the Cousins are a little too obviously enjoying destroying Lenora’s nose, let’s ask ourselves: what the hell is this episode about?

If the writers were aiming to have each scene be the least likely scenario to follow from the previous, then congratulations are in order, because this is maybe the messiest (ha) episode Perfect Strangers has ever done. Sitcoms make some strange leaps in logic from scene to scene, but this one started with Larry being suckered into joining an explicitly capitalist religion and we’re ending with Larry destroying Lenora: Portrait of a Serial Hotelier. If there’s any sort of connecting thread, it’s that Larry is following a shyster’s lead in tearing down the barriers separating his professional from his financial life. I guess you could say he’s removing a septum, since that’s what he did to the painting; that could be a good joke. Work on that and get back to me, would you?

This is one of those occasions where it’s worthwhile to look at the behind-the-scenes information curated on the fansite. Okay, scroll–no, scroll all the way down. No, the other–the other way. The part where–no, back up. “Script variations”. Okay.

In an earlier draft of this script, Balki is the one who signed up to be a Clean for Life salesman, and Larry determined from his contract that he’d taken in. Cousin Larry, trying to bail Balki out, goes to see L. Bob Frederick and then gets taken in with the promise of being higher up the ladder than Balki. This makes a hell of a lot more sense. I know this is a stupid sitcom and all, but isn’t it a little too convenient that, just as Balki needs extra money, Larry coincidentally found a way?

Even as it is now, those first two scenes set up an interesting direction for the episode. What if the wires got crossed on the heavenly switchboard and some nutso entrepreneur misunderstood a message about purifying the soul, making ones stains white as snow? I’m thinking too big for Perfect Strangers, but the idea–salesmen using coded religious language in their marketing–is a good one. But pursuing that demands basically handing over punchlines to someone who’s not Bronson, so forget that.

That early script was dated one day before filming, so I’m guessing that during a run-through, it ran way too long. Hell, as it is, the exposition is still half of the episode. By indulging in too many of its own tropes, Perfect Strangers has slowed to a crawl and (ahem) painted itself into a corner for what it could accomplish in 22 minutes. The writers either didn’t realize the potential they’d created with the Clean for Life elements, or those parts of the script were simply pitted against the slapstick they’d already come up with and refused to replace with anything else.

Two stories, one an incomplete contemporary critique, the other a misfired slapstick trope, fighting for domination, do you see it? Two selves, each losing their identity to the other, do you see it? Atomizing, dissolving–

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–her head it simply swurls–

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–losing all identity, empty vessels waiting to be filled with whatever it takes to give them the appearance of life, be it stuffing or detoxifying fluids, offered the semblance of physical touch, the guise of family, the sleazy businessman offering community but then occupying their space.

The Cousins have figuratively and literally switched places this week, overwriting each other. It takes seven years for the human body to replace its cells; the human body discards many toxins and cells it doesn’t need through breathing; and the Cousins have been sharing the same air for about that amount of time. Balki must have traveled to America on the Ship of Theseus.

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Moving towards center, now equidistant from their bookend blondes, the Cousins’ approach to women has redheadshifted: an inflatable image of a redhead, brought out only when it benefits Larry, and here, when failing to replace a powerful woman’s fluids with their own, overwriting her attempts to propagate her own image.***

anyway, haha, these gay cousins really “rubbed off” on each other lol do you see deez two nuts doing slapstick

Lenora comes back in, sees she has no mouth, but she must scream.

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I’m sure there were another 10 pages of script before they even got to use the Omnisweep, but it’s time for the final scene.

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The Cousins are co-shining their shoes, which is a nice moment that deserves to be in a much better episode. They’re dressed up because they’re going to be valets for the next six months at Ms. DuMont’s parties, where all the hotel chain owners get together and engage in illegal price fixing for things like bulk orders of cleaning products. I guess you could say it’ll be awhile before the Cousins are…

…wait for it…

solvent again!

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There’s probably some last bit of symbolism I could shake out of them using the addition of layers of polish to their shoes to lend them a clean & new appearance, or how, redshifting, identical, Larry and Balki must now put on their identifying layers, not so much punishment as corrective, fixing them in place and (over)righting the sins of the episode, but I’m really not up to it at this point. You do it.

They sent all the Clean for Life products to Mama. Looks like Worldwide Amalgamated finally got that toxic waste out there after all!

Join me next week for “Two Angry Men”!

_____________________________________________

Catchphrase count: Balki (0); Larry (0)

Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0)

Unused Larryoke countdown #19: “Amway to Heaven” – Led Zeppelin

*the December 1991 issue of Biz Whiz also features a rare two-page advertisement from a short-lived campaign for BladGlad urinal cakes with Carl Lewis as their spokesperson

**(ahem)

***their own story, cf. “Almost Lydia in Chicago” and “The Men Who Denude Too Much”

1. I mean, who does that kind of thing?ᵃ

     a. Assholes, that’s who.

dimitristrip

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4 thoughts on “Season 7, Episode 12: Door to Door

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