Photo by Valbona Shujaku
Blinded by the Flight
Yes, there were times when I was flying. And then there were times I was dying or so it seemed. The sticks and stones that break one's bones are one thing, they say that names can never hurt you. That may be so, but it sometimes proves to be those very names that push you into the close proximity of the sticks and stones that break the bones. Names, innuendos, threats; they are like elements on the periodic table. They may not be solid matter or radioactive entities. They are, instead, like gases, which, though lacking substance, have both effect and undeniable action. For each of these actions there is an equal reaction. And, quite often, a hyper-equality is the result. Whether that hyper-equality is at an opposite end of the spectrum of actions that initiated it is subject to discussion within the realm of hyper-physics—i.e., a physics that recognizes the precise disciplines and dynamics of worlds seen and unseen, yet in collision.
My world was in collision with worlds that I didn't see, perhaps couldn't see. In the idyllic world of the beach people's camelodeon, I failed to see the manifest destiny of the surfer's domain. The surfer had rights that no others had and, when wronged, he had the right to claim his territory; his wave, dude; board shapes and leashes be damned! If the Neanderthal mariner will push you off "my wave, dude" it followed that he had every bit of right to corner you in a doorway and, with a finger-jab to the chest, insist "Stay away from Jill or you're dead!" and then walk off, all the while looking over one shoulder with a glare that would make a KKK member wince.
Since it was one of those days when I had stayed awake through the night, I guess the encounter just rolled over me the same way an episode of cheap television would. This would be the antagonist's big menacing speech just before commercial break: music hits minor etude under close-up, close-up of reaction while etude swells to tight crescendo, fade to black, sell product. So I just walked on down the Strand shrugging my shoulders and went to the corner café while the commercials played on in someone else's head.
My second day awake and there at the counter, over a cup of football juice, it rudely dawned on me that it wasn't a Quinn-Martin apparition that had just threatened me, it was a local bully. A very real bully whom I had no reason to consider or even take seriously until now. I didn't even know his name. The irony and the anger of it all made me feel incredulous that such a thing had just happened, and it made me feel especially angry that I was involved in it. I slammed my hand down on the counter and said "Goddamit!" to no one, to everyone, to anyone.
Jim, the cook, was standing by the waitress station. He heard me and remarked, "Don’t tell me the coffee's that bad."
I didn't say a word. He then walked over to me and asked, "What's wrong?"
"That big surfer guy just threatened me!" I answered.
"Huh?" Jim looked confused. "What big surfer guy? Where?"
"Y'know that big blond guy? Eats here all the time?"
"Bobby? You mean big Bob?"
"I don't know his name."
"Sits down there near the door most of the time?"
"Yeah, I think that's the one."
"What did he do now?"
"The asshole threatened me! Said he was gonna kill me if I didn't stay away from Jill."
Jim raised an eyebrow and looked out the window.
"I was just minding my own business when he comes up and tells me that clear outta the blue!"
"When?" Jim looked back at me.
"Just now! Just as I'm walking down the Strand to come here!"
"Man, that guy's a wimp!" he picked up a greasy spatula and wiped it on his apron. "I wouldn't worry about him. He ain't none too bright."
"Yeah, maybe so, but he is bigger than me."
"But I bet you can run faster."
I laughed at the thought of it.
"He's harmless," said Jim. "Kathy could tell you. He thinks he's a way better surfer than he is. Brags all the time about nothing."
"Hmm," I mumbled, deciding to let it go at that. He was probably right. But when a man's threats concerned jealousy over a woman he considered to be his territory anything was possible. And besides, it was just this type of scumbag that could prove to be very dangerous if not watched with some semblance of caution. Jill was a beautiful young beach nymph who was as friendly as she was desirable. Any man with half a libido would want to stand close to her, and look at her, and talk to her just for the sheer pleasure of knowing that he had experienced such innocent beauty. But innocent beauty can give a man thoughts that he shouldn't have, especially thoughts that he takes out on other men—men he comes to hate simply because he is not like them.
There were many times I had talked to Jill. She worked at the Mexican restaurant next door to the café so it was easy for us to cross friendly paths on an almost daily basis. I had seen Bobby talk to Jill many times as well. In fact, it was possible that I had once said "hello! how goes it?" to her at exactly the moment that Bobby had been talking to her. This may have happened very recently like maybe two days ago? Could it be that I ruined something for the big guy? But Jill's a big girl, right? She can make her own decisions on whatever and whoever, right?
"Me and Jason were thinking about going to the skatepark tonight," Jim said, interrupting my football-juiced thoughts. "We could give you gas money and shit. Wanna go?"
I thought about it a second and said, "Yeah, why not?" The idea of getting some sleep beforehand was appealing but not important. Nor was it likely. And after the day's events I wasn't feeling very tired, either. "What time you wanna go?"
No, I wasn't tired at all, right? I had just upgraded my skates from the standard Sure-Grip setup to wider Oak Street trucks and 65mm Kryptonics wheels and that was a perfect excuse to tackle some untried vertical surfaces. This was a new park so I was ready to ride and try to shake away the feeling that someone looked at me as a threat and wasn't afraid to make me feel bad about it. And I wasn't afraid to exorcise those feelings through sweat and a different type of aggression than that which had earlier been forced upon me. Ha! Big surfer dude thinks I'm a threat to his manhood and I'm just gonna cower? Uh uh. What's the point? And what's the point in having something to prove because of a growing rage in the very absurdity of it all? Concrete waves vs. ocean waves, and it would be "my wave tonight, dude!" so get outta my way! Eight wheels gotta be better than four and I'd keep falling down until I got it right, dude! I don't care if I'd be hurting myself! I'll save you the damn trouble of taking on someone half your size!
Bricks are heavy. Concrete is hard. A man's stubbornness is more durable than his skin. The Great White Canopener carried us inland and into a night cool enough to inspire a physical confidence that belied good sense.
So at the Runway I flew and continued flying into the proverbial jaws of Chance while laughing maniacally, getting vertical, landing horizontally and emerging with injuries which were all too real. I started with the snake run and I wouldn't stop until I was able to get all the way down the length of its serpentine contours and into the bowl at the end. One or two young skateboarders suggested that it might be a good idea if I were to stop for awhile. No, I couldn't do that. When I had finally conquered this windmill I went looking for others and there was no lacking for such.
There was a second, more difficult snake run, the big bowl, the freestyle moguls, and the aptly named Vermont Drop. The first snake run had given me my legs, as it were, and a sense of the philosophical shape of the rest of the park. I did better from then on but still, I flew; I fell. A lot. My knees, elbows, shoulders, arms and legs had become the aching testimonies of having been awake for these two days. In a seizure of the angry aggression that drove me, I tried to conquer this vast concrete sculpture and, for the most part, I did.
The Vermont Drop was a fast ramp that dropped into a long, equally fast, banked channel that emulated a wide drainage ditch. I rode it four times, each run faster than the last, with no mishaps. I was victorious! My drop, dude! I came, I rolled, I conquered, dude! But the concrete had yet to remind me in no uncertain terms of its magnificent hardness and the sharp feeling of pain that accompanies the mistakes of the unwary radical rider.
It was getting toward the end of the night and, safety gear notwithstanding, I had one more trick up my sleeve. I attempted the supreme sacrifice of splitting my skull wide open. Plowing out of the V-Drop, I charged over to the moguls. Powering down a short section of the freestyle wall, I've a vague inclination that those new wheels (on those too tightly adjusted wider trucks) ran interference with each other dispatching me forward into a hard percussion symphony, my head a solid kick drum beat against the ground.
I think I lost my vision for a few brief seconds, or for what could have been a few minutes. It was a hard cloud that I was floating on. I heard the toms pan from right to left and back again through the echo return. A voice from above asked something like, "Are you all right down there?" Willing myself into coherency I may have answered, "I think I'm gonna lay here for awhile." The voice again asked, "Do you want us to call the paramedics?" Immediately I answered, "No, I think I'm OK."
The initial shock wave began to subside like the decay of a close miked cymbal crash. Staring straight up, my sight began compressing back to normal. In the jangling double vision I saw Eileen, the magical lady who normally was seen doing impossible handstands on her skateboard, standing above me. She was warmly smiling down at me, asking about my condition. My vision returned to normal and she extended her hand. As I grabbed it, I weakly implored, "I think I need someone to take care of me. How's your bedside manner?" She laughed quietly, put her arm around my waist and, hefting me up, said, "Here. Take it slow." I was limping. The lady deposited me out of the freestyle area then tossed her board down in front of her and rode away. As I watched her go, my mind was still out of control. It kept saying "One more ride! One more ride!" But I was in severe pain and my body loudly screamed "Shut the fuck up!" Luckily the park was closing. So I rolled into the parking lot and found Jim, Jason, and another skater who I didn't know waiting for me at the Canopener. Jim said, "Man, you were really getting radical in there tonight!"
Jason concurred, "Yeah, really. We thought we were gonna have to carry you outta there. Whew!"
We got into the car and, the park's sound system still blasting music, drove off to the sound of Manfred Mann's "Blinded By The Light." At the lot's exit I stopped and, feeling suddenly very weak, I put my head on the steering wheel. I heard Jim ask, "Hey, do you want me to drive? I will if you can't." Falling back into the seat, my hands tightly on the wheel, I took a deep breath and cleared my head. The song's signature organ riff bounced rapidly through my skull and I heard myself decline the offer. We drove away.
At Jim's house he discovered that he had forgotten to bring his keys along but it didn't matter since his sister Kathy was still awake and she let us in. Jim offered us some good pot, which we accepted. He then offered the shower to anyone who wished to use it. Kathy looked at me with an expression that could have been alarm. She bounced up and, disappearing into the hallway, said, "Hold on. Let me get some things out of your way." She bustled about for a minute and then called, "OK, coast is clear." As I entered the bathroom she was digging through a cabinet and pulled forth a towel. "Here's a clean one. Thank god I did laundry yesterday." I thanked her. She then reached into the medicine cabinet and grabbed a brown bottle which she handed to me. "Here, I think you can use some of this," she said knowingly. It was hydrogen peroxide. She gave me a stern look and said, "I really don't understand why you guys do this to yourselves. Just leave the towel on the floor." She walked out.
I shut the door, sat down on the side of the tub, and slowly began drawing the water and taking off my clothes. For the first time that night I had a chance to lick my wounds and discover the ones I hadn't yet seen. As the steam rose behind me, I eyed myself in the mirror. I was a mess—a mass of scrapes and bruises and a formidable split of epidermis gaping on my shoulder.
The hydrogen peroxide fizzed and bubbled, and in the shower, as the warm water rolled down my battered skin, I almost couldn't suppress the screaming agony of the physical misery that almost did me in. I began thinking I was too literal in my description of myself as a kamikaze skater.
When I emerged I knew the meaning of fatigue. Jason and the other kid had left, Jim had apparently gone to his room and passed out, snoring issued forth from down the hallway. Kathy was sitting alone in the living room sewing a patch onto a pair of faded jeans. The smell of pot still hung in the air. She offered me a cup of tea. I accepted. We chatted for a while. She asked me, "Do you live anywhere?"
I answered, "Uh, yeah. I pretty much live up in the studio."
"The recording studio up on Pier Ave."
"Ah ha! I knew you were involved in that. I didn't know you lived there, though."
"Yeah, pretty much. There's a back room up there."
As I drank the tea she yawned, "I have to hit the sack in a few minutes. You can stay here if you're really tired. The couch is all yours."
I yawned back, "No, I might have to run a session in the morning. I better get out of here."
"Well, you don’t need to leave on my account."
"Thanks. I appreciate the thought."
Finishing my cup, she continued sewing in silence. I pulled on my shoes.
"See you at the restaurant tomorrow?" she inquired.
"Maybe. If I don't have to work too long."
"Have a good night."
"You too." I left.
Back at the studio I dragged myself into bed and felt my head pound dizzily. I hoped that I wouldn't have to work in the morning. It was obvious that I would really be feeling it tomorrow. Lying there aching in the dark, I did remember having a vision earlier, however. As I lay on the ground at Eileen's feet, I did imagine seeing the Goodyear blimp taking off directly above us as if it were spiriting away my soul to the great skatepark in the clouds. It was unnerving but, luckily, I wasn't dead and, thankfully, I didn't have to resort to violence by grabbing someone's shotgun and shooting the goddam blimp down.
Drawing by James Fotopoulos
From the desk of Joe Carducci...
SPOT back on the coast now; December dates:
Tue - 1 -- Spirit Room; Jerome, AZ
Wed- 2-- "Livation", midnight on KXLU; Los Angeles, CA
Thu - 3-- Harold's; San Pedro, CA
Fri - 4-- Pike Restaurant; Long Beach, CA
Sat - 5-- Echo Curio; Los Angeles, CA
Sun - 6-- Liquid Kitty; WLA, CA
Wed - 9-- Hemlock Tavern; San Francisco, CA
Thu - 10-- tba; Santa Cruz, CA
Sun - 13-- Suzy's: Hermosa Beach, CA
Wed -16-- Red Room at The Grill; Tucson, AZ
Thu - 17-- Railroad Blues; Alpine, TX
-other dates tba; check Spot’s page for updates.
[Photo: Spot, Centennial, Wyoming 2006, by Lindsay Olson]
Peter Stampfel’s three-part article in the December-January issue of PerfectSoundForever on Freak Folk origins.
Specific Object augments MoMA's 1969 with 69, opening Dec. 4.
New Glarus in New York
New Glarus Brewing Co. is located in a small Swiss-flavored town in southern Wisconsin. If cornered most discriminating midwestern beer-drinkers would name it the best one going, anywhere. It’s a small company in a small town and when they found they were shipping so much brew to Illinois that Wisconsinites were forced to drink micro-swill their phone-lines began to burn up with complaints. No doubt these featured certain challenges to the owner-brewmaster regarding his sympathies in age-old Illinois/Wisconsin rivalries such as the Bears vs Packers, Board of Trade vs. the Grange and the like. Completely unfair but scoring direct hits up there no doubt. And so New Glarus withdrew from Illinois so as to fully sate the high-brau cheese-head thirst. And they really did withdraw. In fact my brother-in-law and occasional Vulgate photographer Chris Carlsen and I just today ran down a rumor that New Glarus had reappeared at the Naperville Binny’s. No it has not, and the sales guy just laughed when we mentioned the rumor. So the idea that some NYC upper east-side twenty-dollar beer joint got busted with fifty cases of New Glarus’ Spotted Cow Ale on Wisconsin Game Day is pretty funny. The reporters forgot to ask the handful of patrons who managed to quaff one before the State Liquor Authority slapped the cuffs on whether it was worth it. Must’ve cost the barman about five thousand dollars a sip. It’s always confused me how much of the micro-brew energy goes into the making and drinking of ales with flavorings that hammer the taste-buds like it’s a way to get your money’s worth. That ain’t beer! And New Glarus makes their share of ales, which brew quicker and more cheaply, but they never forget beer: Pilsners and Lagers. Here’s a review of their Edel-Pils, of which I have just been delivered a six-pack via the cheese-head underground railroad. Always keep in mind the ale-bias of these ratings, that said here’s the ratebeer page on New Glarus, The Drunken Polack’s page, and some twin city beard’s beer blog which btw mentions that his Wisconsin beer run for New Glarus just missed that world-famous bear attack on the cooler up dere.
[Photo by Bearded Brewer]
Selling Beer in the Dar al-Islam
Malaysia’s Muslim authorities allow Christians, Hindus, and Buddhists to drink alcohol. They must figure that if they didn’t the faithful couldn’t be sure the infidels wouldn’t be crowding into heaven with them. But that doesn’t mean its easy to market the stuff.
Not in our name!
Musicians, writers and painters unite to bite the Hamburger hands that feed them, and I’m guessing not one of them opposes social engineering per se, they’re just affronted when they find out they aren’t the final phase of social evolution. They’d like to stop society’s motion at the point at which they personally have location, location, location.
Prosperity without growth is subtitled “Economics for a Finite Plan”. The Financial Times is not exactly London’s Wall Street Journal. As a voice of capital it’s a voice that’s long ago made its peace with the sensible small tyrannies that replaced the overtly destructive large ones in Europe. Given the context there, postwars, it's easy to see the casual embrace of being a “post-growth economy” by FT’s energy editor Ed Crooks. Still it is alarming, and then moreso that our educated class here can think of nothing finer than emulation of that embrace.
Arthur Cecil Pigou was a contemporary of Keynes at Cambridge but the WSJ has him just now emerging from being “the forgotten man of economics.” Though Pigou was ridiculed by Keynes as reactionary when he suggested economies recover on their own, he was for state intervention in the matter of “externalities” such as pollution, health insurance and other current concerns. Unfortunately both underestimated the dangers of throwing more responsibilities and prerogatives onto political bodies what with their myopic calculus of interests, self-interest above all.
This short essay by Dennis Sewell in the Spectator considers something he all but calls the original sin of the welfare state; the class war elements at work are easier to see a hundred years back from today’s etiquette disguise.
Sam Leith writes that society for the middle class, speaking in terms of contemporary cinema, is zombies below and vampires above.
France and the culture wars
Christopher Caldwell looks into the expectations placed on black Francophone writers when they are yoked with the Prix Goncourt.
France’s Indentity Crisis: Culture? Civilization? Debating Society?
Swiss referendum bans further minaret construction
An obvious no-brainer violates the etiquette of EU m.o. and so the people must be spanked by bureaucrats. As polite opinion leaves the dirty work to the impolite, the high-minded once again open the door to everything they claim to oppose. Probably nothing will march through that door this time though because the example of the Nazis, if not the Commies, is still a powerful brake.
Ian Buruma speaks Dutch so he has an even more hopeless defensive energy fueling his excuse-making and counseling of despair. He knows of one exceptional muslim pol in Holland who attends gay parades so all threatening syndromes dissolve in the air. It’s as if Buruma writes to set fire to a large straw-man that represents other writers, the Dutchman-in-the-street, and inevitably America, leaving any putative reality to fend for itself. I imagine he feels better though.
Studs Terkel did some good documentation of folk art and voices but like Lomax and others he could never be fully trusted because his entire life was dedicated to using those voices to bring down a governing system that allowed those voices to have value, to change it to a system that crushed voices wherever it could. It was a common enough mistake made by a certain kind of pretentious depressive and it kept them alive and other-directed shall we say.
This letter to the NYT by Gloria Steinem is an excellent example of how all is vanity for do-gooders. The NYT has it she is “defending Phil Donohue” on the occasion of its Farewell-to-Oprah story, but what Steinem is saying is that “More than once I heard him say that if he did his job right, the next important TV host would be a black woman.” (OS: The raven caws spookily here.) The metastasizing ego here on display explains how it was that blacks had to take over their own civil rights organizations in the sixties and seventies from such people.
And on the Sarah Palin beatdown-goes-on-forever, new would-be intellectuals are revealed as defensive middle-brows by the x-rays of Sarah’s chimera. She was defended twice long ago within reason by two of our highest-brows, Camille Paglia and Stanley Fish. Are these contenders from the New Republic, the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, the New York Times, and the New Bilgepump really just trying to move up the food chain, thinking that the Paglia and Fish pieces were faux pas they might capitalize on? I remember when there was a similar feeding frenzy over Dan Quayle, “Saturday Night Live” did a cocktail party sketch where one after another Manhattanite dropped pretentious unfunny insults about Dan Quayle. Those years were bad ones for SNL so it wasn’t any less funny a skit than usual, but the audience at first laughed then slowly got the point of the determinedly unfunny skit. Took a lot of redundant dumbness to inspire that, and then another boatload to communicate an objection to it. Now there appears to be no lower limit.
A Growing Disaster by some enviro-apparat appears to be another weak attempt to head off the runaway ethanol tanker train. Too late. Too naïve. Russell Harding writes, “In a free market, corn prices might be expected to eventually fall as the market adjusts to increased demand. But because the government heavily promotes ethanol use through subsidies and regulation, the market is continually strained. The problem is magnified because corn is a water- and fertilizer-intensive crop that requires considerable investment. Worse, since fertilizer is often an oil-based product, the cost of growing corn tends to rise at the very moment ethanol prices, which rise with oil prices, might bring a good return.”
--Get real man, that’s the very intractable genius of this moderates’ right-left, urban-rural, eco-despoilage!
The Army Corps of Engineers is one year older than the country. They're using electricity and poison to try to keep the Asian carp from swimming up the canal and into Lake Michigan. They better start calling this boondoggle stimulus spending cause they will lose the war.
Excerpt in WSJ from Terry Teachout’s new book, Pops - A Life of Louis Armstrong.
I thought some of our readers may have missed the epic "History of L.A. Punk" radio shows I did with John Allen on WFMU a year ago (Nov. 19 & Dec. 17, 2008). The first half begins with the Imperial Dogs cut about fifteen minutes into the program, then continues through the entire second program. I tried to run it one track per band in a roughly consecutive timeline from 1975 to 1985. I don't believe there is as good and as long a program to be done regarding any other city's music in the punk era. Listen and prove me wrong.
I intended to continue the second show thru these bands and tunes but the assemblage was hairy enough for John since the show didn’t air live, so this last section didn’t get onto the program:
TRAGICOMEDY - Unemployed Extras
PROJECT 197 - I Smell a Rat
SLIVERS - Questions
THE BUTCHERS - Hardship
RASZEBRAE - Youth Song
THE FACTORY - World Gone Mad
THE D.I.s - Richard Hung Himself
THE ROMANS - Motu Tapu
TO DAMASCUS - Hearts to Cry
LEFT INSANE - Waltz
ACROSS THE RIVER - White Man’s Dream
RAYMOND PETTIBON - Sagittariass’uh
I used to see Scott Vehill of Chicago’s Prop Theater and Raoul Vehill the filmmaking Wicker Park fixture of the nineties more often than I do lately. But on first moving to Laramie in 1995 and reading the Denver papers I used to let Scott know whenever his distant cousins in Jefferson County were acting up and making police blotter appearances. Their old Spanish land-grantee shirt-tail relations are spread all over front range Colorado. Raoul grew up in Hawaii and wrote that up in his exotic west-of-west coast punk memoir Hawaii Punk. He returned to Denver to make a documentary about his career criminal uncle, John “Bubbles” Gallegos, but instead got sucked into The Life. Sentencing delayed the filming apparently but Raoul managed to get this great little document into print. It’s called Vato Maldito and it is entirely in the voice of his uncle; here’s a taste of the book and that voice:
“I called my Parole Officer in Oakland and told him that I had a job and would like to transfer my parole to Denver. But his supervisor told him to order me back to California before my 30 day pass expired.
That very day, a friend of mine since childhood came to our house, drunk as a skunk, and admitted to me that he and Peggy had had a love affair while I had been in Santa Rita and Peggy had been in Denver. He wanted my forgiveness and claimed to be so in love with Peggy that he could not relinquish her. He even wanted me to beat him up. I was hurt, and very angry, but I could not bring myself to beat up on a drunk. But I thanked him for telling me the truth.
I caught a flight to Oakland that night. The next day I went to see my Parole Officer and his Super to receive permission to transfer my parole to Colorado, but really, I didn’t want to return to Denver after learning of my wife’s affair.
I genuinely wanted to remain in California and I was still in deep hurt. I figured that her and Orlando would get together and that would be the end of it. But she was going to have my child, and I was looking forward to that. I couldn’t just walk away….
In December, with only a week remaining till the baby’s arrival, a friend of mine paid me a visit at the home of my parents. Leonard was his name. I had done time with him in ‘61 and ‘62 in Buena Vista.
“John,” he said, “I have a trial coming up next week for robbery. I still owe my lawyer $5000 dollars. I don’t know who else I can turn to, John. Will you go on a job with me to help me out?”
“I don’t know Leonard,” I said. “I have a good job now. My wife is in the hospital ready to have our baby. I just can’t drop everything and risk my freedom to help you out. Can’t you find someone else?”
“You’re the only one I know who can do it John. I just don’t trust anyone else,” he said. “Please help me brother.”
I thought about if for a few moments. I needed a house of our own for my wife and soon to be daughter, and baby furniture for the baby’s room. What I earned at work just couldn’t cover it all.
“Okay,” I decided. “You’re on. Get the weapons we’ll need, some coveralls, gloves and masks if you can.” (reprinted by permission)
Pretty good farewell to old media by David Carr, but though his piece leaves Manhattan to observe the Washington Post throw in the towel, his frame of future reference still calls for legions of media geeks following him to Manhattan, but to do what? Work from a computer in a crowded apartment with a view of a brick wall? Carr writes that “Various media labs are now testing algorithms that assemble facts into narratives that deliver information, no writers required.” He has flinched as so many of us older types do when forced to face the de-centered implications of everything truly new. But cheer up, it’s a big country with lots of good views and speedy connections.
Photo by Chris Collins
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• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
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