Monthly Archives: March 2009

the Bearcats ate the Retrievers

3/16/09

Let’s do this again, shall we? I invite each and or every one of you to our NCAA bracket challenge, the conflagration formerly known as The Four Guys Not Named Biff Ice Cream Social. Back in the day, Jon, Chip, Bud and Myself used to deliver our picks via carrier pigeon in rolled parchment, sealed with charmed wax that only the recipient could undo. Now we have the INTERNETTZ.

The winner, as per always, gets a guest blog to talk about whatever, whomever or whyever they want. Always craved a national audience about your disturbingly picayune pet peeve? Want to humiliate an old enemy? Got a theory you want haunting you forever? This is the way to do it, baby.

Oh yes, you lurkers, you’re invited too. I know you’re out there, I can sense the comments you would have made, if only the time were right. Perhaps it’s a dose of l’esprit de l’escalier, oui oui? Here’s your chance to turn that “wit of the staircase” into a full-fledged, disastrously-public, self-shaming of the staircase!

Simply leave a comment below that is oddly off-topic. In the “email” field, leave a real address (nobody else can see it), and I’ll send you the invite. C’mon, SUNY Binghamton!

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syrup for breakfast, ketchup for dinner

3/15/09

Out of hundreds of submissions, my wife and five others were chosen to attend a writer’s conference in… yep, Positano, Italy. I think it’s the greatest thing ever, and though we talked about my coming with her (and perhaps Lucy too), ultimately it seemed right for Tessa to shine by herself for a while.

She left on Friday, and she’ll be gone for ten days, which is longer than either of us have ever been away from the Lulubeans. Previous to this trip, the longest Tessa had been apart from Lucy was two nights. They’re workshopping her story today, which means she’ll have the rest of the week to go back into critique mode, outline a screenplay, and walk through the dramatic vistas.

As for me, I’m swingin’ bachelor-style with Lucy for the next week. We’ve already ordered shag rugs for the walls, a pony keg of Sun Country Wine Cooler and a big bowl for our Key Party. We’re also planning a masquerade ball; I’ll be getting a perm, donning a silk collar, and perfecting my Franklin Pierce, our 14th President. Lucy will be a fairy.

As such, we will be experimenting a little on these pages. Any questions you’d like to ask us? Lucy has LOTS of answers. Recipe ideas? Best episodes of the Backyardigans? Favorite state capital?

your GOOG is AMZN

3/12/09

Go ahead and file this entry under “Stuff Everyone Already Has an Opinion About”, but if you haven’t seen Jon Stewart’s interview… “shellacking”, more like… of Jim Cramer, the unedited version is now online. A few things stand out from the get-go: Stewart is Generation X’s Upton Sinclair, which is odd, since Gen X certainly didn’t intend to create any Upton Sinclairs.

JS is probably one of two leaders/spokesmen/cultural phenoms born in the 1960s who made it to their 40s without losing their lefty belief in a just America (the other being Barack Obama). He still lives in a world where the bad guy ought to be punished – not simply ignored, pooh-poohed, cynically celebrated, or forced to eat his own poop on South Park. Unlike Matt Stone and Trey Parker, Stewart is no nihilist, which makes “The Daily Show” such an effective lectern. Sure, he’s not held to any standards; his show, after all, is supposed to be comedy, but you know the old idea about Shakespeare and his Fools.

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Speaking of which, Jim Cramer is a tragedy currently in Act IV. Anyone else would have gone several different directions with this feud: he could have ignored JS and kept on truckin’; he could have come on “The Daily Show” and brazened it out with a “how the fuck is YOUR broker doing, Stewart?” attitude; or he might have even pulled out the Cynic’s Playbook and said “Jon, I’m an entertainer. I never promised you a rose garden.”

Instead, Cramer showed himself capable of an inordinate amount of shame, and seemed genuinely surprised that he was so easily undone. You almost felt like he was glad it happened, as though a certain number of sins were expunged at confessional. Instead of defending a 30-year track record of doing pretty well in the market, he let JS warm up the Delta Sigma pledge paddle.

Jim Cramer is a guy who wants – or more likely, needs – to be liked. He doesn’t have the sang froid of his CNBC mate Rick Santelli, nor the wrath of Limbaugh, nor the savagery of Coulter. Watching him tonight, I told Tessa that I wouldn’t be surprised if he was ACOA, for those of you who know what that entails. At one point, he even tells Jon Stewart that he’d change the entire nature of his cable show “Mad Money”, even though it would mean defrocking the set of all its cowbells, gongs, plastic farm animals and, presumably, its ratings.

Jon Stewart is amazing, if for no other reason than this: he consistently shows you how tolerant of horseshit you’ve actually become. When he went after Tucker Carlson on “Crossfire” five years ago, he took a show we were tolerating, and brought it to its knees. “Oh yeah,” we suddenly remembered, like King Théoden being roused by Gandalf, “A long time ago, this was a NEWS channel!” Wonder if the same thing will happen to CNBC. Either way, bless Mr. Stewart for his oddly high standards.

your turn to refill the wipes warmer, honey pie

3/11/09

Oh man, FINALLY! I never thought I’d say this, but the Palin family finally did something smart: Bristol and her boyfriend Levi have broken up, a scant two months after their baby was born.

Back in September, I opined “this poor bastard Levi just underage-fucked his way into No More Fun With the Boys. No more ‘shooting the shit’, no more hockey: as soon as the election is over, he’s got an eternity of screaming babies, screaming wife and screaming grandparents hovering over him at the Applebee’s in Juneau.” Well, congrats, Levi – turns out you know yourself better than I thought.

I may be a sick leftist bastard, but having a baby you don’t want is not something I’d wish on anybody, especially the baby. I suppose Bristol and Levi could have carried on the charade for the benefit of the conservative cabal, but their future together was almost guaranteed to be tantamount to the turgid cesspools of motherfrickin’ HELL. At least this way, the façade has melted away, and that’s when a kid has a fighting chance at being emotionally healthy.

I mean, as emotionally healthy as you’re going to be in the Palin family.

Can we just finally say the truth? Can we just say that teenage abstinence is a fucking pipe dream? Can we start handing out condoms now? Can we further contend that marrying someone you don’t love for the sake of some 1950s ideal of heterosexual obligation only leads to misery? Isn’t it time to bid a fond adieu to the Mayflower?

another afternoon in righteous-indignationland

3/10/09

SCENE: Restaurant in Atlanta. Your humble narrator has a three-hour layover en route to LA, so Salem has arranged lunch downtown.

Ian’s cell phone rings. He sees the caller ID and picks up.

Ian: Hey baby!

Tessa: (on phone) Have you got a minute? Because I have a minor cultural gripe.

Ian: I always want to hear your cultural gripes.

Tessa: I’m really, really sick of all these media pundits and writers making fun of Facebook and Twitter.

Ian (instantly game): Yeah! Who the fuck made the naysayers the arbiters of cool? It’s like those moron housewives who used to joke about not being able to turn their computer on. GET WITH THE PROGRAM OR GET OUT OF THE WAY, YOU FUCKING LUDDITES!

Tessa: They’re all repeating the same joke. (in nasal voice) “Question: what are you doing on Twitter? Answer: NO ONE CARES!” And we’re supposed to find that funny?

Ian: Seriously! If you don’t like Twitter or Facebook, DON’T LOG ON, assholes!

Tessa: I mean, this stuff is the wave of the future. Not necessarily this exact stuff, but things like it. It’s a total generational shift. I mean, obviously someone cares if you’re ‘tweeting’ and there’s a billion people on Facebook, so denying it is just stupid.

Ian: My biggest problem with it is these morons actually think they’re being funny. (in butthole voice) “The only thing worse than Twitter are people who read other people’s ‘tweets’. Ha ha ha, oh I’m so above it all.”

Tessa: Exactly.

Ian: Like, we ought to be reading ‘Anna Karenina’ or something instead? You know, I read ‘Anna Karenina’ and I’m on Facebook, so they can all suck my balls.

Tessa: Is Salem there?

Ian: Yes, right here.

Tessa: Give him my love, won’t you?

Ian: I will. Bye, sweetie.

Tessa: Bye, honey!

jump around

3/8/09

In “Manhattan”, a party guest tells Woody Allen she might have had the “wrong kind of orgasm”, and Woody responds “I’ve never had the wrong kind. My worst one was right on the money.” Such can be said about seeing Carolina beat Dook in person at the Dean Dome, regardless of the seats you may have – I had the worst seats in the venue, and they were still right on the money, baby!

Here’s the view from Row Y, with my back against the wall, able to put my hands on the actual ceiling of the Dean Dome, with the obstructed view from the Jumbotron:

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I was surrounded by a donut of aging Dook fans, nobody to commiserate with, leaping up in joy while everyone around me sat glumly, but you know what? STILL AWESOMELY FANTASTIC. Coach Comfort scored me the hardest tickets to get, perhaps in Carolina history, and that’s all that mattered. Besides, with a few minutes left, the Dookies all shuffled out, leaving me with the entire top of Section 229 to myself:

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Besides the game itself, which was not an effortless ballet by any stretch but still soul-divining, the real revelation was the window we got inside Tyler Hansbrough. Senior speeches can be a bit of a drag (the Christian exultations can be a little much for your narrator, Agnostic H. McNonBelieverPants) but I’m so happy I stayed to see the guys off.

Tyler H. has never been one for words, and his post-game interviews can be frustratingly terse, rife with the kind of platitudes Crash Davis taught Nuke LaLoosh in “Bull Durham”. Like I said, his blank expression during games and his huge eyes and body make him the perfect protagonist for Lucy, someone upon which she can project whatever she wishes. As adults and fans, we occasionally wish for more.

Tonight, barely four sentences into his speech, he broke down into silent sobs. When his two brothers stood up, and he tried to thank his parents standing on either side of them, I finally understood: Tyler is not a robot. He’s a 22-year-old kid who went through his brother having brain cancer and a horrifying operation, his parents divorcing, and getting to college in time to have his nose broken and finally, a concussion. Instead of being a rage-fueled mess, he has internalized everything and devoted himself to being absolutely fantastic – and fanatic – at one thing.

And it’s not like he was born with some preternatural skill other than height – of all our stars, he is by far the most self-made. I think this is why he is so adored by the fans; they can relate to him, they can imagine having that singular drive in their own careers, even if they have nothing to do with basketball. And like the rest of us, when presented with the magnitude of our lives and the profundity of our inspirations, even Tyler Hansbrough can finally be overwhelmed.

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the alprazolam/isis hour

3/5/09

Thoughts from today’s jaunt from Los Angeles to New York:

1. The people surrounding me on the plane were as follows: a family of five Hassidic Jews in all their regalia; 6’5″ gorgeous African American actor (can’t place him); hipster girl with bright blue eyes and low-top Chucks with no laces; two aging fratboys wearing shirts from beer events long since past; interracial couple with daughter; elderly lady with permanent smile; Perry Farrell from Jane’s Addiction.

2. Traveling by air right now is a very different experience than it was even eight months ago. Planes do eventually fill up with last-minute deal shoppers, but not completely. Security lines (as I said in November) are virtually non-existent, and the weirdest thing? Everyone, from airport personnel to fellow passengers, is NOTICABLY NICER. It reminds me of the stories of air travel in the 1950s, when you’d wear a suit and it was considered a fun experience. Sure, it probably won’t last, but it’s a nice interregnum.

3. Took 1/2 mg of Xanax upon takeoff, was awoken by announcements for landing in New York. Closest analogous experience = an actual time machine.

4. New York City walloped by major snowstorm yesterday; it will be almost 70 degrees this weekend. When in Cali, I miss the violent mood swings of March.

5. Sunday will mark my 24th home Dook game in a row, every one since 1986. My lucky shirt, worn only to this game for the last 20 years, has seen its efficacy bobble from time to time. In 2005, after a string of home losses, we resurrected its mojo with sage smoke, and we all know what happened later that day (comeback, Marvin’s put-back, bedlam). Unbelievably, we’ve lost two of the last three at home, and that’s a crock of shit, so I pulled out the big guns: my lucky shirt has been fully restored. Lucy blessed it with her wand, which is actually her toddler-sized golf driver with a Rameses headcover. We shall see!

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she pretty much dresses herself these days

what Kermie and moi have is private

3/4/09

My nephew Sean Patrick showed up just in time – at the end of yesterday’s comment section – to elucidate the whole “earmark” spending kerfuffle for laymen like myself. I’ll just go ahead and quote his whole statement. I don’t mean to single out Schultz with this entry (Schultz himself is also a Tar Heel and does a killer solo to “All Along the Watchtower”) but Sean P. was responding to him directly:

***

To clarify–Schultz is using confusing language here. There are two different spending bills at issue:

1. The stimulus bill, already signed in to law by Obama. This bill contained no earmarks. When Ian is referencing conservatives calling things earmarks that aren’t, this is what he’s referencing.

2. The FY 09 omnibus appropriations bill. Each year, the congress muss pass a bill to appropriate money to each executive agency so the federal government can stay up and running. When the bills for multiple federal agencies are rolled together, this is called an “omnibus” bill.

This funding appropriated in this bill runs through September ’09, when the fiscal year ends. Last year, Congress and the White House could not agree on a new budget, so they passed a “continuing resolution,” which keeps the federal government up and running at ’08 levels for a short period of time.

The omnibus bill that is soon to end up on Obama’s desk includes over 4,000 earmarks worth $7.7 Billion. This is what Schultz is referencing.

Schultz equates these two bills, which is confusing, because there are serious, but very different issues worth discussing in both.

The issue at hands seems to be whether earmarks are the problem, or non-stimulative spending?

If it’s earmarks, the stimulus bill passes Schultz’s test with flying colors (again, no earmarks in this bill). If it is non-stimulative spending, then each of the problematic expenditures that he lists should be debated on their own merits.

The purpose of a stimulus bill during bad economic times is to take the wasted economic potential of people who are sitting on their couches, unemployed, and make use of it, ideally for things that are probably worth doing anyways. Weatherizing federal buildings, for instance, is a great use of money. In order to complete the weatherization, a bunch of people have to be hired to install various systems that make buildings more energy efficient. Along with putting people back to work, this has the added benefit of reducing the federal government’s energy bill and carbon footprint (both worthwhile goals, even in good economic times). It’s also worth noting that these sorts of jobs aren’t “government jobs,” as the federal government is likely to hire outside contractors to do the installation.

To take another example, the Byrne-Jag assistance program provides federal grants to local police departments to assist with drug law enforcement. This money keeps thousands of cops in work nationwide: it’s both a stimulative and useful program.

Now, there are certainly some provisions of the stimulus bill that are neither stimulative nor good ideas. These shouldn’t have been in the bill. In Obama’s defense, he lobbied to remove some of the provisions the GOP raised major concerns over (e.g. birth control, which he supports, but agrees was not likely stimulative).

As for the Omnibus bill, this issue isn’t as easy as it sounds. If Obama vetoes the bill, either the federal government will shut down or congress will pass another continuing resolution to allow the government to at ’08 levels. That’s problematic, because circumstances have changed dramatically since early ’08.

As schultz mentions, the earmarks in this legislation are from versions that passed last year. In order to remove them, Congress would have to restart the legislative process fro scratch in committee. Appropriations legislation is the most intricate and detailed thing that congress does–to start from scratch when we are already halfway through the fiscal year seems like an unacceptable delay.

Let’s see what the appropriations legislation for FY2010 looks like before we condemn him prematurely. The only reason this legislation is on his desk is that Congress couldn’t pass a bill that Bush would sign.

Lastly, what is intrinsically wrong with earmarks? Earmarking is just a method for appropriating money. Earmarking money for a really great after school program that keeps hundreds of kids out of trouble might be a good thing, and likewise money for a useless bridge could be a bad idea if it goes through the normal appropriations process. The earmarking process itself is just that–a particular mechanism for appropriating money. I don’t see any explanation from Schultz as to why it’s necessarily bad.

***

See, when you actually listen in class, and then deliver Iowa for Obama, you end up being as clever as my nephew. But one last thing… the “pig odor” research. Singling out any issue always makes that particular thing seem picayune and irresponsible, but this bill would actually help a lot of small communities that are rendered unlivable by the farms that employ them.

Sure, you like bacon, and perhaps a ham sandwich, but some town has to grow the pigs, and the pigs are going to defecate, and pretty soon, the quality of life plunges to “can barely fucking stand it” level. Ever driven I-5 to Northern California and passed through Vacaville? What if places like this became livable again? What if the methane released by cows, pigs and other farm animals became a source of energy for the farm? That’s what this bill does.

Sean P. and I grew up in eastern Iowa, where the stench of local livestock pens and rendering factories would be so bad they’d cancel recess at school. “Pig odor research” may sound like pork, but that’s only because you don’t live where laws and sausages are made.

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Sean P., me, Tessa and Lucy at the Inauguration

mean, mean pride

3/3/09

Man, these are dark, desperate days if you’re a Republican – and this comes from someone who has known some very dark political days. If I were a principled conservative – or someone who remembered the Reagan years fondly – I can’t imagine having these idiots speak for you in the mainstream media. Michael Steele is obviously way out of his pay grade, Bobby Jindal has been reduced to the chess club lunch table, John Boehner hasn’t had a fresh idea since he was at Xavier, and all you’ve got left are embarrassing pundits like the frustratingly-obtuse Amy Holmes and Tom Motherfucking DeLay.

But of course, there’s Rush Limbaugh. And here’s where I truly get confused, because I just don’t understand the level of feudal-lord deference currently given to Rush by actual elected Republican officials. I follow politics pretty closely, and I think I can see the angle everyone takes to gain advantage (even those on my side), but for the life of me, I’m not seeing the benefits of bowing down before the temple of Rush.

Rush the band, I can understand. If you’ve got Neal Peart playing temple blocks and a gong on his 360-degree drum kit while Geddy Lee is screaming “Tom Sawyer”, I might be into that. But I digress.

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Don’t get me wrong, I love the current pothole-infested dead end the Republican party has taken, and to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, I hope it lasts, but I’m more interested why people do the things they do, unless the answer is “they’re just batshit crazy.”

Because you have to be batshit crazy to live in a world of such suffering, and actively hope its leaders fail. When Limbaugh proudly announces that he hopes Obama can’t rescue America, he thinks he’s striking a magnificent, Quixotic pose – but in reality, he’s showing such a lack of basic empathy, such a bubbling lake of cruelty, that I’m stunned he doesn’t wear an XXXXXL kevlar jacket when he leaves the house.

I know conservatives like to say “the same things were said about George W. Bush, hoping he’d fail” but they’re so fucking dead wrong it’s painful. I loathed that motherscratcher so much I could barely speak, yet I NEVER hoped Bush would fail during events like Afghanistan and the Iraq War, knowing that failure would (and did) rob Americans of their family members.

By aligning with Rush Limbaugh, the Republicans have cradled their elbows with the fat guy at the table who just doubled down on defeat. They have effectively said to the American people “our power is more important than your suffering.” It doesn’t take a philosophy grad student to come to the next conclusion: “Even if Obama’s plan ends up working, we will wish it hadn’t. If you recover from this, we will wish you hadn’t.”

Normal human beings, when faced with opposition, might put forth competitive ideas and have them measured alongside their adversaries. That’s what the “free market” is all about. But conservatives have forgotten the crucial difference between “I think you will fail” and “I want you to fail”. One implies you have an alternative; the other implies you’re a fucking asshole.

So tell me. Why hasn’t ONE PERSON risen to the challenge? At this point, it would be bizarrely refreshing for a Republican to take on Limbaugh. He’s a TALK SHOW HOST, fer chrissake! Can’t some Republican congressperson from, say, Missouri hold a press conference to say “Rush doesn’t speak for me”? It’s so disappointing! Seriously, you conservatives are looking a lot like the USSR after the wall fell – a lot of red, but no structure.

i ain’t no fool for love songs

3/2/09

My brother Sean has been doing some very wonderful writing lately, and I wanted to share his latest entry here:

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You have to be very, very careful when you’re constructing the narrative of your life. I mentioned something about this in my last post, but I think there’s a lot more to it than just unintentional lies and misremembered circumstances. We need for the truth to match a path, our lives need to be somewhat linear (regardless of how often we see they aren’t) and where the dates and arcs don’t line up, we inadvertently add details and buttresses to give the whole thing meaning.

I got in touch with an old girl friend of mine named Erin. We never dated, we were far too close for that sort of thing, but we were like brother and sister. I sang at her wedding just before she transfered schools and went to the far side of the US, and soon after, we lost touch.

Her voice was singular and amazing, and her sense of humor was unparalleled. At least, for me. She was scrappy and vulgar at times, and she spent about two months homeless during the time that I knew her, although she always had a place to crash because of our network of friends. Erin made me laugh so goddam hard, all the time. She was shameless, she would make fun of me as quickly as she made fun of herself.

She was a peerless mimic. In a way, her vocal talent was off the charts because she could just decided to sound like someone, and then she sounded *exactly* like that person… and when you translate that into performance it’s really stunning. I remember her doing Patti Lupone in Evita, and it was scary it was so good, and then later, we were drinking beer and she sang “Still Crazy After All These Years”, and you would SWEAR it was Paul Simon. She was that good.

She had a pretty good appetite for dating, and she was the perfect combination of funny and funny looking to get most of the guys she was interested in. I was always wing-man, honestly, setting her up and letting her knock them down. And most of the time, she’d end up crashing at my place, sleeping on the floor next to my bunk bed while we criticized the partners du jour.

So, naturally, she showed up on Facebook. I jumped out of my skin, I was so excited. I’ve been in touch with a lot of people, and I’ve gotten a lot of joy out of it – the happiness WAY outweighs the mild discomfort I’ve had with some of the reconnections, but this woman was so dear to me, and I loved her so much, that I just freaked out.

Of course, I friended her, and of course I wrote to her. Gushing, a little, I guess, but not in any way that could be misinterpreted. I just wanted to let her know how much she had meant to me, and how much it would mean to me to be in touch with her again.

I got a response and… See, this is what is bound to happen. I can mock it all I want, but nobody remembers the past the way you do. On top of that, we’re not all in the same big forgiveness boat. We don’t all look at what we did when we were nineteen and laugh it off as the mistakes a child makes.

She tells me her story in two quick paragraphs. Fantastic college opportunity squandered because of a little too much pot and a move back to Los Angeles with her husband and kids. Then, a move from LA to Pheonix because of a sense of cultural discomfort… and the finding of religion.

What can I do? This woman will never be friends with me again because she sees the time we spent together as inhuman, non-divine. My vulgarity will never be funny to her, any time I spend with her from now on, even on-line, will be spent with a wall up between us. She looks back on the time she was friends with me and is appalled. She feels nothing but shame – her words, exactly.

She said she always thought I was “clever” and that it would be cool to maybe be in a band with me. Then.

Ugh.

I’m not mad at her at all, and I don’t think I’m better than her or have more insight or anything. It’s just heartbreaking. She’s found Jesus, and that’s pretty much it for me. I don’t know Jesus, I never will, and that is a wall that will always separate us. I had thought about writing back instantly, telling her that I had so much regret about that time that I lay awake some nights…

But I didn’t. I probably won’t. My regret isn’t about living outside the grace of God, I live utterly without God’s love right now and it isn’t a problem for me. My regret is how I treated people, how I behaved with people. The GOOD parts of that time for me were the times I spent with my friends laughing and loving and, sure, smoking pot. The times I regret are the times I was dismissive and superior, as if I knew something that I couldn’t possibly know.

Ahhch. I don’t know.

It’s so sad. I’ve thought about this person for at least fifteen years, I’ve thought about her once a month, wondered where she was, even tried to find her to cast her in a show I was doing a few years ago. I know now, she would have turned me down anyway, and she would have been uncomfortable with the show, with New York… with spending time with me.

I still love her deeply, this old friend. I know we were a kind of kindred spirits, curled up in my shit-ass apartment, counting our toothbrushes as one of our ten assets. I know that we deal with our own regrets in our own way, and she’s certainly found a better way than I did, I’m pretty sure she sleeps just fine at night. But it’s a painful and sad end to a friendship, and I wish she could have just remained a mystery.

***

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me and Sean, Frankfort, KY, Nov ’08