Finding Damo

The story of a man, his job, two cats and the meaning of success.

Archive for the category “Reflection”

I’m your only friend…

At the end of my first year of university, I was having a bit of a rough time. I’d had very little sleep. I’d just told someone how I felt about her and been unrequited. I wasn’t sleeping (completely self-inflicted) and had fallen asleep during an exam. It was a low point.

In fact, it really wasn’t a low point. I’d had a great year. But being out of home for the first time, I’d gone a little bit mental at university. Sleep and study were secondary to booze and this wonderful new thing called “The Internet”. By the end of the year I was at the end of my tether and was completely strung out, emotionally.

The Internet was new and wild (bear with me, I’m getting back on track), mainly text-based and incredibly addictive. We were learning to program. We were discovering how to interact with other systems and other schools. We all had online personalities in an age before online personalities were mainstream. We were talking to people in other countries and other universities. The world had opened up and I wasn’t planning on missing any of it.

comprehension!Side bar: When I first found out about the Internet, our mentor Fiona took us to a computer room where dozens of students were “online”. A number of them were playing a MUD – a Multi-User Dungeon. It was called Discworld, and as I watched over one guy’s shoulder, he chatted freely with people in a number of different countries, all trying to solve a quest and making random conversation. Each sentence ended with a colon and a right-bracket.

“Is that some sort of sign-off thing?” I asked. The guy looked at it in puzzlement for a while, then laughed and told me to turn my head to the side. Thus I was introduced to the smiley. And its overuse. Oh, and incidentally, to the Discworld. It all comes together.

ytalk exampleBack to the narrative and the slow trundle towards a point. Using a tool called ytalk, I was chatting with a girl called Haggis, who went to uni down in Melbourne at La Trobe. We’d arranged to meet up during exam week. She arrived in the middle of this low point. I was lying on my bed, my friends were making commiserative noises. I really didn’t want to see anybody. And probably wasn’t in the right frame to meet this girl I’d been chatting with online.

She came in, realised I was upset, reached into her bag and stuck a cassette tape into my tape player:

And my life was changed forever.

I’ve never been so instantly cheered up as I was by that song. Lorraine’s (that’s Haggis’ real name) tape contained a number of songs from a few different albums, including Shoehorn with Teeth and of course Lighthouse in your Soul. It was a mix tape, and I still have my copy of it hiding somewhere in the house. It has been chewed up and wound back in. It has been taken apart and replaced in a different cassette tape case. And it was the beginning of an obsession that would only be rivalled by Red Dwarf and Terry Pratchett.

They Might Be Giants have been a major influence on my life. They sing in a manically cheerful fashion, even as they talk about skeletons and people’s heads falling off. They have been used in Tiny Toons animations,

wrote the theme song for Malcom in the Middle,

did the sound track for the Power Rangers movie and Coraline…

And they’re back in Australia for the first time since I came back from Japan in 2001.

When we found out that they’d be coming back to tour with Nanobots, the Facebook messages went wild. We had the option of going to see them at Groovin’ the Moo in Bendigo, or at the Corner Hotel in Richmond.

“A true fan,” you say, “would do both!” Which is true. But a true fan, with a child and a mortgage, has to choose. So we chose the Corner Hotel. One night only, when we bought the tickets. Since then, a number of new shows have popped up.

I’ll transcribe this later:
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I was introduced to the Whitlams through They Might Be Giants. They supported TMBG at one of their shows, before No Aphrodisiac shot them to stardom. They also gave me The Lucksmiths, although they didn’t ever really rocket, so much as saunter gently upwards and out of sight.

We went to the Factory Showroom tour, still raw from my breakup with Cath. As an act of revenge I picked up a girl who was only there to see the support act.

When I came back from Japan, TMBG were doing their Mink Car tour. I even left Japan a few days early so that I wouldn’t miss the concert. We rocked up to the concert with pink letters on our forehead. At the end of the show, they announced that they would be performing a rare Flood show – the entire album from start to finish – on the following night. We left the concert, jumped online and bought tickets to the following night.

The number of nights my friend Shay and I would lie under the trees outside the Kyabram Fauna park, singing Whistling in the Dark and other TMBG classics.

They Might Be Giants have been the soundtrack to my life, from the end of my first year of university until pretty much the present day. Having said that, and in all honesty, I am no longer even in the slightest bit obsessed with them. The last couple of albums have had a couple of catchy songs and a couple of very thoughtful songs. They still know how to put together an album. But they’re not going to bring me instantly out of a depressive funk as they used to do. And I didn’t go to Groovin’ the Moo as well as the Corner Hotel. I didn’t buy the new album as soon as it came out. And I don’t have a t-shirt that still fits.

My iPhone signature still says “I don’t want the world, I just want your half.” I can still sing Flood from start to finish (and sometimes this happens in Greek restaurants late at night). But I don’t have the energy to get as excited about them as I used to. Or they aren’t providing me with the songs to get excited about. I was going to end the blog saying: “Either way, it was fun, but the love affair is over.” And then I went to see them love and a little fire rekindled inside my heart. I’m still a fan.

And we’ll always have Istanbul (not Constantinople).

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Dream a Little Dream of Me. Or badgers. Or Superman.

dreams are strangeCorey Feldman had it good. His character in Dream a Little Dream ran all over his dreamscape, giving out good advice and saying “Heh” a lot. He didn’t have to worry about the streets changing from moment to moment, or giant rats staring at him until he woke up screaming.

Some people are already thinking “dammit. I blog about dreaming. I’m outa here.” And that’s fine. The blog is called Finding Damo, not “Keep everybody entertained all the time”. And one of the things that has consumed my life and fed my imagination since I was a young boy has been my dreams.

Luke, I am your father!

Luke, I am your father!

I have sleep apnoea. I can’t spell it but I have it. I’m not sure when it started, but by the time I was living in Rosebud, it was getting out of control. I was only getting one or two hours of sleep a night, as I would stop breathing when I fell deeply enough asleep which, luckily, woke me up again. It was terrible. I was always tired. I fell asleep in meetings, and when driving.

And I dreamed. A lot.

dream diary lock

If you can open it, you can read it.

Two of my favourite presents ever were given to me by girlfriends. The first was when I was in Japan. Kallie gave me a dream diary. She’d decorated  the inside front cover. The book had a lock and was just awe-inspiring. It wasn’t just a Spellbox book or anything. I’m not sure where she found it, but the book, and the lovely inscription on the inside blew me away. A couple of months later, in an argument, she ripped out the lovely front page and took the book back. Which is why I’m not dating her any more. That amongst other things. But at the time, WOW.

The second was a box to keep my (new) dream diary in. I’d replaced the original with a Spellbox dream diary. Not as impressive as the original, but still, with a nice locking mechanism and decent paper for writing. Melanie made the box for me from scratch. Varnished it, and burnt a design into the top. Now the diary had a home. It was an exceptional achievement and I still love it.

dream diary box

Long before the dream diary, I still wrote down my dreams. I had a yellow notepad that I wrote a lot of dreams into. I even wrote a program in Perl when I was working at Racing Victoria, to catalog the dreams by theme and add more in as I had them. And yes, I had them. Every night was a plethora of images, whizzing through my head. I started writing them down as my conviction that what I dreamed was coming true. So many times I would experience a conversation and say “Wow. I dreamed that!” So, to prove it to myself, I started writing them down, so that I could come back to them when I had that experience again.

I’ve never experienced a moment that I have written down in my dream diary. Bummer.

One that could come true, after my last post:

werewolf dreamBut I’m getting ahead of myself. And the rest of this post is pretty much just an explanation of the dreams I’ve had, how they fit into my life, and what meaning I feel that they had/have. So I’m serious. If you hate being told dreams by your friends, even if they have pictures attached, you probably don’t need to read any further. I’m not going to get overly philosophical. I just want some of this out of my head and out onto a blog. Call it selfish and indulgent, I can handle that. I promise I’ll be more interesting next week.

Here’s the first page (all images clickable for better views):

front page

As it says here, the greatest part of my dreamscape was a place I dubbed Alternate Kyabram. I grew up in Kyabram. I lived in Heathcote, Redesdale, even Canada during my formative years, but from 1983 until 1992 I was in Kyabram. I delivered papers, I explored the back streets with my friends. I imprinted the town onto my brain like a mental brand. And as much as I tried to get away from the place, when I slept, I was back there.

There were a few changes. And streets didn’t always go to the same places. I also dragged in my grandparents’ places from Castlemaine and Kyneton, although sometimes they were the same place. And as I spent more time in Melbourne, there were roads to the city from my little country town.

Here’s the map, and a legend:

dreamscapelegend to dreamscape

here be dinosAs my dreaming was so vivid, I did a lot of reading about it. I tried to convince myself that dreaming was something special. I dream in colour, which is supposedly a sign that you are creative. I have attempted lucid dreaming and astral projection, all after reading about them in books (with no luck, sorry to say). I’ve looked at the meanings of different symbols in dreams. For example, shops and shopping centres are supposed to be a reflection of your subconscious. Next time you dream about being in a shop, take a look at what’s on the shelves. On second thoughts, for some of us, it’s better not to look too closely.

My shop’s shelves are usually filled with books, magazines and toys. What does that say about me?

I really don’t want to go on and on about this. I just wanted to whack up a few fragments. The dreams in the diary start from 2001. There are some transcribed from long before then. The last one is in 2009. When I started using the CPAP machine, my sleep was completely dreamless. I slept solidly from the time my head hit the pillow until I was woken by the alarm clock. By the time my body started to even out and my subconscious started forcing dreams upon me again, I was out of the habit of writing them down. I dream a lot more now, and probably should write them down in the marvelous dream diary once more. But I think that phase of my life is passed now.

This is its eulogy:

click for more.

 

part onepart twopart three

random nightmare

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It is self-indulgent. I’m not seeing anything that would be interesting to anyone else. I’m going to stop now. Dreaming is an incredible invention of the human race. The number of stories I’ve sucked out of a dream… and then thrown away because basically dreams make absolutely no sense! I have, however, had a couple of dreams that have turned into quite interesting stories. And of course, there is the old stand-by for story creation:

what if…?

And I get a goodly number of “what-if” stories out of my dreams.

Sweet dreams!

Imagination and the post-y generation

tripodLast night we went to see Tripod: Men of Substance. It was a vaguely depressing show, as the boys (men, now) addressed turning 40 and sixteen years of performing. Shereen thought it was hilarious. I looked at us, 16 years ago, drinking at the Prince Pat and watching Tripod doing Open Slather. Each of them had their own coloured shirts. It was fresh and funny and we’d drink too much and stagger home afterwards.

This show started at 8.45 and we were home by midnight. Sad sad sad.

I’ve always liked Tripod. They write for my generation and my type of person. There are references to Dungeons and Dragons, Star Wars and Commodore 64s. One of their songs last night was called “Waiting for the Game to Load” after putting the tape in, typing load and pressing play. Ah, the memories.

People magazine

Builders had good taste

At one stage they commented on having to go to the tip to get porn. When I was a pre-teen living in Kyabram, we used to hunt down building sites. There we would find the builders’ stash of People (tame) and Picture (less tame) magazines. I had no idea that there was anything stronger available until  high school and my introduction to working life as a paper boy. With 20 boys and 1 adult supervisor, suddenly we had illicit access to a whole new class of porn –Penthouse and Playboy at the tame end, Hustler and other plastic-baggers catering to whatever your particular fetish was at the other end.

But still, getting access to it required a bit of effort and some ingenuity. And of course, you had to outsmart your parents in the hiding. A regular rotation shift of location and the occasional emergency ditching to a friend seemed to work.

Now of course, the Internet has killed all creativity in that area. I teach a Cyber Safety unit at school. When I talk to the students about safe and unsafe uses of the Internet, I almost always have to take notes, as they list off incredibly thorough listings of sites with free access. Of course, they don’t tell me that these are porn sites. I ask them for popular web sites and they will say something like “Oh, I’m always on RedTube, sir, do you know it?” and then watch my expression closely. I have mastered the blank expression, but often I don’t need it. These students know more about free porn than I ever will (holding out wedding ring).

I got really side-tracked here from where I was going in this post. What was I going to say?

Oh yes, imagination.

Tripod’s other little gem was that boredom is the catalyst for imagination. My brother and I never got up in the morning thinking that today was the day that I would almost cut off his thumb. We would eat breakfast, sit around a bit, and then say “OK. I’m bored. What do you want to do?” And one of us would remember that there was a hatchet in the back shed, and a stack of wood that could be cut up. And of course, Justin would have to hold the wood still. And then there was the hospital trip and another experience arising out of boredom and imagination.

I’m not saying it right.

We would sit around, nothing better to do. And then Justin would point out that we could jump off the roof, onto the trampoline, and from there to the cushions and mattresses from the caravan. Mostly, he was right.

This is why I’m not in sales.

OK, last try. Dad would bring home a video camera. It was a massive thing, with a shoulder strap to hold the player, attached by a cord to the camera itself. We would spend hours creating film. We figured out how to do stop motion and would drive chairs around the backyard. We realized that if the camera was on a tripod (not a Tripod) we could do special effects, turning Elise into Dad and making people disappear. We would do David Attenborough specials through the wilderness of our backyard, and rope in our friends to create advertisements for made up soap and pet food. We let our imaginations run wild and rarely came back to earth.

bored is good

bored is good

I’m not even sure that teenagers today would get Calvin and Hobbes. “Is he playing some sort of a computer game?” “Is it something like Inception?”

Of course, there are still the precious few – those children and young adults who can live inside their minds and find the hidden worlds that exist all around the bored and the inquisitive. And imagination exhibits in other ways. The special effects that abound in today’s movies are incredible. And someone had to imagine that. Computer games are pushing the boundaries between interaction and storytelling, to great effect. Only two percent of novels are published, which means that for every novel on the bookshelves, there are … um, more (199?) that have been written, but not published, which is an amazing output of imagination. Imagination isn’t dead.

But:

Kids who spend all of their time playing Clash of Clans. Kids who don’t know the meaning of boredom due to being given iPods at the age of four. Parents who turn on the tv or the computer or the console whenever a child says “I’m bored.”

These people are giving imagination a damn good thrashing. I’m sure our creativity is diminishing as a species. And what does that mean for humanity as a whole?

It’s the dreamers, the bored and the curious who have gotten us to where we are today. If nobody is allowed to be bored, they won’t dream, they won’t have a need to ask “What will happen if I mix these two…” BOOM.

And may the gods help us then.

PS. A side not that I couldn’t fit in anywhere else: Film studios need to get past remaking films from other countries and other decades, or adapting nostalgic television into nauseating and forgettable cinema.

PPS. Today was the bored. Next week will be the dreamers. Does that mean I now have to write a curious blog post about skinning cats?

PPS. Finding Damo word count tomorrow. I’m also writing a new one-act play.

 

Hippy Gnu Ear

A year ago, plus or minus a day, I began a blog. It had a modest goal: to define success, make me famous and tell the life story of Damo – a completely fictional man who just happens to have done a lot of the same things that I have done.

2012And with this modest goal, Finding Damo has been modestly successful. In my first month, I mused upon doing good deeds, conspiracy theories, first love and dating. As the year progressed I talked about the death of my father and the existence of the loch ness monster, my family and friends, writing and spiders. I wrote an entire short story over a number of days, with lots of lovely cliff-hangers. In 2012, I wrote 52 blog entries. I won’t say that I wrote one a week, but the average is pretty good.

And people started reading the blog. At first it was just family and friends. But now, there are a core of random strangers who have latched on and stroke my ego with their kind words. For the year, the blog had 4,000 views, which isn’t going to kill the server, but does keep me interested enough to continue.

I started Finding Damo for a number of reasons. The first was a desire to create an online presence where I could start to make a name for myself before hunting out a publisher. It also allowed me to get into the habit of writing on a regular basis and to practise structuring my thoughts in a way that other people could understand. Believe me, this has been the hard part!

Secondly, I was inspired by a number of people who had successful blogs, and stole the idea from them.

simone2One of my best friends in the world (and I mean in the world – she lives in London) writes a blog called Simone Scribbles. She put me onto Word Press and her blog began as a way to keep in touch with her English friends while she was in Australia. Her prose is incredibly readable and filled with humour and wry observations on life. She’s definitely worth a look.

goodies undiesOne of my first followers is a friend from childhood – Katy. She writes a blog called Ragged Blossom Handmade. It is a series of marvellous ideas on how to recycle clothing and other throwaway items into something new and interesting. She also puts up recipes. Gluten free, very tasty recipes.

remote remotedFinally, my cousin Anna writes a blog called the Fun Activities Catalogue. I know that people say this all the time, but I have never laughed so hard at a blog – professional or otherwise – than I have at Anna’s antics as she tries to relieve the boredom. Asking people on chat roulette about their music choices and getting revenge on her amorous and noisy neighbours are two of my favourites.

But enough about them. This is about me.

This last year was a stupendously busy one. In one year I:

  • Got married
  • Bought a house
  • Edited and submitted a novel for publishing
  • Had two short stories published online (go buy them).
  • Wrote and directed the College musical.
  • Became the public relations officer (official people botherer) for Nullus Anxietas IV – the Australian Discworld convention. This involved, at various times:

And in the twelfth month, he rested.

But now I’m bored. And in the spirit of New Years’ Resolutions that will be completely ignored within a month, I present:

Finding Damo’s list of things to do.

  1. Get an agent. I want this bloody novel published.
  2. If nothing has happened by mid-year, work on self-publishing Dwarves in Space.
  3. Help run Nullus Anxietas IV.
  4. Get back into acting.
  5. Write a serious play.
  6. Submit more short stories for publication.
  7. Write 1000 words a week on Finding Damo. Hopefully more.
  8. Get back to a weight where I can comfortably do up the neck button on my shirts.
  9. Tell gluten, dairy and sugar to “Get thee behind me Satan!” (there has been a certain amount of backsliding over the summer break)
  10. Make the fish-pond habitable for fish (almost there).
  11. Make a troll suit.
  12. Create a video and have it go viral.

I’m also going to start a bucket list, place it on its own page on Finding Damo, and try to knock some of them off.

So, another busy year.

To all those who have been hanging on so far, thank you and a very Happy New Year to you. Now, go and tell your friends! Here’s to 2013 and the survival of the many apocalypses!

There was supposed to be an earth-shattering KABOOM!

*%#ing spiders!

Note: this blog is relatively free of pictures of spiders. There are definitely not any pictures of scary looking spiders. No spiders with pincers raised up and arms waving in the air. Nevertheless, the topic of the blog is pretty much spiders. So if you are too arachnophobic to read about them back off now.

stupid spiderThis morning as I climbed sopping wet out of the shower and pulled my towel off the rack, a large, creepy-looking black spider ran out of the folds and up my arm. Luckily, a combination of my sudden jerk backwards and probably the water on my skin caused it to fall to the floor where I proceeded to beat it to death with my shaving cream can.

Hi, my name’s Damian and I was an arachnophobe. The little bastards scared the crap out of me.

ArachnophobiaFunnily enough, my fear of spiders seems to stem from the movie Arachnophobia. Stupid Spielberg. Mum has no recollection of me being overly scared of spiders as a child, there’s no infant memory of a huge spider crawling up my arm while I’m trapped in my crib, and I never had to reach into a deep web-filled hole to unlock a secret door.

And then, in Year 10 or 11, I watched Arachnophobia back to back with The Exorcist 3 at the Kyabram Plaza Cinema, and then walked home through the spider-infested streets in the dark. I didn’t sleep for a week. And slept with the light on for the week after that.

For at least fifteen years afterwards, I suffered from night terrors where I would wake up convinced that the bed was covered in spiders. And the real thing held both a dreadful fascination and an incredible aversion. I did not suffer a spider to live. Let me clarify: daddy long-legs are not spiders. Money spiders are not spiders. Huntsmen, white tails and anything with a furry brown abdomen and visible eyes is most definitely a spider. And if they messed with me, they received “The Treatment”.

The Treatment consisted of whatever I had in the house at the time, which was rarely bug spray. One night in North Melbourne, I sprayed half a can of mousse at an unfortunate huntsman that decided to make its home in my bathroom. I wanted to make sure that it was stuck solid before I mashed it into a paste with my sneaker.

mousseWith no spider-immobilisers, it became necessary to very carefully use items long enough for me to drop if I missed killing the spider and gave it the chance to run up the weapon for retaliatory purposes. A broom would do it. I know where the saying “I wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole” comes from. And I was remarkably short of 11-foot poles.

Killing a spider when you’re terrified of spiders is an exercise in sheer bravery and abject stupidity. Anything can be a weapon. Usually very stupid things. I don’t want to go near the spider. I know that if I try to kill it I give it a reason to fight back. I also know that if I let it live it will crawl into my mouth while I sleep. Therefore, the lesser of two evils is me with a weapon, rather than me with an open mouth and maybe some drool.

One night, when I was looking after my friend’s house for the holidays, me and my friends found a huntsmen in our room. I was sleeping on the bed. The other two were sleeping on the floor. Therefore, the spider had to go. Our first weapon was a pile of rubber bands, as the spider was up on the roof. Predictably, this had the desired effect of getting the spider off the roof and the absolutely undesired effect of having it drop down the side of the bed. Now the game was on! The hunters became the hunted. We moved the bed. The spider crawled back under the bed. We flipped the bed over. The spider headed back up the wall. I emptied a can of deodorant upon it. The masculine-scented spider dashed off to try and find some lady spiders while it was covered in manly chemicals. With a yell, I slammed a cup over the escaping arachnid. Now the conundrum is: I am holding a cup against the wall. There is a spider under the cup. There is no paper within reach. The other two are laughing at me. But seriously, screw you guys! I saved you from the spider. Now who is going to save me? Eventually they brought me a bill. We slid the bill under the mug. A spider leg was caught in the bill as it slid out the other side. It took all three of us to hold both mug and bill, crab-walk to the front door, and then, after a count-down, hurl mug, bill and spider out into the darkness.

So, finally, I am apologising to my friend, who must have missed his mug and paid late fees on his bill, because there was no way I was going to go out and pick them up.

Garfield and Spiders

I used to kill spiders, and then leave the corpses out in the open where the other spiders could see the price of trespass in my house. It was a warning: Here be death to spiders! Intruders will be subjected to hairspray and possibly set on fire.

And sometimes, the spider corpse would disappear. This didn’t help my state of mind. Now, the spiders were immortal. And probably out for revenge. Various people have since pointed out that for most of my life I’ve lived with cats, and spiders make a good midnight snack for Kitty, especially when they’re laid out. Most cats can deal with a little bit of hairspray on their spider.

webI’m no longer arachnophobic. I don’t like spiders. I don’t tolerate nasty ones (or huntsmen, that aren’t really nasty) in my house. But having a girlfriend (and now a wife) I just can’t justify being that scared and still calling myself Lord and Protector of the home.

I remember one night getting a text at around one in the morning. “Are you awake? There’s a spider in my room and I’m not going to bed until it’s gone.” I drove from Camberwell to Brighton that night, on a mission to rid the damsel in distress of her nasty monster. Going into the house, and the bedroom, I steeled myself (maybe aluminium-ed), trapped it under a glass, slipped a bit of paper underneath it, took it outside, bent over and let it loose onto the lawn, with a “There ya go, little feller!” as it scuttled away. I handed her the glass and letter, and that was the end of it. She was suitably impressed.

I’ll finish up with this: one day, a few years ago, I was bitten by a white tail. My leg blew up and turned purple. I had a massive headache. I looked up the symptoms on the Internet (NEVER DO THIS) and discovered I had meningococcal and was likely to die in pretty short order. Now a little panicked, I headed to the doctor, who told me I’d been bitten by a spider and that if I hadn’t been taking steroid pills for a skin condition it would have been a LOT worse. The spider had crawled into my jeans, which had been lying on the floor, and bitten me when I put them on.

So, not only have the little bastards made my life a living hell, they are now forcing me to clean up my room!

Edit: Wednesday 12/12/12 (sometime after 12:12.12).

On the Friday night after writing this, I went to the Moonlight Cinema to see Looper. On the way home from Dave’s place, I pulled out of the carpark, started up the street and then almost crashed the car. Staring at me defiantly, eight beady eyes narrowed, was a spry-looking huntsman, right in the centre of my windshield. Oh, and not on the outside either.

Unwelcome visitor

Unwelcome visitor

I pulled over to the side of the road, put on the hazard lights (I mean, what could be more hazardous than a man with a spider in his car?) and jumped out in search of a weapon. Gone are the days when I would just abandon the car and start walking home from Port Melbourne to Ringwood. But this intrusion WOULD NOT STAND! Even on eight furry little legs.

I used a squeegee. The things with a wiper blade on one side and a sponge on the other? Squeegee. The sponge is good as a blunt instrument. The blade is good for getting cocky spiders when they crawl into the crack between the windshield and the dash.

With four or five cars backed up behind me, I drove off again, squeegee in hand, having driven the spider into hiding. As I drove, he ventured out onto the windscreen again.

I smacked him with the squeegee, praying that the blow wouldn’t knock him off the windscreen and into my lap. I had him on the run. He made a dive for safety at the other side of the car and I collected him with a vicious sweep of my squeegee, blade first, crushing him against the window.

And then I turned right across the lights, with slightly ragged nonchalance. Over the next two blocks, I kept an eye on the little mongrel. It twitched a couple of times, but by the time I hit real traffic in the city, he was stone dead.

Of course, I’ve left him there. As a warning to the others.

Exams

One of the great things about being a teacher is the paperwork. Everything has to be documented. Every piece of work should be carefully covered in red scribble and returned to the student, for them to scrunch it up and stick it in the bottom of their bag. We need to write lesson plans and unit outlines and day-to-day summaries and meeting minutes and assignment sheets…

… and exams.

We have exams for all core subjects in Years 7-10 at our school. Twice a year, for one week and at least six subjects, the students traipse into the hall or the auditorium and sit in neat little rows with papers in front of them and write or doodle for two hours. We supervise them, wandering up and down the aisles, answering questions (“When it says ‘write your name here’ does that mean my full name, or just my first name?”) and handing out tissues.

Oh gods, the sniffing! It’s like a convention of cocaine addicts sitting in a hall. All is silent except for the rustling of paper and then a symphony of sniffs. Sometimes you can tell it’s deliberate. There’s a pattern. The ringleader will give a hearty snort, followed by the gleeful snuffles of his underlings. But mostly it’s just the disgusting habits of teenagers in a world where handkerchiefs are no longer a required item.

It isn’t my place to debate the usefulness of exams. Well, it is, but it is more than my job is worth to do so. But they are very stressful, both for teachers and students. And I don’t even teach VCE (for the overseas readers: the Victorian Certificate of Education is the endgame for high school education in Victoria – Years 11 and 12). So many times I want to grab a kid and say “You’re only in Year 7! It’s not that big a deal!” But it’s probably a good thing that they have four years of learning that you don’t talk in exams and, No, you cannot go and get a drink you doofus!

Speaking of stress, my favourite (?) story from my own VCE exam days might very well be an urban myth, but it freaked us out at the time. I was going into a Literature exam, when one of the other students told us this:

“So this girl was really unprepared for her Psych exam. And on the day she came into the exam, really calm. She sat down, got all her stuff out, and waited for the exam to start. She opened her exam paper, stared at it for a few minutes, and then, very calmly, picked up two pencils, inserted one in each nostril, sharp side up, and then, without warning, slammed her head down on the table. She was dead instantly!”

This, just before we went into an exam. And exams at that point meant everything. They were our entry into university. They were a status symbol. They took over every part of our lives for those final weeks of school. And they were unbelievably stressful.

But I can’t imagine being overly worried about them in Year 10. I don’t even think I was overly traumatised by them in Year 12, although that story didn’t help. I know I was, but that sense of terror isn’t lodged in my brain the way dealing with bullies and everyday school life is. I remember clearly a slick, feral kid promising he’d push my head through a wall as soon as the teacher wasn’t watching. I don’t remember sleepless nights awaiting exams in highschool.

By university, exams had taken on a malevolent evil force that allowed them to get under my skin and bring me to breaking point. Or maybe it was the booze and late nights that did that. But suddenly, exams meant something. Friends would come to my room in tears, sure that they were going to fail miserably. We would do week-long cram sessions. We would stay up all night before an exam, trying to get one tiny piece of information to stick. We would eat mountains of doughnuts and experiment to see whether studying drunk was better than studying sober. Nothing helped.

I hate exams. They aren’t a fantastic example of learning. They are a fantastic example of a certain type of student’s learning. But until universities realise that, we’re stuck with it.

And so the symphony of sniffing will continue.

Post-Bucket List

So, as I’ve mentioned before, I was hunting down life insurance. Well, I’m now insured. Take all the pot-shots you want, my family is covered.

Oh, unless I get bowel cancer. Apparently one person in my entire family getting it means that I’m too much of a risk to get it as well, so I’m not covered for that.

Never mind, I’ll just have to make sure any critical illnesses I get aren’t that.

I wonder whether becoming a zombie counts as a “critical illness”. I’m sure I couldn’t effectively do my job. What would zombies teach? Biology? Physical  Education? I’d be unemployed and almost unemployable. Maybe McDonald’s. “Would you like brains with that?”

Dead, but still poking around. That reminds me. Awhile ago I posted on Twitter a “post-bucket list”. A list of things I want to do once I’ve kicked the bucket. Everyone has a list of things they want to do before they die. I thought I’d be a little more ambitious.

This list came out of noticing that a number of dead friends and relatives were still popping up on Facebook. “You haven’t chatted to this person for awhile!”

Yes. They’re dead, you insensitive multi-national corporation!

But anyway, the list:

  1. Delete my Facebook account. Although, I might post a couple of status updates first.
    1. “Man it’s hot down here!”
    2. “Oh look, Elvis!”
    3. Damian has poked you… with a chilly, ghostly finger.
    4. Make a clay pot with Demi Moore
    5. Haunt someone. Kevin Smith was talking about a friend who saw her brother on the wing of a plane, saying that he was at peace. I think I would have something more interesting to say. “You know, there are all these tiny lights. So pretty. And they’re getting closer… Oh, oh no. Stop! Get off me! AAARGH!”
    6. Brainssssss
    7. Participate in a séance – from the other side.
    8. Melvin Death…
    9. … and then Fear the Reaper.

Hmm. It’s not a long list. Oh wait, one more:

  1. Go to my own funeral.

I know it’ll be good. I’m pretty sure anyone who would bitch about me at my funeral is pretty much happy to bitch about me in front of my face. But I am very aware that I haven’t written a will. Or an obituary. Or my epitaph. Or prepared my Death Press Kit.

“My what?” you ask. My Death Press Kit, I answer. “Yes, but I think that needs clarification,” you say. Well, yes. Fair enough. Let me see if I can find an example…

Schoolgirl Sheniz Erkan farewelled as friend urges bullying victims to speak out

Hmm. Microsoft Dictionary doesn’t recognise the word “farewelled”. Ah well, it is the Herald-Sun. Here’s the picture:

See? Pretty. Obviously a phone picture, so it fits the Social Media aspect. She did a good job. Or her parents, or whoever sent the papers her photo. Or whichever reporter hacked into her Facebook account.

On the other hand:

Megrahi, Convicted in 1988 Lockerbie Bombing, Dies at 60

You look at this guy and you think “yup, sleazy, obviously a killer. Hope he rots in Hell.” Or maybe that’s just me.

See? You need a Death Press Kit to ensure the papers know how to deal with you after your death. So, to make things easier, I have some photos for various occasions:

Traveler and philanthropist Perry dies after decades of community work

Perry, shamed teacher, dies alone after extended scandal

Conspiracy nut Perry dies in accidental piano incident

I don’t really want to write my obituary yet. I think that’s a blog in itself. I’ll leave you with the Death Press Kit and try to relax after the earthquake that’s scaring Melbournians to death. Gods. I remember Japan. These things happened every week. Still, I better make my sacrifices to the Ancient Ones.

Oh, that reminds me, and speaking of terrible Death Press Kits:

Suspected Maryland cannibal ranted about ‘human sacrifices’ on Facebook

This guy didn’t pick his Death Photo.

This guy killed and ate a guy who was living with him, including his heart and brain. The response from the on-campus co-ordinators:

“He noted the university has a zero-tolerance policy toward violence and a student in such a situation would likely be suspended or expelled.”

Ummm…

However, where I really think they were stretching for evidence:

“In February, Kinyua posted a question on Facebook, asking fellow students at historically black colleges and universities if they were “strong enough to endure ritual HBCU mass human sacrifices around the country and still be able to function as human beings?””

OK. The man was a looney. He killed and ate someone. But if I was indicted for every call to human sacrifice I placed in a Facebook status, I would never again see the light of day!

Let’s see what I can find.

  • “Today, I invade England!”
  • “Happy Invasion Day!”
  • “So birds are dying all over the globe and now there is a cow that’s given birth to a two headed calf. Is anyone else worried?”
  • “OK. Got an hour to finish the Multimedia class. That’s 3 minutes per student!”
  • “Sorry Paul, I have a social group on Wednesdays. Knock em dead!”
  • “is apparently NOT the killer, but is incompetent.”

See? I’m stuffed. Ok. Back into hiding. See you next week.

Are you curious about yourself?

Are you curious about yourself?

Why, yes! I am!

On Saturday I found a Scientology stand in the Mall off Puckle St. They had a guy doing stress tests, a number of L. Ron Hubbard books, an explanatory DVD, and a lovely pink pamphlet that asks: Are you curious about yourself?

I found that I was curious about myself, so I picked up the pamphlet, which contained a Free Personality Test. It consisted of a number of questions that you answer as + (definitely yes), m (maybe or uncertain) or – (definitely no or mostly no).

I was still curious about myself, so I figured I’d give it a shot. Here are some of the questions:

3. Do you browse through railway timetables, directories or dictionaries just for pleasure?

A simple enough beginning. No. No, I don’t browse through timetables for pleasure. Easy. I feel good.

7. Would you prefer to be in a position where you did not have the responsibilities of making decisions?

Slightly more ominous. If I say yes, does that make me fodder for a cult where I am under your control? And I will like it, because of my answer here?

14. Would the idea of inflicting pain on game, small animals or fish prevent you from hunting or fishing?

Now I’m worried. What is it that we Scientologists will have to do in the new world? And if I want to get in, do they want pacifists? Or people who are willing to torture small animals for sport?

19. Are you normally considerate in your demands on your employees, relatives or pupils?

Ok, now I’m freaking out. How do they know that I’m a teacher? And how did they know I’d be on Puckle St at that time? I think my tin foil hat might be playing up. Or that I spend too much time on Foursquare.

26. Is your life a constant struggle for survival?

No. Should it be? Is it going to be soon? Will I be safe if I join Tom Cruise?

31. Could you agree to “strict discipline”?

Oh right. You have got to be kidding me. This is a question? Are they grooming me for the church or for a good spanking? But in all honesty, yes. I suppose I must answer yes.

45. Do you often feel that people are looking at you or talking about you behind your back?

WHAT HAVE YOU HEARD? Was it that bastard Dave? What did he say? Why did I make him best man? GET OUT OF MY HEAD!

Or, to be more honest, no. They might be suspicious and ramp up the surveillance if I said yes.

55. When hearing a lecturer, do you sometimes experience the idea that the speaker is referring entirely to you?

Isn’t it always about me? You just have to know how to read the codes. It was quite difficult getting Packed to the Rafters to be about me. It involved some seriously meta interpretation of camera angles.

61. Do you ever get a “dreamlike” feeling toward life when it all seems unreal?

No. Yes. Is that a walrus?

72. Are you perturbed at the idea of loss of dignity?

This is really a question. I am beginning to think that this might not be from the Church of Scientology at all, but rather a clever plot by the government to get us to answer questions they’re scared to ask outright in Herald-Sun polls.

76. Do you sometimes give away articles which strictly speaking do not belong to you?

Let’s forget about the fact that the Word grammar checker is having a spack attack over that sentence. This question was written on a very VERY old version of this survey and was intended to try and capture Robin Hood.

This, though, reminds me of a story that doesn’t necessarily put me in a good light. It may make it into the novel. I may have to change it a LOT.

I was living with a girl I’d met on RSVP. I keep wanting to call her Emma, but I’m pretty sure that’s not her name. I wasn’t dating her. We went out on a date, realised we had absolutely no chemistry, but she called me in a couple of days asking if I had a spare room. She moved in. But on the night she was going to move in, she called me and asked if I could be involved in a rescue mission for the new girl that had come down from Queensland.

I think I need some back story on the need for a rescue mission.

“Emma” (I don’t usually change names to save the innocent etc. but I really can’t remember her name) was moving in with me because the guy she was living was an absolute lunatic – scratch that, it’s judgemental. He tutored girls and told them that they had to do what he told them. He used spanking as a method of instruction. He made his tenants sign a document saying that he could spank them if they didn’t follow house rules.

And we’re back on track.

When this new girl moved in, on the first night, the man crawled into bed with her in the middle of the night. Hence the need for a rescue. Fair enough? I thought so.

So, we took my car and Emma’s and drove to his place on a night when we were pretty sure he wasn’t going to be there. We quickly packed everything we could into the car. Emma went through a room filled with books.

“Look at these books. There are so many first editions here! Want anything?” she asked, grabbing a signed Somebody Famous.

“God no. I’ve never even met this guy – is that the Egyptian book of the Dead?”

So, maybe I can’t give you a solid No on that one. But I didn’t give it away!

On with the questions.

88. If we were invading another country, would you feel sympathetic towards conscientious objectors in this country?

“…and if you say yes to this one, you will mysteriously disappear on the eve of our invasion, along with your objecting friends.”

More evidence that this is a government conspiracy.

92. Are you a slow eater?

This survey needs a fourth box: WHY?

98. Would you use corporal punishment on a child aged ten if it refused to obey you?

I laughed at this one. There are a number of questions that ask whether you hate kids, or are uncomfortable around kids. And now: will you give a child a good belting for the good of the group?

101. Does the youth of today have more opportunity than that of a generation ago?

Yes. Why did I put this question in? Oh yes, because this really deserves its own blog. Remind me.

110. Is your facial expression varied rather than set?

They really ask this. Are you already one of the pod people? Or should we send your free Quick-grow Audrey III by express post?

113. Would it take a definite effort on your part to consider the subject of suicide?

Well, it did. And then I read this question. Now I’m obsessing.

Pinocchio130. Are you aware of any habitual physical mannerisms such as pulling your hair, nose, ears or such like?

I’m always pulling my nose. Pulling my nose? Who pulls their nose? Are they asking me this so that the clones can imitate me without being caught? Who pulls their nose? I’m trying it now. It doesn’t seem like a nervous habit. It feels like a misguided attempt to pick it.

136. Do children irritate you?

They do. But I have a cream that clears it right up.

138. Do you usually carry out assignments promptly and systematically?

I mean, really. Yes sir! Mr Cruise, sir!

163. Would you take the necessary actions to kill an animal in order to put it out of pain?

This really should follow directly after 138.

170. Are you opposed to the “probations system” for criminals?

And this should follow directly after 163. “animal” yes indeedy.

181. Do you often ponder over your own inferiority?

I often ponder over other people’s inferiority. Does that count?

194. If you lose an article, do you get the idea that “someone must have stolen or mislaid it”?

Yeah. Blame the other guy.

195. If you thought that someone was suspicious of you and your actions, would you tackle them on the subject rather than leaving them to work it out?

If I thought that someone was suspicious of me and my actions, I think I’d have to make sure that they never told anybody else about it. . .

Battlefield Earth

yuk

OK… So I am no longer that curious about myself, but I’m hella curious about Scientology! How is it that a science fiction writer writes a book, calls it real and suddenly some idiot makes Battlefield Earth into a movie??? And don’t tell me you liked it. I’ve said that myself. You just like the memory of it, now that it’s no longer tearing away at the walls of your intellect.

Why is it that I’m allowed to write Scientologist on my census form, but not Jedi? Or wizard? Maybe I can write wizard. I haven’t checked. But I know they don’t count Jedi. At least I can write Pastafarian, and they told everyone they just made it up.

Damn. The paranoia is kicking in. I should change some of these answers. You won’t take me alive! I sleep with a can of plant killer under my bed! Ha. Just read question 199: Do you tend to hide your feelings?

I feel kind of bad about picking on Scientology. I read the website, which is probably all they wanted me to do in the first place. It sounds quite mellow. I’m pretty sure it isn’t, but it sounds quite mellow.

Made up by a science fiction author. But mellow.

Next week: I’ll be married. I could write about that. Or I could write about bees. Let’s see, shall we?

Lies to Children

Andy Riley's Great Lies to tell Small Kids

This went straight onto the toilet wall...

I was listening to someone talking to my (almost) step-daughter the other day, wondering at all of her missing teeth and asking about the Tooth Fairy. The TOOTH FAIRY! The supernatural creature who comes into your room at night, takes your teeth and leaves money in return. Now I have no problem with the concept of fairies (see the Money Fairy blog entry) but I can’t help but be disturbed by the concept of a creature that wants my child’s teeth. What does she/they do with them? Anybody who has read (or only seen – heathens) Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather has a pretty good idea. But maybe there’s a thriving economy in children’s teeth in fairy land. We all know what rhino horns are used for. We should maybe be glad that the fairies aren’t just coming and taking teeth by force! Or maybe we should be preparing against the inevitable Tooth Recession of 2012. Our kids do eat more sugar than is good for them, after all.

20120308-132757.jpg

Ho ho Damo.

But that’s not my point (it’s just what’s going to keep me up at night for the next couple of weeks). We create these incredibly complex belief systems for children. Of course, children are wonderfully gullible. They’ll believe anything, and it is an endless source of amusement to me.

NOT A SMURF!

Definitely not a Smurf.

They won’t, however, believe that vegetables taste good. But they believe in Santa. They believe in the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Smurfs and Pokémon. And we encourage this belief.

I’ve gone from child to parent with Christmas these past couple of years co-habiting with my soon-to-be step-daughter. It changes everything! I ate three mince pies before I was satisfied with the “santa bite mark” I left on the pie left behind for him. Oh, the sacrifice! And my reindeer dental print in the carrot had to be seen to be believed. For Easter one year I created massive bunny footprints on the carpet.

A point. I have one. Ah yes, my point being that to maintain these beliefs for our credulous offspring (or step-offspring, or random children on the street) we lie to them. Unashamedly and with delighted malice (or is that just me?).

“You must go to bed early tonight. And straight to sleep. If you wake up, Father Christmas might not deliver the presents!” Translation: “Will you PLEASE go to sleep so we can get the pressies under the tree before midnight? We know you’re going to be up at 5am.”

“It’s time to write a Christmas letter to Santa. Write down everything you want. He’ll choose one or two things that he knows you want most!” Translation: “I have no idea what a 7 year old wants for Christmas. And I need a loophole in case the child asks for something that’s sold out or costing a bajillion dollars.”

Paul Kidby's version of Death as Hogfather with Albert

HO HO HO?

Why do we do it? Pratchett’s answer, again from Hogfather, is this:
“All right,” said Susan. “I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need… fantasies to make life bearable.”

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—”

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

“So we can believe the big ones?”

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

“They’re not the same at all!”

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME… SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—”

MY POINT EXACTLY.”
― Terry Pratchett, Hogfather

Calvin's dad explains science

Calvin’s dad would say, and I agree wholeheartedly, that it is just more fun to tell an imaginative lie than explain the boring truth. It’s a defence mechanism against the dreaded, all-powerful question “why?” Anybody who has ever dealt with a young child will know the question “why?” and the mind-melting implications of infinity it brings with it.

“It’s time to go, Chad,” I say.
“Why?”
“Because we have to get home.”
“Why?”
“Because your mother’s waiting for her dinner.”
“Why?”
“Because she’s hungry after a long day at work.”
“Why?”
“Because the human body burns food the same way cars burn petrol.”
“Why?”
“Because, um, look. Have you had the God talk yet?”

A far easier response goes as such:

20120308-133026.jpg

What if I wasn't lying?

“It’s time to go, Chad,” I say.
“Why?”
“Because a velociraptor has escaped from the dinosaur park and if we don’t get out of here soon, he’ll burst in through the door and eat you, one leg at a time!”
“Oh. OK.”

See? Much more fun. Only slightly more therapy needed as an adult.

My grandfather used to say the best way to find out whether a cat was a boy or a girl was to pick it up by the tail and swing it. If the eyes popped out, then it was a boy. He then offered to demonstrate on our cat Pepsi, who he well knew was a boy cat. It is one of the ways Perry men interact with children. Tease them until they completely lose it.

Lies-to-children is a term I first read in Terry Pratchett’s Science of Discworld (written with Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen. It describes the simplification of reality to help children understand the reality beneath. Things like “The Domino Effect started the Vietnam War” and “the sky is blue because of light refraction” are lies-to-children. Lies to Children are more along the lines of “the dog has gone to live on a farm where it will be happier.” or “if you have any more ice-cream it will leak out of your eyeballs and freeze your brain.”

I know which I prefer.

Imagine That.

A good imagination...

Shereen and I sat down with a financial planner last night and discussed getting life insurance. I’m growing up! But now that I’m worth more dead than alive, I’ve had to accept that I’ve just taken the first step towards accepting that I’m going to die. I mean really, why would you bet an insurance company that you were going to die if you knew you were going to lose?

Dammit.

But never fear, bloggy followers, I am not talking about death, save as a lead-in to a commentary on imagination.

I spent a few weeks as a child wide awake each night terrified that I was going to die. As an adult, I’ve always assumed that it was a normal stage of development. You start off and everything is part of you. And then you want someone to feed you and they don’t and you realise that they are an independent entity. And eventually you realise that if they can go away and not come back then you might end as well.

For me, that was compounded, I think, by an incredibly vivid imagination. At night, trying to think of what death would be like, I could feel the wood of the coffin on my skin. I would try and drag a breath from a space completely devoid of air. I couldn’t imagine being dead and at peace. I could only imagine dying and the fear and panic that went along with that.

I’ve never written about that before. But I’ve written about almost everything else. And I know that I’m not famous enough for people to care where I get my ideas, but I’m going to tell you anyway. It is an insight into my warped mind and where a simple idea can take me.

The most convoluted idea for a story ended up being a short story called Have your Lamington and eat it too. I was living in Seymour, walking home from the bakery, eating a sausage roll. Bits of pastry were flaking away and dropping to the ground. I watched ants take the flakes away – a tasty meal – and had an epiphany: it is incredibly difficult to eat every little bit of anything! Imagine, then, if you had to eat a magic lamington in order to gain a special power. Imagine if you had to eat ALL of it for the magic to work. And imagine that something really bad would happen to you if you didn’t eat it all. I watched the ants drag crumbs of sausage roll down beneath the earth and decided that some poor sod wild have an extremely unpleasant time getting hold of those last few crumbs.

Ted’s Souls came out of a conversation with Dave, where we tried to figure out what the appendix did. It seemed like as logical a storage place as any for the human soul.

Shoot for the Moon was an exercise in sense-writing to begin with. I wrote a scene with as much sensation in it as possible. It turned into a proper story because I wanted to explore a world where nearly everybody was a werewolf, because really, it wouldn’t be that bad – most of the time.

Dwarves in Space began as an image of a group of dwarves lighting fires in the hold of a spaceship to keep warm and ponderings on how a wizard would survive in an environment of pure technology.

And Finding Damo evolved from a desire to tell the story of some of the stupid things I’ve done along with the idea that there might be a junior Perry out there somewhere that I don’t know about.

I have a story that deals with what the heir to Prometheus would steal if we got another go at Break-and-Entering Olympus. A story that came out of a minor nervous attack over the thought that, on a train, you’d have nowhere to go if the passengers suddenly turned into homicidal maniacs (yes, I think about these things). A story based on the observation that when you kill a spider, the corpse doesn’t always stick around (and so, is it really dead? Or are spiders immortal?). And a story based around a song called Skin Deep. I never knew it was called Skin Deep as a kid. I just remember the line: Better watch out for the skundig. What the hell are skundig?? That was a year’s worth of peaceful sleep I’ll never get back, I tell ya!

Come to think of it, “Better watch out for the Skin Deep” also has incredibly creepy vibes.

Lots of stories in my head!

Anyway, there are thousands of stories in my head. I should stop talking about them and go and write some. And if you know anyone who wants to buy some, feel free to send them my way.

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