The Tarnishing of Texas; (Cowboys in the White House)

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No state has seen their reputation tarnished to such a degree, due to its nationally elected native Presidents, more than the Lone Star State. None.  The Chief Executives in question: Lyndon Baines Johnson and George W. Bush; the 36th and 43rd President’s respectively.

Granted, both men took office in the midst of national upheaval: Johnson upon the death Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 11.32.02 AMof Kennedy and Bush Jr. in the midst of a disputed election with Al Gore, his Democratic opponent. And no doubt things began to unravel domestically and globally shortly after both these men began governing. Johnson had Vietnam and Bush 911.

Both situations arguably made worse by their ensuing policies…and personalities.

Even taking into consideration the dark cloud under which Johnson entered office, the tall Texan was in fact the heir to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Great Society expanded the welfare state into nearly every nook and cranny of our culture. Particularly with regards to African-Americans. It is Johnson who solidified the black vote for the Democratic Party in perpetuity.

And yet the Left all but hate the man.

He was, as James Michener expressed so perfectly in his epic historical fiction novel, TEXAS, quite unacceptable to the eastern establishment. Johnson got the blame for Vietnam, no doubt…but it runs deeper than that. Johnson’s White House briefings on the state of South Asia only served to exacerbate the issue as the first ever televised war waged in America’s collective living room. Had the war broke out under Kennedy, it might have gone a bit better. It was Johnson’s style that was the problem. A cowboy at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. did not connect. Lyndon Johnson’s legacy was in the crafting of modern political tragedy.

Fast forward to the turn of the millennium and the election of yet another Texan, George W. Bush.  Unlike his northeastern father, George Jr. was a real Texan, and this was the problem. Only those motivated by malice towards the man would refute that he was not tragically at the wrong place at the wrong time. After the felling of the Twin Towers the nation was sad and angry. They needed consolation and action. But Bush not only possessed Johnson’s colloquial defects, he did it with his own particular inarticulateness.

We’ll never know how Al Gore would have actually handled the situation post 911, had he prevailed in the disputed election of 2000. The press would have treated him better, but perhaps he himself would have suffered the same fate as Johnson (unlikely). The reality was that once again a Texan was the leader of the free world in a time of great tumult, and the free world couldn’t connect.

A cowboy in the White House doesn’t work.

The state as a whole has suffered immeasurably from this. Texas was never going to be a darling of the northeastern establishment, but it could have had a seat at the broader table. As it is, the state’s immense cultural achievements remain largely on the periphery. That’s unfortunate for the state, the nation and the world, because Texas has lots to offer.

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The District Manager Pt. 8

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Bowers is little more than a tiny community situated in what was once an enormous pecan plantation. The trees are huge. The main highway leading to this outpost abruptly splits, leaving the traveler with a choice between the town, if it can be called that, in one direction, and a small collection of shanty homes in the opposite direction. Exiting in favor of the residential, the traveler discovers that there is a definite class distinction. About a mile beyond the last visible shack, a detour emerges. This leads to Bowers’ well-to-do, and my destination. Four pillars rise in the distance, jutting upward above the giant trees. They are the smokestacks of a power plant, which can be seen for miles from any direction.

I pull into Mr. Reynolds’ driveway and he comes out to meet me. He dons a USMC cap and a beard. He is amicable and grateful for my visit.

“So, Mr. Reynolds…” I begin. We are still outside. His unfenced yard looks out over acres of gorgeous, wild bottomland.

“Please, call me Jules.” His accent nags at me.

“Jules, I’m just curious…are you from somewhere up North?”

“God no, man! I’m from New Orleans!”

“New Orleans? Well, sir, I apologize for my mistake. I’ve lived down here all my life. I should know the difference between…”

“…between a Yankee and a Coon Ass?” He light-heartedly interrupts.

“Yes, sir.”

“Don’t sweat it, Mason. You don’t mind if I call you Mason, do you? ‘Mason Dixon,’ hell of a catchy name by the way—love it!”

“Mason is fine.”

“Good, let me show you the arena.”

It’s nearing twilight as we make our way toward the rodeo arena. Though not far from his house, the arena is only accessible through a dense wood behind his property. The sun is nearly set and the grass is high. Jules turns on his flashlight. We cautiously make our way, conscious of the possibility of poisonous snakes. The creatures of the night are having a hell of a concert.

The arena is small: I’d say not more than forty yards by thirty, including the rising bleachers. A single entry gate is heavily locked. The bottom bleachers are obscured by a fence. Wild, waist-high weeds line the circumference. But the top bleachers are slated, so you can see through them. Jules signals me towards the nearby thicket.

“I’ve got a ladder hidden over here,” he says, pointing.

“Are you sure it’s safe to leave something like this out here? Like this?”

“I’m not going to haul the thing back and forth through these woods. It’ll be okay,” he answers. He’s breathing heavily.

We each grab our end of the ladder. With some difficulty, we heave it up in an attempt at leaning it against the rail that guards the top bleacher. All this activity has awakened the sleeping dogs.

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Texas Politics in a Nutshell; or not!

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Texas Politics in a Nutshell-2

AUSTIN –

Austin is the pimple-faced teenager of Texas’ cities. But it wears gobs of makeup to cover this up. It looks positively beautiful from afar, but as one gazes closer…well…not so much. To begin with Austin is a city planning monstrosity. Their philosophy of ‘if we don’t build it they won’t come,’ has been disastrous, and the town’s colossal narcissism guarantees that it will continue to become a victim of its own success.

The people running Austin today had little if anything to do with the city’s ascension. And like most heirs, they have little respect for those responsible. Austin is more West Coast at this point than anything else. Californians, in particular, have a knack for running things into the ground. (Moving into a pristine area and then throwing a tantrum at its spoiling). They have all but drained the life’s blood from their home state and have now set their vampiric sights on Austin. With excessive municipal regulation and taxation, they might be successful in their creative destruction.

This taken into consideration, Austin is one of the most creative places in the world at this point in history. But can they sustain this…this is the question.

Austin is on the fast track to accomplish in a matter of two decades what it took NYC and California nearly a century to achieve: killing the bohemian soul. Creative people (true creative people not poseurs) are not usually of privileged means. Their existence requires a reasonably priced lifestyle.  In collusion with the real estate lobby, the Austin municipal monarchy could be ensuring its own creative annilation.

This would be a tragedy. But the city seems ill-equipped to deal with adult problems.

Legislatively Austin is largely intact. This is its weakness, as it has crafted few contingent suburban allies. As the minions of disaffected, priced out of the market members of the productive class, transplant to its perimeter (as Californians have done to Texas—see a pattern here?), it increasingly looks like an island. Where else in Texas can you campaign as a ‘Progressive Democrat’ and not have to worry about your signs being ripped from the earth? Other than housing the legislature, Austin has little policy impact.

In a world governed by irony and unintended consequences, the best that Austin can hope for going forward is in establishing itself as an entertainment and information nerve center. Not so much cultivating, but processing and distributing the ideas that could shape the future.

All the state lacks to dominate the cosmos is a media complex…

But again, will Austin’s success guarantee its failure?

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The District Manager Pt. 7

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I dwell on things, particularly work. I always have. It’s one of the things about me that drove Ann crazy. The irony was that the more I would dwell on work the less I would dwell on Ann.

I awoke that Fourth of July with a horrendous headache. I needed something to eat but there was only molded bread in the apartment. I wasn’t about to try the cat’s Fancy Feast—not yet…

One of the great things about living in a city is the proximity of eating establishments. When in the country, the wife and I had at least a ten-mile trek to the nearest gas station. However shitty the neighborhood where I now live, at least there’s a Whataburger across the street.

I sit in the establishment waiting in agony for my breakfast taco. The Jack is eating a hole in my stomach. I lifted the Julius Reynolds envelope last night before barely escaping the D.O.

Instead of listening to Dwight Yoakum and Tom Petty all night, I sipped bourbon and reviewed the materials therein. What I see is fucked up, to say the least.

The pictures that Mr. Reynolds has taken are disturbing. Pit bulls, some twenty of them, are littered about the rodeo arena’s dirt floor. Though a few have actual dog houses, most are sheltered only by makeshift lean-tos. Chains confine them to an area of only a few feet, with disgusting bowls of slop just barely in reach. How in the hell could no one find a problem here? The dogs that are in view look barely sustained. Marks are visible on a few, even from the distance that the photos were taken.

I’ve brought the materials with me into the Whataburger. I’m flipping through the packet for a refresher. I have to put them aside because it’s nudging the oncoming nausea.

I call Mr. Reynold’s after I eat. Upon return from the local VFW, he calls me back. We make arrangements to meet tomorrow.

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Texas Politics in a Nutshell; or not!

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Texas Politics in a Nutshell-2

DALLAS –

Dallas is the most complex of Texas cities. Precisely because the neurosis that spawned the modern Texas dilemma of rural versus urban started here with the assassination of JFK. (See the Preface to this series). As Austin should be taught as “What not to do 101,’ Dallas should be taught as ‘What to do 202.’ Some fortyish years ago McMurtry described the city as tense. No more. For no municipal reinvention of the last fifty years can compete with Big D.

Dallas is slick. Dallas is classy. Dallas is snotty. Dallas is…dare I say…Eastern.

On the surface…

Just below the great complexity and contradiction of the city begins to appear. JFK called Texas ‘nut country.’ He was killed in Dallas. His death gave rise to LBJ for God’s sake. Dallas should forever inhabit the lowest realms of Dante’s Hell. But it doesn’t. Why?

The Dallas Cowboys.

Now we know what Neman Marcus was paving the way for…

That’s right; The Dallas Cowboys saved the city from an eternity of hell fire. But is not football quintessentially old school Texan? One might ask. How could this be? Because the franchise started in 1960 would blossom into the archetype of a new sophisticated American cosmopolitan chivalry – (Very similar to the slain president.) Who couldn’t love Tom Landry? And what about Roger Stahbach…Prince Valiant with a jersey. And the cheerleaders? Sexy but not sleazy. A trope of dancing Guinevere’s.

America’s Team. This gave birth undoubtedly to the hit TV series a decade later. But the real oil money was in Houston; the giant cattle ranches on the coastal plains!

The genius of all of the above is that Dallas never drifted from its traditional conservatism. (Sure it’s epicenter is liberal like all major cities.) It just dressed it up like Wall Street. This persists today.

Legislatively Dallas is most the potent block there is in the Texas House. No conservative cause will succeed without it and it alone can damn near kill any RINO bill, if it so desires. But it has a tendency towards right-wing extremism, which has hurt its respective members with regards to committee appointments. Still, the bulk of its delegation is young and fires with the confidence exclusive to youth.

Houston eclipses Dallas in the high cultural arts, as well as sophisticated cuisine; Austin in grassroots vibe. But it doesn’t matter:

The Cowboys are presently the most valuable sports team on the planet. And their football conference is the NFC East.

‘…and that has made all the difference.’ R. Frost

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The District Manager Pt. 6

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“Yes, this is Mason Dixon, District Manager for House District 100, I just listened to your message about the pit bulls…How can I help you, Mr. Reynolds…?”

“Yes sir, I am so glad that you returned my call. I really don’t know where else to turn. I’ve contacted just about every county official there is and no one seems to think this is
of interest.”

“Have you contacted any animal cruelty organizations?”

“Yes, yes I have, but they said that no laws are being violated as the dogs are on leashes and have access to food.”

“I see. What would you like us to do?” I continue to pack the cigarette on the desktop. It’s now that the absolute darkness of the hallway starts to work its black magic.

“Well, Mr. Dixon, I’m not sure. Have you received the packet of information I sent to your office?” I peer over at the inbox and see it sits unopened.

“Not yet, but I haven’t checked the P.O. Box in a few days,” (an obvious lie). “The post office is closed by now, but I’ll check in the morning.”

“They won’t be open tomorrow, sir. It’s the nation’s birthday.”

“Right, I’ll run by on Saturday, I mean.”

“Well, frankly, I’d like to show this place to you if you don’t mind. I think after you actually see it, you will be shocked. It really is a perversion, Mr. Dixon. Not to mention a threat to the public. We have families with small children in the area.”

“Yes, I heard your message.” I’m now paying more attention to the hallway than to the conversation at this point. “If you like, I’ll review the materials and give you a call
this weekend.”

“Yes, yes, yes, that would be wonderful. I really appreciate your attention to this matter, Mr. Dixon.”

“It’s both my job and my pleasure, Mr. Reynolds.”

I hang up the phone and stuff the well-packed smoke between my lips. The whole path down the dark hallway has me feeling like there’s something, or someone, right behind me. As I unlock the rear door, a breath of cold air suddenly slaps the back of my neck! I jump. I shriek—shamefully…

…it’s the air conditioner kicking on.

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Writing the District Manager: The Soundtrack

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I enjoy weaving bits of high and low culture into my novels. In particular, I enjoy setting the story I’m writing to a musical score as I go. I did this with The Representative and repeated it in The District Manager.

The way I go by selecting what will be playing in the background of a certain scene depends on that particular scene. But in both novels I chose a genre of music that would identify with the protagonist. The leading man in The Representative is John David Dothan, a Generation X’er who is a closet poet and former cult rocker turned politician. Dothan is a complex guy and he’s also a Texan, so I broke with my genre theme from time to time, adding bits of classical, country and singer-songwriter. The soundtrack is largely punk, post-punk: roughly late seventies through early eighties rock music.

In fact I was listening to the Sex Pistols’, Never Mind the Bullocks when I thought of the concept for the novel’s front cover.

In The District Manger I went in another direction. There is no English music to speak of, only American roots rock with a predilection to the South. The name of the protagonist, ‘Mason Dixon’ says it all. And Mason has a friend, Keith, an ex-con who lives with him upon release from prison. Keith is a drug addict and guitarist who introduces Mason on to a thing called ‘Cow Punk.’ Cow Punk was the predecessor to Alt. Country. Its moniker speaks for its style. I also reference Southern Rock.

There is a scene in the book that I am most fond of, from Chapter Nine: Darkness Seals the Deal. In it, Mason returns to the vacant home of he and his late wife, Ann. While writing I was listening to Tom Petty’s Southern Accents. The title track arrived about the time Mason was pulling up to the house, and it fit like a glove. Very emotional.Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 10.04.41 AM

The cover art concept was inspired by REM’s debut EP, Chronic Town.

Though it is not necessary to enjoy the stories’, if one should take the time to go and listen to some of the music referenced in the respective books, it might lend a certain spice to the narratives.

Read The District Manager today while enjoying the inspiring tracks below!

The District Manager Pt. 5

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When I finally pull up to the District Office it’s getting dark out. This sucks. Why? The D.O. is haunted. No bullshit, it’s creepy. Our office is housed in the center of Fort Bryan, in the historical district. The building we rent is as old as anything for fifty miles. It’s situated in a complex of buildings, constructed around the turn of the last century. The D.O. is in an old bank, in fact. The walls are several feet thick. They had to be, so as to withstand a dynamite attack. The place looks like a citadel. All the buildings on our block are connected in typical early twentieth-century fashion. What’s interesting is that they are connected by a labyrinth of internal passageways as well. I’ve only ventured their stairwells on one occasion—too creepy. Anyway, according to local lore, the building that the D.O. sits in was once held up, with several people getting killed. It’s said that it’s haunted by these victims. I fucking believe it. We share the place with an oil and gas company, but this late nobody’s here.

I nervously hunt for the right key under a friendless light. Even in this quasi-urban environment I hear the crickets and frogs crescendo and die in perfect rhythms. When I get inside there are no lights on. It is dead silent. I’m too stupid to have remembered a flashlight. I run my hand along the wall, searching for an otherwise familiar switch. The sudden illumination is initially as terrifying as the preceding darkness. The hallway to our D.O. is only sparsely lit, and guarded by French doors. There is no hall light. Before I’m engulfed, I’m smart enough to locate the correct key to our office. Blackness that could rival oblivion awaits me. Expecting to find a maggot ridden visage ready to tear my face off, I hit the office light immediately.

Not this time. I begin rummaging through my desk, looking for the mislaid wallet. It is nowhere. Fortunately, I have a pistol stashed in the one of the drawers of one of the filing cabinets. Not for the ghosts, mind you…but for me. If that fails, I can always slit my wrists with one of a multitude of knives that decorate the conference room across the hall. That’s right: knives as decorations (remember, this is politics).

I feel my boot hit something beneath the desk. Luckily, it’s my wallet and not a severed hand. I exhale my anxiety. The relaxed air has barely passed my thirsty lips when I detect a flashing light on the phone. Someone has called.

I’m officially on holiday at this point, but I scored and kept this gig because I work hard. How hard is it to pick up the receiver and dial the voicemail? Packing a cig on the desktop, I listen. The voice sounds Yankee:

“Yes, Mr. Dixon, this is Julius Reynolds. I’m calling about an issue concerning a pit bull farm not more than a few hundred yards behind my home. I live just outside of Bowers, in Wagoneer County. The farm is actually an old rodeo arena. The arena is open air so you can hear them barking. I have some pictures I’ve taken that I have mailed to you at the address I found on the Texas House website. I hope this is the right address. Will you please call me regarding this issue? We have several families with small children in the area. I have contacted the county and they say there is nothing they can do, as no laws are being broken. Again my name is…”

The cigarette I’m handling between my thumb and index finger beckons for a light. The liquor store is in need of my patronage. Why do I feel compelled to call this man
right now?

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Texas Politics in a Nutshell; Or Not

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Texas Politics in a Nutshell-2

HOUSTON –

Houston is Texas’ largest city and the nation’s fourth. A good possibility exists that in the next census it will eclipse Chicago as the third largest. It is an apt starting point when beginning examination of the state’s cities and their place in Texas Politics.

Houston is simultaneously the most Texan of Texas cities and the least so. To begin with it is enormous, eclipsed only by L.A. in its sprawl (as observed by Larry McMurtry some forty years ago). This is a town that was electing gay and lesbian mayors way way way before this was anywhere near acceptable anywhere in the country, with the exception of San Francisco. Within its immensity dwells an unrivaled racial and ethnic diversity. (Where else will you find street signs in Vietnamese?)

With the expansion of the Panama Canal, the Port of Houston is poised to dominate trade in the Western Hemisphere. One could rightly put forth the proposition that Houston is the most global city in America, If not one of the most global on the globe.

But only in commerce.

An old musician friend of mine once observed, when lamenting on the lack of a music scene in Houston, citing that the city had all the elements of a cultural mammoth, but that Houston was, is and will always be a ‘GREED TOWN.’

This is both its strength and weakness.

Houston is loaded with culture for the highbrow: museums; opera and symphony; etc. Meaning: imported culture. It is sorely lacking in the grassroots support imperative for the cultivation of an identity. And this is why Houston is a city without a past. (This includes its multitude of suburbs.) Houston represents an escape from something and a beginning anew, not a fixed entity.

Ultimately to outsiders, Houston is a footnote to Texas’ other massive population centers, as it has few cultural exports. The great irony is that so many talented people have been born there. But they had to leave in order to achieve, if not their potential, the recognition necessary to reach that potential.

Legislatively the city is as fragmented as its population. And is the least reliable metropolitan block in either the Texas House or Senate. It is comprised of liberal Democrats and Social Conservative Republicans. Politically this is a weakness.

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The Representative Pt. 1

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2016 IPPY Gold Medalist, Southern Fiction

 

CHAPTER ONE

The high definition screen illuminated perfectly the charred remnants of a little arm swinging like a metronome from a blackened bus window. Thee pressure from the extinguishing hose rocked the crowded, formerly yellow vehicle. Firemen raced about in the background through a thinning film of smoke. In the foreground, a network reporter spoke into a trembling microphone, repeating the same two lines: “Who could do such a thing?” And, “The sky reeks of burning tires!”

State Senator Reed Jackson stood very close to the suspended television, turning his good ear slightly upward. The volume was down very low so as not to disturb his wife Jill, who slept in the hospital bed behind him.

When the breaking news flash finished, he clicked the apparatus off. For some moments he sat staring at the blob that was now his beloved wife of fifty years. Reed thought it cruel that one so emaciated could possess such little shape. But this is cancer, he reconciled. For the aged state senator, all was part of God’s plan. There was reason for everything. We are not meant to understand. He felt his cell phone vibrating from the pocket of his black suit. He stepped quietly out of the room to take the call.

“Yes Governor, what is it?”

“Reed, my God, have you been watching the news! Have you heard what has just happened down in McAllen?”

“Yes sir, I was just watching; despicable.”

“What kind of a sick son-of-a-bitch would blow up a school bus filled with elementary school children?”

“If I had to guess, I would say it was the cartels, sir. The Gulf Cartel to be exact.”

“But why?

“The federal amnesty law paved the way for legitimate trafficking. The cartels now have legal competition. This was most likely done to deter that competition, and will no doubt be persuasive. I doubt any church groups or do-gooder organizations will venture into this area; not after this.”

“What can we do?”

“Ever since the federal amnesty bill became law some months back, I’ve been thinking about just that. I suggest you call for a Select Joint Committee on Immigration Reform to address the immigration issue. We will need it to be a mixture of republican and democrat; it must be bi-partisan.”

“Do you think the Dems will play along?”

“The general election is in less than two weeks. Everyone who voiced his or her support for amnesty will be running for the exit, sir. This is Texas’ 911. To answer your question, yes, I believe the Dems will play along.”

“Speaking of the general, it looks like Harry is going to get clobbered. Did you have any idea he was involved in those things?”

“Harry has the personality of an addict. Years ago I cured him of one addiction. I suppose his great flaw is that he is in need of a vice. But no, of course I had no idea. This is unacceptable. I am disgusted.”

“Do you have anyone in mind for the committee?” the governor asked in an attempt to reroute the discussion to less personal and more productive aims.

“This terrorist attack occurred in McAllen, along the border. That’s Representative Ron Martinez’s district. I will call him shortly.”

“This can’t wait, Reed!” the governor implored.

“I understand, but I am at the hospital right now. It will have to wait, sir.”

“I’m sorry, Reed, how thoughtless of me. How is Jill?”

“She’s dying, Governor.”

“I’m terribly sorry Reed…terribly sorry.”

“It is alright sir; soon she shall be with the Lord. I will call you tomorrow when I have something.”

“God Bless you, Reed.”

“God Bless Texas, sir.”

When Reed reentered Jill’s private room, he found that all the instruments which detailed her vital sign’s had collapsed. The EKG was flat. He kissed Jill on the forehead and then pressed the remote that alerted the nurse. A single stoic tear traveled the furrows of his face. Taking a seat near the bed, he took her hand, which was still warm. Yes, he thought, now she has gone home. He wondered when he would join her. He prayed it would not be too long. Reed was now alone on this earth: His son having died years ago in a car accident and his lesbian daughter estranged and beyond contacting. In joining Jill, he prayed it would not be long.

When the nurse arrived, he informed her of his wife’s passing. Personnel came and went. Reed, having returned to the television, watched more of the unfolding devastation. He had loved God with all his heart his whole life. The Lord had repaid him with professional success, but balanced that success with personal tragedy. It had been his cross to bear. He watched as the firemen started the careful process of removing tiny bodies from the explosion; knowing he had one more cross to bear before he joined his wife in eternity.

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