Sunday, February 28, 2010

Kimono Day Is Coming. Gentlemen Are Also Welcome!

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sepia Saturday: Toughs

(Here is our contribution for this week's edition of Sepia Saturdays.)

"Who are those two?" I used to be asked when visitors spied the above photo when it was framed in my dining room back in the '80s.

"Oh, Uncle Mickey and Howie before they held up the Western United Bank back in 1918," I would say.

I have no idea who they are. It may be bending the Sepia Saturday rules a bit to post non-family members, but since I brought the photo into my household more than 30 years ago, I will say the photo itself has become a part of the family. There is no date, name or location on the back. Just blank gray paper similar to what it is mounted to on the front. Yet this image has always fascinated. I'd guess it was taken sometime between 1900 and 1920. There is much about it that is remarkable to me. First, the angle is unique since both snapshots and formal portraits of the day were taken straight on or sometimes from above, never from below and with such an intriguing slant that echoes the pair's slouching posture. These two are clearly posing, perhaps playing characters. I suspect they were not actually smokers but perhaps imitating someone they saw in the movies, though this appears to be at least a decade before the age of George Raft and James Cagney, there is a real wise guy/tough guy stance.

The drape of the jackets, the white shirts with no ties, the tilt of the hats and the waterfall bangs of the boy on the right suggest a certain style, even if they may be a pair of farm boys playing tough guy dress up.

I bought it at an estate sale in Kansas City around 1977 or 1978, much to the horror of my grandmother. "Oh, how wretched, they look like my cousins Ira and Alonzo, but we never took pictures of their antics." She thought I was insane to waste two dollars on such an image. I doubt I'll ever appear on Antiques Roadshow to be told it's worth five figures, but it's still a favorite image in my collection.


Friday, February 26, 2010

We Got Nice Ass in San Francisco Now

My upstairs neighbor just introduced me to this record label, Nice Ass. The only thing I love more than keeping up on vinyl is knowing that there are folks out there still cutting acetate 78s.

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What Will You Play in 2020?

Are you dreading 2012? Depending on the state of that year's election, I may move to Antigua, Guatemala, no matter what the Mayan calendar says. Or, more safely, Barcelona, 20% unemployment or not.

I've also been envisioning the year 2020 a lot lately. I like the ring of it better than 2012 anyway, and there's enough time to get ready for it. Lately I've thought I will learn to play a musical instrument or at least play one better than the ones I've tried through the years -- piano, recorder, flute and snare drums. I was, however, quite a good xylophone player in my high school days and always had my heyday during the Nutcracker Suite.

Does the turntable count as an instrument? Since the days of Sugarhill Records onwards, I guess it has. I used to buy 12-20 CDs a week. Now not that many in a year. However, I've been in something of a frenzy of uploading old LPs. I used to give the line "I'm not a vinyl purist," but that was in the days before USB turntables. Granted, I am uploading the work of true artists and performers, but part of what I love about LP uploads is that it's not a passive act. One must dust the LP and check the stylus for dust, adjust the tone arm for perfect weight pressure. I equate it to the Japanese Tea ceremony. I didn't grow the leaves, I didn't make the pot, I didn't drill the well for the water. But I brought all of these elements together for the perfect marriage of elements.
Last weekend, I heard Ashley Judd on "What Do You Know" who, in explaining her decision to go back and study international affairs clarified that at the peak of her Hollywood success she was not playing the scene but staying home to listen to Beethoven and read the Russians. "And avoid STDs," she added with a wink in her voice. It was fitting to hear that just as I've been transferring a collection of Beethoven -- a rather staggering 10 LPs of his entire symphonies and overtures, several of which I have on CD, but I like the idea of having them from the LP which is in near pristine condition. It has both aesthetic and sentamental value. It was passed down from a family friend of my parents. My mother had two best friends who whose husbands were retired members of the Mexico City and Berlin Philharmonics. The Beethoven collection, not surprisingly, came from the latter after he passed on in the early 1990s and his wife wanted me to have them. I rememer adolescent years of going to his house where dusting the turntable and recounting what brought him and his wife to the small Midwestern town where he whiled away his final years as a German professor at a small liberal arts college.

When the Third Reich emerged, he left the Philharmonic to go into the diplomatic corps, was captured by the British in Cameroon in 1939, interned in Jamaica and never performed professionally again. As these sounds pass from LP to MP3, I try to think where they will be in 2020 and if any vestige of his memory will pass with them.
In the meantime, I hope to have my collection of Poulenc uploaded by or long before 2012. I am getting close on having his complete works in my system.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Olympic Harlequin

We all love Philip Johnson, but he dumped some of his worst architecture in Texas in the 1970s and 1980s. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but what happens in Texas stays there and festers until it becomes a president or the Tea Party Movement.
Phew, San Francisco is immune to such things. Oh, wait, we're not! Not only do we have a Neiman-Marcus in Union Square, we have one with a harlequin design by Philip Johnson. However, he claimed he was Phillip Johnston when he designed it. (Look closely, he just added two consonants.)Just how bad is Johnson's Texas architecture? Check out the website for the Crescent in Dallas which he designed. Crescent as in croissant, as in French as in faux Versailles. They have some really great propaganda:
  • As culturally vibrant as the neighborhood in which it sits, Rosewood Crescent Hotel is ideally located in the heart of Uptown Dallas. Within walking distance of the downtown Dallas' Arts District, where the new Winspear Opera House and Wyly Theatre complete the largest urban arts district in America, the luxury hotel consistently wins hearts and accolades. Offering chic, contemporary styling, a serene spa and dining options ranging from Nobu to Starbucks, Rosewood Crescent Hotel offers discreet, professional service with Texas charm.
The biggest arts district in America? Or the Americas? I've been to Buenos Aires, and I think theirs is much bigger. And San Francisco's arts district, the Engleside, is bigger than Midland AND Odessa combined. Come on, Texas, you're big with oil and Texas Instruments not "the arts". However, nothing says "the arts" more than "Rosewood".
What goes around, comes around., Have you been watching the Winter Olympics? Of course not. No one watches the Winter Olympics since there are no Cuban or Brazilian men's swim teams, but they do have harlequin patterned curling pants from "the San Francisco Bay Area". (Actually Santa Rosa, but isn't that also in Texas?)

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Theme Thursday: Bottles

(Our contribution to Theme Thursday. For those newer to Junk Thief and not acquainted with the ongoing adventures of tragic, talented master architect Louis Sullivan, here is a brief retrospective of past posts.)He had reached the point where he no longer apologized for having a breakfast of sausages and Lorna Doons at 3 p.m. However many bottles had brought him here no longer mattered. Mr. Sullivan only knew that the pursuit of pleasure had only brought him pain.
This latest duo of anonymous friends could offer him nothing but accompaniment to the latest chalice. Whether it was half empty of full no longer mattered. He was his own vessel, a river of numbness running through him as he pushed forward to the falls.Mr. Sullivan could no longer determine if this latest confrontation of demons was real or imagined, just a battle of the amber waves of pain.The bottle uncorked, his life pierced by a spiraling corkscrew. Cork, Ireland, the city where his great-grandparents met over a foamy beer on a foggy night. He thought of Proust spending his final days in a room with walls of cork to muffle the pain. At last he had found a goal to collect enough cork until his room could swallow the fiercest scream.Patrick Street, Cork, Ireland, 1893.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Take Your Ives to Work Day

Quick, what do T.S. Eliot, Franz Kafka and Charles Ives have in common? All three spent a good deal of their careers not in a career in the arts but in button down business roles. Eliot worked for Lloyd's of London. Kafka worked for Assicurazioni Generali, and Ives worked for an American insurance agency. In fact, he is credited for being a pioneer in estate planning as much as he was in music.

Maybe that's why I've been playing a lot of Ives during my work week lately. Ives is so wonderfully unpredictable and downright weird. Chaotic one moment, then pastoral the next and then sounding like backtracking marching bands crashing into each other. Ives' Psalms can be very good for focusing. If you're really focusing, you don't even realize they are in English and they start sounding like a Buddhist chant.

Some of his individual American songs are the most gloriously goofy. Aaron Copland composed his share of wacky tunes, but Ives go even further. Who was Charlie Rutlage? I have no idea, but under Ives' hand, it feels like he might be a character out of Kafka's Amerika.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

MAGPIE TALES: The Dilemma of the Trust Fund Maoist

(Our latest contribution to the Magpie Tales project.)

Aaron hadn't been in the room more than a couple of minutes before he pulled out his travel votive and pulled out the candle marked "Mystic Midnight" from his favorite artisan candle bodega, Spirit Air, in Half Moon Bay. The scents of thyme, lavender, cayenne and saffron filled the musty room.

He blew out the match and put it on the box with the logo for the Hotel Forum Bratislava, an image that suggested hostel of far greater grandeur and and mystique than the reality of his humble lodging. Aaron recalled when he first came here in 1989, just a year into his diplomatic relations career, at once excited to be behind the Iron Curtain but even more devastated to know that it had fell. He had begun reading Marx, Engels, Brecht and Trotsky long before he was able to shave. When he finally arrived at the beginning of the Bush I administration, his romantic ideals of "crossing over on the other side" made him feel he had arrived at a party just breaking up, the idealistic wine long gone, only a few dried out appetizers left of a shoddy tray.

Yet, he was all the same charmed by the anxious ineptitude of the Hotel Forum in what would soon become "former Czechoslovakia", a symbol of the "opening up" of this nation many felt was the golden child kidnapped by the Evil Empire. Aaron loved the eager gawkiness of the staff, the pimpled young busboys with crooked, clip on bow ties and barmaids in frilly peasant skirts and Oakland Raiders sweatshirts. Aaron resented that they were all anxious to speak to him in their awkward English and marveled that he grew up in Los Angeles but all grimaced when he spoke to them in what he was sure was more than passable Russian.

Two decades later, it might as well be the Detroit Airport Ramada. The service was competent but generic. Lattes, Atlantic salmon and Cajun blacked catfish were all on the menu.

Aaron had arrived at so many parties too late -- Shanghai just as skyscrapers started shadowing the Bund, Hanoi just when French cuisine had returned to the Metropole, Angkor Wat when lines had started forming like Spring Break in Orlando.

And with each disappointment, Aaron retreated further from his dashed dreams, looking for more creature comforts to soften the blow of each disappointment. Sipping absinthe in Petionville seemed like such a small vice when he first tried it, just as that 90 minute bubble bath in Santiago did when he arrived two years after Pinochet had been ousted.

Had he become what he most dreaded, a trust fund Maoist or just a realist? Aaron knelt before the tiny travel shrine behind his votive, the room now filled with the familiar scents of home, remembering all the years before when he first put a dash of sage essence on the tip of his nose while riding a chicken bus to Tikal to overpower the stench of donkey dung. Today, he wondered if he could even recall that odor.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Fishes Around the Corner

Although they are just around the corner from me, I don't get into the Million Fishes Gallery as often as I would wish. However, I always check out their window displays. Their current one is the best yet, an almost city of Joseph Cornell style assemblages. Enjoy.

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Trees and Jack

Yesterday, Bow and I went down to Monterey to do a home assessment visit for a nice family wanting to adopt this basenji-boy named Jack from Michigan. They have been approved, and he should soon be making his trip out west. He sounds like a very nice boy, and I hope I might get to meet him someday. Bow was on her best behavior for the trip, and she especially enjoyed exploring the Monterey beaches and marina.

One of my favorite parts of the journey down is driving through The Avenue of Tall Trees, a quarter mile stretch of towering eucalyptuses that appear just before the climax of Vertigo. There has always been something mysterious about this stretch of the 101, and I'm not sure why. I've always wanted to walk through it and learn its history. There doesn't seem to be much on the web about it.

Aficionados of Vertigo and California geography know that there is a continuity goof in the film which implies that one drives through this grove when heading south from San Francisco to San Juan Bautistsa when, in fact, it's a few miles south of the town. It's featured in the book and website Footsteps in the Fog about Hitchcock's northern California films, but not many details are provided.
Trees figure prominently in Vertigo, first Muir Woods and then in the Avenue of Tall Trees. I've wondered if there is an Internet movie tree database. How many movies are there were trees play a leading role? A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, of course, Gorillas in the Mist to a degree and in the climax of The Fox. I remember dozing off on a flight during one of those dreadful Harry Pottery Barn movies where a possessed tree was a character, but a CGI tree, I suspect, so that doesn't count. I don't think tree movie stars are as big as they were in the golden age. Perhaps that's why Barbara Walters asked that notorious "What kind of tree are you" question to Katherine Hepburn. What an insult to all those oaks and firs out there. They would never use all the quirks and melodrama of Hepburn.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sepia Saturday: The Merging of Fact and Fiction

(Our latest participation in Sepia Saturdays.
Be sure to check the link to other great posts.)

How much of our family history is fact, legend or pure fiction? I've learned that mine is a pretty wild mix of all of that, and some of the "narrators" of our family's journey have been of varying reliability. Yet, I know that there is some truth embedded in some of the most outlandish tales.

The above photo is of my maternal great grandmother Eva Bell Cheuvront Coddington Cain and her son Claude, taken around 1891 with her son Claude. Here are the facts that I do know about them. She was born ion Montreal in 1867, the eldest of five children. In 1886 she married a man named Frank Coddington and moved with him to Mankato, Kansas.
This is the only photo I know of them as a couple. Their son Claude was born in 1889. They divorced shortly afterward, one of the first in the young state's history. Why they divorced has always been murky, but my grandmother always described Frank as a man with a reputation of being "dangerously handsome and downright dangerous when he was angry, especially when he was drinking".
Being a divorced, single mother with a strong French accent, no alimony and hundreds of miles from home must have been a daunting prospect. But Eva took solace in her "little prince", books of Plato and Baudelaire and memories of home.
In 1900, she remarried a man many years her senior, Maurice Cain, who had also arrived on the US prairie from Quebec. Together they built a new life that included my grandmother and three other children.

Being a dozen years older than the new brood of children, Claude apparently always felt in an awkward role but was especially admired by the three women of the household, and I always heard stories of his amazing singing voice and love of poetry and art. Sadly, none of his work was ever passed down through the family. My grandmother spoke of his dreams of going to New York or even Europe, but he only got as far as Kansas City where he worked as a streetcar conductor until dying suddenly at the age of 29. It was an event that forever shattered Eva. When my mother looked at the photos of the beautiful, poised young Eva in Victorian finery, my mother said it was hard to recognize her as the grandmother she knew -- a hunchbacked woman with goitre, half her teeth missing and smoked a corn cob pipe. Years of hard farm work and dashed dreamed took their toll on her.
My grandmother and her sister would sometimes speak of Claude in hushed tones, his life as what they termed a "confirmed bachelor" and the night he drowned in the Missouri River. As a child, I always wondered why he would go swimming at night. Only towards the end of her life did my grandmother share that he jumped into the river but would then refuse to share more details. When I pressed for answers, she would either turn silent or my parents would tell me that I was being rude.

My instincts and imagination have filled in what I think might have been Claude's story. I don't know how much is fact and how much is fancy. I've long wondered why I he has held such a fascination for me. Other ancestors have had more heroic or dramatic histories. In fact, he is only my "grand half uncle" though I can see a shared bloodline when I gaze on his face in the above portrait of him in his uniform. There is a familiar mix of grace, arrogance, melancholy and longing for what is beyond the immediate horizon. Was he composing a sonnet in his head as the shutter snapped or dreaming of what was beyond the flat Kansas landscape, envisioning himself dancing somewhere in a salon in Paris?

What is most perplexing is that I think I may be the only living person who knows that Frank ever existed or possesses photos of him. Even my sister, who is dedicated to preserving family history, can't remember hearing stories about him. I've asked extended family members about him, and they don't even seem to know that our great-grandmother had a first marriage.
The video below is something I created a few years ago, my imagining of what Claude's story may have been. I know that I probably got several of the facts incorrect (he died in 1918 not 1912 as stated in the video and some of the names are changed), but I hope it honors the truth of his life. I want to believe that this lost soul is not forgotten and that the sweet young prince that brought solace to his mother more than a century ago left behind a wisp of poetry on the prairie, still floating in the cornfields of the sunflower state.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Returning to the Circle

One of the surprises when I entered my freshman undergraduate year was that I tested so high in German that I was put in an advanced literature class where most of the other classmates were graduate students. A rather stern group, as I recall, and I was a bit intimidated, but I was glad that we'd be reading Kafka's Metamorphesis which I'd only read in English up to that point.

However, the first story we were to read was Bertolt Brecht's Der Augsburger Kreidekreis (The Ausburg Chalk Circle). This short fable set in war time raised the question about what determines a worthy parent stuck with me through the years. I have always wanted to see a production of Brecht's play The Caucasian Chalk Circle which is an evolution of his story which he borrowed or stole from ancient China.

Last night I got to see the opening preview of the American Conservatory Theater's production directed by John Doyle, noted minimalist who had great success with deconstructionist versions of Sweeney Todd and Company. While certain Brechtian influences figure heavily in the former and this production had some of that show's cast members, deconstructing Brecht is a tricky business.
The play is intentionally disjointed, non-realistic and didactic. If you don't like being preached at, don't go see Brecht. What's most difficult with Brecht is whether or not there can be any emotion or heart injected into the presentation of the characters which are archetypes and representations after all. The cast in this production featured actors who did seem to go beyond archetypes, but when they were engaging, I'm not sure what I was engaged with. Especially engaging were Omozé Idehenre as the surrogate mother on trial and Manoel Felciano as the singer/narrator who has a particularly fetching voice and played Tobias in Doyle's production of Sweeney Todd. Though I wonder if I would have enjoyed him more in Ragtime. It's fitting that he played the same role Mandy Patinkin played in the movie version of the same story since he recalled a younger Patinkin in voice and demeanor.

The show featured songs but is certainly not a musical. Those songs are certainly where the show is most didactic. I came away finding the whole production engaging enough but not compelling. Brecht is ever the curious creature to watch and read, but it's hard to remember what the point was the morning after. However, after exploring Manoel's website linked above, it appears he has Catalan heritage and has at least one song you can download from his site in Catalan. That alone made the night worthwhile.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Junk Thief's Theater News

We're off to see this at American Conservatory Theater tonight. We'll try to follow with a review.

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Miles from Osaka

First there was Miles from India in which sitars and other instruments took on the works of Mr. Davis. Now there is this. Amazing and wonderful, in case you heard about it yesterday on PRI's The World. The basic story line, as I understand it, is that an elderly couple unable to children but then a peach rolls down the river with a boy inside.

As if that's not enough, though they don't allow embedding check out this wonderful marriage of My Fair Lady and South Pacific.

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Theme Thursday: Bells

The bell above is in my back garden and was originally a part of the aforementioned Lazy Acres. The bell below is from a long ago trip to Nepal. I plan to join in the ringing around the world at 2 p.m. EST for recent blog acquaintance Barry who will be doing the same to mark the end of his round of chemo therapy. It's an encouraging ritual and reminder of the temporary nature of all aspects of life and reminder that blogland can be a nice place to do more than just be snarky and leave LOL comments.

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Yes, But What About Bow?

Those who are new may not know of her, and those who are regulars may what have become of her, but Miss Bow, the queen bee and resident basenji of my house is doing well. Well, that is except for last night when we had a bit of a health scare around 3 a.m. The good news is that after a quick visit to the vet in the wee hours of the morning we discovered that it was a false call and (so far) all is well.

We've not exactly stopped blogging about Bow. It's just that we've been doing it over on the main basenji blog where we have written about Bow and a little girl name Gracie whom we helped to transport to Sacramento last month.

Just in case you've ever considered having a member of African royalty and the oldest domestic breed of canines into your home, a brood of neglected but gorgeous basenjis have just come into the system from Florida. Read it and weep, or better yet consider bring one into your home.
Dogs Running Wild Fend Frigid Temperatures

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Miss Millie Plays the Oldies

A few people have asked the question: "What's become of Millie the Glass Eyed Wonder Cat?" Some have speculated that Mr. Sullivan is allergic to felines. Or that Bow won't let another four-legged creature upstage her rightful role as the reigning diva.

Miss Millie is still with us but keeping a low profile.

It's hard to believe that it was almost three years ago that we spent a couple of weeks at Lazy Acres, sorting through the junk and jewels there as it went on the market, now in new hands for more than a year and a half.

At the risk of hitting the rerun season before it's even spring, we thought we'd share this two part episode in which Millie makes a vainglorious appearance with a mirror as well as other residents of the estate that come to life after the sun goes down.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

MAGPIE TALES: The Ring of Nedra

(Our response to the Magpie Tales photo prompt)

Perhaps it's only fitting that her ultimate demise and departure were wrapped up with that pewter creamer.

Everyone in our building had problems with Nedra Haberton for as long as I could remember. She was always snooping through other's mailboxes or playing Wagner at pitch volume a 8 a.m. on Sunday mornings. And then there was that pewter creamer she would tote up and down the stairs and hallways. And she was always banging on it with one of her collection of souvenir spoons. Niagara Falls, Mount Rushmore, Banff, -- she had them all. She claimed that she had to d clang it to call back her cat Merdev whose typical response to it was the jump the back fence and not return for hours.

The exact provenance on the creamer was always suspect. She first claimed it was given to one of her old maiden aunts -- a somewhat ironic disdainful description coming from a woman in her 70s who, as far we could tell, had never married -- who had worked for 20 years at one of the original Harvey Houses and was given it upon her retirement.

Later she changed it to being from a family mining operation near Tucson that was later converted into one of the first dude ranches in the 1920s and had hosted many visiting Easterners ranging from George Gershwin to Warren Harding. She also claimed it was a gift to her father from Roy Rogers and that the horse shoe design engraved on the bottom was fashioned after one originally worn by Trigger. Finally she stuck to the story that it was something her uncle, the only Jewish Pullman Porter, was given upon his retirement after 30 years of service.

It was in the final months that the clanging became more frequent and at odder hours. One Monday at 4 a.m., we heard the clang, clang until the manager came down and pulled her arm away. "But Merdev is missing!" she exclaimed, even as we all stood around her and Merdev glared at us from her bedroom window, his calico fur bathed in the amber light of her Tiffany lamp.

I wasn't there the following week when two of her nieces came to escort her to wherever they felt she would be safer or at least less of a nuisance. Word was that it was a speedy exodus, and they only packed a few of her clothes, coming back later to have most of her belongings and sending Merdev to the local SPCA.

Apparently they never knew about the creamer or cared not enough to remove it from the fourth floor hall where she had left it the last night in the building. Only now that she is gone have I come to value a tiny remnant of Nedra, and on Saturdays when I have the focus to remember, I will clang it lightly twice for her.


From a Gentleman's Library

A favorite Sunday activity is checking out the Civic Center farmers market and the Friends of the Library Book Bay. Both have curious bargains. This Sunday I was intrigued by a shelf with the heading "From a Gentleman's Library". There were several dozen beautifully bound and beautifully illustrated volumes, most published before the mid-1920s. I was tempted to buy all of them since few were more than $8.
I did end up going home with a few volumes. This particular one was part of the series called The Home University Bookshelf that features short stories accompanying famous paintings as well as a songbook. Below is an example of the type of tales it spins. I hope you enjoy. Check in, I may share more.

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