The Road Back

The Road Trip Sextet, Part 6 - “The Road Back”

For Part 1, go HERE.

For Part 2, go HERE.

For Part 3, go HERE.

For Part 4, go HERE.

For Part 5, go HERE.

The June California trip - for all intents and purposes - was a success. I notched off World Tea Expo, a beach house tea party, hung out with many family members, and (most importantly) spent some quality time with my grandparents. For only a week’s worth of time allotted to this, I accomplished…well…a lot.

There was only one thing left to do - make the road trip back. In more ways than one.

I had one more thing on the docket to do - something that was decided relatively at the last minute. During the road trip, my mother/travel partner informed me that she had a breakfast to attend to with some old high school friends in Oceanside. The location was mere blocks from the street I grew up on.

Mum and I came to a compromise. She could do her breakfast meet-up unimpeded by me, and I would have a quick look-around the old homestead.

I grew up on a long cul de sac off of a busy intersection. As far as neighborhoods go, it was pretty idyllic for a kid growing up in the 80s. One could even picture a brat with a bowl-cut on a bicycle, carrying an alien in the front basket. Turning off on my old street, one thought occurred to me: The place hadn’t changed in the 26 years since I lived there.

All the houses, for the most part, looked the same. Save for new paint jobs, newer cars in driveways, and cleaner sidewalks. Nothing was all that difference. Well, except for one thing.

The cul de sac where I grew up dead-ended at a concrete run-off ditch. A fence divided the neighborhood proper from the wild, undeveloped prairie beyond. We children weren’t allowed beyond that fence, but we did hang out at the base of the ditch, beneath several trees.

I was already expecting to see the old “club house” where the neighborhood kids used to convene gone. The last time I visited, all the trees by the ditch had been clear-cut. When I was a young, it was THE place to play “make-believe”. Deciduous trees canopied over this one dirt decline, giving it the appearance of a warrior-toddler mead hall.

Now, though…?

Not much left of the tree-cave that was. I parked my car for a moment, and just…relived everything. I was quite shocked to see that the wilderness beyond the ditch still hadn’t been developed. I thought, for sure, that a neighborhood would’ve gone up in the decades I’d been gone. In an odd way, it was kind of a relief.

Nostalgia kick delivered, I returned to where my mother was. The hostess kindly let me in on the breakfast festivities as I listened to them relive their old high school days. While I was having my own blast from the past, my mother was having one of her own. An odd parallel.

I kept mostly to myself during the breakfast, but I did take a particular fancy to a plate in the hostess’s kitchen. It read:

Truer words were never spoken Winston.

This trip wasn’t so much about me accomplishing things, but more about collecting the stories and experiences of other people. If I got something out of it, even better. All I could do was pay the appropriate amount of gratitude. Without my Mum, and other benefactors, this trip wouldn’t have been possible.

After the breakfast, my mother had an interesting idea. She said, “Hey, do you want to see your old elementary school?”

Holy heck, I thought. Totally forgot about that!

On the way out of Oceanside, we stopped by E.G. Garrison Elementary School. It was of particular importance to our family because it was named after my mother’s grandfather. Of the three years I went to school there, all the faculty knew me by name - both for my family legacy…and for quite a few trips to the principal’s office. (Way to honor the family name there, Geoff.)

That mission accomplished, it was time to leave SoCal altogether. We made arrangements ahead of time to stay in Sacramento. On the way up, we saw signs for a restaurant. Both Mum and I gave it only one passing thought before agreeing to a pit stop.

Pea Soup Andersen’s is noteworthy because it was the one place that got me to eat peas. Yes, they were mashed up into the form of a soup, but still…getting me to eat veggies at all was a feat. The restaurant chain was recognizable for the sizeable windmill at each location. There used to be one in Oceanside, but alas, it closed down.

All said, we went in, gorged on pea soup and milkshakes, and then continued on our way home.

***

I started this blog series all the way back in June - a week after the vacation itself had ended. At the time of this writing, it is now the end of July, and I’m just now concluding its final entry. What started as a series I intended to finish in a week or two…ended up taking me the entire summer. This was mostly by accident.

Mostly.

This summer hasn’t been the easiest for me, for many reasons. No, it’s not terrible, but a perpetual fog of melancholy hangs overhead. I’m not sure if it’s related to a sudden realization that - in 37 years - I haven’t changed all that much, or viewing my current path in life as “wasted potential”. I have no answers.

But a part of me didn’t complete this series in a timely manner because…I didn’t want it to end. I liked reliving the moments of that trip, being with those people, seeing those sights, creating new memories. For even though this trip is now its own “road back”, it’s still a part of a greater journey. And I hope there are several more meaningful roads left in my future.

Before I left, my grandfather told me, “I just want you to know that it’s not too late, lad.”

He didn’t specify what that meant.

And he didn’t need to.

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Monday, July 28th, 2014 Musings 6 Comments

Moments with My Grandparents

The Road Trip Sextet, Part 5 - “Moments with my Grandparents”

For Part 1, go HERE.

For Part 2, go HERE.

For Part 3, go HERE.

For Part 4, go HERE.

These are my grandparents, Nelson and Dottie. And they are awesome.

Both are well into their 90s and are approaching their 70th wedding anniversary.

This was the primary reason for my road trip in early June. Yes, I had a tea expo to go to. Yes, I had a beach party to attend. But the one reason that tops all of those was to see my grandparents for the first time in four years. Mainly for the stories they tell. And, boy, do they have stories aplenty. For this article, I wanted to highlight a few of them that were imparted just during this one visit. In the form of vignettes.

The Lazy Norman Conquest

For those who haven’t looked at my “About Me” section, my last name is “Norman”. Our unofficial family motto is: “Norman’s the name, conquest’s the game.”

That’s only partially true. Yes, Normans - Norse Viking descendants - were known for being conquerors, but our branch…kinda only made it about halfway. They looked at a certain coastal region in France and just…stayed there. For lack of a more creative name, they stuck with “Normandy”.

Our sub-branch of Normans originated from a small town called Igé in the Normandy region (present day Orne). According to my grandfather, it’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sorta town. No one is sure as to why, but said sub-branch was booted from Igé and ended up settling in French Canada.

My uncle once tried to find the town of Igé on a trip to France, but only got as far as the golf course bar about a mile away.

I guess the family motto should be: “Norman’s the name, conquest’s the game…until we overstay our welcome and drink all your beer.”

Late to a Last Stand

As I learned, Grandpa Nelson also had a grandfather named Nelson. In the 1870s, his primary job was delivering supplies by coach. One such delivery, however, was delayed when his wagon broke a wheel.

The delivery was due to The Battle of Little Big Horn, commonly referred to as Custer’s Last Stand.

He arrived late.

Our family legacy of procrastination saved his life.

The Epic Handshake

When Grandpa Nelson was a little boy, a man came up to him and said, “Shake my hand.”

Little Nelson did so.

The man said, “Congratulations, you just shook the hand of someone who shook the hand of Abraham Lincoln.”

This was told to me as I was shaking my grandfather’s hand.

The Cocktail Lamp

In the main living room at my grandparent’s house, there’s an odd antique of a lamp. For as long as I can remember, I never paid it much notice. Until my aunt turned it on.

My grandmother explained that it was lamp purchased by my grandfather’s great-uncle - Mose Norman. It was also a permanent fixture in my great-grandfather’s doctor’s office in the early 1900s. After a time, though, the building where the office was located was scheduled for demolition. My grandmother made it a point to acquire that lamp before that happened.

And she did.

The thing still works over a hundred years later.

Dottie and Santa

Around Christmas time in Massachusetts, when Grandma Dottie was a little girl, she saw a man dressed as Santa hauling a large bag, walking down the street. She approached the exhausted individual - assuming he was Santa Clause - and invited him back to her house for a breather.

“Santa” declined the offer, and continued huffing down the neighborhood with his wares.

For years, Dottie never knew who that man was. As she was growing up, a part of her thought she actually had encountered Santa.

That is…until someone finally dropped the ball and told her who it actually was.

Her first cousin delivering presents to her house.

***

I spent a good five hours with them. A part of me wishes I’d stayed longer. If only for the anecdotes alone.

For Part 6, go HERE.

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Monday, July 21st, 2014 Musings 3 Comments

A “Date” with “Transformers: Age of Extinction”

So, Transformers: Age of Extinction came out last week.

I saw it opening night in GXL 3D (whatever that means). I refrained from expressing any opinion for or against it. Not because I was incapable, but rather that I hadn’t exactly pieced together my thoughts into a cohesive stance. Well…a friend of mine forced my hand when he posted a link on my Facebook to an io9 article dubbed: “Transformers: Age of Extinction: The Spoiler FAQ”. It was basically a rundown for the entire plot of the movie, and a well done one at that. I could find no fault in the logic posed about the movie’s illogic.

In the byline of the posted link, this friend wrote: “Is it really this bad?”

I sat on a reply for a couple of days…and now I have the perfect reply. In the form of an analogy.

***

Let’s say - for the sake of roleplay - that you’re a college-aged male. (Yes, ladies, you too. Play along.) You’re on your way to a frat party. You don’t usually go to these kinds of things. Heck, you’ve only been to three you can remember. The first was a lot of fun, if stupid. The second one was a disaster. (Somehow, you woke up hungover under a pair of giant wrecking balls.)

And the third was fun…if bizarre. You’re not sure if it was the shrooms you ingested - or something else - but you could’ve sworn Buzz Aldrin was at the party.

And Leonard Nimoy. Weird night.

This time, you mean to keep your wits about you - no matter what hits you. And the moment you walk through the gate, something does - a flaming stick. You recoil in pain, your eyebrows are now singed, and you’re lying flat on your back. As your vision returns, a strikingly attractive woman is standing over you.

She’s adorned in a miniskirt patterned after the American flag.

Her hair is all a-tussle in that hot pornstar sorta way, and by the way she’s wobbling, you can tell she’s a few mixed drinks in. In both of her hands, flaming batons. She’s fire dancing…while drunk.

“Duuuude, I’mma soooo so-*hick*orry,” she says, seemingly genuinely embarrassed.

You reassure her that you’re fine as you stand back up. When upright, you feel  for your face. Everything is still there, eyebrows included. Aside from a pain behind your eyes, you’ll live.

She introduces herself as “Transforma” (her dad is, like, soooo Greek), and she insists on “buying” you a drink. Even though you know that all the alcohol is free at the party, you play along. At the very least she’ll be able to cut in line and expedite the process.

Transforma comes back mere moments later with a Red Bull Vodka (more vodka than Red Bull), then proceeds to talk your ear off for the next hour. Aside from the fact that she’s slurring her words, running-on her sentences a little too long, and repeating herself, you’re strangely captivated. That is, beyond the whole “drunk hot girl” thing, although that doesn’t hurt.

Another fifteen minutes or so in, and she’s standing closer to you. Her voice - almost a whisper. Is she trying to kiss me? you wonder, er…okay.

When you pucker up, it is at that moment she chooses to vomit all over your pants and shoes.

“Ooooohmigawwww,” she says, “I c’nt b’lieve tha’ jus’ happened!”

She sounds like she’s about to cry. You strip out of your pants and shoes right that second, give her a reassuring pat on back. In return, she grabs you in an embrace, and whisper-gurgles, “Can you take me home?”

All judgment thrown out the proverbial window, you agree to.

Both you and her walk to your car. You toss your vomit-laden clothes in your trunk (vowing to deal with it tomorrow), and proceed to start the car. It doesn’t oblige. Transforma insists that you pop the hood, and - by some form of drunken voodoo - rigs something to something and…vroooom!

On the way back to her place, she has the genius idea to stop for Chinese food. You oblige the request. As you continue driving, she has another bright idea - stopping at a lookout ridge. Again, you agree. Is this going where you think it is going?

You find a nice place to park overlooking the night sky. The food has helped sober up her speech a little, and she gives you a better idea of who she is. Her major is Paleontology, and she’s a “fire sign”. She never says which one, but you’re not surprised.

After finishing your mutual meals, she offers to show you some of her “work”. Apparently, she’s writing a dissertation on - of all things - robotic dinosaurs. She even shows you diagrams - surprisingly detailed ones.

But then you wonder aloud, “What do robot dinosaurs have to do with paleontology?”

“Oh, nothing,” she dismisses, “I just think they’re f**king sweet.”

And you can’t fault her logic. Robot dinosaurs are f**king sweet.

At around the two-hour-thirty-minute-mark, you realize this quasi-drunken date-thing isn’t going anywhere, and you remind her that you agreed to take her home. Before you start the car, though, she puts her hand on your leg.

“Are you sure there isn’t…something else we can talk about?” Her hand starts probing up your skivvied thigh. Eventually, fingers touch…uh…something private. Well, private to everyone but you.

You would protest…but you can’t. She - quite literally - has you by the balls. Once again, you acquiesce to her idea. But once her head lowers…you hear it…

And leftover Chinese food sprays all over your lap.

You start the car.

Neither of you speak to each other for the remaining twenty-minute drive. She’s making sniffling noises in between hiccups. You would reassure her (again), but there’s half-digested Kung Pow chicken fermenting in your lap.

You arrive at her dorm building. She hesitates a moment, then says, “For what it’s worth, it was nice meeting you.” And then she hands you her business card. It has a baby robot dinosaur on it. It’s pretty f**king sweet.

She leans in to kiss you, but you say, “That’s quite alright,” and give her a hug instead.

Trasnforma stumbles her way back to her building, but pauses just long enough to turn around and wave good-bye.

You drive home and start to ponder.

That was one of the worst almost-dates you’ve ever been on, but it wasn’t the worst. That honor belongs to that one time you went out with a woman that looked like Bruce Willis. (Who names their daughter “Hudson Hawk”, anyway?”)

You can’t say you had an entirely bad time. Granted, she did hit you with a flaming baton…but it was almost a meet-cute. Sure, she vomited on your pants…but it was almost a kiss. And, yes, she did vomit again in your lap…but it was almost a blowjob.

As you get out of the car in your sorority-girl-soiled underwear, you’ve decided. Yes, you will give her a call. You would gladly see her again…at least one or two more times. It may almost kill you, but at least you’ll have a story to tell. Or write.

On the Internet.

In FAQ form.

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Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014 Reviews 1 Comment

Three Trips, Two Kilts, One Miracle

The Road Trip Sextet, Part 1 - “Three Trips, Two Kilts, One Miracle”

At the beginning of 2014, I’d already come to the foregone conclusion that I wouldn’t get a vacation. That prior December, I burned through all of my paid time off to make ends meet at work. Hours were scarce, money even more so. The only trips I could afford were ones that were close to home, and some evenings that involved beer.

On one particular evening off, after a horrible work day, I decided to notch two breweries off my list. (Yes, there’s a list.) One was called Stickmen’s, and the other - the subject of this blog - was Two Kilts. The latter’s brews weren’t entirely new to me. I had tried their Scottish ale at a couple of house parties. It was - in an inappropriate word - fan-fucking-tastic. A trip to the source was in order.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I made the trip to Sherwood, OR. The “pub” itself rested in a business warehouse area off the only major “highway”. The fairly new op housed a bar in the office portion of the garage, whereas the body of it housed benches for sitting and the brewery lab in back.

The bar was instantly inviting. Various memorabilia lined the walls and bar proper, a giant monitor listed the beer specials, and the taps were front and center. Even the visually-impaired wouldn’t have difficulty adjusting.

They had a lot of offerings on tap, but the one that caught my eye had some of my favorite words in the English dictionary: Bourbon, barrel-aged, Russian, Imperial…and stout. And they were serving it by the pint! Most pubs served really strong beers like that by the 8oz. sniffer glass, due to the strength. Oh, not here. I ordered said pint…and groaned in pleasurable acquiescence.  I won’t even go into taster notes; they aren’t needed.

For comparison’s sake, I also tried their regular un-barreled Russian Imperial. Aside from the lack of liquor notes, it was also wonderful. I was in the right place.

Over the course of the evening, I sampled and notched off a couple of beers. The true surprise came from the lager they brewed. I hate lagers…and I liked this one. This was a punch to my palatial paradigm. Also unheard of for me, I started yacking with the other patrons of the bar. Really bizarre considering I don’t like talking to anyone I don’t know.

I had to inform a friend of this.

My old buddy NinjaSpecs came to mind. We had been trying to plan an outing to Two Kilts, but our schedules never aligned properly. So, I bragged that I made it there without him. He voiced his envy eloquently.

We agreed to finally make our schedules collide for a follow-up outing. Unfortunately, that took about a month. In the interim, he worked a lot of overtime and I…well…did whatever it is I usually do. And wrote about it.

When we finally converged on Two Kilts - his first visit, my second - he echoed my feelings on the Bourbon Russian Imperial. We each had two. While nursing those, we related how our lives were going. He told me of his work schedule, I lamented about my complete lack of vacationing. He asked for details.

“Well, I was trying to plan this trip to California,” I said, “for World Tea Expo. Plus, I really wanted to see my grandparents. It’s been four years. But I don’t have the time or money”

“How much did you budget for the trip?” He asked.

“I figured the trip would cost about a grand,” I said. “I was going to use my tax return for it, but that went to back bills.”

Then he said something I didn’t expect. “Well, I have that.”

“…What?”

“Yeah, I worked a lot of overtime,” he shrugged. “I can loan ya some.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yeah, I wasn’t going to spend it on anything worthwhile,” he said simply, “other than fast food.”

And from there, we planned a third trip to Two Kilts for the following week. On that visit, he handed off a check, and I handed off a tea gift in gratitude. As we bullshitted over our beers, I took a look again at a sign that was hanging by the beer taps.

I think I have some idea.

It certainly changed my world.

For Part 2, go HERE.

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Sunday, June 8th, 2014 Beverage Blog No Comments

Missed Opportunities in “Noah”

So, I saw Noah last week…

And I dug the HELL out of it.

There. That’s my review. Now, let’s move on to a more important discussion.

When I first learned that Darren Aronofsky was doing a take on the ol’ Noah’s ark tale, my first impression was, “Meh.” Anytime the director put on his “epic” pants, the results were mixed. (The less spoken about The Fountain, the better.) Noah looked serviceable enough, but the trailer didn’t grab me.

That said, being the ever-hermitic netizen, I took to the Almighty Wiki to read up on it more. And my type-ready fingers stopped dead on their keys when I saw this:

Ray Winstone as Tubal-Cain.

My interest in the movie went from “Meh” to “Must-See” in one sentence. I’ll explain…

Back in my high school “daze”, I went through a big mythology phase. This interest also included apocryphal stories tied to the Bible, particularly those pertaining to the Antediluvian period. Read: Pre-Flood.

Why? Because that oft-glossed-over period was like Conan’s Hyborian Age. There were angels, demons, monsters, wizards, gluttonous civilizations, and legends. And yet this lost age only took up one chapter in the Bible - Genesis 6, “The Wickedness of Man”.

Parallel to that were the two lineages that were chronicled prior to that chapter - the family trees that sprung from Adam and Eve. Those being, the line of Seth (their last son)…and the line of Cain. The latter genealogy ends with Tubal-Cain.

So fascinated was I with Tubal-Cain, that I even fashioned a novel series idea around him dubbed “Cainsign“. Of course, me being - well - me, nothing ever came of the idea. Then I read the synopsis on Noah, and my two-decades-old fascination with the Antediluvians was rejuvenated.

The cinematic results were fantastically batshit crazy…but I had one nagging gripe. A nitpick, if you will. Aronofsky didn’t go far enough. Allow me to elaborate, starting with the character that drew me to the film.

(1.) Tubal-Cain

The missed opportunity here wasn’t the portrayal of Tubal-Cain as an antagonist, but rather in his motivations. For the most part, while the performance was good, the character was rather one-note. He was a despotic warrior-king of the last vestiges of human civilization. Great, well done. But what else was there to him?

Turns out, there was a lot.

First off, Tubal-Cain’s own father was also named Lamech - just like Noah’s. No, they weren’t the same person, only the same name. However, that could’ve been a point of contention between the two. One among many.

Then there’s Tubal-Cain’s sister. Yes, he had a sister. In Genesis, during the bit where Cain’s descendants are outlined, the list stops dead at Tubal-Cain…and one other - Naamah, his sister. This is the only time where a female relative is mentioned, either in the lines of Seth or Cain. Both lists are strictly patrilineal, save for the mention of wives.

There are four prominent women in Judeo-Christian writings with the name Naamah. The first is Tubal-Cain’s sister, the second is a demon, the third is Solomon’s wife…and the fourth?

Drum-roll, please.

Is Noah’s wife.

Some sources claim that Tubal-Cain’s sister and Noah’s wife are one in the same. If Darren Aronofsky had incorporated this little tidbit, not only would it have been Biblically sound, but it would’ve added further (and more personal) conflict between the characters.

And if he made her a demon, also? Well, that would’ve been triple-sweet.

(Sidenote: Okay, yes. In the film, Noah’s wife is named Naameh - not Naamah. But seriously, it’s Naamah everywhere else I’ve looked.)

(2.) The Antediluvian Age

While this take on the Noah tale did explore the pre-Flood period more effectively than attempts past, a lot of things were left out. I did like that there were hints of what human civilization was like back then, but that’s all they were - hints. Call me greedy, but I wanted more.

At one point in the film, Noah and family come within eyeshot of a human city, but decide to circle around it. It was like the director said, “Nope, not in the budget. Just do a matte painting.”

It was said in the Bible that after Cain was cursed, he (and by proxy, his descendants) founded a great city in the east dubbed Enoch - after his first son. I always imagined that Enoch and Atlantis were one in the same. And the parallels are striking. One city was swallowed by the Flood; the other continent sank.

I was expecting a little more of that in the movie. Or at the very least, a walk-through of one such dilapidated city.

A second sticking point that wasn’t explored was the Antediluvian lifespan. Humans - prior to the Flood - lived an average of 800 years. Noah himself didn’t have children until he was well over a century old. Methuselah - referenced often for his old age - was well over 900, and that would’ve fit rather well with his Yoda-esque portrayal in the movie.

One time in my early-twenties, when I was bored at work, I took the time to do the math surrounding the different lifespans of Adam’s descendants. I figured that Adam died a mere 120-something years before Noah was born. A bit more of that would’ve fit with the movie’s Lord of the Rings-ish tone.

(3.) The Giants

A major gripe some people had about Noah was with the rock monsters. Yes, there were rock monsters. And they were awesome, but they weren’t perfect.

In the movie, the rock giants were fallen angels - specifically, the Grigori (or Watchers) - under the command of Samyaza. They were cursed by “The Creator” for descending from Heaven to assist humankind with its development. That’s the part Darren Aronofsky got wrong. The Biblical origin of those giants is much, much more bizarre.

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days–and also afterward–when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.” (Genesis 6:4)

Depending on which version of the Bible one looks at, “Nephilim” and “giants” are used interchangeably. “Sons of God” refers to angels, and “daughters of humans” specifically refers to women from the line of Cain. In short, the giants were angel-human hybrids. They were not the fallen angels themselves. Nor were they interested in helping mankind.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the golem-like depiction of the giants in the movie. I just wish their origin story hadn’t been tampered with. If you’re going to go with a representation of Biblical giants in a Noah story, go big or go home.

Conclusion

I went and saw this with a Christian-leaning group. Two of them were my brother and sister. Both liked the movie, but had reservations with some of the storytelling decisions that were made. I didn’t have quite as many, save for the ones I listed above. My brother summed up my misgivings best.

“It was like Darren Aronofsky was saying, ‘Let’s see if you can do better’,” he mentioned.

No one else has dared a portrayal of the Antediluvian Age like this. It’s a minor miracle that such a project was even greenlit. I almost got the impression that some of Darren Aronofsky’s loftier ambitions for the project were trimmed against his will. Hopefully, this will open storytellers and moviemakers up to further, more adventurous retellings of ancient stories - Biblical or otherwise.

In the meantime, I think I’ll dust off my old Cainsign treatment. Tubal-Cain may require some tweaking. And that Naamah…hoo-boy, she’s a feisty one.

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Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014 Musings 13 Comments

Finding Comedy in Car Theft

Finding Comedy in Car Theft

Flashback to an unassuming night in December…literally, six days before Christmas

I actually went to bed at a decent hour that night. My usual bedtime ranged somewhere between midnight and 1AM. Not the most conducive sleep schedule for someone who worked the day shift. Part of my old night owl tendencies shining through, I suppose. Anyway, I was in bed by 11 that night. An hour and a half later, my sister/roommate comes barging in.

“Don’t be mad,” she started off with. Not the best introduction. “But I left the garage door open.”

“So?” I mumbled, rubbing one eye.

She followed up with, “I think our cars were broken into.”

That woke me up right quick.

Slippers donned, fleece draped over my pajama’d form, and we hurried out to the garage. The cars were still intact, that was a relief. No shattered glass lay strewn on the concrete - so far, so good. It wasn’t until I looked in the window of my Ford Focus that my eyes widened.

“What the [expletive deleted]?!” I exclaimed.

“Is it bad?”

The contents of the glove compartment lay on the front seat. Everything that was at the bottom of the back seat was now…everywhere. I didn’t keep a very clean car; that I will admit, but this was beyond my mess. The archive of sheer crap from the past five years now lay in a giant pile in my car. Like a mountain of FAIL .

“Jesus, [name deleted],” I said to my sister, “what the [expletive deleted] were you thinking?!”

She started to sob. “I told you not to be mad.”

If I wasn’t so raging tired, I would’ve felt guilty.

After we both calmed down a bit, we called the police. They informed us that there was a string of robberies in our apartment complex. Odd, considering we actually lived in a nice neighborhood. In fact, we were the poorest people in the area. The culprits were prying garage doors open left and right. We…just happened to let them right in without much effort.

Luckily, there was already an officer at the complex proper - examining the other break-ins - to take our statements. My sister did all of the talking as I anal-retentively sifted through my horde-pile of car garbage.

Sometime in the frenzy, we thought we’d broken the garage door handle. Turns out…I had done it when I was examining it. Oops.

As I finished surveying the craptasticism, a thought occurred to me, Might as well use this opportunity to clean out my car.

And I did. One whole garbage bag full. I found teabeer bottles from ‘07, Bollywood movies, checkbooks with decade-old apartment addresses on them, job-hunting paperwork, old Jiffy Lube receipts, church pamphlets, resumes, pens…the list went on.

Do you know what I didn’t find?

Anything missing.

The most valuable items in my car were the factory stereo (nine years out of date) and my Garmin (five years out of date). They were still there. In fact, the Garmin was actually on the floor of my front passenger seat in a leather case, and it hadn’t been tampered with. Even the checkbooks hadn’t been touched.

My sister turned up similar results when she searched her car. Nothing went missing. Not even the can of Rockstar or Bible.

“Someone thought we were too poor to steal from,” we both concluded.

And we laughed.

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014 Musings No Comments

Diary of a Hopelessly Egotistical Rabid Manchild-in-Training

WARNING: The following story is going to paint the author (me) as petty, selfish, immature and hypersensitive. And that’s because, well, I am. No one is more fully aware of…uh…myself than…myself. I am a hopelessly egotistical rabid manchild…in training.

But let’s start at the beginning.

In 2011, a friend of mine decided to form a gaming group that would meet on Mondays. Originally, it was tailored as a roleplaying (read: D&D-type stuff) session with the possibility of other games thrown in on the off-days. And for a while, that’s exactly what it was - strictly a roleplaying group.

Earthdawn was the game du jour, and there were around six of us total. That changed, however, when the DM (i.e. Dude-in-Charge-of-Quest) had to bail out on the weekly sessions due to his work schedule. From that point on, it morphed into a board game/card game group.

A quick aside: I suck at games. All games. If it’s an exercise in competition, I will have no aptitude for it. I’m not smart enough, strategically-minded enough, patient enough, or focused enough for them. Videogames, included. Until that year, I was a “casual” gamer at best - a non-entity at worst. Unfortunately, it was the only way I could see this group of friends on a regular basis.

While the roster of participants was a revolving door, there were four regulars besides myself. Sansai was the de facto host - an army veteran and alpha gamer. Then there was NinjaSpecs, whom I’ve mentioned a couple of times - my monotone, hilarious half-Asian drinking buddy. Lastly, there was the married couple - Hubbit (he…uh…looked like a Hobbit and was a husband) and BBC, short for “Big Black C**K”. She was a tiny thing with a sweet disposition…that happened to act like a very well-endowed - and articulate - African American man.

The usual suspects, as far as games were concerned, ranged from Settlers of Catan to all incarnations of FLUXX, and further down the pit to Munchkin land. All of these games were fun, imaginative, inspired much laughter…and brought out the worst in people. The problems with a lot of games geared toward the nerd/geek set are the rules. Most of them encourage backstabbing, even the tame ones.

What does that mean for someone like me? Well, in every group or herd there is - what I like to call - the “weak gazelle”.

They are generally the slowest, feeblest and most gullible member of the group. By design or circumstance, they are also often the butt of a lot of the jokes because of the traits mentioned above. In my group, granted, everyone ribbed on everyone else. But it felt like I absorbed the lion’s share. Then again, I am a hopelessly egotistical rabid manchild-in-training.

Image mooched from The Cheezburger Network

Image mooched from The Cheezburger Network

As years wore on, so did my tolerance of this dynamic. One can only go so long being the foil. Eventually, the group - no matter how well-intentioned - seems like a chore. An activity that was supposed to be fun turns into a task. I started thinking of things I’d rather be doing than gaming.

I got the sense they could detect my drifting as well. Did I think they relegated me to punching bag on purpose? Heck no. They were all fine folks, and they did what was natural. Perhaps because of who/how I was, the environment continued to come across as toxic.

In the last month or two, I bandied words with my sister/roommate about my misgivings toward the gaming group. She thought I should maintain it, so that I’d remain social. I wanted to rebuke her with, “What you do you mean, I’m plenty socia-”

Wait a tick.

I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed. Not sure when it occurred or how, but I really didn’t have that much of a social life anymore. A mere five years ago, my calendar was always full with this-party or that-gathering. Sometime between ‘08 and ‘09, it all dried up. Aside from the odd special occasion - weddings, open houses, baby showers et al. - I was alone. My regular hangout crews were family members…and my gaming group.

Maybe my sister had a point.

On a recent Monday, I had to text the gaming group informing them I was bowing out for the night. My work shift didn’t end until 7PM. Even if I did make it to Sansai’s house, I would only be there for two hours. Not enough time, or at least that was my excuse.

I texted Sansai, saying I couldn’t make it.

He replied with this picture.

A bottle of bourbon barrel-aged Belgian quad. That wasn’t just a “nectar-of-the-gods” beer; that was nectar strait from the four teats of the Beer Goddess herself! The picture was sent fifteen minutes before I was off shift.

I texted, “Why are you trying to tempt me?”

“Peer pressure,” he responded.

At 7PM, I sighed. “Just got off work. On my way.”

As I drove, I thought to myself, Maybe I am being too harsh on the group. Perhaps I can keep an open mind - give it a go still.

I was there in ten minutes.

When I came through the door, everyone was well into a game of Dominion. I took a seat and saw the quad bottle in all its majesty. I also saw the contents of said bottle poured into the glasses of Sansai and NinjaSpecs.

“So, is there any left?” I asked. (Well, more like pleaded.)

NinjaSpecs pretended to examine the bottle. “I suppose you could lick the bottom of it.”

My lower lip practically quivered…and I almost wept.

I’d been beer-trolled.

There are some jokes made at my expense that I can take in stride. Tricking me with false information? Easy to do, I’m kinda gullible. Tripping me? Been done before, I can walk it off. Luring me to a game night with a rare f**king beer…and not saving me any? No. Just…no. I have my limits, and they are petty. As we’ve already established, I am a hopelessly egotistical rabid manchild-in-training.

My sadness turned into pure, seething (but quiet) rage. If I didn’t have a smart phone to peruse the Internet on, I would’ve flipped the table. So, I sat there. Silently. Chiming in only with the occasional grunt or word.

Their game of Dominion had finished, and they decided to start another. BBC looked at me and asked, “Shall we deal you in?”

I responded with…

That round ended a half-hour later, and the group agreed on Heroes of Graxia next. BBC asked again, “You want in?”

I responded with…

Somewhere down the line, I also mentioned I had to leave at 9PM. Early work shift the next day and all; it was mostly true. The unspoken kernel of truth was that I wanted out of their quicker than a vegan in a chop-shop.

NinjaSpecs chimed in with, “Are you sure? You don’t want any of this Belgian quad?”

“But that’s yours,” I grumbled. Taking a sip as I said it.

It was glorious, which made me all the angrier.

8:50PM, and I was done. I got up, said my farewells and headed out the door. The air was cold, the ground - wet. I shivered both out of rage and from my complete lack of coat. I drove home with no radio, teeth in a vice-like grit.

That was it. I was done with that group. Or at least, done with the gaming aspect of it. No more weak gazelle, no more foil, and definitely…no more beer-trolling. They could summon another sucker for all I cared. Was it too impulsive a conclusion? Damn right, it was. But what else do you expect from a hopelessly egotistical rabid manchild-in-training?

Ugh, there has to be a way to shorten that - an acronym, perhaps? Let me think.

Hopelessy Egotistical Rabid Manchild-In-Training.

H-E-R-…oh…

I see what I did there.

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Thursday, January 30th, 2014 Beverage Blog, Musings 2 Comments

Video Games You Can Watch as Movies - A Trivial Top Ten

I hate playing video games. With a passion. There were two brief moments in time when I exhibited gamer tendencies - once in the 6th grade, and again when StarCraft came out. Those outliers aside, I’ve avoided the money and time sink that is modern gaming.

Well, not entirely true.

While I don’t invest in video games per se, I have been known to watch walkthroughs on YouTube now and again. I viewed the entirety of both Rapture-based BioShock games this way, and I found them quite cinematic. There was a linear story being told, albeit between random eviscerations.

Lately, a new trend has emerged. Kotaku linked to a movie-cut that someone edited together of BioShock Infinite. They’d removed all the gameplay carnage that wasn’t integral to the plot, and left the in-game cutscenes and cinematics. The results were…well…like a movie. Since then, I’ve devoured quite a few games in this manner.

And I’m going to trivially list off my favorites. Here are my…

Top Ten Video Games You Can Watch as Movies

#10 - Final Fantasy XII

I’ll admit it. Like a lot of people, I believe that the Final Fantasy series jumped the shark after that incomprehensible movie. Their crowning achievement was VII. That said, the latter games in the series do hold up to a cinematic eye if a viewer is left with the cutscenes and cinematics. Most, however, are also boring as sin.

Not the case with FFXII.

The return to the rich and vibrant world of Final Fantasy Tactics does this game a great service. It’s a pre-established environment that doesn’t require much explanation, leaving room to explore the characters in-game. I found myself far more invested as a casual viewer than I ever was with any of the other FF installments. This is Final Fantasy done right - gaudy airships and all.

#9 - Portal 2

Portal is a classic…but it’s a short classic. When making a sequel to the breakout hit, some bloating and expansion was mandatory. Enter actors J.K. Simmons and Stephen Merchant as Cave Johnson and Wheatley, respectively. Their interactions with the voiceless Chell (the heroine) provide a much-needed sense of depth and urgency. Oh, and humor. Can’t forget humor.

The return of Ellen McLain as GlaDOS as a more…uh…humanized (but still psychotic) artificial intelligence also adds enrichment. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to whittle down the edits in the game to just the cutscenes. There aren’t any. The dialogue and voice-overs occur as the player is solving portal-based puzzles. However, if you have many hours to kill, it makes for a hilarious - if lengthy - voyeuristic experience.

#8 - Grand Theft Auto V

With so many unrelated side-missions and tangents that the player can take, GTA5 plays more like a loosely-knit TV miniseries than a movie. A hilarious and politically incorrect miniseries, granted. With three main characters to choose from - each from different motivations and backgrounds - the viewer is able to witness events from different angles.

Cinematically, it fits. Interwoven point-of-view plotlines are a common storytelling device. Effective in movies such as Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs and…heck any of Tarantino’s oeuvre. Eventually, the events in the game coalesce into an over-arching plot, but it takes a bit of meandering to get there. But what a ride it is.

Just keep in mind, it’s seven hours or more worth of material.

#7 - Injustice: Gods Among Us

This is probably the tightest story of all the video games I’ve listed thus far. The format of the fighting game itself allows for an easy viewing experience. With the melee gameplay cut out, the viewer gets roughly 90 minutes of cutscene footage - enough for a short, breakneck epic of a superhero movie.

The plot is simple. Members of the Justice League (and the Joker) are transplanted to a parallel Earth and must fight to make it back to their own. It’s basically Crisis of Two Earths on a slightly more rigid scale. Loved every superpowered minute of it.

#6 - Tomb Raider

It took me some time to suspend my disbelief watching a British supermodel survive that many pratfalls. But eventually I grew to like the plucky (and pert) Laura Croft prequelette. The events of the game are far darker than previous installments, but they still held true to the game series’ primary dynamic - badass chick surviving booby-traps and mythical creatures in ancient ruins.

I also enjoyed the way they (surprisingly) incorporated aspects of little-known Japanese mythology. I’ve run into mentions of the mythical Himiko before, but didn’t do any further exploration past casual mentions in anime.

#5 - Deadpool

God, I love this character. One of these days, we’ll see the mutant Merc with the Mouth get a proper big screen treatment. Not like that voiceless abomination in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Until then, the video game named after the titular character will have to do. It’s a standard hack-‘n-slash as far as gameplay mechanics go, but it’s the meta-story that really makes it shine.

Deadpool holds High Moon Studios - the makers of the game - hostage and orders them to make the greatest game ever, starring him. The rest of the game plays out like a fever dream. And the best part, he interacts with his own narrator and inner-Id. The prefix “meta” doesn’t even do this justice. It is endlessly entertaining to behold.

#4 - Batman: Arkham

All of them. Any of them.

I don’t even know where to start with this trilogy. The first two games brought back DCAU alums Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, and the rest was something even Frank Miller couldn’t come up with in his wettest dreams. The designs were atmospheric and gritty, and it literally felt like you were walking in the footsteps of the Dark Knight.

The third game in the series - actually a prequel - kind of lost some of the narrative punch of the other two, but more than makes up for it in one area. One gets to see how the Joker’s mind works…or rather…doesn’t work. It is a masterpiece of inner-monologuing that not even the six-plus movies managed to pull off.

#3 - Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead

If only the TV series was as well-constructed as this li’l lightning in a bottle. Borrowing designs from the source material (the comic book), and fashioning itself as a parallel prequel to the TV series, this game plays like a choose-your-own-adventure book. (Any of you remember those?)

I watched it straight through, and it felt like perusing a motion comic. When characters died, I felt genuinely sad. And there were moments of actual tension - something the TV series is only just starting to grasp competently. After my brother watched it as a movie, I followed suit. Can’t wait for “Season 2″.

#2 - BioShock Infinite

While any of the BioShock games could be viewed as narrative movies, only Infinite works as a complete story. Part of that is helped by the fact that the POV character - Booker Dewitt - has a distinct personality. Unlike the protagonists of the predecessors.

Plus, the whole thing takes place in a steampunk sky city. F**k yeah. To heck with Rapture, Columbia is where I wanna be. The classical renditions of newer songs were also a treat.

#1 - The Last of Us

Never before has a zombie-esque game packed such a wallop. When cut down to about a three-hour movie, it plays like a grimmer version of Children of Men. However, without the “aid” of Clive Owen in the lead. Gah, he reminds me of an older, British Channing Tatum. But I digress.

I don’t think I’ve “played” a video game all the way through that left me so philosophically torn. These were deeply flawed characters, but they were portrayed (or rather, rendered) so well. One could relate to them without feeling patronized. And the ending…my gawwwww! Pure, unadulterated cinema gold.

And that’s my list. There are many, many more out there. I’m well aware of that. These are just the ten I watched recently that didn’t have me clawing at my face in frustration. Like an actual gamer. If you have any others I need (or want) to look at, let me know.

I’m sure I can find several hours to kill.

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Thursday, December 5th, 2013 Musings 2 Comments

The Day [I Became a Fan of] The Doctor

Throughout my thirty-seven years of life, I’ve been exposed to Doctor Who, but I never fell under the Whovian umbrella of fandom. I remember catching reruns on PBS in the 80s late at night when I was younger. Okay, it was probably only about 9PM, but that was “late” for a six-year-old. I never got in trouble for it. In fact, my elder-geek of a dad subtly encouraged it.

Did I understand any of it? Oh heavens, no. My viewings of the cheesy sci-fi show were sporadic, never in order, and half of the concepts presented in the show were incomprehensible to my post-toddler brain. That and British English might as well have been a second language to me back then.

I had questions like: Why was The Doctor always played by different actors? Why are those slow-moving R2D2-looking things considered a dangerous alien race? What the hell is with that blue police box?! (Yes, I used “hell” rather liberally at that age.)

It wasn’t until later that the adventures of the wayward immortal time-traveling alien were made clear. And while that sort of subject matter would’ve grabbed me - and did when I caught glimpses of it - I quickly lost interest.

That isn’t to say that I wasn’t nudged in the Whovian direction in the interim. As coincidence would have it, I was going to school in London when the ‘96 Doctor Who TV movie (starring Paul McGann in the titular role) was to premiere. Unfortunately, I missed it by a day. I flew back, hungover, the next morning. Long story…but I digress.

Shirt Image Owned by Bamboota

Shirt Image Owned by Bamboota

My next Who-sposure occurred on my 30th birthday. While friends and roommates were doing their darnedest to keep me in the dark about a surprise birthday party, I was glued to the SciFi Channel (pre-Siffy). They were having a marathon of the first new series of Doctor Who - the Christopher Eccleston season. It was then that the first fanboy kernels began to pop.

Immortal time-traveling alien that regenerates into different forms (when the replacement of an actor was needed), following the continuity of decades past? I could get behind this. This was sorta my type of sci-fi.

But then I caught the interim special - “A Christmas Invasion - ” where they introduced David Tennant in the regenerated role. And I hated it. Every stinkin’ minute of it. Sci-fi at its worst.

As “luck” would have it, it was Tennant’s run as The Doctor that reinvigorated the series. A whole new generation of Whovians emerged from the Vortex. Most of them were young, and - to my dismay - hip. I wondered why so many late-teens and early-twentysomethings glommed onto Tennant so quickly and I didn’t.

Then it hit me. Pinstripe suit, trench coat, spiky hair, sideburns, Converse…oh my God! Tennant’s Who was a hipster.

What had they done?! After that, I refused to watch it on principle.

Friends showed me some Tennant episodes here and there in the hopes of swaying me to the Who-side of the Force. To their credit, “The Girl in the Fireplace” was a damn good episode, but for the most part, I was uninterested.

When David Tennant’s run ended (to my relief), the role went to Matt Smith. And he was even more hip and more youthfully oddball than Tennant was. Some staunch fan-friends of mine even noted this by dubbing him “The Special Needs Doctor”.

I got a chuckle out of that.

Which brings us to the present…

Last weekend, “The Day of the Doctor” - the 50th anniversary special - was set to premiere. The special promised a team-up of both David Tennant and Matt Smith - the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, respectively. John Hurt was also cast as an earlier incarnation of the Doctor that hadn’t yet been acknowledged in the series continuity. To top that off were two online mini-episodes that acted as tie-ins to the special. And I had no interest in it Who-so-ever. But a curiosity did linger.

I watched both out of sheer curiosity. The one that grabbed me was “The Night of the Doctor“, a seven-minute short that chronicled how Paul McGann’s incarnation became John Hurt. To put it mildly, my appetite was whetted.

Following that, I watched a parallel special called “The Five(-ish) Doctors Reboot”. It was directed by another Doctor alum - Peter Davison. The mockumentary was star-studded and hilarious. That convinced me to hunt down the 50th anniversary special.

I watched it the Sunday after the initial premiere. And it was…

Glorious!

In my lifetime, I can only name three series that succeeded in blowing the ever-living wad of geekgasmy joy on the small-screen. Those honors belonged to the TV miniseries Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars, Babylon 5 - episode “Into the Fire”, and Firefly’s cinematic turn in Serenity. Well, “The Day of The Doctor” trumped all of them. It paid homage to the last fifty years of the series, wrapped up old plot threads, and introduced a new direction to the series. All done to almost-note perfection.

Since then, I’ve time-wasted at least two days’ worth of Netflix binges on the show. I developed a lurking respect for Tennant’s and Smith’s runs as The Doctor, while desiring to start the show from scratch with the Hartnell years.

Sunday, November 24th, 2013 marked the day I officially became a fan of The Doctor.

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Wednesday, November 27th, 2013 Musings 7 Comments

In Pursuit of Pitch Perfect Cups

I think I’ve mentioned in prior articles about my soft spot for teeny-bopper movies. It all started in the 80s and 90s, and continued well into the new century. Luckily, for my sanity, very few good ones have emerged since Ten Things I Hate About You. Most were clearly out of my age-range, both in wit and wonderment.

Then came Pitch Perfect.

I first heard about it from its trailers. It looked like yet another Glee knock-off by way of Step Up with the plot of Bring It On. However, something interesting caught my eye. A rather rotund Australian woman was taking center stage in many of the scenes - one Rebel Wilson. She was a riot, and that alone gave me pause. Was it enough to make me see it?

Oh no. Not solo. Not I, a man in his mid-30s.

Several months went by, the movie came and went from theaters, and life returned to relative abnormalcy. I went to work, I wrote, I drank tea; rinse, repeat. While at work, several co-subordinates blasted the local pop station amidst chores. One song stood out from the inanity. I didn’t know the name of it, but it sounded vaguely…folksy? What was this doing on the radio, and why was it talking about bottles of whiskey?

I learned later that the song was called “Cups (When I’m Gone)“, and that it was a redux of another song from the movie…Pitch Perfect!? The artist was actress Anna Kendrick.  I’d never known her by name - save for the informal title of “Scott Pilgrim’s Up in the Air Twilight Sister”.  At one point, I even declared my love for her. I think it was after 50/50. Never knew she could sing on top of…uh…acting all cute. All the time!

The song itself had the most varied of histories. It was first given life by one A.P. Carter of The Carter Family. The Almighty Wiki claims it was written in 1931, while others say it was first performed as early as 1928. Point being: It’s really freakin’ old. That and the rhythm was much slower.

Somehow/someway, it was picked up by a group dubbed Lulu and the Lampshades in 2009 and renamed “You’re Gonna Miss Me“. They’re the ones who added the titular “cup game” rhythm, on top of adding an extra verse. The video went viral.

Fast-forward to two years later, and YouTube vlogger/entertainer Anna Burden recorded her own cover of the song, which also went viral. During filming of Pitch Perfect, Anna Kendrick caught wind of this version. I’m not sure how she convinced the producers of the film to incorporate this song into the movie, but it was there as her character’s “audition” scene. And for some unknown reason, that went viral.

The attention paid to that half-minute try-out led Anna Kendrick to re-record a new version of the song - now called “Cups (When I’m Gone)” - five months after Pitch Perfect came out in theaters. The song went superviral. Yes, that’s a thing now. Because I said so. It was released in February of 2013, and it’s still being played. (It is currently November.)

Kendrick and “Krew” filmed a new video for the re-release in March of ‘13. I didn’t catch it until well into the summer. At first, I thought the video was a part of the movie. Small town girl working a dead-end job, escapes to the big city for a career in music; sounded Hollywood enough to me. I learned later that the music video had nothing to do with the movie, even though it was filmed by Pitch Perfect’s director, Jason Moore.

With a song that had a backstory such as that, now I had to track the movie down. I tried for two months to track it down via Redbox, but it was always out of order. As a result of this repeated failure, I finally broke down and re-signed up for Netflix’s DVD service. Yes, my reason for signing up for DVD rentals…was a teen music movie.

I finally got it. I finally saw it. Twice that day. In a row.

Not a day goes by without me playing one or two musical excerpts from the movie. Was it deep, masterpiece cinema? Not by a longshot. I was right in my original guess. It was Bring It On, only with a capella. And I loved every voiceboxing minute of it.

Well worth the several months and serendipitous history lesson it took to get there.

Wow, I went that whole article without making one boob joke. The title almost demands it. I should compensate somehow. Ummm…oh yeah!

There we go.

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Wednesday, November 20th, 2013 Musings, Reviews 5 Comments

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