Sybil’s “My Merry Memoirs!”… Chapter 11; My “Vacation” Kitchen...

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Did I ever tell you about the short, ahem, “vacation” that I was invited to take from MGM after all the blacklisting controversy in 1951? I was understandably upset when Joe McCarthy, Roy Cohn, and J. Edgar Hoover closed in on me for my suspected connections to left-leaning actors and movie folks. Well, I got so upset (and outspoken!) about it all, that I had a bit of a… um… meltdown. It seems I went to the studio commissary and began throwing food at the nice ladies behind the serving counter… there was a rumor that I was particularly destructive with the wax beans and the succotash.

I was “detained” by some very sympathetic police officers, and later sentenced to a stay at the Hollywood Hills Home for Semi-Hysterical Creative Persons. The psychiatric staff there gave me my own bungalow on Carl Jung Lane with its own padded kitchen where I could relax and cook to my heart’s content. The only bad news was that all the knives and forks were plastic and the stove and oven were heated by extra-strong light bulbs… but after about three weeks, I had put on about 22 pounds and had completely ruined the figures of my fellow patients staying nearby… and our wardens. But that was okay. I was able to tailor their hospital uniforms in my padded sewing room!

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A New Sybil Bruncheon's "WHO'Z DAT?"... IRVING BACON (September 6, 1893 – February 5, 1965)...

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Darlings! Mummy has made a decision! After reading dozens of posts and having hundreds of conversations with well-meaning folks who just don't know about the great CHARACTER actors who gave films the depth and genius that surrounded and supported the so-called "stars", I am going to post a regular, special entry called SYBIL'S "WHO'Z DAT??"....there'll be photos and a mini-bio, and the next time you see one of those familiar, fabulous faces that you just "can't quite place".......well, maybe these posts will help. Some of these actors worked more, had longer and broader careers, and ended up happier, more loved, and even wealthier than the "stars" that the public "worships"......I think there may be a metaphor in that! What do you think?? Well, while you’re mulling that over, here’s a face that folks have seen a gazillion times on both the silver and the television screen... and sometimes his face was all that was needed to convey a fabulous character in some of the great films he appeared in; no spoken lines required!

He's Irving Bacon (September 6, 1893 – February 5, 1965). Born Irving von Peters in St. Joseph, Missouri, he was the son of Millar von Peters and Myrtle Vane, an actress. He moved to California at an early age and attended Santa Clara College in San Jose, California. An American character actor who eventually appeared in almost 500 films, he appeared on the regional stage for a number of years before getting into silent films. Irving first found work in comedy shorts at Keystone Studios usually playing older than he was and, for a time, was a utility player for Mack Sennett in such “slapsticks” as A FAVORITE FOOL (1915). He served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War I and rose to the rank of Sergeant First Class. After the war, he returned to Hollywood. Although no relation and often mistakenly thought to be his brother, he worked with director Lloyd Bacon, who cast him in silent funnies starting with GOOD MORNING, NURSE (1925), which was written by Frank Capra, HURRY, DOCTOR! (1925) and WIDE OPEN FACES (1926).

As a character actor who appeared in literally hundreds of films, Irving Bacon could always be counted on for expressing bug-eyed bewilderment or cautious frustration in small-town settings with his revolving door of friendly, servile parts - mailmen, milkmen, clerks, chauffeurs, cab drivers, bartenders, soda jerks, carnival operators, handymen, and country doctors. Irving made an easy adjustment when sound entered the pictures with his gawky voice and after appearing in the Karl Dane and George K. Arthur two-reel comedy shorts such as KNIGHTS BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1930), began to show up in feature-length films. He played higher-ups on occasion, such as the Secretary of the Navy in MILLION DOLLAR LEGS (1932), a police inspector in HOUSE OF MYSTERY (1934), a mayor in ROOM FOR ONE MORE (1952), and a judge in AMBUSH AT CIMARRON PASS (1958), but those were exceptions to the rule. Blending in with the town crowd was what Irving was accustomed to and, over the years, he would be glimpsed in some of Hollywood's most beloved classics such as Capra's MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN (1936) with Gary Cooper, SAN FRANCISCO (1936) with Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy, YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU (1938) with Jimmy Stewart and Lionel Barrymore, and Judy Garland’s A STAR IS BORN (1954). Trivia nuts will fondly recall his beleaguered postman Mr. Crumb in several of Columbia Pictures' BLONDIE film series that ran from 1938 to 1950. Bacon married Freda Lee Scofield and had two children: Robert (1922) and Barbara (1927). His wife died within a year or so after the birth of their second child. Over his long and amazingly prolific career, he worked in every genre; musicals, comedies, thrillers, romances, for the greatest directors; Hitchcock, Capra, John Ford, George Cukor, Victor Fleming, and appeared in iconic films; THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1940), MEET JOHN DOE (1941), and HOLIDAY INN (1942). He appeared in three Best Picture Academy Award winners: IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934), YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU (1938) AND GONE WITH THE WIND (1939). Ward Bond, Eddy Chandler, and Wallis Clark also appeared in all three films.

Irving could also be spotted on popular '50s and '60s TV programs such as the Westerns LARAMIE (1959) and WAGON TRAIN (1957), and comedies DECEMBER BRIDE (1954) and THE REAL MCCOYS (1957). He can still be seen in a couple of old codger roles on I LOVE LUCY reruns (1951). One was as a marriage license proprietor and the other as Vivian Vance's doting dad from Albuquerque, to whom she paid a visit on her way to Hollywood with the Ricardos. Irving died on February 5, 1965, in Hollywood, having appeared in nearly 500 features. Interestingly, he was buried in the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery for Veterans in San Diego. The inscription on his gravestone reads, SFC US ARMY AIR CORPS WORLD WAR I. He was 71 years old.

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Sybil Bruncheon's "Hysterical Healthful Histories"... Wauseon, Ohio.


The Philbert Institute For Defused Alienation in Wauseon, Ohio.
With the close of the 19th century, social scientists, philosophical and political observers, anthropologists, and medical professionals discussed the new phenomenon of angst that seemed to be consuming people in all walks of life in industrializing America. As greater and greater numbers of citizens left farming in the rural countryside and built their lives and careers in overcrowded cities, there seemed to be a loss of basic family constructs and communal feelings between neighbors. Dr. Joshua Philbert was a scientist who, in addition to his extensive medical background, was immersed in research into nutritional and specialized exercise programs to improve mental and physical health. Philbert created his institute for patients (or "enrollees" as he preferred to address them) to find an all-consuming wellness and inner peace that would sustain them even after they had returned to their stressful lives. A two-week stay involved daily schedules of classes, exercises, spa treatments, lectures, crafting, movement seminars, gardening, physical exertion, and nudist culture. Sing-alongs, square dance, wicker-weaving, and watermelon war-games were all especially popular with the enrollees. Here we see a typical Watermelon War-Game in which the jolly participants are instructed to eat as much melon as possible and to spit the seeds at opposing "warriors" as quickly and violently as possible. All physical contact between aggressors must be done only through the seeds being spat and on no account should there be any touching or even cross-words.

The war-games were also a sensible way to settle any bickering, arguments, petty quarrels, or personal jealousies among the enrollees and even the institute staff as well. Two unfortunate issues did come up though during the war-games; 1) The more aggressive the "battles" became, the more watermelon the participants would consume resulting in extraordinary amounts of water weight being put on during their stays. Guests also complained of severe stomach cramps, excessive urination, and unpredictably explosive diarrhea often in front of visitors and at mealtimes. …and 2) Some seeds ended up putting people's eyes out or even choking enrollees…. to death.

These tragic setbacks were not lost on John Harvey Kellogg over at his Battle Creek Health Sanitarium. His version of aggression therapy involved patients being costumed in gigantic elasticized one-piece pajamas gathered at the wrists, ankles and neck and filled with bales of milkweed fluff. They were then given huge pillows of the same stuff and instructed to hit each other as violently as they pleased and to yell hideous epithets while confined in padded cells. This exercise would go on for hours until finally, exhausted, they would be found asleep by the staff and dragged back to their separate cells. Kellogg of course charged a fraction of the same fees as Philbert did and the Philbert Institute soon went out of business….…. Later, Professor Philbert changed the spelling of his name to Filbert, moved to Monte Carlo, and made a fortune importing nuts... actual nuts.

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BREAKING NEWS!... from the CNN news desk: A funeral... and a "funeral"...

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September 1, 2018...
It was revealed today that while all of Washington and the nation have been focused on the funeral of Senator John McCain, president Trump had been feeling increasingly isolated and neglected. According to servants in the White House, Mr. Trump assembled his own funeral in the butler's pantry off the grand ballroom, complete with "guests" which he referred to as "foreign dignitaries, fancy people with big houses, and know, other stuff."

One of the upstairs butlers reported that the president required each of the servants and kitchen staff to "speak" for a corresponding funeral guest, but that after four hours, Trump himself took on the task of eulogizing himself in a myriad of strange voices and indecipherable accents. At about 3am, the last of the staff quietly retired to bed after the president fell asleep in a pile of his "mourners'. They will be returned in the morning to the Smithsonian Museum's "Ventriloquism & Vaudeville Wing"... presumably by limousine.                   Details at 6. Edison cylinder recordings at 11.

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On the anniversary of Princess Diana's passing...

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               (This article was originally posted in my column in a Cherry Grove newspaper on September 1st, 2016)

Well, Grovites….this may seem like an …um…odd article for me to post when you’re so used to funny question and answer items, advice on mold and mosquitoes, harangues on litter, cigarette butts, and dogs off leashes, or even the perky little recipe and the amusing anecdote that goes with it…. But today, this particular morning, the day, and the week ahead is an anniversary that, although we’re Americans (and not British!), still resonates with so many people in a profound way…. Resonates perhaps even more because of how politics and public figures have evolved and morphed since that Summer evening exactly 20 years ago when Fire Island was full of vacationers and the news stunned and shocked the entire world that Diana Spencer, icon, heroine, and the focus of so much glamor and scandal had been killed in a car accident during the night.

              It is one of those momentous events that people of all ages “remember exactly where they were when they heard the news”, and, depending on your age (and awareness!) you have a few of them…or many. It is a sign that you’re getting older when you have a list of “moments in history”, each one particular and fraught, full of sights and sounds, specific “cast members”, even tastes and smells, everything around you at the moment you heard that John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, or Martin Luther King had been assassinated, that Grace Kelly, Michael Jackson, or Prince had died, that the Challenger or the Columbia or John Kennedy, Jr. had crashed. Each of us has these moments and they weigh on each us differently depending on our backgrounds and personal histories. Some seem to be more universal than others. I’m not talking about 9/11 here for the obvious reason that so many of us in the New York City area observed directly the events of that day, and the days that followed, many of us literally right before our very eyes and touched perhaps through having neighbors, friends or family involved, surviving …or not. Diana’s death like the other losses and catastrophes I’ve suggested was a distant event for most of us. But even not knowing her personally, how many of us were touched by her surprising beauty and ready smile in the evening news, at Met balls with megastars, and at hospital appearances with AIDS patients and injured children. That funny phrase “unforgivably beautiful” was so apt for her, wasn’t it, because non-entertainment celebrities like politicians, scientists, philosophers, writers, and yes, even royals are rarely ever more than moderately attractive, but here was Diana Spencer, connected through her ancestry to Winston Churchill, Anne Boleyn, and Stuarts, Bourbons, Medicis, Hapsburgs, and Hanovers, and finally in line to be the Queen of England looking like a movie star!...actually lovelier than many movie stars, and touching, actually touching people with serious illnesses, giving hugs to people of all races and circumstances…and looking like that! Isn’t that what we all said when we’d see the evening news? In one shot she’d be in a glorious evening gown cut daringly off the shoulder and in jewels that dazzled, and in the next clip, she’d be walking through a minefield in shorts and a white cotton blouse conferring with United Nations experts and activists about humanitarian emergencies! Long before George Clooney became the handsome face of activist Hollywood, it was Diana who embodied the beautiful celebrity-as-warrior.

               Everything about her life became news….Tears, tiaras, tirades about Charles, foreign and exotic liaisons with billionaire boyfriends, frisking with socialites, dancing with Travolta, camping about with Elton John, it all was front page news!... and the resistance and resentment by the Windsors only fanned the flames. Queen Elizabeth, who had prided herself on her understated self-sacrifice and stoicism in the face of World War and terrible national deprivation, was suddenly being seen as a cross between Queen Victoria’s sourness and the out-of-touch exclusivity of Marie Antoinette. And never more so than when Diana died in a car accident and the nation and the world were plunged into a very public and convulsive grief. It seemed to take forever for the Queen and her husband to realize that the British expected and finally demanded that they act accordingly. It may have seemed like it took forever, but in fact the cascade of events over a few short days and the Queen’s capitulation were almost like an avalanche with the streets covered and clogged with flowers, the flying of the palace flag at half-mast, the royal family forced to return to Buckingham and walking, yes, walking up to the crowds, and the final televised address on the world’s television sets…. The Queen of England …Live.

                 I suppose many of you are wondering what this has to do with a lovely Summer wrapping up here on Fire Island…each of the seventeen towns on our strip of sand grabbing a last few weeks of sun and surf before the school year and the Fall closes in. Many of the folks reading this are too young to remember or care about Diana or the metaphors that surround the sudden end of a youth filled with excitement, dreams, and drama. She was miserable about so much and yet she also adored her children, she was fun and funny, witty and clever, and perhaps even manipulative too once she began “to learn how to play the game” of her fame. She lobbed her celebrity status back at her in-laws, at Charles and his Camilla, like a master on the tennis court of life, and then rushed the net for the “grand slam”…. And certainly in death, her ghost annihilated the competition for the final victory. Even today, 20 years later, whatever newly released gossip or criticism of her seems to rinse away, while her status as iconic beauty, loving mother, bon vivant, and humanitarian remains and even grows. How much more will she become in the next 20 years? Will Diana finally and ironically be responsible for Charles relinquishing his rights to the throne in favor of his infinitely more popular and Diana-like son William. Will we skip a Charles III and go directly from Elizabeth II to William V…? Who knows…. But inevitably, we’ll find out. Twenty years ago, Diana dashed into an idling car, hunted as always but dealing with the usual petty annoyances of celebrity, perhaps even chuckling as she outran the paparazzi on their Vespas, faster and faster that night, in the most beautiful city on Earth…and then…

                  To get back to why I wrote this article on the anniversary of Diana’s death, we see what the world of celebrity and politics, and celebrities IN politics has become. We see how reality television has evolved with candy-bar tasks for third-rate has-been tv stars morphing into Washington policy-making. The catch-all phrase “You’re Fired” has taken on a whole new meaning. There’s still resistance and resentment, tears, and tirades, though maybe not as many tiaras. But with all the national and international drama and dramatics, we still have our own precious moments out here on the Island; moments of peace, of the sound of the waves rolling on the sand at sunset, and the very sight of those sunsets over the bay. Each one different and perfect…(all sunsets are perfect, even the cloudier ones, and don’t let anyone tell you differently). Here, we have all the beauty and loveliness that the eye and the heart can hold. Making dinner tonight with the breeze on the back deck or coming through an open kitchen window, friends and family gathering nearby, the end of another unmemorable day here at the ocean. Maybe we should make every day memorable…as memorable as possible. To stay present to each moment, to be grateful for the good and the wonderful things in life, to say “thank you” silently and sincerely, and to remember that all of this that we see, and feel, and think will always be is borrowed…. really, only borrowed.

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My Merry Memoirs:... My sister, my mother... (oh, and my nephew...)

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         ...from My Merry Memoirs: Chapter... oh, whatever. On the left is a photo of my identical twin sister Dagmar (ten minutes younger than me, and completely unexpected!) and my mother, who was having one of her (rare!) "good days"! Probably the altitude scared her into behaving herself! Dagmar and Mother were at the groundbreaking of the Boulder Dam, or the Chrysler Building... or maybe it was just a carnival ride in a particularly seedy roadside amusement park.. As I said, they both were teetering high, high over whatever, and being confined to a fairly small space, they appear to be having a comparably cheerful time (or at least civil!). On most days, they often turned to strife, enmity, and snarking, either singly or in pairs, and usually with sharp objects nearby. 
         Now you're probably wondering why I've paired a family photo with that other studio shot of Richard Widmark from KISS OF DEATH (1947). Well, Dagmar, of course, is the mother of my often referred to nephew, John, and you've read of some of his adventures here on these pages. He seems like a nice enough person, and I have tried always to be his "Auntie Mame", but there were times... well, if you actually KNEW my sister, (AND my mother!) you'd know it was a huge mistake to take John to that afternoon matinee double-feature at the Rivoli Palace. It was KISS OF DEATH and PEZZO THE MUSICAL MONKEY. It's not clear now which of the films or a combination of them both that inspired him to push Dagmar down the stairs... Of course, John is much more attractive than that Widmark character. And Dagmar wasn't in a wheel chair, nor did she die... just a sprained ankle. A sprained ankle! Can you imagine?!... and all the way down three whole flights of stairs. Marble, no less! (God really DOES only take the good.)

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Sybil Bruncheon's "My Merry Memoirs"…Muriel and Me… Chapter 34, page 612…

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September, 16th, 1925… grabbing the last fabulous fun of Summer!!! There's Muriel DeSatnick and me at Coney Island!… on the "Trabant"..or the "Tilt-O-Whirl"… or the "Toss-Yer-Bucket"... whatever. Muriel is wearing that ridiculous fur stole that she made out of a bath mat she "borrowed" from the Charmondely Arms Holiday Hotel & Spa on the corner of Neptune Avenue and Beach Breeze Blvd. The maid chased us seven blocks down the boardwalk screaming in Bosnian, (or was it Montenegran??... whatever!)... and Muriel just laughed and laughed and tried to throw the maid off by tossing $20 bills back at her. Finally after 600 bucks or so, the nice lady must have realized that she had several weeks' salary scattered behind her and went back to retrieve whatever hadn't been picked up by scampering beach goers! Muriel was completely hooched up on the bathtub gin we bought the night before from heartbreakingly handsome Dix Sunnigan, the DeSoto automobile heir who bootlegged as a hobby. His stuff was top-quality though! No danger of going blind or dying from what he bottled. And the olives for our martinis came from a young guy named Vito Corleone down on Mulberry Street. Also very handsome and so polite and classy!... who can resist an Italian with those eyes and that accent? And he always gave me a bottle of his extra-virgin top quality olive oil for my cooking! Amazing people and times... and Muriel! What a character! Better known in Europe as the Countess of Shlongwartzen-Krepstein, she never let her title or her fortune dictate how she treated a waitress or a cabby. Everyone was fascinating to the two of us, unless of course, they revealed they were pompous bores, and then Muriel would ask me to kick 'em downstairs! She'd wink at me and whisper, "Sybil, you do it! I don't want to ruin my good shoes on their ass, and you're just knocking around in those stupid penny loafers!"… and I would!… and we'd laugh and laugh as they'd bounce down two or even three flights!!… good times... ah, good times....

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A Summer's ending...

Bathing Beauties Smoking (682).jpg was late in August, maybe almost Labor Day weekend, as a matter of fact. That Summer had been a famously hot one with hundreds of thousands of sweltering New Yorkers from the Bronx to the Lower East Side pouring out of the infernal subways into the blinding light and faintly stirring breezes of Coney Island's shore. In keeping with the "New Woman" of the Roaring 20s who could now smoke, drink hootch from a hip flask, ask a man to go dancing, and vote, young nubile lasses were now being hired to serve as Lifeguards on the shore. It was no longer considered unladylike for a girl to have a suntan, a strong toned body, and the physical capability to drag a man half-again as heavy as herself through pounding surf to safety, his desperate family, and cheering throngs! To wear the special and provocatively lusty uniform of a Lady Lifeguard was considered both a badge of honor and a mark of shame depending on who was looking on... and that's why it was especially heartbreaking when, during a ladies-only smoking break, the entire party of the Secaucus Synchronized Senior Shallow-Splashers were swept out to sea... All in their 80s, the kindly old folks were picked up "as one" by a rogue wave, and delivered into the waiting maw of a riptide that swallowed them whole before the dumbfounded crowd staring onshore. A whole minute, (or was it more?) passed before the first choked scream rose from a stricken child clutching her rubber seahorse by the throat and pointing! Had she really seen her grandma and her grandma's funny-fishy friends disappear into the roiling green waves? Her young shriek was joined by one, then another, until finally the whole seashore howled with the grief, horror, and wrath of a thousand voices, all helpless, hopeless, and horrified that something so terrible could happen while the sun shone so cheerfully, and calliope music drifted from the midway. How? How could it be real??... and where were the lifeguards that had only an hour earlier been waving and smiling, watching over everyone, protective, almost proprietary about the souls entrusted to their care? Gone... all gone. Bathers and lifeguards... all gone. Giggling smokers snuggled under the old pier, and lost loved ones... gone. But, even as the waves carelessly continued to brush across the sand, the weeks and months, and years began to wash the sharpness of that terrible day smooth. Like a bright red shard of broken glass speared in the sand, deadly even to look on, becomes smooth as the same sand and sea wash and tumble it, season after season. Finally, it lies like the perfect pebbles around it. Rounded and inviting. Only its scarlet red remains. And no one remembers the glinting edge of pain... just the late Summer sun… and the calliope music… and the whispering of the water on the sand...

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My Merry Memoirs... Peek-A-Boo!

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Ah, the “Good Old Days”…… Filming for the famous (but long gone!) “Stupendous Studios Motion Picture Company” at Coney Island in 1922! Here we are in a musical number (for a SILENT film!...can you imagine?!?), the song was “Peek-A-Boo Beach Babies”…but it was later censored by the authorities when one of our parasols collapsed during the tap sequence… oh well! From left to right, Beulah Charmondely, Pat Zount, Muriel Lemon, and yes! That’s Mummy herself in the checks! …. Boop Boop Be-Doop!!

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The Sugar & Spice series of books;                                                                         Volume 1 is "Mommy Says I'm Ugly". The Sugar & Spice publishers DID eliminate the sequel, "Mommy Says I'm Ugly So I Made It Look Like She Smoked In Bed".... but they reissued it as a manual for local volunteer fire departments....and funeral directors. Other books soon to be released in the series include;

Volume 2 - "A Nice Man Played Cards With Daddy, And They Told Me To Go Out And Play When They Had No Clothes On"

Volume 3 - "Doggies Like To Ride Each Other"

Volume 4 - "My Doggie Likes To Ride Me.... And I Let Him"

Volume 5 - "Mommy Cooks And Neighborhood Pets Don’t Come Home Anymore”"

Volume 6 - "Mr. Green Has A Funny Garage With Strange Tools Shaped Like Cucumbers"

Volume 7 - "My Big Sister Traded Me My Football For All Her Pretty Make-Up And I Wore Some In Front Of My Coach"

Volume 8 - "Debbie Pushes People In Front Of Things That Go HONK!"

Volume 9 - "Muriel Likes To Have Things That Other People Spent Money On"

and Volume 10 - "Dickie Wants To Tell You A Funny Story In A Room With No Lights"....

Stay tuned for new and wonderful stories coming out in time for the new school year. And many of them will have pictures!... for people who don't like to read... and you know who you are.

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