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1979: Albert's (in Omaha) is lit!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

yes, it's art

It's been quite a semester. I took a sociology class and did okay, and at the same time, I took a figure drawing class (okay, not simultaneously, like rubbing your stomach and patting your head), and I exceeded my expectations. I've had drawing classes before, and the teachers would tell me to draw something, and then give me a grade on it. This semester, I got a teacher who actually taught me how to draw stuff — in this case, people with their clothes off.

From the supplies to how to hold your pencil to measure and compare the subject to what goes on the paper, she gave us detailed instruction and then went from student to student giving critiques and demonstrations. It was an education. Here's the next-to-last drawing I completed in class:


When I had it to that stage, I was looking at it and thinking this is the best life drawing I've ever done! That's not the finished drawing, though. My teacher, Maureen, spoke to me about it in her forthright way, which can be abrasive, and told me what was wrong with it and how to proceed. I went back to the board for two more classes, and came away with this:

penultimate figure drawing

Get into the shading. Get some real contrast in it. Look at the overall lights and darks. Vary the outlines so they're not all the same kind of line. Keep measuring and comparing. Find the little things that tell the viewer what's in front, what's behind, and where things change. I did all these things and was amazed at the results. There was one more drawing to do:

final drawing

This one benefitted from all I'd learned already, as well as the guiding presence of Maureen and a relatively quick start that left me lots of time to refine. I got to spend at least an hour just on those wrinkles. It was a great finish to my most educational semester.

Also, we got to talking in class. Maureen said something about nuts coming from Wisconsin, and I mentioned Ed Gein, which prompted her to recount how Gein had had a parole hearing while she was still living there, and she'd been appointed the courtroom sketch artist. At the end of the hearing (which Gein, of course, failed at, and went back to confinement), the famous skin-wearing maniac thanked her for the job she'd done and shook her hand.

So of course I asked her if I could shake her hand, and she said sure. The same hand that Buzz Aldrin shook, and half of the hand team that applauded Dave Brubeck and Hal Holbrook. It was quite a semester.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Pick Fifty

Back in 1992, Jerry Beck sent out a survey that went to various animation people, including members of an animation APA (Amateur Press Association) that we were both in, looking to compile a list of the 50 Greatest Cartoons, which formed the basis of a book he edited and wrote. Or wrote and edited. I probably missed the deadline, but I gave the matter enough thought to pile up nominations, weed them, and then write notes on the fifty cartoons I liked best.

In a way, that's not true. Sometimes I was thinking "the best of this sort of cartoon," but it's still a good indicator of what I like. This was edited down some when I retyped it all for an anniversary special I did, because who wants to type all that again? I have a photocopy somewhere if I really decide I need it.

Now to take out extra spaces and line returns that I hope you never suspect were there. Oh, and I changed some rankings when I retyped this. There's academic rigor for you!

and five historical picks to start us off:

The five historical cartoons: GERTIE THE DINOSAUR, OUT OF THE INKWELL  (whatever the first in that series was called), STEAMBOAT WILLIE, SINKIN' IN THE BATHTUB, and THE DOVER BOYS (in which Chuck Jones invents zip-n-pose animation back in 1942).

50) THE CAT ABOVE, THE MOUSE BELOW (Tom & Jerry/ 1964/ Chuck Jones)
"…Hard to believe a Jones T&J even made the list."

49) WE'RE ON OUR WAY TO RIO (Popeye, Olive, Bluto/ 1944/ I. Sparber)
"…possessed of the high level of animation honed by the Fleischers; now replendently colored and buoyantly scored with a red-hot samba."

48) THUGS WITH DIRTY MUGS (1939/ Tex Avery)
"…a late WB short with the classic Warner's look of the animal protagonists. Includes the classic "KILLER ROBS 87 BANKS IN ONE DAY" gag…"

47) ALL THE CATS JOIN IN (1946/ Jack Kinney)
formerly #23… lots of fun. BUMBLE BOOGIE used to be in this spot. That's lots of fun, too.
This is not an exact science.

46) THE FRESH VEGETABLE MYSTERY (1939/ Dave Fleischer)
"Brutal and wacky… Almost as painful as `Ren & Stimpy.'"

45) COUNTERFEIT CAT (1949/ Tex)
"The cat pulls so many bones out of nowhere that he's lucky to have a skeleton at the end of the story."

44) REAL GONE WOODY (Woody, Buzz/ 1954/ Paul J. Smith)
"Woody has a duck-tail that quacks. He keeps his hubcaps in a safe… Like the title says, man, it's real gone."

43) SWING WEDDING (1937/ Hugh Harman) "It moves like MGM and acts like one of Max Fleischer's forays into the hopped-up world of jazz… As a bonus for those of us who follow cartoon drug use, there's a scene where the frogs go wild and start bashing their instruments over each other. The trumpeter is left holding a valve that looks like a hypodermic; so he `shoots up' with it and leaps through a bass drum in the closing seconds."
Swing, swing, swing.

42) HOW TO PLAY FOOTBALL (Goofy/ 1944/ Jack Kinney)
"These sports-oriented motion studies are almost invariably hilarious, as well as breathtakingly convincing in their cartoon physics. The whole set could have been called HOW TO ANIMATE."

41) PARADE OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS (Betty Boop/ 1933/ Dave Fleischer)
"There's a violent and humorous battle between berserk toy ape and the good toys, followed by the awesome Dance of the Busted Toys, where patched-up, parts-missing toys hop and twist down the table, then break down. They sure don't make them like this any more." (Today, I might pick BETTY BOOP'S PENT-HOUSE over this one: Jazzy, lecherous, with animal experimentation, a Frankensteinian monster, and a climactic `pansy' joke.)
"Today" meaning 1999, when I revisited the 1992 list.

40) SCRAPPY'S ART GALLERY (Scrappy, Oopy, Yippy/ 1934/ No Director Credited…Sid Marcus &/or Art Davis dood it)
"…animated oil paintings. Scrappy's antics are among my first animation memories, and they more than stand up after not seeing them for years."

39) THE SCARLET PUMPERNICKEL (Daffy, Everyone Else/ 1950/ Chuck Jones)
"…one hell of a great cartoon, with Daffy narrating the role of his life."

38) SCREWBALL SQUIRREL (Screwy/ 1944/ Tex Avery)
"Shows how far you can get by being annoying and persistent."

37) APPLE ANDY (Andy Panda/ 1946/ Dick Lundy)
For some reason, I was sticking Cab Calloway into this cartoon; probably due to a chance remark made years ago by a friend. Anyway, "this representative of the `torturing a bad boy with his vice' has Andy lost in a nightmare world of green apples… And Andy Panda and Dick Lundy both made the list. Amazing."

36) Freakazoid: "Toby Danger" (Came out since the original list was made)
A splendid parody, complete with an Alex Toth lizard, fakey karate chops, and lots of people saying "AIIEEE!" It's not as easy to do this stuff as it looks. (replaces The Simpsons: Homer's Hair)

35) LOST AND FOUNDLING (Sniffles/ 1944/ Chuck Jones)
"A Sniffles cartoon! Up here? Yeah, I know how it looks, but this one's different. Sniffles raises a tiny chick that grows swiftly to a hulking hawk who doesn't know what he's hungry for… This was Snif's last cartoon, I think, so maybe the hawk ate him after all." (Turns out it wasn't the last one, but it's such a great line…)

34) MOVING AWEIGH (Popeye, Shorty/ 1944/ Uncredited)
"I suspect Dan Gordon directed this fast-paced cavalcade of physical abuse. It's an upbeat study in the choreography of violence, reminiscent of Tom & Jerry. I just like the darn thing, so sue me."

33) STEAL WOOL (Ralph, Sam/ 1957/ Chuck Jones)
"Far more amusing than the Road Runner cartoons… Ralph, a thinly disguised Wile E. Coyote (or vice versa) walks to work with his friend Sam, where they punch a time clock and become mortal enemies until five (lunchtime excluded). This one gets to represent the series, mostly on the basis of the end of the cartoon, when Sam urges Ralph to take a day off, assuring him that he can handle both jobs for one day. Now, THAT I'd like to see!"

32) LONG-HAIRED HARE (Bugs/ 1949/ Chuck Jones)
"…In a hilarious, character-based scene, Bugs strides to the front, as startled audience members whisper "It's Leopold!" Without turning to face him, "Leopold" holds out a hand for the baton, which the terrified conductor hands over instantly. Bugs snaps it in two, tosses the pieces away, and proceeds to conduct (like Stokowski) with his gloved hands, putting the tenor through such prolonged abuse as to eventually bring the house down. (House played by the Hollywood Bowl.)

31) THE SPINACH OVERTURE (Popeye, Olive, Wimpy, Bluto/ 1935/ Dave Fleischer)
"…a representative of the many cartoons to use von Suppe's `Poet and Peasant' overture, and the best…" And, I might add, some of the best piano-faking in animation.

30) Ren & Stimpy: "Stimpy's Invention" (formerly #21, and "Space Madness" was here-so why shouldn't I second-guess myself six years later?)
"…This cartoon pushed the envelope on how intense an animated cartoon can be and still be funny."

29) PLUTO'S JUDGEMENT DAY (Pluto, Mickey/ 1935/ David Hand)
"…his inquisitors swearing him in on a phone book that turns into a mouse trap, those great menacing shots of his cat accuser coming closer, and the shots of Pluto being tormented in-of all things-a potty chair. How did they do it?"

28) MOUSE WRECKERS (Hubie, Bertie, Claude/ 1949/ Chuck Jones)
"Irresistible tale of cheese-eating duo (voiced by Mel Blanc and Stan Freberg) tormenting high-strung idiot cat. Includes memorable `upside-down room gag…"

27) SPIES (Private SNAFU/ 1943/ Chuck Jones)
"…This looks to me like it must have been written by Ted (Dr. Seuss) Geisel, what with the rhyme scheme and choral delivery of refrains. The devil, of course, looks like Hitler."
I guess I couldn't afford a reference book back then, or maybe there wasn't one.

26) KO-KO'S EARTH CONTROL (Ko-Ko, Fitz/ 1928/ Dave Fleischer)
"…The unresolved chaos that follows is of less interest to me than that crazy dog trying to pull that lever…"
God, how that dog wanted to pull that lever.

25) BOTTLES (1936/ Hugh Harman)
"The old apothecary finishes his formula and nods off to sleep… The rest of the cartoon has him either being menaced by fiends or viewing merry antics of … bottles that come to life at night and sing…"

24) BLUE CAT BLUES (Tom, Jerry, Tootles, Toots/ 1956/ Bill Hanna & Joe Barbera)
"An Avery-like black comedy finds Jerry looking on sadly as his friend, Tom, sits on the railroad tracks, waiting. In a subdued, Joseph Cotten-like voice, Jerry recounts the hopeless love of Tom for the faithless Tootles (who has changed shape over the years more times than Plastic Man). Similar to, but less labored than, SYMPHONY IN SLANG, Jerry's tale ends with him abruptly realizing that his girlfriend Toots (seen here for the only time) is just as faithless, and he goes to join his pal Tom as that lonesome whistle blows. End."

23) DANCE OF THE HOURS (1940/ T. Hee, Norm Ferguson)
Not in this list the first time through, but I suspected I had erred in leaving it out; one of the greatest animated sequences ever! I swear, it makes me cry for joy.
I used to weep because nothing this good would ever be made again. The animation industry has really done wondrous things since then.

22) ROOTY TOOT TOOT (1952/ John Hubley)
"Bill Scott co-wrote, and (I think) Art Babbit animated on this bubbly, truly enjoyable tale of
faithlessness, murder and music. My favorite UPA cartoon."

21) The Simpsons: "Radioactive Man Number One"
(Formerly #13. It's still a classic, but there've been a lot more episodes to consider. Nothing
scientific about this list.) (If you think I'm going to go dig up that book and put the real titles in here, you're thinking of someone much less lazy than me.)

20) LONESOME LENNY (Screwy, Lenny/ 1946/ Tex Avery)
"…In the last scene, we have a rerun of the first, where [big, dumb, strong] Lenny says `You know, I used to have a little friend…but he don't move no more!' Lenny displays Screwy, who (though dead) holds up a sign saying `Sad Ending, Ain't It?' before vanishing forever from the screen."
I don't even think he was in Roger Rabbit.

19) ONE FROGGY EVENING (Michigan J. Frog/ 1955/ Chuck Jones)
"Say what you will, I am forever touched by the parable of the singing frog in the cornerstone. The acting is subtle and first-rate. There is a lesson here for us all."

18) FEED THE KITTY (Marc Antony, Pussyfoot/ 1952/ Chuck Jones)
"…The dog's quiet, but shattering, grief reaches crescendo when he treats cookie as if it were kitten. We know the kitty is fine, but even with that knowledge, the dog's performance is half hilarious, half
I re-watch this one perhaps more than any other, for some reason.

17) THAT'S MY MOMMY (Tom, Jerry/ 1955/ Bill Hanna & Joe Barbera)
"Another heartstring-tugger as egg rescued from Tom by Jerry becomes ducky who imprints on Tom, fleeing his would-be savior Jerry time and again to return to his `good old Mommy.' Best of its kind, maybe because Tom doesn't end up crushed and defeated."

16) I GOPHER YOU (Goofy Gophers/ 1954/ Friz Freleng)
"…Hilarious gags about peril on the assembly line, with one eventually getting canned.
They also discover the wonders of dehydrated food. Priceless."

15) WHAT'S OPERA, DOC? (Elmer, Bugs/ 1957/ Chuck Jones)
"…It's vewy twagic and impwessive. Twust me."

14) BOOK REVUE (1946/ Bob Clampett)
"…When that duck stops the proceedings and takes center stage, we see what real star quality means-especially when the rabbit isn't there to take it away."

13) The Simpsons: "Citizen Kang" (This came out since the original list, and it's my favorite Simps segment.) Aliens Kodos and Kang replace candidates Dole and Clinton. Homer exposes them at a rally, but it's still a two-party system, so Kang is elected president. "Don't blame me," Homer declares, "I voted for Kodos!"
Ha, ha. Go ahead; throw your vote away.

12) THRU THE MIRROR (Mickey/ 1936/ David Hand)
"Another great mind-bender from the straightest company on earth… [Mick's] accurate dance steps were generally done by Fred Moore, I hear… Even if you haven't seen this, clips from it have been so widely used that you've probably seen at least a quarter of it."

11) BIMBO'S INITIATION (Bimbo, Betty/ 1931/ Dave Fleischer)
"…As Leslie Cabarga accurately observes, the cartoons' happy ending scarcely erases the horrors Bimbo has been through." Also notable as one of many Fleischer toons with a Mickey Mouse clone acting against the hero's interests.

10) New Adventures of Mighty Mouse: "Don't Touch That Dial" (d: Kent Butterworth)
"Still my all-time favorite cartoon made for TV. Mighty is channel-surfed from an AIRPORT take-off on his show to "The Jetstones" to "Ring-a-Ding, Where Are You?" to "Rocky and Hoodwinkle" before he finally leaves the set to wrest the remote from the hyperactive, inattentive child (whose capsule descriptions of shows he switches away from, such as `Aw, this show has no pro-social values' or `Aw, this show's too violent" echo the language the show's writers, directors and
producers must have heard from watchdog groups and their network counterparts)…"
"Hyperactive and inattentive" is a direct tribute to one of Harry McCracken's humor pieces.

9) DUCK AMUCK (Daffy/ 1953/ Chuck Jones)
"…and from there, his day goes right to Cartoon Hell. The duck is robbed of his surroundings, props, voice, body, and anything else he tries to rely on… at cartoon's end we see that his tormentor is Chuck Jones himself. Oh, sure, he disguises himself as Bugs, but you know who Bugs always shills for."

8) THE DOVER BOYS (1942/ Chuck Jones)
"I hadn't realized just how big Chuck Jones figures on my list of favorites… The laws of motion tend
to give way here to the laws of etiquette… It's as if Chuck had made a rule that only one thing can be in motion at a time."

7) GOONLAND (Popeye, Pappy/ 1938/ Dave Fleischer)
"`I'll meet you somewhere in Goon-Land…' Sorry, wrong cartoon. This one is very faithful to the Elzie Segar classics… I wonder if it came out early enough in 1938 that Segar got to see it? I sort of think he'd have liked it."

6) TORTOISE WINS BY A HARE (Bugs, Cecil Turtle/ 1943/ Bob Clampett)
"Second in an otherwise forgettable series of three Tortoise-and-Hare entries, this one tops Freleng and Avery both…" Then I describe the whole cartoon, ending with "Ehhhh, NOW he tells us… BLAM!"
Elsewhere, I opined that Disney's Cinderella should have ended with one of those.

"…It is time once again to point out that white people fared little better in Warner Brothers cartoons (although such things as the constant assumption that all black people are dying to shoot craps get old very quickly), and that most of the characters in this come off as extremely likeable. In fact, the personalities of the principals combine with the fact that the whole cartoon is kept afloat at all times by a superb boppin' musical score by the great Carl Stalling… There's something about a dwarf in uniform…" (ellipsis in original)
(The 1992 original, not the 1943 original.)

"The Avery Wolf splits into City Wolf and Country Wolf. After what seems like a whole cartoon full of action with the horny Country Wolf, we and he go to the City and meet the urbane, sophisticated, David Niven-like City Wolf, who advises him that `Here in the city, we do not chase girls…'"

3) THE BAND CONCERT (Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Horace/ 1935/ Wilfred Jackson)
"…Mickey is a control freak conducting his little amateur combo… As the music becomes more dramatic, a hurricane picks up the surrounding countryside and then the players, who, under the obsessive baton of Mr. Mouse, manage to finish with great aplomb. Mickey's last big upbeat is one of the greatest treasures of animation, in my opinion, and it's undeniably Horace Horsecollar's finest moment."

2) SNOW-WHITE (Betty, Bimbo, Ko-Ko/ 1933/ Dave Fleischer)
"…She is taken into the `Mystery Cave' by some nameless dwarfs, where the witch turns Bimbo into a frozen skeleton, however, and Ko-Ko into a ghost as he sings `Saint James Infirmary Blues' in the voice of Cal Calloway, whose dance steps were rotoscoped for this number… They abruptly realize that film is running out and end the thing happily." (boy, it's really hard to shorten some of these descriptions!)

1) BAD LUCK BLACKIE (1949/ Tex)
"What makes a cartoon Number One? Is it just great gags? Outrageous topper after topper? Physical mayhem? Revenge gags? Pacing? Timing? In this case, there was a dimension in addition to all of the above, and that is the strange moral that is hinted at. [Sadistic, snickering dog torments white kitty: black cat offers to bring bad luck to the dog when kitty blows a whistle.] The dog swallows the whistle. He hiccups. The whistle blows and Fate, having skipped a couple layers of causality, drops ever-increasing items on the hiccuping dog as he runs away. Hic-tweet: a piano. Hic-tweet: a steamroller. Hic-tweet: a bus. Hic-tweet: an airplane. Hic-tweet: an ocean liner. The cats shake hands. The once-black cat confers his derby upon the kitten. And the kitten snickers. Just like the dog."

The dog snickered just like Tex Avery. That's his laugh we hear, I'm pretty certain.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Ned Brooks

My — our — longtime friend, Cuyler Warnell "Ned" Brooks, Jr., was repairing his roof today, fell off, and has died.

Ned was a good friend for the twenty years we lived in Newport News, and we stayed somewhat in touch. We didn't know anybody in town, and Ned helped ease the transition into local fandom for us.

He was well-known in fandom, perhaps a legend, for his book collection (he eventually bought the house next door to hold more books, before moving to be with his family later on), his museum of antique and oddball typewriters and reproducing machines, which he kept in enviable repair himself, or the art he bought over the years. If I'd had a digital camera the last time I went to his house, I certainly would have photographed his Don Martin from a 1950s SF magazine. Exquisitely Martin.

When Cathy threw a convention (Ditto) in Virginia Beach, we conspired to "randomly" award the Guest of Honor spot to Ned, who wouldn't have allowed himself to be so honored without an ambush. Called to the podium, he gave this speech, which my brain has paraphrased thusly:

A fellow, back in the day, in France, was prevailed upon by his friends to take a ride in a sedan chair. Oh, they said, it's incomparable! You'll love it! So they engaged a chair for him, but played a little joke. There was no bottom. He stepped inside and was still on the ground. When the two lackeys picked up the posts and started going, he had to step lively to keep up. 
 Afterwards, his friends asked how he had enjoyed his 'ride.' "Well," he said, "Apart from the honor of the thing, it's very much like walking."

He gave me a book from his collection once and said all he'd take for it would be a cover for his fanzine, It Goes on the Shelf. It took me a couple of years to get to the cover, and when I sent it, he didn't recall ever asking me for it, but put it on the back of the issue to be agreeable anyway.

More recently, inspiration hit me, and I drew another unsolicited cover for It Goes…, and this time Ned was happy to have it. It was to be the cover for this year's issue (I gave it to him last year, at which time he already had a cover lined up).

On The Shelf

His family is taking care of his estate now. I have a vague desire for a bookplate for that book, so I can remember where it came from. But I will anyway.

Monday, May 11, 2015

I, Raven

I awoke, free of consumption and my mortal body, in a rather indefinite place without light or darkness in it.

A disembodied voice was all around me, vibrating the ether that surrounded me. Or perhaps the ether vibrated and was the voice. I still don't know. VIRGINIA, it said, YOU MAY PASS TO YOUR ETERNAL REWARD NOW. 


I asked: Why would I rather not pass to my reward?


I thought about it. By sickening and dying, I had left on earth my most pitiful husband, Allan, whose melancholy knew no bounds. Anything and everything seemed to put him into a brown study from which I could not rouse him. But what if I could tell him, from beyond the grave, that all would be well, that he would find peace? That he need suffer nevermore?

All right, I said, I shall go back. I will talk to him and tell him.


Then what do I do?


Then how should I speak to him?

...No answer. I had an idea.

Must I choose my form?


Birds can speak, I said. I choose to go as a talking bird.


... I tried to think of a South American pajaro, with its large vocabulary, but somehow the thought of all those colors in the midst of Allan's gloomy monochromatic schema was incongruous. Thinking of Allan, in fact, was a mistake. I was not a parrot, a cockatoo, a paraquito or conure, but a great black raven.


Oh, thanks ever so. Is there anything else you haven't told me about?



Well, then, I might as well get on with it, I thought. I spread my wings and glided down, down. I seemed to have innate knowledge on what to do, which was a relief. I practiced speaking, which was more difficult. I concentrated on one word, the word that would tell him there would be no more strife or suffering in the next world. Nevermore, I would say.

I could see the rooftops of Baltimore below me, and I quickly found the center of town and glided above streets I had traveled in life. It was nearly midnight, but I knew Allan would be up. This was his time of night. He'd be in his library, drinking himself into tears, as usual, and possibly he'd even be hard at work, scribbling words, thousands of words, until his right hand was in such agony, he would curse and shake it out and drink more. I knew him well, you see, but I loved him still. As always, the window of the room was closed tight, but a hallway window was open. I flew in and landed. There was scarcely room for my wings here, so I walked, like a pigeon, to his chamber door. Closed, as always. I tapped on it.

Inside, I could hear him crashing around. Something glass dropped to the floor and bounced, and he swore at it. I tapped again, and heard his heavy steps treading to the door. He opened it and stared out over my head into the hallway. "Virginia?" he breathed. Dear Allan! He had thought of the one question I could not answer. I was Virginia, but I was not. This seemed the wrong time to say "nevermore." Nettled, I tapped the toe of his boot with my beak softly, and he looked down at me.

"Oh, ho!" he said, with drunken heartiness. "And who are you? Tell me your name, my stygian friend!"

"Nevermore," I rasped, walking past him and looking at the room, at once familiar and utterly alien because of my new angle of view. I stepped around a fresh puddle of liquor. There was not a decent perch to be seen, so I flew up and sat on the head of Pallas and looked down at him. I knew I looked ungainly, but perhaps with his usual gloom, I was the right choice to tell him to despair no more.

He looked up at me, and mumbled. "Escaped from a circus," he said. "Somebody taught it to talk. Ha!" He was silent, and I could see him working his muscles of cogitation. I tried to retain my dignity, but suddenly something under my wing began to itch me, and without thinking, I began scratching it with my beak. "Wretch!" he shouted, and I stopped in mid-action and looked at him. "Tell me who sent you!"

"Nevermore," I said, without thinking.

"Leave me alone! I just want to drink. To drink and forget!"

He meant to forget me, and I know he meant it about drinking. I repeated, "Nevermore!"

That set him off. He asked me a bunch of questions. Stupid questions, rhetorical questions, touched -- or perhaps tetched -- with classical allusions. Oh, he knew his books. He read living authors for his bread and butter, but the dead were his chief friends, and his library was a graveyard of them. It was like a family argument, and I was armed only with one word. It mattered not! Each question, he phrased so that my sole answer would suffice to drive him farther and farther into the arms of drunken sadness. I was beginning to enjoy aggravating his mood, so resolved was he to wallow in his marsh of woes.

Finally, he ran out of words. I, of course, had run out long ago. He glared at me. I suppose I glared back at him. I know I was not beautiful. Why couldn't I have come back as a budgerigar? I don't know what he expected of me. He sank back in a stupor, staring up at me. I fluttered down to the floor and pushed my way out into the hallway and then went out the window. I passed the window of his chamber and peered in, and he was still staring up at the bust of Pallas that I had vacated. I am uncertain whether he even knew I had left.

And what was left for me? I thought about standing in a roadway and letting a carriage run over me, but would that not be the sin of suicide? It occurred to me that I was lucky not to be a parrot, for they live (I have heard) almost a century. Surely a raven could not live so abominably long as that! I therefore resolved to live the life I had been given, but I should live on my own terms. I would not eat insects, but find places where I could receive human food. Perhaps I would use my speech to find a human companion. An owner, if I must say it, who might let me live inside. Would I have to live in a cage? Well, so be it. I had no desire to stay outside, a plaything of the elements.

I am pleased to report that I resisted the temptation to teach all the crows in my dear husband's neighborhood to pronounce the word that so vexed him. 

He will never know how lucky he was. He never did.

Monday, May 04, 2015


I think that I shall never see
A pervert sicker than a tree.

A tree that squats on Nature's breast
And spews its seed upon her chest.

A tree that, feeling urges yearly,
Shows its gaudy gonads clearly.

A tree that sprays the air with pollen
Ere its rotting fruits have fallen.

Caring not for you or me,
It sheds its waste for all to see.

Just lock me up in Cell Block C
When I am filthy as a tree!

Monday, April 13, 2015

What I Did for Love

I was fairly relaxed that morning, just lying in. Nowhere I had to go that early in the day, nobody expected anything from me. I wasn't aware of just how relaxed I was until my quiet was shattered by the melodic tones of Venus, calling my name as she might call a cat.

"Oh, BACCH-us!" she said, completely ending a dream in which I was floating happily down a great purple river of finely aged grape juices. I looked around unhappily, quickly determined that there was no river, and closed my eyes to try and go back.

"Bacchus, honey, open your eyes! It's morning. Don't you want to see your sweet Venus?" I peeped once and closed my eyes again. Normally, the Goddess of Love is a sight for sore eyes, but that morning, my eyes were actually sore, and no sight was sweet enough for that. "No," I said, ungraciously, then remembered my manners. "Please go away."

"Bacchus, I've just seen the sweetest little man, and I'd like to meet him, just for a little while, and you're just the one to help me do it."

Now I was awake. Not 100% awake yet, but enough that I knew I wasn't going to be sleeping again anytime soon, so I might as well just open my eyes and face the revoltingly bright, cheerful Olympus morning and my demure torturer. "What," I asked in the loudest voice that didn't make my head throb unpleasantly, "Would make you go away, Venus?"

"Speak up, darling," she said brightly, "And it'll help if you point your face in the general direction of my ears. Up here." She pointed helpfully. I suppose it was my fault she always wore that tunic of hers, and gave the impression of always wearing trick underwear, when in fact... how can I put this? ...she didn't.

"WHAT DO YOU--" My voice hurt. I tried again, letting clear enunciation carry the burden instead of volume. "What. Do. You. Want. Venus?" That was better, but my lips didn't care for it. There's no satisfying everybody.

She started explaining, in the patient tones of a high-school boy's dream substitute teacher. "I saw the most adorable little mortal, Bacchus. In the water. And I thought, well, wouldn't it just be sweet if I could go down and give him the nicest night of his life?" Her tone was fairly dripping with ambrosia. Now, I'm not normally an ambrosia man, but there's no denying it has its appeal, and it was certainly reaching me, in spite of -- or maybe because of -- my weakened state.

"Well, what do you want -me- to do about it?" I said, then realized that I had as much as given in to her. At least, that's how she would interpret it, and I was beginning to think that if I just agreed with her, she might leave me alone so I could look behind my eyelids for that river of grappa once again. "Why don't you just go down there yourself?"

"Well, you see..." she said, hesitantly, slipping around behind me at the same time, "there's just this little difficulty." With as much smoothness as, say, the god of oil, she had raised me to a sitting position, and started rubbing the knots and frays out of my neck and upper back. She raised her voice a tad to be heard over the involuntary sighs and groans I didn't know I was making. "He's the sweetest thing, but he's just a little bit of a stick in the mud." She leaned in closer to whisper in my ear, and I could feel her pressing against my back. Hangover or not, I was starting to feel like I could do great things.

But I knew that if I agreed right away to her little assignation, she'd stop persuading me, so I continued to protest. "You don't need me to help you," I said, leaning back just ever so slightly. "You know you've got what it takes. If you set your mind to it --" I tilted my head up and back to look up at her, which practically put me in her lap. "-- you could make a High Priest jump over the altar."

"Well, to tell the truth, that's almost what I want to do." She wrinkled her nose conspiratorially at me. "He's not quite a High Priest, but he's a Bishop, and his church is just so stuffy! You have no idea what things are like down there nowadays!" I just shrugged. I knew that people still pressed the grape, they still drank when they could, and the little world below us still turned as it always had. "So what I want you to do, Bacchus-kins (I'm afraid this is the closest translation I can render for her endearment in terms that make sense to you.), is to go down there and get him just a little teeny bit... you know."

"Swacked," I said. "Spifflicated. Falling-down friendly."

"Tipsy," she said. "Just so I can talk to him and he won't be such a prune."

"And why, my sweet Venus, should I do this for you?" I asked, quietly.

"Well," she said, idly touching one of the leaves I was wearing, "after all, I am well aware of your love of feminine beauty."

"Yes," I admitted, "I do have an eye for the fairer sex."

"And I know that you would just be so sad if your sweet little Bacchantes all started saying, 'Not tonight, Bacchus! We have a headache.'"

I looked up at where she was still beaming sweetly at me. I shaded my eyes from her brilliance, feeling a headache of my own forming behind a spot between my eyebrows, and realized that my forehead was knotting itself. Like it or not, there was wisdom in her words. "I'll see what I can do," I said.


It was late when I returned. She was waiting up for me, and I could see the threatening shadow of a snit clouding her fine features. "And just where have you been?" she demanded. The ambrosia had been replaced with icicles, but at the moment, I didn't care.

"I've been plying your little Bishop with the fruit of the vine, as you asked, dear cousin."

"And did that take you the entire night? Is he made of the stuff of Hercules?"

"No, not Hercules. I plied him, and got him just ever so slightly tipsy, as you asked." I put a certain emphasis on those last three words. "And, as you desired, he became less stern, less unbending..."

"And why did you not summon me, so that I could enjoy his company? I was all ready for him -- I even dressed for him!" Now that she mentioned it, I could see she was wearing a black robe, such as a choir singer in the Bishop's church would wear. If I'd been in a better mood, I'd have found it fetching.

"He was in the mood for different game, my Lady."

"What ever do you mean, different game?"

"I mean that I have spent the last two hours evading the drunken affection of a Bishop on earth. As he drank, he kept leaning to me, telling me the most tedious details of his life. I know enough about it now that I could be a Bishop myself, if I ever decide to leave here and set up shop on Earth below! And with the fourth drink, he started to pursue me. Around and around the cathedral that wretch chased me. I should have just flown away, but the cavernous place was so large, I got lost..."

"Oh, my! Who ever knew he was so inclined?" Venus pretended shock, and pulled the front of her robe a few inches with her fingers in ventilation, as if she was contemplating a faint. "Well, I certainly can't hold you responsible for that."

Emotions chased themselves across her fair face. Her cold anger gave way to warm embarrassment, then that was replaced with wide innocence -- one of her best effects -- and finally, she inclined to me and gave me a look of forgiveness. "You have done your best," she said, graciously. "Though I am disappointed, you will find I am still generous.

"Your little followers -- the ladies, I mean -- will be as warm to you as ever. Now you must excuse me. I go to change my garments and rest to overcome my sorrow at this turn of events."

And she was off. Generous as always, she had allowed me to do what I would have done anyway, and all I had to pay for it was to waste an entire day drinking sherry with a lascivious clergyman when all I wanted was to sleep. I watched her walking away in those satiny robes and knew what I would dream about.

Sunday, March 29, 2015


This, to me, is proof that P.J. O'Rourke used to be funny, and not just when he was a commie agitator thinking of ways to put tits in the National Lampoon. No, he was still funny way into his downhill political slide, and he only really stopped being funny when he finally got the memo to always punch down, not up, not straight across, just down.

But here he is, in 1988, perhaps at the point where rising conservatism and not-yet-plunging humor met on the graph, resulting in what I still regard as genuine American humor in the tradition of Twain, at the end of a longish Rolling Stone piece where he visited the world's trouble spots, only to find more love for us than hate in those heady days before George W. Bush.

(Hey, maybe that's why he stopped being funny. Cheering on the death of satire might do that to you. Seems more likely, though, that he was replaced by a smarmy clone with the humor section replaced with a sign that says REMEMBER THAT JIMMY CARTER IS UGLY.)

Anyway, after all the war zones, he goes to the place where he can still find America haters.

Back in London, I was having dinner in the Groucho Club—this week’s in-spot for what’s left of Britain’s lit glitz and nouveau rock riche—when one more person started in on the Stars and Stripes. Eventually he got, as the Europeans do, to the part about “Your country’s never been invaded.” (This fellow had been two during the Blitz, you see.) “You don’t know the horror, the suffering, you think war is… 
I snapped.
“A John Wayne movie,” I said. “That’s what you were going to say, wasn’t it? We think war is a John Wayne movie. We think life is a John Wayne movie—with good guys and bad guys, as simple as that. Well, you know something, Mister Limey Poofter? You’re right. And let me tell you who those bad guys are. They’re us. WE BE BAD.  
“We’re the baddest-assed sons of bitches that ever jogged in Reeboks. We’re three-quarters grizzly bear and two-thirds car wreck and descended from a stock market crash on our mother’s side. You take your Germany, France, and Spain, roll them all together and it wouldn’t give us room to park our cars. We’re the big boys, Jack, the original, giant, economy-sized, new and improved butt kickers of all time. When we snort coke in Houston, people lose their hats in Cap d’Antibes. And we’ve got an American Express card credit limit higher than your piss-ant metric numbers go.  
“You say our country’s never been invaded? You’re right, little buddy. Because I’d like to see the needle-dicked foreigners who’d have the guts to try. We drink napalm to get our hearts started in the morning. A rape and a mugging is our way of saying ‘Cheerio.’ Hell can’t hold our sock-hops. We walk taller, talk louder, spit further, fuck longer and buy more things than you know the names of. I’d rather be a junkie in a New York City jail than king, queen, and jack of all Europeans. We eat little countries like this for breakfat and shit them out before lunch.” 
Of course, the guy should have punched me. But this was Europe. He just smiled his shabby, superior European smile…

PJ O’Rourke (the funny one) in Holidays in Hell

Saturday, March 28, 2015

a close reading

Overanalysis, based on the stuff I've written on my copy of the music. Unlike a lot of pieces, where I've written just a couple of things, like reminders of a sharp or flat, or a fingering, I really notated this one to the hilt, and now I'm expanding on that, you lucky, lucky person. (almost said 'people')

"The Pink Panther" (theme for the original movie) by Henry Mancini. Arranger's name not given. It'd be nice if it was really Henry's handwork, but if this is an anonymous staffer, I wish they'd allow them to take a bow for the nice job they did here.

Piano solo: the 4-page version, not the punky little two-pager. I searched for years for the longer version of this piece, with the bridge, and found it in one of those cheap, pulp-paper collections that used to go for about $10 and are now maybe $14. 

The piece starts with the cat offstage, and that one ambiguous non-chord drifting in like cigarette smoke from just around a corner, where all we can see is a French Galoise at the end of a long, black holder. 

The accompaniment comes in first, and it tells us a couple of things. It's in sequential paired chords, by which I mean 'dead-ant, dead-ant,' with an accent on each "dead" and "ant" is either quickly released (on the first 'dead-ant') or held (as in the second). This figure strikes me as quite feline, pushing off hard and landing with delicate softness.

[This, to me, is Mancini at his Manciniest, with the loud start and the soft finish. He will also gladly do the opposite, because of his admirable willingness to shake up the formula.]

The melody comes in almost furtively. It’s a sneaky melody: again, feline in nature, congruent with the established accompaniment. With the accents indicated, it's not dead-ANT, dead-ANT…, but DEAD-ant, DEAD-ant. Watch the accents and staccatos carefully, and mind the rests. They make the difference between playing Mancini and just getting to the end.

Bridge. This is why I looked so long for the four-page version. The bridge is where the piece really lets go, and I learned to expect it from hearing it in so many of those Panther cartoons from DePatie-Freleng.

The 4/4 in the left hand throughout the bridge should walk on little cat feet, with self-possessed portamento, and mostly sticking to four pads per measure. It doesn't nail itself to the formula, but most of it is in straight fours.

Second half of the bridge is a "solo"—either play the nice little chords or go for it. Wail or fail. I live in the hope that I will live up to my penciled note and wail on it. I'm in the grey area in between at the moment, neither wailing nor failing utterly. Flailing, maybe.

After the bridge, we're back to the A section again (the second half of the two-page version). This time, it's an octave higher, so slightly less cool. There's a sudden chord inserted in a quiet spot, as if the cat can’t resist sticking a cold paw in your ribs to see if you jump.

It proceeds much like the first part, and ends soft, and then… 

One last poke in the ribs. Mancini got ya!

diminished Liszt

I first became aware of Liszt's piano sonata right around my brief stint as a maid at Holiday Inn. I remember listening to Slobodyanik's exciting performance on my boom box, which went from room to room with me on the cart. (Sad to say, Slobodyanik—young and just starting out on the LP cover—died of meningitis in 2008.) The sonata remains a great pleasure, and my interest was piqued last night to see that it was available on a new (to eMusic, anyway) release in a transcription for solo violin. Not even violin with piano, but solo violin, which puts it in some rarefied company of virtuoso works arranged for the four strings and bow: Liszt's Mephisto Waltz, Schubert's Erlking (calling for both piano and vocal parts to be at least suggested by the lone viol), not to mention solo guitar traversals of Dvorak's 'New World' symphony, Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, and Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.

As I pondered paying $6.49 just to find out if she (Vera Vaidman) would make it all the way through, I checked to see if I could find something more to go on than the 30-second clip that consisted of silence, some applause, tuning, and perhaps the first note of the piece, and found the whole thing on YouTube. Viz:

Using my arcane chops, I extracted the audio and listened to it for a while as I went to sleep. The results were much like what I have found in the guitar hero versions mentioned above: large sections of the work are playable, at least to the extent that the melody can be carried along and some accompaniment sketched in or hinted at, but there are also places where the audience might plausibly expect more than two or so distinct lines and a chord here and there, and in these places, the guitarists—Larry Coryell on the Rite, and Kazuhito Yamashita on the others—seems to admit defeat and fall back on windmilling (I think this is called 'shredding') in hopes that the excitement of the rapid motion of fingers fanning strings will satisfy the listener that something musical is happening which conveys the composer's intention. I imagine that the performer can hear the correct notes in there, and expects that we will sort it out in our heads. Whether this is the case or not, I can't. It just sounds like someone punishing the instrument for not having 88 strings.

Thus my disappointment with Vaidman, who fell in love with the arrangement when she happened upon the sheet music, even though by this time the transcriber had had second thoughts on the fiendish difficulty of his work and produced a new edition that answered the criticisms of violinists in sanding down the hardest bits. With endearing quixotry, she would only be satisfied in conquering the extreme problems of the original, and I can't help but respect her for taking the hard way. As I say, there are whole sections that sound fine, but there are too many that don't work. As I started on it again this morning, I could detect a warning flag in the initial measures of the piece, where her intonation slipped a little (do I need to tell anyone how live performances home right in on any part you're not 100% certain of?), and when a real hell-section comes along, like the fugato (here set for pizzicato), the polyphony fails to come off.

So that came off of my iPod. It was a good try, and points for valor are awarded, but as a listener, valor isn't enough. I came here to meditate upon the transcription and the performance, and compare it to other solo string instrument transcriptions—the Erlking and Mephisto solos have been recorded very well by Rachel Barton Pine, among others (I don't know who else has recorded the Mephisto, but it was arranged by Nathan Milstein, who left many recordings)—and I was all set to suggest there are some pieces that should be left to larger instruments, when here came Giora Schmidt.

I don't know if he's playing the 'easier' version, but if he is, then it has everything the piece needs (well, apart from a piano, because I miss those big chords and some of the accompaniment) to sell itself, and with nary a wince. The pizzicato fugato sails by con brio—he puts the bow on the music stand and plucks away two-handed—and his intonation and tone are clear and confident all the way through. He's performing live, too, and I see from another video description that the music stand holds his iPad, from which he's reading the score. Did I mention that my big plan this year is to get a tablet of sufficient size to put my music into it so I can just put it on a piano and play from it? Anyway, the transcription clearly is playable, and more importantly, it sells itself to an audience.

So, there it is. I was going to write one thing, and I ended up writing another. I wholeheartedly recommend the second performance. If you've read down to here, send me money. Baby needs a tablet.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

The Heart of Hell

UPDATED! Somebody posted a full-color version of the cartoon in Feb, 2017, and I am now linking to their YouTube of it. See?

I used to have the version of the cartoon up here that went back and forth between color (two-strip cinecolor, looking pretty darn good here) and black-and-white, because there were many parts of this particular short that were thought lost. It seems to me that here would have been a legit use for colorization technology, but I digress. It was an improvement over the all-color version from the Iwerks collection, because it had all the parts that were cut from my version in an attempt to disguise the fact that this is a cartoon about a little kid and his dog going to Hell (by going down a volcano, not by dying in their wickedness), where they see a mini-pageant of famous monsters in Hell, the precursor of some South Park cartoons where, it seems, every famous person went to Hell. But it's a fun kind of hell, with luaus and parties to help blunt some of the sting of eternal torment. I digress again—and once more to apologize if I fail to trim any references to the VULCAN ENTERTAINS version (black and white, complete, lo-res) and MASQUERADE HOLIDAY version (lovely color print, but hacked to bits). The color shift is all through what I wrote before. (And when I wrote about it before that, it talked about the missing sections a lot.)

Willie Whopper, that congenital li'l liar, sits at a piano in black and white, pounding out his theme song while his dog helps. This is a 1934 cartoon called HELL'S FIRE, from producer (and legendary animator) Ub Iwerks, who made history at Disney as Mickey Mouse's first animator (and who animated the classic SKELETON DANCE as well) before going out to form his own company. Later, he went back to Disney and was subsequently honored for technical innovations (like the multiplane camera). He also animated some bird attacks for Alfred Hitchcock's classic, THE BIRDS.

Willie and his dog, who I will refer to as Fido, because if three minutes of searching won't turn up anything better than "his dog," then man was not meant to know. Now he's Fido. Willie and Fido are apparently dicking around atop "the world's most dangerous volcano," as kids will do, and get into a hassle with Satan, who sits around smoking directly under the circular opening of the volcano. He gets irked when Willie drops a rock on his head, but Willie arranges for his dog to lick the lump until it goes down, and everybody's happy as hell again.

Now that the most evil being in all creation is well-disposed toward our hero (and his dog), we go back into color (you get the point—I'll try and excise them silently from here on out) for some light entertainment, as the fallen angel puts on an impromptu parade of unworthies from history for Willy's enjoyment. Napoleon, Nero (fiddling Turkey in the Straw), Rasputin (doing a Hopak and burping rhythmically: seems to be John Barrymore), with Cleopatra and Mark Antony next — he bangs on a cymbal while she twerks at it. I suspect at some point they wanted her can to be hitting the cymbal and chickened out.

Heh. Ub I-twerks.

ahem. Simon Legree whips through next, on a dogsled pulled by bloodhounds, and some eloquently shrugging Pasha? with a blue beard? Eh, he must be Bluebeard. Then the Frederic March Jekyll turns into a hairy Hyde, and they introduce the guy this cartoon's really all about, Old Man Prohibition. His intro was cut from MASQUERADE HOLIDAY, but it was clear enough who he was from his long black frock coat, tall hat, and blue nose. Well, he's blue all over, but a lot of him is nose, and the Devil really, really, really dislikes him. The inmates of Hell dislike him. Willie dislikes him. I'm pretty sure the animators hated him intensely. Not sure when in '34 this came out, but Old Man Prohibition was killed in 1933, so he'd have been a fairly recent addition to Hell.

Well, Satan rags him a bit, and the others laugh, and demons with pitchforks chase his ass (yes, they specifically chase his ass), knock him down, flatten him, and refill him with booze (including a fairly disgusting maneuver with a funnel that I'll skip describing if it's all the same to you). Whoever chicken-edited this later on, apart from their notable lack of technique, seemed bent on disguising not only Satan and Hell, but the identity of the personification of the 18th Amendment, who had been a standard figure in cartoons for many years by this time. Because any mention of booze at all is tantamount to endorsing it in front of all those wholesome, imitative kiddies! Though, to be fair, the vehemence we will see in "getting" OMP seems almost to be a call for everyone to get drunk in reaction.

There's some by-play with Cerberus, the three-headed dog of the Underworld (and Hell!), who gives Iwerks a chance to really let loose on the incredible Three-ness of everything. One head eats the bone, the next head swallows, the last burps. The music seems designed to hang tripartite jokes on, and in parts of this scene, the note-for-note mickey mousing of the score actually gets a little oppressive. But it's hard to stay oppressed when watching a textbook example of a perfect dog-butt crawl maneuver (which our good old Annie was a master of, back in those childhood days), and we perk up readily. If you really want to see Ub let go on triplicate motifs, go find Goldilocks. It's true that the tale calls for exactly three bears, but by the time that cartoon's over, you'll feel like you've been cobbled on the noggin repeatedly and rhythmically for ten minutes by a great big hammer, a middle-sized hammer, and a wee, tiny, baby-sized hammer.

More once-cut scenes have Mr. Prohibition—now red-nosed—frightened by hallucinations (apparently he's an easy DT), but starting to enjoy himself just in time for heightened persecution by the hound of hell. He lurches and dashes awkwardly away down what is apparently the only corridor in Hell, and Satan points and shouts "Stop him!", forgetting that he could manifest lightning hands and catch somebody, the same way he caught Willie and Fido (and remember, future animation scholars, I gave him that name!). So Willie, the little kiss-ass, jumps up and puffs his already-spherical form up, and gives chase. "Satan's Little Pet," as the Far Side once said.

Willie gets within ass-grabbing range of the fleeing inebriate (who is apparently still not "cool," even though he's as drunk as Hunter S. Thompson), assisted by some lightning hands that Satan has tardily recalled. To make up for lateness, they reform themselves into a flaming brace and bit, which of course proceed to drill his keister up to the hilt. Ho ho! He got it in the butt! Walt Disney, I hope you're taking notes on this, because you're going to use this gag in cartoons two times for every hamburger sold at McDonald's. The terror-stricken pariah, ignoring the Ixnay signs, heads into the boiler room. The boiler room of Hell!

For some reason, the image of the red imp (in nice blue gloves and booties) happily pulling the release of the coal chute feeding that furnace is my favorite visual the cartoon. The colors are rich and saturated, the floor and walls are a clearly marked stage, and the boiler emits satisfying flames when the coal flies in. Then Willie and Fido (© me!) and the Old Man go barreling into the chute and knock it aside, which (paradoxically) causes it to overload with coal, and in the ensuing ka-boom, all three are blown out of Hell, into a large nest a mile or so away from the world's most dangerous volcano (remember?). The NRA (National Recovery Act, that is) Eagle shows up, posing iconically before unbending into a regular, albeit huge, bird that picks up the trio, glides over the cone of the Hellmouth, and drops Prohibition back to Hell again before flying off with Willie.

So, they really did hate the guy.

Willie, back at the piano, invites us to tell our own lies ("Now YOU tell one!"), but we have learned our lesson! No more lying for us, not even a little white one. If you lie, we end up, like Willie and his dog (Fido!), doing the bidding of the Prince of Hell, before being carried off bodily to an unknown fate by a giant NRA logo. At least we know he came back afterward, seemingly the same happy kid as before, but how could he not be changed by such a horrific experience? How?

Answer: he could not. Some time later, Willie lost a lot of weight, and his voice changed. It's all documented in the films.

Take-away from all this? Never tell the truth. Eat a lot. Prohibition bad. If Satan tells you to "get" someone, don't ask stupid questions, just do it.

edited May 28, 2017

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