Ants in your pants

August 15, 2017 § 14 Comments

I was in bed. It was Sunday. I had made my personal statement, and it was this: “I am not getting out of bed without pancakes.”

There was some spirited discussion before a settlement was reached, some promises were made, and my wife headed off to the kitchen. She popped her head in a minute later. “No butter. I’m going to the store.”

I turned over on my side. I could wait for butter. The butter would go, meltedly, atop the golden brown pancakes. Yummmm.

A minute later the phone rang. My wife was exercised, mightily. “Come down to the car! Now!”

“What’s wrong?”

“Ants!” she shouted. “Ants everywhere in the car!”

I lay there, caught between the iron pincers of a paradox. If I got up to go investigate the ants I would have broken my vow not to get out of bed without pancakes. If I didn’t get up to investigate the ants I wouldn’t get the pancakes.

I lay there and wondered what to do. Finally her voice became too insistent to ignore. “Okay,” I said. “I’m coming down.”

I went down to the parking garage where she was standing. Little lines of ants were marching down the charging cord and disappearing into the car. “What do you think?” she asked/demanded.

I studied them for a minute. “They are working a pretty good paceline,” I concluded. “But there appear to be quite a few wheelsuckers.”

This earned me a storm of anger, but before I could suggest that the ants would be better off with a double rotating line than a single one, I noticed a giant smear along the pavement, spreading out from under our Chevy Volt in a massive pool that branched off into tributaries throughout the neighboring lady’s parking space. Neighboring Lady was a clean freak.

It was a Valdez-sized spill. “Honey,” I said, as she gesticulated towards the ants. “Did you happen to notice this oil spill underneath the car?”

“No,” she said, glancing with mighty disinterest at the coursing rivulets. “Is that why the ants are coming?”

“I doubt it,” I said.

A few days earlier we had taken our car to the fine folks at Martin Chevrolet for an oil change and a tire rotation. I thought the tires were rotating fine, but they recommended it so we took it in. It might have been a coincidence, but it sure seemed strange that the oil that had heretofore all stayed inside the crankcase a few short hours after being worked on had now sprung a leak.

It was a Sunday so they were closed, and rather than drain all the oil onto our parking lot I drove down the hill, parked it in their service driveway, and let the crankcase empty on their concrete, not mine. I dropped off the key and rode my bike home. As I rode, I considered how many trips I’d made to the dealer and reflected that each time I’d put my bike in the back and ridden home. This Chevy Volt really had been eco-friendly.

The next morning they called and apologized. An evil genius at the factory somewhere had given them a defective gasket and the gasket had caused the leak and they were terrible sorry. Terrible, terrible sorry. Presumably the defective gasket had gone so far as to install itself, but I said nothing.

I picked up the car and they were sorry some more, but not as sorry as I was because when I got home I had to douse the entire parking garage with Simple Green and scrub like a madman for about an hour. Afterwards we went to Hollywood to entertain a guest. Hollywood is like hell minus the amenities. The worst part was the Chinese Theater, where an insane homeless vet lay on the sidewalk with a sign asking for money, and a few feet away two gentlemen were selling “One dollar water!” at the top of their lungs.

Each time they said, “One dollar water!” the vet would shriek, clasp his ears, and scream at them to please shut up, he couldn’t stand it, even though you could barely hear the vendors over the crowd. One of the vendors, realizing how disturbed the homeless man was, intentionally cried “One dollar water!” over and over, cupping his hand so that the call targeted the crazy dude, who with each cry would roll into a fetal ball and thrash himself on the pavement.

All around, Chinese tourists took selfies in front of the Chinese Theater, which was a fake, white entrepreneur’s imitation of a Chinese building.

We got back into the car and raced down the 101 at five or six miles per hour. Suddenly my wife shouted, “The ants! The ants are back!”

“Technically,” I said, “they weren’t ‘back’ as they’ve never gone anywhere.”

This struck the wrong note, a D# in the key of C as it were, and we began to argue about the ants, with me blaming her and with her blaming me.

My eldest son said nothing, but from the safety of the backseat he took out his phone and googled “ants in my Chevy Volt.” It turns out that this is a common manufacturing defect. Ants like electricity, and Volts have lots of electricity. It is a match made in heaven except for the passengers, for whom it was more like a divorce made in hell.

The ants didn’t bite (much) and we got home without any more excitement. I insisted that the ant pogrom be kept to a minimum, as ants are people, too. The spill had dried out nicely and my neighbor thanked me for scouring up the oil.

In less than 48 hours I had reduced my carbon footprint, been gentle to smaller, vulnerable animals, and cleaned up a major environmental disaster. I knew when I bought it that the Chevy Volt was going to make me greener. I just didn’t know how much.

END

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Take a deep breath

August 14, 2017 § 47 Comments

Sometimes, it’s really not about the bike. It can’t be.

As a friend of mine recently said (who happens to ride bikes), “Americans who history has labeled The Greatest Generation once died to fight Nazis. Today their descendants are marching to spread Nazism.”

Our president has strongly supported white supremacy by failing to strongly repudiate it. Everyone who can’t plainly state opposition to the people, ideals, and behavior that led to the Charlottesville rally for Nazism and the death of Heather Heyer supports it, too.

END

Bridge bike

August 1, 2017 § 40 Comments

I once had a friend when I lived in Colorado named Calamity Jones. That wasn’t his name. His name was Sam. But we all called him Calamity because no matter what he did, he did it wrong. He couldn’t piss his name in the snow without getting his feet wet.

Calamity was the nicest guy. He was a great skier, too, one of the best on the mountain I worked at, Keystone. But even skiing he was always getting hurt. One time he fell off the chairlift and broke both legs.

Another time, in the summer, he went mushroom hunting and came back with a harvest. “Psilocybin,” he said, and tried to give them away. But no one would take one because it was Calamity. “You first,” we said.

They were poisonous, of course, and he wound up at the ER in Dillon getting his stomach pumped. He almost died.

Calamity caused a bad traffic accident coming down Loveland Pass once. He got a DUI. He forged a check. He and a buddy tried to rob the safe at Keystone by crawling through a duct late at night, but they were too heavy and fell through the ceiling and both got arrested and both did prison time. I have no idea what happened to him, but he was a good person, the kindest guy, and things never worked out for him. At the pivotal moment he always chose wrong.

This guy had a lot of friends but he didn’t have any way to get through his troubles. He had no way across from his good intentions to good actions. He had no bridge.

I have another friend who is nothing at all like Calamity Jones, but he is a guy who, like everyone else I suppose, has had his share of hard times. He’s a good guy who took a couple of left turns when maybe he should have gone right, but unlike Calamity he got things straightened out, and a lot of the straightening he did with a bike.

He got himself sober and the bike kept him there. He lost a bunch of weight and made a bunch of friends. The bike gave him something to do with his free time after work that didn’t involve hanging out at the bar or hanging out around drunks. He bought a bunch of bikes and rode pretty good. But more important than his cycling prowess, he was friendly and fun to be around. If you flatted he always stopped and if you got dropped he usually hung back and waited for you. He always had an extra tube, too, and an extra CO2 canister.

Then he quit riding his bike. You see, he has a young son and he figured that as much as he liked riding his bike, he liked hanging out with his son and being a dad a whole lot more. Way, way more.

The last time I saw him was at a party. A bunch of people were standing around talking with him, and they were all cyclists, and they were peppering him with unasked for advice about how to get back on the bike.

“You need to do easier rides,” they said.

“Get a ‘cross bike,” they said, because the solution to any problem is n+1.

“Have you tried MTB? No cars!” they said, even though he’d never mentioned being bothered by traffic.

Finally, a couple of people started listing all the great things about cycling and about what a strong rider he was and what a shame it was to give all that up. He smiled politely and listened but he didn’t appear swayed.

I said a few words to him before he left. “You’re over it, huh?”

“Yeah, I’m over it.”

“Everything okay?” I asked.

“Everything’s great. My boy’s only going to be young once. I’ve got my priorities straightened out and he’s it.”

I knew what he meant. For some people the bike is an obsession. For some it’s a status symbol. For some it’s a holy health grail. For some it’s a vocation. For some it’s a pressure release valve. For some it’s a lifestyle. For some it’s a political/environmental/social statement. For some it’s transportation and for some it’s an escape.

But for some people it’s a bridge that gets you across troubled waters. And when you’re on the other side you realize you don’t need it anymore, and you keep on pedaling through life, better off without it.

END

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Here comes The Sun

July 25, 2017 § 30 Comments

I was digging through the mail and came across an envelope that had actual handwriting on it. It was from a lady named Ann. She had read a letter to the editor in a magazine called The Sun. The writer was from PV Estates, and in her letter she said that a story she had read in The Sun made her think differently about bicycling.

the_sun

Apparently bicycling in PV Estates has been getting a bad, or rather worse name over the last year. When you have a small community stocked with even one hairless shrub as horribly defective as Robert Lewis Chapman, Jr., it doesn’t take much to poison everyone.

tumbleweed

Anyway, this woman Ann sent me The Sun with the story by Heather Sellers. It’s called “Pedal, Pedal, Pedal.” I hope you take a few minutes to read this spectacular and uplifting memoir. It’s something that every cyclist can relate to, the story of transformation, and Heather tells it so well and with such artfulness and power that all you have to do is switch around a few names and words and the story seems like your own.

This got me to wondering why so many people have been transformed by bicycling. Maybe it’s the same with golf or basketball or any human endeavor into which you pour yourself. Maybe bicycling seems special simply because it’s so accessible, unlike golf, and the joys of full-gas basketball don’t typically go much beyond age 35 simply because your knees give out.

Whether it’s unique or not, bicycling is transformational for a whole bunch of people. Is it because cycling is the thing that most closely approximates flying under your own power? Is it because you can go long distances exerting yourself while still able to think, talk, reflect, plan, relax? Is it because no matter what your age, with proper preparation you can bury yourself physically as completely as if you were twenty? Or is it because of the funny clothes and goofy tan?

Whatever the reason, Heather Sellers got it right. Get out of the house and pedal, pedal, pedal. And don’t let the tumbleweeds get you down!

END

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Future shock

July 24, 2017 § 32 Comments

My legs had very bad cramps. “Yeah, whatever,” you say. “HTFU.”

So I did. But the cramps had started at the first water crossing on Big Sycamore Canyon and got worse. “Yeah, whatever,” you say. “HTFU.”

So I did. And they spread to both legs. “Yeah, whatever,” you say. “We don’t care about your menstrual cramps.”

As John Middleton passed me in a cloud of dirt and filth and sweat and grunting, he said, “Come on, Seth.”

“Come where?” I asked. “How much longer is this fucking road?” I silently thanked dog that it was mostly flat, an anomaly for anything in the Santa Monica Mountains.

“Couple miles,” he said. The last words I heard before he vanished were, “But the most horrible climb out here is just up the road.”

“What climb?” I wondered. I came to a water faucet where a dazed looking person was melting in his own sweat and filling his bottle, his hand shaking, his eyes glazed. When my turn came I lay under the nozzle and poured water all over my head, back, stomach, and legs. The cramps stopped for a moment. I contemplated living there under the spigot permanently.

Seizing the no-cramp opportunity I hopped on the bike and started up Horrible Hill. There were tiny little dots strewn out along it like insects stuck in flypaper, barely moving their little limbs across the painted blue skyscape that draped across the canvas of brown hills dotted with the odd green thing trying hopelessly to survive. Like me.

It reminded me of the time I got stuck on a mountain side outside of Shimogo-mura in Fukushima Prefecture. It was freezing cold and I almost died but the reason I remember that day is that it was the only time I had ever gotten off my bike because I could no longer pedal uphill.

I passed an insect on a mountain bike, barely turning a rear cog that was bigger than a UFO. He was panting. I was panting. The cramps resumed with a vengeance.

For the second time in my life I got off my bike because I could no longer pedal uphill. The insect passed me. “Good job,” I said, not adding the all important “you sorry motherfucker.”

My day ended about an hour later in wave after wave of cramping that lasted for hours. I had been attacked, dropped repeatedly, beaten mercilessly in the paceline from hell, and had had my lunch money stolen by a gang of bullies led by a meanie named Aaron Boyleston and his henchmen Marco and KK.

I’ve never felt worse, gone slower, or had so many people take gratuitous shots at my skull. I’ve never ridden slower on a 300-lb. cyclocross bike with 34mm knobby tires. I’ve never had so much post-ride pain. I’ve never had worse cramps, cramps so bad that the next day they still hurt. It was 72 miles, four hours-ish, and seemed like quadruple the distance.

In short, it was one of the best rides ever.

The Rivet Raid, as it was called, boasted a murderer’s row of elite riders, from world champion Keith Ketterer, who at age 102 smashed everyone to bits, to Aaron, Marco, Jonathan Woodbury, Jason Lavender, John Slover, Bart Clifford, Michael Penta, Todd Turley, Seth Huggins, and a whole bunch of people whose names I don’t remember and whose faces I barely saw as they blazed by me.

This ride also punctuated, for me, an amazing commentary about amateur road racing in America, if not the world. Bjorn Snider, a viciously strong dude who doesn’t race, i.e. pay stupid amounts of money to be treated like shit in ugly, faraway places by people who don’t like you, put on the Rivet Raid. It cost forty bucks, and here’s what you got (list sponsored by Pooh Bear-a-TX and Waldo):

  1. Incredible all-you-can-drink coffee, nitro/cold brew and spanking hot, from Gear Grinderz Coffee.
  2. Fresh pastries, energy bars, fruit, liquid hydration.
  3. Total tech support with VeloFix; their mobile van posted up at various points throughout the ride.
  4. Shortcuts that let you abandon when your legs fell off, and still got you back to the park in time to eat, hang out, swap lies.
  5. BEER. (Or, sigh, craft water.)
  6. Towering plates of delicious, freshly made Mexican food.
  7. Prize money in cash to the winners of selected Strava segments and to the person with the fastest overall time.
  8. Four to five hours of brain-splatteringly hard bike racing.
  9. Four to five hours of easy cruising with your friends if that’s what you preferred.
  10. Gorgeous scenery on some of the prettiest roads in SoCal.
  11. Bronchiole-incinerating climbs.
  12. All the camaraderie and friendship you could handle.

Did I mention that the whole thing cost forty bucks?

When you add up numbers 1-12, what you get is something called “fun.” It is a concept that USAC took out behind the shed and murdered with a tire iron decades ago. It is a concept that evaporated on the local level when race promoters realized that the costs of putting on an event would always create highly risky propositions that could result in huge financial losses, and in the best of times only result in very modest financial gains.

Fun died in bike racing when Lance brought his message of “you suck” to every cyclist, when the act of pinning on a number was submission to the whip of contempt by those who beat you, dropped you, and didn’t even provide a consolation beer and taco for having given them someone to abuse. Fun died when shit-ass dopers like Kayle LeoGrande, Rich Meeker, and the whole stupid gaggle of cheaters made your own puny but honest efforts count for nothing.

And people, unwilling to fork over $45 bucks for a 45-minute crit, decided to seek their fun somewhere else. Enter the Rivet Raid.

The ride was a distillation of the grand fondue, where you can ride with friends, ride slowly, ride hardly, or hop from grazing station to grazing station, and then pin it during the timed segments. The Nosco Ride has been doing this for years, and it’s only one of many reasons that thousands of people take off in the middle of the week to do that ride.

The Rivet Raid was a family affair as well. Bjorn’s lovely wife Barbara and his two brothers teamed up to pull off the event, and everything from the coffee to the food to the VeloFix tech support was spot-on. As if that weren’t enough, the Rivet Raid also hired the services of Steve Cohen, a top-notch photographer whose work speaks for itself. An adept of legends like Dan Munson and Phil Beckman, Steve’s photos truly captured the event.

Steve summed it up with stunning photography that should make you absolutely want to put this on your list for 2018, while Kristie Fox traveled the route in her pickup and took snapshots with her iPhone.

Nothing encapsulates the ride vibe better than the ending, when I struggled over Horrible Hill, legs cramping, bonking, and desperate to get back to the car so that I could make it to the airport by 3:00 PM. Bjorn came up to me. “Get on my wheel,” he said. I did. And despite my shot legs and snail’s pace he rode me back to the parking lot, but not before he had a blowout on his front tire.

“No worries,” he said. “I’ll change it when we get back.”

Then, as I slumped into the passenger seat and the pickup headed out of the park, Bjorn came sprinting up with a plateful of tacos, beans, and rice. “And don’t forget the Coke!” he added, thrusting an ice cold cola through the open window.

All I can do is sum up the Rivet Raid with a word that we need more of in cycling, and in life: Fun. And if the fun requires a beating out in the Santa Monica mountains at the hands of a gang of uber-legit riders, well, thank you, sir. May I have another?

 

END

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Climb like a pro!

July 22, 2017 § 19 Comments

People often ask me why I’m such a good climber and what they can do to improve their climbing. Okay, actually they don’t ask me that. In fact, no one has ever asked me how to climb better, except one time. This is probably because I am a terrible climber.

We were out doing Wanky Super Power Loops (that’s a totally real and uber legit Strava segment, by the way) and this individual, whose internal organs were trying to become external, gaspingly asked me to slow down. “Slow down!” the person said unhappily.

“If I go any slower I will tip over,” I said friendlily.

“I think I’m going to die!” the person said deathily.

“You’re doing great!” I encouraged the person lyingly.

“This sucks!” the person said angrily.

“I’m sorry,” I said regretfully with a touch of fakingly.

We got to the “top” of Via la Selva and the person stopped and got off the person’s bike. “How can I climb better?” the person asked despairingly.

I observed numerous qualities about the person that indicated a complete lack of commitment to the cause. The person, after a cursory inquiry, did not appear to ride often, had not abandoned the person’s family, had not quit the person’s job, or taken any steps indicating a willingness to completely commit to the goal of Climb Like A Pro Or At Least A Profamateur.

So I offered up this tidbit, and said stonily, “If you want to climb better you need to climb more.” That person never spoke to me again, proving the old coaching adage (which is similar to the old prostitution adage, as the two are so closely related, “Don’t ever give it away for free.”)

Since I only have a few minutes before I have to begin Ch. 37 of Adventures in Shaving, I thought I would compile a quick list of ways to climb better. My lone subscriber Waldo has indicated that repeated lists will lead him to cancel his subscription, so this is the last list I will ever write. Of course you’ll never climb like a pro, or even like a bad amateur, but these tips will help you go faster uphill.

  1. Purchase all carbon super light everything that is made of pure carbon and is 100% carbon. Cf. Strava Jr.
  2. Lose more weight. Repeat.
  3. Ride hills. Repeat. But don’t do “repeats.” Those are stupid and will only make you angry. However, they sound cool to a select subgroup of idiots in the following context: “I did hill repeats yesterday.” To everyone else they sound like a bloody assassination of your finite, infinitely precious minutes on earth.
  4. Drop back on the climb. When you are approaching a climb that you’re sure to get shelled on, which is basically all of them, start the climb at or near the very front of the group. Rather than flailing hopelessly to keep from getting passed, drift back towards the rear as people go by. Then, once you reach the tail of the group, put in your effort to hang on. This will get you over the hump using less energy, and if you have to go all out to hang on, it will minimize the time you are going 100%. I’ve tried this a lot in hilly road races and it never works.
  5. Do intervals. This contradicts #3 above but don’t worry. Coaching advice is filled with contradictory imperatives that are impossible to follow.
  6. Ride with climbers. One reason you suck balls on hills is because you never ride with good climbers. You will learn more riding ten minutes with Wikstrom, Strava Jr., Roadchamp, or any of the other hill waifs than you will riding years with the donut-tummy pals on your local sausage fest. For example, I rode with Roadchamp last week and learned that if you want to go really fast uphill you need to make the bike go faster than everyone else and not eat for six months.
  7. Climb on the drops. Drop climbing allows you to use your arms, shoulders, and back to supplement the incredibly awesome power generated by your heroic legs. Drop climbing also gives you acceleration uphill when trying to catch attacks or pretend you aren’t being hideously dropped. If you have a power meter, which I don’t, drop climbing will confirm that more expensive equipment makes you feel more profamateur, which is always a good thing.
  8. Mix up your climbing distances. You know the normal hill intervals you do two times every time you ride, that 300-foot stretch of pavement at .002% called your “driveway”? Well, mix it up. Do some longer. Some shorter. Some steeper. Some undulating. Variety is the spice of life and climbing is life.
  9. Go down a cog. Cruddy climbers look for comfortable gearing. This is why we have 32-tooth rear cogs, and even bigger ones that look like you’re hauling around a Frisbee on your back hub. If you’re comfortable on a hill you’re not going fast, ever, unless of course you’re going downhill. Climbing means pain and the quickest path to misery is to go down a cog. Bigger gears go faster than little ones. Yes, there’s always a point at which the gearing bogs down your cadence so that it looks like you’re pedaling in freshly poured cement, but for the most part you are a ballsuck climber because you refuse to go down a gear. Here’s a simple flow chart: Does it hurt? No? Go down a gear. Yes? Keep pedaling.
  10. Do at least one ego-reducing hilly group ride each week. No matter how much you’re improving, it’s important to remember, as the old Billy Joel song said, “It’s just a fantasy. It’s not the real thing.” By the way, this is a really funny video of some horrible looking, pudgy 1980’s dude prank calling a woman from his motel room while a voyeur with a beard watches him. And yes, I owned that album.

END

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Tar maintenance

July 21, 2017 § 30 Comments

One of the most important parts on your bike is its tars. You can’t go far without them. They are the third most important bike part. The first is the handlebars. When you jump on your bike without the handlebars nothing good is going to happen. The second is the wheels. When you jump on your bike without the wheels you are going to hurt badly that place where your legs join up.

Tars are the contact point between you and the bike shop. Once you get a flat tar you need a tube or a patch which costs a couple of bucks. And once you go into the bike shop for a new tube you need a new 100% all carbon Pinarello pure carbon frame that is made of all carbon and Campagnolo which costs several thousand. You know how marijuana is the gateway to heroin? Tars are the gateway to Pinarellos. Chinarellos if you shop online.

Lots of bicyclists spend a lot of time doing tar research. Which tar is right for me? Well hell I don’t know and I would give you a list of things to look for in a tar except Waldo is counting my lists and he is a subscriber. So instead of a list I will give you a run-on sentence. Tars should be rubber and hold air, which is measured in pounds per square inch or something called “bars.” Back in the day an old Belgian would get a flat, patch it with a piece of asphalt, get another flat, throw the bike in the fuggin’ ditch, and go into a bar. “Y’all got any tars?” he would ask and they would say “Whyncha belly up to the bar while we go look?” Anyway it took about 6.8 beers at the bar, or 6.8 “bars” to find a tire which they would inflate to 100 pounds per square inch so nowadays Euros just say “gimme 7 bars” or eight bars and etcetera.

But back to tars which are confusing. Do you need an off road, on road, hybrid, or commuter tar? Like I said, hell I don’t know. But I do know this. The other day I got a pair of Vittoria Super Fake Racer Profamateur tars that cost a lot of money. Everyone said I shouldn’t train on them because even though they were more supple than your mistress they were eggshell thin like your wife’s radar about you suddenly dressing differently and running errands at odd times of the day. In short, everyone said I would soon be getting double flats and it would be a waste of time and money and etcetera.

However I remember once hearing someone say that the way to get more life out of a tar (and maybe a mistress too) is to rotate them regularly. That sounded easy until I learned that these Vittoria race tars in addition to being supple were tighter than my bank account at the end of the month. Or the beginning for that matter even though I got a $324.15 cash back credit on my Visa card. Do you know how much money you have to spend to get $324.15 cash back credit? Answer: More than $324.15, which just goes to prove the old adage that you can’t make money by spending it. Although I try.

Anyway, I slapped those tars on the rims on May 23 and it is now July 21, which is almost two months, and every two weeks I have rotated my tars. They still have another month left on them, easily, maybe two. And I haven’t gotten a single flat.

If tar swapping works with prima donna tars like these and you don’t mind losing a few fingernails every time you rotate them, you will get way more mileage and better yet, your tars will wear evenly. Plus even if you are a horrible mechanic and can barely fill a water bottle without breaking your seat post, once you get handy at tar swapping and fingernail re-growing you will feel a big sense of accomplishment.

And if all else fails and you are standing out on my balcony with your feet in the vinegar-baking soda anti-fungal concoction bowl and your fingernails are littering the floor and you don’t have any palms left, only big raw meat holes where you ground off all the skin, you can always call my buddy Usta Befit. He will get you fixed up in a jiffy. That boy never met a tar he couldn’t change.

END

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