"[A Robe of Feathers is] all fascinating material—very fresh to Western ears in both subject material and characterization—and comes to us wrapped in some of the most gorgeous prose I've read in a while. The stories are eerie, at times disturbing, occasionally sweet natured, but always compelling. A Robe of Feathers is truly a unique collection that suits no easy categorization except that of excellence."

—Charles de Lint

2018-Happy New Year-Tumultuous Dragons and Affectionate Minnows

Well, hello there, 2018! You really snuck up on me.

I just sat down and re-read last year’s New Year’s blog post and had a hearty chuckle. I might have grimaced and winced a couple times, probably wiped away a few tears. There I was sure that the previous year (2016) was so insanely tumultuous and difficult that the coming year (this past one) could only get better. I jumped in ready to batten down the proverbial hatches and wait until some some much needed (dare I say, deserved?) calm seas appeared. Yeah. That didn’t happen. And I kid you not when I say the cray-cray that went down this past year to me personally was completely separate from all political news and state-of-the-world absurdness going on.

So, 2017 wasn’t all bad, actually. Some truly amazing things happened and I’ll get to those in a second. But first…

A super quick rundown: It’s January first and I’m sitting here in a two-room apartment in front of a nice monitor (finally!), a mechanical keyboard (never knew such magic existed!) and staring at a small tank full of minnows (They love me and I’m training them. Shut up.) and I’m thinking I’m doing okay, despite it all, I’m a *special* kind of happy. Last year, I had to make what was probably the toughest decision of my life. I can’t really get into the details here,  just know it was many, many years brewing and all that time while I was turning over my options, there was never any this-is-the-right-choice moments. Or there were and I just kept missing them. Think: boiling frog analogy, I guess. It’s hard to listen to your heart when you’re sure you’re going mad and nothing sounds or feels sane.

For a very long time, it was easy *not* to make a choice. But I realized that ‘not making a choice’ *is* making a choice (someone very wise told me that *nods at C.M.*). And that ‘not making a choice’ (in my case) was lazy, dangerous, and just plain weak.

So I made the decision. There were consequences. Big ones. Payoffs. I lost (for the time being) virtually all of my writing time, for one. I’m in a two-bedroom apartment, for two. There are other things, but let’s skip all the dramatic and gory details and let me tell you about what good occurred because I did the difficult thing.

1) Sanity is returning, slowly albeit. It feels like I’m learning how to be a real person all over again. And that’s a positive thing.

2) I am no longer dependent on anyone financially. This is a deep down feel-good that I never expected would, well, feel so good. Yay, me!

3) I have monitor, keyboard, and also affectionate minnows(*), my own space, and that *special* kind of happy.

In April I did a reading from my new book in Kobe. 

A few other biggies that happened as a result of me taking action when so long I’d remained paralyzed and wishy-washy and afraid:

In February my second collection of stories was published by Independent Legions Press. It’s called The Carp-Faced Boy and Other Tales, and this time I went complete horror, which was fun and challenging and something I want to explore more.

Paperbacksandpugs Tweeted the most adorable Tweet about The Carp-Faced Boy.

I also started a monthly podcast that has just celebrated its one-year anniversary. This was an entirely new endeavor and scary in its own right. Take into consideration that up until very recently I didn’t speak English, except maybe once a week to my parents, for years and years, like almost twenty. I could feel my synapses fizzling out and my brain shrinking. I was able to write, but my verbal story-telling ability was fast disappearing. It’s still not back, but I think I’m getting better. The podcast was a way to try and nip that cerebral decline in the bud as well as a way to introduce people to the Japan I love via a different medium. There are people who read books. There are people who listen to podcasts. Sometimes they’re the same people. Sometimes, they’re not. So I did a bit of hustling and with the help of a friend who knows a whole lot more than I do, I started Uncanny Japan. I even trended for awhile on an app for Trending Podcasts. Which basically means I got a heap of subscribers and answer lots of emails. 

I made myself a home studio.

Around that time, I discovered Patreon and made a page there where, again, I could possibly reach like-minded people and tell them a story and teach them something odd and/or creepy about Japan that they didn’t know before. Over the past year, 26 people have become Patrons of mine, and I adore each and every one of them. I want to have a house party and invite them all over, feed them exotic Japanese foods, ply them with expensive sake and introduce them to my minnows…only a I’m a little short on room right now. One of these days! For the time being, these wonderful people make me want to work harder. Do better. 

One super tough thing that happened in 2017 was that I needed to procure a full-time job. I don’t know about stars aligning and the Magic 8-Ball declaring ‘Signs point to yes!’, but dagnubbit (!) I was taken on at an adorable and wonderful English school where I couldn’t be happier. Think Totoro and magical cabin in the woods. The time thing I gotta work out myself. But the atmosphere, the students, and my bosses are all fantastic. I really couldn’t have landed in a better place.

In some ways it feels like I survived 2017 by the skin of my teeth, that I’m clumsily juggling too many things, and that I’m always not doing enough. In other ways, it feels like I hustled my ass off and got busy and stayed creative and hopeful when I could easily have shut down and turned off.

Life is by no means perfect. There are still dragons in dem 2018 waters (Oh, how I love mixing my metaphors!).

Time management is a must. Now that I don’t have big blocks of time to write, I need to be able to switch on and off from project to project at will. This has been proving extremely difficult for me. This is one of my top three dragons that must be slayed. Or caged. Or tamed. Or, crap, just get him to organize my hours and days and weeks for me.

Second dragon is health and fitness. I lost a good deal of weight and was walking an hour or more a day two years ago. This year with my new schedule and (again) my less-than-capable skills of planning spiffy routines, I’ve put a good deal of weight back on, and no walking. That beast needs to go down this year. Down, I tell you. And maybe I’ll burn some calories while I wrestle him. With time as valuable as it is and me really wanting to start (again) and finish (for real) my novel, I need to figure this one out.

Dragon Three is writing. Gotta ride this puppy. I’ve got a novel started, and an agent asking where they hell is it? To the depths of my very soul I want to finish this novel. 2018, I’m looking at you.

So that’s me. I’m not about New Year’s resolutions so much. I’m more about winged monsters with scales and fiery breath trying to take me out (Or help me out. Seriously. I’m all over the place up here.) and what I can do to overcome them or work with them, or…you get the picture.

How about you? What are your goals, dreams, thoughts for/about 2018?

Whatever they are, I hope the dreams come true, the goals are achieved, and the thoughts are, well, thunk.

 

This is me wishing you all a wonderful and Happy New Year!

(*) Affectionate Minnows is the name of my new band.

November’s Been Good — Goro Awase

My November Uncanny Japan podcast was about goro awase (語呂合わせ), a kind of Japanese, number word play. I give a few examples there and thought I was done with the topic when yesterday during every single one of my classes I heard the elementary school students ask kids from other schools if they had been given a free package of katsuo bushi – (kastuo bushi is dried and smoked tuna flakes. My town is kinda famous for producing them).

Anyway, I finally asked what was up with that. Why would they be given a package of dried tuna flakes? And why would ALL the elementary schools be giving them out?

The answer I got was brilliant.

The kids told me that it was November 24 (11. 24)  or “ii fushi” Day. “Ii” meaning good and “fushi” sounding somewhat like katsuo bushi.

That got me thinking about the post I did on Facebook about how November 22 (11. 22) is considered “ii fufu” Day, which is “Happy Married Douples’ Day”, I guess. Since November is 11, and 11 is one one or ii in Japanese, meaning good, I figured there have got to be a whole bunch of other interesting play-on-words days this month.

Here are a few of the keepers:

11.8 Good Teeth Day – ii ha いい歯

11.9 Good Ventilation Day – ii ku (ki) いい空気 (kuki meaning air)

11.10 Good Toilet Day – ii to (ire) いいトイレ

11.12 Good Skin Day – ii hi fu いい皮膚

11.26 Good Bath Day – ii fu ro いい風呂

11.27 Good Carp Day – ii fu na いい鮒

11.29 Good Meat Day – ii ni ku いい肉

I know it’s the end of the month so we’ve missed a lot of these. There are only a couple more days left, but I notice I’m writing this on Good Bath Day. So go one, take yourself a nice, long and good bath. Tomorrow you may thoroughly enjoy some carp and then two days after that appreciate meat on the 29th.

 

 

 

 

What I’ve Been Up To With Bullet Points

Ever since I got back from the States in early September, it seems like I’ve refashioned myself into a kind of plate spinner, albeit a somewhat neurotic plate spinner. So as a reminder to myself and a heads up to anyone interested in what’s going on in my life, here is a bullet point list of the larger saucers currently twirling precariously above my head.

*My Podcast

Uncanny Japan is my very own — and still very green — podcast. It’s short at 10-15 minutes and comes out on the 15th-ish of every month. You can find it on the website (Uncanny Japan) and on iTunes. I’ve even heard it’s up in other places for Android. I don’t know how all that works, if they picked it up or what. Seriously. I told you I’m green. But the content is fun and weird and dare I say, uncanny. I’m enjoying it so much I figure I’m bound to get better. And, hey, if you listen now, you can later say, “I knew her when…”.

Here’s the elevator pitch:

“Uncanny Japan explores all that is weird from old Japan. Strange superstitions, and old wives tales, cultural oddities, and interesting language quirks. These are little treasures I dig up while doing research for my writing.”

It’s 100% free. Give it a listen and tell your friends. Also, if you have any thoughts, opinions, or ideas for the podcast, let me know. This is very much a wok in progress.

*My Patreon page 

Next, I have spent the past year mustering up the gumption to start up my own Patreon page (For those who aren’t familiar, Patreon is a place where you can support artists and get a little bit back, too).  After months of epic wishy washy-ness, I finally pulled the trigger and launched my page.

The monthly support I get from Patreon will go toward both my podcasts and my writing. I think I have some neat rewards available, especially for anyone interested in Japan and its culture.

One example is that for only $5.00/month and up I will send you a recording of a Bedtime Story. This is me retelling and very often reimagining an old Japanese folktale. I’m searching out the more obscure ones, so it will more than likely be a story you’ve never heard before. There are also some other neat rewards at the higher levels, too. So if you’re curious about that sort of thing, give that a gander right here.

And my last (but certainly not least) spinning plate, is my new book!

*My Collection of Short Stories: The Carp-Face Boy and Other Tales. 

This is a bundle of ten dark (some say horror) stories, published just recently by Independent Legions Publishing. There is both a print and ebook edition. The last time I checked the Kindle version was going for less than four bucks. 

Here you will find stories about a carp-faced boy, a dancing monkey with magical powers, and a creepy theremin player with a secret, just to name a few.

I’m going to write a post very soon as a kind of companion to the book. A little insider information, if you will. I’m also going to podcast about some of the stranger things I discovered while researching the stories. So if you’re interested in my freaky, Japanese-themed tales, please look here. 

Wew! So there you have it. Those are my biggies. While there are quite a few other plates in various stages of rotation, I’ll keep this post short and limit it three. I’ll get to those other saucers later.

Everyone take care. Stay sane. Do something nice for yourself today.

Happy New Year–Drowning Mermaids and Things

When I was small I often went to the beach with my parents. I loved the ocean. Oh~, how I loved the ocean. I loved everything about it: water, sand, sun, and especially I loved bouncing around in the waves. Occasionally, however, all that silly fun would come to a sputtering end.

Whether I was too caught up in my surf jumping antics to notice, or it was one of those sinister rogue waves you hear about, I don’t know. But sure enough, I would suddenly be lifted off my feet, tossed around, and then pushed all the way to the down to the ocean floor. There my limp little body would get dragged back and forth over the sand and rocks and shells. Helpless. Cheese grater-style. It was terrifying.

Now, I’m sure anyone who has been to the beach as a kid knows this experience well. Not a super big deal.

Except that it’s a unique kind of panic that comes out of nowhere. One moment you’re a mermaid frolicking in the surf with sunlight glittering off your golden locks, the next moment: scrape, scrape, scrape.

The confusion is absolute. You have no idea which way is up or even how far up is, because the one thing you are very aware of is that you’re farther from the shoreline than you were seconds ago. Up is a long, long way away. And that’s when it hits you: You’ve not only been pulled from the shallow end of the sea, you’re not absolutely sure how long those last, quickly gasped, two lungs full of air are going to last you.

In too many ways to mention, that’s kind of how 2016 felt like for me. I’m guessing it’s kind of been like that for a lot of people. But in my case, it got personal.

The beginning of 2016 was most definitely joyous, bouncing around in the happy waves of life (first a trip to Portland to meet my writing buddy and then hole up in a gorgeous house for a week-long writing retreat; also, I lost a bit of weight last year).

The end part of 2016 though…

Another anticipated writing-related trip and my first ever convention didn’t quite go as planned. In fact, it turned into me flat on my back in the ER.

2016 tried to kill me.

My first instinct is to go into 2017 with trepidation. For absolutely sure, our icons aren’t going to stop dying, and the political environment isn’t going to magically heal itself. To the contrary, things are going to get worse before they get any better. But all that is on the very fringes of my radar. I’m worried about me and my ticking time bombs (I’ve got two now.)

But you know what? So what.

2017 will be the year that I am going to make a couple of big changes. By big I mean bigly! Hugely, maybe. Tremendous, no doubt(※)!

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I’m absolutely terrified of all the unknowns. There are so many things that can go wrong. But then again, there are so many things that can go right, right? I just don’t know, and I’m not smart or wise enough to play out all the scenarios and how I’ll react to them. Nothing is going to change unless I do. If there is one thing I think a lot of us (re)-learned from 2016, it’s that we’re all mortal and we really don’t have the foggiest idea long we’ve got on this mortal coil.

Right now I am that limp little body-of-a-girl realizing something has to be done. I’m looking around frantically trying to judge which way it up. Scary as change is, I can’t just continue to be scrubbed back and forth along the bottom of the ocean floor, My Life. So in 2017, I’m going to kick hard against the sand and the rocks and the shells and to that sparkly surface I see way up there. I have no idea how far it is or if these two lungs full of air are going to last me to the top. But I have to try. I’d like to believe I’ll make it, and again there will be sun on my face and diamonds in my hair, and again I’ll be happy. Deep down happy with what I’ve accomplished on my own.

(Side note: Because I have experienced again and again and am deeply aware of the tittering irony that seems to accompany me throughout my life, I’m hoping when I do break the surface I’ll look over and I won’t be a mile and half from the shore.)

I like this quote: “Ships in harbor are safe. But that’s not what ships were made for.” (John A. Shedd)

I’m going to repeat that to myself this coming year. My mantra.

I hope that everyone of you have an amazing 2017, that you stay mind bogglingly healthy and as much as possible sail away from the safe waters to experience new and exciting adventures, exotic islands and loopy mermaids bouncing around in the surf, because you deserve it.

 

Happy Year of the Chicken!

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(※) I’ll blog about the big changes more when my ducks (chickens?) are more in straight rows and marching in time. Right now those bastards are all over the place.

How a Pair of Holey Jeans Saved My Life or My Experience With Deep Vein Thrombosis

The whole ordeal started (I guess) a year ago. After Clarion West I decided to get in shape. I began walking daily and paying attention to what I ate. By June I was walking two to three hours a day, stretching, lifting light weights, and eating pretty well. Without much effort at all I managed to lose almost fifty pounds. I was happy, feeling good, and maybe a little cocky.

 

When the rainy season hit I cut my walking down to only a couple times a week. Soon after, the weather turned hot. Summer in Japan is its own special kind of hell, a constant sweaty, melty kind of hell. It was okay though. I didn’t have to walk anymore. I’d already lost the weight and I was busy working on computer stuff anyway. I became completely sedentary. Add to that recipe the fact that I am most likely chronically dehydrated at any given time.

 

About a month before returning to the U.S. to visit my parents and attend World Con my back started to hurt. It was the same ache as all my other sitting-too-long aches, so I didn’t pay it much attention. I figured it would go away. Eventually.

 

[Side note: While Googling around I read over and over that a lot of the time there are no symptoms with deep vein thrombosis, or the symptoms are such that they go undiagnosed. Scary stuff.]

 

Okay, now fast forward to my flight from Japan to Omaha on August 5th. I always get a window seat and hole up. I don’t sleep well on planes, so when I do finally doze off I don’t want to be interrupted by someone needing to leave their seat or slip back in. On the other hand, I also don’t want to be that person who is interrupting someone else trying to grab a few Zzzs on a long flight. I kill two birds with one stone by not moving the entire trip. Or drink either. I get up only once at the ten-hour mark, after that last meal of dusty omelet and tasteless fruit. Until then I’m good.

 

Only this last time when I was leaving my seat at my usual hour-before-landing time – scooching to reach the aisle – a near debilitating pain shot from my lower back all the way down my leg. I could hardly walk. I assumed I’d just slept wrong and had a kink that would work itself out while hurrying to make my connecting flight in Minneapolis.

 

It never worked itself out.

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Once at mom and dad’s house the pain was worrisome but manageable with enough pain meds (stupid, I know). I debated over and over going to the hospital, but no insurance and all. So, no. I didn’t go. I self diagnosed myself with sciatica. It was textbook. But sciatica is a symptom. The underlying condition is what needs to be found. My self-diagnosis was I slept funky on the plane. That and I’m no spring chicken.

 

It was on the fourth day in Omaha that things got super shitty. Painkillers, no matter how many I took, didn’t make a dent. My leg felt extremely heavy, and my lower back pain was now shooting down the front if my leg, too. There was also constant tingling and numbness and heat. The whole kit and caboodle. I cried a lot, too. Still no trips to the doctor yet.

 

That all changed on day four. I happened to be wearing a pair of jeans with holes in them, fashionista that I am. Ahem. My dad was teasing me, asking why I’d pay good money for ripped up jeans. I was about to tell him how cool they looked on me when I glanced down and noticed my legs through the holes. The right one was pink, the left a dark black-purple. On further examination that left leg was also twice the size of the other. No question about it. ER.

 

Then things got exciting.

 

The ER doctor knew exactly what he was dealing with. Especially after he asked if I’d taken any long trips recently. They did ultrasound on the veins and arteries in the leg. Good news: No clots in leg. Bad news: The blood was flowing into my leg, but not leaving, something was blocking it farther up.

 

Back in for CAT scan of my pelvic area. Then the really bad news: loads of clots all up in my iliac vein, so far up the CAT scan couldn’t even see them all.

 

The mood turned pretty grim. The doctor was upset. The nurses were upset. I was upset. The doctor held my hand and told me that it’s all very concerning, dangerous, but they got this. They’re on it. The nurse hugged me and held my shoulders and looked into my eyes and told me I was going to be okay.

 

I said I had to pee.

 

Little did I know there would be no standing, no getting vertical, no eating for the next three days.

 

A bigger hospital was notified, an ambulance called. While I waited for the ambulance to arrive, I was given my first heparin shot and told off-handedly how it’s called the bleed-out drug (“There have been so many accidents.”), and it can’t be given unless two nurses are present and check each other’s work. (The next day they actually had to reduce my dosage because I was bleeding too much.)

 

The paramedics came to shuffle me away and the doctor shook my hand and thanked me, saying he’d never seen such a thing, all those clots in the iliac vein. I was his first. You’re, um, welcome, I said.

 

The ambulance ride was mellow, no flashing lights or Bat turns. They were going to drive extra carefully, they said. The head paramedic explained to me that if I had a pulmonary embolism in route I’d most likely be okay, because I was young (thank you, dude) and had strong lungs.

 

New hospital. Blur. Meeting several vascular surgeons. Blur. More tests. Blur. Surgery pushed ahead of other surgeries. I’d be going in at seven am the following day.

 

Sleep.

 

The procedure was to go in behind my knee and use a drug called tPA to dissolve the clot while sucking it all out along the way. If they couldn’t get it all, the catheter would stay in my leg and they’d continue the next day. Because it wasn’t just the iliac vein but all the little side roads too, it was a hugely pain-in-the-ass thing to do. My surgeon (Dr. Brown) is a saint. A very talented and brilliant saint.

 

I have no veins in my arms. People think I’m exaggerating but I’m not. The absolute worst part of the four days in the hospital was them trying to find veins for blood work and failing again and again. My arm looked so bad the nurses were cringing.

 

During the first surgery (yes, they had to go back in a second day), my vein blew toward the end of the procedure. I woke up in post op and it was just like an episode of ER, except I was the one on the gurney looking up. All sorts of people above me, serious, working quickly, calling out fancy medical talk-things to each, that high note of panic in the air.

 

A dude was trying desperately to locate another vein when my back began to spasm. I was able to say, back… upper back. And then as the spasms grew worse I cried out, chest! That hepped up the anxiety in the room real good. Something was pumped into my oxygen and I was out. I vaguely remember my doctor using a portable ultra sound device to put a midline in my bicep.

 

I woke up in my lovely hospital room. It really was lovely. All the nurses were sweet, the place was spacious, mom and dad and friends were there. I even had beautiful flowers and baskets of goodies waiting for me!

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That first day after surgery I learned that heparin is kinda the devil. I mean it saved my life, so thank you heparin. It prevents further clotting. But it also prevents ALL clotting. It also makes you pee bright red blood, which is quite shocking when you look down at your catheter and see that for the first time. The incision in the back of my leg just free bled the entire time. I kept asking them to stop it, but they couldn’t. They can only watch the amount of blood lost and calculate if it’s too much or not. I soaked pillows. It was gross.

 

I remember morphine shots and Valium shots, friends searching all the hospitals in Omaha to find me. Mom and dad there the entire time. Grapefruit scented facial wipes, lollipops, and a little teddy bear I slept with. I remember Skyping with my best friend in Japan to keep me calm.

 

Sometime during the day I began to have a dry cough and I noticed I could only fill my lungs to something like 1/3 capacity. My chest hurt. I’d learn later that I had suffered a very small pulmonary embolism. I guess the guy from the ambulance was right.

 

The next day I went into surgery again. More cleaning out. Dr. Brown said she’d gotten all the new clots, but there were some old ones up in the iliac vein that she didn’t want to disturb for fear of knocking them loose and shooting them somewhere in my body they shouldn’t be. The blood flow past them, though, looked very good.

 

On the fourth day I was able to stand up, pee all by myself, and go home (mom and dad’s home, that is). The jury was out on when I could come back to Japan. Someone told me I wouldn’t be flying for at least six months. Another doctor said I could fly tomorrow. My surgeon said, let’s wait two weeks and then decide. She called it voodoo and said no one really knows. I liked her honesty.

 

So, my first week back at mom and dad’s I was having outrageous headaches. Can’t get out of bed headaches.

 

Now I’m on a newish blood thinner called Xarelto. Xarelto has an unpleasing side effect sometimes: Brain hemorrhages.

 

Cue another trip to the ER.

 

It was funny (if that’s the word I want to use). They remembered me and all I had to do was tell them I was having headaches and the entire room turned solemn and knew exactly what to do. I guess they’d seen those dreadful infomercials about Xarelto, too. Long story short: smiling ER doc bursting into my room and saying there was no brain bleeding or freaky tumors. Cheers all around. Go home. Chill.

 

Eventually the headaches faded. My surgeon and I think they might have been related to the severe spasms I was having after that first surgery. Who knows.

 

Two weeks later and I saw my Dr. Brown again. My leg looked fine. I felt fine. We talked for a lovely long time and she gave me the all-clear to travel with the strict rules of standing up and moving my legs every thirty minutes to an hour, staying hydrated, and wearing compression socks (sexy).

 

That was one long flight. I have become that nerd in front of the toilets doing squats and stretching. I embrace that nerd.

 

So, the prognosis is I will have to stay on Xarelto for six months to a year. I’ll also need to have a bunch of tests done (here in Japan) to see if I have some genetic predisposition to blood clots or if this truly was a series of bad choices that caused the darn things. Also, compression socks at all times. (That’s a harder nerd to embrace, I tell ya.) I need to be looked at for a long time. I may, at some future date, need a stint. We’ll see.

 

I can’t even tell you the moral of the story. Stay hydrated, walk around on long flights. When you’re sitting for extended periods remember to move, stretch, flex your legs, especially your calves. You can also start eating natto if you’d like, as it has clot-busting properties, evidently.

 

Even after having gone through this whole ordeal there are still so many questions I have. Did the clots start in my legs and move? Or did they start in my pelvic region, and why? And how? When I asked the doctors they all said I’d never know. Voodoo, I guess. The longer I live, and the more stuff that happens to me the more this sounds like a valid answer. Whatever the answer, whatever the question, I think you can’t go wrong with staying hydrated and moving your body and limbs whenever possible. Compression socks, on the other hand? They suck.

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Super greasy me happy as crap I can stand up and walk around

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