First stop on book tour: The Second Story in Laramie, Wyoming

Here are Parts 1 & 2 of my Wyoming book tour. This one-week trip in early August was both a sentimental journey to my childhood ranch in northwest Wyoming (the setting for my debut novel, Hardpan) and tour of indie bookstores in the state, starting with Laramie, then Cheyenne, Casper, Cody, and Jackson.

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Sentimental journey: Wyoming book tour August 8-12

I’ve been getting ready for weeks. Firmed up stops in Laramie, Cheyenne, Casper, Cody, & Jackson Hole. Towns that form a diagonal across the state from southeast to northwest Wyoming, through Yellowstone National Park to the Grand Tetons.

Bookstores and local newspapers with names that echo the rural West: Wind City Books in Casper and Legends Bookstore in Cody; the Laramie Boomerang and the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

Bob & I will drive to our family ranch near Clark where my family lived in the mid-1950s—the place that inspired my debut novel, Hardpan.

But this time our ranch house won’t be there. During my last visit in 1973, I didn’t imagine our ranch house would burn down a few years later. Even so, the ranch land will be there—all thirteen hundred acres of it.

I’ll marvel at the rugged expanse of sagebrush and cultivated fields interrupted by the Clarks Fork River winding its way to the Yellowstone. I’ll wonder at alfalfa fields that continue to defy the pounding winds and moisture-starving sun.

And the spectacular setting won’t have changed much. That backdrop of the rugged Rocky Mountains soaring to Colter Pass at Cooke City, Montana will look as majestic as ever.

I’m counting on meeting up with a handful of our former neighbors from Clark and Badger Basin. People like the Torczons and the Teicherts who’ve moved to nearby towns over the years, and younger generations who are carrying on the ranch traditions.

My mother has copied me on her yellowed hand-written list of names and addresses of her Wyoming friends, many lined out as people have moved or died. After all, it’s been over half-a-century since we lived in this mythical place.

I’m buzzing at the prospect of meeting new people who are interested in reading my book, and with Wyoming natives who’ve already read it and want to discuss it with me. They’re eager to find out more about this tale of a young ranch family dealing with unexpected challenges and hardships in the era after World War II, a tale that resonates with their own lives.

So jump into the old pickup, my friends. Come along with me on this journey to the Old West. The West before paved roads found remote cattle ranches in northwest Wyoming. The West before televisions and computers and the Internet took over everyday communications. Together we’ll discover today’s pioneers in this starkly beautiful landscape.

An early version of the book cover for Hardpan. Photo of our family's pickup used in move from Wyoming to Central California in 1957.

An early version of the book cover for Hardpan. Photo of our family’s pickup used in move from Wyoming to Central California in 1957.

 

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Meet & Greet set at The Depot Bookstore, Mill Valley–August 20th

Come to my Meet & Greet at Noon on Saturday, August 20th. The Depot Bookstore & Cafe is delightful place to visit in the heart of Mill Valley-- Marin County.

So cool to see my debut novel placed between such august company! Come to my Meet & Greet at Noon on Saturday, August 20th. The Depot Bookstore & Cafe is a delightful place to browse for books & eat a delicious lunch in the heart of Mill Valley–Marin County.

 

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Upcoming reading at Copperfield’s in Santa Rosa

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Join me on Tuesday, July 19th for Hot Summer Nights at Copperfield’s Books in Santa Rosa. I’ll be reading from my novel, Hardpan.

The event starts at 7 p.m. and features me and three other authors: Waights Taylor, Jr. (Touch of Redemption), Arlene Miller (The Best Little Grammar Book Ever!), and John Grayson Heide (The Flight of the Pickerings).

Copperfield’s Books
Montgomery Village
775 Village Court
Santa Rosa,  CA

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First fan letter from reader

First letter from a fan of Hardpan

Nothing like receiving my first fan letter from a reader of Hardpan. Donna Markle attended my book reading at Bloomsbury Books in Ashland, Oregon in January 2016. She grew up in Casper, Wyoming, not far from Clark, the setting for Part I of my novel. Thank you, Donna!

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Stopping by book stores in Berlin & Budapest

While visiting Berlin and Budapest in early October, I stopped by book stores to ask if they would consider adding my debut novel, Hardpan, to their shelves. They expressed a strong interest, and explained how I will need to go thru wholesalers to make this happen. Both stores carry many books by American novelists (Jonathan Franzen’s new book was featured on a storefront poster of Booksellers in Budapest). Dussmann’s in Berlin is a three-story multi-media/book store, including a huge vinyl records section and large separate section for books written in English. All very impressive and fun!

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Early reviews of Hardpan trickling in!

on the family ranch in Jordan Valley, Oregon in the 1980s

on the family ranch in Jordan Valley, Oregon in the 1980s

From successful author Lee Gant: “Hardpan. I love the image that brings to mind: dry, cracked clay dirt…powdered earth rising from sunbaked ground with every booted step. Makes me want to dust off my jeans. Great title for this family saga set in Clark, Wyoming about a family grappling with the changing American West.

I’m always impressed with writing that takes me somewhere, and Marilyn’s does just that. I cared about her characters and rooted for them when they faltered. I rode along with them throughout their adventures and wished my family could have been that strong. Marilyn’s words gave me pictures, and emotions, and a reason to turn the page.”

Thank you, Lee!

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My first novel, Hardpan, published August 1st 2015

Exciting news: my first novel, Hardpan, was published August 1st by Westerly Directions Press. E-books are now available from Apple iBooks: https://itun.es/us/fwu48.I and Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/, as well as online from B&N Nook. Print books will also be available soon.

Set in Clark, Wyoming in the mid-1950s, Hardpan tells the journey of a young ranch family grappling with the changing American West after World War II. After returning from the war to manage the family ranch in eastern Oregon, Kurt Glover confronts familial challenges to his new role. Yet, Kurt’s decision to relocate his family to a remote cattle ranch in Wyoming introduces risks to his young family that he never imagined.

“Marilyn Skinner Lanier’s first novel ‘Hardpan’ reveals her deep understanding of the vicissitudes of life in rural Wyoming for the Glover family in the 1950s as economic conditions, the weather, and human frailty lead them from one difficulty to the next. Her resilient and well-drawn characters, however, show what it takes to overcome the hardships they face and survive with strength and endurance. They are to be admired as is Lanier for so wisely probing the human heart and family devotion. Her writing is vivid, nuanced, and alive.”

– Maxine Chernoff, Chair of the Creative Writing Program at San Francisco State University, author of 6 books of fiction and 14 books of poetry, winner of an NEA Fellowship and the PEN Translation Prize

The ranch house along bluff of Clarks Fork River, a tributary of the Yellowstone

The ranch house along bluff of the Clarks Fork River, a tributary of the Yellowstone

An early version of the book cover for Hardpan. Photo of our family's pickup used in move from Wyoming to Central California in 1957.

An early version of the book cover for Hardpan.

My son, Matt Silas, receives director's award for his short film, The Fence, based on a chapter from my novel, Hardpan

UCLA Film Festival 2008. My son, Matt Silas, receives director’s award for his short film, The Fence, based on a chapter from my novel, Hardpan

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“The Paint Job,” a chapter in Part II of my novel, Hardpan

Linda squeezed her mother hard around her waist, not wanting to let go. She got a whiff of her mother’s skin, still damp from her morning shower, the fragrance of violets from the talcum powder dusted on her shoulders and neck.

More than her mother’s sweet smell caught her attention. Jo’s reddish-blonde hair was pulled into a twist, held in place by several large bobby pins. Her freshly ironed white cotton shirt was stiff from starch, and her new navy broadcloth skirt had box pleats instead of her usual gathered waist.

Linda was careful not to muss her up. She released her grip so Jean could say goodbye too, suddenly shivering from the bite in the outside air.

She was finally ready for her mother’s departure to Billings, eighty miles away. All weekend, her mother had been preparing her, showing her little things she needed to know to take care of the baby during the week–where she kept extra formula and how to sterilize the bottles if she ran out. She already knew how to do most everything, but her mother kept pointing things out, just in case.

“You can always run to Virgie’s house to get help.”

Virgie was their closest neighbor. Looking past her mother, she could see the big cottonwood tree in her front yard.

“I know, Mom. Don’t worry.”

“And Christopher. If he gets sick…” Her voice trailed off.

“Don’t worry, Mom, I’ll take good care of him.”

“I know you will, honey.” She rubbed Linda’s shoulder and drifted away.

“Jean and I are going to have a big surprise for you when you come home Friday night.”

“Hmm. How about a hint?”

“No, Mom. You’ll have to wait.”

“Oh my!” She sighed. Her slender figure trembled in the cold air.

Jean tugged on mother’s skirt, oblivious to the conversation. ”I’ll miss you, Mommy!”

Jo didn’t seem to hear Jean. She shoved her arms into her tweed coat, pulling one side over the other to shut out the morning chill.

“You take good care of your baby brother and yourselves too.” Her eyes darted away as she searched for her car keys.

When her mother turned on the engine and pulled away, Linda was relieved that she hadn’t choked up. After all, her mother had taken the job to help the family get on its feet again. She wiped her sleeve across her cheek to clear some tears and grabbed Jean’s hand. As they trudged into the house, she started thinking how long it would be until Friday night.

As she pulled out a plastic bag full of corn flakes from the bottom kitchen cupboard and poured some into the bowls for her and Jean, she listened for Christopher’s cries of hunger. Her mother had filled eight bottles of formula for him and put them into the fridge. All she had to do was put a bottle into a pan of hot water for five minutes and squirt a few drops of milk on her wrist to test the temperature.

By mid-morning, she started thinking about the surprise she had promised her mother.

“Look at that, Jean.” She pointed to the wall above the sofa in the living room.

“What’s the matter?”

“It looks bad. Hasn’t been painted in years. You can tell that.”

Years of sun streaming through the living room window had bleached out the center part of the wall behind the couch. The rest was a slightly darker hue, like the cream that Mom used to skim off the fresh milk in the metal bucket each morning on the ranch.

Jean was unfazed. “It looks fine to me.”

“Come on! Can’t you tell that wall is faded and dirty? We could surprise Mommy by painting it before she comes home on Friday. David told me we have some yellow paint in the cellar. We might have enough for the living room.”

They found three gallons of paint in the cellar. Two had never been opened. It was white paint, not yellow, but they decided it would work anyhow. She and Jean could start painting after her father and David left for work on Tuesday.

She told her father about the painting project when he got home that night. He grinned. “Good idea, honey. Your mother will be tickled.” He ordered David to bring the paint cans and brushes from the cellar for his sisters. After making a couple of runs, David staged everything on a big canvas tarp in the middle of the living room.

The next morning, after David left for the Fraker ranch and her father took off for his road job in the Big Horns, she called to Jean. “We’ve got to move this furniture out of here, Sissy.”

Jean groaned. “All of it?”

“No, just the couch and chair and coffee table. We need to shove them against the wall so we can paint that one.” She pointed to the front wall of the living room. It was the most complicated because of two windows and the front door.

As they shoved one end of the couch across the linoleum floor, they heard the baby rustling in the crib. Linda peeked into her parents’ bedroom. Sure enough. He was whimpering. He must be hungry again.

She handed Jean some butcher paper. “We can finish this after I feed Christopher. Why don’t you put some of this next to the wall to catch the paint drips?”

Linda hadn’t expected Christopher’s feeding to take so long. He was still wide-awake way past his naptime. It was almost noon before he fell asleep in his crib and they could move the furniture again. The sofa, coffee table, and two floor lamps formed a furniture wall in front of their parents’ bedroom so they had plenty of room to paint.

Linda let Jean paint the bottom half of the wall while she stood on the yellow vinyl seat of a chrome kitchen chair to paint the top half. Jean used a three-inch brush and Linda used the big paint roller. They were awkward at first, and some big globs of paint fell to the baseboard and the floor, but they were getting better at it. They made good progress until the baby woke up from his nap. At first, they ignored his whimpers.

“Let’s get this part done,” Linda said. They had only a few more strokes to finish the wall next to the front door. As the baby’s cries got louder and more insistent, the girls painted faster, trying to ignore him. Linda tried to calm him as she used up the fresh paint on her roller.

“I’m coming sweet baby. We’re almost done out here,” she hollered.

“Okay, he’s not going to stop. I’ve got to give him a bottle now,” she said. As she jumped off the chair, she remembered the bedroom door was blocked.

“Oh my gosh!” She looked at Jean. “I can’t get to Christopher. Help me shove this sofa back so I can get through the door.”

The baby wailed until the doorway was clear and Linda scooped him up from the crib.

 

It was a long week. One day Linda accidentally dumped some paint on Jean’s hair as she tried to dip the roller into the pan while stepping on the chair. Jean was furious with her.

“What do you think you’re doing? How am I going to get this paint out of my hair?”

“We’ll get it out later. We can’t do it now because it’ll take too long to rinse it out, and we need to finish this pan of paint.”

“That’s stupid! You better get this out of my hair now, before it gets hard,” Jean yelled at her.

It took ten minutes of rinsing to get the paint out. “You’re drowning me,” Jean screamed. “That’s enough!” She spit out the murky water and ran out of the room, her wet hair dripping.

 

By Friday, the girls had painted all the walls in the living room and their parents’ bedroom. They tossed the old newspaper into the garbage can, bunched up the paint rags, and moved furniture back into place.

“Help me take these paint cans to the basement,” Linda said, stopping Jean from drifting away from the job.

“Only if you promise you won’t make me do one more chore before Mommy gets home.”

“Alright. Stop complaining. I promise,” Linda said.

The afternoon stretched out forever. They made a big batch of oatmeal cookies but ended up eating most of the dough before baking some in the oven.

“I feel sick,” Jean groaned.

“Me, too. That dough sure was good, though.”

Hours before their mother arrived home, they had made their bed, picked up the house, and washed the dirty dishes from the cookie making. They put Christopher in his crib so Linda could braid Jean’s hair special for the occasion.

It was dusk when they caught sight of the car lights beaming into the front room. The girls sprang for the door.

“Welcome home, Mommy!” they hollered outside.

Their mother clutched them to her chest. Linda felt like she couldn’t breathe as Jean’s warm body was squeezed in between. But she held still until she felt her mother’s gentle release. The girls jostled one another for position, waiting for Jo’s reaction to their paint job. But their mother was distracted by gurgling sounds coming from the bedroom. She dropped her purse and coat, and ran to get the baby.

“Mommy, wait! Don’t you notice something’s different?” Linda said, her voice quivering with excitement. Jean pointed proudly to the living room wall.

Jo paused. Her eyes moved up and down the newly painted wall as if she were painting it herself. She was looking at the uneven rows of new paint, some barely covering the old paint, others opaque from three or four coats. The baseboard had blotches of paint here and there. Linda squirmed, wishing she could end the inspection.

“You girls painted these two rooms, didn’t you? Is that your surprise, Linda?”

“Yep, it is. What do you think?” she asked breathlessly.

“It’s very nice. Nice job, girls.” She heaved a deep sigh. Her eyes welled with tears.

Jean shrugged her shoulders in bewilderment. “What’s the matter, Mommy?”

Linda pulled her arm and whispered, “I think Mommy’s tired.”

The girls trailed behind their mother as she edged her way again to the baby’s crib. Their eyes were fixed on Jo’s back as she picked up the baby and smothered him with kisses.

Linda waved Jean away. “It’s okay sissy. Mommy’s had a hard week.” But she knew it was about their paint job. Maybe they could do better next time.

 

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Rebooting at Sixty-Four, My Husband the FedEx Man

This holiday season marks a year since my husband took the plunge.

“I saw this ad on Craig’s List for a holiday job with FedEx,” Bob reported nonchalantly. “I’m going to meet a guy named Eddy for an interview at the FedEx terminal near the airport.”

I didn’t object. A couple of weeks could put some cash in his pocket. He still
had his consulting business to fall back on, though it was hit or miss after
three years. He’d named it Bioclaris, a transformative choice in light of his love
for the life sciences.

In 2000 he returned to college at the University of Oregon to get a second
baccalaureate degree in Biology. He had built up a solid nest egg from 25 years
in the computer software business, setting up sales & marketing programs for
companies in the U.S. and Europe. He decided it was time to pursue his lifelong dream.

Six years later, after building a network of contacts with CEOs of bioscience
companies in the state, he accepted the position of Executive Director of the
Oregon Bioscience Association. It was a great platform for advancing fledgling
bioscience companies like his own.

By 2009, when I secured a new senior administrator position with a large
university in San Francisco, we felt sure that he was well positioned to transfer
his knowledge base to the Bay Area as a trailing spouse. What neither of us
had predicted was the extent to which the growing recession and his age would thwart Bob’s new career plans.

Hitting the Reboot Button

When he returned home that balmy December day, he plunked a pile of clothes on our bed—a pair of used baggy blue pants and matching shirt with the FedEx logo on the right pocket.

“I’m going to help FedEx drivers deliver packages downtown.”

I skewed up my eyes at him. “Downtown?”

“Yeah. The Financial District. Commercial deliveries.”

He can’t be serious, I thought. Downtown San Francisco is as congested as an over-stuffed beanbag. Streets chock-a-block with cars, taxis, bikers, tourists, business people, shoppers, and the homeless hunkered down in threadbare sleeping bags in recessed doorways. I shrugged my shoulders, consoling myself with the thought that it was a temporary job, bound to lift his spirit after months of spinning wheels on job applications.

“Companies are reserving their scarce jobs for younger people who have longer career horizons,” I had offered up with the initial wave of rejections.

“It’ll be a good chance to lose that 10 pounds,” he added. He wanted to return to 175 pounds, his fighting weight as a Masters swimmer in the day. I pictured his six-foot-two-inch frame slimmed down a bit.

“Good goal,” I said, though his weight seemed about right for a sixty-four-year old man his height.

He had pulled his bike out of storage to get to the Daly City BART station three miles away. He left home before dawn each morning to begin his 12-hour day. It was a good solution until the first Pacific winter storm blasted the City.

“Do you mind dropping me off at BART?” he asked that night. “I got drenched this morning.”

I jumped at the chance. Better than Bob navigating his bike through heavy
traffic on Highway 1 in the pre-dawn on stormy winter days.

The Loaner Truck

I got his panic call about six one evening. “My loaner truck is stalled in the
middle of Sacramento. The ignition key just broke in half! I can’t pull over and
traffic is backing up as far as I can see. Damn it!”

Sacramento Street is a major one-way exit route from downtown during rush hour that traverses Chinatown and goes over Nob Hill to points west.

After passing the truck-driving test for FedEx, his stories of navigating the 26-foot truck on Hwy 101 into the City made me shiver. He called it a “noisy
rattletrap” with a loose floor plate offering views to the ground below, passenger door open while driving due to a broken side mirror, and a back door that frequently stuck.

“I can’t reach Eddy. Guess his phone is down. People are leaving stalled buses to walk up the hill instead. They’re threading around my truck giving me dirty looks!”

“Can you get roadside assistance from FedEx?”

“No. It’s Eddy’s truck. Doesn’t belong to FedEx. It’s his responsibility. Hey, I’m getting a call. Got to hang up.”

He called me again a few minutes later. One of Eddy’s men had come to his
rescue after 30 minutes of torment.

The Invisible Delivery Man

We celebrated the day he weighed in at 175 lbs. Pure muscle. It was a silver
lining for a highly physical job that left him exhausted every night. He figured
he was walking between five to seven miles a day and lifting/hauling over a
thousand pounds of goods on average. He soon quit going to the fitness center
with me.

Quite a contrast with his former life as a high paid computer software executive who traveled first class and dined at fine restaurants around the world with international customers. I remembered the day he received notification of his million-mile award status from United.

But his new stories were riveting. Vignettes about him looking at stacks and
stacks of boxes each morning needing to be loaded onto his truck, wondering
how they could all fit. About him schlepping boxes on dollies up crowded
elevators to the workspaces designed for high tech Millennials in the office
towers. San Francisco was enjoying its second dot com boom.

A glance around the Financial District mid-day reveals the new business
crowd. At least 50 per cent are Millennials—a mix of hipster programmers and
casually dressed high techies who create shoot-‘em-up war games and other
entertainment video games as well as social networking applications and more. They work for companies like Pocket Gems and Tiny Company—high-energy start-ups exploding with growth.

Bob was the invisible man with access to whole floors unhampered by cubicles or walls, filled with seven-foot wide work tables crowded with computers and coffee mugs, creatively painted walls with tons of photographs, Ping Pong and pool tables, and large drink coolers with exotic soda drinks and often, microbrews. In some places, hip young professionals wouldn’t stop their
conversations or pull out their earbuds for a few seconds to help him find a
suitable place to drop off his heavy load.

But these slights didn’t bother him. What offended him was an encounter with two attorneys, former business networking acquaintances, who glanced away when they saw him.

“They refused to recognize me,” he said that night. “I couldn’t believe it!”

In other places, receptionists offered him sparkling limewater, wheat germ
cookies, or chunks of Ghirardelli chocolate before he departed for the next
delivery. They had to act fast after Bob unloaded a heap of boxes in their office
and obtained their signature on the scanner. Maybe they also sensed that he
needed a little extra nourishment to keep his baggy FedEx pants from falling off his hips as his weight continued to drop.

“The big banks and financial companies are totally different,” he said. “Take
Wells Fargo or Bank of America—a vast sea of cubicles with only occasional
heads popping up. When I ask who can sign for a delivery, no one knows. They often don’t even know the name of their neighbor in the next cubicle.”

Looking Out for His Colleagues

Bob talked a lot about Pablo, a second-generation immigrant who was studying to become an EMT and working part-time as a loader at the Terminal. His Portuguese father had returned to the Azores after his divorce from Pablo’s mother.

“Pablo’s smart, strong; a hard worker who presents himself well. He has to
wake up at three in the morning to begin work at 4:30—a four-hour shift that pays a low flat daily rate with no benefits.”

He asked Bob about how he could get “field work”—work outside the vast
cavern of the FedEx Terminal where he was an entry-level loader. Bob
promised to put in a good word for him to his supervisor.

One day Bob encountered Pablo at the terminal, all dressed up in FedEx
clothes for his new delivery job. Fellow loaders were jokingly calling him
“traitor”. It was tongue-in-cheek, an expression of their own aspirations. Bob
began to realize his value as a mentor.

Leaning on Bob for Training

In bed late one night, Bob was busily keying on his laptop.

“What are you doing?” I asked, annoyed at the invasion of computer light and keyboard tapping.

“I’m making some PowerPoint slides. Eddy asked me to put together a five-minute driver safety program for tomorrow morning.”

“How many drivers will be there?”

“Maybe twenty. Twenty-five. Eddy wants them to get more training. Especially after that terrible accident last week.”

I‘d read about it. Bob said the FedEx driver was moving slowly in one lane next to an 18-wheeler. Heavy traffic south of downtown was heading towards
Market. A motorcyclist tried to squeeze between them. He lost his balance and was run over by the FedEx driver, who didn’t see him below. The driver was really messed up about it and ended up quitting.

Eddy was determined his drivers learn how to protect themselves from this
kind of tragedy.

A pattern was emerging. The franchise owner was starting to tap into Bob’s
business know-how. Another approached Bob about forming a specialty
lighting company. Workers were benefitting from his mentoring. These benefits came as a welcome surprise.

Something Else Brewing

But something else was brewing. Just before the holiday season, Bob became interested in the insurance business. “I’m not sure I want to continue this into the New Year,” he said. “It’s causing me some problems with my foot.” He’d had foot surgery for a badly pronated right foot a couple of years before.

So late at night he began to study for an insurance licensing exam—property and casualty. He passed it with a score of 95 per cent and promptly applied for the certificate. Days later, he was back at the computer studying for an additional licensing exam in life and accident/health. Once again, he passed it with good scores and applied for the next certificate.

“Why not?” he asked me. “I want to be able to sell it all.”

“Yes, why not?” I agreed, looking at this tall thin man flashing his optimistic
smile at me.

“I’m rebooting,” he said. “It feels pretty good.”

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