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Friday, June 28, 2002

Bradoween Eve

I don't love myself. In fact, I find my demeanor generally unpleasant. That notwithstanding, I created a holiday for myself. Given, I had a little help from a good buddy of mine. He agreed that I needed a holiday. He helped me with the concept.

It's called Bradoween.

I'll spare you the long story about the naming rights and get to the basics.

Bradoween is a holiday that falls on a Saturday in June. That Saturday is determined by the Bradoween Steering Committee (that's... um...me). It is an all day event that generally doesn't get started until the evening. It centers around something I call Random Icon Appreciation (RIA). Since most holidays have something to appreciate or worship (gods, flags, bunnies, etc), the Bradoween Steering Committee (BSC) decided that Random Icons deserved something as well.

The centerpiece of RIA is Mogoo, a disembodied Chatty Cathy doll head shoved on a chartreuse stake surrounded by tiki torches. We also appreciate a Count Chocula doll (known simply as the Count). This year I'm adding a decapitated lawn ornament and I hear that Marvin the Martian is going to make an appearance as well. No worship is necessary. Just some decent appreciation.

Bradoween also serves as a night for fellowship, craftsmanship, and gamesmanship. I throw a big party (or big by my neighborhood's standards that last year hovered between 50 and 60 people.

Guests are invited to partipate in the Brad-o-Lantern contest (rules stipulate any kind of melon--with the exception of a pumpkin--can be carved to look any way the guest desires as long as the creation contains some sort of liquor or beer bottle). Last year's winner was a hoot...half a honey dew melon was the turtle's shell...it had mini Jack Daniels bottles for legs, a lime for a head, and raisins for eyes.

As dusk turns to night, we have the Photographer Footrace. Last year we pitted two racers against each other in the cul-de-sac. They both carried a stack of ten Beta tapes in one hand. One smoked a cigarette while racing. The other ate a cheeseburger. I almost got kicked out of the Homewners Association for that one. Sixty people on a five-home cul-de-sac, screaming for the drunk guy with the smoke in his mouth and a stack of tapes in his hand to run faster while my former neighbor Pat tried to pull into her driveway...that had to be some kind of violation of my neighborhood covenant.

This year, we're adding an event: Field Sobiety Tests in mid-fellowship. We're also adding Conformity Training. Since we all spend 364 days a year trying to be different from one another, Bradoween serves as the one night we can all be the same. Conformity Training this year suggests all guests wear some sort of beach wear. It should be a grand time.

This, my dear readers, is Bradoween Eve. Though last year was a rousing success (I think I may have seen the sun come up), I'm a little nervous about this year's bash. It's like trying to live up to myself.

So, for the next 39 hours (with the exception of a few hours for something you folks call "work") I will be in full Bradoween Prep Mode. That is cleaning the house, making the food, buying the drinks, preparing the Icons, and ironing my Hawaiian shirt.

So...you're sitting there...looking at your day planner and you're thinking "Damn, that sounds like a good time." Well, friends...almost everybody I know can make it here by car in less than 13 hours (sorry, Colorado). I'll save you a spot in front of Mogoo and make sure you don't get tested for Sobriety.

Just throw on that beach wear and head for the Carolinas.

Mogoo and I will be expecting you.

Thursday, June 27, 2002

Much to say

But no time to say it. Hopefully I will soon blog on the following subjects:

*A New Southern Republican?
*The Pledge of In God We Trust
*All My Rowdy Friends
*Puking and its therapeutic qualities

But...no time. At least for now.

Monday, June 24, 2002

Ah...damn it

If you haven't heard yet about the St. Louis Cardinals pitcher who died this past weekend...he was 33 and supposedly in pretty darned good health. He died in the same hotel I slept in a couple of weeks ago.

I am going to die.

I am not afraid of death. When I go, I go. But, frankly, I'd much prefer to stick around for a while. I'm having a pretty good time with my life and I don't have much desire to visit the great beyond right now.

The thing is...I routinely vandalize my temple. Booze graffiti, fried food toilet paper, and a host of other unmentionable rocks that get thrown through my temple's windows are going to kill me. I'm 28 years old.

Editor's note: This is not an invitation for you to start listing ways in the comments section about how poorly I treat my body. I'm fully aware of it, thank you.

This happens to me once every few years. An old roommate called it "That Fear of Death Thing."

I once lived alone in Jackson, Mississippi. Since there was no one around to complain, I routinely walked around my one bedroom apartment without a shirt. Over the course of a few months, I noticed a strange freckle in my navel. It didn't take long for me to start believing that I had Belly Button Cancer.

As it turned out, the freckle was just a freckle. Guess it had been there for a long time and it just took an expanding waistline for me to see it.

But, oh God!. I was getting fat! Again! Surely my arteries were clogged. My heart working much too hard! Heart disease...a family problem.

Blood pressure...fine. Cholestesterol...fine. Heart rate...fine.

Yet...I'm going to die.

I don't routinely think I'm sick. I make myself sick a lot, but constant problems of hypochondria are not my bag. I don't fall ill very often. And frankly, that scares me. I mean, my body must be storing up all a life's illnesses for one big sha-bang.

I think I need to have a minor illness. Right now.

I'm off to lick a sick person's sweat.

Thursday, June 20, 2002

Missing: Reason

Sixth grade could barely hold me and my parents had to feel lucky we only lived a block from my elementary school. I was an adventured-minded skinny kid and probably should've gotten in a lot more trouble than I ever did.

There were a couple of routes to school for me. Both led into a large field/playground that backed up to my neighborhood. Earlier in the year I had started taking the longer way. My dog Dragon had developed doggie diabetes, gone blind, and eventually deteriorated so badly that my parents were forced to put him out of his misery. I needed good cry on that last morning of Dragon's life and the long way around give me a chance to get it out of my system before trudging to class.

I found I actually preferred the longer path. It gave me more of chance to talk to my buddies as we walked home in the afternoons. It became part of the routine. Everything along that path usually stayed the same.

On one sunny afternoon, Gary and I made the trip and ran smack dab into something unsettling. A van, sitting at the end of the road, right along our path. We knew it didn't belong there. That wasn't nearly as discomforting as the blacked-out windows and the words "Shy Guy" written in airbrush scrawl along one of the doors. If my parents could've drawn me a picture of "trouble," it would've looked just like that van.

We scooted past as quickly as we could, not thinking much about the fact that Gary's little brother probably wasn't far behind us. We thought much more about it later when his brother ran home crying. Someone in that van had tried to get him to go behind those tinted windows. The van was gone when our parents went looking for it. We never saw it again.

Though my parents never talked much about that incident, they did ratchet up the rhetoric when a man suspected of having some child molestation issues moved onto our street. We had already established family secret code words and protectionism took on whole new meaning.

No one ever disappeared, though. No one was ever molested. The hackneyed "parent's worst nightmare" never came to pass.

And if it had, I bet you a buck and bag of Butterfinger BB's that the national media wouldn't have shown up.

There is a debate percolating in media circles now about the amount of attention some news outlets are giving to the case of the missing Utah girl, Elizabeth Smart. It's the same debate that popped up around the time of the Jon Benet Ramsey debacle. They're both rich kids who aren't around anymore. Oh, yeah...and they're white as the snow of their home states.

(continued below)

(continued from above)

Just north of where I now live, a young black girl named Asha Degree disappeared a year or so ago. Gone. Off the face of a North Carolina map. Walked to the store and never came home. She wasn't a runaway. Someone took her. And if you didn't hear about it where you live, don't be surprised. It was hard to hear anything about it down here either. The state line often acts a nice buffer for news that Upstate South Carolinians don't really care about. There were volunteers that looked for her. No one found her. And people in Salt Lake City don't care.

As a newsguy, I can't suggest the national media cover every disappearance or kidnapping. It's impossible. There aren't enough milk cartons--let alone news minutes--to take on the task of helping America find its kids. And I can't say that the national media should give up on trying to cover these things all together. However, I bet you could make a case that there is racial and regional bias when it comes to which of these stories get covered and which do not.

Just chew on these few facts for a second:

*Asha Degree barely scored 12 minutes of news time since she disappeared. Elizabeth Smart gets about that much a night. Asha is black and lives in the impoverished South. Elizabeth is white and lives in a well-to-do neighborhood in Salt Lake City.
*Boston priest gets in trouble, national news. Charleston/Aiken South Carolina priest ADMITS to molesting a kid, doesn't cross the state media borders.
*A Greenwood, South Carolina youth minister is charged with dozens of counts of molesting little boys and video taping it. Dozens of little boys. Guess how many people outside of South Carolina heard about that one?
*Someone kidnapped a black girl in a large northern city around the same time Smart disappeared. Heard about that one yet?

When I was growing up, there was a much greater chance of seeing a rusted pickup truck in my neighborhood's driveway than a Mercedes. We lived in Hillbilly Heaven, not a mountain getaway.

If someone had kidnapped me, my friend, or his little brother that afternoon...I wonder if the networks would've sent Tom Brokaw or Dan Rather?

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

The bottle let me down

It was 3AM and the LED indicator at my bedside was starting to giggle a little bit. It doesn't get much attention on normal nights. Much like my dog and wife, it longs for a few extra meaningful glances a day that I for some reason neglect to give.

In the hours before my new love affair with the alarm clock began I had done all I could to pretend it didn't exist. I drank a few beers to make me sleepy. I watched bad commercial television and even worse television news. I watched cooking shows (they made me hungry). I played Texas Hold'em poker on my computer. I tooled around on the 'net. I listened to a police scanner as bored officers checked up on one false alarm after another. I was awake and my mind was on the verge of overheating.

That was early Tuesday morning.

Tuesday night, I thought a similar approach might work. After all, I was already tired from the night before. So, I played softball in very hot conditions (don't ask how that ended up). I ate a lot of food. I played more cards on the computer and watched some street magician on TLC. The clock started whispering. I refused to look. Instead, I got up and played around on the computer. I thought it might be a good time to start researching the internet porn industry, but my heart just wasn't in it. I slumped back to bed where the dog and the alarm clock were conspiring. I gave them both a conciliatory sideways glance, petted the dog, and turned the alarm clock around. I popped the police scanner earphone in my ear. No false alarms on this humid Wednesday morning. Some guy just shot himself in the stomach with a shotgun. And seven kids in a pickup truck (actually, some aren't in the truck anymore) are scattered all over the road. I stopped listening.

You know you need sleep when a digital alarm clock starts making the tick-tock noise.

This happens to me every once in a while. No matter how tired I am, sleep is out for a long night with the boys and he's not calling home to check in.

Usually during these times of undiagnosed insomnia I start getting a little loopy. I make eyes at people when I shouldn't. I start rhyming words in sentences just to see if I can make myself giggle. I experiment with new approaches to my job, none of which involve taking a nap in the bathroom.

The guilt is unbearable. I have friends who are forced to be awake. Early work shifts. Late work shifts. New children. New life ambition.

Me, I have no excuse. And yet, I stay awake.

More than anything, I find myself not being able to complete a train of thought.

Which makes ending this...um...

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

A PhD, a reporter, and a rodeo clown

I was not the best looking. Nor was I the most likely to succeed. My only distinction: I was the high school senior male with the coolest car. At least that's how the yearbook read. In a town where muscle men took pride in their muscle cars, you might think that was a great honor. Looking back, it was more embarassing than anything else.

Last Saturday was the first high school reunion for my class since we graduated a decade ago. Though I had been looking forward to it for a while. I didn't go. Long trips on short notice don't work well in my line of work unless there is some kind of death or political firestorm involved. And then I'm not paying for the trip.

Today, one of my two best friends from high school and his wife sent me a detailed accounting of the events, the people, and their progress. It was Reunion Recon at its finest. I almost feel like I was there...without all the self-loathing and fear of humiliation.

The report, while quite enlightening, was far from surprising. That Randy Young became a rodeo clown is no great surprise. He always had a flair for the dramatic and he was always quite agile. That Amy Hobbs is about to get her PhD in literature is also no great surprise. She was always a smart cookie with an eye for good writing.

And yet, there are still things that make your nostalgic nerve twitch. An old girlfriend has a seven month-old baby. A quiet girl from school is now a lean, mean, military intelligence machine. The people you used to drink Coke with are now...um... Adult Drinkers like you.

I remember a night 12 years ago that all of that would've seemed like silly talk. Most of that night is only fit for my memory...or imagination. But children, the military...even hard core drinking were farwaway thoughts. Something that didn't fit into whatever I envisioned for the future.

Now some friends are on their second marriages. They have stepchildren.

I never really felt popular in high school. I had a great but small circle of friends who I still treasure today. But there were a lot of weeks I felt very small in that very small place.

I guess I can only wonder now whether I would've felt so small at that reunion. A TV reporter in a mid-size southeastern city doesn't have much frame of reference when it comes to success is a high school classmate's eyes.

Then again...when I graduated I thought I wanted to be an FBI agent.

What the hell did I know?

Monday, June 17, 2002

Braves WIN!

Team Nissan (an Xterra-van of two vehicles and ten people) had a mission. A two hour trip for a three hour game in a city that prides itself as much on being a part of the New South as it does it ability to drive really fast and go nowhere. Team Nissan was headlong into a trip to see the Braves vs. the Red Sox. It left five hours before the game. That would allow for a couple of hours of tailgating before the first pitch.

Three hours after Team Nissan's departure, the ten trippers weren't halfway to the stadium. The Oracles of the Interstate (also known as OTR truck drivers) delivered the dire news. The Georgia DOT had decided to cut four lanes of traffic into one for about 30 miles outside the city. The back-up was four hours long. Team Nissan made a decision to use the best part of the Georgia higheway system...the median. The U-turn was the best decision of the day.

Thirty minutes later Team Nissan settled down in an Athens, GA sports bar. The Braves won. And so did Team Nissan.

Sticking with the age old axiom (what happens in a college town stays in a college town), suffice it to say Team Nissan's score card looked a little like this:

Sports bar tab: $150 (not including freebies from a well-tipped waitstaff of one)
Games of pool: Two
Tattoos: One
Piercings: One
Ticket price of one of our favorite bands that coincidentally happened to be playing in Athens that night: $5
Phone calls to far away friend who couldn't make the trip: Um...six...maybe seven.
Return time to Greenville (when we had initially planned on being back to town at midnight): 4AM
A night that made me feel like a college kid again: Priceless.

Wednesday, June 12, 2002

If politicians were purple...

...I'd be in the middle of a Jimi Hendrix acid trip.

Good gamblers, hard drinkers, and hard-line truck drivers know the feeling in my head very well. It is a state of hypervigilance. Wide-eyed sleep. Dreamscapes of pure reality butressed by occasional hallucinations.

I've spent the last 48 hours in constant motion, sleeping only when the city lights dim, and only departing from hyper-reality long enough to suck down a six pack and watch the first half of the Godfather. Much more and I may, too, sleep with the fishes.

I've been plagued by technological gremlins and broken lines of communication. Oddly, I've done a fly-by over frustration and am using my afterburners to put yesterday in my jet wash. As much as I may need sleep, I don't crave it right now. Like a long run of good cards (after a series of bad beats), or a particularly cold beer at four in the morning...I am on a self-destructive roll that has decent potential to end in disaster. And I can't find the desire to stop. I want to keep moving.

For the well-rested reader...I've been covering South Carolina's GOP primary since about 9:30 Tuesday morning. I literally perspired through an undershirt, a dress shirt, and a suit jacket last night. I'm wearing a friend's cornsilk blue button-up right now. I've been to our state's capital and back. Tomorrow I embark on another long trip to a federal courthouse in Aiken. A federal judge will hear arguments about plutonium shipments to South Carolina.

My body has rebelled on me in the past. My beer gut raised a flag of independence. My clutzy feet wrote their own national anthem. I'm not uncertain that some sort of rebellion... a coup de tat if you will...may be underway.

Keep an eye out for me on the news. I'll be the guy in the straight jacket.

Monday, June 10, 2002

Southern politics

You don't have to be a southerner to understand southern politics, but it helps if you have lived below the Mason-Dixon line for a few years.

I have lived in the South since 1997. Since then I have watched an Attorney General play himself in a movie. I have heard a Governor (after being questioned about blatant infidelity) threaten to beat a reporter's ass. A few years before I arrived in the South, a mayoral candidate paid a hitman to kill his former law partner and his city councilperson wife. In Tennessee, a Senatorial candidate had his opponent knocked off. And just to the west in Georgia, a former candidate for county sheriff is under investigation for the murder of a long-time lawman.

Politics in the South is a dirty and bloody as the Lewis vs. Tyson fight (and regarding the Lewis Tyson IS ON promotion...Tyson IS ON the canvas and I couldn't be happier about it).

In less than 24 hours, South Carolina voters will go to the polls to begin picking who will be the state's next Governor. And if anyone thinks leeches could let more blood, you are living blissfully in the North. Or at least the Midwest.

The dirty attack ads have already been running for a few days. Our current Governor is threatening to act as a personal, physical roadblock to some large shipments of plutonium to this state. Seven people are vying for his job. I compare them to a classroom...the quiet bully, the class clown, the tattletale, the rich kid, the high school quarterback, and the crazy girl who carries a big bag. Put these candidates on stage and it is the South Carolina Breakfast Club. John Hughes could have a field day with these people.

Tomorrow morning I will wake up and leap off the high dive of reason into a pool of southern politics. Primary Tuesday will be followed by several months of political coverage during which time you might hear me uttering phrases like:

* "I don't care where you're from, southern politics is not a boring subject."
* "What do you mean you don't care?"
* "Stop giving my stories away."
* "I don't care if you only have thirty seconds of news time to give me, this is important."
* "Would somebody PLEASE listen to me for six seconds?"

See, here's the thing: Poltical reporting is as close as you can get to be a sportscaster without being shoved to the end of the newscast. It has personality. It has a stated objective. And we keep score.

Crime reporting is actually my first love and always will be. But during a good southern political season, it's not a stretch to imagine crime and politics meeting in a dirty marriage. Or at least for a torrid one-night stand in an interstate hotel room.

Thursday, June 06, 2002

The morality of mauling

I just watched terrorists saw off Daniel Pearl's head.

A Boston alternative 'zine decided to run the whole fucking video. Daniel Pearl talking. Daniel Pearl being attacked. Daniel Pearl's head hanging from a terrorist's hand.

You won't find much a bigger a proponent of Freedom of the Press. It should go without saying that if we let a government censor what is obviously ugly, then we give it the freedom to censor other things it doesn't like.

Perhaps I should be the last one to criticize. I can't count the number of times I've been standing at a murder scene and said this to my bosses back at the station: "They're pulling out the bodies right now. We should be back in just a bit."

I shouldn't try to write this so soon after watching the video. I'm physically disgusted. Yet, I know that I can't criticize. I could've just as easily taken the route my wife did. She said, "I can't watch that."

Was it morbid curisoity on my part? Was it a part of a journalistic mission of some sort?

I've always said I would watch a state-conducted execution if allowed. I feel like I report on the death penalty enough that I should have some frame of reference for what actually happens when that penalty is carried out. The closest I've come to that mission is a tour of the death chamber and hearing first hand accounts of executions.

I should accept that I live in a country full of blood-thirsty citizens. We like violence. We like mayhem. Do we like watching a journalist being decapitated? I dunno.

(continued below)

When I set out to write The Morality of Mauling, I had a different subject in mind. Lewis vs. Tyson.

Full disclosure: I couldn't have much more animosity for an "athlete" than I have for Mike Tyson. And my animosity extends to the entire "sport" of boxing.

I think there was likely a day (I'm not sure when) that boxing was a pure as other games. It is a gladiatorial struggle on canvas. A bloody form of movement art and strength. A fellow blogger put it best when he said, "We like nothing better than watching two very strong men beat the bloody hell out of each other."

And what Mike Tyson doesn't do to kill the sport, Don King does. That should be reason enough to stop caring.

So, now the moral dilemma: Do I actually give my money to these jokers? Do I gather with friends on Saturday night and pump another fifty bucks into a system I hate. I would only do it to watch Mike Tyson bleed on the canvas. I would really like to see that happen.

As usual, I don't have any clear answers. I'll likely do what feels right...or fun...when the time comes.

But, the next time someone says, "They put the whole Daniel Pearl video on the net," maybe I'll just hop on E-Bay and go in search of more Otis Elevator shirts and hats.

Wednesday, June 05, 2002

Freon, fear, a faux-pimps

Heat exhaustion took on a new meaning last night. I stripped to my boxers, collapsed on top of the sheets, and begged a higher power to knock me unconcious. Three consecutive nights in a tract-home sauna took their toll. I stopped thinking about how selfish I was being...you know, when the homeless don't have air conditioning and the homebound don't have money to pay for it. Just as I started feeling truly sorry for myself, I fell mercifully asleep.

This morning Screw-Job Repair guy showed up 45 minutes late, but was kind enough to buy me drink before sticking it to me. In the end (no pun intended), it didn't cost that much. I just had a freon leak that had caused my AC compressor to overheat. A hundred twenty-five bucks and I now have chilly 59 degree air pumping out of my vents. My dog is about to be quite pleased.

Ah, the minor troubles in life. They can frustrate you so much. A leaky faucet. A moldy shower curtain. An unexpected bill. They make you want to just give up and fall asleep.

And then you stumble on something that makes you feel like a selfish oaf.

A colleague of mine wrote this. He writes for our local alternative weekly. He usually writes good investigative features and has a lot of freedom because he doesn't fall under the major media umbrella. This week he wrote a personal story in blog form. And talk about making my problems seem small...

After you take a chance to read it, you might need something to make you smile. It's pretty heavy. With that in mind, I offer this from my buddy Marty. I'm afraid to ask how he stumbled upon it. But as he instructed me...be sure to check out the BLING section.

Now, on to the more mundane.

Monday, June 03, 2002

Summer fruit and the dust bowl children

Sometime around the time John Belushi was finding a way to make himself a tragic hero, I sweating my pre-pubescent balls off.

In the early years, we were not a family of means. We were staunchly middle class. We lived in a one-story ranch in a lower middle class neighborhood. There would be a time later in my life in which my parents struggled to hide the fruits of their labor. But in the early years, the fruits of their labor were just enough to make a dinner time fruit salad. Cable was unthinkable. VCR's were laughable. And air conditioning came by way of a wall unit or a late night attic fan. And that was if the electric bill wasn't too high the month before.

At the time, my parents did their best to explain. Grandma Willis was a dust bowl child. She and her family lived as dirt farmers. The Grapes of Wrath was not fiction to her. If she could live such a life and live to be so old, then we could do without early-80's luxuries.

But, how quickly we become giant wussies. As the family business started to succeed, the luxuries popped into the home. First cable, then a VCR, then a home addition complete with central air conditioning. The fruits of the labor were ripe and we were picking. We still used the attic fan in the spring and fall months, but on those 93 degree July days we had a full-home air conditioner and we turned that mama on.

I should not be surprised by my level of sheer wussiness. Life was pretty easy form there on out. I lived in homes, dorms, and apartments that had all the amenities. We only turned off the AC as a matter of late-May pride. Who needed an air conditioner when we could buy beer?

Now, I own my own home. Buying a home without central air was silly talk. Amazing...coming from dirt farming roots that I would consider central air a necessity. But I did.

It worked damned well for the first summer we lived on Mt. Willis. Kept the house a cool 72 degrees. And this year...well, something is broken.

I returned from Chicago to an oven. My puppy was quite literally a hot dog. She was begging for some cool, cool relish.

I walked upstairs twenty minutes ago to play my new guitar (thank you, honey). I'm now half-naked and considering going the full monty here in a moment. The downstairs digital thermometer says it is 90 degrees. It must be ten degrees warmer up here. Typing is making me sweat.

The repair guy (AKA The guy who fancies my bottom a little too much) can't come until Wednesday. I'm afraid my dog is going to die. I'm afraid I am going to die.

I'm fully convinced that summer heat has a lot to do with the murder rate. And we wonder why a vast majority of murders are committed by poor people. Heat kills, friends.

The funny part is...I would give up a summer of AC for a week with an attic fan. I loved that thing. Late night white noise shoving an artificial breeze through my window.

And if this is all I can find to bitch about...it should be a pretty good summer.

The Accidental Tourist

It would've been very easy for my anniversary gift to my wife to end up in fatal failure. I bought her a plane ticket for a very short trip to Chicago (I was already there for a business trip). And then, as if I had spent weeks planning the perfect evening...the night turned somewhat magical.

The short version goes like this...sunset drinks on the 96th floor of the Hancock Tower. We followed that with a walk through downtown Chicago. That was followed by a superb fresh seafood dinner near Chicago's Magnificent Mile. We closed the public part of the evening with a few hours bellied up to a piano at the Redhead piano bar. It couldn't have been much better.

I should stop trying to plan things. It seems like life goes much better when I fly by the seat of my pants.

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Rapid Eye Reality is the personal blog of writer Brad Willis, aka Otis.
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