Choices

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I’ve always been called judgmental. I’ve been told that unless I have walked a mile in another person’s shoes, I have no right to judge. I’ve been told I’m heartless and that I should just forgive.

I do not.

This is a story of two kids from a bad family. Really bad. Drugs. Neglect. Malnutrition. Surviving on nothing. Their father – a very talented poet and musician – soothed his aching ennui with all sorts of opiates and alcohol. Their mother wasn’t much different. They lived in a hovel. They were dirty, and their teeth were rotten. They did what they had to do to survive.

Then one day, their grandpa came and offered the parents a deal: get clean, go into rehab, we’ll watch the kids, and  you can have them back after you’re well. The parents declined. So their grandpa did what any decent, loving, caring person would do – he rescued the kids and took them to their aunt’s house. The aunt wasn’t even 30 years old at that point. She and her husband had a little boy of their own, who was only about 3 years old. They were starting out, but they were doing OK, and they opened their hearts to two kids they did not know.

Those kids became my daughters.

When I was little, I used to idolize my brother – my dad’s son from his first marriage. I loved him so much! He taught me how to read. He opened my heart up to a world of music and poetry. I was proud of him beyond all reason. When he was on TV back in the USSR playing guitar and singing, I ran around to all my friends in kindergarten and bragged.

I’m writing about this now, because I need to get it off my chest. I need to put it down on paper (on in electronic form, as the case may be), because I’m tired of explaining to people why I’m really not heartless or horrible, why I really do understand addiction, and why I never, EVER forgive it.

I found out my brother was an addict much later in life – after we left the USSR and were forced to leave him behind, because he was legally an adult and stayed with his mother. When I was stationed in Germany, I found out my dad was forced to spend retirement money to get my brother and his wife out of a Russian jail, where they were incarcerated, along with their young daughters, on drug charges. When I came back from Germany in 1998, I met my then-9 year old niece for the first time, when she was visiting my parents for the summer. Their family had moved to Israel from Russia, and she was allowed to spend the summer with my parents. I had never met the younger one, but my dad told me horror stories about their living conditions. I felt sorry for them.

A couple of years later, I found out things got really bad for these kids. They were living in squalor, doing what they could to survive. I offered to take them in – to adopt them and give them a life they couldn’t possibly have in Israel with their addict parents. I wanted so badly to save them! To give them an opportunity to grow up healthy and happy, with a chance at success.

They came to live with us at ages 11 and 5. I have to give a lot of credit to my ex. He opened his heart to these kids. He didn’t hesitate to love them. He made the decision along with me to give these kids a chance.

The Redhead also opened his little heart. He was told he was getting sisters – that things would change a bit at home, but that he would still be loved as he always was. Our family would just get bigger. It was a huge adjustment for him, but he embraced them in the purest way possible.

I didn’t understand then – just like I don’t understand now – why everyone thought it was such a big deal. I still strongly believe that given the choice, anyone would save these kids! They’re kids. Nothing their parents did was their fault. They deserved the chance to flourish. Why not help?

But yet, all my parents’ friends thought it was such a mitzvah! They thought it was such a huge deal! They showered us with support, furniture, clothes, toys, etc. for our new kids. It was overwhelming and very kind how many different people stepped up to help! The girls wanted for nothing.

We got them both counseling. We felt ill-equipped to handle the explanations about their parents by ourselves. We didn’t really know how much they understood about their former lives, or why they were forced to come here to the United States and live with strangers.

It wasn’t easy. Anyone who tells you that adopting two brand new children and integrating them into your family is seamless is lying.

There was a language barrier. The eldest one spoke Russian, so I was able to communicate with her. The youngest babbled in an odd combination of Hebrew, Russian and incomprehensible baby talk. She was never taught – at 5 years old – how to speak.

There were lice, there was malnutrition, there were rotten teeth from said malnutrition. There was the fact that the little one didn’t know how to use utensils, and just grabbed any food she got off her plate with her little hands like a savage and shoved it in her mouth.

There was stealing – hoarding really. It’s a survival mechanism. When you are used to doubting if you’re going to get another meal, or aren’t sure if anyone will come home to care for you, the tendency is to hoard whatever you find.

There was bad personal hygiene, and lack of any kind of acknowledgment of authority. They wouldn’t do their homework, because they “didn’t want to.” They didn’t know how to brush their teeth or wash themselves. All that had to be taught.

There were fights. When the 3 year old Redhead took a pencil from our younger daughter, she stabbed him with it. She didn’t know it was wrong. She didn’t know that you could really hurt someone. She had no concept of life or harm. She just knew survival.

She learned. She adjusted.

The older one…

That was worse.

It started out with outright lies. All the time. The child didn’t and couldn’t tell the truth – not even about the weather. She was cold and calculating – even when she learned English and began to integrate into our neighborhood, our town, and her schools. When I lost my baby daughter at 32 weeks, was hospitalized and had to deliver a stillborn, the entire family was there to support us. She coldly looked at my dad, and asked him if he would take them to the fair that was in town. Not a shred of remorse or sympathy.  She smeared feces and menstrual blood on the walls of the bathroom. She sneaked out in the middle of the night. She became sexually promiscuous. No amount of counseling and love and understanding helped. She felt entitled to everything she was given and demanded more. When she was caught in a misdeed, she blamed her background, with a cunning “You know my past. You know why I do this,” as if bringing up her painful history would somehow make me too ashamed to punish her.

Her past became her excuse for everything. She had no remorse beyond being caught or punished. She stole allowance from her brother and sister, started seeing a pedophile who was 10 years her senior, with a rap sheet and a history of corrupting young girls, manipulated adults around her into having sympathy by cutting her wrists, and then parading around with sweat bands on her wrists to draw attention to what they couldn’t see, but were to assume were scars from her ennui. When confronted, she dropped hints about her life with her parents – hints that intimated she was sexually abused, used as a drug mule, etc. She never said it outright, but whenever she was caught in yet another lie, shoplifting, or sneaking out, the hints invariably came out.

Feel sorry for me. I’ve been abused. I’ve been sexually assaulted. It’s not my fault.

When she finally got a part time job to pay for the car for which my ex co-signed against my better judgment, she told us she was waiting tables in a restaurant. When she disappeared for three days without phone contact, we found out she was stripping.

The drugs and the booze followed. Worse yet, she got pregnant, and was apparently doing drugs while pregnant and while breastfeeding.

And then she started giving drugs to her little sister – the little sister who idolized her – the little sister, who was still confused deep inside about why her real parents abandoned her – the little sister, who was conflicted and sad and emotionally vulnerable – the little sister who was nursing demons of her own.

She obviously did not want to be the only miserable wretch ruining her life, so she gave her little sister pot, and Percocet, and Methodone… She almost destroyed the child, screwed with her mind, talked about hiring a lawyer to take her away from us, telling her she was the only real family she had, and that “blood was thicker than water.”

Choices…

Some tell me that She Who Must Not Be Named was destined to become the kind of twisted, manipulative human being she became.

I was told, she was hardwired by life with her drug addict parents.

I was told she couldn’t overcome her past, and therefore I should understand and forgive the present.

No.

I’ve known people who came from truly traumatic and hurtful situations, beaten, forced into drugs, and worse. They clawed their way back out of the mire, with fewer resources and opportunities than she had – with no counseling, no help, no loving family giving them every chance to change. They came back from addition – sometimes with help from friends and doctors – but they came back to live productive, loving, fruitful lives.

This one… she had everything – People who loved her, who got her help, who cared enough to insist that she go to school and learn personal responsibility, and who gave her a real childhood! She had a family who forgave her time after time. She had a family who spent thousands of dollars to make her healthy, who ensured she had all the help and support she needed.

And yet, she chose drugs and lies. She chose to try to ruin her sister. She CHOSE not to take advantage of everything she was given, and instead to demand…

…to demand respect she did not earn, to demand support and money, to demand a path back into her lives, and to emotionally blackmail us with her child, threatening we would never seen him again, if she did not get unfettered access to our lives.

No.

The choices we make dictate the lives we lead.

She made hers. They were fully informed choices, made with the presence of mind to understand the consequences.

She chose to start doing drugs – knowing full well about her parents’ history. She chose to get pregnant. She chose to snort Percocet and God knows what else.

She chose not to fight, but to surrender. She chose the easy way – demanding money, support, love and respect she did not earn, and holding her kid as hostage to get it.

She made the conscious choice to try and pull her sister into the muck with her, because misery loves company, and “blood is thicker than water.”

And it’s not addiction that forced that choice on her. It’s the evil in her own soul.

No. I have no sympathy. Those choices were made with full knowledge and intent. Those choices weren’t dictated by drugs or demons. They were fully conscious, manipulative, logical, calculated choices made specifically to gain the unearned – no matter what the cost.

To those who say I should forgive, I say, “No.”

You don’t forgive evil. You don’t forgive conscious choices made without regard for anyone. You don’t forget the intentional efforts to destroy other people.

That’s not addiction, and that’s not drugs. It’s choices. Cold, calculated choices.

Addiction may eventually become a “disease,” but the initial choice to pick up that pipe, that syringe, or that bottle is yours. It’s a conscious choice. It’s also a conscious choice not to fight, but rather take the easy way out, no matter whom it harms.

My Sarah fought. She fought the demons. She overcame them. She won.

She is a United States Marine, dedicated, focused, determined to succeed, and so proud!

She fought like hell. Her path was fraught with fear, tears, failure and defiance, but she fought and she won in the end.

My pride in her is not just the pride a mother feels for a child who has dedicated her life to serving her country and protecting the freedoms and opportunities this nation provides.

My pride in her is also the pride a mother feels when she sees her child bloody her knuckles, shred her soul, and win the battle for her life in the end. She accomplished this. She put her heart and soul into clawing her way out of the darkness, and she made it.

The other one… there’s no forgiving that. There’s no forgiving the choices she made, the destruction she has wrought, and the heartache she intentionally caused.

They were hers. Solely hers, and no one else’s.

Through this journey, I learned that forgiveness is a trust – that it’s not an entitlement, but something to be earned. It’s not a good deed, and I have no interest in it.

Forgiveness is gained through the choices one makes.

You can condemn me for casting her out. I don’t care.

You can call me judgmental. I don’t care about that either.

I will not condone evil or sanction it with my forgiveness.

Something good out of something bad

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When you lose an animal, part of your heart gets torn out. They really are furry children, who rely on humans in every way, and when they take you as their human, they hold your heart in their furry little paws forever.

That’s how I’ve felt all week after having to put my son’s best feline buddy to sleep, but I knew – after having felt her little body struggle agonizingly to draw every breath – that it was the right thing to do. I couldn’t let her suffer. She didn’t deserve that after 16 years of love, friendship and joy.

I initially solicited donations to help me with Mac’s medical bills. Overall, they came out to $5000, which was quite a bit. Through the GoFundMe site I created, and through this blog, my generous friends and readers and even random strangers who stumbled across the posts contributed $2400 to help me pay that huge bill. The love and support has been overwhelming.

We can pay off the rest of her bill through CareCredit, so that’s not an issue, but there’s a huge part of me that desperately wants her death to mean something more – something greater. I want something positive to come out of all that heartache.

So instead of shutting down the fundraiser, I changed it. I found an amazing animal rescue organization in Northern Virginia. HART or Homeless Animals Rescue Team  is a non-profit, no-kill animal rescue/support group that takes in and finds loving homes for abused and unwanted furfaces. According to their website:

HART works with local veterinarians, foster homes, kennels, and trainers to provide temporary housing, medical care and, where appropriate, training for our animals until s/he is placed in a loving, carefully-screened new home. HART takes in older, sick, and injured animals as well as the readily adoptable and never takes just the pups and kittens, leaving mom behind. We seek to direct our resources where they are most needed and to alleviate or prevent suffering wherever we find it.

HART is a worthy organization, so the rest of the money I raise toward the $5000 goal I set for Mac’s medical bills will go to HART.

Every last penny.

I don’t want her death to have been in vain. I want to do something for the homeless, abused, lonely animals looking for loving families with whom to spend their lives, so I figure if I can raise another $2500 and give it to HART, Mac’s death will have meant something more than just tears, grief and agony.

So there it is. Something good comes out of something bad.

You guys have been beyond generous to me and to my family. But now I ask you to direct that generosity – as much as you possibly can – to sweet, loving, lonely, abused and abandoned animals who need your help. Please go to GoFundMe and donate to help save as many homeless animals as possible in Northern Virginia.

I’ve changed the donation page, but the photos and the updates of my gorgeous little girl are still on there.

Please help save some really deserving, beautiful critters in her name. I know she would be so happy to see the love of humans who helped her so much also touch other innocent fur babies!

Here’s the site again. I’m taking nothing for myself, and will forward everything to HART. If you can’t contribute anything to this worthy cause right now, I understand. Times are pretty hard all over. That said, if you do nothing more than share the link to the page with everyone you know, I would be forever grateful!

Thank you to all.

Goodbye

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I received a call from the hospital this morning telling me that Mac had taken a turn for the worse. She was struggling to breathe, and our doctor did not think they could do anything else for her, since she did not respond to chemotherapy.

Rob and I were with her, holding her and stroking her as she fell asleep in my arms for the last time

RIP, my beautiful little friend. I swore I would never allow you to suffer, and I kept my promise.

We will all love you for eternity.

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It’s about love (Scroll down for an update)

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Sixteen years ago on a sunny day we brought home a little ginger kitten from the local shelter. We named her McGwire, because it was the same day as Mark McGwire hit his 62nd home run. And she was a ginger, so it fit.

The Redhead was not quite a year old then, and she was only a few months. From the moment he laid eyes on this tiny little ginger ball of fur and poked her with his pudgy little finger, she was his kitty.

They grew up together. McGwire, or Mac, as we like to call her, didn’t like very many people. She shunned most everyone except her immediate family. But, oh how she loved the Redhead! You could see her little head perk up every time he walked into the room. He would pick her up and hold her like a baby in his arms, while kissing her smushy little face. She licked his fingers and rubbed her furry head against his hands. If he happened to have his room door closed, barring her from entry, you could hear her yowls from other floors in the house as she pounded her little paws against his room door until he opened it.

Two gingers

Two gingers

I can’t begin to describe the swelling in my heart when I would look in on the Redhead sleeping every morning before going to work and see two gingers on that bed – a small feline and my son. She would sleep with him every night, and when she heard me peek through the door, she would lift her head to ensure that no one was out to hurt her human, look at me, and peacefully close her eyes again.

The bond between an animal and her human.

Last week I had to take Mac to the vet, because she refused to eat. At first I thought it was because she was grumpy with us for leaving her with Rob’s step brother while we went to Vegas. After all, he’s not us. But no. She refused to eat again, and began vomiting spectacularly green, foamy liquid after a few days. Her calcium and kidney levels are off the charts, and she’s so weak, that the internal medicine doc put her on a feeding tube. They’re running a bunch of tests – ultrasounds, blood tests, biopsies, x-rays…

Mac is still alive and being fed through a tube. So far her treatment is costing us $4000. It’s a lot. Who has that kind of money lying around? And it could be more before her calcium returns to normal. But I refuse to let my friend die because it’s too expensive to help her. I refuse to break my son’s heart because I couldn’t afford to save his buddy. I won’t go back on my promise to care for this beautiful sweet creature, because of money. When you make a commitment to an animal, it’s no different than a commitment to a human being. These are creatures completely dependent on you for food, shelter and care. Would you really let them die, because it was too expensive to help them live?

Poor, sick kitty.

Poor, sick kitty.

It’s not about money. It’s about love.

Look, you’ve seen me ask for support for my friends on this blog when they needed help healing their furry friends. I’m good at asking for help for others, but not so good for myself. However, I’m also smart enough to know when I can’t handle things on my own. $4000 is a lot of money, and it may wind up being much more than that.

So I’m swallowing my pride and asking for your help today. Help me save my friend. Help me heal her – something the doctors say is very possible. Help me give my son a few more years with his best friend. She is in the hospital. She needs tests. She needs IV fluids and already has a feeding tube. She needs medication to control her calcium. And then there’s the cancer.  It’s very likely that she has it, according to the hospital. So she will need chemotherapy.  They’re taking care of this soft, sweet, dedicated creature, but the cost is ridiculously high, and I need help.

If it helps me save Mac, I will resort to begging, and that’s essentially what I’m doing, because when you love something this much, you swallow your pride. I’m not above begging for my friend, because I love her so much. And I love my son, and I want to do everything I can to help him have a few more years with his little feline sister.

I know $4000 is a lot of money, but I also know the generosity of people who understand what it’s like to love and commit yourself to an animal. I will pay it. I will do whatever I have to do to make her well again, but I need help.  I did create a GoFundMe site to raise money for Mac, and I have shared it with Facebook friends and Twitter followers.

There is also a PayPal button in the upper right hand corner of this blog where you can help as well.

I know times are hard. I know today’s economy has a lot of folks worried about their finances. I know I’m asking a lot. But anything you can do at all to help me save the Redhead’s best friend would be appreciated. Anything at all.

Please help me live to watch TV for a few more years!

Please help me live to watch TV for a few more years!

Anything I don’t use for Mac will be donated to a no-kill shelter to help other animals find loving families.

UPDATE: Well, we’re going to start her on chemotherapy. It’s just a shot, and it doesn’t harm her in any way. She won’t lose her hair and she won’t vomit like humans do. But the doctor hopes that in a few days, she will start eating and recovering. The one thing I don’t want to do is keep her on a feeding tube forever. I can’t imagine this is good for her quality of life in any way, but I guess I’ll need to talk to her doctors some more. If she doesn’t start eating, even after the chemotherapy, what do we do?

30 Day Ab Challenge – Starting Sunday June 1

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I’m in. anyone else?

Abs

30 Day Ab Challenge – Starting Sunday June 1.

After Action Report: car buying

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Well, those of you who have been following the saga of the Mercedes from Hell will be happy to know that the piece of shit is gone. History. Sayonnara.

No, I didn’t drive it into a lake or into the Potomac, although I seriously considered it. The Redhead persuaded me not to do that, lest I get arrested or something. He’s a smart kid, that one. But we did trade that thing in for another… JEEP!

YES! JEEP!

Why a Jeep? Because it’s a Jeep, DUH! An awesome, sturdy workhorse that runs and runs and runs. Plus it’s infinitely cool, and can drive up an icy hill (or in and out of a muddy swamp – something the hunk of junk Mercedes just couldn’t handle.

When we last left that rancid piece of crap, it needed new rotors, it had leaky seals, and worn rear spring link bushings. I decided to get the most pressing things done first, so I had new rotors put on it, as well as a new rear tire. I was going to fix the other stuff with subsequent paychecks.

And then… in April… the Redhead’s “service engine” light came on. You ever get that feeling of dread when you take your car to the mechanic? Like you know you’re about to get heinous news that will force you to decide between buying groceries and fixing your car that week? Yeah, I had that feeling. And sure nuff…

…the Mercedes dealership told the Redhead he needed two new fuel pumps at a cost of $1200. Well… I’d had enough. It wasn’t going to happen. I told him to get that car out of there and never look back. He did, but not before I was forced to pay a $135 fee for them having done nothing at all other than look at the vehicle and keep it overnight, because even though the place closes at 8pm, apparently the service shop people left earlier and didn’t specify if they had finished putting the car back together).

I then called Benz Elite, which is the most awesome automotive shop I think I’ve ever had to deal with. They took a look at the hunk of junk and told us it did need new fuel pumps, because the sensors went bad on the old ones, but it definitely wouldn’t cost $1200! That was welcome news. But at this point, I’d just kind of had it. I told the Redhead that if one more bloody thing goes wrong with this car, it was going away. Far away. And then I made the appointment to get the fuel pumps replaced.

On the morning of our appointment at Benz Elite, the Redhead got into the car, turned the key in the ignition… attempted to turn the key in the ignition… tried and tried again to turn the key in the ignition… But nothing happened. The key wouldn’t turn. I called Benz Elite and explained the situation. They said it was either the key, or the electronic ignition switch, but they couldn’t determine which until they saw the car. Enter the towing company, dispatched by my insurance company.

The Benz from hell was towed to Benz Elite, where they determined that the electronic ignition switch was bad. They called to see how quickly the supplier would get the part. They were told that they will no longer be selling electronic keys or ignition switches to private shops – just Mercedes service centers.  Seriously. Not even kidding. Mercedes will get their money one way or another, apparently.

So………. off we went to the nearest Mercedes service center. I think my anger was fairly palpable, because when the service guy told me it would cost $1200 to repair that ignition switch, and another $260 to replace the key, I just about lost it.  Needless to say, I did not pay that much.

After that fiasco of a morning, the Redhead and I headed to the gym, where he asked me, “This is the straw that broke the camel’s back, isn’t it?”

Yep!

When we got home, I handed him the keys to my Jeep Wrangler, and told him to practice driving it. He already knew how to drive a stick, but he just needed to get more proficient on hills. Within the hour, he came back and declared that he was confiscating the Jeep for good! Apparently, the kid likes driving it. And he drove it, and drove it, and drove it, and now it is his.

Know why?

BECAUSE JEEP!

And because the Mercedes from hell has been traded in for another JEEP! And that Jeep is mine!

So what have I learned from this fiasco?

1 – Deal with a reputable dealer. I got the Jeep from an Acura dealership that happened to have the vehicle on its lot. I told them how much I wanted to spend. They worked with me, and I got a very fair deal. They also gave me a repair record of everything they did to this car before they sold it.

2 – If the dealer won’t let you take the car to another mechanic, run away. The Acura place let me have the car overnight, encouraged me to drive it around and allowed me to take it to the mechanic of my choice. I also had another buddy, whom I trust implicitly, and who knows way more about cars than most people, look at it as well.

3 – As the State Police officer, who is in charge of the inspection stations in the area told me: don’t deal with any of these shady dealers who open up used car lots and who have their buddies do any work that’s needed.

4 – Mercedes sucks! It may be a tank. It may be safe. It may be a luxury car that’s very pretty, but anytime anything goes wrong with it, expect at least a $1000 repair! Screw that. Plus, a Mercedes that a dealer tells you is in near “mint” condition can literally fall apart mere weeks after you drive it off the lot.  Take it to your mechanic. If he won’t let you and tries to assure you that the car is great, see #2.

I did a lot of stupid things when getting this car. I stupidly assumed that the Mercedes would last and last and last (aided oh-so-helpfully by the dealer who assured me what kind of good deal I was getting). I stupidly assumed that him taking the car to HIS mechanic was sufficient, and that taking the car to MY mechanic would be superfluous. I stupidly bought the damn Mercedes, because I wanted the Redhead to be safe and happy, and because it really did appear to be a good deal. Right up until it wasn’t. I stupidly trusted the dealer, who postured himself to be extremely knowledgeable about cars.

I will not make that mistake again.

Because JEEP!

A good business

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It occurred to me today that with all the BS I’ve been dealing with as far as bad businesses go, I have failed to make mention of good ones! There are plenty of those in the area, so I’m happy to give them a plug.

One such place is Sonic Sound in Arlington. This is a place that installs car audio, and since I got the Redhead a new receiver for his car for Christmas, I figured I’d call and see what it would cost to put the thing in this car.

I spoke with Kevin Juarez. I’m not sure if he’s the owner or the manager, but he couldn’t have been more helpful! We spoke for a while on the phone, I explained to him what I got, the car model and year and what I needed. I was disappointed when he said that if I had that receiver installed, I may experience an issue with sound degradation. But he was honest with me, and I appreciated that. We then discussed just putting an auxiliary jack in the car. He quoted me a price, and told me to go ahead and have the Redhead bring the car in.

I am more than thrilled with the results! Not only did they examine the car and determined that they could indeed put in the new receiver with no sound degradation, but they also charged the Redhead less than what they had originally quoted. That’s right. Less. Not only that, but they did the job in time to send him off to work on time.

The treated the Redhead with respect and kindness, even though he’s just a ginger kid. They did the job well. They did it quickly. And they did it without trying to jack up the price!

I can’t thank them enough for their professionalism, their courtesy and their skill, and I’m thrilled to give them a plug here, because they’re nothing short of fantastic. I’m betting that’s how they’ve been in business for 14 years!

So, thank you Sonic Sound!

They know how to take care of their customers, and I highly recommend these guys if you’re in the area!

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