If There Are No Coincidences, What Do You Call It?

All right, full disclosure: this wasn’t the post I’d planned.

I had planned on writing a post on an entirely different subject. It was going to be insightful, thought-provoking, perhaps a bit controversial, given the subject matter… it was going to be something you’d remember.

But this isn’t that post.

Why? Because I’m a lazy ass.

Well, two reasons: One, because I’m a lazy ass. And two, because I just got one of those “whoa” moments. Read On


A Dusty Little Secret

I had a secret, and I gave it away to a stranger in the dark.

This year’s trek to Burning Man was markedly different from my first journey last year. Most notably – I was not burdened with a heavy heart, as I was my virgin year. This year, I was joyous and happy and I took a newbie with me — and seeing the burn through her eyes was like seeing it for the first time myself. They say every Burn is different, and so far that appears to be true. Read On

The Lunch Box Oracle

If a kid’s lunch box reveals something about their future personality development, then for me, the writing was on the wall pretty early: I was gonna be an odd guy.

Back when I was young, lunch boxes were metal, rectangular containers, like miniature suitcases, usually with an accompanying thermos for a beverage. The paint used to decorate them was probably lead based and fully toxic, but they were cool, they were fun, and they were much sturdier than the old brown paper sack option.

Go on eBay and you can find classic, retro lunch boxes going for hundreds of dollars to grownups yearning to possess them, either for the sentimental value or to add to a collection of related memorabilia. It’s not often that I see children with the metal rectangular suitcase lunch boxes anymore – nowadays it seems everyone is going for the miniature thermal coolers or flexible nylon bags to take their lunches to school, complete with frozen ice packs and plastic bottles to hold the beverage. No themes, no characters, no imagination – but the Gogurt stays cold.

I remember having lunch box envy. Some kids had superheroes like Batman or Superman or The Incredible Hulk on theirs. Some kids had their favorite baseball or football teams on them. Some kids had them with cartoon characters or favorite TV shows. They might change each year, the kids coming to school in September with a new box bearing a different theme; and some kids just kept the same one year after year. They were a reflection of the kids’ interests, their hobbies, their characters.

I don’t know how, and I don’t know why, but the lunch box I ended up with was adorned with images of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

Kids actually saw me carrying my lunch in this.

As the youngest of four kids, I was the recipient of a lot of hand-me-down stuff – clothes, toys, butt-kickings…  But I honestly don’t remember any of my siblings ever using this lunch box. Which means I must have gotten it new. I have no memory of picking it out; I have no memory of requesting it. I didn’t even know who the hell Jonathan Livingston Seagull was. If I had a hand in selecting this lunch box, I’ve clearly blocked out the memory.

I remember seeing the paperback book when I was little. The book had a different design than the one on the lunchbox, and someone in my family had brought a copy of it into the house at some point. I knew nothing about the story, but at the time assumed it was a tale about certain sea birds. I had no interest in reading it, and in fact, did not read it at all until I was in my twenties – and then only because I realized I had no idea what the hell the book was about, and wanted to satisfy my curiosity about why on earth someone bought me that lunch box in the first place.

After reading it, I still didn’t know why I had that lunch box. I was surprised to find that it wasn’t just a straight story; it was more like a fable, in that it had a “message”. I thought the message was pretty lame at the time, but that is more a commentary on where I was, spiritually, than any slight against the book itself.

The book is about a seagull (named Jonathan, of course) that grows tired of conforming to the limitations of traditional seagull life – wanting to give up the daily food squabbles in favor of perfecting his flying skills. In return for his lack of conformity, he is booted out of his flock. He continues to pursue greater flight goals on his own, and is eventually introduced to a new society of gulls who take him to a higher plane of existence. He meets a wise seagull who becomes his teacher, and he learns the importance of being true to himself. His teacher’s last words to him are “keep working on love.” Jonathan finally comes to understand that the spirit cannot be free without the ability to forgive.

As I mentioned, when I first read the story I was appalled that I had been duped into reading what ended up being a story “with a message” – it felt like propaganda at the time. “Sentimental hogwash”, as old man Potter would have said. I was so defensive against anything remotely spiritual, likely because at the time I was spiritually bankrupt. But it was fairly easy to ridicule the novella – I mean, it was a story about birds seeking self-improvement, after all.

Of course, I now see that – however simplistic or banal the book might have been – the message it carried is universal. I get it today. It’s a message that could benefit anyone and everyone: forgiveness yields freedom.

But my inner child says “Come on, honestly – could a six year old be expected to get that? Who picked out this damn lunch box?” (Yes, my inner child casually swears a lot.)  “I want to know whose idea that was! Hey – I loved cartoons – where was my Scooby-Doo lunch box? How about a Bugs Bunny or Roadrunner lunch box? Flintstones? Jetsons? Was anyone paying attention to what I was actually interested in? I just wanna know who picked Jonathan Freakin’ Livingston Seagull!” (Apparently, my inner child is also a bit of a punk.)

Given the lessons I’ve received in the last few years, and how they resonated with me – hit me at my core – it would seem that the instruction to “keep working on love” is a message I was meant to receive at some point during this lifetime. It just seems strange that the message would technically be conveyed to me through something as ridiculous as a child’s lunch box. I suppose it’s better than a Magic Eight Ball. I am reminded of another message that I’ve received very recently: “We don’t get to choose the messenger”.

Maybe it’s one of those “it wasn’t the lunch box that I wanted, but it was the lunch box I needed” scenarios. Perhaps nobody picked it. Perhaps it picked me. It seems kinda cool when I look at it that way.

A Scooby-Doo lunch box would have been a lot cooler, though. I’m just sayin’.

For Your Consideration: A Nightmare

I don’t have nightmares very often. I’m talking about the bizarre kind of nightmare where I find myself screaming in the dream because of some horror that is being witnessed – or endured. But I just woke up from a doozy.

In the dream, I was riding in the passenger seat of a car being driven by someone I didn’t know – I think there were other people in the car with me, because there was conversation and dialogue going on. We drove down a country road and suddenly encountered police lights and the scene of what appeared to be a terrible car accident.

The driver of the vehicle I was in sped through the scene without slowing, much to my shock and dismay. I yelled at the driver (I have no idea who it was) to slow down, at which point everyone else in the car bailed out – just opened their doors and jumped out of the moving vehicle. I, in the passenger seat, suddenly had a steering wheel in my hands, but no pedals to operate brakes or gas.

I frantically tried to steer the vehicle safely but could not slow it down, and at one point I passed police officers who took note that I was the sole occupant of a vehicle. In my dream, I remember thinking “I’m going to be arrested for driving on the wrong side of the car”, which was strange because the violation was clearly speeding through the scene of an accident. 

Then I’m parked in front of a barn (you know how time jumps around in dreams with little regard for logical segues) and the former occupants of the vehicle who abandoned me were with me once more. We were being questioned by the police, who had caught up with us. It became clear to me very quickly that the police officer who was interrogating us was a demon dressed as a policeman. Something about his eyes, claws, and tail gave him away.

The group of us — there were five of us total — were in a reality show of some sort, complete with cameras and sound equipment. The demon had abandoned his police officer getup and was no longer concealing his appearance. He was dark and red and slippery-looking, and for some bizarre reason, he had a wife – and in the dream, his wife was the real horror. There was nothing scary about her appearance, she looked just like an average, everyday housewife, but there was just something sinister about her. She was playing host of this reality show we were in, and it was some sort of elimination round where one contestant is sent home (well, sent home if he’s lucky). The details of this dream are evaporating as I type this so I’m trying to get it all down while I remember it, and I don’t remember why I was eliminated — probably for no other reason than it was my dream so of course I’m going to be the focus.

But instead of getting a handshake and a video confession where I talk about what a great time I had and how I was just glad to make it as far as I did, I was taken inside the barn we had parked in front of, which had been converted into a cross between a medieval torture chamber and an industrial kitchen.

In my dream I felt instant dread at the sight of this room, and in another of those magic segues, I was strapped in to some sort of device on a conveyor belt. Then the conveyor belt was being fed into this giant machine, the opening of which featured plates of spikes that pressed down against the surface of the belt that I was rolling on — I was going to be punctured by dozens of giant metal spears. I began to scream.

The belt carried me through and I was pressed flat by the spiky plates, screaming the whole time. Next I was fed through a section that had a huge metal roller that crushed me as the belt carried me through. As I emerged from that dark section (still screaming) I saw the fiery oven ahead. I was vaguely aware of the reality TV crew filming as I approached the opening of the inferno.

I suddenly realized that I was being baked into bread.

My screaming and struggling did no good and into the oven I went, where despite the fire, all went dark. I remember tears coming down my face and immediately turning to steam in the heat, and I knew this was the end – I was going to die.

Segue. I was seated in a living room with the demon and his wife. He was at a desk doing some form of paperwork, and she was sitting in a rocking chair watching television. She wore an apron. I looked down and saw that the bottom half of my body resembled a baguette. Around the room were all sorts of collectible items that looked like they’d been found at garage sales or eBay.  One was a little child’s chair; another a wall hanging that was sewn by hand; a table and lamp; a large doll; a wall clock shaped like a cat, the tail wagging off the seconds.

The demon’s wife was talking to these items. Whenever she would address one, it would take the form of the person it had been before it had been changed – she would speak to the chair, and when it responded it became a person, briefly, and then became a chair again. The wall hanging — a person — then a wall hanging again.

She spoke to me. “That wasn’t really so bad after all, now, was it?” she asked me. I answered something in reply – I don’t know what I said because I was distracted by my lower baguette body changing back into legs and feet as I said it. Then after I spoke — bread again.

The demon got up and said he had to go check the mail. His wife continued to watch television. I knew that I was meant to spend eternity as bread in their living room.

When the mice came to feed on the crumbs from my bread legs, I woke up.

I used to have nightmares as a kid – of course we all did, having so many fears as we do when we’re little. But the nightmares I’ve had in adulthood have always centered on loss of loved ones, maybe searching for something I can’t find… I can’t recall having a dream as horrifyingly bizarre as this one was. I’m tempted to analyze it, or at least question what part of my subconscious stirred up this nasty mental movie. I’ve certainly spent my time in hell and have encountered demons along the way — all of it resulting of my own self-inflicted mind abuse — and this week I purged a lot of hatred and anger. Maybe the dream was caused by residual psychic energy from that hatred I’d harbored for so long.

Or, maybe it was the result of too much Del Taco last night.

The Awesome Funeral Home

Every now and then, a memory surfaces that would probably have been better left at the bottom of the psychic pond.

I’ll be cruising along, minding my own business, when from out of nowhere something will trigger a thought that leads to the memory of something completely random that hasn’t been in my mind for eons. Sometimes it’s a song that brings it up; other times it’s a smell. Contact from an old friend can make it happen too – it doesn’t happen often but when it does, it’s sometimes funny, sometimes unpleasant, and always remarkable.

From nowhere yesterday, I was hit with the memory of a field trip taken when I was in the first grade. The specifics surrounding the trip are vague and hazy, and I don’t really remember much about it. There’s probably a reason for that – it was a visit to a funeral home.

I know how it sounds, but I swear to God this is the honest truth: in 1974, the Scio, Oregon Board of Education approved a spring field trip for its elementary school students to take a journey to Albany and tour the Aasum Funeral Home. Whether the Aasum family pronounced it as “awesome” or not, that is how I’ve always said it — the “awesome” funeral home.

[Note – I assume the Board of Education was aware of the trip and signed off on it ahead of time. The idea that we were taken to a funeral home just on the casual whim of a couple of whackjob teachers is somehow more horrifying than the idea of taking 6 and 7 year olds to a funeral home in the first place.]

First graders. On a field trip. To a funeral home. I have a few glimpses of memory into that day — little snippets of mental video that somehow didn’t get erased in the thirty-some years since I took the tour of the awesome funeral home: A walk-through of the parlor with its curtains and carpet and seating for an audience of mourners. A sampling of caskets in varying colors and styles. A little landscaped area out a window that seemed to be a small oasis in the “big city” that Albany had seemed to me, being the small-town farm boy that I was. These are the few images that I retained from that visit.

Well, there’s one more. The main one. The one that hit me the other day from out of the blue. I can’t believe that all the years that I watched “Six Feet Under” on HBO, with all the funeral-home-related action it contained, I never flashed back to this memory. It’s the main image I would think of when I would reflect on that bizarre field trip.

Linoleum tile. I was in a post office yesterday and I happened to notice the floor was covered with linoleum tile. Nothing unusual about that, but for some reason -perhaps it was the color, perhaps just a trick of the light- it reminded me of the linoleum tile that we sat on that day in first grade as we ate our sack lunches on our field trip to the awesome funeral home. We sat on the floor and ate our sack lunches, the linoleum tile cold underneath us, cold like a tomb. Like death.

Did we actually eat our lunch in the embalming room?

I can’t say with 100% certainty. I think perhaps I blocked it out, for the memory does not want to linger at the front of my mind. I don’t remember anything else about the trip and so it’s possible that I was so shocked and horrified at being surrounded by the tools of the undertaker’s trade that my mind just shut down and switched over to safety mode.

Maybe there was a kitchen area there, and we were eating our lunch in that room – a kitchen that was floored in linoleum. But I remember the room being big, and cold, and “sterile” somehow. Maybe a kitchen would be like that, and maybe funeral homes routinely have big industrial-type kitchens for the activities that are held there – though I don’t know that memorials at funeral homes generally include a lot of cooking and baking in their services.

My mind thinks we ate our sack lunches sitting on the cold linoleum tile floor of the embalming room, and that is why that memory is kept in the restricted section of my brain.

Suddenly, my penchant for horror stories and zombie flicks and tales of the dead and undead alike seems to make a lot more sense to me. The seed of that macabre tree was planted years ago, on the day a yellow school bus carted me off to spend an afternoon having lunch in a mortician’s lair.

Tis the Season for Horror and Madness

The lunatic on the street corner should have been the strangest sight of the evening, but he wasn’t.

The show started at 11:00 pm, and we had half an hour to kill after we found parking right on Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood. I needed coffee because I was out past my bedtime, but in this part of town, there were not a lot of coffee establishments within walking distance. We spotted a pizza place about half a mile down and decided to try our luck there.

Nearing the intersection of Lankershim and Vineland, we passed a bus stop where a man was bent over a bike and talking to himself. I glanced at him so briefly that I didn’t even have time to register anything about his appearance, other than he seemed young, in his twenties. But in that split second that I glanced at him, he looked at me, and I saw the insanity brewing in those eyes. As we passed the spot where he stood, I heard him say, “Don’t fuckin’ look at me.”

The bus stop where this gentleman loitered was right at the corner of an awkward intersection of three streets instead of two, which meant  that the crossing signal would take a long time to change. In other words, we were stuck standing a mere ten feet away from the charming man with the crazy eyes and sunny demeanor.

We kept our backs to him and ignored him while we waited for the light to change and allow us to cross. As we stood there, he muttered and raved and spoke in tongues – or at least it sounded like he was speaking in tongues; my hearing was never stellar, and coupled with the roar of traffic going by, it was hard to catch everything he said. I believe I heard him say something about fucking me up, which was odd because shortly afterward I heard him say something about how nice my ass looked in the jeans I was wearing. While I was prepared to fight should it become necessary, I have to admit it is flattering to be complimented by young twenty-somethings – I mean, it doesn’t happen often at my age.

He went on with lots of swearing and lots of sexual braggadocio – soon he was commenting on the attractive woman shown on the billboard across the street and what forms of sweet love he would make with her – love that involved lots of hitting, apparently. My friend just chuckled and glanced back at the man, and made a comment about demons or something – I didn’t hear what he said, exactly, as I was busy calculating all the different ways this encounter could go wrong.

Fortunately, however, the light changed and we made our way across the busy street and reached the pizza place, where they made a fresh pot of coffee just for us. On our return journey, the madman was nowhere to be found, and I was both relieved and disappointed. It is rare that I encounter actual madness these days, and I admit the thrill-seeker in me was hoping for another glimpse into it.

Our destination was Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre for the night’s showing of “Urban Death”, a performance that, as it turned out, was unlike any live performance I have seen. Entering the building, the smell of incense and candles indicated this was not going to be a typical theater-going experience (as if the name of the show did not indicate this clearly). We were near the end of the line of about forty people who were led in to a very, very small theater – the stage and seating area combined were not much bigger than my living room. We ended up in the back row, but since there were only four rows, it wasn’t really a problem.

The room was entirely black. It was filled with eerie synthesized music from a sound system that had sufficient bass to vibrate my bones but was not overpowering at all – it set the mood perfectly. The only light was a bright lamp in the corner that was positioned behind a mannequin in a red dress, standing with her head slumped to her chest and arms dangling down, her frizzy blonde hair obscuring her features. She looked like a doll waiting to be wound up. The light was filtered through her red dress, casting a bloody glow into the room.

The audience got settled, some going to the far corner of the room where the only bathroom was located. As we waited, a woman went to the four walls of the theater and appeared to be carving something into them. When she finished the wall I was sitting by, I looked at what she did – she had made a little cross in white tape. For a moment, I honestly wondered if it was to ward off evil spirits.

Something caught my attention, and I glanced back at the mannequin in the corner. There was something not right about it. The light was so dim that my eyes were having trouble adjusting, and combined with the eerie music filling the room, the cognitive dissonance was increased. The mannequin seemed like it was changed somehow. Different from when we walked in.

The eerie music continued to set a discordant mood, and the only thing that kept the energy in the room light was the casual chatter of the audience members waiting for the show to begin. I realized that the theater workers were waiting for the remaining audience members in the restroom to finish their business and take their seats.

I glanced back at the mannequin, and she moved slightly but suddenly, as though jolted by an electric shock. The effect was enough to make some goosebumps break out on my arms as I realized that this was no mannequin but a real woman who had been standing in the corner the whole time as the audience filed in. Every half minute or so, she would move in a sudden, slight jerk that seemed like she was being operated by remote control. It was sufficiently creepy to both delight and unsettle me.

As show time neared, her movements got more pronounced and more frequent, until finally, when the last audience member left the restroom and the theater manager slid the giant door closed, sealing us in the black room, the blonde woman in the red dress was standing in a pose that somehow made me think of Lady Gaga on a meat hook.

Then the lights went out, and we were plunged into darkness. For a moment the only things visible were little glowing crosses on the walls, and I realized the woman who was warding off evil spirits was actually posting glow-in-the-dark tape on the walls for the performers to use as some sort of visual guide – for with the lights out, the room was utter blackness. I mean can’t-see-hand-in-front-of-face blackness.

The next hour was filled with vignettes and images that alternated between startlingly horrific, hilariously twisted, and genuinely creepy. If I tried to describe them here, it would likely put you off your lunch, but trust me when I say that the scenes covered the full spectrum of the human horror experience: ghosts and ghouls, axe-wielding psychopaths, witches and monsters, cannibalism, genital-mutilation, things that snatch you and drag you into the darkness, and baby showers.

I found myself jolted in my seat one minute, laughing out loud the next, and feeling the hairs on the back of my neck stand up soon after that. I never knew what was coming next – whether it be a laugh or a scream – and the production kept the audience off balance that way. The sound preceding a vignette was often the only indicator of whether the scene would be of the humorous or the horrific variety – and even then, there were no guarantees.

The best moments were the ones that left the true horror to the imagination, and looking back, I realize that what we were actually shown was minimal – my mind provided the rest. In that way, the performance was brilliant. The over-the-top, shock-and-nauseate moments were fun for a Halloween-time vibe, but the moments where we were left to supply our own context were very effective in leaving fearsome images in my mind that stayed with me on the drive home. As a fan of horror movies, comedy, and all things bizarre, this show was right in my wheelhouse. I enjoyed the hell out of it.

As we stepped out the theater door back onto the sidewalk, red and blue police lights flashed in the night. Two cop cars and four officers gathered across the street, their spotlights flooding the streetcorner. A bicycle lay on the sidewalk, and a shirtless man was on his knees, hands cuffed behind his back, being questioned by two officers while the other two were inspecting the contents of a backpack.

It was the young man we encountered earlier, the lunatic with the crazy eyes. He didn’t look crazy now, he looked small, and somehow broken. He looked scared.

We walked the other way, to our car. I thought about that man, and our encounter with him, and how my friend mentioned “demons” at the time. The man was troubled, obviously. I thought about the demons he is fighting – demons of addiction, demons of mental illness, demons of a wounded heart. I’ve battled those same demons in my life; I recognize the fear he must be feeling. I have faced that same fear. Maybe that’s why horror stories, movies, and plays appeal to me so much: they are all, essentially, farce. Nothing in a book, stage or screen is as terrifying as the darkness inside a man.

I, Too, Have a Wide Stance

No, this post is not about sex in airport restrooms. (Although I promise if I ever have sex in an airport bathroom, you’ll read about it here.) It is, however, about a public restroom, and as such, this post involves a bit of unpleasantness. Fair warning – the men’s room at my office is the subject of today’s post. (On the other hand, there are no politicians mentioned here, so that should balance out the “ick” factor.)

 The building I work in is nice. It’s a nice office in a nice area, surrounded by nice landscaping and full of nice furnishings, and populated by nice people. It is a pleasant place, a harmless place. A place I am proud to walk into every weekday morning.

There is, however, one dank and dismal corner of this otherwise fine building that threatens homeland security and undermines the sanctity of corporate America, and that corner is the men’s room on the 2nd floor.

The room itself is decorated in a color that is probably known by designers by some foofy-sounding name like “Moroccan Sand” or “Desert Mirage”, but is more suitably tagged as “Business Drab”:  beige tiles and beige-toned granite with beige paint on the walls. Still, the light fixtures are recesssed, the sinks feature high-end automatic faucets, the stalls have toilets with pressurized, eardrum-splitting flushers, and the urinals are sleek and stylish porcelain-and-chrome wall-mounted receptacles.

Or at least, they are intended to be receptacles.

The floor beneath the urinals is what’s causing the disturbance in The Force. This space should be displayed in the dictionary next to the word “foul”. The beige floor tiles are coated with (I warned you about this) layers of urine that are weeks –if not months–old.

If you took a picture of a Rorschach ink blot with an old-school camera, took the pictures to the one-hour photo, went next door to get a gelato, then got the photos back an hour later and opened the envelope and took out the negative of the Rorschach ink blot photo, then blew up the negative to 3′ x 6′ size and put it on the floor so that the negative image of the black ink blots was instead shown as whitish-transparent blots – THAT would approximate the look of the floor beneath the  urinals in the men’s room of Suite 200.

I could pin the blame on the men using the facilities. Sure, there’s truth to the old saying, “No matter how much you jiggle and dance, the last few drops end up in your pants” – meaning not all of it gets where it’s meant to go. But the saying says “your pants”. It doesn’t say, “If your willy is oozing and sore, the last few drops end up on the floor” — NOBODY is looking for the floor to be soiled by your wild wiggling. So yes, I could be directing this at the careless men who –like dogs emerging from a bathtub– habitually shake themselves dry, thereby spraying everything around with droplets.

The focus of my disdain, though, is the building’s owners, and the  practitioners of the custodial arts that service Suite 200. I see the cleaning crew on nights when I’m at the office late – they come in after most everyone else has gone, and they go from room to room emptying trash, wiping down surfaces, vacuuming the floors — so I know they exist, and I know they are working. They just aren’t working on the bathroom floor.

And one would think that for all the money the owners of our building make (and trust me, this company is massive and far-reaching, with no shortage of cash and with such influence that I refuse to name them here for fear of ending up in a shallow grave in the desert) from exorbitant rents in this area of Orange County, they could at least afford to supply the cleaning crew with some high-tech janitorial equipment like a MOP AND BUCKET.

I am convinced the men’s room floor has not seen a mop since mid-2009. And while the custodial crew are very much on top of it when it comes to re-stocking the paper supplies in the restrooms, none of them seems to mind that their lack of mopping has turned the men’s room floor into a thriving shrine to filth. It is so bad that when I step up to the porcelain portal, I have to place my feet a whole yard apart to avoid standing in the remnants of pee-challenged men. So basically, when I go, I’ve got the stance of a gunslinger in an old West bordertown.

I heard a co-worker complaining to the receptionist about it the other day. He used words like “disgusting” and “gross” and “ewww”, and the receptionist nodded sympathetically and said “I’ll let them know”, but I knew nothing would come from it. The receptionist is a woman – she can’t appreciate the idea of standing in another man’s urine. (Or maybe she can, I don’t know how she spends her “off time”, and I’m not here to judge.)

I would never defend a lowlife politician who gets busted for illicit sex in an airport men’s room and flat-out denies it. But I am saying that the defense of “I have a wide stance” should not be discounted entirely. There are reasons a wide stance is necessary. I’ve seen what ends up on the floors of the men’s room, and I gotta say I’d do whatever I could* to avoid putting my shoe in it.

(*Note: “whatever I could” does not include soliciting sex from an undercover police officer. Just so we’re clear on that.)