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Why We’re Here

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As far back as I can remember, the eternal question of life has always been “Why are we here?” or put another way, “What is the meaning of life?”. I’ve found myself considering this question almost incessantly over the past several months. I’ve tried to think about it from as many different perspectives as possible.

Generally speaking, those religious individuals in our society will answer this question with a religious answer: “To serve God”, or “To do God’s work”. The non-religious members of our society will generally answer with a non-religious one; “Because we’ve evolved after millions of years.” or “Who cares?”.  Those in between, like the Buddhists, might say “To try to elevate ourselves. To try to be the best person possible, not because of a religious reward, but for a personal, individual one.”

What I’ve managed to conclude is that they all are right. The reason we are here, stuck on this miserable rock of a planet, depends on the person asking the question. I think I’ve found the answer that I was looking for. My answer to “Why am I here?”, is to learn to let go. Just that, nothing more. To appreciate the perfect impermanence of life on earth. After a while of serious searching for a purpose, I’ve actually managed to appreciate the full scope of transient existence. If you think about it, nothing in the history of our world has had any real permanence to it. Mountains erode, and wash into the sea. The sea itself changes entirely from decade to decade, and century to century. Things cast in iron eventually rust, and breakdown, and return to the earth. All things eventually fade away, and leave no more of a mark on the earth than a shadow cast by yesterday’s sun. It occurred to me that if given long enough, everything will return to it’s pre-existent state.The greatest leaders of men of today, will mean nothing to anyone a million years from now. When your scope is no longer 60 or 80 or even a hundred years, all that we do here seems pretty trivial. By reaching this conclusion, something inside of me changed. I can’t put my finger on anything specific, but it did.

Life really started to seem like a facade of itself; as though humans somehow have made our own existence seem like more than it really is. The urgency of our day-to-day lives, the stress of work, the hardships in our relationships all seem like a beautiful veneer glued to an otherwise un-notable table. I’ve began looking at life from the perspective of “Will this matter in 20,000 years?” If the answer is no, it takes the stress out of things. This kind of thinking has changed my outlook on life and death drastically. By appreciating the scope of time that we are all on (millions of years), instead of focusing on the small sample of time that is our own lifetimes (60-100 years), you can’t help but face the fact that everyone and everything that we’ve known up until this very second is going to eventually fade away.

You might think that I would find everything terribly depressing thinking this way; like the fact that nothing I do will matter, the fact that my friends and family are all going to be extinct. Oddly though, I find a tremendous comfort in it. There is nothing that  I, or anyone else on earth right now can do to permanently damage the earth. Even nuclear radiation becomes perfectly harmless, given enough time. The earth is resilient. It’s been around for a very long time.  It will go on, regardless of whether humans do or not.

My advice to you; tell someone that you love how much they mean to you. Appreciate the relative shortness of time we have together. Forgive somebody for something, after all it’s not going to matter in 20,000 years anyway. Find your own truth – it’s there, you just have to look for it.

New Christmas

As a kid, there was nothing in the world that could ever compare to the feeling I would get when it was time to countdown days til Santa came. The feeling in the air was so strong, you could almost hang lights on it. In school, we really didn’t do much in the days directly preceding the holiday. I remember making lots of crappy arts and crafts like making reindeer out of hand prints on felt, or construction paper, and getting glue all over everything. We always made a million trips to different department stores, although my parents seemingly never bought anything (a David Copperfield trick). Charlie Brown, The Grinch, A Christmas Story, and Planes Trains, and Automobiles were on TV just about any time of day. Mom would cook, we all would eat, and the days would drag by. On the big day, I’d wake up as early as I could to make sure everybody in our house hated life that day, and would check out what I got. It was cool, because back then Santa had a pretty good bit of common sense. I got toys, but a lot of times I got stuff I could use too. Santa apparently always kept track of what size clothes I wore, and would make sure I got them when I needed them. As a kid, I thought it was less cool to get clothes than toys. Of course I did, all kids think that. I changed my thinking when I’d get to school and my buddies all had new clothes too. Looking back, I realize how practical that kind of thinking was. We buy our kids a million toys throughout their lifetime. In my opinion, we do it so much so that it loses its sense of being special to get a new toy. Christmas needs to be a special time for everyone. It’s about the christian tradition of celebrating the birth of the Christ. Giving gifts to each other is spun from the tale of the wise men giving the boy-king gifts out of reverence. Today we’ve taken the gift giving to a ridiculous extreme. We have a drive to spend the money that we spend all year fussing that we don’t make enough of. Can’t we scale things back a bit? What if instead of buying gifts for every single person we’ve ever met anywhere, we only bought a few practical items for those that mean the most to us. A lot of people will say “Joe, that’s all I do buy for, and I still have 136 people on my list.” I call B.S. Let me help weed out your list.

How about giving to those that you have given or plan to give your last name (spouse, kids, significant other),those who gave you THEIR last name (parents, spouse), and two other people that you would literally give a body organ to, to keep in your life. Did that help? As far as gifts, I think kids will always want toys, and it’s important that they do get some, but also get them something they can wear, something they can read, and something practical. If you give them every toy they want, they have nothing to work towards, nothing to save for. I want this year to feel like Christmas again. I want my kids to feel what I felt, and I’m going to do my part to make that happen.

 

I have to give credit to my wife Lara for this post. We’ve been talking a lot lately about how different Christmas is these days, and she recommended I write about it.

The Day The Circus Left Town

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Lately, I’ve been doing a TON of reading. It’s something I do to help me procrastinate instead of actually writing my book. One of my most recent reads was “11/22/63” – by Stephen King.  Not at all a shocker for those of you that know me. I’ve been reading King’s stuff forever. Before reading the book, I had been haunted by a feeling of being in some way slighted by time. It really started strong once I had read the book, and enjoyed every pristine detail of King’s recounting of life in the fifties. The sights, the smells, the people, and believe it or not, even the taste of the fifties were all laid out in the book. The combination of all of these caused my heart to long for the simpler, more rational America. Now granted there was all of the paranoia about “The Bomb”, but putting that aside; 1950’s America was to me, the greatest America has ever been.

Back then, the cars were works of art – built of steel, and American sweat. Families were built better back then too. Everyone would eat at the table, families would talk about their days. Americans had an intense, insatiable pride for their country, and God, and our mothers. Teenaged pregnancy was taboo, and would never be the subject of its own TV show. Kids back then had morals. They still fooled around, but back then the stakes were higher.  No guy ever wanted to put his girl “in a bad way”.  Mothers knew each other. Fathers worked together. Kids went to school together. We said the pledge of allegiance in the mornings. We meant every word. America hadn’t gotten fat and lazy yet. We worked hard, and were paid little. Back then though, we didn’t need a lot to get what was needed. We were thankful for what we had. If you had the money to get a soda from a jerk, it was a treat – not a replacement for water. Americans stood their ground, and would fight for what we believed in. The men were real men. They would stand up so a woman could sit. They taught their boys to box, so they would know how to take care of themselves if they needed to. They drank beer, and smoked cigarettes, and listened to baseball games on the radio. Guys like Marlon Brando made movies about how hard life could get, and people somehow, could relate.  People would make sure they looked nice, just in case someone dropped by unexpectedly. Americans stuck together. It’s what we did.

Time marched on.

Today, I sit here typing this on my laptop in my bedroom. I have to go to work tomorrow at 3:00 in the afternoon. Both are situations that never would’ve happened in the 1950’s. Things have changed…some are better, most are worse. I suppose I’ll always miss the days I never had. I can read and write about the times, places, and people of the fifties I guess. Somewhere though, in the back of my mind, I know the golden days are gone and I missed them. I feel like the kid who got his allowance on the day the circus left town. I’ll never get to go back, but I can always hope I’m ready for the next show.

Being Dad

Dad

I grew up in a house that by today’s standard, is almost unusual. I had both of my original parents with me every day. It’s a situation that statistically is occurring less and less frequently these days. My mom and dad didn’t have a lot of money, but we made it by okay. When things would break, my dad would fix them. I never knew how he knew what was broken, but he always seemed to know. I guess a lot of our stuff would break when I was a kid, because it seems like dad was always fixing one thing, or another.

Watching dad work on stuff was way more fun than any action movie I was allowed to watch as a kid. It had all the same stuff too, explosions, bleeding, outbursts of frustration and contempt. It was awesome! Dad was by far my favorite action hero! The plots were always the same (kind of like the old Elvis movies). A perfectly good Saturday would be interrupted by some sort of a breakdown. It would be time for Dad to suit up. He’d go get is tool box, and like two or three pairs of glasses, and get into it. I always wanted Dad to win, even though I knew his weaknesses would work against him in full force. I knew what the broken dryer, or bad brakes on the car didn’t…Dad’s weakness is the dark, and oddly enough the very glasses that he needed to see. He’d plug in a lamp near where he was working so that during the course of the repair, he could knock it over, and blow the bulb. Next, he would put on his “work” glasses. They were easy enough to distinguish, as they were the pair with the scratched lens, or the missing left side. When these things were squared away, Dad would open the box that held every obscure tool on the planet, and begin putting the smack down on his obstacles. He’d do pretty well for about 20 or so minutes, then the plot would thicken. Once inside the jaws of the beast, it would lash out at him! Sometimes a wrench would slip, and he’d bust up his hand on the car. Sometimes he’d raise his head, totally unaware that the dryer had managed to close in on him, and he’d cut the top of his bald head. Either way, an explosion would happen! A wrench, screwdriver, or the work glasses would have to be thrown! There was no other way to combat the pain! Once the tool chucking was complete, he’d take a break to assess and repair whatever was hurt. He’d put band-aids on his head, or his hands, and sometimes the insanely comfortable black tape on the work glasses if they needed it, and get back to work. He’d more often than not, find a better way to get around the issue that caused the injury, and back to it he’d go. Eventually, he’d get to the damaged part, and after a trip to a hardware store, would be on his way to reassembly. Cue the weakness. It’s generally this point that the light has to go. He would deftly kick over the lamp without my realizing what he was doing. once he was plunged into the darkness, things would begin to get a bit touchy. He’d fumble around for a while trying to feel his way through the reassembly. After a while though, the strain of working in the dark while wearing the work glasses would take its toll. Dad’s head would begin to hurt, and regardless of the rocket-fuel coffee he was drinking, he’d have to slow down long enough to proclaim the greatest words of disgust ever uttered by a human, “THESE STUPID GLASSES! I’M GOING TO THROW THEM ACROSS THE ROAD!” That’s when I knew the job was near completion. The glasses always pulled a Benedict Arnold on Dad when the project was nearly complete. To me, it was the equivalent of Mel Gibson screaming that “They’ll never take away OUR FREEDOM!!!” The show was winding down. We’d had a few uncertain moments in the middle, and one or two near the end, but Dad always seemed to win. The dryer would fire up again, and Mom would be able to get the laundry dry, or the car would be taken for a test drive. The test drive was always a treat, because if something wasn’t right, it would mean the whole show would have to be replayed. I’m glad it never happened, I’m not sure my nerves or my hero could’ve handled it.

Have anger issues? Don’t beat yourself up over it

I’m totally a sufferer! One time at work, I was asked to run a different machine than the one I was running. My first impulse was to knock my supervisor to the ground, and choke him with an air hose. I really needed a Coke though, andif I strangled him, he wouldn’t lend me a buck to get one. Bruce Banner: 1 Hulk: 0

Ned's Blog

Hello and welcome to a special edition of our in-depth medical feature Health Yak, which has been recognized by the U.S. Surgeon General as “extremely topical,” meaning that you should not attempt to ingest any portion of this column without first consulting your doctor.

Today we will be discussing a study that suggests as many as 16 million Americans — or roughly the number of people who never receive their appetizers during an average season of Hell’s Kitchen — suffer from periodic outbursts of anger.

I know what you’re thinking: What makes this different from a typical outburst of anger, like when I open the air vent in my car and release a cloud of spores the size of shiitake mushrooms?

The answer, of course, is that there is no difference, at least not until someone funds a clinical study, at which point it becomes an official “disorder” treatable…

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I know what happened to “Max and Ruby”s Parents

Lately, my youngest son Talon has been watching a lot of Max and Ruby. I never really stopped to think about what the show was suggesting until I started watching it with him.

To get us all on the same page here, “Max and Ruby” is a show that airs on Nickelodeon. It’s centered around two rabbits by the names of Max and Ruby (Of course. What did you think I would say? Harold and Maude?)  living together without their parents , and a small supporting cast of other rabbits. Max is Ruby’s younger brother, and from what I can tell, has some sort of mental deficiency based on the fact that he can fly a remote controlled helicopter with precision accuracy (a feat I’m incapable of), yet he speaks only in one word sentences. As you can imagine, this show is a real joy to watch.  Anyway, they never address what happened to Max and Ruby’s parents. After some expert analysis of the clues given in the show, and hundreds of hours of reading Sherlock Holmes books, I may have solved the mystery.

Facts: The parents are never seen on the show. Ruby is not yet an adult, as she sometimes does girl-scout work. Max, as stated above, seems to have some sort of mental health issues. Based on the size of the house the two live in, and both the array and quality of toys the kids have, the were either left a considerable fortune by their dead parents, or they have other ties to individuals who are lavishly wealthy. A grandmother is in the picture, although it’s unclear whether its the maternal or paternal. Also of note, Grandmother doesn’t live with the children, she merely visits from time to time. And last, but most telling; no-one associated with the children are concerned for the well-being of the kids even though Ruby is obviously too young to take care of the two of them responsibly.

My conclusion:

Max and Ruby are in a experimental witness relocation community.

The supporting evidence:

Both of the parents are missing from the show. This leads me to believe that they are more likely than not, dead. The fact that “Grandmother” is in the scene, but does not live with the orphans, tells me that there is an above average likelihood that she is not their real grandmother, but a grandmother figure provided by an agency to help oversee the welfare of the children. Replacement grandparents would be easier to arrange for kids than replacement parents. This is especially true if the children have seen little of their real grandparents since their birth (possibly because their real grandparents are sleeping with the fishes). Also substantiating the idea of ties to organized crime is the extreme wealth. Essentially, the kids are living alone in a large family home with no mortgage, or bills to pay (neither kid works). Also, Max often plays with some very expensive toys. One example, is this lobster robot that he has. The appearance of the lobster is actually quite deceptive. It appears to be a traditional wind-up toy. In reality, the lobster runs using artificial intelligence, and given that I’ve never seen it have it’s batteries changed, or get wound up, uses a nuclear reactor for power. What average kid can afford a toy like that? My point exactly. Those kids are freaking loaded. There are several other characters on the show that are Ruby’s friends, but I kind of get the feeling that they are operatives trained to guide Max and Ruby away from finding out the truth about their identities.

There you have it folks. There it is, out in the open. Max and Ruby’s little family secret is no longer a secret. How do you feel knowing now what you do?

Just…let it go, Copernicus.

F6A46DAEC91866AFDB5B9B1848EB7_h498_w598_m2 The other day, my wife and I went to Target to pick up a couple items. I like Target. For the most part it’s clean most of the time, they have employees that don’t seem to have a chip on their shoulder if you ask for help, and I haven’t notices an abundance of what I call “Trailor Park Dropouts” there. You know the people. You can see them on http://www.peopleofwalmart.com. Anyway, after picking up the three or four items we needed, we head to the checkout. The fun begins…

At the head of the line was a lady that appeared to be in her mid 40’s. She was apparently buying one of everything in the store, from the looks of her cart. My guess is that the cashier (we’ll come back to this in a minute) trying to scan the items didn’t understand how the scanner works. The cashier would pick up an item, and without even attempting to locate a barcode, would wave it over the laser like the laser was magically going to identify the product. After only a couple hundred attempts on each item, everything was finally scanned. Meanwhile, the line forming behind my was getting steadily longer. It was beginning to look like when the Star Wars nerds camp out for a new sequel. Somewhere in the distance, near the back of the line I could hear mumbling about “mutiny” and “set the building on fire”. As much as I wanted to join that conversation, I stayed where I was.

Now it’s time to to pay for everything. Fantastic. I thought to myself, “At least Boy George on the register can do this.” I learned a valuable lesson immediately. Don’t make assumptions about the abilities of other people. The man/woman/person that was serving as the cashier may have been able to take the payment, but Ms. Forty-Something felt the need to let the line simmer for a bit. Out comes the coupons. Evidently, she had six to eight for each item, many of which wouldn’t scan, so a supervisor had to come to the rescue. The supervisor seemed like he was nice enough. Based on how long it took him to get to the register, he drove there from India. He puts the magic key into the keyboard, hit a couple buttons, and whatever starting a keyboard with a key does, happened. Miraculously, it took all of the coupons. Every one of them. I think a couple were even in crayon. The Ms. Forty-something pulls her checkbook out of her purse, and begins filling out a check. The line behind me sounded like a football stadium when the home team fumbles. In the back, the mutineers were saying something about “hit her with the car” and “being too old to drive”. Ms. Forty-Something is shooting me an “Eat dirt, and die” look. I quit yelling what I was, about the stone age, and continued to wait.

Of this entire situation, the only part I have a real problem with is her writing a check. Who uses checks anymore for public purchases anyway? I know it’s hard to conceive, but you COULD actually use a debit card, and achieve the same result. The notion that she would even consider using it after holding up the line for that long was ridiculous.

When I finally got to the register, with my melted ice cream, sour milk, and raisins (grapes), I got my first good look at the beauty running this little nightmare. Picture if you would, Colin Hay (Men at Work) in drag…badly. He/she/it said “Hi”. I looked into the eye that I thought was looking at me and said the first thing that came to mind; “Nice nails.”

"Do you have a rewards card?"

“Do you have a rewards card?”

Bad Parenting (Repost)

Today after the boys were finished with swimming class, we were discussing where we were going to go eat. After a little bit of back and forth on the issue, we settled on the mall in Pittsburgh. The boys both needed to buy presents for a gift exchange at the preschool, and we also needed to find them both a nice outfit for their Christmas Program. After we finished lunch, we walked around in the mall, buying the boys’ gifts and striking out on the outfits. They were bored and asked if they could go play for a while in the play area. They’d been very well behaved for a 3 and 5 year old that had to endure boring adult stuff like standing still, and being quiet in stores, so we agreed to let them.

While watching my boys run and play in the area with the other kids, I watched a little boy around the same age grab a kid by the shirt and start shaking him. His mom yelled at him, and the boy quit until he got out of sight, and then did it again! When he saw me looking at him, he said something to the other kid, and they both ran off. A few minutes later, I watched the same kid pull a kids feet out from under him on the sliding board. The mom may have yelled at the kid again, had she seen what he had done, but she was a little preoccupied with the guy she was kissing. Since she didn’t yell at him, the mom of the kid that got hurt came to check on her son, and told the boy that it wasn’t nice to do that, and that he could’ve really hurt her son. Then the bully kid’s mom decided to come over and ask what happened. The disgruntled mom told the bully’s mom (I’ll call her Snooki), what her son did. She told him if he did it again, that he was going home. No apology to the other kid, she didn’t apologize for her kids behavior or anything! I wanted to wring her neck! As Snooki returned to Prince Charming, she shrugged and said “boys will be boys”. I have a feeling that the parents of bullies tend to use phrases like this to excuse their kids behavior, or use it as a way to not have to address the fact that their kid is a jerk.

I’m not saying she should’ve beat the kid to death on the spot, but how about an apology? How about one from her? If it’s this clear that your kid is abusive to other kids, now is the time to lower the boom on them. Straighten that little thug out before he gets to school and something bad happens to somebody else’s kid because your little punk has never had any disicpline in his life. Maybe the kid needs attention? Maybe he doesn’t like having to watch his mom make out with dudes in public? Who can say?  Somebody needs to do something though. What do you think?

Returning to Simpler Times (Repost)

I think if you ask a million people to name their favorite part of being a kid, making a fort would be on most people’s list.It’s one of those universal rites of passage. I used to love when we’d use a sheet and stretch it between two chairs, or stand up the couch cushions and drape it over them. The best of the best though? Whenever a major appliance was replaced. That box would be turned into a fort, a house, a spaceship, a racecar, a school, or a kazillion other things! The possibilities were endless. With that in mind…

The place where I work makes ceramic fixtures for electronics. If you own a Whirlpool appliance, you have parts in your home that were made seven-tenths of a mile from mine. To produce these parts, we load clay into a ten ton press, and it’s formed by a die and cavity set. From there, it gets sent to a kiln in these little concrete like boxes called saggers. The saggers are coated with a glaze that keeps the parts from sticking. After being ran through the kiln about a million times, they become chalky, and crumble. Then new saggers are bought. The new saggers have to be blown out with an air hose before the glaze can be applied. That’s what I was doing last night at work, and that’s where this story begins.

A new shipment of saggers had been delivered, and I was asked to go blow them out so the day shift guy could glaze them. As I began, I realized that each pallet had about thirty rows of saggers. Each row was separated from the next by a pristine piece of cardboard the length and width of a wooden pallet (roughly 4 and a half feet by four and a half feet). By the end of the night, I had accumulated a few hundred pieces of this perfect cardboard. I couldn’t help but think back to all of the boxes I had as a kid, and how awesome it was if they were huge. I asked my supervisor if I could take some, and when my boys woke up this morning they had the biggest cardboard playhouse they’ve ever seen waiting for them. I got excited watching them get excited! I still have a bunch, and this weekend, I think we may be adding the “Papa Joe” wing the Smith mansion. I guess you’re never too old to be a kid.

Single Moms (Repost)

I need to get this off my chest…

As I’m sure most of you know by now, I’m pretty opinionated about things. A couple days ago, a girl at work was talking about how hard it is to be a single mother, and how she didn’t think her boy was going to have much of a chance at life when she thought about how much better off his friends with two parents were.  I explained to her that how a kid turns out depends more on what parents instill in their kids than economic situations. She disagreed. She told me to name one time when the kid turned out better with just a mom instead of a mom and dad. I told her I could name a ton, but I chose two.

My favorite is about this kid Temujin. Long story short, he lived in the 1100’s. His dad was poisened when Temujin was only nine, leaving only his mother to care for him and his brothers in sisters. In Mongolia, in the 1100’s, is not the time and place to be when you’re a single mom. She had no way to feed herself, or her kids with the hunter of the family dead. She asked her own family for help, and not only did they refuse, they left her and her kids to starve to death on the plains of Mongolia. She didn’t give up. She struggled every day to feed her kids, a couple of the youngest died anyway. She was at her wits end. Seeing his mom trying so hard hurt Temujin. He did all that he could to help take care of the family. At 9 years of age, there wasn’t a lot he could do to protect her if men tried to hurt her, but he promised her he’d try. He learned to fight from nomads moving through the region, often trading hard labor for lessons. His mother always told him to never give up, even when everything in him told him it was hopeless. The family didn’t starve. They kept living. Temujin kept training. He was going to show his mothers family it was a mistake to abandon her.by the time he was an adult, he had developed so much as a fighter that the village elders renamed him Genghis Khan. He went on to conquer more of the planet than any other human in the history of mankind. He sired so many kids that if you’re reading this blog right now, I’ve heard there is a .05% chance you have his DNA. His mother told him to never quit. He listened.

David Spansky was a low life criminal. He had an alcohol addiction, and a tendency to be abusive. One day David decided to change his name as a way to get out of some trouble he’d gotten himself into. He married a woman named Nellie Pillsbury. They had a couple of sons; “Little David”, and Stevie, who had a way of staying sick all the time. He was the youngest of the two. He missed a lot of school because of chronic ear infections. One day David told Nellie he had to run an errand. He left her and the kids, and never came back. The youngest son, Stevie failed second grade because of his chronic ear infections, and Nellie struggled to keep food on the table. To pass the time, Stevie copied storylines from comic books, and changed the names so it would be his story. His mom told him to make up his own story, and she’d buy it from him for a quarter. I’m sure you see where this is headed…
These days, Stevie goes by Stephen King. He donated millions of dollars every year to charities that support single moms.

My point is this: if there was ever an unstoppable force in the world, it’s the love of a mom for her kids. Even if your not a single mom, make sure that you put the right stuff into your kids. When she told him to never give up, Genghis Khan’s mom lit a fire in his heart that burned like a sun. Ignite your own kids hearts. Push them to be their best, the world may thank you for it.

Hey! Hey Joe Moved!

After fighting with my last site trying to allow people to vocalize their opinions of my posts, I decided to leave Blogger, and come to WordPress. So far it seems like I have a lot more control of things here, and hopefully, comments will be a little easier to manage.

I hope you like it here!

The previous posts from Blogger

I will be reposting all of the prior posts from Blogger to this page so anyone that wanted to comment, but wasn’t able to, will be able to.

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