bright light and deep darkness… reflections on Robin Williams and more

robin williams

it's 9/11, a day most of us will never forget.

that morning our family was at the San Francisco airport getting ready to put our 15-year-old son onto a plane to Newark, NJ, on the first leg of his year abroad in Spain. needless to say, he didn't board the plane. instead, we sat at a bar near the gate and watched the second plane fly into the World Trade Center, then walked like zombies to our car as the impact of what had just occurred started to hit us. thousands of souls left the earth that morning, leaving gaping holes in the world and initiating this country into that particular territory of fear and violence which so many others know all too well.

one month ago today is also a day many of us will never forget.

that's the day Robin Williams took his own life and left a hole in the world that will never be filled. and, even though it's been over four weeks since, i still find myself bursting into tears at the fact that he felt so alone in some deep, down part of himself despite the abundance of love that was all around him.

and, although there have been some who have criticized Mr. Williams and others who have committed suicide for being "selfish," i see this act as something to be met with the utmost compassion rather than unblinking derision. (thank you, Cheyenne, for posting this very good article about why suicide and depression are not selfish.)

my heart and prayers continue to be with Mr. Williams' children, wife and all of his dear family and friends as they muddle through this most difficult time. may you all know that he was one of the most selfless humans i ever witnessed (in my very limited way) and that his suicide had nothing to do with you. i am so sorry you have had to deal with some who have expressed their wounds in negative ways toward him; but know that they are just working it out in their own, uninformed way.

malcolm x

i guess if there is any gift in Mr. Williams' untimely death, it's the outpouring of press that's bringing his death and this important and serious issue to light with compassion and care and honesty.

i've watched videos like Jimmy Fallon's heartfelt tribute and read achingly beautiful blogs like Rachel Leibrock's in which she captured my sentiments exactly when she wrote, "And then I started crying. Crying because I genuinely loved Williams as an actor and a comedian -- I grew up watching Mork & Mindy. Good Will Hunting is one of my favorite films. Crying because in that moment, I also felt his pain immeasurably. I felt the absence of hope, the absence of faith that life will get better. The absence of any light."

i've read tributes like this one from Bimbo's 365 Club and quotes from the many celebrities who tweeted and posted, like Goldie Hawn "Oh Robin...Our hearts are broken. Rest in peace darling. We loved you." …and Jessica Chastain "Robin Williams changed my life. He was a great actor and a generous person. Through a scholarship, he made it possible for me to graduate college. His generous spirit will forever inspire me to support others as he supported me. He will forever be missed." …and Danny DeVito's heartbreaking, "Heartbroken."

i think it's easier than most of us would care to admit to let ourselves go to that dark place. it sometimes feels as if we're pushing up against something immovable - especially when we're present to this human race and all the messes we've made; what we've done to ourselves, each other and our only home; all the insanity we continue to play out. one thing i know is that suicide is not a selfish act. it is an act born of an illusion that we are separate and alone. it's an act that is often carried out by those of us who are extremely sensitive to what's happening in the world and we feel as if it's just too much for us.

truth be told, i know this territory all too well. i've been there myself. i understand the experience of feeling completely alone - even that the world would be better off without me - when i was in that place. i remember thinking those unshakeable, consuming thoughts and nearly driving off the road one day five years ago. and i remember, and thank God for, my loved ones and friends who gathered around and reminded me that i mattered. if you relate or if you have had or are having thoughts of suicide, i urge you to reach out and get help. that's what saved my life and i'm so glad i did.

when it comes down to it, i truly believe we are all here to shine our light - whether we shine as brightly and humbly and generously as Mr. Williams did all around the world or whether we shine simply and sweetly right in our own backyards. i think the only thing to do is to shine our light, even when we grieve the loss of those we love… maybe especially then. and, although he may have believed in that terrible, critical moment (or for longer than we can imagine) that he was utterly alone and his light was unfixably diminished, may he know, as his soul flies free, that he never was alone and that his light burned brightly until the very end and beyond.

finally, in his daughter Zelda's words, "To those he touched who are sending kind words, know that one of his favorite things in the world was to make you all laugh. As for those who are sending negativity, know that some small, giggling part of him is sending a flock of pigeons to your house to poop on your car. Right after you've had it washed. After all, he loved to laugh too."

dear human

Question of the Week… January 29, 2012

How have you had a positive impact on the people in your life?

(Please share your thoughts in the comments area below. We look forward to hearing from you and having a great conversation!)

Question of the Week… January 15, 2012

Who matters the most to you and why?

(Please share your thoughts in the comments area below. We look forward to hearing from you and having a great conversation!)

Happy 2012... Choosing Kindness

I have been thinking about kindness a lot lately. The conclusion I've arrived at is that kindness is one of the single most important qualities we can embody with each other. This is not to say that other qualities aren't important; it's just that I've come to believe that kindness is the most essential quality to call forth when it comes to any relationship. Kindness is the cornerstone of love, the harbinger of awakening, and our most powerful touchstone when we're tempted to stay stuck in our smallness.

Our kindness engenders gratitude in others and the kindness of others magnifies our own experience of gratitude; not only that, the more kindness I express for and to those around me, the more grateful I feel. Gratitude bursts forth when we share or receive kindness… and living a grateful life engenders more kindness in turn.

Whether we're chatting with the clerk at the grocery store, greeting our partner after a long day of work, visiting with family members, getting on the bus, or looking in the mirror… every interaction is an opportunity to bring kindness to whatever relationship we're in at that moment.

I am tremendously present to the fact that I have an opportunity to choose kindness in every moment.

And, let me be perfectly honest, there have been many moments in the past when I didn't. I feel like I've gotten so much better in the last few years, but time and stepping into a committed partnership after years of being single will, I'm sure, give me many more opportunities to practice making that choice.

Consider that we've all acted on that hankering to say something unkind or to make a snide remark. Consider that we've all left kind acts undone – the ones that might require a little more effort on our part, like smiling when we don't "feel like it" or asking how someone's day is going. Sometimes it feels like going just the slightest bit out of our way to make someone's day better is more than we're up for. I've done it more time than I can possibly count… we're human and we forget who we really are – often. But what if we chose to practice being kind to the best of our ability every day?

Often, the person with whom we have to practice kindness with more than anyone is ourselves.

This morning as I was sitting in meditation I realized, on a deeper level than ever before, that all the energy I spend feeling like I haven't done enough, made the kind of progress I want to make (whatever that means) or contributed enough to the betterment of the world has been an act of incredible unkindness to myself. In that moment, a wave of kindness for myself washed over me and I felt as if a huge weight had been removed from my shoulders. What if simply being a loving presence is enough? What if sharing this beautiful life with the people I love, trusting that doing my best is always enough, is all that's required? What kind of kindnesses could I offer the world living from that place?

The level of freedom I experienced as I sat there was phenomenal. I feel like I was given one of the greatest gifts I have received in a very long time.

And, now, here we are… stepping into another New Year – an infamous one at that – 2012. It holds infinite possibilities for each of us to contribute to the people in our lives and the world around us. It holds endless opportunities to remember who we are and choose kindness as our customary behavior for every interaction. Regardless of what you choose, here are some questions to consider as you release 2011 and step forward into the coming year….

What if, in choosing to live from kindness and appreciation…

…it became the norm to express appreciation and kind words and deeds rather than put-downs?


…we felt the pain of others and reached out when we were able?


...we laughed together with shared, spontaneous enjoyment of life rather than at each other's expense?


What if all it took was a shift in our consciousness… to BE Love rather than get love (as coined by my friends Matthew and Terces Engelhart, the founders of Cafe Gratitude)? What would we choose?

The truth is we always have the opportunity to choose kindness, to choose differently if we don't like the choices we've made before. Instead of being in reaction, we can choose to be "response-able" with our words, thoughts, deeds and attitudes towards others and ourselves. Instead of choosing out of habit or default, we can choose with a conscious awareness of the outcome of our choices.

In this new year, I commit to choosing kindness as often as I possibly remember. And I invite you, if you see me being unkind in any way - or holding back and playing small - to call me out and remind me of who I really am. We need each other to be reminded of who we really are, so I invite you to ask the people in your life to lovingly, kindly remind you when you forget.

At this momentous time, we are all - every one of us, as a species and as a civilization - being asked to step up our game. We are being asked to expand, stretch and grow into the larger expression of ourselves. It's time to get that we matter, to be the ones we've been waiting for, and to do it with kindness. What will you choose?

May 2012 be your best year ever!

The Long Journey Home

Even though I've written and talked about this particular journey thousands of times, it never ceases to cause the tears to flow. Of all the thousands of miles I've logged in cars or on planes, this particular journey touches me the most because it was the day everything changed.

It's 1:46am March 15th, 2011, as I am posting this story... almost the exact time my mother passed away one decade ago tonight. At 1:50am she took her last breath and the first step in her Long Journey Home.

In the ten years since her death, I've come to realize that the one constant in my life, up until the very early hours of that morning, was my mom. She never wavered in her love for me, she was always there when I needed her, and was always willing to let me know when she needed me. But now, she's gone. In the course of a month, she slowly slipped into a place I will not know or understand until, hopefully, much later in life. I feel her presence less and less with each passing year, yet sometimes she still visits me in my dreams or talks to me when I'm feeling particularly sad or alone. But death has a way of making a final cut in the cord between hearts and arms.

I remember driving back from the hospital about five in the morning, after turning off the highway as Shawn Colvin's "Orion in the Sky" was playing on the stereo. I was barely able to breath, or see for all the tears in my eyes. I remember my daughter waking up every half hour or so with a puzzled look on her ten-year-old face, saying, tears welling up and spilling over, "I miss grandma." "I know, honey. So do I and I know she misses you."

I'll never forget looking over at her small form asleep on the cot by my mom's hospital bed, thinking how unfair it was that she wouldn't get to grow up with her grandma in her life. And, as a few dear friends and family talked and sang to her, rubbed her feet and caressed her tired face, I remember watching my son, in all his 15-year-old wisdom, telling her it was okay to go as he watched his best friend slip away.

We'd had a whole month to prepare for that day, that drive, that long journey home. In fact, we'd had much more than that; we'd had years. There was never any guarantee that her liver would come. But all the preparation in the world could never equip us for the overwhelming loss we felt that morning.

Mom, if you are still "out there," if there is still any thread of you left (hopefully romping with your favorite companions, Bear, Farley, Sam and now Grizzly) ,I want you to know I will always love you and I'll always be so grateful for everything you taught me during your all-too-brief stay here. Nothing is the same except for the love that remains intact and pure. We miss you. We always will.

100 People... 4 years. go.

A couple months ago I woke up to this blog and video on Superforest (my favorite way to greet the world when I turn on my computer!): Miniature Earth

It really made me think... even more deeply... that, if there were only 100 people in the world, I would of course want to make sure that EVERY ONE OF US had enough food, clean water, shelter, health care. I wouldn't be able to live in a world of 100 where any of the members of my little community was suffering while I was eating enough and sleeping out of the rain. So... if I wouldn't let that happen if the world only had 100 human inhabitants, why do we let that happen in a world of billions and plenty?

TO READ MORE... visit the full post on the Cafe Gratitude blogsite. Check it out and you'll see what's happening in that amazing community! Feel free to post comments here or at the Cafe Gratitude site. Thank you and blessings....

Jerry Rice's Incredible Gift

My mom was a major 49er’s Fan with a capital “F,” and her favorite player - by far - was Jerry Rice. He was a god in her eyes! She watched every game wearing her #80 football jersey, waving her 49er’s flag and football wand, whooping and hollering every time Jerry would make a catch or a touchdown. It was more fun to watch her than to watch the game most times.

I think, however, that the reason she loved Jerry Rice so much was not because of his incredible athletic skills- his speed, finesse, grace or Spiderman-like ability to catch and hold on to a ball. The reason she loved him so much was because of his heart. She could see that he put his entire heart and soul not only into the game but also into living. It was like he lived to make others feel better about themselves, no matter if they were on the field or not.

It was this generous, loving spirit I was given the gift of witnessing first hand almost exactly nine years ago in March of 2001.

It turns out that, all those years my mom was cheering and shouting for her '9ers, a ravaging disease known as Hepatitis C was slowly turning her liver into cement. It had lain dormant in her body for over thirty years. But in 1994, the year Jerry made 149 yards and three touchdowns to win the Superbowl, she was put on the waiting list for a liver transplant due to the ferocity of its progress. She managed to keep herself healthy with a rigorous regimen of Chinese herbs, diet and regular visits to the clinic at Stanford. However, in January, 2001, she took a bad fall which precipitated a rapid decline. We ended up rushing her to our local hospital on Valentine's Day with an acute case of pancreatitis.

Mom was very sick - she had been fighting this battle for over seven years, but with the opening the pancreatitis provided, the disease decided to make its final assault. If we didn’t find a donor liver for her immediately, she wasn’t going to make it. She was transferred Valentine's night to Stanford Medical Center where she received the finest of care and spent her last month alive.

I moved into the hospital with her, setting up a cot and watching over her night and day. We took the kids out of school so they could be close by, and she had more visitors than she knew what to do with. Family, friends, doctors, nurses – if they didn't know her before, everyone who came into her room fell in love with her by the time they left. As her stay went from days to weeks, and her health and energy deteriorated, everyone on her "team" began to feel that she needed as many boosts as possible in order to maintain her hope in the possibility that a liver would turn up in time.

She wasn’t getting any closer to her life-saving transplant, though; as a matter of fact, it seemed like it was slipping through out fingers. There is a window of optimization with transplants; you need to be sick enough to be eligible and healthy enough to withstand the grueling day-long surgery. We really needed a miracle- something to boost her spirits and our hopes. That’s when someone had the brilliant idea of seeing if we could have Jerry Rice surprise her with a visit, or even a phone call. That would give her something to talk about!

So, as she slept with her #80 football jersey for a pillow case, and her little football wand laying on her nightstand, we schemed. Jerry was right there conspiring with us, in a manner of speaking. In her quiet room we had come to call home, covered wall-to-wall with cards, posters, photos and banners from the worldwide multitude of friends and family who were rooting for her, we brainstormed about who we knew and who we knew who knew someone.

Then, after about a week, it seemed our miracle might be on its way. It just so happened that some of the nurses who were working with mom knew of another nurse – Krishna - who was a nanny for Jerry Rice when she wasn’t caring for people at the hospital. The nurses arranged a meeting with her, and she was truly one of the sweetest people I have ever met. No wonder she was the nanny for such a great guy! Krishna came to mom’s hospital room and talked with us about India - her home country - and mom’s worsening condition with such love and presence, we knew she would be able to help us. She told us she would convey mom’s story to Mr. Rice, and see if she could arrange something.

What seemed like an eternity went by without a word; in reality is was only a few days. But when you're waiting for the break that will save someone's life, every second seems like a week. By now, mom had slipped into a semi-comatose state, just breathing and resting her tired body. She hadn’t responded to us verbally for several days, and seemed to be slipping away.

On March 11th, however, our miracle came through. The phone, which was in pretty constant use with all the well-wishes and prayers, rang. I picked it up. It was Jerry Rice. I couldn’t believe it! “Oh my God!” I whispered to everyone in the room, covering the receiver with my hand. “It’s Jerry Rice!!!”

He listened very graciously as I explained the situation... mom would most likely not respond to him, but he could know that somewhere, somehow she was hearing him and what an incredible, wonderful surprise and lift that would give her spirit. Before I put the phone to mom’s ear, I said, “Mom, there’s someone very special on the phone for you.... It’s Jerry Rice!” She stirred, turned her head, and mumbled something. It was the first time she had responded that much in four days. “Go ahead, Mr. Rice.” As I held the receiver to her ear, I could hear him saying, “Hi Wendy. It’s Jerry Rice.” She turned and stretched her neck, as if trying to wake up. “Now, Wendy, I want you to be strong. You hang in there, Wendy!”

Then the real miracle occurred, when somehow, from deep inside of her, she managed to mumble weakly, “Okay.” Then he said, “Okay, Wendy. You take care now,” and I got back on the phone with him. “Thank you so much, Mr. Rice. You have no idea what a gift you have given her. Thank you.” “You take care now, and take care of your mom. Be strong,” he replied. And I really felt like he meant it. I hung up, and looked over at mom. “Hey, mom. That was Jerry Rice!” A weak smile flickered across her face. She had heard.

We were all shedding tears of joy and deep gratitude for this man who had taken time out of his busy life to call a woman who he didn’t know at all, but who deeply admired him. I will never forget his generosity, nor the generosity of Krishna, the nurse who so willingly went out of her way to help a very loved woman and her family and friends in our time of trouble.

Unfortunately, the gift of that donor liver never came in time... my mom slipped away at one in the morning on the 15th - the Ides - of March, 2001. But she did receive a the most precious gift- the gift of love- from a man she had idolized for years.

Thank you, Jerry, for one of the greatest presents my mom could ever have received. Thank you, and bless you for being such a wonderful example of what it is to be a true human being.

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The Promised Land, Part One… Walking toward a new future together

I've been thinking about how much flack President Obama has been getting for either not doing enough or too much, for being too radical or not radical enough, in his first ten months of office, and I just want to say, "Give the guy a break!" I don't know about you, but, honestly, I sort of expected him to take us to the Promised Land - like some kind of Moses - when he was sworn in as the 44th President. I think some part of me was hoping that he would be able to magically fix everything that's been broken in this country, and on the planet, as soon as he was inaugurated.

Yes, he made bold campaign speeches, both serious and hopeful – the first mainstream candidate besides Dennis Kucinich to really address the critical situation in which we find ourselves as a country and a species. He spoke the truth when he said it would take all of us making sacrifices to create real, lasting change. He made the phrase, "Yes we can!" internationally recognizable. Honestly, he was the first candidate I've ever had the honor of voting for because I believed in supporting him. And… he's only one man. No matter how sincere, visionary, well spoken or down-to-earth he is, he is human… just like the rest of us.

I was simply so relieved and thrilled at having such an incredibly down-to-earth, well-spoken, visionary leader in the White House, I forgot that it was all of us (well, the majority of us) who put him there. I was so ready for a change, I forgot I had a responsibility to be part of it.

Because the truth is, no matter how much some may want to blame him and his administration for the various messes we're in right now – our national health care travesty, the real, horrible and deepening chasms in our own country between the "haves" and the "have nots," and the greatest challenge of our time, the global climate crisis - we can't blame anyone but ourselves. We are collectively responsible. All of these things started a very long time ago and we chose to ignore the signs and keep living as if everything was just fine.

Responsibility is sometimes a scary word because it means we don't have the luxury of pretending any more. When we take responsibility for our circumstances, personal and global, we have to wake up. We have to remember that everything we do has an impact. It also means that we are going to have to give up some of the things that we thought we wanted if we're going to make it to that Promised Land. When we begin the process of waking up, of becoming who we were meant to be, we must slough off the old, tight skin that kept us small and comfortable in order to grow into the bigger person we know we are. Letting go is both terrifying and exhilarating; it means, as Charles DuBois said, "giving up who we've known ourselves to be for the person we are becoming."

Yes, it will require some sacrifice; each one of us is going to have to take a long, hard look at how we live our lives, from the big stuff to the seemingly mundane. From how we buy our groceries and what we choose to do to our bodies, to how we use energy in our homes and how we travel. We no longer have the luxury of believing that any choice we make is "insignificant."

We must ask ourselves questions like, can I walk or ride my bike instead of driving today? Do I really need that toy, appliance, clothing or beauty item? Could I buy a different item that would use fewer resources and create less waste? Where does my food come from? Where were those clothes, toys, foods made? Who made them? Did they get paid fairly for their work? In other words, how could I make choices that have less impact on the planet while feeling more fulfilled, happy and connected to the world around me?

We are each part of a larger whole, we are not at the top of the pyramid. There is no pyramid. We are part of the web of life, a strand in the tapestry woven from the one thread that connects us all, no matter how different we may seem from each other, the trees, dirt, buildings, stars and animals. We must wake up to the fact that the world was not made solely for our benefit; it is not a department store in which we "shop 'til we drop" without thought for the consequences. We must wake up to the fact that we share this world with many other people and species for whom this world is also a precious, living source.

Because we are the one species who has caused the most damage to this precious planet, we must be the ones to take responsibility for it. Personally. We can no longer afford to ignore the fact that every decision we make has a great affect on everything around us. And because the U.S. is the most privileged nation on the planet (and the one with the greatest environmental impact), we have the greatest responsibility to do our part. With privilege comes great responsibility.

No one, not even the President, is going to rescue us from these things that cause pain or suffering, No one has a magic wand to wave over our lives or the planet to "make it all better." There are no band-aids big enough for the wounds we've created. The only solution is serious, concerted effort to do our part. As my friend Yvonne St. John-Dutra says, "We are the heroes we've been waiting for."

What if, like Mahatma Gandhi, we all realized that "we must be the change we want to see in the world?" Just like it took all of us walking to the polls in the election process last year, it's going to take all of us stepping out of our comfort zones and walking there to make it to this Promised Land. And we must walk together!

It's not necessarily going to be an easy road to walk. There are potholes, steep hills, sharp curves and blind corners. We may sometimes feel like we can't go any further, like it's just too hard. But we must remember, just like President Obama, we're not alone. There are people right next to us who can help us when we need it. There are people we can help when they need it. If we all work together to get there, remembering that everyone matters, that each of us is here for a reason, and that we have a responsibility to each other and our world, we'll make it to the Promised Land with a lot more grace and joy.

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Friday morning, Topanga Canyon... free-falling after the leap

Last night was good but strange. I went to dinner with my host and two of his friends, a lovely couple taking a break from traveling the world to visit friends and family before heading out one more time. They were lovely people and I hope I get to know them better, but I felt very quiet and shy, and all I wanted to do was listen and observe. The introvert in me was in full bloom, and I felt strangely out of place, almost an intruder even though the three of them seemed quite happy to welcome me.

I felt awkward and almost dispassionate when Amy asked me why I'm in Los Angeles. I stammered out a crude explanation about the directive I received last fall to "go to L.A.," my desire to make connections and look for investors for the book project, and the fact that I was also looking for work that will sustain me in the meantime, but it all felt flat. What I really wanted to say was, "I have no freaking idea why I'm here!"

Why am I here anyway? Because a loud, booming voice from the sky told me to come here? Yes! Is it the same loud, booming voice I heard three years ago this month when I was told to write this book that's taking forever to complete? Yes!

So I listen and follow directions like the good girl that I am, and now I'm sitting in someone's (a very kind and generous someone, I might add) back patio, overlooking Topanga Canyon, watching the sun make its way over the crest of the mountain, feeling alone and scared, wondering why in the hell I'm here. "My GOD, what have I done?!?"

I guess the single simplest explanation is I've taken a leap - a giant, free-falling leap of faith. But doing it alone at 47 feels a lot different than doing it at in my 30's with a husband and a plan. It feels way scarier, even than taking a trip around the world with company, way more risky, and way lonelier.

Truth be told, if I were to give my Inner Critic full reign, it would say, "What the hell are you thinking?!? I mean really! You're up to your eyeballs in debt, have no idea how you're going to pay the bills due next week, and you're sitting here writing about it. You should be out there pounding the pavement. You should be looking for work right now. You should get up off your ass and do something! Instead you're sitting on your ass, sipping tea and writing about it." That's what my Inner Critic says.

And yet, when I say ever so kindly, "Thank you for sharing. Now please be quiet," when I take a deep breath and feel the depth of my loneliness as well as the rightness of where I am and the depth of conviction that this is the right place for me to be and I'm doing exactly what I need to do, I remember that listening to that big, booming voice (no, not the Inner Critic) has gotten me this far with great success. I've created a really amazing life for myself. Despite not yet having all the material things or financial freedom I desire, I have a beautiful home in the mountains I can go back to any time I wish, I have more amazing friends than I could have ever imagined, two incredible children who are creating amazing lives for themselves, and so much more. I remember that I've known for a year that I needed to come here, even if it meant feeling completely alone.

So, I take a deep breath and a good look around at the beauty of this scene, listen to the birds arguing, the cars driving by down below, hitch up my britches and exhale... I remember. I am right where I need to be and everything - everything - is okay. Even the rapid beating of my heart. Even the feeling like I'm either about to explode or pack up the car and head home as fast as possible like this was all just a big mistake. Even the feeling that this place is just too big, too cynical and too hard for an open-hearted, thin-skinned country girl like me and I have no idea how to maintain my open heart and greet everyone I meet from that place, like I seem to do so easily at home. Even that

I just have to breathe and be - in this moment, and this one, and this one. That's all I have to do to keep that monster in my head at bay.

After I do that for a bit, what's next? Post this blog, make some calls, get on craigslist and look for some jobs, then get in my car, head out of this protective canyon and into the big, wide valley of possibility. As my son wrote in the very sweet note he left on my passenger seat, "...give 'em hell. LA won't know what hit 'em.


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