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Archive for April, 2011

That’s bullshit: Election edition

Earlier this week, I got the mail and was surprised to find two “Official Sample Ballots.”  “There’s an election coming up?” I asked my lovely wife.  “I have no idea,” she said.  So I opened mine up to see who and what were asking for our votes.

Page 1 has a table of contents and a big box telling me that the location of my polling place is shown on the back cover.  Page 2 has “Instructions to Voters,” explaining that I have to vote correctly or the Precinct Ballot Reader may have me re-fill it out.  Page 3 has illustrations on how to use their “Inkavote Plus” system, because history has shown that people are morons and can/will do anything incorrectly if given the opportunity.  Page 4: “Steps to Make Sure Your Vote Counts.”  These are important steps like, “Be informed,” “Know where to vote,” “Get your ballot,” and “Be careful.”  Heavy stuff going on there.  Page 5 shows the two people running for “Member of the Board of Trustees, Seat No. 5” for the Los Angeles Community College District.  I had no idea that that was an elected position, yet that wasn’t the most surprising thing on the page for me.  No, that honor goes to what appears below the box with the two candidates’ names: “END OF BALLOT.”

I turned the page to make sure they weren’t shitting me, but just found a “Voter Bill of Rights,” important telephone numbers, and information on how to vote by mail.  So yeah, they’re serious alright.  One thing to vote on in the entire sample ballot.  No offense to Ms. Gutierrez or Mr. Svonkin who are vying for this position, but I don’t think the need to lock up Seat No. 5 outweighs the time and money it takes to create, print, and mail these ballots.  This isn’t a special election to recall our Governor or anything, it’s a frickin’ seat on a board of trustees for the community college district.  I’m sure that’s very important to some people, but can’t it wait for the next election and be filled by some Interim Seat No. 5 person in the meantime?  That just doesn’t make any sense to me.

I like voting.  It’s a privilege and I like being a part of the process.  That said, I’m not participating in this election, and I can’t imagine that too many people will.  I’m hoping that other districts have multiple items on their ballots and that mine is unique for having just the one, but that doesn’t change my opinion.  There should be someone with the common sense to single out districts like mine to assess the importance of the ballot measures/seats and say, “No, that can wait.  They won’t vote on anything this time around, and we’ll save that printing and postage money for another time.”  But 8 pages of information sent at least once to every household for a single, fairly inconsequential position?  That’s bullshit.

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What’s in store

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It was early for most people, but since I’d already been up for a couple of hours with our kids, it felt more like ‘late morning’ to me as I arrived at Trader Joe’s.  I got the very first spot in the parking lot, which reminded me of the day’s true time.  I got my cart, put my brought-from-home bags in it, and walked inside.   Less than a minute later, I heard an older woman say this to a TJ’s employee: “I can’t find anything since you moved everything around.”  Quite earnestly, the employee replied, “Would you like my help locating something?”  “No,” she said, “I’ll find it.”  Then she walked away.  I laughed to myself about that interaction and thought it would probably be the most interesting one of the shopping experience.  But my cashier had other plans.

There were three open checkout lanes, and each had one customer nearing the end of the transaction.  One customer brought out a checkbook, so fuck that one.  The second cashier seemed to be bagging pretty slowly, so I got into the third lane.  “Did you check the eggs?” the young man behind the register asked the customer.  “Yes, thank you,” she said.  “They’re eggceptional,” he replied.  He glanced over at me, and I shook my head at him.  You see, I consider myself a punster and therefore have (shopping) carte blanche to express my likes and dislikes of puns.  I had a little smile, as if to say, “Oh man, that’s a bad one but I’ll give you props for trying it out.”  He must’ve taken my look and shaking head to mean, “I wholeheartedly approve of what you’re doing and would feel cheated if you didn’t continue down this path o’ puns.”

“I hope they’re eggsactly what you were looking for,” he added.  The customer smiled and continued loading the bags into her cart.  Undeterred, he continued: “I’m not eggsaggerating!”  She smiled again, and he added a timely and appropriate one: “You’re egging me on.”  I offered an approving nod for that one, proving that I hadn’t given up on him yet.  He made a joke to her about liking his job, especially since they don’t do drug testing.  It fell pretty flat, so he went back to what he thought was his bread and butter: “Those bags are heavy, so you butter lettuce help you out.”  I liked the play on words, but considering she didn’t have lettuce there, it didn’t quite work for me.  Still undeterred, he followed up with his worst of his shtick: “I’m really milking this!”  I shook my head again and added some closed eyes this time, clearly stating my inner monologue of, “That was a bad one and you should’ve probably quit a while back.”

The lady left and it was my turn to face the famed punning cashier of Trader Joe’s.  We greeted each other and while he was scanning my items, he asked if I had any awesome plans for the weekend.  “Not really.  I just plan on willing the Lakers to another victory tomorrow night,” I said.  “Yeah, that was a good game last night,” he said.  “It was all me,” I told him, “I sat in the right position and wore the right shirt.”  He laughed, and I mentally patted myself on the back for illustrating that I had more than puns in my repertoire.  “I write the Lakers a lot of letters, but they never write back,” he said.  I smiled, though I was unsure of where he was going with this.  “Seriously,” he said, “I’ve written them a bunch of times and haven’t even gotten a ‘Thank you for your letter’ email in response.  At least the Green Bay Packers gave me that to thank me for being a fan.”  “That’s too bad,” I said (and I really sold it).  He then picked up the mini watermelon I was buying.  “I have meloncholy,” he said.  “Ya know, if you had a picture of a collie to hold up next to it, you’d be a regular Carrot Top,” I said.  I didn’t mean that as a compliment, but he smiled and thanked me with some bad carrot pun that I fortunately can’t remember.

Everything fit in the two bags I brought except for some milk and chicken broth.  He grabbed a paper bag for those items and said, “There’s not too mushroom in your bags.”  As with the butter lettuce comment, there were no mushrooms involved, so my appreciation of the pun was dampened by the lack of relevancy.    That said, it was still a high note after some of the other ones, and I was happy to see him go out on top.  But he just couldn’t help himself.  “Oh broth-er,” he said, pointing to the chicken broth.  I gave a polite smile, and we wished each other nice weekends.

Overall, I appreciate what that guy brings to the table.  Sure, there were some groaners and forced lines in there, but he was like a comedian trying out new material at some small clubs before his Comedy Central special.  The next time someone actually has butter lettuce or mushrooms, he’ll be ready and get genuine smiles or even laughs in return.  He was honing his craft, and there’s no problem with that. I hope he appreciated my non-verbal feedback and would rather I express disapproval than not carrot all.

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Unsuspended disbelief

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When watching movies or television shows, I’d say my ability to suspend disbelief is pretty average. I’m good at completely ignoring the number of bullets the hero’s gun magically holds, for example. I get it, and I know I’m not supposed to actually think about those things.  Then there are the middle of the road ones that I notice but they don’t really bother me too much. Ya know, the tax attorney who just happens to have model-quality looks or the lack of traffic on the L.A. freeways. I’ll note things like that and then move on, pretty much as the creators want me to.  There is one thing, however, that no matter how many times I see it on tv or in a movie, I just can’t get behind. It takes me completely out of the artificial world (no matter how invested I was before that moment) and reminds me that the people and situations aren’t real. What dashes this artifice in such a destructive manner? People full-on making out right after a full night’s sleep.

Please tell me I’m not alone in this, because I’m not hyper-vigilant about any other cleanliness-related things that I know of. Basically, I know what my mouth is like when I wake up, and I’m pretty sure yours is like that too.  I can say that confidently because that’s the whole reason we brush our teeth in the morning.  We brush our teeth at night to get the food particles and stuff out of the wrong places, but in the morning, I’ve done nothing but sleep since my last brushing session.  And yet I see it happen over and over again.  A couple wakes up, they share a few lines of dialogue, make “let’s totally do it again” eyes at each other, and then boom – a one-way ticket to Make Out Town.  Every single time, I snap back to reality and think, “Uh, don’t you wanna at least eat a dab of toothpaste first?”  (Oh yeah, they never have to pee after a full night’s sleep either.  Liars.)

I can only think of one movie scene off hand in which a character acts like how I think a real person might.  If memory serves, “Notting Hill” has Julia Roberts’ character kind of covering her mouth with the bed sheet while talking to Hugh Grant upon greeting the morning.  I accept that and applaud the touch of realism…even if the movie focuses on a humble bookstore owner who happens to look like, ya know, Hugh Grant.

(Well shit.  I just found the scene online that I was thinking of  – starting at 7:15 of the clip – and she does nothing of the sort.  A quick Google search of “Julia Roberts covering her mouth with a sheet” tells me that it was from the movie “America’s Sweethearts” when she was in bed with John Cusack.  All this time I thought I only remembered Hank Azaria’s ridiculous accent from that movie, but apparently that scene stuck out too.  And yes, I can somehow shrug off the fact that Julia Roberts plays the unattractive sister in this movie.)

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Match game

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Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a big lover of words and word games.  It’s in my blood, and not a day goes by without me making a pun or giving serious thought to specific words and phrases.  For example, I recently said to my lovely wife, “I kind of feel bad for breakfast.  ‘Brunch’ is supposed to be a combination of it and ‘lunch,’ yet it only uses two of its nine letters while 80% of ‘lunch’ gets used. That seems unfair.”  She’s used to this kind of random utterance and responded with a very salient point: “I’m pretty sure breakfast doesn’t give a shit.”  Can’t argue with that.

With the importance I place on words and game in mind, I was definitely intrigued when my homey Rockabye asked if I’d be interested in trying out for the game show “Lingo” with him.  Apparently his softball teammate’s godmother (or someone or a similarly tangential relation) was the casting director and they were looking for teams of two to compete in a revamped version of the show coming soon to television.  I’d watched “Lingo” many times in the past (but hadn’t realized it was off the air), and it was definitely the kind of show I was good at.  It didn’t require the hardcore knowledge base of “Jeopardy,” but it was much closer to that than the mindless button-pushing of something like “Press Your Luck.”  That was key for me, because I’m not a very outwardly enthusiastic person.  I have a pretty dry sense of humor and often monotone delivery that wouldn’t suit the “Price is Right” crowd, if you know what I mean.  So I said, “Why not?  Let’s give it a try.”

Rockabye got the instructions for what we needed to send in, and it was all quite straightforward: name, age, occupation, location, and a brief description of why we should be on the show.  It’s that last item that got me excited about our chances.  Not to toot my own horn (because I’m not nearly flexible enough), but I have a good track record with things like that.  I always see them as opportunities to stand out from the rest because 95% of them will be nearly identical.  I’ve had a great deal of fun writing cover letters, an online dating profile for a former co-worker, and 30-second company overview presentations for friends with a small business.  So with this one, I wanted to make sure that we weren’t just saying the same thing as everyone else, and I believe we accomplished that:

Why are we right for Lingo?
When the ancient Mayans invented Lingo as a way to appease their gods and stave off catastrophic volcanic eruptions, they also unearthed an eerie prophecy:  One day, it was said, two saviors would rise from the masses to claim the Lingo throne as their own and right all of the wrongs in the world.  Are (his name) and (mine) the men to face this foretold task and fulfill their predetermined destinies?  Uh, we don’t know.  We’re just two guys who have been friends since Junior High and enjoy playing word games together.  We’re always up for a challenge though.

A day later, Rockabye was contacted and set up a time for us to come in and officially audition.  I was getting excited about this opportunity and began thinking about good one-liners to throw out there.  He and I played an online version of the game a bunch of times and held a mini strategy session over the phone.  The confirmation email he received said that we’d be on camera for the audition and that they were looking for outgoing and enthusiastic people.  I watched some old episodes online and confirmed what I remembered from watching it years before: the people were friendly and likeable but no more outwardly excited than we would be.  The only note I kept telling myself was to throw in little phrases like, “Ok, here we go!” before each new board to add the illusion of extra enthusiasm.

The day came, and I picked Rockabye up at his office since it’s close to the studio where the audition was held.  We were confident in our ability to play the game well, which was the key factor in actually winning money from the experience.   The old show didn’t pay out much but the email threw out figures of $25,000 and $100,000 , so that would be awesome.  We certainly weren’t counting our chickens though, and kept reminding each other to pretend to have an elevated energy level.  We walked into a nice building and signed in with the security guy there.  He pointed us down a hallway and told us to take the elevator up to the right floor.  As we got to where the elevator should be, I looked around but didn’t see it.  Rockabye did though, and he pointed to a small doorway with a rickety gate that you manually close to keep from falling out.  “It’s like we’re in some old hotel in Paris,” I said, but I might be the only one who associates those two things with each other.  It was a little scary in there, but we made it to the floor and started down the next hallway.  That was precisely when I could tell that my imagined version of this audition was far different than the one we were about to have in reality.

You see – and this is almost all my fault – I kept picturing a real game show set with studio lighting, big cameras, and rows of empty seats in the background.  The woman’s email had said that we would be playing the game in the audition and on camera, so I pictured the actual game.  Part of what led me to that assumption was that the game takes place on a computerized board and also has a component in which the players reach into a bowl of numbered balls situated in their dais-type thingy.  As we walked down this hallway though, it was clear that the rooms were just rooms – and old, small ones at that.

We found our room as the last one on the right, and it was empty aside from a few rows of folding chairs and a table with some papers.  We signed in and each grabbed a questionnaire, which was way more detailed than I had expected.  After the standard “Who are you?” questions, it started asking about hobbies, personality traits, the relationships that are most important in your life, how you know your teammate, and many more specific ones.  For example, “What do people often incorrectly think you are?”  Rockabye put “Gay” and I put “Canadian.”  We thought those were solid answers.

We weren’t too far into it when the door to the adjoining office opened and some people who looked like they were running the thing came out.  We introduced ourselves and were just past the pleasantries when the main casting guy said, “So…we’re doing theme shows.  What’s your thing?”  Uh oh.  We said that we had gone to junior high, high school, and college together so we’d been friends for over 20 years.  They apparently got a lot of that, so we launched into a very enthusiastic version of a story about how we tricked someone in college into thinking that we were twin brothers for an entire year…even though we’re six months apart in age and she met both sets of parents separately.  They weren’t impressed.  “We’re looking to have good themes, so what else could we say about you guys?”  Rockabye leveled with him: “Look, if you just tell us what you guys are missing or looking for, we can easily play any of those parts and give you what you’re looking for.”  The guy was about to respond to that when another duo walked in and started introducing themselves.  “And how do you two know each other?” asked the casting dude.  “We’ve been friends for about a minute,” one guy said.  “Yeah, we just met in a hip hop class last week,” said the other.  I chimed in: “I took a hop hip class once…it didn’t turn out so well.”  That got some laughs, but the casting guy turned back to the duo.  “So we could say you’re dancers then?”  “Yeah, we’re dancers.”  Damn, that was too easy for them.  Rockabye said that he and I would talk about it some more while we filled out the rest of the questionnaire and come up with some options.

“Well shit,” I said.  He agreed, and we spent the next half hour or so trying to come up with who we could pretend to be.  We talked about being the uber competitive guys, the English majors, the movie quoters, and the Jews.  None of them felt right.  After going through everything, we had one clear standout that we were going to go with when called in, and hopefully they’d like it.  A few minutes later, and it was our turn.  The room was not at all what I had been expecting, even with my lowered expectations.  There was a bed sheet tacked up as a backdrop, a whiteboard for playing a super low-tech version of the game, a light up in one corner, and a regular-looking video camera on a tripod.  “Energy,” I said to myself, “Energy.”  The casting guy welcomed us and almost immediately asked what our thing was going to be.  I went for it: “We’re nice guys.  We’re the guys your mom wants you to bring home because we’re polite, educated, presentable, and tattoo-free.  Pair us up against ‘The Bad Boys’ and that’s a solid idea for an episode.”  He looked down at our questionnaires and asked, “What else could we say about you?”  We floated a few of our also-ran ideas, which were immediately met with the same lack of approval.

Rockabye made his same pitch about our ability to be whatever they’re looking for is they could just point us in a direction.  A silent minute passed before he spoke again.  “Could you be ‘White Collar?'” “Absolutely,” I said, “I wear a suit everyday and can say I’m an executive.”  Rockabye’s job didn’t fit that description, but the casting guy had no problem picking another job from his past, making up a new title for it, and massaging its description so it could fit into the category he seemed to like the most.  In other words, lying could make us more interesting.

Once we settled on our new backstory, the guy said he was going to turn on the camera.  We were to start with big energy and introduce ourselves before he asked us questions.  I pretended it was some acting role and just went with it.  When it was my turn, I did my intro and ended with, “And we’re here to play LINGOOOOOO!”  I did a big double point at the camera and everything.  I’m not sure my family would’ve recognized me.  So then he asked some questions about us, about each other, etc. before asking, “What would you do if you won $100,000?”  My smile dropped and I looked right into the camera.  “In all seriousness, I would roll around naked in it.”  That got some laughs.  Rockabye said, “What if it’s a check?”  “Well that would be a little less impressive then,” I replied.  “I guess you could cash it and then roll around in it.”  “I’ll keep that in mind.”  Casting dude appreciated that, and he’d chuckled a few times after our attempts at humor, so I felt pretty good about that.  I knew we were never get on the show based on our low levels of zany enthusiasm, so we shifted on the fly to go for nice and funny guys who were good at the game.

Speaking of the game itself, it was then time to play a couple of rounds on camera.  The casting assistant was there with a dry erase pen while the main guy stayed behind the camera.  “Remember to think aloud,” he told us.  “Ok, here we go!” I said, feeling simultaneously proud and embarrassed with myself.  We got the first word pretty quickly, and I gave a heartfelt fist pump.  “Okay, this one is trickier,” he said.  It was a five-letter word starting with a B.   After a guess or two, we had BO__S.  “Bolos,” I said, “like the ties popular in the state of New Mexico.”  Another chuckle.  Then we had BOO_S.  Rockabye went with “books,” which I thought was a good guess since a K would make it a trickier word to guess than “boots.”  That was wrong though.  “Remember,” the casting guy said, “it can be anything.”  We looked over and he was pantomiming large breasts.  I appreciated the hint and didn’t want to sell him out, so I said, “Well, they’ve never let me down before, so let’s go with ‘boobs!'”  We cheered as she wrote in the final B.  “I’ve always been a big fan,” I said.  More chuckles.

He asked us a few more questions, with one in particular being the most telling in my opinion: “Have you been on any reality shows within the past twelve months?”  No, of course not.  You know why?  Because no reality show would ever want people like us.  We’re way too boring to ever be considered.  Equally as important, neither of us would ever want to be on a reality show.  That’s not who we are, although it was seeming more and more like that’s who they wanted.  He put a sheet of paper over the camera and said to us in a lower tone, “Ok, now here’s the part where you need to make your plea to the producers as to why they should choose you.  Lots of energy and passion.  Ready?”  That was the absolute last thing I wanted to do right then, and my initial instinct was to curl up into my shell before I remembered that I didn’t have one.  So we just went with it again.  I don’t remember all of it, but I remember the beginning and end.  I started (excitedly of course) with, “Listen up, producers.  You want us on Lingo.  Without us, it’s LingNooooo.”  The assistant couldn’t help but snort a little in her chair from that one.  At the end, I said, “We’re eager, we’re enthusiastic, and we’re…we’re awesome.  That pretty sums it up – we’re awesome.”  “Well you are,” said Rockabye.  “Yes, I am.  You’re awesome adjacent,” I replied.  A couple more laughs and we were done. We went back to the original room and saw a pair of hippies waiting for their turn.  They had their thing down already without having to say a word.  Lucky.

The casting guy said that they’d call people and try to give them at least a day’s notice before shooting, and that all filming would take place on Monday through Wednesday of the following week.  Well, that was this week and no calls came.  As I replayed the audition’s highlights for my lovely wife, she said, “It sounds like you had some funny lines in there and did a good job.”  “Thanks,” I said, “but ironically, I don’t think they were looking for wordplay.”

Trying to pretend I had a different personality even for a short amount of time was pretty tiring.  I would’ve done it hands down for an opportunity to win $25-$100,000, but since it wasn’t nearly as good a fit as we’d imagined, I’m not too upset about how it turned out.  I guess tv people know what makes for interesting tv, and I’m certainly not shocked to learn that I’m not it.  Only one thing really bothers me about that entire experience: there’s a theme we never brought up that would’ve been truthful and fit well in their format.  In fact, I just thought of it while writing this post: We’re both gigantic Lakers fans.  We could’ve talked for hours about Lakers teams in the past, present, and future.  Pit us against two Celtics fans, and I would’ve had even more incentive to win the whole f’n thing.  We’re in L.A., City of Transplants Who are Vocal About Their Cities of Origin, so I’m sure there were fans of many other teams just waiting for someone to nudge them in that direction (as we were nudged toward the White Collar category).  I could’ve worn my old school Mikan jersey over one of my two Pau Gasol shirts, my Lakers digital watch, and maybe even a headband to really look the part.  Oh well.  Instead, I’ll just record an episode or two whenever they air.  Maybe I’ll stare longingly at the screen and think, “Man, we could’ve done so well at this game…if only we weren’t so good at this game.”

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Putting words in my hand

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Sorry it’s been so long between my posts.  I’m just glad I have three co-bloggers to pick up the slack during my busy times.  In any case, I’m back with a brief post here and another one hopefully ready to go before this week is up.

As documented in detail here, I have long had a problem with Carl’s Jr.’s marketing campaigns.  One of my biggest gripes has centered on their portrayal of men as useless Neanderthals who can’t manage to comprehend simple concepts (like the fact that you can buy raw ground beef at a market and cook it instead of just poking at it like a moron).  Well sadly, Carl’s Jr. isn’t the only place where men get painted in a bad light.  In fact, there’s an entire industry that thinks in a very similar way: the greeting card industry.

My lovely wife and I had an anniversary a couple of weeks ago.  Several days before that, I went to a store to buy a card.  Sure enough, there was a section devoted to anniversary cards and a good number of tabs indicating cards designed for a wife.  I flipped through all of them and was sadly reminded of the same problem I’ve faced for every anniversary and Valentine’s Day since we got married.  Apparently, men are unfeeling dolts who lack the ability to string two words together.  I somehow missed that memo.  The subtext is the same in the all of the cards: “I can’t express my love for you in writing and should probably say nice things more often, so here’s a card to help me out.”  I’m completely serious; check this section out next time you’re in a card store and you’ll see what I mean.  “Sometimes I forget to tell you all of the wonderful things you are to me,” one will start.  “Life has a way of getting pushing the important little things to the side,” says another.  I can’t tell if some of them are for anniversaries or for some unmarked section called “Let Me Try a Few of the Things the Therapist Suggested Before We Try a Separation.”  I kept waiting for the next one to start with, “I’m sorry you found that stripper’s number in my cell phone…”  One after another, the cards with tri-folded, glittery monstrosities with paragraphs (or even worse, stanzas) of text.  I wanted something with one or two general lines and space for me to write the things that I actually wanted to say to my specific wife.

After getting increasingly frustrated, I took the least of the evils (one with not too much text and nothing that had me apologizing for not saying the things I actually say) and sought out a section of blank cards.  My thought was that I could find something with a pretty picture and do the rest myself, but I couldn’t find any blank ones.  I don’t know if I was a bad searcher, if this was a store with a particularly poor selection, or if blank cards are no longer made because card companies find that everyone needs their help now.  I contemplated finding an anniversary card for a husband and crossing the inappropriate words out, but instead went with the one in my hand which worked just fine.

I realize that I’m not the typical man when it comes to expressing myself through words, but there have to be more of us than the greeting card industry estimates.  All they’re doing is exacerbating the problem.  If more and more men don’t have to learn how to use their words to express such complicated thoughts as “I love you” and “Happy Anniversary,” then there will never be a need for them to try.  And ladies, wouldn’t it mean a hell of a lot more to picture your husbands with a pen, a blank card, and an expression that denotes some level of thought instead of some flowery language that some corporation thinks is what you want to read?  Who knows, maybe I’m overestimating my fellow man and the end result would be a lot of cards that say, “Happy Aniversry.  Its like our weddings birthday or sumthing.”  And if that’s the case, then I’m afraid Carl’s Jr. has already won.  God help us all.

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