Hop in! Where you headed?

I aim this blog at Hitchhiking stories, obviously. However, you can take that in the 'poetic' sense, as we are 'snakes' in time and the asphalt rivers take us to many places, as well as 'places'..

PLEASE REMEMBER TO READ PREVIOUS PAGES..
.... occasionally my own 'Road' spurs me to use this blog to communicate with someone I've 'travelled with' who holds a special meaning to me.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Diner Cooks War Story


Image Source:
http://www.relocatinginformation.com/cities/Oregon/ashlandOr.html
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THE DINER COOK'S WAR STORY

IT WAS 1969, AND A FINE SUMMER TO BE YOUNG AND TRUTHFULLY FOOTLOOSE IN A SMALL BUT FLAGRANTLY ECLECTIC TOWN LIKE ASHLAND. MORLEY HUGHES, MY COMPATRIOT, WHO WAS MORE OF AN OREGONIAN THAN I DID WHAT MOST OF US LONGHAIRS DID MOST AFTERNOONS: HAVING COFFEE AND JUST BULLSHITTING. THAT'S AN ACTUAL TERM.
ONE AFTERNOON WE PARKED OURSELVES IN A SMALL DINER THAT WE USUALLY DID NOT GO TO, OPTING USUALLY FOR THE BETTER COFFEE IN A PLACE CLOSER TO THE ANGUS BOWMAN THEATER WHERE THE ACTORS HUNG OUT FAIRLY OFTEN. I RECALL AN OFF DUTY ACTOR WHO I KNEW PLAYED MACBETH WHO'S ROAR, " WENCH!! ANOTHER FLAGON OF COFFEE!!" IN HIS STAGE VOICE, RESOUNDED THROUGH THE PLASTER WALLS.

BUT THIS PARTICULAR AFTERNOON WE TRIED THIS LITTLE DINER ON THE MAIN DRAG THROUGH TOWN.

THE FELLOW SERVING US, WEARING SOME AGE, WAS A FRIENDLY BUT MEASURED SOUL. I STILL DON'T KNOW EXACTLY HOW WE ENDED UP TALKING ABOUT WORLD WAR II. THE POINT IS WE DID.


AS WE ALL THREE CHATTED, THE FEELING THAT WE ALL SUSPECTED THAT WE ALL MIGHT BE MORE INTERESTING THAN WHAT MET THE EYE SEEMED TO GROW.
IN HERE SOMEWHERE WORLD WAR II CAME UP. I PUT IN ABOUT WHAT I REMEMBER ABOUT MY DAD TOLD ME OF HIS EXPLOITS IN THE PACIFIC AS A EHAD RADIOMAN ON A TROOP CARRIER. HE'D BEEN IN CHARGE OF 58 OTHER RADIO GUYS. THE SHIP HE WAS IN WAS THE ONE THE ADMIRAL HAD CHOSEN TO CALL HIS BASE.

IN THE BALANCED GIVE AND TAKE OF NORMAL CONVERSATION , THIS DINER COOK THEN PAUSED POIGNANTLY, AND BEGAN TO TELL OF HIS OWN PERSONAL EXPERIENCE IN THE PACIFIC.

" I WAS THERE, FELLAS." AN INVOLUNTARY SAD AFFECT FELL UPON HIM AS HE CONTINUED.
" ONE BATTLE I WAS IN LEFT ME A MEMORY I CAN'T WIPE AWAY, GUYS. I WISH I COULD.
"DURING A FIERCE BATTLE, SUDDENLY WE WERE ALL BEING FIRED UPON BY HEAVY ARTILLERY, PEOPLE DYING INSTANTLY ALL AROUND ME. EXPLOSIONS EVERYWHERE YOU LOOKED... AND BLOOD. JAPS 'N THE AMERICANS ALL RAN FOR COVER IN THE SMOKE AND FIREY EXPLOSIONS. SOMEONE'S SIDE MADE A BAD CALL ON THE DISTANCE FOR THE LONG GUNS.

" IN ALL THE RED AND WHITE FLASHES ALL AROUND ME AND THE EARTHQUAKE UNDERNEATH MY FEET AND THE EXPLOSIONS THAT BLOCKED OUT MY HEARING AND EACH HIT MADE ME THINK THAT I'D BEEN SHOT. THE SHOCK GOES RIGHT INTO YOUR BONES. I WAS AFRAID. MY FEET WERE SHAKING UNDER ME, I REMEMBER. I WAS LUCKY... YEAH..ENOUGH TO FIND A FOX HOLE TO DIVE INTO...AND I MEAN DIVE INTO. PROBLEM WAS, A JAPANESE HAD FOUND THE SAME HOLE JUST BEFORE ME." HIS EYES WIDENED AS HE SPOKE, GAZING OUT THROUGH THE DINER WINDOW PANE ONTO MAIN STREET.

 HE CONTINUED, "BOTH OF US PANICKED ON TOP OF PANIC. WE EACH STRUGGLED WITH OUR LONG BAYONETTED RIFLES, MY SPRINGFIELD THIRTY-AUGHT-SIX AND HIS ARISAKA. WE BOTH DID IT OUT OF OUR TRAINING, BUT WE DIDN'T KILL EACH OTHER.

" TIME SEEMED TO STOP, EACH OF US KNOWING WE COULD BE ALREADY DEAD. AS THE SHARP POINTS OF OUR BAYONETTES WERE AIMED THREATENINGLY AT EACH OTHER, AND BOTH OUR CRYING TEARFUL FACES, COVERED WITH MUD AND BLOOD, THROUGH OUR UTTER  FEAR, TRIED TO PUT ON 'WAR FACES'..SOMETHING HAPPENED."

THROUGH THE YEARS, AS THE DINER COOK TOLD HIS TALE, HIS STORY BROUGHT NEW TEARS TO HIS EYE. HE TRIED TO IGNORE IT AND MORLEY AND I IGNORED IT, TOO, OUT OF RESPECT. HE WASN'T FINISHED. IT WAS APPARENT THE TRUE STORY WAS JUST UNFOLDING.

"YOU DON'T HAVE ALOT OF TIME TO PROCESS INFORMATION IN A SITUATION LIKE THAT. BUT WHAT SEEMED TO HAPPEN HAPPENED TO BOTH OF US. BOTH OF US, SHAKING FOR FEAR AND THE WEIGHT OF OUR HEAVY RIFLES, IN ONE MOMENT I CAN'T FORGET... RIGHT THEN ... WE BECAME JUST TWO MEN. TWO HUMAN BEINGS IN THE SAME SITUATION.
" WE WERE BOTH FROZEN. AS WE FOUGHT TO MAKE SENSE OF EVERYTHING THROUGH OUR PARALYZING FEAR, OUR EYES... MAYBE MORE LIKE OUR SOULS...THROUGH OUR EYES ..MET. IT WAS LIKE WE SUDDENLY REALIZED THAT
WE TWO... KOJI SHIMAMURA FROM OSAKA AND ME, FRED ROBERTS FROM MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA.. WERE BROTHERS... NO OFFENSE MEANT BUT WHAT I'M TRYING TO SAY IS NOT BROTHERS LIKE YOUR GENERATION IS USING THE WORD, ALTHOUGH IT IS THE SAME IN SOME WAYS... THE MEANING OF THAT WORD, TO THE BOTH OF US THEN, WAS ... YOU COULD FEEL IT.. IT WAS HERE NOW AND ABSOLUTE...AND IT WAS ALL THERE WAS. WE BOTH KNEW THAT WITHOUT WORDS, AND THAT IT MIGHT ANY SECOND BE THE LAST THOUGHT EITHER OF US MIGHT HAVE...
"IF I TAKE ALOT OF WORDS TO DESCRIBE THIS, IT'S JUST THAT... IT'S JUST THAT THAT MOMENT LEFT IT'S MARK ON ME AND..WELL, I GUESS NO WORDS CAN RECREATE IT..
"..OK, BOYS, WANT A REFILL? HERE YOU GO."

FRED LIFTED THE YUBAN TEMPERED GLASS CARAFE FROM THE HOT PLATE AND FILLED OUR COFFEE CUPS, TRYING TO GAIN HIS COMPOSURE, TRYING TO REMIND HIMSELF HIS TALE WAS IN THE PAST, AS HE CONTINUED. THE AFTERNOON SUN WAFTED OVER THE WESTERLY 3 STORY BUILDING AND THROUGH THE MAPLE LEAVES OUTSIDE.

"...SO THERE WE WERE..." HE REPLACED THE CARAFE.
MORLEY AND I HARDLY REMEMBERED THE COFFEE, WE WERE SO ENTHRALLED.

HE WENT ON, "I BET YOU GUYS ARE WONDERING IF I JUST MADE UP THAT NAME FOR KOJI TO MAKE THE STORY SEEM MORE REAL. I DIDN'T THAT WAS HIS REAL NAME. EVEN THOUGH I ONLY KNEW HIM FOR A COUPLE HOURS."

"AS WE SAT THERE AIMING OUR GUNS AT EACH OTHER IN ALL THAT NOISE AND LIGHT AND FLYING DIRT AND ROCK AND SHAKING... WE WERE SIZING EACH OTHER UP. I CAN'T SAY HOW IT HAPPENED BUT OUR EYES... LOCKED ONTO EACH OTHER, AFRAID THE OTHER ONE MIGHT REALLY PULL THE TRIGGER.. SLOWLY, VERY GRADUALLY BEGAN TO SOFTEN. EVERYTHING I ALREADY TOLD YOU HAPPENED, BUT IT'S LIKE IT TOOK US BOTH AWHILE TO REALIZE ..FULLY.. THAT THIS WAS REALLY HAPPENING." FRED ROBERTS TOOK A BIG BREATH TO PULL HIMSELF TOGETHER.

"I REMEMBER IT WAS KOJI WHO GOT MORE CONTROL OF HIMSELF BEFORE I DID. AFTER ABOUT THE FIRST TWENTY MINUTES, IT'S HARD TO KNOW HOW LONG IN ALL THAT, BUT IT'S MY GUESS TWENTY MINUTES. MIGHTA BEEN LONGER...KOJI, HIS INTENSE STARE FIXED LIKE IRON ON MY OWN TWO BEADY EYES GLARING BACK,... I'LL NEVER FORGET, IN THAT MOMENT HE SLIGHTLY BOWED HIS HEAD TOWARDS ME..VERY SLOWLY. NOW THAT I THINK OF IT, IT'S KINDA LIKE TWO KARATE OR JUDO GUYS BOW AT THE END OF A MATCH. OUT OF RESPECT.

" AS HE DID THAT HE VERY CAUTIOUSLY, EVEN AS I GRIPPED MY SPRINGFIELD AND IT'S THREATENINGLY POINTED BAYONETTE, BEGAN TO MOVE HIS ARISAKA RIFLE'S BAYONETTE LOWER, AWAY FROM ME. WAS HE TRYING TO FOOL ME? I KEPT MINE ON HIM, BUT IN THE STARE WE SHARED WE WERE GETTING TO KNOW EACH OTHER. YOU KNOW WHAT THE WORD GUILE MEANS? IT MEANS TO BE DECEITFUL. CRAFTY. MANIPULATIVE, I GUESS. IF YOU'VE BEEN ALIVE VERY LONG, YOU DEVELOP YOUR OWN SENSE OF IT.
"BUT THERE'S ANOTHER WORD, IN IT'S OWN RIGHT. GUILELESS.  IN THIS WORLD YOU DON'T ALWAYS RUN INTO THAT ONE, BUT WHEN YOU DO RUN INTO A TRULY GUILELESS INDIVIDUAL, YOU KNOW IT. FINALLY... MAN WAS I SCARED TO TRUST THAT MAN!.. THERE'S A THIRD WORD IN IT'S OWN STANDING: BEGUILE. MEANING TO CHARM SOMEONE...BEGUILING..ETCETERA..
"WE'D BEEN TAUGHT IN BASIC TRAINING THAT THE ENEMY WILL USE ANYTHING TO FOOL YOU, SO .. IT WAS WITH ...I WANNA SAY PROFOUND ...TO MAKE YOU FEEL IT.  IT WAS WITH PROFOUND .. WELL, JUST FEAR, THAT I DECIDED TO TRUST HIM. BOYS, THIS WAS THE LONGEST MOMENT OF MY LIFE!" I SOUNDED LIKE A PLEA.
"..YOU'RE NOT GOING TO BELIEVE THIS, BUT IN ALL THESE YEARS. I DON'T KNOW WHY, BUT THIS IS ONLY THE SECOND TIME I'VE EVER TOLD THIS STORY. THE FIRST TIME WAS TO MY WIFE, GOD BLESS HER SOUL.
"SO, AS I WAS SAYING, I FINALLY LOWERED MY WEAPON. I WAS STILL ON GUARD, DAMNED RIGHT! BUT ALSO IN TOTAL FEAR. I GUESS I MADE THAT CLEAR BY NOW, HE-HE.
"THE JAPANESE SOLDIER PUT HIS RIFLE COMPLETELY DOWN ONTO THE GROUND AND, HIS GAZE NEVER LEAVING MY OWN, AND VICE VERSA, HE MADE HIS HAND LOOK CALM AS HE REMOVED IT FROM THE RIFLE. AFTER A LONG MOMENT, THROUGH HIS DIRTY AND BLOOD TINGED FACE, AN EXPRESSION OF RESOLVE COME UPON HIM. HE SLOWLY WITH FINGERTIPS TOOK OUT HIS PISTOL AND LAID IT NEST TO THE ARISAKA.
"I JUST WATCHED HIM, WHILE THE SHRAPNEL FLEW AROUND US..AND THE NOISE.., THEN I PUT MY SPRINGFIELD ON THE GROUND POINTING AWAY FROM THE JAPANESE. I, TOO, AS HE WATCHED WITH HEAD SLIGHTLY BOWED, REMOVED MY MILITARY .45 FROM IT'S HOLSTER AND PUT IT FAR AWAY FROM ME.
"....BOYS? THIS IS REALLY WHERE I WANTED TO CRY.. I DID CRY A BIT EVEN THEN.. I...WILL...NEVER..FORGET WHAT KOJI DID NEXT. AS HE KEPT LOOKING AT ME A SMILE.. NOT AN ENEMIES SMILE, NOT LIKE HE HAD ANOTHER ACE UP HIS SLEEVE... BUT AN ACKNOWLEDGEMENT.. AN EXTENSION OF TRUST.. I GUESS IT WAS LIKE, 'HELLO.', .BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT HE SAID NEXT. 'HELLO'.  THEN AFTER A LONG PAUSE, HE SAID,' I KOJI SHIMAMURA'. HE SPOKE ENGLISH! GO FIGURE!...TURNS OUT HE HAD GONE TO A UNIVERSITY IN THE UNITED STATES BEFORE THE WAR.
"OF COURSE BY THEN SOME OF THE VOLUME OF THE ARTILLERY HAD ABATED FOR AWHILE. WE GOT TO KNOW EACH OTHER.
"WHAT HAPPENED WAS WE BOTH REALIZED THIS MOMENT WAS OURS, AND OURS ALONE. NO SUPERIOR OFFICERS TO ENSURE WE EMBRACED THE BELIEFS AND POINTS OF VIEW OF EACH OF OUR COUNTRIES TIL THE MOMENT OF DEATH. AFTER ALL, IN THIS MOMENT, WHAT WOULD IT BENEFIT THE WAR FOR ME TO KILL KOJI OR HIM TO KILL ME.
"I TOLD HIM ABOUT GLADYS, MY GIRL BACK HOME, WHO I MARRIED WHEN I GOT BACK. TOLD HIM ABOUT FISHING TRIPS AND MY GROWING UP ON A FARM. HE TOLD ME ABOUT HIS WIFE, NOZOMI, AND THEIR FIVE CHILDREN. YOU COULD TELL HE LOVED HER MORE THAN LIFE. HE HAD NO PROBLEM LETTING SOME TEARS OUT AS HE SPOKE OF HER AND HIS KIDS, BUT HIS ACTUAL FACIAL EXPRESSION REMAINED STOIC. TEARS COME TO HIM BUT THEY DON'T RULE.
"HE HAD A REAL LOVE OF PHOTOGRAPHY.." FRED STOPPED THEN, SUDDENLY TURNING TOWARDS THE MIRROR BEHIND THE COFFEE POT, AWAY FORM OUR FACES. AN UNCONTROLLABLE FEW SOBS GRIPPED FRED. MORLEY AND I GLANCED AT EACH OTHER SOBERLY. FRED TURNED BACK TO US AND CONTINUED.
"SORRY, GUYS!" HE SAID SHORTLY, ENDING THE WORD 'SHORTLY' ABRUPTLY, NOT GET  A BREATH AND PUSH BACK SOME MORE TEARS.
"IT'S THE WORD 'PHOTOGRAPHY'... MADE ME THINK OF WHAT HAPPENED AFTER OUR GETTING ACQUAINTED. WHAT HAPPENED..", FRED GULPED BACK EMOTIONS," WAS THAT MY NEW FRIEND OF TWO HOURS AMIDST ALL THE EXPLOSIONS, KOJI, RECOGNIZING MY OWN MAYBE AMERICAN NAIVETE, AND ALSO RECOGNIZING THAT OUR SITUATION WOULD NOT ENDURE LONG BEFORE WE HAD TO RETURN. I MEAN, RETURN TO WHAT AND WHO WE WERE. WERE. ARE. I DON'T KNOW.
"KOJI PULLED A PHOTOGRAPH OF HIS WIFE AND CHILDREN OUT OF HIS HELMET WITH A PREWRITTEN LETTER TO THEM IN CASE OF HIS DEATH WITH THE ADDRESS AND EVERYTHING, READY TO GO.."
FRED SMILED AS HE LOOKED BEYOND THE MAPLE TREE OUTSIDE AND WATCHED THE MOUNTAINS IN BACK OF ASHLAND THROUGH THE GLASS AND TRAFFIC ON MAIN STREET PUTTED ON, BUT IT WAS NOT CLEAR IF HE WAS SMILING ON THE INSIDE.
MORLEY AND I TOOK A SIP TO ALLOW HIM A MOMENT OF REVERIE, THEN I ASKED FRED, "WHAT HAPPENED NEXT, FRED?"
CALMLY NOW, FRED SAID TO US BOTH, " BOYS. I WANT TO THANK YOU FOR .. FOR LETTING ME GO ON.. LIKE I SAID BEFORE, IT'S ONLY THE SECOND TIME..."
MORLEY AND I NODDED.
"KOJI SAID, 'FRED. IN THE JAPANESE ARMY WE ARE TRAINED TO HAVE NO MERCY. IT IS INSTILLED IN US FROM THE BEGINNING. ABSOLUTE. KILL THE ENEMY! BECAUSE OF THIS..I WANT YOU TO DO SOMETHING FOR ME, FRED."
I WAS TRAINED TOO, BUT I BEGAN TO GET WHAT HE WAS SAYING AS HE WENT ON. 'FRED,' HE SAID,'TAKE THIS PHOTOGRAPH AND LETTER.' HE HANDED THEM TOWARDS ME, AND I PAUSED BEFORE MY HANDS REACTED AND GENTLY TOOK THE ITEMS FROM KOJI'S HAND.' FRED. I WILL BE FOREVER GRATEFUL TO YOU IF YOU WOULD TAKE THE PICTURE AND LETTER TO MY WIFE AND CHILDREN AFTER THE WAR IS OVER, MY FRIEND.' I COULD ONLY NOD, AS I REMEMBER. THEN I PLACED THEM INSIDE MY OWN HELMET LINER'S NETTING UNDER THE STEEL HELMET. I SENSED KOJI WASN'T FINISHED. IT WAS A FEAR HE WASN'T FINISHED, AND I WAS RIGHT.
'FRED, MY ..BROTHER..' KOJI'S STRONG EXTERNAL DEMEANOR MOMENTARILY FAULTERED AS HE, HIMSELF, FOUGHT BACK HIS OWN GRIEF AT THE WORDS THAT EVENTUALLY ESCAPED HIS DRY DUSTY LIPS. 'FRED. YOU HAVE TO SHOOT ME. BECAUSE IF YOU DO NOT, AS I AM TRAINED MORE THAN YOU TO SHOW NO MERCY, I MUST KILL YOU. ALTHOUGH WE ARE BONDED BY THIS UNBELIEVABLE SITUATION WE'VE BEEN THROWN INTO, I WILL. YOU MAY NOT UNDERSTAND. BUT I WANT YOU TO DO THIS. IT WILL BE HONORABLE. MY FAMILY WILL BE PROUD. '"
FRED STOPPED FOR A MOMENT. " BOYS..." HE GASPED FOR AIR A BIT AND HIS EYES GOT WIDE," I CAN'T BELIEVE I'VE TOLD YOU THIS MUCH..
" KOJI TOLD ME,' THE TIME IS ALMOST UPON US, AS THE FIRING IS WANING. LET ME TELL YOU WHAT TO DO.'
"I JUST SAT THERE AS THIS JAPANESE MAN, A BIT OLDER THAN MYSLEF, I'D BECOME FRIENDS WITH, SPOKE TO ME. IT WAS A DREAM. I'LL TELL YOU, IT'S A DREAM THAT I HAVE EVERY NIGHT. FOR YEARS." AGAIN, FRED  BREATHED A LONG SIGH, THEN WENT ON.
"KOJI ... HE TOLD ME,'PICK UP YOUR RIFLE, FRED.' I DID. BOYS THERE'S NO SENSE IN ME TELLING YOU THE REST, BUT MY RESPECT FOR HIM..AND I GUESS NOT WANTING TO GET KILLED MYSELF. I JUST REMEMBER BEING LIKE A ROBOT, DOING WHAT KOJI SAID FOR ME TO DO. A DREAM. LIKE FOLLOWING DIRECTIONS FOR PUTTING TOGETHER A TOY TRAINSET. "SLOT A INTO POCKET B.."
OUR COFFEE WAS COLD BY NOW, AND FRED, NOTICING, GOT US FRESH HOT CUPS WITHOUT ASKING. MORLEY AND I COULD ONLY SIT THERE AS AN OTHER THAN USUAL AFTERNOON SUNSET RAY GLIMMERED OFF THE DUST IN THE DINER'S AIR BY MY LEFT ARM. FRED LEANED AGAINST THE BACK COUNTER TABLE  LIGHTLY AND JUST GAZED OUT THE WINDOW ADOPTING AN EVEN EXPRESSION, BACK TO HERE AND NOW. AWAY FROM THE PAIN.
I BROKE THE SILENCE.
CAUTIOUSLY. I WAS UNSURE IF I WAS OUT OF LINE. BUT I WANTED TO KNOW, AND I THINK MORLEY DID TOO.
"FRED," I SAID. " UM... DID YOU GO TO JAPAN TO DELIVER THE PICTURE AND LETTER KOJI GAVE YOU?"
I GUESS HE MUST HAVE KNOWN WE MIGHT ASK THAT QUESTION, BUT AS THE WORDS LEFT MY MOUTH I REGRET HAVING ASKED IT. EVEN SO I THINK FRED MUST HAVE NEEDED TO GET IT OFF HIS CHEST.
"NO, BOYS. I NEVER COULD FIND THE GUTS TO GO THERE. I COULDN'T FACE HIS WIFE. I KILLED HER HUSBAND! AFTER I TOLD GLADYS THIS STORY I THOUGHT I HAD ..RESOLVED IT, I GUESS. I EVEN REMEMBER ABOUT TWENTY YEARS AGO..IN THE FIFTIES, AFTER I TALKED TO GLAD ABOUT IT, I THREW THE PICTURE AND THE LETTER INTO THE FIREPLACE. BURNED 'EM UP!" HE SAID, LIKE FINISHING UP A DISTASTEFUL JOB, AND READY TO CHANGE THE SUBJECT. LIKE BURYING SOMEONE.
TRYING TO BRING THE STORY TO A SOMEWHAT CONGENIAL END, FOR US AND FOR HIMSELF, HE SAID, "I GUESS... I GUESS I DID HALF OF WHAT KOJI WANTED. THAT'S BETTER THAN NOTHING, AND ALL I ...ALL I COULD MANAGE TO DO. STILL.."

MORLEY SAID, " MAN, THANKS FOR SHARING THAT. HEAVY....HEAVY..I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO SAY." THERE WAS SOME MORE QUIETNESS BEFORE WE LEFT FRED'S PLACE.

FRED WAS SMILING CALMLY AS WE GOT UP TO LEAVE. SOME KIND OF WEIGHT HAD LIFTED OFF HIM. SOME, BUT NOT THE WHOLE WEIGHT.

I GUESS AT THE END OF A HARD JOB, A JOB YOU REALLY CAN'T FINISH, AN IMPORTANT JOB.. THAT WHICH GOES UNDONE CAN'T BE CHANGED. AND WE LIVE WITH OUR DECISIONS.

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