March 16, 2011
Quake ‘n Bake
imagine how many times I started writing this, either on paper or in my
head, only to have events trample whatever fundamental assumptions I
was riffing on and force me to start over again. Forget content; even
tone was a tough call. I contemplated trying to be funny, taking a
somber Walter-Cronkite-pronouncing-Kennedy-dead approach, and
everything in between. At this point (Wednesday noon, March 16, aka Day
6), I’m throwing out the rule book. To hell with consistence of tone. Screw coherence.
There are times when coherent, sensible writing is almost in bad taste,
and this is one of them.*
At 2:46 p.m. on Friday, March 11, I
was napping. I continued napping as perhaps tens of thousands of my
fellow Honshu residents were erased from existence. By pure dumb luck,
I was at our farmhouse in rural western Japan, nearing the end of a
weeklong visit. More than 400 miles from the worst-hit area in
northeastern Japan, we felt not so much as a jiggle.
Our home is a TV-free zone. It was
an hour or so after the event that I would first read of it online. The
Mugginses back home, Mother in particular,
tend to overreact to these little tremors we get now and then, so I
fired off a light-hearted email to my sister. After waking up that
Friday morning in the Midwest, she would in turn reassure the rest of
the clan, as usual. By dinnertime in Japan, reports were beginning to
indicate something more than just one of our little tremors, so I sent
a less flippant but still reassuring follow-up message to big sis.
None of this matters to you, I
know, but for me, the answer to the question “Where
were you when the Big One hit?” will from now on, for the rest of my days, form part of my profile and identity in the eyes of every Japanese person or resident foreigner that I meet, just as their answers to that question will color my perception of them.
Those early hours were a period of
exhilaration that I now look back on with nostalgia. Yes, the news was
dreadful, but the senses were so overwhelmed with Wow-look-at-that! images as to
temporarily short-circuit empathy. The video clips seemed torn from the
fever-dreams of a hyperactive nine-year-old recently taken off his
Ritalin: Oh, look: houses being dragged across farmland on a wave of
muddy water with their upper floors aflame. My, my. You don’t see that every day. No-sirree.
In the absence of TV (and that has
been a blessing, I think, all things considered), I soon found the BBC
live news feed the most sensible source of news. I have often asserted
that, occasional reviews of male-oriented sex toys notwithstanding,
this site strives to be family-friendly, so I hope you will take
circumstances into account and forgive me when I note that Matt Drudge
can suck my cock. And Arianna Huffington can line up behind him. No,
scratch that—let me chew on this a while until I come up with something for Drudge to
do that he wouldn’t actually enjoy. (Then again, Arianna is holding up pretty
well for an older white lady, so I’ll leave her
where she is.) These two, it seems, will never be satisfied until every
single resident of Japan is as properly terrified as they seem to think
we ought to be.
Drudge will casually throw up links
like “Confusion, Chaos Spreading!” the oddly hopeful “How Bad Can It
Get?” or “Is Josh Muggins And Everyone He Cares About Fated to Die
Screaming?”—okay, the last one hasn’t appeared yet, but you just wait—though if you can find the courage to click on any of his links, you more
often than not find a balanced piece devoid of references to spreading
pandemonium or racial extinction.
site, in contrast, is thorough, professional, non-hysterical, and oh so
teddibly British. It’s like the apocalypse filtered through Mary Poppins. I grew particularly
attached to the dispatches of a correspondent improbably named Damian Grammaticas. Without a visual to go with that moniker, I pictured him roaming the devastated northeastern countryside in a tuxedo, a martini in one hand and a blackberry in the other. As the focus of the news shifted from nature to nuclear, however, Damian Grammaticas wandered near the problematic Daiichi Power Station and has not since been heard from.
Anybody here seen my old friend,
Damian? Can you tell me where he’s gone?
My Dark Passenger Speaks
The BBC feed also allows for contributions
from Japan-based readers. Several Westerners chime in to report the
situation in their part of the country, and before long the expats
began to do what expats in Japan always do best, bicker among
Meanwhile, from some dimly lit corner
of my mind came a squeaky whisper: You
should say something, it chided. Don’t be too cute, but file some reports. Put forth a message
every couple of hours. Get the name out there. Sell some books.
I was repulsed by the squeaky whisper. I ignored it, silenced it, and now
would like to disavow it. But it was there. I have to admit that, for a
few seconds, it was there.
Sunday, aka Day 3, was the turning
point. Until Sunday, an unscathed Old Japan Hand like myself, monitoring events from a safe haven, could digest everything the media were throwing at us, unpalatable as it all was. “All right, an earthquake has
ravaged an area far from where I live. We’ve seen this movie before: Kobe in 1995, Chuetsu in 2004. True, this is bigger and nastier, what with the tsunami
and the mud-surfing houses. But we know how this plays out: Eventually
the aftershocks die down and the cleanup begins. People in the afflicted
area have to live in metal sheds for several months, so life pretty much
sucks for them. But for the rest of us, life goes on.”
Even when the theme of the drama
shifted to the nuclear power plant, there was still a jaded sense of
been-there, done-that. The phrase “Tokaimura Incident of 1999” resonates. Lots of scary news for days, three plant workers
seriously contaminated (two of whom would die), beaucoup recriminations
after the fact—but no real harm.
To be sure, we had never had the earthquake-cum-power-plant-breech combo platter before, but, well, these things have a way of working out.
That was the carefree thinking up
through mid-day Sunday, the day I was scheduled to return to Yokohama
but decided not to.
It is hard to pinpoint exactly when
the tide turned that Sunday afternoon. It seems so long ago now. Was it
the first explosion at the power plant? Probably, but in fact that
happened on Saturday. Was it the announcement of electricity rationing?
The evacuation from the plant area? The announcement that at least one
enormous aftershock was all but guaranteed? Perhaps it was an accumulation
of those things.
Somewhere in that mix, a rusty
whisper—an entirely different voice from the
one that had wanted me to exploit the tragedy to promote name
recognition—chimes in with the message: This isn’t like those other
incidents. This one is different.
“How different?” I ask. “Will Mrs. Muggins and I be affected?
Even here in the countryside?”
You mean, directly and physically? Probably not, comes the reply.
like that ‘probably’.”
Nothing will ever be the same again.
pretty lurid, blanket statement. Almost Drudge-like.”
Back to the Present: Day 6
Here in the western countryside,
supermarkets are still uncrowded and fully
stocked. Tsunami warnings were lifted three geological eons ago, it
seems, and since then the local government has made no loudspeaker
announcements regarding ocean waves, radiation clouds, or anything
At the farmhouse, we have hosted a
niece for lunch and a sister-in-law for dinner in recent days. (We can’t have them at the same time because they despise each
other, don’t you know.) In both instances, talk
of the disasters consumed roughly ninety seconds before conversation
inevitably segued into the usual local gossipy bullshit.
Despite the eerie calm, there’s a palpable sense of moving through history. I sip a beer
while perusing the Beeb and answering email,
frequently pausing to note that I
am sipping a beer, as though even such mundane actions assume great
I have kept in touch with my
students and, to a lesser extent, with colleagues in Tokyo and
Yokohama. Girls admit to crying through the night when the aftershocks
hit. Otherwise, they claim to be holding up well. But I sense the
stress is wearing them down. They can’t take many more days on which the news is worse than the day before. We
all seek that golden Day That Sucks Less Than Yesterday, we always wake
up expecting it, and always, so far at least, end up disheartened.
got it—a melting nuclear rod: That’s what I want Matt Drudge to suck on. And now that that’s resolved, I’ll sign off for a
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Praise the Lord and Pass the Irradiated Radish!
this out of the way up front:
In my last post, written during what
we can now dare call the Darkest Hour of Japan’s
still-unfolding catastrophe, I made an observation to the effect that
internet daimyos Matt Drudge and Arianna Huffington could “suck my cock” owing
to the salacious and exploitative headlines they were posting in a
cynical bid to enhance their web traffic. Further along, I bumped Arianna
up to the lead-off slot on the basis of her being such a well-preserved “older white lady” and gave the odious Drudge something less agreeable to suck on instead.
(Scroll up for previous post ↑)
Thus far, no regular reader has
called me out for this vulgar departure from form; however, as my own
traffic has (ironically enough) spiked of late, I can only assume that
many visitors, including first-timers, were put off by the comment.
Perhaps some have already dismissed me as “just
another of those foul-mouthed self-absorbed blogger types” whose discourse is so famously coarsening our modern world. I
can only speculate on your reaction, but would like to apologize anyway
to my readers in general and to older white ladies in particular—most especially to those unable to match Arianna’s prodigious cosmetic surgery budget.
But not to Drudge or Arianna, who are
both still going at it, hot and heavy. [Apologies for the mental image.]
Below are Drudge’s lead links, archived from the
tippy-top upper-left corner of his site on Saturday night, March 19 Japan
time, along with an explication of what the intrepid reader actually
encountered if he could summon the fortitude to click on them.
What it actually
Japan govt finally admits radiation
leak serious enough to kill…
The Daily Mail, a sort of British
Drudge Report. The Mail article bears a similarly lurid headline, but
offers not a single factoid or quotation to support that headline’s claim. Here’s the actual quote of the managing director of the power company that runs
the reactors, buried far down the page: “In hindsight, we could
have moved a little quicker in assessing the situation and coordinating
all that information and provided it faster.” Ooooh! Scary...
Drives back crews attempting to rein
An outdated, one-paragraph Reuters article in the LA Times. Workers indeed had
to retreat from the site a few days before Drudge got around to posting
his link. In the meantime, new video at the link shows crews very
actively, effectively, and courageously engaging with the reactors.
“Very Grave”; Winds Shift…
A decent Bloomberg piece that
balances good news and bad. Semicolon notwithstanding, Drudge obviously
wants us to believe that the shift of the wind is a “very grave” development, when in
fact the quote (by PM Naoto Kan, urging
people not to get too optimistic too soon) has nothing to do with
AP: “Minuscule fallout” reaches USA…
REUTERS: “Very low radiation” detected on west coast…
Strip away the scare quotes, and these links become fairly accurate summations
of the wire service articles they are linked to, both of which emphasize
the utter lack of danger to US residents. By casting doubt on the modifiers
"minuscule" and "very low," Drudge milks his first
excuse to rattle Real Americans Living in America with what remains in
fact a highly localized tragedy.
this one had me stumped. By Saturday morning, concerns had been raised
(by credible authorities) that vegetables raised in the vicinity of the
power plant ought to be consumed with caution, so I took this as an
admonition to scour our radishes good and hard. But it turns out to be
the crackpot website of some crackpot radio host, a varmint even
farther down the celebrity food-chain than I am, who is selling the
line that governments are conspiring to conceal the REAL TRUTH of the
radiation threat from ALL RIGHT-THINKING PEOPLE and that WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE TOMORROW!
Storage pools big worry…
This uninformative Reuters article
bears a nearly identical headline and… Well,
the phrase “a big worry” actually isn’t a hysterical
overstatement of the status of the storage pools for the spent nuclear
fuel. Drudge must have been tired. He could have done better by this
That was Drudge on Saturday night. By
Sunday morning, the Japanese citizenry’s irritating failure to die in a sudden
and flamboyant fashion or even to panic photogenically
has apparently moved a frustrated Drudge to back-burner us. Also,
President Obama ordered missiles fired into Libya overnight, god bless
him, thereby reminding Drudge who his Real Enemy is.
Enough of this dreary media
criticism. Here are some odds and ends at the outset of Week 2 of “Japan in Kinda, Sorta,
I remain at the farmhouse in western
Japan, where people continue to behave as though the
earthquake/tsunami/partial meltdown fiasco took place on Venus in the
mid-sixteenth century. Stores are well-stocked, the customers are few in
number and not at all frantic to snatch up all the dry goods, the clerks
are bright and chipper.
In Yokohama, the panic buying has
been the greatest plague but reportedly is abating as I write this.
Aftershocks are fewer and farther between, but no one has any delusions about
being rid of them any time soon. (To understand my perspective here in
the west, first imagine that you are a giant standing in Fukushima. Now,
get out of there, you stupid giant! You’re making
the ground shake, and people are sick of that. So you take one 165-mile
step, which lands you in the neighborhood of Yokohama where I live and
teach. You pivot right and take an even larger, 240-mile step and—Voila! You are here at the farmhouse. I should be grateful if
you would now pee on the chicken coop of our neighbor across the road, as
those roosters get up awfully early.)
My university has stopped canceling events and now vows to start the spring
term on schedule in April, meaning that I will be obliged to return after
another week or so here in the lap of luxury.
Deprivations have I none, but
frustrations many. Chief among these is an inability to
be of any immediate use whatsoever to the homeless and truly
needy. Over the weekend, our local government finally announced the
establishment of a mechanism for collecting blankets and other
necessities to be shipped northward.
It occurred to me just this morning
that I have not viewed any pornography for two weeks now, dating back to
nearly a week before the earthquake. We have two computers here at the
farmhouse: one is Mrs. Muggins’s and the other is a university laptop primarily designated for student
use, which I brought with me. So at first, I was just terrified of inadvertently
leaving any unseemly traces on either machine. Since the earthquake, there’s has been
neither the time nor the temptation for such indulgences.
So I think this period finally resolves the issue of whether or not I have a porn addiction, one of those questions that seemed important (at least to me) long ago,
in the proverbial galaxy far away. But I’ll tell you
what has been validated in the past week, and that is my addiction to Japanese chicks.
Having confirmed the well-being of
all my key people in Yokohama via email, I set about calling some of them
last week. To be sure, I called a few dudes, too. But mostly I called chicks, especially the thoroughbreds, the cool and
calm ones who have all the boys licking salt cubes from their hands (present
company included). By chance, two of them were in the middle of important
job interviews when the quake struck. One, who was on the twelfth floor
of a vivaciously square-dancing building, reported that she made a good
impression, she thought, by not screaming.
It was the ultimate tonic to hear the
ready laughter of these chicks again after all that they have been
through in Yokohama. They laughed at the panic-buying in the
supermarkets. They laughed at exaggerated reports of radiation clouds
headed their way. Above all, they laughed at the thin pretext that I was
calling to “make sure you’re okay.” They understood long before
I did that I was really calling to make sure that I was.
1. I’m not expert on charities, but non-Japan-based readers really
can’t go wrong by giving to Save
the Children, which is soliciting funds to help the youngsters left
homeless in northern Japan.
2. Here’s a by no means less significant way to help out: Stop
believing and, if possible, stop patronizing parasitic news aggregators
like Drudge and Arianna Huffington who sow fear and reap paranoia for
their own personal gain.
3. That said, feel free to scour any Japanese radishes that may
come your way before preparing and serving them. It’s only civilized.
Top of Page
|March 23, 2011
Fantasy Takes a Beating
At this writing, more than a week has
passed at the crippled nuclear power plant in Fukushima without any of
the pretty ‘splosions that cable news networks do love so much. Vegetables grown in
the area can no longer be eaten and our ultimate protectors—the US Navy—are drawing up contingency
plans for removal from their base in Yokosuka, south of Yokohama (!).
Most of the reactors have fallen into line and are behaving themselves,
but Reactor 3 persists in acting up: smoking, spitting out puffs of radiation,
and generally behaving like a dick. People are ganging up on #3, though
personally I’ve always had a soft spot for it. They say #3 is rotten to the
core and needs to be buried in cement; I say it’s
The mood here in Japan near the end
of Week 2 weirdly parallels the situation of the rebels in Libya. They,
too, thought that their ordeal would be over by now. “It didn’t take this long for the
Tunisians or the Egyptians,” you can hear them
whining. “And now you say that we might not even win? Nobody said anything about losing when I signed on…” Yep, just two peas in a pod: me, and your average Libyan
I’m still in
western Japan, far from my main computer and from most of the documents I
need to get on with any meaningful work: hence, the blitz of posts of
late. The lengthy lull we’re enduring now in the battle to get the
reactors under control allows for some more general reflections on the
earthquake danger in Japan.
It was in 1992 that I began to live
separately from Mrs. Muggins in the
earthquake-prone Kanto area, and in these eighteen-plus years I have
lived in three apartments in Yokohama. When shopping for a room, the
survivability factor always comes into play. How tall is the building? Which floor would I be on? Are there
taller and heavier buildings that could fall down on mine? How far above
sea level is it? Is there cable?
Earthquake anxiety is like that, you
see. It’s the spooky organ music that plays on a
loop underneath our day-to-day lives.
The Big One in (My) Literature
In two of my three books, How To Pick Up Japanese Chicks And
Doom Your Immortal Soul and Wussie: In
Praise of Spineless Men, weak-willed and self-centered men yearn for
a killer earthquake and the attendant plummeting slab of concrete to put
them out of their misery. The Big One is sure to come anyway, so why can’t we get it when we need it? Such are the ruminations of a selfish
man living the prime of his life in the Kanto region.
In contrast, there are times when,
from an equally self-centered perspective, an author may pray for the
forestalling of the Big One. In January of this year, for example, just
prior to the launch of Wussie, I fretted that a massive quake would strike
just before I could finish the submission process, thus forever denying
the world this latest glimpse into the bottomless well of my genius. Please, God, oh please don’t let that
earthquake strike until I can be sure that Wussie turns up on the first page of a Google search... Narcissistic? You bet. But I'm not the only one living around the Rim of Fire who launches such prayers.
The Big One in My Fantasy Life
Similarly, so very many of us, whether or not we admit it in blogs, have
fantasized about the inevita ble Big One and our supposedly valiant reactions
In my version of the fantasy, I would
hack my way out the rubble of my apartment building and fight my way up
the hill to my university, the designated evacuation site for my ward of
Yokohama. Along the way, I would charge into a couple of flaming
buildings at the behest of wailing young mothers to extract their
infants. (In my imagination, these earthquakes always conveniently took
place at midday. Were I to fantasize the
earthquake occurring at night, I would also have fantasize myself
performing these heroic deeds in Fruit of the Loom briefs and a baggy
t-shirt, and nobody wants that in a fantasy. That image just throws you
off your game.)
Once at school I would debrief my
students, only to learn that one of our prettiest members was unaccounted
for. I would promptly recruit a crack team of youthful and dispensable Red Shirts. Their
two-fold purpose: leading me to the damsel’s apartment and getting killed in gruesome ways in the process. (I already
have one male student earmarked for selflessly throwing himself on a compromised
propane gas tank.) I alone would survive to extract the target from the
twisted wreckage of her shower and gallantly drape my jacket over her to
preserve her dignity. And I alone would receive the full brunt of her gratitude,
though that episode would be spun off into a fantasy of its own.
The Big One in My Family History
in Japan during a Big One is not unprecedented, though we Mugginses do have a Paulie-in-The-Godfather-like knack for being off duty when bad things happen.
who came to Japan in the 1870s as a missionary, was still merrily missionarying away at age sixty-eight when his
generation’s Big One struck in 1923. It was late
summer so Great-grandfather had fled sticky Tokyo for the resort town of
Hakone well to the west the day before the quake hit.
His report to the home office of his
church highlights his fears at the time for his two spinster daughters,
missionaries themselves, who were scheduled to follow him out of Tokyo on
the very day of the quake. Hearing of the disaster that had befallen
Tokyo (over 100,000 would perish, mostly from fires), he immediately
thought of a rickety bridge that my great-aunts’
train would likely be crossing at just that moment. If the main jolt had
not collapsed the ancient span, surely the ongoing aftershocks would. He
writes that the bridge did in fact collapse, leaving his God-fearing
American readers in suspense before adding that this occurred just after his daughters’ train had made it across.
I suspect some poetic license in my
forebear’s account. Reading Muggins
Senior, you are led to imagine the tracks crumbling in the very wake of
the train as the daughters, clutching the railing of the caboose, watch
in horror. I somehow doubt that it was that close a call. Then again, in
those pre-Internet days when fact-checking an account from a foreign land
was a tall order, he could safely have stretched things a lot more
egregiously than he did. If I were telling the tale, for example, I might
have concocted a second train following close behind the one carrying my
aunts, and sent that vehicle and its unfortunate passengers screaming
into the abyss.
Top of Page
|March 28, 2011
Back in the (Oddly Luminescent) Saddle
I will confess to stocking up on batteries before leaving the west to return
to Yokohama, where over-buying of such items continues apace. For the
notorious rolling blackouts, don’t you know.
Regular readers will know, without being told, that when I say “batteries
for the blackouts” I do not mean that the batteries are for a flashlight.
They were purchased for the Rolling Fella Bomber.
During my exile in the west, I clung to a highly romanticized notion of
the blackouts and how they would impact my whole lifestyle, including its
prominent masturbatory aspect. For hours on end, there would be no computer
access, no online or archived porn to view. I would have to masturbate
as our ancestors did, under a cold and starry sky with no inspiration apart
from some of the more erotic constellations (gotta love that Ursa Minor)
and my imagination.
On such a night I might imagine myself Grog, son of Knog (with a hard K),
conjuring images of my beloved Brylcreemia, whom I had by chance spotted
that morning daintily defecating beneath an escarpment, as I unashamedly
rubbed one out. Ah, Brylcreemia! She of the flaring nostrils, the full set of molars, the not quite as
copious backhair as her many half sisters! She, oh wondrous she! Unnngahhh! I would grunt at the climax, just as the ancients grunted, and just as
I normally pretty much grunt anyway.
Of course, I would be ejaculating into a battery-powered, vibrating and
gyrating hunk of polyurethane rather than into the unsullied air of the
antediluvian world. So it wouldn’t quite be just the same as the way our
ancestors diddled themselves. Still, I yearned to achieve some sort of
What Lies Between
Returning to Yokohama reduced the distance between me and the troubled
reactors by more than half. This made me think of South Park, of all things.
I can’t place the episode, but it was one of those in which the little
Colorado town is being ravaged by some relentless menace. (Which, I realize,
is like saying, “I can’t remember which Japanese guy it was, but he had
black hair.) At one point, Randy Marsh pleads for military aid via video
conference from an unperturbed Governor Schwarzenegger of California. “If
we can’t contain this menace here,” argues Randy, “what stands between
it and California?”
“Yoo-tah,” intones the governor.
“Okay, yeah,” concedes Randy. “But what if it gets through Utah? What is there to protect you then?”
Here in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Tokyo is our Yoo-tah and Chiba Prefecture
our Ne-vah-dah. That’s about all we got. And unfortunately, prefectures
are more the size of New England states than western ones.
Of course, the town of South Park always seems to rebuild itself from these attacks by mechanized Barbra Streisands or Crab People or what have you. So I was pretty sure that Yokohama—the greatest city
I’ve ever lived in—could rebound from this. And arriving in the city yesterday--seeing
the calm demeanor of its people--made me feel that way more strongly than
Things On Top Of Things
And while I’m reminiscing about classic comedy, there’s this Monty Python sketch of which I’m particularly fond: the annual meeting of the Royal Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things, in which a group of pompous British gentlemen publicly berate one of
the society’s members because his branch has, during the past year, “not
succeeded in putting one thing on top of another thing!”
I have thought of this bit often since coming to live in Japan decades
ago because, what with our cramped living spaces, we’re all members of
the Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things around here. When
I left Yokohama for the west prior to the earthquake, my relatively new
flatscreen TV rested precariously atop a cable box much smaller than the
TV’s base, which in turn rested upon an ancient cabinet, which was set
precariously close to a slightly lower coffee table.
Once the frightful novelty of the catastrophe had worn off, I found some
time to fret about that flatscreen TV. I could imagine it, all alone in
the cold living room, shuddering, shimmying, teetering, and finally lurching
forward in a screen-first bellyflop onto the sharp corner of the coffee
table and thence into oblivion.
When I arrived back home yesterday, I was greeted at the entrance by my bicycle tire pump, which had gone horizontal. That did not bode well. But then, I slid the living room door open to reveal the flatscreen TV, fully upright and not a centimeter askew.
I rushed forward and kissed it several times. You will think that I exaggerate,
but no, not a jot. I’m not ashamed to admit it. I kissed my flatscreen
TV. It was an emotional moment between man and major appliance.
Later in the evening, I was able to contact the two students I had most
worried about. Both stalwart lads had fled the safety of Yokohama to be
with their families in the danger zone. Both, it turned out, were in great
spirits and looking forward to the start of the school year. I suppose
I would have kissed them, too, had I had the chance.
Spring is in the air here, I tell you. Don't believe what you read in the
sensationalized press. Spring is most definitely in the air, along with
maybe just a faint, spritely touch of iodine. And I, for one, am going
to celebrate tonight like Grog, son of Knog.
Thank you if you have stayed with me throughout this series of disaster-in-Japan-related posts. You must be getting weary of this topic because I know that I certainly am.
I shall resume fortnightly posts now, and expect to get back to the usual
material when I do, eschewing all this talk of calamity and meltdown and
Save the Children and the Red Cross could still use your help.
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