Remembering Dad and the Sir Launch-A-Lot

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‘A boatload of memories on this longest day of the year’

I was going to write about this crazy squirrel who’s been entertaining our Amagansett guests with his determined efforts to reach our bird feeder. But then I remembered. It’s June 21 — which is not only the longest day of the year, but a sad day too. It’s the day our Dad died 13 years ago.

This guy will have to wait till next week. But he’s good at waiting

I’ve written about Dad many times, of course. About his jokes (“Kangaroo Walks into a Bar”), his napping (“Let Sleeping Dads Lie”), his obsessions (“There Go the Roses”) and even his comb-over (“Hair Hacks of the Follicly-Challenged”). Just last week I wrote about how The Dude is, in many ways, so much like him that sometimes I feel like I married my Dad (“Of Mugs and Men.”)

Dad knew his way around a kitchen, having been a short-order cook (among other things) in his college days. (See “Dad Eggs and Ham”)

Sir Launch-A-Lot — yes, that was this boat’s actual name — has made it into my stories before too, most notably in 2018’s “Yet’s Go to Ye Yake.” Sir L-A-L was a pontoon boat that Dad bought for what he called “business reasons.”

It’s kinda hard to see, but “Sir Launch-A-Lot” is there above the front window, behind my Sister, Gramma Henry and Mom

At this time in his life and career Dad was well into his “Deej” period, details of which, including photos of his famous “Poop” phone, can be found in last week’s “Of Mugs and Men.” As “Deej,” he was the partner in the Henry, Meisenheimer & Gende engineering firm tasked with growing the business. “I’ll take clients out on the boat,” said Dad (er, Deej).

Nope, those aren’t clients. That’s Dude and Youngest Younger Bro. But they are wielding HMG-branded beer holders

And so he did. He tootled around on Carlyle Lake with boatloads of clients, regaling them with cool stories as well as cold beers, steaks on the grill and clams and lobsters “baked” on sandbars. Once he mistakenly hit “reverse” when pulling into the dock after one of these outings, bonked a piling and watched as the grill flew off the deck and into the drink.

Sir Launch-A-Lot safely docked. Look closely and you can spot the grill up front on the port side

Sir Launch-A-Lot was acquired well after I’d flown the nest — the lake itself didn’t exist when I was a kid — so I missed out on many a sunbaked watery adventure. But the boat was there during my college summers for topside sunbathing and women’s-magazine-reading with my Mom. And for fireworks-watching with whatever family members were around on the 4th of July.

Dad in the “bass boat,” which was also used for water-skiing, Sir L-A-L in background. Not sure if the bass boat was acquired for “business reasons”

And, I’m glad to say that good ole Sir L-A-L was still afloat when The Child came along. I’ll have to ask her if she remembers jumping off the boat roof with her own Dad. (Uncle Scott, who took the jumping-off-the-boat photo at the end of this story, was very “into” jumping off the boat roof, but I’m pretty sure our Dad felt the same way I did about that. Which was “No thanks.”)

The Child up top the Sir Launch-A-Lot

Sir Launch-A-Lot was eventually sold (or given?) to a family friend. And my Dad (and Mom) eventually moved far away from Carlyle Lake. But when summertime rolls around I often find myself reminiscing about those long summer days on the boat with Dad.

The Dude and The Child jump off into the sunset. RIP, Sir L-A-L. And Dad

Amagansett, New York. June 2022

Of mugs and men

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‘I think I married my Dad’

“If my eyes are not deceiving me, your Dad looks like your husband?!? Hmmmm.”

This is what a friend (hi Leslie!) commented after reading my birthday tribute to Dad on Facebook. (You can read it, too, even if you hate FB: “Kissing Daddy Good-night.”)

And you know what? Leslie might be right. Dad and Dude not only look somewhat alike — right down to the blonde lock of hair over one eye — but they act alike too.

Take this Thing About Mugs. I’ve scoured the house from basement to attic and still can’t find a mug that Dude Man liked to use. I would say that it was his favorite mug, but that would be a lie. This mug actually belongs to The Child. Which makes it even worse that it is MMIA. (That’s “Mug Missing In Action.”) He’s lost a mug that isn’t even his.

Mug shot of The Child. Tho this is not the mug in question. I couldn’t take a photo of that mug — because it’s, well, missing

My Dad was famous for doing the same thing. After a visit from him and Mom, I would find mugs scattered around the house in the unlikeliest of spots. On arms of couches and chairs, of course. But also under couches and chairs, even beds. Once I found one balanced on the pipes of our furnace. Mugs would turn up outside too. On and under the outdoor furniture, natch. But also nestled in bushes and and on the tops of cars.

Dude Man liked to use The Child’s mug because it was very similar to his favorite mug.

Dude’s favorite mug. The Child’s was remarkably similar — with coyotes instead of hippos — probably because it was made by the same potter, tho purchased in Santa Fe, not Africa

The Child’s mug found its way here when Child and Beau (now SIL) took off in the Summer of ’20 on their camper-van adventure. They stored their household goods here “temporarily” while they road-trip roamed. (Note to Child: better come get your stuff before Dad gets his paws on it and it all disappears.)

Child and Then-Beau hit the road, leaving wordly goods — including now-missing mug — behind

But back to Dad and Dude.

They also have (or had, in my Dad’s case) a propensity for misplacing phones. Just last week, The Child was a witness more than once to Dude’s Thing About Phones. Almost every day he’d say, “Say, I can’t find my phone; could you call me?” — so he could listen for the ring and zero in on it.

Nine times out of ten it was in the bathroom.

Dad, too, was always misplacing phones. Once, when “portable phones” — remember those? — were all the rage, he took his outside so he wouldn’t miss an important call while working on his roses. The phone was missing for weeks before they found it in the crook of a tree.

I don’t have a photo of Dad with his portable phone — so this one will have to do

Oh, speaking of phones and bathrooms, my Favorite Sister shared a hilarious Dad story with us last Sunday on our Family Facetime. Dad went through a phase when he liked to be called “Deej.” This was a squooshing-together of his initials, D for Dale and J for Joseph. I think he liked the zingy, hip sound of it. His friends and colleagues must’ve liked it too, since they all started calling him “Deej.” Mom even used “Deej” as part of her email address. The only holdout was Regina, the (very colorful) local woman who “cleaned” our house. She called him “Henry Dale” — a reverse of his first and last names, and at a high volume at that.

Dad early in his “Deej” phase, showing off his spoon-balancing technique — a talent The Dude does not share. At least I don’t think he does

Anyway. It seems that one day Laura’s girls had some stick-on letters and suggested labeling Grampa’s phone (by then, cutting-edge as usual, he had a flip phone) with his nickname.

But when their cousin Aaron spied the phone on a table (or maybe in the bathroom or on top of a car) he asked, “Aunt Laura, why does Grampa have “poop” written on his phone?

Good question, Aaron.

Before I close, I’d just like to say that there’s one other thing my Dad and Dude Man share. Like my Dad, Dude has shown himself to be an incredible — and memorable — father.

I’m thinking it turned out pretty great that I “married my dad.” We can always get more mugs and phones.

Amagansett, New York. June 2022

 

 

Everybody’s got to start somewhere

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‘My humble Ad Biz beginnings in Kansas City’

Last night at dinner I sat next to the only other graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism in New York City. Or at least the only one I know about. (Hi, Kim!) Incidentally, that’s me at graduation from the U of Mo in the photo at the top of this post. I don’t know where Kim was. Actually, I didn’t know Kim at the time; it was a big school.

Kim and I traded a few stories about some of the professors there — Hi, Mr. Dobbins, if you’re still smoking your pipe and pontificating! — which reminded us of the old saying “Those that can, do; those who can’t, teach” and got me to thinking about my start in advertising way back when.

This is me at my Actual First Job, which was at my hometown newspaper, the Carlyle Union Banner. You can read about this in “Those Were Banner Days Indeed,” if so inclined

I touched on my first ad job last week when I wrote about the contortions some men go through to disguise their balding little noggins. (See “Hair Hacks of the Follicly-Challenged” for some crazy examples.) One of the guys I mentioned was a KC adman named Bud Bouton, who sported a style we Youngins at the agency dubbed “hair topiary.”

Bud was just one of many colorful characters I remember fondly from Barickman Advertising, where I snagged my first agency job. There was also Cleota Dack (who I called “Miss Tadack,” since I’d never heard the name “Cleota” before) and Doris with the bad wig and the art director who drove a Karmann Ghia and painted a picture of a window for my first (windowless) office. And, of course, Mr. Hoffman, my boss.

Mr. Hoffman was a Lou Grant type who kept a bottle of something brown in his desk drawer and who, when I told him I was accepting another, bigger, job in Kansas City, said not to waste my time but to go to New York. (He had been a New York City copywriter at one time.) Eventually, I took his advice. (See “Take a Letter, Miss Henry” for the story.)

Me looking all creative-directorish at the job Mr. Hoffman told me not to take

But back to my first ad job. There is something very heady about first jobs. The whole idea of putting in the work and getting paid for it. Hanging around with a bunch of equally fresh-at-their-jobs twenty-somethings is, of course, pretty heady stuff too.

Sadly, the only photographic evidence I have from my first job is this shot, taken after a promotion that scored me a real window

We Youngins hung out together. There was Larry, a Black guy who started in the mail room and graduated to copywriter. There was Tory, who lived with an ex-Radio City Rockette who could kick so high she could knock herself in the forehead. Tory’s dad worked for a paint company and named a shade after him: Tory Blue. Oh, and there was a rather scandalous girl, Dana, who wore a cape so she could bestow sexual favors in the car on the way to lunch.

Speaking of lunch, we Youngins ate together almost every day. At the health food place where the servers all lived in a yoga commune — and where Mike the Art Director liked to refer to the dessert as “monkey c*m” — or the Greek place where they served the fish with the head still on or at Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue, where the guy who made your sandwich left four fingerprints in the bread because he was missing one. A finger, that is.

We also goofed around and pulled pranks. (See “Pranks for the Memories” on the joys of prank-pulling.) At Barickman, we liked to tease this one girl whose name I cannot recall — perhaps because she didn’t use her own name, but referred to herself as “BK” (“Boss’s Kid”), which she was. She was also as annoying as you probably think she was.

Oh yes, we worked too. I started by writing “donuts” for Safeway radio commercials. “Donuts” are the “holes” in the middle of an otherwise canned spot where the copy says, “Chicken breasts 89 cents a pound” or some such. I worked on Philips Petroleum, writing ads for the stuff they put in natural gas to make it smell like “gas.” And I wrote for Fleischmann’s Yeast, which is the job that took me to New York for the very first — and fateful — time.

But enough. Going down Memory Lane can be a long winding road indeed. If you’re still out there, Larry and Tory and Mike and Dana, I hope you’re enjoying lunch. And Dana? I sure hope you wisened up and ditched the cape.

New York City. May 2022

 

 

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

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‘I wonder what little Harry Houdini’s answer was.’

Way back when the earth’s crust was cooling and I was a youngster, there was a show on local TV called “Texas Bruce.”

The full name was “The Wranglers’ Club with Texas Bruce.” Texas Bruce showed cartoons and did silly jokes and suchlike, and had a whole peanut gallery of kids (The Wranglers) on hand. I remember that his sign-off was “Hasta la vista, mis caballeros,” a phrase whose meaning, of course, was a mystery to us Clinton County kids. We gathered it was something like “good-bye,” since Texas Bruce would be waving while he said it.

Anyway. One of his “bits” every show was to ask the boys and girls in his studio audience what they wanted to be when they grew up.

So glad Dude Man did not grow up to be a snake charmer. Tho he is a charmer

The TV station was in St. Louis, which was then — and still is — a very Catholic town. How Catholic? Well, when “Hair” played St. Louis, they had to cut the nude scene.

So. Texas Bruce would be going down the rows of Cub Scout-outfitted boys and Brownie-dressed girls asking, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” To which they’d answer, “A nun.” “A priest.” “A nun. “A priest.” “A priest.” “A nun.” Honestly, I’d say at least 70% of every audience answered “priest” or “nun.” Which led one to worry about population trends for the greater metropolitan St. Louis area.

What does this have to do with Harry Houdini? Well. I used to work on the Kimberly-Clark account at Ogilvy. In fact, I’ve written about this before in a rather amusing piece titled “Hoohah Time is Story Time.” In that story I mention, among other things, that on client trips to Appleton, Wisconsin (KC’s headquarters), we Ogilvyites would stay at the Paper Valley Hotel. (There was no valley anywhere near, but they did make paper there.)

Speaking of Kimberly-Clark, Huggies had a campaign with babies acting out future careers. Here’s The Child as a magician. Which she sort of is

The Paper Valley was one of those hotels where they put little paper tent thingies everywhere: one to tell you to reuse your towels, one with the TV channels on it, one to tell you not to smoke, and so on. (I guess, being a paper-making town, the hotel got a deal on these.) And there was one with famous Appletonians. No kidding. There are famous people from Appleton. Edna Ferber. Willem Defoe (really!). And my fave, Harry Houdini.

Houdini was such an Appletonian that he claimed to have been born in Appleton when he was really born in Hungary. Appleton Street was renamed in his honor, and there was a Houdini Historic Center I’ve been to because Ogilvy hosted one of their Christmas parties there for the Kimberly-Clark clients. (Since then they’ve changed the museum name, maybe because they’ve added some exhibits on Senator Joe McCarthy. Who was also an Appleton boy.)

God forbid you should ask little Teddy what he wanted to be when he grew up. Other than a U of Washington Husky, that is

Side note: I always wondered why we hosted the KC Christmas parties in Appleton instead of New York City. Maybe the clients didn’t like to travel? Or maybe they just didn’t like to travel to New York. I distinctly remember one rare occasion when a KC client came to New York for a meeting and asked if we could have “breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

But back to those Paper Valley business trips. I would sometimes gaze at the Harry Houdini paper tent thingie and muse about what would happen if Texas Bruce asked little Harry, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Would he answer, “I’d like to be bound with chains and dropped to the bottom of a river”?

Grown-up Harry realizes his childhood dream

I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t say “a priest.” But that’s probably because his father was a rabbi.

New York City. May 2022

 

Film at eleven

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‘Preserving those memories, then and now’

Some of you may have noticed that I played blog hooky last week. That’s because Tuesday, which is the day I usually dazzle my followers with my wit, was also the day I traveled to visit my mom. The trip went very smoothly. But I am one of those people who finds the process of travel all consuming. It’s hard for me to think — much less be amusing.

On the carpet at Portland International Airport

I wish I were more like The Child, who takes travel bumps in stride. She was scheduled to join me at mom’s for the weekend, but there was a strike at the Amsterdam airport (Amsterdam being where her techie business conference was held) and it took her about 24 hours to make it back to the States and PDX. If this happened to me, I’d probably implode.

Same carpet, different feet. The Child’s very tired ones

But back to Mom’s. The visit was well worth skipping a blog post. We did all my favorite stuff: played Scrabble, drank coffee and went for walks. Oh, we also did a lot of what we call “solving the world’s problems,” sometimes switching out the coffee for wine.

Guess who got a seven-letter word right out of the gate? (And with a wet head straight out of the shower)

This trip was my latest round in what we call the Kid of the Month Club, where we four sibs who don’t live close to my mother take turns visiting her for a week each month. This gives everyone — Mom included — something to plan around and look forward to. We’ve also continued the Family FaceTime Sundays we started during the dreaded Lockdown.

Be there or be square. (Or, um, be in the square?)

We’d also like to do some sort of Recorded History Thing with Mom. She has tons of cool stories — like When Electricity Finally Came to the Farm and When Your Father Took Me to the Prom in a Milk Truck — stories that some of us kids know (See my piece “Confessions of a B-Team Mom” for how kids in the same family can have entirely different family memories) and that some don’t.

Youngest Younger Bro Doug (here seen reading the paper upside down) has completely different family memories from mine

We’d like these memories to live on and be shared — with each other, our kids and their kids.

Dude Man’s family had the same idea. I remember they gathered a bunch of home movies — mostly black and white, mostly silent — and got their Dad to narrate them. My favorite was the one where Dad-of-Dude took a toddler (not sure which one; he had six from which to choose) and tossed him (or her) into the ocean waves like a little shrieking football. (There was no sound, but you could tell there was shrieking going on by the big round “O” in the middle of the poor kid’s face.)

Now I know we Henrys had some dandy home movies too. I remember that it was a Big Production to screen these. There was a projector to thread and a big screen to put up. I distinctly recall one in which Oldest Younger Brother Scott is happily splashing in an inflatable wading pool when I appear stage left and unceremoniously dump him out onto the lawn.

Not the infamous wading pool, but pretty close. I’m not sure who that other kid is. Mom?

My Dad, who, incidentally, loved gear, (Guys love gear; see last week’s post, “Guys and their Gear”) was one of the first guys in our town to get a video camera. It was huge; you had to schlep it around on a shoulder, for heaven’s sakes. But I remember he did just that for a whole weekend once.

Dude Man demonstrating some gear: boots, shades and two ballcaps. Oh, and that’s him at the top of this post, demonstrating a Sony video camera his dad gave him. The only issue? It was from a Japanese patient — and all the controls were in Japanese

Yes, for three glorious days Dad followed everyone around, documenting everything. And I mean everything. Scott eating (“Look at that sweet corn, Alice. See what you’re missing?!”), Laura on the couch (“Say hey, Laura!” [glare]) Mom in the garden (“Get a load of those tomatoes!”). But by far the best was Mom at the sink. “There’s Myrna, doing dishes.” “Stop it, Dale.” “What?” “Stop following me around and recording everything I do.”  “I’m doing this for the kids.” “Kids Schmids. Stop. You’re driving me crazy.”) None of this was edited out.

Dad and Mom going somewhere. Dad, of course, is loaded with gear

Oh, yeah. And when he was walking around outside with that big ole camera on his shoulder he kept bonking his head on the bird feeders. So you’d hear, “Oh look! There’s Myrna dead-heading the…(bonk)…damned bird feeders!” This happened three times in the course of one video. And nope, it wasn’t edited out either.

Mom chilling — well, if you can “chill” under a blanket — at Laura’s just a couple of days ago. Where was my microphone?

I would love to record my mother narrating any of these. But, alas, somewhere along the line, these and the other films have gone AWOL. Yes, even the one where someone (Roger? Scott?) is pretending that the Sir Launch-A-Lot — which was a houseboat Dad owned; and yes, that was its real name — is in a storm by tilting the camera back and forth while someone else (Laura? Patty?) runs back and forth on the deck.

Dad tries out new technology on the deck of the Sir Launch-A-Lot: A remote camera (note “clicker thingie” in his hand)

If you, O Beloved Sibs, know where any of these films are hiding, speak up. And, next time you’re the Kid of the Month, maybe record a story or two. I promise to do my bit this summer when I’m out there for my next turn — if I don’t get too involved playing Scrabble, drinking coffee and taking walks.

New York City. April 2022

 

Your face is gonna freeze that way

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‘With any luck, not quite so literally.’

I just got back from a chilly, wintry walk out here in Amagansett. It was bracing, but not brutal, since almost all of the two feet of snow we got last week has turned into sodden slush. (See my post “S’no Problem” for freezing deets.)

Another snowstorm, another snowy beach walk. This time at dusk

So, no. That’s not a picture of me looking like a human icicle at the top of this post. That’s Her Childness, taken after an evening run in nippy Saskatchewan, where she and her Hub are visiting his Fam. It was a frosty twenty degrees — below zero.

But this post isn’t about literally freezing your face. It’s about sayings you probably heard from your Mom. Real classics like the above frozen warning, given when your face is arranged in a sad frown, petulant pout or angry scowl.

It pains me even to look at this. (Good Lord! What if her face froze that way!)

And remember what your mom said when you picked up, say, a stick out in the yard and started pretending it was a sword? Yup: “Be careful or you’ll poke somebody’s eye out.” Why wasn’t it ever “…crack somebody’s ribs“? Or even “…give somebody a bad bruise“? Continue reading

Stage Mother for a Day

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‘The Child was a Star. Just not a Child Star.’

I must miss the Ad World. Or maybe I just like writing about it.

Just last week I wrote about how the client hated a brilliant idea for a bra commercial so much that I was yanked off the Playtex account. Which wasn’t really so disappointing — except that I was put on the Kimberly-Clark account.

Kimberly-Clark (or KC, as we called it informally, if not fondly) is a paper products company based in Neenah, Wisconsin. I’ve written about KC before, most notably in “HooHah Time is Story Time,” but, trust me, when it comes to tales from the Paper Valley, I’ve got reams and reams of them.

Over my years at Ogilvy, I worked on Hershey and the British Tourist Authority, Q-Tips and Swanson, General Foods and American Express (See “Karl Malden’s Nose”), among others. I even “helped” on Shake ‘N Bake.

I don’t have many shoot photos, but this is one of my faves. I don’t remember what the shoot was for — except that it wasn’t for KC

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My polio-shot marriage

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‘Mommy has something she sort of forgot to tell you’

(This story was originally published in honor of my would-have-been 43rd anniversary in August of 2015. Since many of you haven’t had a chance to read it — but mainly because I’m out in the Pacific Northwest enjoying the company of my mother, daughter and my sister’s family — I’m posting it again. Think of it as a summer rerun, Lutheran Liar style. Enjoy!)

Last week I told you about how once I dated Steve Martin. Now I’m going to tell you about how once I married a guy — a guy who was not The Dude.

The Guy in question is the one pictured in the rather awkward wedding photo at the top of this post. I doubt very much that he reads my blog, but, for all intents and purposes and in this story, he’ll just be ‘The Guy’. (That rather downcast-looking young girl — the one who’s not me — is my sister Laura, she of ‘Larry and the Nose Holes’ fame.)

Why am I telling this story now? Well, tomorrow would have been my, like, zillionth wedding anniversary if indeed I had stayed married to The Guy. The other is that it’s August. Which is like Blog Siberia, except that it’s so hot. So if I embarrass anyone, including myself, the collateral damage will be relatively minor.

I was married so briefly to The Guy, and had been married for such a long time to The Dude, that I sort of forgot all about my ‘previous marriage’. Until one August about 15 years ago when The Child was getting ready for her annual visit to her grandparents in Carlyle, my home town. Continue reading

My Almost Arkansas Commute

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‘How I narrowly escaped working at WalMart’

It’s hot here. So hot my brain is mush and my funnybone has rickets. I’m so filled with Summertime Lassitude that I tried to republish a post from a couple of summers ago called “Who Wants To Go On A WalMart Run?”

It’s a zillion degrees out. So glad I just finished this sweater

This is the first time I’ve tried to do a sort of “rerun,” and, since it didn’t work and I hate to disappoint, I’m gonna compromise. Instead of dreaming up an entirely new story, I’ll tell you another one about WalMart.

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Narrowing the Generation Gap

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‘Daughter, Mom/Daughter, Mom get together again’

Pictured above are a daughter, a mom (who is also a daughter) — and her mom. Three generations of a family who, like many others, loves nothing more than to get together but hasn’t been able to in ever so long.

Same trio, same positions — Daughter, Mom/Daughter, Mom — on another visit long ago. Which doesn’t actually feel that long ago

The last time this threesome was in the same room at the same time — not to mention the same positions — was in October of 2019. When the extended Henry Clan gathered to celebrate our matriarch’s ninetieth.

Same room, same time, some celebration (!)

That was some shebang. (You can read all about it in “So far, so good.”) There was cake, there was wine, there was dancing and joking and all-around foolishness and hijinks.

Dancing in pjs. A must at any Henry party

One can only wonder what we would have done differently had we known it would be the last time we’d see each other for more than a year. I certainly can’t think how we could possibly have enjoyed ourselves more.

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