Monday, July 28th, 2014
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A Night Walking with Dinosaurs

brachiEarlier this month, the Barclays Center was filled with children and animatronic dinosaurs. Both of them made a lot of noise. "Walking With Dinosaurs" was an approximately two-hour long show, hosted by a man with an Australian accent in a leather duster who claimed to be a paleontologist. His name was Huxley, and he invited us to join him on a journey through time, "to see how far dusting off a few old bones can take us."

There were no bones, but the kids in the audience didn’t care. "That dinosaur is pretty big," observed the young man next to me. "Are they gonna fight?" he asked his dad. They did. The animatronics shuffled forwards and backwards, towards each other and away again, loud roars playing over the speaker system. The dinosaurs looked very obviously fake, but also very obviously expensive; the risk of damaging them far outweighed the desire to pretend to spill blood to sate the cries of bloodthirsty five-year-olds—a reluctance which, in its way, reflects what anyone who’s watched a nature documentary knows: that predators in the wild will rarely risk injuring themselves. That’s why they prey upon the weak and the old, though whether this nuance was apparent to the rest of the audience was not clear.

The show started with eggs hatching somewhere on the megacontinent known as Pangea. (There was sort of a funny use of the past tense to describe Pangea: "This continent was known as Pangea," as if there was anyone around at the time to call it that.) That was the only place to start, of course, because it was the beginning of the story, and in the beginning, and there is nothing, and indeed there was nothing in this particular corner of Pangea, no plants, no dinosaurs, no other animals, just the eggs, until one of them, shortly after it hatched, was stolen and eaten by a scavenger. It is a harsh world, "Walking With Dinosaurs" tells its audience. The first to hatch is only the first in line to be eaten.

The mother dinosaur arrived, eventually, to fend off another marauder. Her eggs hatched, and the audience ooh’d and aah’d as baby remote-controlled dinosaurs squirmed around the stage, squeaking. This went on for a little bit longer than it needed to—like every segment—before we transitioned to the Jurassic period, which Huxley describes to us as "a wonderful time for dinosaurs." In the Jurassic period, we met the brontosaurus and allosaurus, who also fought ("fought") and whose fight ("fight") took the form of a mother dinosaur successfully defending her child from a predator. It would be too gruesome, maybe, to expect children to applaud while watching predators feast on the flesh of a mother and child, still living; the velociraptors—a pack of two males led by a dominant female—were the only carnivores who got to eat anything during the show, tearing imaginary pieces out of the corpse of an indeterminate dinosaur we didn’t get to see them kill.

In the Cretaceous period, we met the Tyrannosaurus rex. It was big, and loud, and the maternal dynamic was flipped: Her offspring, investigating two large, armored herbivores, found itself trapped in a corner, facing down horns on one side and a clubbed tail on the other. Not a moment too soon, the curtains pull back and the big rex emerged with a roar to chase off the lumbering, leaf-eating bullies. It then cantered around the arena, eyeballing the children in the audience and roaring about its dominance.

Like any reasonable five year old, I wanted to be a paleontologist when I grew up, and my favorite dinosaur was Tyrannosaurus rex. There were periods of time, certainly, when I might have pretended to favor other dinosaurs, especially around the time of the discovery of the big, clever Utahraptor. Those were lies, mostly: my first and truest love was always Tyrannosaurus rex. READ MORE

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Talking to Tina Haver-Currin, Steadfast Pro-Choice Protester and Gentle, Brilliant Troll

TINAAAI first caught wind of Saturday Chores, Grayson and Tina Haver-Currin’s ingeniously weird pro-choice protests, on Facebook. Of course I did a double-take at a photo of Grayson, the bearded, metal-loving music editor of my local alt weekly, holding a sign that said, “I Love Turtles” (full disclosure: I’ve written a couple of things for the Indy Week under Grayson’s purview). A week later, I saw Tina foisting a poster that said “Bring Back Crystal Pepsi.” I don’t think it gets more metal than standing on the side of the road surrounded by hateful right-wingers, standing up for both absurdity and common sense.

I emailed Tina, one half of Saturday Chores, to see what prompted this feat of humor, bravery, and Tumblr-worthiness.

Linnie Greene: Hi Tina! Thanks so much for chatting with me about Saturday Chores. Some of this info is on your Tumblr, but for those who aren’t familiar: what is this thing? What prompted you to start these counter-protests?

Tina Haver Currin: Our very first counter-protest happened on a bit of a whim. There’s no big box hardware store very close to where we live, so Grayson and I were driving toward a suburb of Raleigh called Cary, which runs over with strip malls. I had gotten a gift card to Home Depot for my birthday, and we decided to get supplies for a garden box. We passed the clinic on the way.

Grayson and I both grew up not too far away, and we’ve seen the clinic in question hundreds of times. But for some reason, on this morning in particular, the protestors got under our skin a little more than normal. Grayson suggested that we make a sign that said “Weird Hobby” and point at one of the protestors. We tried to buy poster board at Home Depot, but they don’t carry it. As we were leaving, I ripped a vinyl sale sign off of a display and took a Sharpie to it. We posted the results to Instagram and Facebook, and people flipped.

That happened on March 8, 2014, and we vowed to keep it going. Pretty much every weekend we’ve been in town, we’ve stopped in with a new sign.

READ MORE

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"'This is one of those wonderful high-water marks in The Atlantic’s 157 year history,' Atlantic Media chairman David Bradley said in a press release. 'Our founders (Emerson, Holmes, Longfellow …) would welcome Fareed [Zakaria] enthusiastically—and then worry about raising their own game.'"

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The Dangers of Recovering Your Stolen Bike from Somebody Who Is Much Larger Than You Are

People drop things on the Internet and run all the time. So we have to ask. In this edition, college student Michael Rosen tells us more about what it’s like to have your bike stolen and then have to confront someone stronger than you later on in order to get it back.

Michael, so what happened here?

Really, this whole ordeal is Richard Linklater’s fault. That sounds like a non sequitur, but I promise it’s not. For the Daily Cal (UC Berkeley’s student newspaper), I was assigned to review Linklater’s most recent movie, Boyhood, and as a kind of perk/thank you for writing the review, the arts editor allowed me to interview Linklater as part of a press junket-y thing. It’s important to understand that Richard Linklater is not just any movie director to me: Me and my buddies watched Dazed and Confused every weekend for at least a year. Waking Life and the Before series are movies near to my heart. And I really loved Boyhood. So I was pretty stoked to meet this guy whose movies I’ve worshipped since puberty.

I was also a bit nervous. I’ve interviewed dozens and dozens of people, but without fail I clench up into a throbbing ball of anxiety before each and every one. The prospect of interviewing Richard fucking Linklater upped my built-in pre-interview anxiety a couple standard deviations. So as I rolled up to the restaurant adjacent to the Berkeley Public Library, I evidently forgot to lock my bike to the bike rack. Which I never do! I am religious about locking my bike, especially since I just bought it a few months ago.

You can probably guess what happened next. READ MORE

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Karen O, "Rapt"

Here is a little preview of a full album coming in September, which Karen O describes as a soundtrack to her "ʟᴏᴠᴇ ᴄʀᴜsᴀᴅᴇ."

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2015 Summer Movie Forecast: Desert Explosions With a Chance of Good

What is it, exactly, that's so unsettling about this trailer? I am exhilarated by it, but I can't tell exactly why. Is it that the last film George Miller directed was Happy Feet? Is it that the most beautiful scene in the trailer, with the silent powder explosions over the desert, sort of evokes The Color Run™? READ MORE

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Whisper's advanced technology to reduce the amount "meanness" floating around on its service, otherwise known as "libel," has a high cost:

The company, based in this city’s Venice neighborhood, says it has built filters to reduce celebrity gossip and everyday name-calling. "We have a huge layer of technology that detects proper names and puts those posts in a different queue for evaluation by 130 full-time human moderators," Mr. Heyward said. "At least in the short term, these policies have been growth inhibitors for us."

What a terrible thing this at least passing interest in making people less savage hath wrought: an inhibition of growth, a startup's only sacred doctrine.

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"We know that happiness and social connection can have positive benefits on health. Now research suggests that having a sense of purpose or direction in life may also be beneficial."

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New York City, July 24, 2014

★★★★★ The rain had washed away the haze, though if it had done anything even briefly about the garbage, the smell had already regenerated. Sex parts drifted down from the honeylocust trees. The clouds overhead were a smooth filter on the sun; off in the east, they stood out darker and individual. The temperature was uncannily mild and relaxing, a waking dream state. Outside a bodega, a sturdy man tried a pogo stick, not at all competently, the spring groaning. The late day brightened up in all directions. An gorgeously ordinary tree flared green against an opulently ordinary brick wall. Uptown, pigeons divided a chicken tender among themselves on the Broadway sidewalk. The seven-year-old retrieved a penny from their midst. The clouds piled up gray-blue in the west, where the descending sun could and did spray and pour and splash colors over them, ending with a pink rind along the cloud tops. Sleep arrived with a breeze through the opened bedroom window, under a ruddy night sky. 

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The Gee Whiz Train

The thin, fragile, and (oft unfairly) maligned conduit between Brooklyn and Queens is shutting down for five weeks so that the MTA can repair lingering damage from Hurriance Sandy. This has provided occasion to air out moldering anxieties about the G train and the area it serves, one too ripe for Uber to resist exploiting:

While the MTA does their thing, we’re here to bridge the gap with one free transfer between the Nassau Av and Court Sq G train stops.

The MTA's "thing" is maintaining vital physical infrastructure. Uber is beloved by its investors precisely because it does not perform that kind of costly work, but capitalizes on making what someone has already built more efficient through software—putting bodies in empty seats—then collects the freshly excreted capital from that process. Of course, this is no reason not to enjoy that free ride! It's already been paid for, and we can't leave all those poor UberX drivers, whose rates were recently cut, with empty seats. It would be so terribly inefficient.

Photo by Ed Yourdon

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Why I Have To Be So "Rude"

FUCK YA BRO"Rude" is the #1 song in America; “Rude” is a strong contender for the worst song I have ever heard. For the lucky uninitiated, I can only explain “Rude” like this: it’s the aural equivalent of a man listening to reggae for the first time in his racecar bed, slowly fucking the hole in a Kidz Bop CD.

Here, take a dip, the water's absolutely disgusting!

Ostensibly, the success of Magic!’s “Rude” can at least partially be explained by the history of American top 40's irregular dabbles in reggae, which have tended to appear in the form of one-offs rather than any tangible wave: “I Can See Clearly Now” in 1973, “Red Red Wine” in 1984, Shaggy in 2000. But “Rude” is a reggae song the way a gas station taquito is a formal expression of Mexican cuisine, and I think, if we’re going to situate the song in some larger context, “Rude” is most interesting as an artifact in the realm of ideas. “Rude” is like a Dorito bag that got stuck on a spike of the crown of the Statue of Liberty: it’s a pop object with no content and only as much form as is necessary to deliver brief chemical gratification, which, through an unlikely ascension, becomes newly visible as a pure expression of tragedy, degradation and American garbage. “Rude” is utterly embarrassing and radically unselfconscious, a derpfaced college sophomore defensively grunting FML as he waddles to the closet for toilet paper because he ran out mid-wipe.

The first time I heard “Rude” I thought it was a 1-800-411-PAIN ad, because Detroit radio is currently running one that sounds sort of like a more palatable version of “Rude.” The next couple of times I had the sort of physical reaction I associate with suddenly coming in contact with bees; before my mind could process what was happening, I pawed at my radio dial quickly, ahhh, get it away!

Eventually, because I do spend a lot of time in my car listening to top 40, I let my guard down for long enough to consciously hear the end of the chorus: the “marry that girl” refrain, suggesting cartoon lobsters singing under the sea, and then the “marry her anyway” echo that follows, frenzied and palm-sweaty sentimental, like a sonic blend of Crazytown and Tal Bachman. MARRY DAT GURL, marry her anyway; MARRY DAT GURL, marry her anyway.

Thus was I swept under the horrible surface to briefly swim in the song’s tenuous claim to an idea: “Rude” is one of those songs with a “story.” A drunk second cousin to the “You don’t know you’re beautiful (babe, let me help you with that low self-esteem [WITH MY DICK])” mainstream pop banger, this song takes as its central conceit the retrograde plight of a young man requesting a title transfer. Can I have your daughter for the rest of my life, sings the singer to a dad, the melody wandering downwards to illuminate the fact that this is not a real question. Say yes say yes because I need to know. I am from the South and understand that some people enjoy this “tradition” but it’s also 2014 and the only true “need to know” situation I can imagine is if the daughter is under the age of consent, in which case: ask away. Otherwise, time to do a little less.

About a month ago, I was in Los Angeles and very stoned in the middle of the afternoon and taking an Uber across town. Stuck in traffic, the guy driving sent a string of emails from his Blackberry, pausing only to turn up the radio when “Rude” came on, and then, a few seconds later, turn the song up even more. I accepted this divine message: the light in me needed to salute and honor the light in “Rude.” So I listened closely, wanting to understand. READ MORE

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A Poem by John Ashbery

The Undefinable Journey

Where do you think you’re
going to get lines to
punish the stranger with?
Cursing, destiny's piñata;
it’s a surprise! (Partly sunny.)

O neat-o friend of mine,
to add a central target to the
mix is not to chase sea
monsters, real or imagined.

You drop the floor.
Small white chicken friends,
like life itself
over time last night…
And, what have you done with this one?

READ MORE

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Space Invaders

IMG_7499Tourists are freaks. (For context: I work in Times Square.) Tourists are unnatural to the environment into which they insert themselves; they walk funny; they talk wrong. David Foster Wallace wrote (in a footnote) that to be a tourist “is to spoil, by way of sheer ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience. It is to impose yourself on places that in all noneconomic ways would be better, realer, without you.” Something similar might also be said of journalists, who also insert themselves awkwardly on someone else’s turf. But the journalist, if we’re being high-minded about it, serves some civic or artistic purpose; the presence of the tourist is for the sheer sake of personal amusement. That is to say, the mission of a tourist is selfish, and with that comes a degree of indulgence—even a sense of entitlement, which maybe is necessary to function in a situation where, as a tourist, you know you don’t really belong.

I was a tourist in China for two weeks. I bopped from one landmark to another, squeezed into the subway, and did my best to avoid restaurants patronized by anyone who looked like me (i.e., non-Asian). Being an American tourist made me a burden as well as an object of fascination. I found myself, as a novelty, the unexpected beneficiary of attention and perks: somebody in Yunnan province asked where I was from, and then requested a picture; at a hot pot place in Xi’an, where there was an hour wait for a table, my group was told, through my Chinese-speaking college friend, that we could be seated right away because we were foreigners—we were “special.” Before we could protest, the waitress whisked us to our seats—past a row of disgruntled hungry people—and gave us small plastic bags to protect our phones and a cloth with which I could wipe steam from my eyeglasses. This sort of treatment was the opposite of what I would have expected from anyone forced to serve a tourist: not only was it encouraging of our trampling all over someone else’s night out to dinner, it was downright obsequious. Tip was included, so that wasn’t a motivating factor. Awkward as this should have been, it wasn’t—tasty, fun, kid-friendly, recommended!—because that is the essential contradictory nature of the tourist. READ MORE

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What It's Like Getting Hired—and Fired—by 'SNL'

gary_kroeger_needlemanIt was late summer, 1982, and I was driving down Lake Shore Drive in Chicago with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I turned to her and said, “This must be what winning the lottery feels like.” We had just been asked to join the cast of Saturday Night Live along with Brad Hall (and Paul Barrosse, who would become a writer) and were on our way to our last performance of “The Golden 50th Anniversary Jubilee.”

The show was a collection of our best Practical Theatre sketches over a three-year period and it was a local hit that caught the attention of Tim Kazurinsky. Tim brought in Dick Ebersol and Bob Tischler who decided on the spot to make us the new cast. We were so excited we couldn’t contain ourselves. I even did something stupid like announce “Live from the Practical Theatre it’s Saturday Night!” before our finale started.

That’s the good part of the story. The less good part is…we were hired to light a fire under Eddie Murphy, who was already emerging as a superstar. We were introduced to the existing cast and writers, not as an addition, per se, but as competition. We’d do our thing, they’d do their thing.

Problem was, our thing had no credibility yet and we were more or less left by Dick and Bob to fend for ourselves. Perhaps they thought that was the best environment to bring out our best.

It wasn’t. READ MORE

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The Book I Didn't Write

1 I didn’t write the book because the thought of it made me feel vaguely ill at all times. Even when I wasn’t thinking about it directly I was thinking about it. None of the thoughts were good.

I didn’t write the book because it was a book about betrayal that could only be facilitated by my betrayal of other people, many of whom had already been betrayed. This wouldn’t have been a clever metatextual commentary on the nature of betrayal; it would have just been really quite mean of me, and sad.

I didn’t write the book because I thought that in the end it would not be interesting. Every day I wondered who would care about the story. There are only so many books that each of us can read in a lifetime; why would this book be one of them? The enterprise of writing—or not writing—the book took on the tenor of the absurd in my mind because it would have hurt no small number of people, and for me to dig around in their lives to turn them into Characters with a Point To Make was not a moral calculus which would ever come out with me in the black.

I had gotten as far as an epigraph:

We are who we pretend to be, so we must be careful about who we pretend to be.

This was also a problem. In this one sentence, Kurt Vonnegut had elegantly expressed everything I’d hoped I might say in an entire book.

There were also roughly forty thousand words, written over two years, mostly useless, arranged into folders that I liked to move around. One day I dragged them over to the little trash icon and they disappeared with that noise meant to mimic crunching up paper.

The book was about secrets—the personal, complicated kind—about what constituted love, and what did not. But the secrets were not mine to tell. I thought a lot about their corrosive nature, and how so much could have been avoided if only people hadn’t kept secrets. But I could not resolve the conflict of a story that was not mine. So the secrets stay buried. READ MORE

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History Revised

Now in a discovery reported by an international team in the journal Science, the new dinosaur species, Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus (KOO-lin-dah-DRO-mee-us ZAH-bike-kal-ik-kuss), suggests that feathers were all in the family. That's because the newly unearthed 4.5-foot-long (1.5 meter) two-legged runner was an "ornithischian" beaked dinosaur, belonging to a group ancestrally distinct from past theropod discoveries.

So, says the study's lead author, "[f]eathers are not a characteristic [just] of birds but of all dinosaurs." The de-lizarding of dinosaurs has been a gradual humiliation, not just for the creatures themselves but for generations of children who lent them their most imaginative years. Now there are only feathers and teeth.

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M.I.A., "Gold"

Just under two minutes of helpful forward propulsion for a deathly Friday. One foot in front of the other. Finger to the left, next finger to the right. Space, tap, tap tap, send. Start the song again.

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Awl pal Anne Helen Petersen on Harvey Levin's empire of slime:

[I]t’s clear that Bieber’s tape was not the only near-priceless piece of dirt in the proverbial TMZ vault. (TMZ did not respond to multiple requests for comment.) According to these ex-employees, the sealed testimonies from the Michael Jackson molestation trial hide there as does footage of various celebrities — Bieber, Lohan, Travolta — behaving badly. The vault isn’t a secret at TMZ — even the lowest on the staff ladder have heard whispers of its existence. As to what goes up on the site and what stays vaulted, that’s a finer, more esoteric calculus — and one in which celebrities and their publicists have come to live in fear.

Also unsurprising: "Regarding the atmosphere of generalized sexism and discrimination described in the suit, male and female TMZ employees, none of whom were willing to go on the record, reported that it was all true, if not worse." (See also: The Trials of 'Entertainment Weekly': One Magazine's 24 Years of Corporate Torture.)

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The Cathedral Ruins

7871598282_eeb6c09052_zA cathedral is a good place to remember. I visited European cathedrals when I was too young to care about them. There was Chartres: buttresses and spires, relics lined up in rows in glass cases, a crypt that’s not filled with dead people, but is another church in the church. One of the tour guides told me that the cathedral’s nave was constructed on an angle so that medieval pilgrims’ muck could be washed right out the door; they would just toss buckets of water in there. She also said that people still walk out to the cathedral from Paris and that it takes three days. You leave the city behind for the country. “Paris,” she said. “Trop de monde.”

I was thirteen when I went to Notre Dame for the first time. It was so crowded that my family and I moved in a phalanx of tourists, our arms flat against our sides. The air smelled of sweat and candle wax. I dropped a coin in one of the little boxes and lit a candle and made a wish that I promptly forgot. The cathedral should have been significant, and part of me wanted to know more about the hunchback, but it was just a place of old things, and I was really biding my time until I could go to a sidewalk café and order a root beer float—glace vanille avec coca—and sit in Paris’ summer sun.

Now I remember these cathedrals refracted through another one. When I was in college, I found Saint John the Divine in Morningside Heights, which became my place in the city for about fifteen years. You go to some places and decide that you have seen them and that you don’t need to see them again; sometimes, you go to a place and you know that you need to see it again and again and again, like a person. I used to watch the peacocks strut in the cathedral’s gardens, and under the rosebushes, big rats slid along on their bellies. I watched the tour buses come and go, and the retirees walk in and out of the assisted living community across the street. Then I moved away, but ever since, whenever I visit New York, the cathedral is my aperture onto a city that keeps changing.

Construction on the Episcopal cathedral started in 1892, but there was never enough money to complete it, so it has remained unfinished. Inside, the stone is smooth in places but rough and raw in others, or stained with white watermarks and mold. There’s always scaffolding somewhere, proof of some kind of repair. The building is missing one of its towers on the northwest side. After a while, you get so used to it that the tower hardly seems to be missing at all, and this uneven façade seems both mournful and full of potential. It could be finished one day. It will never be finished. The soot on the stone outside marks it as a city cathedral. It looks a bit ravaged. Other places have restored themselves: Notre Dame began a major restoration and cleaning project in 1991. When I saw it as a teenager, I saw it in all its blackness, and I attributed its appearance to its medieval-ness. It was only when I got older that I realized that nothing could be more modern than pollution. READ MORE

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New York City, July 23, 2014

weather review sky 072314★★★ Garbage was invisibly in bloom on 3rd Street; a sanitation truck weaved from curb to curb, through the rot-laden air. The small patches of sun were already challenging. But the clouds were surprisingly good-looking, small and loose cumulus on clean blue, and they were even more surprisingly effective against the early sun. A man sat in the little fenced yard off Prince Street and watched the passing foot traffic, the sunbeam behind his amber sunglass lenses calling more attention to his gaze than if his eyes had been uncovered. Up on the roof, out of the air conditioning, the heat was therapeutic, the brightness overwhelming in a soothing way. The afternoon sidewalks were glazed with filth, the pale ornamented face of the Bayard Building drenched in light. Out on the open pavement, the heat was baking. The west seemed to be darkening. Clouds assumed more threatening configurations for a while, but the threat held off. Then, at bath time, it arrived, with thunder that sounded throughout the apartment and rain washing down the avenue. The lightning was strobe-intense, enough to briefly stun the eye. More high and distant flashes lit the clouds lavender. Sirens and the beeping of snarled traffic joined the rumbling. A bolt appeared reflected in the eastern face of the glass apartment tower, its jaggedness overlaid with ripples. 

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