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Monday, January 12, 2015

Frankenfish




Watched the movie Frankenfish, my friends. An intention to see a crappy movie moved me to see what the Internet had to offer. By crappy I don’t necessarily mean inept, but one that does not aspire to proverbial Hollywood notice. Crappy is not used pejoratively here.

I never saw Sharknado but I think the scale here is smaller, and probably good for that. The movie begins as do so many good things, in a Louisiana swamp. A fisherman in a boat catches something that pulls hard. So hard indeed that he is pulled into the water. Panicked thrashing and a reddening of the water tell the story.

Switch to a murder scene, an eviscerated body being investigated by authorities. The sheriff arrives to tell the medical examiner that there’s another job to do, down in the bayou.
First note: I expected accents to be thick and overplayed. In these movies without hope of A-list distribution, there’s always someone chewing the curtain or, amounting to the same thing, not giving a shit. This movie provides an exception.

The medical examiner is a good-looking young black man. I mention race because of the setting and because of some elements later on. There’s really no racial tension here.
The M.E. must investigate the death of the person we witnessed dying. From the corpse the M.E. determines that no alligator caused the death. It shore enough don’t look like a human wounding, but the M.E. is sent anyway. The next day he arrives at the dock to meet the marine biologist who will accompany him.

She’s a young, good-looking white woman. They set off on a five hour journey upriver to the little houseboat community where the victim lived.

The camera work supplies us a rather idyllic scene as they motor upstream. Several times the camera follows behind at roughly water level, allowing the expanse of river and woodland to become central.
At some point, the biologist removes her t-shirt, wears just a halter. The M.E. never, thru the movies, removes his t-shirt with the flannel over. The hottie in halter element doesn’t go far. By the time she reaches the houseboat community she has put the t-shirt back on. She adds a button up shirt later. Continuity hounds might have something to work on.

After some journeying and nascent meet cute, they come upon a scene. The M.E. stops the boat, and there’s some suspense. It proves to be some local up to his neck in the river. The biologist doesn’t understand but the M.E just says watch. Since I’m watching the movie, I do too. Eventually, the local raises his arm to reveal that a large catfish had bitten hold onto the man’s hand. The biologist thinks this is an outré way to catch a fish. The M.E. admires the catch.

The local is exactly the character who should be missing some chromosomes and teeth, and talking with an impenetrable accent. He’s a little weird but nothing overplays. You always wonder what happened when a filmmaker shows taste.

The local agrees to deliver them to the widow of the victim, in the houseboat community. Here we get our chance to meet some swamp weirdos. The local first directs our heroes to the house of some imbedded hippies. They’re no help. Across the way is the brother of the hippie guy. This guy appears to be someone carrying the weight of his war experiences. He talks to no one. The wife of the attack victim agrees to meet with the M.E. and the biologist.

She’s the black swamp witch we have been expecting. She’s a trifle weird but mostly just swamp mom with a civilized daughter. Her daughter is there with her boyfriend. The boyfriend is classic white asshole lawyer; the daughter is legal aide in his office.

Witch mother has, she indicates, been keeping the monster at bay, you know, by lighting candles. I think she mentions an unusually large boat for the bayou run a-ground and boding evil nearby. The M.E. and biologist investigate, led by the local. The hold is full of eviscerated bodies. I neglected to mench that earlier a dead, eviscerated alligator was found, to impel the mystery. WTF could be going on here?

The local is pulled from the boat by a large shark-like fish. The other two hightail it back to witch woman’s place. “Mistah Kurtz, he dead”, basically. No one seems especially emotional about the guy’s death.

There’s a scene in which an Asian hood somehow tracks the missing boat electronically and reports to his boss. The boss is a Southern bossy type, and he orders them all, including a blowhard big game hunter, to go find that boat. I’m a little confused at this point, but happy to know there are layers of mystery to this entertainment.

So okay, their friend the local is dead, let’s have dinner. Witch woman works up a feast of turtle, which the M.E. loves and at which the biologist grimaces. Luckily there are bottle and bottles of Corona, [insert advertising tagline here]. Turns out the M.E. and the witch woman’s daughter knew each other at Nawlins High School, or she admired him from afar. Something. Meanwhile, the lawyer continues being an asshole, directing assholeness at his girlfriend. He also kvetches.

The daughter angrily goes outside and the biologist joins her. There’s a conversation in which the biologist tells the daughter to find someone better, while drinking Corona. The daughter replies, it’s so hard to find a good man, while drinking Corona. The biologist says, who says it has to be a man? while drinking Corona. The daughter doesn’t react nor does the biologist blink. We move on to other things.

The hippie guy next door hears something in the water. Investigating, he suffers a slight head removal by way of leaping fish. The lawyer makes some apt observation like, the fish took his fucking head off.

The hippie wife, in extremis, wants to save the head, I think, so she climbs into a boat, which quickly gets knocked over by the fish. After some helpless shouting, she’s chewed up.

Ricardo, the brother of the hippie guy, manages to kill the fish with a gun—did I mention there was a fish with a gun?—and it was close. The fish got on deck of his houseboat and slithered menacingly towards him, but he managed to shoot it. He then cuts the heart out, throws it on the barbie, then announces that he’s eating the heart of the fish that killed his brother.

Soon enough, a fish leaps from the water and finishes him off. And then the fish makes like Moby Dick and starts crashing into the houseboats, and they start to sink. I’m not sure why, but the daughter offers to ride a basket on a line to the hippie houseboat, to get something I guess. The M.E. shoots the fish that nearly gets her, splashing her with blood.

She goes to the bathroom to weep and look at the blood all over her. Eventually she washes it off, and the wash water drains into the bayou. 

Witch woman gets killed somehow. The asshole lawyer survives. The biologist announces there’s a way that they can be saved, pointing toward Ricardo’s houseboat. Just then, a fire started during the fish attack causes Ricardo’s gun to go off, splat, into the head of the biologist. I didn’t see that coming. Obviously she didn't either. The M.E. dutifully checks the pulse of what’s left of her neck and announces her death. I had tentatively arrived at the same conclusion.

At this point, the hunter arrives with his men in a fan boat. He finally lets us understand that the fish is a mutated version of a popular Chinese fish. He wants it not to eat but because it provides the ultimate hunting challenge: the fish hunts back. Note: I read “The Most Dangerous Game” in fifth grade.

One of the fish manages to leap into the fan of the boat, thereby splashing blood everywhere. Splashed blood has become a theme. The hunter forces everyone to find that derelict boat, which he had used to smuggle the fish to this country. No wait, he wants to track the blood trail of the final smuggled fish. Along the way, the asshole lawyer falls out of the boat and ends up in mud at the shore.

The Asian and the hired hunter quickly get killed, likewise the hunter. The M.E. and the daughter hightail in the fan boat. The fish givers chase. The M.E. does something, and the final fish gets chewed up in the fan, splashing the cutely met couple. Covered with fish gore they kiss then determine to swim home. Last scene, the asshole lawyer wakes. A small fish leaps onto him, then more, and then they start attacking him. The end.

Obviously a lot of edifying points to this movie. The thing is, it did its job. It had a little tension, a little humour, a little mystery. The lack of connected interest in all the deaths could almost be the movie’s point. The actor’s react, but without scale to the event. This seems like a director’s choice rather than acting incompetency.

Variants of that last scene are extremely common. They basically negate the forgoing. Despite the sense that our heroes survived, the locale for all remains Up Shit Creek.
The death of the biologist remains the greatest mystery. First, that she had som
e plan, which never gets revealed. Second, her death isn’t by the fish, which, given her professional status, should be her nemesis as the one who knows fish.

Her death may have been a way to let the real love affair take wind. I just assumed early on that meet cute attractive male and female will develop the much-needed love affair. The lesbian hint wasn’t strong enough to remove her from the game. I’m overthinking. Anyway, whoever filmed it might actually be a professional.
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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Psyche-ology



I just finished reading The Impossible Profession by Janet Malcolm. It concerns the profession of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is not a subject I am well-studied in, but I have enjoyed reading Jung and Freud, and have read somewhat of others in the field.

I know Malcolm as a New Yorker writer (is/was she the dance reviewer?), so I knew the book would be that sort of book. I used to subscribe to The New Yorker, tho I never read it cover to cover. New Yorker non-fiction follows a clear formula in which the quizzical author gives overview of the subject and interviews salient subject matter experts. The formula is a little superficial (or in the case of another Malcolm (Gladwell), with his proto-seeming “philosophy”, moreso), but it can lead the curious on.

The book’s title aint fooling, psychoanalysis as a profession barely seems possible. Guarantees of success are zilch, the length of an analysis, counted in years, is forbidding, the stern limits that the analyst must maintain seem unbearable, cost is prohibitive, and the whole strain on both analyst and analysand makes for a grueling marathon. And apparently it doesn’t even work for narcissists and psychotics. I should mench that the book was writ in the 80s, its views may be anachronistic.

Psychoanalysis hardly seems freed from the stock characterization of some Viennese sex-obsessed loony studiously trying to unwrap the human mind. And what the psychoanalyst does is, basically, nothing. An analyst does not lead the patient (or client, is that the accepted term now?), the analyst listens impassively (as much as possible) until the patient learns to hear what they themselves say. Imagine the rigour needed by the analyst, as well as the patient.

I avoided the subject of psychology and psychiatry—I’m not sure how to separate the two terms—when I was of an age when I might’ve developed interest. I had burgeoned enough as an artist to worry that reading in this vale of concern might cause me to overthink. I don’t think I was wrong, I needed a firmer foundation at the time, but neither do I believe that the same would be true for everyone.

I know I read at least one pop psychology book in the day, I’m Okay, You’re Okay, but only because it came to hand. It made sense, but it was simplistic. It offered the sort of sensible advice that feels comfortable and goes nowhere.

It surprised me to discover when I finally maundered my way to reading Freud that he was pretty easy to read. His writing, at least what I read, was not loaded with jargon or scientific shoptalk. And depth was evident in his work.

Later still, I read Jung. Jung invites me more than Freud. I appreciate the weird, lively a;;-embracing extent that he goes. He reminds me of Charles Olson. One doesn’t understand them so much as take the ride.

Freud acted like a scientist (which status I, for one, am willing to grant him). Jung acted like an artist. I make these assertions descriptively, and accept that Freud had artistry and Jung had science.

Jung had his Red Book (a version of which you can now (Xmas 2014) get from Target for $27.16 !!!), and at one point, made it a practice to spend an hour a day after lunch playing with toys. Plus he built a castle. Furthermore, he wrote a snidely exacting and hilarious critique of the Book of Job featuring God as a whiny-ass problem child, which a fair reading of that book can hardly gainsay.

I have read other writers in the realm, with pleasure and embrace, but Freud and Jung are the central figures for me. The thing they do, in their yin/yang way, is descry a Buddhist position of still acceptance. We are, finally, what we are. I am not wise enough, still enough, to believe those words, but I can feel the tingle of their truth. We are all positrons seeking electrons. We want a completion that is nothing but everything, and everything but nothing.

Today is Christmas, a day that for some is an assertion of promise and for others an inveiglement. Today more fully is one day that may be the only day, if only we didn’t grasp at wisps.
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Sunday, November 09, 2014

Concerning the Novel, Including My Own

Some thoughts on the novel, a form of writing that somehow perplexes me. I have written (what I call) novels but haven’t really thought of the effort as novel-writing. That is, for me it does not detach itself from any other manner of writing that I do. I don’t wear novelist t-shirts.

Having finished Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco, a novel that interests more for its subject matter than its story (tho the story’s good), I found myself sniffing Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandrian Quartet. (I almost said sniffing Justine—the first book in the Quartet—but I don’t know, it didn’t sound right).

I’ve read the Quartet twice, I think. The books tantalized me before I actually read them, and fascinated me once I did. Durrell commits himself to the Quartet both as a writer and as a participant in the stories. He’s clearly writing about specific people he knew, tho I don’t mean that the books document his life in any reliable way. Durrell supplies proof that the books are autobiographical by a prefatory note stating that they aren’t. Not that I care.

I like that Durrell offers back matter, trace glints of his characters. These include random quotes (bon mots) of the various characters, quick descriptions of people and places. Some of it is crap. The so-called character squeezes, short phrases that supposedly describe each character, just sound precious (“Clea Montis: still waters of pain.”). He has a nice, allusive language otherwise.

I get a sense with his characters similar to when a couple you know speaks of friends you don’t know. They speak of Kate and Larry spending a week in Truro and you think of these faceless people and the life they have with your friends. It’s almost a labour to think of Kate and Larry in Truro. They exist only on the basis of your friends’ reference, negatory without. That’s how I think of Durrell’s characters.

The plots of the novels, and the interaction of the characters are interesting enough that one wants to read on, but the characters aren’t especially likeable. Must we love them? Durrell loves them all. That gets in the way. No, we needn’t love the characters. I don’t and won’t.

I have been thinking this stuff because I think I’ve written an anti-novel. That’s no invention of mine. A Nest of Ninnies by John Ashbery and James Schuyler is an anti-novel by my reck. That book has much influenced me.

The characters in Ninnies aren’t especially likeable. They’re not especially anything. The authors remain so much detached from the characters as to be satisfied that the characters speak for themselves (argh, I mean the characters speak for themselves: curse you wobbly language!). Furthermore, there’s really no plot here, no satisfying Point A to Point B, for the characters to salute. They are just these human specks, not overly busy. I’ve written something similar.

I requested readers for my book and sent samples to a number of people. Just to be clear, I asked if anyone was interested and sent the ms to whoever said yes. Je n’impinge pas. I appreciate that interest, and haven’t a gripe. A few have noted the biting humour—as far as I’m concerned, there’s at least one laugh out loud on every page. Otherwise I have received little comment of any sort.

I demanded no comments from anyone. Obviously, the lack of comment is a comment. I surmise that the book did not meet expectations. Not so much expectations of me as a writer, but expectations of what a novel is. I did not satisfy those expectations.

I wasn’t trying to meet those expectations.

To undress my intentions a bit, I wrote the novel with no plot in mind. Seat of the pants, let’s see where these characters go. The genesis of the book was that all the characters were drawn from a J Crew catalogue. That is, those good-looking people in whatever tableau they are posed in, that’s how I saw the characters. In the book, they seem involved in some huge and painstaking mission, but the mission is never described. It sounds like James Bond, with hush hush and imminent danger, but the reader never gets specifics. Pretty much all that the characters do is run around from place to place, drinking cappuccino and hugging each other.

There’s some 30 characters in the book, all involved in the same mission. There is no antagonist, not one who actually appears in the book, tho one is implied. I wondered, as I wrote it, how long I could keep up this nonsense. Two hundred plus pages. It ends with a whimper, albeit an odd one.

Along the way, the overarching narrator—who I see as a character in the story—supplies acerbic, contradictory commentary, without appearing among the “crew”. As far as I’m concerned: genius!

I think what I have done displays a depth insofar as it’s a dance of meaning in a world where meaning becomes elabourate. but I think at the least the narrator’s wisecracks, underminings, and snide satire suffice as entertainment. I have written the book I wanted to write, or it wrote itself in the way it needed to be written. The question now is: what next? Is the book’s raison d’etre just not enough? Do you need a nice protagonist? You can tell me, I’ll be a good sport.

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Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco

Just finished Foucault’s Pendulum. It’s a fun, somewhat exhausting read.

I’ve read The Name of the Rose, which I just discovered was Eco’s first novel, a couple of times. It’s the sort of book worth rereading because successive readings will perhaps bring to light things that went over your head previously. Maybe you’re not as dense as I am but you might miss an allusion or two the first time thru. Anyway, Foucault’s Pendulum has a similar vibrant complexity.

Eco combines scholarship with a playful humour. In FC, he gathers together what seems like every arcane organization you’ve ever heard of (Templars, Masons, Rosicrucians, Elders of Zion, and many more), in a crypto-paranoid, apocalyptic plot for world domination/personal enlightenment. Yikes!

Funny, I tried previously to read the book but got bogged down in a lengthy passage giving the history of the Templars and could not finish the book. How could I get bogged down in the history of the Templars? I don’t react well to narratives within narratives. It’s as if (to me) the author becomes distracted with this further narrative, and I’m trying to hold onto the main one. So no long accounts of a character’s dreams for me, thanks. Cheesy device, anyway.

The history of the Templars didn’t bother me this time, nor the history of the various other arcane groups Eco pulls into the story. I won’t try to explain the plot except to say it involves conspiracy of the highest order. All these groups combining in a rush towards some Final Truth. There’s a whimper at the end, I might as well note, not a bang.

The conspiracy angle provokes me. I had to look up what The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was. I’d heard of it, with a negative aura, but needed to look a little closer. Not too close: crazy talk. That shit sickens me.

It’s not like I disbelieve the existence of conspiracies, even grand scale ones. I just have trouble when supposition supplies the main elements. JFK’s murder certainly displays a lot of fuzzy holes in the narrative. I for one do not know what the ef happened, or how it happened to happen. Once again I nod to Keats for the relieving idea that I don’t need to know everything. Or perhaps anything.

Eco’s erudition is of the lightest sort. He clearly knows a thing or two but offers it casually. I’m not interested in Golden Roads to Supreme Knowledge but it fascinates me to think of the lengths people will go and have gone to get on that road.

But anyway. The plot ends up kind of like I expected but that seems a minor thing. The rush of plot tends too often to be the author’s intent, but I think the details and word life that exists between the first capital and last period carry a novel. Oh dear, the Pequod sank? No, there’s more to it than that.

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Thursday, November 06, 2014

Powers Gallery, Acton, Ma

We’ve been going to this gallery for some ten years, I guess. It started as a time filler while Erin took classes nearby. Now we make a point.

A day off for both Beth and me, and a rainy one, so we made a visit today. A store front in one of Acton’s many exciting strip malls formerly housed the gallery. Some years back the gallery moved to an old farmhouse across from yet another gurgling Acton strip mall. Obviously the art is what counts, but the ambiance of the old house adds something to the experience.

The gallery favours largely representational work, a good deal of which could be called nature studies. Fine with me. When I first started taking notice of art as a teenager, the so-called Hudson River School drew me in. I’m not saying anyone at the gallery belongs to that school, just that many try to capture the natural surroundings. Not surprisingly, several show local scenes.

Both Beth and I love the work of Teri Malo, of which the gallery offers numerous selections. We own several of her small seascape studies, delicate, moody exercises. Teri’s blue period. She has quite a few large canvases of waves breaking in lavish form that are quite exultant.

More recently, Teri has turned to pond and forest scenes, shifting her palette into the greens, as well as autumnal oranges. One work is especially impressionistic: orange leaves in the water, really stunning. First look might reveal a cacophony of orange and green but then you see the leaves, the water’s sheen, the light reflected. It is a swarming gust of a fall moment by a New England pond.

Another Malo painting, called “Homage”, shows a rock—more accurately boulder—formation at the edge of a pond. Good New England rock left there by some galloping glacier as seen from a viewpoint on the water of the pond (or perhaps on the other shore). Green trees in the background reflect in the water in the foreground. The rocks show granite grace and I could look at this painting for hours.

Quite a few still lifes can be seen at the gallery, most notably (for me, at least), those of Marshall Henrichs. I learned about still life in elementary school, back when they also asked me to do what I understood to be south portraits. Okay, I was nine years old and I didn’t get it, bunch of bottles and fruit. I think I’ve got the concept now.

In fact, I know I have. The sense of form, of light, and even of meditative time all conjunct in these tableaux of ordinary objects. My special friend among Henrichs’ work is called “Glass Notes”. It shows a display of eleven bottles, vases, and pitchers—including, I think, a distinctive Hendrich’s gin bottle—on a table with a white tablecloth. Gathering the sensibility of the light, the forms, and just the music of seeing something that is there just to be there: it is a wonderfully enthralling experience. That’s why the dalliance intrigues us, looking at art. We see an image found in a moment of no distraction, for the artist and then for us.

That’s not the same as photographing. Malo’s “Homage”, hangs above an old fireplace visible from the entrance. It carries a luminous photographic nature, but it is not merely a representation or copy. It allows the painted colour to halt the trammeling blindness of our daily eye. Thus too Henrichs’ still lifes. That’s just the reason to look.

Another artist whose work I enjoy seeing is Matt Brown. He does Japanese wood prints, like I know what that specifically means. I can say this much: firmly delineated places of colour matched with an utter delicacy of form and touch. Many of his prints bespeak New Hampshire’s nest of mountains, even including Franconia Notch, just outside of which occurred my halcyon school daze. These are all small prints, less than a foot, mostly, in any dimension, but endless in their depth. Really taken by these.

I could go on, but I didn’t take notes, that’s too distracting. If you don’t think my words work, you can check out the gallery’s website. Go to the website (www.powersgallery.com/) and click on the Artists link. A lot more than I can give word to. It was a good day of looking.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The Majesty of Wegmans

The much-anticipated opening of Wegmans locally occurred recently. Beth and I made a quick inspection the other day, after mucking about in a nearby furniture store. Supermarket, The Event. We were there to witness Furniture Store, The Event when Ikea made its Massachusetts appearance years back (trimly written about here). Now this gloria mundi. All star shopping, the hope of the future.

Super the place seems to be. Set in a busy business district where little and large tech companies vie for best stupid company name, with the Burlington Mall not far away, it is a magnetic north for shoppers. You go down this drive to this castle-like structure, it even has a clock tower. The street had accommodating parking spaces so we parked there. A parking garage sits next to the store itself.  It’s a city, or more accurately, a citadel.

A store employee stood by the entrance, perhaps as greeter. She didn’t greet us but I think someone was speaking to her. Probably trying to get the coordinates for the dairy section. The place is vast. I believe I heard it was 50,000 square feet, which is to say 12 acres, or football fields. I dunno if that means the entire property or just the building: it don’t make no never mind. Big.

Produce greeted us first. Looked okay, and the prices were good. You pretty much have to expect a wax sheen on apples nowadays. I think it was mostly the usual stuff, no 50 shades of tomatoes. Still, I’ve seen worse, like at most supermarkets (looking at you Market Basket and Stop & Shop).

Really, I felt overwhelmed by the size of the place. The size and location of the store precludes dashing in for a pint of cream. A large café I think they called it sits to the left of the main entrance. I believe you can get meals, not just a bagel and coffee. We did not enter, but I think nearby techies might pop in there for lunch.

We wandered around but did not really gain the lay of the land. I never saw meat or dairy, for instance. I had been told that Wegmans does a lot of cross-merchandizing, but I only saw a couple of wines by the cheese section. Oh yes, Wegmans sells wines.

Few supermarkets in the state sell beer or wine. I’m not sure why the exceptions but I believe soon they all will, or will be able to. Kinda jumping ahead, but Wegmans has a large and bargain-priced selection of wine, beer, and liquor. Obviously they have tremendous buying power. Many prices were rock bottom, but there were many instances, at least in wine, that the usual case discounts that stores offer could meet or beat Wegmans’ price. The selection seemed both thorough and random. Lots of established names and all the wine-growing regions, but it seemed like a machine made the choices.

Earlier, I wandered down a different aisle than Beth then had a hard time finding her. The store absorbs people. You become part of the machine. I suppose that sounds like a creative construction. At Costco, there’s a general counter-clockwise directive, with clear side excursions. Wegmans offers a clear outer rim experience but you may need to drop a trail of cookie crumbs if you dare to seek paper towels. We found the liquor at one end, then decided to seek the bread selection. It was a straight journey but was it 50 yards, 100 yards? I’m good for it, but if you are guided by inspiration rather than master plan, you might tend to choose to forget about it.

Lack of samples surprised me. Something was offered at produce, but that just attracted store employees. Someone with a trayful offered us a cold mocha. Samples seem like a necessity to me. Wegmans has troops enough to handle that.

Cashiers stand at ready at the entrance to their lane when not occupied. Nice touch, it feels hospitable. The Whole Foods that we bow to has devolved to a lot of young people flirting with each other. Somehow, Whole Foods has lost its snap.

Wegmans is not a grim silo like Walmart, where neither customers nor employees look happy in their predicament. Wegmans feels like a utopian city, with everyone integrated into its directive. The store manager, whatever that entity might be, cannot possibly know many of the employees. Assistant managers, subalterns, proxies, god I don’t know. Running smoothly so far as I can tell.

I was glad to see no talkspeak slogans like what now graces the walls of Whole Foods. They may be coming or are kept interiour; a machine this large needs a coordinated push. It also requires the customers to make a similar push. You have to accept that under this one roof lies all possibility. That’s a bit of a swallow. Still, I’ve seen worse, i.e. Walmart. And let’s don’t forget the reputed charms of Amazon. Our need for comforting resource may lead us to further integrations. I mean, Wegmans looks fine but the store feels like you are in its stomach. I guess I am not ready for that.

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