PUSHING THE RIVER

My newest novel, Pushing the River, released yesterday (Amika Press)!!

In honor of its official entrance into the world, here are some additional teaser quotes.

The early reviews have taken my breath away.  Check them out, below!

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“Madeline stood in the street and gaped into the vast cavern of space as if it were a true miracle, as if an outline of the Virgin Mother would undoubtedly appear on a side wall, like Jesus on a piece of toast.”

“That’s my heritage, the stock from whence I come, I will put on my gloves and I will get out there in that garden and I will take no prisoners and I will damn the torpedoes and I will full speed ahead.  My family is in need.”

“Madeline became passionately attached to Jeff’s body.  She scanned its surface for changes to memorize.  She took note of differing thicknesses of the hairs comprising his beard, ran her fingers alone the crevasses of scars from a bad car accident, studied the calluses on each of his fingers from years of playing guitar.”

“My head is gonna explode, she thought. It is going to detach from my body and flay apart into a million, icky-gooey-oozy little pieces.  What’s the movie where that happens?  It’s going to splatter against the walls and slap Savannah upside the face.”

“…they would be swept up in a great salty tide [of tears] and whisked down the corridor, past roomfuls of astonished new mothers cradling infants, while Madeline swooped up Dylan and saved him.”

“By the second week of December, Madeline felt as if she had fast-forwarded through a ten-year marriage in just slightly more than three months.”

“When he shuffled off to the bathroom each night to brush and floss for an absurd amount of time, it set her own teeth on edge to such a degree she felt certain her back molars would shatter into bits.”

“Sometimes it is a smell or the particular angle of the sun’s light or the sound of a door closing – some thing that makes its way through the store of life’s memories and touches something deep, far, previously lost.  In this case, it was the movement, the precise position of her legs.”

“Taking down a Christmas tree was like a death.  The death of another year.  Pack up and put away whatever was special or memorable or lasting.  Throw away the rest.”

“I knew that we were in a race against my grandmother’s remaining time.  I thought about the possibility that she might die while we were up in the clouds, and I wondered if I might be able to see her, making her trip to heaven, if I concentrated very hard on the clouds.”

“The really gory detail is how I turned out to be a hopelessly shallow person who fell for a handsome lunatic.”

https://www.goodreads.com/b…/show/41020153-pushing-the-river

My life according to me

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D-Day. June 6.

D-Day marks the anniversary of the Normandy landings during World War II. Twenty-four thousand U.S., British and Canadian troops landed on five separate beaches across a 50-mile-wide stretch of northern France. The largest seaborne invasion in history, the operation began the liberation of German-occupied northwestern Europe from Nazi control, and contributed to the Allied victory on the Western Front. But, “victory” took months, and Allied casualties numbered greater than 10,000, with more than 4,100 confirmed dead.

On the anniversary of D-Day this year, I officially outlived every member of my family of origin. I woke up to my 22,481st day, overtaking my father, who put his cigarette down and slid off his chair into a quick and peaceful death on his 22,480th day. I had long surpassed my mother (20,792 days) and my brother, the one most gypped of the additional days I so wish he could have seen (17,590 days).

I originally began this blog as a vehicle to post sections of my third novel as it was being written, and I titled it “My books My writing My life according to me.” With my third novel completed (at least I hope that it is completed. I would like it to be completed, not because I shirk from doing further work that might make it a better piece of fiction, but because I believe it accomplishes what I ardently wanted it to accomplish – to capture an instant in time. Altering it seems almost like doctoring pictures of the D-Day invasion. They may be more captivating, or graphic, or even more beautiful photographs, but that’s just not what happened); I am switching my blog more to the “My life according to me” thing. I have redesigned it!

Is this a grateful-to-be-alive every single day kind of blog? A bluebirds-on-both-shoulders-singing-in-my-ears sort of thing? Um, no. Well, partly. I chose the wonderful photograph above by Annemiek van der Kuil as the perfect “emblem” for this blog, as it mirrors the world that I see, where juxtapositions and ironies exist everywhere: a world that is at once beautiful and messy, where there is loneliness and separation as well as jubilant connection, peacefulness and chaos, profound pain, but always, always possibility.

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Touche

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In its first incarnation, my novel which ended up as You, in your Green Shirt, began as a memoir, entirely non-fiction. Over a process of years, two agents, many publishers, a lot of thought and two complete rewrites, I determined that the material – the sum total of story, voice, and intent –could be better served if I abandoned the “facts*” and allowed the characters free reign to tell their tale.

Still very much in a new and experimental place, my current thinking is that A January Diary might benefit from a similar break from reality. Thus (I’m always looking for an opportunity to use the word thus!!), following is the first foray into the realm of the constructed reality known as fiction for A January Diary.

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It was after the first time we – hmmm, should I say made love? Had sex? Fucked? It’s best when it’s all three, all at once.

Should I fault myself for not remembering the details? Of the actual sex, I mean. Other things, I recall with the clarity of a photograph that sits right in front of me. One that I can stare at, examine over and over, discover new and more new. There was the Very Serious expression on his face. His extreme thinness, combined with his heights – he’s a blue person! I thought. One of the blue people from the movie Avatar!! The shocking cold of his foot afterward, as he traced it along my calf.

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There was the languid and lovely movement from the breathless, voiceless sinking into one another’s bodies that immediately followed, to the murmured first words, to the return of full sentences, to the eventual time when we woozily sat on the edges of the bed and regarded our widely-strewn clothing.

By the time all of our clothing had found its way back onto our bodies, we stood fully upright and regular conversation had resumed. He was saying that he really needed to get started on his Medicare stuff, grumbling about the whole pain-in-the-ass of it. I said that I was counting the days until I qualified. Why, I said, do you have any idea what I’m paying for my health insurance right now? Being a Company Man, the kind with paid-for health insurance, of course he had no idea.

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I threw out the monetary figure, which elicited a visible level of shock and horror. He actually paced around his hallway a little, trying to wrap his head around the sum. Ha! Saw my opening. So with a totally straight face I said: well, this is as good a time as any to segue into something I really need to talk with you about. You can probably understand now why I have an ad up on Craigslist – I’m advertising for an arranged marriage for health insurance.”

Without a second’s hesitation he said: Hell, I’ll marry you. Let me call the benefits office right now and get the info. Lemme just go grab my phone.” And with that, he walked away, pretending to search for the phone.

Touche, I thought.

Touche, indeed.

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“Lachrymose.Febreze.Get Shorty,” NEW from the novel “Pushing the River”

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“Nope,” Madeline thought to herself. “Nope, nope, nope. Bathetic, mawkish, maudlin – that’s what I’m being. And, my personal favorite – lachrymose.” Sometimes Madeline was goddamn glad that she had spent part of one summer studying lists of words to expand her vocabulary. “Lachrymose,” she let the word swirl around inside her. It wasn’t every day that you could find a reason to use one of your very favorite words of all time, but when that opportunity was suddenly there, boy howdy, that was a banner day. That could turn a shit of day right around.

“I. Will. NOT. Be. Lachrymose. No sirree Bob.” Madeline marched up the staircase with intent, paused at the top to wiggle back and forth in a little dance, and two-stepped her way into her bedroom. Carefully moving aside the freshly laundered pile of clothes, she proceeded to rip the sheets off her bed with a vengeance, then crumple them into the smallest ball she could. She held the ball in front of her, arms fully extended, the entire length of two stair flights to the washing machine. “Ha. I knew I saved this for a reason,” she thought, ripping open a sample packet of laundry detergent that had arrived in the mail months ago. Tide with Febreze. Guaranteed to eliminate your toughest laundry odors, it said. “Well, then, my detergent friend, be true to your word. Eliminate, eliminate. When I lay my weary little head down on my pillow tonight – alone, in my own bed – I don’t want a single whiff, not one hint of a whiff, not a hair of a tinge of a mite of a pinch of a speck of a trace of a hint. Of Dan.”

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The machine’s lid sang out as it snapped closed, making a slight symphony with the rushing water and the whistling of the hot water pipe.

Madeline decided to slam the lid again. It felt highly satisfying. But when the last reverberation fell silent, it was as if a little bit of the air had escaped from Madeline’s inner balloon. Her footfalls up the stairs sounded slow and shuffling. There was no dance.

Her intention was to put away the laundry. She swung open the side-by-side doors of the primitive armoir she used as her clothes cabinet. She ran her eyes up and down the stacks of clothes, back and forth across the three shelves. She left the doors agape, and went to lie down on the sheetless bed.

Her flat palm grazed across the mattress pad, and with the gesture, an image: Dan. Also lying on his back, the two of them facing the ceiling. Newborn Dylan, tightly swaddled and sound asleep between their two prone bodies. Their hands reaching toward one another, clasping.

Madeline leapt from the bed and threw open the door of the hall closet, tossing years’ worth of accumulated stuff around, searching for something she was certain had been stashed ever since Kate’s first big camping trip. Febreze. Spray. Mountain fresh scent.

Madeline bounded back into the bedroom and went to work on the pillows, nearly soaking them with spray. Then onto the mattress itself.

“Out damn spot!” She thought: “Wait a minute. Macbeth? Shakespeare?? I thinketh not. Waaayyyyy too literary. How about Ellmore Leonard? Get Shorty?? ‘FUCK YOU, FUCKBALL!!’”

Dennis Farina Get Shorty

Last Sunday

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My foster grandson will turn three in less than two weeks. I unexpectedly got to spend the day with him last Sunday. I had planned to attend my longest-time friend’s ballroom dance competition that day, as it was the first time it worked out that I could finally see – and celebrate – what has been her passion for several years now. As grandson D is an easy-going child who sees wonder everywhere, he has accompanied me on many great adventures in his young life. I decided to bring him along.

He was fascinated by riding in the glass elevators at the Hyatt, likewise the oversized lobby furniture he scrambled into with great triumph. As it happened to be the day after Halloween, the lavish costumes of the dancing couples didn’t strike him as particularly noteworthy or unusual. He sat upright in his chair, watching the dancers attentively. After each brief dance was over, he clapped heartily, hopped off of his chair, and said with enthusiasm, “Is it over? Can we go back to the car and go home now?”

Each time, I said, “No, not yet! Just a little while longer, OK?”

On the drive back home, he chatted about the trains we passed, the differences between various construction vehicles, and where the passengers waiting on the train platforms might be going.

He was clearly headed in a philosophical direction at that point. And make no mistake, the following conversation was deeply philosophical, with all the curiosity, underlying wonder, and joy at the ability to reflect that entails.

“Tiabuela (which is what D calls me, as in a Spanish conflation of aunt/grandmother), do you know what I’m doing right now?”

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“No, D, what are you doing?”

“I’m picking my nose! Do you like to pick your nose, Tiabuela? Do you do it very often?”

“Um, sometimes I pick my nose. Not very often really.”

“I love to! It’s a really good thing to do! If you don’t pick your nose, how do you get your boogers out! You have to get your boogers out!”

“Well, usually I get a Kleenex, and then I blow my nose into the Kleenex.”

“Hmm. I blow my nose sometimes. It’s way better to pick it.”

“I’ve noticed that you do it quite a bit.”

“Know what I’m doing now, Tiabuela? I’m eating my boogers!!”

“Uhhhhh, D, yuck! Don’t they taste yucky??”

“No! They don’t taste yucky! They taste good in my mouth! I like the way they feel inside my mouth! And they don’t make my stomach hurt! They’re not yucky, and they don’t make my stomach hurt.”

“So, some things make your stomach hurt?”

“Yes, but not boogers!”

There was a brief lull, as D gazed out the window and…seemed to be chewing.

“Well,” he said. “What about eye boogers! Do you pick those?!?”

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art, top to bottom: Henri Matisse, Robert Henri, Pablo Picasso

Tales from the Gym #4, The Speedo, part 3

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If you had told me, ever, that there would come a day when I sat in the privacy of my own home and watched instructional videos on YouTube where former Olympic coaches discussed the proper technique for the freestyle swimming kick, I would have been sorely tempted to administer a mental status exam right on the spot. You know, where a caring and concerned professional asks certain basic questions to determine whether you have lost your orientation as to person, time, and place – which is a fancy clinical way of saying that there are some very big holes in the screen door, the lights are on but nobody’s home, bats have taken over the belfry, the deck is no longer full, and you remain permanently with the fairies. Can you answer such simple questions as: what is your full name; what is the day of the week today; who is the current president of the United States of America. Of course, it’s most likely that there are members of my immediate family who could not answer at least one of those questions. Let’s say, perhaps, a family member who I gave birth to. Honestly, it’s highly likely that this person would miss 2 out of 3 of those questions; and the third could lead to a lengthy philosophical discussion about identity, power dynamics, and the assumptions we bring to bear on our understanding of such concepts as “life” and “self” in the first place. She’s a graduate student.

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ANYway, I am getting ahead of myself. When we left off, my brand new Speedo was still constricting the blood flow around my knees.

Once I have had my trip down memory lane regarding the gym locker room, it then occurs to me that in order to cadge this wonderful, zero-gravity swimming experience, I will have to actually wear a swimsuit. In public. With the very real possibility – no, certainty – that I will run into the people that I see in my private practice of therapy. While wearing a Speedo. Don’t get me wrong. The people who come to see me possess the motivation, and the courage, and the sheer guts, to examine their lives and themselves in the service of having it be better. They are my heroes. But mostly when we are all fully clothed.

Let me just mention that I am doing battle with my little black Speedo right after I have come from a Gym Workout. I have had all kinds of helpful digital readouts telling me that I have successfully maintained an average heart rate of 138 beats per minute for 40 minutes. Lights flashed at me regularly, alerting me to the digital opinion that I was overdoing it, and was approaching the heading-for-the-light zone. Still, by the time I manage to wrestle, wrench, twist and tug the Speedo, and install the material so that it is mostly covering those body parts that are supposed to be covered – well, I am lying on my bed, spread-eagle, drenched with sweat, in a state of exhaustion that 40 minutes on a treadmill could never hope to duplicate.

Once rested, I am so damn proud of myself for having gotten this swimsuit on that I immediately take some selfies. Which exactly two people will ever see. My daughter, a longtime swimmer who knows the drill, and my boyfriend, who has seen it all before. I’m so lit up with my accomplishment, and so not-ready to even consider what will be involved with getting the Speedo off again, that I decide I will just hang out in my house and do some pretend swimming, going from room to room demonstrating what I have learned on those helpful YouTube videos.

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Stories of My Mother #9

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My mother brought every bit of her training and rigor as a scientist to bear on her duties as a mother and homemaker. In particular, she approached the task of preparing three meals a day for growing children with fervor and precision. Everything that was put in front of us, every meal, contained a meticulously constructed, well-rounded, visually pleasing combination of food and drink that also held an appropriate calorie content in a nutritionally perfect amalgam. The chewable vitamins that I was so fond of were entirely superfluous I’m sure. In fact, I was in such glowing good health, not to mention full of bouncy energy as a young child, my grandmother suggested to my mother that perhaps the vitamin pills were not such a good idea. She was the mean grandmother; my other grandmother tickled my feet all day long, if I wanted, and would never have said such a thing. Why it was only when my parents repeatedly questioned the endless bruises on her legs that she broke down confessed to my brother’s regularly kicking her. Nice grandmother.

Not that my mother wasn’t a big believer in The Treat – she was. We regularly went to the local bakery, and always had a well-stocked supply of beloved cookies in the house. We were allowed to have one, and only one, if we finished everything on our plates. I grew up in the time, and in the household, where this was a non-negotiable given. You ate what was put in front of you, and you ate it all. My mother maintained this policy with a complete zero tolerance stance, even though my brother would regularly throw up stuff he genuinely “didn’t care for,” in the parlance one used to describe that whole mess.

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As early as I can remember, my mother said of her painstakingly-planned meals that we simply must eat it, because it was good for our Mr. Man. I have no idea where she came up with this, er, concept, but you just don’t question the things that you hear from your parents from day one. Mr. Man. Once my mother had made clear the extreme and immeasurable importance of Mr. Man, she was rather vague concerning follow-up details. I sort of understood that there was some… entity… inside of me that demanded satisfaction; after that, I was pretty much left to my own devices.

I was very young. I knew that our bodies are warm inside, way warmer than the air around us. I also had some idea that once we chewed up our food and swallowed it, it went somewhere deep down inside of us. It seemed natural and reasonable to me that there must be a fire deep in my belly, and that fire needed to be fed on an absolutely regular basis or it would go out. (We had a fireplace in my house, and once in a while my parents would let me feed pieces of paper into the dying embers, making a game out of waiting to see how long I could wait and still get the next piece of paper to ignite. Wait too long, and poof, done, out of luck, fire out.) Well, of course I didn’t think there was a nice suburban home fireplace inside my body. I thought it probably looked more like a brick oven.

And Mr. Man? Well, I watched a lot of cartoons. He looked pretty much like Wimpy from Popeye. Except without the suit – he wore a plain white t-shirt and working-man pants. After all, it was hot down there, and he had a ceaseless and essential job to do – you need to be comfortable for that.

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Tales from the Gym, #3: The Speedo, part 2

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I know this Speedo is the right damn size, and yet, by the time I have figured out which holes to put my legs through, and gotten it up to approximately my knees, I am reminded of the deeply humiliating times that I have tried on jeans that are too small – way too small. You move around in ways you didn’t even know you could accomplish, and yet you know those babies ain’t going nowhere. I guarantee this experience makes even the most body-confident woman (wait – is there such a person?) immediately visualize a mental list of at least 623 things that are tragically wrong with her body, her life, her entire place in the universe.

As the brand-new Speedo hovers around my knees, I silently thank my lucky stars that I decided to try this little fucker on in the privacy of my own home, rather than – oh my god – the gym locker room. For now it occurs to me that there was one other excellent reason that I was so gleeful about abolishing the health club experience from my life for that wonderful 15 years: the locker room.
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While I was still busy avoiding the idea of swimming (and waiting for my eBay Speedo to arrive in the mail), I got a free trial week at a different local “Athetic Facility,” where I stuck my toes back into the fitness club waters by arriving there in my full regalia of workout clothes, hanging my ground-length down parka on a hook, and trying to convince myself that as long as I was going to sweat in the service of my health, I may as well have a very nice view of Lake Michigan. Forty minutes later, I put my parka back on and went back to the private confines and comfort of my own home to shower and change. I was delighted to see how many scores of other people did this same thing! Scores of students from the Affiliated University of this Athletic Facility walked right over in the full brutality of winter, wearing their shorts and running shoes!! And hung up their coats, did their thing and left!!

Alas, if you’re gonna swim, you’re gonna have to find yourself in the locker room.

Sigh. I recall a woman from my old gym. I can picture her standing in front of the mirror, doing her entire routine of hair drying/styling/coifing, and then skin care regimen, and then multiple layers of make-up – stark naked from the waist up. Showing off what was obviously a state-of-the-art boob job. Those girls were expensive, carefully planned and deeply tanned, and she wanted them to be seen. I never actually saw her working out, come to think of it; and for all I know, she just stood there in front of the mirror and did her routine over and over, all day.

Then there was the time that the mother of a teenager I worked with accosted me in the locker room at the precise second when I had emerged from the shower, returned to my locker, an let the towel drop. I was stark naked. She wanted to talk with me about her bill, the fact that she owed me a great deal of money. And she was crying.

 

 

Tales from the Gym, #2: The Speedo

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Ok, ok. I will try swimming. For more than 2 years, my doc has been gently asserting that this activity would be a wondrous way to get an all-around workout with the least amount of strain on my degenerating joints. I steadfastly ignored him, for what I thought were a number of excellent reasons: first of all, I live in an inexcusably cold climate, and jumping into a giant pool of cold water in the roughly six or seven months of the year when it is unlivable here – well, that’s just crazy. Secondly, as I mentioned, snipping up my old gym membership card remained a glorious memory; and swimming would obviously require a pool that was located in one of those…places. And last but not least, well, I can barely swim.

The thought of it immediately brings to mind a friend who is Very Serious Athlete, the type who can not only do, but excel, at nearly everything. She tells the story of how one day, when in the pool doing her effortless laps, she decided she would try the butterfly stroke. Just one pool length, she told herself, as she hadn’t done the fly for years. She made it close to one length, but not quite, and when she gave up and poked her head out of the water, she found herself nearly eye-to-eye with the lifeguard on duty, who was crouched at the end of my friend’s lane, a hair’s breath away from making the rescue dive, with her full regalia of lifesaving gear and devices in hand. Yep, I think to myself. That’s gonna be me.

However, I am of the very firm belief that it is critically important to take on challenges throughout one’s life that stretch one immensely, are therefore appropriately and deeply humbling, and where simply living through it indicates complete success. My children seem to have inherited this trait, which I suppose is how they found themselves walking 2,173 miles a number of years ago, brother and sister together, the full length of the Appalachian Trail.  They began at Mt. Katahdin, Maine and ended five months later at Springer Mountain, Georgia,  where they walked from the woods, casual as could be, into my sobbing arms.  I was standing in a parking lot holding two bags, one containing 3 bottles of champagne, and the other — 6 cans of whipped cream (for whipped cream high-fives, of course).

I’ve done very little swimming for exercise in my life, but I’ve done enough to know that you simply cannot swim laps in a regular bathing suit. Even the most comfortable, favorite, well-fitted suit you may own will be in your way in a hundred different places once you are actually trying to swim, and that’s if it stays on at all. Which it quite often does not. I need a Speedo.

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Anyone who knows me will tell you that I never try anything on in stores. I know what size Speedo I wear; I log on to eBay and feel that deep sense of customer satisfaction that comes from nabbing a $70 Speedo for a mere $20, AND there’s free shipping. From my days as “Equipment Manager” of my kids’ youth swim team (equipment consisting of, um, team swimsuits, period), I have watched a large array of children and teenagers putting on brand new racing Speedos. So I am not surprised when my my shopping triumph arrives in the mail, I take it out of its plain white Speedo wrapper, and am confronted with a crazy mishmash of material that has holes and straps and openings everywhere, but is no more than 2” x 4” in its entirety. The brand new wonder has no less than FOUR tags describing the technology that has been brought to bear on the Speedo Endurance Flyback Training Suit that I am holding in my hands.

I put both hands inside the Speedo. I pull it in every direction with all my might. I will sum up: a suit that is designed to hold up through a minimum of 10 hours a week swim training (as I learn from the tags!) in a miasma of chemicals under conditions of constant friction is a garment that comes out of the box with absolutely no stretch whatsoever. Suddenly the mental picture of all those girls doing the most amazing and jaw-dropping gyrations in order to try on their team swim suits comes back to me. I always thought it was just because competitive swimmers have this folklore that you cannot swim your fastest unless your suit is at least one size too small. Preferably more. This made a certain amount of sense to me, as I watched elite girl swimmers in suits so unbearably tight, they were pulling their straps down before they were fully out of the water. Well, sure, who wouldn’t want to get out of the water as fast as you possibly could before losing all sensation in your fingers, for god’s sake.

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