Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Red Hook High School Drifter

For some people, high school is a rite of passage. For me, it wasn’t really anything special. It wasn’t that big fairy tale that you see in John Hughes’ epic teen comedies or anything like that. It was a little more generic than that. Well at least for the first two years anyway.
            Junior High came and went without much incident and nothing really to talk about. As far as high school went, for me it was pretty much the same as Junior High at first. I was sort of just like every other high school kid: Chasing after girls and all that stuff. I did not really play any sports during my time in high school and I wasn’t really the class valedictorian either. Now looking back, I was little more than a drifter who drifted among the cliques.
            The previous year in eighth grade, I was sort of a staple at the school dances for every dance except for one. In fact, I was voted “Best Dancer” for that reason. I was also nominated for “Biggest Flirt” for that reason because I was actually trying to get a date back then because that is really where the dating scene actually starts: In junior high.
That all changed when I got into high school where at that time there were only two dances all year: The Christmas Ball and the Senior Prom and while the dances in junior high were cheaper to get into and were held in the gym, the dances in high school were held at more expensive places like for example, the prom was held at a hotel in Poughkeepsie and it was like thirty-five bucks to get in if you’re single and seventy bucks for couples. Now I certainly do not recommend going to either one of these dances single which is why I didn’t go because technically, these dances (especially the prom) require couples.
            My freshman year of high school was average. I did struggle a little bit academically and I also struggled a bit socially. After all, high school was a completely different ball game than junior high. In high school, the pressure on you to get into a relationship was high because everywhere you walked in the hallway, you saw couples together and you feel like you should be coupled too. The only problem is that you frequently run into girls who use the old “I have a boyfriend” excuse to keep from dating you. Except in my case, pretty much all of them were true. Sometimes girls attempted to lead you on and pretended to actually want to date you. And that has happened to me as well, dating back to eighth grade.
            There was one instance where I almost went to the prom in my freshman year. Around that time, I started going to watch softball games and the pitcher of the softball team was concerned that her boyfriend at the time would be unable to take her to the prom so she actually considered having me go as her alternate date. Eventually, her boyfriend ended up taking her and to this day, that was the closest I ever got to going to the prom. However, I did keep in touch with her the following year when she went away to college.
            Then came sophomore year and it ended up being the same as the previous year. It was uneventful and as far as the relationship front goes, it was the same as always even with the crop of freshmen that came in. The school did get some interesting exchange students that year and there were a couple that were attractive as well. I saw one from Norway that was attractive and there was one from Japan as well. Unfortunately, neither one went anywhere. Still went to softball games and I went to a couple of volleyball games that year too. And I did achieve a milestone during finals week where I finally saw my first movie alone in theaters. I had one final exam that day and afterwards I walked from the school to the Lyceum 6 because it was the opening day for Batman Forever and they had an 11:00 in the morning showing. But like I said, nothing exciting happened that year.
            Which brings me to my junior year where things really started picking up for me. During my time in high school, I never played sports despite the fact that my junior high gym teacher was trying to get me to go out for track. However, that year was the year I ended up being the manager of the girls’ basketball team which at that time was the best in the area. My responsibilities there included keeping track of the statistics as far as rebounds and assists; getting the girls water during time-outs and whenever a player was substituted; and running the stop clock during home games. I got to go on away games as well and we went to West Point during championship games. That was the first I’ve been to West Point. However, we ended up losing in the regional semi-finals to the Our Lady of Lourdes basketball team which was a Catholic School team based in Poughkeepsie.
            After the basketball season ended my attention next turned to my Spanish class trip to Puerto Rico which happened on Spring Break and since I already told that in a separate story there is no need to repeat that story here.
            Following my return from Puerto Rico, the next major event that happened to me in my junior year was the High School Lip Sync competition. I did take part in similar Lip Sync shows back in elementary school but this one was different because there was a cash prize involved. The winning act received a hundred dollars. And in order for me to win, I needed to do something that was totally unexpected. And as it turned out the only logical act that I could do to ensure that I had a winning act was the act that I eventually went with: Elvis Presley, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
            The song I ended up selecting was “Jailhouse Rock” but then again I could have gone with any of Elvis’ earlier songs because they were the easiest to do but actually “Jailhouse Rock” was probably the way to go and it was a much easier act. Someone actually loaned me an Elvis wig and a gold jacket. Rehearsals took a couple of days and I didn’t really have too many problems with the act.
            The night of the Lip Sync, I wasn’t really nervous partly because my act was closer to the end of the show. I was the third-to-last act to go up and perform and it went off without a hitch. The crowd was definitely going wild as far as me showing my dance moves goes and at one point, I threw off my jacket and that really drove everyone wild. After my act was done, I was also in the slam-dancing act where I actually ended up getting knocked down and at one point I did bite my lip but I was all right. I was also in the finale where everyone was on stage performing “YMCA” by the Village People.
            I think up until I was officially announced as the winner that I knew I pretty much had it in the bag. And sure enough, my gamble to use Elvis as my act paid off and I won the hundred dollars. But then again, it didn’t really net me any girlfriends or anything like that.
            And with senior year right around the corner, I was wondering how I was going to top junior year. As far as I was concerned, I probably wouldn’t. As far as I was concerned I more or less peaked in my junior year.
            I was considering getting a job in high school like normal kids but I was talked out of it. Also at that time, I wasn’t really planning to go to college. Back then, I saw it as a waste of time. However, that thought about college came back to bite me in the ass later on which prompted me to go back to college later in life.
            As I started my senior year in high school, I got an idea to write a fictional novel loosely based on my junior year as high school. The main character was obviously modelled on myself while everyone else was modelled on people I knew. Of course I never published it because I hadn’t finished typing it until after I graduated.
            I returned for my second year as the manager of the girls’ basketball team and again we made it as far as the regional semi-finals where we lost to a different team. This time we lost to Oneonta after an otherwise undefeated season. As a reward for managing the basketball team, I got a movie pass to the Lyceum which was useful for me going to see a few movies, including the special edition of Return of the Jedi and I also used that to see Batman and Robin which again was released to theaters on a day where I only had one final and it also had an 11 am showing.
            Another notable thing that happened during senior year was that we had that April Fools’ blizzard during Spring Break where we had no power for about a week and we had to use a generator to cook and we had to listen to a battery-operated radio. That was a pretty rough time.
            In addition, there was another thing I did in high school that probably wouldn’t fly in today’s society and that was when I did my report on the Spanish Inquisition for my Spanish class dressed up as Jason Voorhees. I had to make the hockey mask out of paper and my Spanish teacher just happened to have a wooden machete that she used as a decoration and I wrapped foil around it to make it look more real. And as part of my presentation, I had to have another classmate go in and say that I was dead. After all it was all part of the act. This was actually two years before Columbine and people weren’t really as politically correct as they are now. I mean if I tried this same act now, I probably would get expelled and I was a guy that never got detention in high school. Plus, I did get a good grade on the project.
And of course this year would be the year of the Senior Prom. And of course I wanted to go and it wasn’t for lack of trying but I couldn’t get a date to go with me and as you all know, you can’t go to the prom solo for obvious reasons. The fact that I couldn’t get a date and the fact that I didn’t have the money made my choice pretty clear. I ended up staying home and watching Game 3 of the NBA Finals with the Chicago Bulls vs. the Utah Jazz and the Bulls lost. Remember, this was 1997 and this was back when Michael Jordan was still playing. Eventually the Bulls won the Finals that year.
And sure enough, I ended up not being the class valedictorian but then again I wasn’t the class slacker. I did end up near the bottom of my class when I graduated and I did graduate with the rest of my class on the lawn of the Linden Avenue Middle School on June 28, 1997 at the age of nineteen. I couldn’t believe it was over. It seemed like my senior year went by too fast. And I was still single to boot. But while everyone else was going to college, I was busy getting ready to go into the work force. I was gonna see if I would try to make it in the real world without having to go to college but it took me a decade to realize how wrong I was.
Looking back there were some things that I could have done differently. One of which was I probably should have tried harder to get a job and maybe I probably would have been able to go to the prom. But everything happens for a reason.
 Over the years, I have seen newspaper articles about former classmates getting engaged and getting married and with the addition of Facebook, I also learned a lot more. For one thing in addition to them getting married and having kids, I also learned that one of my former classmates died in a car accident. In many ways, I feel like Facebook has more or less defeated the purpose of the high school reunion so there was no real reason for me to go.
So in conclusion, I don’t really have any regrets about my time in high school and as far as the opportunities go, there were some I managed to take that defined me. And there were some opportunities that I probably should have tried harder to take, including the most obvious which is try to fit in and get a girlfriend. But in the end, that’s life. And like all things, high school is a defining moment in a person’s life and why should I be any different? Some things in high school has defined me more than others but it’s usually what comes after high school where you have a chance to truly define yourself and be more than just the guy who’s frequently drifting between stereotypes.
It’s like Ferris Bueller always said: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look once in a while, you could miss it.”
           
           

            

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Wal-Mart Baseball Bat Incident

            When you work in any profession there is always the chance that you can run into some type of dangerous situation, whether it is an accident which could cause injury and sometimes even death or there is a possibility that you could have a run-in with a dangerous and mentally unstable person who is looking for someone to take his anger out on. Normally this applies to high-risk occupations like police work, construction and so on. And as I learned one night in 2007, retail is no exception.
            It was a cold February night in 2007 while I was still working on the overnight shift at the Wal-Mart in Herkimer, New York. That night I went into work thinking that it was going to be another normal night of stocking freight to the sales floor so that customers could buy them. At that time I was assigned to the Electronics department even though as an overnight stocker I was expected to go wherever they needed me to stock. And on overnights, you usually have a more colorful group of characters that come into the store. There are the kind that are usually drunk and on their way home from the bar. You also got college students coming in and occasionally cause trouble with shoplifting and running around the store as though they are still in kindergarten. There was even one time around Halloween in 2005 where a local bar had a “hoe and pimp” costume contest and when that got out you had a group of young women coming into the store dressed only in lingerie.
            However, for the purpose of this story I am going to focus on that one particular incident that happened that night in February 2007.
            Also at that time, I had been blogging for about a year and was in the process of writing a book about the Chester Gillette case at the Herkimer County Historical Society, both of which I had been heavily involved in. I was also starting to use the computers up at the college to go on Myspace back when Myspace was a thing. In fact, I was planning to go back to the Historical Society to work on my book the week after Valentine’s Day and also after my twenty-ninth birthday. Unfortunately, those plans would be unceremoniously thwarted for the worst possible reason.     
When I first got up that night, I was feeling a little nauseous and I was debating whether or not to call in that night. Eventually the nausea went away and I ended up going into work. Maybe if I really was sick and called in, I would not be writing this story right now.
The first half of that night was going okay and it was around two in the morning which was when I normally went to lunch. While I was going towards the shoe department, I realized that maintenance was waxing over by those doors that night so I had to go back and go through the doors over by Electronics. I was not really paying attention as I was passing the Photo Lab because all I was thinking about was going to lunch.
And that was when I was hit in the back by a guy with a metal baseball bat that he took out of Sporting Goods. I did not even have enough time to react but then he kept swinging and backed me right into the Photo Lab. I put my right hand up to block and then he swung again, hitting my right hand. I screamed at him and he stood there for a second with a crazed look in his eye. Then he threw the bat and ran.
 The attack was completely unprovoked and I have had no dealings with the person before that. Other associates who were on overnights doing mod changes witnessed my attack and chased him out into the parking lot. During the chase, one of the associates called the police and once he got on the other side of the fence the Herkimer Police Department got there in time and he was arrested very quickly.
            Then the cops came into the store to get a statement from me and then they took me in the back where the police cars pulled up so I could identify the guy. Then the cops took photos of my injuries and the scene of the attack. After that I ended up going to the hospital where I was x-rayed. The doctors thought I had a little crack on my right ring finger but otherwise I had no broken bones or fractures. My luck as far as never having any broken bones was still holding. Still I ended up wearing a splint for a week and I had to put an ice pack on my back for a couple of days.
            Even though I went home from work after I returned from the hospital with a side trip to the police station to drop off my doctor’s report, the doctors said that I didn’t have to miss any work. I also had to take a drug test which is mandatory for Walmart associates who have been injured on the job. Then I had to get forms from Bassett Health Care in Herkimer. And in all that time I was still debating about whether or not to tell my family. They found out eventually and they weren’t mad that I didn’t tell them right away because it was obvious why. I did not want to worry them.
            And so I spent the last couple of weeks on light duty at work which was basically doing break packs, returns and zoning various departments. It was pretty annoying not to be able to do my full job, at least partially.
Then I went back to Bassett where I was examined. I was able to get my splint off and was x-rayed again. The doctor said that I had to remain on light duty at work for at least another two weeks. Or so I thought. I had to get a doctor’s note before I could return to full duty which took about a month to get.
            As a result of my ordeal, I could not blog on my site for at least a week because my right hand was still hurting and I was worried that using a computer would aggravate it more. I also had to take more time off of my book at the Historical Society which set me back a lot. Thankfully, it was only for about a week. After I got the splint off, I blogged about my ordeal. But other than that I had to take it easy for a bit.
            During my recovery process, I did feel like I was suffering from a temporary moment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder where I kind of burst out in rage which I thought was natural considering that something like this has never happened to me before or since then. Sure, I have dealt with bullies in school when I was a kid, but nothing that would lead someone to nearly kill me with a weapon. He probably would have had he aimed at my head and there was also the fact that there were other associates around that saw him attack me.
            And then a strange thing happened. To this day, I am not sure if it was the shock I still felt or whether it was the ibuprofen talking, but I had visions of a young woman holding my hand and telling that everything would be all right. Call me crazy, but I swear to god that this is the truth.
            In the weeks that followed and I slowly recovered, I went to tell my story to the Grand Jury so that the District Attorney could build his case against my attacker. In the meantime, he was held in the County Jail which incidentally was right down the street from my house and he was not let out on bail. When he was first caught, he had no sense of reality and had no idea why he was being arrested. Other associates who have seen him described him as a manic-depressive person who has had problems with the store before. While he was in jail, my attacker had been undergoing psychiatric evaluation to see if he would be fit to stand trial. That was another thing I had to worry about: Would I have to go to court and testify again if the case went to trial? I was hoping to put this behind me as quickly as possible.
            And yet I still managed to do some things that helped me take my mind off the ordeal. For starters, about a couple weeks after the incident, I went to Hamilton College with a person I worked with to attend the ceremony where Chester Gillette’s prison diary was donated to the library’s collection of Gillette memorabilia for which I got my picture in the Observer-Dispatch again. I also went on the Heart Run in Utica with my mother as well. And I received my first laptop computer from a contact I made in Houston, Texas as a result of the Gillette blog. Now with that computer, I was able to continue working on my book and at the same time I launched what is now my main website. It seemed that slowly but surely that my life was starting to return to normal.
            And throughout the remainder of the year, I got updates from the District Attorney’s Office on the status of the case and on the defendant. I basically wanted the defendant to get whatever sentence the court deemed fit to give him. I did not sue him because he looked like the type of guy who did not have anything to go after. Eventually, the case ended up not going to trial and he ended up getting sentenced to five years’ probation. And I never saw the guy again after his arrest. Finally, the ordeal was over.
            As far as what happened, I have long since gotten over the incident and I do not have any long-lasting lingering effects such as pain in my right hand or any bad memories of that night. Looking back on what happened that night, I could not fight back because I was on the clock and there has been some controversy about losing your job if you act in self-defense. However, if this happened on the street, I would have had more options and I would have been able to fight back. But all in all, I acted accordingly in that case.
Hopefully I will not find myself in that situation again but then again, retail can be just as dangerous as police work especially in terms of the people you deal with. There will always be crazies out there that are looking to do an innocent person trying to do his or her job harm. I was very fortunate to be alive that night but there have been others that have not been so lucky. The world is a pretty dangerous place which is why people have to be vigilant because this is just one of many things that could happen to anybody if you are not careful. 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Enter the Blackcatloner

                Before I answered the call of the Internet, I was originally planning to be a writer and prior to ten years ago, I had only limited experience with the Internet, mainly using it to look up the latest movies in development. That was before the rise of social media as we know it today. My foray into the Internet actually began when I set up my first email address on Yahoo in November 2005 and it was there where I first came up with my unique and prestigious username, Blackcatloner.
            Three months later in February 2006, I discovered blogging and I signed up for my first social media site on the long-since-extinct Yahoo 360 site where I first started blogging. Being that I did not have a computer or a digital camera at the time, I had to have a friend of mine who I was working with at Walmart at the time scan some photos of myself to put up online so that way I was not starting out blogging without people knowing what I look like. That was one thing I learned early on when I was starting out in social media where you have to have a picture of yourself otherwise not many people would want to get to know you.
            At the same time, I was researching for a book on the famous Chester Gillette murder case better known as “the murder that will never die.”  To coincide with the centennial commemoration events and to share what I learned about the case in preparation for my book, I opened up a blog site on Blogger devoted to that case. I called the site Chester and Grace: The Real American Tragedy. Even though I do not really update on the site anymore primarily because I pretty much covered everything about the case that needed to be covered, the site is still up on Blogger.
            I still continued to move deeper into the world of social media eventually signing up for Myspace back when it was still the social networking site of choice. However I could not use it at the public library because the library had a rule in place primarily to curb people from misusing it. Even in those days people were misusing social media. I eventually learned that the library up at Herkimer College was open to the public and I started going up there the following year to use Myspace.
            It was while I was getting started in the world of social media that I first discovered YouTube. I signed up for my YouTube account under the username Blackcatloner on October 30, 2006 which is pretty easy to remember because the day before that is my anniversary at work. So as of October 2015, I will have been making videos on YouTube for nine years. Now ironically, I was not originally planning to make videos being I did not have either a video camera or Internet access especially since I was operating out of the public library in H-town.
            Then 2006 turned into 2007 and I ended my run on Yahoo 360 when I decided to launch my Blackcatloner website in March of that year. I originally had it on Blogger along with my Gillette blog until 2009 when I exported the Blackcatloner site to Wordpress where it has been ever since. In the meantime, I started becoming addicted to watching YouTube videos and eventually it dawned on me that maybe I should be making videos. But the one thing that really decided things for me was the day I watched a video by Cory “Mr. Safety” Williams known as “The Mean Kitty Song.” And that is pretty much why I cited Mr. Safety as an influence for my YouTube career when I eventually started making videos.
            When I first started doing videos, I uploaded my videos through a site called onetruemedia.com where I decided to upload cat photo montages since you know, cats are usually a top draw and a source for humor on the Interwebs. That while I still did not have a video camera, I ended up successfully uploading the first cat montage video to YouTube on January 5, 2008. I went on to upload a total of twenty-one cat montages while at the same time, I got my first video camera for my thirtieth birthday. I managed to film some live cat videos for the Internet while biding my time when I would eventually reveal myself on YouTube.
            And eventually on May 21, 2008 I filmed and uploaded my first vlog to YouTube and it was a movie review of the film Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. And though I admitted that it’s not as good as Raiders of the Lost Ark or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade but I am in the camp that puts Crystal Skull over Temple of Doom. And I am probably gonna get some flak for this but deal with it. No matter what I thought of the movie, with that minute and a half video I finally made the transition from blogging to YouTube. Although the Indiana Jones vlog did not get a lot of hits, I followed it up with what is by far my most popular video to date: “The Librarian.”
            The idea for “The Librarian” came when I came across a video by popular YouTuber LisaNova where she was offering to do collab videos with other YouTubers using many of her popular characters that she used in her videos. The characters ranged from Emo LisaNova, Naughty Nurse LisaNova, Librarian LisaNova, Drunk LisaNova, and I think there was even a Rambo LisaNova character. All of the characters were dressed provocatively with cleavage showing which remains a trademark for a lot of female YouTubers to this day. I ended up using the Librarian one because I felt at the time that it would be the easiest one to do.
            I actually did the video with a flashback-type storyline played primarily for laughs. It started with me sitting at the computer in my living room at the time before cutting to the Librarian LisaNova clips. The portions with me in the library was actually shot in the gift shop at the Herkimer County Historical Society and I know it does not really match up but at least for my purposes it worked out for the best. And it was pretty well-received and like I said to this date it is my most popular video on YouTube with nearly 10,000 hits.
            And what followed after that was me filming videos whenever I felt like it and I did some videos in that period that are no longer on the channel because they have either become redundant or I just didn’t like the quality. But keep in mind I was just starting out at the time but as far as I went, I was technically too far behind the rest of the elite YouTubers because while I was starting out on YouTube with slightly primitive equipment and Windows Movie Maker, the elite YouTubers were upgrading their videos to high definition and widescreen. It took me a while to do that but as time went on, I was able to figure out how to render my videos in HD using Movie Maker and I did a video on that too. It got quite a bit of hits, but I ended up taking the video down because I do admit the video quality was bad and I was using a really shitty headset mic which made my voice sound all garbled.
            While I was trying to keep up with the Joneses, I also dabbled in BlogTV back when that was a thing. It was a site where YouTubers could interact with each other and do live shows. My only outing doing a live show was kind of a disaster. I had tried to do another one later on but I either cancelled due to lack of nerves or bad timing. Right now I am fully aware of Google Hangout but right now with me finishing up school and my new responsibilities at work, I don’t really have the time to do another live show. Personally I think it is better just to do videos.
            Throughout the course of my career I have experimented with video ideas that worked or didn’t work. For example, in 2009 I got the idea to do news partly from watching Philip DeFranco where he did a news show (and as far as I know he still does) where he talks about news stories that have been happening and then adds his own thoughts which are usually in the form of snarky remarks and I’m like “Hey, I can do that.” But the thing was that he threw around the “f-word” a lot and at the time I was trying to keep my content as PG-rated as possible. As a result, I ended up starting the Black Cat Weekly news series. I ended up doing five videos where I covered stories such as a dead chupacabra, the official launching of the People of Walmart website and I even did a rant about Kanye West’s infamous stunt at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards where he interrupted Taylor Swift after she won an award. You remember the whole “I think you’re really talented. Imma let you finish, but Beyoncé had the greatest video of all time!” Basically my take on the story was me telling Kanye to shut the fuck up. Of course I had to censor myself where I had a beep sound effect whenever I said the word fuck.
            While I was doing the Black Cat Weekly series, I did get praise for one story I did and it was about a gay teenager in Mohawk who sued the Mohawk School District (it has since merged with the Ilion School District) for not doing enough to help him against bullies that were tormenting him, beating him up and even making death threats against him. The case ended with the teen winning and the school paying his college tuition so to speak. And as the result of the video I got a comment from the teen himself thanking me for getting his story out. If I could get that kind of response, then I have really made a difference.
            But otherwise, the series as a whole was not very well-received. In fact, the haters came out in force, especially with the last Black Cat Weekly video I did because in addition to the story about Kanye West’s shenanigans at the MTV Movie Awards, I also included a story about one of Charles Manson’s accomplices being released from prison and being relocated to the Mohawk Valley and I really got hit by Manson supporters calling me a clown just like the media for still thinking that Manson is a killer. He is. So I ended up taking down the video but not before cutting the Manson story and reuploading the video as just the Kanye West story. In the end, I eventually took the whole video down. But that didn’t mean I didn’t get a chance to abuse the haters in reply comments where I managed to include the word hater in capital letters which is my way of marking them in case people who offer positive feedback will know who they are. Because in truth, haters are people who do nothing constructive but attack those who actually do something. In fact many hater channels that I got actually had either no videos on their channel or they had videos that weren’t really all that interesting.
            In fact the only existing videos that are left from the Black Cat Weekly era are the “Gay Teen” video and the “Chupacabra Pops Alli at Walmart” video and both had really high view counts so it wouldn’t really make sense to take them down. But in the end, the Black Cat Weekly was a failure. I probably should’ve had thicker skin but even though I had been on YouTube for only a year when I did the Black Cat Weekly, I still was not really ready to get negative backlash because that’s what happens in news and still does today.
            But then again each video I put up has been a learning experience as far as what works and what doesn’t work as well as how YouTube works and how to deal with certain aspects such as the haters and other stuff. And also during the Black Cat Weekly era I discovered Blip as a possible alternative video upload site where I could make money off my videos.
            However about a month later, I decided to get a little revenge on the haters for the failure of the Black Cat Weekly by creating a masked character. And thank goodness it was Halloween season at work because I was able to find a clear plastic mask similar to the ones AngryAussie wore in his videos back when he first started out. I got a plastic mask which is supposed to make the wearer look like a horribly scarred person. And I saw the scars as kind of a metaphor for a hater who gets attacked for being an asshole to people who actually create videos. So I cut out the jaw just like AngryAussie did for his masks and lo and behold, Mr. Hater was born.
            To complete the Mr. Hater character, all I had to do was turn my hat backwards and put on a silly voice because that’s pretty much what haters sound like. And I decided for this character’s debut that I would subject him to a little video that everyone on the Internet has pretty much heard about: 2girls1cup. And by having Mr. Hater being subjected to 2girls1cup, I decided to make a video with a moral attached to it by telling people not to be haters. It’s a moral I know nobody will listen to because there have been haters since the beginning of time and there always will be haters.
            So far I have done two solo videos with Mr. Hater and he’s popped up on occasion in other vlogs I did. So will I do another solo video as Mr. Hater? Very likely yes. You will definitely be seeing more of Mr. Hater in the future.
            Then a couple months later, I decided to take my videos in another direction partly because at the time I was watching Charles Trippy’s daily vlog series Internet Killed Television, I decided to do a vlog series where I shot around town and showed videos of me doing stuff. The only problem was that I didn’t have the time, discipline or the resources to do a daily vlog series. So I opted instead to do a weekly vlog series which I called The Adventures of Blackcatloner which ironically was the original name of my website. But if you think doing a weekly vlog series is easy, well I’ll let you in on a little secret: It isn’t. There were days I actually missed for one reason or another and there were days where I actually did filler episodes. But from February 2010 until June 2011 I was able to film stuff around town and talk about things that were going on in my day-to-day life and it was there where I filmed the world’s largest omelet being made by Crazy Otto’s Empire Diner in H-town. But probably the most important event that I filmed there was when Sylvester Stallone and Mike Tyson were inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in June 2011.
            Then tragedy struck. Shortly after I uploaded that video, the computer that I was editing my videos on got a virus and I was unable to film, edit or upload videos for a while which turned out for the best because during my downtime, I was starting college at Herkimer College where I was originally majoring in Radio/TV Broadcasting. And for the most part, I credit my success in college to the fact that I was on YouTube and my blogging career. Also during my downtime on YouTube, I learned that I can upload videos as long as I want and I could also monetize my videos. 
            Then after I got past my first semester, I finally got a laptop for school the following semester. I eventually picked up where I left off but not until I learned about YouTube’s plan to make every content creator a partner as opposed to what channel can bring in the most subscribers and my channel qualified for this so I gladly accepted it. However I did not start making videos until the summer and I picked up right where I left off. And as an added twist, I decided to do regular movie reviews partly because I started watching The Nostalgia Critic at the time and my plan was to review both new movies that came out in theaters as well movies that have been around a while. It also helped that I saw some pretty big movies that year, such as The Avengers, the Spider-Man reboot and The Dark Knight Rises. It felt good that I decided to do on a regular basis something that I have only done sporadically early in my career. I had only done a couple of movie reviews at that point but I have an opportunity to make jokes in the reviews which is kind of the norm on the Internet.
            There were some reviews that I had taken down for various reasons such as a review I did on the 2009 Star Trek reboot which I did after I saw that in theaters and most of the other reviews I did in that time period are long-gone but I do plan on redoing reviews of those movies in the future. Also I had originally planned on keeping the reviews separate from my regular videos. In fact I created a separate channel for the reviews both on YouTube and on Blip.  
            And of course I continued with the weekly vlogs, picking up right where I left off. I even filmed some portions of my time on campus because I was going into my third semester at Herkimer College. In fact, since I was a Radio/TV major at the time, I was practically encouraged to continue filming videos on campus. In fact I also filmed the weather segments for the HCTV Channel 99 news segments. But after the semester ended and Christmas came, I made it to fifty-two vlogs which is equivalent to a full year worth of vlogs despite the fact that it took me nearly two years to make that goal. And it was after the Christmas vlog that I decided to end the weekly vlogs and stick to doing random vlogs.
            With the vlogs I decided to include vlogs based on projects I did in school. For example, the rant I did about paying on dating sites was based on a paper I did for Creative Writing. Also both my “Twilight Ruins Relationships” and my “Why American Men Should Date Foreign Women” vlogs were based on projects I did for my Voice and Diction class but other than that a lot of my vlogs were original and I eventually incorporated the reviews into my vlogs. At the same time, I also started doing Mystery Science Theater 3000-style riffs on Public Domain educational movies starting with a movie called Health- Your Posture. Since then I have done several riffs including one on the notorious anti-gay film Boys Beware as well as the 1930’s exploitation film Sex Madness. The riffs are a lot of fun and I have decided to make that part of my normal batch of videos.
            There was a time where I was toying with the idea of leaving YouTube to post material on Blip. So throughout the remainder of 2013 and the beginning of 2014, I was posting my new vlogs and riffs to Blip partly because the Blip players worked really well on my website even though I know a lot of people complained about how slow the players were. But two things happened that forced me come back to YouTube: First, I picked up a computer virus that pretty much screwed up and eventually killed my first laptop. However I was able to get a few videos put up on YouTube as well as Blip before my laptop died.
            Then the second problem arose. I got an email from Blip saying that they were gonna cancel my channel. Thankfully a lot of my vlogs that I had up on the channel were already on YouTube but the remaining videos needed to be reedited before I could put them up, a couple of them for copyright reasons despite the fact that I uploaded the videos to Blip while following the guidelines of Fair Use as defined under the Digital Millennium Communications Act. So I had to wait until late August when I got my current laptop and I was at the start of the Fall 2014 semester. As a result I managed to get the rest of the videos I edited for Blip back on YouTube and at the same time I have been able to do new videos and I have been back on YouTube ever since.

            And as it stands now, I have no intentions of leaving YouTube anytime soon and at the same time, you will be seeing more of Blackcatloner for as long as I am able to continue doing the videos. Which I am hoping will be forever.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Where Was I on 9/11?

             This is a story of perhaps one of the most tragic days in my generation: the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Center and also crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C, killing nearly three thousand people, many of whom were first responders. There was also another plane crash near Shanksville, Pennsylvania where passengers made the ultimate sacrifice and thwarted another attack that was rumored to be aimed at the White House. That day was the day that more or less changed America and the way people looked at America forever.
            But this story is not really about the 9/11 attacks at all. This is the story of what I was doing on that tragic day.
            I was still living in Tivoli, located near Red Hook, New York at the time. It was a Tuesday and at the time I was off from my job as a cashier at Stop and Shop, a grocery store that was located in Rhinebeck. The weather was nice that day as well. I started out the morning going up to the barn to feed my sister’s horses. It seemed like it was going to be just another normal day to me.
            Sometime later, I got a phone call from my mother who was working at a pet shop in Red Hook that my family owned at the time. She was asking me if I heard anything about a plane crash in New York City and I obviously hadn’t. I turned on the radio but I couldn’t really hear much so I was still pretty much in the dark for a little while longer.
            It wasn’t until I went into town to do my usual routine on my days off from work that I finally found out what was going on. When I went to the post office to get my mail, I found out that I couldn’t because the country had ordered all federal institutions to be closed down, including post offices, banks and schools. So I couldn’t get my mail that day. Nor could I go to the library to use the Internet. At that time I was not fully active on the whole Internet scene because social media did not really exist at that time. I mainly used the Internet to look up new movies that were coming out. However had Facebook, Twitter and YouTube existed at that time, you could guarantee that this would practically be the main topic everyone would be talking about.
            After dropping off a load of laundry at the Laundromat, I stopped off at Broadway Pizza and also at Milagro’s, a health food deli that was located in Tivoli. They had the TV on and it was there where I finally got my first look at the chaos and devastation that occurred in New York City as the image of the burning towers appeared on the TV.
            On one of the news segments they showed an image of a Boeing 747 jet plane smashing into the second tower of the World Trade Center. This all happened on national television and it was then that the reporters announced that it was an official terrorist attack on American soil at a magnitude not seen since Pearl Harbor during World War II, a day that came to be known as “the day of infamy.”
            My initial reaction when I saw the plane smash into the South Tower was “Is this shit for real?” To some, people assumed that the footage of an airliner crashing into the Twin Towers looked like it could have been part of an action movie that was filming. However, the devastation proved to be all too real. People were shocked, devastated but at the same time they were cheering on the first responders (police, paramedics and the fire department officials that arrived on the scene in an attempt to rescue survivors when the towers collapsed and later when rescuers from all around the country converged on the remains of the World Trade Center.
            In the days that followed, I watched the news because that’s what was on 24/7 during the remainder of that week and this was also at a time when I still had cable TV. I bought the newspapers that were out during the week. During that week, I along with the rest of the country learned all about the Taliban, Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden and so on and that the attacks were directed at us because Al Qaeda hated everything America stood for, namely freedom. I watched the speech where then-President George W. Bush declared a “war on terror” against Al Qaeda and all terrorist organizations throughout the world. The first target was the Taliban because Afghanistan was the country harboring Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. Shortly after the attacks, Americans felt a wave of patriotism that had not been seen before or since.
            However at the same time, America changed even more in the years after 9/11. More organizations were created for the purpose of security, including the Department of Homeland Security. Bin Laden was eventually tracked down and killed by Navy SEALs in 2011. We have been through a recession, two wars, another very controversial president (Barack Obama) and more social, political and economic problems than you can shake a fist at. Our international standing is not what it used to be and the country is more divided than it used to be. And we are on the verge of another election year where we will have to select a new president and one of the candidates is a woman (Hillary Rodham Clinton) who I definitely will not be voting for because I hate everything she stands for and I will just leave it at that.
            As far as I go, 9/11 didn’t really affect me all that much. I didn’t have any relatives or anyone I know that died on that day, either as a bystander or as part of the rescue teams trying to save others. For me life went on as usual but it was a minor deciding factor for my family moving out of the Red Hook area a year later after all the city people started moving up to the area in the months afterward. However, 9/11 did have a positive significance for me because my youngest nephew was born on that day in 2007.
            Unfortunately, this is going to be a short story about a national tragedy because it did not affect me at all. The reason why I decided to write this was because I felt obligated to get a 9/11 story out there and this probably would not be a memoir if I did not include a story about what I was doing on my generation’s “day of infamy.”
           

            

Friday, August 14, 2015

Unhappy Trails to You

            Todd Trickle awoke one morning in the Happy Trails Nursing Home in a cold sweat. He had yet another nightmare in which he reflected on his past. When he first started having them he thought nothing of it. After all, everyone had nightmares. Or according to him it must have been the fact that he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and was given at least six months to live. Six months of which were almost up.
            Many years ago, Todd used to be your typical garden-variety schoolyard bully. They called him “The Satan of Herkimer.” He used to beat up other kids, take their lunch money, steal their lunches and did a variety of other nasty things that cannot be described here. His parents disowned him before he even got into high school and he was forced to live with a deadbeat uncle. And yet even after he dropped out of school, he had not changed his ways. He had been in and out of jail almost more times than he could count over the years to the point where the prison authorities practically gave him his own cell. No woman in their right mind would marry him so he harassed them too even though once in a while a woman who was not in her right mind would sleep with him because his antics turned her on. He was frequently fired from jobs because of his bullying ways not to mention that he was turned down from jobs because of his criminal record. And it would seem to everyone that he would never change.
            That was until he was diagnosed with the brain cancer. And the weird part of that was that Todd was not that old. He was pushing forty and was in reasonably good shape partly due to his frequent use of the gym during his many stints in jail. Normally a person with Todd’s history would have just been left to die because he was just a lousy pathetic excuse for a human being. However someone must have believed that Todd was still a human being and still deserving of some type of compassion so they put him in the nursing home.
            As he was getting ready to come down to breakfast that fateful morning, Todd collapsed suddenly. He was rushed to Utica General Hospital in Utica where he was told by the doctors in the Emergency Room that there was nothing they could do. So they hooked him up to a life support system and had a nurse come in to check on him periodically.
            The days passed and Todd’s condition showed no improvement. He lay there hooked up to the life support machines and had more recurring nightmares about his past. Was this God’s way of telling him to atone for his sins before he died? If it was, he was not buying it for a second. Not even when the nightmares became about the day he set fire to a local church. Ironically it was the last time he was put in jail. They blamed the arson on the cancer and since the authorities could not keep incarcerating Todd on account of his advancing age, they decided to have the nursing home take him in.
            Still Todd would not repent.
            Then one morning a pretty dark-haired nurse in her mid-thirties walked in to check on Todd. She was wearing hospital scrubs with images of Hello Kitty emblazoned on them. Todd may have been barely conscious but as far as he could tell, the nurse standing in front of him looked as though she were one of the girls that he would frequently hook up with in his youth whenever he damn well felt like. If he was not laid up in the hospital with the cancer, chances are he would be in bed with this woman right now.
            “Can I ask you something?,” the nurse asked.
            “Sure, toots,” Todd replied weakly.
            “Did you know a woman named Lucille Edgars?”
            Todd searched his fever-wracked brain for any recollection of a woman named Lucille Edgars. “I don’t remember, sweetheart,” Todd replied. “I’m an old man. I’ve known so many people over the years that I can’t keep track of them all.”
            I bet with all that time you spent in jail, the nurse almost said but stopped herself because she had to be civil no matter how much she hated it and how much this man’s reputation sickened her.
            “She was my grandmother,” the nurse replied. “She died about two weeks ago. She used to tell me stories about you.”
            “That so?” Todd asked. The life support monitor started to beep erratically.
            “Yeah,” the nurse replied. “She especially told me the story of how you used to pick on her for wearing granny glasses in school and stuff.”
            “Aw, come on,” Todd replied. “I was a kid then.”
            “And there was also the time that you let her pet gerbil out and fed it to a stray cat that was in the alley behind the school,” the nurse continued bitterly. “She never forgot that. And I can go on and on about all the other things you did to her.”
            Suddenly Todd started to convulse and the life support system started beeping excessively. The nurse lingered for a moment. Should she call a code blue or not? After all, she knew this guy was bad news and even on his deathbed it was clear that he would not change.
            However Todd was not about to go out into the cold dark night without one more for the road. He tried to grab her breasts but she was quick enough to dodge him.
            “What the hell are you doing?!,” the nurse screamed. Her mind was finally made up. He had to go.
            The nurse walked around the bed, even though she was not fast enough to avoid Todd smacking her ass, and walked over to the life support machine. She pulled the plug on it.
            “That’s for calling me toots, you evil old fart!,” the nurse screamed angrily.
            Todd gasped for air. “You… fucking… bitch…,” was all he was able to get out. It hurt him that much to say that without the life support machine to keep him alive.
            It took Todd a couple minutes to stop convulsing and then he fell back on the bed, dead as a doornail. She walked over cautiously and checked his pulse just to make sure he was dead. Once she was satisfied that he was genuinely dead and not faking it, she smiled wickedly and called a code blue. The doctors came in as quickly as they could as they attempted to revive him using the defibrillator to shock him repeatedly. There was no response at all.
            “What the hell just happened in here?” the head doctor demanded.
            “I don’t know, Doctor,” the nurse replied sheepishly. “He must have pulled the plug on himself.”
            “Then why didn’t you call a code blue sooner, Missy?,” the doctor replied angrily.
            “I don’t see what difference that would have made,” the nurse replied. “It all happened so fast. By the time I called it, he would have been dead anyway.”
            And with that, she walked out the door. However she turned back to the doctor. “Oh and by the way,” the nurse added. “My name is not ‘Missy.’ It’s Lyla.”
            And so Lyla Edgars walked out the door, not caring about the reaction the doctor was having at that moment. On the way out she whipped out her iPhone and updated her Facebook status with the simple message: “Did one last public service before I quit my job today. To Todd Trickle, unhappy trails to you, you rotten son of a bitch! LOL!”
            All she did was the one thing people should have done a long time ago: She put Todd out of everyone’s misery. So the way she saw it, it was a mercy killing and as far as she was concerned she did everyone a public service. And it was just like the old saying goes: “What goes around comes around.” That was karma to a T.

 And if you have been a bad person all your life and did not show any repentance for it, well at the end of the day, karma can be a real bitch.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Finding Paradise

            Summer has arrived at last. And with summer comes hot weather, trips to the beach, girls in bikinis and good times. Of course there was one year where summer sort of came early for me and it happened in the spring of 1996. I was in my junior year at Red Hook High School and for ten days in April I went with my Spanish class on a trip to Puerto Rico.
            It was a Thursday when we left Red Hook High School to go down to JFK International Airport in New York City. And also of note the trip to and from Puerto Rico marked the only times that I was on an airline flight to date. The flight down took about six hours and when we landed at San Juan International Airport, it was pouring rain.
            We checked into our hotel and got our room assignments. Since I was one of three guys (excluding my Spanish teacher’s husband) that were on the trip, we were assigned to one room while the girls were split up three to a room. As far as dinner goes, we were within walking distance of McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway and other assorted fast food restaurants. Since Puerto Rico is still U.S. territory as opposed to being a foreign country, it was very likely that they would have the same things that we do.
            Our first full day in Puerto Rico was a day of leisure. Most of the attractions in the area were closed that day due to it being Good Friday. We went out to breakfast at another hotel and took an afternoon trip to find the Hard Rock Café that was located in Old San Juan. After that, we went to the beach that was right across the street from our hotel and went for a dip in the Atlantic Ocean.
            That night I got to roam the streets of San Juan by myself because there wasn’t really anything we could have done as a class, like go to a dance club because I would have been the only one that would have been able to get in. I was eighteen at the time, which to this day is still the legal drinking age in Puerto Rico and nearly all of my classmates were sixteen or seventeen.
            Later that night, four of my classmates didn’t come back on time and my Spanish teacher started to worry. So I went out looking for them with my Spanish teacher’s husband to look for them and lo and behold my missing classmates were on their way back and from the looks of them they were drunk. And while drinking on the trip was a no-no (and not just because of the law), that didn’t stop anyone from doing so.  
            The previous night’s activities behind us, we went to the Yunque Rain Forest which was about an hour away from San Juan. It was really humid that day but the forest was beautiful. We walked around and went for a dip in a stream they had there. It was nice but kind of rocky so we had to be careful that we didn’t get banged up on the rocks.
            After that we went to Luquillo Beach, one of the most famous beaches in Puerto Rico for a little while before we went back to San Juan. Apart from the fact that I had to hunt down a flower vendor to buy a flower for one classmate to give to a girl on the trip who obviously was not interested in him, that night passed by uneventfully.

           The next day was Easter and while my Spanish teacher went to church with her family, we stayed in the hotel until we went to an old Spanish fort while on our way to Old San Juan. And here’s where one of my adventures on the trip truly began.
            We were put into groups and we looked in the stores. We were planning to meet up at the Hard Rock Café afterwards. I went off to look at some stuff and next thing I knew everyone was gone. Since I was under the impression that they were planning to meet up at the Hard Rock Café, I decided to try and find my way there. I walked around for what seemed like hours and I kept asking for directions to the Hard Rock Café. I’m not sure if some of the people I came across understood me or not but the more I kept looking, the more I kept getting lost.
            In the end, I went to a Ponderosa Steakhouse that just happened to be there at the time and I had lunch there being that I still had some time left before I had to meet the rest of my group assuming I could find them.
            And as fate would have it, I eventually found our tour bus parked at the nearby park. I ended up waiting for everyone there and about twenty minutes later, the rest of my class came back and we went back to the hotel.
            Our last night in San Juan was capped off with another trip to the beach and then going out to a fancy restaurant before going home to pack up.
            The next morning we headed for our next stop: The city of Ponce, the other major city in Puerto Rico. We went sightseeing for a little while and went shopping as well. Shortly after that we went to our next hotel in nearby Parguera but not before we stopped off at a Spanish-American War memorial on the way. Parguera was pretty small compared from San Juan. It was a dock town and according to my Spanish teacher, Parguera was the Puerto Rican equivalent of Tivoli, a small town located within the township of Red Hook back in New York.
            Our hotel in Parguera was located right on the waterfront and was a lot bigger than the hotel we stayed at in San Juan. It had its own dock complete with boat tours and a gift shop located in the courtyard along with the pool. The only thing really of note that happened our first night was that my Spanish teacher had a birthday for her youngest daughter and wanted everyone to be there.
            The next morning, we went another beach which was on the Caribbean coast and we spent a few hours there swimming, walking around and having lunch there as well. Then when we got back to the hotel and were getting ready to charter a boat for a snorkeling trip we were going on that afternoon, I saw my Spanish teacher’s husband talking to this really beautiful girl. And at the time, I thought that she was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. She was from North Carolina and was on vacation in Puerto Rico with a friend’s family and as much as I wanted to spend some time with her getting to know her, I had to go with my class and get my snorkeling gear for the trip. I would definitely see her later on that day.
            We made the boat and we headed out into the Caribbean. And I gotta tell you something. If I thought snorkeling was going to be easy, it actually isn’t. For one thing, whenever I went into the water I kept getting salt water in my mouth because my mouthpiece kept popping out on me. And then there was the fact that I almost didn’t get back in the boat. It took two people to pull me back on board. I guess I wasn’t in that good of shape back then. So I ended up spending the rest of the time on the boat.
            When we returned to the dock, we ate dinner at the hotel restaurant and then we went on another boat ride, this time to Phosphorescent Bay. Phosphorescent Bay is so called because it seems like it glows in the dark. It looked pretty cool, especially when you stuck your hand in the water and pulled it out it looked like it glowed in the dark too. It was amazing.
            Then sometime later after we got back from the Bay, we went to a pool hall in the center of town where everyone was playing pool. This was pretty much the only time I actually played pool. We were out until about midnight and pretty much everyone except for me was drinking and one of them was so under the influence that she went the wrong way to the hotel.
            The next morning we were set to leave for our last stop on the trip where we were to spend the last two days of the trip. I ran into the girl from North Carolina and I spent a little time with her before the class checked out of the hotel. We exchanged addresses and I said goodbye to her. And I found out that she would be leaving Puerto Rico the same day that we would be and that she would also be leaving from San Juan, which was their next stop. So there would be a very good chance that I would see her again before I left.
            Our next stop was the town of Aguadilla. This was more or less the only stop on the whole trip where not too much happened. The hotel we stayed at in Aguadilla was even bigger than the two previous hotels we stayed at.
            That night while everyone else was doing god-knows-what, I hung out in the lobby writing a letter until I tried to go back to my hotel room only to find that my roommate locked me out! Apparently ever since he got turned down by the one girl on the trip, he had still not resolved his issues and was sleeping a lot and it got to the point where everyone was not too happy with him. With great reluctance and since I couldn’t get a spare key to my room, I ended up spending the night in a hotel room with some of my female classmates. And before you ask, nothing happened. I slept on the floor.
            By the next morning everyone was pretty much beached-out and as it turned out, I was the only one who ended up going to Crashboat Beach with my Spanish teacher and her family. I remember Crashboat Beach for two reasons: 1) That there were a whole bunch of beach dogs there and 2) I ran into two beautiful girls on the beach that didn’t really understand English so that was kind of awkward especially since I was tripping over myself trying to practice my Spanish on them. And that was kind of ironic since Spanish was one of my best subjects in high school. Go figure. But I did manage to get their addresses so it wasn’t a total loss. Then there was also the fact that my Spanish teacher’s husband managed to talk me into buying a beer.
            The rest of that day was spent going to shopping centers in Aguadilla and then with me taking a walk up a hill to Little Caesar’s to get a pizza. The distance from my hotel to there was about the same as the distance from my house to the Little Caesar’s in Mohawk. And that was the first time I ever had Little Caesar’s. Then later everyone gathered in the bar for a celebration of our last night in Puerto Rico before we went home.
            The next morning was not good weather-wise. It was raining which kind of bookended the trip. We arrived in Puerto Rico when it was raining and now we were going to leave Puerto Rico and it was raining. We were supposed to go to a cavern on the way back to San Juan only to find that they cancelled the tour on account of the weather. So instead we stopped off at a shopping center and then we went to the Bacardi Rum Factory where once again the advantage of being the legal drinking age in Puerto Rico served me well because I was the only one who got to sample the rum. They mixed it with Coke so that was the only time that I had Rum and Coke. It wasn’t bad but I actually liked the factory tour.
            Then half an hour later it was off to the airport to board the flight back to New York. And true to my word I did run into the girl I met in Parguera who was waiting for a flight to Atlanta. So I talked to her again briefly while I was waiting for my flight. At that point I didn’t really want to leave Puerto Rico but then again if I did stay, I wouldn’t be here writing this story now. Unfortunately, we didn’t really keep in touch over the years. Story of my life. But I will never forget that girl as long as I live.
            And so the whole class got on the flight back to New York and life went on. So this is about as close to a coming-of-age story as you’re gonna get from me. My experience in Puerto Rico to this day is probably one of the best experiences of my life to date. I hope to go back someday when I can afford to but I can rest knowing that for those ten days in the spring of 1996, I had found paradise.