The New York Mets and Other Bad Habits

Opening Day is only a few days away, a sure sign of Spring and the eternal cycles of life. The grass is greening from its Winter brown; the trees are budding. There’s a faint scent of lilac wafting in the warming breezes. Life and hope seem to renew themselves… unless you happen to be a Met fan!

I know you Cub and Yankee fans have just started playing your violins for me. One of you I’m going to ignore; I’ll get to the other one later.

Mets logoThe Mets, despite playing in one of the best baseball markets in the known universe, didn’t exactly tear up the league last year (or for the last six or so) finishing second to last in the NL East with a 74 and 88 record.

If that wasn’t bad enough, everything good they did last year seemed to have been twisted into something dreadful.

1. They had a great start, actually going into the All-Star break contending for the division… then there was that horrific 7-18 July, and not another winning month for the rest of the year… they even went 1-2 in October.

2. Johan Santana pitched the franchise’s first ever no hitter,  a somewhat ironic accomplishment for a franchise who had Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and Nolan Ryan pitching for it at various times. But, the no-no was tainted; it was preserved on a bad call, which was broadcast on every national sports media outlet in the world.

3. R. A. Dickie became the first knuckle-baller to win the Cy Young. I hope he’ll be happy playing in Canada this season.

 Other off-season gems included the Mets paying outfielder, Jason Bay, $21 million not to play baseball for them. They even lost one of their AAA Minor League teams, the Buffalo Bisons.

While other teams were scarfing up free agents to get ready for a competitive 2013 season, the most hopeful thing for the Mets going into spring training was that the franchise’s owner, Fred Wilpon, won’t start the season in the slammer. Wilpon announced he had settled a $162 million lawsuit over the Bernie Madoff scandal. In fact, Madoff himself claimed from prison that Wilpon “knew nothing” about Madoff’s Ponzi scheme… and God knows… Bernie’s word is as good as gold… as long as you get out quick. But, at least the Mets’ 2013 season will open without the team in receivership and a foreclosure sign on Citi Field.

So, going into opening day, the Mets hopes of success are about the same as the Chicago Cubs, with one huge difference… unlike the Cubs, the Mets aren’t loveable… in fact, they’re pretty much despised around the league.

So, what would cause someone… someone like me for example… to be a Mets fan, other than a ploy to piss off all the Cub fans I know (and loving it).

The first thing I’d like to point out is that I’m a Mets fan neither by nature nor by nurture.

As I mention in my bio, I’m about as much “New York City” as anyone can be. I was born on the east-side of Manhattan in Gotham hospital. When I was a kid, New York City had three baseball teams (they weren’t called franchises back then) the Giants, the Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers. And, the team you rooted for was not really a matter of choice, it was part of your social identity.

Dodger and Giant fans-this was the old National League, when the Braves played in Boston-were the salt of the earth. These were hourly-wage, blue collar, union-member, ethnic folk-Irish, Italian, Polish, Sicilian. Yankee fans over in the American League tended to be  Republican, white collar… the bosses… the English.

National league fans drank beer; Yankee fans, cocktails. Dodger and Giant fans rode the subway to work; Yankee fans drove their car (or had a Dodger fan drive it for them). National leaguers lived in apartments with all the kids stacked in one bedroom; Yankee fans had homes in the ‘burbs with a bedroom for every kid, green lawns and swing sets in the back yard. Dodger and Giant fans were Democrats; Yankee fans, Republicans. There was no common ground.

In my family, who were all Giant fans since the Fred Hooey-Buck Ewing days, changing religion would have been accepted easier than going over to the Yankees. (To this day I have a brother and sister whose souls I pray for daily). In fact, in my house the three persons of the blessed trinity were McGraw, Terry and Ott.

During the baseball season, Dodger and Giant fans ignored the Yankees. They were over in that other league and the only inter-league play that existed back then, when the Baltimore Orioles were still the St. Louis Browns, was the World Series in October.

But, Giant and Dodger fans savaged each other. I had an uncle (by marriage) who was a Dodger fan. From April to October, no one in the family would talk to him… and that was the merciful option; even his wife, my aunt, my father’s sister, who taught me poker and black jack, was tainted by odor of Dodger-ness.

There’s a famous story about the Giant player, Bobby Thompson, who in a playoff against the Dodgers in 1951, hit a home run up the left-field line in the old Polo Grounds in the bottom of the ninth-the famous “Shot Heard ‘Round the World”-to consign Dodger fans to “waiting for next year” while the Giants went on to the series against the Yankees. (They lost in five!) After he hit the homerun, Thompson remembered that his apartment was in Brooklyn, and the Dodger fans in his neighborhood would probably be waiting for him to get home. So, he had to hide out in the clubhouse until the Brooklyn lynch mob gave up and went home.

But, during the World Series, Dodger and Giant fans united against the Yankees, regardless of what National League team they were playing. So in October, at various times in my life, I’ve been a Dodger fan, a Milwaukee Braves fan, even a Pittsburgh Pirate fan (that was sweet!), any National League team that was playing against the Yankees.

Then came that horrible day in September, 1957. The National League abandoned New York City. The Giants left the Polo Grounds for San Francisco; the Dodgers abandoned Ebbets Field for LA. New York baseball was dead!

Now you have to remember (for some of my readers, you have to find out) these were the days before national media. There was no ESPN, no USA Today, no internet. When the Giants and Dodgers left New York, they completely disappeared from view for a ten-year-old kid growing up in New York, except for the vestiges left in box scores in the NY Daily News and Daily Mirror.

 Then in 1962, after four years of no National League-in other words, real baseball-in New York City, the Mets were born!

Now the 1962 Mets were arguably one of the worst teams ever to play the game. They made the pre-Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers look like champs! But-and here is one of the secrets of their early success with New York City fans-they emulated the old Dodgers and Giants. One of the colors they wore on their uniforms, was Dodger blue, and on their caps they wore the same orange “NY” logo as the old New York Giants. And, they played their home games at the Polo Grounds. That pretty much did it for me… I was hooked.

Another major attraction for the early Mets was that they brought the Giants and Dodgers back to New York. Anytime one of these teams came to town, the Polo Grounds were packed, and most of the “home town” fans were not rooting for the Mets. What would be the point in that? They went 40-120 that first season,  the most losses by any major league team since 1899. They finished dead last in the National League, 60 1⁄2 games behind… wait for it… the San Francisco Giants (who went on to play the Yankees in the Series losing in seven).

Also, with the Mets, returned some hometown heroes like Gil Hodges, Don Zimmer and Roger Craig who had Dodger pedigrees. And, of course, Casey Stengel, who had both Giant and Dodger history, as well as being one of the most successful mangers the Yankees ever had, was brought out of retirement to manage the team. Stengel’s baseball wisdom included such sage advice as, “Being with a woman all night never hurt no professional baseball player. It’s staying up all night looking for a woman that does him in,” and “The secret of successful managing is to keep the five guys who hate you away from the four guys who haven’t made up their minds.”

And, of course, the early Mets, despite their dismal proficiency at anything resembling major league baseball, were “loveable.” For example, say the following two words to any vintage Met fan, “Marv Throneberry”! The response you’ll get, with a healthy dollop of New-York-City irony, is, “Marvelous Marv!”

Throneberry was the personification of Mets endearing ineptitude. Not only did he screw things up on the field, he did it big! An infamous “Marvelous Marv” story. Throneberry was called out at second and manager Casey Stengel came out to argue the call, but was told by the umpire “Don’t bother arguing Casey, he missed first base, too.” And, New York Mets fans loved him!

Ironically, the Mets two World Series victories destroyed their image as the “loveable losers.”

When the “Miracle Mets” of 1969 overtook the Cubs for the Eastern Division, swept out the Braves for the National League Pennant, then beat the Orioles in five for the Series, Met fans had to accept the fact that their team were no longer a parody of a major league baseball club, and their play on the field had to be taken seriously. The comedy show became a melodrama.

The Mets stopped being “loveable”-at least, outside of Chicago, where they never were-in 1986, the year they beat the Red Sox in seven. I’m not sure exactly how this happened, but my theory is that it had something to do with playing “power baseball” around the league with a little too much swagger and a little too much cocaine.

So, here we are in spring 2013, and my team is neither “lovable” nor the Washington Generals of baseball, but just another  perennially underperforming Major League franchise. My only question is whether it’s too early to do adopt a venerable Brooklyn Dodger tradition and declare, “Wait’ll next year!”

The Ghosts of an Irish-Catholic Childhood II: A Visit to the Tír na N’Óg in The Violent Season.

Okay… first things first… it’s pronounced Teer Na Nohg and it means the Land of Youth, which is a characterization of the pre-Christian concept of the afterlife, a land where time does not exist and all are in the full bloom of youth.

Click To Purchase This NovelIn the last chapter of my novel, The Violent Season, “The Bay, Part Two,” a man who is struggling to recover from the horrific experiences of war and combat in Vietnam, and shocked by the destruction wrought by time on the home of his youth, remembers stories of ancient heroes and the Tír na N’Óg that his Irish grandmother had told him as a boy, which now resonate in a way the man had never anticipated.

“His grandmother told him it was a magical stone. In Ireland, the “little people,” the tuatha dé danán she called them, used these moon stones to mark the entrances of the líos, their magical underground kingdom, a land of eternal youth where mortal time didn’t exist. She told the boy that only great heroes, Fionn mac Cumhail or the great Cu Chullain, dared to enter the líos. Once there, they were greeted by the léanan sí, three beautiful maidens, one red, one gold and one black, who

would love and care for them.

There, the hero was reunited with his comrades, who had fallen in battle at his side.

There, they all were young again, their battle-wounds healed.

There, they would feast and drink in the eternal strength of their youth.

There, the hero would be reunited with his loved ones, who had gone before him into the land of shadows.

There, all their joy, all their love, would be restored” (from, The Violent Season).


In the late 1970’s, some eight years after I had left the mountains and jungles of Vietnam, I was sitting on an American Airlines flight at the gate at LaGuardia Airport on my way to Chicago, the same flight I had taken every Sunday night for the last six months.

It was April, a New York City Spring; wet, sleet-laden rain was pummeling the thin skin of the Boeing 727, teetering the wings like a playground see-saw. I was strapped into an aisle seat with three tiny bottles of Bacardi rum and a can of Coke that the flight attendant at the door, who by this time knew me by name and had anticipated my arrival, had handed me when I flashed my boarding pass.

I was a nervous flyer. Surviving two helicopter crashes and a “rough” landing on a mountain runway under mortar attack in an Air Force C7A Caribou will do that. I figured my number was way overdo. So my coping mechanism was rum, coke and a spy novel to bury myself in while the flight crew and the fickle gods, who rule the folly of human flight in tin contraptions on stormy nights, decided whether we were going to land at O’Hare that night (and in what condition).

I was reading a passage in my book where the “hero,” a British secret agent-type, and his ally, an ex-IRA terrorist, who was now working for MI6, were trying to extract vital information from members of the Irish underworld in the slums of Belfast. Part of the conversation was in Irish Gaelic, which I suddenly realized that, as my eyes passed quickly over the text, I understood! Amazing stuff this Bacardi! But, when I went back actually to read these passages, the Gaelic was as obscure to me as Sanskrit.

Now, I would have attributed this entire phenomenon to pre-flight jitters and that miracle elixir bottled by that esteemed miracle worker, Don Bacardi, and just forgotten the whole incident. But, about a week later, I was on the phone with one of my more high-tone friends, a young woman, who boarded and trained horses out on Long Island. She was telling me about one of her new horses.

“… and his name is Capall Dubh…” she was saying.

“Oh! He’s a black horse?” I interrupted.

“Yes,” she answered, “That’s what his name means, but how did you know that?”

Well, I didn’t know how I knew! The English meaning had just popped into my head!

This being the 1970’s, and with my need for explanations, rational or not, I developed a number of theories to explain this linguistic marvel.

First, I was having a nervous breakdown that somehow manifested itself in the “gift of tongues.” Then again, the whole concept of a “gift of tongues” suggested to an Irish-Catholic a second Pentecost of the Holy Ghost (very unlikely considering my lifestyle at the time) or a demonic possession (The Exorcist was a very popular movie at the time… I haven’t been able to face pea soup since I saw it).

My personal favorite theory was that I had had a former life as an ancient Irish warrior. (We’re always someone famous in our former lives. That’s the way these things work as the character, Annie Savoy, in the movie Bull Durham, explains.) I was having flashbacks to my former life as an Irish hero.

A couple of days later, I was at a family wedding, one of those wonderful, New York, Irish blowouts (Q: What’s the difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish wake? A: One less drunk.) There, I ran into my older cousin. She and I had spent our summers together as kids; to me, she was more like my older sister than my cousin.

Kate SmithWhen I told her what was happening with the Gaelic and my Irish warrior theory-we were well into the wedding celebration by this time-my cousin just laughed and said, “When you were small, you and Nanny used to sit in the front room every afternoon, sipping tea, watching The Kate Smith Show and Queen for a Day, while Nanny jabbered away at you in Irish and you just sat there saying ‘Tá, mamó,’Níl, mamó,’ ‘Tuigim, mamó.’ We were never quite sure you spoke English until you were about five, Skip!”

I remembered the tea-hot, sweet and thick with canned, Carnation condensed milk; my grandmother would pour a bit in the saucer to let it cool for me. I remembered sitting in the front room in the late afternoon with muted sunlight glowing behind heavy drapes, softening the noises of the city street, as Nanny and I sat in large, over-stuffed, high-backed chairs watching the tele.

But I didn’t remember the Irish! So, I asked my cousin, “Then why don’t I remember Nanny speaking Irish to me, Sock?”

“When you started school… what were you… about six… Nanny refused to speak Irish in front of you anymore,” my cousin explained. “Nanny believed if you wanted to get anywhere in this country, you had to speak English without an accent, like an American. That’s why she never spoke Irish in front of any of her own kids. My mother had never heard her speak Irish! She wanted her children to sound like Americans. They couldn’t sound like they had just gotten off the boat. Barry Fitzgerald sounds quaint in a movie, but no one in America’s going to give him a decent job. So, she never spoke Irish in front of you since that day.”

Fionn mac CumhallWell, in a way, I was kind of bummed that in a former life I hadn’t been a fénnid, a doughty warrior of the king’s fianna, but I had quite enough on my plate trying to deal with having been a grunt in Vietnam. Yet, I began to remember the tales my mamó had told me while we sat in the front room sipping our tea and listening to Kate Smith on the tele.

My grandma had been born in Mayo, so she wasn’t a big fan of Cú Cullainn and the Ulaid. Being a Connaught woman, she was partial to the legendary Queen Maebh, if her daughter, my Aunt Mae, was any evidence, bean fíochmhar rua dearg, a fierce, red-haired woman. But, she loved the tales of Fionn mac Cumhall and the Fianna.

One of my favorite tales that she had told me was how Fionn saved Tara on the Samhain from a fire-breathing demon, Aillen, who lulled his opponents to sleep with a magic spell before he attacked. Fionn manned the ramparts of Tara alone, with his spear placed under his chin, so if his head nodded in sleep, the point of the spear stabbed him. (I would have tried this one to keep students awake in my Monday, first-period classes, but I’m pretty sure bringing spears to class is illegal in Indiana.)


Her favorite tale, though, was that of Derdriu and her tragic love for Naoise. “Deirdre of the Sorrows,” she called the tale in English. In fact, I remember she once told me that derdriu, not brón, was the true Irish word for sorrow.


  So, these many years later, I now play the role for my readers, that my mamó had played for me, a seanchaí, a teller of tales. These echoes of the Irish language spoken on sunny afternoons over sweet, thick tea and the myths of Irish heroes of course find their way into my tales.


In my novel, The Violent Season, a man, haunted by the horrors and combat and lost friends, and horrified by the devastation of the places he had loved as a child, wants to escape back into his past, where he can be innocent again; where he can again be with those who had loved and protected him; where his childhood dreams would again live.

Click Here To Purchase On Amazon“Somehow the man believed that, if he dared the dark, twisting path, broke through the brambles and brush of the years and climbed the hill, when he reached the top, all would be restored to him. The waste lands would be restored, would live again. He could again run along the secret Indian paths, brave the valley of the Iroquois, sit under the shady maples in the place of watching over the broad, grey-green bay of Lake Champlain near the fort of the English.

When he reached the top of the path, there before him would appear the white bungalow, framed in red. His grandmother would be there standing on the back porch, calling him.

His beautiful, red-haired aunt, would be sitting at the patio table next to her radio playing “Deep Purple.” She would look up from her magazine, take off her sunglasses, and her bright, green eyes would flash a welcoming smile.

His uncle would be behind the house polishing the Green Hornet, with its spotlight and police radios, into a deep, boundless, green luster.

And Janey, his sweet Janey, would run to him, her arms wide in welcome. ‘Why did you take so long to get home, squirt? Don’t you know how much we missed you?’” (from, The Violent Season).


Tir na NogOf course, entry into the Tír na N’Óg is not possible. The man must remain in the land of mortals. But, life renews itself, because love survives all things, and it is his wife who calls him back into the world of light, as his violent season ends.

The Ghosts of an Irish-Catholic Childhood I: Guilt Without Sex in “The Violent Season.”

This isn’t an actual Irish ghost story.

I actually do have a few of those, but I’ll save them for another time. No… this is more an exploration of the sub-conscious of an Irish-American writer as we approach that great parody of the Irish-American identity, “St. Paddy’s Day.”

Now, I say parody out of no disrespect for the Irish, the Americans, the hyphen or the saint. The term applies to using some twisted perception of “Irishness” as an excuse to get drunk, loud and disorderly in vast, overwhelming numbers.

Parody would also characterize the hundreds of images seen in store windows, on front lawns and windows and on TV of a runty, drunk and pugnacious, red-headed character, fists up and with a clay pipe sticking out of the side of his mouth, who curiously has found himself a long-term gig, when not acting as the symbol of “St. Paddy’s Day,” as the logo of a nationally famous Indiana sports complex, which is also vaguely associated with a Catholic university.

I could go on about how these characterizations have their pedigree in nineteenth-century, anti-Irish, Hogarthian, British caricatures of “Paddy and his Pig” to suggest that the Irish were too “savage” and “infantile” to govern themselves.

Or, I could go off on a rant about the hypocrisy of that well-known and nationally-renowned liberal, Catholic institution of higher education, which loudly and indignantly condemns as “racist” the use of Native American caricatures as “mascots” by other universities and sports teams, but still displays a bigoted and degrading caricature of the Irish as its mascot on its athletic website and on its “team apparel.”

No… that’s not at all what I want to talk about today…

 I had the opportunity earlier this week to appear on “The Dead End,” a talk-show hosted by Richard Long, author of the best-selling thriller, The Book of Paul, on Blog Radio out of New York. I had a lot of fun doing the show with Richard and two other Irish-American writers, Karen Victoria Smith, author of Enslaved and Dark Dealings, and Michelle Browne, author of The Loved, The Lost, The Dreaming: A Horror Anthology. (Connections to these talented writers and their works can be found at the end of this article).

 If you have a few minutes-about 120 of them-take a listen to the show… we had a grand time.

In his exploration of how an Irish-American identity informed our writing, Richard asked whether the Irish version of Catholicism make the Irish different from other ethnic groups. I didn’t respond to this question (the curse of the introvert… I was still processing it while the show moved on to another subject). Having grown up among other ethnic groups, who are generally Catholic-Italians, Sicilians, Puerto Ricans, Polish-there is one area where I believe the Irish differ vastly, the Irish sense of sexuality.

Now, I know we Catholics all received the same rigorous indoctrination from the good sisters in “Catholic School.” Over our eight years of grade school, we memorized the Baltimore Catechism and the nun’s drilled us in it daily.

“Raymond! What is mortal sin?”

“Sister, ‘Mortal sin is a grievous offense against the law of God.’”

“Why is this sin called mortal, Raymond?

“‘This sin is called mortal, or deadly, because it deprives the sinner of sanctifying grace, the supernatural life of the soul,’ Sister.”

“Good! What are the sources of mortal sin, Raymond?”

“‘The chief sources of actual sin are: pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth, and these are commonly called capital sins,’ Sister.”

“Are sins of lust mortal sins?”

“Yes, Sister?”

“And what would become of your soul if you were to die with a sin of lust on your soul, Raymond?”

“I would burn in Hell for all eternity, Sister.” Bosch Hell

“That’s right, children. Remember! Our Lord said that the one who lusts even if only in his thoughts, still commits a deadly sin. Lust is a mortal sin in thought, in word and in deed. Thinking about it, or talking about it, or committing it will condemn your soul to the agonies of Hell for all eternity.”

Is it any wonder I have nightmares?

My sense of my Irish-Catholic sexuality is angst… even in my wild-child days of the 1970’s as a swinging bachelor and bar owner in New York City, sex always seemed a somewhat forbidden fruit. Somewhere, even in the darkness of my bachelor boudoir, was a little, chubby-cheeked, Irish kid dressed in the white and navy-blue of our Catholic school uniform reciting,  “I would burn in Hell for all eternity, Sister.”

By the way, if any of you out there also suffer from this same, Irish-Catholic anxiety over sex, do not read James Joyce’s, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The Jesuit’s sermon on damnation-the black, eternal, smothering fires of Hell-will put you over the edge.

Or, for that matter, Dante’s Inferno and Purgatorio where the punishments in the afterlife of those guilty of the sins of lust are revealed in lured detail. There’s no sex or sadism in the Paradiso, which probably explains why no one reads it.

coverThis sense of Irish-Catholic sexual angst comes up in a couple of places in my new book, The Violent Season.

In the second chapter, “Soldiers of Christ,” I tell the story of a young boy, Mickey Dwyer, falling in love for the first time but not understanding what’s happening to him. As he is about to file into Sunday mass with his best friend, Joey Benedict, and the rest of his eighth-grade classmates, Mickey tries to catch a glimpse of Lorie McShea.

“As they got ready to file into the church with the rest of their class, the line of girls drew parallel with the line of boys. Mickey knew he shouldn’t be looking around—the nuns might catch him, or even worse, Joey—but he couldn’t help but look for Lori among the girls […] Mickey had never had any interest in girls. But, for the last few months, something seemed to be changing. Gradually, he began to realize that he thought he might think otherwise. He wasn’t interested in what girls did; that was all pretty silly and useless stuff as far as he was concerned. But, he was becoming interested in girls… well… because they were girls. Why? He didn’t have a clue. He never gave it much thought. But, whatever was going on, it was probably sinful and should be suppressed, because it felt so… so… strangely delightful and alluring. So, Mickey didn’t want to suppress it, especially with Lori, even if it did endanger the salvation of his immortal soul. For him, Lori was a blond-haired, blue-eyed ray of sunshine in his shadowy world of predators and power in the school yard, the playgrounds and the streets of the neighborhood” (from The Violent Season).

Later, in Chapter Four, titled ironically, “A Meeting Engagement,” another young man, Pat Green, after four years attending an all-boys, Catholic high school, finds himself in a college classroom with a beautiful and assertive young woman, who is trying to get his attention. Green of course doesn’t have a clue about what to do.

“At this point in his life, Pat Green had not shared a classroom with a member of the opposite sex since the eighth grade when he was thirteen-years old. And, he was discovering that a few things had changed since then. His memory of awkward, skinny, stringy-haired girls dressed in shapeless Catholic-school jumpers had been abruptly shattered by the image of Judy Kelly, a well-developed, auburn-haired, beauty in lipstick, eye-shadow and skirts that never quite made it over her knees when she sat in a desk less than six feet from him in two of his classes. The Jesuits of St. Xavier Academy had done nothing to prepare him for this moment except convince him that every time he so much as thought about Judy Kelly, he was committing a horrible sin and endangering his immortal soul. He never even consciously realized that it was she who had chosen to sit near him, and this had to mean something important. No, he couldn’t think. He couldn’t function. He couldn’t keep his eyes off her. He found her very act of breathing fascinating, the way she filled her stylish white blouses that moved in and out… in and out… as she took each breath causing a condition in him that any first year nursing student sitting in that cafeteria at that moment would immediately, and correctly, diagnose as hyper-ventilation” (from The Violent Season).

In the narrative related by The Violent Season, this sense of sexual naïveté and angst serves to establish the innocence of these young men who will soon be cast into the crucible of war raging in the hills and jungles of Vietnam. For one, sexuality is an act of commitment that keeps him joined to the woman who loves him and awaits his return. For the other, he finds love in the arms of an exotically beautiful woman in Vietnam but both are scarred by tragedy and war. Neither can recognize their feelings for the other.


Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh!

The Blessing of St. Patrick’s Day to You!



Richard Long








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Karen Victoria Smith




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Michelle Browne.


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