Saturday, December 24, 2005

why i'm here

It’s cold in the morning in the city. I’m off the bus walking to the office. Headphones on, wool coat, rushing through downtown in the morning.
Suits everywhere, and I’m one of them. Beautiful women and groomed men. Made up and bundled up—lawyers, lobbyists, kids of money and privilege, rushing to K Streetjobs. Never get used to this place.
It’s the last block before the office. I feel the cold wind on my face, my eyes. Shoes clicking on the icy sidewalk, music in my ears.
Here comes the best part of the day. I approach and get ready. I take a deep breath.
Off to the right the wall of buildings opens up for a second. There’s an undergound parking garage and a driveway opens a slice through the buildings to the sky. I see it open further and further. I slow down and look.
There it is. The sky opens up a bright blue triangle. Multi-colored buildings border it. There it is, I think. Electric blue, the color of ice tossed in a furnace. I think of flight, of freedom.
For three seconds, I’m free. No suits, no phony people. I’m home.
I keep walking, looking up. The opening closes up.
I snap back to reality. Fuck that shit, I think. Time for fucking damage, for work. I pull off the headphones and keep walking.
In a few seconds I’m in a marble lobby, waiting for the elevator. It’s quiet.
I relax a fist. Here we go. The writing is why I’m here.

* * *

Friday, November 18, 2005

when it changed

“So what happened?”
“What do you mean?”
I’m in a bar in the city with a date. It’s crowded and late. Lots of professional types. Black slacks and shiny shoes and spaghetti-straps. We’re dressed up.
I tap a smoke on the table. I’m bored. I know what she’s about to say.
“Well, I read your stories.”
“Yeah. I can’t believe that’s you.”
I smile and look away. I’ve had this fucking conversation too many times. Let me guess. You can’t believe it’s me, I’ve changed so much, I should write a book. Know what? You don’t know shit about my head, and lucky you don’t. You’d have a nervous breakdown.
I peel off a match and light the smoke. I take a drag and shake out the match.
“So they’re not real right?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “What do you think?”
“Well, there’s just no way that’s you. I mean, right?”
I toss the match into an ashtray.
“You know, maybe that’s the point,” I say. “It’s not me anymore. That’s why they’re stories.”
There’s a long pause. She sips her drink and sets it down carefully on the coaster.
“So they’re fake,” she says.
Fuck. I slam down my pint glass and heads turn. “What am I, your fucking entertainment? Why don’t you talk about your own fucked-up life for once?”
Damn, I did it again. Her face goes red, she swears, gets up and leaves. The couple at the next table stares at me.
Whatever. Glasses clink behind me. I lean back and smoke, looking at her empty glass of ice, looking around the room. These people are beautiful. Fucking mannequins. I think, trading a shitty life for a boring one ain’t all roses.
So what happened, I think. I take a long drink. “Tell you what happened,” I say to nobody. “I met a girl.”
* * *
“Hello is D there?”
“This is him.”
“D, it’s me.”
I’m just out of high school. It’s early and I’m waking up. I think for a second, and then remember the voice.
“Holy shit. How are you?”
“It’s been a while. How are things?”
“Same shit, you know. How’s Cali?”
“I’m back now,” she says. “Start college next week.”
“No shit?” I say. “Fucking college. That’s crazy.”
She was the girl from high school. Spent a summer together, out at night, the boat launch, sneaking out. She was the first. Then she moved.
“So there’s this dinner,” she says. “Sorority thing. You should come. We’ll catch up. I’ll show you around.”
I think for a second. What the fuck is a sorority? It’s too early for this.
“Yeah, sure.”
“Okay, I’ll call with an address Friday.”
“Stay out of trouble, okay? No fights. See you then.”
* * *
I leave the construction site early to clean up. I borrow a tie and slick down the curls. Shirt’s too tight and shoes feel weird, but whatever.
I head across town. Past the low-slung houses on the block, across the bridge to the city, onto the freeway, past the nighttime skyscrapers, past the posh hilltop part of town, down into the sprawling tree-lined streets of the university.
It’s nice. Never seen a campus. So this is where rich kids go.
I park in front. It’s cool and dark. I smell the fall leaves. I look up at the house. Brick mansion, ivy walls, oaks line the curb.
I knock. There’s voices from inside. I feel weird, like a phony about to be discovered.
The door opens. It’s a tan blond with a tight shirt. I tell her I’m here for A. She yells behind her, and turns back and smiles.
I think, What the fuck am I doing here? I stuff my hands in my pockets and look at the street. I think about running for a second.
I turn and see her. The green eyes, the tan skin, that smile. She’s gorgeous.
“Hey lady.” She hugs me, and I feel her against my hand. I remember the smell from before.
She takes my hand and we go inside.
* * *
I’m driving on the freeway home from the campus. Dark and cold, windows down, stereo all the way up.
Should’ve stayed in school
But the streets say why bother
So I’m on the corner shooting dice into the late night
Trying to make money
Hoping soon to live a normal life
But things are looking bad
Rollers sweat me every day
My mother tried to warn me
What comes around goes around
Deep down I know she’s right
But maybe soon I’ll make her proud
But now I’ve got to struggle
Day by night and night by day
Stuck with all these problems and these games people play.
Elbow out the window, I’m staring at the city. The blending of the lit cityscape, cloudy sky, music, the rush of wind.
Shit. I can’t believe how fucking jealous I am.
Those kids at dinner. So rich, so optimistic, so well mannered. That beautiful big house. That campus, the fountains, lawns, books, amazing people.
Why can’t I have that? Why don’t I get that life? So unfair.
I think about the future, and there’s nothing. Roofing houses, getting fucked up, same homies. More tattoos. More fights. More fucking bullshit living in that slum.
But her. She has everything.
Fuck. I’ve got to get out of here.
* * *
“Hey lady.”
There’s a pause.
“Excuse me?”
“Hello A, it’s D. From high school?”
A long pause.
“Wow. My god, it’s been years.”
“Yeah. How are you?” I say.
“Um, good. I heard you moved east?”
“Yeah, been out here a couple years. Just writing and stuff.”
“Wow, so the bad boy’s an intellectual now huh? Wow, that’s a change.”
Seems right hearing it from her. She understands it. Hell, she caused it.
“Hey I won’t keep you long,” I say. “Was just thinking about old stuff. I just wanted to say thanks.”
“Thanks? For what?”
“You know, for changing things. I still think about that a lot.”
“Changing things? D, I don’t know what you mean…”
That’s when I realize we haven’t really spoken for nine years. Since that dinner. Guess I was too upset. She has no idea that she’s the reason I went to college. No idea that she changed my life forever in a single night.
“Hey I’m sorry, I guess I shouldn’t have called.”
“No no, it’s fine,” she says. “D, are you okay?”
“Yeah I’m okay. I should go though, really.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. Hey, I hope things are good. You take care babe.”
“Okay D. You too. Stay out of trouble.”
* * *

Friday, November 11, 2005

in the deck today

That sickness,
I killed fifty people and they’re haunting me
I sit in the middle of a star
with some candles lit thinking
maybe I should do that
It’s killin’ me softly
my brain is gone and it ain’t coming back
I could’ve swore I saw my nigga Psycho
standing over me
I know it wasn’t him
cause he’s been buried for a week
The silence of the black sheep
deep in the middle of the night
I start to sweat
window wide open
with two holes in my neck
and can’t nobody tell me shit loc
cause everytime I close my eyes
I hear Psycho say
“Yo cuz, I thought we had a deal”
Mouth wrapped around the barrel and I taste steel.
X-Raided, “That Sickness” Psyco-Active

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

lucky guy

It’s summer and we’re at a house party in wife beaters and t-shirts. Capone and I are in the backyard smoking with Tony and Big Man. Capone’s telling stories and the local girls are listening.
” then D says ‘you better give me some fucking room to move!’ So I’m laughing my ass off…”
Big Man elbows me in the arm. “I’m taking a piss,” he says to me, “keep an eye on my shit.” He sits down his beer and gets up and walks to the house. Capone keeps telling his story. I watch Big Man walk to the house.
”...So I say to this guy, ‘How about I take yours instead?’” Capone tells a punchline and the girls laugh.
Big Man steps inside the house. Through the glass patio door I see him walk down a hallway to the bathroom. As he reaches the door I see a guy walk up behind him. Big Man stops and turns.
Capone continues his story, and I’m half-listening. I lean on an elbow and take a drag off my smoke. I’m watching Big Man in the house. I can see something’s wrong.
* * *
Big Man and the guy are standing face to face now. I hear a muffled shout through the glass and then Big Man’s face changes. He reaches for his waist and pushes a pistol into the neck of the guy in the hallway. The guy takes a big step back.
“Oh fuck!” I say and stand up, scooting my chair out. I drop my smoke and head for the house. Capone stops mid-sentence and looks, and everybody turns. He and Tony get up also and head for the house.
I push open the sliding glass door and the guy from the hallway rushes out past me into the backyard. He’s fucking pissed. Tony, Capone and I step inside. Big Man is drunk, really drunk, and trying to stuff the pistol back in his pants.
“Fucking asshole” he says. “Who says I can’ t smoke in this motherfucker?” He’s got a big drunk grin on his face.
I look behind us and see the guy out back shouting at his friends. They look at the house, then at him, then back at the house.
“You fucking idiot,” says Capone, “that’s the fucking owner of the house. The fucking Mexican everybody’s here with.”
Suddenly the voices outside get louder. Fuck, here we go, I think. I take off my watch and stuff it in my pocket and screw the cap on my beer bottle. I can feel my hands tingling.
There’s a big noise off to the right, and then a rush of guys comes through the door. Tony, Capone and I step back down the hallway and Big Man reaches for his pistol. They’re on top of us as he draws.
* * *
Next thing I know I’m wrestling with some fucking kid, being pushed into the kitchen. Somebody’s trying to kick me and I’m holding the neck of his shirt and pounding his ear with the bottom of my bottle. WHAM. WHAM. WHAM. We fall and I feel a kick in my back.
Shit, there’s a lot of guys hitting me. I’ve got somebody in a headlock. There are feet kicking my arm, my head. I try to kick back and hide my nose. I’m struggling now.
I hear a loud metallic “clack” sound. Big Man’s pistol drops to the linoluim kitchen floor. Oh fuck, I think. We’re fucked now.
I’m trying to cover my face. Gotta get up. Gotta get out of here. There are guys in every direction swinging and kicking, and I’m punching back into it. I feel the hits, the push of their blows, my wrists hitting people at weird angles.
I get pushed down again and pull somebody’s shirt on my way down. I kick something. It’s getting hard to breathe, these fucking assholes. Fuck, I think, I’m going to die tonight.
I have no idea where Capone and Tony are. They must be getting beat too. We’re outnumbered 10 to one at this party. Should’ve had a knife, I’m so fucking stupid…
Suddenly there’s a huge clapping sound of a pistol shooting in the house, and shells pinging off the walls. The crowd of guys moves off me. I can see the kitchen ceiling light as they run.
I roll over and try to stand up. Fuck, my knee is killing me. I see blood on my pants and my face is wet. People are running everywhere.
Capone comes running in the kitchen and grabs my back. His hand is hot.
“C’mon mutherfucker let’s go!” he yells. He’s got a pistol in his hand.
We run down the hall and out the front door of the house and down the porch steps to the street. My ears are ringing and I feel weightless. I’m hurt, but can’t really tell. My teeth feel weird.
I see Tony and Big Man jump in our car down the street. I look over and see Capone is bleeding from his mouth.
We’re halfway to the car, walking in the middle of the street. I look up to see how dark it is, how the streetlights shine off the cars lining both curbs, how grey everything looks in the city at night.
I hear shouts coming from behind us, getting louder now. Capone lets go of my shoulder and turns around.
Here they come. I see a dozen guys heading toward us running.
Capone, arms hanging at his sides, steps away from me looking back at them. I see a white flash down the street. It’s the Mexican shooting back at us.
I drop and feel the pavement hot on my hands. Capone doesn’t duck. He’s standing strait up, walking backward. He raises his pistol back at them. “You fucking die mutherfucker!”
I see the Mexican fall. Another one falls. A half-dozen others scramble for cover.
Capone runs for the car. I get up and run close behind him, running for my goddamn life. We pile in the back seat.
I think, we’re pretty much fucked now. It might be over for good this time.
* * *
Tony slams the car in gear and swerves onto the street, engine roaring. The wind is cold from the window.
My face is sort of wet and I feel my cheeks swelling, thick and numb.
“Yo, take the backroad route,” says Capone. “Pretty sure that shit woke up the neighbors.”
Tony turns off and heads toward the neighborhood. Big Man is still drunk in the front seat, leaning with his arm out the window. I look around the car. Everybody’s looking out the windows, quiet. I sit up and check my pocket for the watch. Still there, thank god. Thank god I didn’t lose that fucking watch.
I punch Capone in the arm, “Thanks bitch.”
“Fuck you,” he says, laughing. “How about you give me a smoke before I fuck up your other lip?”
We laugh at that. I feel the breeze on my face and watch the streetlights go past.
Shit, I think, everybody stayed to the end. These are good guys. I’m a lucky guy.

* * *

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

in the headphones today

Perhaps I was blind to the facts, stabbed in the back
Couldn’t trust my own homies just a bunch a dirty rats
Will I, succeed? Paranoid from the weed
And hocus pocus try to focus but I can’t see
And in my mind I’m a blind man doin’ time
Look to my future cause my past is all behind me
Is it a crime, to fight, for what is mine?
Everybody’s dyin tell me what’s the use of tryin’
I’ve been trapped since birth, cautious cause I’m cursed
And fantasies of my family, in a hearse
And they say it’s the white man I should fear
But, it’s my own kind doin’ all the killin’ here
I can’t lie, ain’t no love for the other side
Jealousy inside, make ‘em wish I died
Oh my lord, tell me what I’m livin for
Everybody’s droppin got me knockin’ on heaven’s door
And all my memories, of seein brothers bleed
And everybody grieves, but still nobody sees
Recollect your thoughts, don’t get caught up in the mix
Cause the media is full of dirty tricks
Only god can judge me.

I hear the doctor standing over me
screamin I can make it
Got a body full of bullet holes layin’ here naked
Still I, can’t breathe, something’s evil in my IV
Cause every time I breathe, I think they’re killin’ me
I’m having nightmares, homicidal fantansies
I wake up stranglin’, danglin’ my bed sheets
I call the nurse cause it hurts, to reminisce
How did it come to this? I wish they didn’t miss
Somebody help me, tell me where to go from here
Cause even thugs cry, but does the lord care?
Try to remember but it hurts
I’m walkin’ through the cemetary talkin’ to the dirt
I’d rather die like a man than live like a coward
There’s a ghetto up in heaven and it’s ours, black power
is what we scream as we dream in a paranoid state
And our fate, is a lifetime of hate
Dear mama can you save me? And fuck peace
Cause the streets got our babies, we gotta eat
No more hesitation each and every black male trapped
And they wonder why we’re suicidal runnin’ ‘round strapped
Mister police, please try to see that it’s
a million motherfuckas stressin’ just like me
Only god can judge me.

2pac, “Only God Can Judge Me” All Eyez On Me.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

what do i know

“Is this air conditioning okay sir?”
“Yeah, it’s fine.”
“OK, you let me know if it’s too cold.”
I’m in a suit in a car downtown heading to a TV appearance. It’s early on a weekday, lots of people on the street. I’m looking over my notes for the interview.
“Would you like the radio on sir?”
“That’s fine,” I say.
The driver turns on the radio. It’s the news. Weather and traffic as usual. I’m half listening, reading over my notes. A news story comes on. I look up and listen.
“And now, a tragic shooting in College Park last night as a 19 year old man was gunned down in a drive-by attack. Authorities on the scene are searching for a green 4-door sedan with Maryland plates…”
I put my notes on the seat next to me and loosen my tie. I look around at the black leather seats and the newspaper and bottled water prepared for me. Like a hotel. The interior seems huge. I stare out the window listening.
“Fucking kids,” I say.
“Yes, it’s a shame sir,” the driver says.
“Yeah,” I say. “You don’t know the half.”
The driver slows down for a stoplight. At the light he looks at me in the rear-view.
“And you” he says, “what do you know about it?”
* * *
We’re at the beach and it’s late. Fingers and I are smoking a joint in the car in a corner parking lot.
I take a long hit. The paper is hot on my fingers. I inhale, and smoke rolls up my face. I hold my breath and pass.
I look at the street. There’s a blue sedan in the intersection. I exhale through the steering wheel and squint to look closely. Two guys up front are looking at us.
“What the fuck they looking at?,” I say.
Fingers takes the joint down from his mouth and looks up. He squints looking at them.
“Aint’s shit,” he says. He looks away and ashs the joint. “C’mon, hit this bitch before it’s out.”
The blue sedan starts rolling and turns into the parking lot. I watch the wheels bounce up over the driveway and head our way.
Fuck. I reach for the shotgun between the seats—the new Mossberg, my 18th birthday present to myself. I pull it over my lap. The barrel’s cold on my leg.
Fingers is serious now, staring hard. The sedan rolls up next to my window.
“What’s up main?” says the passenger. Fingers and I stare.
“Where the fuck you from?” I say.
The passenger has a smoke in his lip. He looks at me, then at Fingers, then at the driver. Then he lifts a pistol at the roof. He cocks the slide. It’s a big pistol, and the CLICK CLACK sound is heavy and metalic.
He says something but I can’t really hear what he says.
Here we go, I think. I look at Fingers. He’s got a huge grin on his face, staring straight at the guy.
Their car starts rolling forward. I watch Finger’s eyes follow them. They dip out the other end of the lot and pull back onto the strip. Their stereo goes back up. They roll off looking back.
“Motherfucker,” I say. “Did you see the size of that shit?”
Fingers is dialing on his cell. “Capone, what up,” he says. “We need some shells.”
* * *
“There they go.” Fingers points at a parking lot up ahead. It’s the blue sedan.
“Alright, you ready motherfucker?”
“Get em,” he says.
I slow down and turn into the parking lot. It’s late, and the Safeway is closed. We roll slowly past the front of the sedan. Their stereo is all the way up. I lean way out the window and throw up a middle finger.
“Fuck you ho!” I shout. Both guys in the car sit up straight. I hear their car start.
We pull out onto the strip. They pull out behind me, and a half block later they’re tailgating us, waving us over. We drive straight up the arterial.
“Alright,” says Fingers, “let’s fucking blast.”
“OK, here we go,” I say.
I slow down, turn on my blinker, and take a left off the arterial. All I see in my rearview is their grill and headlights tailgating me.
Fingers is sitting way up in his seat with wide eyes, both hands on the shotgun. His window’s down. It’s windy and warm. He’s been chain smoking all night. I can hear my pulse in my ears.
At the corner, I take another left. The sedan’s right on my tail. Now we’re on a residential backstreet.
I slow way down and click off my lights.
“Now motherfucker!” I yell. Fingers slides up out the passenger window. He sits up on the window sill.
There is this incredible moment of silence. I hear the wind out my window, the keys clinking against the dash. It’s very dark out.
BAM. The huge sound of the shot splits the night air.
Fingers drops back down through the window into his seat. I floor it.
In the rearview the sedan is way back. The windshield’s frosted. Their lights are on. They’re stopped.
“Fuck the motherfuckers! Fuck that shit!” Fingers is yelling.
I’m flying through backstreets, engine racing, lights off, trying to make it home. My heart’s racing. I can smell the metalic dust from the fresh powder. I’m pretty sure we’ll be in jail by morning.
“I hope you wiped those motherfucking shells for prints,” I say. “This is deep shit.”
“Ain’t no thing,” says Fingers. “Hey, take the right up here. It’s faster to my pad.”
* * *
“Here we are, sir.” The driver pulls up to the studio. Lots of suits around, gridlocked traffic. He double parks and gets out to open my door.
“Too bad about those kids,” he says. “The driving-shooting. It’s the worst sir.”
“Yeah,” I say. I hand him a bill from my wallet. “Just hope they wiped the shells.”
The driver looks up. “Excuse me sir?”
“Nothing,” I say. “Keep the change.”
I step onto the street. It’s weird thinking about Fingers while in a suit, I think. Weird thinking of him in this new city. I miss him.
Fuck. I better read my notes again and forget this. Got an interview to get through.

* * *

Thursday, January 13, 2005

a way you'll never be

“As part of my Ph.D. research on criminal genius, I conducted 44 semi-structured interviews. One of the 44 subjects, in particular, stood out. This noteworthy individual claimed that he had killed 15 people. His story was particularly interesting because—unlike most social research involving serial killers—he claimed that he had never been arrested or convicted for his homicides. Compelled by his account, I met with this subject on five additional occasions, and gradually compiled his criminal life history. Ethical and legal considerations limited inquiry into several dimensions of this subject’s life history, but over time, an interesting and richly textured narrative emerged…

“Official criminal statistics and self-report studies traditionally support the claim that the average criminal offender has a slightly subnormal IQ score—about 92, or eight points less than the population average. However, because criminologists have historically focused their research on vulnerable populations such as juveniles or prison inmates, almost nothing is known about the patterns of criminal behavior among gifted adults with exceptional cognitive abilities. Indeed, prior to this study, no criminological data had ever been gathered on adult offenders with IQ scores in the genius range. Intrigued by this enigmatic topic, I studied the crimes of geniuses—offenses committed by people with IQ scores of 132 or higher…”

Read the full study here (PDF).

Saturday, January 8, 2005

feels the same

I’m playing guitar in the bathroom, recording it with a small tape recorder. I finish a song. Sweating, I pick up the recorder and rewind. I hit play.
I didn’t rewind far enough, so I hit stop. It doesn’t stop. I hit stop over and over. The fucking stop button doesn’t work.
God damn it. I feel heat rising in my neck and temples. God fucking damnit you fucking piece of shit.
I stand up and kick the stool from under me. I make a fist, but stop mid-punch and think better. I head for the closet.
I dig around for something heavy. I throw clothes around, realizing there’s nothing. No baseball bats, no golf clubs. Left them behind when I left the old life.
My head is hot. I stomp into the kitchen. On top of the fridge is an old street knife, the kind with brass knuckles. It’s been there for years, an artifact from my old life.
I grab it.
I remember the story. It was late at the bar. Big Man was telling jokes, something about a house robbery where the owner surprised him with a knife.
“Don’t bring a knife to the gunfight motherfucker” he says, making a pistol with his thumb and forefinger. “Cut him with his own godamn blade.”
“That’s funny shit” I say out of my beer glass.
“You know I’ve got it right here” he says.
“No, get the fuck outta here” I say.
He tamps out a cigarette, shifts in his chair and slides a knife out of his back pocket. He clunks it down on the table.
“Get the fuck outta here” I say.
“What, you think I’m gonna leave it sticking in his ass?” he says.
I pick it up and try on the brass knuckles.
“You like it?” he says. “Go ahead, it’s yours. Fucking bad luck in my hands anyway.”
“No shit?” I say, folding it open and closed. “Thanks, bro.”
“Maybe that shit will keep you out of gunfights” he says.
I laugh and clink his glass.
“Two more Henry’s” I call to the bartender.
I fold open the knife and head for the bathroom. The recorder’s on the floor. I feel much more drunk now.
“Thought I was done, huh you fuck?” I say.
I grab a shirt from a laundry pile and wrap it around my hand. The hard knife handle hurts without an insulator. I remember this from before.
“You fucking die motherfucker!”
I drop to my knees and take a full swing. I crush the 6-inch blade through the tape recorder and into the carpet underneath. I swing again, stabbing hard, gripping through the towel. I feel my arm muscles, the strength in my shoulders. The knife crashes and sticks in the floor. I twist it out and swing again and again.
My arm gets tired. I grab the recorder and pitch it against the living room wall. Parts spray.
I relax on my knees and drop the knife. My head is drunk with adrenaline. I look around at the mess and take deep breaths. It’s very quiet.
I stand up slowly, rubbing my shoulder. I walk to the kitchen for a waste can. I carefully collect the parts and put them in the can. I put the can back in the kitchen. I sit down. Everything is in order.
I turn on music. It’s an old Brotha Lynch Hung CD. I listen to the lyrics and think. Not much different from the real thing, I think. Not much, just the mess. Feels the same.
I think for a minute about the weight of a body, how hard that is to deal with, how you need friends for that. Guys who know the wilderness spots. Guys like Big Man.
I pour a fresh whiskey and get ready for bed.
I think about my life now. Gotta pick up dry cleaning. Maybe stop in the office for a few hours. Got a presentation next week.
I think about Big Man’s trial. We haven’t talked since. Police went nuts looking for that knife. Hell of a lucky move giving it to me. Thanks to that he’ll be out in… What is it now? 71 months? Shit, better than never.
I take a big gulp and ice clinks against my nose.
I climb into bed and close my eyes. I wait for sunrise so I can finally sleep, as usual.

* * *