The World According to Keitho

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Posts Tagged ‘Brooklyn’

Happy Birthday, Dad

Posted by keithosaunders on January 15, 2017

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Dad

Today my father would have turned 90.  He died just 14th months ago at the age of 88.  He was born in 1927 in Brooklyn, New York.  He grew up during the depression, served in the army as a private first class at the end of World War 2, and went to college at a small school in upstate Plattsburgh near the Canadian border called Champlain College.

He was a huge Brooklyn Dodgers fan.  He endured the terrible teams of the 30s only to see them emerge as the dominant National League club of the 40s and 50s.  He suffered through the the ignominy of Bobby Thompson’s home run and five World Series losses to the Yankees, but experienced the exultation of Brooklyn’s first ever World Championship (against the Yankees) in 1955.

He married my mother two months later after a whirlwind three month courtship and they stayed together for 45 years until my mother’s death.

Dad was as liberal as they come. He opposed nuclear weapons, working in the 50s to have them abolished.  He was against the McCarthy hearings and he helped form a local political group called AQI – Associated Queens Independents.  I am glad that he will not have to experience the Trump years.

My Dad hated pomposity.  He couldn’t stand John Robinson when he was coaching the Rams.  He called him ‘The Blowhard.’ He also loathed the Dallas Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones, who he referred to as ‘The Pipsqueak.’   (Nobody knows why he called him that. Jones isn’t that small)

My Dad’s favorite Brooklyn Dodger was Jackie Robinson.  When I was growing up he used to tell my brother and I how Jackie Robinson was the most exciting ball player he had ever seen.  His favorite move was The Bridge Over the River Kwai.  He had a top ten movie list.  Some of the other movies on the list were, The Lady Vanishes, The Best Years of Our Lives, and Fiddler on the Roof.  It used to confound me that Fiddler made the list.

My Dad was one of the funniest and personable people I have ever met.  When he was in a good mood there was nobody else you would rather spend time with.  He was smart, witty, passionate, liberal, and self effacing.

He was a self made man.  He moved his family to California – my brother and I were toddlers then – with no savings and no job.  He found work, an apartment, and sent for us.  He struggled for many years before finding great success as an independent rep for juvenile furniture lines.  He and my mother were able to travel all around the world once my brother and I were older and on our own.

Dad, we miss you!

 

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Martin Saunders Jan 15th, 1927-November 18th 2015

Posted by keithosaunders on November 23, 2015

My earliest memory is of my father encasing my brother and I in his arms and rolling us down a hillside in a park in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania.  That’s all you need to know about him.  He was there for us.  He took us to ballgames, to the beach, Disneyland, played catch with us in the summer, and shot hoops with us in the winter.  Even though he didn’t make any real money until well into his middle age, he rented a piano and gave me piano lessons from the time I was 8 until I turned I8.  When I decided to make music my life’s work, rather than discourage me by suggesting I find something to fall back on he encouraged me to keep playing and to follow my dream of moving to New York City.

He was born in Brooklyn in 1927.  My grandfather Leo was a rabid Dodgers fan and he passed this on to my Dad who would pass it on to me, although unlike him I would become a traitor , turning to the New York Mets in 1984.

Dad grew up with those bad Dodgers teams of the ’30s but would see them develop into a juggernaut in the 40s and 50s. He used to tell me about those bad Dodgers teams — how Leo would take him to Ebbets field and insist on staying to the end of the game no matter how far the Dodgers were behind. “You never know!”  One day Leo wanted to take my Dad to a Dodgers game but the skies looked threatening.  He decided to phone the stadium.  My Dad tells the story that all of a sudden Leo burst out of the phone booth with a huge smile, shouting, “GAME TODAY!”

He had this uncle Bill who somehow knew Babe Ruth. One day Uncle Bill took my Dad, who would have been 4 or 5, to Manhattan to the hotel Ruth was staying in. Somehow Dad ended up in Ruth’s lap and the Bambino asked him, “Are you a Yankees fan, son?” My Dad scowled and shot back, “I root for the Dodgers!!” The Babe smiled, laughed, and answered, “You stick with them, son. One day they’ll be good!”

Shortly before coming out of the army in 1946 Dad was quarantined and finding himself bored with nothing to do he invented a card football game.  At some point it was actually published in Esquire magazine.  He also invented card baseball and basketball games but the game that my brother and I loved the most was card boxing.  Not because it was a good game — it wasn’t.  You assigned  the two boxers a color – red or black. If two cards of the same color turned over that was a knockdown – if three in a row came up it was a knockout.  What we loved about it was that Dad would announce the fight, often making it an imaginary fight between a pair of friends or our neighbors. His announcing was so funny that he would have us in hysterics.

He could name every World Series and how many games it went going back to 1940.  Through him I learned that Stan Musial was a Dodger-killer, the most rabid Dodger fans lived in Bay Ridge, and that Jackie Robinson was the most exciting player he ever saw.

When I was 19 I had my first gig away from home playing in a cruise ship lounge band.  Dad drove me to the harbor in San Pedro to board the ship.  We pulled up to find the ship 30 yards from the dock and moving in the wrong direction!  (I had been given an erroneous arrival time and would have to fly to San Francisco the next day to catch up with the ship)  It just so happened that the Dodgers were home playing a day game and on the spur of the moment my Dad suggested we go.  I’ll never forget that game.  The Reds got off to a 4-0 lead in the 1st inning and just when I was wondering if the day could get any worse the Dodgers answered with a 10 run bottom of the 1st and coasted to an easy victory.  But what has stuck with me all of these years is that stolen time that I had with my Dad at a weekday baseball game.  He took time off from work to cheer me up and ended up giving me a memory that lasted a lifetime.

Thank you, Dad.  Thank you for your wit, your humor, and your love.  You’re physical presence is gone but I’ll carry you with me forever.

 

Posted in baseball, life, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

A surly time in New York City

Posted by keithosaunders on June 17, 2011

I’m back in New York for a seven week stretch while my kids go to camp, and if there’s one word to describe my mood it’s surly.  I’ve been here for just over 48 hours and already I’ve almost made a right turn on a red light, (illegal in NYC) gotten into a shouting match with a gas station attendant, who chided me for not knowing the correct method of swiping my credit card, and suffered sticker shock from crossing the Throgs Neck bridge.  ($6.50 one way)

I’ve played two gigs on the Island with a singer and his quartet — a band I worked with for four years before moving — and was amazed that the east bound traffic has actually gotten worse in the 10 months since I last traversed that hellish thoroughfare called the Long Island Expressway.  In fact, between driving to those gigs, and taking my oldest boy on various college tours, I have been to Westchester, Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and tomorrow, New Jersey.  Almost every road, except for the ones going north towards Westchester, is jammed up.  Brooklyn is a joke — even when the traffic is light, the lights are metered in such a way that you have to stop every other minute.  I do appreciate the more aggressive New York driving style, however.  I am amazed and impressed that even on the congested roads of Manhattan and Brooklyn, people manage to drive as fast as possible, and for the most part, avoid getting into accidents.

I passed my the new Nets arena, which is under construction on Flatbush Ave in downtown Brooklyn, and it appears to be roughly a quarter completed.  All I could think of was that I wouldn’t want to be within five miles of that place on game night.  The traffic will be backed up to the Upper West Side. 

Oh yes…I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the aggravation that goes with seeing the Yankees sweep the AL champion Texas Rangers, while the Mets, in a bid to go over .500 for the first time since the first week of the season, blew Thursday night’s game against the Atlanta Braves in excruciating, Metsian fasion — a blown save by their closer, Franky Rodriguez, and a 10th inning balk with a man on third by reliever, D.J. Carrasco. 

Yep, I’m back. .

Posted in New York City | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Provincialism: New York story

Posted by keithosaunders on May 13, 2011

…so I packed up and moved to New York.  It turned out it was just like I pictured it — skyscrapers and everything!  I found an apartment on the Upper West Side, started exploring the city, began meeting musicians, and eventually began to gig.

It was great.  I liked the city and contrary to what I had been told, I found that people were friendly and welcoming.  There was just one problem:  They hated Californians.  Let me rephrase that, as hate is too strong a word.  They looked down on Californians.  They joked about, ridiculed, and were generally unpleasent towards people of the west coast persuasion.  Californians were too laid back, flaky, vain, and above all, didn’t swing. (the unkindest cut of all for a jazz musician) 

My Great Aunt Ellie was like a grandmother to me.  She and my Uncle Herb took me under their wing, taught me how to play bridge, showed me Coney Island, Flatbush, and Sheepshead Bay.  For someone such as myself, who had grown up without grandparents, it was invaluable to have this window into what my family history looked like. 

 Every Sunday I would watch the Mets game (or whatever sport happened to be in season) at Ellie and Herb’s apartment in downtown Brooklyn, feasting on Herb’s renowned tuna salad for lunch, and take out from Su Su’s Yum Yum, their local chinese restaurant, for dinner. 

One day we watching the Mets play the Dodgers from Los Angeles.  For those of you not familiar with Dodger Stadium, just beyond the right field bleachers there are a group of palm trees which are visible from certain camera angles.  Midway through the game, apropos of nothing, Ellie remarked, “Those palm trees look dusty.” 

I knew Ellie hated California, but this was too much.  The palm trees looked dusty?!  What hope did I have of ever fitting in with my adopted city if even my own Aunt, who I loved dearly, could not accept California?  And who insluts palm trees?!

The thing is, there is a grain of truth in New Yorker’s feelings about the west coast.  There is a certain vanity out west, as well as a complacency.  What I could never understand, however, was how people could feel free to bash  California in front of someone who was from there.  It was as if my being in New York meant that I had rejected the west coast, and thus would be receptive and understanding of the insults. 

Even within the city there exists a kind of micro-provincialism.  Manhattanites think that the boundaries of New York end at the periphery of their 13 mile long, and 2.3 mile wide island.  Anyone with a 718 area code knows what it’s like to be condescended to by the proud owner of a 212 code.     

It took me a long time to get used to it, but eventually I did.  It was remarkable how universally scorned California was.  I saw this as a shortcoming of New Yorkers.  New York is the greatest city in the world.  Why bother insulting other places when it’s a moot point?  

But I have to admit — I was guilty of it myself.  The longer I lived in New York, the more it felt like home to me.  Truth be told, I would occasionally insult California too.  Once in a while.  

Next post I’ll come full circle with San Francisco provincialism.  Then we’ll go over weights and measures.

Posted in New York City | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

One night in East Rutherford

Posted by keithosaunders on January 23, 2011

The date:  January 22nd, 1987.

The location: East Rutherford, New Jersey

The weather:  Blizzard

My friend and occasional guest blogger, Jeff, had tickets to the new Jersey Devils game versus the Calgary Flames.  It was a midweek night game and the plan, as per usual, was to meet him in Washington Heights at 5PM.  Jeff lives in the Bronx and at that time worked in Manhattan, while I was living in Brooklyn.  Rather than go back to the Bronx, which was out-of-the-way, Jeff had parked uptown very close to the entrance to the George Washington bridge. 

By the time five o’clock rolled around there was already a foot of snow on the ground and it was still coming down hard.  Jeff and I were young and fearless and we weren’t going to let a little weather stand in the way of  seeing the Devils and Flames bang and smash each other into submission.

Jeff had snagged the all-time classic blizzard parking spot.  He was at the end of the street facing downhill so he didn’t have to dig out of his spot — all he had to do was ease into traffic, make a right turn and we were on the bridge crossing the state line.  Once we hit the Jersey Turnpike the traffic came to a dead halt.  It was practically white out conditions and it was rush hour to boot. 

We inched along wondering if we would miss the start of the game.  We arrived at Byrne Arena an hour and a half later —  a half hour after the scheduled start —  but we soon discovered that the game was being delayed since many of the players were stuck in the same traffic!

When we entered the arena we found that we had it practically all to ourselves.  There were only 334 people who showed up!  An announcement was made inviting us to sit anywhere we pleased so we moved up to the front row behind the Flames penalty box.  The anthems were dispensed with due to the late start and the banging and smashing commenced.

I’ll never forget the strange feeling of being inside of a 20,000 seat arena with so few people inside of it.  It was like being at a practice.  The sound of the players being checked into the boards reverberated throughout the building like thunder and we could hear the players shouting at each other. 

At one point  the Flames designated goon, Nick Fotiu, received a five-minute major penalty.  As the PA announcer said, “five minutes,” Jeff waved the Daily News at him and asked him if he’d like to read the paper while he’s in there.  He actually turned around and threw a menacing glared our way.  It was scary so we moved up a few rows and kept a lower profile.

On the way home the snow had stopped after depositing two feet and the temperature had dropped into the teens.  There were abandoned cars that had spun into snow banks all over the Turnpike.  When we reached my house in Brooklyn the lock on my front door had frozen so Jeff climbed in through one of the unlocked windows and was able to open the door from the inside.

While we were at the game someone from the Devils P.R. office had circulated a sign in sheet asking us to fill out our address.  Two weeks later we received Devils t-shirts in the mail that said, “The 334 Club”  I wore mine for years until it disintegrated —  I believe Jeff still has his.  Four years ago. on the 20th anniversary of the blizzard, the Devils honored the 334 fans who attended that infamous game by giving us free tickets and inviting us to a post game banquet.  Jeff and I attended that game. 

Here I am 24 years later in Berkeley, California, where it was 67 degrees today.  It’s hard to believe that I attended a game in a blizzard at a time when the Devils were perennial cellar dwellers.  I’m glad I did.

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One day in Yankee Stadium 50 years ago.

Posted by keithosaunders on October 21, 2010

Today’s post is brought to you by WOK’s special guest blogger, George Chimes

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Fifty years ago I went to my first World Series game. Thought I share this great experience & reflect how our National Pastime has changed…

The day before the 3rd game of the ’60 World Series between the Yankees & Pirates my buddy Tony Anastasi and I decided to go.  We left our homes in Brooklyn at 6AM for a 90-minute ride on the D train to The Bronx.  The fare was 15 cents round trip if you took the paper transfer leaving the D station and used it after the game to board the elevated 4 line.

 

At the Stadium we got on a long line but had no trouble buying bleacher seats at 10AM for the 2PM game.  I believe the tickets were $2.50.  Prior to the game we feasted on the hero sandwiches Tony’s mom gave us.
  
The crowd was almost all rabid Yankees fans from the boros of NYC.  I recall some intense discussions on Yankee manager Casey Stengel’s decision to wait until the 3rd game to start future hall of famer Whitey Ford.  Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru threw out the first ball.  He and his entourage left after the second inning on this crisp, sunny fall day.  As dedicated Yankee fans Tony and I loved every minute of this lopsided game.  The final score Yankees 10 – Pirates 0.

 

Here we were, two kids with almost nothing in our pockets, able to walk in and see what at that time was undisputedly America’s most prestigious sporting event for half the price of what it costs to buy a soda at Yankee Stadium today.
I’m usually dismissive of fogies who go on about the good old days, but I can’t imagine anyone in 21st century America enjoying this kind of encounter with America’s pastime. 

Posted in baseball | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Four more days

Posted by keithosaunders on August 3, 2010

There’s very little time left for me in New York City before moving to the Bay Area.  On the outside I am calm but inside is a different story.  Almost everywhere I go is for the last time — every friend and acquaintance that I see is someone I may never see again.  I have no words that are profound enough for goodbye so I just give them an extra hug.  Tears come at strange times — almost never around people.  I just hold it in.  Bottle it up.

This morning I decided at the spur of the moment to go to the Jewish cemetary in Ridgewood, Queens to visit my grandfather and grandmother, my father’s parents.  I never knew either of them — they both passed away early in life due to heart disease.  Before going I called my father asking him for some details on how to locate the graves.  He said “Don’t tell my Dad that I no longer root for the Dodgers.” 

 I took my two younger children, and thanks to a helpful cemetary worker we were able to locate the plots.  Somehow seeing these two graves made me feel connected to an earlier New York — the New York of my father’s childhood.  He grew up in Brooklyn and Queens, and in 1964 took his family west to California where there was more work and an easier lifestyle.  Standing in that cemetary with my son and daughter, thinking of my Dad and his parents, I realized that except for the 20 years between 1964 and 1984, my family has been represented here since the beginning of the 20th century. 

Somehow it felt right to be in a cemetary during my final week, thinking about the past, while nervously looking ahead to the future.  People of that generation, for the most part, lived their entire lives in their home town.  Starting with my Dad’s generation that began to change.  I should feel lucky that I’ve been able to live here as long as I did.  New York is not an easy place to move to, but it’s an even harder place to move away from.

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The first gig

Posted by keithosaunders on May 16, 2010

Lately, because of  my impending move, I have been thinking a lot about ‘lasts’ —  my last Spring, my last days of teaching, even my last trip to Roosevelt Island where my kids have been a part of a theatre group for the past several years.  This led me to think about some firsts.  With this in mind I’m going to write a few words about my first gig in New York City.

I moved to New York in April of 1984 but it wasn’t until that summer that I got called for my first gig.  A singer named Judy Niemack called me to play with her as part of her trio at a bar in Brooklyn.  She was extremely talented and easy to work with.  The bass player was Joel Forbes, a great player, and the drummer, Taro Okamoto, would become a good friend and band-mate several years later in the Richie Vitale Quintet, as well as the drummer in my current trio. 

We played at a joint in Brooklyn called Cousins.  Thankfully it no longer exists, but it managed to stay open long enough for me to grow to hate it.  And believe me, it didn’t take too many gigs for this to occur.  Cousins was a crowded neighborhood bar in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn that  had jazz five or six nights a week.  Nobody there really cared for the music which made you wonder why they went to the trouble to have it.  The patrons loudly conversed over the music and the surely employees and managers barely tolerated the musicians.  It was all we could do to get the bartender’s attention to order a coke.  In those days I didn’t drink that much on gigs so I can’t remember what their drink policy was.  They probably charged us double.   I do recall playing there once when there was a prize-fight on TV.  The large screen was positioned directly in front of the bandstand.  We kept on playing and they kept on not listening.

I can’t recall that much of the actually gig except for the fact that I felt uncomfortable not knowing anybody.  I didn’t play that well, but I wasn’t terrible either.  After the gig I got a ride back into Manhattan and we all stopped in at an Upper East Side club called Gregory’s where Judy’s boyfriend, a pianist named Tardo Hammer was playing a duo gig.  Tardo is also someone I would know throughout my entire time in New York and he is one of the best pianists in the city. 

I have a gig with my trio in midtown coming up at the end of July.  I don’t expect to leave town until the second week of August, but wouldn’t it be something if my first and last gig had the same drummer?

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So you want to be in show business?

Posted by keithosaunders on May 8, 2010

Last night’s gig is a good example of life in the trenches as a musician.  Every six months or so my trio plays at a restaurant on Long Island that has jazz.  The place has great acoustics, serves us a nice meal, and is generally offer a pleasant experience.  The problem is that getting there involves a 40 mile drive into the teeth of Friday rush hour traffic. 

I had a double on the Island yesterday; a lunchtime gig with a singer in the afternoon saw to it that I didn’t have to deal with the traffic.   The bass player and drummer, however,  rode together and experienced the usual Expressway slog and arrived 15 minutes before gig time.  There isn’t much parking on the street but for years we have parked in an adjacent post office lot with no problems. 

You can probably already tell where this is going, but on the first break we discovered that there was a padlocked gate on the post office lot.  The drummer’s car had been locked in!  Fortunately I had parked on the street otherwise we all would have had to sleep in our cars. 

Needless to say this put a damper on the rest of the evening.  The poor drummer had to deal with the stress of not knowing whether or not his car would still be there  the following day.  If the car was indeed towed there would almost certainly be an accompanying ticket.  It doesn’t take a math major to factor in our paltry salary versus a steep towing fine and ticket.  As usual, the jazz economics are bleak.

After the gig  — a  good one,  all things considered — I gave the bass player and drummer rides home to Manhattan and Brooklyn respectively, before returning to my apartment in Queens.  I managed to get four hours of sleep before picking the drummer up and driving back to the Long Island post office.   The good news is twofold:  First of all, and most important, we were able to retrieve the drummer’s car with no more trouble than a stern talking to from the post office manager.  Finally:  We now have conclusive evidence that it is possible to drive 40 miles into Long Island in 40 minutes.  As long as you leave at 7:30AM.  
 
   Now I have to drive two hours upstate.  Why did I have to go into show business?

Posted in jazz, New York City | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Leaving New York

Posted by keithosaunders on April 27, 2010

I never thought it would ever happen.  I figured I would live here the rest of my life.   A friend of mine  told me that once you make it past the five-year mark you become an official New Yorker.  I made it past the first five years.  In that span I endured two muggings, vandalism, theft, threats from roommates, a fair amount of vibing from fellow musicians, and the non-stop mishagos that comes with living in the big town. 

And it was great.

I played with some of the best musicians in the world, and I met some of its great characters.  I hung out until all hours of the night.  Got drunk at the West End trying to meet college co-eds, invariably failing and staggering home.  There I saw Bob Berg play an electrifying sax solo and not get paid at the end of the gig.  I saw Benny Green execute one of the coolest sit-ins ever at Sweet Basil when in mid-tune he replaced Larry Willis.  I saw Woody Shaw at the old Star Cafe almost deck a guitar player who was pestering him.   I saw Elvin Jones at Fat Tuesdays play John Bonham licks.

I lived in Manhattan in a room a little larger than a walk in closet.  I lived in Brooklyn in a house with four roommates, one of whom stole from me and threatened to beat me to a pulp.  A few years later I would move back to Manhattan’s Upper West Side where I lived in an apartment nicknamed “the dungeon” by my first cousin for the amount of direct sunlight it received:  two minutes a day. 

I played at great venues and I played at dives.  In the early years I gigged at a McDonald’s where I had to climb over a steel railing to get to a piano that was encased in a loft suspended 15 feet above the restaurant.  I worked at Princess Pamela’s Little Kitchen when the East Village was still dangerous.  I accompanied a blues singer who would verbally abuse her yuppie clientele.  I was fired for asking for a five dollar raise. 

I worked at the Empire Diner on 10th avenue from 11PM-3Am on Saturday nights where I would meet my future wife.  A few months after we began dating we drove across country in a Nissan Stanza that had a sun roof which we nicknamed the Stanzaterium; a drive we will reprise this August.

I played at the Village Vanguard, The Blue Note, The Village Gate, Sweet Basil, Fat Tuesdays, Birdland, Lincoln Center, and Smalls.  I never played at Carnegie Hall.  Didn’t practice enough. 

I met my best friend in the upper deck of Shea Stadium between games of a Mets/Cubs double-header.  Together we attended a myriad of sporting events.  We saw game I of the 1996 World Series, a game which the Yankees lost by 11 runs to the Atlanta Braves.  Little did we know that game would be one of only three Series games that the Yankees would lose in the next six years. 

While I lived here the Mets won one World Series and played in another.  The football Giants won three Super Bowls (!) and the Knicks, though they made the playoffs almost every year in the 1990’s, made the finals only once, losing to the Houston Rockets in seven games.  Most improbably, in 1994 a few days after my first-born arrived, the Rangers won their first Stanley Cup in 44 years.

My three children, unlike me, are native New Yorkers.  Just as I did, they will have started out on one coast only to emerge on another.  Unlike me, however, they carry the cache of being from New York.  They are savvy city kids who will not be easily rattled and are much greater equipped than I to deal with this move.

Now I find myself in the unenviable position of starting over.  This fall, and for the foreseeable future I will be living somewhere in the Bay Area.  I do not know any musicians there and I have no gigs.  Part of me is relishing this new challenge.  After all, I knew only one musician when I moved to New York 26 years ago.  All I ask is for a good bassist and drummer, a few laughs,  and the occasional gig to get me started.  I know it can work — there are great musicians all over the world.  There will be some where I’m going.  Just got to find them.

Posted in jazz, music, New York City | Tagged: , , , , , , | 12 Comments »