Issue 31: Quality/Quantity

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Quality/ Quantity complimentary ISSUE 31

Holy Compact

Hennepin's River

Delicate Balance

Buffalo News arts critic Jeff Simon on telling his readers the truth.

Bruce Fisher breaks down the current state of the Great Lakes.

Two designers go beneath the surface of high-quality work.

BCM 31


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12 Issue Contributors


15 Letter from the Editor


18 The Conversationalists Interview by Ben Siegel Buffalo News arts critic Jeff Simon.

FACEBOOK, TWITTER, VIMEO and INSTAGRAM @blockclub #blockclub #BCM31

22 You and Who's Army Interview by Patrick Simons Buy-one, give-one T-shirt company. 24 The Stranger Essay by Charlotte Hsu Treasures and trash. 30

Hennepin's River By Bruce Fisher Understanding and protecting our region's great asset—fresh water.


A Delicate Balance By Ben Siegel Discussing the relationship between quality and quantity with two designers equally concerned with both.


Thank You for Shopping Short fiction by E.R. Barry It's business as usual at the Northern Cambria Giant Eagle. Until Bruce gets news that could change his life forever.

61 Power in Numbers Short fiction by Margaret Finan The new modern girl. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Chris Fritton and the Western New York Book Arts Center (WNYBAC), for their collaboration on this issue's cover and photo series. TYPEFACES FEATURED IN THIS ISSUE Banknote Playtype, Copenhagen, DK Solomon Sans Fontfabric Type Foundry, Sofia, BG Garamond Premier Pro Adobe Fonts, San Diego, CA Gotham Hoefler & Frere-Jones, New York, NY Goudy Bookletter 1911 The Crud Factory, St. Paul, MN Goudy Old Style American Type Founders Adobe Caslon Pro Adobe Fonts, San Diego, CA


ADVERTISING & DISTRIBUTION EDITORIAL & CONTENT WE WANT BETTER. Block Club is a branding and marketing agency founded in 2007 in Buffalo, NY. We work to develop and strengthen brands for forward-thinking businesses and organizations with Block Club Creative. We tell stories about a better Rust Belt in Block Club magazine. We help locals save money with City Dining Cards, and create fun, inspiring gift products with Fridge Phrases. We do this because we want better. This magazine is printed on FSC®-certified post-consumer and post-industrial recycled paper. Production of this brand of paper consumes five times less water than the industry average, reduces air emissions, frees up landfill space, and saves the world’s mature trees. 731 Main St. Buffalo, NY 14203 716.507.4474 ©2013 BLOCK CLUB INC. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercialNoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 Unported License. This work may be reproduced and shared for personal or educational use only, and must be credited to Block Club magazine. Such use for commerical purposes is strictly prohibited.


Please recycle this issue and pass it along to a friend.

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E.R. Barry pg. 56 E.R. is a lecturer in the College Writing Program at Buffalo State College. She leads new tutor training sessions at Literacy Buffalo-Niagara and serves as a founding board member of Give for Greatness. In her spare time, she writes down the stories that get stuck in her head. Max Collins pg. 18 Max is a photographer and artist based in Buffalo, NY who studied fine art and journalism at the University of Michigan. His work has been seen on gallery walls, on porch railings, and on garage doors. To sum up his work: he pastes photos on things. Margaret Finan pg. 61 Margaret is a student, writer, and editor of Block Club's design and creative blog, Clubhaus. She studies psychology at the University at Buffalo and spends a lot of time thinking about human memory.





Bruce Fisher pg. 30 Bruce's Borderland: Essays from the US-Canadian Divide was published in 2012 by SUNY Press. He is the founding director of the Center for Economic and Policy Studies at Buffalo State College, where he teaches economics. Before returning to Buffalo, he had fun in Washington, D.C.




Charlotte Hsu

pg. 24 Charlotte is founder of The Buffalo Story Project, which can be found online. A former newspaper reporter, she came to Buffalo by way of Las Vegas, Los Angeles and many other places. She likes whiskey, maps and Scrabble.

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Quality/Quantity Ernest Hemingway's famous five rules for writing teach us about a lot more than just words. There's an efficiency in his approach: conciseness over abundance. Pick each word carefully, exactly. Be a better writer based on how good your work is, not just how much of it there is. Hemingway's work sets, follows and breaks his own rules (he's allowed that much). His ideas worked, and thus, so did he. His famous six-word story—“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”—forces writers to think more carefully about the simple truth of a story, and more precisely about the value of their words. (This is a benefit to non-writers, too.) This efficiency of goods is antidotal to our instincts, though; the indulgent, greedy, often-exactly American thought that less is less and more is more, and why on Earth confuse the two? The argument comes down to what you value. If you know how to read your own barometer, you don't need to check someone else's. If you know what you like, then you don't waste time on things you don't. Your identity becomes sharpened to the standards you hold for yourself. Consider all that isn't said in those six words. Imagine all that can't be known. Continue the story as you wish. Its sparseness makes it a piece of quality. Not only for what it evokes, gut-twisting as it is, and not only for its

length, but above all else, for the trust it puts in its audience's hands. It specifies all that it needs to, and yet keeps the door open for you to own the rest—your distaste for its subject matter, your love of its brevity, your confusion over its circumstances. It implies an importance on editing, on self-criticism, on sharpening and re-sharpening your own pencil. It denounces mediocrity. We all don't have the skills to chop down a forest with grace. But we all need what that offers, the potential of authentic, cutthroat ideals. Higher standards are not a bad thing, so long as we never stop raising them. As we look up from the page and look around at what's in front of us—the things we buy, the movies we watch, the books we read, the water we drink, even the chairs we sit on—we should think about trust. We should speak more articulately than the clichés we fall back on; we should create our own work and not rely on a template; we should define what we value; we should listen as loudly as we talk; and we should embrace the chance to edit, erase and evaluate.

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Interview by BEN SIEGEL junket whores was a great idea. Journalism did not suffer; believe me, it didn’t. Cutting them out of the contemporary debate, there’s no loss. In the process of doing that, some very real honest-to-God, dedicated critics were also lost in the great corporate pogrom. The dedicated critics, absolutely dedicated to bringing critical debate to their readers. Intelligent critical debate.

eff Simon knows what you think of him. His film, book, television and jazz reviews in The Buffalo News have never shied away from strong opinion, nor have his readers. His career at the paper began in 1964, when he worked as a copyboy while still in high school. In the nearly 50 years since, he's worked as reporter, critic and editor in the features department, covering an impressive range of local and national culture. His writing is unambiguous, his viewpoints are staunch, and his work ethic is tenacious; traits necessary for survival in the newspaper industry. Which is probably why he is able to take exactly what he's been dishing out for so long. It's because of his obligation to the truth, entrenched in the tradition of critical journalism and cultural progress, that his analysis of comparatively frivolous Hollywood fare becomes more pertinent to our everyday lives. Simon's role is not just to comment on Tinseltown's brightest, but to speak freely and astutely about our own pursuit of excellence.

Now, intelligent critical debate does not only exist in New York City, it does not only exist in Chicago, it does not only exist in Los Angeles. It exists in Buffalo, it exists in Miami, it exists in Albany.

BCM Why is criticism important to our culture?

JS Here’s my trouble, among many; the list, you know, is

JS In the current nervous breakdown of contemporary

journalism, one of the things [that was] decided was that critics were the most dispensable people, largely because a lot of them were making decent salaries. There were all kinds of consultants going around the country telling newspapers that these were the most dispensable employees. That all we are, are little overpaid guys full of ego, and who needs us because there are so many better critics in the major papers—New York, Chicago, L.A., Toronto, whatever. To some extent I understand the point. You have to separate the people who are functioning as critics from people who have basically turned into junket whores. Getting rid of the 18 BCM 31

BCM They’re especially important now. JS I think there is no more important person in any news-

paper. The critics and the columnists, the people who are able to think independently in front of the public, they’re the most important people in newspapers today. BCM Have you always been critical?

endless. It has to do with what happened when I was 14 years old. I can literally tell people the exact damn moment I wanted to be a movie critic. Not many people can do that. When I was 14 years old—this is 1959—my father was in the men’s clothing business and a friend of his gave him a subscription to Esquire Magazine, thinking he would want to see all the clothing articles. He couldn’t have cared less. I was the only person in the house that read it.

Simon credits reading Beat poets like Lawrence Ferlinghetti, as a 12-year-old at Nichols School, with his love for creative writing: "I knew I was home."

photo by MA X COLLINS

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At the time, Esquire Magazine, all throughout the ’60s, was the American prose revolution. It’s where all the greatest writers of the period were writing, and I was in bliss, absolutely in bliss. In 1959, the movie critic, my idol still to this day, a man named Dwight Macdonald, reviewed Ben-Hur. At the time, everyone thought this was the greatest thing ever. It was America’s entertainment-industrial complex. It cost all this money; it had all these fancy-shmancy people in it; it was filmed in Rome; it was about all these things that American culture supposedly worships. All this kind of piety and baloney. And it went on forever and ever­—three hours long. So it had to be great. I went and saw this movie, and except for the music and the chariot sequence, I thought everything else was absolutely the biggest bore I had ever seen. I thought it was Godawful, really. Truly horrendous. So Dwight Macdonald does a takeout not just of Ben-Hur, but of every critic telling everybody around how wonderful the movie was. So basically he’s doing a takedown of the current American critical establishment at the time, and the movie itself, and also the American way of sadism in movies; an incredible American reliance on suffering and violence in movies. He’s doing all that. I was in bliss. I thought to myself, what an amazing thing to be able to do, to have someone pay you to tell the absolute truth against what everybody else is saying, what a very loud and tyrannical establishment is telling you is the truth. And here’s this wonderful minority coming through like a champ. BCM When I started reviewing for my college paper, I didn’t understand that everyone didn’t talk about a movie they just saw, for instance. I couldn’t fathom that people would not have an opinion about art. JS I was lucky because I went to Nichols, which is a very

good school, so I kind of knew I was going to be a writer from the time I was 12. We were reading poetry, which turned me on­. The Beat. And not Ginsberg, but a poet named Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who I liked very much. I started to write poetry, which meant that I was writing creatively for the first time in my life, and at that moment, I knew I was home. I knew from the minute I started to do it that that was what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I was a writer. The clouds suddenly lifted. I knew that was my life. BCM Critics manage a few key relationships: with the artist, the art, and the reader. Where's your obligation?

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JS The readers come first. Everybody else is dispensable. Ev-

erybody. The people you work with, the people you’re covering, they’re all secondary. Your obligation to the reader is holy. It’s the church, dude. They come first. You’re telling what you understand to be the truth about your subject. They need to trust that holy compact, otherwise why are they going to be your readers? In this Internet world, in this age of information, which is full of garbage information, why shouldn’t they go elsewhere? They need to know that you are not garbage information. BCM And that includes telling them things that they don’t want to hear. I’m sure you’re full of stories on the subject. JS Having said that, I have to say that you also have to be

a decent human being about that. You’ve got to be careful how you do that. You’ve got to know enough about who your readers are, and what their prejudices and agendas are, not to sit there and throw garbage in their faces. That’s not your job either. BCM Let’s talk about the myths that exist about you and your job. The idea that you do this because you can’t make or write movies, or something. That this is a consolation prize. JS I can’t say that I never wanted to make movies. Because

when I was a teenager, I did. And in my early 20s I actually thought, maybe I want to write a movie. I never really wanted to direct one, but I did think about wanting to write one. That ended very quickly. I took a year off of my life to write a novel. And I did, it’s in a drawer right now. It was terrible. That’s when I realized this was not me. The problem was I had no fictional imagination. BCM What do you think your readers’ perception of you is? JS I don’t know, I don’t really think about it much. But I

think their perception is probably fairly close to the truth. What I find most disturbing are the people who thought that I was a sexist pig. We’re talking about a perception that’s at least 20 years old; back then I used to not at all be gun-shy about talking about the sexual appeal of actresses, simply because it is so basic to movies and has been since the very first day. The sexual appeal of those of the opposite sex, or the same sex, depending on who you are, is crucial to one of the reasons why people go to the movies. I was never shy about writing about that. There turned out to be an era where not being shy about

There are a lot of journalists who don't necessarily understand what critics do.

that put you in trouble. Because it meant it was very easy to misunderstand what you were doing, that because you were objectifying women you were putting them down and making them a lesser gender, which is absolutely not the case at all. Because at the same time I was on The Buffalo News book page reviewing Susan Sontag. BCM You’re a feminist? JS I would say there is no such thing as a father of a daugh-

ter, I don’t think, who isn’t a feminist. Once you have a daughter, all bets are off. Anybody who gets in her way, for any reason whatsoever, anybody who takes her rights in any way whatsoever, as far as I’m concerned, forget it. Now if I were a woman reading me at the time, I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have felt that, but I would have given me the benefit of the doubt. I can understand that if I were a woman having trouble making my way in a sexist pig male establishment, I wouldn’t be happy. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t have read me that way, but I can understand some of the people that did. BCM I think the public can forget what it means to disagree, that it's a viable part of critical conversation. JS I think everybody should read critics and know whom

they’re reading. You’re not going to agree with everything. I certainly don’t agree with everything Dwight Macdonald ever said. He was an anarchist, among other things, which I certainly appreciate enormously but [don’t identify with]. BCM There's an onslaught of communication now. Everyone’s got an opinion and they’re sharing it. Does that dilute what people think of your work? JS Probably it does, and it’s too bad. But it makes having

a real critic on your staff that much more important. That’s why if you’re a newspaper or a magazine and you’ve got somebody that you suspect or know is a real honest-to-God critic doing what they’re doing, that’s why it’s that much more important that they stay there, and that they function.

Because otherwise it does become babel. Otherwise nobody can tell the difference between anything. BCM Do you think the public understands your purpose the way that you do? JS A lot of them probably don’t. A lot of the people I work

with don’t. There are a lot of people in journalism itself who don’t necessarily understand what critics do. I have no difficulty reporting audience pleasure and at the same time disagreeing with them. This is the essential problem that all pop music critics have, and all television critics have. The world loved “Lavern and Shirley.” Who am I to say that this is a crock? Me. That’s who I am. I’ll sit there and happily report for the sake of accuracy that the world loves “Lavern and Shirley,” but [also] that I think it’s a crock. BCM Does it get stale after 49 years? JS Oh no. I don’t think I’m a stale human being. I think

I’m too weird for that. I think weirdness helps. Weirdness, which I have, God knows, but I also have a sort of important unpleasantness as a personality. It keeps you fresh. I think nicer people are probably more boring, and are probably more insular. I’m too ornery to be insular. I think that I’m basically a thorny personality. I’m a little disagreeable that way. I kind of disagree with an awful lot of things. That keeps me reasonable, in a way. Listen, my life would have been so much easier if I had been a nicer and more boring person. My life would have been so much better, but [it's] okay the way it is. Nothing, so far, has gone too far astray in my life. BCM Does this privilege you have scare you? JS No, no. Not at all. Because I think I’m up to it. It’s pre-

cisely because I understand the privilege that I have. I never take it for granted. I know exactly how privileged I am. That’s why I take that compact with the reader as seriously as I do. That’s serious business. And if you’re doing that you can’t go too far wrong. No matter how much people want to hang you from the highest yardarm, you know, as long as you’re taking seriously the readers' need to get your passion for the truth. You need to be passionate about the truth and the readers need to hear what you think the truth is. And as long as you’re doing that, let people call for your head.

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You and Who's army



an Gigante is no stranger to startups. Ten years after co-founding Clevermethod, a web design company in Buffalo, NY he found a new inspirational itch that needed scratching. Drawn to the one-for-one model that TOMS Shoes had been making waves with, Gigante was eager to create something similar, but with T-shirts. Enter You and Who. Local artists are contracted to design T-shirts, many of which carry a banner of city pride. For every shirt You and Who sells online, a shirt is donated to a person in need, distributed through a network of shelters and organizations. In each city, consumers feel pride in knowing a matching T-shirt is donated to a neighbor who needs it. Get a shirt, give a shirt, and help an artist all at the same time. This spring, the company began offering the option to donate a meal, expanding its base and social reach. We spoke with Gigante and partner Katie Krawczyk. 22 BCM 31


You and Who


40 cities, including Atlanta, Boston, Houston, Las Vegas, Miami, Nashville, New York, Pittsburgh, Rochester, San Juan and Seattle; based in Buffalo




Dan Gigante

WEBSITE There’s a sense of unity in the work you do. Why is it important that You and Who donates a T-shirt to someone in need and not just money?

DG The people we help live in shelters (or utilize other services), because they have no one else. That’s why they’re there. So to know that someone bought them a shirt is a pick-me-up.

illustration by TIM STASZAK KK A lot of it is about being down on your luck, or just feeling alone. You’re actually connected to somebody who’s wearing the same shirt. DG And maybe on the other side, too, every time they wear it, they’re reminded that someone else cared about them. You have a big presence in more than 30 cities. Will you be expanding more?

DG We’re trying, this year, to get on the ground in some retail stores in each of the cities, so that we’re not just online. It’s nice to touch and feel it. To help spread the awareness of what we do. KK Every retail store will be different. Some might specifically only want the shirts that benefit their community and some might just buy by design. So not only are they helping someone in need, and a local artist, but now they’re patronizing a local store as well. Their dollar is being stretched to its maximum economic impact, which we feel good about as business owners. We’re really spreading the love to as many people as possible. You’ve worked with JetBlue, SXSW and Fab— really big names—to get the word out. You’re active on social media. You’re busy. What have you learned since the company launched?

DG I’ve learned that it’s really hard and it takes a long time to build the base or to get where you want to go. [But] we love giving back. It’s worth it, everything we do. Every sale results in helping someone. It’s a great motivator. How does changing the original one-for-one model broaden You and Who's possibilities?

KK Expanding our donation model means You and Who can give back in more ways, while at the same time be more inclusive of those who want to give back in a different way. By expanding this model, we further empower our consumers: not only can they choose where their donation goes, but now they can choose the way in which they donate and how their donation impacts someone in need. You and Who, as our name suggests, emotionally connects the consumer with the person they're donating to, and this additional donation option furthers that connection. And what have you learned about citizens' needs in your decision to add this new element?

KK The people that we're trying to help have a lot of needs,

ranging from the most serious and basic of needs—shelter, food and clothing—to other needs such as educational, emotional and rehabilitative. You and Who wants to have a meaningful impact on the lives of these people struggling to survive. Our shirts help provide them with two out of the three basic human needs—clothing and food—and the organizations we work with provide them with shelter, the third and final essential need. To us, it was an important step to take to help close that gap of needs. Talk about your relationship with artists, and how they’re a part of this model.

KK The artists are such an important component of this. First of all, we refer to our shirts as wearable art. These are new designs. They’re not available by this artist for purchase otherwise, except through You and Who. We have some up-and-coming artists and we have some really well known artists, so it can be an opportunity for people to really support someone’s craft. They are tied to their own neighbors in need within their own community, so their design is really impacting the community in so many different ways. Can you describe the experience of dropping off these shirts to shelters?

KK After the first year of business, we did a drop at Compass House [in Buffalo] and we met a handful of the kids that came in. They walked in and the director of the program said, ‘Hey guys, pick out a shirt.’ We had all the shirts laid out. It was great, because it was a surprise for them. They were excited. They looked at this whole table spread out with all these different designs and they loved them. DG I was lucky enough, in 2010, [to travel to] five of our launch cities, and I brought shirts with me. It was great to be able to hand deliver them to those cities in person. Similiar to Katie's experience at Compass House, I went to a shelter in Chicago—they have a lot of women and children—and they mentioned it to the kids and one of the kids ran up and hugged me. KK It’s just a nice feeling. How many choices do they have when it comes to…anything? So to give them a choice for something that’s new or cool or fun was really special to them, and it was great for us to be a part of. BCM 31 23




he door opens at 9 a.m. and I step into a stranger’s home. The first thing I see is a heap of sock monkeys ($6 ea.) on a wingback chair ($125), perched atop a braided rug ($345). It’s Day 2 of a huge estate sale in Akron, and just about everything that isn’t anchored to the wall has a price tag on it. Everywhere, there is clinking and banging, the sounds of people rifling through someone else’s possessions. In the kitchen, a man clutches two model airplanes while scrutinizing a frying pan. “It looks like nothing was even sold yesterday,” exclaims a woman in a beige parka holding a candlestick (candle attached). “Oh my God,” she says, confiding with a friend on the phone. “The doll that I had when I was a kid is here.” There are, in fact, hundreds of dolls. The former residents of this home were collectors. Red-haired Raggedy Anns peer at shoppers trolling a bedroom, while in the basement, an army of Cabbage Patch dolls stands guard. Teddy bears are going for $6 or $8 apiece, according to the masking tape labels on the bottoms of their soft plush feet. As I move through this mountain, this mass, of stuff, I wonder what it means that a lifetime of accumulations— wedding presents, birthday gifts, impulse buys—can be liquidated in a matter of days. I’ve spent the past few years trying to minimize the number of things I own, hoping to avoid the needless clutter that seems to accumulate so easily in our lives: Books that go unread. Dresses that go unworn. Artwork that never graces any wall. I’d like to purge my house—my life—of these things. Given that philosophy, I thought I would be repulsed by the extravagance of a sale like this one. Instead, I find myself holding a small toy sheep ($2, but really $1.60 because everything is 20 percent off today). It’s six inches long, with a squishy white coat, and it looks hand-

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made, possibly by the woman who used to live here. It wears a disapproving expression. I’m in love immediately. I can’t explain, exactly, what draws me to this sheep. I know that objects don’t have souls. I know they’re not alive. But this sheep is looking straight at me. “Take me home!” it seems to be saying, its wistful, painted eyes meeting mine. Maybe the child in me still wants to believe the Toy Story version of the world, a place where objects have awesome, secret lives. I pick the sheep up and carry it around. I put it down. I hide it in a cache of other stuffed creatures, hoping that no one else will see it while I deliberate over whether to purchase it. People who frequent estate sales describe a frenzied atmosphere. Think piranhas. Shoppers line up at the door each morning, waiting to get in first. There are antique dealers, art collectors, history buffs, families looking for furniture, and owners of resale shops that rely on estate sales for much of their inventory. An oft-heard refrain is that the good stuff goes on Day 1. I find it a little morbid: All these people sifting through the treasures (and trash) of the departed. The bargain hunting, the haggling, the attempt to assign value to another person’s possessions—my first impression, which will change, is that these acts are crass. I look around. Teapot: $15. Orange juice squeezer: $16. Hardcover book: $4. Softcover book: $3. Hen candy dish: $16 (green), $12 (blue). Jeweled birdcage: $80. Wood rolling pin: $6. Old-fashioned ice cream cups: $4 ea. “Goodbye Stranger” by Supertramp is playing on a vintage-style Thomas radio (also available, though I fail to note the price). Two weeks earlier, I attended a much smaller estate sale on a placid street in Amherst. It looked like the home of an older gentleman. Judging from his belongings, he was a proud Buffalonian who liked guns and sailing. By 10 a.m., many items had been claimed. These included a quartet of semi-ratty bar stools, metal with lime-green tops, that someone salvaged from the garage. In the living room, a Kittinger brand couch, worn but lovely, went immediately for about $650. What struck me most, however, was not the appetite of the buyers, but the objects they had come to investigate. The number of people who crowded into the basement to check out the tools was astonishing. At one point, seven or eight people squeezed into one narrow room, studying wrenches, hammers, power drills and a medley of other

illustration by TIM STASZAK

Use your fine things, they said. Eat dinner on your most beautiful china. utilitarian-looking items I couldn’t identify. One patron wanted to know where the barometers were: “I saw in the paper there were barometers for sale. Do you know what room they’re in?” Barometers. And tools. I smile a little. This is what the shoppers have come to see. The objects we value in life aren’t always the things that other people want. I wonder what the fellow who lived here would have saved in a fire. What were his favorite possessions? The things that made him happy? Probably not the barometers. In the end, an object’s true value has nothing to do with price or rarity or whether it’s in mint condition or not. Instead, our memories are what breathe life and love into the inanimate. I think about what I would save in a fire: The dirty, battered Totoro doll that my sister, Caroline, and I sewed when we were 10 or 11, living in Taipei with our grandparents, who are both dead now. I’d reach for my torn up copy of Thomas Pynchon’s “V.” I’d pull a painting of a bird of paradise off the wall, thinking of the artist, my middle and high school classmate Tina, whom I grew up with and still consider a dear friend, though we rarely talk anymore. It makes me happy, this small idea—that an object’s real meaning lies in its story. At the sale in Akron, I circle back to see if the toy sheep is still there.

It is! I reach for it. I’m told that the lady who used to live here crafted many of the keepsakes now on display. I imagine her sitting by the window, the morning light spilling in, her fingers fastening tiny buttons onto tiny doll jackets, or cutting pieces of fabric to sew into a quilt. Though I was initially put off by the idea of an estate sale, it is comforting to know that the items in this home will not be going into a Dumpster. Thousands of people will move through the house in four days, admiring and rescuing the objects that the residents made and collected. When I die, I think to myself, I hope that Totoro is lucky enough to find a new home. Both George Armbruster, the liquidator running this sale, and Sandra Ziemer, a competing liquidator who ran the Amherst sale, shared with me a piece of wisdom that will stay with me for a long time. Use your fine things, they said. Eat dinner on your most beautiful china. Wear your most exquisite dress. After years in the business, both have seen all manner of marvelous objects stashed away in the dark corners of attics and basements. I vow that the sheep will not become one of these forgotten treasures—an object without a story. When I get home, I make a spot for it on my bedroom dresser. Here, it will greet me each morning with its solemn look and cardboard ears, making me laugh and opening my day with a modicum of joy. BCM 31 25




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nepin’s n e H Hennepin’s River Understanding and protecting our region's great asset By Bruce Fisher

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Here in the Rust Belt, where most of our cities are within sight of one of the five Great Lakes, spring is in the air and a new consciousness is budding. Once again, our Great Lakes water is being understood as our region’s unique advantage after decades of having been our region’s toy or toilet or cost-center. Zebra mussels still cluster on our water intakes and devour our lakes’ plankton and brighten and clarify our water, which paradoxically leads to big pricetags that taxpayers hate to pay— but we have water, seemingly endless supplies of water, fish-able, summertime beachfront cottage water and evening sunset water, while most of the rest of our country enters the second year of a heinous, worsening drought. Zebra mussels, invasive Black Sea gobies and snakeheads, botulism outbreaks, dead zones where the dying algae strip out all the oxygen so that the fish all die—yes, we have all that, and more: historically low water-levels on Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, Environmental Protection Agency hot spots, “areas of concern” to the international American-Canadian body that oversees this two-nation resource, and expensive, lengthy, and possibly endless projects to fix all those municipal sewer systems that keep flushing mixtures of rainwater, farm runoff, and raw sewage into our lakes whenever city storm sewers surge. Yet ours is the safe place, where water is concerned. We are low but we’re not running out. Our water is still safe to drink, mainly. It’s still plentiful, navigable, peaceful, and thanks to the return of typical winter weather this past season, it is relatively stable in supply, if not as abundant as it was only 20 years ago. The winter ice that formed to cover most of Lake Erie early this year is a true mega-regional asset, scientists say, because it’s the ice on Erie that prevents evaporation and also prevents the lake-effect snow that disrupts every enterprise except ski resorts. The daily Great Lakes and Seaway Shipping News may sound like the title of Annie Proulx’s beautiful novel, but it’s actually a noBCM 31 31

nonsense, compact publication that reports that the 2013 season will start on time, normally, and not weeks early as it did last year, when only 14 percent of Lake Erie froze. Shipping remains a healthy industry here in the North, even as the drought that is already underway in almost every state that does not touch Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie, or Ontario grinds on. But shipping—and the huge recreational fishing industry, and waterfront real-estate, and countless sailors, boaters, kayakers, rowers, and stoneskippers—has been and will continue to be deeply affected by the big thirst inland. In 2012, the United States Department of Agriculture reported that 71 percent of the continental United States had experienced severe, prolonged drought—but not here in the truly blue states. Concern for the potential impact of an oil spill on the rapidly shrinking Ogallala Aquifer in the center of the drought-belt was a core reason for the Obama Administration’s refusal to grant a quick permit to a new Keystone Pipeline; but oil is mainly not a lake-freighter commodity. Ships here move corn and wheat, and still move some iron ore, and the ocean-going freighters that come all the way up the St. Lawrence Seaway from Montreal, all seek places to dock and unload. That’s why our ports and trade papers track the drought and the fate of those immense industrial wheat and corn farms of the Great Plains. There is concern for water in this year's heartland weather forecasts. They read like carbon copies of weather reports from a parched 2012. Shipping here may grow because shipping on the Mississippi River slowed this past winter, in the very season when the Mississippi’s water is usually high enough to float the produce of the heartland south to New Orleans and thence on to the world. But now, the Mississippi struggles. In the Great Lakes basin, our quantity becomes quality where water is concerned, even as the overall quantity of fresh water elsewhere in America becomes a crisis, as it is at the end of the Mississippi, where rice farmers have been told not to expect permission to flood their fields in the usual way, because supplies of fresh water are low in the center of America—low in the Midwest, low in the West, low in the Southeast, and, sadly, worryingly, shrinking here in the Great Lakes, too. At the moment, there is not that same sense of crisis here on the blue border. Eyebrows are raised at the thought that now, after decades of population decline and economic stress here where the water freezes, the sunny South, especially the parched and baking Plains and Mississippi Valley, 32 BCM 31

and most especially high-growth Texas, may suffer reversal due to their lack of what we still have in vast abundance. Less water elsewhere means that the fragile, irreplaceable Great Lakes become more and more precious, and potentially, a comparative advantage that could recalibrate the economic trajectory of the Rust Belt. But let the eyes under those hopeful brows stay focused on that other new reality, that less water inside these inland seas means the new advantages of our endless water may well be illusory. For our waters are indeed troubled.

LOW WATER There have been some close calls, and now there are new threats. In 2008, the Great Lakes states joined with the Canadian provinces Ontario and Quebec to re-ratify the Great Lakes Compact. There is a long roster of signatories, namely state governors and provincial premiers, as well as the John Hancock of one George W. Bush. This is a model compromise treaty that bears the fingerprints of every industry group and political faction, and even exhibits some environmentalist input. But green concerns remain: implementing even

the compromises of the agreement hasn’t yet been achieved. In 2011, the National Wildlife Federation issued a careful, well-regarded, sensible and alarming report entitled The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Implementing the Great Lakes Compact that focused much of its energy on the problem known as Ohio. The compact itself almost didn’t get signed because of Ohio. That’s because pro-industry groups there almost succeeded in getting their way with a new state law that would have radically increased the amount of Lake Erie water that a company could withdraw, in utter defiance of the idea that BCM 31 33

made the compact a reality: the idea that the Great Lakes as a whole are a bi-national resource—a commons, that need serious protection as a limited-quantity, perishable commodity. That take-all-you-want legislation actually passed the state legislature, but was vetoed by Ohio’s governor. The threat came back in 2012 with the advent of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” in the natural gas industry. This particular process requires massive quantities of fresh water to be injected into shale formations deep underground in order to recover the otherwise unrecoverable natural gas, and the process is one-way where fresh water is concerned, because once the water is injected, it cannot be returned whence it came. The largest newspaper in Cleveland opined in late 2012 that “the state [of Ohio] must be fresh water’s toughest steward,” but the new law that Ohio’s governor signed in 2012 allows industrial users to take up to 2.5 million gallons of water per day from Lake Erie without a permit, and more than 89 million gallons a day from all sources— including aquifers, rivers and streams—which are all tied into a system that is key to maintaining Lake Erie’s level. In a curious case of a blatant conflict-of-interest that is excused as proof that the law can’t be bad for the common resource, the bill’s chief sponsor happens to own a bottled water company that uses Lake Erie water. He needs clean and plentiful fresh water to run his business, so the reasoning went, so how could he have a conflict with the idea of greater use? The fracking lobby was delighted. Though scientists and long-term civil servants testified about Lake Erie’s water levels having dropped already, there has been great controversy over whether falling water levels are a permanent negative trend or just the side effect of a cyclical natural process. Be logical, industry countered: Lake Erie levels went down in 2012 even before this bill went into effect, and water levels are expected to go down some more in 2013—not because we’re taking more, but because of all that dredging way, way upstream in Illinois. Implementing the terms of the compact does indeed mean finding a solution for Illinois, even as Ohio adversaries battle on. At the very base of Lake Michigan is the great metropolis of Chicago, where the Chicago River was re-engineered a century ago so that its flow into the lake was reversed. The quantity of water in Chicago’s eponymous river grew, but not the quality of that water, as all the sewage of Chicago has, for a century, been flushing southward into a body of water called the Sanitary and Ship Canal. 34 BCM 31

Every day, two billion gallons of Lake Michigan water are flushed into that river/canal system. About 70 percent of the flow of the Chicago River consists of “treated” sewage, except on rainy days, because Chicago—like Cleveland, Buffalo, Detroit, Syracuse, and most other Rust Belt cities— has a combined sewer-overflow system. That means that the storm sewers that collect rain and snow-melt overflow many times every year, and when they do, the storm water mixes with raw sewage, and the mix goes untreated into the rivers, streams, and eventually—or directly—into the Great Lakes, except for the flow that runs into the Chicago River. But that may change because of the great drought in the heartland. The great Chicago flushing could come to an end soon because water levels in Lake Michigan are lower than ever before in the 100 years that they’ve been measured. That means that gravity may kick in and send all that sewage that is currently flushed into the Chicago River and its Sanitary and Ship Canal flowing the other way, into Lake Michigan. The lake is where Chicago draws its drinking water. And then there is the dredging problem. Historic low levels in Lakes Michigan and Huron are also due to the work that gets done by great earth-moving machines around the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair, which together comprise the comparatively small body of water that connects Lake Huron with Lake Erie near Detroit. The Army Corps of Engineers dredges to keep the fleet of lake freighters hauling freight through that pass, but water levels have dropped so radically that many ports in the state of Michigan simply cannot function. Along with the drought and the lower-than-normal precipitation, dredging gets blamed for low-water levels. The port's crisis is so great that the anti-tax, anti-spending governor of that state asked his legislators for help in putting more taxpayer money into deepening the harbors so that the big freighters can dock once again. Deepening the harbors will have to continue to happen if water levels continue to go lower. Placing blame—and choosing where to spend public money to help the waters continue to flow—is a complicated endeavor. The 2009 report of the International Joint Commission found that climate change had more to do with water levels than dredging did. “Climate is the main driver of lake level relationships over time,” it said. Reduced precipitation “contributed to a substantial decline in net water supplies to Lakes Michigan [and] Huron in the most recent decade.”

Warmer weather, less winter ice, less snow and less rain: these can’t be easily fixed. But the shipping industry wants action and wants it now, and lobbies hard with its own reports, including a 2012 peer-reviewed study that should make green-thinking people want to hug freighter captains and hold up banners for steamship companies. This study found that the Great Lakes fleet carried as much freight as 3 million train trips in 2010. The freighters are seven times more fuel-efficient than trucks, and if it were necessary to replace the fleet with trucks alone, greenhouse gas emissions would rise more than 500 percent. The industry’s message is expectable and understandable: we’re greener than trucks, and even a tiny bit greener than trains, and it’s good that we’re here, and it would be awfully expensive to replace us...and all we want is just a little more dredging here and there.

DIRTY WATER Lake levels now are lower everywhere. The problem is acute in Lakes Michigan and Huron, with Canadian vacation-home owners on Georgian Bay and Canadian resorts there deeply concerned about shorelines that keep receding to expose the pink, red, and black granite of the Canadian Shield, some of the earth’s most ancient rock. They’re troubled. Shippers are troubled. Port operators are troubled. And so are people who need the water to be clean. A partial list: consumers of drinking water in Quebec, Ontario, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York; industrial users in all those jurisdictions; swimmers, boaters, homeowners. Humans, in short, need the lakes to be clean. But of course, after the Oct. 26, 1825 opening of the Erie Canal in Buffalo’s harbor, when Governor DeWitt Clinton scooped up a milk pail of Lake Erie water that he poured into New York Harbor nine days later, one of the greatest population explosions in human history has occurred. With that, came an increase in the intensity of agricultural usage of the lands in the Great Lakes watershed—logging, mining, shipping, industry, human habitation and all the usages that that has involved. And now that some of the 19th and 20th century smoke-belching and water-tainting industrialization has dwindled, old effluent remains in the form of toxic sludge that has to be removed or contained, and brownfields that have to be remediated, or capped. But the two most daunting, expensive, difficult-to-manage issues facing the blue seas today don’t have much to do

with old steel mills or manufacturing plants. What keeps biologists and engineers, legislators and budget-makers and environmental administrators alike working long hours are the very different issues of managing our own excrement while also fighting alien invaders. Good news for all the Great Lakes, though, came in 2009. That is when the Obama Administration’s initiative on water quality was enacted by Congress, putting both new money and new scientific muscle into addressing both these problems. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, even when its funding was cut back in the 2011 budget, still amounts to more support for water-cleanup projects than the Bush Administration committed in its entire eight years. Local governments have been making major investments in cleanup, too. In Detroit, there is a wide-ranging new plan to manage its vast acreage of vacant and abandoned land such that Detroit has not only a “green” future, but also so that its water can be “blue” again. Ditto Cleveland and Syracuse, two cities that are thinking and acting jointly with their surrounding county governments to create regional, watershed-wide improvement in the quality of the water their people rely on. Cleveland’s approach to fixing the problem of runoff is not a go-it-alone infrastructure program, but rather a partnership in the $2 billion Northeast Ohio Regional plan. The Onondaga County Executive in Syracuse won national recognition in 2012 as Governing Magazine’s elected official of the year for having led a city-suburban-rural, all-hands-in initiative to use green infrastructure––catchment ponds, permeable pavement, fenced ditches, even rain barrels––to divert rainwater so that it replenishes the groundwater and the snow-melt rather than overflowing the sewers, poisoning the rivers, and washing more crap into Lake Oneida and eventually Lake Ontario. Last year saw fast work in dredging toxic sediments out of the Buffalo River, that twisting, winding stream that is lined with majestic grain elevators percolating with new art, investment and community energy. The community knows that the water that flows past them is on the mend. The EPA also came to an agreement with the Buffalo Sewer Authority in 2012, and the result is a long-term commitment to fix the old problem of 68 combined-sewer “outfalls”—a pleasant-sounding term for open pipes that spew stinking water into the Buffalo River, Buffalo Harbor, the Black Rock Canal, and the Niagara River whenever it rains. BCM 31 35

Buffalo’s future will see a sharp shrinkage from the 4 billion gallons of raw sewage it currently releases into the Great Lakes basin, in part because Buffalo, too, will use permeable pavements, rain gardens, catchment basins, fenced ditches, and other green infrastructure to let the water that runs to the lake take the old route, the cleaner route, than through the sewer system.


The communities along Hennepin's river are making very different choices about

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A group of economists and real-estate scholars at the Wharton School published a county-by-county projection of where the American people would be living in the year 2030 and beyond. They built a computer model with 28 variables; among these was a factor they termed “adjacency to a Great Lake.” Their model projected declines in the population of every metropolitan area in the Great Lakes region except Chicago. A preliminary test of their model arrived recently with the latest data from the United States Census, and here’s the result: they were correct. The population of the Great Lakes region as a whole is getting older, and it’s getting smaller. But perhaps these cities are getting smarter. One indication that that might be so is the growing recognition that agriculture—water-conserving, runoff-avoiding, urban and near-urban agriculture on a new scale—is going to be part of the economic future of those cities that remain regional centers of higher education, medical services, finance and administration, and maybe even the homes of the new brand of three-dimensional printing that President Obama sees as America’s best hope for a renaissance of manufacturing. And then there are the urban waterfronts. Chicago’s wellmeaning river-reversing leaders were preceded, luckily, by urban-planning geniuses who decided that the 21 miles of Chicago’s lakefront really did need to stay green, public, and accessible. It remains the signature urban interface with the Great Lakes. More recently, Milwaukee reclaimed waterfront land from industrial decay expressly for public use—some of it high-density, some of it low-intensity. Cleveland planners decided to leave much of the waterfront accessible mainly by automobile, and stuck the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum at the lakeside with the rest of the city still focused on the Cuyahoga River. But downstream, in little Erie, Pa., the brick Victorian old city enjoys a low-impact seasonal festival on its piers

and walkways. Presque Isle, a forested sandspit, is the only sizeable American territory that contains the large, intact Carolinian forest on Lake Erie's north shore. North, on Lake Ontario, the urban waterfront in Hamilton is bifurcated in a manner that preserves and demonstrates the centrality of the Great Lakes basin to its prosperity. Hamilton’s steel industry is smaller, but it chugs along, with big freighters bringing lignite just past the Burlington Bridge, but leaving the rest of the city’s waterfront to a new park and to old rail yards that may become yet more park if they aren’t snapped up first by real-estate developers craving a waterfront venue for high-end condos. A rarity in Burlington Bay: a sprawling, various, signature adaptive re-use of what was once brown waterfront industrial devastation, rail yards and quarries, but is now the Royal Botanical Gardens—2,450 acres of gardens of every style, with a huge freshwater marshland restoration project, and an arboretum that takes hours to walk, all fronting a bay that used to deposit everything foul into Lake Ontario. Back upstream, there is Buffalo’s ongoing debate about its own waterfront. Federal regulators forced a decision about cleanup for the city’s sewers, though the scientists at Buffalo State College who study invasive species, the strange foreign weeds and the aggressive Pontic and Caspian fish species, report that most of the high bacteria-count in the Buffalo Harbor—right near the city’s drinking-water intake— results from agricultural and sewer runoff far, far upriver. The discussion underway about the waterfront is hardly ever about the cleanliness of the water—except when the beaches at Woodlawn and downtown close due to sewage contamination. The discussion is about development. The Chicago example of the city’s entire lakefront “front yard” being a park has been gaining some ground in Buffalo. The Toronto example of its Toronto Islands Park, a small archipelago that works beautifully as a seasonal attraction, accessible by ferries that run April through October, is thought by Buffalo leaders as too foreign and too far, even though the cities are only 100 miles apart. Right across the Niagara River, not much more than a mile from the rowing shells stored at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Fontana Boathouse at the West Side Rowing Club, Buffalo watches the sun set over the first mile of the 35-mile-long Niagara River Parkway, that ribbon of green that connects old Fort Erie with Niagara-on-the-Lake. It is a continuous band of publicly accessible, walkable, wildlife-filled riverfront land, edged by marinas and golf courses

their waterfronts, their water quality, and their regional economic future.

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and historic sites, all administered by one single Niagara Regional Parks Commission. On the American side, there are two counties, three cities, the towns of Grand Island, Tonawanda, Niagara, and Lewiston all sitting as official members of something called the Niagara Greenway Commission that annually dishes out several million dollars made available from a perpetually replenished pot of Niagara Power Project money; money that is spent not on a unified plan for a connected, unified green ribbon of public waterfront land, but on a town project here, a town project there, in a manner that devours the funds but leaves but little of regional consequence. And curiously, there is but little mention of the United States government in the eastern end of the basin. There is neither a national lakeshore nor national park on Lakes Ontario or Erie, except for Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River Valley Park. The Battle of Lake Erie was arguably as important to defining the American-Canadian relationship, and each nation’s identity, as was the warfare conducted on that other waterway—the Baltimore Harbor—an account of which became the “Star Spangled Banner,” or on the Canadian side of the Niagara River, where commemorations of the War of 1812 will continue almost every week until the bicentennial of the war’s end in 2015. The communities along Hennepin’s river are making very different choices about their waterfronts, and about their water quality, and about their regional economic futures. A 2008 Brookings Institution study suggested that the value of restoring Great Lakes waterfront land, including the brownfields that line most of the rivers that empty into the cities of Detroit, Toledo, Sandusky, Cleveland, Erie and Buffalo, could be as high as $26 billion. That thinking informed the Obama Administration’s decision to seek, and for Congress to grant, the initial $450 million of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The idea is that the very quality of the water, and the uniquely huge quantity of its supply, could once again be central to the economy of a region that has been characterized as the first American casualty of globalization. Not far from Buffalo, only 20 minutes by car, the seasonal global commerce that connects the port cities of inner North America with the economies of Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa gets underway as soon as Lake Erie’s ice is out. The annual ritual of pulling that chain-linked series of steel tanks known as the Ice Boom happens in April. It lets slip all that’s left of the ice whose start ends and whose end starts the Great Lakes shipping season. That 20-minute 38 BCM 31

drive west into southern Ontario takes one to a man-made river called the Welland Canal, or rather, to one of four iterations of the Welland Canal, the one that still connects the world to us through our water. As the ice slips under the Peace Bridge on its way to Niagara Falls and then on into Lake Ontario, so begins the spring in a region of the world whose people like what they see—though there be ever fewer of us—and need what most can see from our downtowns. Shortly after the freighters resume their routes, the sailors set out on the water, and soon enough, the rowers, too. They take to the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, and then to the Black Rock Canal, where the ice lingers longer, and even later to the Lincoln Park lagoon and to the shell-friendly waters around Detroit. But the real action for rowers in the Great Lakes basin comes when that sweet lake water from Lake Erie is warm and ready in the old Welland Canal. When that happens, the formidable athletes from Toronto and Hamilton, from Detroit and Cleveland, from Buffalo, from Rochester, and from the old Lake Ontario port of St. Catharines, too, come together on one of the old, narrow channels of an earlier portion of the Welland Canal, a place where the core defining wealth that created these two nations is still in sweet, fresh abundance. Rowers work so very, very hard on the surface of that plentiful, clear, cool water; water in whose shallow draughts course invaders, pollutants, and the threat of disappearance that is impossible to conceptualize, but which we have already measured. It is indeed a sweet place to be in every season, but especially then.

TITLE CITATION “Hennepin’s River” comes from

Fr. Louis Hennepin, who in 1679 or so traveled upstream from Montreal to Ontario, saw Niagara Falls, built the Gryphon and sailed it up Lake Erie to Detroit, then down Lake Michigan. In his account of his travels, he first labeled where he was as one continuous St. Lawrence River.

IMAGE CREDIT Map of North America, Fr. Louis Hennepin, 1698, second edition. Public domain.

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AT THE END OF A FAST DAY, or the beginning of a

slow one, there are fewer things more worthy of a relaxed sigh and grateful smile like a comfortable chair and a good book. One cradles us in its safe, assuring arms; the other releases us into our imaginations. In their collaboration, we are more relaxed, less redundant, more useful, less scared—better, in any case. But not automatically. Not just because. It matters what chair you’re sitting in and what book you’re reading. Your ability to float away is aided by an attention to detail so calculated, magnificent even, that you may not even notice it. And yet, it all works. Our enjoyment of their byproducts is not a passive one, either. We need these everyday things to be great as much as we need them to exist in the first place. 44 BCM 31

Of course, we don’t always have the best available to us. It’s not every day we’re reclining in a $6,700 Eames lounge chair, flipping Faulkner’s pages with a breeze. Regardless of marketplace value, or best-of rank, our love of these premier products is still subjective. What quality looks and feels like is always up for debate; that it should be present is not. To better understand this distinction, we talked with two designers driven specifically by the pursuit of quality. We wanted to know more about their work, getting inside not just their choice of materials, but their process and theory. We discussed criteria for excellence: thoughtful design, critical assessment, skilled construction, progressive standards. Expectedly, they talk about their creations as if living, breathing parts of everyday life, full of idealistic comfort

Fritton at one of WNYBAC's prized printers. Photo by Max Collins

Printing at the Western New York Book Arts Center. Studio photos by Steve Soroka

and impressionistic beauty. They make the things that we rely on every day, only they make them better. Rasmus Fasting is an architect and furniture designer in Copenhagen, Denmark, who, with partner Julie Thorsø Hansen, also an architect, created a chair and other furniture for the Aalborg Airport. It is sleek and minimal; not the epitome of cushiony comfort, but responsible and simple. These traits, Fasting says, are the principles of quality design. Chris Fritton is a printer and bookmaker in Buffalo, NY. As studio director of the Western New York Book Arts Center (WNYBAC), he leads the production of all things ink-pressed, saddle-stitched, screenprinted, and otherwise paper-oriented. Fritton’s approach is about process, where he can understand his products in theory as well as in practice.

A chair and a book: two simple, ordinary objects whose proper design poses some big questions: what is quality, exactly, and how much of it can we get? IN A FORMER MILLINERY, and then dress company,

and then clothing store, and later offices for an independent Jewish newspaper, today sits WNYBAC’s operations. Its location is fitting, considering the legacies harbored within, the craftspeople whose hands touched the things this city used to wear and read. Today, printed art is produced, exhibited, sold and studied here. Greeting cards, gig posters, business cards, the occasional wedding invitation, and plenty of books— these are some of the tactile things still produced by hand. Their digital versions haven’t taken over—not yet. The value of each letter and word is more clearly arBCM 31 45

Good quality is not only good handcraft and good materials, it is also good, timeless design that can last for many decades. Rasmus Fasting

ticulated by a process that demands appreciation. By understanding its intricacies, Fritton and the team here believe, we can understand its worth in our increasingly fast world. His perspective on quality, quantity and value is informed by years as a poet, who in college would make his own books to publish the things he wrote. His argument is thus more consequential than digital-versus-analog. It has to do with purpose and passion versus complacency and indifference. “At a certain point, I think it started to become just as much about the craft as it was the product. My original intention was to make a better product, and then it shifted, at some point in time, to be better at the craft,” says Fritton. “I understood that it would be incidental that I would get a better product.” 46 BCM 31

A better product would entail making a book whose paper would hold the words’ ink in a more deliberate way, not just containing his writing but housing it. “I think that the book for me is always envisioned as a structure as well as content. I see the thing as a unified project, and I do have an end result in mind,” says Fritton. This is sometimes easier said than done. “I occasionally face resistance, whether it’s from the materials or something else, where it can’t be executed maybe exactly as I imagined. I might not forget about the content, but it can definitely post other problems. Especially if I want it to look a certain way and I already have that in mind. The words will fall to the side. I focus on the words in a more controlled and studied way, which can lead to revisions. Once the object is nearing completion, I’ll look at the content that I’ve spent so

Julie Thorsø Hansen and Rasmus Fasting designed minimalist furniture for the Aalborg Airport in Denmark. Photo courtesy Rasmus Fasting and Julie Thorsø Hansen

much time with and by then I know, 'Oh, this line is no good. That’s because I had to wrestle with it for weeks to make the object. I never would have known that if I had Xeroxed it.” Minding both the content and format gives bookmaker Fritton an insight into writer Fritton. When they listen to each other, the overall product is elevated. “It’s a more intimate relationship with the words themselves. When you’re actually constructing the elements that construct the words by putting the pieces of moveable type together, they put you in this weird contemplative space where you physically build that word. When you physically build the word, sometimes it feels like the wrong word, and I would have never known that if I was just handwriting that, or just typing that into the laptop,” says Fritton.

The digital divide is a huge player in a conversation about printing. In Fritton’s world, he notes the popularity of faux-handcrafted aesthetics in digital production. What can be made by hand can also be re-appropriated on the computer, and reprinted faster and cheaper. But as Fritton notes, misconceptions about what looks handmade and what is handmade goes back, long before the computer was even a factor. “People think letterpress is about the impression on soft paper, which strangely enough is completely contradictory compared to traditional letterpress process," says Fritton. "If I looked at something on Etsy right now, and I saw it marked as ‘Letterpressed,’ it would be completely debossed, or indented, in a soft page,” but that’s not necessarily true to the standards of letterpress quality. “Printing like that was actually the worst kind of BCM 31 47

Danish design is motivated by simplicity. Julie at work on a cleaner chair. Photo courtesy Rasmus Fasting and Julie Thorsø Hansen

printing,” says Fritton. “Old printers thought it was terrible because they would be printing on very thin paper, on pages of books, so if you had any impression at all it would push out the other side of the page. When you did that it would make both sides of the pages illegible.” The ideal printing method, the “kiss impression,” would lay the ink on top of the page and not embed it into the paper. The smooth texture was the sign of a superior product, even if it looked less physically touched. “They wanted something perfectly flat, and that to them was the perfect print­—the most amazing print.” Where today’s consumers are concerned, the promise of authentic handmade goods is alluring, especially in a post-millennial D-I-Y culture. With entire stores and brands built on this handmade aesthetic, an assumption of authenticity is made, that these products were made with the same attention and care as a manual process. The distinction is obvious except when it comes to products that are purposefully distressed or aged. This faux-handling can appear to exploit consumers’ expectations of something authentic. “We need something to announce itself as handmade, because a digital object doesn’t really announce itself. 48 BCM 31

And if it doesn’t announce itself as handmade, we will assume it is a digitally made object or an object made with digital assistance,” says Fritton, who points to a different objective in deciphering the real from the fake. “If you buy that thing that you thought was handmade and isn’t handmade, then you feel duped. But if you’re thinking about the sort of love and time investment on the side of cultural production, then my only concern is whether or not that person is deeply engaged with what they’re doing.” Mass production creates this conundrum, in America at least. But in Denmark, and certainly plenty of other parts of Europe (and the rest of the world), quality is dictated by quantity. The logic there suggests that the fewer items you produce and own, the higher the need for quality in them. This drives quality-focused design, from buildings and homes right down to tables and chairs, as Fasting will tell you. “Good quality is not only good handcraft and good materials, it is also good, timeless design that can last for many decades,” says Fasting. “An Eames chair has the same value today as it had when it was produced many years ago.”

I still like the notion that you can produce something and someone might not immediately understand how it was made. I look for that pause. Chris Fritton “In the design phase, we never considered the number Making products that last requires a consideration of strength and structure, which in Fasting’s interpre- of chairs. Our minds were only set to make this one chair tation means designing with fewer elements—just one perfect, regardless of how many were ordered. In a way it source for a European tendency toward sleek, minimal is even more important to design a good piece when it is aesthetics. “Our general way of designing emphasizes [going to be] produced in a large number,” says Fasting. simplifying, integrating, thinking of objects as a whole, “In this way the impact on society and the environment minimizing material use, and creating subtle, timeless will be better in the long term.” “When we get inspired to design a new object, it is ofdesign,” says Fasting. “This is our view of quality, and ten from a desire to simplify existing products, or intewhat inspires us to design.” grate multiple new functions. We never design thinking But simplicity costs. “We always spend a great amount of time in the design about how many of these pieces we could sell or what the phase. The simplest details take a while to develop. Qual- consumers will be buying.” Denmark is a green nation, a country full of windity takes time,” says Fasting. Fasting and Hansen’s latest project is a big one. They’ve mills. Sustainability is not just a concern here, it is critidesigned furniture for Aalborg Airport, the third-largest cal, both in the quantity of things and the quality of their airport in Denmark. The designers worked in collabora- production. Fasting owes the Danish tendency toward tion with Marcus P Chair, a Danish furniture producer, smaller homes, smaller fridges, smaller cars, smaller suand 2Rand, Paustian, and OK Design. Their work, from permarkets, and fewer things altogether, to the high cost Fasting’s explanation, marries their minimalist philoso- of these things. But with those limitations comes the phy to a dynamic, forward-thinking apparatus. It marks need for quality. “We are generally satisfied with less. We appreciate the an improvement on an established, old-hat, well-worn few things we have,” says Fasting. “If you only have space design. “We realized that terminal seating in airports generally for one chair in your room, this one chair will be carehad a very complex expression—many visually different fully selected, and quality will most likely be one of the components,” says Fasting. “Seating was not designed dominant parameters.” These parameters, of course, reflect poorly on Amerias one piece. Therefore we wanted to try to design an airport terminal seat where all the components and can parameters, which in the most general of terms, are functions were integrated into a single, whole piece, the exact opposite. Fasting does not reference American avoiding many joints, details, parts, etc. The seat has a patterns in his response to this shift, however one can very simple surface, making it easier to clean, with fewer connect the dots. “Consumerism has a negative environmental impact," components to join. There are fewer parts to break, and of course, a very clear aesthetic in a busy airport environ- says Fasting. "People throw away stuff just because it sudment.” The chair also integrates a power source, with denly has the wrong design, gets worn very quickly, or is so cheap that you don’t mind replacing it and paying for charging stations for mobile devices. Producing enough chairs for an entire airport raises a new one. The majority of products generally have a short lifesthe question of quality control. But that’s a matter of pan, thereby materials are thrown away after short usage. production, says Fasting, not design. BCM 31 49

If these products were created in a careful, thoughtful tions of both, we can bridge the gap; this innovation is a way, with consideration of the quality, these materials technological advance, in and of itself. “I think there’s not a mutual exclusivity. I think one would have a much longer lifespan." Time is a particularly romantic argument for qual- provides a template or a framework for another. If I can ity; Fritton’s letterpress work is a perfect example of its sit down with a student, or anyone else, and I can very advocacy. While fewer books are printed today than in clearly discuss with them what a book as a structure recent years, and with the popularity of e-books rising, is about, or how the book as a structure relates to its one might confuse this threat on print publishing as per- content, I think there may be elements in there that they mission to forgo or boycott digital production. Not so, can relate to, something far more modern,” says Fritton. “So that the next time they go on Instagram, they might says Fritton. “The laptop quite literally cannot make me a book. It look at it as a visual narrative and they might understand can’t. It still requires some serious physical equipment. I how to balance their relationship with these new things, can send a PDF off to Lulu [an independent low-run digi- because they’ve been able to balance their relationship tal printing company] and they can print a book, but the with older things. I want to see them working in a remachines they’re using are very mechanical too. The cre- ciprocal way. Study a book because you’ll figure out how ation of that physical object requires physical machinery. the hell to deal with Facebook. You might have a clue, So I always want to see them have interplay,” says Fritton. actually.” In all iterations of these comparisons—digital versus In practical context, he cites a class field trip to the WNYBAC studio during which the teacher—and not analog; many versus few; quality versus quantity—balance is key to authenticity. But so is originality. Fritton’s students—assumes a role reversal. “It’s the teachers that somehow misconstrue it quicker approach is no different than Fasting’s, in this way, nor is than the students,” says Fritton. “Someone will ask about it to any other creative, artistic, design-driven goal. But Kindle, and the teachers will immediately jump in and where Fasting derives his assessment of quality from the [interject], ‘Oh they don’t want to deal with that stuff. solution to a quantifiable need, Fritton’s goals are motiIt’s why they’re doing this.’ And I’m always like, ‘Wait! I vated by the element of creation, stemming back to his spend probably 50 percent of my time designing things roots in poetry. The mystery in both content and structure is part of his definition of quality. on the computer first.’” “I’m still very intrigued by that. I still like the notion That digital-to-analog process is an important step in understanding the role each play in producing high- that you can produce something that someone might quality, handcrafted, technology-driven products. The not immediately understand how it was made. It sounds ridiculous, but if I could letterpress something, or I two can coexist. “I [reference] the relationship between the digital and could sew the binding and pick that book up, and think, the analog, that there’s no way these stand against one This is strange—when it’s strange it causes you to pause another. These things hold hands in every single moment. and take note of it,” says Fritton. “I look for the pause.” The bottom line, though, still applies. Fasting’s paramI can use them to advance every project that I’m doing,” says Fritton. “There's some sort of vacuum in there. If you eters of quantity are applicable to Fritton’s principles of don’t know about the structure of a book, you [begin to] quality; quality wins, above all else. “I would love to say that some of my smaller books that incompletely assess something.” This vacuum—a gap between appreciating quality of were made in an edition of 100 would be just as valuable the past and understanding quality of the future—is if they were all made consistently, even if we made 1,000, confounded by rapidly advancing technology and newer or we made 10,000,” says Fritton. “I like to give something a sense of preciousness based avenues for quality control. Digital platforms like Facebook and Instagram, which sell the promise of mean- on the physical material itself, as well as the content ingful, authentic experiences with our media, in quick, itself. It’s just as important to me that those words were passing moments of interaction, are not the enemy to in that specific book. If there were 100 of them, or 1,000 the analog, worn-in, coffee-and-book-in-morning chair of them, I’m hoping that someone with the 1,000th copy experience. But by understanding the merits and limita- would think it was just as precious.” 50 BCM 31

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Thank You for Shopping "Bruce desires, more than anything else, to lead. This is not a selfish craving. He cares about the Giant Eagle. He wants it to be better. He has ideas." by E.R. BARRY


ruce was the number one grocery clerk at the Northern Cambria Giant Eagle. This dreary title was bestowed upon him at the completion of his 20th year of service to the supermarket in a ceremony that lasted no longer than four minutes and was attended by no fewer than a half-dozen of his coworkers. It was etched into a plastic plaque and presented to him by the front-end supervisor, Debbie, in the staff break room on a sticky hot Tuesday afternoon. “Bruce has worked at the Giant Eagle for longer than any of us,” Debbie declared over the whirring of four box fans and the beeping of the microwave. “And he will probably be here long after we are all gone.” She handed Bruce the plaque and shook his hand. “We appreciate all you do, Bruce.” Bruce smiled for a photo that Debbie snapped on a disposable camera and reflected on his career. He knew more about that store than anyone else, having joined the ranks of Giant Eagle cashiers while he was still a junior in high school. He had seen something like a hundred coworkers come and go over the years, but through it all he would remain a constant. You could always count on Bruce—to show up, to provide excellent customer service, and to enthusiastically complete any menial task you asked of him, including and especially 56 BCM 31

those outside of his job description. At least two, but no more than five people clapped. Someone, probably one of the cart boys, chuckled. The new deli counter clerk apologized as he squeezed through the crowd to get his Lean Pocket out of the microwave. Sylvia, the store’s 72-year-old customer service manager and the only person Bruce had ever considered a friend, in or outside of work, shuffled into the room and snatched a hot pink miniature cupcake off the sink counter. “Sorry I’m late,” she muttered as she unwrapped the cupcake. “We had a lotto winner. Two hundred bucks. Wanted it all in singles.” Sylvia freed the treat from its lining and tossed it in her mouth. She grimaced as she gummed the cupcake, crumbs dropping out of her mouth and onto the floor. “Jesus, when were these baked, last month?” She coughed. “Sylvia,” Debbie said pointedly. “You know we use day-olds for these things. And quiet. This is Bruce’s day.” Bruce smiled. It was his day. He was fine with the day-olds. He had expected nothing more than day-olds. He had been there longer than anyone, and he would be there long after they were all gone. He was the number one grocery clerk at the Northern Cambria Giant Eagle.

illustrations by JULIE MOLLOY

But today would be different. Today would be the day that These are the facts he rattles off to Sylvia in the parking lot eight months later, shortly after she relays to him second- Debbie wouldn’t show up for work and Bruce would be made “acting front-end manager.” It will only be for the day, he sushand news that Debbie has not shown up for work yet. Sylvia listens obediently as she sucks on a menthol Parlia- pects, but nonetheless it will be an opportunity to prove that he is capable of more than record-breaking items-per-minute ment. “You’re right, kid. You’re the only logical choice.” stats, reliably positive customer comments, and the hard“Do you think I have a shot?” Bruce asks. “Shoot, buddy, this is your golden ticket.” She tosses the earned right to call himself Southeastern Pennsylvania’s top cigarette butt in a snow bank and opens the back door of her competitive grocery bagger of 2003. He has thought about this a great deal, mostly during the hypnotherapy sessions his Corolla. “I’ll talk to Wayne.” Wayne is the store manager. He worked his way up from mother bought him for his birthday, and he has come to the stock boy, and this is something he does not want people to conclusion that he will no longer be satisfied to live his life as forget. On his first day as store manager, he nobly removed a mere exemplar. It feels good to be memorialized on VHS as the nameplate from his office door and had it replaced with a “good example of how to properly handle perishable foods one he had special-ordered to read “Stock Room.” This is a when the customer doesn’t want them anymore” during new private inside joke between himself and anyone who cares to employee training, sure, but it isn’t good enough. Bruce desires, more than anything else, to lead. This is not memorize his career highlights, a group that mostly includes Wayne and Bruce. It has caused a lot of confusion among the a selfish craving. He cares about the Giant Eagle. He wants it staff, especially for new employees, who often enter his office to be better. He has ideas. Wayne is waiting for Bruce and Sylvia when they walk by mistake when checking on an out-of-stock item for a custhrough the automatic doors. “I have some bad news, gang,” tomer, or looking for a quiet place to smoke a joint. Bruce gazes up at the graying sky and pulls his parka zip- he says. “Already know. Sylvia told me on the way,” Bruce admits. per up to his chin. He offers to carry Sylvia’s purse and insu“Well, I guess news travels fast!” Wayne glances meaninglated lunch bag. Into the store they go, arm in arm, the way fully at Tanya, who shrugs as she organizes the gum by color. they had countless mornings before this one. BCM 31 57

“Oh please,” Sylvia howls. “Wayne, give the girl a break. You get the whiff of something exciting happening in this godforsaken shit hole, of course you’re gonna talk.” As the oldest Giant Eagle employee, and therefore the least likely to be fired, Sylvia has very few misgivings about saying whatever she wants. “I don’t think ‘exciting’ is the wisest choice of words there, Sylvia. Something might be terribly wrong. A no-call-noshow is not like Debbie,” Wayne chides. “Neither is going out on a Monday night,” Tanya says nonchalantly, twisting straw-like strands of bleach blond hair between her manicured fingers. “She was wasted.” “You two went out?” Wayne is skeptical. Tanya nods as she slides the Winterfresh into place, completing the gum rainbow. “She’s probably hung over.” “Well. I’m giving her another hour and then we’ll see.” “We’ll see what?” Bruce tries not to sound too eager, which only makes him sound over-eager to an unnerving degree. Wayne winces. He knows what Bruce is getting at, but he’s not willing to give him any kind of real responsibility. Bruce is a fantastic cashier, yes, Wayne admits. But he would not make a good manager. Holding a leadership position in a small-market grocery store requires a skillset Bruce does The morning goes relatively well. Steve and Rhonda are not possess—namely a commanding physical presence and an implicit understanding of just how little your job matters. veteran cashiers and do not need much direction. Rhonda often forgets to periodically wipe down her belt, but a quick “We’ll just. We’ll see.” Bruce shuffles to the break room and swaps his parka for reminder sets her straight. The store is still practically vacant, the apron that hangs in his locker. He sets his lunch—a pre- which should give everyone time to prepare for the big rush, cooked hot dog wrapped in tin foil—in the fridge and heads Bruce announces. He encourages them to use their time for the accounting office, where he will pick up his till for wisely—prepare paper and plastic bags so you won’t have to the day. Wayne sees him pass by his office and calls his name. make them on the go; check your receipt tape supply; brush “Bruce,” Wayne says, gesturing frantically for him to come up on your produce codes. No “Soap Opera Digest,” Rhonda. in. “You have to watch the front end for a bit. I don’t know For Pete’s sake, you haven’t even categorized your re-shop items. what’s going on, but I have to go and take Tanya to talk to the And Steve, I saw you opening a penny roll during that last transaction; let’s try to get those things ripped open in the downtime, police. They think Debbie is dead.” “Dead?” Wayne pulls his jacket down from the hook on the please. “Come on guys,” he says, walking toward the back of the back of the door. “Her daughter just called. She said something about Deb- checkout lines and waving his limp arms over his head. bie being missing, and finding a body, and can anyone who “Bring it in. Huddle up.” Steve shares a look of confusion with Rhonda, peering was with her last night please come down to the police staover his right, then left shoulder. tion immediately.” “Uh, Bruce. We’re the only ones working right now.” “They think she died?” Bruce does not care about that. “Listen, gang, we did a “In all honesty I don’t know. I couldn’t get much out of her.” great job this morning getting prepared. We’re ready for the “Dead?” “Steve and Rhonda will be here soon,” Wayne says as he lunch rush, but we shouldn’t waste time. Let’s brainstorm. grabs his keys off the desk and turns to leave. “Bruce,” he says. Let’s get the ideas flowing.” “Brainstorm what?” Rhonda asks. “I’m trusting you to keep it together here.” “What else can we do? How can we help out around the “Yes sir,” Bruce says. He takes a deep breath, as if to salute. store?” “Yes sir.” 58 BCM 31

“Well, I don’t think we should do anything, because what if ly perfectly teased hair pulled back in a banana clip, her face bare except for a thin outline of lip liner, she is resurrected. a customer comes?” Steve has a point. Rhonda agrees. “Yeah, no, I’m not doing anything other From the grave to the front end, in less than three hours. “Hey Bruce,” she says, nudging him out from behind the than cashing. They want me to do two jobs, they can pay me podium. “Thanks for holding down the fort.” to do two jobs.” “Debbie!” Bruce manages. “What happened?” Bruce is frustrated. He walks back to his podium. This is a “Hung over,” she groans. key moment. They have to respect me. “As it turns out,” Wayne announces as he enters the store, “Rhonda, I want you to check the expiration dates on all “Debbie was just hung over. Debbie’s daughter went to pick the Valentine’s Day candy,” he announces. her up this morning, and she got confused and walked in the “You want me to what?” wrong townhouse. Found a dead body,” Wayne explains. “Do it,” Bruce says. “She wasn’t confused, she was high,” Debbie clarifies. “She Rhonda’s eyes narrow. “Okay, Bruce. I see how it is. Some people, you give ’em a quarter-ounce of power, they turn it has a drug problem. But yes, my neighbor is dead. That’s an into the goddamn presidency.” She saunters down to the per- unsolved mystery.” Wayne slaps Bruce on the back. “Looks like you’ll be back manently out-of-order checkout line 20, where the candies in the trenches, buddy.” are piled sloppily on dusty shelves. “Ow,” Bruce says. “That hurt.” “Steve,” Bruce says. “I want you to make sure every line has a box of tissues under the register. It’s flu season.” “Did you find everything today, sir?” Bruce asks. When the lunchtime rush hits, it hits hard. The lines start A broad-shouldered customer in a track suit piles boxes of to get long. A long line isn’t always bad, Bruce theorizes. Force a customer to wait a few minutes before checking out, Rice-A-Roni on the belt. “Yeah sure,” he responds. Bruce can see his whole life laid out in front of him, a and she is apt to pick up a tube of chapstick. A few more minutes of waiting time, however, can lead to frustration and, timeline that stretches for miles ahead, across health & beauty, winding through the maze of the commercial bakery, worse, negative customer comment cards. bypassing a rack of decade-old seasonal clearance items, and “Let’s pick up the pace, gang,” Bruce encourages. Steve’s scanner is beeping loudly. “What is wrong with heading for the walk-in freezer of meat & poultry, and then this thing?” he asks. Bruce marches over to the register and into nowhere. “Do you have any coupons?” flips open the panel next to the scanner. The wonder of how insignificant most of it was. Thou“Bruce, I need the WIC override code,” Rhonda says. “Just a minute.” The scanner is still beeping. Bruce holds sands of moments so alike they cleave to each other; years so the reset button down and sings the “Happy Birthday” song unremarkable they drift by without notice. “Cash or credit?” aloud to count the seconds. Twenty years of dedicated service to the Giant Eagle and “Can you just tell me the code?” Rhonda asks. only a few days that would really stand out: his first day, his “Absolutely not. That information is classified.” last day, and today. Rhonda rolls her eyes. Steve’s scanner is still beeping. Today, the day he was made acting front-end manager for “Move over to lane 12,” Bruce decides. “I don’t know what’s exactly two hours and forty-five minutes. The day his immewrong with this thing.” “Uh, Bruce?” Steve gestures toward the door, where his diate supervisor almost died, but then didn’t. It was a shining customer is making off with a lint brush and a box of Pop- possibility, a once-in-a-lifetime act of fate—so close he could still taste it, and yet so far gone. Tarts. How many times he will relive this day. “Hey!” Bruce yells. Why didn’t Debbie die? He wants to know. Why couldn’t “Where is Debbie?” a regular customer asks. “We think she died,” Rhonda answers. “Your total is twenty- Debbie have died? He will want to know forever. “Wow, you got it all in one bag,” the customer remarks. two fifty.” “Paper and plastic,” Bruce says as he hands him the receipt. The lunch rush is finally slowing down. Rhonda is filing “I hope you don’t mind me taking the liberty.” “Not at all.” her nails. Steve yawns as the owner of the local bowling alley Bruce smiles. This is good. Being an exemplar. counts out change to pay for his peanut stick donut. “Thank you for shopping.” And then, Debbie. Appearing out of nowhere, her normalBCM 31 59





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