TOWERVIEW DECEMBER 2009
How BoB SCHMitz CaME to DoMinatE tHE DuRHaM REal EStatE MaRkEt
BEST HOLIDAY GIFTS PAGE 16
from the editors S
ome people say that the best gifts are the gifts of self. Or that it’s the thought that counts. We’d like to respectfully disagree. This holiday season, you barely have to think at all: Flip to our twice-checked list of the best gifts to give—a smattering of selections for each of the Twelve Days of Christmas. (Or, to avoid being Christo-normative, the Eight Days of Chanukah, or the Week of
TOWERVIEW Chelsea Allison and Ben Cohen EDITORS-IN-CHIEF
ASSOCIATE EDITOR EXECUTIVE EDITOR
Caroline McGeough ASSOCIATE EDITOR
EDITOR, TV ONLINE
ar t s & let ter s
James Lee, Julia Love, Michael Naclerio, Chase Olivieri, Ian Soileau CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS
Ryan Brown, Julia Love, Kevin Lincoln, Sam Schlinkert CONTRIBUTING WRITERS
business & produc t ion
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TOWERVIEW is a subsidiary of The Chronicle and is published by the Duke Student Publishing Company, Inc., a nonprofit corporation independent of Duke University. The opinions expressed in this magazine are not necessarily those of Duke University, its students, faculty, staff, administration or trustees. Columns, letters and car toons represent the views of the authors. To reach The Chronicle’s editorial office at 301 Flowers Building, call (919) 684-2663 or fax (919) 684-4696. To reach The Chronicle’s business office at 103 West Union Building, call (919) 684-3811. To reach The Chronicle’s adver tising office at 101 West Union Building, call (919) 684-3811 or fax (919) 684-8295. Contact the adver tising office for information on subscriptions. Visit The Chronicle and TOWERVIEW online at dukechronicle.com. 2009 The Chronicle, Box 90858, Durham, N.C. 27708. All rights reserved No par t of this publication may be reproduced in any form without the prior, written permission of the business office. Each individual is entitled to one free copy.
Kwanzaa.) While you’re at it, see those black and white boxes that look vaguely like crosswords? Snap a photo with your iPhone or hold it up to your computer’s webcam, and let our interactive barcodes do your online shopping legwork. Seriously. We’ve kept our suggestions under $500, or less than an individual’s monthly rent in a Bob Schmitz Proper ty, a por tfolio of homes a stone’s throw from East Campus. Associate Editor Caroline McGeough appraises his frat houses—and his business model. Turn to page 20 to examine Durham real estate’s very own market failure. For good measure, we move from Durham to Dakar with a dispatch from abroad. As this issue goes to press, TOWERVIEW Contributing Writer Ryan Brown is spending her first American holiday outside the states. In her piece this month, she wrangles with language, reminding us that sometimes, it’s the power of expression that matters most. (So don’t forget the card.) The denouement of the holidays can be deflating—especially when one considers returning to Duke laden with some home-cooked cushioning. Check out Creative Director Lawson Kur tz’s assessment of how much we walk in a given day. The numbers may surprise you, or, at the very least, they may be dishear tening. You can calculate how much time you need to log on the treadmill from there—and that’s without an extra plate of holiday heapings. Finally, while we’re in the spirit, don’t miss Contributing Writer Julia Love’s visit to a Christmas tree farm in the Duke Forest. It’s slightly surreal. But isn’t that what this month is all about? Bonnes fêtes!
Conta t uS at ContaC firstname.lastname@example.org or send letters to Towerview Magazine, Box 90858, Durham, NC 27708.
VoluME 11, iSSuE 4
BluE DEVil CRoSSinG PAGE 5
He’s memorized your Sanford Deli order, and he knows your name when you pay. Now, find out more about ROGER DUBAY.
tHE DEVil’S DEtailS
A farm of BABY CHRISTMAS TREES in the Duke Forest, the abruptness of SEAN RENFREE’s injury, an open letter from a housekeeper regarding SOCIAL ACTIVITY.
DiSPatCH FRoM DakaR PAGE 18
Studying abroad in a country in which you don’t speak the language? Problem, mon ami. Our woman in AFRICA recounts a semester’s wor th of marriage proposals, price gouging and lingual lapses.
tHE lanDloRD PAGE 22
BOB SCHMITZ might not be the first name you associate with Greek life at Duke. But this Durham keeper of the keys owns so many off-campus properties, maybe his should be.
RoaDSiDE wiSDoM PAGE 30
Former flak to three Duke presidents, JOHN BURNESS now enjoys quieter days as a Sanford “visiting” professor. He keeps a cardboard cutout of himself in his home, which he uses to startle partygoers. It works. Julia loVE is a junior English-Spanish double major from Southern California. As features editor of The Chronicle, she was the proud mother of three fish won at the North Carolina State Fair. In the Spring semester, she’ll return to Madrid, where she also spent her summer.
Junior CHaSE oliViERi is the multimedia editor of The Chronicle. Next semester, this jetsetting public policy major from Puerto Rico will leave the mainland once again to spend the semester in Hawaii.
RYan BRown, a junior Robertson scholar and history major from Colorado, has spent the last year away from Duke, moving from Chapel Hill to South Africa for the summer and Dakar, Senegal for the Fall semester.
on the cover Hours before this issue—our last of the Fall semester—was sent to the publisher, our cover was riding on CHaSE oliViERi and lawSon kuRtz R ’s photo shoot with BoB SCHMitz. The Durham landlord had only one stipulation: that the shoot take place Rtz in front of “one of my beautiful homes.” Olivieri and Kur tz happily obliged. TOWERVIEW
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P H OTO B Y C H A S E O L I V I E R I
MANAGER, SANFORD DELI
P H OTO B Y C H A S E O L I V I E R I
t’s 8:52 a.m. in the Sanford School of Public Policy and that overplayed Lady Gaga song (you know the one) on Sanford Deli’s radio easily drowns out the conversations of the two or three people sitting nearby. Roger Dubay, man manager of the deli, has been awake for nearly three hours, but the deli has not yet seen its first rush of the day. It’s that 6 a.m. wake-up call that’s the worst part of the job, he confides in me, as I remember the first time I met Dubay. Those brownies at the deli called my name as I wandered into the M.C. Escher-esque Sanford building, where I took most of my classes. As I waited in line to pay, Dubay introduced him himself. From that day forward, he took care to greet me sincerely, wondering about my day—even noticing when my name appeared in The Chronicle. At the time, most of my professors didn’t (or couldn’t) make efforts to do that. As the song shifted from Gaga, he began to tell me about how he engages with the students who pass through the deli, despite the fact that they’re almost always scrambling to get to class or ea eager to head home. Even years after their graduation, Dubay can recall the names of students he met during his first year working at Sanford seven years ago. Be Before coming to Duke, Dubay worked at a restaurant in Raleigh—a place more upscale than the deli, where he was re required to say the patron’s name five times during the meal. Now, he takes a glance at students’ DukeCards to thank them while they pay. Born in Frankfurt, Germany, Dubay moved to North Carolina early in his childhood when his father, who was serving in the military, was stationed at Fort Bragg. Since then, he has lived and worked in the area, moving between Ra Raleigh and Durham and Chapel Hill. He admits to this last part in a barely-audi barely-audible whisper, in an attempt to not betray his devotion to the home team. As anyone who has spoken to Dubay during basketball season knows, he bleeds as much blue as any student at attending Duke. “This is the best job I’ve had. Not just because of the basketball players,” he says, joking, though he knows several of them on a first-name basis, “but because of all the students in general. I mean, the students are great.” Dubay may be a hidden asset of the Public Policy major—when memos on cost-benefit analysis begin to pile up, he can offer a “How are you?” and a pickle TOWERVIEW
“This is the best job I’ve had. Not just because of the basketball players,” he says, joking, though he knows several of them on a first-name basis, “but because of all the students in general. i mean, the students are great.” to accompany the club sandwich you’ve just ordered. Dubay started as manager just one year after Sanford was built and has witnessed the changes that building is undergoing: the growing Masters in Public Policy class sizes, the changes in faculty and, most recently, the transformation of the former institute into Duke’s 10th school. And while he says it
can be hard to watch students he grows close to graduate, many come back on visits and reconnect. It’s likely that students in the future will get a chance to do that, too. “I told my boss that I want to retire working at Sanford Deli. And he said, ‘I don’t see any problem with that.’” —CHRiStinE Hall
THE GREEN LIGHT
FooD oR R FlEX?
tHE GREEn liGHt
s I get further into my tenure at Duke, as responsibilities increase and free time dwindles, I find something bizarre happening to me, a selfprofessed health nut: I’m eating worse. Not that I’m eating more—I don’t have the food points to do that. I’m just eating bad food. Lots of McNuggets. Lots of Busch Light. Foods that are the same color as the Gothic architecture. And this means they’re low in vitamins. Vitamins are one of the best examples of how life gets less obviously fun as it goes on. When you’re a little kid, and your life revolves around playing with Tonka trucks and pretending you’re a dinosaur, you don’t need to get your vitamins by way of a sweet car toon-themed chewable delight. Your entire life is a sweet car toonthemed chewable delight. This is the kind of thing you need when you’re a manic young adult, when you usually end up not remembering the most fun you have. This is why the VitaMin watER VEnDinG MaCHinES are the greatest additions to Duke’s campus since Edens Quadrangle. These machines are to the consumption of vitamins what cigarettes are to nicotine: They’ve revolutionized the
process, streamlined it and made it trendy. Although I don’t smoke, I do drink Vitamin Water, and the machines have turned me into an addict. There’s a f lavor for all the common ailments. Let’s say you’re tired. Grab an “energy,” combining the exoticism of tropical citrus with the hear t-stopping boost of guarana. Swine f lu got you down? Drain an “essential,” which packs days’ wor th of vitamin C on top of that revolutionary “orange-orange” taste. (What’s better than one orange, after all? Two!) Plus, it’s got calcium, so if all that radiation from the physics lab turns out to cause osteoporosis, you’re more than prepared. And if you just want that total, Flintstones-on-steroids package, there’s always “multi-v,” the only lemonade-f lavored liquid that’s stocked with vitamins A through zinc. I’m pounding at least one of these a day now, and with a machine in the West Union and one in the BC, it’s like I’ve got my own personal first-aid kit that tastes like flavored water and costs $2 a hit. Now that I think of it, maybe that’s why I don’t have any food points. —kEVin linColn TOWERVIEW
B OT TO M P H OTO : CO U R T E S Y D U K E U N I V E R S I T Y U N D E R C R E AT I V E CO M M O N S L I C E N S E
Don’t ever get the giant cookies from the Loop. Here, bigger is not only not better, it’s disgusting. Instead, tap that plastic case and request the SMall CookiE, the gooey beauty that can be had for a single food point. It’s a good day when they’re just slightly under-done, when the cookie leaves a film of oil in its sandwich-bag wrapper and the chocolate chips smear into an eager eater’s fingers. This is bliss, reminiscent of sneaking a clump of dough off the Tollhouse log in the fridge. Except, we’re pretty sure, without the risk of salmonella. —CHElSEa alliSon
TO P P H OTO : B Y C H A S E O L I V I E R I
our friends are out drinking, and you’ve just walked off the elevator on to the 4th floor of Perkins in pursuit of PS3527.A15 L6 1992 c.2. Off to your left are a few students with their heads buried in their books, and maybe even that girl you’ve always wanted to talk to but never have—her face framed in dir ty blonde curls, one tanned leg tucked under the other, cozied and warmed by soft gray sweatpants. It’s quiet. You star t wandering down the stacks, constantly checking back to your scrap of paper. You think you’ve found the right aisle and suddenly, you’re alone in an alley. The books offer wide patches of cover while still allowing tantalizing peep holes to the outside. By now the silence is heavy and books that probably haven’t been touched in decades are calling out to you, throwing themselves at you. You’ve tunneled. You scaled Baldwin. Maybe you even borrowed a friend’s Jeep and tore around the traffic circle backwards a few times. And now here you are, a senior in Perkins on a Wednesday night at 12:47 a.m., sober, researching a thesis and you’re thinking about it. You can’t not think about it. Bare heels digging into that rough carpet, its passive yellow mustiness begging to be offended, appalled, shocked, violated! Books wobble off the shelves and foreign sounds break the mandated blanket of quiet. Someone might find you. Maybe it’s a sultry librarian. And now you’re thinking about her sexy glasses and pinned back hair discovering you and a par tner up against the shelves and before you know it you’re having yourself a full-fledged fantasy, and congratulations! You’ve just come to the REalization that you could totally have SEX in tHE StaCkS. —SaM SCHlinkERt ER ERt
For one fine day, LAWSON KURTZ strapped a pedometer to his sneakers and kept a running, quantitative tally of everything else he did. From walking around campus, flipping through e-mails on a mobile phone and jumping up and down in Cameron Indoor Stadium, he learned that itâ€™s possible to measure a life in numbers. Engineers, rejoice.
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the devil’s details
O, CHRISTMAS TREE
n January 2008, Jon Shaffer, Joseph Williams and Jesse Leddick, who graduated from the Nicholas School of the Environment last Spring, hatched a plan to grow and sell organic Christmas trees to raise money for the activities of their club and bolster offerings in graduate forestry education. Although all three founders celebrate Christmas, Williams said the spirit of the season wasn’t their primary motivation. Visions of a greener planet danced in their heads. The students sold trees purchased from another farm last winter, raising the funds to plant 300 seedlings in January. The trees should be ready for harvest in about five years, Williams estimated, and 150 more saplings will be planted after Christmas. The Duke Forestry Christmas Tree Farm sold 79 trees last year, raising $1,700, and Nicholas School Dean Bill Chameides was among the customers. Duke Forest Manager Judson Edeburn maintains the two-acre parcel of land where the seeds have been sown. Even a seemingly innocuous task like mowing down the weeds requires great care. “It just takes a lot of concentration to do that without damaging the little guys,” he
said. Eighty-one trees have already been pre-sold this year, and students expect to raise more than $2,000 to reinvest in the farm. Nick DiLuzio, a second-year student in the Nicholas School who inherited the farm from its founders, is a self-described holiday addict who’s already listening to Christmas music. Until visiting local farms, he did not know the holiday foliage is rooted in big business. “We used to go buy a Christmas tree from church every year, but that was about the extent of my knowledge,” DiLuzio said. To hear him tell it, learning how most Christmas trees make it from the farmland to the lot was like learning the truth behind Santa Claus. Commercial farmers raise their saplings with a cocktail of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, DiLuzio said. “Most Christmas tree growers around here, for the most part they’re old white males, stuck in their ways,” he said. “They grow up using chemicals so they swear by chemicals.” DiLuzio said many local farmers have laughed at the students’ plans to raise their
trees organically. “They don’t think it can be done— but we’re going to try,” he said. Protecting the saplings without pesticides has been a challenge, Edeburn said. Students have gotten creative, sprinkling the soil with clippings from Duke Haircutters to suggest the presence of humans. Several trees have been tagged with white stickers to mimic the presence of a deer that has raised its tail in fear. The young trees are also caged in tomato wiring, which keeps hungry deer at a distance most of the year. But Fall is different—Fall is mating season. Many young stags, crazed by hormones, have overturned the protective wiring to release their pent-up sexual frustration, Edeburn explained. Once exposed, the rest of the herd is free to graze. A spindly Leyland Cypress has been bluntly pruned, its branches splintered by a doe’s teeth. It is one of many saplings that have fallen prey to the deer. “Nick needs to get out here pretty soon, pretty soon,” Edeburn said nervously, noting that the trees’ protection needs reinforcing. DiLuzio and his predecessors believe with conviction that respecting Mother TOWERVIEW
P H OTO B Y J U L I A LO V E
DEPT. OF HOME FURNISHINGS
the devil’s details
THE SPORTING SCENE
MEDITATIONS ON AN INJURY
THE HARVARD CRIMSON: 852,000 RESULTS
HITS BY NEWSPAPER
THE DAILY TAR HEEL: 127,000 RESULTS
THE DUKE CHRONICLE: 1,050,000 RESLUTS
Nature is the only way to raise a sapling. If money grows on any tree, it is the Fraser Fir. The quintessential Christmas tree grows easily in the North Carolina mountains and is distributed all over the South to be sold for a hefty price, Edeburn said. But Williams said the students opted to plant native species like the Eastern Red Cedar instead, though they know the trees will fetch a smaller sum. “We liked the idea of creating a local product,” he said. “We thought it would be a good idea to provide trees that would provide a lower carbon footprint.” With a carefully crafted marketing campaign, Williams said the students hope to convince consumers that Christmas trees present a great opportunity to go green. Trees treated with pesticides take a toll on the environment, but the popularity of fake trees has dealt an even bigger blow. Williams doesn’t claim to be a Christmas fanatic. But when he was a little boy, his family always opened gifts around a real Christmas tree. “You go to the store now and see a tree in a box that says ‘Fresh cut Fraser Fir,’” he said. “The fact that advertisers can use those words to describe a tree made in China is ridiculous. We really like the idea of getting people back to what a Christmas tree should be.” Edeburn notes that the Leyland Cypress taking root beneath his feet could serve as a tabletop tree or a six-foot-tall ceiling-scraper. For now, though, the tree is just a sapling, and the students’ plans aren’t fully formed, either. The future Christmas trees are too small to be seen from more than a few yards away, much less turn a profit By the time the trees are ready to be replanted in a living room, DiLuzio will have long graduated. Williams and his co-founders are already far from campus. “As foresters, we have to think long-term in terms of the value of the work that we do now—that’s been trained into us as a professional skill,” Williams said. “Forestry in general, you’re doing certain things to your tree lot, and you’re not going to see the benefits for a long time. That’s the fun of it. It really is fun.” —JULIA LOVE
round 2:23 p.m. on Nov. 14, Pam Ward and Ray Bentley, the ESPN analysts calling Duke’s football game against Georgia Tech, voiced their high impressions of Sean Renfree, the redshirt freshman quarterback who had relieved starter Thaddeus Lewis when Georgia Tech had taken a 42-10 lead in the third quarter. Renfree was in the midst of orchestrating a Blue Devil drive down the field, and as the outcome of the game hadn’t been at stake for quite some time, Renfree’s potential was a natural topic for the commentators’ idle fodder. They needed something to discuss. “There’s not a lot of pressure on him in this instance, and a chance to get out there when the opponent is real and live and very good,” Bentley said. “I’m impressed with Sean Renfree’s arm strength and the quickness with which he delivers the football.” “Got some playing time early this season,” Ward countered. “Four touchdown passes in four games, and an opportunity, we would assume, to go the rest of the game here. We still have more than a quarter
to play.” As Ward spoke, cloistered in a press box high above Wallace Wade Stadium, Renfree read the defense, turned to the two receivers on his right, Conner Vernon and Donovan Varner, and relayed a change to the play by clapping furiously. He took a snap from center Bryan Morgan on a 1st-and-10 at Duke’s 41-yard line. He hopped three steps behind center, and he bounced on the balls of his feet three times, looking for a receiver to free himself on the right side of the field, in front of the opponent’s side line. Georgia Tech’s defensive end, Osahon Tongo, pressured Renfree from the left side, prompting the quarterback to scramble up in the pocket. Renfree, already wearing a brace on his left knee, lunged forward with his right leg, looking for a seam amidst the rushing defenders. The leg snapped back, and Renfree’s right knee slammed the ground. In a freeze-frame, it looked as if Renfree was taking a knee in the victory formation, his body squared toward Duke’s coaches instead of the end zone. The frozen moment did not last.
Renfree’s body coiled back. The ball squirted loose. There was a rush to recover the pigskin, but Morgan took no part in it. He hovered over his quarterback, writhing in the grass, clutching the back half of his right leg. “Oh, he went down!” Ward said. “That looked bad.” A slew of Duke trainers sprinted out to Renfree and broke the circle of teammates that had formed around him. One trainer tried to straighten out the right leg, massaging the back of it as David Cutcliffe stood, hunched at the knees, over his next quarterback protégé. Lewis, the starter, walked out carefully, the player who ventured closest to the semicircle. Soon enough, Renfree limped off the field, surrounded by trainers. By the time Cutcliffe arrived to answer questions from a pack of reporters, hours later, the head coach had processed what he had seen, but still wasn’t quire sure what, exactly, had happened. “Sean Renfree never got touched,” he said. “He just got twisted up on the grass and went down. We’re gonna image him, look
at it, and we’ll see. It’ll be one of those nights when you get phone calls all through the night.” Several minutes later, another reporter raised a question about Renfree’s fall, which Cutcliffe had grouped in with a litany of other injuries. “We’ll see,” he said, resigned. “We’ll find out tonight just how serious it is.” Two days later, it was announced to the public that Renfree had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. The best way to describe a torn ACL, perhaps, is the colloquialism Bentley used as ESPN looped replays from all different angles—his knee simply gave out. Just like that— with one unnatural jerk, one step out of place—and Ward’s assumption about field time seemed foolish, haunting even. Such is the nature of sports. Coaches arrive at the office at 5 a.m., if they remembered to leave the night before, and they start looping film of the next week’s opponent. Hours later, their players arrive, and they execute a multitude of scenarios that might surface, if one game plan perfectly syncs with another, without any sort
MISSED CONNECTIONS (POSTINGS FROM R ALEIGH-DURHAM CR AIGSLIST)
NOVEMBER 2, 11:41 A.M. MEN FOR MEN WILSON REC. CENTER Saw you at the climbing wall with some other cute guys Sunday around 2:00. Thought you were the cutest and think we had some nice eye contact going. Love your glasses. Hit me back if you are interested. Tell me what kind of shoes you had on so I know it’s you. OCTOBER 26, 10:37 P.M. MEN FOR WOMEN DUNKIN’ DONUTS You a UNC beautiful brunette from NH, if I recall correctly, and you were doing your homework at Dunks by Duke today! Sorry I had jet so quickly, I was really enjoying our random discussion........ about our careers! If you remember our discussion (SPECIFICALLY) and are single please e-mail me back, I would love to take you out! This is a long shot becasue, I am sure a girl like you is not single, but if I am lucky enough, please write back telling me what we had talked ...(with some more specif ic details)... and I will hit you back up! :)
of predetermined coordination. Practice starts early and runs late. It’s loud. The collision of helmets is more startling in person. The clock on the practice field buzzes, and players begin jogging off the turf. It’s off to the showers for some, the weight room for others, the video room for more. The routine recurs the rest of the week, with slight variation by position and day, until Saturday, when the first team and scout squad merge into the same entity to stage the situations they mimicked all week long, ready or not. The process is one of compulsive preparation. It promises nothing, and it guarantees even less. One snap, the starting quarterback is humming along. The next, the backup is praised for his arm strength. The starter returns more suddenly and less subtly than he was yanked, and meanwhile, the player off the field draws the attention of the crowd. If Duke weren’t down 4210—if, somehow, the planning had reconciled a talent gap large enough to hit the hole— Renfree would have been on the sideline when, instead, he was motioning the play to his receivers, when he was taking his last snap of the season. Surgery looms for Renfree. He was supposed to the incumbent starter come spring practice, and now, he will watch from the sidelines. He came to Duke about 18 months ago, patient in absorbing Cutcliffe’s pass-happy offense, obedient in backing up one of Duke’s finest quarterbacks. He filled in early on this year, but the year 2010 was meant to be his breakout campaign. Instead, there might be trepidation come September’s season opener—all because of one slip, on a play designed for a time and place in the game that the game plan dreads. “I guess,” Cutcliffe said, when he walked into the media room to explain the game to the media, “that you’d start by saying: Mama said there’d be days like today.” —BEN COHEN TOWERVIEW
P H OTO B Y L AW S O N K U R T Z
the devil’s details
the devil’s details
THE FUNNY PAGES
SOCIAL ACTIVITY “Still many students said they thought it was an unwise decision to leave remnants from section parties and concerts to sit for 48 hours, given the general increase in social activity across campus on weekend nights.... Several housekeepers declined to comment on the change to the schedule.”— “Cleaning cuts draw complaints” in The Chronicle, Oct. 9, 2009.
I L LU S T R AT I O N B Y L AW S O N K U R T Z
To whom it may concern: I’m not commenting on this issue, but if I had to, I’d be glad to share. I hate Mondays. I walk into the dorm at 7 a.m. sharp and I am immediately smacked in the face by the stench of the three-day-old social activity I will shortly be cleaning up. Upon entering the hall, I immediately notice that lack of usual fluorescent light. As I look up to see what remains of the socially activitied plastic cover, I also notice the exit sign dangling by a wire—$300 of social activity that I hope was worth it. My gaze slides down, and I note a redand-yellow liquid sprayed on the white wall that I can only assume to be social activity. Somebody didn’t make it to the
trash can just four feet away. I do, however, appreciate whoever was courteous enough to pull the fire extinguisher pin and spray some social activity on it. That really helped. Of course, the trash cans are all overflowing with social activity, some even flipped on their sides during the previous night’s social activity. Down at the far end of the hall, I see a social activity table placed on two recycling bins, cluttered with wounded social activities. Outside of door 113, as usual, lies a pair of frilly social activities—this morning, red lace—crumpled against the wall. A few stoic steps toward the bathroom, and I’m greeted by the familiar sound of squishing carpet. A darkened, four-foot, semi-circular stain marks the entrance to the men’s room. Ah, that magical carpet that absorbs more social activity than a storm drain in the red light district. Beer, liquor, sweat, blood and whatever other social activity these kids spill at night form a frat runoff that must go somewhere. All I know is I’ve never seen it or had to clean it up. I open the door to the bathroom to see
what I’ll be facing. Kiddie pool night, I remember. Again. It’s still half-full of social activity. Some male student had social activitied all over the stall, and I even found a massive, stinky social activity on the floor. And don’t even get me started on whoever left her bloody social activity in the corner. All of a sudden, I hear the shower curtain rustling loudly. Worried I’d shortly be exposed to a male student’s social activity, I panic for a moment. Then I remember. Over weekends of increased social activity, the environment in the showers was such that a living, biological social activity could somehow, in 72 hours, evolve a limb-like structure. I sigh and go back to the hall to get the machete from my cart. At least I have Saturdays off. All my best, House Keeper P.S. This is all off-the-record. Oh, and I quit. —SAM SCHLINKERT
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it’S niCE to RECEiVE it’S BEttER to GiVE December, as everyone knows, is the most wonder ful time of the year, whether you’re gathering under a tree, lighting a menorah or simply reveling in the holiday spirit. And while the holiday season isn’t about gifts—really!—they’re cer tainly a nice perk. Pick one of TOWERVIEW’s 12 suggestions, and we’ll guarantee satisfaction for even the grumpiest Grinch on your shopping list.
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Download the free application to your phone at getscanlife. com and scan each tag for more information about each gift.
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It’s no iPhone and it may not have a Duke-centric app, but some say the Droid is even better. Plus, you don’t have to leave Verizon, the best service provider on campus, to use it.
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Chances are, you’ve sent someone one of these e-cards, even if it was as a gag gift. With this coffee mug, you can have your laughter— and drink it, too.
These 12”x16” prints of Duke’s campus, from the Chapel to K-ville, are the perfect stocking-stuffer for any alumnus wishing he were back in college.
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No holiday season is complete without a dose of humorous reading. See the Slate.com index of the book to find your way around.
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OUT Of West Africa is a world apartâ€”one of two tangled TOWERVIEW Contributing Writer RYAN
AFRICA languages and, for the non-native, warbled words. BROWN files a dispatch from her study abroad experience.
live my life in Senegal in the present tense. This is not a metaphor. Iâ€™m not explaining my personal philosophy or trying to give an inspirational speech about experiencing each and every day to its fullest. No, when I say I live in the present tense, I mean the actual present tense. You know: I study abroad in West Africa. I eat baguettes. I talk in bumbling, awkward French and employ the simplest verb conjugation. Yes, that present tense.
OUT OF AFRICA When it comes to speaking English, well, I don’t mean to brag here, but over the last 20 years I have become damn good. Pretty much any verb structure you need, I’m all over it. Want the present progressive? I’m doing it now. How about the future perfect? You will have had it in no time. But put me chin-to-chin with a French verb—a heavy, angled contraption bursting at its seams with superfluous vowels—and suddenly I’m choked. It’s like being a five year old all over again. If only five year olds had terrible accents and no innate sense of their own language. This is not quite what I expected when I decided to go abroad for a semester to francophone West Africa. Actually, the reality I envisioned was far simpler. My plane would touch down in Senegal—a lumpy disk of a country scrunched between Mali and the Atlantic Ocean—and suddenly the entire French language would pour from my mouth, fluent and effortless. Lest I seem totally deluded, I did imagine there would be some work involved. But in my head it played out as a montage set to inspirational music— there was a scene of me hunched over a library table, stacks of French grammar books towering all around me. And another of me on a beach reading Camus’s The Stranger in its vernacular, biting my lip, my entire face scrunched in concentration. And there was me befriending a Senegalese girl, beginning shyly but quickly becoming her clever and flawlessly francophone meilleure amie. Unfortunately, this vision left little room for inconvenient things like reality. Before my semester in Senegal, I had stumbled through three semesters of beginner French courses at Duke, a B student with train-wreck American pronunciation and a grammatical knowledge riddled with dark, cavernous holes where all the things I had forgotten to study should have been. The range of my vocabulary was such that I could easily construct sentences ranging from “I have a small, black rat that eats berries” to “I have a large, yellow cat that eats small, black rats” and speak for approximately one-and-a-half minutes without stopping. If I talked slowly. And I always did.
till, when I arrived in Senegal, I waited patiently for what I thought was the Inevitable—a rise to fluency as meteoric as a flaming ball of rock shooting through the sky. But while I sat biding my time, the world around me was a disconcertingly incomprehensible cacophony. Everything someone said to me sounded like a hybrid between the slow, well-enunciated French I had learned in my classes and the gargling of salt water, with the whole thing playing in fast-forward. Sentences became fill-in-the-blank word puzzles. “Please qwekblkasd askasdglkb apple asdfjlaksdf bklad could you adsklags doorbell weqtiopuba oven?” But before I could make sense of the holes, the speaker was already on to another sentence as catastrophically nonsensical as the last. Or worse, they had stopped and were waiting for my response. “Oui?” I tried timidly. “D’accord?” (Yes? Okay?) For the first time in my life, I had been rendered monosyllabic. Stripped of my ability to crack jokes, express complex opinions or even ask for change in the grocery store, I lived in a quiet and achingly lonely Anglophone bubble. Meanwhile, the rest of my life in Senegal began to take shape. I moved in with a host family in the bustling, seaside capital city of 20
Dakar and began classes at a local university. Every day I walked the two miles from home to school along a dusty, cracked sidewalk, dodging goats and street children and the curious stares of people trying to make sense of the young, white woman in Duke flip-flops. At intersections, SUVs honked at donkey-drawn carts as baguette delivery boys on mopeds calmly sliced in and out of the traffic, long stalks of crusty brown bread poking out from the sacks at their waists. And five times a day—as I slept, as I ate, as I sat in class, as I walked, as I brushed my teeth—loudspeakers across the city crackled with static and the warbled chants of local mosques calling the heavily Muslim nation to prayer. It was a country, I quickly discovered, that existed at the epicenter of a complex social and cultural fusion. Senegal is at once West African, French, Arabic, Portuguese—a nation whose history is layered with Wolof kingdoms and Islamic jihads and European colonialism. In some ways, the place seemed as shuffled and mixed up as I felt living in it.
ut that didn’t change the fact that I still wasn’t fluent in French. And now there was another problem. While French, the colonial language of Senegal, is spoken by the educated classes and in commerce, most day-to-day communication among the Senegalese happens in the indigenous West African language of Wolof. So while I was still struggling to string together coherent sentences in French, I set off to learn yet another language. But if English and French are like distant cousins, vaguely related and meeting occasionally at some big family reunion in Quebec, English and Wolof are alien life forms, separated by galaxies and light years and vast stretches of empty, uncharted space. In Wolof you conjugate the pronoun instead of the verb. There are no adjectives and no word that expresses the English staple “to be.” And just when you think you’ve mastered the tongue-twisting pronunciation of simple phrases like Na nga def? (How are you?) and Maa ngi fii rekk (I am fine, or, more literally, I here only) they throw in a random sampling of Arabic loanwords just to keep you on your toes. “Hello” is Assalaamaalekum and sentences often end with a brisk alhamdouliyliah (Thanks be to God). And, while true to the unwritten law of studying abroad, I rarely had exams or homework, every day tested my language skills nearly to their breaking point. A week never went by without at least one marriage proposal from a Senegalese man on the street, to which I learned to respond coolly: Je suis déjà mariée (I am already married) or Am naa jëkkër ci Amerik (I have a husband in the United States). These statements weren’t exactly true, but they did the trick. When passersby would whistle to me and yell, Bonjour toubab (Hello, white person), I grew adept to countering with a quick Tudd uma toubab (My name is not white person). And when a taxi driver or street vendor tried to give me an outrageous foreigner price, I just threw up my hands and yelled Danga dof! Je suis Americaine mais je ne suis pas stupide. (You’re crazy! I am American but I’m not stupid.) Of course, with the tumbled confusion of languages that I was spewing on a daily basis, not every moment was a linguistic success. One afternoon I went to an outdoor market with some friends. As we wandered amid the stalls, vendor after vendor tried to lure us inside. Je ne suis pas interessant, I announced firmly, thinking I was decisively letting them know that I did not want
OUT OF AFRICA what they were selling. Then, with a force as sudden and awkward as that of a Senegalese man you’ve just met telling you he is in love with you, I came to a realization. I had confused the word for “interested” with the word for “interesting.” For hours I walked around announcing boldly to the world, I am not interesting. Long after that day, even as my language skills shuffled tentatively forward, conversations in French remained like games of Tetris. Sometimes all the pieces fit together, sometimes they almost did and sometimes, one of those awkward L-shaped pieces—you know the bastards I’m talking about—fell right on top of three empty rows, and suddenly the entire thing was in shambles.
efore I came to Senegal, I had heard the same thing over and over: People will be so grateful that you are even trying to speak in their language. I still puzzle over this statement. While it is true that the Senegalese delight in seeing a white American college student stumble through a few basic phrases in Wolof, they also expect me to switch into flawless French the moment I hit my limit. That French is not my first language is not important; it is not theirs, either. And if they have learned, why
haven’t I? This brusqueness about language skill is not cruel. It is simply reality for most people in the world—the need to know and communicate in different languages. Here, as in so many places outside the United States, being able to speak in multiple languages is not a privilege of intellect, but a necessity of a life lived among a wide array of ethnicities and cultures. As someone who has always been very interested in my own language, I nevertheless had never realized before coming to Senegal how deeply English is connected to my own sense of identity and self-worth. For one thing, it’s how I express opinions, convey emotions, explain ideas. And let’s face it, without my command of English, I would never be funny, at least not without a giant moose costume or perhaps the hair of Albert Einstein. But to reduce language to its vehicular qualities, to distill it into merely a method of transmitting information, is to miss one of its most essential elements. That is, our native language is our home, as much or more as any place could be—a reservoir of memory and experience that runs through us so fully that no matter how much time you spend with another language, it can never again find a way to
go as deep as the first. Perhaps this is why, for me anyway, life in a country where I do not know the languages well is one lived in soft focus, largely empty of specificity and depth. Improving my French and Wolof has been a slow adjustment of the aperture, sharpening the details and creating lines and paths where before there had been only blurs. Each time I hear a new word I have learned in conversation or explain an opinion to someone in one of my new languages, I feel the world draw in around me, pulling me a little closer to some unknowable center of things. Now, with my time in Senegal drawing to its end, I am still searching for a way to qualify my relationship with the languages I have studied here, and with French in particular. I certainly cannot say I am a citizen of French—I certainly could not call it my own. But I am also something more than a houseguest, crashing on French’s sofa and leaving half-eaten pots of macaroni and cheese in its sink. I am, perhaps, a timid inhabitant of French, a tenant who tiptoes her way through its dark corridors, gawking at the strange things it keeps in its drawers and closets, looking for windows and sunlight and unlocked doors. And at this moment, that is all I ask for. My present tense.
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The Keeper of the Keys You’ve probably never heard of Bob Schmitz. But odds are good that you’ve heard the bass blasting from one of his rental properties—he boasts a portfolio of more than 270, ranging from frat houses to historic homes.
by caroline mcgeough photo by CHASE OLIVIERI
n neighborhoods just off East campus, groups of undergraduates live in houses whose bedroom doors have rotted off, whose stairs have fallen through and whose cracks birth cockroaches. But for the students living in these houses, it isn’t the conditions that bother them as much as the prices. Many pay between $600 and $900 per person per month, excluding utilities, to lease large, older homes within walking distance to campus and owned by local rental agency Bob Schmitz Properties. “These are probably the worst living conditions I’ll ever live in,” said one senior, Mitch. “It’s one of those things where we’ve had the house in our fraternity for so long that we’ve got to keep it. But now, it’s almost like the house is unlivable and they should just tear it down.” Mitch’s name and the names of all other students in this story have been changed to protect their identities. A deeper examination of off-campus housing trends and preferences reveals that this imperfect market outcome—where price and quality don’t necessarily match up—is supported by a rather perfect storm of factors that push real estate business into the hands of one company invested in the type of real estate that undergraduates find most desirable.
ob Schmitz got his start in the real estate profession through faith in a single book: “How You Can Become Financially Independent by Investing in Real Estate,” which he patted gently as he spoke to TOWERVIEW, peeling open the pages to reveal careful pencil notes along the margins. “I literally did what this book says,” Schmitz said, noting that he has no training in real estate, finance or contracting. A physician by trade, he first tried to make money in 1985 by buying beat-up furniture, fixing it up, and re-selling it. Unable to turn a profit that way, he chose to apply the same strategy to Durham houses, patrolling the city for rental properties that looked so run
down as to be unlivable. He’d page through the city housing records, contact the owners and maybe he’d purchase the property, sending in a maintenance crew to bring the conditions up to par so that he could lease it to tenants. Now, Schmitz owns more than 270 properties in Durham, approximately 10 percent of which are rented by undergraduates, exclusively in the older neighborhoods just off East campus. Since he started buying properties, he said his business strategy hasn’t changed much. “I still always say the same thing: ‘Hi, I’m Bob Schmitz. I own some rental property, and I’m looking for some more to buy. I wonder if you’d ever thought about selling this house,’” Schmitz recites. “I do it that way still, but now people call me.” In his office, predictably located just blocks from East campus, he opened a thick photo album that turned out to be a scrapbook of the work he had done on the properties he has acquired over the years. A house on West Markham Street, one currently leased by undergraduates, appeared in photos from 20 years ago, its ceilings decayed, its walls damaged by creeping dark water stains, cabinetry fallen from the shelves. “I wanted to take X, add Y to it and end up with something that was more than X plus Y and where the rents supported a debt service of X plus Y,” Schmitz said, explaining his rationale for purchasing homes in this state and attempting to refurbish and rent them. No doubt Schmitz has made substantial improvements in many of his properties. But his undergraduate tenants argue that rent costs are unreasonable, given the fundamental quality of the house. “Our house is ridiculously overpriced,” said one senior, Elliott, who pays $700 per month excluding utilities payments. “When we first moved in, it looked nice, but we realized that everything was actually falling down. There were roaches here when we moved in…. I haven’t said anything yet to them about the hole in the ceiling.” TOWERVIEW
Duke Community Housing Director Linda Moiseenko, who has spent nine years in that office, said rental properties leased through Bob Schmitz generally ride above market value. Moiseenko added that it’s usually the date of construction that drives real estate value in Durham—not so much proximity to campus—meaning that these old construction houses should be bargainpriced. “The market price is less than what Bob Schmitz is charging, and students may or may not know that, but they still go ahead and rent,” Moiseenko says. “Ultimately, the choice is the students’ choice in whether they’re willing to pay that amount to live in that house or not.” Moiseenko’s only hypothesis to explain the above-market price of many Bob Schmitz properties, was that if the company could charge above-market, it probably would. “If you can get the price, charge the price, right?” Moiseenko told me. “It’s not like somebody in the fraternity is saying, ‘Why are we paying this?’ They’re actually saying, ‘We want this house,’ so I think that’s part of it. It’s only when somebody vacates where all of a sudden something’s available and the company has to say, ‘Can we lower this price, or do we think we could get another group of students living here?’” I asked Schmitz how he sets the rental
P H OTO S B Y I A N S O I L E A U
price for each of his units, imagining it to be some rough calculus based on the varied characteristics of the property. “I don’t determine the prices,” Schmitz said. “The market does. I just try to find out where it is, and we obviously want to set the rents as high as we can.” He then raised this point: If the prices of his rental properties are too high, why do tenants continue to pay it? Bob Schmitz Properties is currently at 100 percent occupancy, Schmitz said, suggesting that his prices may in fact be too low, given the demand for the product. But Schmitz’s application of supply and demand
theory is based on the assumption that the market for the kind of housing he invests in is free and competitive. Rather, Schmitz has something of a monopoly with the type of house undergraduates—particularly seniors in fraternities—are seeking. Students interested in leasing houses off-campus have a defined and predictable set of preferences, sources said. Generally, they want to live within walking distance to East campus for accessibility and convenience, and they want to live with a group of friends, Moiseenko said. When Moiseenko applied those two criteria in
“Whenever we have parties I wonder if the floor will fall through, but as a guy, it’s a fraternity house—what more can you expect?” a search for 4+ bedroom listings available through the Duke Community Housing web site, she yielded 10 results—seven of which were Bob Schmitz properties. Conversations with tenants suggested Schmitz’s company as the only choice for undergraduates who prefer to live in a large group and within blocks of East campus. “Bob Schmitz is the only company that owned houses around here that were big enough for us,” Elliott said. “We found a couple of sweet houses that were probably 10 minutes away that were about the same price and absolutely awesome-looking… But we didn’t want to be 10 minutes away from campus, because no one would come hang out.” Two of the remaining three listings were other property management firms that might not be open to leasing to undergraduates, she said, introducing another element contributing to a lack of competition among the housing market for undergraduates. Several off-campus real estate agencies will not allow undergraduate tenants, generally out of concern over their ability to pay and to maintain the properties, Moiseenko said. Until recently, many ads posted under the Duke Community Housing site openly stated, “No undergraduates.” Moiseenko decided to exclude this type of comment from the ads, concerned that it would send a discriminating message that is out of keeping with a community-oriented resource like the Duke Community Housing Web site. Although equal-opportunity housing policy prohibits discrimination against groups as defined by gender, religion and sexual orientation, property managers may discriminate freely against groups as defined by educational status or age, Moiseenko said. “Undergraduates are not a protected class,” she said, noting that some off-campus apartment complexes have instituted minimum age requirements to exclude undergraduates. But as far as his tenants—and to some
extent the houses he purchases—go, Bob Schmitz is more indiscriminate than other real estate agencies, a factor that gives him an advantage among undergraduates who may be unable to find other agencies from which to rent. “We don’t have policies against undergraduates,” Schmitz said. “We don’t have policies against married couples, against children or against pets. The only animal we don’t allow is ferrets,” he continued, citing a bad experience. Another housing policy that Schmitz could benefit from disregarding is the Durham city ordinance that prohibits more than three unrelated individuals from residing together. Schmitz has several properties with four or more bedrooms currently occupied by undergraduates, who are likely not related—posing the question of how such arrangements can exist legally, pursuant to the ordinance. “We rent to three people,” Schmitz said. I told him I was aware of several houses where three tenants sign the lease, and as many as four additional tenants reside there unofficially. “We don’t knock down doors and make bed checks,” Schmitz said. “And I don’t think that laws should be based on people’s relationships to each other. They should be based on people’s behavior.”
any students who are seeking off-campus houses—particularly those in fraternities— likely would need to lease from an agency that treated that ordinance with some degree of flexibility. “I like the idea of us all being able to live together, and I think the reason people want to live together in a house is because it’s the closest thing this school has to actual frat houses, so students are willing to take a hit,” said another senior, Tripp. For students living in properties long home to members of their fraternity, the house they rent is iconic among alumni, who pressure the students to remain there for tradition’s sake.
“The logic is that if you’re an alumni and you graduated six or seven years ago and don’t know anybody, you could still just show up at the house,” Tripp explained. “But then again, how often do alumni just show up at your door?” Still, this sentimental investment in the property can keep fraternity members less pricesensitive than the average tenant. Looking at Schmitz’s competition by neighborhood, in the areas off of East campus, he has no rival. “I don’t know anybody who’s doing just what I do,” Schmitz said, explaining that Guy Solie, owner of Trinity Properties and formerly a direct competitor, had recently sold off many of his off-campus rental properties to the University. Although Moiseenko observed a few listings by other real estate agencies in these neighborhoods, she said it is apparent that Schmitz owns by far the most of any agency. Yet even in a situation where Schmitz has a near-monopoly on the type of housing available to and preferred by undergraduates, no one is forcing these students to rent from his company. Christine Pesetski, assistant dean for Off-Campus and Mediation Services, said undergraduates’ housing decisions are often grounded solely in friends’ word-of-mouth. “That’s the only name we know of,” one tenant, Adam, said of Schmitz. “Do I wish they would use other resources? Absolutely,” Pesetski said, noting Duke Community Housing and Residence Life and Housing Services as organizations who are most amenable to undergraduates’ housing inquiries. This imperfect access of information, coupled with imperfect competition in the sector of the housing market that appeals to undergraduates, that yields a price-toquality ratio some students have found barely tolerable. “Whenever we have parties I wonder if the floor will fall through,” Adam said. “But as a guy, it’s a fraternity house—what more can you expect?” TOWERVIEW
rearview mirror As the remnants of Tropical Storm Idea made its way through Durham Nov. 11, a tree on Campus Drive didnâ€™t survive the winds and rain. MICH A EL NACLER IO
The aerial view over Raleigh on Nov. 15. The shot was taken from a Cessna 172s. CH A SE OLI V IER I
roadside wisdom JoHn BuRnESS ViSitinG G PR PRoFESSoR PRo FESSoR oF tHE PRaC PRaCtiCE a tiCE oF aC PuBliC PoliCY aGE: 64 a Perhaps best known for his 17 years as chief mouthpiece for the administration, John Burness keeps a quieter profile these days, teaching a course on higher ed and the media—and the ways he’s manipulated both!—and penning a column for the Chronicle of Higher Education. on these pages, he reveals his most treasured traits and a deep-seated affection for the new York Yankees. What is your greatest fear? Being found out.
overuse? I swear a lot.
person or thing, what would it be? Derek Jeter.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Lack of discipline.
What or who is the greatest love of your life? Anne, my long suffering wife, and my two children.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Seeing children suffer.
What is the trait you most deplore in others? People who cannot take joy in the success of others. Which living person do you most admire? Paul Farmer and Martin Eakes.
P H OTO B Y C H A S E O L I V I E R I
What is your greatest extravagance? Cuban cigars.
When and where were you happiest? At E.K. Powe Elementary School, when the children thanked me for helping build their science center, which was named in my honor. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? My well honed incompetence around all things technical.
What is the quality you most like in a woman? Intelligence—it’s very sexy.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? Personally, helping raise my children to be the young adults they have become, and professionally, mentoring many young people and helping Duke become comfortable with the implications— both positive and negative—of its newfound prominence as one of the world’s great universities.
Which words or phrases do you most
If you were to die and come back as a
On what occasion do you lie? When I am joking. What do you most dislike about your appearance? Absence of eyebrows.
What is your favorite occupation? Chronicle reporter. What is your most marked characteristic? Ability to see humor in most things. Who are your favorite writers? David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Robert Caro, Roger Angell. What are your favorite names? Evan and Sam. What is it that you most dislike? People who take themselves too seriously. How would you like to die? Quietly, with Samuel Barber’s “Adagio” playing in the background. What is your motto? It never occurred to me to have a motto.
R E A D M O R E O F B U R N E S S ’ S R E S P O N S E S AT w w w . D u k E C H R o n i C l E . Co M / to w E R V i E w .
Pop Quiz Q: What is Towerview? TOWERVIEW (tou´
r vyü) n.
1. A street that runs through Duke; connects the Gothic Wonderland to the outside world. 2. A perspective from a high altitude or intellect; as in an ivory tower. 3. The Chronicle’s monthly news perspectives magazine; cuts across Duke lives with a new edge.
A: All of the th above. ov ove. Copies available at Chronicle newstands throughout campus. Off-campus subscriptions available! Only $28/year. Order online at www.dukechronicle.com or call 919-684-3811. Discounts available when you also subscribe to The Chronicle. TOWERVIEW
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