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July 20, 2006 - Volume 1, No. 2

Forever Young On Nelson Street

Ode to Nelson Street
"I am a Nelsonian!
My Nelson Street had style, color, class but no bend
On its corner you kissed your first girl friend
Then took her up to the wash-house for conversation
Knowing that all you would get was old talk and diversion
From Monday to Friday it was school days
On a Friday afternoon you went to Honeycomb
For beer or fried chicken
Or stop by Tony for your pudding
Or buy sweet bread from Tanty
Listened to music from Seatons’ Boys Town Snackette
Or at Chubbys Snackette with Lawbreakers
Drinking Mackeson or a Carib
On a hot day we would buy mauby with ice at Baby Parlor
While some would buy currants roll at Reggie
On Saturdays we went to the movies 
At Royal, Pyramid, Olympic or Odeon
Saturday night it was fete at the Center, Guardian, Legion Hall
While St. Cecilia and Hill Land Hall had their 2 to 6 children parties
Sunday morning we played cricket in the river
Or football in the savannah
While some went to Sunday Serenade
In the afternoon it was Aunty Kay and Uncle Bob
Or we went to the Penthouse to see Ann-Marie
In the summer I flew my kite from on top of my house
While some gambled dice in front of Baby Parlor
Or in front the Planning
Oh, how I swayed in style on the street
Dressed in my Chambray shirt and Simpson jersey
Wearing my 1504 pants and Strasser shoes
We greeted everyone we meet
If they did not see me or say hello
Or cared to glanced in my direction
It was okay because it was just that I knew
Nelson Street was on their mind."
Khalick J. Hewitt

Recently, the Trinbago government announced that the residents of Nelson Street will be removed to make way for the urban renewal of Port of Spain. In the government’s attempt to get rid the city of what has become an urban blight, Nelsonians will pay the ultimate price of displacement. The death of Nelson Street is a national disgrace and a governmental failure. Apathy and neglect killed Nelson Street. Instead of addressing the real causes (high unemployment, family breakdown, drug addiction, poverty and migration of the middle class) the government decided that removing Nelsonians from their homes and developing the area, believing that the street’s murder rate and drug trade will disappear. But, displacement can only remove the problems to other neighborhoods as the real causes will not disappear but travel to other areas.

The drug epidemic that befell Nelson Street was not an accident as years of societal neglect created a vacuum in communities like Nelson Street. While I understand the government’s dilemma, as it struggles with the national high murder rate and the sale of illegal drugs in places like Nelson Street, I don’t believe that the displacement of Nelsonians will solve the nation’s murder and drug problem. The failure to provide Nelsonians and other similar communities with jobs, industry, early vocational training and security is a symptom of what is wrong with Trinbago. So, before Nelsonians are removed to other areas I decided to take this opportunity to pay tribute to a street that did not have to die. Nelson Street gave me the building blocks that have sustained me to this day. Therefore, I shall share my Nelson Street memories with panjumbies as I remembered it.

Nelson Street was always my favorite street which gave me many pleasant memories and joys in my teenage years. I recall Nelson Street as the street of my dreams where I believed that I would remain forever young. It was the street where I spent all of my youth. No other street captured my imagination as Nelson Street. My Nelson Street was among the many streets in Trinidad that was self-sufficient and contained its many shops, parlors, laborers, artisans and professionals. Its residents only left Nelson Street to visit the cinemas, stores on Frederick Street, Friendly Societies like Hill-Land Hall and Woodbrook or Mason Hall. On a Sunday afternoon you could see Nelsonians dressed in their ‘Sunday best’ visiting the Memorial Park, Queens Park Savannah, the Hollows, Zoo Pavilion and the Botanical Gardens.

Although Nelson Street was not a major contributor to the steelband movement, nevertheless its teenage sons played in the top steelbands of the country (Audra Preddie was Trinidad All Stars soloist in the 1950s Music Festival) and its teenage daughters (Lima, Nola, Brenda, Diane, Carol, Cherry, Jennifer, Annette, Christine, Gloria and Lynette) supported the neighboring steelbands. During the 1960s, one could find Nelsonians playing for steelbands as Trinidad All Stars, City Symphony, Blue Diamonds, Invaders and Starlift. But, one of the first steelbands to capture Nelsonians was Sun Valley steelband. Although Sun Valley was not situated on Nelson Street but on Prince Street (behind Richmond’s Snackette) close to Nelson Street, many Nelsonians joined the band. Its captain was Witty Patron (also a famous Colts soccer player) and some of its members were: John Allowsingh, Edward lane, Eddie King, Andy, Rupert Alexander, Beaver, Reggie and Left Hander. But, due to the band’s frequent carnival fights with other steelbands many of the Nelsonian panists like Audra Preddie, Brainsley, Rupert Alexander, Clyde McCollin, Fitzroy, Tattoo and Sydney Nelson joined Trinidad All Stars Steelband. Audra, who was All Stars soloists in the 1950s Steelband Music Festival, was also a popular tailor. His tune of choice was ‘Stardust’. The Elders say that there were two other steelbands on Nelson Street, namely Funland and Swanee River. Later, there was Blue Diamonds.

Like many of the streets in Trinbago (Abercrombie, Prince, Queen, Frederick, Duke and Pembroke), Nelson Street received its name from one of its former colonizer, England who named the street after its favorite infamous imperialist defender, Admiral Horatio Nelson. Admiral Nelson won many imperial wars for Britain. The British ruled Trinbago until they granted the twin-island political independence on August 31, 1962. During the 1940s, Nelson Street was composed of barrack yard houses. In the 1950s, the local government under Albert Gomes built new housing for Nelsonians and also moved families from other barrack yards like Cobeaux Town and Donkey City to Nelson Street.

Nelson Street was known for its fashionable styles and cool young people. Its young men and women enjoyed a sterling reputation as trend setters. A few of its young men went to sea to work which gave us an edge in the dressing world. Every six months they would return bringing the latest fashions and slangs (especially American) to the community. Seafarers like Samuel ‘Simple’ Skeritt, Frankie, Neville ‘Seppi’ McCloud, Tony ‘Rome’ Gulston and Cordell set the tone for dressing on Nelson Street. On any afternoon around 4 pm Nelsonians gathered to lime in front of Baby’s parlor, Frankie’s apartment, Ricky’s apartment, Audra’s apartment and Jack’s apartment. The adults would gather in front of Oscar’s apartment and Tattoo’s apartment for their separate lime. Seldom did the young and adult Nelsonians limed together. Some of the limers were: Seppi, Bobby, Talent, Clem, Hollis, Bell, Clinton, Alabe, Frankie, Dan, Simple, Brainsley, Herman, Lefthander, Oscar, Super, Bandy, Ricky, Michael (Manto), Emery, Zolop, Audra, McCollin, Clyde and Tony Gulston, Powee, Kamon, Kenneth Trodge, Leon, David Bansfield, Fitzroy, Tanker and Felix, Petit, Willie beast, Shahadat, John Allowsing, Beth and Edward Lane.

Before the daily afternoon lime, Nelsonians performed a daily ritual of a bath, ironed their clothes and shinned their shoes and gathered in those different spaces. No one dared appear in ragged clothes. It was custom to wear new clothes for each lime every afternoon. Competition was fierce. Nelsonians were competing with St. Vincent Street, St. Paul Street, Woodbrook and Belmont (all areas with sharp dressers). All the clothes were custom made by Nelsonian tailors as Audra, Bob, Frankie, Decca, Rupert and Tailor Boy. The daily lime was also a time to seek out new girlfriends, especially the schoolgirls who passed on Nelson Street on their way home. Boys and girls would meet for the first time during a lime. That first introduction gave you a chance to make your move. It was easy to tell if all went well. Soon, the girl would send a message (most were shy) by one of her friends to let you know if she liked you. If that happened you were on your way. The boys also used an intermediary. But, most boys could talk (rap) their way into a relationship. There were many lasting relationships (marriage) that went into adulthood from that first meeting.

Nelson Street was divided into upper and lower and there was a constant rivalry between the two sections. Sometimes there was gang fights between the two halves. I spent all my free time as a Nelsonian on upper Nelson Street liming, partying, dating and having fun. Many of the limers came from other communities like Belmont, Morvant, Carenage, San Juan and Laventille. Upper Nelson Street is a short block that began at Duke Street and ended at Prince Street. The street had five shops: Reggie shop, Batar Chicken shop, Baby Parlor, Ram Roti shop, Seaton Boys Town Snackette and Curry Bowl parlor. Reggie’s was an all inclusive shop where you could buy food stuff, sodas and cakes. Baby was smaller and sold mostly mauby, sodas and cakes. Seaton sold beers and Curry Bowl was famous for its sea-moss drink.

There was also the famous sweet bread lady ‘Tanty’ who sold her fresh bread and cake in front of Seaton’s snackette. She had three grandsons who helped her: Brainsley, Cunning and Leon whom we called Otis because he looked like the famous American soul singer Otis Redding. On a weekend Tanty reigned supreme as buyers came from neighboring communities to buy her tasty products of cakes and sweet bread which she made at Devil’s bakery. On a Sunday morning, party goers, on their way home, would stop at Tanty in the dawn to buy her fresh hot bread and sweet bread for breakfast. The street also had three popular tailors: Frankie, Audra Preddie and Mr. Ferdinand whose beautiful common law wife Patsy was the talk of the community because she was much younger and often flirted with some of the young Nelsonians. It also had three popular seamstresses: Maggot Ferreira, Eulin Preddie and Ann. Many a wedding bride gained memorable glory from the dresses they sewed for them. On a Sunday afternoon people would gather at the Cathedral Church to see the dresses they sewed for the brides.

Upper Nelson Street comprised of only public housing on both sides of the street and Nelsonians referred to them as ‘The Planning’. But, Nelsonians were proud of their Planning and kept the apartments clean, tidy and treated it as their own. The community was a mixture of Africans, Indians and Chinese who lived in harmony. A few of the young men engaged in tailoring and barbering while some worked in the civil service and others were monitor teachers and laborers on the Wharf. Every afternoon after school you would see young people liming on the sidewalks of Nelson Street. Most of them attended the neighboring schools like the government Eastern Boys and Eastern Girls schools and the Roman Catholic Columbus Girls, Rosary Boys, St. Roses Girls and Nelson Street schools. Most of the teachers were Africans and a few Indians. There were no white teachers. All the teachers cared and supported the students’ ambitions to improve themselves. Some teachers would provide private lessons after school for students who showed scholarship potential or were falling behind in their courses. Also, it was customary for teachers to scold a child knowing fully that she/he had the backing of the parent to scold the child. The teacher was an extension of a parent from the home.

In the 1960s, there were many intact families on Nelson Street. There were male role models in every home. While some homes may not have had any fathers (they would often visit to keep an eye on the children) around there was always an uncle, adult or god-father to give stern warnings to a young male who was tempted to stray. The community truly raised every Nelsonian. Everyone knew their neighbor and respect was paramount for the Elders. Any adult could chastise a child seen doing something wrong without fear of recrimination from the parents. Nelsonians used to feel secure that their children were safe from the little dangers around them. It was unknown for adults to engage children in any type of crime. As a matter of fact children were separated from adults in the community scheme. It was taught that children knew their place. And, there were many role models from which a child could choose. Nelson Street boasted of three soccer teams: Plan Rangers, Plan Rovers and Grisum (who were members of Mervina Soccer league). The league was open to all soccer teams in the area.

Parents labored to send their children to the nation’s best schools like St. Mary’s College, Fatima College, Queen’s Royal College, Holy Name Convent and St. Joseph’s Convent. Many of the top students in those schools came from Nelson Street. Some of the nation’s best institutions (Police, Nursing, Teaching and Clerks) could claim many Nelsonians. Even our representative political, Selwyn Charles (brother of famous Boboloops) belonged to Nelson Street. What went wrong? Who is to blame? How did Nelson Street sink to its level of criminal environment? Is Nelson Street a reflection of other streets? To answer those questions we have to go back to 1956 and travel forward to 1969 when Trinidad experienced its first youth rebellion. The events of those thirteen years helped to shape and decide the fate of Nelson Street and to a larger extent most of the East/West corridor African communities.

From 1956 to 1969 Trinidad enjoyed a relative peaceful, safe and static environment that permitted most communities to expect its longevity. People were born in a community and usually died there without ever leaving. In 1956, when a new government called the Peoples National Movement (PNM) took office under the late political leader Dr. Eric Williams, Nelsonians had hope that at last a government had arrived to take them to the promise land. They gave the PNM all their support and the one thing they remembered from the speeches was Dr. Williams telling them that their children’s future was in their book bags. They took that as a signal that the leading schools and colleges that were formerly closed to them would now be open. They were right. The PNM removed the racist and religious discrimination and opened all the schools to Trinbagonians. The government took over the schools, including the religious, Catholic and Anglican (Protestant) and provided tax dollars for their support. And so, Nelsonians believed that with education their children would get an equal place in the society. Under the old government there was much racism, classism and discrimination and Nelsonians suffered their share. Soon, Nelsonians were attending Trinidad’s primary colleges like St. Mary’s, Fatima and Queen’s Royal College.

In 1956, the new political party PNM was a multicultural party with a mixture of Africans and Indians and a few Chinese and Syrians. Its political manifesto promised everyone that hard work and education would bring rewards. So, Nelsonians encouraged their children to study hard, get good grades believing that a ‘good education’ would open the once shut doors to them. Previously, the nation’s banks and private businesses did not hire Africans and Indians. The only professions open to those groups were teaching, nursing, medicine, law and the priesthood. Many Nelsonian students attended the nation’s top schools. Some Nelsonians excelled in sports, namely Russell (striker for Malvern soccer team) and his young brother Emery Tishiera, Clem Newton, (Goalie for St. Mary’s college) and Clyde McCollin (striker for Malvern soccer team).

In 1962, when the country received political independence from its former colonizer Britain, Nelsonians were ready to help build a new nation. The euphoria lasted until the late 1960s as young Nelsonians started to question their place in the society and whether independence had brought the changes they expected. They looked and saw that even though their children graduated from the best schools the main employer was still the government (public sector). Most of their graduates joined the civil service, teaching and nursing. Some, whose parents could afford went abroad to study law or medicine. But, business was still in the hands of the privileged few local whites and members of the Syrian (Arab) community. The small African and Indian businesses in the communities did not grow. The banks did not offer loans to develop African businesses.

The Indians in the country side made off much better because they owned land which they used as collateral to borrow money from the banks. But, Africans did not own land. Education was not sufficient collateral for bank loans. The government did not develop an African business or entrepreneurial class. The small mom and pop businesses that PNM met when they started to govern were not developed and soon disappeared. There were no industries to provide real jobs for Nelsonians and the other working class areas like Laventille, parts of Belmont, Morvant and what is now known as the East West corridor. As a result, the quality of life deteriorated over the years and those communities became poorer and the middle classes moved out. But, even though the areas got poorer the people still had control of their young men and women. The values of their parents were passed on and the role of religion helped to comfort people. The full impact of the deterioration would be felt in the 1980s.

In 1969, all hell broke lose. The Black Power Movement reached Trinbago. Nelsonians joined the movement and held nightly meetings on Nelson street to address the inequalities and to offer solutions to the movement. Organizations were formed and classes were held. On a night you could see young people gathered talking about changes and what it meant to be a Trinbagonian. Speeches were given and there were calls for revolution. Nelsonians had turned their backs on PNM as they blamed the government for not doing enough. The government’s response was a disclaimer stating that since many of the government ministers were of African descent the question of Black Power was a misnomer. The government held meetings at the community centers on George Street, Oxford Street and Laventille where the PNM had built community centers to monitor the community’s political pulse. Nelsonians attended the meeting at the George Street community center, (one block away) and spoke to Dr. Williams about their grievances. He promised to address their concerns. Committees were set up with experts to teach Nelsonians about opening small businesses and the PNM established a handicraft unit in all the community centers. A Co-Operative supermarket (The Peoples Supermarket) was opened at the corner of Duncan Street and Independence Square, one block away from Nelson Street. Nelsonians were promised jobs at the supermarket. Artisans (carpenters, tailors, barbers, masons and shoemakers) from Nelson Street were promised seed money to open businesses. A few strong individuals were able to exploit those promises. But, for the majority of Nelsonians the PNM did not deliver. The supermarket was only a large shop with no competitive edge against the larger supermarkets like Hilo and United Grocery.

On April 24, 1970 the government declared a state of emergency that lasted for nearly six months. During the emergency Nelsonians, Laventille and Morvant felt the brunt of police invasion that tried to put them back in their place. Nelsonians rebelled. The Black power era brought the drug culture to Trinbago. Nelsonians were a part of that culture. But, while the marijuana usage was minor, nevertheless it prepared Nelsonians for the hard drugs that were to follow.  After the 1970 Black Power rebellion many Nelsonians immigrated to Canada and the America seeking better opportunities in jobs and education. Traditionally, Trinbagonians usually migrated every ten years or so. But, with migration came replacement. The 1970s migration brought no replacement. And so Nelsonians were left leaderless.

In the 1980s, the country experienced an unprecedented economic boom due to the oil and natural gas reserves. With the oil boom came hard expensive drugs which the poor could not afford before but could now with the new oil money trickling down to them. The young people, who sold marijuana before were now given cocaine to sell. Soon, turfs were developed and as the money increased the killings started. But, with the boom came high expectations as food prices and other necessary goods soared at inflationary rates. Nelsonians were now faced with drug money and turf rivalry that would soon lead to killings. There was no one to mediate the turf wars. Nelsonians were leaderless as their young men became fearless and indiscriminate in their drug wars. Innocent people were not spared. Reports of daily murders sent fear into a community that never feared their young before. The governments’ response was to enlist the Army to police the area. There were no exit job programs or vocational training for the many young men and women. Weekly lockdowns became the norm but that did not stem the drug sales and murders. Some even accused the police of corruption and protection of certain drug lords. Nelsonians were now faced with two alternatives to earn income: one was illegal and the other insufficient: drugs and government ten days work projects.

In the late1980s, the economy went south as oil prices dropped and the government waste of the oil dollars started to affect poor communities who did not receive any development in the oil boom years. If there was no development during the oil boom then certainly in those lean years communities like nelson Street could not expect any economic assistance. As the crime and drug wars drove the middle and professional class from Nelson Street, the community became dejected and homogeneously poor. The money from the ten days work program was not enough and more people became more entangled in the drug trade. There was no attempt by government or private agencies to address the real root causes of the daily murders that was sucking up the remainder of young Nelsonians.

By the end of the 1980s, Nelson Street lost its gloss as hard drugs (cocaine) entered the community making it a main income source. The street became a killing field where young people started killing each other in their struggle for drug turf. The infiltration of the cocaine drug trade led the street to become a major drug haven where drugs wars have plagued Trinidad over the last 25 years. Its residents now live behind iron gates and window bars. Most are afraid to leave their apartments at night. They are afraid of the many young men and sometimes women who traffic their drugs. These young men and women are the forgotten in a land of enormous riches gathered from its oil and natural gas reserves since the 1980s. If you ask any Trinidadian if she/he walks down Nelson Street you will receive a resounding ‘No’. The closest anyone will travel to Nelson Street is to visit the Trinidad All Stars Steelband panyard during the carnival season. I know Nelsonians, who live abroad but when they return for carnival will not dare visit Nelson Street.

In the late 1990s, a new oil and gas boom emerged as oil and gas prices return to unprecedented high rates. By that time drugs and crime became a normal way of life for many Nelsonians as the society ignored them and the government wished that the murders would rid the society of the bandits and solve the unpleasant problem to which they had no solution. But, in this land of overwhelming riches from the oil and gas reserves, there are no jobs for those young Nelsonians, many of whom are uneducated and unskilled. As a result, many of them chose the drug trade as their source of income. While some may seek legal methods, the truth is that the society has written off many of them. Their only claim to the country’s resources is the ten day work programs that the government grants them. Their daily battle to survive has become paramount as the nation ignores them while there is ‘building’ development happening all around them. As Nelsonians are left out of the mainstream they see the wealth being displayed by others as new and expensive cars, large houses and overpriced goods and services surround them.

The daily bombardment of radio, television and cable with their American mores and values are raising the children as more and more mothers are forced to seek outside employment just to make ends meet. Nelsonians know that there is abundant wealth in the nation that escapes them as they fight for the ten day work project crumbs. They also know that the social and economic conditions facing them will only get worse as the government embarks on a new urban development program that will soon displace them to make room for business and unaffordable housing.

The current governmental decision to remove Nelsonians to make room for the new urban plan for Nelson Street is the worst cut of all for Nelsonians. Its residents are to be relocated (with promises to return) to other areas as far as Champ Fleurs (an Eastern suburb) while new housing and businesses are to be built. There are promises from the government of bringing Nelsonians back after the development is complete. But, Nelsonians are no fools and know that it is the death of our once beloved street. It seems that the government’s only solution is displacement. Other areas like Laventille, Morvant, Gonzales and parts of Belmont may face a similar solution. What is to become of these PNM strongholds, where residents used to openly declare “PNM or Die”? Only time will tell. The example of Nelson Street is there for all to see. It takes jobs, industry, commerce and the middle class to sustain a community. Let’s hope that Laventille, Morvant, Gonzales and parts of Belmont fare much better in their struggle for survival.  

I have tried to tell the Nelsonian story as I remembered it. What becomes of a broken heart? I can only wish Nelsonians well wherever you may go for my heart will always be on Nelson Street. The death of Nelson Street is a lesson for us all for it will never be revived as it makes way for new development. In a few years its death will be complete when Nelsonians are all transferred to new areas to begin new lives. For Nelsonians at home or those living abroad, who may find mistakes or errors in this article, I urge you to write your own story with the necessary corrections. I will always be proud to be a Nelsonian. In a few years Nelson Street will be gone forever. Nelsonians only have our memories from which to reflect. I will be forever young on Nelson Street.


A FEW FAMOUS NELSONIANS

Khalick 'Sipi' Hewitt Sydney Nelson Earl 'Lefthander' Brooks
Powee Anthony 'Tony' Skerritt Winston 'Skero' Skerritt
Selwyn 'Pointy' Sandiford Diane, Judith, Noela, Liz Sandiford Carol Gore
Kamon Glen 'Waka' Sandiford Brenda
Reggie Tom Frogo
Edward Lane Kenneth & Evrod Trodge Eman
Frankie Wells Frankie Joyce James
Shahadath Alloy Yvonne Punch
Annie McCloud Virna Savory Babb Savory
Richard 'Ricky' Atkins Michael 'Manto' Atkins Ferdinand
Victor 'Dan' Miller Raymond Greer Samuel 'Simple' Skerrit
Fitzroy 'Popo' Sharko Kay Starr
Grama Minet George 'Georgie' Ward
Clyde Barrington Arthur Orson Joseph
Clem Newton John Allowsing Selwyn Charles
Merle Miguel Cantaste Broko
Cordell Donovan Charles Lima Charles David & Evlis Bansfield
Wilma & Lynette Isaac Herman Kiddy Goat
Robert 'Bobby' Daniel Cherry Alexander Oscar 'Rusty' Alexander
Edison 'Zack' Isaac Malcolm 'Peddler' Alexander Merline Alexander
'Super' Alexander Talent Hollis, Clyde & Keith McCollin
'Jinx' Wells Tanker Brainsley
Boyie Theobald Taffy Tattoo
Superville Leon Errol 'Pepe' Stowe
Berry Hubert 'Petit' Chang Aberdeen 'Abos'
Hubie Beaver Clinton 'El Tigre' Horne
Audra Preddie Merlin 'Dougla' Fred 'Popo'
Cokee Gilmore 'Gilos' Thomas Everod 'Gally' Cummings
Sheldon Tips Neville 'Seppi' McCloud
Alvin Thomas Roy Crosse Charlie Roach
Errol 'Sam' Noel Joseph 'Joey' Edwards Malcolm 'Mace' Mason
Clyde, Calvin & Tony Gulston Mervyn 'Mervina' Alleyne Clyde 'Tiger' Haywood
Clyde Cox Ancil Bansfield Bunny Fisheye
Kenneth 'Smally' Small Annette Gulston Jennifer
Tinboy Leonard 'Sevens' Willie Beast
Christine June, Emory & Russell Teshiera Alabe
Witty Patron Bendix Bryan 'Koz' Chevalier
Selwyn 'Ends' Daniel June Isaac Charles Lystra Isaac Bonnet
Pearl Isaac Elie Reynold Isaac (dec) Harold Isaac
Edison Isaac (CEO Public Transport Service Corp & Commander of the T&T Cadet Force, also honored with the Humming Bird Award) Raoul Isaac


 
Louise Isaac Crouch


 
     


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P.S. If readers don’t understand any of the carnival or steelband terms used here, please go to the Port of Pan ABC at pan-jumbie-com. Otherwise you may contact this writer. Thanks.

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