There are over five hundred diseases that list headaches as a symptom, from hangovers to brain tumors to the bubonic plague. There’s Encephalitis, which could kill you or leave you with brain damage, or Mucormycosis, caused by fungi in the soil, which will severely disfigure you and on top of that there’s an 80% chance it’ll kill you too. If your face is flushed along with the headache you could have Yellow Fever. If your face is twitching you might have Parkinson’s, which could eventually kill you, or Tourette’s, which won’t kill you but won’t win you any friends either. I obsess over diseases the way some pursue celebrities, with a kind of appalled reverence. Ginger tells me she doesn’t appreciate my input on her headache, that she suspects it’s a result of too much time in the walk-in freezer where we work, and not enough in some hot-blooded, barrel-chested, Homo erectus (she likes the second word) male of the species arms, and that when all is said and done she’ll probably get hit by a bus anyway.
Ginger’s had over a hundred lovers and with all of them, she says, she tried to convince herself she really didn’t want to see them, that they weren’t worth seeing, but she’d wear herself down and go back for more every bloody time. It was all about appetite, she said. Abstinence may lead you to God, but in the end hunger will feed you.
It’s Freddy who’s leading me to God, Frederick Jameson Heinz Jr., not the catsup Heinz, who I think were part of the John Birch society, right wing fanatics, but this might be close. I’m Freddy junior’s art teacher at the Community Center’s After School Program for teens. He’s the son of a revival preacher, what they’re calling a prosperity preacher of the prosperity gospel, the ones who preach how to come to Jesus and make your fortune doing it; we’re talking private airplanes, yachts, Harleys sent by anonymous supporters, vacations in Hawai’i, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Paris, designer handbags, Prada this and that and this preacher, his dad, wears a pinkie ring plastered with emeralds and diamonds—someone is prospering all right. God knows where the money is, and he knows how to get the money to you, praise Jesus! the revivalists shout, and I’m ready to commit about the worst sin you can, around here anyway, which is to say the preacher’s son, fifteen years old.
I’m going to fry for this, I tell Ginger.
Be like that Smart chick, she says, was it Pamela Smart? Goes to prison for having sex with one of her students, gets out and she’s right back at it. Wasn’t she the one that ended up having a kid with him? Ginger stubs out her cigarette, stabbing it with the spiked black heel of her boot. We’re on our break at the Bagel Palace, outside in the alley behind, rain flogging the tin roof of the shed we huddle under, drops whizzing over our heads.
You’re confusing your Jezebel educators, I tell her. Pamela Smart’s in prison for plotting the murder of her husband, which she persuaded her teenage lover to pull off. You’re thinking of Mary Kay Letourneau, who did it with a twelve year old.
Whatever, he was big for his age, Ginger sniffs. Look at it this way, that she could do it, do him, well hell, you got to give it to her. She shrugs and straightens her eyebrows with a licked finger. They have those hard young bodies, Ginger sighs, and they’ll never be as handsome again.
My father told me about the handsomest man he knew, part Cherokee, his friend who helped him after my mother died, a generous man. Then Alzheimer’s struck and the last time my father went to visit him, this handsome man had climbed up on a cabinet and was howling like a wolf. Just one month later he was gone.
After a careful study of diseases that can kill you I have come to believe that people have sex to stave off death. Death is in the driver’s seat, the fear of it, mourning what it’s taken, the embrace of it for some, its inevitability for the rest of us. Sex stalls things, the physical weave of two bodies, two lives, however long it lasts means for those minutes anyway death can’t snuff you because you’re part of someone else. And if it tries to, the old climactic heart attack, you’ll live on in the other, particularly when he tries to have sex with anyone else.
While not up to Ginger’s stats of a hundred lovers, I do have a history.
There was the baseball player who was actually a minister, but he wore his Red Sox uniform good and tight around the butt and those well-packed thighs the way they do, shoulders too. Should be a sin to build a minister with muscles like his. I figured this minister would rather have been a baseball player, which is why he and his almost as hot friend played dress-up in these uniforms, tossing a baseball back and forth on the wide green lawn of the United Church of Christ. When he invited me inside the Parish, the little house they kept their ministers in, I didn’t have my diaphragm and worried about that, but as it turned out this muscular minister couldn’t get it up and we didn’t need the thing. Though he sure seemed to have a good time trying.
It started when I was in kindergarten and used to hum and click my tongue against the roof of my mouth during nap time, and when the teacher made me pull my pallet in the corner I’d open my legs so Dougie Dorfman, who always got in trouble too, could see my underpants. There was the cute mute who used to smoke dope on the rock wall that separated our yard from his, and one day he knocked on my door when my father was out; I’m in my bra and panties and I let him in. He placed his hand on my chest and pushed me down on the bed like toppling a tree. Didn’t even slide my underpants off just twisted them to one side. Which is good time economy, because he was coming to the sound of my Dad’s Chevy truck roaring up the driveway and he wriggled out the window, still buckling his pants right before the key clicked in the lock. The street kid with the waist-length dreads outside my dorm at art school, townies the rich kids called them, who banged out a rhythm on whatever he could get his hands on—garbage can lids, old coffee cans, wailed on a mouth harp too, peering up at my window, that beguiling grin. When I invited him in I said here, slide down the zipper so I can check out of this dress; his hand lingering as I knew it would, the dip in my back, my hips, my butt, he who probably didn’t own a second pair of pants to change into. Driving home with the rock and roll junkie and his car slides off the road into a Mill Valley stream. Instead of asking if I’m all right, him on top of me and both of us in the black freezing water, he goes, My guitar! Where’s my guitar! But I showed him. I spent the night with the baby-faced cop who investigated the accident.
It wasn’t always this much fun.
There’s getting sandwiched between two greasers on a packed subway in the city, one thrusting one way the other behind. Another who will forever be faceless, the salty smell of him like raw shrimp, his breath hungering on my neck, his hand swimming around inside the waistband of my pants, pressing behind me in a crowded malasada line at the old Halawa Stadium those years after my mother was gone and my dad said why not try Honolulu for awhile? This after we lived in Houston, Las Vegas, L.A.; he just kept heading west. What could I do, eleven years old, but buy my malasada and Coke? The one in the Chiclet-yellow Corvette who promised dinner but instead takes me to his house in Manoa, breaks a popper under my nose and dives down on top of me on the kitchen floor; we never even made it to his bed. In a van at Sunset Beach, God was he all of thirteen? Sun like a dragon’s breath and his hand, a little brown snake wriggling into the open window, stuck inside my bikini bottom, latched on like a leech. The Panther’s paws squeezing my neck so hard the bruises looked like I’d survived a strangling and the dorm R.A. said You have to tell… his teeth at my throat, roaring me down into a cave so deep and black it would be another decade before I could begin to crawl out. Maybe the worst was Mick Knowlton, my surfer boyfriend, after we moved back to California, San Diego this time, his hurting sex that made me cry, and how he would comfort me when it was done. He liked to remind me that his father looked like Kirk Douglas, like this was supposed to make any difference at all. Shhh, he’d take me in his arms, rock me against his suntan chest; it’s over now. As if this too, is just another thing we are born to endure.
If you have blurred vision and a sudden, severe headache you might have a cerebral hemorrhage, which means you will probably bleed to death in your brain. Though you could be a hemophiliac and bleed to death from any orifice. Or maybe you have Stokes-Adams syndrome, which could stop your pulse due to a heart blockage—now there’s a way not to bleed to death.
I used to have nightmares about my mother abandoning me, particularly the years when we lived in Hawai’i, a recurring one on Kailua Beach. At least I think it was my mother, a woman who looked like the photograph on my father’s dresser, the one in the koa frame with her long black hair flying out, like a hard wind was blowing and she’s just trying to hold on. In the dream it’s stormy, pounding surf, its whipped grey froth like a bubbled-over gravy and the churning clouds overhead. My mother and I sitting cross-legged on the sand at the water’s edge, and suddenly a big wave swoops over us, tugging me out. I stretch my child-arm toward her, still close enough she could grab my hand and hold on, but she doesn’t. Sits there as my mouth fills up with seawater and I am being dragged out into those deeper, darker places.
We lived in Kawela, a three room cottage in the Norfolk Pines. At night geckos chirped and the trade winds whispering through the open screens, and I pretended she was there too. Would she have made my clothes? Made us all manner of delectable food, instead of the nightly Spaghettios, my dad’s signature dish? I imagined watching her get ready to go out, the tangy scent of her—my father would keep her well stocked in French perfumes. Her small, rounded shoulders in a sleeveless shift she made herself, her tiny waist in the fit of it, the matching heels. Then my father would go out and I’d feel a small terror that he wouldn’t return and hunker down in his closet, inhaling the Old Spice fragrance of his shirts.
On my wedding night, room service at the Kahala Hilton sent up the customary champagne, and right beside it in a decorative crystal decanter the milk my new husband ordered for his pregnant wife and fetus. The next day we flew to where I live now, fourteen hours later and my history unmade.
After viewing the Bodies exhibit in New York, with its jars of fetuses at various stages of development, Ginger tells me as we’re trying to flag down a taxi, about the illegal abortion she had back in the sixties when they poked something metal up you to dislodge it, only she was a dancer in those days with tight musculature and nothing happens. So she goes home, and later that night she’s doubled over in the bathroom, cramping, bleeding, groaning, and she catches the little twelve week old fetus as it slides out of her, holding this thumb-sized, curled up sea monkey, and her mother, a frustrated English major, calling from downstairs, Everything copasetic up there? For the rest of her life, Ginger tells me as we climb into the cab, she will have recurring nightmares about what happened next: flushing it down the toilet.
When I gave birth to Pet, I hyperventilated and passed out. I had read that in 1940 hyperventilation was used to alter a woman’s perception of pain during labor, forever after known as Lamaze. I figured, why bother with the classes? Scared the bejesus out of my OB, who when I explained about this later said, Well sure, and once upon a time they punched you in the jaw to knock you out before surgery.
You can bleed to death from a childbirth hemorrhage, or a botched abortion for that matter.
Freddy Jr. said to come to the revival service because he has to be there, his parents said so, and maybe we could sneak out, he said, there’s an old abandoned building next door and there’s bats in it. His eyes shone, pupils small and black as pepper. He grinned but I wasn’t sure at what, me or the bats? We haven’t done anything yet, at least nothing I could be arrested for. A tentative kiss in the playground tunnel as we walked through the park behind the Community Center, and it was him yanking me in there, one of those frothy canvas things painted to look like something that flies. I thought maybe he’d smell like bubble gum or puberty sweat, but there was no scent, just the push of his chapped lips against mine, the tenderness of his tongue licking my palate. Monty! he said, blushing. I had told him to say my name, that whispering Ms. Trent while he kissed me didn’t do much for the libido. Working with clay at the Center it was Freddy’s hands, running up and down the wheel’s spinning, sloppy movement, attempting to shape something or other and I put mine over his and felt that fifteen year old fire. You have great hands, I said, and he thought I meant his potential as a sculptor or someone who makes clay pots, which I think showed a kind of maturity.
When the thousands of migrating birds soar through the night over New York, you can watch them from the Empire State Building’s observation deck, eighty-six floors up. With the city lights illuminating them from below they look like little shooting stars. Peregrine Falcons, once on the brink of extinction but who have now adapted to life on the skyscrapers, pick off a good hundred or so every season. This is a success story. They must think they’ve died and gone to heaven, the skies raining goodies, the ultimate piñata. They hover up in the clouds, waiting to swoop down on the migrants like bats on a mosquito. I read in a poem that bats can’t fly up, as in they can’t lift off; they have to swoop down to glide. Figuring poems aren’t necessarily a source for facts I looked this up on the Internet and never found it. What I did find was a report from some classroom where the kids studied bats, and one little budding CEO proposed that the reason bats hang from their feet is because it’s easier than hanging from their thumbs. What the poem was really about was the coroner’s report from the poet’s brother’s death: heroin, cocaine, marijuana, unresponsive…. When my dad found my mother unconscious in their bed it was already too late, but he called 911 and told them she was unresponsive. Not cocaine or heroin, the old fashioned way, her wrists sliced open with a razor. Probably he had to throw away the mattress and definitely the bedding, though I never asked and he never said. I was in the next room, three years old and she put me to bed first, as I picture it, kissed me and tucked me in, told me she loved me. Sometimes I think I can still catch a whiff of her, a mingling of cinnamon and defeat. Maybe my father was supposed to come home before he did. Stopped for gas, groceries, traffic sluggish, a meeting that ended too late. Maybe if I had cried for her, the sound dragging her out of her perpetual sleep, back into her life as my mother.
The poem began with a bat and ended with one, falling to glide; gliding to rise.
Here’s what I know about bats. The deadly White Nose Syndrome is a new disease and its affecting bats throughout the Northeast. Thousands of them have died from New Hampshire to Virginia. A bat colony right here someplace in upstate New York has had a catastrophic level of deaths in young bats, this article said, which means not a lot of old bats down the line. They call them maternity colonies, where female bats gather under the roof of a barn or attic, maybe even Freddy’s old building, where whatever heat there is rises to the ceiling—they like it hot—to bear and raise their pups. If they have this disease they get a white fungus on their muzzles, wings and tails, become emaciated and die. The females give birth to just one baby and many of these babies have disappeared. Reports are that the mothers are abandoning their babies.
I read about stuff like this to avoid doing other things, such as my paintings. I’ve got enough talent, whatever that is, to teach it to kids. Why would the world need one more mediocre painting that says nothing about diseased bats, disappearing pups, the things that are here then gone?
Of course there’s also Histoplasmosis, a fungal infection contracted by inhaling dirt or dust where the fungus has grown in soil enriched by bat guano. Or how about rabies, the majority of recent cases having been spread by infected bats? Viciousness, rage, excitability; after this comes paralysis then death.
What I’m afraid of is if I go to that revival Freddy senior will see it in me, the bad, and drag me down front to try and save me. I’ve been to one of these before, with my husband when we still thought there was a chance, and nothing excites them more than finding the worst person in there, waving their fleshy arms in the air like antennae, belting out their hymns while somebody leads you down all blazing hot and airless under the lights in front, then Freddy senior will put his hand on your forehead and you fall back with the spirit, or because you’re so stifling you’re about to faint, and start babbling in tongues or some such thing. Then you’re supposed to be healed, sins washed clean, good to go. Except with this one, the prosperity gospel, for the rest of your remaining days as a reborn prosperous Christian you’re supposed to give all your money to their church, then pray for more. God knows where the money is, Freddy’s father was quoted in the newspaper, and he knows how to get the money to you.
I ask Ginger to come with me but she says no, that so many Jesus freaks under one tent gives her the willies. She shimmies her head, her shoulders, her dyed hair the color of a mango. We’re working our shift at the Bagel Palace, rubbing our gloved hands up and down the rumps of bologna, hunks of roast beef, slicing deli turkey, shredding the ham for the Palace’s famous ham and egg bagel sandwich. We’re the meat ladies. I come here after teaching because part-time at the Center doesn’t give me near enough money to pay child support to my ex-husband, who does nothing all day while Pet is at kindergarten but lie around in what used to be my house too, toking cigarettes, chugging beer, eyeballing ESPN, you name it and it’s not getting a job. But because I’m the bad seed who left our son alone one day while he napped, for a dalliance with another man, Jody’s lawyer called it, I get to pay the piper—that was my husband’s way of putting it. You screwed the pooch, Monty! Another of his witticisms. Jody boinked his skanks at night while Pet and I slept, which by rule of the court makes him the model parent.
The town I live in, Jody’s home town, is on the Susquehanna, cited as one of America’s most endangered rivers—we’re talking raw sewage, animal carcasses, fertilizer run-off, industrial chemicals, human sludge and waste of all things mechanical to old barns fallen in, anything heavy enough to sink, and even not, judging by the prevalence of plastic tampon applicators whizzing by on the current. Eventually it empties into the Chesapeake, at a place ironically enough called Havre de Grace. On the night a man dove into all of this I slept, waking to what sounded like a train wreck, a tornado, the growl of engines battling flood stage currents, the sound that something inside me knew even before the news told it, was death.
Last time I called my father he was trying to get my grandmother up. Home for him now is St. Louis, his mother’s house. Am I dead yet? She asked. I pictured her hunched into a sitting position at the edge of her bed, her blunt shoulder blades, soft doughy skin of her back as he removed her wet nightgown, slipping a dry one over her head. On the days when she is unable to get up at all (and there are more and more of these) he changes the wet sheets right out from under her, sliding fresh ones on. Am I dead? I heard her ask again.
Here’s another thing about bats: they fly at night around the bridge the man jumped from into the roiling river water below. They look like little black firecrackers shooting up into those bridge lights, then soaring down, winking out. I guess the lights attract mosquitoes, which attract the bats, but what attracted him?
How hopeless was he, the man who jumped? What is the line for this, where on one side of it we hold forth, soldier on; step over it and we slit our wrists. Earlier in the week I went back on antidepressants. A partial list of things that made me miserable:
Squirrels huddled in the rain.
Stop-Loss and the exhausted soldiers—kids, eighteen, nineteen, whose only hope for college, for a life was to sign up, sent back to war again and again.
Manhattanites who live in designer high rises, and in our little upstate town half of Main Street is boarded up, its black and empty storefronts.
Birds dropping like wet leaves onto the feeder in the dark fist of a spring that may as well be winter, for all its rain, rain, rain.
The chiming of my phone that day when before I picked it up life was one way—I had just returned from buying a steaming mug of Green Mountains coffee, chocolate milk and peanut butter crackers for Pet from the Quickstop, both of us settling in to watch Animal Planet, Pet’s favorite—and after I hung up it was something else, the lawyer’s call that my son would no longer be allowed to live with me. My insatiable appetite, they called it. They weren’t talking about food.
The rain has finally stopped and the late afternoon sky is the color of dishwater when I get to the revival, figuring I can sneak in at the back of the tent, lift up one of the flaps and if Freddy is looking for me he’ll see me, and if he’s not, well, I’ll consider it a sign. Maybe from Jesus himself, who knows? Suffer the little children… only I don’t think he meant Freddy. Who I see right away as I slip inside and head up the bleacher stairs, two by two to the top. He’s in the front row beside a jowly woman with pink hair. His back is to me and his head is down, and I can see the outline of those diamond-hard shoulders through his white shirt, that perfect triangular shape of a teenaged boy. My heart is beating too hard, my breath in my throat.
So the worst has already happened, my son living with Jody who sued for custody to punish me, locking me into a financial obligation that’ll keep me rubbing bologna rumps and trying to convince yawning teens that art matters for the rest of my attractive years—by the time Pet’s finished college I figure I’ll be dried up. What’s at stake? I think, listening to them belt out some hymn then another, hands pulsing upwards, and Freddy senior, who isn’t too bad looking himself, though with the well-fed middle-aged man’s gut bubbling over his belt, its giant silver buckle that I can see from here has a cross on it (I’m betting it’s real silver), howling about the wages of sin and being saved from the bad we do in the name of the devil to do good in the name of Jesus (he pronounces it Jay-suss). The air inside the tent is stagnant, the dankness of our sodden spring compounded by however many sweaty bodies, arms waving madly. Wages of sin, I’m thinking, these prosperity gospels give that a whole new meaning. Maybe he’s saying you can buy yourself out of the bad you’ve done, for a price and you’re home free. What would it cost me, how many decades of beefy contributions in the offering plate to purchase my soul back after I lost it, snorting a line with the bouncer at the Positively State Street Bar then blowing him in the storage closet while my two year old napped in his crib, a mile away?
Freddy Jr. as if on cue twists his neck around, stares up at me and grins, makes a motion with a jerk of his heart-breakingly blond head toward the flap of the tent that leads out. He whispers something to the pink-haired woman who nods, then gets up, that lanky, jangly body with its adorable teenaged butt and moves toward the exit, with me lingering just long enough for him to step outside before I’m there too.
I asked my father once if it was because of me, a kind of prolonged post-partum depression, and he shook his head. She was just a lost person, he said; I thought I could save her.
Bats are warm-blooded animals that bear their young live and nurse them, leaving them with the other babies while they fly off in search of food. Bats eat about 600 mosquitoes an hour, one bat, 600 biting, blood-sucking bugs. Bats are good, Freddy tells me and I nod, though stare up at the rafters with a little trepidation where they hang like bunches of bananas, the building old and decayed and smelling of some sort of rot—just another structure that once housed some failed business long since abandoned when hard times struck. Hard times have been going on in upstate New York for Freddy’s entire lifetime. It’s called torpor, Freddy explains with an impressive authority—what did I know about when I was fifteen beyond smoking pot and inviting some boy or another inside my pants. When they rest their temperature drops, he tells me, to whatever the temperature is around them. So on a rainy day they’d feel pretty cold, he says.
Freddy’s eyes are glowing in the sunset dark of the room, or what I imagine to be near sunset, who knows with the thatch of grey sky outside thick as a shag carpet. Did you know, he says, that during their mating season males will do it with a female just coming out of torpor where she’s all sluggish, and when that’s done they’ll go after another female, even other males. They’re promiscuous, he tells me, flashing that grin. I know that word, he says.
Huh, I grunt, and grab his hand that’s been nervously fiddling with the buttons on my shirt cuff as if opening these will expose something. I consider a strategic placement on my inner thigh but feel instead its smoothness, its newness. Slender long fingers, already formed, not like Pet’s that are encased in baby fat, the dimples where one day his knuckles will protrude, grow hairy, and then he’ll become a man. How much of that growing up, I wonder, will I be there for? A weekend here and there, take him to a ball game like the non-custodial dads do, a hotdog then home to Jody and his skank of the week? Though maybe that’s not entirely fair. After all it was my father who stayed with me, my dad who didn’t give up.
The wreck of the building is drafty and I shiver, watching the bats start to stir, a wiggle of an oversized ear here, a sketchy wing there. Bats are not pretty animals. Freddy slips his arm around my waist, not with the sureness of a man, rather the boy trying to figure out what the next step should be. Let’s sit, I tell him, thinking I’ll help him along, as we collapse onto the cold concrete floor. I run my fingers through his hair, his scalp warm and a little oily—amazing how teenage boys can feel hot even during these damp spring days, their inner furnace fueled by raging hormones. A memory of a night when we lived in Hawai’i, on the beach with one of them, sneaking out after my dad was asleep, snuggling up with this hot-blooded boy in a sleeping bag on the sand, trade winds blowing the palms above us, rattling their fronds, the moon coating everything with a milky, stippled white. I barely knew him but let him do what he wanted; what did I have to lose?
Freddy’s hand has made it to my breast and I can feel his fingers trembling. My heart thrums in my chest and there’s that familiar ache, that physical yearning, but something else too, more empty, a longing, but for what I’m just not sure. I take his hand in mine and kiss his fingers. Do your parents do things with you? I ask him.
He shrugs, What do you mean?
I don’t know, ball games? I stare at him, his funny, distant look that won me over his first day in my art class. A look like he’s with you, but not. Like maybe he has another, more essential life somewhere else.
They’re pretty busy, he says. We have a lot of stuff though. I nod, remember Ginger telling me I should do the preacher instead of his son. People think the Holy Spirit has commanded them to write checks to those guys, she said. That’s got to beat the Bagel Palace.
The bats are randomly flying about, a chaos of flapping wings above us, then gliding out through a hole in the wall near the ceiling, one after the other. They’re going to look for food, Freddy tells me, it’s sunset. He points to a weak orange light shining through a cracked window; some of the clouds must have finally cleared. I gaze at Freddy, his golden arm hairs in the pale light, the perfect line of his spine, his expensive haircut purchased by the grace of the prosperity gospel. They’ll find their food by echolocation, he says, where they make these little noises, clicks and purrs, and bat mothers find their babies that way too, making sounds that the babies recognize. But they’re not blind. People think bats are but they’re not.
I have a sudden image of my father making clicking sounds to my grandmother as he brushes her hair, my grandmother who has macular degeneration and can no longer see. She was once an impeccably dressed woman, her cashmere jackets, matching pumps, the best bridge player in her neighborhood; a former librarian who taught my dad to treasure books, my dad who read to me every night for years, even after I no longer wanted him to he insisted on that half hour, the two of us. How must she feel now, or maybe she doesn’t, can’t think it, remember it long enough to know, that all of it is gone? The most intimate of one’s grooming, using a toilet, is beyond her. When I visited them last year, in a glimmer of her former droll humor she said: Not a problem, I just wet. She keeps losing weight, dissolving away. Is my father afraid of her dying? Or perhaps he’s afraid of her not dying and losing more and more of her every day. Does he worry that one day he’ll wake up and the woman that was his mother won’t be there?
I think about clueing Freddy in on the White Nose disease, about how a number of those bats he’s watching fly into the night may not return. Do you know, Freddy… I picture myself saying to him, staring straight into his earnest eyes, still filled with something like hope. But why spoil it for him. Besides, maybe enough will survive and eventually become like the Peregrine Falcons, hanging out in the clouds, under the stars, hovering over a world filled with migrants, theirs for the taking. A success story.