Monday, March 20, 2017

Tangibles

I always used to wonder why older people, particularly, clung so stubbornly to that tattered old chair, that rickety old coffee table, that sweater with the holes all over it. I wondered until I found myself one of them. When I moved from my home in Northern Wisconsin to this very small apartment in Chicago, I had to get rid of a lot of furniture, and I was surprised by how traumatic it was.  One of the items that had to go was a couch I had custom-made when I lived in Los Angeles. It was a very nice couch, even though it was getting pretty threadbare even though I’d had it re-upholstered once, and I loved it. The thought of getting rid of it was unbearable.

Why? Because it was just a couch? No. Because my mom and Ray had sat on it, and many years later I could sit on it, and reach out my hand to the cushion beside me and imagine Mom there, or Ray. As long as I had that couch, I could pretend that they’d just gotten up and would be back any moment, to sit beside me again. Getting rid of it cut yet another cord which bound me to the past. It’s not so much that I want to be bound to it, but simply that I have no choice in the matter.

To me, life is rather like jumping out of a plane: it is a wonderful, exhilarating experience until you realize that the ground is coming closer with frightening speed, and you don’t have a parachute.

I readily admit that I probably take this hanging-onto-the-past thing a bit too seriously. As some can never throw away a piece of string, I can never throw away the threads to my past.
My move to Chicago also necessitated that I, with great reluctance, turn over custody of some key links to my past to my relatives for safekeeping: my grandmother’s steamer trunk; the radio on which I heard of the attack on Pearl Harbor. I keep a storage shed in southern Wisconsin wherein I am keeping the desk and chair I bought at a Goodwill in Los Angeles and carefully refinished, plus a large coffee table I gave to my parents as a Christmas gift almost 50 years ago. I have no room for them in my apartment, but I cannot part with them.

I have a huge box of playbills from every play I’ve ever seen from 1950 on up…as well as several of the ticket stubs (a good seat for a Broadway show used to run less than $10.00). I have a flier for a bar in San Remo, Italy. I have jars of stones picked up along the shore of Lake Superior; I have the letters my parents wrote me throughout my time in the Navy and beyond.

I have the envelopes containing the plane ticket stubs from the time I took my parents to Hawaii—Mom had always dreamed of going there—in 1960. I have a petrified snail shell I found while walking along a railroad track in Los Angeles in the 1970s; and a small liqueur glass I stole from the bar at the Istanbul Hilton in 1956.

In my dresser drawer is a pair of sweat-pants with “Margason” stenciled on the seat. They were issued to me in August of 1954 when I entered the NavCads. I don’t wear them, of course…their purpose is not to be worn, but to keep me tangibly linked to that part of my past.

I suppose there is a very fine line between “idiosyncrasy” and “psychosis,” and I readily acknowledge I probably do a balancing act between them on this issue. I can never fully explain how important these direct links with the past are to me. They protect me as the ground rushes up toward me; they comfort me. They are part of who I am, and as long as I have them, I have the past, and I am not alone.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com: 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Pity Pool

As I’m sure you probably have noticed by now, I am infinitely fascinated by me, partly because of my self-perceived isolation from the rest of the world and partly because my thoughts, experiences, and reactions are the only ones of which I can feel fairly confident.

Somewhere, in the dark forest of every human mind, there is a pity pool where the wild regrets and yearnings for lost things come to renew themselves when they suspect we may be forgetting about them. The nice thing about the pity pool is that we are comforted by the thought that nothing that happens to us is our fault or our responsibility…that all our woes are visited upon us by anyone and anything other than ourselves. And there is a certain nobility in the self-assurance that we are terribly brave to face such adversity alone. (“Alone” is a key word in all contemplation of the pity pool.)

My personal pity pool is actually more of a lake, the full extent of which is hidden by thick foliage of reality along the shore. But while I really do tend to avoid it, I catch an occasional glimpse every now and then and, in the heat of emotion, have been known to take a dip in its murky waters.

My trips to the pity pool are most frequently occasioned by reminders of what I could once do…so casually and without giving it a single thought…that I can no longer do. (Yesterday I found it necessary to use a straw to empty a half-pint carton of milk since I was unable to tilt my head back far enough to drink it normally.) These little reminders of the difference between who I was until six years ago and who I am now are hard to take. We are two different people. Totally different, and yet still the same. I can’t fully grasp it, and quite probably never will.

And because there are so many reminders, the temptation to take a dip in the pity pool is irritatingly frequent. Some friends meet every Friday evening for drinks. I know I would be welcome to join them, but I do not: it’s too close to the pity pool. For years, I had a routine of having two Manhattans between getting home from work and dinner. I truly enjoyed them. But now any alcohol burns my mouth. I don’t even use mouthwash that contains alcohol. Occasionally, when out for dinner, I will have a Kahlua and cream…heavy on the cream, light on the Kahlua. It still burns, but I do it. (Did I mention the nobility of bravery?)

And one reminder triggers a domino-effect of others. Carbonated beverages of any kind also burn, but in a different, hard-to-explain way, as do things like orange juice, lemonade, or anything citrus based. When I was at Mayo and took all my nourishment through a stomach tube, I used to literally dream of chug-a-lugging a tall glass of orange juice, or a big mug of root beer. But when I was finally able to try, I found the carbonation of the root beer and the acidity of the orange juice limited me to a few small sips at a time. And a flashing neon arrow over the words “This Way to the Pity Pool” comes on in my mind.

Why I’m laying all these things out here now is not, I assure you, a bid for sympathy: far too many people have had it much, much rougher than I, and I realize it and am embarrassingly grateful that I have had it so relatively easy compared to others. No, I do it in the hopes that you might do what I never did before the problem arose…take a moment at least once every hour to realize just how very lucky you are.

And I excuse myself for this Rubensesque self portrait of “Roger at the Pity Pool” on the grounds that none of us is fully aware or appreciative of what we have until we no longer have it, and by then it is too late.

An occasional dip in our own private pity pool is perfectly normal, and probably even healthy. The key lies in not staying too long before getting out, drying ourselves off, and getting on with our lives.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com: 

Monday, March 06, 2017

Things--and Things, Again

[Roger would not be happy with my erratic postings of his blogs here; I take some comfort knowing that I do post them to his web site regularly on Mondays and Thursday (www.doriengrey.com).  So, since they are related, I'm posting two today.             --Gary
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Things

God, how I hate endings! I can’t help it, but every ending reminds me that my time on earth is not infinite, and endings, like the ticking of a clock, are a constant reminder of that fact.

Every day I have the same “lunch”…an 8 oz can of liquid nutritional supplement (350 calories), half cup of milk (60 calories?), and a small container of Benecalorie nutritional supplement (320 calories, but containing the only essential vitamin not found in the other liquid supplement). It never varies. I don’t have other things for lunch partly because I’m too lazy to try to think of what else I might have, and partly because I probably wouldn’t eat much of it if I did have it. I’m in it for the calories, and I know how many my standard provides.

But this morning at the store, I bought some yogurt, with which I planned to vary my routine by adding it to the other ingredients and whipping it up in the blender. Which brings us to the subject of this blog.

My blender belonged to my mom. I have absolutely no idea how old it is, other than very. I’m sure mom had it since the ‘50s. I inherited it from her when she died in California in 1970, kept it with me through my various moves within Los Angeles and Pence and now Chicago.

So I prepared my smoothie—the blender working perfectly as it has for over half a century. Drank most of a glass, then went to pour the rest from the blender to the glass. I noticed as I did so that there were some flakes of black at the bottom of the blender. Investigating, I realized that the black rubber gasket at the base of the pitcher part of the blender was crumbling. Not knowing how much of it I’d already swallowed in what I’d just drunk, I dumped out the remainder of my smoothie.

Thinking I might be able to find another gasket, I tried to unscrew the aluminum blade housing from the glass container portion. It would not budge. I got a hammer and tapped one of the flanges on the side of aluminum, and the glass container broke, leaving me with yet another intimation of mortality. The bottom section, with the motor, still works fine, and I’ve ordered another canister and aluminum canister base w/gasket, but it won’t be quite the same. And at least I won’t have to throw it away. I can pretend it’s still my mom’s! It was in my two L.A. homes, and my two Pence homes, and my Chicago apartment. It’s done everything I ever asked of it, and did it well and without complaint. So I guess I’m making a big fuss over nothing.

I know, I know, things are just things. They have no awareness, no feelings. But I do, and rightly or wrongly, things make up the fabric of my life. They are tangible memories. I touch them, and knowing that others I have loved and who were so much a part of my life also touched them means they are not really gone…just away for a while.

As I understand it, Eastern cultures espouse the meaningless of things, and I in fact have friends who believe basically the same things. And I agree that things can be a burden…carting them around from place to place when they can easily be replaced by newer and better things. But they are not and can never be the same things. They do not have, on their surfaces, the tiny residual atoms of those people who once held or touched or sat on them so long ago.

I have stuffed animals I bought for Ray, or Ray bought for me; I have the end tables my mom bought at an unpainted furniture warehouse and varnished herself when she first moved to L.A., and the chair she bought. I have the delicate cocoa set which belonged to my grandmother Fearn (who died many years before I was born), and pocket watches belonging to both my grandfather and grandmother Fearn. I have a wooden Buddha given me by my friend “Uncle Bob” to welcome visitors, and an artillery shell brought home from WWI by my Uncle Buck.

Do I need them? No. But do I need them? Oh, my yes, for they are as much a part of me as my fingerprints, or my soul.
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Things, Again

The dictionary lists several meanings for the word “things,” but for the purposes of this blog, I’m using the one referring to possessions. People have three types of possession-things: things we have because we need them, things we have because we want them, and things we just have for no particular reason. The only exceptions seem to be those who live in total, abject poverty, and those devoted to the monastic life.

Having spent more than 50 hours working at Norm’s condo (I have to keep track as part of my being executor of his estate), going through his things, organizing them, and trying to find a way of disposing of them, I realized once again just how addicted we all are to…things. And being in the position, with Norm, of standing somewhat removed from his things, it is clear that the last two of the three types of things are by far in the majority. These are things we do not really need regardless of how much we may have wanted them when we got them, things we no longer use and never will use again, things we come across in our closets and dresser drawers that we’d totally forgotten we have.

Just about everyone I know has an “everything drawer” somewhere, usually in the kitchen, into which we toss things we don’t know what else to do with but think we might conceivably need at some future point: keys to locks seldom used or lost (but which we’re sure will show up at some point), somebody’s business card, matchbooks, perhaps an ashtray just in case a smoker comes by, a “church key” (bottle opener), and a wide assortment of unidentifiable objects, usually small pieces of something we meant to repair or get to one of these days.
But in truth, for many of us our entire home/apartment is in effect a large “everything drawer.” And as the years go by, more and more things are tossed into it.

I live in a small, one-bedroom apartment. I have no fewer than 12 bath and hand towels, and I’m not that dirty. Even were I to have overnight guests, I couldn’t accommodate more than two, and I do laundry every week. So why do I have so many towels? Oh, and the other day at Norm’s I came across a couple of really nice, big bath towels which I of course brought home to add to all the others I already have. Why? Did I want them? Yes. Did I need them? No. Will I soon forget I have them? Probably.

My closets are full of clothes I haven’t worn in years, and probably never will. Yet whenever I determine to clean out a closet, I’ll come across shirts or pants or jackets that I’d forgotten I had. (“Oh, that’s where that went! I’ll wear that next week, for sure!” And I don’t throw it away, and I don’t wear it, and it sits there until next time I determine to clean out the closet.)
My bookcase is overflowing with books. A couple of them I’ve never gotten around to reading but hope to. Several of them I’ve read more than once and plan to or may well read again at some point. But I’d say the majority of books there are ones I’ve read once and will never look at again. And I do give them away on that rare third-or-fourth blue moon that I get around to clearing out the bookcase. But bookcases are amazing things in that, having been cleared out, magically tend to refill themselves in short order.

Now, there are two distinct sub-categories of “things”: those which really matter and those which don’t. I’ve spoken often before of my total inability to get rid of those things which have some special significance to me…which are tangible bridges to the past and to the people I associate with them. I’ve said several times that I would never, on my own, have purchased the small art-deco display piece—a woman with a 1930s hairstyle and wearing a 1930s negligee—draped with a 1930s bakelite necklace— Ray bought for me as a gift because I’d once mentioned to him that I liked art deco. But it is one of my most treasured “things” simply because it came from him. And it stands on another of my most-prized “things,” the battered old dresser Norm and I bought and refinished somewhere around1960. Together, they represent a tangible combination of memories of loved ones lost but never gone.

Were a fire or some natural disaster to destroy my apartment and everything in it, as tragically happens frequently to others, would I be able to survive? Of course. I realize that the true value of almost everything I treasure most derives primarily from the memories I associate with them. And I know that memories remain long after the thing or person with whom they are associated are gone. But it is far better to have the both the memories and the ability to physically touch those things which are the doorknobs to open the door to the past.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com: 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Poor Loser

Loss is a part of life. We all experience it…some more than others…and we each must learn to deal with it in our own way. I have never handled loss well, and even though I always manage to get on with my life after one, its ghost joins the many others walking the halls of my mind. I have developed the ability to largely ignore them, but if I’m not careful….

I was scanning photos of my last house in Los Angeles for inclusion in Dorien Grey: A Life in Photos blog (http://doriengreyphotolife.blogspot.com/search?q=los+angeles+home). It was without question the nicest house I have ever owned.

That these ghosts grab me is one thing…what really hurts is their whispered tauntings: “You had this once. Remember? Look. You’re almost there again. Just reach out, and…” and then the humorless laughter before they continue: “It’s gone, and you will never have it again. You will never sit at the breakfast room table, or look out at the hill behind the house, or spend time with the friends and conquests who came and went with comforting frequency. You can look at these photos, but you cannot have what you had there. Never again.”

While I am given to melodrama, as you may have noticed, I am being sincere when I say that those rare occasions when I allow myself to dwell on the whispers are not only mentally excruciating but actually cause a definite physical tightening of my chest. I had it. I want it! I want to see and talk to and touch all those people who were so much a part of my life. I miss them terribly. I miss the then-me terribly.

I know, too, that this dwelling on the past makes me—wrongly, I can assure you—seem ungrateful for the present and all the good things and people around me today, and I apologize for that, but it is simply the way I am, and I can’t change it.

Since I was a very small child, I have been aware that each passing minute brings me closer to the time when I will no longer be here, and that thought is terrifying. And as a perverse result, many of the good times of my life have been tainted by the fact that, even as I am enjoying them, I know they must pass and become more ghosts to wander my mind.

As I’ve mentioned often before, I spend the majority of my time alive storing up bits and pieces of myself for the time when I will be dead. The irony of that fact certainly does not escape me. I consider myself something of a squirrel, gathering up the nuts of my life for the long winter of eternity. My books, my letters, my blogs, all small parts of who this Roger/Dorien person was and is with luck will live on after I am physically gone. Even as I write this, I am bitterly resentful of the fact that my physical body, already far from its best, will at some point simply cease to exist. It’s been a good body, and it has served me very well, and I feel sorrow that it cannot always do so. I still have it, but I deeply miss it already.

Have I perchance happened to mention that I do not like reality? My body is forced to live in it, but my mind refuses to.

Also, as I write these little exercises in self indulgence, I wonder exactly why I expect you, who have your own life, your own losses, to have any interest at all in mine…and the answer is, as always, that I trust you may see in me parts of yourself, and realize that we are not quite as…I started to say “unique,” but prefer to substitute “alone”…as we sometimes feel.)
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com:


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Change and Endings

The recent awareness that my cat, Crickett, who is between 16-18 years old, is failing rapidly and has very little time left to her set me off on a little philosophical jaunt about endings and change. I was a little surprised to realize that there can be change without endings, but never endings without change.

But change is absolutely necessary for any forward movement, and it is not so much change that I object to as it is endings, which are generally an integral part of change. Change involves the opening of doors to our future, and often, especially on an individual-human-being level, closing doors to the past which can never be reopened. Death is the ultimate door closer, and the source of our greatest pain.

Man is a greedy creature. Once blessed with love, he is reluctant to give it up. He may pay lip service to the fact that love is not a gift but a loan. Yet we refuse to see what we do not wish to acknowledge: that time is a collection agency, and it will be paid. The response to losing someone or something one truly loves is sadness, grief, and an indescribable resentment for its having been taken away. It is not enough to merely be grateful for having had the love at all; we despair over its loss and, like a little child, want it back. “If I had it once, why can’t it be mine forever?”

Which brings me back to Crickett. She has been with me for many years, but her time, as is time for every living thing, is running out. I am trying, rather belatedly, I fear, to give her the attention she has always demanded but I have been too busy with my own interests to give her. I want her to know she is loved and that I appreciate her sharing her life with me. She is still alive, so I still have some time to make up for all the past years of benevolent neglect. The door is still open, but I know it will soon close, and Crickett will pass from the tangible now to intangible memory.

But Crickett is not human. She is a cat. My love and concern for her cannot possibly be compared to the love of one human for another. My mother, my father, my aunt Thyra and Uncle Buck, my remaining cousins, my close friends to all of whom I owe so much and upon whom I depend so strongly…how can I dare equate love for them to love for a cat?
Easily. Love doesn’t come with set values or limitations: it is neither quantitative nor qualitative; it simply is. Had I to make a choice between Crickett or my mother, there would be no question, of course. But I do not have to make such a choice. Love is love.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go pet Crickett. While I can.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com. 


Thursday, February 09, 2017

Reflections of Aging

Every day I find myself, to my horror, becoming J. Alfred Prufrock. Last night I had a pork chop for dinner. Today I had a pork chop for dinner. The same pork chop! Half of it yesterday, half of it today. Good Lord, just thinking about that is enough to make me want to weep.

I used to eat four pork chops at a sitting without batting an eye, plus a small mountain of mashed potatoes and a cup and a half of gravy. No more. No more. Do I dare to eat a peach? I’d love to, but I can’t open my mouth wide enough for a respectable bite, and I probably wouldn’t eat the whole thing even if I could open up.

I do not believe in aging gracefully, and the eyes of strangers and reflective surfaces make it eminently clear that I am not. Poor Navy-days or college-days Roger would be utterly horrified were we to somehow bump into one another. I’m here, now, and I’m horrified. How could who I have always been (and still am within my own mind) have become this Nosferatu-like creature…this ironically pseudonymed picture of Dorian Gray?

Please believe me when I say that I’m not being maudlin (not intentionally, anyway) or taking a high dive into the bottomless Pity Pool. I’m merely observing. I am hurtling down the steep slope of time with no brakes and little steering control and I am frozen like a deer in the headlights unable to do a thing to save myself. It’s a ride we all must take, if we’re lucky enough to live long enough, but the thing is that it happens to us as individuals, and very few of us are prepared for it.

When Eliot says, of J. Alfred, “I have measured out my life in coffee spoons,” I can relate. We each tend to concentrate so strongly on the little details of each day that we seldom take the time to realize just how much there is going on around us that we either are totally unaware of or simply choose to ignore. I know that for myself I am so busy writing about my life that I miss many opportunities to live it.

J. Alfred says, “I shall wear the bottom of my trousers rolled.” I always wondered what that meant until I realized that whereas I used to be 5’10 ½” tall, I am now probably somewhere around 5’9”, though I’ve not measured lately. Something to do with spinal compression or some such thing, I imagine, and I do not wear my trousers rolled. But I am aware that I am shorter than I was. (Not being able to stand with one’s head held high is a definite contributing factor.)

My favorite line in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is: “I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think they will sing to me.” As a gay man living on the edge of Chicago’s gay heart, I have paraphrased that to, “I hear the mermen singing, each to each. I know they do not sing to me.” And it hurts. I realize how silly that is to say. After all, I was doing wonderful things long before the beautiful young men who surround me on the streets were conceived—or conceived of. I have had more than my share of romances and loves and parties and partners. But much as I do realize how ungrateful I sound for setting the past aside as though it didn’t matter, the fact is that it did matter so very much, and I am greedy.

Yes, I had it all once. But I want it all NOW.

Well, perhaps on my next turn on the Merry-Go-Round….
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  doriengrey.com:

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Teeter-Totter

Life is a lot like a teeter-totter—balance is always strived for and seldom if ever achieved. We are all constantly going through the ups and downs of happiness and misery, between success and failure, and too often slamming our rear-ends on the ground. Getting both ends of the board level is one of those forever-elusive goals of which life is, in fact, made. And once balance is achieved, either in life or on the teeter-totter, it never lasts long.

All my life I have sought—largely unsuccessfully, of course—to find a balance between my totally unrealistic egotism and my excessive self-loathing. It’s a theme touched on constantly in these blogs. (I am not content to merely beat a dead horse; I insist on pureeing it.) My egotism makes me demand far more of myself than I or any human being could ever possibly deliver, but that doesn’t stop me from demanding it. And my inability to meet those demands—or even come within walking distance of them—fuels the self-loathing which truly frightens me at times. (And I suppose that having so said, I should add a disclaimer that I have never for one second, even in my darkest moments, ever considered depriving myself of life; the very concept is anathema to me. I am far too grateful for the gift of life, however rough it may be at any given time, to willingly give it up.)

I think, yet again, that I am so utterly fascinated with life that my frustration often stems from weighing everything there is to see and learn and do against what I have seen, or learned, or done or will be likely to do. I see life as a vast candy store, and myself a little kid shoveling candy into my mouth with both fists until I look like a chipmunk with both cheeks bulging. And then I get angry because I want it ALL and my mouth simply cannot hold any more.

I’ve often noted that every toddler thinks of himself as being the center of the universe. Life soon dissuades most of that notion, but I fear it has never totally succeeded with me. Even today, battered and shop-worn and often thinking of myself as being in the “Free! Help Yourself” bin at a rummage sale, I am consumed with the wonder of life. I am quintessentially aware that since the instant time began, through all the time involved in the birth and life and death of stars and galaxies, and onward through the rest of eternity, I am the only “me” there ever has been or ever will be. (Of course, so are you: but it’s still a mind-boggling thought.) How could I not think I am special?

And since I am so very special in that aspect, why shouldn’t I be equally special when it comes to everything/anything else? But I am not, and I cannot—well, let’s make that absolutely refuse to—accept that fact. (We won’t go anywhere near the subject of my tenuous relationship with reality here.)

Balance is often achieved through accommodation, through a system somewhat similar to the way submarines and lighter than air craft use ballast; getting rid of some excess weight here, or moving/adding it there. I fear I’m not all that good at accommodations. I want what I want without having to give up any of what I already have. Hardly practical or logical, but fully realizing that fact does not materially change things.

But on thinking it over (as writing these blogs often makes me do), I realized I actually have found something of a tenuous balance on life’s teeter-totter despite myself. Every teeter-totter has two seats, one at each end, and in effectively dividing myself into Dorien and Roger, my life has two parts. The real-world Roger, who must deal as best he can with the infinite frustrations and anger of daily life, and Dorien, who is largely able to ignore the wars Roger fights every day, and simply gets on with writing of worlds in which evil and cruelty exist only, as the scripts of plays often call it, as “voices off.” Dorien’s life is far less stressful, and while Roger must still constantly struggle for balance, it gives him comfort to know that he can use Dorien as emotional ballast to keep the teeter-totter a little more level.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com: