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AGORAPHOBIA: Summer, 1990 & Winter, 2020 photo


Summer, 1990 – Censorship Is Obscene  


“I am not meant for this monastery life.”

                                                            -Sylvia Plath, journal, 1959


I hear about it the way I hear about everything going on outside my apartment, from my friend Siouxsie. Siouxsie is my only remaining friend in town so I only hear about stuff like this from her. Siouxsie is a townie, meaning she grew up here, as opposed to came here for college like everyone else, like me, even though I dropped out my sophomore year. Actually, in truth, I flunked out. I was ‘put on academic probation.’ I stopped going to classes because I couldn’t take them anymore. I didn’t know anyone. I sat in my dorm room and took acid and listened to Echo & the Bunnymen on my boombox. One time I got drunk and slept with this guy from Scotland named Ewan, but he was even drunker than I was, like incapacitated – or, became so -  and it was a whole deal getting him out of my room after. I think maybe he passed out in the shower. I think maybe I dragged him in there. It’s possible he shit himself in the shower while passed out. There was a guy who did that. Shat himself and vomited, clogged the fucking drain in our communal bathroom. I just can’t remember if it was Ewan or some frat boy Erin or Betsy brought back. If Ewan shat himself before or after I dragged him into the shower. Whoever it was the RA had to get two people to help her get him out in the morning. I remember that. And the stench … I remember that too. Anyway, I fucked Ewan and about ten other guys and didn’t go to classes and got high off my one-hitter and the pot my stepdad sold me whenever I took the Greyhound home to Millsburg and was put on academic probation.


So, Siouxsie calls and says, “Hey, there’s gonna be a protest tomorrow, do you wanna meet me there?” I haven’t left the apartment in two weeks, since Phinehas flew home to White Plains, but I say, “okay, yeah,” and Siouxsie gives me the address and we hang up.

            It’s only eight and Letterman doesn’t come on until 12:30 and I don’t know how I’m going to fill those four hours. I don’t drink anymore but I smoke so I light a cigarette and try to figure it out.

            There’s a new issue of Interview on the coffee table and older issues of Details and Premiere and Spin and Rolling Stone and I figure I can read one of those, maybe jog in place.

            Tonight, Howard Stern is on Letterman. Maybe Stupid Pet Tricks. Maybe Meg, the girl in the office building window across the street Dave sometimes calls and talks to. I can always feel myself getting a little jealous whenever Meg is on. Not cuz she’s that pretty or anything. She’s not. I mean, she’s o-kay. Prettier than me.  But she’s not Madonna or Demi Moore or anything. And not jealous like the woman who broke into Dave’s house. Not unhinged. I wouldn’t make cookies and drive to Dave’s house or take his Porsche out for a ride though the Lincoln Tunnel or anything. Just like, I wish that was me, that I worked in an office building across the street from Dave; that David Letterman called me on the phone sometimes and asked me to do crazy things like open my 13th floor window and sail a paper plane out of it or turn to the camera and wave to Dave and America. Meg is so lucky. I wonder sometimes if Meg realizes how lucky she is. I wonder if she tapes every show like I do so she can watch it later in case she misses anything because she had to run to the bathroom or because her boyfriend has the audacity to talk about something absurd like his summer internship in New York while Dave is talking, reading from the Top Ten list or bantering with Paul or Bruce Willis.


The debate has been going on all summer and spring. Not just here but all over the country. In all the major newspapers, on all the talk shows, the morning news shows, Donahue, even. Something about sadomasochism, S&M. I always forget what the letters stand for, which is which, which, if either, am I.

            “M,” Phinehas said when I asked a few weeks ago, before he left for the summer. We were watching the 11 o’clock news waiting for Johnny Carson to come on. “You’re definitely an M.”

            I nodded. I figured Phinehas knew. Phinehas is an Industrial Design major. Phinehas drives a Volkswagen station wagon and has his shit together – has something called ‘a 5-year plan’ - even though he has a Devil’s lock and wears combat boots; even though the station wagon technically belongs to his dad. Phinehas says I am lazy and will never amount to anything whenever we get in a fight, which is when I think people say what they really mean. Anyway, he’s probably right. About the M thing. I mean, I don’t even have my license. Phinehas always drives. Sometimes people think Phinehas is a skinhead, but it’s just the leather bike jacket, the boots. Actually, Phinehas is Jewish, or his mother is, which technically makes him Jewish, even if he tells people he is Italian, which he technically is also, but on his father’s side, which doesn’t, you know, count.


Siouxsie’s not where she said she’d be. I’m standing by the fountain – the one in the famous opening shot of that sitcom from ten years ago - looking around and I don’t see Siouxsie anywhere. I haven’t left my apartment in two weeks and I feel slightly like throwing up. It’s ninety-some degrees and I’m already sweating. Throwing up is something I think about a lot. I worry about it nonstop whenever I’m outside of my apartment. Which is sort of ironic if you think about it, since I was bulimic from ages 17-19 and I’m only 21 now. It’s a matter of control, I guess. When I felt like I was going to throw up in a class last spring, for example, I felt as though I had no control. Once, I ran out of the class even though it was only half over because I felt like I was going to throw up or shit my pants. I’d been thinking about how I felt like one or the other or both was going to happen since class started, since before, honestly, and you have no idea how long thirty minutes can feel when you feel like you might puke or shit your pants in front of your classmates. Last night on Letterman, Howard Stern was wearing all black like most of the people here: black jeans, black boots, black shirt, an earring in his left ear, which is the ear you’re supposed to get pierced if you’re a man and you’re not gay, you know, and his hair was bigger, puffier, than ever, like a guy in Ratt or Cinderella, bands no one listens to anymore. Anyway, I never went back to class after that, after I ran out of that linguistics class last spring. That’s when I dropped out a second time, when I dropped out for good. Gave up on my education, so to speak. I found out around that time I didn’t need my grandmother to cash the CDs she’d put in my name in some bank in Tampa when I was a baby, so I just started cashing them myself and spending the money on things like cassettes and magazine subscriptions and blank VHS tapes for recording Late Night and SNL and the Oscars and a spur for one of Phinehas’s combat boots and tickets for shows at Bogart’s and knives at the gun and knife show Phinehas insists we go to somewhere in Kentucky and pyramids made out of onyx for our mantle and skulls for our mantel and soapstone statues of African-looking men for our mantel and crystals for our mantel. I didn’t tell anyone either. As far as I know, no one in my family knows. As far as I know, they all still think I’m in school, taking classes. We don’t really talk that much, I guess. It’s not like anyone’s inquiring as to my academic achievements or anything. It’s not like anyone really cares. I was an English major and what can you do with that.


It’s hot as hell and I can’t find Siouxsie and I feel like I might throw up so I light a cigarette and look for shade. I saw on the news before I left the apartment that earlier today, around noon, fifty people sat and ate their lunches at Fountain Square with paper bags over their heads as part of some pre-protest protest. I don’t fully get what that signifies, putting a paper bag over your head, something to do with censorship, I guess, but, what I wanted to know was, how did they eat their lunches?

            Phinehas and I never went downtown and saw the actual show on account of it being so crowded – we watched on the local news the lines and lines of people (3k the first night!) around the block every night – on account of my claustrophobia and my feeling like I’m going to throw up or like I can’t breathe whenever we went out to eat or to a movie in spring. That’s another thing: feeling like I can’t breathe, feeling like my throat is getting smaller and smaller and my breaths more and more shallow until I really feel like I might faint or stop breathing altogether and I have to sit down and put my head between my legs like an imbecile or go outside and smoke on the sidewalk instead of smoking inside the restaurant at our table which doesn’t make sense except in my brain, in my head – to get ‘fresh air,’ whatever that is, whatever that means anymore.

            Anyway, I know from watching the news with Phinehas and reading articles in magazines there were 175 photographs and only seven were supposed to be obscene or pornographic, and of those, five were what they were referring to as homoerotic – men pissing in other men’s mouths, men shoving their fists and whips and other objects up other men’s rectums (I glance over and a guy in an ACT UP t-shirt and pink sunglasses is holding a sign that says “THE REAL ISSUE IS HOMOPHOBIA”) – and two photographs were of children with no clothes on, a boy and a girl, with their “genitals exposed”, and a lot of the rest were of flowers: orchids and lilies, mostly.


The closest I’ve ever come to participating in anything sadomasochistic was the time the first year Phinehas and I were dating and we were feeling adventurous because for once Kristin had left the room for the night and so we decided I should pee on Phinehas. I remember squatting on the bed, over him, and trying to piss. I squatted over him what felt a long time and then finally some pee came out, finally I was pissing on him, but it didn’t feel very erotic, it felt more like a high school dare someone made you do at a slumber party. It didn’t feel like anything anyone would try and shut down an art gallery over.


Two years ago, I didn’t know a thing about art. I didn’t even know who Andy Warhol was, that’s how ignorant I was. I grew up in a small town in Indiana and the only time anyone talked about art was when I was a kid and my grandparents paid for me to take art lessons at this little art center we had in town. And the only thing I really remember about that is making my mom a clay ashtray and the time a bird flew into the huge plate glass window on the front of the art center. I was walking into the building with my mom for my art lesson and there was a loud smack and then the bird was just lying there on its back on the ground not moving. It was maybe my first encounter with death. Far as I can remember anyway. I can’t remember for sure but I think it was a robin. Anyway, the whole art class that day all I could think about was the dead bird lying on its back even though my mother said it might not be dead just stunned and it might wake up and fly away later while I was in class. But no one at the art center in my hometown talked about Andy Warhol or anyone else modern or contemporary for that matter. I think Monet was the most contemporary artist anyone talked about. The only reason I know anything now is because I had one friend my freshman year of college, this guy Ron, who was an RA on the first floor of my dorm, which was the floor all the art students lived on. I lived on the eleventh floor which was the floor with all the single rooms. I don’t know why I was allowed to get a single but I was and that’s probably a large part of what kept me from meeting people and making friends. But I somehow met Ron and he was a photography major and knew all the art students and so when I didn’t have anywhere to live my sophomore year, even though I was on academic probation, Ron told me about the Freak House and this girl Kristin who needed a roommate and so I moved in with her.

            Kristin was a fashion design major from Akron or Canton, I forget which, and there were six other people – two guys and four girls – who shared the Freak House, all of them art majors of some kind but me. So I learned all about Warhol and Basquiat and Laurie Anderson and Keith Haring and Robert Mapplethorpe and REM and 10,000 Maniacs and there was a giant poster of Michael Stipe someone had hung in the living room over the Goodwill couch and the female and the male art students were always arguing over whether Michael was gay or not and finally it was decided he was bisexual so anyone could have a crush on him which was earth shattering to me being from Millsburg where being gay still got you your ass kicked and the only lesbian we knew was Debbie Finefrock who’d worn shorts under her dresses in grade school and was the star of our girls’ basketball team; I’d never even heard of being bisexual.


Siouxsie didn’t live in the Freak House but she dated one of my roommates, this guy Marc who was an art history major but who was also obsessed with Japan and Japanese culture and eventually broke up with Siouxsie for a Japanese woman (a woman who actually lived in Japan), Masako, but that was later, after Siouxsie and I became good friends.

            Siouxsie had long wavy hair that went all the way to her butt and large breasts she claimed she’d had reduced in high school and didn’t wear makeup or go to the university but instead worked at this sort of folky, sort of hippie clothing shop on short Vine that sold the black cotton Chinese Mary Janes that cost about ten dollars and that we all wore and owned multiple pairs of. But what really bonded us was the time she invited me to stay with her at her parents’ house and we laid out by her pool all day and then ate all this junk food – real junk food, the kind I was never allowed to have: Hostess products and donuts in a box, potato chips and Doritos and Fritos – and after Siouxsie fell asleep my stomach wouldn’t shut up and I ended up spending most of the night in Siouxsie’s bathroom shitting out all the junk food on her guest toilet, and the next day we laid out again before Siouxsie dropped me back off at the Freak House and listened to Blondie and The B-52’s and Deee-Lite.


I’ve finished my cigarette and I still can’t find Siouxsie and I’m looking around, scanning the crowd for anyone I might possibly know, from the Freak House, or from sleeping around freshman year so I can avoid them if I do. Most of the people look my age, look like students in DAAP, the art department at the university, look like Phinehas and Kristin and Ron. There are a lot of black leather biker jackets and jean jackets and jean jackets with the arms cut off and worn overtop the biker jackets. A lot of the guys have bandanas on their heads and ponytails and mullets and the girls have new wave hairdos and punk haircuts and stone washed jeans and a couple of them, the prettiest ones, have the whole Bananarama look thing going: blonde highlights and belted baggy jeans and crop tops and sneakers. I’m wearing a pair of denim shorts that almost reach my knees and a long, baggy Red Hot Chili Peppers t-shirt. I’m not wearing makeup because I never wear makeup and I’m wearing a black headband because I don’t know anything about styling my hair (I cut my bangs myself) and I’m smoking another cigarette because I still feel slightly nauseous and for some reason a cigarette is the only thing that seems like it is keeping me from throwing up.


A lot of people have signs and I wish I’d thought ahead to make a sign even though I’m terrible at coming up with slogans. The first sign I saw when I got down here was a banner someone had hung that said, “WELCOME TO CENSOR-NATI. “ There’s a chubby girl next to me with a bleached blonde side bob, glasses and a Queer Nation t-shirt holding a sign that says “CENSORSHIP IS A FORM OF MIND CONTROL – LEAVE MY MIND ALONE”. It’s a lot to fit on a sign but somehow she’s managed. Suddenly the girl starts chanting – “The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching you!” – and then a guy with a mullet starts chanting too and then another girl with a shaved head like Sinead O’Connor and pretty soon we’re all chanting: “The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching you!” and I wonder if this is true, if the whole world is indeed watching. Maybe it is. Maybe we’ll be written up in the New York Times tomorrow. Maybe there will be video evidence on the Today show. As soon as I start chanting someone changes the chant and instead of the whole world is watching it’s “What do we want? Freedom of expression! When do we want it? now!” I glance across the street and a group of about ten students are holding another banner: “IF you give artists the freedom of expression soon all Americans will want it.” and pretty soon the students set down the banner and join hands and I can see they’re all wearing the same black t-shirts with the words “Censorship Is Obscene” spelled out across the chest as they cross the street slowly, stopping traffic, hand in hand. I still didn’t see Souixsie.


The only other time I was ever at a protest was another time Phinehas was back in New York. It was about eighteen months ago and Ron and my mom were walking me into Planned Parenthood. There were about six or seven adults and some kids standing outside on the sidewalk and one of the kids was holding a sign that said, “Abortion stops a beating heart,” and I felt like going over to the kid and telling him, “No shit, Sherlock, why do you think I’m here?” but I hate when people bring their kids to protests so I let him alone and just went inside. Anyway, by the time I came back out a couple hours later he was gone. They were all gone. All except for this one old man who was holding a Bible. We didn’t say anything to each other. What was the point? The deed was already done. The heartbeat was stopped. And, honestly, I couldn’t have been happier about it.


I never find Siouxsie and I’m on the bus ride back. I’m sitting all the way in the back next to the window in case I have to throw up and I’m thinking about some of the photographs, I’m wondering how you fit a whole fist up a person’s asshole. I’m thinking about Phinehas, wondering if this is something he secretly wants to do, to me, or another girl. If it’s something he wants someone to do to him.


Later, after Johnny and Dave and Tom Snyder, I still can’t sleep. The only thing else on is reruns of this show from the 60s, the Bob Braun show, so I smoke some cigarettes and drink a Diet Coke and watch in bed. There’s a lady in the audience Bob is talking to and she looks about sixty but is probably forty-five and she’s talking about a recent vacation she and her family took to Washington D.C. and how bad the food was in all the restaurants and how the only place they found a decent meal was at Ponderosa. Ponderosa is one of the sponsors of the Bob Braun show so Bob is very happy to hear this. Bob Braun gives the woman in the audience a coupon for Ponderosa and I’m thinking of all the times I went to Ponderosa Steak House as a child with my family and all the times I went with my friend Val who was also a bulimic. They had soft serve ice cream and toppings and you could make your own sundae. Sometimes the Bob Braun show has themed episodes and last week’s rerun was the hot pants show and that was my favorite so far because most of the women in the audience were wearing them and wearing hot pants seems like fun.


After Bob Braun there is nothing else on so I run in place fifteen minutes and smoke one more cigarette and try to sleep. I read about this mediation technique for when you can’t relax or can’t sleep. You’re supposed to start with your toes, flex and hold, then relax them. Do this all the way up your body. Tense your legs, hold, relax. Tense your stomach muscles, hold, relax. When you get to your head you’re supposed to imagine someone unscrewing the top and draining all the old, bad fluid (gross!) and then refilling it with bright, clean fluid, and screwing back on the top. Actually, maybe that was meditative advice for when you have a headache. I don’t remember. All I know is, I’m trying all of this now and I’m still not sleeping. I’m still aware of my breaths. I’m still thinking: “Don’t go crazy, don’t go crazy” which is another thing I think about a lot along with thinking about not throwing up and thinking about not sleeping. Don’t go crazy is something I tell myself a lot while thinking about Frances Farmer and Zelda Fitzgerald and my mom’s friend Kathy and some other famous women and most of the women I know.





“I told him I didn’t know what a sin was.”

-Albert Camus, The Stranger


I woke with the heaviness of menstruation. I sat on the toilet and blood pissed out of me turning the water in the bowl a light crimson. I shoved in two large sanitary products and adhered another sanitary product to my underwear. I went to the kitchen and swallowed an iron pill, drank some orange juice. My abdomen was swollen with a non-cancerous tumor the size of a pomegranate. I bent over the mattress, scrubbing at the new stain. An ex-model my age had committed suicide over night. A vision of her scrubbing at blood on a mattress came to mind. The article hadn’t disclosed her means.


There was another man I spoke with, a philosopher, and the philosopher and I had agreed to no limitations on our liberties.


why are ‘artists’ such traditionalists?


The virus was only something incidental. I wanted not to be kept away but the virus (and he – or, was it I?) dictated otherwise. [I had a hard time distinguishing myself from the philosopher, despite our independent statuses.]


            (was the philosopher a genius or a child? what was i?)





The stock market was tumbling. People were hoarding paper products, canned goods, flour. Once, in her early twenties, she had contemplated suicide. Or, rather, she had contemplated the contemplation of suicide… perhaps the contemplation was a rejection of suicide, in her rejecting she hoped to keep it at a distance, this option, this choice for a woman.

            She had contemplated her chances of madness: as a woman, as an artist who has not yet made any art but intends to at some point in her future, as the daughter of a rebellious, wild woman. As the daughter of a woman who had herself once contemplated suicide …


I got up to change sanitary products. I had read earlier in life how women in the middle of life bleed so profusely as to cause damage to their overall health. (My hair had been falling out for months. my body had thinned, making the noncancerous tumor inside my abdomen obvious, felt.) How women’s bleeding seems ceaseless, cautionary. How women stand from chairs to hemorrhage blood onto the floor between their legs. Little pools of themselves, of their insides, visible as stains in the wood, on the carpet. (my heart sometimes raced as I climbed the stairs to my office, as I walked the dog up small hills.)

            And still I refused to eat. Another mini protest. Another tiny tantrum wasted with no audience. And still I drank brownish substances from cheap glass tumblers of little or no sentimentality. Poison for my insides. What did it matter? Such a Tolstoyian question. How childish of me! self-poisoning! How early 1800s. how other-timely! How many ways there were to take a life.


My name had been placed on a list by a person I did not know. I could not for the life of me recall ever having met this person and yet, here was my name. There was nothing that could be done about it. The list did not say what anyone on the list had done. The list was just names, not in any sort of alphabetic order, or any other detectable order for that matter. The order was as random seeming as the names on it. It made me wonder about the author of the list, this anonymous, how he or she organized their life, if they did so as seemingly haphazardly as they’d made the list or with more care and attention to detail. It didn’t matter. Anyway, I was on this list. It meant about as little to me as anything else did, I suppose. I was autonomous from a list. This wasn’t a failure for the list-maker, it was just more proof no one belongs to another, one’s reactions are one’s own. I had long since lost the thrill, the passion, for reaction.


She turned on the radio. A man who normally read the news was giving out the number of the suicide hotline. She quickly changed stations. Another man was talking but this man was talking about sports so she left the dial on this station and did not move it again a matter of days. There was some comfort in listening to the world explained through numbers pertaining not to death or viruses but to games won or lost, to records made or broken.  It was comforting or a kind distraction to think of games grown men played on fields, in grass, in mud, in rain, … all the elements of her childhood. There was something comforting in that.


I’d bought, recently, several boxes of sanitary products in the event of a national or international emergency then thought how unnecessary the products would be in such an event. Why worry about confining blood when the world is ending. Bleed freely like the animals. Like the females of every mammalian species. The bitches. Bleed on the mattress, bleed trails up stairs, through the house, out the drive to an empty mailbox … one never witnesses the blood of female animals in the snow, how come? Suicide is hard if not impossible to detect in the wild. How can one know what motivation to assign when a deer suddenly finds her flesh splintered with pieces of auto factory metal?

            It is impossible to determine the motivations of a female northern land mammal in 2020.


I drove with the car radio tuned to the same sports radio station. I drove five miles to the Target near the freeway entrance ramp. I was tempted to enter the freeway despite the warnings from the government about crossing state lines. I had read on the internet that in some states gas stations and rest areas were closed, an attempt at preventing the spread. I might begin the journey only to find myself out of gas, nowhere to change my tampon. I was repulsed by the idea of carrying my waste with me in a plastic baggie. I entered the store without making eye contact with anyone. I bought boxes of frozen waffles and boxes of frozen hamburgers. The shittier I ate, the less I took care of myself, the more compliments I received about my body, about the way I looked. The association of attractiveness and malnutrition. The belief a woman is most beautiful when she is at her weakest physically, emotionally, mentally … think about that.

            Think about the probable self-starvation of a female large North American land mammal in 2020, of telling her she is pretty!


I drove downtown. Riffraff milling about, lowlifes and beggars and thieves. Displaced and downtrodden men. I was fearful to exit my car but I needed cigarettes. I hadn’t bought a carton in thirty years. Something about exiting my car, about entering the liquor store, felt not safe, but safety, as I’d told myself, was an illusion. I had to call myself on my own bullshit. I was, after all, purchasing tobacco products. How much did I really care about my own personal safety? My mortality? A man stopped me as I exited the liquor store. “Can I get a cigarette?” He’d come out of nowhere. He’d given me no space to think; I could only react. “They’re not open,” I said, meaning the packs of cigarettes in my hand. I got in my car quickly, without looking. A month earlier I’d purchased cigarettes at a gas station where another man approached. This man had approached slowly and within view and I have given him a ten-dollar bill. All that was required of me was time to think things over, to prepare a reaction to an obvious question. “Thank you, doll,” the man had said, passing me to enter the store.

Blood had leaked out of me during my excursion. I passed a neighbor kid washing the outside of groceries with a rag in his driveway while a woman I presumed to be his mother stood six feet from him supervising. The woman had opted not to color her hair. Something about the woman’s face gave the impression of unhappiness or dissatisfaction. I wondered how recently the woman had engaged in sexual intercourse. It is impossible to determine merely by looking how recently a modern American woman has been vaginally penetrated or rectally sodomized. One can never trust scientific data on matters such as how often a modern American woman is made love to in [enter current year].

At home I changed my sanitary products and ran a bath. The radio was still tuned to the FM sports station. Two of the sports DJs were conversing about the virus and the effects of the virus on sports, speculating as to how long it would be until we were back to normal, until games could be played in stadiums again, until fans could return to the stands. A month earlier my daughter and her boyfriend and I had attended a college basketball game at the university in town. I remember my daughter and I washing our hands more thoroughly than we otherwise would have in the public restroom in the arena. A week later we were asked by the government not to leave our houses. I drove over to my daughter’s apartment anyway; my daughter and her boyfriend drove to mine. We played board games and drank dark liquid from tumblers. These were small acts of defiance. Minor acts of love. My daughter was the only other person with whom I came into contact aside from the cashiers at the liquor stores, gas stations, Target; the men outside these stores. All the rest of the hours in a week I was in my home, alone.

            A man had called into the sports radio station:

            “I just wanted to thank you, man…a few months ago I was in a real bad state. I won’t go into the details, but it was looking really bad. I didn’t think I had much to live for. I was in my garage, thinking over my options. To be honest with you, I was considering ending my life. But the radio was on and something you said…”

            I couldn’t hear the man anymore. Static on the radio was louder than the man’s words. It was several seconds or a minute before I could hear the man’s voice clearly again.

            “So, I just wanted to thank you, man. If you think what you do doesn’t matter, doesn’t affect people, it does. I just wanted you to know that.”

            I was sitting in the bath water. I felt stupid crying in the bathtub. I felt like an idiot listening to sports radio and crying.