Volume 3, Issue 75: Someone to Lose

"Where you gonna go in your winter coat? I wonder what you're hiding cause it's not too cold."

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So my younger son Wynn ran away last September. It required a specific confluence of circumstances for that to happen. We usually keep a pretty close eye on him.

My older son William was with my wife at a scheduled dentist appointment, his regular checkup that had been postponed a couple of months because of the pandemic but went forward with everyone tripled-masked, wearing Hazmat suits, being lowered into the doctor’s office Mission: Impossible style. I was actually just about a mile away from home at a campus blood drive, doing my part to assist in a blood shortage while also getting an antibody check, just in case I’d gotten Covid months before without realizing it, a circumstance, had it turned out, would have felt as if I had won the lottery. Wynn and his best buddy Charlie, who was in our first-grade pod with us and happily causing trouble with Wynn all day, were home with our teenage babysitter who had gotten the job by blurting out, before we’d had a chance to say a word, “Oh, I’m SO SCARED of Covid. I’m staying home all the time and think all my friends that are partying are morons.” We immediately hired her, obviously. September 2020 was really quite a trip.

So Wynn and Charlie were playing in the backyard when the babysitter went inside to use the bathroom. When she came back outside, she could not find Wynn. “Where’s Wynn?” she asked. Charlie shrugged. He was gone.

I discovered all this when my phone rang as the nurse, wearing one of those inflatable dinosaur costumes and a welding helmet made of pure lead, was taking my blood pressure. I answered, my wife screamed “We can’t find Wynn!” and then I told the nurse that I’d have to reschedule. “That’s OK,” she said, spraying disinfectant into her eyes and scraping the skin off her arms with a Brillo pad, “your blood pressure is way too high to give blood now anyway. You should really do something about that.”

I sprinted back to my house and came across my next door neighbor, a very nice woman named Gwen who gives Wynn quarters to move her trash cans back inside after the trucks empty them. She had joined the search. “I haven’t seen him,” she said, and she looked very worried. I then came across the babysitter and Charlie. She was bawling. “I’m so sorry, I just looked away for a second,” she said, and I was sort of relieved to realize that I wasn’t mad, that I just felt terrible for her. Charlie shrugged again. Whaddya gonna do?

I made it back to my house, where my wife was pounding her head against the wall and my other son William had that look kids have when their siblings have done something wrong, and while they know they’re not the ones in trouble, they can’t help but suspect this is going to end up blowing back on them somehow. We all wandered around our Five Points neighborhood, shouting Wynn’s name, feeling terrified and also like we were the worst parents who had ever lived.

After about 20 horrifying minutes, my wife’s phone rang. It was Gwen. “They found Wynn,” she said. “He’s on his way home now.” Before we could ask who “they” were, we saw the police car coming down the street toward our house. Wynn was in the front seat. He had a huge grin on his face: The cop had let him push the siren button. This grin faded, fast, when he saw his parents.

“A couple of college kids saw him,” the police officer said. He was young. For some reason I can never really get over how young police officers are. “They went over and sat with him, and then they called us.” Gwen had come across him around then as well, but the officer, when he arrived, wouldn’t let her take him home because she wasn’t his mother. So he got to ride in the car, and push the siren button. And then he had to deal with us.

After we successfully convinced the officer that Wynn was not fleeing a home where he was being beaten—at least not yet—he released our little boy back to our custody. You could tell even through the mask that the officer was frowning.

“He said he was trying to get to school,” the officer said. “He told me he did not want to do school at home anymore, so he decided to walk to school.” We were furious with Wynn. But we also, right then, sort of understood.


The pandemic was, is, whatever linking verb you prefer to use, awful for everyone, in one way or many ways. It has affected us all differently. Some of us lost someone dear to us; some were gravely ill ourselves; some of us lost our jobs or had our careers severely disrupted; some of us struggled with isolation, anxiety and depression. None of us have gotten out of this fully whole. Everybody got hit.

My family has been fortunate. My wife and I are both still working. We have not lost anyone close to us. Our children are still happy and vibrant and fun and silly. My hair’s a lot grayer, the blood pressure isn’t all the way down yet, I miss the friends and extended family I haven’t seen in almost two years now, but there is no question that I, and my family, have made it through this still standing.

But the hardest part, the thing that nearly knocked us over, was school.

Our children go to the greatest school. It is charming in exactly the way you want your kids’ school to be charming, with smiling, good-natured, extremely dedicated teachers welcoming children from all sorts of different backgrounds into a warm environment conducive both to learning and to finding one’s place during the most formative period of a child’s life. When we first moved to Athens in June 2013, the primary reason I wanted to buy the house we eventually bought (and still live in) was because it was within walking distance of this school. It was the sort of school I wished I’d gone to as a kid: Optimistic, hopeful, diverse, a community in and of itself. Every parent wants their kids to have a better growing-up experience than what they had. This was undeniably, unquestionably better. We watched as our children made friends, grew more deeply involved in school activities (Wynn took up tae kwon do in the after-school program and spent most of winter 2020 anticipating being able to show off his skills when the spring came) and became a part of a community that was larger than themselves. They belonged. It was great. It was all so great.

Then came early March 2020, and the first hints of trouble. Our school even made a charming video with all the kids reminding everyone to wash their hands and stay clean so they could keep our school intact and safe. William shows up briefly in it. The video was made 17 months ago. It feels like 17 years.

School shut down after Spring Break in March. Like everyone else, we adjusted. In retrospect, it wasn’t so hard in those first months, at least not here: We were all still in shock, so which actually made it easier to roll with the upheaval. School-issued laptops for the last two months of school? We just gotta get through these two months. We’ll be back to normal come August. We’re all in this together. But then last summer came, and it became clear that, whatever other counties in Georgia were doing, our county, Clarke County, was not prepared to go back to in-person schooling. And suddenly the temporary condition became the new reality, with no ending in sight. This led to discord, the way everything ended up leading to discord last summer and fall, the way the world started feeling designed specifically so we would all start fighting with each other. Some parents (including us) started petitions and Facebook groups; some pulled out of the public school system all together; everybody thought everyone else was doing everything wrong.

All the while, the little people who lived in this house, my third grader and my first grader, stared at their laptops all day, by themselves. I lamented at the time that I wished the pandemic would have happened either five years earlier or 10 years later. Having it hit at the exact time that my children needed socialization the most felt like an unusually cruel punishment. This was compounded by the inherent incapability of virtual instruction with the brain patterns and attention spans of small children, particularly when it was so (understandably) hastily cobbled together amidst the terror and confusion of a pandemic. (Not to mention an increasingly, uh, tumultuous political climate.) My wife and I had spent most of our first decade as parents telling our children that iPads are bad, that they weren’t ready for technology, that they didn’t get to be the kids who had phones and stared at a screen all day. Suddenly, here we were, telling them they were legally obligated not to look away from them.

The effects of the shift to virtual learning were disastrous for millions of children, in many ways needlessly, in ways that it will take us decades to unpack. We were the lucky ones in this house: At least my children’s parents had jobs that allowed them to work from home, albeit jobs that were obviously done a lot more poorly with kids in the house constantly having their Zoom classes crash or the wireless conk out. But we were fortunate: Comparatively speaking, our children made it through. So many families went through so much worse. But there were still clear effects even within our own home, from our children becoming quieter and more sullen to them, despite teachers’ best efforts, falling behind in their basic learning, to … well, the time that my son Wynn ran away from home because he missed his school, why wasn’t he in school, wasn’t he supposed to be in school?

If I’m being honest, now that it has been almost a year since he did it, I’m almost proud of him. After all, the college kids found him just down the road from the school. He almost made it.

When we look back at the pandemic, whenever that blessed time is, we’ll remember the masks and the tumult and the divisiveness and all of it. But more than anything, in this house, we will remember it as the time that our children were taken out of school for a full year. You do what you can to be prepared as a parent, to do your best to be ready for whatever life is going to throw at you. But having the third and first grade happen on a computer, in your kitchen, that’s one none of us saw coming. It was a bomb that went off in our children’s lives, and we’re all still dealing with the fallout.


This coming week, school starts in Athens, Georgia. Most people don't realize just how early school starts in the South. This week, we have a fourth grader and a second grader.

This year, in Clarke County, school is exclusively in-person, with no virtual option offered. The school district is “committed” to continuing in-person learning throughout the year, and I believe them, particularly with vaccines for children presumably (right? right?) just a few months away. It will not be entirely “normal” yet. Everyone on school grounds is required to be masked—which I am completely on-board with, and the kids don’t care about it at all—and unlike in pre-pandemic years, parents aren’t allowed to walk into the building with their children. (Something I suspect my kids are old enough to probably want me to stop doing anyway.) But they will be in class, with a regular structured day, and they will have after-school programs, and recess, and lunchtime, all those times for being around other kids, to figure out how to fit in and figure out this world that’s difficult enough already.

It will not undo the damage of last year. It will not immediately catch them back up, or replace everything they have missed. But it is a start. It is a step back toward reclaiming a childhood that they, and millions of other schoolchildren, deserve. I’m grateful to have these kids back at that wonderful school, among their wonderful teachers and their (mostly) wonderful classmates, being in school, doing kid shit, as they should have been doing all along. When I look back at the pandemic, I suspect this is what I will remember the most: Having my kids’ lives so disrupted, precisely when they could least afford it. It’s my desperate hope that, when they look back at it, that’s not what they remember. I hope they don’t remember it at all. I hope it’s just a brief blip away from an otherwise normal kid life. I hope someday Wynn thinks about the time he ran away, just so he could see his school, and think, “Running to school? Why the hell would I do that?”

They are on their way back. It’s my sincere hope that we all are.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.

  1. Tucker Carlson Has to Sleep in This Bed Now, Medium. Be careful of what you pretend to be, as the man said.

  2. The Superhumanity of Simone Biles, New York. Just tried to get this one right the best I could.

  3. Five Winners at the MLB Trade Deadline, MLB.com. Well, at the very least, Cubs fans have to watch Jon Lester in a Cardinals uniform now.

  4. M. Night Shyamalan Movies, Ranked and Updated, Vulture. Updated with Old.

  5. Matt Damon Movies, Ranked and Updated, Vulture. Updated with Stillwater.

  6. It Sure Isn’t the Athletes Who Are Trying to Make the Olympics Political, New York. No it very much is not.

  7. The Best MLB Players of July, MLB.com. Hey, look, it’s Harrison Bader.

  8. Internet Nostalgia: The “Friday” Video, Medium. Now we just live in the algorithm.

  9. Bonus Thirty: The Most Untouchable Player on Every Team, MLB.com. The Angels’ one was a fun one to figure out.

  10. Ten Awesome Things About Being Fully Vaxxed, Three Months Out, Medium. I tried to make this funny and ironic, but I don’t think it worked.


Grierson & Leitch, “Old,” “Snake Eyes” and “Tombstone.”

Seeing Red, Bernie and I went on a Mike Shildt rant.

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week, starting weekly on Tuesday.


“Lesley Ann Warren Answers Every Question We Have About Clue,” Devon Ivie, New York. It is very possible that my sister and I watched this movie 1,000 times when we were kids. Thus, I ate up every single word of this Q&A with Miss Scarlett herself. I will confess some of my earliest impure thoughts came from this movie.


“Alright, Alright, Alright: The Oral History of Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused,” Melissa Maerz. If you ignore the incorrect spelling of “all right” in the title, Maerz’s oral history of the Dazed and Confused is a great story of the making of the film but an even better look back at that whole decade of movies, and really of American culture. I absolutely devoured this thing.


Write me at:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603


“Gold on the Ceiling,” The Black Keys. I am not a Black Keys superfan to any stretch of the imagination, but I do enjoy them, generally, and more to the point, they’re playing a small venue here in Athens in September and I’m going. So I’m binging their stuff a bit. I’ll confess to finding them a bit minor, but pleasantly so. This is probably my favorite song of theirs.

Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.

Also, here was some news that happened this week:

So that’s good. I hope. Thank you all for helping make that happen.

Have a great weekend, all …


Volume 3, Issue 74: How to Fight Loneliness

"Just smile all the time."

Here is a button where you can subscribe to this newsletter now, if you have not previously done so. I do hope that you enjoy it.

I saw a truly terrible movie this weekend. I’ve seen some bad movies since the pandemic started—whew boy, did anybody else make it through Capone?—but this was the first one I’d seen on the big screen, with a packed audience all crammed in there to watch this thing flop around and die up there. There is something uniquely magical about a truly awful movie; it’s an art form whose worst productions are, in their own way, art forms of their own. Bad TV shows happen all the time, and in many ways, they’re almost meant to be bad: TV’s bar for entry is so low, and the desire for unchallenging, empty content so high, that bad television is in many ways the business plan. (This makes the exceptions that much more remarkable.) Bad music isn’t just common, it’s generally what’s selling the most records, and besides, so much of music is wrapped up in one’s personal taste: I suppose there’s probably one Florida-Georgia Line record that’s a little bit better than all the other ones, but they’re all going to sound like a cat being stabbed to me. And most bad books never get published at all, and the ones that do are so the product of a singular individual’s mindset that you almost have to respect the hustle: Clearing all the hurdles standing in the way of getting a bad book published almost feels like an admirable achievement all by itself.

But a bad movie? A bad movie can feel, more than anything, like a collective delusion. Movies are expensive and complicated to make, requiring hundreds of people from all different fields and expertises coming together and believing, in their heart of hearts, that what they’re doing not only will connect with an audience enough to make them money, but in fact provides enough value on some basic human level that it is worth their time and effort in their chosen field, a field that’s the dream of millions of people who will never taste the opportunity. People go into the field of moviemaking out of a romantic ideal, out of a desire to connect with that first moment, when they were a child, that they were transported to another world of magic and mystery and adventure and deep emotion. (My moment was Oliver Stone’s JFK, as previously discussed here.) You have to believe, even if that belief ends up coated with inevitable reserves of cynicism and opportunism, that what you are doing is worthwhile and interesting and inspiring. A bad movie is the result of hundreds of people telling themselves that they are making something they will be proud of and then being proven dramatically, hilariously wrong. It’s almost profound when it happens. When it hits just right, witnessing it can be nearly as powerful as seeing something great.

(You’ll have to listen to Grierson & Leitch on Monday to get my full rundown on what movie this is. But you probably won’t be surprised.)

This is not always how I felt about bad movies. I used to get angry about them, furious that my time had been wasted, that people were watching such terrible movies when there were so many great ones out there. But now I’ve come to appreciate them, even respect the people who put in all the time and effort to make them, however misguided. I’ve think I’m coming to appreciate a lot of things I used to get angry about.

Or, more to the point: Maybe I’m just not getting that angry about anything anymore.

This may be just a temporary condition, my middle-aged-dad version of a Hot Vax Summer, and I’m not sure if it’s getting older, the pandemic putting these sort of matters into more perspective or a combination of both, but I find myself, these days, find myself not getting too riled up about much of anything. I seem to be lacking the hot-take arrows in my proverbial hot-take quiver. Infrastructure funding debate? Hope they get that figured out! People refusing vaccines? That’s a shame, I hope they don’t get Covid, but, eh, whaddya gonna do, people are nuts sometimes! Cleveland Gladiators name? Seems fine! Every time I go on social media, I’ll see everybody yelling about something, whether it’s the Olympics or football conference realignment or a billionaire’s penis rocket, and I find myself shrugging. Yeah, you’re probably right. That’s probably bad. You should still probably go outside. Go to a bar and meet a friend! Remember when we couldn’t do that at all? You can now! You totally can! Why are you inside being angry about this?

I know there is privilege in this mindset, and I am not saying there are not things to get angry about right now. There are. There are a lot! Many of them are happening right now, in my very state! But I also believe there is a sort of an internal governor for outrage, a limit to which a person can realistically be furious and, more to the point, can realistically expect anyone to continue to take that particular fury seriously. When I see one of my sons is angry about something, I can look to the context of that anger to gauge its specific passion. If they were growling and grousing about not having a certain toy three hours ago and now they’ve forgotten completely about it and are growling and grousing about something else entirely, well, I’m not going to lose too much sleep about resolving whatever is causing them their current anger. Right now, it sure looks like they just want to be angry. I’ll wait until they cool down and then find out what’s still bothering them. Then we can figure out what to do about it.

I do not know if I am right about this. I’m probably not. When you look around the world, closely, it can be difficult not to be angry about something. The world’s pretty screwed up! But I also think the world is actually quite beautiful and worth being hopeful about, and part of life, part of being a mature, functional member of society, is being able to hold those two facts in your head at the same time. Sometimes the balanced shifts more one direction than the other. I spent much of 2020 in despair, like most of the rest of you. But there’s a lot that’s better in 2021 than it was in 2020. For all the rising cases numbers, there are still fewer people (a lot fewer people) getting sick and fewer people dying than there were for much of 2020, particularly the latter few months, thanks to an incredible vaccine produced by human ingenuity, intelligence and dogged determination. The horrible, very stupid person who was President for 2020 is no longer the President. You can go see a friend or family member now, and embrace them. You can walk your children to school. You can watch a baseball game. You can shake hands with a stranger. You can go see a movie—yes, even a bad one. The world is not perfect. But it is better. We have gone through something tumultuous, something that will be with us the rest of our lives. That something is not over. But here in the United States, it is better. It’s OK to feel better because of it. It’s OK to take a breath.

There is plenty of time to fortify ourselves for the fights ahead: There are many coming, and fast. But I also believe it reasonable, and sane, to take a step back, have a casual little walk and whistle around the block, eat an ice cream cone, put your bare feet in the wet grass, drink an ice cold beer with an old friend, and try to remember what it feels like to be alive for a little bit. I know there are bad people out there. I know things are going to always be hard. I know the movie sucked. It’s still a gift to get to be a part of any of this. There are battles before us. We will need to be strong for them. And part of that is taking a breath now. I’m going to get unreasonable angry about wounds and offenses large and small soon enough. There is all the time in the world for that. Now, though? Now I don’t have the stomach for it. Now I’m just happy we’re all still here.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.

  1. What Made the Bucks Title Great Was the Fans, GQ. It’s so so great to have this part of it back.

  2. The Olympics Probably Shouldn’t Happen, But We Will All Still Watch, New York. Weirdly, I’ve found myself more into them this year.

  3. Ranking the Second-Half Pennant Chases, MLB.com. If only the Cardinals were in any of them.

  4. Vaccine Hesitance Has Been There From the Beginning, Medium. Even from the good guys.

  5. At Last, No Legacy Talk at the NBA Finals, GQ. Leave Chris Paul alone!

  6. The Biggest Names That Could Be Traded at the Deadline, MLB.com. Max Scherzer isn’t going anywhere, but it’d be cool if he was.

  7. Teams That Should Stand Pat at the Deadline, MLB.com. Another Cardinals reference, and another that’s not in a good way.

  8. Internet Nostalgia: The Dress, Medium. Let us foretell every ugly fight of the next half-decade.

  9. The Best Six Movies of the First Half of 2021, Medium. For the historical record.


Grierson & Leitch, a catchup show, with “Black Widow,” “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” “No Sudden Movie,” “The Tomorrow War” and “Pig.”

Seeing Red, Bernie and I talked before the Cubs loss on Tuesday, so we were still standing back then.

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week, going weekly next month.


“Jeff Bezos’ Master Plan,” Franklin Foer, The Atlantic. This is from November 2019, but I hadn’t read it until this week, when it resurfaced in the wake of the Amazon head’s dorky little jaunt in his penis ship. It explains a lot.


“Answers in the Form of Questions: A Definitive History and Insider’s Guide to ‘Jeopardy!’” Claire McNear. Published just before Alex Trebek died, McNear’s wonderful book already feels like a vital historical document about a time that has passed and will likely never return again.


I am caught up! I have answered all letters, and all I’m waiting on now is a new batch of bookplates to send out to the last 40 or so people who pre-ordered. So give me more work to do! Write me at:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603


“Sing A Simple Song,” Sly and the Family Stone. You really need to watch to Questlove’s Summer of Soul, which is currently available on Hulu. All of it is great, but Sly and the Family Stone singing this song absolutely brings the house down.

Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.

Thank you to the kind human who sent me this, after last week’s newsletter.

Grierson claims to still have this shirt. I want one, if any are out there.

Have a great weekend, all.


Volume 3, Issue 73: Poor Places

"Someone ties a bow in my backyard to show me love."

Here is a button where you can subscribe to this newsletter now, if you have not previously done so. I do hope that you enjoy it.

In 1987, I met Murray Lender, shook the man’s hand, told him he was the most famous person I’d ever met, could not believe he was really standing there before me.

Murray Lender’s father had owned the Connecticut bagel shop “Lender’s Bagels” for decades, but when Murray took over, he had his eyes on a prizer larger than just the local bakery. Murray, along with his brother, decided to expand and franchise Lender’s Bagels, attempting to make the doughy pastry go national. The trick was to freeze the bagel and sell it to supermarkets everywhere. Murray, who is also credited with coming up with the idea pre-slicing bagels, was for many years the public face of the bagel, even appearing in a series of national advertisements to support Lender’s Bagels, and the bagel in general.

Lender’s vision was, as he put it, was “to really get [the bagel] out of the ethnic marketplace.” This did not make him popular to bagel aficionados—“Is A Bagel Still A Bagel in Maui?” asked The New York Times in 1997—but it did make Lender’s Bagels a massive company and the central brand for bagels globally for most of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Murray’s biggest move came in 1986, when he and his family decided to sell Lender’s Bagels to Kraft Foods for $140 million while keeping Murray as the public face of the company. Key to the purchase was the creation of a Lender’s-specific bagel factory that could produce as many as two million bagels a day. Kraft had an old plant, in a little burgh that the Times would, in Lender’s obituary, call a “prairie town,” which would serve this purpose just fine. That town was Mattoon, Illinois, my hometown, my father’s hometown, his father’s hometown, his father’s hometown. I was 10 years old.

To help promote this new bagel plant and this new Kraft acquisition, and to further build on Murray’s desire to get that bagel out of the “ethnic marketplace,” Lender’s, Kraft and local officials decided they would declare a national bagel holiday. They decreed July 26 National Bagelfest Day and launched an annual festival, Bagelfest, to take place in that prairie town. The event included a Bagel Baby contest, a Bagel Bow Wow dog show, and a Little Miss Bagelfest pageant. Most important, it featured an appearance from Murray Lender himself, the most famous person to step foot in Mattoon since Ulysses S. Grant spent a weekend recruiting soldiers for the Union Army there in the spring of 1861. That was where I shook Murray Lender’s hand. He was also certainly the first Jewish person I’d ever met, not that I knew what that meant in 1986. I just knew him as the TV man who was making my town famous.

Bagelfest became the biggest Mattoon event, every year. (In college, I made sure to come back for it each July.) My father and I, once for the Bagel Buggy Contest, built a racer made out of an inner tube painted like a bagel mounted on a miniature satellite dish, which we bolted on an old car jack and pushed down Charleston Avenue. (We still lost to a kid who just put a bagel on each of his bike’s handlebars.) Mom and I did the Ride Around Mattoon For A Bagel 25-mile road bike race. I took our beloved dog Daisy to the Bagel Bow Wow show and then sneaked onto the roof of the movie theater I worked at so that Daisy and I could get on the local news, which was in town to cover a labor lockout with the power company that had put my dad on the picket lines all summer, the summer before I went to college, a summer when I didn’t know if, come September, I’d be able to afford to go to Champaign after all. Daisy wore a bagel hat and a sign around her neck that said, “Don’t Treat Electrical Workers Like Dogs.” I even was interviewed for WCIA Channel 3 at that Bagelfest, and wow what I wouldn’t give for that video today.

Bagelfest was the most reliable tradition we had in Mattoon, the one weekend a year it felt like anybody had the slightest idea where our little town even was. We knew it was more than a little silly that This Prairie Town could lay claim to being The Bagel Capital Of The World, as Murray breathlessly proclaimed it every year. (I didn’t know a single person who ate Lender’s Bagels, or bagels, or anything other than bacon or Fruit Loops.) But it was a vital business, a major employer in our town; many of my friends and classmates had food on the table because of Lender’s Bagels. We were grateful, appreciative. And we liked it. It was ours. I went on a date with a past Little Miss Bagelfest once. I was proud of myself. I felt like I knew a celebrity.

But Murray was the real celebrity. I nervously told him how cool it was to meet him. He smiled and said thank you and then handed me a bagel. “I think our bagel is the best bagel in America,” Murray Lender once said. “But on the other hand, I’ve never eaten a bad bagel.”


Bagelfest is the pivotal event in my 2005 young adult novel Catch, which takes place in Mattoon, and it is portrayed the way I remember it as a kid: As a goofy, sincere, cheerful small-town festival where everyone knows one another and everyone essentially means well. When I returned to Bagelfest to promote Catch as an adult, though, it was clear it had evolved, like the town itself, into something much dingier. It was closer to a cheap traveling carnival by then, more like a fading county fair than a celebration, just an excuse for people from surrounding rural counties to drink and act rowdy in public. (The musical act that year was .38 Special, which sounded about right. It’s worth noting that Bagelfest has had some success in predicting up-and-coming country music acts in the years since then, including Luke Bryan in 2006 and The Zac Brown Band in 2009.) The 2005 festival was poorly attended and plagued by thunderstorms all weekend; I don’t think I saw a single person I knew. The festival wasn’t even held downtown anymore; all the bars and local businesses had long shut down as Wal-Mart and other national chains set up shop out by the interstate, cutting off the lifeblood of the town I loved, not to mention the steady employment of the people who built lives there. I’ve always considered that weekend my unofficial breakup with my obsession with my hometown. I would have to remember the way it was, not what it had become. My parents moved away from Mattoon about five years ago, cutting off the primary reason I went home in the first place. I haven’t thought about going to Bagelfest in years.

Last year, in 2020, Bagelfest, for the first time, was canceled, because of the pandemic. It almost felt for the best. Right before the pandemic happened, Conagra Brands, which had owned the Lender’s Bagels brand (which had long since been stripped off by Kraft) for two years, sold it to Bimbo Bakeries USA, a company located in Mexico City. The bagel plant still existed, but at a dramatically slashed capacity. What was once the largest employer in town now barely registered. This was also when Mattoon was amidst a fierce, increasingly ugly fight about Illinois Gov. Pritzker’s attempts to slow the spread of Covid-19 and how “that Chicago prick” (as he was invariably known) conflicted with the needs of small rural businesses, an angry escalation of a never-ending Chicago/downstate culture war that has been going on my entire life. It wasn’t the right time for a celebration, if that’s even what Bagelfest was anymore.

But this week, this week Bagelfest has returned. And I’ll be damned if my little town isn’t getting back in the spirit of the thing. Bimbo Bakeries has actually been going to local businesses to give out free bagels for bagel-themed entrees, including an Angelo’s Pizza pepperoni bagel and Juanito’s Mexican Cantina offering Bagel Molletes sandwiches, which are, uh, bagels topped with refried beans, chorizos and Mexican cheeses. Little Miss Bagelfest is back, as is the Bagel Bow Wow show. Last night, Ricky Skaggs played the main stage; tonight it is Resurrection, the Journey tribute band. The Mattoon Pride Softball Tournament has been taking place all weekend. Right now, as I type to you, the Bagelfest parade is marching through downtown Mattoon. Somewhere on Charleston Avenue, there’s a kid getting pegged in the head with a frozen bagel.

I was in Mattoon last in early 2020, and I was inspired by efforts from people, many of whom I went to high school with, who remember what the town once was and believe it could be again, to restore Mattoon to the goofy, sincere, hopeful place of our memories. They’re working hard to revive the forgotten downtown Mattoon, including a restoration of the old Time Theater, the movie theater that, every time I close my eyes when I go to the movies today, I still imagine I’m in. They didn’t leave and then cluck their tongues when they returned, tsk tsk, what happened to this place. They stayed, and worked to improve it: To make it what it could someday be. They have a long way to go. Coles County is one of those rural counties where Covid-19 cases are rising rapidly. The biggest factory in town closed a year-and-a-half ago. When I was there last year, the only business downtown that was open past 7 p.m. is a dark, windowless bar for video poker. I worry about my town.

But I have followed Bagelfest with an interest bordering on obsession this year. It does feel almost hopeful again. Maybe that’s just what I want to see. But come on, who among us can really be immune to the charms of this:

It makes no sense for Mattoon to be the Bagel Capital of the World. Bagelfest is a relic of a long-lost time, when a Connecticut bagel magnate could come to a tiny rural Central Illinois town as part of a plan to turn bagels into America’s breakfast food and shake the hands of 11-year-old kids just wanting a brief glimpse of a TV person. But it doesn’t matter what it once was. It matters that it’s still going, that people are gathering again, that we’ve got something to hang on to. It doesn’t matter what we used to do, who we used to be. What matters is what we do with what we have, now. Mattoon is so different than it was when Bagelfest started back in 1986. But it’s still going, nevertheless. People still want to believe. People still want to feel connected. People still want to ride around Mattoon for a bagel. Bagelfest or bust, people. Bagelfest or bust.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.

  1. Shohei Ohtani Is Impossible, New York. Look at me, writing about Ohtani, so original.

  2. There Is No Reason American Children Should Not Be Back in Classes This Fall, Medium. Me taking the David Wallace-Wells case and running with it.

  3. This Week in Genre History: The Blair Witch Project, SYFY Wire. Still an incredible movie experience. Saw this at the old Tivoli in St. Louis.

  4. Five Simple Rules For Going Back to Restaurants, Medium. Be good to your people, people.

  5. Internet Nostalgia: The Manti Te’o Story, Medium. Ah, memories.

  6. Big Players Coming Back From Injury, MLB.com. Still holding out hope for Trout and the Angels.

  7. Good Thing Americans Don’t Care About Their National Teams Like England Does, GQ Magazine. Otherwise, boy, we’d be awfully worried about the Olympic men’s basketball team.

  8. The Thirty: Big Predictions For Every Team, MLB.com. A few of these piled up this week.

  9. Bonus Thirty: Second-Half Goals For Every Team, MLB.com. You gotta have goals.

  10. Second Bonus Thirty: The Best Drafted Player Currently on Every Team, MLB.com. You know, because there was a draft this week.


Grierson & Leitch, no show this week while Grierson’s in Cannes.

Seeing Red, Bernie and I look at the second half.

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week, going weekly next month.


“The Kids Were Safe the Whole Time,” David Wallace-Wells, New York. Pretty much sums it up.

Also, it’s rather depressing to be reading Ed Yong stories like this again.


“The Wishbones,” Tom Perrotta. New newsletter rubric! Just a way to point you toward some books that I love, in case you haven’t read them. Why not?

Perrotta is obviously a huge star now—much bigger than when he wrote the foreword for Life As A Loser, that’s for sure—but this was his first novel, and I still might love it the most. It’s funny and wistful and all about that moment when you realize, no matter how hard you might try, eventually you do have to grow up. This probably isn’t his best novel, but it’s still my favorite.


Yesssss. I am caught up! I have answered all letters, and all I’m waiting on now is a new batch of bookplates to send out to the last 40 or so people who pre-ordered. So give me more work to do! Write me at:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603


“World Class Fad,” Paul Westerberg. This song probably wasn’t really about Kurt Cobain—Westerberg famously disliked Cobain, for reasons that still aren’t clear more than 30 years later—but even if it was, this song would still be fantastic. It’s better if it’s not about Cobain, actually, because I’m pretty sure it’s still applicable today in all sorts of ways. A good angry pop song never hurt anybody.

Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section. Someone this week called this “a playlist for getting shit done,” and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a better compliment.

Though this insanity wasn’t bad either:

Have a great weekend, all.


Volume 3, Issue 72: Sunloathe

"I kill my memories with a cheap disease."

Here is a button where you can subscribe to this newsletter now, if you have not previously done so. I do hope that you enjoy it.

This week on the Grierson & Leitch podcast—we’re off next week because Grierson is at the Cannes Film Festival right now, Mr. Fancy Pants—Tim and I each discussed our six favorite films of the first half of 2021. We do this show every year, as a way to mark the halfway mark toward Dorkfest, our annual countdown of our top 10 movies of the year. It is amusing that Dorkfest has become, by far, our most popular podcast episode every year, because Grierson and I have been getting together and announcing our top 10 lists to each other for, literally, 30 years. The only difference is that we’re taping it now.

We started in 1991, thanks to a particularly formative movie experience. At the old Cinema 1-2-3 Theater in Mattoon, Tim and I saw Oliver Stone’s JFK, and it melted our face and blew our minds. Every person who loves movies has a movie that made them realize that, oh shit, I want to see every movie ever made now, and for us, that movie was JFK. That movie was more than three hours long, and the old Cinema 1-2-3—as I’d learn when I started working there six months later—had a projector with platters that could only hold about 180 minutes of film reliably without the risk of one of the reels falling off and locking up the machine. With about 15 minutes left, right as Jim Garrison is wrapping up his final case, the projector broke down and stopped the film. It snapped us out of our film dazed, and we emerged as if plunged out of a freezing lake; I remember actively gasping.

Movies have been at the center of my life ever since. I spent almost my entire freshman year in college in the undergraduate library at the University of Illinois watching every old movie I’d never seen on laserdisc, and reading every word Roger Ebert wrote, and eventually even moving to Los Angeles to try to make it as a film critic (which in retrospect is a really weird reason to move to Los Angeles). Going to the movies has always been a place of peace for me, a refuge I can enter where, for two-or-three hours, my own world peels away and I get to go somewhere else entirely. Ebert once wrote, about the first time he saw Star Wars, that “my imagination has forgotten it is actually present in a movie theater and thinks it's up there on the screen. In a curious sense, the events in the movie seem real, and I seem to be a part of them.” This is what the best movies do for me. They transport me to another universe, another life, entirely. I like the life I have; movies are not a place to escape from some torment or pain. But movies expand the limits of my imagination. They allow me, for a while, to be something else.

As far as pandemic woes go, “not being able to go to movies” is relatively low on the list, but now that I’m fully vaccinated and back going again, I’ve been a little overwhelmed by how much I missed it. It’s almost making me a bad critic, because I’m so happy to be in the theater that I’m finding myself forgiving of bad movies, like I’m so grateful to be there that I just want to thank the filmmakers for making the movie in the first place. Black Widow might be one of the worst Marvel movies, but I’ll be damned if I still wasn’t moved and a little awed by the thing. The light’s always a little too bright when you first come out from under the covers.

Anyway, while it’s perhaps a little perverse that the thing I want to do most coming out of a pandemic is watch and talk about movies, it’s undeniably true. I stayed up way too late last night reading an early galley of Keith Phipps’ Age of Cage, pre-order it right here, a thorough, smart, funny and very wise look at the career of Nicolas Cage, and, really, a look at the last 35 years of American movies as filtered through one of our most absurd and absurdly invested actors. Like any piece of great writing, Phipps’ book got me reading other great writing about Cage and about movies, and then this morning I was watching clips of how incredible he is in Leaving Las Vegas and then I was realized how much of my adult life has been spent watching Nicolas Cage movies and then next thing you knew I was watching his legendary SNL skit that’s the reason I’ve been saying “OZ-WEE-PAY” as an inside joke for nearly 30 years now.

And that’s what movies are, really: They’re the history of our lives. I saw JFK at the Cinema 1-2-3 in Mattoon, I saw Hoop Dreams at the Nu-Art in Champaign, I saw Short Cuts at the Savoy 16, I saw Fargo at the Santa Monica 7, I saw The Blair Witch Project at the Tivoli in St. Louis, I saw There Will Be Blood at Lincoln Center in New York, I saw Moonlight at the Midtown Art Cinema in Atlanta. You think back about great movie experiences you’ve had, and they’re not just about the movies themselves. They’re about where you were in your life, why that movie in particular spoke to you, what the world looked like when you left the theater and were thrust back into it. I cannot talk about my life without talking about the movies.

I know there is considerable debate right now about the future of movies, how we consume movies, how they’re made and marketed, what a “movie” even really is. But those are pedantic accounting details—like baseball, people are always predicting the death of movies, and great movies keep happening, regardless. (Narrowing my favorite movies of the first half of the year down to six was legitimately difficult; there have been a lot of outstanding movies out already in 2021.) I find myself, again, like with so much else in 2021, just grateful to have the opportunity to see movies at all. And to get to talk about them, with lifelong friends, with strangers, with other people who love them as much as I do, whose lives are as tied up with the movies as mine is. I’d be lost without them. Over the last year, I think I was.

So, to finish up, because talking about movies is so personal and specific, talking about movies is actually debating movies. Grierson and I have been doing Dorkfest for so long that we actually have each of No. 1 movies for every year going back to 1991. So here are those films. If you haven’t seen them, see them. If you have, tell us why we’re wrong and why yours is better. That’s the fun of this. My movies mean so much to me. Yours mean so much to you. If you know my movies, you know me, and if I know yours, I know you. Movies are the rare thing we experience both alone and collectively. Another reason they mean so much.

Anyway: Here’s the list. My movies are right, Grierson’s are wrong:

Leitch: JFK
Grierson: JFK

Leitch: Husbands & Wives
Grierson: Husbands & Wives

Leitch: Short Cuts
Grierson: Short Cuts

Leitch: Hoop Dreams
Grierson: Hoop Dreams

(Don’t worry, Grierson moved to California in 1993, the taste diverged eventually.)

Leitch: Leaving Las Vegas
Grierson: Safe

Leitch: Lone Star
Grierson: Big Night

Leitch: The Ice Storm
Grierson: The Sweet Hereafter

Leitch: The Cruise
Grierson: The Truman Show

Leitch: The Straight Story
Grierson: Election

Leitch: Best in Show
Grierson: Yi Yi

Leitch: Mulholland Drive
Grierson: Memento

Leitch: Punch-Drunk Love
Grierson: Chicago

Leitch: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Grierson: Stone Reader

Leitch: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Grierson: Dogville

Leitch: War of the Worlds
Grierson: Junebug

Leitch: United 93
Grierson: The House of Sand

Leitch: There Will Be Blood
Grierson: Zodiac

Leitch: The Class
Grierson: The Dark Knight

Leitch: A Serious Man
Grierson: Two Lovers

Leitch: Toy Story 3
Grierson: Lourdes

Leitch: Midnight in Paris
Grierson: City of Life and Death

Leitch: Zero Dark Thirty
Grierson: The Turin Horse

Leitch: 12 Years a Slave
Grierson: Inside Llewyn Davis

Leitch: Boyhood
Grierson: Boyhood

Leitch: Timbuktu
Grierson: The Tribe

Leitch: O.J.: Made in America
Grierson: Moonlight

Leitch: Dunkirk
Grierson: Dunkirk

Leitch: Roma
Grierson: Burning

Leitch: Uncut Gems
Grierson: Uncut Gems

Leitch: Hamilton
Grierson: Nomadland

Your top movies are your own. Mine are mine. They are all ours.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.

  1. Sports Are Already Becoming Less Political, New York. It’s OK to take a breather, maybe? Just for a sec?

  2. Steven Soderbergh Movies, Ranked and Updated, Vulture. One of my favorite lists that Grierson and I have done.

  3. NBA Finals Ratings Will Be Down, and It’s Fine, GQ Magazine. TV ratings are a lazy person’s media analysis.

  4. All-Stars, Ranked, MLB.com. There are a lot of them. And lots of ranked lists this week, for that matter.

  5. Internet Nostalgia: The Crying Jordan Meme, Medium. No one ever remembers what Jordan was actually crying about.

  6. Home Run Derby Participants, Ranked, MLB.com. Been a while since a Cardinal was here.

  7. America Is Back, Kind Of, Medium. Well, the vaccinated people are back and safe, anyway.

  8. This Week in Genre History: The Amazing Spider-Man, SYFY Wire. In praise of poor Andrew Garfield.

  9. Against the Superteam, NBC News. Sort of a grouchy old-timer column here.

  10. What Does It Mean to “Visit” a State? Medium. This is a riff off a long, long ago newsletter here.

  11. The Thirty: The Best Player Drafted By Their Current Team, MLB.com. Draft this weekend. Lots of local Kumar Rocker interest around these parts.


Grierson & Leitch, we gave our six best movies of the first half of 2021, and we previewed the Cannes Film Festival.

Seeing Red, Bernie and I try to stay alert.

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, we did one big 2020-21 wrapup show before heading weekly in August.


“The Murder Scandalizing Brazil,” Jon Lee Anderson, The New Yorker. This story is a month old, but, like a lot of people, I was about six issues behind on the magazine and finally just read it this week. It’s quite a yarn!


Apps On My Mac’s Lower Desktop Menu, Ranked By How Many Hours I Use Them a Day

  1. Google Chrome

  2. Microsoft Word

  3. Spotify

  4. Stickies

  5. Messages

  6. Photos

  7. Audio Hijack

  8. Audacity

  9. Calendar

  10. Skype


By the time you read this, all bookplates, except for 30 (I ran out, but more are coming), will have been sent out. If you have not received yours within the next 7-10 days, let me know and I will send you another one.


Write me at:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603


“Walls,” Tom Petty. Sometimes you just need some Tom Petty. (Even if it’s from a dumb Ed Burns movie.)

Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.

I am enjoying this summer, I will not lie to you. I hope you are too. You have earned it.

Now, how about Kofi coming back? Can we put the cherry on this summer?

Be safe out there.


Volume 3, Issue 71: Common Sense

"One moment I beg, I bolt, on a thousand legs."

Here is a button where you can subscribe to this newsletter now, if you have not previously done so. I do hope that you enjoy it.

The track record of the oral history has become increasingly spotty in recent years—I have never actually reported out an oral history, myself, though I’ve been part of the focus of one—but there’s a particularly great one this week in The Ringer, by John Gonzalez. It’s the oral history of “Pros Vs. Joes,” the old Spike TV show that aired 15 years ago (and is in the process of being rebooted, albeit in a more family-friendly way.) The piece is excellent, but what Gonzalez does the best job of is pointing out just how dangerous “Pros Vs. Joes” was. In theory, the idea of retired professional athletes displaying their physical supremacy over regular schmucks is mildly amusing, but in practice, you have these top-tier athletes, still not quite adjusted to their careers being over and desperate for the bloodlust of competition, performing in an unregulated competition against a series of dopes and jackasses who have no idea the monster they are unleashing.

Of the many, many great anecdotes, here was my favorite, involving boxer Arturo Gotti:

The heyday of “Pros Vs. Joes” happened to coincide with my time founding and running Deadspin, and, for no other reason that my own morbid fascination, the show was the one time I broke the Deadspin rule of not engaging with public relations or advertising people. The producers of the show did a series of promotional events and invited me to compete every time. I never said no. I’d go, compete, fail and then write about it on the site. Hey, sometimes it’s good for bloggers to get out of the house.

The first event was the smallest, but ultimately most consequential: I went to Bryant Park to attempt to hit off John Rocker. It did not go well—I struck out on three pitches—but I ended up talking to Rocker at the event and setting up an interview. That interview, with his bodybuilder girlfriend, became what remains my favorite section of God Save the Fan.

The second event was at Grand Central Station, where they’d set up a tiny football field where commuters, along with myself and my then-Deadspin deputy A.J. Daulerio, could play a short pickup game against Andre Rison and Kordell Stewart. They smoked us both right quick. The highlight was when I attempted to guard Rison on an out pattern and he not only burned me, he ran the pattern in a matter that made me run face first into a pylon in the middle of the field. This pylon:

(Terrific photos from Aileen Gallagher, the only friend I have who would get up at 5:30 in the morning to take photos of two idiot friends making asses out of themselves.)

The final humiliation was at Madison Square Garden, as part of the book promotion for God Save the Fan. It didn’t really matter whom I was playing against—I was playing basketball at Madison Square Garden!—but it was Daulerio and me again, suiting up against Charles Oakley and Antonio Davis. The goal was to avoid Murder by Oakley.

What I find remarkable about both Gonzalez’s oral history and going back and revisiting those old “Pros Vs. Joes” sojourns is how incredibly old it all seems now. I was 32 years old when we played against Charles Oakley, and the idea such an event could occur—the idea that I’d go diving for a loose ball and land on John Starks’ feet—without everyone involved either being encased in bubble wrap or surrounded by lawyers seems absolutely crazy. Gonzalez notes in his piece how the idea of any of these Joes getting, you know, concussed was hardly even considered; liability waivers were signed, but you can only do so much when Arturo Gotti has smoke coming out of his ears. (There were also no female Joes, which, if they remake this, may be the exact opposite of what happens in a potential reboot.) A new version would be much more scrubbed down, much safer, much more careful. Reading about the show now feels like your grandparents telling you how cars never used to have seat belts, or how people used to die of whooping cough.

Times have just changed so much, and so fast, in so many ways. “Pros Vs. Joes” was only 15 years ago, and running the show now like they did then is utterly unfathomable. It feels like we just did this, and now we’re looking back at it like it came from some mesozoic era.

The world turns and turns and turns, and things that seemed acceptable yesterday are violently not so today. It can be disorienting, to see the ground shift underneath us, to learn that the way we thought the world was turns out to be considerably different. But this is how it’s supposed to work. Time is supposed to make us smarter. You think everything is fine, no problems here, and then one day you look back 15 years later and you see Arturo Gotti punching some random person in the face on national television and you think why in the world did we think this was OK? This is what getting older is supposed to be, I think, but rarely is. Not looking back bathed in warm nostalgia, but instead in bewildered, head-shaking befuddlement. We all used to be involved in a lot worse things than “Pros Vs. Joes.” The goal is to learn, to realize that the way things have always been aren’t the way they’re always supposed to be. We’re smarter now than we were then. And thank God, and Charles Oakley, for that.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.

  1. The Extremely Selective Outrage About Cheating in Sports, New York. This is something I’ve been trying to nail down for a while, and I got somewhat close here, I think.

  2. Your All-Star Game Voting Guide, MLB.com. This one annoyed Reds fans, though the joy of not spending all day on Twitter is that you only hear about all that later and it doesn’t affect your life one whit.

  3. America Is a Covid Outlier Again (In a Good Way), Medium. It’s OK to be happy when things improve. It really is.

  4. This Week in Genre History: War of the Worlds, SYFY Wire. Kind of a big anniversary coming up.

  5. Let Giannis Take His Time Shooting Free Throws, GQ. This was written back when he was, you know, standing upright.

  6. When Do We Call the Pandemic “Over” in the United States? Medium. Not yet. But maybe soon?

  7. Your June MLB All-Stars, MLB.com. I did not pick Shohei for every position, but I wanted to.

  8. Internet Nostalgia: Snakes on a Plane, Medium. I lived through this and honestly thought it was going to be the biggest thing in the world.

  9. Ten Surprising Teams, For Better or Worse, MLB.com. Cardinals fell on the wrong side here.

  10. The Thirty: Every Team’s Most Surprising Player, MLB.com. Positive surprises only on this one.


Grierson & Leitch, we discussed “F9,” “False Positive” and “I Carry You With me.”

Seeing Red, Bernie and I had our best, most frustrated show ever, I think.

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week. But going weekly very soon.


“Donald Trump’s January 6,” Michael Wolff, New York. Is Michael Wolff shady? Yes. Definitely. I still injected every word of this into my eyeballs. I feel guilty about it, but I will not lie about it.

To wash that stink off, here’s January 6 Revisited done correctly, from The New York Times video team, with the utmost journalistic rigor … and it’s even more compelling and upsetting.


Baseball Months

  1. October

  2. April

  3. September

  4. May

  5. August

  6. June (unless Shohei Ohtani goes absolutely nuts during it)

  7. July


I finally am making some real progress on the bookplates. (Perhaps yours arrived this week.) I will be done with them soon, and then we may recommence our correspondences.

I promise. Keep writing. I will get caught up!

Write me at:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603


“True Dark,” Murder by Death. Someone who ordered a bookplate, and whose email requesting one I finally got to, told me to start listening to Murder by Death and … down that rabbit hole I’ve gone. I think I’m finally using Spotify correctly: To just immerse myself in the discography of a band for days at a time. I have been living with this band all week.

Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.

You can tell it is now summer because the children are attacking.

Have a great weekend, all.


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