Saving My Heart For You

Out of the blue, I received the following message via FB Messenger…Untitled-1

I get it that no one reads this blog. I mean, I have access to the stats, so I know that NO ONE reads this blog.

However, if you are one of the one who does, you know how vital cassettes were to my survival in this particular lifetime, especially during my middle school/high school epoch. Therefore, an offer like this indeed registered on my personal Richter Scale.

The stellar human, total dude, and polymathic stud—he’s possessed of mad wood working skillz, he’s woke on podcasts, he has total nostalgia recall capabilities, and he’s hella gracious—who made the offer, just happens to live in the other neighborhood I periodically inhabit. You see, I split my time betwen Minneapolis (where my kids live) and Atlanta (where my wife lives). Trust me, you’ll understand it after I write my magnum opus and accept my academy award for “Best Adapted Screenplay”. But for now, just go with it as a “different” normal.

Anyway, being offered a two Nike shoe boxes and a Case Logic 15-cassette caddy overflowing with cassettes is not an unheard of experience for someone like me: an “audiophile” who covets all recorded music mediums (save 78s and Edison Phonograph Cylinders—gotta draw the line somewhere). But to be offered this volume and caliber of  recorded music on compact cassette tapes, which incidentally are “Better Than You Don’t Remember“, was a straight thrill—I ain’t gonna lie!

Full disclosure: when I get an offer like this, I’m torn. On one hand, I obviously want a well-curated compact cassette collection from the late ’80s—duh! On the other hand, I know what it would mean to me if I still had my own collection rather than hawking it at Down in the Valley in the early ’90s, only to turn around, literally, and buy copious amounts of used Eagles, Bob Seger, and (The) Who CDs with the proceeds.

My total dude southern neighbor assured me that “getting back into cassettes” was not on his radar, or his kids’ radars, or the radars of anyone with whom he was aware, related to, or casually associated…except me!

Yay me!

On a sunny March afternoon in ATL—sun in MSP in March is as rare as an OG cassette copy of Sublime’s Jah Won’t Pay the Bills on Skunk Records—my wifey and I swung by and picked up the magnetically coated polyester-type plastic film booty. It was a kick—I ain’t gonna lie!

Needless to say, the Pioneer mothership soundwall is located in a basement rumpus room in MSP, not in the unfinished basement storage zone in ATL.

And my big bad TOTL Pioneer CT-F1250 was exactly 1,117 miles away from the two boxes of tapes and one Case Logic caddy that I was cradling in my arms. Hence, I was going to have to endure the tedious yet familiar two hour and two minute return flight from ATL > MSP before I could hear the majestic notes of someone else’s teenage dreams.

Upon arriving back home from my trip home, I carefully unpacked all of the jewels and dropped them strategically in the open slots of one of the myriad wall-mounted Napa Valley Box Co. wooden cassette caddys that adorn my basement walls.

Tape by tape, I rolled my way through my neighbor’s teen epoch. In the process, I picked up a decent amount of music knowledge, such as…

Roger Waters’ Radio K.A.O.S. has been short shrift’d by AllMusic.

As I’ve always suspected, John Hiatt has one of those so-distinct vocal styles.

.38 Special was indeed special!

Anyway, I can’t adequately describe how delightful my trip through my latest acquisition has been. As my idol Bruce Springsteen once said…

“There is nothing so satisfying as busting the plastic seal on a new cassette, cracking open the case, and inhaling that new cassette smell.”

Actually, it was I who said that. And, older tapes present a completely wonderfully different bouquet—like that new record smell vs. an older mustier gem.

As I perused the cache of old-new stock tapes, I was struck by something.

Important.

Crucial, actually.

Among us diggers, there is a thing commonly referred to as: “record Karma”. It’s a pretty simple concept that takes a bit of time to explain and is best understood via example. I’ll give a first-hand account form my own experience, as only a first-hand experience can be accounted…

There is a Goodwill a scant three miles from our MSP home. Without getting mired in the intricacies of my custody arrangement, I see my kids every other weekend (and other days during the week). On my weekends, my daughter and I usually hit as many thrift stores as we can, and we hit ’em hard! We are ninja-like in our dismantling of any given outlet, and we know each store’s strengths and weaknesses.

On one particular trip to our local Goodwill, I ran across a freshly donated collection of AOR standards hastily crammed into the makeshift LP rack—actually a repurposed magazine rack—at the rear corner of the store. We’re talking High Infidelity, Against the Wind, On the Border, and so on, and etc…

Normally, despite previously owning at least a half-dozen different copies of each of these LPs at any given point since my 2009 vinyl Renaissance sparked my thrifting Odyssey, I’d snap them up for any number of rational (and irrational) reasons. Mainly, I’d snap them up strictly on principle. But, on that particular day, I was struck by the need to contribute to, rather than draw from, the well of record Karma.

I left that vein of vinyl gold and platinum—every LP in the run had been certified gold or platinum (many times over in some cases)—in that rickety white metal magazine rack for the next teenager, hipster, or oldster to discover. I wanted those records, but someone else likely needed ’em. I hope whomever needed ’em got ’em.

To my simplistic way of thinking, I believe that if you stack up enough of these displays of restraint, grace, and gratitude, really cool shit like your neighbor gifting you like 75 cassettes happens.

That’s what I’m going with anyway.

Thanks Matt! Your tapes will be graciously absorbed into my collection of 900+ cassettes and live to roll another day…many other days in some cases (like that Warren Zevon tape).


© 2020 – ∞ B. Charles Donley

Music, When It Hits Ya, You Feel No Pain

That lyric, as I first heard it sung by Bradley Nowell of Sublime, goes like this…

One good thing about music
When it hits you, you feel no pain
One good thing about music
When it hits you, you feel no pain
So hit me with music
Hit me with music now yah
Hit me with music
Brutalize me with music

Later, after learning everything I could about yet another ’90s front-man who’d danced with Mr. Brownstone too often and too hard, I learned Trenchtown Rock was a song penned by another legend who’d died too early, Robert Nesta Marley. In fact, according to Wikipedia

Trench Town is the birthplace of rocksteady and reggae music, as well as the home of reggae and Rastafari ambassador Bob Marley.

Sublime’s unvarnished version features Nowell pleading, rather than singing, Marley’s lyrics. This is what hit me when I heard it for the first time. Although I’d go on to become obsessed with Sublime—once owning over 350 of their CDs, cassettes, LPs, VHS tapes, promos, bootlegs, and whatnot, actively participating in the late ’90s bootleg market with biff5446 as my handle, and even running an all-things-Sublime website called: The Sublime Zine—I was never obsessed with this song. And though the tune never resonated with me like much of their other work, those words perpetually ricocheted around my mind—they still do…

I offer that background as explanation for the title of this blog post that has nothing to do with Sublime, or Trenchtown Rock, or Bob Marley. But, it has everything to do with the live-saving power of music, and how, a few lifetimes back, like many, I brutalized myself with music to drown out adolescent pain.

I won’t rehash it here, but you can read my rescued-by-music story in this blog post titled: The Best Friend I Never Had. If you are not into reading long rambling dissertations, it goes something like this…

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And back in that era of confusion, naivety, and strife, music was the only thing that could assuage my teen angst.

Today, I’m approaching the apex of this lifetime. I figure after 50, it’s a nice leisurely downhill meander toward the inevitable. That is, unless I decide to have my head cryogenetically frozen so as to come back as a cyborg at some indeterminate future moment. Honestly. I’ll probably just bow out gracefully, die, and call it a good run.

In the meantime, I feel compelled to give the “life saving” gift of music to the next generation of music-obsessed souls to plant the seed of music appreciation, to show how sound can light the way when shit gets really dark.

Besides being music-obsessed, I’m thrift-addicted. There is no place more full of endless possibility and hopeless junk than a thrift store you haven’t frequented for a week. And although I look at anything and everything strewn amid the shelves, I’m always honed in on a few specific classes of relics. One such class is stereo equipment produced before the era of cheap Chinese audio gadgetry really dominated the market—the analog era, let’s call it.

I snap up this stuff mainly in hopes of reconditioning/repairing it and giving it a second life. I don’t experience any existential angst if I make a few bucks in the process. I’ve been called a “fucking flipper” more than once on Craigslist, as though fixing broken gear and selling it at a fair price is unforgivable debauchery. Another reason I like to rescue these relics from certain death in a recycling center, is that most of the stuff that is “broken” doesn’t require much effort to “fix”. Better to be fixed up and have a second life than to be dismantled and made into some cheap Chinese gadgetry, I always say.

In addition to literally hunting high and low for salvageable stereo gear, I also buy records, cassettes, and 8-tracks. I’ve yet to fall into the quagmire of flipping through jewel cases, but it just might happen some day.

About five years back, I noticed that I had snapped up about 50 (or so) duplicate LPs throughout the year. My old-souled, 9-year-old, music-obsessed daughter and I decided that rather than peddling the duplicates for $2-$5 a pop on eBay, we’d put a “Free” ad on Craigslist and give them to someone who had a music-obsessed kid of their own, who’d love them as much as we loved discovering them in dusty thrift store bins among other musty records. Needless to say, when we met the person who responded to our ad with the most compelling story—a mother with a 13-year-old son—it was a pretty damn excellent experience!

As a result of this initial foray into musical altruism, we decided this needed to become annual event. And each year around Christmas, we continued to gift the duplicate platters we had snapped up over the course of another year of thrifting. Eventually, it dawned on me that it would probably be momentarily life-altering to not only receive music but also the means to enjoy the music. In that spirit, I started to gather choice pieces of stereo gear throughout the year.

By the time this past Christmas rolled around, I had amassed the following rig…

  • Technics SA-160 Stereo Receiver Quartz Synthesizer Amplifier AM/FM Tuner
  • Fisher MT-420 Turntable
  • Insignia NS-B2111 2-way Coaxial Speakers
  • Sony MDR-CD180 Stereo Headphones

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I won’t pretend that any or all of these pieces would make an audiophile—whatever that even is—blush. But, I couldn’t help imagining how excited 13-year-old me would have been if this was under the Christmas tree back in ’84.

So, my old-souled, now-13-year-old, music-obsessed daughter and I placed our “Free” ad on Craigslist. The father who responded with the most compelling story was so excited that it melted out hearts. He was going to give our second-hand rig to his 16-year-old daughter who really wanted a record player, so that she could play the old records he had never had the heart to throw out. Since this is how I first became music-obsessed kid back in ’81 (listening to my old man’s Beach Boys, Juice Newton, and Dr. Hook records), the utter coolness of this moment sort of overtook me. As we helped him load the gear into his car, I think everyone was a bit overtaken.

He hugged us both, and we waved as he pulled out of our driveway and drove away.

It is infinitely more rewarding to give a gift than to get one.

There is no gift quite like the gift of music.


© 2020 – ∞ B. Charles Donley

The Logic Behind the Case For Case Logic

Throughout my frequent thrifting operations, I occasionally run across nostalgically crucial artifacts, implements and devices. Sometimes, I’m totally floored when I run across something I’d forgotten ever existed.

Take the time I found an Advance Watch Co. Ltd. QUARTZ DIGITAL ALL PURPOSE CLOCK.

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Sure, to the average human, it probably looks like a cheap crappy digital clock—clearly from the ’80s. Well, it is all that. It also happens to be the clock my father chose to affix to the dash of his 1981 light blue Toyota Corolla SR-5 two-door liftback.

Dad was notorious for luring my younger brother and I out on Saturday morning errands with the promise of a stop at Perkins for pancakes (my  brother) and French toast (me). After breakfast, We’d spend the rest of the morning staring at this clock (my brother from the shotgun seat, me from the back seat) praying that whichever hardware store, department store, or garage sale we were headed to was the last stop of the morning. Needless to say, I literally spent hours staring at this clock. Seeing it 35 years later in it’s original packaging  hanging on a peg in a thrift store nearly triggered a nostalgic seizure.

Other times while thrifting, I’m dogged by stuff that seems to follow me from thrift store to thrift store—things like: DVD players, Precious Moments figurines, and endless copies of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’ six-time-platinum masterpiece: Whipped Cream.

whipped

Periodically, I track down things that I purposely hunt for at thrift stores. I never pass up a functioning Sony Walkman cassette or CD player. I buy every new or lightly used “Designed by Michael Graves for Target” gadget I find. And, I snatch up any Napa Valley Box Co. media storage caddy, case, or rack. The reason is that the difference between the thrift store cost and the market (a.k.a. eBay) price is generally enough to make it worth my while.

Along those lines, I generally lay claim to anything made by Case Logic. Mainly for the aforementioned reason, but also because I’ve likely owned and utilized at least two dozen of their portable media storage products over the course of my lifetime. Also, their products trigger nearly the same nostalgia hit as my dad’s car clock.

As a kid born in ’72, I saw both the cassette and CD revolutions come and go before my 30th birthday. I owned hundreds of each at various points in the ’80s and ’90s. Bewitched by the convenience of digital music, I dumped all my physical media during the great Napster revolution at the turn of the century.

Ironic twist alert: I’ve spent the past decade acquiring more cassettes than I ever owned in the late ’80s—nearly 900 tapes as of today—doh!

Anyway, as I headed off to college in August of 1990, I was war-torn between the two formats. At that time, CD burners were still years away from existing, much less being affordable. And before digital music files and players became the de facto standard for portable audio—”back in my day” anecdote coming—we were forced to haul our tapes and CDs along with us when music-on-the-go was the order of the day (or night).

On a recent thrift outing, I snapped up a Case Logic DM-24 portable padded nylon case. The only reason I know it was a DM-24, is that tucked inside one of the pockets was all of the original paperwork. Included in the usual stack of warranty cards, product registration cards, and index cards, was the 1993 Case Logic catalog in the form of a small yet colorful accordion-style brochure. It was too great not to scan for posterity. See if you can spot the DM-24

Scan0001Scan0002Scan0003Scan0004Scan0005Scan0006

Seeing the breadth of the Case Logic product line in 1993—arguably the height of the company’s popularity—didn’t quite trigger a nostalgic seizure, but it did vault me back to at least a dozen points in the past when I owned one or three of the products featured.

Specifically, the CL-15 Tape Case was always zipped and loaded each and every weekend we made the two-hour drive to visit my grandparents in rural western Minnesota. They had no TV reception to speak of, I was two hours from my friends, and my grandpa spun only polka music on his ancient Panasonic turntable. I needed at least 15 tapes to pass the time during two days in the most boring spot on the planet. I still run across these CL-15 cases all the time in thrift stores for $2-3. They are easily the most common Case Logic product I find, likely because they used to sell them branded and loaded with 15 TDK blank tapes at Musicland and Target.

These CL-15 cases generally fetch $15-20 on eBay depending on condition and color scheme—the more colorful the better, duh!

Eventually, during my college daze (1990-95), I drifted toward CDs and graduated to numerous of the padded CD cases (most likely the CD-15 and CD-30). Over the years, I may have even owned a CD-60, and it may have been grey. Unfortunately, Case Logic never produced the case that would have allowed me to tote my entire CD collection with me: the CD-500.

I hope I presented a compelling case for preserving these wondrous Case Logic catalog images on the interwebs for all of eternity…or however much time humanity has left.


© 2020 – ∞ B. Charles Donley

 

 

Building The Perfect Beast

Building the Perfect Beast is the second studio solo album by Don Henley, the lead vocalist and drummer for the Eagles. The album was released on 19 November 1984 on the Geffen label.
– Wikipedia

My affinity for Mr. Henley is well-documented. And so I felt that it was apropos to code-name this little endeavor: “Operation Perfect Beast”. You see, ever since we purchased a home back in the autumn of 2013, I’ve nursed this incoherent vision of the perfect music appreciation room. I’ve seen thousands of digital silver-gelatins featuring fantastic altars to the Gods of recorded music. Much of this renewed interest in vintage audio (mine included) has come on the heels of the vinyl revival. More than jealousy, envy or even mild hatred, these snapshots spurred me to eschew my incoherence and actualize the opaque schematic in my mind.

We finally moved into our new-to-us home this June after an endless renovation. Long before (and ever since) the move-in day, I’ve been frantically putting each thing that clutters our lives into its ideal newest final resting place. Afflicted with Precision Arrangement Syndrome (PAS)–I’m incapable of simply putting stuff away. Instead, I incessantly jockey, jostle and jell the artifacts of a lifetime into some illusory paragon known only to me. This often requires numerous iterations to complete depending on the primary task-at-hand and each accompanying sub-task-at-hand. My wife finds this ailment baffling, as does practically everyone else.

With the stuff that necessarily comprises a home, like cookware, software and underwear, this is not a particularly difficult process. Sure, it can be arduous, but not-so-much difficult. However, when it came to the space that would be my music appreciation chamber, my “man cave” (a term I loathe), my Rumpus Room, the PAS metastasized. I can recall numerous moments staring out into the landfill occupying my garage stalls and thinking…It’s out there somewhere – that thing I need. I wonder if I’ll ever find it? Shit, who cares if I ever find it at this point? It’ll turn up someday; it has to. The garage can’t stay like this forever. Fuck it–I see some vodka in the corner.

I’ve probably spent more time locating, constructing, arranging the various components of this solitary 12′ x 10′ x 7′ x 6′ (it’s L-shaped) room than all others in the house combined, squared. Throughout all of the iterations, I always knew that I had to build a custom stereo rack. And yet, I also knew I needed to listen to my music like yesterday–dammit! Hence, I just threw the old rack into the new room and proclaimed: “That’s good for now!”

On or about August 9th, Rumpus Room v1.0 looked like this in pano mode…

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And while the trusty old (hacked/modified) gray metal tempered glass rack was surely functional (after I dealt with the uneven floor issue), I still could not abide the impostor occupying the space where my dream rack was meant to stand. I did my best to ignore this uncomfortable, disappointing and glaring anomaly in an otherwise ecclesiastical sonic arcade.

Meanwhile, back in July, amid dueling 5x eBay bucks promotions and PayPal Credit no-interest deals, I purchased 100 1/2″ steel floor flanges. In case you haven’t priced these out at a big-box hardware establishment, they are about $5 each. Thankfully, I found a bulk dealer on eBay that was offering them at a considerable discount. I had to strike fast, as there were only a pair of 50-flange lots remaining costing less than half of the big-box price-tag. I took a photo, not only as inspiration, but also to remind me I had just dropped $170 on 50 lbs. of steel that was decaying somewhere on my garage floor. Now, I had to build that rack; I had committed to it, at least financially…

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Meanwhile, in a desperate attempt to find the penultimate rack for my Pioneer Silver Stereo components and save myself weekends of painstaking construction, I Googled hundreds (possibly thousands) of pre-fab racks. I perused racks of every shape, size and dimension. As I evaluated rack after rack in full LCD color, the same issues persisted:

  1. I wanted each component on a separate shelf
  2. The height of each component varies
  3. Therefore, I need numerous infinitely adjustable shelves

You’d think such a rack exists, right? Well…it does if, like most sane individuals, you have four components + one turntable. If instead you are slightly less sane and have eight components + a pair of turntables, the prospects shrink considerably. It’s like a minivan that works great until the fifth kid is born…and then you’re looking at a minibus. I promise you—with one exception, I was not going to spend $600 + shipping on a rack I could not first see in-person—no such rack exists.

OK, I’m kinda not telling the whole truth. If you are willing to compromise and purchase a modular horizontal rack system, you have plenty of options for an 8×2 component system. Here’s an example…

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All long, I wanted a wall—nay a monolith—of sound. I had little interest in a pony wall of sound. Thus, it was settled: I would build the wall! Only there was no chance “of course Mama’s gonna help build the wall” or daddy, or anyone else for that matter.

So for starters, I constructed a miniature prototype. Surprisingly, it seemed like a plausible design—I was gonna build the bitch!

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Over the past few weekends, my kids have endured countless trips to big box hardware establishments, hours of me in the garage and countless profanities floating through the air. But at least the project was well underway, and there was certainly no turning back. My daughter lent me her bear “Bubbles” for moral support. His assistance in that capacity was incalculable. Bubbles has a unique talent: he can sit on anything and not fall over. This was key to his ability to offer me moral support from numerous locations throughout the garage and basement.

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This was not an easy project (to be brutally honest). In fact, if I had to do it all over again, I’d buy the two racks from Target, screw them together and take up quilttng. But last night, the build was (mercifully) complete. I swear this rack weighs 150 lbs. I managed to lug it down the stairs without assistance. I was beyond determined to get this thing hooked up and the minor detail of getting it down the stairs all by myself was sure as hell not going to be my Waterloo. 13 stairs and a gallon of sweat later, I had the thing in my Rumpus Room. I loaded each component into its allotted space, and spun it around to meticulously hook everything to everything else.

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About three hours, much splicing, some shimming and a lot of cussing later, I had it level and lit. My dream rack was alive!

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The journey of 1,000 steps is on or about 998. Sure, there are a few accouterments in the Rumpus Room that could be painted to look more ravishing. Yea, the floor could use an additional coat of concrete paint to make its sheen shine. And yup, I need to file a few LPs currently residing in crates on the floor. But I shot a new panoramic this evening of the Rumpus Room v2.0. It gave me pause…then, bliss.

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In case you are curious, Part 1 – The first notes to pour over the wall of sound were from the Sturgill Simpson masterpiece “Turtles All the Way Down“ – on vinyl, of course. It was fucking fantastic…!

In case you are curious, Part 2 – allow me to introduce the band (right side to top to bottom):

  • Dual 1019 Turntable / Record Changer (da Beast)
  • Pioneer PL-560 Quartz-PLL Full-Automatic Turntable (da Plow)
  • Pioneer DT-500 Audio Digital Timer
  • Pioneer RG-2 Dynamic Processor
  • Pioneer SR-303 Reverberation Amplifier
  • Pioneer SG-9800 12-Band Graphic Equalizer
  • Pioneer SA-9800 Stereo Amplifier (da Heart)
  • Pioneer TX-9800 Quartz Locked Stereo Tuner
  • Pioneer P-D070 CD Player
  • Pioneer CT-F1250 Stereo Cassette Tape Deck
  • Pioneer CS-T7000 210W 8Ω Speakers
  • Pioneer CS-520 60W 8Ω Speakers


© 2015 – ∞ B. Charles Donley

 

Article: Minneapolis Central Library opens vinyl listening room to share collection

Minneapolis Central Library opens vinyl listening room to share collection

library

Summary…

On Saturday, Hennepin County Library hosted the first event in its new “Vinyl Revival” series, which aims to bring attention to the thriving audio format. Through June, artists will present vinyl-themed programming and curate records from the library’s stacks, many of which are the works of local musicians.

The library also converted a small meeting room on the third floor into a listening room equipped with a turntable and headphones, which people can reserve to listen to the artist-selected picks.

h/t Minneapolis Star Tribune

Blather…

Considering the considerable financial barrier to entry that vinyl presents (if a proper turntable, receiver/amp, and speakers are utilized), this is a pretty kick-ass endeavor for budding vinyl junkies fans to get their feet wet.

Goodreads: Chronicles: Volume One

cdcover

Highlights…

“The madly complicated modern world was something I took little interest in. What was swinging, topical and up to date for me was stuff like the Titanic sinking, the Galveston flood, John Henry driving steel, John Hardy shooting a man on the West Virginia line. All this was current, played out and in the open. This was the news that I considered, followed and kept tabs on.”
—Bob Dylan

Blather…

Sounds like a good coping mechanism to ameliorate the angst inflicted by the punishing & relentless 24-hour/day MSM news cycle—top-heavy with divisive anecdotes, inflammatory rhetoric, and incendiary talking heads, who’d gladly sell their souls to afflict & inflict yours with hatred.

My mandatory appreciation for Dylan—we were both spawned from the same patch of frozen flyover country where parochial provincialism is true religion—has only intensified after reading the first burst of his memoir. His book reads like a Tom Waits song: astute, dingy, frank.

Plus, there’s this: List of awards and nominations received by Bob Dylan — it’s really fucking hard to argue results…!


Copyright © 2018 – ∞ Blake Charles Donley