Martin Scorsese’s New Documentary on The New York Review of Books Airs Tonight on HBO

A quick note: Tonight, HBO will air the premiere of The 50 Year Argument. That’s Martin Scorsese’s new documentary about the influential literary and academic journal, The New York Review of Books.

Writes The New York Times: “Robert Silvers has assigned thousands of pieces for The New York Review of Books, so why not a documentary film? “The 50 Year Argument” … originated along the same lines as one of the lengthy, learned articles in The Review: Mr. Silvers sought out a talented essayist, in this case Martin Scorsese, and asked him to explore a subject — the magazine’s 50-year history — that he was passionate about but not expert in.” The result is a “textured and smart but thoroughly celebratory, a paean to the magazine and the amazingly durable Mr. Silvers, now 84.”

Regrettably, the film isn’t available online. But you can watch the trailer above and then a long Q&A about the film. Recorded in Berlin earlier this year, the Q&A features Scorsese on the stage, along with David Tedeschi (his co-director), NYRB editor Robert Silvers, publisher Rea Hederman, and contributor Michael Greenberg.

We have many other heady documentaries (where else?) on our list of 200 Free Documentaries Online.

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Glenn Gould Gives Us a Tour of Toronto, His Beloved Hometown (1979)

I write this from Toronto, having come to explore, record interviews in, write about, and generally try to understand this big, busy, famously diverse, and sometimes formless-seeming metropolis Canadians appreciate and resent in equal measure. Despite the difficulty of defining or even describing it, the city has nurtured impressive minds. If not Canadian yourself, you might struggle to come up with a list of notable Torontonians, but surely names like Margaret Atwood, David Cronenberg, Frank Gehry, Joni Mitchell, and Marshall McLuhan ring bells. Despite having passed in 1982, pianist-composer Glenn Gould may still rank as the city’s best-known cultural ambassador. “I’m not really cut out for city living, and given my druthers I’d probably avoid all cities and live in the country,” he said in 1979. “Toronto, however, belongs on a very short list of cities which I’ve visited and which seem to offer to me, at any rate, peace of mind — cities which, for want of a better definition, do not oppose their cityness upon you.”

He says it at the very beginning of Glenn Gould‘s Toronto, which spends the rest of its 50 minutes exploring not just the city itself but Gould’s ideas of its nature. The documentary, which originally aired as an episode of the CBC series Cities, follows him from the CN Tower which looms over Toronto to the waterfront (on what he calls “the least great of the Great Lakes”) to the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition (a sizable event with a “spirit out of a small-town fall fair”) to the then-new city hall. Along the way, his monologue touches on the peace and quiet Toronto offers him, the reflexive distaste it can inspire in others, the “cultural mosaic” to which it plays host (sometimes insistently), the way it survived the 1960s without enduring the disastrous hollowing-out American cities did, and the friendly rivalry it enjoys with Montreal. Gould’s clear, analytical manner of speech delivers a stream of pointed observations, dry jokes, and childhood memories, revealing his nuanced lifelong relationship with the city: not the simple one of a booster, nor the even simpler one of a detractor. But then, Gould never had anything simple about him — nor, as I’ve come to find out this past week, does Toronto.

You can find Glenn Gould‘s Toronto in our collection of Free Documentaries.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A 1932 Illustrated Map of Harlem’s Night Clubs: From the Cotton Club to the Savoy Ballroom

32 Harlem Map

Harlem’s undergoing another Renaissance of late. Crime’s down, real estate prices are up, and throngs of pale-faced hipsters are descending to check the area out.

Sure, something’s gained, but something’s lost, too.

For today’s holiday in Harlem, we’re going to climb in the Wayback Machine. Set the dial for 1932. Don’t forget your map. (Click the image above to view a larger version.)

This delirious artifact comes courtesy of Elmer Simms Campbell (1906-1971), an artist whose race proved an impediment to career advancement in his native Midwest. Not long after relocating to New York City, he had the good fortune to be befriended by the great Cab Calloway, star of the Cotton Club. Hi-de-hi-de-hi-de-ho! Check the lower left corner of your map.

You may notice that the compass rose deviates rather drastically from established norms. As you’ve no doubt heard, the Bronx is up, and the Battery’s down, but not in this case. Were you to choose those trees in the upper left corner as your starting point, you’d be at the top of Central Park, basically equidistant from the east and west sides. (Take the 2 or the 3 to 110th St…)

But keep in mind that this map is not drawn to scale. I know it looks like the joints are jumping from the second you step off the curb, but in reality, you’ll need to hoof it 21 blocks from the top of Central Park to 131st street for things to start cookin’. Hopefully, this geographical liberty won’t get you too hot under the collar. And if it does, well, it may be Prohibition, but stress-relieving beverages await you in every location listed, as well as in some 500 speakeasies Campbell allowed to remain on the down low.

If that doesn’t do it for you, there’s a guy selling reefer across the street from Earl “Snakehips” Tucker.

As you stagger back and forth between Seventh Avenue to Lenox (now referred to as Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Malcolm X), bear in mind that Campbell was the first African-American cartoonist to be nationally published in the New Yorker, Playboy, and Esquire, whose bug-eyed, now retired mascot, Esky, was a Campbell creation.

In the end, he was an extremely successful illustrator, though few of his creations are reflective of his race.

The map above, which did double duty as endpapers for Calloway’s autobiography, Of Minnie the Moocher and Me, is far closer to home.

Right above, see Cab Calloway perform “Hotcha Razz Ma Tazz” at the famous Cotton Club, in Harlem, 1935.

via Big Think

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Ayun Halliday is an author, Hoos-Yorker, homeschooler, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

Rare Footage of the “Human Be-In,” the Landmark Counter-Culture Event Held in Golden Gate Park, 1967

Investigative reporter Steve Silberman awesomely flagged this video for us today. He writes:

This seems to have just surfaced: the most complete recording of the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park in 1967 that I have ever seen, by far. It opens with Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder chanting, Michael McClure follows, and the Grateful Dead (with adorable footage of Allen dancing) pop up at about 14:00. At 18:00, Dizzy Gillespie is smiling in the audience. So much mythical noumenon has piled up around these events over the decades it’s almost inevitable that the real thing seems a little banal compared to one’s imagination, but it’s still cool.

If you’re not quite familiar with what the Human Be-In, held on January 14, 1967, was all about, let me refer you to this succinct description by a web site called Magic Bus San Francisco: “Announced on the cover of the first edition of the counter-culture zine San Francisco Oracle, the ‘Gathering of the Tribes’ or ‘Human Be-In’ as it came to be known, was the prototype of all 1960s counter culture celebrations. The Human Be-In precipitated the legendary Summer of Love, and made San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury the epicenter of the burgeoning hippie movement.  The Be-In featured all the luminaries of psychedelic counter-culture, including Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Richard Alpert (Ram Dass), Dick Gregory, Lenore Kandel, and Jerry Ruben.  Many of the Haight’s best musical acts also performed, including the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service.” As a curious side note, the Dead didn’t get a mention in the poster promoting the event. Is that because they were a late addition? I’m not sure.

Human_be-in_poster

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Philosopher Jacques Derrida Interviews Jazz Legend Ornette Coleman: Talk Improvisation, Language & Racism (1997)

Derrida_Coleman

This most certainly ranks as one of my favorite things on the internet, and I dearly wish we had audio to share with you, though I doubt any exists. What we do have is an English translation from the French of an interview that originally took place in English between philosopher Jacques Derrida and jazz great Ornette Coleman. (We must squint for traces of the original conversation in this double linguistic mediation: exactly the kind of thing Derrida relishes). Now there are those who dismiss Derrida—who consider his methods fraudulent. If you’re one of them, this is obviously not for you. For those who appreciate the turns of his thought, and the fascinating possibilities inherent in a Derridian approach to jazz improvisation, not to mention the convergences and points of conflict between these two disparate cultural figures, read on.

The interview took place in 1997, “before and during Coleman’s three concerts at La Villette, a museum and performing arts complex north of Paris that houses, among other things, the world-renowned Paris Conservatory.” As I mentioned, the two spoke in English but, as translator Timothy S. Murphy—who worked with a version published in the French magazine Les Inrockuptibles—notes, “original transcripts could not be located.” Curiously, at the heart of the conversation is a discussion about language, particularly “languages of origin.” In answer to Derrida’s first question about a program Coleman would present later that year in New York called Civilization, the saxophonist replies, “I’m trying to express a concept according to which you can translate one thing into another. I think that sound has a much more democratic relationship to information, because you don’t need the alphabet to understand music.”

As one example of this “democratic relationship,” Coleman cites the relationship between the jazz musician and the composer—or his text: “the jazz musician is probably the only person for whom the composer is not a very interesting individual, in the sense that he prefers to destroy what the composer writes or says.” Coleman goes on later in the interview to clarify his ideas about improvisation as democratic communication:

[T]he idea is that two or three people can have a conversation with sounds, without trying to dominate or lead it. What I mean is that you have to be… intelligent, I suppose that’s the word. In improvised music I think the musicians are trying to reassemble an emotional or intellectual puzzle in which the instruments give the tone. It’s primarily the piano that has served at all times as the framework in music, but it’s no longer indispensable and, in fact, the commercial aspect of music is very uncertain. Commercial music is not necessarily more accessible, but it is limited.

Translating Coleman’s technique into “a domain that I know better, that of written language,” Derrida ventures to compare improvisation to reading, since it “doesn’t exclude the pre-written framework that makes it possible.” For him, the existence of a framework—a written composition—even if only loosely referenced in a jazz performance, “compromises or complicates the concept of improvisation.” As Derrida and Coleman try to work through the possibility of true improvisation, the exchange becomes a fascinating deconstructive take on the relationships between jazz and writing. (For more on this aspect of their discussion, see “Deconstructin(g) Jazz Improvisation,” an article in the open access journal Critical Studies in Improvisation.)

The interview isn’t all philosophy. It ranges all over the place, from Coleman’s early days in Texas, then New York, to the impact of technology on music, to Coleman’s completely original theory of music, which he calls “harmolodics.” They also discuss globalization and the experience of growing up as a racial minority—an experience Derrida relates to very much. At one point, Coleman observes, “being black and a descendent of slaves, I have no idea what my language of origin was.” Derrida responds in kind, referencing one of his seminal texts, Monolingualism of the Other:

JD: If we were here to talk about me, which is not the case, I would tell you that, in a different but analogous manner, it’s the same thing for me. I was born into a family of Algerian Jews who spoke French, but that was not really their language of origin [… ] I have no contact of any sort with my language of origin, or rather that of my supposed ancestors.

OC: Do you ever ask yourself if the language that you speak now interferes with your actual thoughts? Can a language of origin influence your thoughts?

JD: It is an enigma for me.

Indeed. Derrida then recalls his first visit to the United States, in 1956, where there were “‘Reserved for Whites’ signs everywhere.” “You experienced all that?” he asks Coleman, who replies:

Yes. In any case, what I like about Paris is the fact that you can’t be a snob and a racist at the same time here, because that won’t do. Paris is the only city I know where racism never exists in your presence, it’s something you hear spoken of.

“That doesn’t mean there is no racism,” says Derrida, “but one is obliged to conceal it to the extent possible.”

You really should read the whole interview. The English translation was published in the journal Genre and comes to us via Ubuweb, who host a pdf. For more excerpts, see posts at The New Yorker and The Liberator Magazine. As interesting a read as this doubly-translated interview is, the live experience itself was a painful one for Derrida. Though he had been invited by the saxophonist, Coleman’s impatient Parisian fans booed him, eventually forcing him off the stage. In a Time magazine interview, the self-conscious philosopher recalled it as “a very unhappy event.” But, he says, “it was in the paper the next day, so it was a happy ending.”

Hear more of Coleman’s thoughts on language, sound, and technology in the 2008 interview above (see here for Part 2). The year previous, in another conjunction of the worlds of language and music, Coleman was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in music for his live album Sound Grammar, a title that succinctly expresses Coleman’s belief in music as a universal language.

Image of Ornette Coleman by Geert Vandepoele

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

Sigmund Freud Writes to Concerned Mother: “Homosexuality is Nothing to Be Ashamed Of” (1935)

Freud Letter

Hank Green, hosting his Crash Course on Psychology, put it best: when we think of the study of the mind, we think of an old, bespectacled bearded man puffing on a pipe. We think, in other words, of Sigmund Freud, whether we know anything about him or not. Despite publishing such very real and still reasonably well-known works as The Interpretation of DreamsBeyond the Pleasure Principle, and Civilization and its Discontents, the man has somehow passed partially into the realm of popular myth: we think of him at once as an influential pioneer in a little-explored intellectual field, and as something of an idée fixe-hobbled charlatan as well. Perhaps, like many universally recognized 20th-century figures, he combined rightness and wrongness in some kind of irresistible proportion. But the letter above, featured at Letters of Note, demonstrates that, at least on the issue of homosexuality, he had indeed drawn a correct conclusion well before most anyone else.

In 1935, says that post, Freud “was contacted by a worried mother who was seeking treatment for her son’s apparent homosexuality. Freud, who believed that all humans are attracted to both sexes in some capacity, responded with the following letter of advice.”

Dear Mrs [Erased],

I gather from your letter that your son is a homosexual. I am most impressed by the fact that you do not mention this term yourself in your information about him. May I question you why you avoid it? Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation; it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function, produced by a certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them. (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc). It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime – and a cruelty, too. If you do not believe me, read the books of Havelock Ellis.

By asking me if I can help, you mean, I suppose, if I can abolish homosexuality and make normal heterosexuality take its place. The answer is, in a general way we cannot promise to achieve it. In a certain number of cases we succeed in developing the blighted germs of heterosexual tendencies, which are present in every homosexual in the majority of cases it is no more possible. It is a question of the quality and the age of the individual. The result of treatment cannot be predicted.

What analysis can do for your son runs on a different line. If he is unhappy, neurotic, torn by conflicts, inhibited in his social life, analysis may bring him harmony, peace of mind, full efficiency, whether he remains a homosexual or gets changed. If you make up your mind he should have analysis with me — I don’t expect you will — he has to come over to Vienna. I have no intention of leaving here. However, don’t neglect to give me your answer.

Sincerely yours with best wishes,

Freud

While mainstream western thought no longer expects that homosexuals might, under any circumstances, “get changed,” it has aligned to Freud’s view in the sense of regarding their orientation as “nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation.” And from what I can see, humanity now enjoys the presence of more such “highly respectable individuals” who publicly acknowledge their own non-heterosexuality than ever before. Freud’s letter to this concerned American mother of the 1930s, in any case, brings nuance to the cartoon image we all have of him — the obsession with dreams, the insistence on diagnosing repression, the whole deal with cigar symbolism — just as his view of homosexuals would have brought nuance to the cartoon image this and other concerned American mothers of the 1930s might have had of them.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Soviet Animation of Stephen King’s Short Story “Battleground” (1986)

Stephen King has that rare, and spectacularly profitable, skill to suck you into his world and compel you to flip to the next page. And when you’re hooked, his words have the uncanny ability to simply unfold like a movie in your head. So it isn’t surprising that his books have been widely adapted to the silver screen. Some are flat out masterpieces. Others are most decidedly not. This appreciation by filmmakers of King’s storytelling chops isn’t just contained to this side of the Iron Curtain. In 1986, Soviet animator Mikhail Titov — whose previous work includes How the Cossacks Played Football (1970) — turned King’s short story “Battleground (1972) into an animated movie, titled simply Сражение or Battle.

The short is about a noirish hired gun who dresses in a trench coat and a fedora and bears more than a passing resemblance to Vladimir Putin. He is contracted to kill a toy maker. When he returns home, he discovers that there’s a box on his doorstep and makes the completely unwise decision of taking it inside. Soon, toy soldiers start to tumble out of the box. They have live ammo, rocket launchers, tiny little helicopters at their disposal and they are on a single-minded mission to kill him. The killer soon finds himself pinned down in bathroom, waiting for the next attack.

The film is a lot of fun. Titov relies heavily on rotoscoping – an animation technique you probably remember from A-ha’s music video Take On Me. The killer’s form and movements feel realistic as the rest of the movie’s heightened, brooding world bends and bulges as if rendered through a fisheye lens. And like A-ha, the film’s synth and saxophone soundtrack might sound painfully 80s to some. You can watch Battle with subtitles above or without subtitles below. The dialogue is minimal throughout.

Battle will be added to our list of Free Animations, part of our larger collection, 700 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrowAnd check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring one new drawing of a vice president with an octopus on his head daily.  The Veeptopus store is here.

How Edward Hopper “Storyboarded” His Iconic Painting Nighthawks

Nighthawks1

Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks (1942) doesn’t just evoke a certain stripe of mid-century, after-hours, big-city American loneliness; it has more or less come to stand for the feeling itself. But as with most images that passed so fully into the realm of iconhood, we all too easily forget that the painting didn’t simply emerge complete, ready to embed itself in the zeitgeist. Robin Cembalest at ARTnews has a post on how Edward Hopper “storyboarded” Nighthawks, finding and sketching out models for those three melancholic customers (one of whom you can see in an early rendering above), that wholesome young attendant in white, and the all-night diner (which you can see come together in chalk on paper below) in which they find refuge.

Nighthawks2

These “19 studies for Nighthawks,” writes Cembalest, “reveal how Hopper choreographed his voyeuristic scene of the nighttime convergence of the man, a couple, and a server in the eerie Deco diner, refining every nuance of the countertop, the figures, the architecture, and the effects of the fluorescent lighting.” In each sketch, more pieces have fallen into place: a diner assumes their position, the light finds its angle, the perspective shifts to that of an outsider on the darkened street. Cembalest quotes Whitney curator Carter Foster describing the final product as a “marvelous demonstration of both extreme specificity and near abstract compositional summation on the same surface beguilingly [which] reflects how empirical observation and imagination coexisted in Hopper’s head.”

Nighthawks3

Despite how many elements of the real world Hopper studied to create Nighthawks, it ultimately depicts no real place. The painter himself posed for the male figures, and his wife modeled for the female. As for the locale, seen in the final drawing just above, Cembalest notes that “after years of research and scholarship, experts have determined that Nighthawks was not inspired by one specific diner. Rather, it was a composite of wedge-shaped intersections around Greenwich Avenue. Its curving prow seems partly inspired by the Flatiron Building.” In a way, it almost seemed too realistically New York to actually exist in New York. Hopper painted a distillation of a sense of American place, and like many American places, I’ve never quite known whether I’d love to drop in at the Nighthawks diner (though I’d have to find a front door first), or whether I should count myself lucky that life hasn’t relegated me to it. You can learn more about the fascinating storyboarding of Nighthawks at Art News and see many more sketches. Speaking of the sketches, they come courtesy of The Whitney Museum of American Art.

Nighthawks4

via ARTNews

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Sneak Preview of Haruki Murakami’s Forthcoming Illustrated Novel, The Strange Library

illustrated murkami

Quick note: If you just finished reading Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, and if you’re now hankering for some more Murakami, you won’t have to wait very long. In December, his next book, a 96 page novella called The Strange Library, will be published by Knopf. And already, thanks to The Guardian, you can get a sneak preview of the illustrated edition. When you enter the Guardian gallery, make sure you click the arrows in the top right corner of the first image to see the illustrations in a larger format. The book can be pre-ordered here.

In the meantime, we have a few Murakami items (stories, music, film, etc.) to keep you busy this fall.

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Art Garfunkel Lists 1195 Books He Read Over 45 Years, Plus His 157 Favorites (Many Free)

SimonandGarfunkel-2

If you’ve been wondering what Art Garfunkel has been up to lately, the answer is that it seems that he’s been reading. A lot.

The lanky, curly-haired number two guy for the seminal folk-rock band Simon & Garfunkel has been keeping track of every single thing he has read from June 1968 until October 2013 and he’s posted all of them  — 1,195 texts — on his website. The first item on his list is Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions and the last is Witold Gombrowicz’s Cosmos. In between, Garfunkel has knocked through some seriously daunting tomes –War and Peace, Ulysses, Middlemarch, Remembrance of Things Past and Immanuel Kant’s Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. He even reportedly read the entire Random House Dictionary.

His tastes generally run towards the greats of the Western Canon with some more pulpy works thrown in along the way. J.K. Rowling, Anne Rice and Dan Brown make appearances, as does E. L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey. For those who find it daunting to look at a list of 1,1195 books, Garfunkel also provides a list of his 157 favorites, which includes many great public domain works found in our Free eBooks and Free Audio Books collections. You can 15 of Art’s favorites here:

“I read for the reading pleasure, not for the gold star,” Garfunkel told Nick Paumgarten of the New Yorker in an interview a few years back. “Reading is a way to take downtime and make it stimulating. If you’re in the waiting room of a dentist’s office and don’t want to twiddle your thumbs, you turn to Tolstoy.”
Garfunkel’s list, or “library” as his website calls it, creates an expectantly intimate portrait of the artist. In the winter 1970, when Simon & Garfunkel released their biggest selling album, Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water, just as the duo was breaking up, Garfunkel blew through Moby Dick and Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther before moving on to Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea and then later Bertrand Russell’s The Conquest of Happiness. When the duo reunited to play their famous concert in Central Park in 1981, Garfunkel polished off Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby. And when Simon & Garfunkel was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in January 1990, he was reading Anthony Trollope’s An Autobiography.

The one type of book he doesn’t read is postmodern literature. His list of some 1195 books contains no mention of the likes of Don DeLillo, Donald Barthelme or Thomas Pynchon. “I tried Gravity’s Rainbow, and I thought it was fraudulent,” Garfunkel said.

Image above taken by Eddie Mallin.

via @pickover

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrowAnd check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring one new drawing of a vice president with an octopus on his head daily.  The Veeptopus store is here.

 


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