Excerpt for Bipolar Man! - The Introduction to Existential Erica by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Bipolar Man! - Comedic Adventures

The Introduction to Existential Erica













Darren DeSmeaux

Bipolar Man! – Comedic Adventures: The Introduction to Existential Erica Copyright © 2018 by Darren DeSmeaux. All Rights Reserved.


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Thank you for downloading this ebook. You are welcome to share it with your friends. This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form. If you enjoyed this book, please return to your favorite ebook retailer to discover other works by this author. Thank you for your support. 

Cover designed by Darren DeSmeaux and Canva Book Covers 



This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. 

Darren DeSmeaux


Printed in the United States of America 

First Printing: April 2018
Jefferson and Jefferies 



Chapter 1

Night Out


“HELLO? THIS IS BIPOLAR MAN."

"Hey Jameson, it’s Midlife Crisis Max calling."

"Max! Been a while – what, probably like five or six months? What's up man? How's it going?"

"My life’s a fucking joke dude,” Max answered, before allowing the dose of sarcasm to breathe for a moment. “Do you want to hang out tonight?"


"Umm...” Jameson paused and began sucking in air between his clenched teeth as he tried to frantically think of an excuse. “I don't know Max. I'm not sure that's such a great idea."

"Why not?" Max asked. "Sounds like trouble. Plus, Debbie Downer is over right now... she's having a bad day."

"Is she ever not having a bad day?" Max replied.

"Depends how you define bad," Jameson said.

"Just be careful Jameson. She can be trouble, if you get on her bad side."

"Yeah, I know. Sometimes she just shows up though, unexpectedly, so I have no choice but to put up with her."


"What's that!? Are you saying something?" Debbie's voice echoed up from Jameson's basement, where her nine-hour movie marathon continued to progress.

"Nothing. I'm just on the phone with Midlife Max; he wants to hang out."

Max overheard the conversation on his end of the call. "Jameson, listen to me, do NOT invite—"

"Do you want to maybe come with us?!" Jameson called back to Debbie, out of obligation.

"Dammit Jameson!" Max was furious. "She's trouble man; she can get in your head if you’re not careful, drag on you, and mess with your shit man! She messes with your life if she gets pissed off!"

"Yeah, I know... I've had that happen. I can't get rid of her though," Jameson said, in a quiet and cautious voice, as he looked toward the basement door.


"No!" Debbie answered. "I'm just going to lay down here for a while and watch this movie... Titanic is on right now."

"Did she say yes?" Max asked.

"No... she’s out." "Doesn't your wife care that she stops over, unannounced?"

"Yeah... sometimes Kit doesn't like it. It bugs her when Debbie gets in the way or whatever... she tries to play with our kids sometimes without asking. I've known her forever though, so what am I supposed to do?"

"Just shut her out man. Cut her out of your life."

"You know what Max... I don't want to talk about this right now... what do you want to do tonight? I could probably slip out for a while, I guess."

"Nice! I'm thinking downtown Men-Tal... the heart of the Metropolis brotha! Where the action's at!"


“Action?” Jameson closed his dark brown eyes to think, while he rubbed his thumb and pointer finger across his eyebrows. "Phhhhh," Jameson exhaled. "I don't know man... feels like that idea has trouble written all over it."

"Jesus, you're always so wishy-washy. Just make a decision!"

"You're gonna get me caught in some ridiculous situation, I just know it. Where downtown are you thinking?" Jameson asked, afraid to hear the answer.

"No, I won't. We'll find something. I'm jumping out of my skin here. My life sucks. The Mrs. is always on my damn case, and the kids are driving me crazy... it's the weekend man, I need something different, anything exciting right now."

"Fine, whatever. I'll come pick you up," Jameson conceded.

"Perfect. When you pull up, turn your headlights off; everyone is sleeping."

"It's like 6:30 Max. What time do you guys go to bed?"

"Just do it!"

"Fine, I'll text you when I get there."


Jameson hung up the phone and walked upstairs. The carpeted staircase near the front door, with a brown railing lining each side, led directly up to a small landing area that contained tan walls and four rooms. To the immediate right, two bedrooms, belonging to his four-year-old daughter Dash and his two-year-old daughter Nika, had toys and clothes strewn about... as they often did.

Straight ahead, a full bathroom sat behind a closed wooden door, and directly to the left was the master bedroom. Jameson turned left, walked through the open door, down the short hallway that housed a walk-in closet on the left-hand side, and entered the larger bedroom area.

"I better text Kit... let her know I'll be out for a while," he said to himself as he took out his phone.


Jame: Hey. I'm going out with Max for a while. What time are you guys getting back from your dad's?


He put a pair of jeans on, took his white t-shirt off, and walked into the bathroom to turn the shower on. Just as he twisted the nozzle, his phone buzzed in his pocket.


Kit: Prob late. Kids are having fun. Midlife Crisis Max?


Jame: Yeah.


Kit: I feel like he's going to get you guys into some shit.


Jame: No he's cool.


Kit: Is Debbie Downer there?


Jame: Yeah...in the basement.


Kit: Ok. She just lurking again?


Jame: Yeah, but she's stayed away for the most part...left me alone.


Kit: That's good. Please be safe tonight.


Jame: I will. Text if you need anything. Hopefully I won't be out too late.


Jameson slid his phone back into his front pocket and walked toward the running shower, where he poked his head inside the curtain. He leaned forward and bent his body at the waist until his chest was parallel to the ground. The warm water rained down on his head, dousing his wavy brown hair.

He shut the water off, let the excess liquid trickle down into the jacuzzi-style tub, and grabbed the towel that was draped over the shower curtain rod. His hands pressed the towel against his hair, to sponge off as much water as possible. He set the towel down and shook his head aggressively, side-to-side, like a dog that had just exited a lake, and more water sprayed out of his hair and onto the walls.

His long-sleeved, black t-shirt he wore quite often was on a hanger in the closet, so he walked in, grabbed it off the rack, and laid it on the bed. He took the red, tight fitting, half polyester and half spandex shirt he almost always wore, off of the dresser, and slid it over his head. Once the black shirt was subsequently applied to its proper destination, over the red shirt, Jameson walked back into the bathroom to gauge his appearance.


His five-foot, ten-inch, 175-pound athletic frame, along with damp hair twisting down to his eyes and below his ears, were sufficient enough, in his view, for an impromptu night out.

"Ok. Hopefully this is a quick evening," he said to himself, as he walked out of the bedroom and down the stairs.

"I'm taking off Debbie!" Jameson called out, down into the unlit basement, from the top of the wooden staircase.

"Ok, I'll just be here then, hanging out – all alone," she replied, with descending volume throughout, sounding as if the world was collapsing.

The guilt trip was not subtle. Jameson shook his head and felt badly, although simultaneously irritated, with her response. He knew it wasn't good for him to be around her all the time though.

"Can you just lock up when you leave? Kit won't be home for a while."

"I will," she answered.

Jameson briskly tiptoed to his right and into the laundry room, where he slipped his black tennis shoes onto his feet and made a quick escape before Debbie changed her mind. Once he walked out into the garage, he remembered he forgot to take his mood stabilizer medicine.

"Shit." He paused for a second, but realized he was too lazy to walk all the way back upstairs.

"Remember, take 'em tonight when you get home," he told himself, as he jumped into his car and backed down the driveway. The car reached the cul-de-sac pavement, Jameson clicked the garage door button hanging on his sunscreen and headed off into the night.


"Don't mind if I do," Neurotic Nigel said to himself, suspiciously, as he popped out from the side of Jameson's house and quickly scanned his surroundings. He shuffled toward the garage, bent down, and quickly side-step-jumped under the closing door, but over the laser, before anyone saw him.

When the garage door had fully closed, Nigel slithered his way into the house, acting out his best ninja impersonation, and lightly fluttered his way down the hall, up the stairs, and into the master bedroom.


Click.

"On."

Nigel clicked the light on.

Click.

He clicked it off immediately.

"Off," he whispered.

Click.

"On."


Neurotic Nigel worked in threes when he turned the lights on and off. He had to, otherwise he would become so obsessed with the feeling of incompleteness that his mind would vortex deeper and deeper into itself, with his thoughts spinning faster and faster, to the point where he was eventually paralyzed by nervous energy... unable to function.

Nigel pinned his body against the wall, and painted himself along its length, until he reached the bathroom, where he popped inside and shut the door.

"Alright Bipolar Man, let's see how you do without your spinach," Nigel whispered, slyly, as he opened the medicine cabinet. "Where is it?" he asked, as his eyes scanned the variety of prescription bottles stashed inside.

"Here."


EQUILIBRIUM ELIXIR – TAKE 2 DAILY TO STABILIZE MOOD


Nigel grabbed the bottle and put it in his pocket. He pulled the substitute bottle, with the exact same label, out of his pocket, and set it on the shelf. The sugar pills inside looked identical to the Equilibrium Elixir, and Bipolar Man wouldn't know the difference.

Nigel exhaled, opened the door, and tiptoed out of the bathroom. Without Elixir, Bipolar Man's mood could fluctuate wildly, from severe depression to hypomania. There would be no telling how he'd feel or what he would do without his medicine. That's when he would be most vulnerable to Neurotic Nigel and his devious schemes.

"Shit... what's that?" Neurotic Nigel asked himself, worriedly, when he heard a rumble coming from downstairs.

The garage door was opening! Someone was home! Nigel's heart rate accelerated, exponentially quicker with each and every passing second, as he weighed his options.

Chapter 2

Neurotic Nigel


“LIGHTS," HE REMINDED HIMSELF, AS HE SHUFFLED ACROSS the bedroom at top speed.


Click.

"Off."

Click.

"On."

Click.

"Off."


It was no good, something didn't feel right. Nigel had to start over.


Click, Click, Click.


The lights were back on.


Nigel heard the laundry room door creak open downstairs, and the dreadful sound of footsteps followed.

"Shit! Shit!"


Click, Click, Click.


The lights were off again. No good, again! Nigel's heartbeat raced violently. He could hear footsteps drawing nearer and nearer, as someone moved up the stairs with alarming quickness.


Click-Click-Click... the lights were on once more. Nigel couldn't help himself; it wasn't perfect, and he had to keep restarting.

The footsteps had reached the top of the stairs. Nigel was out of time. He darted toward the bathroom, a few long strides whisked him inside, and he hid between the back of the open door and the wall.


Between the very slim seam in the door hinge, he saw Bipolar Man walking down the bedroom hallway with a perplexed look on his face. Nigel noticed the eyebrows on Bipolar Man were scrunched down, in a confused manner, as he looked up at the lights.

Nigel's face began to sweat; the lights were off when he first arrived. Mentally, he couldn't get over the imperfect light flicking either; he was in trouble.

"Why would I have left the lights on?" Jameson asked, as he stopped and scanned the room with his eyes. After his preliminary sweep, he remained idle for another minute, perfectly quiet, listening intently, while periodically refocusing his attention throughout the room.


“I don’t think—” Jameson started to say, before trailing off. He walked toward the bed, to the left of where Nigel was looking, and out of view. Nigel leaned back up against the wall, pulled his hands toward his body, and held them against his thighs.

"Oh boy," Nigel mouthed to himself, without making a sound. His eyes were wide open; he had the Elixir pills in his pocket and with any sudden movement, the pills would shake and blow his cover. Nigel had to wait out the storm – there could be no quick escape. He stood, frozen, sweating, unable to think of what to do next. Hang on and hope he figured.


"Hello there," Jameson said.

Nigel closed his eyes and shook his head. Busted. He lifted his foot to take a step sideways so he could come out and surrender.

"Yeah, I'm just leaving now; I had to go back... I forgot my wallet. I'll be there in like ten minutes. Is that cool?"

Nigel's eyes popped open. Bipolar Man was on the phone with someone… all had not been lost – yet. He pulled his foot back and continued to hide, with his back and palms pressed against the wall behind him.

"Ok... think of what you want to do, then, forget about it because we’re doing whatever I want to do," Bipolar Man joked, as he walked toward the window on the opposite side of the bedroom from where the bathroom was.


Nigel barely poked his head around the end of the door to look at the mirror. There was enough angle in the reflection to see back out into the bedroom. He saw Bipolar Man turning around to face toward the bathroom, and Nigel jerked his head back to hide. The sound of one pill clinking against another was audible for a split second – it sounded like an atomic bomb to Nigel. He squinted his eyes and clenched his teeth as he held his breath. He was already on the verge of a panic attack.

“Just a second,” Jameson said, before silence washed over the room.

Nigel slammed his eyes shut and prayed.


“Ok. Sorry. I had to turn up my volume."

Nigel’s eyes popped back open, then softened, and he exhaled without making a speck of noise. Jameson hadn't heard the sound of the pill.

"Yup, I’m gobbling up what you’re feeding me right now," Nigel heard... Jameson's voice drawing nearer.

"Bye Max," Jameson said, as he walked into the bathroom.

Nigel opened his mouth, almost as far as his jaw would allow, and tried to breathe as if fogging up a pair of sunglasses to be cleaned. Stealth had to be his top priority... the only thing between him and Jameson was the door.

Bipolar Man opened the medicine cabinet, took out the bottle of Elixir pills, and slid one out with his pointer finger. He flipped on the faucet, bent over, took a gulp of water into his mouth, then popped the pill between his lips as his head jerked back.

Nigel's muscles began to twitch, ever so slightly; he couldn't get enough air into his lungs at the moment, and he started to shake as he thought about the lights that needed more flicking. His body was in overdrive, trying to manage his racing heart and sweating pores.


“Where did I put—” Jameson's question trailed off. He walked in circles for a few moments before opening a drawer.

Neurotic Nigel started to feel light-headed. He continued conceding oxygen with how delicately he had to consume air. Time was running short, but he needed to remain invisible.

Jameson closed the drawer and returned the bottle of pills to the cabinet. He peered at himself in the mirror and flicked his hair back with the fingernails on his left hand.

"I can't tonight," Nigel heard Jameson blurt out, for no apparent reason. "No, not tonight Max, I have to get up early."

Nigel felt the urge to laugh, so his lips connected, and his breathing ceased, causing his cheeks to balloon outward.


Bipolar Man analyzed his own reflection in the mirror, as he practiced his verbal escape route for later. He knew refusing the inevitable Midlife Crisis Max plea for more nighttime action wouldn't come easy. 

"Just say no dude... be a man," Jameson said, already annoyed with himself.

Nigel continued to hold his breath, as his cheeks held every ounce of air he had stored inside. He was about to faint.

Jameson walked out of the bathroom, straight toward the hallway, and flicked the bedroom light off. He turned his head around and scanned back and forth with his eyes as he thought for a few seconds.


Nigel trembled while he waited. Air was about to burst from his mouth, and his body was in desperate need of inhalation.

"This is gonna be a shit show," Jameson said, as he turned and walked away.

Once Nigel heard the footsteps moving down the stairs, he let the air pressure release itself through his pursed lips, muffling any potential sound, as he teetered on the edge of consciousness. When his lungs had emptied, he instinctively gasped for air, shoved the door away from himself, and dropped to his knees. His body fell forward and he remained on all fours for a few minutes, fighting to stay conscious as he caught his breath.


Eventually, he regained his composure and stood up, inch by inch. When he felt functionable, he swiftly pranced over to the light switch to pick up where Bipolar Man had left off.


Click.

"Two."

Click.

"Three."


It was sufficient this time, and the lights were off again. Nigel would allow himself to use someone else's light switch flicking as part of his three-count, as long as it made the right sound, and the other person didn’t know he did it. He was very particular with his processes. 

Nigel closed his eyes, sucked in a large amount of air, exhaled, and began to breathe in a deep, methodical manner, using every molecule of air available, to release the rest of the built-up tension. He continued to wait, still finding his bearings, until he heard Jameson's car start and pull out of the garage. As the sound of the door closing rumbled once more, he crept out of the bedroom at a turtle's pace, tiptoed down the stairs, paused at the bottom, then breezed through the hallway.


"Until we meet again," Neurotic Nigel whispered to the empty laundry room, as he exited into the garage. He walked to the far corner, opened the side door, one centimeter at a time, poked his head out to gauge the situation, and threaded himself outside.

Nigel pulled the door shut behind him, twisted the knob to make sure it was locked from the inside, double-checked his pocket for the pills, and disappeared into the night.

Chapter 3

On the Road


WHEN JAMESON TURNED INTO MIDLIFE CRISIS Max's cul-de-sac, he flicked the headlights off and allowed his car to gracefully glide down the street and into the driveway. From Bipolar Man’s perspective, most of the rooms in Max's house appeared to be brightly lit behind curtains that were drawn.

Max slinked out the door on the side of his garage, before Jameson had even stopped, gently pulled the door closed behind him with both hands, galloped to the car, and hopped in the passenger seat.


"You growing your hair out?" Jameson asked, as he raised one eyebrow.

Max had dirty blonde, curly hair, dryly-slicked back in front, and the sides fell down past his ears.

"Think I'm not? "

"Wicked," Jameson said, as he smirked.

"Yeah, I'm trying it out. You like it?" Max asked, already knowing the answer; Jameson had always been jealous of his curls and Max liked to rub it in. 

"Yeah, I mean... it's definitely, aggressive, at your age," Bipolar Man replied, as his smile widened.

"So is your shirt," Max said, as he pulled down the sun visor and checked himself out in the mirror, starting with his hair. 

With the car in neutral, Jameson let gravity push them back down the driveway, into the street, and he eased the rescue pod up to escaping speed.


"You get those jeans at the paint store?" Jameson continued, as he flicked his headlights back on.

"Dude... this is my new look. Get used to it."

"I thought you said your family was sleeping."

"They are." "All your lights are still on."

"So, what?" Max answered, in a deeper tone; his senses foresaw an interrogation coming on.

"Does your wife even know you just left?"

"I don't care. She's all pissed off tonight; I want a new car, she doesn't. She thinks our new upstairs paint overhaul should be done in glaucous blue-grey, and I don't understand why we wouldn't do an aquamarine theme. It's all bullshit anyway."

"Sneaking out should make it better."

"What are you, my wife?"

"That's hurtful Max," Jameson joked.

"I’m just saying." Max had enough already.


Jameson sensed the annoyance building but couldn't help prodding further. "It's not what you said Max, but how you said it."

"Don't be an ass-wipe. Full disclosure, I told her you called me out of the blue, acting super bipolar and shit, and you wanted to hang out."

"That doesn't even make sense," Jameson pointed out, not understanding why he had to.

"Why not? I figured she'd want me to make sure you were ok. Free pass."

"Does she even know what bipolar is?"

"She thinks you have split personalities."

“Why’s that?” Bipolar Man asked, knowing the answer already.

“I’m… not… entirely sure." Max threw a perplexed look in Jameson's direction.

"Right. Not too far off though. Did she buy it?"

"Um... sorta."

"What does that mean?"

"Well, she bought it, but then she got all worried, like you would be dangerous. She said to have you come inside so she could make sure everything was ok, before we went out."

"So, she'll think you just forgot to have me come in then?"

"Yeah. Pretty much. Yeah."

"Pretty much?" Jameson pried, as he looked over at Max, who peered back at him with guilt written all over his face. "What does pretty much mean?" he asked again.

"I don't know... I figured I could sneak out, and tell her you were being all paranoid about coming in. Makes it more believable. If we stay out a long time, I can just blame it on you."


Bipolar Man sighed, pushing air out his throat with excessive force, as he let his irritation fill the car.

"Don't even start Jameson. Don't tell me you won't blame it on me if we're out late."

"Well, that's... actually... that would be the truth," Jameson replied, as the wires in his brain began to spark. 

"So, what? We both have alibis now."

"Your wife's gonna think I'm crazy."

"No... I’ll tell her I eventually talked you off the ledge."

"Jesus Christ Max." Bipolar Man needed a couple breaths to normalize his mindset. "Whatever... where are we going?" he asked, in search of a less irritating topic, as they sped down the road toward the interstate.

"Clubbing."

"Good god. You're joking right? Let's do the sports bar by the football stadium."

"No. I got all dressed-up—”

“That’s dressed up?” Jameson interrupted.

“Why are you such an ass-rod?”

“I honestly don’t know,” Jameson conceded, as he shook his head.


Max was staring at him blankly. “Anyway, I got some ecstasy from some dude I worked with... we're going clubbing," he said, uninterested in Bipolar Man's opinion.

"Dude. Seriously?" Jameson asked, as his eyes opened wide. "Are you losing your mind? You're doing ecstasy now?!"

"This’ll be my first time." Excitement began to evaporate out of Max again. He bounced his eyebrows up and down a few times while he looked at Jameson.

"I can't be a part of this Max."

"Part of what?"


Jameson pulled over to the side of the on-ramp to the interstate. "Part of wherever tonight seems to be headed. I don’t need this."

"You don't need to do shit man. Let's just go down there, have a few drinks, and if you don't like it, we can head home," Max assured.

"Yeah... bullshit."

"Jameson... come on. I need this. I need you to keep me in line. How long have we known each other? Do me a favor."

"I thought you said I don't need to do shit."

"I lied. See? I can't be trusted on my own tonight."

Jameson shook his head. "Fine. I'm not staying late though." He stomped on the gas pedal and steered the car back between the white lines.


"Good man. You will not regret this!” Max began rubbing his palms together as he smiled and bowed his head.

Jameson looked over at Max, silently. 

"Let's call Manic Mandy!" Max's face lit up even brighter than his new idea, as he pulled out his phone and began scrolling through numbers.

"What!? No."

"Why not? She's super fun!"

"Not happening," Jameson declared, as he shook his head.

"Give me one good reason why not," Max asked.

"Bipolar Man, Midlife Crisis Max, and Manic Mandy together? The universe might implode if—"

"Hey Mandy, it's Max calling." His high-pitched giggle commenced, before she responded.

Jameson closed his eyes for a second and allowed the steam to escape through his nostrils.


"Bipolar Man and I are headed downtown." Max paused for a second to listen, still smiling, with his mouth wide open and teeth exposed. "Yeah. I'm with h—. We're. No. I was going to. Just—" Max muted his phone. "She won't stop talking. Hang on," he relayed to Jameson.

"Just let her go man... if the three of us hang out together, gravity might reverse itself."

"It'll be fine dude," Max reassured, as he unmuted his phone. "Mandy. Mandy! Slow down... I can't understand what you're saying!"


Jameson could hear rapid-fire chatter still coming from the other end of Max's phone for a couple minutes, as they drove down the freeway. Max remained quiet, listening to the bombardment of words flying at him, as he analyzed his appearance in the mirror attached to the visor once more. 

His hair was spritzed into place, his teeth contained no significant chunks, and there weren't any nose hairs to speak of he confirmed. Mature, he looked, in his mind, with a thread of coolness weaved in, but not so much where people would think he was trying too hard. 


"You're talking about wanting me to invest in that? How much do you want?" Max finally asked, in between tsunami waves of Mandy dialogue.

Jameson looked over at Max with a mild smirk. "Max, you're not seriously thinking of—"

"Yeah I could probably come up with sixty-grand."

Jameson's eyebrows dropped down and his mouth fell open as he peered at Max, gauging if he was serious.

"I'm guessing Bipolar Man could scrape some money together too... I'll ask," Max said, as he looked over at Jameson.

"Max. Are you fucking kidding me?" Jameson asked, in a piercing whisper, not completely sure if it was all a joke.

Max and Jameson looked at each other, neither one uttering a word, as their faces remained expressionless, for a few seconds.


"He said he wants to think about it Mandy. I'll talk to him more about it tonight."

Jameson rolled his eyes and shook his head.

"Ok... sounds good Mandy. Call me later if you want to meet up. I'll wire you the money in a few days; I just have to liquidate a few things."

"Max, do you think that's such a good idea?"

Max ignored Jameson's voice of reason. "No, it's cool Mandy. If we need more money later, I can probably borrow against my house... my wife won’t even know. We have some options. We'll talk later."

Chapter 4

Jameson and Max


MAX HUNG UP THE PHONE AND LOOKED AT JAMESON, with wide open eyes and a grin from ear to ear.

"Do I even want to know?" Jameson asked, expecting a ridiculous explanation.

"It's a solid idea dude. Check it out… she's gonna start a driving school for toddlers, so when they grow up, they'll already know how to drive!"

Jameson paused for a second as he thought. "How the hell are toddlers going to drive cars?"

"We'll just use those little toddler cars and shit. The play ones," Max answered, before his nose seeped out an airy laugh. "Little shits."

Jameson thought for a few more seconds. "By the time toddlers are driving, cars will be fully automated though, right? Won't it be totally different by then?"


Max grinned, half-expecting the question. "She actually said it won't matter, for two reasons. First, not everyone will be able to afford that. Second, parents are so worried about every little thing that they'll think it's a good investment right now. Plus, we get the kid in now, and we have a recurring customer for over a decade!"

"Isn't that taking advantage of the parents a little bit?"

"How?" Max asked, challenging Jameson's logic.

"Like playing off their fears. Using that to make money."

"No... I don't know. Isn't that what business is... just convincing people to buy your shit? Buyer beware."

"Yeah, I guess." Jameson began to lose interest.

"Sounds like a good idea, right?" Max's head nodded in approval of his own question.

"Not really, to be honest."

"I think it is. Like nobody else does that shit. Calculated risk. Honestly... who else does that?!"


"What the hell does Mandy need sixty-grand for? That seems like an aggressive amount of money. Where's the investment? Toddler cars at K-Mart?"

"Tons of shit. Cars, space, an office, marketing campaigns, teachers. Plus, she wants to install fully-enclosed cockpits, with safety harnesses, inside the toddler cars."

The side of Jameson's eye caught another glimpse of Max. "Those cars go like three miles an hour. What the hell do you need safety harnesses for?"

"You don't... but parents these days are worried about every little thing... we could probably charge more for that." Max smiled confidently, as he looked straight ahead and began fist-pumping.


Jameson shook his head again. “You should work at my company. You’d fit right in.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing.”

"You want in man? Mandy figures we could turn sixty-grand into a few hundred thousand, within a year." Max punched numbers into the calculator on his phone as he spoke. He stopped for a moment, rubbed his forehead, then continued calculating. Eventually, he turned his phone toward Jameson to show him the screen that displayed just over 300 thousand.

"Just like that, huh?" Jameson asked, with one eyebrow raised and skepticism in his smile. "I don't know. Let me think about it."

"Do you actually want to think about it or just not want to say no?"

"Probably a no. But I mean... ask me later, just in case I change my mind."

"You know you're not gonna change your mind. Just say no."

"Just ask me later," Bipolar Man declared.

"Your level of conflict avoidance is unhealthy Jameson."

"Just ask me later."

"Whatever man. Your loss. Hey, can you pull off at this exit? I want to grab some smokes."

"You're smoking now?"

"Yeah, I'm trying it out," Max answered, matter-of-factly.


"When did that start?"

"Tonight. I feel like ripping through a few packs." Max punched a few more numbers into the calculator, smiled, nodded his head a few times, and stuffed his phone back into his pocket.

Jameson veered right and coasted up the exit ramp, turned right at stoplight, and headed toward the gas station.


"I'll fill your tank... that's the least I can do, for you driving me around all night bud."

"Is that what I'm doing... driving you around all night?"

"I'm going to get torn up tonight... to celebrate quitting my job! You don't drink. I figured you could keep an eye on me; make sure I don't do anything stupid."

"Sounds like a realistic job." Jameson's tone switched from sarcastic to serious. "You quit your job too?"

"You know it. Last week," Max replied.

"Weren't you making like 200 grand?"

"Two-thirty."

There was a moment of awkward silence, for Jameson.


"What did your wife say about that?" Jameson asked, as he tried not to wince. He looked over at Max and saw him flossing between his teeth with the edge of his credit card.

"She doesn't know yet. She already hates me anyway though. What’s one more thing?" Max shrugged his shoulders and slid the card back between two of his front teeth.

"Good luck with that conversation," Jameson said, with more seriousness mixed in than sarcasm.

"My job was gonna give me a heart attack within five years. I'm extending my earning potential. Do the math. I'm just being smart." 

"Touché."

"Here, fill the tank with this. I'll run in quick," Max said, as he handed Jameson his credit card.


Jameson held the card between his pointer finger and thumb, away from his body - the tail connected to a mouse he didn't want anywhere near him.

Max opened the door, jumped out, and bounded toward the building. Jameson dropped the card onto the passenger seat and looked at the gas gauge, saw the needle was already on full, then closed his eyes and inhaled deeply.

"Things look promising for Bipolar Man tonight," Jameson mumbled to himself, as he exhaled. "God. What the hell did I get myself into here?" he asked. He stared blankly ahead, until he eventually zoned out for a couple minutes - halfway between a hypnotic trance and a complete loss of will.


"Just duck out early," he found himself saying. "Tell him, something came up. Family emergency." He thought for a second and shook his head. The idea was soft... he wasn't even buying his own excuses when nobody was around.

Jameson checked his phone, noticed the time had begun to tick backwards, and he let the weight of his head drop forward. He looked back up and saw Max through the gas station's front window talking to the girl working behind the counter. Max pointed toward Jameson, then he and the girl looked outside, as Max's mouth continued to jabber.


"What the hell are you doing now Max?" Jameson blinked slowly and turned the key to start the car.

Max grabbed a few things off the counter and walked out the door. Jameson pulled up to meet him near the entrance.

"You getting that chick's number or what?" Jameson asked, as Max slid himself into the car.

"Well… I was going to, but then I just gave her yours. She might meet up with us later."

Jameson stared at Max, blankly, waiting for the punchline, which never came. Max seemed genuinely confused at Jameson's gaze.


"What's that look?" he asked.

"Why did you give her mine?" a perplexed Bipolar Man responded, before he gently pressed on the gas pedal.

"I said I didn't have my phone with. I don't want her knowing my number. What if she's some crazy chick?"

"What the fuck are you talking about!?" Jameson exploded. 

"What? It's more believable. Just tell Kit you were manic and gave some girl your number, if she finds out she called."

"Why don't you say that? Kit knows I'm not manic. Plus... what does that have to do with her being crazy?" 

"I figured since you're bipolar... you'd know how to deal with that crazy shit."

Jameson rolled his eyes and turned up the air conditioning to cool the scene, while Max focused his attention on the fistful of lottery tickets he had purchased.


"Where is this place we're going Max?"

"It's like two blocks south of Men-Tal University. That club... Frisky McWhisker’s, right off the main drag. That's where the college talent hangs out."

"How the fuck would you know that?"

"Tinder." "That sounds fun Max... a couple of thirty-five-year-old creeps lurking at the college club."

"It's cool... I met some chick on Tinder who goes to college there; she's gonna meet up with us."

"Oh. Even better." Sarcasm could not be layered on thick enough, for Bipolar Man to display his level of disgust. "Max... you owe me for this. But if you get me stuck in some bullshit situation, any more bullshit than this I should say, don't think I won't leave your ass."

"Deal." Max said, as he patted Jameson on the shoulder.

"What's your Tinder girlfriend's name?" Jameson joked.

"Her profile name is Existential.”

“Sounds mystical,” Jameson replied.

“Yeah. It’s probably her stage name or something. I told her we would pick her up at her dorm."

"The dorms?!" Bipolar Man gritted his teeth and aggressively rubbed his eyebrows with his right hand.

Chapter 5

Men-Tal University



BIPOLAR MAN’S IRRITATION STRANGLED HIS CHEST MUSCLES, so he turned the radio up to passive aggressively drown out the conversation. They were approaching downtown Men-Tal Metropolis; a largely spread-out and complex city without very many tall structures. Apartments, offices, retail stores; most everything was grey or tan colored and stood only ten stories high or less. 


The elevated freeway that led into downtown continued running straight into the heart of the city, and all the way through the far end, with exits available every few hundred yards or so the entire way. In the absolute dead center of downtown was the capitol building and administrative sector, with the freeways that headed in opposite directions, north and south, curving closely around each side. The freeway extended through the far end of the city, past the outlying suburbs, then over state lines, where Kortecks ended and Confewzhunn began.


The east half of Men-Tal Metropolis was mainly where the art museums, concert halls, night clubs, restaurants, colleges, and other types of entertainment destinations were located, while the west half contained all of the business offices and housing structures. Buildings stood taller toward the center of downtown, and the further out the structures spanned, the shorter they became. From a distance, the shape of the city appeared to emulate a giant circus tent, but with a more gradual decline in height from the center to the outer ring.


The city was extremely old, so transportation routes were constructed from the inside-out over time, and as a result were very complex... both throughout the entire city and outlying suburban areas. Someone could spend a lifetime winding through the quirks and peculiarities of each and every little nook and cranny and still not fully understand the ever-evolving layout.


While Max gave the texting app on his phone a workout, Jameson dialed the music volume down and enjoyed the peaceful view on their way into the city. With clear night skies providing a crisp backdrop of the heavens, Bipolar Man focused on the beauty of the stars in the distant Twikkes galaxy as well as the large full moon that hovered just above the metropolis skyline. The scene provided Jameson a relaxing and serene moment that calmed his nerves and lowered his heart rate back down to a measurable level.

Campus was located toward the center of downtown, clearly visible from the approaching freeway, due to it being stationed only a few hundred yards from two adjacent exit ramps; a prime location for accessibility and also for escape. As they channeled deeper and deeper into the heart of Men-Tal, Jameson felt butterflies start to stir inside his stomach. He couldn't wait to get back home.


"Your old stomping grounds," Max broke the silence with, as the University hockey rink came into view.

Jameson couldn't hold back a smile, as fond memories of days gone by littered his head; he had played defense for the Men-Tal Meditators hockey team while he went to school there.

"Man, I think I've been back to campus once in like ten years," Jameson said, informing Max, and reminding himself. "I didn't come through town the last time though." The sights he reacquainted himself with triggered a mix of emotions that dragged his mind back in time for a few moments.


"They retire your jersey yet?" Max asked.

Jameson laughed. "I don't know... maybe. They wouldn’t invite me to the ceremony if they did. I'm not even sure I'm allowed back on campus... not after some of the shit we pulled."

"Good times," Max confirmed. For a moment, the tone in his voice had shifted down from overdrive, to nostalgic, and a warm smile extended across his face as the car exited down the off-ramp.

"This place looks exactly the same," Jameson said, just as they turned and headed into town. He let the car glide itself slowly down Surrebral Street, while the two friends analyzed each passing bar, restaurant, and coffee shop. "I guess some of the names have changed though."

"Yeah... few of the bars changed hands, and they added a couple more coffee shops." Max worked close to campus, until recently, so he was up-to-date with the modern layout.


"Oh... that's where Frisky McWhisker's is. What did that place used to be called again?" Jameson asked, as he tried to think back.

"Meowser's Kat Klubb." "Oh yeah." Jameson's stomach squeezed a few laughs out of his mouth in short, cadenced intervals. "Man, was that place a complete gong fest."

"Yeah," Max replied, through his higher-pitched giggle. "Although, it probably wasn't as much that place as it was you being a complete shit show every time you were there."

"Touché."


Bipolar Man pulled over and parked, without warning. He closed his eyes, pulled his hands toward his chest, made two fists, and began thumping them against the steering wheel. The initial steady, quiet beat became slower, louder, and more forceful with each recurrence.


"What's wrong dude?" Max asked. "You ok? Jameson's head fell forward.

Max narrowed his attention toward his friend's face and saw his mouth start to open. Before any words came out, Max noticed Jameson's bottom lip quiver.

"Are you ok man?" Max tried again. Jameson took a deep breath. "Yeah, sorry... I'm alright. Just... every now and then, something will remind me of, um—”


-- (One Year Earlier)—


Kit could hear intense crying coming from the bathroom, in the master bedroom, from all the way down the hall. 

"Ok, Mom-Mom be right back sweethearts," she said to Dash and Nika, who were playing with trains and wooden tracks on the floor in Dash's room. Kit walked down the hallway and into the bedroom, and poked her head into the bathroom, where the crying was originating.


"Babe... what's wrong?" she asked Jameson. He was sitting with his back against the far wall, legs bent, and his arms held his knees tightly to his chest. His forehead was resting on the tops of his knees, and his body was rocking forward and backward.

"Babe?"


Jameson swallowed hard and tried to collect himself using deep breaths. He rubbed his nose with the sleeve of his shirt and wiped away as many of the tears as he could with the back of his hand. He lifted his chin up a couple inches, revealing a blank facial expression that pointed somewhere out toward the tile floor in front of him. Kit saw his squinty, blood shot eyes and wondered how long he had been in that position.


“Babe?” she asked once more. "It's just, everything." The words took every ounce of his energy to spit out, and the limpness of his body symbolized an unconditional surrender to the world around him.


"It's—" He couldn't muster any more words before the corners of his mouth turned downward, locking his lips together, and he covered his face with his hand for a few seconds. He swallowed again, relaxed his shoulders, and looked at Kit. "It's just… so overwhelming right now."

"What is?" "Everything. Where my life is. The fact that I had a manic episode, at 35, when I had no idea I was bipolar. Now, I can't even drag myself out of bed. I’m unemployed. I don't know what I want to do... it's just a total shock to the system. It's hopeless."

“You’re going back to consult at your old job though, aren’t you?”

“I guess. I don’t want to. I hate that place.” Jameson’s head dropped back down onto his knees.


Kit walked over and knelt down in front of Jameson; her hand began to rub his knee as he barely held back more sobbing. "This is temporary," she said. "This will pass. It's gonna get better. They said... this is the crash; it's a chemical depression."

"It's embarrassing Kit. The stuff with Eva, the stuff with us... telling everyone, pretty much everything. Total public implosion, dirty laundry everywhere. I don't even fucking know—"

Jameson lost control and started crying again, unable to keep the loud, quick bursts of despair bottled inside.


"Dada?" Dash's quiet and tentative question was a stun grenade in Bipolar Man's ears. She walked into the bathroom and stared at her broken father. "Does Dada have another headache Mom-Mom?"

"Yeah baby, Dada's head hurts."

"Daddy?" Nika had joined the congregation, and stood just inside the doorway, staring at her Dada with wide eyes.

"I'm sorry," Jameson said, wishing he could disappear. He began sniffling and wiping his nose, as he turtled back into his shell. "Dada is going to be... I'm ok sweethearts.”

Dash, Nika and Kit quietly analyzed Jameson for a few seconds, unsure of what to do next.


"Jameson? Hey... what's going on man?" Max had wrestled Bipolar Man out of his own head... a feat not easily accomplished in recent months.

"It's fine Max. I'm good." Jameson's emotions had already stabilized. "I have these triggers. They make me think of like, all the shit that happened last year; the mania, depression, all the crap I was doing and saying. Being on campus... all of a sudden it made me think of when I harassed Eva."

"Your old professor you creeped out?"

Jameson couldn't hold back a quick laugh. "Yeah. Calling her, emailing her, basically harassing the shit out of her to the point where... whatever… it’s just so embarrassing."

"Whatever man, you couldn't control it."

"Yeah. Debatable. It doesn’t even seem real, all the shit I did."

Max wasn't sure what to say. He heard the story, pretty much every single intricate detail, not long after it happened. Max could relate; he was going through his own set of issues, but he figured Jameson was over his. Last they talked, months ago, they laughed and joked about it.


"Sometimes when I think about it—" Jameson paused and shook his head. "I still feel a little lost. I get overwhelmed for a few minutes." He put the car in drive again and turned his head back around his left shoulder to look for an opening.


"Sorry if I said something—" Max trailed off as he gauged Bipolar Man's reaction.

"No. You didn't," Jameson replied. "Even if you would have... I prefer to joke about it... it’s not like it didn’t happen. It helps people realize I'm the same me. People feel less embarrassed about their problems when they see how big of a clusterfuck my life is. I sorta like talking about it; people seem inspired somehow."

He tapped the gas pedal and veered back onto Surrebral Street.


"You sure?" Max checked. "Yeah. That just shot right through me out of nowhere... a powerful emotional response to being on campus. It brought me back in time; college, the feelings I had during the mania, with the Eva connection."

Max nodded as he looked at the floor in front of him.

"Don’t worry Max… I've always been a lunatic. It's just... now everybody knows." Jameson joked.

Max burst out laughing as Jameson turned into the campus south entrance, where the road immediately began to wind around the administrative and classroom buildings. Max looked out his window and began rubbing his hands together with excitement, while Jameson felt paranoia settle in, as they forged further into campus.

"Max... we’re too old for this shit." Jameson steered the car toward the row of dormitory buildings and headed for the main entrance. Max poked at the screen of his phone and held it up to his ear.


"Hey Existential? We're outside.”

Chapter 6

Existential Erica


JAMESON SLOWLY SLUMPED DOWN IN HIS SEAT, hoping nobody would see him.

"Yeah I brought my buddy... Bipolar Man. You'll like him. He's good shit," Midlife Crisis Max said.


Jameson raised his head slightly, so his eyes were just above the door, and he peered out the window. A couple of college students stared at him, with confused expressions on their faces, as they walked by. He shriveled back down in his seat and out of sight.


"Ok, we'll just park and come in," Max confirmed.

Jameson rolled his head to the right and gave Max a hopeless glance. "Max, seriously, are you fucking kidding me? You wanna go inside? What the hell's the matter with you?"

"What? Just for a minute...they're pre-gaming it," Max whispered, as he listened to Existential talk. "Ok, see you soon." He hung up and looked at Bipolar Man.

"They?" Jameson asked, with wide-open eyes.

"Yeah, her and some friends."

"I don't want to be here Max."

"Jameson, one time. It's not like I do this every night."

"Yeah, not yet," Jameson said, in a biting tone.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"You just seem to be trending in that direction."


Max paused and glared at Jameson, caught off-guard by what he heard. "Whatever dude. I don't want you around then. I think Debbie Downer snuck her way inside your worried little brain there," Max said, as he repeatedly poked his finger into the side of Jameson's head. 

Jameson smacked the finger away with the back of his hand. "Beat it with that. We graduated when your Tinder friends were still in elementary school."

"So? Get over it. You know what? Just drop me off; I'll find a ride home."

"Max, listen... you need to—"

"Maybe I'll just find some new friends too while I’m at it."


Awkward silence exploded inside the car, and it lingered for over a minute. The two friends sat still, staring straight forward at the dashboard in front of them, thinking about their prior exchange. Jameson's face was hot as he blushed; he was irritated with Max, felt guilty about the dust-up that had just taken place, and sensed his self-respect slipping away after continually flaking out on his pregame speeches he had given himself earlier in the night.


"Fine." Jameson finally gave in, as his eyes closed and his chin dropped toward his chest. He suctioned a long breath of fresh air in through his nose and exhaled... in defeat. He knew Max couldn't be left alone.

"I can find a ride home bud," Max offered.

"No, it's fine. If you ended up getting in trouble, I'm not sure I could ever forgive myself, because I just know, you'd somehow blame it on me... then I'd get in trouble."

"Touching," Max said, without a shred of emotion.

"Where am I supposed to park?"

"Student parking." Max pointed into the distance... ahead and to the right.

"Perfect. Only a half mile away."

"When you get back here, just call me," Max replied, as he opened the passenger-side door.

"That's a good one Max. Get in the car."

"She's on her way down right now; I have to meet her so she can check us in with the security desk. Just call me when you get back, I'll wait down in the lobby."

Max shut the door and walked toward the building as he raised his phone back up to his ear. Jameson watched in disbelief as Max strode away. When he had disappeared into the front entrance, Jameson dropped his head and covered his face with his hands.


"Ridiculous situation. Why am I surprised? I knew this was going to happen." Jameson lifted his head and tilted it to the side, then closed his eyes. Anxiety pressed against his chest, and his hands squeezed the steering wheel as he debated what to do next.

"You know what... fuck this."

He yanked back on the shift knob, pressed the gas pedal down, and followed the road a few hundred feet, until he came to the stop sign. He looked right, toward the parking lot, and thought for a second. He spun his head left, toward the exit, and cracked his knuckles. He sat there in complete silence, contemplating, slowly tilting his head back and forth, while a hurricane of thoughts raged through his mind.


BZZZZZZ.


He jumped a foot when he felt his phone vibrating in his pocket. He pulled it out to look at the screen and saw the name Midlife Max staring back at him. The phone buzzed in his hand, on and off, as he thought about whether or not to answer.


"Hello?" Jameson held the phone in front of his face as he spoke. 

"Hey bud, I can tell you're irritated with me," Max began.

"What makes you think that?"

"Are you still out front, debating whether or not to go home?"


Jameson paused for a second. "No."

"Why are you sitting at the stop sign then?"

Jameson blushed; he forgot he was still in plain view of the lobby. "I was just looking at something on my phone."

"Really? Why did it take you so long to answer?"

"Did you want something Max?"

"Here... I want you to talk to Existential. She's more convincing than I am."

"Max, I don't—"

"Hello? Is this Bipolar Man?" a girl's voice asked.

Jameson sighed. “Yes.”

"You coming in? Dax thinks you're about to bail."

"I'm debating."

"Debating what?"

"It feels sketchy for 35-year-olds to be hanging out at a college dorm to be honest, especially when they are married with kids."

"Don't worry about it. I don’t care, obviously my roommate doesn’t either if she’s hanging out with your friend. She's kinda sketchy too. You guys will fit right in."

"Oh, I thought he met you—"

"My friend set up her profile under my name. She has a boyfriend; she says they're in an open relationship, but she hasn't told him that yet."

"Unreal," Jameson replied, as he breathed a quiet laugh through his smirking mouth.

"Yeah. She was flirting with married guys on Tinder so they’d have to keep it a secret for now. Enter, Dax."

"Why do you keep calling him Dax?"

"Is that not his name?"

"No... it’s Max."

"I thought your name was Dax," Jameson heard her say.

There was some faint mumbling in the background while Jameson listened.


"Oh, he said he mistyped his profile name on accident and it wouldn't let him change it."

Jameson rolled his eyes and smiled. "Yeah, because the D and the M are so close to each other on the keyboard... I can see how he made that mistake. Tell him I said bullshit."

"Bipolar Man said bullshit on the name thing," she called out.

Jameson heard more mumbling.


"Max says don’t worry about it," she relayed.

Jameson smiled, and gazed into his rear-view mirror at the glass entrance doors in the distance. His smile faded, and he began to nervously rub his fingertips across the tops of his bottom teeth.


"Max says just come in for a few minutes," she said.

"Why does he have you on the horn, trying to convince me for him?" Jameson asked.

"He said you can’t say no to people you don't know."

"Damn!" Jameson whispered to himself, after he had hit the mute button. His mouth displayed a grin, though he was unamused, and he tapped the unmute button. "I feel like someone's gonna call the cops if they see me walking around the dorms," he argued.

"Max says you look young for your age."

“Did he really say that?" Jameson asked, feeling proud.

“No.” Bipolar Man pursed his lips and closed his eyes. "Either way, that still wouldn’t make it any less creepy Existential… that’s your name, right?"

"My real name is Erica. My friends nicknamed me Existential Erica."

"Why is that?"

"I talk about existence a lot; life's purpose. People make fun of me."

"I've actually thought a lot about existence lately," Jameson let on.

"Why?"

"I felt this universal energetic connection when I was manic; it was so real, like life isn't what we think."

"Nobody takes you seriously, do they?" she guessed.

"No. I won’t even talk about it anymore because people seem to think it’s more evidence I’ve gone off the deep end. My shrink thinks I’m schizoaffective; he said tying everyday occurrences to universal purpose is psychotic."

"Is it psychotic to believe in God?" she asked, as if debating.

"I said the exact same thing to him, word for word."

"What did he say back?"

"He told me God doesn't work that way."

Erica let out a condescending chuckle. “What a dildo.”

“Yeah. He’s got it all figured out.”

"Why do you think you’re here?" Erica inquired.

"Because Max is an asshole."

"No, I mean, why do you think you exist?"


A car honked at Bipolar Man from behind him, so he spun the steering wheel to the right, took his foot off the brake, and idled around the corner. Before he thought any more about it, he was already headed toward the student parking lot.

Chapter 7

A Heroine Introduction


“I NEVER HAD AN ANSWER TO THAT,” Jameson conceded. He kept driving down the two-lane road that had street lamps on both sides, brightly illuminating the entire length.

"No theories?" Erica asked.


Jameson clicked the side of his tongue against the back of his mouth a few times. "I don't know. I'll find out eventually."

"Don't you want to decide?"


Jameson remained silent for a few seconds as he looked up toward the moon. "It's tough to decide when I don't even know who I am," he replied, just as he turned into the lot. "I've just… I don’t know what my purpose is."

"Maybe you're not supposed to yet."

Bipolar Man parked and opened the door, stepped out, and flicked it shut with his fingers. He surveyed the scene for a few seconds, to regain his bearings, and then began walking back toward where he had dropped off Max. "I'm 35, when am I supposed to?"

"I don't know, but I believe humans, innately, are born with some sort of purpose... a destiny. It's their job to find it." Erica's assured response hit Jameson in the stomach.

"Well, I feel lost."

"Try listening to your universal connection. I think that's real. Maybe it's starting to guide you."

“It’s guiding me toward the mental institution,” he joked.

“I’m serious. Maybe it’s pulling you toward your purpose.”

"You think that's what I really felt?" he asked, fishing for more affirmation. Bipolar Man wanted to believe some part of what he experienced was real.


"I think you should listen to your instincts; everyone should. I believe each person fits perfectly, in their own unique way. The universe will piece it all together."


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