this is the tale of a human being who accidentally signed up for a six-week-long, three-days-a-week class of exercise at a gym in lower manhattan.


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NOVEMBER 11: DAYS FIFTEEN, SIXTEEN, SEVENTEEN AND EIGHTEEN OF EIGHTEEN #


It is done.

Here is what I learned from having gone to the gym three days a week, plus sometimes also doing yoga on Sundays, for six short weeks.

Those guys. With their bizarre abs and those strange muscles that wrap around their hips where the rest of us have a donut. Do you know why they look like that? Well yes, sometimes it's steroids or testosterone. But also... they are always at the gym. They are there every time I go there. They are always there. Also they are eating two skinless chicken breasts for dinner. They are not eating a sandwich for lunch. You, yes you, could look like that. You could be a wasp-waisted willow, or a stumpy fireplug, or a weird v-shaped sex robot, or a freaky flexible kickboxtress. You actually could, no matter your shape or your size or your ability or your mobility or even your age or your love of whiskey and/or menthols, be one of Those People. It is simply HOURS IN, HOURS OUT. HOURS IN, HOURS OUT. Hours in, hours out is the corollary to calories in, calories out, which is a maxim about which I do not give a fuck. I will take in all the calories my mind thinks I need. I do not work that way. I also have zero ability to decline food.

But. I can wake up in the morning. And the hours pay. What happened in six weeks? Strange things. Unexpected things. Here, fine, I will show you. The week one weigh-in is on the viewer's left; the weigh-in at the end is on your right.



That is just hours. Maybe five pounds; maybe 2% reduction in bodyfat, also an ability to crush it on the rowing machine. Do I look like a painting, or a normcore exhibition of cologne models? I do not! I could, however, if I, and the clock, both wanted to. That's all I figured out.






OCTOBER 30: DAYS EIGHT, NINE, TEN, ELEVEN, TWELVE, THIRTEEN AND FOURTEEN OF EIGHTEEN #
You get very busy one day, and have a bunch of things to write for money, and a couple hundred freelancers to pay, and then your trial period ends on your FTP program and suddenly your exercise blog is a corpse. But I am not.

Recently I asked the gym's class manager where all the pictures go. "Did you not get an invite to the Facebook group???" she asked. No? And neither did anyone else. So there is a Facebook group somewhere that maybe has hundreds of pictures of us sweating and sad... or maybe has nothing. That, either way, no one can see. It's Schrödinger's social media account. This seems to me like an unoptimal usage of social media? Always, though, it could be worse (Instagram).

So... over the course of these unaccounted-for days, I lost a ton of weight. That was in part (again!) due to illness, though also due to a solid month of regular exercise. (And yes, I have been sick for more than a month now, #yolo.) There was a... thing going around New York which we shouldn't really talk about, but the long and short of it is that I wasn't eating very much for more than a week, and I definitely wasn't keeping food inside my body. Lunch was like, some crackers. This was honestly pretty fortuitous in terms of weight loss goals and it was also one of the four or five times in my life that I'd gotten a clear insight into eating disorders, which were never my thing. One morning I found myself thinking I feel so amazingly empty and also I'm so glad I can't digest food. And people noticed! Our gym instructor leaned in to me one day and said "You're noticeably leaner." At the end of class one day, he called me a "skinny bitch" as a piece of praise. (This is remarkable actually, but we're going to leave it mostly unexamined. But: values.) It's true, though. I looked great. I was about two days away from starting a Tumblr devoted to thigh gap. The praise and starvation cycle is a vicious, alluring thing. After about ten days, the situation ended, and guess what? I feel grossed out by my body. I could slip into berating myself for carrying a little fat really quite easily; I could spend quite a bit of time, if I didn't have a job, glaring in the mirror. This is crazy. I am going to shake it off, I think actually I have shaken it off, I will eat my face off and let the Doritos fall where they may. Weight-monitoring, food-obsessing, all that jazz: it is literally no way to live. I'd rather be happy. One thing we have talked about regarding class however is that, a week from tomorrow, it ends. And waiting at the end is a final measurement. We are competing against that deadline now.

Oh one other thing happened. The other day they asked us if we were meeting our goals. We were all quiet. Then Princeton spoke up (I don't know his name, but he wears Princeton-related clothing every class, wow) and said that he was working on his goal of... "gaining seven-and-a-half pounds." Now, listen, I'm not here to judge. It's your life, your body, your right to decide. You do you and you do your goals. But when he said that we all just looked at each other like "but... my secret goal was to lose seven pounds, and also, what kind of person thinks in half-pounds and also like buddy you can have mine? No one spoke.






she'd fly through the air with the greatest of ease

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It is 7:30 am and I am dragging my prostrate body across the floor using only my forearms to pull my weight. I can feel the skin on my elbows protesting, I know that they'll be scabby after this, and I'm also sure I'm leaving a very unattractive trail of sweat behind me. The woman pulling herself along next to me looks fresh and showered and clean and dry and I have no idea how that's even possible given how awful I must look.

By my calculation, this is the 40th day I've done this—woken up at a terribly early hour to drive to the gym and pay someone to tell me to lift things, pull things, climb things, and drag myself across a dirty floor. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are Workout Days, and it surprises me how much I really don't hate it.

I spent much of my life wishing I didn't have a body—that I could exist as a head in a jar that could be plugged into a laptop somehow. Growing up in a family of intellectuals who preferred books and computers to exercise or watching sports, I thought of my body as a nuisance. To be human is to sweat, and have oily skin and acne, and get sunburns, and wear uncomfortable clothing, and smell bad in the heat, and sometimes weigh more than one would prefer. Sure, there were things I'd miss as a head in a jar—eating good food, swimming, sex, having nice hair—but overall the jar-head concept seemed like a winner to me.

But then the thing that happens to everyone in their mid-thirties happened to me too. My metabolism lowered, I had less control over my weight no matter how well I ate, and I got tired of getting winded when walking up a single flight of stairs.

I had a hard time deciding what sort of exercise I wanted to do. I find most solo cardio exercise boring, I don't like to play sports, and I can't really motivate myself to exercise on my own. Boxing and martial arts don't seem like they're for me, and I'm not very good at dancing. But then I remembered hearing about a friend in Seattle who was taking acrobatics lessons, and I thought that sounded interesting. There was an aerial studio just a few miles from my house, and I thought maybe I'd stick with exercise if I was learning something interesting and working on improving a set of skills. So I signed up for trapeze lessons.*

I am bad at the trapeze. Oh, lordy, I am so bad at it. But it's fun, and I'm getting better, and the teachers and my fellow students are nothing but encouraging and helpful and positive. When I found out that my trapeze instructor was going to offer a thrice-weekly morning strength-training class at the aerial studio, I signed up right away, and that's how I ended up dragging myself across the floor by my elbows at 7:30 am.

The strength-training class is less like taking aerial lessons and more like going to the gym. Sure, we climb ropes and silks and do pull-ups on trapeze bars, but there are also kettle bell swings and push-ups and weight lifting and squats and lunges. It's circuit training, so we do each exercise in small groups for one minute and then switch to the next one. People act like they do at a regular gym, too—grunting, hogging the good weights, not mopping their sweat off the equipment. But I've taken the same month-long class four times now and I love it.

I've noticed something interesting, too. The class is 12 people, mostly women with two or three men in the mix. The men become comfortable too quickly. They take off their shirts when they get hot. They swear loudly and freely when they're having trouble with an exercise. They don't follow directions. The other day I heard one of them just straight-up belch as we all moved from one exercise to the next. Later, he did it again. These things are not necessarily wrong, but to me they feel rough. Jarring. Awkward. As men they haven't been asked to make themselves unobtrusive.

The women are more reserved. We say things like excuse me and oh, sorry, after you and your pull-ups are really improving, Sarah. We don't swear much. We ignore it when someone farts. We ask each other, "Do you want to use the good weights this time since I had them last round?" We make apologies for ourselves—for sweating, for existing. This is how we have been conditioned. This is how we were raised.

Since there are so few men in the class, there are some days when none of them show up and it's just us women, and then things get more fun. The women loosen up, they talk more and make more jokes, they laugh easily. One girl and I were partners during back stretching on a man-free day, and as we tried and failed to do our assigned back-bends together, we collapsed in a heap of giggles. This dichotomy is unsurprising, but it's new to me. I am not a shy person around men or women, I almost always spend social time in a mix of genders, and most of my close female friends do not act differently in the presence of men. But a few of the women in my class virtually light up in the presence of just women, and it's fascinating to watch. I can't personally relate to it, but I understand it.

At any rate, I am getting stronger. I carry heavy bags of groceries into the house and am not out of breath. I brag on social media about how many squats I can do in a row. When walking down the aisle of an airplane I carry my suitcase above my head like Atlas carrying the globe, just because it's easy. I rearrange the furniture at home alone, and smile to myself.

If I were a head in a jar I couldn't do any of that.



*Solo trapeze, not flying trapeze with the net and everything. In solo trapeze there's just the one bar hanging about 5 feet off the ground, and you do tricks on it by yourself.



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OCTOBER 13: DAY SEVEN OF EIGHTEEN #
There is the mystery of where the pictures go. Somewhere, in some channel, my gym is maintaining a social media account. At the end of each class, they often assemble us into some staged photo or video. The other day they made us each take a "selfie," passing the phone from person to person, which presents some questions regarding intentionality and artistic production. If you pass me your phone and tell me to take a picture of myself, recent law indicates that I am the owner of that photo, even though I do not have it in any place. But that isn't as important as the question of: where are the photos. I am very good at the Internet. I can find anything, even with Google's ever-growing and cursed attachment to recency. (The weighting of recency in Google search results will soon come to mean the end of all knowledge prior to last Wednesday.) But I cannot find these pictures of myself. I am relieved but curious. There is nothing to do about this. Often at picture time I incorporate myself into the staging in a way that will obscure my face, at least somewhat, or as much as I can. These pictures are humiliating and add to the dynamic of paternalism or militarism that ebbs and flows in the relationships in the class. Are you a gym instructor, are you a teacher, are you a drill sergeant, are you a grumpy pal, are you an inspiration? But whatever you are, you must cheerily participate in making content of the class. It's entirely possible that our teacher-leader hates this making of content to feed the social media and finds it objectionable. It's possible he finds it amusing. It's not possible to tell. It must be strange to find that you love a profession where you have to challenge people all day. It must be frustrating knowing that we have all mostly given up on our bodies for years or decades but decided at the last moment that, no, wait, we want in, we do care, we will exercise, let's pretend it's not too late. Meanwhile the trainers and their ilk have been diligently working out the entire time. They were awake and at the gym. They were declining pizza. We were at our jobs and lolling about in our beds. We were at the ice cream counter. There is also the fact that we are paying customers, and that the majority of the class certainly makes more money than its instructors. Now we are together and resentment, somewhere, should appear. The trainer-trainee relationship is ridiculous with transference. The gross kinds, sexual sure, but also emotional and those of family structure. Where are the pictures, and what do our faces look like in them? Real smiles, strained smiles, absence of smiles, some with the mind already way ahead beyond the locker room and into the day, into the familiar, the places that overlap from our old lives to the new one we are trying out or borrowing or most likely just visiting.



OCTOBER 10: DAY SIX OF EIGHTEEN #
Math fiends will understand that "day six of eighteen" means that I am now 30% done. I would say it's Mission Accomplished already because today this guy fully checked me out in the locker room after. I was unclothed. I was very explicit at the outset of this nightmare that my interest was not health, or strength, or flexiibility, but vanity. I have lost some number of pounds. I have moved some things around on my physical presence. Do I feel better? WHO CARES. Today I almost pitched a fit because the main dude trainer came up to me in my squats rotation and told me I should be using heavier weights, and I was like YEAH but on Wednesday I was using NO WEIGHTS and today I am using SOME WEIGHTS and then I threw down my little weights and picked up the bigger ones like a brat and then he walked off and I said "I hate that fucking guy" and considered dramatically storming out. That's just the endolphins* talking. Or what is the opposite of endorphin, what gets made in your body through exruciating things; what goes on in the endocrine system really? Where is that? Is it the super-highways of my microbiome? Am I killing the tiny beings that run me? Or am I feeding them? After I had a nice egg sandwich at Black Seed.



The Ball #

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The first time I saw the ball was at Jim's house. We were drinking beer and horsing around on guitars when I spied it on his sofa. It was about the size of a soccer ball, though shaped like one that's been left half-deflated.

I was surprised at how heavy it was. Easily ten pounds, maybe more. I gave it a few quick tosses, spinning it my hands, testing its weight, letting the tips of my fingers brush along its sewn seams. All dark leather and musk. So manly.

What's this?

Where'd you go to school? It's a medicine ball.

Like what the old Russian guys throw at each other in the bathhouses?

Exactly.

Jim took it from me and told me the story. It's handmade by some old kook in a tiny shop in New England. He cuts the pattern by hand, sews up the pieces, then stuffs the thing with shredded leather scraps. Each ball is finished with some handsome stitching and tanned with dark oil that gives it a deep brown color resembling tobacco. As he talked, we tossed the ball back and forth absentmindedly.

Where'd you get it?

Internet. Jesus.

How much?

I think about two-forty.

The next catch was mine, and I grasped the ball tightly. Two hundred and forty dollars? You're crazy. This thing costs that much? You can get these for like thirty bucks on Amazon.

Yeah but it's handmade! The guy's a master! A craftsman. Look at the stitches! Gorgeous. It's a thing of perfection. My god.

Jim was grinning. I was sure he was fucking with me. He showed me some exercises. Hold the ball over your head and bring it down to the back of your neck, slowly (triceps and biceps). Hold it at arm's length and twist, slowly (shoulders and core). Sit on the stool with your elbows on your knees and do curls with it, slowly (triceps and biceps again). Squats (everthing). I was starting to ache in ways that I remembered from back when I was in shape all those years ago.

See? How many gym memberships have you wasted? How many times have you given up on running? This is way better. You're not at a gym, you're in the house. You're watching baseball, or talking to your wife in the kitchen. It's awesome. Totally worth it.

I was intrigued. A few weeks went by. I thought about it more. I decided I had to have one. I looked on Amazon, but no. I bought the same ball as Jim. I paid my two-forty over PayPal to the old kook in New England. A few weeks later, I had my own leather ball. I did all those things with it. The hold-it-over-your-head move, the arms-length-and-twist move. The crunches, the squats. I did these while watching baseball, while talking to my wife. Sometimes I unwound from the workday by lying on my back and tossing it into the air, toss and catch, toss and catch, one hundred times.

Now when people come over, they ask me about it. I tell them the story about the old kook in New England and they nod. I show them the exercises and they grunt. I tell them the price and they gasp. But in the end, I can sense it: they want one too.

It is better than the gym. Some days I do a lot of excercises. Some days I do fewer, or just one. Most days I never even touch it. It sits across the room looking like a half-deflated soccer ball. I drink beer and I admire it. It's beautiful. The stitching, the deep tan, the weight, the timeless vibe. All dark leather and musk. So manly.


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OCTOBER 8: DAY FIVE OF EIGHTEEN #
To talk about today, I need to tell you a few things. One of those things is that I'm doing this with my spouse, which works really well, because honestly I would never be out of the house to get to the gym by myself at an early hour and so this works as a system. (I'm not sure who's clocked this yet in the class; one of the guys today noticed we use the same locker and he was like "Oh!" Heh.) The other thing is that it's seven subway stops to the gym from our house. Today we did our usual morning routine—fed and watered the cats, had some coffee, put on articles of human clothing, that kind of jazz. We schlepped to the rush hour train party, which wasn't too bad. We got on the train. Then my stomach literally did that thing where it feels like it's being twisted upside-down like a cotton candy machine? My first plan was that my office is only two stops from the house. That was not gonna cut it, I decided quickly. So as we approached the very first stop I said "Hey I'm getting off here and I'll see you at the gym!" and he was like "... okay?" It was great, I think he almost wanted to laugh, because pants-crapping is a thing that makes us laugh a lot, all pants-crapping stories are wonderful, but also pants-crapping is only funny like a couple of days beyond the event so it was nice that he didn't laugh in my face. Anyway I got off and there was a Starbucks, GOD BLESS STARBUCKS, America's bathroom. I cannot count the number of times Starbucks has saved me from the tyranny of my body. In the end I did get back on the train and I made it to class with one minute to spare. I did not vomit or crap myself in class. The consensus in the locker room after was that class was "fairly terrible" and "quite miserable" today. I agreed, but of course being a Pollyanna I kept saying "well surely we'll hit some plateau in the next week or so and it'll feel great!" I don't actually believe that. Why do I say things I don't believe? The myth of the power of positive thinking. It's a lie.



OCTOBER 6: DAY FOUR OF EIGHTEEN #
Our instructor issued a disseration on the nature of ambition. What would Beyoncè—oops Beyoncé, right?—do? She would work harder. She would push further. She would not quit. This was one of the times that I liked him. (There was also a really horrific HI-N-R-G remix of "Halo" which was a sad thing to know about.) He also gave us a little talk about how we should respond right away and enthusiastically when we are asked a question. Again, this drill sergeant routine makes me furious. Week two was new exercises; some rowing, some squatting, some garbage, some awkward things that tear up your shoulders. It's funny deciding if you really like or really hate someone. I took a cold shower after so that the sweating would stop. Everyone looked completely wrecked. It's now 3:20 p.m. Ready for bed. In better news I have my gym strat down tight. The permanent locker thing is amazing. You can just keep things there! By the end of this nightmare it will be filled with rotting food and dirty clothing, just like my locker in high school.

There's something about the workout room having a wall of mirror. There's always bodies facing you, and you are among them, and they just look like distressed bodies. They are sad. Those are yours.



A CURIOUS AND BEAUTIFUL FLOWERING #
I've bought some space on this page in order to respond to the excellent points made by sixfoot6 regarding the monetization of tilde.club.

In the curious and beautiful flowering of this project I, too, have experienced a certain sadness with respect to the way the Internet has worked out so far. But I should like to put some questions to sixfoot6.

I am paying ~choire to post here, sixfoot6. We are two individuals, and you are a third. There is no corporate entity involved in our conversation. Yet because I knew that ~choire's tilde.club traffic is liable to be heavier than my own, it is worth it to me to post here, on a page he's offered, where I know you will be more likely to see it. It's just us.

Isn't that how we ought to have done it all along?

I don't blame anyone who took the gargantuan sums that a certain number of those of us who were involved in the Internet in its infancy were offered. This was a winning lottery ticket for them. I played in that lottery myself; shall we begrudge those lucky ones their good fortune? I don't want to do that.

But how passionately I wish we'd been able to imagine how to reckon the cost! How forces larger than ourselves were conspiring to use this beautiful pure thing as an instrument for profit and control, for making use of them, for silencing them instead of giving us all a voice.

And now. Here's a place where that can happen!! As if it were the first day of the world. (I borrowed the extra exclamation points from ~choire). I want to thank ~ford and keep going!

Don't hack this thing, don't trash it!! Love it and let it blossom forever~~~~~

xoxo

Maria.



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OCTOBER 3: DAY THREE OF EIGHTEEN #
Today was the first day I haven't felt terrible. The whole cardio + bronchitis thing has been pretty amazing? Also the week before I got made fun of in yoga for coughing which didn't feel very enlightening. Oh yeah: made fun of by the teacher. But now the hacking is almost over. So I was awake and perky enough this morning to bring gym clothes into my gym locker and leave them there for the first time and get this the gym washes them for you? It's so luxe and ridiculous and privileged. Also kind of gross. Like they're going to throw my gnarly gym clothes into the boiling vat with all the towels with STDs. Fine. Class itself was fine to average. I started to have rebellious feelings about our main instructor. He got a little drill-sergeantey/gym-coachey today and I wanted to yell at him and act out. But he also advised me to change shoes. I am wearing super low-weight running shoes and he was like "Well that's why your feet are cramping sheesh." Now that we're bonded as a class somewhat, it's weird to be in the locker room nude after too. Like I was chit-chatting with the nice guy who works at G____ M____, where I used to work (lol), and then suddenly we were in the flesh and then in towels and there are plenty of people at this gym who spend a LONG TIME NAKED, just hanging out, doing their hair, being naked, and if I become one of them, put me down. The class is 15% complete now. Already things don't hurt after. I'm tired and maybe a little sore but it's like my body is used to the torture. Already! Three classes in! Why have I been so lazy my entire life? We don't say "STDs" any more BTW. I mean we didn't even say STDs a million years ago when I was an STD counselor.



OCTOBER 2: A DAY OF REST #

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Not everything can be about the gym. Sometimes, there's more to life. Like taking the bus, for example.

I moved a few months ago and whereas I used to take the train most days (except on days I rode my bike, but that's a 10 mile ride, each way, and let's be clear about the fact that I am 41, deeply lazy, and often quite hungover so I almost *always* rode the train, dear heart) now I'm almost always on the bus. For some reason, this is embarrassing to me. It just feels fundamentally undignified, dig?

Which is weird because in almost every respect the bus is better. I take an express bus—the NX—and it picks me up at the same stop as the regular N Judah. So, I could take the train but I opt not to because the NX is so much more pleasurable.

It's faster for one, because it doesn't make any stops after 19th avenue until it gets downtown. It's rarely as crowded. It's cleaner. (Oh my god it's so much cleaner.) Unlike the N Judah, I've never seen anyone taking a dump on the bus—or at least, not on *this* bus. Why would you shit on an express bus? You wouldn't. You'd take the train when you need to shit. The haight street kids who ride the N Judah back and forth from the beach or downtown are nowhere to be seen, which is my euphemistic way of expressing gratitude that I don't have to sit next to some really drunk tweaker who smells like a campfire at 8 am.

What else? Oh! The best thing. I nearly forgot the best thing. I can put my bike on the front of the bus. So when I get off downtown, it's only a five minute or so ride, instead of a fifteen minute walk.

(Plus, everyone at work assumes I rode all the way. WIRED has a very bike-forward culture and it is important for me to be a part of it. People see me carrying my bike up the stairs, or hanging it in our fancy bike room and they say, "hey, Mat, how was your commute?" And then I'm like, "oh my god it's so hot out today, can you believe this heat? Ugh. Bring back Karl already!" And we chuckle and they assume I rode all the way from the Outer Sunset, the far-flung and very unfashionable part of town where I live, to WIRED's office in South Park. Which is nice.)

But, you know, it's the bus. The bus feels so unsophisticated. So pedestrian. The train! That's what cityfolk take. We didn't even have trains in the town where I grew up in Alabama. I mean, we had freight trains, naturally, but not commuter trains. Not light rail. Nothing you could ride from point A to point G instead of driving. But we did have busses.

Peace be with you.

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OCTOBER 1: DAY TWO OF EIGHTEEN #
This class started off very painful and yet somehow became easier as it went? Everyone looked BEAT DOWN by it. I did not win the class MVP again today. I hope I never do. I also was not convinced that I was not going to barf. I met the other smoker in class. He looks very fit but we both agreed that we were like Ginger to everyone's Fred—we might as well be doing everything backwards and in heels, if we're smoking while doing this strenuous exercise camp. The component of this class that I do not like is that the gym REALLY likes to take pictures and videos of us. They gave us a consent form this morning. I crossed off "use of my name" on it, as did one other person. Like can you image. Do not put my name on the Equinox website, thanks, yeah, no. So basically I'm paying a large corporation money to be content for them. Which seems somehow like my karmic destiny. Of course maybe there are other smokers. Secret smokers.



SEPTEMBER 29: DAY ONE OF EIGHTEEN #
It was terrible. They were yelling at us and there was house music. They made us like "put our hands in" at the end and there were winners. Everything hurt the day after really bad, and I can't remember any of the exercises they taught us that they will make us do now over and over and over again. That being said—the whole "it was terrible" thing—I did not a) black out b) barf c) leave so it was a success. Also they had weighed us and applied "fat calipers" and the like and I was only made up of 21.5% fat, which surprised me. Do I feel good about myself? I do not.









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CONTACT

if you need to find me i'm on choire at theawl dot com or on basically everything with the username choire.




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