Fiction

The Ocean

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 FICTION









The Ocean

by Stacey Richter




I didn’t think anyone could love this lump of disrepair. I’m balding, I’m
paunchy; I’m middle aged and long, dark hairs sprout from my knuckles. I

have a gum condition that makes my breath smell like Gorgonzola. In the
mirror I’m daily shocked to find one of those guys with a comb-over in
front and a ponytail in back. His eyes look like sad, spongy sea
creatures. That’s him, he’s the one. It’s his fault. Where’s the lithe
waif who used to live inside my mirrors? Where’s the sprite that launched
a million dollars worth of merchandising? It sucks, I can tell you — that
much I have learned. But enough self pity. You’re reading this because
you want to know the secret confessions of Scott Hansen, Teen Idol, and
I’m here to deliver.


    

Here’s the truth: I was someone once. I was loved by a pink and frothy
mass. I had the little girls weeping and rending their garments to paste
over me. My hair, my dearly departed hair, was prized as a relic. It was
biblical. Droves of girls would make pilgrimages to my house, the studio,
the town where I grew up. I am a has-been, but I take solace in knowing
that in order to be a has-been, you have to have been something once.


    

Here’s a question: What is it that lives inside time? You may think
it’s empty, but in the space between what we are and what we once were
flutter small sparrows of sorrow. There was a time in my life when I was
extremely noteworthy. There was a time when I evaporated.
Everyday I ask: which have I really earned? The adoration or the scorn?


    

But I’m getting ahead of myself. My fame was born when I landed the role
of Jay McGuire on The Singing Scientists. If you’ve never seen the
show, you must be very young. Ha ha. No really, it was about a family of
mad inventors/scientists who loved all things musical. There was a kooky
mom (played by Shelly Firebaum) with a Bunsen burner in the kitchen, a

dad (Elrod Koil) who invented novelty gags for a living (and tried them
out at home!). They had two kids, me and my on-screen sister, Taffy
(Kristi Shield). Me and Taffy were irrepressible teen-inventors with
junior chemistry sets in our rooms. Taffy was always trying to invent
beauty concoctions — she wore coke-bottle glasses and was supposed to be
plain — and I was forever trying to devise love potions to reel in the
nubile chicks in the halter tops they had back then. At the end of each show,
the whole family would burst into song — usually after a successful
invention, but also after a failed one. (A common theme was perseverance
in light of obstacles or failure, something I’ve tried to take to heart
in these later, more difficult years.)


    

As you probably know, the success of the show was phenomenal. By the
fourth episode we’d attracted a huge following; by the end of the year we
had the number one show in the country. The first Singing Scientists
albums went gold, and the single, “Mixing It Up For You,” hit number five
on the charts.


    

The teenybopper press seized on my person almost immediately. I was
featured on every cover of Teen Boyfriend for six months in a row.
The Scott Hansen Fan Club, at its height in 1974, had over a million
members, each of whom had the opportunity to order a life-sized, vinyl,
“kissable” poster of me. I was a human gold mine.


    

The fame thrilled and frightened me. I began to have a recurring dream
about a family of wolves that lived in a cupboard beneath the kitchen
sink. There was a bitch and a litter of puppies curled up on one of those
round, cedar-stuffed dog beds. The soft yelps of those baby animals — it
was so soothing. In the dream, the wolf mother grabbed me by the collar
and dragged me into her den. All the pups barked “hello guy!” and
dogpiled me. The mama wolf began to lick my face with a warm, pink tongue
that smelled of meat and olives. It was rough but pleasant. It felt like
love. But then her tongue began to chafe and my face felt raw. Eventually
she licked my nose off.


    

Right, it’s only a dream, but in many ways this vision set the tone for
the rest of my life. I am a man who has been damaged by love. I’ve been
wounded and scraped and had parts of my body detached and spirited away
by the hot, relentless tongue of a beast named Teenybopper. And for that
I am grateful.



When I first signed on to play Jay on The Singing Scientists, I
was an unknown kid from Modesto, California. My parents doted on me,

their only child. Mom made meatloaf, Dad favored pre-knotted ties and
went to work with the briefcase every morning — the whole corny routine.
Only here’s the strange part: my real dad was an inventor too. He used to
come home from work and tinker around in the basement, on the moldy
astroturf, using a broken ping-pong table as a surface for his lab
experiments. He said he was “just fiddling around” with solvents and
adhesives. Sometime I’d creep down the basement stairs halfway and crouch
there until the fumes overwhelmed me.


    

“Your father and his silly potions,” my mother would say, chopping up
apples for pie.


    

Eventually, she had to eat her words, because one of his silly potions
turned out to be a new adhesive that could bond to skin without stressing
“the organ” as my father came to call the human epidermis. Actually, it’s
the stuff on the back of that white tape they use to hold down bandages.
My father made a killing. We moved to Los Angeles. Almost instantly, my
mother went from being a sweet, slightly ditzy housewife to a bored and
bitter sophisticate. Maybe you remember Anne Bancroft in The
Graduate
? Substitute my mom. She liked the animal prints, and when we
went to the country club, she ordered her martinis “wet and sloppy.” My
father had become a superstar in his own right, a hero in the
pharmaceutical industry, and he hired a secretary who knotted his tie.


    

My world was filled with Schwinns and indoor food courts. As it turned
out, I only had a few carefree months to explore the mall scene in L.A.
before my mother introduced me to an actor’s agent at the club who signed
me up and whisked me away from the real world. The agent was Tina
Shinebine. The Tina Shinebine. She brought me to this place I am
today — God bless or curse her, I don’t know which.


    

Does a fifteen-year-old boy know what fame means? Does he carry his
responsibilities with a sense of gravity? All I knew was that I had
practically unlimited access to pussy. Girls would gather outside the
studio in Band-Aid thick tube tops and rawhide sandals. Some of
them were really young — we’re talking twelve, thirteen. I didn’t care.
I had no moral mechanism. I was fifteen, weighed a hundred and twenty
pounds, was as horny as a mongoose and virtually without adult
supervision. When my bodyguards hustled me from my limo to the

soundstage, the girls holding vigil in the parking lot would weep and
faint at the sight of me. They giggled uncontrollably. Some wet their
pants.


    

I loved it. Those girls would do anything for me. They were like slaves.



What the wise people say is true: it is lonely at the top. I tried
to quench the loneliness by dipping into the bottomless well of teen
flesh outside the studio gates. Here’s a thought: maybe it didn’t have
anything to do with loneliness. Maybe it was pure greed. So much sex. Do
you know what it’s like to roll around with a different teenage girl
every night? A girl you’ve never met, who keeps your picture inside the
door of her locker and has to kiss it ritually every day before she
allows herself an apple and a Fresca for lunch? Do you know what it’s
like to forget their names, to never know their names, because they
change so fast and you didn’t pay any attention to what their little
mouths said anyway? It was beautiful and obscene. It was like eating the
most perfect, delectable chocolate over and over. Pleasure and guilt and
sin and desire, and in the middle of it all was me, Scott Hansen. The
girls didn’t matter. I did.


    

Which is why it’s a wonder I remembered Cyndy at all. In fact, I can
only recall one moment of Cyndy, and this with the aid of hypno-therapy.
She was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, her back to me, naked
except for a pair of white cotton panties. She was leaning forward,
squeezing a pimple. When I said, “what’cha doing?” she jumped and
turned to face me. At that moment her face dissolves into a corona of
pink light.


    

Who could have known all that that moment would spawn? Cyndy vanished
like a puffed-out candle and in short order was replaced by an assortment
of Bridgettes, Tamis, Kellys, Wandas, Tinas, Florences, Bibis and Stephs.
Then, when I got a little older and my fame was in decline, by a few
Ellens, Barbis, Sukis and Brads. And later, after The Singing
Scientists
was canceled and a pile of our records burned by an angry
mob outside the Democratic National Convention; after that, when I was
washed up and really drunk, there may have been a Margo, a Roxy, a
Cheryl. Who knows? I was a kid. I did a volume business. It all happened
fast and before the age of twenty-one. I should have been rummaging

through the heavy-metal section of my local record store. I should have
been buying Clearasil over-the-counter. Instead I had a personal
assistant to do my shopping and an ocean of legs, breasts and lips that
shifted and swirled beneath my hips but never receded. I had letters and
utterances and pledges of devotion; I had gifts sent by fans — including
hand-knitted sweaters, hearts drawn with blood on handkerchiefs,
bracelets entwined with baby teeth — but in six years there was never a
distinct face in the tide, never anyone special, never a friend.



I guess it’s time to talk about my sex life. My advisors tell me the best
memoirs include sexual details. Okay. I can do that, though it pains me.
I think I’ve mentioned that I’m no longer an attractive man. My personal
hygiene is lax and I’m the kind of person whose trash cans are constantly
overflowing and ice trays are always empty. But I’ll tell you
how it used to be: I liked places. If the girls were fuzzy and
interchangeable, then the places were poignant and unique. I did it in
hosts’ closets at Hollywood parties. I did it in a pile of towels still
warm from the dryer on the studio lot. I did it with a twelve-year-old in
a glass elevator above the lobby of the San Francisco Hilton with my
bodyguard standing beside us. I did it in Tina Shinebine’s office, on her
desk, next to a framed, signed 8 x 10 glossy of me, Scott Hansen, which
really turned me on. I liked girls, rather than women, and I liked them
pliable and pale. At my concerts, I’d have the bodyguards retrieve an
assortment of leggy fawns from the audience. I wanted the girls who
resembled Botticelli’s Venus, the ones with creamy complexions and
stiletto limbs. When I got them alone and they were all angelic, fresh
and willing, I liked to tangle their honey-colored hair in my fist and
force them to their knees in front of me. Then I’d introduce their
petal-pink lips to “The Monster.”


    

Which is perhaps why I was even able to retrieve a brief memory of Cyndy
in hypno-therapy — she was dark-haired with olive coloring, though she’s
a blonde now. She had round little hips and an articulated spine — in my
guided imaging I saw the pattern of her vertebra snaking down her back
and disappearing into her white cotton briefs, which, in a deeper trance,
were revealed to have had little red hearts printed on them. “Look for
the girl with dark hair,” Cyndy had counseled me and Dr. Tofield. “A girl
of about thirteen years, examining her complexion in the mirror.”


    

Of course, I had taken her virginity. For this she had hitchhiked from
Bakersfield to Hollywood, stolen a bicycle and followed some sort of

underground-fan-radar to my compound. There, she scaled the razor-tipped
fence and calmed the dogs with a handbag full of T-bone steaks before
eluding the security lights and creeping near my bedroom window. I’m not
sure if I mentioned this but at the time I was the most sought-after man
in the world. I commanded more money per concert and filled larger
stadiums than Peter Frampton. The onslaught of uninvited girls was quite
a problem for me, so I’d constructed a barrier around my wing of the
house I shared with my parents. It wasn’t a moat, exactly — it was more
of a long, narrow reflecting pond pushed right up against the length of
the house. For a while I had a baby alligator living in there as a lark,
but it disappeared before the third season.


    

Anyway, Cyndy had swam through this and thrown a rusty grappling hook
secured to a line inside the rim of my windowsill, then hauled herself
over. This kind of spunk and tenacity was exhibited by about two or three
girls a week — girls who appeared with a thunk, soiled and panting on my
bedroom carpet. So many little girls endured so much to clamor through my
window so regularly that my bodyguards used to joke that the Girl Scouts
had started giving out a patch for it. Usually, I would buzz security and
have the intruder ejected, though sometimes, as seems to have been the
case with Cyndy, I’d give the trooper a little treat.



Years float by and the call of the underworld deepens. Gravity pulls on
the flesh, the sirens of the grave start to look pretty foxy, and I found

myself taken, in these later years, by a desire to lay down on the earth
in a mossy hollow and simply stir no more. Not death, exactly, but not
life either, with its subtractions and aches and sticky white mysteries.
“There is as yet,” my father wrote in his diaries, “no adequate theory of
adhesives. Perhaps the spider comprehends why the fly sticks to the web
in a more profound sense than we understand the intricacies of Scotch
tape healing a ripped love note.” He was an eloquent man and I call upon
his spirit now as I compose this memoir. I discovered his diary after he
died of lung cancer from the chemicals and my mother could not be
persuaded to leave the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh for even one single week to
sort out his affairs herself.


    

It was in the years after my father died that I began to stay in the
house as much as possible. I know you’ve heard the rumors and many of
them are true: yes, I did until recently still live in my parents’ house,
though my parents moved out long ago. Yes, I did piss away or lose
through boneheaded mismanagement the fortune I made as a teen idol (I
live on a pathetic income from Pakistani residuals and go by bus, as I
have no car). Yes, I took to drink and drugs; yes I was arrested for
urinating into a fountain in a mall in Tulsa while screaming, “Fuck me,
kill me; fuck me, kill me,” etc. It is also true that I do not know what
I was doing in Tulsa or how I got there. These times were not the
best of times. Without my fame I felt unmoored. At a young age I learned
that life is a performance or, worse, a publicity stunt. Imagine the
emptiness of that life without an audience. Imagine the whistling canyons
of abandonment.


    

And so, into this void, stepped Cyndy, sweet Cyndy. Cyndy of the plump
arms and voluptuous hips; kind Cyndy with her eyes all rimmed in navy
blue eyeliner emptying my dishwasher in a power suit. Cyndy, who saved my
life and made me whole. What a great girl! As it turns out, she had been
keeping an eye on me since our first encounter. Okay, maybe “stalking” is
a more accurate term. She had notebooks of information, stacks of
personal photographs, old telephone bills — in fact, an entire storage
shed packed with my discarded mail. She began going through my trash in
1981, in the lean years, after the razor wire had gone blunt and the moat
had dried up. I had no idea, of course. I just put the empty bottles out
every week and retreated back inside. My skin was white, my eyes were
puffy. Maybe you also know what it’s like to stop wanting things. Maybe
you too have led a worm-like existence of darkness, drink, shit and
sleep, punctuated by hazy liquor-store deliveries. Maybe you’ve also
tried to douse the painful traces of the memory that you once thrived in
a rich agar of dreams and answered desires. I don’t know how common this
is. I still don’t know much of the ways of regular folks. For a long time
I was simply too famous to go out into the world without planning and
protection. And after that fell away, I was too demoralized to try.


    

I still had some interests — drinking, if you count that, and watching
TV. I also spent the last few years perfecting a method of conquering the

world. One of the accountants had bought me a personal computer — I
don’t know exactly why. Perhaps it was so he could steal my money in a
more logical, systematized manner. Anyway, I became obsessed with the
computer game “The Just and the Mighty,” in which the object is to take
over the world through a delicate balance of might and cunning. It takes
intuition and finesse, and more than once I was reminded of my father’s
lab experiments (and Jay McGuire’s ersatz ones). The chemistry of
conquest — it consumed me! I played until my eyes swam from the glow of
the screen. I played with a pounding heart. I played to win.


    

Eventually, I discovered a forum on the Internet where live players
compete with each other for world domination. This is where I encountered
Cyndy the second time, as a blinking enemy civilization mated to my
computer via the phone line. I thought she was just another dictator
trying to wrest control of the globe. She called her nation “Rainbowland”
and built endless fanciful structures for the amusement of her
inhabitants. I called my kingdom “HansenRules!!!” and built up my armies
and manufacturing. She rarely won, but earned bonus points for having the
happiest cities in the world. That’s the kind of girl she is: sunny,
filled with life and light. She began to send me friendly little messages
and email, punctuated by sideways smiley faces — :). At the time, I was
not a happy man and did not delight in the joy of others. I have never
been a partisan of the happy face symbol and did not appreciate Cyndy’s
cheerful notes. Maybe you remember the bitter, misanthropic Rod Steiger
in The Pawnbroker? Substitute me. I wanted nothing to do with
smileys, and I told the dictator of Rainbowland that she could take her
happy little citizens and insert them in an orifice.


    

Cyndy replied with this message:


    

“Fuck you, A-hole. I’ve devoted my life to you and you can’t even be
nice. Well fuck you. P.S. Don’t fuck with me. I know exactly where you’re
sitting right now. I know you’re wearing a green sweater. You’d better be
careful, buddy.”


    

The relief. I had a fan. I was loved.



In the years after I took her virginity, in the later part of her
pubescence and on to young womanhood, Cyndy tried to contact me thousands

of times. She sent letters and telegrams; she blew my bodyguards en
masse; she hired a psychic. She was willing, she said, to do anything to
get me back. By then I’d electrified the fence along the perimeter and
was plagued by surprise nocturnal visitors no longer. I often lived in
hotels anyway. My fame was like a wild dog. No one could control it. But
I want to confess something: even if she had reached me, it wouldn’t have
made any difference. I wouldn’t have remembered her, and it’s doubtful I
would have bothered to dally in her dark little mound again. She was not
a Botticelli angel and besides, there were hundreds of thousands of lost
little girls who, in their loneliness, believed they had a personal
relationship with me. I had a personal relationship with none of them.


    

For the lonely years, for the hours upon hours of fantasizing, for the
money spent on merchandise bearing the name of Scott Hansen and the semen
swallowed in my honor, for the acts of bravery and constant vigilance and
private detectives and midnight trash runs, I just want to say, Cyndy,
I’m sorry. I’m sorry I was so difficult to reach.



The first time I saw Cyndy as an adult was when I went to visit her at
her condominium. Cyndy is a real estate broker and I’d like to say
publicly that I’m very proud of her. She says that real estate was the
natural choice for her profession, as it allowed her to drive around the
L.A. area and monitor my well-being. She used to drive by my house two or
three times a day, the market permitting. She would check for lights or
movement; occasionally she’d look in my windows. I was usually drunk, she
said, watching TV, masturbating, or playing a computer game. Or a
combination of the above.


    

Anyway, I arranged a visit with Cyndy after we had become quite
friendly through the computer and the phone. I hadn’t been “out” in quite
some time, certainly not in a social context, and my journey to her
condominium was difficult and lengthy. At this period, I think I can
safely say I’d touched the bottom spike in my personal graph. I’d lost
the house and was living in a studio apartment near the freeway, in a
room containing a mattress, a folding chair and a pyramid of empty vodka
bottles. I’d lay awake at night, listening to the big trucks moan as they
rolled by. Shaving — I’d given it up. On the street, people seemed
obliged to comment on my appearance, like it was their duty as clean and
hygienic Americans. “Take a bath!” I got, and that old standard, “What

smells like shit?” It took me five transfers and three hours to arrive at
Cyndy’s complex. Someone threw a ham sandwich at me while I waited at a
bus stop. Once I did arrive, it took me a half hour to figure out how to
operate the security intercom.


    

It was with trembling fingers that I at last found myself ringing her
door bell, exhausted, panting, and terrified she wouldn’t answer. What if
it was all a joke? What if there wasn’t anyone left for me? Then, with a
whoosh, she threw open the door. There she was, Cyndy, in a red bathrobe
slit deeply up the side, her bleached hair done up in an Ivana pouf. She
had on eyeliner, perfume, lipstick, the whole arsenal. She looked pretty
cute.


    

What happened after that is private. I know I’m supposed to tell
everything here but after all she is my lawfully wedded wife and keeps me
on a pretty short leash — ha ha. I’m not sure if I should even put that
in. I realize there are a lot of rough edges in this memoir and I trust
my ghostwriter Stacey Richter to clean them up. But let me just mention
this: ravishing as Cyndy looked, what took my breath away was her knack
for interior decoration. Scott Hansen posters, some framed, lined the
walls. A few were peppered with lipstick smacks. Others seemed to have
been tenderized with a blunt instrument, maybe a fork. Everywhere I
turned I saw myself, young and groomed, staring dreamily into my own
eyes. Like their subject, the posters hadn’t aged well: the corners had curled
and the teeth had yellowed. In the corner was a Scott Hansen shrine,
ringed with candles. The centerpiece was the life-size “kissable” fan
club poster. It didn’t look so good. The edges had been perforated to
lace, probably from being tacked up and taken down so many times. It was
puckered, like it had been wetted, though just in parts.


    

“Hi Scott,” Cyndy said, with that bright smile I’ve come to know so
well. “Thank God you finally changed your shirt.”



The time comes, for every lonely player, when he stops trying to win the
game and begins to plot his own demise. Solitaire fans know what I mean
– how you reach a moment when the cards turn against you and instead of
struggling for victory, something clicks, and you start to wallow in your
own defeat. It was like this for me with “The Just and the Mighty.” I
began to starve my own citizens. I lobbed nuclear missiles into the
atmosphere for the fun of it. I caused global warming, drought, pollution
and unrest. I changed my government from democratic to despotic and
watched production plummet. My citizens revolted and perished by fire.

The polar ice caps melted and farmland turned to swamp. I wanted to see
how low I could go. I wanted to roll in the odor of bad things.


    

Cyndy, too, was no stranger to the dark side. She had grown accustomed
to unrequited love, she said, and even when I was washed up and she knew
she could ring my door bell anytime, naked and tied with a big, pink bow,
she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Her life was woven from hunger and
need, and she’d begun to despise me for the grip I had on her. She bought
a gun. She’d drive up to my house and stare through the windows at me,
sitting in front of the computer — playing that fucking game, she said.
Even when I was fat, ugly and drunk, her yearning for me would make her
sick to her stomach. She’d stand outside my window, the heels of her
pumps sinking into the damp soil, and after a while she’d bring the gun
to the glass and direct it at my head. She claimed she spent two
afternoons a week at the practice range. Every night she was doing forty,
fifty push-ups — a lot for a woman. Maybe you remember Robert DeNiro in
Taxi Driver? A half dozen times, she said, she pointed the gun at
my head; and each time she turned it away and brought it to her own
temple. When she tells me this I always think: The dirt swallowing her
heels came from the same plot of earth as the dirt that was smeared
across her face the night she’d swam the moat to get into my room. What
happened to the pluck and spirit of that little dark-haired girl? What
sparrows of sorrow had made her turn all that wild energy against
herself?



Here’s a thought: maybe a has-been is a wonderful thing to be. Maybe to
have and to lose is infinitely richer than to never have at all. Perhaps
I’m a wise person. I’m not sure. I still haven’t seen much of the world.
But I do know this: Cyndy hates me. Cyndy hates me and I’m glad. With
every cry of “fat slob,” “lazy asshole” and “useless jerk-off” that trips
from her lips, I feel her bloom a little. With every dollar she pilfers
from the dregs of my empire, with every real estate deal she
intentionally sabotages, I feel her come a little more into her own. What
is love anyway, if not a form of punishment? Ever since Cyndy was ten
years old, she said she knew I was the man for her. Cyndy’s mother used
to ask why she slept all scrunched up against the wall and she replied,
“I have to leave room on the other side for Scott Hansen.” Well, she
doesn’t have to leave room anymore. If she wants to sell all my
belongings to the highest bidder, or, if that fails, to curio collectors
at swap meets and craft fairs, I understand. I had my time in the light,
and now she wants hers.


    

If this sounds noble, it’s not. Love for me has never been a decoration
– it’s what my life is made of, the primordial fluid. Isn’t hate a form
of love? Isn’t adoration a form of panic? Isn’t my devotion to Cyndy a
kind of atonement? What do I know? I learned about human relationships at
the hands of children. Those little girls, I’ll tell you this about them:
they may be young, but they’re fierce. Love to them is everything, a
total obsession. They’re brief, hot little lights, and even when they

change their minds, you can bet they really meant it once, with every
cell and drop of liquid in their pink-scented bodies.


    

When I sit, now, at the helm of our camper — perhaps the last solid
representation of capital I have — and think about my life, I envision
brightly colored bodies of water, like the blue portions of the map in
“The Just and the Mighty.” At first I was a child with a little pond of
love — the love of my parents — to sustain me, nestled between grasses
and valleys and hills. Then I was swept up by a powerful ocean —
strawberry-scented, with crests of lip gloss, yes, but an ocean still.
How many people ever plunge into a sea of love? How many of us are
worshipped as gods? I really had it once. Me and the misses may appear to
be a middle aged fart and his hectoring wife schlepping between flea
markets on the back roads of the nation in an old Sir Wind-a-Long camper,
selling vintage Scott Hansen paraphernalia (autographed), but we’ve
sipped divine nectar. I was a god and she, my acolyte. Now I’m paying,
but isn’t there justice in that? My ocean dried up, but I’ve discovered
that all I really need is a single drop to conjure up the whole — Cyndy,
whose name I’ll never forget again, whose name I say over and over in my
head when she deigns to perform her wifely duty — a shipwrecked lover
from an ocean of love, Cyndy mine.



For more Stacey Richter, read:
What She Wanted
When to Use
The Ocean




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Stacey Richter is the author of the collection My Date With Satan. Her stories have been widely anthologized and have won many prizes, including three Pushcart prizes and the National Magazine Award.

©1998
Stacey Richter
and Nerve.com