Launched Successfully!

You guys, it was amazing. The other authors Chet put together were fantastic. Sara was delightful. I mean, who tells a ghost story and gets people in the audience nodding and cheering in agreement?

Then Chet introduced me, said something about wrestling being fake, and a wrestler came out and put him in a sleeper hold! And then the wrestler introduced me.

As I read, Death came out and just hovered next to me. It was fantastic. Every part of it was so amazing.

And the book looks so good!

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(You’re not allowed to take pictures in the back room at Third Man, so please don’t tell anyone you saw part of their rug back there.)

And look at the cake!

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How is this real life? Really.

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Doing Things I Meant to Do a While Ago

I finished this afghan, which I don’t have a picture of yet, because I’m not going to spend any time this morning figuring out why my computer is being a dingus.

I ordered a cake for the event at Third Man Records on the 28th (4 p.m., if you want to come out!) and the baker asked me if the crawdads could be wearing luchador masks, so you know I ordered from the right place.

And I went to the new state museum. It was glorious. I cried a little bit. I can’t wait to go back.

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They had Eliza Allen’s parlor guitar! That’s lasted a ton longer than her marriage to Sam Houston. It just goes to show, ladies, put your heart in music, not love.

They also have this really fascinating early Klan robe.

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It’s pretty fascinating to me that it seems to borrow from Masonic imagery. The crescent moon over the star looks very Shriners-esque. But I’m most fascinated by the hood. It reminds me of a mummer’s outfit or the headgear from Courir de Mardi Gras.

The Courir de Mardi Gras Wikipedia page goes to great lengths to disassociate their costumes from the Klan, noting that it’s much older. But I’m assuming, if there is influence, that it flowed the other way: the Klan took on the trappings of the Courir de Mardi Gras hoods.

I’m going to have to give some more thought to it, but there’s something intriguing–maybe some meat on the bone there–about wondering if the Klan is/was some kind of inversion ceremony, though running the opposite way–where instead of poor people mocking and charming the rich, this is about powerful people mocking and terrorizing those without power.

I’ll have to think on it.

 

The Southern Festival of Books Panel

You guys, it went so well. The room was packed. The Butcher’s family made it in time to hear me read. The panel was amazing. And the audience was really into it.

Sheree Renee Thomas brought a writer friend who had been mostly quiet and reserved before the event. But my god, he sat in the front row and smiled at everyone supportively and laughed when laughing was needed and shouted out when shouting was needed. It was really great. I was so grateful to him.

I think a lot about what makes or breaks a reading and I have long respected Chet’s (the guy from Third Man, who is always having literary events) ability to get the crowd to be open to stuff they might not be familiar with. But Thomas’s friend knew how to be an audience in a way that I now aspire to be for other writers. That kind of open responsiveness is just so great coming from another writer. It’s like if Penn & Teller tell you your trick is good. They know.

I read the first five pages of “Jesus Has Forgiven Me. Why Can’t You?” and it was perfect. I don’t know that I’d ever read it out loud except to myself as I was revising, so I had the fun experience of discovering that it was really great to read out loud as I was reading out loud. It was delightful.

Something is happening to me, or has happened and now I’m just noticing, but I felt completely at home reading that story in front of that crowd. Seeing nm laugh at places I hoped she’d laugh, in one case, wrote specifically based on a conversation she and I had had about what kind of forgiving Jesus would do. Having S. assure me I was dog-hair-less. The gushing text K. sent me later.

I felt beautiful. Like, not on a surface level. No, that’s not quite it. Not only on a surface level, though I looked in a mirror before the event and considered myself not just passable, but cute. But I felt so sure it was worth everyone’s time to pay attention to me. I felt like someone worth looking at.

I never feel that way. I usually feel like “oh, sorry you have to look at me,  but I’ll make it worth your time by being funny or charming or knowledgeable or quirky or whatever.” Or maybe I feel like you love me so you’re used to how I look and it’s not off-putting anymore, it’s just how this person you care about looks.

But yesterday, I felt beautiful. And sure of it. And I never want to forget how awesome that was.

Southern Festival of Books

I’m reading today at 4 in the special collections room at the library. I was going to read from “Little Sister Death,” but this morning I decided to switch to the opening of “Jesus Has Forgiven Me, Why Can’t You?”

Come by, if you’re in town.

Jealousy

Someone asked Curious Nashville if the Looby bombing had ever been solved. They’re looking into it.

Let me be clear, up front, that I put on my big girl panties and offered to help in any way I could.

But I was so mad! My whole gut reaction was “So, you think you’re going to swoop in and answer this question I’ve been working for two whole years on?” Like this story is mine, or something.

The deeper I get into this and the more interesting the story gets, the more I’m terrified that someone’s going to come along and solve it before me.

And yet, it’s really okay if they do. The point is for the city to get an answer, not for me to win at answering it first.

And I need help shaking trees.

But man, trying not to let my ego fuck me up is hard.

Down the Rabbit Hole

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I had a good trip to the Nashville room at the downtown library yesterday. I looked at a ton of pictures and got some names and saw both an awesome picture of Emmett Carr and an awesome picture of Looby and King that I don’t think I had ever seen before.

But a thing I realized is that what I know about these bombings is so different than what other people know that I sound like a crazy conspiracy theorist when I start talking about it.

Even that I view the JCC bombing as one of our integration bombings is completely mindblowing to people. They do not know that was part of the same campaign of terror.

On the one hand, it’s cool to think of how much stuff I’m going to be able to share with people. On the other hand, it does make me wonder if I’m reading too much into stuff.

Something’s Not Right

Say you went searching for stories about “Jack and Diane.” All kinds of stories. You might get the John Mellencamp song. You might get a story about a president and a singer. Or a president and a princess, maybe? People might just have made up stories where the characters were named Jack and Diane. They might tell you real stories about folks they know with those names.

But say you came across two stories about Jack and Diane and in both stories a guy shows up and beats them both with a chair. In one story, the guy’s name is Ricky. In the other story, the guy’s name is Richie. Your first question might be “Is this story real?” and say it is. Say you find corroboration in the local papers that this happened or at least, that people were talking about it happening and believed it had happened recently. So, yeah, there’s still a chance the story was made up, but it’s more “real” than most urban legends.

Then say you look at the stories in the papers more closely and, damn, you realize one story takes place in one city and the other story takes place in a city a half an hour away. Is this Richard dick (ha) just going around terrorizing people with the same names? Or maybe, to make this analogy work, people with the same jobs?

Yeah, let’s say that’s it. You get two stories about a mechanic and a nurse terrorized by this Ricky/Richie dude. You can somewhat verify them. They take place in two towns near each other. What do you put the chances of Ricky/Richie being a real person at? At this point, I’m like 80% sure Ricky/Richie is a real person.

But let’s say you look even more closely at those newspaper accounts and you see that those stories took place 100 years apart.

Is Ricky/Richie still real? If he’s made up, how do you explain the similarities of the stories? What if you know someone whose dad was the nurse in the second story? Someone who can say “That happened to my dad.” Someone who genuinely doesn’t seem to know of the first story.

How are both stories seemingly describing the same dude?

I don’t have a good explanation for it, but I’m going to be back on the Something’s Not Right podcast this October wondering the fuck about it. Or the analogous situation.

Indigo!

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This is the color I got from the indigo dye vat. She said I could come back and dye it darker if I wanted and I was like “No, are you kidding? This is the most beautiful blue I have ever seen.” It’s almost the exact same color as the black bean yarn, which… in fairness… I also thought was the most beautiful color I had ever seen.

I need to go to Birmingham. I have to figure out the dog situation. Like, can I do a research trip in a day? Can I not get bogged down in interesting details that don’t pertain to my question? Or do I need to do it in two days? In which case, who’s going to watch the dog?

Also, right now the book is called “Busy Looking the Other Way: Why Nashville’s Integration Era Bombings Remain Unsolved,” but I’m entertaining “The Rise of the Confederate Underground: Some subtitle I haven’t come up with yet.” The Rise of the Confederate Underground is better, isn’t it?

I Know Politics Bore You, But I Feel Like a Hypocrite…

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I met Gladys Girgenti yesterday.

And I really liked her.

I don’t know what to make of that, but it seems like an important component of trying to understand why these bombings weren’t solved. I’ve never been to a Klan rally. I don’t, as far as I know, know any people who deliberately set out to hurt or scare others. And I’ve never talked to a convicted terrorist before.

She was funny and charming. She had big round eyes that made her either seem perpetually surprised or perpetually delighted. She lived in a big old assisted care facility over in Madison. The place was spotlessly clean, but dark and kind of industrial seeming. The hallway to her apartment was dark and there were pipes overhead. It smelled like people used to smoke there a lot, but hadn’t in a long time.

Her apartment was small and cheery. She had a large window she sat beside and sunlight flooded the place. She had an amazing crocheted afghan draped over her loveseat. She had a cat, who seemed about a third longer than a cat normally should.

Her son told me the cat would bite, but once he got some head pats and sniffed my bag, he settled in on the cat tree and paid us no mind. Once her son seemed to ascertain that I was harmless, he went upstairs to his apartment.

And there I was, alone with one of two known racist bombers to come out of Nashville.

She was very matter-of-fact about things. She launched right in to telling me about Klan rallies and who she knew and how she had met them—J.B. Stoner, who she met through Ed Fields, Robert Shelton, David Duke. Folks I had only read about in books or, in Duke’s case, seen on TV, and they were her friends and she spoke about them with the fondness you have for friends.

She didn’t use any racial slurs or launch into any lectures about the evils of the Jewish people. And, honestly, I didn’t ask her about her beliefs. I wanted to keep my focus on getting my questions answered.

But it’s easy to see how, as a white bystander, you could seduce yourself into believing that a white supremacist like Girgenti isn’t “that bad.” Yes, she was talking about the Klan and talking about people who did really terrible stuff, but she was talking about it in the matter of fact way you might talk about your Sunday School class or the Rotary club. The signals that tell you that this is dangerous shit aren’t present or they’re muted.

So, as I was sitting there, listening to this funny, charming woman tell these stories that were sometimes hilarious, sometimes sad, I could feel something happening to me, mentally. It’s not even been twenty-four hours yet and it sometimes takes me a while to figure out how to understand the things I experience. But I came into that apartment knowing some really terrible things about Girgenti and having heard credible rumors of worse. And I had been warned not to underestimate her, that she was very smart.

In other words, I was as prepared as I could be.

And I still felt this overwhelming urge to just go along with what she was saying. Not just for the sake of the interview—that I could understand and not fret over—but for the sake of our rapport, for the psychological reward of having this woman I found funny and charming finding me funny and charming.

That scared, and scares the shit out of me.

Listening to her stories, it’s very easy to see that the FBI took the absolute wrong approach to her, over and over. It seems like they thought the button to push with her was her family, which, after talking to her, I agree that her family is very important to her. But threatening them never caused Girgenti to break and admit to crimes. It just strengthened her resolve to not cooperate.

Not that I got much farther. She wasn’t in town for my bombings. She didn’t want to tell me anything she, herself, didn’t know as a fact. So, no gossip on who it might have been. But I definitely and firmly got the impression that there was gossip she had heard. I just didn’t have the skills as an interviewer to overcome her reluctance to gossip with me.

But this was my first time interviewing a person with known ties to a terrorist network. Presumably the FBI does that shit all the time.

I had told a handful of people where I was going and that they should call the police if I didn’t get back in touch with them by dinner. I was done long before dinner. I did my best to make sure I wasn’t followed home. I felt stupid for worrying about it.

I couldn’t sleep, though. I found excuses not to go to bed and then when I realized I was just sitting on the couch staring at nothing, I forced myself to go to bed. And then I laid there, in the dark, in the quiet, afraid I would hear someone in the house with me. I had this thought that I should not have met her, that I should not have let her know what I look like, or given her my phone number. That, obviously, anyone with dangerous friends could still be dangerous.

But the thing that kept me up was that I wasn’t having these thoughts until almost eight hours after I’d interviewed her.

The thing I’m trying, but struggling to put into words is how far down the path I was before my gut instinct to be afraid kicked in. I had already done the interview. I was already home. I had already assured everyone I had jokingly asked to avenge me if I was murdered that I was fine. While I was with her, I wanted her to like me.

And I had years of research about her and her friends in my head.

There’s something psychological going on here that seems important, if we want to truly understand how we’re in this situation. Something about how your brain will push you to find connections and common ground with people, to find ways and reasons for you to like each other and see each other as being on the same side, even temporarily.

I keep thinking about that lyric from They Might be Giants, “Can’t shake the Devil’s hand and say you’re only kidding.” You become like the people you like. You can’t have a racist friend and not be, at some level, okay with her racism.

And yet, if that person is charming and funny, smart and insightful, isn’t it so very tempting to overlook her flaws?

No, no. More than tempting. I would not have been tempted to overlook Gladys Girgenti’s flaws.

This is something deeper and more fundamental to how white supremacy works, I think. Something so deeply ingrained in me, so deeply trained, let me like her and suppressed the warning signals I should have been getting. Obviously was getting, if my terror that night was any indication.

I came as prepared as I could be. I was raised to try very hard not be a racist asshole by people who have tried very hard their whole lives to not be racist assholes, and I still had that psychological reaction to her. And I didn’t even recognize that’s what was happening until way later.

That’s deeply troubling to me. But it also feels to me crucial for understanding why these bombings were never solved. I think there’s a very good chance that the white people in a position to investigate these bombings had the same bad training or psychological shortcoming or whatever this is as me.

I think a crucial component of why these bombings were never solved is that the people who could have solved them were not seeing them for the huge red flags that they were.  And I have to allow that one of the reasons I haven’t solved them is that I also am not picking up on obvious cues and am, instead, reacting in ways that work to thwart my end goals.

Files Trials

Long story short, I just have to wait for the Looby file. At least Rep. Cooper got them to admit it exists. And I have complete faith in the National Archives eventually getting it to me.

I’m just frustrated that this means pushing the book back.

But just as the archive gods take away, so do they giveth. The National Archives sent me the J.B. Stoner file from 1958 that had been mixed in with later stuff. As I suspected, it mostly pertained to his bombing of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth’s church down in Birmingham.

But holy shit.

My money is still on the Looby file revealing either that the FBI had an informant in the car (and that’s why they weren’t very forthcoming with the information that it still existed) or that they knew about the plot ahead of time and didn’t do anything to stop it.

But I am moving a few coins to the idea that it could have been a Birmingham police informant in the car, based on this Stoner file.

Hattie Cotton, cont.

I got the FBI file on the Hattie Cotton bombing from the National Archives yesterday. I’ve only read through it once, so there may be some things I’m missing, but dang.

My whole part of the book on Hattie Cotton is wrong. The guys the Nashville police arrested were not involved and they knew they weren’t involved and they beat a confession out of them anyway.

Someone, still redacted, was running around town bragging about doing it.

And a Chattanooga Klansman called in a bomb threat to another school.

I want to say more about it, but even just trying to type this has involved me staring off into space repeatedly just being baffled at what everyone who was ostensibly trying to solve this case was actually doing and what, exactly, they thought their jobs were.

Fuuuuuhhhhhhhhuuuuuck

School bombing. Integrated religious recreational facility bombing. Lawyer on school integration’s house bombed. Ties to the Dixie Knights.

Nashville? No. Well, yes but that’s not what’s making me both excited and chagrined.

Chattanooga.

I don’t know shit. I do not know enough to write this book. I’m majorly panicking about it.

And no motherfucker has ever written anything about the Chattanooga bombings either!

This Morning

I’ve only been awake an hour and the cat swatted the dog who then stepped on my foot, which caused me to yell at everyone and refuse to give anyone morning pets. We got rained on on our walk. And I forgot to take my medicine last night.

Which… may explain why my morning went how it did.

I’m very frustrated with the FBI. The John Kasper files I got off of archives.org are much, much larger than the files the FBI sent me. The amount of stuff that’s missing is infuriating. A DC couple’s visit with Kasper in which Kasper brags about his violent friends? Gone. Most of the Hattie Cotton material? Gone. Stuff I care much less about, like all the women who were coming to visit him when he was living on Brushy Hill Road? Also gone.

When I realized that, I basically shoved them into a file on my computer and relied on the archives.org files. But last night, I was thinking, maybe the FBI files contain some unredacted names that I might need, so I decided I should browse through them.

And I came across a thing I hadn’t seen before. Either I missed it in the archives.org version or it’s not in there, but it confirms my belief that one person was working with the FBI and that the FBI kept back vital information from the Nashville police.

So, hey, that’s nice to have.

Field Day!

For the first time, I got invited to Field Day for the Scene. I felt like an awkward doofus the whole time, but I also had a blast. And I got bit by so many flies. Yuck.

It was fun to see folks in that context, though. Like Erica is delightfully inclusive. Everyone get out there. Everyone cheer. Everyone have a good time.

And Patrick did a one-person double-play! He caught the ball (batter out) and then stepped on second (runner out). Which I guess happens all the time in professional baseball, but it was fun to see in wiffle ball.

Fort Houston beat us, though, and by the end of the day, I was so tired of their coolness–their friendly attitudes, their awesome shirts, their supportive cheering of children, their cute dogs–that I finally shouted, “You’re not even a fort” after they did one of their cool cheers.

So, you known, not my proudest moment.

The Looby Bombing, cont.

I went back out again to look at the location of the Looby bombing. It wasn’t very helpful other than in making me feel like I need to have printed out pictures from the era to take with me.

Every time I go there, I feel like I’m seeing something important, but I just don’t have the skills or the context to understand or even recognize what the important thing is.

Like something is staring me straight in the face, but I don’t know enough to see it.

It’s Done!

I finished the afghan. I’m very, very pleased with how it turned out.

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This morning, the dog and I met a very elderly neighbor and, you guys, the dog was so gentle with him. He went up politely and sniffed the guy, but did not jump. I was just so proud of him.

I have some addresses of the families of some people from my book. I’m trying to decide how to contact them in a way that’s safe for me and yet not off-putting to them.

I remain confused by the lack of curiosity among local journalists as to who did this. I had thought it was because they knew and just, for whatever reason, couldn’t report it.  But that really doesn’t seem to be the case.

Another weird thing about the Looby bombing I just noticed recently, because of the new historical marker, is that the offices for the sit-in movement were right behind Looby’s house.

This still says to me that the fact that they didn’t use the alley or plant the bomb behind Looby’s house matters. If they had known the area, they would have had to think behind the house was a better spot.

Margo Price

Last night, the Butcher and Monty’s grown woman friend took me to the Ryman to see Margo Price. It was wonderful. She sang a song in which she called John Lennon a feminist and an asshole, and she mourned him. She did Proud Mary with a gospel choir. She played drums. She played piano. She smashed a guitar. The lighting was fantastic.

I kept thinking, too, that part of what makes her show so amazing is that she does really belt out songs. It’s like Brittany Howard or Tina Turner or Janice Joplin–let’s take this voice out for a ride and see what she can really do. It’s so much fun to listen to her and watch.

The other thing I really liked about it was that her stage presence isn’t Sexy. Which isn’t to say that she’s not pretty or anything. Of course she is. But her stage presence isn’t “don’t look at me,” but it’s also not “don’t you want to fuck me?” It’s more like the joy of watching an athlete do something well she’s trained for for years.

I kept thinking that her stage presence reminded me a lot of Barbara Mandrell, though I’m not sure how much of my memories of Barbara Mandrell’s shows are real and what’s been warped by time.

And Jack White was her special guest and his hair looked fantastic!

It made me want Jack White to do a whole duets album with women he knows.

Bah

I’m just so grouchy. I know part of it is PMS and part of it is work and part of it is just living in this country right now and feeling helpless to change things.

Twice this week I’ve found dead snakes on our walk. That also makes me mad. There’s just no need to kill a snake on neutral ground. I mean, I’d argue there’s no reason to kill a snake, period, but I accept people have different opinions when feeling trapped by one.

But if you have room to avoid it and it has room to avoid you, don’t fucking kill snakes.

 

Paschal Beverly Randolph

Yesterday, as I was working on this afghan, I found a new-to-me podcast, “Occult Confessions.” It’s either the kind of thing you will love or hate. I love it, but with the caveat that it feels very much like the kind of thing that’s going to end in a scandal. If you’ve ever been in academia, I promise you’ll know what I mean by about fifteen minutes into the first episode. The fault lines are clear. I could almost write the Chronicle article we’re all going to read in ten years right now.

That doesn’t have anything to do with the content of the podcast, though. That’s super interesting. And I learned about Paschal Beverly Randolph, who was a 19th century occultist I’d never heard of, who founded his Brotherhood of Eulis here in 1874 and then promptly disbanded it months later.

Here’s an interesting bit, though, His biographer is like “I don’t know why Randolph came to Nashville. Maybe a lingering fondness for J. B. Ferguson?”

But he came to our insane asylum, which, though I can’t remember the dude’s name–not Adelicia’s husband, but the next dude–was run by a Spiritualist. That has to be why he was here and specifically why he was there.

Visit

My nephew came to visit me yesterday! Well, I went up there at lunch and spent a ton of time playing with him, but I had forgotten everything I wanted to bring him, so they stopped by later.

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He was so surprised! And he liked my light fixtures. And the dog, even though he seemed very overwhelmed by all the fur and slobber and loudness.

And I got more done on my afghan. I fucked up majorly. I mean, majorly, because I was so tired. I was trimming a tail and I cut the end of the seam. This should have caused the whole seam to unravel (picture how tugging opens a bag of dog food), but it didn’t. So rather than picking it apart, I just left it. I mean, I picked at it and tugged at it, but I couldn’t get it to come open, so… I don’t know. The nice thing about how these seams are is that it’ll be really easy to fix if it does come apart. But damn.

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Also, this morning, I saw a flock of turkeys in the field and the tom saw me. He puffed himself up real big, as if to tell me I’d better not even try to come near his family. Toms are fearless.

Nightmares

Last night I had my first nightmare about the book. Well, it was about how someone was forcing me to watch The Walking Dead and then I got sucked into the TV show, literally, and had to run from zombies. But I’m not dumb, subconscious. I get it.

I’m very worried that I’m going to miss some obvious fact I need. Or that I’m drawing the wrong conclusions because I don’t have a broad enough knowledge.

I have to keep reminding myself that my primary goal is to give someone better than me a framework from which to work. Someone with more knowledge, who knows these people better than I do, who will look at everything I’ve found and sneer about all I missed and how could I not know that this means that.

Still, you guys, there’s so much that I feel is just… like it’s just laying out right there and no one has put it together.

How Things Went, So I Don’t Forget

As you all know, a year ago the FBI told me they’d destroyed their file on the Looby bombing. I thought this was weird and sucked and I’ve been frustrated since then in my efforts to find anyone who could explain why they would do that–destroy the file on the unsolved assassination attempt of a sitting U.S. politician.

I thought it was weird, but I assumed someone higher up the food chain than me would understand it. On Wednesday, I ran into Keel Hunt, Lamar Alexander’s old chief of staff. The Looby file and its destruction came up. He insisted I call Hal Hardin, a former US Attorney. Hardin is too young for my bombings, but he prosecuted Gladys Girgenti.

So, I did. Hardin seemed outraged and confused by what I was telling him. And I was like, well, Jesus, if this doesn’t make any sense to a US Attorney…

Long story short, I’ve asked for Jim Cooper’s help in discovering whether the file was genuinely destroyed, and if so, why, or if it was just misplaced. So, woo to that!

Then I went to lunch and they want to do the book! There’s still lots of details to work out and it’s all very tentative so let’s not go to the bank on it or anything. But holy shit. Big day.

Welp, Today’s the Day

Yesterday, I ran into a dude whose father was dear friends with Looby. He gave me some advice in case I need to ask my local congressmen to put a little pressure on various government agencies to get me the stuff I need.

As usual, I was able to tell him some stuff he didn’t know. Seeing the surprise on his face was just confirmation to me that this is a story that needs to be told, that people locally need to know.

I’m still nervous. Keep your fingers crossed for me, please.