Mark Reads ‘Infinite Jest’: pp42-49

If one thing is clear about this book so far, it’s that DFW has a way with words. It’s not often that an author can use just a mere sentence to convey an entire story or event, but DFW can do that. Often. Multiple times per page.


He cranks the condo’s AC way down at night and still most mornings wakes up soaked, fetally curled, entombed in that kind of psychic darkness where you’re dreading whatever you think of.

DFW are you in my head. This is my normal sleeping pattern. I’m always too warm, I wake up sweaty, and my brain just won’t shut up. How does he know this.

We’re introduced here to Hal’s older brother, Orin, who lives in Phoenix. (He was the one on the phone earlier.) It seems that no matter what, he always sleeps in the same manner out here in the desert:

Home with the team, no matter how high the AC or how thin the sheet, Orin wakes with his own impression sweated darkly into the bed beneath him, slowly drying all day to a white salty outline just slightly off from the week’s other faint dried outlines, so his fetal-shaped fossilized image is fanned out across his side of the bed like a deck of cards, just overlapping, like an acid trail or timed exposure.

I get the sense that DFW is also a man who will satisfy my favorite writing technique: showing, not telling. I have demanded it of every author in the Mark Reads series, most especially Stephenie Meyer. Granted, Infinite Jest is a different kind of book, a varied and utterly ambitious type of novel that begs for an author to simply go all-out. (I don’t mean to suggest they are the same, but this reminds me of my favorite Harry Potter book, Order of the Phoenix, which had Rowling’s best writing because I felt she was unrestrained.) But I have to admit that, even if I’ve been wildly erratic in posting about this book, I am very glad to be doing something that is not YA fiction.

Onwards to Orin. I love the way DFW utilizes the weather to provide us with both scenery and a hint towards Orin’s mental state:

He has a mustache of sweat. A bright beach ball floats and bumps against one side of the pool. The sun like a sneaky keyhole view of hell. No one else out here. The complex is a ring with a pool and deck and Jacuzzi in the center. Heat shimmers off the deck like fumes from fuel. There’s that mirage thing where the extremem heat makes the dry deck look wet with fuel. Orin can hear cartridge-viewers going from behind closed windows, that aerobics show every morning, and also someone playing an organ, and the older woman who won’t ever smile back at him in the apartment next to his doing operatic scales, muffled by drapes and sun curtains- and double panes. The Jacuzzi chugs and foams.

There are two wonderfully subtle things at work here that we will probably never see again, but I can’t help but point them out. First of all, heat. I grew up in Riverside, California. Go ahead and Google that. It’s in the Inland Empire, also know fondly as the Armpit of California. (Do you get that I absolutely hate it there? Well, then, allow me to further drill this heavy-handed message into your skull.) It was an arid, boring place to spend my formative years. But it taught me to tolerate the heat. It was pretty standard that there’d be a week or two during July or August where the average daily temperature was just around 110 degrees Fahrenheit. And when it’s that hot out, it’s quiet outside. It’s not something you think about or realize or can even conceive of until you experience it.

Some of my relatives on my mom’s side lived in Arizona. One lived in Phoenix, the other in Yuma. I had the expressed luxury of visiting both places in the dead of summer and let me tell: Arizona is a FUCKING DESERT. I have never (and hope to never) experience heat like that ever again in my life. I’ve come close to it with yearly trips to Coachella when I used to work for Buzznet, but Palm Springs and Indio in April never quite reached anything close enough. Is it ok if I call that sort of heat oppressive? Because you feel like all your agency and free will and joy has been sucked right out of you. The first time I went to Yuma in the first week of August, it was 127. I mean…unless you yourself have felt that before, can you even comprehend such a number? You can’t. And you are blessed because of it.

Secondary to this, DFW also paints an accurate portrait of life in a suburban apartment complex with this section. I lived in a house most of my life, but after I ran away from home when I was sixteen, it’s been apartments since then. I like smaller complexes these days; here in Oakland, there are only twelve units total and it can be rather friendly most of the time, and I actually feel like I know who lives near me. But generally, I’ve found that I ended up in places that seemed to be teaming with Strangers, as if they were some bacterial life form bred in the laboratory and then released on places like MacArthur Park or Lynwood or Bellflower or Downey. I’m sure plenty of you can regale me with stories like Orin’s neighbor as well. In my current building, there’s a woman who has really loud sex, but only at (approximately) three in the morning OR three in the afternoon. Is she on some weird, ritualistic schedule? Who knows! Or there was the guy who lived across the hall from me when I lived in downtown Los Angeles who had a propensity for playing 311’s “Amber” whenever he was getting high. And only that song.

I’m off on a tangent again. Let’s go back to Orin and appreciate the note he received from “Subject,” who I assume is a from a girl?

The note from last night’s Subject is on violet bond once folded and with a circle of darker violet dead-center where the subject’s perfume-spritzer had hit it. The only interesting thing about the script, but also depressing, is that every single circle—o’s, d’s, p’s, the #s 6 and 8—is darkened in, while the I’s are dotted not with circle but with tiny Valentine hearts, which are not darkened in.

WHO WROTE THIS. Oh my god, that’s…kind of irritating? Right? Right???

We learn more of Orin’s life; it seems he is a punter for New Orleans and he’s staying here in Phoenix with the rest of his team, who have just returned from Chicago. Orin flashes back to a moment before they left for this most recent trip, to when he watched a bird fall dead, straight away, into the Jacuzzi in front of him. It’s a bad sign to him, and it suggests that there might have been something prophetic to Orin about this. DFW mentions that Orin’s left side is larger than the right and that he doesn’t move the left side once while he is outside. Obviously, this could just mean that Orin punts on the left side and he’s resting, but was he hurt in Chicago? Possibly? I’m probably just reading too much into this.

Orin himself is…a bit strange. And I mean that with affection, since I am quite strange myself. Orin takes showers in the hottest water possible, and DFW reveals it’s because of the giant sewer roaches that come out of the shower here in Phoenix. Orin believes that the hotter the water is, the less likely it is that roaches will come out of the drain like they have before. I also liked this bit of imagery when DFW describes Orin’s trap technique:

Now he keeps big glass tumblers in the bathroom and when he turns on the light and sees a roach he puts a glass down over it, trapping it. After a couple days the glass is all steamed up and the roach has asphyxiated messlessly and Orin discards both the roach and the Tumblr in separate sealed Ziplocs in the dumpster complex  by the golf course up the street.

The yellow tile floor of the bathroom is sometimes a little obstacle course of glasses with huge roaches dying inside, stoically, just sitting there, the glasses gradually steaming up with roach-dioxide.

I don’t like killing bugs myself. (That has nothing to do with being vegan, by the way. I have never liked killing them, even when I was a child.) So I imagine that I would do something this obsessive myself if faced with the same situation. But with Orin, his fear of roaches approaches something closer to a phobia, I think. We learn that there were parts of Boston by the bay that he’d refused to go near as a child because of the roaches. But even worse than that was his time spent in New Orleands:

The parishes around N.O. had been having a spate or outbreak of a certain Latin-origin breed of sinister tropical flying roaches, that were small and timid but could fucking fly, and that kept being found swarming on New Orleans infants, at night, in their cribs, especially infants in like tenements or squalor, and that reportedly fed on the mucus in the babies’ eyes, some sort of optical-mucus—the stuff of fucking nightmares, mobile flying roaches that wanted to get at your eyes, as an infant—and were reportedly blinding them…

THANK YOU. THANK YOU FOR THIS WONDERFUL IMAGE THAT IS NOW IN MY HEAD, DFW. Not content to create this sort of nightmare fuel once, he continues, describing Orin’s experience earlier this year with flooding that sent “over a dozen nightmarish dead bodies,” along with some flying roaches, tumbling down a hillside to rest against his team’s mailbox. And now he’s in Arizona, but he didn’t escape the roaches. The roaches are still there and they terrify him in ways that no one else seems capable of understanding.

What I am most intrigued by is Orin’s nightmare and how it relates to his mother. It seems that the Incandenza family is made of individuals who all have strikingly different ways of coping with the world and vocalizing themselves. It all goes back to tennis for Orin, and I get the feeling that, unlike Hal, he doesn’t play the sport anymore. (To escape his family?) In Orin’s nightmare, his mother’s face seems to plant itself on his like a mask or…well, I guess it’s more like a helmet than a mask, according to Orin. In his sleep, according to the note left behind, Orin actually grabbed the girl in bed with him by the head.

Why is he having dreams like this? And what does it have to do with the dead bird or the very long-winded next section about a boy named Fenton who suffers from schizophrenia?

Despite that I’ve only gotten through nine or ten pages, I’m going to stop here. I’m nearly at 2,000 words already, even if I’ve only read one section. I really like that I have the chance to finally talk about things that are…well, not super fucking depressing for once. There’s a lot here in this section with Orin, too, and I figured that it might be fair to devote an entire review just to his character. The next section will be a whole lot longer, I hope, unless something else particularly fascinating inspires me. Anyway, this is our introduction to Orin Incandenza. And it’s a damn fine one at that.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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39 Responses to Mark Reads ‘Infinite Jest’: pp42-49

  1. pennylane27 says:


    I live in an apartment with my family, the same one for all my life. And it has always been regularly infested by roaches in summer. They are impossible to get rid of. And I HATE having to stomp on them or spray them because they keep moving and twitching and dammit they are so disgusting. One time I had to kill five in less than ten minutes. One of them was one of those huge flying ones. But the worst was this year, I was watching TV and I could hear one of them, and IT LANDED ON MY HEAD. SIRIUSLY. I washed my hair twice before going to bed. I think DFW is in my head too. The part with the blinded kids because of the roaches? NIGHTMARES FOREVER.

    There are 24 aparments in my building, and I know a few of my neighbours, but a lot of new people have moved in during the last years, so mostly I have no idea how lives near me. There is one guy down the corridor that plays loud crappy guitar every Saturday night, and one that plays the drums for hours on Sunday afternoons, interrupting the siesta, and a few elderly couples who have lived here for ages. And that's it.

    I loved this section, apart from the very long part about the roaches (yes I fucking hate them alright?) *shudders forever*

  2. pennylane27 says:

    I was thinking the same thing about DFW's writing, but you and Mark have said it way better than I could. I have never read a book like this one. It's impossible to predict where it's going to go next, and I'm loving it.

    And I forgot it was just 7 pages while reading the review, bravo Mark (and DFW, naturally).

    • Pip_Harper says:

      Indeed, its unpredictability is such a joy. I also love the way there are so many occasions when you can just feel DFW knows that you're predicting something based on something else he's set up, then of course he turns your expectation on its head, and so eventually it gets to a point where you're expecting him to turn your expectations on their heads, and then he does something completely different… That isn't very clear, but you get the idea.

      • doesntsparkle says:

        At this point, 49 pages into a 1078 page book, the reader has no idea what is going or where the story is going, but it's still interesting and the characters are so complicated. I really admire while it is kind of confusing, it could be so much worse.

        • Pip_Harper says:

          Oh, yeah, this far in all I remember is being being very very confused, but also very intrigued by all the new characters that kept getting introduced.

  3. On an entirely unrelated note, how much of The Book Thief should I read to be prepared for Friday? Or is Friday going to be the introductory prediction post where you guess how many times you'll cry?

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

      I'm not going to do a prediction post because I literally have no idea what the book is about. The post would be like 40 ELEPHANTS WILL BE IN A PARADE and RECORD-SETTING ICE CREAM TOURNAMENT. And I get the sense this book is very serious, so I'll probably want to avoid making it seem trite right from the get-go.

      I'll predict six times.

  4. doesntsparkle says:

    "I get the sense that DFW is also a man who will satisfy my favorite writing technique: showing, not telling."

    Be careful what you wish for, especially in a section that shows roach horror and Freudian nightmares. What I really like about DFW is how he can be hilarious and sad at the same time. Maybe it's just me being morbid, but the way he describes asphyxiating roaches under glasses in the bathroom for days is silly.

    There is something very lonely about the way that Orin sleeps with and dismisses women, thinking of them as subjects. Which, I suppose is a step up from thinking of women as objects. Orin is such a neurotic mess.

    • pennylane27 says:

      Be careful what you wish for, especially in a section that shows roach horror and Freudian nightmares.

      I agree. I would appreciate a little less showing of the roaches.

      Also, I love your picture.

  5. monkeybutter says:

    DFW are you in my head. This is my normal sleeping pattern. I’m always too warm, I wake up sweaty, and my brain just won’t shut up. How does he know this.

    Um, yeah, what the hell DFW? Not only do I sleep like that, I also spent the fall/early winter spraying the stink bugs on my window screens with soapy water because, oh god, I don't want to touch them, and I can't squish them because then they will STINK, and then waiting for the soap to asphyxiate them so I can just brush their carapaces off of the window sills. What am I becoming?

    I agree, DFW's writing is a bit of a relief; I love getting wrapped up in his words. He wrote a compelling scene about a punter living in suburban-fucking-Arizona, for chrissake! Orin's womanizing and neuroses both repulsed me and made me want to know everything about him. I suppose he'll turn up again later and I'm definitely looking forward to it. I really need to get back to this book!

  6. Mauve_Avenger says:

    "We learn more of Orin’s life; it seems he is a punter for New Orleans and he’s staying here in Phoenix with the rest of his team, who have just returned from Chicago."

    My understanding was that Orin used to play for New Orleans, but was traded to Phoenix in exchange for a few other players (plus some money), suggesting that he's quite a good football player.

    On to other stuff:

    The part with the dead bird in the Jacuzzi reminded me of both the James Hurst story "The Scarlet Ibis" and the scene from Lost when Walt flips to a picture of a bird in a book, seemingly causing the same bird to crash dead into his window in real life. Not sure if want.

    I really like the roach jokes (Blattaria implacablus, "you got a problem?!") juxtaposed with Orin's very real real fear of roaches ("howling fantods" ftw).

    I noticed (as I think it's been mentioned before) that DFW tends to vary his writing style depending on the main character in the section. Here with Orin he uses the word 'like' very informally ("he's on like a subscription plan at Terminex"), sort of the same way it was used by Hal and Mario in the previous section, but a lot more pronounced, suggesting that it's something of a familial trait.

    The "very long-winded next section about a boy named Fenton who suffers from schizophrenia" kind of annoyed me, mostly because it seems rather obvious that it doesn't rotate the person inside of it, so it seems like a mistake DFW made deliberately, but I can't tell what that mistake is trying to accomplish.

    I have to say, though, that "decay-colored sneakers" may be one of my new favorite weirdly-nondescriptive descriptive color phrases, though I don't think anything will ever beat Girl, Interrupted's "small, basement-colored person" who runs a sewing notions shop.

    • @campbelliah says:

      Yes, Orin got traded from New Orleans to Arizona, for a bunch of players and money. For anybody who doesn't know much about football: punters are considered pretty worthless. Orin must be, by far, the greatest punter who has ever lived.

  7. feminerdist says:

    Oh god, this imagery. I haven't picked up the book to read yet (I know, I know, but my current reading list doesn't have room for Infinite Jest at this time).

    But I'm from New Orleans, and now live an hour nw in Baton Rouge, so I totally get the heat and the roach reference, unfortunately. While the temperature usually never gets over 105, the 95 % humidity makes it feel fucking oppressive, so yes, I totally understand this using that term.

    And roaches, christ on crutches the roaches. Louisiana cockroaches are big and evil. They're likely to drink down a can of raid then smash it on their foreheads and throw it at you. So that image of babies… NO FUCKING THANK YOU. I've lived here all my life and I don't kill them, I fucking run from them. Yes, it's a damn phobia. So thanks to this paragraph, I might not read this book. (I still haven't seen the cockroach episode of the X-files, and I never will.) YEESH.

    • bradycardia says:

      Louisiana cockroaches are big and evil. They're likely to drink down a can of raid then smash it on their foreheads and throw it at you.

      I love this mental image!

    • monkeybutter says:

      Yeah, I've never felt 127 degrees, but I'd love to see how it compares to muggy, hot summers in DC, which still aren't as bad as summers in New Orleans or Houston. And I sympathize with you about the roaches. Visiting family in Florida as a kid (oddly not as oppressive as up here) and getting a glimpse of palmetto bugs? NO THANK YOU.

  8. tethysdust says:

    I lived in Texas for a while as a kid, so I think I can understand the heat. I've never experienced 127 degrees of heat, but 100-110 is plenty brutal enough for me. I also can't sleep when I'm too hot, but I'm a lot more likely to just spread out on the floor (my half-awake mind always thinks that all the heat will rise, leaving the floor cold) than sweat through my sheets.

    I have lived in apartments with minor roach problems. I trapped them like Orin, but then I would slide a magazine underneath, take them outside, and kill them there (typically using a brick). That's also easier if you have a partner, so one of you can free the roach while the other is waiting with a brick. No mess in the apartment that way, at least.

    I thought Orin had such a reaction to the film because of his brother Hal's problems. I thought maybe it was reflecting his fear that Hal would never get better, and that the people who should help him were only making it worse.

  9. Beth says:

    Ha, ditto. Too much time on Tumblr, Mark?

    (Only because I've been there.)

  10. @swandive00 says:

    Dude, I completely loved this section because I, too, grew up in the Inland Empire (Redlands — w00t), and this passage is the only thing Ive ever read that conveys the hot, dry heat of the Mojave, or, uh Phoenix. I use the phrase "scuttles in vectors of air conditioning and air conditioning" ALL THE TIME to explain why the dry desert heat is more tolerable than the moist, suffocating heat of New Orleans or DC.

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

      oh god redlands

      I AM SO SORRY.

      Once, on my birthday, I had to sit through Kottonmouth Kings at the University of Redlands in order to see Bad Religion.

      • gsj says:

        Once, on my birthday, I had to sit through Kottonmouth Kings at the University of Redlands in order to see Bad Religion.

        what a fucking weird ass bill. i'm so sorry.

      • @swandive00 says:

        Heh – but how many other towns can you grow up in that have a community circus? This is why I can ride a unicycle but have never played soccer.

  11. gsj says:

    It’s in the Inland Empire, also know fondly as the Armpit of California.

    NOW I FINALLY UNDERSTAND THE NAME OF THAT DAVID LYNCH MOVIE. if only i understood anything else about it.

    i started this book about a week before you announced you were going to read it, and i've only been able to get through about a hundred pages with all the fucking work i have to do. but i am just in love with the way that DFW writes. i love how he can be hysterically funny and then incredibly sad, and then frighten me to death, sometimes in the same sentence. and he writes in a way that's deceptively simple – if not for the length, one would think this all just spilled out of him at once. the sentences are so short and clean and tight, honestly, as a writer, it makes me incredibly jealous. he makes it look so fucking easy.

    this is why it's easier for me to write comments when i have something divisive to say, or to write about what i don't like. i can't imagine how boring it is for everyone to read, "i love this, i love this, i love this," over and over again.

    here, have a fun music video. please like me 🙁
    <object width="640" height="390"><param name="movie" value=";hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src=";hl=en_US&quot; type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="640" height="390"></embed></object>

  12. personalmap says:

    I loved that the bird that fell into the jacuzzi was a wren. If you say it out loud, a wren sounds very similar to Orin. No wonder he took it as a bad omen.

  13. Sarah says:

    I tried. I really did. I made it to page 97 and just couldn't push myself any further. I read for the enjoyment of escaping reality, and to me this is not enjoyment. It's torture. Good luck Mark. I'm sad to say this will be the first (and hopefully only) reviews I won't be following.

    Just about the only thing I enjoyed within those 97 pages was the image of the roaches under those foggy glasses…

    On a good note, I'm very excited to start The Book Thief!!

  14. Laura says:

    I have 280 (yes I looked) pages left in IJ I really just want to finish it finally but things like class keep getting in the way SO CLOSE GOD I CAN TASTE IT

    It's weird reading these reviews because I started the book over the summer and then just read a little here and there and I'd forgotten about a lot of this stuff (namely roaches jfc)

    and also WORD to oppressive heat – I live in Texas and I used to have field hockey workshops in August and it was like you could feel the weight of the heat trying to suffocate you

  15. Historicloser says:

    Reading about the heat in this chapter reminded me so much of my 6 month stay in Malta.
    I had left my home were the summer temperature usually is between 70 and 80 F and when I left the plane the heat really hit me like a solid wall. It was only around 104 but way too much for me.
    So of course I always slept with an open window which was a hard thing to do as my apartment complex was right next to a pub.

    I also loved the part about trapping roaches under a glass. Because I have a phobia of spiders I do that all the time. Somehow it's just not possible for me to kill the little buggers though (Maybe it's just my vivid imagination or nice descriptions the likes of DFW's. I definitely know that I will never eat a lobster in my life. :D), so I usually put the glass outside on my patio and let them scuttle out.

  16. Matthew says:

    Cockroaches are some of the lesser nightmare fuel in this book. Some of which is done in a really weird mixture of humor and horror, and some of which is just horroriffic.

  17. ldwy says:

    Ugh. If cockroaches are the lesser nightmare fuel, I can't imagine my nightmares won't be compounding from here on out. I'm kind of easily spooked. Once something icky or awful or scary is put in my head, I have trouble getting rid of it.

    I would be entirely freaked out by a dead bird falling in my jacuzzi.

    So far, I am most impressed with how the voice changes for each narrator are so distinct in DFW's writing. And how much he can draw me into an experience I haven't had and make me feel it. His description is amazing.

  18. agirlinport says:

    I once found a huge spider in my bathroom and trapped it under a plunger. That's like the same, right??
    I enjoyed this bit with Orin. I like his characterization. Don't really have much to say on it yet. Feel like I need to keep reading before I can form thoughts. Can I just say, also, that I really appreciated the second endnote way more than the first.

  19. ThreeBooks says:

    Okay that's it, I am going to find this book somehow and then devour it whole. Or at least nibble on its edges a bit.

  20. kellylea says:

    I'm not actually reading this one right now, so the whole not-fully-following-along bit makes it hard to, you know, follow… but I am enjoying your reviews all the same. 🙂

    That said: 127 degrees?!?! Holy lord. I feel like ripping off my skin when it hits 90. Granted, I live in the Midwest, so not only is it 90 degrees, it's usually accompanied by the type of humidity that makes it impossible to breathe.

    Also: SUPER CREEPED OUT by the roaches. Flying or otherwise. *shudder*

  21. Snowpea says:

    I agree that the way DFW ignores convention is why his prose is so enthralling. I find myself marveling at his writing, not to mention the characters. What's so important about this is how well he disrupts these conventions, skillfully enough that a reader is not consciously aware that something different is happening on a mechanical level. Rather, then disruption manifests in how the reader feels about the work more generally. I work at my college's writing center and we talk about the necessity of mastering convention before breaking it (ala mastering classical painting before becoming an impressionist). This book is a wonderful example.

  22. Lisbry says:

    I only just started reading this book, and have just caught up to where you are. So far I'm loving it. I have an obsession with words, and how they can be put together and the likes, so this book is perfect in that aspect. It's like a neverending buffet of words, that just gets richer and richer as I read along.

    I actually live in Norway, so in contrast to many other people here, apparently, I've never really felt the oppressvie heat that DFW writes about in this chapter, or the kind that you wrote about in your review, Mark, and I have very little experience with bugs of any kind really. To the contrary, I'm more often prone to waking up freezing and never getting properly warm unless my ovens are blasted on full heat, and even then I might not get warm to the bone. However, due to the writing and his penchance for, yes, showing and not telling, I was able to envision Orin's apartment incredibly easily, down to the smallest, asphyxiating cockroach on the bathroom floor. I could feel the stifling heat, the sweat encasing my skin. And despite the uncomfortable atmosphere we're exposed to in these pages, it's one of the best feelings I've had in a long time. This is why I read.

  23. Laga says:

    I started the book a week ago and have been trying not to read too far ahead in anticipation oif the next review. Then I saw the date on this one. Mark, did you give up? I don't like checking every day, each day I get a little sadder. Is there a way I can set it up so I'll be notified when you post your next review?

    I have loved your writing since Twilight and it's fantastic reliving The Book Thief through your eyes but a wee post about the future of Mark Reads Infinite Jest would be very much appreciated.

  24. Howlynn says:

    The sun like a sneaky keyhole view of hell. That line is just magic — you can feel it peeking at you.

    And the roachs — not afraid of them but haven't really dealt with them except in travel — But gave me chills anyway — my Hubby abhores them and we wre down in florida once — home of Uber-bugs and i thought he would come apart. Then we went to where he grew up in Texas and I did get it — blech. All the places You name –I have been there in summer — and this is a perfect description og the heat that sucks your eyes and makes your nose hairs twitch when you step out in it.

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