Why Jenny Slate sometimes feels like a 'terminal optimist' : Wild Card with Rachel Martin Welcome to Wild Card with Rachel Martin. In this first episode, Rachel talks to Jenny Slate, known for her roles in Obvious Child, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On and Parks and Recreation. Jenny opens up about whether fate brought her to her husband, what she's sacrificed for motherhood and what's so special about margarine and white bread sandwiches.

Why Jenny Slate sometimes feels like a 'terminal optimist'

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Just a heads up, there is a smidge of colorful language in this episode. I mean, I think it is very well-placed cursing. I'm going to let you be the judge. OK, here's the show.

Is there anything in your life that has felt predestined?

JENNY SLATE: I guess, no. I've never felt that anything was predestined. I've just felt as if every now and then, it feels like a meteor shower and, like, good fortune falls into my life like that.

MARTIN: I'm Rachel Martin, and this is WILD CARD, the game where cards control the conversation.


MARTIN: Each week, my guest chooses questions at random.

Pick a card one through three.

They're questions about the memories, the insights and the beliefs that have shaped their lives.

SLATE: It was the most positive experience of my life because I exceeded all of the limits of what I thought I was capable of.

MARTIN: This week, comedian and actress Jenny Slate is playing the game.

SLATE: Wow, I'm nervous. Why? OK, whatever.

MARTIN: OK, so this is our very first episode, and I want you to understand how this whole thing came about. I spent a lot of years hosting news shows of NPR, and I got really tired of covering stories that reinforced how bad everything in the world was. Basically, I was burned out. But it was also bigger than my job. My dad died unexpectedly, and my mom had died a long time ago, so I was feeling really empty and kind of lost.

And I felt this urgency, like, all I wanted to do was think through really big questions about what it means to be alive, what experiences make us who we are, what lessons are we learning over and over, what beliefs help us make sense of the world. And when I started opening up about all this to friends, I realized a lot of other people were also swimming around in these kinds of questions. So I thought, what if we talked about this stuff out loud? But I get it. That can be a little intimidating. So we came up with this idea for a game to make it easier.

This is the way it works. We made this little deck of cards with really big questions on them. My guests pick cards from the deck at random. And then they've got to answer the questions. And I am telling you, it's amazing what happens. They start talking about ideas and experiences that they haven't talked about before. And then I'm doing the same thing. And I always leave these conversations feeling better. That no matter how different we are, we're all working through the same stuff. And my hope is that this is going to happen for you, too, that you'll find yourself thinking about these questions and how they fit into your own life. So that's how the show came to be.

And I could not have dreamed up a better guest to get things started than Jenny Slate. She is one of the deepest, most interesting comedians out there, in my opinion, and that comes out in her stand-up and her movies. In particular, "Marcel The Shell With Shoes On," which is definitely one of the weirdest, most random, beautiful movies I have ever seen. Also, Jenny's pretty famous for playing Mona-Lisa Saperstein from the hit show "Parks And Rec." And this year, she released her latest comedy special. It's called "Seasoned Professional," which, at this point in her career, she really is, even if she's still figuring out life like the rest of us.

Jenny Slate, I am so happy that you're here. Thank you for doing this.

SLATE: Thank you for having me. I'm honored to be here.

MARTIN: Honored.

SLATE: Yeah.

MARTIN: That's so nice. OK, I actually brought you here to play a game. So in front of me, I've got this deck of cards, OK? So for each question, you're going to choose one at random to answer.


MARTIN: OK? It's like a choose your own adventure kind of thing.


MARTIN: So there are a couple of rules. The first is that you get one skip. You can choose to pass on the question and I'll just replace it with another question from the deck.


MARTIN: OK, the second rule is you can put me on the spot and ask me to answer one of the questions before you do.


MARTIN: OK? Oh, I don't know, but probably this is going to be OK. All right, we are breaking it up into three rounds - memories, insights and beliefs. And because this is a game, there is a prize when you make it to the end.


MARTIN: OK? Are you ready?


MARTIN: Round one. This is about memories, OK? We're looking back at the people, experiences, places that shaped you. I am holding three cards in my hand.

SLATE: Wow, I'm nervous. Why?

MARTIN: Oh, God.

SLATE: OK, whatever.

MARTIN: Don't be nervous. Don't be nervous. OK, pick a card one through three.

SLATE: Three.

MARTIN: Three. Oh, I like this one. What's an ordinary place that feels extraordinary to you because of what happened there?

SLATE: You know, this sounds really almost, I don't know, maybe gross or something, but it's not, but - or too much or something or gloopy, cheesy. But I really feel that way about our bedroom in Massachusetts and not because I'm like, you won't believe what...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

SLATE: ...Went down in here, but that I - my husband is someone who I met as a stranger, and I really felt that I would not see him again. I thought about him a lot, and I heard from another friend about where he lived in Massachusetts, and it felt to me that he lived almost in another dimension.

The more I would hear about his personality, the more I just felt like, yeah, but I would never be able to be with someone like that. You know, they would never like me, and it just wouldn't work, and how would I get there and whatever. I just remember the first time that I went to sleep in that bedroom, and we were sleeping, and I was like, wow, this is a real place. You know, like, it's kind of like seeing the Eiffel Tower. And I just...


SLATE: ...Was like, I can't believe, like, it is real. It is real, and I'm here. And I really feel that way still. And now that - and that was when he lived there by himself. And it was just filled with, like, so much of his - we live in a house that was built for his great-grandmother, and (laughter)...


SLATE: ...It was just, like, filled with like a hundred years of stuff. And it felt very, like, bachelor-y, old, like, old-fashioned, like, Dickensian bachelory. Like, you know, there's, like, a taxidermied tortoise in here. Like, what is going on? And, like...

MARTIN: As all bachelors have.

SLATE: Totally. Just, like, whoa, and, like, heavy draperies from before. And I just was like, what the? And, you know, now that we live there, it's, like, very sparse. I prefer a more shaker aesthetic. Like, I just want one pitcher. I just, like, want one old pitcher and one old cupboard and, like, one old rug and one bed and - I just don't want any stuff. No, I don't want any appliances. We can have a lamp...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

SLATE: ...But, like, you know, but when I'm in there, I'm like, I cannot believe this. I can't believe this happened.

MARTIN: Do you - you had been married before. You were divorced. Did something have to change in you to make this relationship work, or did it - it was just, like, timing, and you see him - he was just extraordinary, and he just met you at the right time?

SLATE: I think it's all of those. Like, you know, my experience is that, unfortunately, you don't usually get to work on one issue at once. And I think of it a lot as, like, at the beginning of our relationship. Like, I met him, and then a year later, we started to date, and I couldn't stop the timing of falling in love with him. And it was right for both of us to fall in love, and that was totally right on. But while walking down that path, I was very aware that I was injured, and it was, like, learning to trust was not just learning to trust, like, the big things.

You know, I hope this person won't lie to me. I hope that they won't tell me they're having one experience while having another. I hope they won't secretly resent me for the things that they first thought were attractive about me. Like, you know, I think as a person who is a performer, and you want to kind of shine your power out, that can be really attractive to people, and then all of a sudden, they can get angry about it...


SLATE: ...That it's not just for them. And I had to understand that the big things I could trust him for, but that the things that really play on my self-worth, like, will this person still stay with me if I need soothing and I am what appears to be almost irrationally afraid because of the damage or the injuries that I, you know, have already happened to me? And yeah, like, I want to walk down this road with you, but will you be with me if I limp, and will you carry me if I just am, like, too tired? Will you accept me for the state that I'm in if I promise that I really am working to heal and go forward?

MARTIN: And he said yes to all those things, presumably?

SLATE: Geez, I - it seems like he did.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

SLATE: I don't know. Yeah. No, he did. He did. He did. He did (laughter).

MARTIN: Oh, great guy.

SLATE: And I said yes to them for him, too.

MARTIN: Yeah, right.

SLATE: You know? Like...


SLATE: ...I'm not just the, you know, living disaster...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

SLATE: ...And he's perfect. I mean, I think he's perfect, but...

MARTIN: Well, he had bad taste...

SLATE: ...We both have our things.

MARTIN: ...In, you know...

SLATE: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Bedrooms and...

SLATE: Totally, yeah.

MARTIN: ...Clutter.

SLATE: That turtle in there.

MARTIN: (Laughter).


MARTIN: Still round one. Three new cards. Pick a number one through three.

SLATE: Sorry. I just forgot all the numbers.

MARTIN: I know, so one...

SLATE: I was almost like...

MARTIN: ...Two (laughter).

SLATE: ...A. A. One.

MARTIN: One. What's the biggest sacrifice you've ever made?

SLATE: Oh, you go first. Aren't I allowed to make you do that?

MARTIN: You are.


MARTIN: And truly, I actually have not thought of answers to all these questions, which maybe, in retrospect, I should have, but I really haven't. So what have I sacrificed? I mean, my sleep. There, this is the...

SLATE: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...This is the easy one. I have sacrificed my sleep for my job. I did for many years. I did this job. I hosted Morning Edition. I had to get up at 3 in the morning.

SLATE: Yeah.

MARTIN: And I just am a bad sleeper. And I also had very young children. And that was a sacrifice. Not sleeping is a problem. I'm just here to tell America...

SLATE: Oh, my gosh.

MARTIN: ...That you really need the sleep. So...

SLATE: It'll change your...

MARTIN: ...I will say that.

SLATE: ...Whole personality.

MARTIN: It really will. No, I would wake up and not have slept and feel like the worst possible version of myself. And then...

SLATE: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...I was the worst colleague. I was the worst parent. I was the worst spouse. I was the worst friend. And sooner or later, I just woke up, and I was like, this sacrifice is no longer worth it to me.

SLATE: (Laughter) Yeah.

MARTIN: So that's my answer.

SLATE: Yeah, I get that. I...

MARTIN: But now, you have to answer it.

SLATE: I've got to say, and I really don't like it when people are, like, flip or glib. But I think that the biggest sacrifice that I have ever made, I put my physical body through pregnancy and exploded my vagina.

MARTIN: That's right.

SLATE: You know, and that is real. Like...

MARTIN: Yes, it is.

SLATE: ...It's just, like, if you - it's a huge sacrifice, and there's a joke in my special about that, like, you know, just, like, how we would treat a man if he had exploded his penis to let a baby out, you know, how we would feel about it. And I mean, of course, it's all in comedy, and it's not meant to be disrespectful, but it is a sacrifice. Sometimes, I just feel that we don't - I - this is - this - I don't like this phrasing, and I'm about to use it, but we don't talk about this enough. I...

MARTIN: But we will. I mean, I know.

SLATE: You know?

MARTIN: I know.

SLATE: But it's, like, the weirdest thing about giving birth to me because I knew it was coming, but I really, when it was actually happening, I was like, oh, it's just this. It's that I have just sustained the largest injury to my body...

MARTIN: That's right. Yeah.

SLATE: ...Of my life.


SLATE: I am completely - like, I am exploded, and now I don't actually get to rehabilitate myself the way that I - like, if my vagina were exploded in a war, they would put me in a facility to help me...

MARTIN: Right.

SLATE: ...Get...

MARTIN: There would be rehab.

SLATE: ...Back on my feet. Yeah.

MARTIN: Physical therapy.

SLATE: But...

MARTIN: A lot of attention.

SLATE: ...This is like you explode your vagina or you get, you know, cut open in an emergency if that - if you're the one that - if you're the parent that, you know, gave birth, if that's the way you got your child. There are lots of different ways. This is just mine.

MARTIN: Right.

SLATE: But then they're just like, can you start - can you pee right now? And you're just like, oh, that's like a crazy thing.

MARTIN: With my exploded vagina.

SLATE: Yeah.

MARTIN: Right.

SLATE: Like, how dare you, you know?

MARTIN: Right.

SLATE: And then also, you're not - no, you don't go to bed. You don't. And you better make some milk right away because if you don't, not that there's not formula, but if you don't, in this patriarchy, you'll feel ashamed...

MARTIN: Right.

SLATE: ...You know? And then you're going to have to work through that, and you're going to have to keep on doing it. I just feel like I'm - I am happier than ever, and I do think it's sort of, like, accelerated my own personal evolution to have my daughter. And I also think that even though the birth was a birth, I'm lucky enough to say that it was, like, safe. And even though it was, like, during a plague and I had to wear a mask, it was the most positive experience of my life because I exceeded all of the limits of what I thought I was capable of. And I, like, met it, like, softly and with flexibility and a ton of screaming and also, like, pooping.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

SLATE: But, like, I'm like, yeah, I did it. Like, I definitely did that. And I'm really, really brave about my body, and I didn't realize that I am. And I am.



MARTIN: And later, when you're jumping on the trampoline with your daughter, and you start to pee a little bit, you'll have her to thank.

SLATE: Oh, my God.

MARTIN: You can explain it.

SLATE: As if that hasn't already...

MARTIN: Not that...

SLATE: ...Happened.

MARTIN: That's never happened to me ever.

SLATE: Yeah, no.

MARTIN: I don't know where I got that.

SLATE: My gosh. I haven't peed again, honestly.


MARTIN: We're going to pause for a quick break. More with Jenny Slate after this.


MARTIN: OK, we are moving on. Round two. This is about insights, right? These are lessons that you're learning, things you're working on right now. Three new cards. Pick a card one through three.


MARTIN: What is something you think about very differently today than you did 10 years ago?

SLATE: Wow. I guess dressing. Like, not salad dressing. I've always loved it, and I'll never stop.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

SLATE: Love Ranch. I love ranch. Dressing my body. Dressing.

MARTIN: Dressing your body.

SLATE: Yeah. Yeah.

MARTIN: What is different about how you think of that?

SLATE: I think I just am pleased to say that I've come through a fair amount of internalized misogyny. And, like, so 10 years ago, I was 31. And it was like, you better wear that bikini. You better wear that bikini, you know, this just - this horrible, brutal feelings about my physical body and about how I needed to present, like, what sexiness was and how much of my body to show and what it was like. And I didn't - I've always had a pretty clear sense of actually what I find to be beautiful. But I feel like it was sort of muddled up, muddied. And now, I just, like, kind of want to dress like Jane Goodall.

MARTIN: She has amazing style.

SLATE: But, like, sometimes with a crop top. Yeah. I don't know.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

SLATE: Like, let it flow. I don't really know, but I'm just like, nobody here is seeing my camel toe ever again. You have got to be kidding me if you think that I'm wearing yoga pants once in my life unless I'm playing a character who wears that. I'm working out in big sweatpants. And by working out, I mean I'm in my house doing laundry. I'm, you know, there's no way. I just used to feel that I had to prove that, like, my butt was there. And now I'm like, it's not relevant.


MARTIN: It's not relevant...


MARTIN: ...To the conversation, to any conversation.

SLATE: It's not relevant whether or not you think my butt is there. I know it's there. My toilet knows it's there, and, like, my husband knows it's there, and unfortunately, some of my friends know it's there.

MARTIN: (Laughter) OK, next question in round two. Pick a card one through three.


MARTIN: Two. Two.


MARTIN: What are you most afraid of at this point in your life?

SLATE: I'm, like, I'm just, like, always afraid that something bad will happen to the people that I love. I feel that so strongly. But I felt that way, like, this sort of the threat. I genuinely, and this sounds, like, almost foolish. I don't think about my own death at all, not 'cause I'm pushing it to the side, but I just - it's just not how I function. But I have, since I was a little girl, like, every time my grandparents left our house, I would be almost choking on, like, a fear, like, gaggy, closed-throat fear that they would get in a car accident on the way home.

And I've lost three out of four of my grandparents, and it is a searing, terrible loss, even though I'm an adult and I know - one thing you kind know about grandparents is that they're - they'll probably die and, like, before other people that you know, and that's really terrifying. But I've just always been that way, and obviously, now that I have my daughter, I really have to not let that take over. That fear.

MARTIN: Yeah, it's a - I will tell you, I feel like that's the hardest part of parenting is really not getting - not suffocating through that.

SLATE: Yeah.

MARTIN: You know, not suffocating in that fear. I lost both my parents too young, like my mom a long time ago now, but...

SLATE: Oh, I'm sorry.

MARTIN: Thank you. But you do start to - I do start to catastrophize. You, like...

SLATE: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Plan, like, you do some emotional training. I'll be like, OK, if this bad thing happens, OK, I'll still be OK. It's, like, it's not good. And you just have a kid and raise a kid anyway. Like, despite this huge risk...

SLATE: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...You know? That your person walking out that something is going to harm them. Something will because kids lead their own lives. Like, it might not be some horrible thing, but, you know, in different gradations...

SLATE: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Your kids will be hurt - heartbroken. All that scale of pain that your kid can endure. It's - yeah, it's hard.

SLATE: They can do it, even the most sensitive of us. But I will say, you know, the other way to configure it is, like, if you're catastrophizing, and you're like, oh, God, like, you know, my teen child is going on their first coed ski trip or something, and, like, everything about that is scary. Coed and skiing and, like, snow...

MARTIN: Right.

SLATE: ...And, you know, ice. Sports in general. Why would we do them? I don't...


SLATE: ...Get it.

MARTIN: There's going to be a car...

SLATE: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...That has to get you there and, like...

SLATE: Totally.

MARTIN: ...Something bad could happen. Yeah.

SLATE: Like, they're going to eat solid foods. Not everything is liquid. What if something...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

SLATE: ...Gets lodged? You know, a million things. But - bears. Whatever. But it's like you can take this thing that's like, please make nothing happen, please make nothing happen, and you can weirdly turn it inside out, and it expands into infinity with this one phrase where you're just like, I really wish everyone well. Like, I really hope everybody is OK. I really, really wish everyone well.

I know it's, like, so hard to do, especially with the people that you don't - that you're like, you're ruining our world. You're ruining the environment. You're bad. You're bad. You're hurting people. But you can imagine your well wishes as, like, a far-off umbrella over the sky, like, in the sky directly over them rather than your arms around them. Like, you can just - you can put it there in outer space should they ever reach for it. It feels better for me that way.

MARTIN: That's beautiful.

SLATE: You know what I mean? Than to just be like...


SLATE: ...Bad, bad, bad. Danger, danger, danger. It's just - it all. You hold it all...


SLATE: ...Under the water in the dark.


SLATE: Do you know what I mean or...


SLATE: ...Am I just, like, have ADHD, and that this is...


SLATE: ...Like I am in a cult of one?

MARTIN: No, no, no, no, no, no, no. I mean, maybe all...

SLATE: I mean...

MARTIN: ...Those things, too, but...

SLATE: ...I have ADHD, but I'm not in a cult.

MARTIN: (Laughter) No, I think that's beautiful.


MARTIN: After the break, we return for the final round with Jenny Slate.

SLATE: It can also make me be, like, a terminal optimist in the worst way, like, almost a fool.

MARTIN: Right after this.


MARTIN: Welcome back to WILD CARD. OK, we are not done.

SLATE: Good. Thank God.

MARTIN: This is round three. It's about beliefs, and this is our final round. So pick a card one through three.

SLATE: One again.

MARTIN: You like the ones. Oh. Oh, I'm so glad this one came up. Is there anything in your life that has felt predestined?

SLATE: I'm not sure. I don't really connect to the concept of destiny. I mean - and because I met my husband through, like, he really - I mean, I met him through friends, but he was really a random person. Sometimes I get scared, and I say to him, like, what if we hadn't met each other? What are the chances? And he always goes, 100%. And I like that. And I don't know about the, like, soulmate thing, but I know, and it sounds so cheesy, but I do feel like - I'm like, oh, he is my spiritual match. And I guess I believe in a spiritual eventuality, which you could call destiny, but that it doesn't - it's like a point.

It's like a point on the globe, let's say. Like, it's like a point in your life cycle, a fixed point, but it doesn't mean that you'll get there. Like, you still have to do - you have to still do things to get there. It's an option. It's not the option, but it's probably the - it's the best one that you could get to, but it doesn't mean you'll get there. But I guess no, I've never felt that anything was predestined. I've just felt as if every now and then it feels like there's kind of, like, a meteor shower and, like, good fortune falls into my life like that. But that doesn't feel like - it just feels like it's random.

MARTIN: Yeah. But you've - have you always been good about appreciating the meteor shower, or has that come later in life for you?

SLATE: I think I actually have been. And I think that's because my mother, who I love dearly, will not be surprised to hear me say that I think sometimes her vernacular can be (laughter) rather negative. If you ask her to tell a story, it often sounds like as if it were cloudy in the sky. Like, it's just, like, with a sort of tinge of dread and negativity, and it's, like, it's kind of drama. It's drama. But I think, like, my response to that has been to be like, no. No. Sunshine. No. And it can also make me be, like, a terminal optimist in the worst way, like, almost a fool. But I think I've always truly been keeping that kind of lookout. It's not a Pollyannaish thing. It's looking for light in the dark. That's what it is.

MARTIN: Jenny Slate. You get an A-plus on this game.

SLATE: Oh, so glad.

MARTIN: You win.

SLATE: I love getting good...

MARTIN: It was so good.

SLATE: ...Grades, honestly.

MARTIN: I know. I could see that about you.

SLATE: Hated school, but I love grades.

MARTIN: (Laughter) I promised you a prize.

SLATE: What is it?

MARTIN: So the prize is a trip in our memory time machine...

SLATE: Cool.

MARTIN: ...To revisit a moment from your life. A moment you would not change anything about. You just would like - you just want to hang out there a little more.

SLATE: I'll tell you, the first thing in my head is my grandmother's really ugly couch in Quincy, Mass. And she had these side tables, you know, one that nestles under the other. And she would have those paper towels, like, that are so soft and thick, you know, like, not the environmentally good ones...


SLATE: ...That we use now.

MARTIN: The other ones.

SLATE: That are, like, these are paper. Never forget. But, like, the ones that are, like, this is basically a washcloth. My grandmother, Rochelle, being at her house in Quincy, Mass. And she would make us a sandwich of - and again, this doesn't age well. It was the '80s - Wonder Bread and margarine. You do not need teeth to eat it.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

SLATE: And she would put each of the side tables in front of us, and we would watch Nickelodeon. And I didn't - we didn't have cable at our house. And it just was, like, it just was - it was just so sad, honestly. I miss my grandmother so much. But - sorry. But just deeply peaceful, and, like, the first feeling of unconditional love is from my grandmother Rochelle.

She was so weird and strange and really, really traumatized by the Holocaust, and she never let any of that spike us, you know, like, we were aware that she was deep inside of something. My sisters and I think it was like, oh, Nana is - she goes into something. She's not really like other adults. She's trustworthy. She'll drive the car. She can really - gave really great baths, you know, really good food. But she's living in two different places, and she surfaces to be with us. And I just remember sitting there with her in all her complexity and having this soft sandwich that we would never be allowed to have at home, no crusts, you know, watching Nickelodeon people get, like, the gloop on them, like...

MARTIN: The slime.

SLATE: ...The slime and just being like, I mean, I wouldn't have said this as a kid, but, like, I f****** love this. Like, I want this forever. I cannot believe that I don't have that anymore and...


SLATE: ...I just love it. I just love it. It feels so good to think about it.

MARTIN: It feels good to have been able to visit that with you. That's...

SLATE: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Such a lovely memory. That's a...

SLATE: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Beautiful memory. Jenny Slate - actress, writer, comedian, accomplished human being. Her most recent special is called "Seasoned Professional." It's streaming now on Prime Video, and it is so worth your time. And this has been the best time. Jenny Slate, thank you so much.

SLATE: Thank you so much for having me.


MARTIN: So that's it for today's episode. But if you wanted a little bit more, we've got it. We're going to be doing regular bonus episodes where we will go behind the scenes and tell you more about the making of WILD CARD. And we're also going to be asking a few more questions with our guests. But these things are going to be just for our WILD CARD Plus supporters. There's an incentive for you.

WILD CARD Plus is a way to support our work here in public radio, and you get perks like sponsor-free listening and bonus episodes. So please check it out. I think you're going to dig it. You can go to plus.npr.org/wildcard. Today's episode was produced by Lee Hale and edited by Dave Blanchard with help from Lauren González and Brent Baughman.

WILD CARD's executive producer is Beth Donovan. It was fact-checked by Sarah Knight. Mastering by Gilly Moon. Our theme music is by Ramtin Arablouei. And in case you want to reach out to us, our email is wildcard@npr.org. We'd love to hear what you think of the show. We're going to shuffle the deck and be back with more next week. See you then.

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