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Purplesaurus Rex Kool-Aid for $195 a Packet? Oh Yeah!

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Perhaps you too quenched your childhood thirst from a sweating jug of Kool-Aid in the heat of summer. Inexpensive and easy to make, with flavors like “Yabba-Dabba-Doo Berry” or “Pink Swimmingo,” it was a staple in my family’s kitchen in the ’70s and ’80s. At The Takeout, Will Hodge reports on a special breed: the Kool-Aid packet collector, people so dedicated to the drink and the nostalgia surrounding it, that they’ll pay hundreds of dollars to add a coveted packet to their collection.

Kool-Aid was first conceived in the late 1920s by entrepreneurial inventor Edwin Perkins as primarily a means to save money. At the time, one of the top sellers in his catalog of household goods was Fruit-Smack, a fruit-flavored liquid concentrate housed in four-ounce glass bottles. In an effort to reduce shipping cost and eliminate breakage losses, Perkins developed a powdered version that could be sold in small envelopes.

His “Kool-Ade” debuted in 1927 (the name was officially tweaked to “Kool-Aid” about seven years later), with a variety of flavor envelopes promising to generate 10 drinks for only 10 cents. Kool-Aid’s cultural entrenchment started almost immediately. Shortly after its creation, the Great Depression hit and Perkins cut the price of his product in half. Yet even at just five cents an envelope, Kool-Aid was generating over $1.5 million in annual net sales by the mid-1930s.

It’s not just the nostalgia or artwork that demarcate some of the more sought-after packets, as some of the smallest-production runs have been devoted to playful gimmicks and promotional tie-ins. If you want your Kool-Aid spiked with a smattering of knock-off Pop Rocks, Cracker Cherry was there for you in the summer of 1991. If you want some color-changing shenanigans, both original and reissue versions of Great Bluedini change from a green powder to a blue liquid. If you celebrated Halloween in Canada in 1996, then you may have found the doubly exclusive (both holiday and regional) flavors of Scary Black Cherry and Eerie Orange dropped in your trick-or-treat bucket. If you’re looking for a Fred Flinstone-emblazoned packet of Yabba-Dabba-Doo Berry or Bedrock Orange, they were only available inside specially-marked boxes of Fruity Pebbles cereal in 1988. If you were a part of the “Biscuit ‘N Gravy Birthday Bunch” at participating Bob Evans restaurants in the mid-‘90s, you may have been gifted an exclusive packet of Cherry with Nickelodeon’s Stick Stickly on it or a Lemonade with Bob Evans furry mascots Biscuit ‘N Gravy on it. (I can only hope that Kool-Aid tried at least once or twice to concoct some version of biscuit-and-gravy-flavored drink).

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The Money Man to the Filthy Rich of the NBA

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NBA players are the best paid athletes in sports — making tens of millions and sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars over a single contract. Heck, the league average salary is $10 million per season. But all that scratch won’t last a lifetime if you don’t manage it well. At the New York Times, Devin Gordon profiles Joe McLean, a guy who almost made the NBA and has since made his living offering white glove concierge services and financial counseling to some of the wealthiest players on the court.

Mr. McLean doesn’t negotiate his clients’ deals — he’s not an agent. His job is to grow every dollar that comes in and track every dollar that goes out. He’s part investor, part butler, a C.F.O. and a golf buddy, a sports therapist and, when necessary, the disapproving dad. When the explosive power forward Aaron Gordon got his first big contract last summer ($84 million), Mr. McLean warned him that “with great abundance comes great discipline.”

Last summer, after Mr. Gordon signed his $84 million deal, he bought a house and was immediately confronted with all kinds of mundane homeowner questions for which he had no answers. Such as: How much should it cost to mow my lawn?

“The first couple people that came to the property were sending these invoices trying to charge $4,000 to $5,000 a week to cut grass and do some power washing,” Mr. McLean said. Mr. Gordon has a big house, but not that big — it should have cost around $500. “So I’ve got to go back to Orlando and get people that we trust on the property. I’ve got to speak to everyone that goes near it, because they’re all signing N.D.A.s.

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Sing a Song of Hope: ‘Everything will be all right’

Nathalie Bajinya of the Tacoma Refugee Choir. (Matt Driscoll/The News Tribune via AP)

At Seattle Met, James Ross Gardner profiles the Tacoma Refugee Choir, a choral group with many who have fled war and conflict in places like Africa and Ukraine in a bid to find a new life in America. In the choir, they’re not only composing their own songs, they’re building a network and a community.

“We walked…for like two weeks,” she would later recall, so much walking her shoes turned to shreds. The lullabies and hymns she learned from her mother buoyed her. When those ran out Nathalie made up her own. Humming, composing, singing—she pressed on.

Ahead lie Uganda, then Kenya, where she would live on the streets before taking up residence at a series of orphanages. And beyond that, a world away, a life she could not yet imagine, in a city on Puget Sound, waiting to hear her song.

She heard about the choir while studying for her U.S. citizenship exam. A choir for refugees? she thought. That’s me. She showed up for her first rehearsal in January 2018. Her arrival coincided with some good news for the choir. Weeks earlier, the city council voted unanimously to grant $20,000 to help fund the choir’s 2018 season.

When Nathalie got to the one about her orphan friend—the Ethiopian two-year-old back at St. Monica in Nairobi—and the song Nathalie sang to soothe her, she piped a few lyrics.

Here came that opening m like a hum. The short o. “Maaambo, sawa, sawa. Maaambo, sawa, sawa.” Her eyes closed as she sang, her voice filling the shop. “That means… ’Everything will be all right,’” she explained.

Erin had never heard the song before. Hours later it would enter the choir’s repertoire. During rehearsal that night, at Erin’s direction, Nathalie would convene with a few other Swahili speakers in the group and type out the lyrics to be projected on a wall. Soon everyone would be fitting their mouths around these new words. And Nathalie would introduce a dance. Five steps to the right, kick. Five steps to the left, kick. Five forward, kick. And the following week—with Erin away and Mariia Pozhar of Ukraine conducting—Nathalie, in a loose purple- and white-dyed dress, would lead them all through it again. “Maaambo, sawa, sawa.” Kick. “Maaambo, sawa, sawa.” Kick. As they moved the choir members would brush against one another so closely they’d practically be holding each other up.

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‘What if people found out?’ On the White Male Suicide Epidemic

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At Rolling Stone, Stephen Rodrick reports on the “middle-aged white-male suicide epidemic” in America. He blames a lack of mental health facilities, easy access to guns, and jobs like truck driving that take men away from their families, fueling a sense of isolation. Then there’s the “cowboy complex” that prevents men from not only from seeking help but acknowledging that their pain even exists.

It’s easy to bash white middled-aged men in America. As a member of that privileged group, I’ll admit that much of the bashing has been warranted: No group in the history of the world has been given and squandered more than the white man. Yet the American white man is responsible for enough suicides annually that Madison Square Garden could not hold all the victims. And no matter how privileged, that’s somebody’s dad, someone’s friend, someone’s brother and someone’s husband.

Back in Cheyenne, Brand was still talking gun locks when a man took a seat in the corner. He looked 50, was slender, and wore studious glasses, running shoes and a hoodie. He sat quietly for a while as Brand talked about the dearth of mental-health facilities in Wyoming. The most comprehensive mental-health hospital is on the far edge of the giant state, in Evanston, five hours from Cheyenne, Laramie and Casper. A 2018 study revealed that 65 percent of non-metropolitan counties in America have no psychiatrists. (Wyoming veterans in need of help Skype with a revolving door of therapists in Salt Lake City.)

For the first time, the man in the corner spoke up. “I can tell you about that place,” said the man. “I spent 72 hours there, then they called my sister, gave me no referrals.” (The Cheyenne Regional Medical Center responded: “All inpatients from our behavioral-health unit are scheduled at the time of discharge to see a psychiatrist within two business days of being discharged.” The CRMC also said patients are referred to a community mental-health center that operates on a sliding-fee scale.) He took off his glasses and wiped them carefully. “I got home and went back to the fetal position for a week.”

The room went quiet. Another man began talking in a fast, clipped pace. He began spilling out that he often felt the same way, but didn’t dare share it with others for fear of being put in the broken-toys basket for the rest of his life. His blue eyes filled with tears. He wiped them away, put on his tattered field coat and said goodbye.

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No Surgery Can Fix a Self-Defeating World View

Close-up Of A Man's Face In Broken Mirror Over Wooden Desk

As Alice Hines reports at The Cut, ‘“incels” are going under the knife to reshape their faces, and their dating prospects.’ What they’re discovering after the swelling goes down is that the work they need to get done is on the inside: no plastic surgery can fix a poor self image or a skewed world view that dictates that life’s problems and roadblocks will magically evaporate with a surgically enhanced jawline.

After his first surgery with Eppley, he tells me, he returned to the Netherlands to wait for the swelling to go down. He was happy with his rhinoplasty revision but couldn’t figure out whether his new jaw was too big. Some days the results seemed perfect. Other days one side looked horrifically large. “Just realized my face is slightly too flat,” he wrote one morning. “Should I fly back to the U.S.?” Eppley pressed him to wait. To feel calmer, Truth4lie listened to long videos of rain sounds.

“My self-image fluctuates all the time,” he wrote on the forum as he waited. “I want to live in a plastic surgeon’s office. I just want to have a bed in one of his labs. Just a bed, a small kitchen, and an internet connection. I want to feel pure within my body and self-validate by looking in the mirror and seeing the flawless skull. When detecting a tiny deformity, I call the surgeon and he’ll be there immediately, along with his assistant and a knife in his hand to cut me open.”

He would come back to Indianapolis three more times that year, staying at the same Holiday Inn off the side of the interstate near Eppley’s office for weeks at a time. For the first revision, in January 2017, Eppley shaved off part of the original silicone implant that Truth4lie thought was too big.

The time in his life when Truth4lie remembers being happiest was that spring, after his second surgery. Before he began to notice new flaws, he spent a brief few months when he felt transformed into a new person. He contacted an old friend in a neighboring town and rebuilt his relationship with his parents. When he took pictures of himself or looked in the mirror, he felt calm. People’s reactions to him appeared to change. They seemed to make eye contact more and smile, though Truth4lie couldn’t be sure if it was all in his head.

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The Great Cannabis Experiment: Ian Brown on Growing Your Own Weed

Cannabis has been legal in Canada since October 17, 2018. As part of a fun experiment, Globe and Mail journalist Ian Brown attempts his own miniature grow op in a sealed hydroponic container called a Grobo. It will be easy, they said, it will be odor-free, they said. Sadly, neither was true. After one failed sprout and one dead sprout, Brown succeeds as his plant, Gretchen, grows to maturity. Growing your own pot is a lot harder than it looks.

Suddenly, Mr. Stewart said: “Why don’t you grow some pot?” His theory, from what I could make of it, in between the references to Moby Dick and fly fishing – Mr. Stewart likes to operate on at least three channels at once – was that this quest to grow marijuana would acquaint me with the obsessions of the gardening mind, that jungle of detail and duty in which a watchful soul evades the thugs Random Weather and Lurking Pestilence and manages, with little more than a seed and her dirt-stained hands and her patience, to create something more. At least I think that was what was on my editor’s mind. The point is, he did not for a moment consider the likelihood of humiliation. Editors seldom do. But it’s always lurking somewhere in a gardener’s sense of the future.

The following September, I happened upon the Grobo, a marijuana-growing device. It seemed to solve a lot of problems. I am an eager if inept gardener, but growing pot is complicated. It was winter, for starters. Growing it indoors in my house was never going to happen, because of the smell and the stigma.

The Grobo, on the other hand, was a data-based, tech-driven, algorithmic answer to the mercurial unkemptness of Nature herself: a self-contained metal unit that did the dirty work for you. It looked like a stereo speaker, and was depicted on the Grobo website sitting demurely in the sleek living room of what was obviously a high-rise. It grew hydroponic cannabis of any variety one plant at a time, from seed (nowadays clones work, too), and was managed via an app on a cellphone. For an inexperienced blackthumb, it seemed perfect.

I tested some of my first weed that very afternoon, drying it beforehand for 10 seconds in the microwave, which I have since learned does not enhance the terpene profile of cannabis. But the high did not make me want to cut off my head and mail it to some Salome of my ancient acquaintance, which I thought was a plus. Meanwhile, my most experienced pot-smoking friend popped some in a jar for two days with a two-way humidity-control packet. He later sent me an evaluation. “Pretty much exclusively a head high,” he wrote, “in the classic sativa style … the vibe is more torque than speed so the effect lasts longer but you don’t get the burnout. Very serviceable.” He noted that the taste was “a bit musty front end, turns sweet at the back end with a hint of cinnamon and goat.” His note was spatially disorganized, uncharacteristically for him: he later admitted that the pot had made him want to do his housecleaning at the same time. I took that as a compliment.

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‘Someone Took Care to Get it Right’: The Birds of the Seven Kingdoms

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At Audubon, Nicholas Lund interviews Tim Kimmel, supervising sound editor of Game of Thrones, on the role of birds and bird calls in setting the perfect mood in scenes across the Seven Kingdoms. Bonus: a birders’ guide to Westeros and Essos.

But there’s much more action happening on the soundtrack. Many keen-eared birders have noticed North American birds singing in the background of Game of Thrones episodes. Nate Swick of the American Birding Association debuted the #BirdsofWesteros Twitter hashtag in 2016 and has since identified more than a dozen species across Westeros and Essos, from the the Brown-headed Nuthatch to the Prothonotary Warbler (see the bottom of this piece for a Field Guide).

I am an inveterate critic of the misuse of bird sounds in TV and movies, constantly prepared to bristle at a Bald Eagle with the voice of a Red-tailed Hawk or at European birds calling in a scene set in North America. Game of Thrones, while set in a fantasy world, uses bird song more accurately than most programs set in our reality. Common Nighthawks call only at night. Prairie Warblers sing in prairie-type habitat. The frozen North is largely quiet, while tropical areas like Dorne are filled with chattering songbirds. Someone clearly took care to get it right.

A: Birders are fascinated by the mysterious (to us) process by which bird sounds get into the background of TV and movies. Do sound teams have their own recordings? Are there databases offering files? If so, how detailed are you able to get, as in: general “Birds Singing” or something specific like “Birds singing in Maine in May”?

K: We have a massive library of sounds, recordings from many different sources. Some of them are very detailed in their labeling—kind of bird and where it was recorded. Others, very vague—’park birds’ or ‘forest birds.’ All of these recordings are in a searchable database so we can quickly try to find what it is that we are looking for. As we go through the locations to try to establish what kind of birds we want to use, we generally do simple searches, say “owl” for a Northern scene, and we get a wide variety of owl sounds, from many different types, plus different recordings have different style vocals for each species. We spend a lot of time listening to these recordings to pick out exactly which call works within that scene/location. A lot of it goes by feel, finding the right sound to match the mood of the scene, that fits the location. Sometimes we go through a couple of sounds before we find one that fits, and sometimes we have to comb through a lot of recordings before we find it.

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‘Buried in the Cowboy Way, with His Tail to the Wind’

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In December 2017, we knew it would soon be time to make a decision to euthanize our 8-year-old lhasa mutt. The best vet and all the medications in the world could no longer forestall a growing belly, heavy with the water his failing heart couldn’t purge from his system. We thought we’d get to choose when. Author Pam Houston thought the same thing about her 39-year-old horse, Roany.

As Houston recounts in this poignant essay at Outside, she and Roany had been together for 25 years. After a lengthy period of lameness, despite exceptional care, she knew it would soon be time for her friend, a horse known for his gentle disposition and a keen emotional intelligence. On the night before his scheduled departure, Roany made his own decision, but not without Pam by his side.

Roany was stoicism defined. As his condition worsened, he learned to pivot on his good front leg—and would, for an apple or a carrot or to sneak into the barn to get at the winter’s stash of alfalfa. He blew bubbles in his water bucket because it made me laugh, and he would sometimes even give himself a bird bath by splashing his still mighty head. I also knew that just because he could handle the discomfort didn’t mean he should. He had been so strong so recently, such a force of nature thundering back and forth across the pasture. There was no chance I was going to ask him to make another winter, but as long as he was hobbling to his golf course and chortling to me each morning, it seemed too early to end his life.

He was still standing when I got there. But the minute he saw me he went to the ground with relief. He curled up like a fawn, and I could hear that his breathing wasn’t right. Mike and I sat beside him and petted his handsome neck. Above us, stragglers from the Perseid meteor shower, which had peaked over the weekend, streaked the blackness.

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Take Two Stem Cell Injections and Don’t Call Me Until After I Cash Your $10,000 Cheque

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Getting older? Feeling the aches and pains that come naturally as we age? If someone suggests that stem cells will ease your ills, ask to see some science, and maybe a valid medical license. Stem cell purveyors are popping up all over the United States in a new, “largely unregulated” industry — and they’re charging $5,000 to $10,000 for a single injection.

As Caroline Chen reports as part of a joint investigation by ProPublica and The New Yorker, “Unscientific methods, deceptive marketing, price gouging and disregard for patients’ well-being were rampant across the amniotic stem cell therapy industry.” The investigation “found disgraced doctors who were recast as salespeople, manufacturers that cloaked themselves in pseudoscience and had few scientists on staff, and clinics that offer to treat conditions like multiple sclerosis or kidney disease without specialized training.”

These clinics are multiplying in the United States. According to a tally by Leigh Turner, an associate professor of bioethics at the University of Minnesota, there were 12 such clinics advertising to consumers in 2009; in 2017, there were more than 700. Unproven cellular therapies are a $2 billion global business, according to a recent paper co-authored by Massimo Dominici, the lead investigator at the cellular therapy lab at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, in Italy.

They were there to see a presentation by Dr. David Greene, who was introduced as a “retired orthopedic surgeon.” Atlas Medical Center, a local clinic that specializes in pain treatment, hosted the event. Greene, a short, trim man with his hair slicked up, ignored the stage and microphone and stood close to his audience. After warming up the crowd with a joke about his inept golf skills, Greene launched into his sales pitch. A tiny vial no larger than the palm of his hand, he told the group, contains roughly 10 million live stem cells, harvested from the placenta, amniotic fluid, umbilical cord or amnion, the membrane that surrounds the fetus in the womb. Injected into a joint or spine, or delivered intravenously into the bloodstream, Greene told his listeners, those cells could ease whatever ailed them.

On a screen behind him, Greene displayed a densely printed slide with a “small list” of conditions his stem cell product could treat: arthritis, tendinitis, psoriasis, lupus, hair loss, facial wrinkles, scarring, erectile dysfunction, heart failure, cardiomyopathy, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, emphysema, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, ALS, neuropathy, pelvic pain, diabetes, dry eye, macular degeneration, kidney failure. And that was just a sample. “I need to add a couple more slides,” Greene said with a laugh.

Soni told Longo that three more injections were required for him to feel a significant difference, but, by early May, Longo had decided not to seek further treatment, saying that his left knee hadn’t improved any more. “I don’t think the regenerative properties were happening,” Longo said.

Earlier this year, Soni’s Web site displayed the names and faces of a team of clinicians, including a cardiologist, a cosmetologist, a neurologist, and a urologist. None of them were listed on New York State’s license look-up page, and their photos were traced back to stock photo websites.

When initially asked about these specialists, Soni said, “They are all seeing patients for me” and changed the subject. After ProPublica and The New Yorker expressed doubts about the clinicians’ existence to Soni, the names and photos vanished from the website.

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The Vital and Surprising Role of Driftwood

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You may see a piece of driftwood at the beach or on the shore and wonder about its journey from land to water, and back to land again. As Brian Payton reports at Hakai Magazine, Driftwood is not only beautiful. It’s a critical piece of the marine ecosystem that offers vital sanctuary to breeding insects and invertebrates on shore and in the sea, who in turn feed species all the way up the marine food chain.

Dead trees were sailing the seas long before our ancestors conceived of the ax or skiff, long before the continents split and went their separate ways. And yet, when a tree falls in a river or stream today, it can set out on a journey that remains little studied and poorly understood.

A tree undergoes reincarnation when it lands in flowing water. Branches, bark, and heartwood—what appears to be nothing more than floating debris—become either home to or sustenance for a range of plants and animals. In old-growth forests, up to 70 percent of the organic matter from fallen trees remains in streams long enough to nurture the organisms living there, passing through the digestive tracts of bacteria, fungi, and insects. Caddis flies and mayflies undergo their metamorphosis into adults while anchored to floating wood. When they emerge, they in turn become food for salmon fry, salamanders, bats, and birds. Larger logs control the very shape and flow of streams, creating pools and back eddies where returning salmon rest and spawn. These pools provide critical shelter for young salmon as they hatch, feed, and hide from predators before they make a break for the open sea.

As wood passes through the floodplain, it collides with and remakes the shore. Some becomes anchored there, trapping silt and seeds. As new vegetation takes root, deer mice, voles, shrews, and chipmunks move in for the harvest. Weasels, minks, and hawks make meals of them and fertilize the soil. Wood that drifts into estuaries becomes perches for hungry bald eagles and herons; rafts for weary cormorants, pelicans, and seals; and nurseries for herring eggs.

It is estimated that, in the habitat associated with a single large piece of oceangoing driftwood, the combined weight of the associated tuna alone can add up to as much as 100 tonnes—or the equivalent of well over half a million cans of tuna.

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