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S3: Brendan Crain is the CEO of an advertising agency, and about five years ago, a potential client reached out to his firm looking for help with a specific problem.
S4: They had customers who used and loved the product and it tended to be 55 plus year old people who deal with chronic problems. And so they were ultra sensitive about not letting their friends know hide it in the master bathroom. Don’t let anyone else in there, because I don’t want to have to explain with that stool by my toilet.
S5: Is the store a product called the Squatty Potty? It’s a little foot rest. The tucks around a toilet when you pull it out and put your feet on it. It put your body into a modified squat, which is supposed to be a better position for defecating after a little hesitancy. His firm took the job.
S4: My partner, Jeff Harmon, he had this idea where what is the furthest thing in the world from poop, but can still be used as a poop analogy.
S6: And and that’s where this idea of ice cream came up.
S7: Ice cream is almost the opposite of poop. It doesn’t smell. It’s not gross. It’s not off putting. In fact, it’s delicious, appealing, handsome, lovable. And yet, despite all these differences, both poop and ice cream can be extruded.
S6: OK, we can use ice cream as this analogy for poo. But what kind of creature poops? Ice cream? You can’t use a real creature because once you’re in the world of reality, it takes you back in. GROSS. And so that’s that’s where the unicorn came from as we had to have a mystical creature who hopes this rainbow ice cream.
S2: And that’s how the ad for the squatty potty was born.
S8: This is where your ice cream comes through a creamy poop of a mystic Unical that good at pooping.
S9: The voice you’re hearing belongs to the pretentious prince. Who Narada the ad.. He’s standing next to a unicorn puppet who has an oversized head and large blue eyes and looks kind of like a cross between a guinea pig and Homer Simpson. The unicorn is sometimes squatting over a toilet bowl and sometimes over an assembly line of empty ice cream cones squirting rainbow ice cream into them.
S8: What happens when you go from a sit’s to a squat? Well, it’s muscle relaxers in a a away faster than Pegasus. Makes sweet Chevette Dukie. Now you’re Curlin Zethoven and ready for battle.
S7: This ad is outrageous. Funny, I know. Rose The grossest part comes right at the end when a bunch of little kids start to eat the ice cream that’s supposed to be poop. And it gets all over their little mouths.
S6: All right, go ahead. You know, lick the ice cream cones and then one of our writers needs like, guys, somebody get me a roll of toilet paper. It’s as so somebody runs to the bathroom, grabs a roll of toilet paper. They bring it out. So they have the prince hand the kids, you know, that toilet paper so that they can wipe their mouth after they’ve eaten ice cream when the ad was posted to YouTube in 2015.
S1: It immediately went viral. It’s had over 100 million views since. And the thing is, it’s not some outlier. It’s not someone off. It is not the only place you can see poop, rainbows and unicorns combined to great commercial success because we are living in a really weird moment.
S2: We are living in the moment when poop got cute.
S10: This is a catering, a show about cracking cultural mysteries. I’m Willa Paskin. Every episode we take on a cultural question, habbit or IDF, crack it open and try to figure out what it means and why it matters. If you are a person who finds scatology disgusting, I am really sorry. This episode is going to be hard for you because in it we’re going to trace the rise of cute poop, which I swear is a thing. The world of adorable poop object is icky, strange, sparkly and robust. It tells us not only about our changing relationship to excrement, but the unsettling feedback loop between toymakers, YouTube and little girls. So today, undercoating. How did poop get so darn cute?
S1: To start, I want to definitively demonstrate to you that we are living in a brave new world. When it comes to poop, you may not know it, but Kutty patootie poop is already all around you.
S7: Take a spin around the Internet and you will find pupae is Poona Korn’s poop cruise rainbow poop emojis that fart cute poop, Halloween costumes, 12 packs of unicorn poop emoji slime and an entire line of toys under the brand name Poopsie, which includes the poopsie. Surprise Unicorn, a toy that appears in a music video that insanely sounds like this.
S5: Don’t worry, we’re getting back to this song later. In the meantime, there are countless other videos out there about things like DIY, unicorn, poop, slime and even a strain of marijuana called unicorn poop.
S11: Unicorn poop is a cross between the strains GMO and that this headed lady, this hybrid strain, produces buds that are generally dense. And then there’s the cooking videos.
S12: Today we are going to be making unicorn poop cookies. I saw so many pictures of us all over the Internet and they got so many requests to do these cookies. They’re very popular right now.
S1: So let’s get started. That’s a baking video from 2014 by the YouTuber Rosanna Pennsy, you know, who is wearing a unicorn wig as she explains how to make the rainbow sugar cookies that have become widely known as unicorn poop cookies. This video was a direct inspiration for the squatty potty out. This is all to say. There are a lot of cute poop objects out there to play with. To squeeze, to eat, to smoke, to watch and to explain how all of this stuff came to be. I want to turn to the patient zero of the cute poop trend.
S2: I want to turn to the poop emoji.
S13: Emoji little cartoon pictures that we text and tweet an instant message with all the time now. Started in Japan in 1997. Today they’re more or less standardized. But at the start, three different Japanese cell phone carriers had their own distinct looking emoji sets and the poop emoji was included in one of them from the very start. Jeremy Birge is the chief emoji officer at Emoji, PDA and Encyclopedia of Emoji.
S14: The first one we found is the Softbank, one from 1997, and that is a black and white little little pile up. And it has a smile on it and some steaming sort of a steam coming off the top for comic effect.
S13: The idea of putting a little smiley face on a poop wasn’t totally out of left field. In Japan, there’s a famous Japanese comic called Dr. Slump that started in 1980 and that sometimes featured cute anthropomorphic PWCS that look quite a bit like the poop emoji. There’s also just a longer history of being, matter of fact, about bodily functions. For example, the well-known children’s book Everyone Poops by the Japanese author Taro Goby was published in English in 2001, but it was published in Japan in 1977. Still, the cute Puba emoji was not some inevitability. You can see a more straightforward interpretation.
S14: The gross poop emoji and some of the other early Japanese emoji sets a few years later, though, is a different character that looked a bit different, not just looked like a literal pile of.
S13: The notion that a poop emoji should primarily capture the true fowl nature of a pile of shit hang on for a number of years. Well into the late 2000s when Google, which is launching G-mail in Japan, realized they needed to have an ID bogy set of their own.
S14: Google’s first poo is hilarious. So some of the Japanese emojis were animated. Incidentally, this one wasn’t automated, but Google decided it should have little flies circling around the top of it. No eyes, no smiley face.
S13: What I’m trying to get here is that it’s easy to imagine some other timeline, some alternate reality in which a handful of designers made slightly different choices and the Puba emoji was not widely anthropomorphized, but instead it became something much more literal a pile of crap. But that’s not our timeline, because in our timeline, one company in particular, Apple, took the side of cute poop, the Apple emojis that ultimately became the most dominant emoji stat of all. And it’s where the now famous poop emoji found its true scooty little face. In 2008, Angela Guzman, a student at the Rhode Island School of Design, started a summer internship at Apple.
S15: My director at the time asked me and, you know, are you ready for your assignment? And I said, Sure, what is it? And he’s like, Have you ever heard about any mojie? No, I have no idea. I don’t even know what that word means. I’ve never heard it. How many do I have to to create? And that’s when the person kind of giggled a little bit. And they’re like, well, you have to make around 500 of these.
S1: Angela, who is now the founder and CEO of a startup called to JEGGO, was put under the mentorship of Raymond SAPOL it up, who’s part of the user interface team together with contributions from a few others. They designed the Apple emoji set, including the poop emoji.
S15: And so one of the things we debated was how do we want to draw this little pile of poop? Do we want to keep the eyes? Do we want to create a smile? Do we want to put flies around it?
S1: Ultimately, they decided against the flies, against the grossness.
S15: We made a lot of decisions on the spot to try to make it really happy and cute because they were working at such a rapid pace.
S1: They even made a connection between the poop emoji and something much sweeter as we created other emoji.
S15: He ended up reusing that same sheep to create the ice cream cone.
S11: Oh, so the poop came first? Yeah. Yeah, it was like simple came for us.
S15: We recycle parts in some cases, and so it became the ice cream squirrel on the ice cream cone, the original ice cream cone that you would find, and that’s it.
S7: So the apple poop emoji is a dark chocolate brown figure with big eyes and a smile that looks exactly like ice cream.
S2: No wonder kids love it so much.
S16: I’ve been a little surprised how many people come into school wearing a shirt that has just the poop emoji on it. And you know, that’s totally normal.
S7: Any crump it’s a social worker at a public school in Illinois. When I e-mailed her to ask if she’d speak with me, she replied with a photo she’d just taken in a classroom at her school was a picture of a rocking chair, was to poop emoji, throw pillows, just sitting on it.
S17: I had a kid walk around with a shirt that said I pooped today.
S7: I remember that Amy and her colleagues have noticed a real rise in cute poop toys, imagery, clothing and accessories driven by the larger phenomena that is emoji themselves. Emoji are so colorful and kid friendly. There’s an animated movie about them at this point. They have become recognizable even to children who aren’t old enough to have a phone yet. Going into this episode, I wondered if all of this was changing kids’ relationship to bodily functions. I feel like growing up, especially as a girl, there was just some point that it became really clear that talking about poop, joking about poop, indicating in any way that one pooped was beyond mortifying. Something you should and would not do under any circumstances with a poo emoji loosening all of this up. But speaking with any, it doesn’t seem like it quite works that way.
S18: The embarrassment that comes with bodily functions is still there, and the gross out is still there for sure. Yeah. I don’t think that that’s changed. I think adults know how to deal with it better. They don’t embarrass them. They don’t shame them. But other kids, I mean, their kids, you know. You know, they’re going to start screaming, crying.
S7: It seems more like the Puba emoji occupies a new kind of space where it’s not actually understood to be poop, to be gross, to be embarrassing. But its connection to poop. However tenuous, makes it kind of illicit and interesting and funny. The poop emoji seems like the kind of thing parents and teachers might not let you play with.
S19: But then they do. There’s a sort of shock factor to it too, even though it’s not really that shocking. There’s a little bit of it. For kids, there’s a little shock factor that they don’t know.
S20: So they think it’s cool.
S1: The symbolic complexity of the poop emoji where it is and is not the thing that it’s literally a picture of. This is why people like emoji so much. They’re so expansive, so open to interpretation. They don’t mean any one set thing. You can see in them what you want. And now I need to explain to you how someone came to see in them. Unicorn.
S5: The story of how the chocolate brown poop emoji morphs into rainbow unicorn poop. The real heart of the cute poop phenomenon starts with something I already mentioned the unicorn poop cookie earlier in this episode. I played you a YouTube clip of a woman making such a cookie that video directly influence the squatty potty ad makers who played a big part in getting unicorn poop out there. But that cookie video was not the first to mash up unicorns, rainbows and poop. That honor belongs to a woman named Christy Fearon, who lives in Southern California.
S21: This whole thing started because I want to enter a contest to win an iPod.
S5: It was a baking contest being held by an online Meeker’s community.
S21: So I got to make a cookie called the Unicorn me. So I thought, that’s perfect. The unicorn with me sparkles. So this will be the cookie. And I was at my parents house and my mom said, When are you going to make your unicorn crap?
S22: And I was like, Oh, that’s it. And she’s like, What do you mean that’s it? Or being unicorn poop.
S7: This is happening in the early 2010s, which is just around when emoji were starting to take off in America. As an aside, this was a little before the unicorn craze kicked off.
S1: If you didn’t know. Yes, we are living through a unicorn craze. I would also just say there are like eight things in this episode. It could be their own episode. Unicorns are just the first of them anyway. Christy says she didn’t get the idea from the poop emoji itself, but that its existence did make her feel like the whole concept wasn’t too gross to go ahead with.
S23: It made me comfortable if they didn’t exist. I don’t know if I would have done this because it’d be too scary.
S1: Reassured by the existence of the poop emoji, Christie put her unicorn poop cookies out into the world. We’re actually on the contest website. Other people started to make them and to make videos of themselves making them. And Christie realized that if she was going to hold onto her idea, she had to start making them herself.
S10: She started professionally baking the cookies, and a batch ended up on Anderson Cooper’s talk show.
S11: But at this, it’s got like stars and glitter and oh, there’s a lot of finger, you know. She then got an order to make 10000 of them.
S24: When that order came through for 10000 cookies and having to disperse them through the entire country, it was just put on my family to produce them. And we got so stressed out. And then there was a time crunch. So we had to actually hire out an entire bakery to produce them. So it ended up with like, if you can imagine, countertops or tabletops. I don’t know, 20 feet, maybe 40 feet of them, full of cookies that were stacked into pyramid that were like three feet tall.
S1: Christie found the whole experience basically of creating a viral product, but not having the infrastructure to scale it properly. Very overwhelming.
S23: I tried to put it behind me because it was like really, really scary. Kind of got PTSD.
S1: She still owns the legal trademark to the term unicorn poop. In the context of cookies, though, that hasn’t stopped the concept or the term from proliferating. And that’s what I want to go next. The weird, wild, shiny world of unicorn poop toys. I want to dive in with the craziest unicorn poop tweet we came across, one that is also extremely popular.
S25: It’s a toy that sings the song we played earlier.
S9: The toy is called The Poopsie Surprise Unicorn, and there’s a large plastic pastel colored unicorn with a long flowing hair that poops slime. There are four different versions of the toy. That’s the surprise part. You don’t know which one you’re going to get, but each will set you back about $50 chicken.
S7: They’re part of a whole line of toys under the Poopsie name, which also includes Poopsie Kutty Tuti surprise and poopsie sparkly critters surprise with critters that either poop or spit up. The Poopsie line is the creation of MJ Entertainment, the big toy company that also makes Bratz and L-O-L dolls. The Poopsie logo is written in glittery rainbow bubble letters that are dripping in the corners. It reminds me a bit of the garbage pail kids logo, garbage buckets, the collectible cards from the 1980s that spoof the Cabbage Patch Kid Dolls were the most memorable grossed out toys of my youth, but they were fairly gender neutral. The Poopsie toys, in contrast, are distinctly girly. This, more than anything, is what’s new about the cute poop toys. The way that they market gross-out toys, which have tended to be for boys towards girls. Toy companies are using the trappings of girly ness rainbows, unicorns, pink and glitter to camouflage gross-out toys. Just enough to make them into girl stuff which honestly, as you’re about to hear, sometimes makes them even grosser. OK, so let’s set and then we’ll talk about let’s talk back in January of this year, Cleo Levin, decoder rings research assistant and I got together in the studio to open a poopsie surprise unicorn need.
S26: She is blue.
S1: She has enormous eyes and she is like she’s a lot of eyelashes. She has drawn on eyelashes and also real eyelashes. She’s wearing like a baby teeth and like undies. It took me a minute to put my finger on the aesthetic. It’s like porny. She’s a porny look. Once you’ve unwrapped her and freed her from her plastic box, I feel all these other little packages that need to be unwrapped to a little spoon, a plastic cup, little sugar packet, looking items full of liquids and powders, all the stuff you need to make and mix and then feed her slime. All this unwrapping is part of a larger trend. The unboxing trend unboxing videos are a hugely popular YouTube format in these videos. Kids watch other kids unwrap stuff often. At this point, stuff that’s been sent to them by toy companies.
S27: So this box was a big surprise to us. I want to thank Haskell’s for sending us this. I was super blown away because they gave us so many season to have.
S9: Small toy companies have observed the popularity of unboxing videos and integrated the unboxing experience into their products.
S7: Many toys are now purposefully over packaged as if the true experience of the toy is supposed to be the one of opening it.
S2: Not playing with it.
S1: The Poopsie surprise unicorn with her dozens of little packages that need to be ripped open fits right into this. The one of the things that comes with her actually isn’t wrapped up at all.
S12: Oh, I think she comes to the party. She was sitting on a party and I can’t throw away the party. That’s where the magic happens.
S11: Whoa. Okay. There’s a lot of direction. There’s a feeding setting in a pooping setting. So. So you’re gonna feed her all the the unicorn. Yeah, but I have to make it. I only know her like it will be made in her belly. In her belly. So I just put take glitter on the spoon and I like put it in her mouth. Once you fed her the glitter and some watery liquids, remove her diaper, switch her to the poop setting, rotate her legs so she can stay on her party and then you press her heart shaped belly button, the poop button. Okay. She’s in the poop position. All right. I’m going to press her rally, but he just press it.
S28: Oh, God. You that dire.
S1: All the liquid you just put into her drains right into a removable tray in the potty. You let that mixture sit for 15 to 20 minutes and then a while, huh?
S2: You get slime.
S7: Slime is the extremely fun to squeeze goop you can make at home. That is incredibly, incredibly, incredibly popular with kids. It is also incredibly popular on YouTube. And just as toy companies have integrated unboxing into their toys, they have integrated slime. Now I get the appeal of slime. It’s cool to make and it’s fun to touch. I get the appeal of unboxing. Who doesn’t like opening presents? I get the appeal of unicorns, magic horses, and they even kind of get the appeal of cute poop at this point, a provocative and silly way to explore social boundaries. And yet I do not get the appeal of the foul and charmless poopsie surprise unicorn. The sum total of all of these trends. OK, I’m going to put your underwear back on the dripping. It’s really disgusting. I don’t want to get on too high a horse here. But if girls were previously encouraged to be ashamed and secretive about their own bodily functions, something like the poopsie surprise a unicorn seems to be suggesting that the alternative is to be performative, least sexual about them. And I don’t like either of those options, but I’m not a kid. And there are plenty of kids who seem to enjoy this toy. All you have to do to find them is search for Poopsie Surprise Unicorn on YouTube where there are an ungodly number of videos. This one by the channel Flextime Slam has 4.7 million views for you today.
S29: We’re going to in-boxes. Wonderful unicorn. Look what we have here. Over 20 magical surprises. It’s a truly magical slime. So what are we going to do today?
S1: What’s happening here is worth unpacking. The Poopsie slime surprise unicorn capitalizes on the popularity of slime not just by including slime, but by tapping into the many YouTube channels that essentially advertise slime toys to other kids. You can see this kind of thing all across kids toys right now, toys that mash up extremely popular YouTube videos. Not only because the videos are proof of popularity, but because they are evidence that your toy will be advertised to a large audience. Another way of thinking about this. The Poopsie Unicorn’s surprise is just a compendium of stuff that’s already really popular on YouTube. This makes it both totally legible and yet still super weird. It’s actually not that different from some of the extremely freaky YouTube videos for kids that are even made by algorithms that also mash up popular search terms. You take glitter, slime, unicorns, poop unboxing, you layer it all together to get as much search traffic and video content out of it as you can. And you get something as bizarre as this toy and ones like it because, yes, there are other ones like it.
S30: This is Glenda Glitter Poop, and she is a very feisty unicorn. She’s sweet but also sour.
S7: Mark, 40, is the inventor, a feisty pats, a line of plush toys whose expressions change from cute to angry. We spoke to him at Toy Fair in New York earlier this year. Despite her name, Glenda Glitter, poop cannot, as far as I can tell, actually poop, which just goes to show how clicky poop has become.
S30: It’s all about YouTube to talk to Amazon, create content that people watch, get the eyes lit, and then have the Amazon link in the description. And that is the that is the wave of the future.
S7: Feisty Pets has their own YouTube channel where they make content with titles like Feisty Films.
S31: Episode 32, Glenda versus Cardi B Rapid viral videos like this are hosted by Glenda Glitter Poop herself, who has a whole character.
S30: Well, blended glitter proved she really, really wants to be a DIY YouTuber, also a social media influencer.
S32: Hey Glitter Queens. Welcome back to my seventh channel DIY with a DIY.
S1: So to unspool this particular or a Borris a bit, the influence of YouTube and YouTube influencers is so strong on the toy market that the toys themselves have become influencers.
S2: It makes my head hurt so much. I just want to get back to talking about poop. I felt like I was still missing one key perspective on the cute poop phenomenon, a child’s. So we got in touch with a woman named Jel Frank Lemont. A mom would laugh or a view of the Poopsie surprise UNICOR on Amazon after buying one for her daughter Addie, who is 6.
S33: She plays a lot by herself and she’s obsessed with YouTube and specifically videos of other kids playing with toys. And a big part of that is these unboxing videos, which are things like this. Tootsie’s lines surprise.
S1: Together they had watched unboxing and then making it video, a video where they actually put a toy together.
S33: After unboxing it about the Poopsie surprise unicorn, she saw a video of a couple of little girls who got this is again assuming it was a promotional gift because they had like three of them and they were like $50. She was all excited. She had been in love with slime for a while. What 5 year old is in love, unicorn?
S1: Joe got it for her as a gift when it arrived. Jill felt about it pretty much like I did, that it was weird and overly sexualized, but I thought all this had likely gone over her daughter’s head.
S33: I would love to know what she sees when she looks at me, and I know what I see when I look at it. But she has no context. She thinks she just thinks it’s shiny and sparkly and glittery.
S1: She was pretty sure, though, that whatever she thought about it, it had nothing to do with poop.
S33: It was like a total non-event. The pooping part, like she was just OK, get the fine out now. She found out part of it utterly not interesting.
S2: Jill was generous enough to let us speak with her again, this time with Addie.
S34: What made you want it? Remember when you get sick, think it could poop real?
S35: Apparently she wanted it. Precisely the reason that the rest of us thought it was sort of gross.
S36: Your mom told me she didn’t think you wanted it because it could poop at all. But that’s why you liked it.
S1: And Abigail Adams reaction seems like more evidence that all these poop toys simultaneously are and aren’t about poop. On the one hand, they’re different. They’re all unicorns and slime. And you can easily ignore the poop part. And then on the other, there’s still about poop and that’s what makes them fun. Addie said a lot of other great things, but one thing really stood out to me as further evidence of just how tangled up playing with toys and selling toys has become. It came as the conversation started to wind down.
S34: We didn’t get to leave if we didn’t know.
S37: You’re not going to get it. You already have the toy.
S34: I know when I get why me? A boy he’d really familiarize yourself with the monetary model of desert state.
S2: Editing this piece did remind me A-T. I owe you a toy. I don’t think I can bring myself to make it a poopsie surprise uniform. No.
S1: Something I thought about a bunch when I was working on this piece is another viral advertisment, one I haven’t talked about yet was made by the same advertising agency that made the squatty potty ad.. It’s why the squatty potty owner approached the agency in the first place. It’s for Popery, a spray that controls toilet odors, and it features a woman with a British accent talking incredible filth.
S26: You would not believe the mother lode. I just dropped. And that’s how I like to keep it.
S38: Leaving now to trace that I was ever here, let alone that I just birthed a creamy behemoth from my governor’s bells.
S5: The reason I’ve been thinking about this ad is not because it represents cute poop.
S2: Exactly, but because of its slogan. Girls don’t poop.
S1: And this is the big question for me about cute poop. Is it giving Americans and girls in particular more license to be real about our shit? Or is it just a way to maintain a different illusion that we only poop flowers and rainbows and unicorns and maybe sometimes slime? Another way to say this is cute.
S2: Poop is real, but is it really poop? And if it’s not really poop, what is it?
S1: The cynic in me would say it’s just another form of marketing, right? Another provocative, funny, mercenary way to sell us stuff. And in terms of kids in particular. It’s even opened up a whole new previously non-existent market gross out toys for girls. But the not so cynic in me thinks don’t girls deserve gross out toys? The opportunity to behave and gleefully inappropriate unladylike ways if that’s what they want.
S39: As a person who is not horrified by scatology and poop jokes and the downfall of decorum, as you obviously can tell, as a person who showed her own children the squatty potty at long before I was working on this episode. I may have too high a threshold for potty humor. I think people who find all of this distasteful for girls and boys probably have a point. But as a person who in general thinks it’s better if we can talk openly and honestly and unashamedly about our bodies, not necessarily at the dinner table, cute poop just doesn’t seem so bad to me though. I think the jury might be out on whether it’s actually good. In the meantime, we’re in a moment of flux, and flux brings out all sorts from the charming poop emoji, which can actually be such a gentle way to avoid being disgusting to the utterly charmless poopsie slime surprise, a cynical toy that just mashing up pre-digested trends that I’d be happy to flushed down the toilet. Still, even that toy might have something going for it.
S40: I like it. I can’t make a line or it wasn’t a card.
S3: This is decoder ring. I’m Willa Paskin. You can find me on Twitter at Willa Paskin. Do you have any cultural mysteries you want us to decode? You can e-mail us at Decoder Ring at Slate.com. You haven’t yet subscribe and read our Feed and Apple podcast or ever. You get your podcasts even better. Please tell your friends. This podcast was written by Willa Paskin and Cleo Levin and edited by Benjamin Fresh, who also does illustrations for every episode.
S7: Decoder Ring is produced by Willa Paskin and Benjamin Fresh. Cleo Levin is our research assistant. Thanks to Laura Lahey, Rebecca Hands, Daniel Girling, Lawrence Cohen, Paul Sullivan and Jude Thomas. Thank you so much for letting us keep you company. Be well. See you next month.