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A Story about bread, punk rock, and being seen.

Rye's Above: Welcome


May 2, 1987

Two old friends are sitting and talking in a bar they have both been to well over a hundred times. Every city worth a plug nickel has a bar like this. Bars like this one are like a cat, really, because this bar and those like it have had at least nine lives.

These are not young alcoholics who are sitting and talking, but slightly older dudes who like to get together and check out a band or two from time to time. The bar they are sitting at has hosted more live shows than any other in their town and the friends have been on stage at time or two themselves. Sometimes even together, but that’s another story for another day.

Today they are talking about baking.

“It would be great and I’m going to do it. I swear.”

The word “swear” is somewhat elongated when Ben Cheney says it. The Michelob’s he’s been drinking are catching up a bit and he’s something of a lightweight, anyway.

“Explain to me again, though, why it has to be a two-story building,” asks his companion, Charles “Chuck” Whitney.

“Dude, because the name of the bakery is ‘Rye’s Above,’ that’s why. The rye has to be upstairs. I won’t have it any other way.”

Whitney looks at Cheney for a long time before he starts laughing.

“Okay. I totally get it. But… I didn’t know you baked. Do you bake? Like, can you even make rye bread?” asked Whitney with a level of sincerity that only a good friend could muster.

“I can bake bread, man. I mean, I know I can. I haven’t done it yet, but I can do it.”

“Well, I believe in you. When you make your first loaf of rye, I want a couple pieces. You know I love a turkey on rye.”

The band they had come to see, Rabid Rabbit, was getting ready to start, so they gave each other the “time to shut up” look and enjoyed the show. It was Rabid Rabbit’s record release party for their album, Technicolor Yawn, and Cheney was a big fan.

When the show ended, the two friends continued to drink for a while longer and talk about the performance they had just seen before they headed to their respective homes. For Chuck Whitney, the idea of a bakery named after a Black Flag pun made him giggle a bit, but once he started listening to the stupid Barry Manilow song that came on the oldies station, the thought was gone.

Ben Cheney, though, had found his purpose.


At 29, Ben Cheney had led what some would call a fairly interesting life. He’d been playing in bands around Phoenix since he his mid-teens and even had a bit of success in the music business. He was a good songwriter, but for the most part, that had not paid any bills. People did like his tunes, though, and around 1983, requests for his songs started to trickle in from all over the place.

What Ben Cheney didn’t have going for him was rockstar looks. It’s not like he was ugly, but he wasn’t memorable.  For some reason, he was always meeting people for the first time even though he had met them many times before. Even when he dyed his hair blue in 1984, people still seemed to look right past him and notice his bandmates, but never him.

At a party one night in ’85 or so, his buddy Mark’s younger brother, Teddy, explained it to him. Teddy might have been frying on acid at the time, which was common, but he shared that Ben Cheney had the type of face that the CIA guys would love.

“Dude, your face totally changes. The face I see now, it’s not the same as the last time I saw you. You have a magic face! The CIA recruits people like you all the time. I totally read about it and you should APPLY!!! There is a number you can call to get an application (true story, Ben checked it out).”

What Teddy had told him had kind of freaked him out for a while and he did do the research to find out that you could indeed call a number and have an application for the CIA sent to you. Ben Cheney did not call that number, but it stuck with him for a long time. He had a face that anyone could forget.

To pay his bills, Ben worked at a music shop called M.E.C. which was short for Musician’s Exchange Center. It was right next door to a lesbian bar called The Incognito where Ben would sometimes go for a quick beer after work. No one seemed to mind, in those days, that he was a male and not a lesbian and he made friends with one of the bartenders, Linda.

He told Linda about Teddy’s theory a few weeks after the party in question and it made her roar with laughter.

“You in the CIA?!? That’s awesome. Yes, totally. Go for it,” she had said while she grabbed him another long neck bottle of Budweiser.

Ben laughed it off but thought there was a hint of a jab there, too. For months, he thought he should probably just go for it and call the number. It was almost like he was being dared by the universe. Time passed and the CIA became a fun story he would share with friends.

He even wrote a song about it for his band, Smug Number 8, called “CIA Face.”

Smug Number 8 was kind of a punk-ish, power pop thing with a certain Minnesota tinge to it. Imagine The Replacements and Hüsker Dü if they had a very polished baby. Most of the time when they played, people would say, “you guys sound like somebody but I can’t quite put my finger on it.”

There were not a lot of true Hüsker Dü and Replacements fans in Phoenix in those days unless you were hanging out with the Nova Boys crew.


CIA Face by Ben Cheney

Pleased to meet you

I’ve forgotten your name

Pleased to meet you

It’s the same, it hasn’t changed.

Didn’t I meet you in the summer

Bummer, I don’t remember it at all

Didn’t I meet you in the summer

Bummer, I don’t remember you being that tall

You’ve got a CIA face

You’re the man we can replace

You’ve got a CIA face

Prepared to scare the shit out of the human race

Pleased to meet you again

Please don’t kidnap my friend

Please don’t kill me, you wouldn’t, you couldn’t

Please don’t tell me your name

You’ve got a CIA face

You’re the man we can replace

You’ve got a CIA face

Prepared to scare the shit out of the human race

Faces change and rearrange

Places stay the same

Faces change and rearrange

No one remembers the CIA man’s name

You’ve got a CIA face

You’re the man we can replace

You’ve got a CIA face

Prepared to scare the shit out of the human race


As he walked home from the Mason Jar on May 2, 1987, Ben Cheney kept turning what had been a funny thought, a “lark” as his grandmother would say, over and over in his mind. Why couldn’t you have a bakery named after his favorite Black Flag song, he thought. Even if no one got it, it would be the best thing ever. You just had to have great products.

As he turned north onto 24th street towards his apartment, he was completely lost in thought. Rye’s Above is a great name. It kept traveling through his mind like an electric shock. He could see the sign on the front of the building. Four loaves of bread arranged like the Black Flag logo. Stickers, t-shirts… he would have it all.

He was so lost in his reverie that he didn’t even consider that Greg Ginn, the guitar player, founding member, and only person still hanging onto Black Flag with a death grip in 1987, would probably sue him.  He just walked and smiled and even made himself laugh out loud when he considered that the donut section could be called, “Police Story.”

“A Black Flag bakery,” shouted Ben to no one in particular. It was after midnight on a very early Sunday morning and when he decided nothing was going to stop him.

Rye's Above: Text


Rye’s Above was not the only idea Ben had ever had. There had been a lot of them over the years. As a kid, Ben wanted to open a pet store that specialized in birds and reptiles. He found both fascinating and during the mid-1960s, Ben read everything he could about both species. There wasn’t any place in Phoenix that just specialized in these two types of animals. Ben loved explaining to people that a bird and a dinosaur were closely related to each other, so it had to be true that birds and reptiles were practically family.

Then, in high school, Ben thought long and hard about revolutionizing the microphone stand. He never came up with a design he liked, but for a couple of years, he thought about making it easier to sing and play guitar. It seemed like there had to be a better way to design a boom mic stand, so they didn’t wear out so quickly, but it never came to fruition.

Most recently, in his early twenties, Ben wanted to open a shop that sold both records and tapes and music gear. He didn’t have any money, though, and the people he talked about it with argued that there was already plenty of both types of shops in town. Ben would say, well, there are, but not one that sells instruments and records.

Apparently, no one cared about having to go to two places to get your music stuff. Every once in a while, Ben would suggest bringing in some local music to sell at M.E.C., but his boss never seemed very interested.

“It’s just one more thing to keep track of, Ben,” said Sonny Kerr, the owner, shaking his head.

It was like a broken record. Ben was good at his job, but apparently “idea man” was not part of his job description. Ben could sell gear, though, and usually diagnose any repair issues that came in on the quick.

After a while, Ben stopped sharing his ideas. He enjoyed working at M.E.C., but he never had any extra money. Between rent at his apartment and what he chipped in for the practice space, he spent most of his money on music. Either seeing bands play at local bars, getting new gear, or buying records, he could count on what money came in from his M.E.C. job being pretty much gone before the end of each two week pay period.

He didn’t mind, really. What was he going to do with money? Probably just spend it on more gear. He wasn’t a car guy. He had the same Honda SR-5 pickup that his dad and grandparents got him for high school graduation in 1977 and it still ran like a champ.

Ben also rarely bought anything for himself. He had a stereo. It worked fine. He had a bed and a dresser and the rudiments of kitchen gear. He could even entertain the rest of the band or the very occasional female friend with his mismatched dishes and glasses. He didn’t worry about them not matching because no one would ever remember what they ate a slice of pizza off at his house anyway.

A spartan lifestyle seemed to work fine for Ben but was it what he really wanted?

He told himself on a regular basis to “keep it simple.” He’d learned some hard lessons in his early days of working at M.E.C. that the “hard sell” technique was not going to work for him. The more he pushed, the further people seemed to want to be from him.

After being there for ten years, he could size up a buyer from a looky Lou pretty easily. Buyers came into the store with confidence. They had money in their pocket, and it showed. Looky Lous kind of ambled in and wandered around without purpose. They were trying not to be seen and this was something Ben was very familiar with.

When Ben spotted a buyer, he would often let the buyer come to him. He was the only one in the front of the store most of the time. Sonny would be in the back in his office playing guitar, napping, or watching soap operas, and Darrel would be in his workshop. They were the only full-time employees of M.E.C.

So, Ben would pretend to be busy stocking merchandise around or looking through invoices until the buyer would saunter over like the cock of the walk and ask the first question. Sonny had told him many times that whatever he did, the only first question Ben should ask is “How are you today?” Beyond that, let the customer ask all the questions.

“They come here because we have the answers, my boy,” Sonny always said.

Lately, Sonny had been ending that statement with “young lady” a lot. They had hired a gal named Chantal Aguilar to work part-time a few months before and she was picking up the business pretty quickly.

Ben liked Chantal a lot. She was cute, a bit on the petite side, but had what Chuck would have called, “that sexy Mexican girl vibe.” She had a short curly bob and favored the skater punk look. On her first day, Ben, Chantal, and Darrel argued about the best Jody Foster’s Army song as the guys showed Chantal how to close up.

Jody Foster’s Army or JFA as they were more commonly known had been local Phoenix legends for a long time. Ben knew all the guys in the band, having played many gigs together over the years, and he loved their record, Valley of the Yakes. Chantal wasn’t hearing him, though.

“How can you say, “Guess What” is their best song?” she asked incredulously.

“Easily, it’s their best song.”

“What about “Beach Blanket Bong Out” or “Preppy” or, fuck, have you heard their cover of “Low Rider?”

Darrel had just been watching this take place. From the look on his face, Ben thought Darrel was trying to figure out what song to throw out there to impress Chantal. Ben knew that Darrel could give two shits about JFA, but he did like the ladies.

Darrel Andiano was a fucking savant when it came to fixing an amp or setting up a guitar. He just had the knack. He was a year younger than Ben but looked about five years older. The days of getting carded for beer were long over for Darrel. He was also a pretty damn good drummer.

“The Harvest were better than JFA,” Darrel finally said.

Chantal and Ben both turned and looked at Darrel like his head was on fire which made him smile even bigger.

“Bam Bam’s drumming in the Harvest was so much better and now in Rabid Rabbit … Damn!” Darrel continued, “When was the last time he was in?”

“Bam Bam” was Mike Sversvold, the original drummer of JFA but also a member of the Harvest and currently in Rabid Rabbit. Ben thought he was a bit of an enigma and even though he was older than Bam by a few years, he could never figure out what to talk about with him when they were in the same room.

He came in M.E.C. every once in a while, but Sonny had a strict rule about making musician’s deals.

“No deals unless somebody from their label asks,” Sonny said.

This meant that a lot of the Phoenix punk scene did not shop at M.E.C. That was okay with Ben. It made it easier for him to stay friends with a lot of people. If it were up to him, he would have cut everybody deals, and life would have been way more difficult. Sonny’s rule made Ben’s life a lot simpler.

“Bam Bam comes in here?” asked Chantal.

Ben knew the conversation had taken a turn, so he did his usual thing and slid out of it, pretending to be busy wrapping up guitar cords that needed to be put away for the next day. He heard Darrel and Chantal continue talking and let it go. Darrel would pretend to be friends with his fellow drummer (he wasn’t) and try to impress Chantal.

Ben didn’t know if that worked for him or not, but he was hoping that Chantal wouldn’t fall for it. She was way too young for him at the tender age of 22. Hell, she was way too young for Ben, too, but he didn’t think he would have to worry about that. She was only there part-time and Ben, in a way, was kind of her boss, too.

Ben worked at M.E.C. from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. most days but would occasionally take a Saturday shift if Sonny needed him to or work late if there was new gear to stock. He didn’t mind getting up early, even after a gig because it took him less than five minutes to get to work by truck or he could walk it in less than a half an hour if the weather was nice.

Ben liked walking a lot.

Walking gave Ben a chance to think. It also was one of the ways he got inspired to write songs. He’d see a person just doing their thing, maybe checking their mailbox, or sweeping in front of their store and he’d write about it. 

In the fall of 1986, he had been walking down Indian School near the Jack In The Box on 22nd street and had seen a guy on his motorcycle swerve because of a car making a quick lane change to try and make the turn in for hamburger stand’s drive thru. The motorcyclist, who had been a biker and part of the infamous Dirty Dozen motorcycle club, tried to stop and as he swerved his front wheel had hit the sidewalk about twenty yards in front of Ben.

The biker flew over the handlebars, he must’ve been going about 40 miles per hour or so and bounced off the hood of the car as it turned in to the restaurant. Ben stopped walking and stood there, paralyzed, for what seemed like a minute.

The sound of screeching tires, horns, and screams brought Ben out of it. He ran forward to see if he could help, on some level, and out of curiosity, or another. Ben’s mom, Jane, was a nurse and had been teaching him the basics of first aid since he was old enough to open and apply a band aid.

When Ben got up to where he could see what happened, he wished he had walked another route to Ed Debevic’s that early Friday evening. The man was face down at the curb of 22nd Street. He had flown, by Ben’s estimation later, about fifty feet through the air and had hit the curb face first. There was a pool of blood forming around the upper part of his body and he wasn’t moving.

Ben counted his lucky stars that he could not see the man’s face, if it even existed anymore. Ben stood there staring, as did everyone who had been eating at the Jack In The Box and a growing number of cars that had stopped. This was well beyond Ben’s expertise in first aid, but he felt himself wishing he could have done something, anything to help.

There was a line of cars forming on 22nd street trying to turn onto Indian School. Ben locked eyes with a young punk guy in a blue Volkswagen truck that was sitting about three cars back of the corner. He shook his head and motioned to the guys to turn around. You don’t want to see this, he thought, and neither do I.

Ben decided that Ed Debevic’s could wait until another day and turned around to head home. He had some writing to do. There were plenty of witnesses, it seemed, but he wondered if anyone had seen the car cut off the motorcycle?

He decided to stay and tell the police what he had seen. They were already starting to arrive. He wondered who this guy was. Did he have a family? Where was he going that night? The Dirty Dozen were certainly not friends of the police, but Ben admired how respectful the police were in quickly closing off the scene.

When Ben finally got home, he wrote a song called “But Is He Happy?”

It would change his life, but not right away.

Rye's Above: Text


June 18, 1987

“So, what are you doing this weekend,” Linda asks as she hands Ben a Michelob. He had decided to cheat on Budweiser with its cousin that night. The Incognito was beginning to fill up for a Thursday night.

“We’re playing tomorrow.”

“Which band?”

“The one you want to see.”

By the look on her face, Ben could tell his buddy, Linda, perked up a bit. She almost looked excited.

“What time? I’m first out tomorrow so I may be able to make it. Where?”

“Alwun House. We go on early, like 8:30 or something like that. It’s a benefit for some artist.”

“Well … shit. I’ll make it to the next one. How did you guys get roped into that?” She looked thoroughly dejected.

“No clue. Randy announced it at practice a few weeks ago and we’re all free, so I guess we’ll play for free. Should be fun, though. Those parties get kinda wild sometimes.”

Randy was the front man of Ben’s side band, The Men in Smoking Jackets. They did a kind of garage lounge thing that was a mixture of The Cramps and Burt Bacharach. Ben loved playing the songs and all the guys in the band were excellent players.

Ben had met Randy while taking a poetry writing course at Phoenix College in 1979. He was the proverbial tall, dark, and handsome guy full of bohemian energy. During one of their first conversations, he asked Ben, “Do you listen to the Cramps?”

When Ben shook his head to indicate he had not, Randy reached into his knapsack and pulled out a 7” record and handed it to Ben. The A side was a song called “Human Fly” and Ben was intrigued.

“I’ve got a bunch of these. People need to listen to the Cramps,” said Randy and a friendship was born.

Besides Randy Whitfield, aka “Dandy Randy,” on vocals and Ben on guitar, The Men In Smoking Jackets had Anita French, aka “Frenchy French” on bass and Shannon Tovar, aka “Toves” on drums. They had all died laughing when Randy suggested the band name, so it stuck. Two of The Men In Smoking Jackets weren’t men at all.

Linda had a huge crush on Toves. Ben was pretty sure that Toves might have been open to being a bit more than friends with Linda, too, but both of them got very shy around each other. He had known Toves since his high school days and she had never been very serious about anyone, male or female. She loved to play the drums, though, and was a hell of a player.

He wasn’t sure if he should say anything to Toves about Linda. It wasn’t the easiest conversation to have, and he wanted to be respectful, so he just stayed quiet. One thing he wasn’t was a matchmaker. Toves and Linda would have to figure it out on their own.

“Doing anything else?”

“Not really. Was thinking about going to see The Believers on Sunday. I like Martin Sheen a lot.”

“Huh. What’s that one about?”

“Not sure, but it looks kinda cool. I think there is some voodoo stuff going on. Wanna go?”

“Nah, I’m going to hit the pool on Sunday and work on my tan.”

Linda knew Ben meant going to the first showing on Sunday morning. It was a “Ben” thing. He didn’t like watching movies at night and liked to go to the first showing of the day if he could. He explained this theory to her the first time they discussed seeing a movie together back in ‘83 or ‘84.

“Uh oh. Beatrice is going to be pissed.”

Linda had been seeing Beatrice off and on for a couple of years. To say it was a tumultuous relationship was like saying Keith Richards was good at playing guitar or beating death. Ben liked Beatrice, but he was also a little scared of her. She could be a tad unpredictable, and she hated the idea of getting a tan.

“Let’s not talk about her. What else is going on with you? Tell me a story …”

Ben took a long slow drink from his beer, smiling at her with his eyes, and thought for a moment. Should he tell her, he wondered? He hadn’t talked to anyone about the idea since he and Chuck went to see Rabid Rabbit last month, but it had been keeping him awake at night. There was a bakery on his way to and from work.

Barb’s Bakery.

He stopped in pretty regularly to pick up donuts or if it was someone’s birthday, a cake. They had great bread, too. He got sandwiches from this place called Easy Street and he knew they got their bread from Barb’s because he asked them when he stopped in during the week after his big idea.

There were two sisters that owned the place and they always remembered what he liked to order. When he walked up to the counter, the dark haired one (he could never remember their names) asked if he wanted a turkey bacon avocado on pita and a potato salad. That was his favorite.

“I think I’ll have it on rye today,” Ben said. “Yeah, let’s do rye.”

While his sandwich was being made, he casually asked about where they got their bread and they told him that everything came from Barb’s except the pita bread. That came from the Middle Eastern Bakery over on 16th street.

Ben couldn’t believe how different the sandwich was on rye. It made everything taste a little strange, in a good way, and he knew he had to learn to make rye bread like that. He also knew he had to try the turkey bacon avocado on the other bread, too.

“Ben. Where did you go?”

“Sorry, Song. I was thinking.”

He loved calling Linda by her last name. He thought it was the best last name he had ever heard. Song. He knew they were destined to be friends after she told him.

“You better get with the story, son. These bitches are getting thirsty in here.”

Linda laughed as she walked away to get drinks for a couple of gals sitting a few stools down from Ben. He was sweating a little. She was the one he wanted to tell about Rye’s Above the most because she would either say, “That’s brilliant” or tell him to go fuck himself.

Instead, Ben nervously threw a five-dollar bill on the bar, finished his Michelob in a couple of gulps, and pushed himself away from the bar. Linda noticed him leaving and shouted after him:

“You owe me a story, Ben.”

He just waved at her and watched her charm the pants of the customers.


It was still light when he walked outside. Summer in Phoenix was like that. It occurred to him it would be sunset when they played on Saturday and hot as fuck, but it wasn’t his first rodeo. The guys at Alwun House did cool things for the scene and he was happy to pitch in.

He ambled over to where his truck was parked behind M.E.C. and thought about what to do for dinner. Easy Street was closed by this time, but he could hit Ham’s for some cheap grub and a few more beers. That sounded like a plan.

He liked Ham’s a lot. It was a neighborhood joint across the street from a flag store and a dry cleaner and the best thing about going to Ham’s was that it made him feel young. When he got there, he was probably the youngest person there by twenty years or more and here he was pushing thirty.

“Hey, Ben. You hungry?” said a voice from behind the bar.

“You bet, John. How about a cheeseburger, fries, a bud?”

“You got it,” said John Murphy as he stood up and wrote down Ben’s order.

Ben grabbed a spot at the bar and before he could say thank you, a frosty glass of Budweiser was in front of him. When his food came out about ten minutes later, Ben was on his second beer. The glasses weren’t huge at Ham’s, but they were cheap.

He’d been coming in here since before he was old enough to legally buy alcohol. In fact, John sold him one of his first legal drinks after he turned 19. One of his old bandmates, Steve Fujikowa, had told him about the cheap food and reasonably lenient carding practices at Ham’s after a Speds practice. Steve and Ben had met during their sophomore at Camelback High School and by middle of the next year, they had formed Speds.

As high school bands went in the mid-70s, Speds were not very good. Ben’s guitar skills were pretty basic, and Steve’s lack of drumming prowess was painful to watch, especially for people who actually knew how drums should be played, but they had a lot of fun. Steve was blissfully ignorant of the purpose of the snare drum, so many of the early Speds beats were almost entirely made up of drum fills.

Their bass player was a strange dude that Steve knew because he bought weed from him. Everybody called him “Grover” because he could imitate the lovable character from Sesame Street eerily well. He even kind of looked like him. Later in life, Ben would think that Grover would have been a great lead singer for one of those Cookie Monster sounding metal bands if he wasn’t in prison.

Grover had gotten busted in the summer of 1977, about a month after Ben and Steve graduated, driving a car with a trunk full of Maui Wowee. Thanks to some stringent Arizona marijuana laws, he got sentenced to 25 years in prison, thanks to the shot gun and scale in the back seat.

Speds also suffered from a lack of cohesive vision when it came to a sound. Ben was developing a pretty good ear for melody and his songwriting was a bit more developed than his ability to play his guitar, so he struggled to share the ideas that were bopping around his head. Steve wanted to play stuff that sounded like his favorite band, Led Zeppelin, and Grover, well, he was high.

The revolving door of lead singers during the almost two years of their existence was almost comical. When Spinal Tap came out in 1984, Ben saw a connection between Speds singers and Tap drummers. Nobody blew up, but in the eighteen or nineteen months Speds lasted, they had thirteen lead singers. The number of singers exceeded the number of public performances by Speds by exactly five.

At one Halloween party they played off Stanford and 35th street where the rich folks lived in 1976, a former lead singer, Drew Ballard, took a swing at the current singer, Randy McCubbin, and a huge fight broke out. Grover had made a homemade costume to look like his namesake Muppet and ended up getting pushed into the pool, turning the water a dark blue in the process.

The blue pool party became legendary and was remembered long after even the best Speds song was forgotten.

Ben hadn’t thought about these events for a long time, but over his cheeseburger and beers at Ham’s, he just had to smile. He had lost track of Steve a long time ago. Every once in a while, in the early 80s he would pop up when one of Ben’s bands were playing, but that was that. He had met a girl and realized that drums were not going to pay any bills.

Much to his chagrin, Ben had never met “that” girl. He remembered talking to Steve a few months after Speds broke up and wondering how a girl could make you want to stop playing music. Sure, Steve was definitely one of those musicians who liked the idea of being in a band more than needing to playing music, but still. Ben didn’t understand at all when his friend told him he was selling his kit and wanted to know if he knew anyone looking for something to beat on.

Ben had thought long and hard about buying Steve’s drums. He figured a drum kit would be a good thing to have, just in case, but he didn’t have the dough to make Steve a fair offer. Steve probably would have let him make payments, but that was like borrowing money from a friend and it was something Ben would never do. He had made the mistake making a few loans in the past that never got paid back and it clouded, and then usually ended, friendships.

“Fuckin’ Speds,” Ben said aloud to no one in particular.

He paid his tab, said goodnight to John, and headed home thinking about what John had told him about the where they got the hamburger buns.

Barb’s Bakery.

Rye's Above: Text
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