Blue, Ivory Interview, 2013 February 22. OH-00116. [Transcript.] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections & Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.
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An Interview with Ivory H. Blue II An Oral History Conducted by John Grygo African American Collaborative Oral History Research Center at UNLV University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas ii ©African Americans in Las Vegas: A Collaborative Oral History Project University of Nevada Las Vegas, 2012 COMMUNITY PARTNERS Henderson Libraries Las Vegas Clark County Public Libraries Oral History Research Center at UNLV Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas Libraries Wiener-Rogers Law Library at William S. Boyd School of Law, UNLV Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas Las Vegas National Bar Association Vegas PBS Clark County Museum Produced by: The Oral History Research Center at UNLV – University Libraries Director: Claytee D. White Project Manager: Barbara Tabach Transcriber: Kristin Hicks Interviewers, Editors and Project Assistants: Barbara Tabach, Claytee D. White, B. Leon Green, John Grygo, and Delores Brownlee. iii The recorded interview and transcript have been made possible through the generosity of a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) Grant. The Oral History Research Center enables students and staff to work together with community members to generate this selection of first-person narratives. The participants in this project thank University of Nevada Las Vegas for the support given that allowed an idea the opportunity to flourish. The transcript received minimal editing that includes the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader’s understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. In several cases photographic sources accompany the individual interviews. The following interview is part of a series of interviews conducted under the auspices of the African Americans in Las Vegas: A Collaborative Oral History Project. Claytee D. White Director, Oral History Research Center University Libraries University Nevada Las Vegas iv Table of Contents Interview with Ivory Blue II February 22, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada Conducted by John Grygo Preface……………………………………………………………………………………………v Born and raised in Las Vegas; mother a Nevada native and father was from Mississippi; mother worked in various Jackson Street establishments and father retired from working for Clark County. Recalls growing up on the Westside in the projects; attending church; difficulty in early education; most influential people in his early life were family and a teacher……………….1 – 6 Talks in more detail about the Las Vegas public schools he attended; being recruited by Dr. Eugene McGaugh (UNLV professor) who became a father figure and mentor. Describes his college years in the 1990s at University of Nevada Las Vegas; recalls Las Vegas of that era…………………………………………………………………………………………… 7 – 13 Tells about working at McDonalds through college; internships; being offered positions at McDonalds and at Nevada Power/NV Energy before even graduating. Offers thoughts about energy business. Tells about recent marriage and his faith…………………………………14 - 18 Index……………………………………………………………………………………………..19 v Preface Ivory H. Blue II was born and raised Las Vegas, specifically in the Westside neighborhood projects during the 1980s and 1990s. He describes his early childhood and what he remembers as a strong sense of community. Though grade school had its challenges, Ivory excelled in sciences and came under the watchful mentoring of Dr. Eugene McGaugh, a professor at UNLV. Ivory graduated with a master’s degree and has a long career already with NV Energy. Theresa Harris, Ivory’s mother, was from Hawthorne, Nevada and his father, Ivory Blue I, was originally from Edwards, Mississippi. vi 1 My name is John Grygo. Today is February 22nd. We are in the Special Collections Room at UNLV. I am here with Ivory Blue the Second. First of all, let's just start off with when you were born, family members, brothers, sisters, how your parents came here – just those early, early memories you have. Well, I was born in 1973, August third, in Women's Hospital. Now, Women's Hospital no longer exists; it was torn down and I think it's been replaced with a Hyundai dealership. But my mother is a native of Nevada; she was actually born in Hawthorne, Nevada. My father is a native of Mississippi; he was born in Edwards, Mississippi. My father migrated here after his stint in the service and he met my mother here. Was he in Korea? No, I don't think he was in Korea. I don't recall which— Vietnam maybe? Yeah, probably Vietnam, but I'm not sure. But I know that he served in the armed forces. You have brothers or sisters? Through the union of Theresa Blue and Ivory Blue there were…myself and then I have a sister Marian. I actually have three sisters. Out of the union of Ivory and Theresa was born Marian and myself. Then I have two other sisters, Hope and Katrina. When you were young what did your parents do as far as employment? When you went on vacation, where did you go? My mother, she actually worked at many of the local establishments throughout the Westside, the H and Owens area. One of the first jobs I remember my mother having was working for an establishment called Uncle Ben's Barbeque. It used to be off of 2 Jackson Street right next to the Town Tavern. She actually worked at the Town Tavern for a short stint. I recall she worked as a caregiver at a nursing home. Then one of the last jobs that really come to the front of my mind is she worked at Seven Seas. Seven Seas is still in existence now; I think it's off of Lake Mead and H. You had asked about my father, also. My father, he started off as a bailiff. He was a civil engineer by trade. When he came to Vegas the job that I recall him having first was a bailiff. And then also the last job I recall him retiring from was at Clark County, a plans' checker. When you were growing up what was there to do in Vegas? Well, we actually grew up in public housing. The house that I lived in after being born was 903 Doolittle; it's off Doolittle and H. When we were little I remembered back in the day, unlike today, there was a sense of community. I remember that we would ride bikes. We would play kick ball. I remember going to the drive-in movies and that still exists today. We would all pack in the car, go to the drive-in movies, or we would go over to a relative's house and watch movies there or entertainers on VHS and just have good times with families. I remember often going over to my grandmother's house, Sally Jones; on the weekends I'd get the opportunity to go over and spend time with her. My mom, she was the type of individual—she loved everyone, would give you the shirt off her back. I recall just special times with her riding bikes in the street. I remember playing in the rain in the projects, too. Throughout Vegas you would get monsoon weather sometimes. I recall—now, being older and understanding this probably wasn't the thing to do—but we used to play in the rain when we get that monsoon weather and swinging on the swings. 3 Back in the day in the projects we actually had a basketball court, swing sets where you can go out and swing on the swings. Like I say, there was a sense of community. It was much closer than what I see today. Were you and your parents involved in the church? At a young age I went to church with my aunt. Her name was Ethel Fletcher. And also my grandmother, Sally Jones. Those were the two individuals that had a major role in establishing my foundation with understanding that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. They planted the seed. They planted the seed and it grew from there. So I recall when I was young going to Bible school, Sunday Bible school at Pentecostal Church of God In Christ. Still exists. That's where my Aunt Ethel fellowshipped and I remember she would take us there. Then Sally Jones, my grandmother, went to New Bethel Baptist Church and I recall going there with her. What do you remember about that experience in the church at that time compared to maybe the church right now? You say there was more a sense of community when you were growing up. Do you think that was influenced a lot by the church? I think it (the sense of community) was influenced by the church and just also the friendships and the bonds that were built between the individuals that lived in that community. Back in the day you have to remember everybody pretty much knew everyone. As a child if you did something bad and a neighbor caught you, your neighbor would chastise you. Back in that day a neighbor could correct you if you were wrong without feeling that, oh, they're going to be persecuted. So the neighbor would correct you when you were wrong and when you got home your mother would also correct you. So everyone looked after each other. Say, for instance, growing up in an impoverished 4 neighborhood in the projects, we use to call it the “jets”. For instance, you wouldn't have food to eat, so your neighbor would share with you what they had. It had to be rooted in the understanding of Jesus Christ; it had to be. But I remember that. I actually remember I attended Matt Kelly; it was a middle school at that time. As a young child I attended Howard Wasden—that was my elementary school. I don't know if Howard Wasden is still in existence. Then I went to Matt Kelly Middle School. During those times I remember the excitement to go home. We could actually walk home for lunch. I could walk home and I remember my mother would prepare me a salmon croquettes and smothered potatoes. I remember I loved to go home and just spend time with Mom and eat, then go back to school. I would be full going back to school, ready to learn. Awesome. That seems to be a repeating theme with the interviews I do was when people were growing up there was more of a sense of community. The church was very involved in the community. People knew each other. That story with the neighbors would discipline children and then they'd get home and then the mother and when the father would discipline them. Every interview I've done it's the same theme. What do you think happened? Why do you think that's not the case anymore? It's clear to me and this is one man's view. I think the foundation of family, that family foundation with the mother, the father, the head of the household being Jesus Christ, that understanding of what truth is, that's not at the forefront. I think there are more single-parent households. There's fewer individuals that yield to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. So when you're not under that umbrella of Jesus Christ, one could come up with 5 their own truth. If it's not the originator—God is the originator; he originated the truth. So everything that is true comes from Him. So if you're not under that umbrella, under His leadership you may come up with your own truth. And if it's not His truth, it's a lie. So that foundation that is given by religion—I like to refer to it as a relationship because anybody could be religious. It's more of a relationship, understanding the will of God. Once you understand it, living it, bringing it to life—I think the world today in many instances, many households it lacks truth, it lacks discipline, it lacks understanding. Without the real truth you could be led astray. You could be led astray and you have to have some foundation to always come back to because we're human; we make mistakes. I'm not perfect by in means. Sometimes we may get off course. And if you don't have the truth to come back to, that foundation, you could go down a path that may take you to your ultimate demise. So you've got to have something that keeps you stable. And for me that is the gospel of Jesus Christ. That's not in every household nowadays. People are more liberal. I believe in encouraging people and everyone should be encouraged to follow your dreams. But you should look at it, too, it is not solely up to you. You've got to understand what your purpose is in life. And for my wife and me, we have a family mission statement. Our family mission statement is to carry out the divine purpose of advancing God's kingdom. So as a family unit if we ever get off track or off kilter, we come back to what is your family mission statement? So that core family strength is not there with the husband and the wife. I think that kind of is contributing to the demise of that sense of community. Going back to your childhood when you were coming up, do you remember who was in the community that was influential or that really looked up to in the 6 community, who were community leaders? Back when I was growing up—again, in that environment that I grew up in, unfortunately a child becomes a product of their environment; and unless you're somehow taken out of that environment, all you see is maybe the gang members or the drug dealers. I think one of the first positive lights that I saw were my mother, my grandmother, there were strong women in my family. I actually grew up in a single-parent home. So I had that strength. That rearing came from those strong women in my life—Theresa Blue (mother), Sally Jones (great grandmother), Ethel Fletcher (great aunt), Irene Johnson (great grandmother’s friend); those were four of the strong women that were in my life that helped to shape the man that I am today. Any community leaders come to mind? Okay. This lady really wasn't a community leader, but she was influential in my life and it was a turning point for me. In the second grade I couldn't read. Young children think, oh, I can do anything; I can do it. I didn't want to believe I couldn't read. But my second grade teacher, Mrs. Buskirk, she pointed out to my mother that, hey, you know what, if we don't address this now, Ivory is going to be at a severe disadvantage in the second grade not being able to read. So Mrs. Buskirk spoke with my mother. By no means was she a community leader, but she was a concerned teacher. She spoke with my mother and discussed with her that the appropriate thing to do would be to hold me back. That was a critical moment in my life. Now, growing up as I got a little bit older, I tried to think of some of the influential people that I saw as community leaders. Some that pop into my mind that I vaguely remember...Ruby Duncan, she was one of the individuals that were in the 7 community. I used to listen to, and I still do, KCEP radio a lot. That's a form of community leadership where it provides shows and information. So it's not actually a person, but KCEP, the organization, the radio station provided leadership in the community. I remember the old Westside Library. It was off of D Street. I believe it's a mosque now. But it used to be the old Westside Library. I remember going there and being able to just check out books and experience what it was like to actually go. This was back before I had a computer. It was back in the day where you actually went to the library. I remember having encyclopedias. Yeah, card catalog. Yeah, yeah. So let's talk a little bit about school. You said your second grade teacher was very influential. What was school like here in Vegas growing up? Was your school integrated? Was it a good school, a bad school? Well, yes. The area in which I grew up in school was integrated. But the neighborhood I grew up in, it was uncommon to see anyone else outside of individuals of my color. But the school system at that time in my mind was a good school system because of that transitional point in my life in the second grade. Once I was held back I attended summer school. Then from that point on I blossomed. I recall going to Matt Kelly Middle School, which is still in existence, but I think it's an elementary school now. Yeah, I think it is; I think it's an elementary school now. I remember actually having fun times at Doolittle, Doolittle Community Center, swimming in the pool there. I remember at Matt Kelly being provided with a good education. Did I receive the best education that could 8 be offered? I made do with what I had. I remember also I went to K.O. Knudson. That was where I started my ninth grade. I believe it was sixth, seventh and eighth. Like a junior high almost? Junior high. It was a junior high. I went to K.O. Knudson and before that Hyde Park (junior high schools). Then after that I went to Valley High School. I recall having joyous times in high school. But I remember at that (Hyde Park) school sometimes it got a little rough because some of the individuals that I attended school with were not reputable individuals. I can remember it was occasional, not on a regular basis. I remember more happy times in middle school than troubled times. But I think we were provided with a good education. I remember in school at Valley High School I remember having some wonderful experiences. One of the ones I would like to share with you is when I was in physics class. My mother, unfortunately she passed when I was seventeen, so it was just my sister Marian and I fending for ourselves. In the twelfth grade I was actually recruited by an individual that I consider more of a father to me than my own father, Dr. Eugene McGaugh. He actually recruited me out of high school. And because of his willingness to go into schools and seek individuals that he believed had the mind-set, the ability to go into engineering, he's the reason that I'm an engineer today. And he's still here at UNLV? He's still here. I think he may be kind of winding down. He may have stopped teaching. But I recall two years ago or about a year ago he was teaching one class. His expertise was signals and systems. He was actually over the minority engineering program. That sounds like an interview for me. He sounds like an interesting guy to 9 interview. Yes, very active in the community. So when you talk about in my earlier years of community leaders, I can only remember a few. But as an adult, definitely Dr. McGaugh would be an individual that I speak of. I regard him highly because he has touched so many lives in such a positive way. So he recruited you out of high school. Out of high school. He pulled myself and another gentleman out of our physics class and asked a simple question: What are you going to do with your life? At that age I said, I'm going to go to college. But having lost my mother, I think that was pretty traumatic—I know it was pretty traumatic to get through it. He came at the opportune time to help keep me on track and help me to understand. He helped me fill out the college applications—you need to do X, Y, Z. And to this day we are still close. We have lunch on a monthly basis. He actually came to my wedding in Jamaica. Oh, that's awesome. Yeah. He and Elwyn are very close to me. Elwyn is his wife. That's just a good story I have to say. Yeah, it is. So you got recruited out of high school. So I'm assuming you're pretty good in high school. You got pretty good grades. That second grade teacher…it worked out. I'd like to think I was a pretty intelligent person in high school, a little on the wild side because, remember, at seventeen I pretty much had full reign to do anything I wanted to do considering I had lost my mother. That could be problematic. 10 It could have been. But by the grace of God I stayed on track. Awesome. So you graduate high school and you come to UNLV. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas. What was that like? Wow. Wow. At that point in time it was another turning point in my life because college especially studying electrical engineering you have to really be passionate and love engineering to stick with it because it's very difficult. So I learned quickly. High school was kind of easy for me in the sense that I was able to get good grades without studying really, really hard. I was not a studier. Like I said, I was kind of a wild one in my latter years of high school. And I actually carried that same attitude over to college. The first year I had to drop all my classes because I was still conducting myself in a manner like high school. College is a very different arena than high school. In high school the teachers have to care, have to push you. Here the professors don’t —they're drawn to people that have that desire to learn. I had the desire, but I thought I didn't have to study. I remember just rich, rich friendships. I have friendships to this day that are lasting friendships that started at UNLV. I remember the student culture. I remember KUNV. I still support KUNV and UNLV to this day. Warren Peace back in the day. You're new to Vegas I take it, so you wouldn't know Warren Peace and Roy, the five-footer, the individuals that would play the Friday evening hip-hop shows. I'm assuming that was early nineties. So that's right when hip-hop was taking off. Yeah, word up, word up, the Word Up Show. I think it's still on. I was born in '72, so it's the same year, except I was in Cleveland. 11 Okay, Ohio. In the snow, huh? Right. The student culture here at UNLV, what was that like? I remember being able—I didn't have any boundaries. I remember we had the engineering study room. Then I recall us going to events, to parties and—we studied all across the campus. This may still exist today, a sharing of information, individuals wanting to help each other. Of course, engineering, because I went through it, I think it's one of the toughest curriculums to go through. I would agree with that. You're going through a similar curriculum. So we would ban together. We would have study groups of twenty-plus individuals where we would get together. College was much different than high school in the sense of studying. I had to really put in the time and the effort as I progressed to my sophomore year, junior year, senior year, while others were still continuing to enjoy the parties and the collegiate activities. I can remember many a nights having to forego those activities, understanding the bigger picture was not to just fully embrace and enjoy the college life, but the bigger picture and the main goal was to obtain that degree because once I got that degree no one could ever take that from me. So I remember having to tone it down substantially. After that first year where I dropped all my classes, Dr. McGaugh pulled me into the office and said, Ivory, you have to make a decision. You have to understand that this isn't a game. You have to make changes in your life so that you're successful. I'm here to help you along the way, but it has to start with you. You are the individual that has to make those changes so that you're successful. It was a little more stern talk than that. Definitely from that point on things changed. Things changed in a manner that helped 12 me to graduate five and a half years later in 1997. We have a pretty rich college life here. People may not think that because we're in a desert or we're in Las Vegas and we don't have that rich history like your Ivy League schools, your schools on the East Coast. But I remember positive fun times. I remember studying in the library. At that point I had never seen a library that big. And we're in a new facility now, but there were little crevices where you could go and just study. Disappear. Disappear. You could get into your study so in depth by the time you look up, man, it's six hours later. With the engineering study room we had twenty-four-hour access to that, so we would be in there studying to the wee hours of the night. I remember towards the end of my college career I was staying with my sister Marian and it got to a point—I was working at McDonalds. I worked for McDonalds for nine years, all the way throughout college. Started in high school and worked all the way throughout, until I graduated. So, I was staying with my sister and it came to a point where I needed to be able to just work one day a week and I didn't want to be a burden on my sister. So I asked my grandmother, Sally Jones, if I could stay with her and she said yes. Sally was actually my great-grandmother because my grandfather Charlie Kiper is her son. So I've been referring to her as my grandmother, but she was actually my great-grandmother because she's my grandfather's mother. Wow. Is she from Vegas? No. She's from Mangham, Louisiana. So at that point in time I didn't want to be a burden on my sister because working one day a week I couldn't contribute to the bills like I had normally done. Granny Granny—we used to call her Granny Granny—and my 13 uncle Willie, Willie Kiper , her son—they lived in the same house, 1709 Manhattan. So when I asked her if I could live with her and Uncle Willie, they welcomed me in with open arms, understanding that I needed the support. And they supported me fully. I remember I'd be studying, five o'clock in the morning—Granny would get up and come in throughout the night, at one o'clock, do you need anything to eat? Five o'clock in the morning, do you need anything? She was right there with me all the way. Uncle Willie was right there with me. I'm a grown man and at that time I was a grown man, too. She had that love for me where she would just get up and she would just want to care for me. I can make my own food, but she wanted to make sure that my studies weren't interrupted. So she would provide food, whatever she could do to ensure that I was successful. That's the type of support you hear that's almost become a clichéd term; it takes a village to raise a child. It does if you look at all of the people that were involved in my life, back from the individuals that were in the community with me helping to raise me, the church helping to raise, my grandmother helping to raise. There were so many influences, people that touched my life along the way that helped me to make it. You were going to college here early, mid-nineties. Ninety-two I started. What was going on just in Vegas? Like what are the big things you remember? From a college perspective I remember we had these, I wouldn't call them raves, but they were parties in various locations. It would be at a warehouse. Throughout the week—Monday, they say, hey, what are you guys doing for the weekend? They would actually make special fliers. There's going to be house music. We're going to have a hip-hop house. And they would have deejays spinning records. That type of activity was going 14 on. And again, I was deep into the book, so I really didn't experience towards the end of my college experience—I didn't really experience all the college activities. I do recall that fraternities had events. I'm thinking because the nineties was a huge boom for Vegas as far as the casinos coming down and coming back up. The years of implosions. I was just wondering what your take on that transformation was, what you noticed, what moved and kind of what the evolution of Vegas was during that time? In the nineties? Thinking back I was so focused on school, there was a lot that was transpiring during that time frame, but I wasn't in tune because I was so focused on trying to graduate. From '92 to '97 the primary focus was school. I recall when the Landmark—I don't know if that happened during that time frame, but the Landmark [implosion occurred in 1995]. You had Desert Inn comes to mind [imploded in 2004]. I do remember when the Moulin Rouge—I kind of vaguely remember the Moulin Rouge. My mother actually had—her friends had an event for her at the Moulin Rouge. It was an event to help raise money, because my mother died from cancer. So I do recall an event being held, a fundraiser for our mother at the Moulin Rouge. But that was probably in the late ‘80s. So now you graduated UNLV with a bachelor's degree? Yes, bachelor's in electrical engineering. Bachelor of Science. Did you go to get your master's? I did. This is interesting. While I was in college—because I think Vegas has an atmosphere of things get done by who you know. And I was fortunate enough that Dr. 15 McGaugh had some colleagues and some interactions with individuals with—back in the day it was Nevada Power; now we're NV Energy. He had the ability to speak with individuals and just say, hey, we have some sharp individuals here that you may be interested in a summer intern. Then you would go interview. If you were the successful candidate, you would be brought on as a summer intern. I recall back in '95 actually doing my first summer intern with NV Energy. Ninety-five, huh? Yes, '95, in operations. So I did two summer internships. And before I had gone through commencement—because I saw it as an opportunity to get my foot in the door. I was still working at McDonalds, mind you. So I got my foot in the door as a summer intern. So I saw it as an opportunity to shine. So I said I'm going to do everything that I can to show them how valuable of a person I am. I wanted to make them sure I was seen as an asset. So before I even went through commencement, they wanted to offer me a position. I had to go to the registrar's office and get proof that I had completed the coursework. So I was faced with a dilemma because I knew a little bit about NV Energy, or Nevada Power, through the summer interns, but I didn't know how stable it was because, remember, I had been at McDonalds for nine years. And then McDonalds actually saw something in me that they wanted to offer me a position in their store development, in their construction area. It wasn't as focused in electrical engineering; probably it was more project management, managing the construction of the new McDonalds. So I was at a dilemma. I said, okay, I have McDonalds over here offering me a job. I've been with them for nine years. Then I said I've got this NV Energy. I like power engineering. So I faced a dilemma. 16 So what I did is I actually held two jobs. I took the job with Nevada Power and I said, well, I better keep my McDonalds gig just in case, even though they started paying me almost two and a half times more than what I was making at McDonalds over a nine-year period. So I worked at both jobs for a while and then eventually when I saw how stable Nevada Power was and how great of a place it was to work, I went ahead and I had to let McDonalds go. Here I am almost sixteen years later still with Nevada Power. So I had a wonderful transition from college to the professional work environment. I've been blessed all the way through that I'm not encountering the same type of issues that someone that would be graduating now. So I went directly into the professional workforce actually before I had gone through commencement. That's good. Yeah, yeah. And it's not that often you meet individuals around our age that have worked at the same job. So I had McDonalds for nine years and then I've been at NV Energy for almost sixteen years. That's good. That's good. Yeah. It provided. Excellent company to work for. I've had a multitude of opportunities to move around and move up the ladder. I'm a blessed man. Let's talk a little bit about your specialty, energy. What are we going to do? The power behind the possibilities? What do you see the energy, just energy itself being in the future? Because I know right now we get most of it from coal here in Nevada. Well, that has a lot to do with the way federal legislation is with our current leader Barack Obama and his focus on renewable energy. We all have to fall in line in making 17 sure we're ahead of the game in understanding where energy policy is going to go. You will notice that NV Energy is a big advocate of renewables. I do see consumers having a stronger understanding and control of their usage. Will we ever get to a point where everything is totally renewable? I don't know if that's sustainable; I don't think so. But you will see a larger portion of the energy portfolio being renewables; that's going to happen gradually. Vegas as you know had a housing bubble. So at one point we were setting forty thousand plus meters a year. We've got to get back to—I pray that we get back to a sustainable level of growth where all of us are gainfully employed, families are happy; people have roofs over their head. I think as the federal government changes and policies change you'll see the various energy policies and the various utilities trying to be ahead of the game in understanding what's coming down the line and being prepared. Trying to innovate that next movement. Yes. Well, that's with any successful business. You have to be able to have that foresight to see, what the next phase is. What's coming? Let's conclude this interview with one thing we haven't talked about yet, your family, your wife and children, how you guys met. Oh, I am ble