Thursday, November 20, 2014

Quiz For a Rainy Day

In most parts of the country, a rainy day is a good excuse for staying indoors. Here in Northern California rain has become such a rare event that you have the opposite reaction: you want to get out into it. And that’s just what I did today.

First I headed up to the marine preserve and climbed the hill to the grove of trees on top. And although there were many trees, and they grew rather close together, they still didn’t form enough of a canopy overhead, and I was soon drenched. And loving it.

On the walk back down the path I looked out over the grey, choppy ocean and then down to the beach below. On it was a group of about twenty seals, nineteen of them seeming to be asleep, and acting as if it was just another day in the sun. But I could tell that they knew it wasn’t, and they were perhaps a little pissed about it. Except for the twentieth seal, a baby who bounced around the beach having a swell time, completely confused by the adults who seemed to want to waste another day just lying around. I remembered having that feeling myself, although it was a long time ago.

I hiked back down to my car and was absolutely drenched when I got there. And so what? I had spent the day hiking through the woods in the rare and glorious rain. Arriving back home I turned on the heater and put on some dry clothes, but the feeling that this was a special day, almost a holiday, wouldn’t leave me. In fact it’s still with me now, as I write this quiz.

It’s simple, really. All of the answers have “rain” or some form of it, in them. Oh, and watch out for the homonyms!

1. The title of this Dylan song is actually not “Everybody Must Get Stoned.”

2. The steelhead is one form of this fish

3. Last track on Eric Clapton’s self-titled 1970 album

4. 1988 movie starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman

5. This song by the Carpenters reached #2 in 1971

6. Prince album, song and movie

7. Considered the most successful of the Beatles tribute groups

8. Comedian and actor whose father Richard was also a comedian and actor

9. TV show about Mary, Queen of Scots that premiered in 2013

10. Dasher and Comet, to name two

11. To delay something, or put off until another time

12. It’s the last song on the Who’s Quadrophenia


1. “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”
2. Rainbow trout
3. “Let It Rain”
4. Rain Man
5. “Rainy Days and Mondays”
6. Purple Rain
7. Rain
8. Rain Pryor
9. Reign
10. Reindeer
11. Take a rain check
12. “Love, Reign o’er Me”

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

M&M Dreams

Last night I dreamt that I was buying some M&M’s from one of those gumball-style machines. I tuned the knob, lifted the little metal flap and M&M’s suddenly came pouring out by the hundreds. They scattered onto the floor, and soon I was on my knees, grabbing handfuls of the candy and stuffing them into my pockets like they were gold nuggets.

Even in my dream I was a little concerned. I knew that M&M’s didn’t melt in your hands, and that they do melt in your mouth, but I didn’t ever recall reading anything about what they do in your pants pockets. Also, there were still tons of them on the floor, and I wanted them all. The problem was there were two or three people nearby, and so I was not-so-patiently waiting for them to leave, so that I could continue picking up the candy from the dirty floor without them seeing, and judging, me.

It’s not hard to figure out where this dream came from. We were at the mall on Sunday and I put two quarters in the M&M machine, just like in the dream. Unlike in the dream, however, they didn’t come pouring out by the hundreds. In fact, I was amazed at how few M&M’s I got for fifty cents.

 Did I ever tell you that candy was only a nickel when I was a kid? (Only about a thousand times, Leonard.) Imagine, I could have gotten ten bags of M&M’s back then for the same amount of money I had just spent on a few piddly candies. And to make matters worse, I shared them with Spike. (Giving her three out of eleven is still considered sharing, right?)

Today I went to the grocery store. Remembering Spike’s admonishment to “don’t forget the dessert” (as if I ever would) I bought one of those plastic containers jammed with cookies. Fifty of them for five bucks, and they are quite good besides. What’s not to like?

When I got to the checkout and began to empty out my hand basket, the plastic container popped open and cookies came spilling out. As the cashier was ringing up my other items I frantically reached into the basket, grabbing handfuls of cookies to be put back into the container. I was aware that the spilled cookies were all lying directly on the bottom of the dirty plastic basket, and I rushed to get the job done before the cashier, or the customer behind me, saw what I was up to.  I briefly thought that, if she saw me, the cashier might offer to take the contaminated cookies and send someone to get me a batch of non-befouled ones, but she never did.

As I shoved mittfuls of cookies into the container, still hoping not to be seen, I couldn’t help but laugh. Wasn’t this just like my dream? After all, I was grabbing items by the bunches, hoping that nobody noticed they had fallen onto a dirty surface, and that I intended to eat them anyway. And then I thought maybe I was stretching things a bit. After all, here at the store I was picking up cookies, while in my dream it had been M&M’s.

I was back in my car and halfway home when it hit me; so hard, in fact, that a slight chill ran down my spine. The cookies that I had so frantically picked up, and which now rested in the bag on the passenger seat beside me, were not the usual chocolate chip cookies that I usually bought. This batch was a little different. This batch was made with…M&M’s!

M&M’s! Just like in my dream! Do you know what this means? Do you know what this means? Well, I’ll tell you. It means that M&M’s apparently play much too large a role in my life, that’s what.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


When I was in Kenya, the question I was most often asked by the people living there was about prejudice. “What is the prejudice like in America?” they’d wonder. And each time the question caught me off guard, and grasping for a proper answer. For how could I, a middle-class white man, possibly speak for black Americans who faced the ugly truth of prejudice each day of their lives? I couldn’t, and so eventually I stopped trying.

Which is not to say that being white automatically excuses a person from at least being aware of the prejudice around him. We might not experience it first hand, but at least we can make an effort to notice it. I’m long enough in the tooth to have lived during a time when drinking fountains, at least in some parts of the country, were labelled “white” and “colored,” and when black actors rarely were permitted to portray anything more than maids and butlers. 

Some people claim that prejudice has all but disappeared from the United States. After all, we have a black president. (And look how respectfully he is treated.) My gut feeling is that things may have improved over the last hundred years or so, but I would temper that opinion with the gnawing concern that I can never be sure how much of that prejudice has disappeared, and how much has been driven underground. And again, as a white man, how could I possibly know?

During my recent stay in Florida I started each day with a two-mile walk. It was a mile to the grocery store on Tampa Road, so that became my usual early-morning destination, allowing me to purchase the day’s food while at the same time getting a bit of exercise.

I followed this routine throughout the hellishly hot days of August, and then well into September. It was after Labor Day that I began to notice something. Suddenly, on the walk home from the store, I was passing a lot of school-age children. Some were on bikes and some were walking. The reason for their presence was no mystery, as it was obvious that the dreaded day had come for these kids, and school was back in session.

The kids were of elementary school age, freshly scrubbed and loaded down with their new school supplies. I smiled at some of them, as was befitting the friendly old man I apparently have become, and occasionally got out of the way as an oncoming caravan of three, four, five bicycles approached me on the sidewalk. It was about mid-September, when I had been observing these kids for about two weeks, that I began to notice something curious.

Not all of the children smiled back at me, or said hello—not by a long shot. But I became aware that those who did were almost always white. They appeared happy, carefree and with hardly a care in the world. They smiled and looked me right in the eye. Conversely, when a black child walked or rode by they invariably averted my gaze and looked the other way. When I did happen to catch their eye, more often than not I saw worry, and sometimes even fear. 

Although barely nine or ten years old, it was obvious that these kids had already discovered, or been taught, something.  They had been warned by someone, and were self-aware enough to know that they were perceived by many as being somehow “different.” At the very least each black child was cautious, and, in one so young, it was a heart-breaking thing to see.

So was what I saw, or thought I saw, in their eyes actually there, or was I simply projecting in some manner? And were a few dozen kids a large enough sample for me to come to the conclusions that I automatically reached? If so, and these kids are already victims of even a mild form of prejudice, then I know this is something that many of them will now be carrying with them until the turn of the next century, and even beyond. Or maybe it really was all in my imagination. Maybe I hadn’t seen anything in their eyes at all.

Monday, November 17, 2014


"Sold!" bellowed the big, jovial man behind the counter as he took my money. "My money" consisted of one dime and one nickel, a not inconsequential amount to a seven year old boy back then. Ah, but so what? I had thought about this investment for quite some time (over an hour!) and now, decision reached, I could barely conceal my excitement as the clerk handed me the treasured purchase.

It was a slice of Swiss cheese, a plastic one. I had chosen it over a counterful of other ingenious novelty and gag items that were featured in the tiny shop just around the corner from my grandmother's house. (I was staying there with my brothers for a week that summer, to have a nice vacation I had thought at the time, but later realized it was to give my parents a much-deserved break.)

I grabbed my faux cheese, thanked the clerk (which is something kids did back then) and rushed out the door of the shop and into my new world; a world, I imagined, where the fun would never stop. Why? Because I now was the owner of a gag that would ensure that my life was about to become nothing short of a string of belly laughs and endless yucks. How could it not?

I raced back to my grandmother's house bursting with giddy anticipation and pride of purchase. You know, I could have spent my dime and nickel on soda or candy. Or both. Back then I could have purchased a soda and a candy bar, or even three full-sized candy bars, for my fifteen cents. But I knew that the rewards of those sugary treats, though delightful, would be short-lived. With the purchase of my fake slice of cheese I was assured that the fun would not last just a few minutes, but for years and years to come.

I couldn't wait to show Grandma my acquisition. And I would show it to her, for although the plan was to slip the cheese into the lunches of my unsuspecting victims, Grandma was not one of my targets. Even at seven I knew that she was one of the nicest people I would ever meet. I could never play a trick on her, no matter how diabolically clever.

What about my crusty old German Grandpa, growling over his lunch in his corner chair by the window? Was it possible that I could slip the bogus cheese into one his headcheese and Limburger sandwiches, or whatever the hell he was eating over there? Are you insane? I already mentioned that my plan for the fake food was a life of endless laughs. And clearly part of this plan was to live past my eighth birthday.

"Look, Grandma!" I yelled as I exploded through the front door.
"What is it?" she asked kindly.

I explained that it was a piece of fake Swiss cheese that I had just bought, and I geared up tell her my future plans for big laughs and endless fun, but I was cut short.

"This is foolishness," she said.
"This is foolishness," she repeated.

I've thought about this episode over the years and have tried to understand my grandmother's out-of-character and somewhat harsh reaction. I'll never know the reason for sure, but I realized that this was a woman who had struggled through a Great Depression when an extra fifteen cents probably would have meant a lot, and even a slice of cheese, real cheese, would have been an unexpected and welcome treat. And here was this little goofball not only being insanely frivolous with his fifteen cents, but worse, spending it on a piece of cheese that you couldn't even eat!

I've just used a savings calculator and found that if fifty years ago I had invested that fifteen cents in the stock market rather than buy that fake cheese my investment today would be worth about $28. And I know now it's what I should have done. Then today I could withdraw that money, go online and purchase that incredibly realistic-looking, premium quality, fake dog poop I've had my eye on. And then I could really have some fun!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Unconsumed Ice Cream, and Other Myths

It was, to me anyway, an extraordinary phenomenon on par with sightings of Big Foot and alien abductions where they stick hoopdejoobs up your most personal of parts. It was so rare an occurrence, in fact, that I still remember when I witnessed it, even though it was a long time ago: It was the first week of August, 1981.

Leonard, what are you talking about? Well, I’ll tell you. First, a little background. I have here on my desk a scrap of paper from a magazine I was recently reading in the, oh, let’s say den. I believe it is from an article in National Geographic, an article that, sadly, I didn’t bother to read, or scan with enough depth to even know what it was about. Along with the article, however, was this chart, and that is what I tore from the NatGeo and placed on my desk.

Clearly, we can assume that the story that I didn’t bother to read concerned itself in some way with all the food that is wasted in this country. I come to this conclusion because the chart is topped with some statistics giving the cost of all the food that is left unconsumed in the United States. Wasted food, it seems, is responsible for 2.5% of our energy consumption, more than 25% of the fresh water used in agriculture, 300 million barrels of oil and the loss of $115 billion a year.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, but here’s where it gets interesting. The chart does a comparison of certain types of food, and the percentage of each that goes to waste. F’rinstance, since hard cheeses last much longer than their softer cousins, only 8% of Parmesan cheese goes to waste, as opposed to a full 50% of Swiss. Pumpkins, as we know, are used mostly for carving, so a whopping 69% of them are not eaten but simply thrown away each year. And each year Americans spend about $900 million on tomatoes that they never eat!

But that’s not the most shocking bit of information to be found in this chart, at least to me it isn’t. And this is where you came in. It was August of 1981 and I had just moved to the Bay Area. I was staying with some friends and happened to be exploring the contents of their refrigerator one lonely and hungry night. I looked in the freezer and there I saw it. It was a sight I still remember to this day, and am not likely to ever forget.

True, it was some years ago, and so you’ll forgive me if I don’t recall the brand, or even the flavor. I was, in fact, quite excited when I first discovered it; an excitement that immediately turned to horror once I had managed to pry open the circular lid. It was a half-gallon of ice cream, or at least it had once been. What I was looking at now was dry, hardened and like nothing I had ever before seen.

Yes, it was some ice cream that had been there long enough to go bad! And although I was already a grown man at this point, this was something I had never before seen or, to be honest, even contemplated. How could you have ice cream in the house and not eat it? I mean, if not the first night then surely within the next day or so? I think I once had a pint of Ben and Jerry’s that lasted for over 72 hours, but that was only because I had contracted a violent stomach flu, and for once had more things coming out of my body than going in.

But there it had been, covered in ice crystals and stashed way in the rear of the freezer. It was indeed ice cream that actually needed to be thrown out. Which I didn’t do, of course. With a shiver of disgust I put the lid back on the container and closed the freezer door. Believe me when I tell you I didn’t sleep well that night.

According to the chart provided by the good folks at National Geographic, a full 24% of ice cream will face the same fate as that horribly deformed half-gallon I stumbled upon all those decades ago. Someone will buy some ice cream, perhaps eat a bit and then either forget about the rest of it or, inconceivably, just not want it.

Listen, National Geographic is a distinguished magazine with a long, honorable history, and if they say something, it is no doubt true. And so if they tell me that nearly a quarter of all the ice cream purchased in the United States ends up getting thrown out, well, I believe it without hesitation. I’ll just never understand it.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

An Angel Quiz

Say, are you enjoying my new-fangled quizzes where all of the answers contain the same word? Well, that's too bad, because I sure am, and really, isn't my personal enjoyment what it's all about? Ahem. Anyway, in today's most recent collection of useless information all of the answers contain the word "angel" or some variation of.

Did you know that over half of all Americans actually believe that angels exist? And I'm not talking about the "angel" who donates to your charity or stops to help you fix a flat. I mean honest-to-god wing-flapping invisible spooks who protect you from walking into traffic or betting on the Raiders. Explains quite a bit about the state of things, huh? OK, let's begin.

1. Hit song for Merrilee Rush and Juice Newton
2. John Prine penned this Bonnie Raitt hit.
3. 1969 movie starring Andy Griffith
4. American illusionist, magician and mindfreak
5. Jim Rockford's weaselly pal
6. Polyester pants popular in the 1980's
7. Type of sponge cake
8. Hit song for Bobby Vee
9. One of racing's all-time leading jockeys
10. Phencyclidine (PCP)
11. It plunges 2,648 feet
12. Sequel starring Tom Hanks
13. They blew one to the A's yesterday.
14. 1980 Sidney Sheldon novel
15. Motorcycle club founded in 1948
16. 1951 baseball movie
17. Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize-winning play
18. David Boreanaz played him on Buffy
19. Rich guy who provides capital for a start-up company
20. It sits in the middle of San Francisco Bay
21. Original version of this Christmas carol appeared in 1739
22. 1953 song or 2001 movie
23. American voice actor who played Hawkman
24. Children's book published in 1946
25. U.S. Navy's flying aerobatic team


1. Angel of the Morning
2. Angel from Montgomery
3. Angel in My Pocket
4. Criss Angel
5. Evelyn "Angel" Martin
6. Angel Flights
7. Angel food cake
8. Devil or Angel
9. Angel Cordero
10. Angel Dust
11. Angel Falls
12. Angels and Demons
13. Los Angeles Angels
14. Rage of Angels
15. Hell's Angels
16. Angels in the Outfield
17. Angels in America
18. Angel or Angelus
19. Angel investor
20. Angel Island
21. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
22. Angel Eyes
23. Jack Angel
24. The Littlest Angel
25. The Blue Angels

Monday, November 10, 2014


I miss playing Thirty-One. It's a simple yet surprisingly fun card game I used to play in Florida, usually with my brother, mother and Spike. (Dad, at the first sign of a deck of cards, instantly retreated to the bedroom to watch that week's football or baseball Game of the Century.)

I won't go into every detail and rule of the game. These, I'm sure, can be found online. Quickly though, each player is dealt three cards and the goal is to get a total of, yup, thirty-one. Play begins with three dimes in front of each player. After the conclusion of each hand--after one player has "knocked"--the player with the lowest score has to toss a dime into the pot. Once a player has lost all of his or her dimes he is then "on his honor." One more loss and he's out of the game.

Questions arise. Can the game be played with other than dimes? Say with nickels, quarters, paper clips or Krugerrands? Certainly, but not at our house. We could have had a garbage pail full of nickels and we'd still be scrounging around the house looking for dimes. Why? Because thirty-one is always played with dimes. Also, what's the point of "on your honor?" Wouldn't it be the same to just start with four dimes? Yes, but again, not at our house.

It seemed that more often than not, as we approached the end of the game, the number of wins each person had was about the same. Nobody would know this, of course, if old anal-retentive Leonard wasn't methodically keeping score. For example, my mom, brother and I might have two wins each, with my wife Spike with one. My brother, whining for at least a half-hour that he "had to go home," would graciously agree to play one more hand. This was my cue to point out what I thought should be fairly obvious to everyone:

"Okay, one more hand," I'd agree. "That is, unless Spike wins. Then, of course, we'd all have two wins and would necessarily play one more hand to declare the night's winner."
"I'm only playing one more hand," grumped my brother.
"Yes. Unless Spike wins. Then we have to play one more," I'd explain patiently.
"I don't care who wins, I'm going home. I have to get to bed!"
"It's 9:30. What are you, a farmer? You have to get up early to milk the cows?"

And so we'd play. And sometimes Spike, or whoever it was on that particular night, would get that win and we'd be all tied up. And would my brother stay to play that all-important tie-breaker? Sometimes, if I browbeat him enough, he would. And then we'd have an overall winner, a champion for that evening. Just as we should. And sometimes he'd just get up and leave.

Was part of the fun for me the laughing and teasing of my brother, and using every trick in the book to get him to stay for that final game? Of course. But then again, there's still the part of me than can' t even begin to comprehend how you can have a four-way tie and not have a championship game, an ultimate winner. What would be the point of playing?

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Guano a Place

There's a fascinating article in the current issue of Smithsonian all about...the potato. Scoff if you will, but did you know that up until the lowly spud was introduced to Europe the continent was never quite able to feed itself, and the standard of living was much like you might find in a third world country? And also, the potato was originally poisonous and had to be eaten with clay to neutralize the toxins, a trick that people learned from watching the animals? And during the agricultural boom brought on by the growth of the potato's popularity, Europe imported tons and tons of bird poop? Wait, come back.

You probably think of bats when you hear the word "guano," but in fact the word is derived from the South American "wano," meaning "dung." Guano can refer to the excrement of bats, seabirds or seals. In Peru there are many coastal areas with high, inaccessible cliffs, as well as secluded islands, which allow tremendous numbers of seabirds to nest undisturbed by people. And where there are seabirds...

Just off the coast of Peru lie the Chincha Islands. Peru began exporting the guano deposits found there in 1840. Guano is rich in phosphorus and nitrogen, is odorless and so makes an excellent fertilizer. In some places on the islands the guano was over 150 feet deep. And that, my friends, is a lot of bird poop.

Over the next few decades Peru exported about 13 million tons of guano from the Chincha Islands. At one point it accounted for 60% of the revenue for the Peruvian government. In 1864, as further proof that people will fight over just about anything, Spain took control of the Chincha Islands, and with it much of the Peruvian guano trade, igniting the Chincha Islands War. The war would last until 1866, when Spain was finally sent packing. As with most natural resources, the guano of the Chincha Islands was quickly used up, and the supply was mostly exhausted by 1874.

You already knew that wars have been fought over many things including land, gold, slaves, rubber and oil. And now to that list you can add piles and piles of goopy bird poop. Enjoy your breakfast.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Grandpa Leonard Does It Again

I was going to say this happened in the grocery store, but that’s not exactly honest. In truth, I was in the food aisle of the dollar store, and she had now crossed my path for the third time. She was young, perhaps in her mid-twenties, and quite attractive. I watched as she reached up for a box of something--I never knew what-- on the top shelf, wondering if she would be able to reach it. And if she couldn’t I was standing by, ready and able to use my no more than average height to aid this damsel in distress.

At first it looked like she was not going to need my chivalrous assistance, but then three boxes came tumbling down on her. I instinctively reached out to catch them, missed them all, but valiantly bent down to retrieve the boxes. I handed her one and returned the others to the top shelf.

By now the girl, slightly embarrassed, was laughing and apologizing. I laughed along with her, all the while thinking of something clever to say. Make it witty! I commanded myself. What I said was this:

“Boy, you’d never make it on The Ed Sullivan Show.”

Now, this was a pretty good line and I’ll explain why, because some of you younger men need to hear this. The natural instinct for many men is to rush in, filled with faux concern. Are you alright? they’ll fawn, even though she obviously is fine. Or they’ll move right in with a compliment. A pretty girl like you should have someone getting those things for you, or some such drivel.

My line was good because, and it would do you young fellows well to remember this, instead of gushing with compliments she was no doubt used to, and perhaps weary of, I gently teased her. I implied that she was clumsy. It’s a good approach, and in addition the comment itself was pretty slick for the spur of the moment.

Now, this is why it was a good line but not a great line, and I suspect you’ve already figured this out. Two seconds after I spoke I wanted to take back my words and do some quick editing. As mildly clever as my line was, I couldn’t help but sense that this fresh, young girl, decades my junior, was now thinking, Who the fuck is Ed Sullivan?

You see, it would have been a great line if this incident had taken place in, say, 1967, but sadly it did not. I later tortured myself by recognizing what a simple matter it would have been to replace The Ed Sullivan Show with perhaps a program that hadn’t been off the air since Nixon’s first term. I could have said, Boy, you’d never make it on America’s Got Talent, or even, I wouldn’t want to see that on YouTube. But no, I had to mention a guy who had already been long dead before she was even born.
Ah well, I thought, driving away consuming my dollar store Diet Coke and peanut butter-filled pretzels. I suppose it could have been even worse. I might have said, Boy, you’d never make it on Major Bowes.

One of these days I really must update my references.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Scraps: Going Postal

This scrap is made up mostly of an article about the price of a postage stamp. More specifically, it’s about a speech presented by the head of the letter carriers union expressing his hope that President Eisenhower “will have the courage” to raise the cost of a stamp…from three cents to four cents.

At first we might laugh at all this commotion over a penny, but then when you think about it that’s a cost increase of 33%, a sizable jump. Why, if they raised the price of a stamp today by the same percentage, it would jump from forty-nine cents to sixty-five cents. You’d be able to hear the caterwauling for miles. And I have to make a confession here. I had to look up the current price of a stamp. I was pretty sure it was still forty-six cents.

Another humorous aspect of this article is the less than subtle “baiting” of President Eisenhower, implying that if he doesn’t raise the price of a stamp by a penny he is somehow lacking in courage. Eisenhower, as Supreme Commander in Europe, seemed to have had enough courage in World War II to defeat Hitler, but apparently the thought of increasing the price of a stamp by a penny was enough to turn him into a quivering pile of Jell-O.

The price of a first-class postage stamp was eventually raised to four cents in 1958, somewhere near the middle of Ike’s second term. The cost of a stamp has increased steadily since then, with the accompanying and predictable cries of outrage each and every time. To me, though, the fact that I could put this old newspaper scrap into an envelope and have it hand-delivered to a friend three thousand miles away, for about the price of two slurps of a Starbuck’s Crappuccino, is remarkable.

Incidentally, just below the article about the cost of a stamp is a short article titled “Decides on Discretion.” It tells of a man who, while out hunting for squirrels, spotted a lion in the woods outside of Cincinnati. At first he decided he was going to go after it with his squirrel-hunting gun. After some thought, however, he changed his mind, ran home and called the police. There is no further information on the fate of the lion, if indeed there ever was one. The article does make it a point to mention, however, that the squirrel hunter had been deemed, “as sober as a judge.”
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