Wednesday, July 23, 2014

File Sharing: 1971 Style

Arthur and Howie agreed, and who was I to argue? I had wanted them to record me a cassette tape of Retrospective: The Best of Buffalo Springfield, but I was soon made to understand that this made no sense. After all, Buffalo Springfield had only recorded three albums in the two years they were together, and there hadn’t been a bad song on any of the six sides.

“So why not have them all on one tape?” asked Howie.

Why not, indeed? And so the next time I saw Howie he handed me a 120 minute cassette. It seemed like an impossible dream, but here it was: Everything ever recorded by Buffalo Springfield, right there in the palm of my hand. I thanked him profusely, or at least I hope I did, and headed out to my car to pop my new tape into the boxy, fifteen-pound tape-player slash radio that my parents had given me for graduation.

I don’t know which I found more exciting, that I now had the equivalent of all three Buffalo Springfield albums, or that I had gotten it for free. If I spent even a second feeling guilty about having possibly taken food out of Neil and Stephen’s mouths, well, I don’t remember.

Howie had recorded the albums in the order of release, as anybody would have expected him to. I leaned back in my car seat and pulled out of Howie’s driveway to the opening notes of “Go and Say Goodbye,” and drove around burning up 38 cent gasoline until the fading last strains of the simple and elegant “Kind Woman.” Then I flipped the tape and started all over again.

I played the hell out of that tape all summer long, and then in September took it with me to my freshman year of college. The tape served me well right into my sophomore year, but alas, it is the nature of all things to wear down, and my cassette containing every song released by Buffalo Springfield was no exception. And so one day, without the slightest bit of a warning, the tape just broke. I was sad when that happened, perhaps sadder than one should be over the loss of something as mundane as a cassette tape, but we had, after all, spent many happy hours together.

Right now I can click over any number of music websites, type in ‘Buffalo Springfield,’ and listen to every song that was on my old tape, and as often as I want. Additionally, I can hunt down alternate renditions of these songs, unknown songs that were never released, live performances and doctored versions where I can hear isolated vocals, guitars or a cowbell. Still, that was a pretty good little tape.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Big Boy is Bored

Bored fans greeting the Beatles in 1964

Big Boy and I were standing outside a local club. When the door opened we could hear the singing of the talented lady who was performing inside.

"Hey, listen Big Boy. She's singing a Beatles song!" I said.
"Yeah? Did everybody in there fall asleep?"

Busting my balls about the music of my generation is an endless source of amusement for the 20 year old Big Boy. To him such long-ago bands like the Beatles and the Stones and the Who might just as well been popular during the Civil War as the 1960's. More than once he has walked up to me and one of my equally decrepit friends as we dredge up some nearly-forgotten tidbit about the Kinks or Jefferson Airplane. "Are you two talking about the 1920's again?" he'll say.

At one point I had shown Big Boy a YouTube clip of the screaming, near-hysterical fans at the Beatles Shea Stadium concert.

"Do those people look bored to you?" I asked.
"Oh, they're all high on marijuana," said Big Boy

He's just having fun, of course, but there is one recurring theme in his good-natured jibes that leads me to believe that underneath the joking there lies a real opinion. In his over-sized heart Big Boy truly believes that the music of the 1960's is boring. To his way of thinking, I suppose, it just doesn't offer the aggressive foul-mouthed monotony that he gets from his regular diet of rap music. And now, on this rainy night outside this tiny nightclub, I'm discovering that not only does he think the sixties music was boring, but that the entire era was boring.

"Are you crazy!" I yell. "The sixties were one of the most exciting times of the last 100 years!" And then he explains:

According to Big Boy's curious theory, everybody was bored during the sixties because they didn't have the technology that we have today. There were no iPads or iPhones or texting or even personal computers.

"But those things are just delivery systems," I argue. "You're watching and listening to the same things on your smart phone that people listened to back then: movies, music, books. There's really nothing new, except how the product is accessed. Oh, maybe video games are a new form of entertainment, but that's about it."

"Going on the computer just to search information is a new form of entertainment..." argued Big Boy.

I granted him this, although I could have argued that it used to be done all the a library. But really, claiming that everybody was bored in the sixties because they didn't have today's technology is absurd. And I told him so.

"Listen, Big Boy, not too long ago the highlight of a family's evening was gathering around the radio and listening to the popular shows of the day. You think they pissed and moaned because they didn't have television? They couldn't even conceive of what television was. And a few hundred years before that a family would sit around all night watching a log burn in the fireplace. Maybe once in a while they'd use a different type of wood that would cause popping noises and colorful sparks to fly out. You know what that was to them? Cinemax! And here's some more news for you. Eighty years from now some young lunkhead much like yourself is going to look back and claim that the poor people of 2011 were so bored because they didn't have the Floozenizer!"

"Nah, nothing will ever surpass the Internet," said Big Boy dismissively.

I was going to explain to him, slowly and patiently, that every generation has felt this, every era thought that they were the ones living in The Modern Age. Did he really think that the average man in the Middle Ages looked around at his world and thought, "Wow, we really are a bunch of backwards assholes."? No, they thought that their technological achievements, their hourglass and spinning wheel and such, were the greatest things to come along since sliced bread. (Which they didn't have, by the way.)

I also wanted to tell Big Boy that someday people will look back at his life with the iPod and GPS and notebook computer and find it as barbaric as we today find the family huddled around that fire. Yes, I wanted to explain all of this to Big Boy, but I found I just didn't have the energy. Besides, I was starting to get bored.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Kick the Can

I watched a particularly poignant episode of The Twilight Zone over the weekend. It was about a group of people who lived in an old-age home, or whatever the acceptable term is these days. A bunch of kids were playing outside the home, upsetting some of the residents while causing feelings of nostalgia in others. 

The game the kids were playing was also the title of the episode, which was “Kick the Can.” Several of the old folks were reminded of the times in their youth when they, too, had spent seemingly endless days playing this game. Watching the game on TV brought back some childhood memories for me as well, memories that, while not negative in any way, were also not particularly warm and nostalgic.

I was fortunate enough to grow up on a street where there were a lot of neighborhood kids running around, and we often played organized games in various sized group. Some of the more popular games were baseball, kickball and hide-and-go-seek. On more than one occasion the grown-ups (old men in their thirties and forties) on the block attempted to introduce us to kick the can. You could tell that they had enjoyed playing the game as kids, and thought it would be fun for us, the next generation, as well.

But we kids didn’t think it was much fun at all, and I’m really at a loss to explain why. Sure, we tried to play the game a couple of times but, for whatever reason, it just never caught on. In fact, as soon as the grown-ups went back inside to ease themselves into their overstuffed couches, we’d immediately revert back to one of our regular games.

I was fairly certain I remembered how the game is played, but I just looked it up anyway. It turns out I was pretty close, which you’ll agree is not bad for someone who last played the game over fifty years ago, and only twice at that. Basically, a can is set up in an open area, and one person is designated as “It.” (That term probably wouldn’t fly today, as it would be considered too detrimental to the poor child’s self-esteem. He’d probably have to be called “The King,” or something equally ego-boosting.)

Next, all the players try to get close enough to the can to kick it (obviously) before they are tagged by It.  There are many variations of the game, which I certainly don’t feel like going into right now. If you’re that curious you can always look it up yourself. There’s this thing called the Internet.

Why kick the can, so popular with kids in the 1930’s and 1940’s and before, would lay such an egg in the 1960’s is anybody’s guess. Sure, that previous generation was growing up in a depression, and so maybe an old dented can was all the sports equipment they could come up with, but I don’t think that’s the reason.

We certainly didn’t grow up in poverty, but most of our games, such as kickball and curb-ball, could be played with nothing but a single ball. And hide-and-seek required no equipment at all. Nope, I have no idea why we never took to the game kick the can, as had generations of children before us. We just didn’t like it.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Shoe Biz

“It will be fun,” Spike said. “And you’ll have something to write about.”

She was half right. This all began when Spike mentioned that there was a giant shoe sale over at the convention center. Just shoes? Yes. And though I know no more than anyone about what awaits us in the next life, I suspect that spending an eternity in the middle of a gaggle of shrieking females fighting over boxes of footwear might turn out to be a pretty fair approximation of what awaits me in my own personal Hell.

And so why did I go? Well, there were several reasons. One was that we agreed to have lunch at a sushi restaurant after the shoe sale, a restaurant that Spike still held a gift certificate to. Also, believe it or not, I really did think that I might get a story or two out of it, for your entertainment, of course.

There was also a third, minor yet ugly reason. I actually was looking forward to being in a large room where the ratio of women to men was sure to be about 20 to 1. I suspected it was prime “cheap-shot” territory, with scores of women in low-cut summer tops bending over to try on shoes, or dig through boxes.

The reality turned out to be quite disappointing, as reality often tends to do. The women were there in vast numbers, to be sure, but they’re pretty well strapped down these days, what with layers of shirts and ubiquitous brassieres. Now, if I had gone to a sale like this in 1975, women’s fashions being what they were at the time, that would have been much more enjoyable. (Not to mention the fact that I would still have been in my 20’s.)

We parked a few blocks away from the event (Because paying a $10 parking fee to go to a shoe sale would have been, to my mind, nothing short of ludicrous.) We found the entrance to the sale and got at the end of a long line of people. Why, I wondered, was there a line? Why couldn’t we just walk into this thing?

A few minutes later a couple of punks (my word for anybody under 40) walked down the line and, without questions or explanations, distributed wristbands to everyone in line. And I, dutiful 21st century American citizen that I am, put it on, without question.  Still, this was another puzzler. The event was free. There was no booze for sale. Why did I need a wristband?

We waited a few more minutes and then a bunch of us were allowed to enter the vast, warehouse-sized room, where we saw little except groups of large, shoe-filled cardboard boxes scattered throughout the building. Signs were posted identifying the shoes as Women’s, Men’s and Children’s.

“Why don’t you go check out the Men’s?” said Spike immediately. I just laughed. I’ve been around her long enough to easily translate that statement. She was basically telling me to get lost.

“No, I want to stay with you,” I laughed. This might be fun to watch after all.

And it was, at least for a few minutes. Fun, and occasionally borderline scary. For example, after we were there for a short time one of the workers brought out a new box, filled to the brim with shoes. He placed it on the floor right near the section I had been observing, and then the women moved in. I try to always be honest with you, and so I have to admit that I’ve never actually been at the zoo when they throw an antelope carcass into the lion den, but, well, you get the idea.

A few minutes later Spike was holding up a pair of shoes, completely covered in red sparkles, for my inspection. My reaction was to laugh, but I managed to stifle it. Ladies, why would you ever want a pair of red sparkly shoes?

“What do you think of these?” Spike said.
“There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home,” I answered. And frankly, at this point of the shoe sale, I was starting to believe it.

Suddenly there was an announcement. It instructed those shoppers wearing an orange wristband to please proceed to the checkout to pay for their shoes. Aha! There was a purpose to the wristbands! See, the people in charge of things have a very good reason for doing what they do. There’s absolutely no need for us to question them.  Ever.

And so we got in the line for the cashier. Along the way we passed a trash can, and I threw out the empty plastic bag that they had given me to fill with my purchases. Even Spike had only chosen three pairs of shoes (including Dorothy’s magic slippers) which I thought rather constrained until the cashier said they were seventy-seven dollars.

What? I though we came here because this was some big discount warehouse sale. Spike assured me that it was, and that the fragile-looking footwear that everybody was jumping on usually cost forty bucks a pop!

Listen, I can pretend that I understand the whole shoe thing, but, again, I want to be honest. I didn’t see anything in those boxes that was much different from what you might find at a Payless for five bucks. Except, of course, that all-important designer label.

Later, belly filled with free sushi, we finally arrived back home. Spike immediately tried on a pair of her new shoes.

“These are so comfortable!” she said.
“That’s nice,” I answered. 

Friday, July 18, 2014


Then Start Loading Up, Baby!

An Animal Quiz Just For You

This one’s for you. Look, I know each time you try to answer a question on one of these quizzes you almost always get it wrong. Time and time again, your score is even worse than what you’d get from simple random guessing. Why, it’s uncanny how bad you are at this.

But hey, you’re human too, if only just barely. So how about if I make a quiz where the goal is to pick the wrong answer? You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Sure you would.  And what if I made it about animals? You like animals, don’t you? Sure you do.

Below you’ll find the names of ten animals, each followed by four statements. Three of these are correct and one is just plain wrong. All you have to do is pick out the wrong answer. You know, just like you always do.

1. Elephants...
a. There are over 400,000 elephants in Africa
b. A group of elephants is called a herd.
c. Nearly half of elephant births are twins.
d. There are two species of elephants.

2. Polar bears…
a. A polar bear’s favorite foods are seals and penguins.
b. Polar bears play games.
c. Polar bears in zoos sometimes turn green.
d. Polar bears have mated, and reproduced, with grizzly bears.

3. Parrots
a. Parrots can live over eighty years.
b. A parrot’s beak is hollow.
c. Parrots are the only bird that can lift food to its mouth with its feet.
d. Almost all parrot species are threatened with extinction.

4 Snakes…
a. Some snakes can grow to over 28 feet in length.
b. Snakes are found on every continent in the world.
c. Snakes do not have eyelids.
d. Snakes smell with their tongue.

5. Cats…
a. Cat sleep up to ten hours a day.
b. A group of cats is called a clowder.
c. The heaviest domestic cat on record was nearly 47 pounds.
d. There are half a billion domestic cats in the world.

6. Hippopotamuses…
a. Wild hippos are found only in Africa.
b. The word hippopotamus means river horse.
c. The hippo’s closest relatives are whales and dolphins.
d. A hippo has about the same lifespan as a human.

7. Gorillas…
a. Gorillas sometimes eat small animals.
b. Gorillas have fingerprints like humans.
c. A main cause of gorilla death is cardiovascular disease.
d. About 10% of gorillas have blue eyes.

8. Turtles…
a. Most turtle species have five toes on each limb.
b. Turtles date back about 20 million years.
c. The largest known turtle was about 2,000 pounds.
d. Turtles have good eyesight.

9. Whales…
a. The blue whale is the largest animal that ever existed.
b. Whales inhale and exhale through their blowhole.
c. Whales can swim up to 60 miles per hour.
d. Whales never fall asleep completely.

10. Ants…
a. Some ants are green.
b. Some ants raise ants of other species to be slaves.
c. Some ants are blue.
d. The largest ant colony ever discovered was 100 miles long.


1. While elephants do on occasion give birth to twins, it is actually quite rare.
2. Polar bears live in the Arctic. Penguins live in the Antarctic. In fact, the word arctic is derived from the Greek word for bear, and so Antarctic means without bear.
3. There are over 360 species of parrots, and only about 100 are endangered. Maybe “only” isn’t the right word.
4. Snakes are found on every continent in the world…except Antarctica! (No bears either, remember?)
5. On average, cats sleep 13 – 14 hours a day. In fact, there’s one loudly snoring at my feet as I write this.
6. Hippos live only about 45 years.
7. All gorillas have brown eyes.
8. Turtles go back over 200 million years! They originally had teeth and couldn’t retract their head. Modern humans (or “noobs” as the turtles call us) by comparison only go back about half a million years.
9. The top speed for a whale is about 30 miles per hour.
10. Actually, the largest ant colony ever discovered was over 3600 miles long. It stretched from Italy to Spain, and was home to billions of ants! 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Died in House Dot Com

“Only three states require a real estate agent to disclose that a person died in that house!”

This message was delivered in an urgent and most dire tone over my car radio. It was the opening salvo of a commercial I had never heard before, for a product I had also never heard of. It’s a website called

At first I suspected it might be a joke. I was, after all, listening to a station that featured stand-up comedy. And then I thought it was advertising a website that disclosed a wide range of undisclosed information about a house that you might be thinking of buying, sort of like a CarFax for houses. But nope, these folks only care about one thing, and that is whether anybody ever died in that house you’re thinking of purchasing.

Is it really that big a deal if somebody dies in a house? (I mean, besides to the dead person.) And if it is, why is that? Is it merely based in superstition, or perhaps the remnants of a centuries-old fear of, say, the plague? Maybe there are people who are afraid the house might now be haunted? (And don’t laugh. Studies show that seventy-seven percent of Americans actually believe in angels. Are ghosts really that much of a stretch?)

Still, I can’t help but wonder what effect a death in a home has on a property’s value. Some quick research tells me that while a natural death may have almost no effect at all, homes where a murder or a suicide took place can sell for an average of 2.4% less, and take 50% longer to unload. I imagine that if this sort of information becomes generally known, we might be hearing more conversations like this:

“I’d like to die at home,” croaks the old man from his hospital bed.
“Uh, now Grandpa, you know here in the hospital is where they can best, you know, take care of you,” replies the greedy relative.

And now for the final step. I didn’t do this when I first heard of this website, because you have to register, and you know what a pain that can be. But I’m going to do it now, just for you. I’m heading over to to find out if anybody has ever died in my house. Be right back.

Well, how silly of me. It turns out that is a pay website. It costs twelve bucks to check on the morbid history of a house. Now that I think about it, sometimes it’s just better not to know certain things. And that’s especially true if you happen to be a habitual cheapskate. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The All-Star Game Is Tonight

I was clicking around the dial last night (As if TV’s still have dials. Or click.) and noticed that the Home Run Derby was on. That’s right, I said to myself, the All-Star Game is tomorrow. You know, I didn’t even bother to watch the Home Run Derby, not even for a second.

There was a time when the All-Star Game mattered quite a bit to me, and to my childhood chum Lenny. Lenny was a Yankees fan, and so rooted for the American League team. I was stuck haplessly cheering for the Mets, and so the National League was my team. Not that I had much of a chance of actually seeing a Met in an All-Star Game during those years. (That all changed in 1969, of course. At least temporarily.)

Here in the Bay Area we have two teams, and I root for both of them. Namby-pamby stuff like that would never have flown back then in New York. No, you either rooted for the Yankees or you rooted for the Mets. Anyone who ever dared to admit that he “kinda liked them both” (and I never met a single person who did) was sure to be heaped from each side with fetid piles of scorn and disgust.

I don’t remember where Lenny and I were going that night, but I know our dads had taken us and our brothers somewhere. I do remember that it was the night of the All-Star Game. And so we waited outside of whatever event we were attending, Lenny and I desperately trying to hear the All-Star Game through the tinny, quarter-sized speaker of a cheap transistor radio.

The Mets might actually have had somebody in an All-Star Game, or they might not. The Yankees, of course, most certainly would. And it was always a big thrill when the representative of your team came up to bat, or was called in to pitch. And if he happened to get a clutch hit, or maybe chalk up a crucial strikeout, well, you’d be bursting with a youthful, and totally unearned, pride for the rest of the week.

Another nice thing about the All-Star Game, especially for a Mets fan of that time, was that all of the players that you feared all season long were, at least for this one night, on your team. Once a year Bob Gibson might be pitching and you could root for him. Willie Mays might hit a homerun and you’d be free to cheer.

And this temporary and short-lived sense of relief was never more pronounced than when San Francisco Giant Willie McCovey came to bat. Year in and year out, McCovey would pound the Mets into the well-groomed dust of Shea Stadium. I once got to a game early enough to sneak down to field level and watch batting practice. I stood transfixed, only a few feet from McCovey, as he sent ball after ball deep into the right field stands. I was so close, and he generated so much raw power, that I didn’t know whether to cry or wet my pants. And what he’d be doing to my beloved  Mets in about half an hour would probably cause me to do both.

The All-Star Game is being played right now as I write this. Maybe when I’m done here I’ll give it a look. Or maybe I won’t. I’ll probably end up watching some 30 Rock reruns instead. The truth is I don’t care very much about the All-Star Game, and haven’t for decades. And a part of me thinks that’s too bad, because I still remember those times when Lenny and I practically lived and died based on who won the All-Star Game. We cared so very much. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Guess Who #37

How do you ever, no one has ever asked me, come up with the people you select for your oh-so-delightful Guess Who feature? Well, I’ll tell you. It usually happens during the course of a day when I either hear a reference to some almost forgotten person, or a unique fact about a famous person. Or sometimes it’s just someone I admire.

Most of the people I choose are from the past. And I wouldn’t have been able to tell you this if I hadn’t just checked, but most of the previous 36 subjects are alive. Now, I can’t give you an exact count of how many of them are alive, but it’s about 23. The reason I can’t be more precise is because some of them aren’t actual people, but singing groups (The Guess Who and Wings) or fictitious (Gidget.)

Most of the subjects are from the world of show business, and some were chosen simply because I admire their talent (Woody Allen, Jerry Lewis, George Carlin. Rickie Lee Jones.) Perhaps my favorite subject ever was Saddam Hussein. It was a toughie, for sure, since I stacked it with only positive clues. Did you know he wrote four novels, was given the Key to the City of Detroit in 1980 and started a campaign to end illiteracy? Well, there you go.

Tonight’s subject is not so dramatic a personage, and is probably one of the most current of the Guess Who people. I suspect the reason I chose him was not because of his talent, which I admire, but rather because I think he serves as a reminder that if you keep your head down, and keep plugging away through the failures, you can (sometimes) achieve great success.

Mr. X was born in 1965.

Mr. X decided that he wanted to be an actor at age 12.

It is said that Mr. X closely resembles Matthew Broderick, and has replaced him in plays on several occasions.

Mr. X has been married twice.

Mr. X achieved first achieved fame in a 1980’s classic movie written by John Hughes.

Mr. X starred with Charlie Sheen in the movie Hot Shots! in 1991.

Mr. X was asked to audition for the role of “Chandler” in Friends, but his tape failed to arrive from England on time.
Mr. X was born in New York City.

Mr. X’s two front teeth are fake.

In 1989 Mr. X starred in the sitcom The Famous Teddy Z, which was cancelled after one season.

In 1995 Mr. X starred in the sitcom Bob, which was cancelled after one season.

In 2000 Mr. X starred in the sitcom The Trouble With Normal, which was cancelled after one season.

In 2003 Mr. X first starred in his current sitcom, which is now in its twelfth season.

Mr. X’s middle name is “Niven.”

Mr. X received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2011.

Mr. X has won two Emmy Awards.

Geez, that’s everything but his name! And don’t you dare use the Internet!

Sunday, July 13, 2014


I saw the sign just before I began the familiar drive up the hill, to the public pool I swim in every Saturday morning. “Lifeguard tryouts today.”


My admittedly rash reaction was because I still remembered the day a few months earlier, when they had held similar tryouts. The crowd of prospective lifeguards had taken up the entire pool. At the time, as I stared at the splashing mob, I had been told that a lane, and possibly two, might open up in fifteen minutes or so. A fat lot of good that will do, I thought, when the usual ten to fifteen of my fellow swimmers show up.  I decided later to all that, and drove back down the hill, wishing that grumbling burned as many calories as swimming.

I was about half an hour early today, but I decided to park my car and stroll to the pool to scope out the situation. If it was the same madhouse as last time, there was no way in hell that I would be hanging around until ten o’clock to wait for a lane that would never appear.

 As I walked towards the pool I passed a young man who was obviously a lifeguard. Sure, I partly deduced this by using my keen powers of observation, noting his swimmer’s body, tousled hair and overly confident attitude. But mostly I knew it because he was heading towards the truck that had a surfboard on top and the word “Lifeguard” painted on the side.

“How long are these tryouts going to be?” I asked him as I walked past.
“Until noon,” he replied, all tousled confidence and good cheer.

I arrived at the pool and peeked through the slats in the fence. The pool, miraculously, was empty. At its edge three or four apparent lifeguards were sitting at a long table, waiting, I assumed, for prospective candidates to show up.

See, you never know. Things suddenly looked good for today’s swim, so full speed ahead and all that. I headed back to my car to wait for ten o’clock and the start of open swimming. On the way I passed that same young lifeguard.

“Coming back later with your kid?” he asked politely
“Nah,” I said. And then, after walking a few steps and digesting what he had said, I turned around.
“Hey, what are you saying, I’m too old to be a lifeguard?” I yelled at his retreating back.

Well, by this time I was having a blast. This unsuspecting kid was so taken aback, he turned from King of the Beach to Ralph Kramden in a matter of seconds.

“Hamana-hamana-hamana—I didn’t mean—hamana-hamana-hamana,” he sputtered

I tell you, people, it was glorious. I let the embarrassed sap twist in the wind for a while, and then finally let the poor guy off the hook.

“No, I’m just here for the open swim at ten,” I laughed.

I’ve always believed that if I could make just one of these cocky young punks uncomfortable each and every day, well, I’ve done my job. And so I headed back to my car, basking in triumph, my mission accomplished for today. And it wasn’t even ten o’clock yet.
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