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Saturday, May 29, 2004

MY EYES! MY EYES! 

A neighborhood man and his wife who have been long time nude yoga enthusiasts finally fulfilled their dream: they have self published a thick, big instructional book of doing yoga in the buff. They also thoughtfully donated a copy to the branch. When my manager pointed at the gift book on his desk and warned me about what it was, I was overwhelmed with this horrible compulsion to walk over there, open it, and look inside. Like Bluebeard's wife, who, eaten up with a terrible curiosity, could not stop herself from opening the forbidden door, I was powerless myself to resist opening the book of neighborhood naked yoga.

Just as I feared, the book is practically all photographs and employs many of the neighborhood's Bohemian/Beatnik residents, many of whom are patrons, as wrinkly but surprisingly flexible models. Father Time and years of hard living have taken their toll on their bodies, and I wish I could scrub my brain of the images that still reverberate: the winking orifices, the droopy yanni  and yogini , the shocks of hair in unexpected places, the intense look of the models staring back out at me from the book's pages, the entire last section devoted to partner yoga. I don't think it's ever safe for me to do hallucinogens or run a high fever for fear that these images will reappear to haunt me while I'm in a vulnerable psychological state. It's bad enough that I have to see these people in the neighborhood, some even on a professional basis. I would have rather have been forced to pore over a book of battle wounds or autopsies or police crime scenes. Donations like these underscore the need for a solid, detailed collection development policy to fall back on. For community relations, my manager accepted the donation, and put it out in the general collection, where it will probably mercifully and immediately be stolen.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Really Boring Post Concerning Library Printing Policy 


When people want to print from our public access computers it's kind of an involved, cumbersome process requiring visits to several stations located throughout the library. First patrons must name their print job on the computer, send the job to the print station located on the other side of the library, put money on a print card by the copy machine located up a small set of stairs, and go back down the stairs to the print station, bring up their job, then print. If they didn't check at the print station beforehand and underestimated the cost of their job, they have to go back to the copy machine and add more money to their card. (Each sheet of paper is $.15). It's not exactly an ideal, streamlined system, but I'm not complaining after talking to a recently hired colleague who came from the Chicago system.

For reasons that I cannot fathom other than administrative incompetence, the Chicago system didn't want to invest in printing software so it simply let patrons print for free. You can imagine the abuses. The printer was right next to her desk, so not only did she have to spend the entire day listening to its labored racket as it churned out ream after ream of print jobs, she also spent a good deal of her day dealing with paper jams, replacing expensive toner cartridges, and feeding the machine paper. Since there were no financial consequences to printing, people would be careless about the size of print jobs they would send, really take advantage (I've always wanted a hard copy of every e-mail ever sent to me), or just print out phone book size jobs because they're anti-social, discourteous asses and could. Many jobs were never even claimed. The waste was appalling, and the printer was often out of order from overuse, which prevented those people who legitimately needed to print from doing so much of the time.

She said that the library administration claimed that they offered printing at no cost because they believed that it should be free as a public service. The copy machines at libraries aren't free, so why on earth should printing be free? I really don't understand that mentality, other than they didn't want to make the investment in the printing software, which would have paid for itself in about two days, or they just didn't want to go through the effort of finding and installing printing software.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Ode to Billy Jack 























Ever since he ran off and supplanted his brother, the lionhearted and noble Sid, Billy Jack rules this house unchecked. Even though he is possibly the worst alpha in history (this was the professional opinion of the $40 an hour dog behaviorist who paid us a housecall), he is impossible to resist. He is like an extremely insane but charismatic cult leader. Even downstairs neighbors Fisher and Pam, who are normally sensible people, have fallen under his dark spell of seductive evil and are helpless before him. Smugly secure in his power, he now likes to spend his time surveying the neighborhood, humping Spoon, and sunning his genitals while he reclines on the green chest by the window like he's some sort of Greek god or insane, inbred Roman emperor.

Here is a list of just some of the names we call Billy:
Billigula
100% pure naughty satisfaction
No Good Naughty B
Big Mouth Billy Bass
Da Brat
Salacious Crumb
Pure evil with a dash of cinnamon (cinnamon=Spoon)
Shapeshifting alien parasite
Son of Sam
Wyrm that Dieth Not
William Jackson
Billiam
Dude
goddamnsonbitch
NO, SIR!
Stalin
Jim Jones

Going Medieval 


I heard the incredible statistic that 25% of new material purchased for this library system each year is either stolen directly from the shelves or checked out and never returned. As a taxpayer you're outraged, yes? Trying to collect money from delinquent patrons is an extremely difficult, sensitive matter, however, and employing traditional methods like using a collection agency always results in a major public relations disaster. It's just the kind of situation the press loves to pounce on and exaggerate to make the library administration look ridiculous, like when one library system in Clearwater, Florida went a little too far and actually issued bench warrants for people who had large outstanding fines for overdue books they had checked out and never returned. Several people were arrested on these bench warrants when they were pulled over for speeding or had other brushes with the law. The press had a field day with that one, especially when 22 year old single mom and deadbeat patron Sabrina Davis was hauled off to the Pinellas County Jail in handcuffs. She told reporters,"I think it's outrageous that they arrest you...It ain't like I did a huge crime, like I killed somebody. Joyce's Ulysses just takes a hell of long time to get through if you want to savor it and do it right!"

OK, I made that last sentence up.

I'm hoping improvements in library security and new and clever tactics to get patrons to return material (like amnesty days) will reduce depredations to the collection. Anyway, it's pointless for me to get outraged about this unfortunate state of affairs or to get too possessive and fiercely protective of the library collection, so I've developed a philosophy of non-attachment. I've always liked this Medieval style curse, though. Maybe posting it over the doors of the library would help in some small way to protect the collection.

For him that Stealeth a Book from this Library,
Let it change into a Serpent in his hand & rend him.
Let him be struck with Palsy, & all his Members blasted.
Let him languish in Pain crying aloud for Mercy,
Let there be no Surcease to his Agony till he sink to Dissolution.
Let Bookworms gnaw his Entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not,
When at last he goeth to his final Punishment,
Let the flames of hell consume him for ever & aye



Monday, May 24, 2004

Miracle on Green Street 


The library where I was working yesterday is having its floor redone in the children’s room, so the floor is stripped of carpet. Although the room is still open to the public, the children’s computers have been dismantled during the renovation, much to the shock and dismay of all of the computer game addicts. Judging from their reaction, being cut off from the computers is as agonizing as opiate withdrawal and they all seem to be in a state ofsevere, agitated distress. This particular library has a cartel of children who monopolize the computers. I call them the Pokemon Hooligans and they use a complicated and impressive system of card sharing to outwit the computer booking software. The gang is run by an older boy who is as cunning & ruthless as a Manchurian warlord and whose minions obey his every word and command like Moonies, but now he has been temporarily stripped of the source of his power and seems so pathetically adrift I almost felt sorry for him. Anyway, the carpet will be laid this week and things will return to normal soon.

Wonderful news! I had a breakthrough last night with Billy and Spoon. I have been trying to teach them how to shake hands and it had been a frustrating failure (I'm no dog whisperer) until last night when Billy finally lifted his paw. I felt like Anne Sullivan hearing “Waaaaater” for the first time out of Helen Keller’s mouth. I’m not sure what caused the amazing advancement, but I suspect it has to do with the fact that his brother and mortal enemy, the noble Sid, can shake hands beautifully. We had dinner with Sid last night and he entertained us all evening shaking our hands, so I think Billy sensed on some evil psychic gut level that his nemesis had outperformed him and that is what propelled him forward in his training. When we returned home from dinner last night he inspected our clothes thorougly and suspiciously with his nose and then shook hands for the first time during our nightly training session.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Crazy in a Large City by the Bay 


We’re back from New Orleans! Almost a week of intense gluttony and dissipation left me in an exhausted state with no energy for blogging or much of anything else except converting rich food and alcohol to large storages of fat and fending off gout. Another big energy drain has been the book One Hundred Years of Solitude, which I finally soldiered through. While I found the magical realism style of Isabel Allende whimsical, illuminating and beautiful, Marquez’s was nightmarish and unsettling and, after a short while, tedious. I also cannot forgive him for renaming practically each character of the family's many overlapping generations the same name or a confusing variable of the same name, so I was almost never sure which character was doing what and couldn’t keep any of them straight. I have a feeling that more than a few members of Oprah's book club must have been reduced to tears.

Speaking of magical realism type situations, I’m back at the library and have a lot of odd incidences to report. Yesterday a homeless woman who looks a lot like Geena Davis spent most of the day parked at the table next to my desk. She had a thick mane of auburn hair which would be rather glorious if it weren’t so matted and unkempt. She was sporting a miniskirt and Flashdance style ankle warmers, and suffered from some skin condition which has left small purple scaly circles all over her legs and arms. It looked like an animal with suckers or the salt vampire on that Star Trek episode got after her. It’s probably just an extensive case of ringworm, which is highly contagious, come to think of it. Maybe as a courtesy the library should provide those bottles of disinfectant spray for its furniture like health clubs do for their weight machines.

She spent most of the day engrossed in a copy of Crazy in Alabama, and muttering and reading to herself out loud, cackling periodically as if to say, “I can relate!” or "You got that right, girlfriend!"
She was agitated and fidgety and keeps suddenly standing up and sitting down, displacing the air in her seat with a whoosh and driving it my way as effectively as bellows aimed directly at me would. Each gust of air was a nauseating potpourri of dried sweat, unwashed body, and that peculiar, characteristic chemical odor of mental illness. After she finished reading, she spent the rest of the day feverishly scribbling down notes on pieces of scrap paper, which I prayed that she will leave behind for me to read and add to my growing folder file marked "Writings of the Mad." No such luck, though.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Gimme my DAMN money! 

Hello from New Orleans and happy birthday to Eleanor!

Dan and Eleanor were here last year when the local R&B/Soul station was throwing a contest called "The Thousand Dolla Holla." The radio station would call listeners randomly, and to win a cash prize the listeners would have to answer their phone exactly, "Give me my damn money!" Of course, the contest was over an extended period of time and the contestants would never know when they would be called, so most would forget to answer each of their phone calls that way. The radio station would broadcast all of these recordings of losing contestants answering their phones, "Hello. Oh, NO NO NO! God no! I meant gimme my damn money!"

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Baccalaureate, the Big Sleazy, and Foxy Librarian Lite 

I will be publishing on a lighter schedule for the next few days. My little brother, affectionately known as Mr. Baby, is graduating from college this weekend, so we're off to Tennessee. I'm a little unnerved that someone I used to diaper is graduating from college. Sunrise, sunset. From there we will go to New Orleans to celebrate my turning 30 again. I plan on eating so many raw oysters that when I return I will have yellow devil eyes from hepatitis. Many of my patrons will be able to relate, although theirs is more likely the C than the A type.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Beauty Tip 

One time while in graduate school my friend Mandy was suffering from a bad case of cramps and was comforting herself with a bowl of ice cream. When one of her classmates from Hong Kong spotted her, the girl recoiled in horror from such a display of willful ignorance and demanded, "What are you doing? You're not supposed to eat anything cold while you have your period!" She then gave Mandy a long look filled with contempt and pity. "That is why you white women always look so old."

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Punky Bear 



In addition to all of his other faults, Punky, is a tattletale. You would think that having had so many negative encounters with police (no matter how well deserved) would have Punky eschew involvement with the 'the man' at all costs. Punky’s pettily vindictive nature, however, overrides any fear or distrust of the police and he delights in snitching out his associates, friends, and even boyfriends. I think he fancies himself the Huggy Bear, the stylish pimp informant of Starsky and Hutch, of this neighborhood. If so, he better get working on building his stable of bitches, because all he has now is Loretta, and she doesn’t bother to charge.

The beat cop told me that yesterday Punky waved him down and pointed at Ray, his boyfriend, who was huddled in a group with three other vagrants about 20 yards from him. Admittedly, they were probably up to no good, but I still think that was awfully childish and malicious of him to fink on his boyfriend. I’m not sure what caused Punky’s fit of vindictive pique because you can never really tell with him, but I suspect that he was trying to punish Ray for a recent lover's quarrel. It turns out that all the men were doing was drinking in public. The beat cop told Punky not to waste his time again like that.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Movies are rated R for a reason 



My father took me to see Jaws at the tender and inappropriate age of 7, which, as you can imagine, left an indelible impression on me. Not only do I have an unreasonable fear of swimming in the ocean, I am tormented by nightmares of sharks, saltwater crocodiles and other giant aquatic maneaters. I suffer from one recurring nightmare in which I find myself stranded in deep, black water. Knowing that there is nowhere to swim to safety, I just tread water as I slowly am overcome with helpless, horrible, expectant dread. When I feel something begin to tug at my ankle, I wake up.

This is why fathers left in charge for the day should never be allowed to take their children to movies – either they just have no judgment about the enduring psychological trauma these movies will inflict or they just don’t care. Their aversion to suffering through Pippi Longstocking Sails the South Seas or The Apple Dumpling Gang overrides any sense of parental responsibility, and so they just go to whatever movie they want and drag their charges along, which is how I saw Jaws at seven and A Clockwork Orange at ten.

One time when Elizabeth’s mother went to New Orleans her father took Elizabeth (10), her brother Dan (9) and her brother John (4. 4 years old!) to both Alien and Animal House.

Maybe in space no one can hear you scream, but if your children’s bedroom is right next to yours, you can certainly hear their screams, so don't get cranky when you will be woken and disturbed repeatedly throughout the night be them like you so richly deserve to be.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Quint 

The other day I helped an Irish building contractor hunt down the city code specifications for building a handicap ramp. He looked and sounded exactly like Quint, the Captain Ahab character from Jaws. For the rest of the day all I could think about how inappropriate it was that my dad took me to see that movie when I was only seven years old and the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, one the largest naval war disasters in the history of the United States.

Quint, the leathery seaman portrayed by Robert Shaw, was a USS Indianapolis survivor, and his two comrades discover this when they set out to sea to hunt down the Great White that is preying on the town’s coast. Late at night on the boat the three men are drunk and are raucously sharing scar stories. One of them notices what looks like a burn on Quint’s arm and demands the story behind it. Quint falls silent and tells them that it’s a scrubbed tattoo of the USS Indianapolis, and then delivers one of the most hair raising and riveting monologues in the history of cinema.

Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, chief. It was comin' back, from the island of Tinian Delady, just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in twelve minutes. Didn't see the first shark for about a half an hour. Tiger. Thirteen footer. You know, you know that when you're in the water, chief? You tell by lookin' from the dorsal to the tail. Well, we didn't know. `Cause our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent. Huh huh. They didn't even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, chief. The sharks come cruisin'. So we formed ourselves into tight groups. You know it's... kinda like `ol squares in battle like a, you see on a calendar, like the battle of Waterloo. And the idea was, the shark would go for nearest man and then he'd start poundin' and hollerin' and screamin' and sometimes the shark would go away. Sometimes he wouldn't go away. Sometimes that shark, he looks right into you. Right into your eyes. You know the thing about a shark, he's got...lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll's eye. When he comes at ya, doesn't seem to be livin'. Until he bites ya and those black eyes roll over white. And then, ah then you hear that terrible high pitch screamin' and the ocean turns red and spite of all the poundin' and the hollerin' they all come in and rip you to pieces.

Y'know by the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men! I don't know how many sharks, maybe a thousand! I don't know how many men, they averaged six an hour. On Thursday mornin' chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player, bosom's mate. I thought he was asleep, reached over to wake him up. Bobbed up and down in the water, just like a kinda top. Up ended. Well... he'd been bitten in half below the waist. Noon the fifth day, Mr. Hooper, a Lockheed Ventura saw us, he swung in low and he saw us. He'd a young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper, anyway he saw us and come in low. And three hours later a big fat PBY comes down and start to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened? Waitin' for my turn. I'll never put on a lifejacket again. So, eleven hundred men went in the water, three hundred and sixteen men come out, the sharks took the rest, June the 29, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.


One major fact the monologue gets wrong is that the USS Indianapolis did manage to send out a distress call before the ship sank, but through a tragic series of inexcusable naval blunders the survivors were left abandoned for 4 days in the ocean, where the majority died horrifically of shark attack, exposure, and dehydration in the oil slicked water. At least 3 SOS calls were made to naval command, but they were all dismissed as a Japanese trap or simply ignored. One commander was even under orders not to be disturbed because he was sleeping off a drinking binge. It was not until a plane happened to spot the survivors by chance that help was sent.

The most inexcusable part of this travesty was that the Navy, desperate for a coverup and scapegoat, court martialed the ship’s captain, the only captain to be tried for losing a ship in WWII. The Navy accused Captain McVay of not taking precautionary, evasive zig-zagging measures. The Navy called the Japanese submarine commander as a witness against McVay, but he surprised the prosecution be saying that zigzagging would not have made any difference. Even so, the Navy court martialed him in what was basically a kangaroo court. Captain McVay eventually committed suicide with his service revolver on his front lawn.

An 11 year old named Hunter Scott was watching Jaws on television in the 90s and became fascinated by the story and decided to do a history project about the tragedy, which by then had become an obscure historical event. Through research and the study of declassified naval documents, he discovered what the grave injustice dealt to the men and Captain McVay, and became determined to clear McVay’s name and honor the men of the USS Indianapolis. He eventually testified before a congressional hearing and was responsible for having McVay posthumously exonerated. A well reviewed book recently came out about Scott’s crusade and the plight of the USS Indianapolis called Left for Dead. So, let us all take a lesson from young Scott. No one should ever believe that one person can’t make a difference.

And one more thing. Do we really give the soldiers who served in WWII enough credit for what they endured? Not to be too toadying and fawning like the fulsome Tom Brokaw, but you have to wonder when they're watching TV in their well deserved golden years and the channel happens to fall on MTV beach party or that stupid whore Jessica Simpson if they believe all of that sacrifice was worth it. Veterans, on behalf of my generation, I thank you as well as apologize.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Survivor 



As if you didn’t already know, tonight is Survivor Thursday. Eleanor let it slip once that she took an African dance class in college, so she has been charged with choreographing a number that we can all do in front of the television tonight in tribal celebration to the theme song of the greatest television show ever created. I’m not sure what her artistic vision is yet, but I hope there will be a lot of foot stomping, leaping, and aggressive buttock wagging.

All hail Survivor and its inscrutable magus, Jeff Probts! May you continue until one of the contestants dies from exposure, brain eating parasite or cannibalism.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Computer Guy Nick Burns? A patron has a question for you. 




The other day a patron parked at one of the internet computers gestured me over by angrily waving a diskette at me. He demanded to know why he couldn’t download anything from the Microsoft website. For a myriad of reasons, the security of our network being the foremost, the public access library computers do not permit downloads. I asked him what he wanted, and he said that he needed to download Microsoft Office onto his diskette. Yes, he meant the entire Microsoft Office Suite. What he was attempting was so absurd and he spoke in such a nasty, sarcastic tone that I thought for a moment that he was being, well, sarcastic, but he wasn't. He actually believed he could go to the Microsoft site and not only download Microsoft Office, but also do so in its entirety on a single diskette,   and huffily wanted to know why the library and I were standing in his way and thwarting him. Since I didn’t even know where to begin with that one, I just told him that for security reasons, downloading capabilities were disabled on the public access computers, and that he should call a Microsoft retailer if he wanted Microsoft Office.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Sounds of Spring at the Library 

The library has not been a sanctuary of quiet reflection and study today. The neighborhood is engulfed in construction, so all day we are treated to the sounds of cursing, catcalling workmen, jackhammers, car alarms set off by the jackhammers, and the loud warning beeps of machinery backing up.

Other sounds in the library:

  • The chronic wet, deep coughing of an old grizzled WPA veteran suffering from what must be silicosis or an equally horrible lung disease. He is reading the paper only feet away from me, so I find myself unconsciously clearing my throat and taking deep gulps of air in some sort of sympathetic response to his labored, death rattle breathing. I do the same thing around Hercules, Dan and Eleanor's pug.


  • A woman cracking her chewing gum so loudly so that I keep having a horribly vivid mental replay of Joe Theisman's femur snapping.


  • A dog barking pitifully outside while his owner visits on-line gaming sites


  • A paranoid schizophrenic muttering to himself


  • A screaming, 4 year old tyrant who treats his nanny in a viciously imperious way like he’s some colonial brat and she’s his amah


  • The bellow of the giant fog horn under the bridge, which is actually wonderfully atmospheric


  • Loretta's simpering cackle as she flirts and holds court in one of the window nooks outiside


  • Good news on the Loretta front! She has shed her her arm and leg casts and is fully mobile again. I really was pessimistic about that foot of hers and was concerned that an amputation would be the next medical course of action. I never did find out what was wrong with her arm – maybe a touch of carpal tunnel?

    One time our beat cop took me in his squad car on a tour of his beat and just for fun he drove through the park right up to Loretta and her entourage. The police officer, who has countless dealings with her, noticed that she had discarded her favorite blanket in a ratty heap about 10 yards away. When he asked her what happened, she replied in a coyly pouty way,

    “I have to leave it there to dry because I TEE-TEE’d on it!”

    Saturday, May 01, 2004

    I want me a manservant

    Do you recall this patron, the paranoid schizophrenic grand dame who looked like she had just wandered off Sunset Boulevard? Lately she has become infatuated with one of the substitute librarians, a wise, rabbinical man with a bottomless reservoir of kindness toward the numerous mentally ill citizens who darken the doors of the library, no matter how difficult, deranged, or tedious they may be. I think she has become determined to make this particular librarian her personal manservant, just like Max in the movie Sunset Boulevard. He would make a good manservant, too, because he has an overdeveloped professional service ethic that borders on masochistic martyrdom. He will cheerfully undertake and entertain even the most insane reference question she throws out at him, as well as listen patiently to her increasingly delusional and longwinded rants and conspiracy theories. He really goes way beyond the call of duty, which makes him a hard act to follow, especially if you’re a glum, burnt-out case like the other librarian that frequently substitutes at the branch.

    I've seen this sad case in action. She greets patrons who ask a reference question with a put out grimace, like their question has inflicted a case of terrible menstrual cramps upon her. She then releases a world weary, pessimistic sigh of yogic lengths and says, “We’re probably not going to have anything on that." The librarian will then direct the patron down to the main library if the reference question is any more complicated or involves more work than reserving a current best seller.

    Perhaps unionized civil service (can you imagine such a combination?) isn’t the best fit for everyone. Maybe the Myers Brigg test could reveal that to people of a certain personality type before they embark on their career and ruin their lives. Maybe it could warn these people that following such a career path will turn them into intolerable monsters, thereby saving them and everyone else the misery (see Department of Motor Vehicles). It certainly hasn't done this particular librarian any favors in terms of character, professional development, and personal fulfillment.

    Even though the Norma Desmond-y patron is mentally ill, she recognizes the vastly different levels of service she can expect from the two librarians, and only will work with the saint-like librarian. For a while, she would stride into the library, imperiously flare her nostrils, and demand,

    "Where is that little Jewish man? I must speak with him immediately."

    Now she doesn't bother even coming in if the other librarian is on duty. The library tech told me he has seen her hiding and crouching in the bushes, peering through the window to see which librarian is working, and if she sees that the burn-out is manning the reference desk she will scurry off. The library tech said she is easy to spot in the bushes because she has traded her white silk turban for one that she has fashioned herself out of aluminum foil, and on sunny days it will glint blindingly. I assume the change in turban material is in an effort to deflect the stream of mental chatter that she’s receiving from the CIA or the Kennedys or Martians or whomever else it is that figures prominently in her auditory hallucinations.

    Even if she is crazy, who can really blame the patron for wanting her own Max? I myself would like one day to have a devoted, white gloved manservant, one who would forge mailbags full of adoring fan letters, pamper me and wait on me hand and foot, fuel my monstrous but fragile ego, expecting nothing in return but to bask in my fading radiance as I smoke Arabian cigarettes on my chaise lounge while my mansion crumbles around me. Is that too much to fucking ask out of life?

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