Back to index of "this and that in my life" pages by Donald Sauter.
Um, in trying to compose an introductory paragraph, I see that the title says it all.
In no particular order, but now with a table of contents since the page is bigger than I had originally envisioned, and since somebody might come back to revisit a particular anecdote. After all, they're not uniformly valueless . . .
After digging out one plastic army man from a box of Kellogg's Frosted Flakes, I thought how super it would be if there was another army man in the box. (Not that I even played with plastic army men; I never had that sort of imagination.) Part of me knew how dumb it was to even look for two toys in one cereal box, but when you're 4 years old, wishful thinking knows no bounds. So I dug a little more - and there it was! They put two army men in that box of Frosted Flakes! (In retrospect, if that's the one wish in life I was granted, maybe I could have done a little better.)
In elementary school once they showed us a movie (a cause for excitement in the 1960s) about weather and storms. One brief section made an impression which stuck vividly in my memory. (Admittedly, a vivid memory is not necessarily an accurate memory! Meteorologists out there can tell me if I'm off my rocker here. Maybe even somebody knows this exact film.) The narrator mentioned that hail storms often come from oddly shaped clouds. Then the film showed a stormy-looking sky and the narrator said, "This square-shaped cloud brought a very destructive hail storm to (such-and-such mid-western state)." A square cloud, eh? How weird.
Then, quite a few years later I was in my back yard and I looked over to the west and I saw, guess what? - a square cloud! Three of the corners were very sharp, and the one on the lower left was rounded off a little. Naturally, I thought about the possibility of a hail storm, especially considering that I knew that weather generally moves from west to east. Unfortunately, I never actually told anybody of my prediction, but, lo and behold, later that day we had a hail storm! Now, if you shrug it off as just pure coincidence, it was quite a coincidence. At that point in my life I had only seen hail once or twice before, maybe never. Ice balls falling out of the sky? In summer??? How bizarre can you get?
Admittedly, I didn't keep my eye on that cloud all the while to be able to claim it was the culprit that unloaded the hail. (But if it wasn't the square cloud, then who?) Anyhow, never before or never since have I looked up at the sky and thought, "Tell yer ma, tell yer pa, gonna hail fer shur."
I'm one for one in hail prognostication. Top that.
I mean that literally - no one who saw it believed it. It was with some older buddies in the mid-1990s. We were playing doubles. There were 5 of us so each game someone would rotate out. In this particular game, Kal was out. He went to visit the restroom. That is significant. I forget two of the names now, but it was Yousef's partner that scorched a shot to my right. I burst into overdrive in that direction even though it was clearly a lost cause. However, the ball smacked the top of the net, and... well, here's a diagram:
_________________________________________________________________ | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | blazing shot | | . | | . | | . | | . | | . | | . smacks net, pops way up | |--------------------------------*------------------------------| net | | | O *(bounce) O | | /---o o---\ O__ | | // *__O____/ \\ /|___/ | | | | 1. 4. 3. 2. | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |_______________________________________________________________|
I start at position 1 and race to the right. The ball smacks the top of the net (at *). The ball pops almost straight up, about 4 feet or so above the net. I screech to a halt at position 2, wiping out. Never saying die, I get my momentum turned around and start lurching back towards the middle of the court (position 3). In the meantime the ball drops from its 7-foot altitude and bounces (at *). During the course of this bounce, which is again a nice high one - maybe 4 or 5 feet - I make another lurch or two. Just before it touches down the second time, I make my final lunge (position 4) - just managing to get my racket under the ball and tapping it back over the net.
You can imagine my dismay and bafflement when Yousef, instead of going for my shot, grabbed the bouncing ball in his hand and started walking back to set up for the next serve. Man alive! That was the tennis play of my life! When I asked why he didn't play it, he said the play was dead - the ball had bounced twice. Huh??? When I turned to Yousef's partner, and then my own, for support I got the same story: "Yeah, I thought it bounced twice." Even after recounting what had happened, and suggesting that they were all confusing the first high bounce from the top of the net with a bounce on my side of the court, and in spite of no one contradicting my story, and in spite of no one venturing to describe a replay with two bounces, no one relented. There was no, "Hey! You know, you're right!" Apparently so much had transpired between the initial shot and my return that three human brains simply could not accept that the ball had only bounced once on my team's side of the court. Unbelievable. I bet Kal would have seen it all correctly.
But Kal was in the men's room.
Waiting at a stop light one time, I noticed how perfectly the cars were lined up - so perfectly, in fact, that I could see through 7 windshields, including my own, at once. Anyways, I bet if you ever did look through 7 windshields at once, you weren't aware of it.
Back in 1989 I noticed some water on my basement floor. I had never had a drop of water in my basement since I bought the house 8 years earlier. I couldn't for the life of me figure out where it was coming from, so I decided to give a call to Mid-Atlantic Waterproofing - an outfit that sent out fliers and telemarketed over a region including my area (Lanham, Maryland.) A representative came out, but he didn't seem too interested in pinpointing my specific problem. He just kept talking generalities, saying things like, "Water can get in through the windows here," and, "Water can come up through a crack in the floor around this column", etc. I kept saying, "But you can see there isn't any water there." It became clear he was pushing the company's grand solution for any and all basement dampness problems: a modified French drain system, where they chop up the floor all around the inside perimeter of your basement, for $14,000. Well, since they were in my area doing other jobs already, they would do it for $12,000. I said let me think about it (yeah, right).
Finally, I spotted a tiny water drip from the gas pipe where it comes through the basement wall. This was quite far from where the water was accumulating - and the floor in between was perfectly dry! What happened was, the drip rate was so small that all of the water could hide down in the cracks between the floor tiles as it moved along; the tiles themselves were completely dry on the surface.
It was obvious that the seal around the gas pipe had deteriorated over the years. I just dug down to it, borrowed a big ol' drum of roofing cement (black, gooey stuff) from my father, and smeared about 2 cent's worth around the gas pipe where it went through the wall.
So, crunching the numbers:
$14,000 (quoted price) - 2 cents (actual cost of repair) ------- $13,999.98 TOTAL SAVINGS!
And there was never another drip.
I know everybody has dog stories like this, probably a lot more astonishing, even, but when you hear them you always kind of smile and mentally slice off at least half as the embellishment of a doting doggie-parent. This might not be the greatest, but it's all the way true.
The four-legged friend under discussion is my friend Cathy's dog Daisy. Now, I don't know exactly how big Daisy's English vocabulary is and how many of our conversations she would have joined in but for the lack of accommodating vocal cords, but I know that if the subject of a trip ever came up she would just go crazy with excitement. That little girl was born to travel!
One time, Cathy had to take a trip herself and I agreed to board Daisy. Of course, Daisy heard all of this, and was going nuts. When Cathy asked, "What toys do you think I should pack for Daisy?", Daisy ran across the room, snatched up Santa Bear (a rubber squeak-toy), ran back to the front door, dropped Santa Bear there, turned her face back to us, saying with her eyes more clearly than a mid-west newscaster can with his tongue, "There! Come on, let's go!"
I was experiencing sharp, shooting pains in my lower back in the mid-1980s. I figured, like most ailments, it would eventually take care of itself - but this one wasn't showing any signs of going away. Nothing I could think of helped. It felt like a nerve was getting ground between two vertebrae. During this spell, I went to a string conference held at Immaculata College in Pennsylvania. After one of the evening concerts, we were all walking back to our dorm lodgings, and about 15 feet to my left I heard a woman telling someone about her back problems. She didn't just jump in at the punchline, but recounted all that she had been through and everything the doctors tried, including having her buy a special, expensive hopital-type bed. "But you know what it was? Bananas!"
Say what??? I'd been eating tons of bananas at that time. (Hey, they were fresh and natural and tasted ok to me.) Well, says I, let's knock out the bananas and see if that works. And it did! The sharp pains started subsiding right away. Skeptics out there may pooh-pooh the whole thing, but I even ran a little experiment: I risked a small banana - and the pains came sneaking back!
Now tell me, what was the chance of a) overhearing such a conversation, and b) hearing it just when I needed it bad? One in a google? (Hey, that ought to get me some hits!) I don't know if it's documented anywhere, and I don't know what percent of the population it applies to, but let me register for all times the correlation: banana OD/back pain.
...upon moving into my own house.
1. On the migration of household objects:
All my life, whenever I brought something up from the cellar, I'd very considerately leave it in some convenient spot so Mom could take it back where it belongs on one of her trips down. After all, she made a dozen trips up and down a day, so it was no trouble, right?
Um, guess what I discovered after moving into my own house - things don't get back where they belong by themselves, stupid kopf! It actually takes time and real, conscious effort.
2. On the origin of hairs in the bathroom:
Growing up, it never occurred to me that a single one of 'em could possibly have been mine. I was a boy, after all, and I sure wasn't going bald, and there were four sisters and a mom in the family.
Uh oh, after moving into your own house, who do you blame it on?
Uh, there's probably a 999-way tie. Let's just drop it, ok?
Well, not so much heroic as being there to help out in what could have been a deadly situation. The real hero was my father (which is par for the course for him.) In 1972 Hurricane Agnes caused great flooding in the area. My father Benton Sauter, my sister Sharon, and I went to look at Gwynns Falls, a creek so swollen it had come right up to my Aunt Hilda's house. When we got there we saw two men in the water, hanging onto an overturned canoe. The muddy, rushing waters were carrying them towards the bridge (which takes Essex Road over Gwynns Falls. See the map below.) The water had risen up to the bridge, maybe to within a foot or so of flowing over the top of it. (In other words, there was no gap between the bottom of the bridge and the water.)
My father sized up the emergency situation and said, let's get out there and grab them. I remember thinking, yikes, what if the flooded creek takes out the bridge while we're on it? Wouldn't we look like a bunch of fools in tomorrow's paper.
As the men were coming up to the bridge, my father yelled to them, "Whatever you do, don't go under!" They slammed against the side the bridge and grabbed onto it. The one who hit where I was positioned managed to reach his fingers up over the ledge. The canoe clamped him there by the force of the water. My thoughts went something like, "he seems to have a good enough grip to keep from going under, but maybe he's being crushed by the force of the canoe against him." So I spent a few seconds struggling to push the canoe off of him. In those few seconds my father was pulling the other man out of the churning waters and hollering for me to do the same: "Pull him out!" - which was a much better idea. (In an emergency, you'd much rather have my father around.) So I grabbed the man's arm and pulled him up onto the bridge.
I'm not sure how disastrous the consequenses would have been if we weren't on the scene. I know we helped two people out of big trouble. And I know that the canoe that went under the bridge never came up on the other side.
That's the story, but here are a few details that may snag web searches - in particular, by people who live in the area. (I believe Blaze Starr's house was right in that area along Gwynns Falls, and was flooded.) I always considered that the rescue took place in Woodmoor, in Baltimore County, along Liberty Road a mile or so outside of Baltimore City. Looking at a map now (Jan 2003) I see that the actual place name might be Milford or Villa Nova, both of which are just across from Woodmoor, on the north side of Liberty Road. Here's a little map showing Gwynns Falls and the bridge.
bridge | | \| | [ ] ***********[ ]***********> Gwynns Falls (creek) [ ] | | ___________| |___________ ========================= Liberty Road ___________ ___________ | | | | | |Essex Road | | Woodmoor
On his Saturday morning tv show, Sky King was chasing the bad guy in a parking lot. The crook had to weave between the parked cars. To gain ground, Sky King jumped over the hood of a car! As a kid, it was the most impossible thing I ever saw. Even after growing up I don't think I can jump over a car, nor do I see others doing it regularly. So, I carried this amazement around with me all my life.
In the 1980s I got a chance to meet Sky King after a talk at the Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. In spite of being star struck, I managed to stutter out a question about that episode where he jumped over the car, figuring I'd get a look like like, "What kind of kook are you - I never jumped over a car!" I mean, maybe my memory had been tricking me for years. But, he just chuckled as if it was no big deal, and gave me a full answer in one word: "Springboard!" I gathered from his chuckles and from the man behind me in line that the show must have over-used this stunt, but I only remember the one incident.
Sky King's real name was Kirby Grant and he was killed in a car accident not long after.
No doubt my words will fall completely short of doing this bizarre scene justice. It happened in the early 1980s after moving to the Washington, D.C. area, back when I was a believer in the Metro subway system. (Now you'd have to drag me in kicking and screaming.)
It was late at night on the lower L'Enfant Plaza level. There were only about four people down there. One was a somewhat unkempt, scruffily-dressed man who seemed to be in his own world.
He also had bulging pants pockets.
About as soon as he caught my attention, I heard the clinking of a few coins falling to the platform. They belonged to him, and he went about picking them up.
He did this very unhurriedly, making no quick movements. When he rounded the coins up he put them back his pockets - which were bulging with lots of coins, it turns out.
Within seconds a few more clinks were heard, and the whole scenario was repeated. While he methodically went after one coin, one or two others would fall out of his trouser leg. It became a continuous process of rounding up escaped coins.
In fact, the surrealness came about not so much from the repetition of the scene, but an achievement of regularity, of absolute "Steady State-ness". He never had the luxury of resting for a few moments while all of his coins remained under control. Nor did the opposite happen: the dam never broke sending a torrent of coins to the platform all at once.
He never showed surprise or anger or frustration at more falling coins. He never hurried or panicked. He never noticed anyone else on the platform. He never made any effort to stanch the trickle of coins.
I watched this for about 5 minutes, and when my train came and left, the show was still going on.
When I was at some elementary school age, my brother Steven and I were helping our father on a home improvement job on some house, maybe in Baltimore City. It was the middle of the afternoon, and the owner of the house came home. What did he do that was so incredible? He took a shower! In the middle of the day! Who ever heard of such a thing??? And it wasn't like he was even dirty or anything - he came home in a suit!!! I mean, in our family it took at least a few days to get dirty enough to have to take a bath, and baths were always at night, before going to bed. Where was this guy brought up? Sheeesh!
I had the living room windows wide open one summer afternoon. I even opened up my screens for maximum air flow. People would always comment on this, informing me I was letting bugs in. My official position is that if you balance the conditions between the inside and out - create an equilibrium - bugs have no reason to come in. If they do, they'll just fly back out that or another window. I mean, who hasn't seen flies buzzing against windows trying their possible best to escape? Open up the window, and where do they go?
Of course, I had to shut the screens as it darkened up outside because the light inside a house does beckon the little creatures. One evening I was on the phone as it was getting dark. Now, I'm the world's worst at cutting somebody off for any reason. Even if my house were on fire, I can't say, "Uh, scuse me, there's an inferno that needs attending to." Never mind that everybody and his brother will cut me off in mid-sentence - probably just as I'm delivering the big punch in a rousing discussion - to chat with some telemarketer. (Man, I hate what modern phone technology has done to people.)
So it was getting dark, I was on the phone and I couldn't extricate myself to close the screens. After finally getting off the phone, there was a tremendously loud chirp - and another, and another... Each time, it came from a completely different place in my living room. "It's here! It's there! No, he's over in that corner! Yikes, he's right by my head!" It was giving me the creeps - how many were there??? I considered the possibility that there was just one chirper, flitting around the room. The problem was, he had to be pretty darn fast, and pretty darn invisible. Yet, as closely spaced as some of the chirps were, no two chirps ever overlapped. I ran the experiment of keeping my head as still as possible, figuring that maybe turning my head was giving the illusion of different sources for the chirps. But even with my head perfectly still, every chirp came from a distinctly different direction.
I finally discovered the critter on the back of a wooden chair. He seemed perfectly content to sit there, and I got him in a box and showed him the door. There was only one conclusion - this insect has a natural ability to throw its chirp. (Of course, evolutionists will "explain" that this ventriloquism ability developed over millions of generations as a natural defense against hungry predators. Of course, I will then ask, how come all creatures that don't want to be eaten aren't ventriloquists?) I wonder if maybe he chirps from both sides of his body at once, and depending on how in or out of phase those two sounds are when they reach your ears, your brain will determine a different direction for the sound.
Fifteen or so years later I met an entomologist at a Washington Guitar Society meeting and I brought up this insect. Based on what I could tell him, he thought it was a "brown tree cricket." I've just done a little web search (writing in February 2004) for "brown tree cricket" - and found exactly one web page! How do you interpret that? Is the insect so obscure that only two people have ever heard of it? Or is it so common that nobody feels it's worth wasting web electrons on? But the page is a goodie: "Bob Patterson's Entomology Hobby Page". Both pictures of the brown tree cricket look just like what I found on my chair. No discussion of his amazing chirping skills, though. Am I the only one who knows?
P.S. Got a nice note from Bob. Imagine that, I search 17 billion web pages to find somebody who was practically a neighbor (Bowie vs. Lanham, Maryland.) Bob definitely looks out for his bugs; says they don't "chirp", they "stridulate". Well, laaa de dahhh.
I suspect if I thought about this harder (or were taking this more seriously!) I could come up with a better answer, but it's always bugged me that I don't know how to sew. If I thought sewing was tremendously complicated and difficult I wouldn't worry about it, just as I don't worry about not being able to assemble a gyroscope for a modern aircraft. But time was when half the human race, including kids, could do it. (I won't say which half, cuz now we're obligated to pretend all humanoids are indistinguishable in all respects.)
Needing a little repair job or alteration on your clothes comes up time and time again. Not being able to do it myself ranks right up there with not being able to tie my own shoe or scratch my own nose. The fact that almost no one else can sew anymore hardly reduces my sense of shame. Some people take seams in and out without blinking an eye. How come they didn't teach me that in school??? Sit me down in front of a sewing machine and I might as well be looking at a veeblefetzer. I mean, I can eventually get a button sewed on, but even there I feel certain there's a simple system for doing it 10 times better and 10 times faster.
In my former scrabble club, Dave W. could sew. He whipped up his own curtains, even. Cool! We have candid shots of John Lennon at a sewing machine blithely working away on his clothes. Now that impresses me more than "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey" (but maybe not as much as "Cambridge 1969".) If you told me some guy whips around a race track at 300 mph, it wouldn't impress me as much as if knows how to sew - especially considering the hurdles men have had to overcome.
(In case I wasn't writing clearly above, I know how to tie my own shoe and scratch my own nose.)
During a doubles tennis game with friends Karen, Tim and Patty, 1980, Philadelphia. In sports I was always a Pete Rose sort, making a gargantuan (but dumb?) effort in even the most obviously hopeless causes. So I was going for this shot just out of my reach and I found my center of gravity also getting out of my reach so I worked my legs harder to get them back under my runaway center of gravity, but the CoG kept pulling away and I put my feet into warp drive at which point I was practically parallel with the court and as there was no obstacle, humanoid, chain link, etc., on my event horizon I figured the best course was to take it on in for a landing whereupon I slid 25 feet in the most artistic way (heck, it was poetry!) - garnering a hearty ovation from the appreciative spectators.
In June 2001 I was at a mandolin orchestra concert with my friend Velissa in Bowie, Maryland. Mandolin and guitar are kind of related, being plucked strings and all, and I'm a guitarist, so I had a few opportunities to impress (yeah, right) Velissa with my knowledge of various pieces and composers on the program. Then the conductor announced the encore. It was by a composer named A.J. Weidt. Ha! Another chance to show off! I had music by A.J. Weidt in my collection; I had dug some of his things out of the Library of Congress; I had played this guy's music! The conductor continued, "And the name of the piece we will play by him is...", and before he got that far, Velissa casually whispered to me, "Sweet Corn." Which was right! How in the heck did you know that, Velissa? I've never even heard of it! Her explanation is that it was on some tv show she had seen about three-quarters of a year earlier. I never did quite get it, but I think it was some sort of "American Experience"-type show focusing on turn-of-the-century music.
Now, Velissa's memory continually astounds me - she can cross-correlate any sentence that comes out of my mouth with every other one since we met - but how she would remember something so trivial so many months later is still incredible to me. Believe me, she's no sort of music scholar or historian, and this stuff is nothing like the music she listens to recreationally.
How many of you reading this would rattle off "Sweet Corn" at the mention of A.J. Weidt? (How many of you have heard of A.J. Weidt???)
You'd guess this in a moment so I'll tell you up front - it's one of those "Case of the Purloined Letter" jobs.
When I was a kid I had a friend named Steve Kopp. I visited him a few times and one time he had the idea to play Hide And Seek - in his attic. Even without seeing the attic, you can imagine it's kind of hard to have a good game of Hide And Seek in any room. I mean, where do you make yourself disappear to? A desk drawer? In this case, the attic was so crammed that you could hardly move about; much less hide.
But I went along with it, why not? After a few rounds of instantaneous "Found you!"s it was my turn to hide again, and I had an idea. I figured, "This'll never work in a million years, but I'll give it a go." Here's the floor plan of the attic.
__________________________ | __ledge__(me)_________ | | | | |\ | |____________________| | \-doorway from |l|____________________|l| bedroom to |e|____________________|e| attic stairs |d|_________s__________|d| |g|_________t__________|g| |e|_________a__________|e| | |_________i__________| | | |_________r__________| | | |_________s__________| | | |____________________| | _________________________| |____________________| | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | Attic - | | | | filled with stuff! | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |_________________________________________________|
You can see that there is a doorway from a bedroom that opens to the bottom of the stairway up to the attic. Along both sides and the back of this stairwell is a narrow ledge - about 8 or 10 inches wide. It was skinny enough that any parent would say don't go out on it. Slipping off onto the stairs or the floor below would have been bad news.
But I inched my way all the way around to the center of the back (see picture.) When my time was up, Steve came in from the bedroom below and up the stairs. Of course, the back of his head was to me. I stayed quiet as a mouse. After he came all the way up and started to look around, it never registered that I was standing there in full view, even though I'm sure I was in his peripheral vision more often than not. He was looking this way and that, moving this box, lifting that chair, etc. He kept a running chatter going, talking to the ghostly "me": "Are you under this? How about around here? Hmmm... nope, not there. Where'd ya think you got to? I'll find ya yet, etc., etc."
I could watch all of this - we were only a few feet apart. He was becoming quite perplexed, and the situation had gotten so funny that I couldn't hold it in any more and started laughing. Then he heard me and looked over and saw me standing there 10 feet away in plain view and we both bust out laughing.
See? Poe knew what he was talking about.
I note this one even though it couldn't be funny unless you were the one it happened to. This one also relates to water and my basement. Hmmm... Believe me, it's not what it sounds like - that basement was the dryest in town! But I noticed once that the water from a load of laundry wasn't draining as fast as it should. I suspected a partially blocked sewer line, rented a snake and enlisted my buddy Harry's help. We took up the toilet in the powder room in the basement and started feeding the snake in. Time after time, we could only work it so far - nowhere near the 60 feet or so required to reach the street. I heard a clinking from the pipes in the ceiling, but paid it no mind, figuring that metal is a great conductor of sound, and the source of the clinking was down in the sewer line. I was getting frustrated and swore that with one more determined effort I would get the snake all the way through. It was not to be. After struggling for minutes on end I took a break. As a dumb little joke I said, wouldn't it be funny if the snake had taken a wrong turn, up to the roof? Thinking that it was no more than a joke, I went upstairs and outside to take a look. And there it was, the cutter on the end of the snake poking up and out of the vent pipe by a few inches. I just about did myself physical damage laughing. I mean, if it were a few inches lower I wouldn't have seen it; if it were flopping over and out of the pipe it wouldn't have been half so hilarious; but there it was, just peeking out of the vent pipe like some mischievous little Martian or something.
(Hi!) / y ______ || |______| __________||_________________| |___________ / || | | /\ / || | | / \ / || / \ / / __\ /_____________________________________________/__--- | | _________ _______ | | | | | | | | _____ | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |---|---| | | |-|-| | | | | | | |o | |_|_| | | | |___|___| | | | | | | | | | | _|_____|_ | | | /________/| | | | |_______| | | __| |________________/________/ |________________|___--- |_______| O/ -(Aahh ha hAA HAAAAA ha HAAaAAaAAAAaAA /| ha hAA HAaaAAA haaaAAAAA (gasp) HA HA |\ HAAAAAAAAjgsAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!) / | ` `
(See? I told you ya hadda be there.)
On "poor man's" Cape Cod, specifically, on the deserted beach of Bluefish Cove, at Brant Rock, Mass., on Massachusetts Bay, with Mary: one sunset, one moon rise, one half-gallon box of chocolate ice cream, two spoons.
I guess this sounds funny, but it was a stone I skipped across a pond in a woods on a hike with the Center Hiking Club in the 1980s. It went perfectly straight, hopped just over a threatening branch on its 3rd or 4th skip, continued until the skips became so small that it was just gliding on the surface, and sank precisely at the far edge of the pond, not an inch too short or too far. There were witnesses.
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