Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Shot at Late Night 

--> The only rejection letter I ever got in my whole life was from David Letterman. I'm not bragging, especially since the "in crowd" knows that a rejection letter is actually an invitation to submit to them again. Something I would like to have known back in June of 1995 when I got my rejection from the show. The head writer then, Rob Burnett, returned a phone call I made to him - an excited voice-mail I left him got a response! I did as he'd requested, thanks to the laptop and printer loaned to me by my hero, friend and former Creative Director, and also creator of School House Rock! George Newall. (We both worked for Grey Advertising and thank heavens our employment periods there overlapped.)
The following is what I mailed to Rob Burnett - the head writer for "Late Night with David Letterman" show.

May 5, 1995

Rob Burnett
Worldwide Pants Inc.
1697 Broadway
New York, NY  10023

Hellooooo Rob!

Allow me to misrepresent myself - Shear Genius here, donating my astoundingly creative tendencies to you and your fine little show for lifetime service non-gratis (uh, that means free, Rob).  Well, a hug here and there wouldn’t hurt.

I guess we don’t really know each other so let me tell you a few quick things about myself. (Well, “quick” depends on how fast you can read there, Robby.) I was born to a proud family of Michigan immigrants (they immigrated from Northern Michigan when no one was looking).  I grew up amongst the rigors of rampant teen angst, Chevy Envy and Lighthouse Keg’ers.  Determined to escape the insanity of it all, I enrolled in Michigan State University to study Advertising (for about five years, apparently).  I done graduated and, in a desperate attempt to out-fox my loan officer, I forged onward to The Promised Land - Manhattan, where the streets are lined with subway grates, Bagel carts and ConEd crews!  Hey, you can’t buy a stench like this anywhere in the world!  I’m proud to say I make my home in a town that smells like pee and bagels!   Now, on a more professional note: 

Turn Ons: (mine) Guys that call me back, Guys that call me back and make me laugh, Guys that call me back, make me laugh and offer me jobs.

Turn Offs: (me, still....) Weak coffee, weak handshakes, weak talk show hosts (subliminal: Jay Leno)

Well, I think I know a good place to stop when I see one. (My, how I’ve grown.)
 Remember when you called me that one time last week?  It made my day.
 I hope to hear from you again.  And not just when you need money, either.  You can call here anytime, you know that.

Will Work for Canned Hams,

Karen Parmelee
245 W. 75th 3D
NYC  10023

The party of the first part notifies the party of the second part that the following pages contain
The Material.

HEY!  This Could Be Funny!!
by Golly Itcould

The Halls of Gump -
This is where we go for our analogies on or about life.  When we’re feeling troubled and confused, we find comfort in Forrest Gumps’ Store of Analogies.  While it hardly needs repeating, as I think we all know how life is like a box of chocolates, what else  is life like?  What other metaphors can we reduce this thing called life  to, so that we may better grasp and appreciate its wondrous awe and effervescent cachet?  Is life like a New York Apartment?  You know there’s gonna be roaches, you just hope they don’t gross ya’ out while you’re entertaining In-Laws!  Is life like Dirty Dancing?  Patrick Swayze’s just better at it than you! Or is life more like a Red-Hot Chili Peppers song?  You’ll never ever understand one word of it, no matter how slow ya play it!  Oh, the wide-eyed wondering could go on and on.

That Man Will Do ANYTHING on TV
This is a piece I call “That Man Will Do Anything on TV.”  Credit where credit is due - Adam Sandler inspired me, cuz I’ve noticed that man will do anything on TV.  Let’s see if collective “Dave” can find any moral, physical or legal boundary Adam’s not willing to cross.  Since outrageous is as outrageous does, Adam’s penchant for one-upping himself will work wonders in our favor.  Would he eat a chocolate covered roach?  Would he try to remove his underpants without taking off his Levi’s after receiving only :30 seconds of verbal instruction from any human that can do this?  Would he drink McDonald’s coffee right out of the tap?  Would he cover his body in whip cream, walk into a Starbucks and ask a customer if they’d like cream with that?  Would he offer to trim the nose-hairs of passers-by?  Truly, I could go on.  And this is my point.

Make Me Laugh!
Alright Dave - what goes around comes around!  Here’s a chance for your viewers to finally give you what you got comin’ to ya - a few laughs, on them.  I say we get some cameras out on the street and see what people think it takes to make the Master laugh and put a serious smile on the nation’s most notorious puss.  We’d catch people willing to act out a favorite TV or movie scene (a portly fellow imitating Scarlett O’Hara?) or sing a long lost jingle, tell a simple joke or, be willing pull a toupee off a random victim, we could encourage “Dave Impersonationism!”  Who knows what we’d get and clearly, that’s half the fun.  (I suggest the assigned field crew wear combat gear, afterall, it is NY.) Winner gets a canned ham and an Apple bus tour of Manhattan. 

Hey!! This could be funny!!
page 2

Mailmen are People Too
Dave has a standing love affair with NYC’s cab drivers, which is all well and good.  I `spose.  But let’s not overlook another opportunity to exploit our other public servants, our mailmen, our “letter men.” I’m telling ya, these guys know everything, you just gotta ask them first.   They know where the coolest people live, and we get a chance to see just how much you can know about a person by delivering their mail.  I mean, does Madonna get Victoria Secret catalog?  Does John-John?!  OK, so we might have to skirt a few legal issues, but the important thing is we’ve introduced a slew of characters to harass for our own simple minded amusement, and if that’s not the stuff great TV’s made of, well, then I just don’t know what is!!

The Name’s Regis
First, we find the perfect, private Bahaman Resort island and send a crew of buff, young ironmen and this girl, age is not so important, but I feel strongly that her name be Karen as this will be integral and essential to the success of the “bit.”  Then I, uh, I mean she, checks into the resort, booking all the rooms under one name so as to ensure privacy.  Next, once they’ve put themselves through the hellish and selfless act of investigating the resort, the terrain and each other, (we should allow 3 to 4 weeks for thorough investigation) we send in the Water Sport Training crew (jet ski, water ski, brew ski, all yer basic ski sports-) and a personal pool boy named Juan who delivers fruit juice and Evian facial spritz every hour on the hour.  Finally, having amassed a debt that rivals four years at an Ivy League or a months’ rent on CPW, we turn the cameras on as the Island Steward smugly inquires “Shall I put this on your bill?”  We whip pan to our bronzed, toned, and zoned participant, Karen, who coolly replies- “Yeah, the name’s Regis.”

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Small Town Knife 

Crocodile Dundee brandished a very dangerous looking Bowie knife and backed down a would-be criminal, taunting "Now that's a knife." 

I had gotten by with a nothing more than a plastic butter knife my first few months in Manhattan.  Being a new New Yorker with a tiny studio apartment, I was making due.  And didn’t cook any more than I absolutely had to. Which, for the most part, stopped and started with brewing a pot of coffee. Then one day while replenishing coffee filters and toothpaste at my local grocers,  I see a very respectable looking knife for sale. It was merely $5 for 7”of serrated aluminum. I told myself I could afford it. I couldn’t, but practicality had me in its grip, leaving me no choice.  I reached up tall on tippytoes and claimed it as my own. “What the heck.” The accumulation of basic household items had to begin somewhere.

Each time I had an occasion to use that knife I was impressed with its performance. No matter what I asked it to do, it was done with ease and precision. I may not have had much, but at least I had a knife that would never let me down. Seemed odd to feel so proud about a random purchase that was neither considered nor researched, but rather just sort of happened.  I felt that I had all the knife I’d ever need, ready to chew mercilessly through packing tape or vacuum packed coffee bags, an apple and cheese when entertaining, and on occasion, serve as a screw-driver. That knife would wear any hat I asked it to - and I developed a love for it, born of reliability and dependability. Perhaps that’s how people feel about their pets – a devotion that stems from nothing more than continued presence.

The years wore on. Other dime-store knives entered the scene, but always, when faced with a need for precision, not to mention strength, I’d dig past the other utensils that offered themselves to me, opting for My 1st Knife. Like an old Army friend, waiting to do what I asked of it,  I’d find it. It’s jagged, eternally-sharp teeth were always at my service.

Jobs changed, salaries increased, coveted one-bedroom apartments on the Upper West Side were found, and so too, the day came when I got a set of Henckel knives.  I was quite excited about this as it seemed to represent more to me. They were Henckel’s for crying out loud. I’d been in New York long enough to know that brand names mattered. Henckel’s were the ones to have. And I so loved the big butcher knife especially. Now I chopped herbs as though being filmed for the live broadcast of a cooking segment on the Today Show. Just as I’d seen it done so many times before, lifting the heel, pulling it toward me, and clamping down on the ingredient with confidence. It sounded just like the chef’s on TV, too.  While my cutting board was still just a piece of plastic from D’agostino’s Supermarket, my agility and performance and hardware were camera-ready.

Occasionally, I’d still reach for my 1st knife, mainly out of melancholy, but it never,  not ever, could it reside with the Henckel’s.  I was moving up, and this 1st knife had served me well,  so I’d always have gratitude for it’s indestructible service. But I’d moved on, clearly. Just ask my Henckel’s. They would emanate success and kitchen prowess, a cook who is now in the know, and comfortable being there. I had mastered the art of sharpening my Henckel’s, once I learned that sharpening was necessary maintenance of the owner. Again, I felt the cameras rolling on me as I swish-swish-swished the left side across the 10” diamond sharpening steel, and again on the right. “Ting!” Sharp as a… as a Henckel.  I punch through an arm of gourmet salami like a 300 lb. man through thin ice; cube out a cheese tray in minutes flat; gingerly maneuver the tip in, around and through the core of a cantaloupe  There was no mercy for the groceries awaiting me and my Henckel’s. I was on my way to being a Domestic Goddess in the kitchen, and ready slice, sliver, and  match-stick my way into a man’s heart. All I needed all along was the right tools.

It was long after the thrill of my Henckel’s wore off, when in the deep of the night, when the lights of my judgmental city were dimmed, I’d hunt amongst the miscellaneous cutlery to find my 1st knife. I didn’t have a serrated Henckel to make an apple cutting-to-apple cutting comparison, and maybe that was more of a conscious choice than I might have thought. I am nothing if not loyal.

And in that same way, my small-town self will always be in me. Mr. Right will have to make room for the drug store make-up plastic-shoe wearing eternally sharp $5 knife wielding part of me too.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Bad Brain 

I’m in a troubled relationship right now. Yeah. I’ve been trying to strike a peaceful coexistence with my brain. We had to enter couples therapy. I just can’t put up with it’s shit anymore – all the tormenting, name calling, paranoid accusations of a brain in the throws of mid-life crisis – hey, that’s not my problem You live your life, I’ll live mine, and try and leave me out of the whole mess. We got attorneys, hoping to come to a settlement. I hired the firm of Passivestein and Lowenbrau; its hired Yousuck Gotohell. That “Yousuck,” he’s a bad dude. I’m paying my attorney by the hour to come up with evidence to refute the charges, and I’m galled that he’s taking his time on this case. Can’t be good for either one of us, really, me and my brain. All the petty squabbles we get into. Most days, I’m so beaten down, I just get up and ride the ride. I just hope we can work it out – I’m an optimist. I have faith in human nature. Because we’re all good people! Yes we are! Well, not you. You got problems. Oh yeah? Then where’d I leave my keys? See! You’re the one who sucks! Look, I know you’ve got a lot on your mind too, all the synapses acting up, wanting time off, looking for paid holidays – I know it’s a lot of stress on you. But why take that out on me? I’m here for ya, right? We’re supposed to be a team. Don’t I take you to Macy's all the time, huh? Talk about sensory overload. And those weeks we spent in Australia – that was a real treat for ya, right? But how do you thank me? And the VOICES!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Art of the Story 

Stand by for tears. Today's journalists all take the same approach to news. “Make it bleed, then it leads.” Make it graphic, make it coarse, make the mundane and immaterial seem a life threatening atrocity. Reporters all swinging for the fences of maximum reach. Reach means circulation, circulation translates to money, supplied by advertisers as desperate as the American population themselves. Well, as desperate as the 98% of Americans not enjoying the economic contraction brought on by greed. The state of the country is chaotic, news services are either folding their unit altogether, or expanding the glam and hype of their broadcast for greater appeal. America stands to lose what we have long taken for granted and grown used to its synthetic replacement. Shame on us for not demanding better, or at the very least, not knowing the difference. There was once was a tasteful approach, a reporter with panache for telling stories to the American public.

The story of a child who loved color, who loved to paint, but who, as an adult, was an unsuccessful artist, then became a villainous leader of catastrophic proportions.

A life-long innovator and entrepreneur, believing in his own ideas as much as America’s promise as the land of opportunity, was facing his own last chance.

Our history as a country was kept in good conscience and defended, mirrored, and distilled by a man who served as a walking, talking history book for perspective.

When, in 2008, gas prices soared to over $4 per gallon, he reminded us that we had been here before, by reissuing the headlines from newspapers dated 65 years ago. He compelled us, without volume or hatred, without renouncing one political party for another, he compelled us to examine our country, our choices, our selves. We had been there before. He was the voice of reason, relying solely on our past experiences that we chose to either ignore or devalue.

Who else would give us the innocent, pitiful portrayal of a lil’ Fuhrer to remind us that we’re all human? Who else would remind us that those who try and try again just might be the next great Golden Arches of America?

Who else would entertain us with news of our day, our lives, our country, grounded in the one humanity, one planet, that we all share? Who else… but Paul Harvey. May he rest in peace, February 28, 2009, and since his stories are timeless and America suffers short term memory loss, may his broadcasts play on forever.

United Spiders 

New homesteads always take a little getting used to. The different sounds at night, the pumps that run, furnaces that clank, the sound of rain on the roof – they all take on a cadence and timber of their own. The nights are short and filled with terror until these common effects become a part of your natural resting state. Apart from the usual adjustments to sounds, I will never be comfortable with foreign-body invasions.

I went shopping at the Home and Garden section of our local department store the other day. Possibly for the first time ever. Which explains why I was kind of nervous and clammy. Had no idea what to buy, just what I needed: garden hose and nozzle to spray the spider infestation off my innocent garage and around the adorable side-entrance of the house. Following with some serious spider death spray to finalize the watery wash-out, just so they’d know I mean business. This innocent massacre material was easy to find and I headed back to the scene of the crime already in progress.

I actually felt kinda bad at one point, realizing, “Hey, they’re not hurting anything. They’re spiders. Hanging out is just what they do.” I wondered what the psychology or natural motivation was for spiders to spin and live in high places and dangle from front doors and garages and if they could be pleasantly coerced to do so some place less obvious to me? Do they have a Union Rep I could maybe negotiate with? And then I saw this huge ass black and red monster, actually crawling in a way that made me see how pissed off he was and I nailed him with the death spray. This really, really angered him. I buried him in the stuff; white with chemicals and he kept on climbing! I thought, “uh-oh. I’m setting myself up for retaliation from the spider posse.”

Even though I had on full regalia more fit for handling killer bees than a few domestic spiders, I felt disadvantaged. Just one scamper up the pant leg would send me begging for roaches any day. But like David and Goliath, I persevered. In the end, I realized spiders aren’t bad. It’s not me against them, really. They’re just a slight nuisance to me, and I’ll sweep them away, as often as necessary. Preferably they’re dead when I do this.

As long as I have my elbow-length gardening gloves, knee-high rubber boots, and death spray, I can handle this.

I really did mellow during the whole massacre. I started out with the kind of determination that only fear could inspire. And ended with a peaceful sense of accomplishment. Then I swept my walk and cleared weeds from the front steps and took a small sense of pride in my new place and responsibilities for upkeep.

Isn’t that just so Laura Ingalls of me? Apart from the poisonous death spray, I mean.

How to Heal a Heart 

Dad had a heart attack on my last visit home to Michigan. Now, as heart attacks go, this was a mere tickle. But he was in the hospital for a week before they could make a diagnosis. The doctor wanted to do a catheterization to check out the blockage. Since Dad had a quadruple bypass 12 years earlier, they needed to get the records from the hospital where he had the surgery. The Doc kind of wanted to know where the graphs of the bypasses are (heart valve graphs, not pie charts…) so he doesn’t bump one when he’s peeking around in there. Seemed wise. Particularly complicating things is the fact that we were coming up on the Christmas season which, for a jeweler, is a yearly goldmine his business counted on. And now he was incapacitated for the foreseeable future. Well, this is as good a thing as it is difficult. He’s beginning to see the incredible stress he’d been mismanaging for so long and, without this incident, could have been the death of him. So I’m glad that was nipped in the bud. And honestly, if your Dad (God forbid… ) ever lands in the hospital and his wife is terrible at just being there and throws herself into her work to avoid dealing with it, it’s really an amazing opportunity for you to bond with your father in a way you’d been longing for and hadn’t even realized. You can just sit and un-anxiously pass the time, because you both know he’s not going anywhere. And he’d rather shoot the proverbial breeze with you than drool into his pillow alone. You can talk about your favorite Paul Harvey broadcasts and what a fine orator he is. You can talk about the resurgence of Big Band music and your father will regale you with stories of gliding around the dance floor on a first date in the Fruitport Auditorium to the sounds of Jimmy Dorsey. You’ll get to time-travel with your Dad back to the days when he was a prankster and spent the majority of his waking hours thinking of ways to shock and surprise his three younger sisters. And you’ll both feel the importance of remembering, together. And you can feel your relationship build because you just took the time to chat about silly things. Whether they’re actual accounts or works of creative fiction spawned by a need to rewrite ones own history to ones liking is immaterial. Just be there to listen. And, from time to time, you’ll run to get his nurse when he grabs his head being ravaged by another nitro-induced headache. When he gets a pain in his chest that turns out to be gas, you both laugh about it, and express gratitude that the gas was in his chest and not the more usual place he gets it. You can stroll the hallways in the cardiac wing and greet the new members of the Zipper Club, just you, your Dad, and his IV drip robot. You can finally cut those overgrown toenails of his since he has a hard time reaching his feet these days. And while you’re there, you can give him a relaxing foot massage too. Most Dad’s have never had one, so it will be doubly special. You can go and buy him Sounds of the Ocean to listen to at night because his trusted nighttime radio will have lousy reception in the hospital. And surprise him with the latest copy of MAD magazine. And he’ll be surprised at how much he still enjoys the silly things. (Include also a LIFE, TIME and NEWSWEEK, so the neighbors know he’s respectable.) You’ll get to know all his nurses on a first-name basis and make sure he answers the questions honestly. (Dad’s tend to not be very self aware.) And then you can ask the nurse questions that your Dad is too exhausted to think of because he just wants to go to sleep and have it all be over when he wakes up. You can take part in the conversation with the social worker whose been made aware that his heart condition is largely stress-induced and talk about real ways to remedy that by learning to delegate responsibilities and help think of ways to solve future problems. And get your Dad talking for the first time about doing less and delegating more and empowering himself to do that. Because he’s the boss, and the owner, and the guy who went without a paycheck through the lean years so he could just keep the doors open. He’ll need to know that he’s earned the right. And you can listen to him talk about his fears, when he doesn’t realize it’s his fears he’s talking about. And you can reassure him that everything will be ok. And that you love him. It’s a lot easier to say, for whatever reason, after you’ve spent hours just being together. And then he’ll surprise you one day when you walk in and, as if this were an old habit, he leans up to give you a kiss. And then you tell him to uncross his legs because it’s bad for his blood flow. He’ll keep forgetting this all the time. And you’ll talk about the pets you used to have when you were a kid, and how much fun the dune buggies were and learning to sail on the sailboats that Mom never liked. And about the Christmases he remembers being more excited about the toys you were getting more than you or your brother were upon opening them. And he’ll tell you stories about your grandparents who you thought you knew so well. And about what it was like being in the service. And the night he first met your mother. And how they were just kids “who didn’t have a clue.” And how, through the years, he loves her more and more. And how he’s afraid that changing his life to one that contains more leisure might spell the end because he doesn’t think that’s her thing. And then you can remind him of all the times she wanted to go cross-country skiing, and how she likes going on the powerboat for dinner and sunsets, and how she likes to take walks to pick wildflowers, and how she likes to go antiquing. You can point out all the times she wanted to have fun with him that he doesn’t remember because he has a fixed impression of her. You get to be her surrogate. And he can listen to you without the usual baggage blocking his ears. And then he’ll talk about that little cabin on the lake he’s always wanted. And you tell him it sounds beautiful. And everything’s going to be ok. And that you love him. And when he asks how things are going at the store, you can tell him it’s great. That you sold everything, and are expecting shipments today so you have new stuff to sell tomorrow. And he’ll laugh and let go of being worried. Well, he had a catheterization the following Monday morning. It was possible that, when they went in there, it could just be a matter of a little metal stint to fix him up or angioplasty (balloon) and then he’s “good like new.” Poor guy. Just wanted to be good like new again. And somehow, regardless of what’s to come, you’ll feel as though those places that don’t show-up on a catheterization of his heart, have miraculously been healed in his as much as in your own.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Strange Happens 

Sometimes you just never know. I’m not saying that a person needs to be on-guard for all matters of strange occurrences, but I am saying, sometimes you just never know. For example, I recently bought a new pair of running shoes (versus buying an old, already used pair, because that would be dumb). This was a good purchase for me, since my “off season” had gone on a bit too long. I was happy to get them home and begin the ritualistic bonding with the shoes where I imagine the miles, the weather, the inclines, the freestyle declines, the dogs, the Gatorade, the blisters, music and sore muscles that we’d endure together, and how I’ll be a better person for pursuing this goal. I was, in fact, with this single purchase, drawing a line in the sand to denote the “before” portion of sedentary life and my imagined, glorious new life “after” with these running shoes. If it sounds like I had a vivid fantasy with my imagined destiny now within my grasp, that would be accurate. I also wanted to avoid harshing that fantasy with fallen arches, which would surely introduce pain and humiliation, thereby negating all other elements of fantasy. High arches sounds so sleek, slim and sexy, and they probably are, however, to a runner, they are a volatile condition requiring the right podiatric accessory. Along with my new silver and purple Aisic running shoe, I also bought the humbling arch support inserts. I passed on the handicapped dayglo vest, but committed to the arch supports. At home, continuing the fantasy of my new and improved life, I took these arch supports from their protective plastic wrapping and the tissue packing paper contained therein fell out with a thump. The last I knew, tissue paper was not inclined to make noise other than the rustle of the paper itself. I picked up the bundle of tissue paper and still can’t make sense of what I found: a plastic yellow half-circle with the clear indentation of upper teeth marks. Was this a complimentary bite-plate for runners willing to push harder? With no instruction booklet or indications on the package, I was left to asses the situation alone. It’s amazing what the unkind mind will drum up for explanation. “Why?.Was this left in by accident at the packaging plant? Did the same company who made my arch supports also make a myriad of therapeutic accoutrement for the nearly able athletes? Or, god forbid, did someone at the packaging plant accidentally- possibly while laughing at the thought of a hobbled loser buying this product - then lose their dental accessory and now become the spark for my imagination?” What is this thing? Am I supposed to use it? Do I need to use it? If ‘yes,’ why do I need to use it? I’ve ran a lot of miles, a marathon, many many 5 and 10k’s – never once did I feel that my teeth were in jeopardy or discomfort. Perhaps I have some researching to do… And sometimes, maybe it’s just that strange happens.

Not long ago, while in New York City and caught in the cold weather without a proper winter coat, I stopped in to a Catholic Charities bizarre looking for a warm coat. As luck would have it, I found one. It was a long, black wool Benetton brand coat with a pretty silk lining in it – all for $10. Oh happy day! And, “only in New York.” Here’s a coat that would have cost far too much money off the rack in a department store, but thanks to a kind and generous Catholic, I now was prepared for the worst of winter weather . I paid the nice man, put the coat on, and began my trek back to my apartment. I went to slide my Metro card into the pocket of my regal new-to-me coat and what the what? Where’s that pocket? I know that this jacket has pockets… I stopped, devoting my full attention to placing my Metro card carefully in the pocket. It was then that I discovered the most curious condition of this coat and its previous owner: the pockets were still stitched together. “What person doesn’t use pockets?” Then it occurred to me that, perhaps a person without arms wouldn’t need pockets. Maybe a person who’s wheelchair-bound wouldn’t need pockets. The list of potential “Who wouldn’t use pockets” kind of people, became shamefully long. Just who was this person, how have we crossed paths thanks to a Catholic Charities bizarre, and what am I supposed to do now? I kept my eyes open for possible conditions so as to add identities to the list of “Who wouldn’t use pockets?” I often wonder still, what condition, situation, or life hurdle kept the previous owner from breaking the stitches open to make use of the deep silk-lined pockets in this fine coat. Eventually, I came to accept that sometimes, strange happens. But rarely is that the first thought that my mind will settle for.

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