Friday, November 22, 2013


Aerie and I have been working on a reasonable profanity policy for Thumper. Or should that be capitalized? Profanity Policy? I don't know. Anyway, we want him to understand not only that they are just words, just sounds that our mouths make that stand for ideas, but also that they have powerful potential to affect people's emotions. It comes down to knowing your audience and knowing that some words will deeply offend some people, so it's best not to use them all willy nilly. Complicated stuff for a 6 year old. Mostly he just loves the thrill of being allowed to say forbidden words out loud in front of his parents.

Case in point: while driving 20 minutes to the cool toy store (that's the new, second location of All Things Kids, for those of you keeping score) to buy a birthday present for a friend, we listened to my iPod on shuffle. iPod on shuffle often leads to  interesting conversations. Today, "Little Lion Man" by Mumford & Sons popped up.

"Did he say a bad word?"


"Did it end with 'ck'?"


"Did it start with 'fu'?"


"Did it have four letters?"


"Oh, like [neighborhood kid] said. His mom got really mad, and I had to come home so she could yell at him some more."

"What did he say?"

"He said, 'What the fuck did you do to your face?'" [This after Thumper spectacularly wiped out jumping off the furniture and gave himself an angry red rug burn on his chin.]

"Yeah, that's why you have to be careful with words like that. You should always assume it's going to make somebody mad, unless you know ahead of time that it's not. Like you should never ever sing this song at school, OK?"

"I would NEVER do that!"

But he does get an incredible electric jolt of excitement out of being able to say to his dad, "He said, 'What the fuck did you do to your face?'"

Then "Andrew in Drag" by The Magnetic Fields came on, and things got even more complicated. Did you know that "shag" means some of the same things that "fuck" does, but people in this country don't use it very much and don't really consider it a bad word? I know! Language is weird!

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Don't tell me how it ends, because I'm listening to the audiobook of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. At first, I didn't think I'd get very far through this book because I have an unsophisticated desire to like somebody, anybody, in any given book. If there's no one likeable, I don't see much point in carrying on, and through the first hour or so, there was no one to like at all. Nick was unpleasant; Amy was unpleasant. But the more I listened, the more I realized that Amy was really only unpleasant as portrayed through Nick's eyes, and as we get to see more of her through her own diary entries, she's actually funny, charming, kind, and a generous and understanding girlfriend and wife.

Still, though, this book is depressing the hell out of me. Its depiction of marriage, even a marriage barely five years old that was born in head-over-heels, giddy, let's-drive-to-Delaware-to-have-sex-just-because-we've-never-had-sex-in-Delaware romance, is bleak. Its depiction of life for educated, east coast liberal young folk who end up through unplanned circumstances in a small Midwestern town, whose culture is essentially American suburbia, is bleak. Middle-class American married life in suburbia is the very definition of my life at this moment.

What disturbs me to the depths of my secret soul is Nick and his (mis)understanding of his wife. He attributes to her all of his own worst insecurities about himself and then resents her deeply for what (he supposes) she feels about him. She is baffled by his anger because she does not feel any of those things about him. She works hard not to be the nagging, needy, manipulative wife that she sees some of her friends become. And still, he sees her as exactly what she refuses to be, and his anger and neglect forces her to become, in painfully awkward moments, just that. Seeing each character through the first person, it's agonizing witnessing their complete failure to understand or even to try beyond a superficial level to communicate meaningfully with each other about that failure to understand. Amy says more to her diary about how she feels than she does to him; Nick says more to the reader as narrator than he ever says to her.

All of which reminds me painfully of the early- to mid-2000's. I was Nick. I saw my wife as Nick sees Amy. I thought we were engaged in some sort of competition or battle because she absolutely refused (refused!) to concede any victories to me. So in turn, I refused to concede any to her. And things fell apart. And things got bad. And now, years later, they're much, much better, but the reminder of how quickly and easily even the best fairy tale love story can turn into a murder mystery (no, I never wanted to kill my wife, and no I don't know if Nick killed Amy! Don't tell me! I haven't read that far yet!) is a hard one to read.

So I remind myself by telling you this marital advice that should have been obvious to me much sooner than it was, and which should be easier to remember through the years than it actually was or is:

First, be nice. Be nice to each other. Behave as if you are in love, even if you're not feeling particularly in love right now. Acting as if you're in love can lead to feeling more in love, while waiting to feel in love does not necessarily lead to acting as if you're in love.

Understand that the only person whose behavior you can change is your own, and changing your own behavior can inspire a change in your partner. People are nicer to those that are nicer to them.

No one ever brought anyone over to their own side through passive-aggression, sarcasm, and open hostility. A clever retort in a heated moment wins you nothing.

I suppose I'll keep listening so that I can find out where that Gone Girl ended up, but it hurts me to think that Amy deserves better than Nick, because it hurts me to think that my wife deserves better than me, and that I've misinterpreted the sweet, loving, generous, and forgiving woman that she is, seeing her instead through the distorted lenses of my own self-criticism.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Today, we went swimming with old Austin Stay-at-Home Dads group friends that we haven't seen as much since Thumper started school last year, then went to their home to hang out and make s'mores. We saw them at a playground play date yesterday, and as we stood on the bridge over the pond throwing expired baked goods down to the ducks, Thumper told his longtime friend, "I'm so happy to see you again." So we made arrangements to go swimming together today, and he loved seeing those kids again, and meeting their new dog, and I loved chatting with their mom and catching up again.

After that, we went to another ASAHDs family's house for a multi-family pizza party. My kid ran around and around and around their circular layout apartment (that, apparently, LBJ and Ladybird occupied in the '30's), and danced, and played, and I sat around talking, and drank a beer, and everybody ate round after round after round of incredible little pizzas with carmelized onions, rich cheeses, tomatoes, peppers, and a crispy homemade crust. We talked, and laughed, and reminisced, and shared experiences, and enjoyed the kids enjoying themselves.

And it occurred to me that this has been the summer of reaching out for us. We're doing much with many people, and it's been very satisfying for both of us.We've been reconnecting with dads' group friends that we lost contact with over the school year. We've been discovering new friends, for both him and for me, and for Aerie. We've been swimming, and going to birthday parties, and exploring new places. We've been camping, and climbing, and jumping off of high places, and as much as I thought I was fine with my own little world, I've deeply appreciated the degree to which it's expanded this summer. You people, you're all so special. I've loved how much you've made me push my own boundaries and reject my own shy, introverted social awkwardness. Thanks so much for this wonderful summer, and I hope it keeps on keeping on, right through the new school year. Smoochie smoochies!

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Heart of Love

Thumper and I were listening to "Black Flowers" by Fishbone in the car today:

I asked him, "Does it matter to you what color somebody's skin is?"

"No," he said, with a look on his face that made it clear he thought it was a ridiculous question. "Why did you ask me that?"

I said, "This song talks about the hatred that some people have for other people. Sometimes people hate other people because they look different than they do, or believe different things. Some people think that love and romance, like Mama and I have for each other, should only ever be between a man and a woman and they hate men who have love and romance for other men, or women who have love and romance for other women."


"I don't know. I think how someone treats other people matters more than what they look like or who they love. I hope you keep thinking like you do now and never start believing that different is bad."

"I'd never do that. I've never done that in my whole life!"

He clearly still thought it was a ridiculous conversation, and that made me happy.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Stories Too Long for Facebook

Yesterday, Thumper was running off to do something in another room when I told him, "Come here and let me comb your hair, then you can do whatever you want to do." His eyes lit up, and he immediately, without a pause, said, "I can do whatever I want to do?"

Realizing my semantic mistake, I said, "No, I mean you can go do whatever it is you were going to do in there." Aerie immediately pointed out how smart he was to see the loophole, so I asked him, "Who's the smartest: you, me, or Mama?"


"Who's the 2nd smartest?"

"I'm sorry to tell you, Dad, but it's me."

"Well, am I smarter than the kitties?"

"Yes. You're 3rd smartest. Then the kitties."

So, at least I outrank the kitties.

We spent the afternoon today trying to entertain ourselves without any TV or video games. While I did dishes and changed the bedding around the house, he ran on the treadmill, jumped on the trampoline, and beat up the standup punching bag. Then we worked on learning chess. When he couldn't figure out how to beat me in less than 30 minutes, he wanted to move on, plus it was about time to start cooking dinner.

I went into the kitchen, hooked up my iPod to the portable speakers, and kind of bopped along while I cooked. I turned around and saw him in the kitchen rocking out. He works his hips, his shoulders, his head, his arms. He has rhythm. He's gone to Zumba classes with Aerie a couple of times, and people there commented on his rhythm. He jumps, bounces, throws in lots of variety. I can't begin to move like he does. But he inspires me to dance less self-consciously, at least when it's just the two of us. Maybe in time I'll dance in public like I don't care what you think.

I started this summer with difficulty, trying to remember what it was like to spend all day every day with him since he just finished his first year of school. I'm beginning to remember how to talk to him like a person instead of snapping instructions at him and yelling at him when he doesn't listen. I'm remembering how to appreciate him, his sense of humor, his charm, his perspective on the world.

We spent two nights and three days camping with four other families (an entire post of its own, if I ever get around to writing it). It was his first camping trip. I told him that for the entire course of camping, he could make his own decisions about what he wanted to do and what he wanted to eat as long as he told me when he was going into the lake and when he was leaving the campsite. With the removal of all expectations for him to behave in a certain way and all expectations for me to limit his choices, we both were completely relaxed. For the most part, he made good choices, was kind to the other kids and polite to the adults. It was so fun and so calming that I found myself wondering why I was stressed and angry and snapped at him so much. I suppose we all do better when we're treated like people and aren't yelled at.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Professional

I like to think about story archetypes. One of the most appealing to me, for some reason, is the story of the absolutely unsurpassed professional, whose professionalism includes the rejection of personal relationships. Then, of course, he stumbles into a personal relationship that destroys his professionalism.

There is an aspect of this story that applies to other stories that I've loved: single-mindedness. I went through a period many years ago when I read Civil War histories, biographies, and autobiographies, and the characters I loved best were those that had a single-minded commitment to principle. John Mosby, Nathan Bedford Forrest, William Tecumseh Sherman, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson... These were the men who were extraordinarily successful because they were committed to achieving their purposes to the exclusion of all other considerations. Later, I read about Che Guevara, and completely independent of his political views, I loved him because of his absolute commitment to what he believed.

I think my admiration stems from the complete opposition to myself that such commitment represents. I can't even say for sure what it is I believe, let alone commit to that belief with a passion that excludes all else. This is also why I admire military men and women. I could never imagine myself joining the military and committing my life to an ideal. There's not much for which I'd willingly die. My wife. My son. The circumstances in which such a sacrifice would be necessary are limited, though.

I started thinking about this again after watching Drive this week. Ryan Gosling's professional driver who is undone by his affection for a little girl reminded me so much of Jean Reno's professional assassin who is undone by his affection for a little girl in, of course, The Professional. Assassins apparently have a weakness for spunky girls on their own, as evidenced by The Man from Nowhere. This "assassin who lets a little girl into his heart" theme occurs again in The Warrior's Way, but the warrior isn't quite destroyed in that one. Sometimes, though, it's romantic rather than some substitute for paternal love, as with Robert DeNiro, undone by his affection for a woman in Heat.

I don't know where I'm going with this, but I like stories of pure commitment to a single purpose. And I like them better when that pure commitment is unraveled by love, even when the hero's death is the ultimate result.

What does that say about me?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


I had several things on my to-do list for today, so naturally, I did none of them and spent almost all of the elementary school hours reading old blog posts. It seemed like a self-indulgent thing to do, but I couldn't stop. 2007 and 2008 were two of the most complex and fulfilling years of my life. I was struck by the difference between the me of five and six years ago and the me of today. I was engaged. I was excited. I thought deeply about what I was doing and wanted to tell people about it. I was smart and funny, and I loved my job, even when it was hard and confusing and exasperating. Looking back at him, I liked that me. A lot.

That's why I think I really need to get a job.

Aerie and I agreed when Thumper started school that there was value to me staying home even with him in school. It lets out at 2:40, after all, and a couple of times a month at least there's a day off for a holiday, a teacher work day, a bad weather makeup day. I was excited that it would give me time to pursue other interests, particularly writing. The Great American Novel would at last be finished started. The house would at last be clean. Additional money would be made from all those work-from-home hours I'd be putting in.

But mostly I've been watching TV and movies, reading books, and listening to audiobooks. I haven't even kept up with my exercise and diet routines. I look back at how engaged and excited I was, how every developmental stage was thrilling and new, and I realize how removed I am from that kind of energy now.

I need to get a job.

Summer's almost upon us, so I think we'll do a last hurrah on the whole stay-at-home dad thing. We'll revisit the dads' group play dates. Though the cast of characters has changed somewhat since we were regulars and Thumper is likely to be the old man of the group, it will be nice to see old friends again, both his and mine. We have another friend who has grand plans for play dates and cooperative child care to fill in the days between kindergarten and first grade, and we'll throw in with them as well.

There's a job that I've been waiting and hoping to see open itself to me like a a flower in the morning sunlight, but it hasn't yet, and there's no telling if or when it ever will. If it does miraculously hand itself over to me this summer, I'll happily take it and make other arrangements for Thumper, but if it doesn't, when school starts again in the fall, I'll start looking for work again in earnest.

I'm not being the best me that I can be, and with complete freedom, with no pressure from my incredibly loving, understanding, and patient wife, I can't seem to push myself to be better in the ways that I know I need. It's time that I got back to work and contributed to the family in more tangible ways, like income, and retirement benefits. And not spending entire days doing not a damn thing.

Friday, May 10, 2013

I Don't Hate You, But I Kind of Do

A few days ago, a friend linked to this video based on an excerpt from a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace. I usually sigh and roll my eyes over internet videos longer than 3 minutes or so, but this one is worth every second of its 9 1/2 minutes. I've been thinking about it all week. I can't fathom how I can be so inconstant myself (sometimes deeply in love, sometimes deeply annoyed, sometimes kind, sometimes selfish, sometimes patient, sometimes incredibly short of temper) and yet so unable to remember that other people are no more constant than I. The guy who cuts me off in traffic is no more permanently defined by his moment of selfishness and impatience than I am by mine when I occasionally do the same, and yet I immediately classify him by that action: "Jackass!" If my son learns any obscenities from me, he learns them in the back seat of the car when I'm driving.

These past couple of weeks, I was listening to Alexander Adams read A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway. Hearing Frederick Henry and Catherine Barkley gush over each other in their small, quiet months together amidst the chaos of the world around them, I felt even more deeply in love with my wife, more grateful for her as a sanctuary. For a time. But a moment later, despite years of history, I am suddenly, disproportionately annoyed as hell by some inconsequential action. Knowing long before it comes just how the story is going to end (because how can it not? But maybe it won't. But how can it not?), I feel closer to my child and the undeserved luck of his healthy birth. But still, I'll snap at him all day long for small irritations. Why?

I also watched God Bless America this week, a mediocre movie that is just as sensationalistic and dehumanizing as the the pop culture that it purports to criticize. While watching it, I thought, "But there are no people that deserve to die!" even while chiding myself that yes, there are some people that deserve to die. Not Kardashians, certainly, but maybe someone that would kidnap teenage girls, keep them captive for years, raping them over and over and over again, yes? Deserve to die? And yet human. With thoughts and feelings and history and circumstances.

I want very much to be a better man, but for some reason, there is no such thing as ever after.

Mr. Wallace, who not insignificantly decided to end his own life, points out that it is a choice to think of others as just as human as yourself, and yet, I can't understand why making that choice is so hard, and never gets easier, day in and day out. It's a choice that must be made again and again, ad infinitum, and so many times in any given day, it's easier, or at least more appealing, to choose dehumanization.

And why is it so much harder to make that choice while driving, or while tediously working one's way through the grocery store?

I don't want to hate you. I really don't. But sometimes, I kind of do.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Living in Suburbia with a Sociable Child

I was interviewed this afternoon for a potential "featurette" or some such thing in a local fitness magazine. They're planning a Fathers' Day theme for their June issue and are focusing on my stay-at-home dads' group. The focus is dads staying fit with their kids. Or something.

With my up-and-down weight loss/gain history, I'm probably not the best guy to interview about staying fit, and I found myself answering her questions about how the group has affected my life with how I've learned to be more sociable and open to strangers. Much of that has to do with Thumper and his love of talking to anyone and everyone more than it has to do with the group, but some of it is related to meeting new people with a common thread to their choices and lifestyles. There is value in relationships developing from the "we are pre-made friends because we belong to the same group, so we might as well talk to each other" aspect of strangers coming together because of similar choices.

Perhaps some of it is living in a neighborhood with a relatively high percentage of resident owners vs. rental properties, where the same people see each other over the years walking, driving, checking the mail, swimming at the neighborhood pool. Perhaps some of it is Thumper entering the school system, and parents seeing each other again and again at school drop off and pick up, volunteering, and other school events.

But honestly, with no disrespect to friends and neighbors: I sometimes miss the complete anonymity of living childless in Boston. For my morning commute, I would put on headphones and sunglasses, put my nose in a book, and have absolutely zero expectation of engaging in small talk with strangers on the subway. I would go to the grocery store and never run into friends of friends or acquaintances. I was invisible, unknown, anonymous, and it felt safe. Secure.

It could be lonely, too.

Now I have friends, neighbors, acquaintances. I have a network of people that I sometimes help and that sometimes help me. We share childcare. Our kids play together in backyards and playgrounds. We get together for potlucks, drink beer, and watch our kids ride bikes and play the didgeridoo.

Well, OK, that didgeridoo thing's only happened once. So far.

Looking back on the play group, and the journey so far with my son who is so much more outgoing and confident than I remember being when I was a child, I've moved quite a distance from the awkward 13-year-old who was sure that everyone else in school was working with a script that he never received. I chat with strangers at the park. I make small talk with friends in the grocery store parking lot. I introduce my wife to the parents of Thumper's classmates that we run into at the pool, and my heart doesn't stop, the world doesn't end, I only want to hide a little bit, and everything is pretty much all right.

Invisible still appeals to me, though.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Red State

If you came here from Google because you just watched Kevin Smith's Red State, and you can't for the life of you figure out what "why did you shine the direct?" means, I'm hear to tell you that I did the same thing, and then suddenly had the epiphany that it was "shy on the direct," as in, "why did you balk on following the direct order?" The interviewer is asking John Goodman's character, "Why didn't you follow orders and kill everyone?" to which John Goodman replies with a long story about two gentle old dogs who fight to the death over a turkey leg? And maybe he also resigns after getting a promotion? I don't know. This is the only Kevin Smith movie I know that's not full of strange, unnatural, high-speed dialog. I didn't hate it, though. Also: Michael Parks is awesome.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Poetry Slam

It's been awhile since I wrote something for Velvet Verbosity's 100 Word Challenge. I guess it's National Poetry Month, or something, and I don't really do poetry often, but I was inspired this time. I give you:

Poetry Slam

“Midnight plays piano,” she said,
And my eyes are rolling already.
“Velvet black, or blue, jazz like ink… blots…”
And I need a drink, or maybe shots
Lined up on the bar, one after the other.
And she’s got the moves, hands waving.
I can almost feel it in my guts, moving, almost powerful,
And the audience rapt.
Until she wails, wordless, arms upraised, uplifted.
And the crowd responds in kind, uplifted too.
The Artist goes on, but I hear nothing but empty noise after noise, echoing
And pretty, and not pretty, and pretty empty, and prettily empty, after all.

Monday, March 25, 2013

I AM Motherf***in' Civilized!

A fellow employee at the arena, after hearing me recount my story, told me, "You have to blog that!" Which reminded me that I have a blog and that I haven't touched it in, what, 2 months or more? So I thought this might be my entry back in to blogging. I like blogging. I do. I should do it more.

I worked a basketball game tonight, an exciting game whose result came down to the last minute of play. With about two minutes left in the game, a super fan, with his hair painted in the colors of his favored team, abandoned his seat and stood on the landing. We, as ushers, are required by the Fire Marshal to keep landings clear in case of evacuation, plus he was blocking the view of the dozens of fans behind him, so I dashed out to him, trying to stay low, and said, "Sir, you can't stay on the landing. Would you please return to your seat?"

"Yes," he said, and continued to stand there.

"We're required to keep the landings clear in case of evacuation," I said, "and the Fire Marshal is sitting right over there."

"Yeah, OK," he said, and continued to stand there.

"Seriously," I said, "You can't stand here. You have to go out onto the concourse or go back to your seat."

"Seriously!" he snapped. "Are you going to kick me out in the last two minutes?" But he went back up the stairs to his seat.

A moment later, he came down and sat in an empty seat further down. Then he stood in front of the seat. Then the patron sitting next to him, a man in his sixties or seventies, asked him to sit down so that the fans behind him could see. I couldn't hear what the super fan said, but the older patron quickly came down and exited, saying to me as he went by, "That guy's nuts. Really. He's completely nuts."

Next, with the game clock down now to about a minute left, another patron came down and informed me, "That guy told the guy that left that he'd motherf***in' kill him. I thought you should know. He's kind of out there."

"Oh," I thought. "That's why he left and called the guy nuts."

A few seconds later, the super fan came down, staring hard at me all the way, his brightly colored hair standing straight up. In the last minutes of the game, fans often accumulate in the portals (the doorways between the concourse and the seating area) torn between the urge to beat everyone else out the door to avoid the traffic snafus and the urge to see the end of the game. Two other fans were standing next to me, watching the last minute. The super fan stopped across from me in the portal, still glaring.

I said, "Did you really tell that guy that you were going to kill him?"

"Uh, no." He seemed a little taken aback. "I told him if he had a problem with me, I'd see him outside. He saw my kid slip on the stairs and said, 'Must be in the gene pool.' He's going to say that s*** in front of my kid, I'm going to take him outside! And you! You are so motherf***in' white!"

"Wow," I thought. "He, in his late twenties or early thirties, is going to call out a man in his sixties or seventies to have a fistfight in the parking lot?" But of course I didn't say that.

Instead, thinking of him blocking the sight lines of the other fans, I said, "Sir, I was just asking you to act like a civilized human being."

He exploded. "I am motherf***in' civilized! I am so f***in' civilized! My f***in' girlfriend has all of it on video! She has you on video! She has that other guy on video!"

After a few moments of uncomfortable eye contact between us, he thankfully stormed off onto the concourse. The two fans standing next to me both looked at me shaking their heads. One of them said, "The stuff you guys have to put up with."

So yes, I repeated this story a few times to co-workers tonight. "I knew I was white. I just didn't know that I was mother***in' white!" But my favorite facts were:

1) My fellow arena employee, on hearing the tale, wrote "I AM mother***in' civilized!" on a post-it note and declared it would be her new catch phrase.

2) The nut who accused me of being "so motherf***in' white!" was also white, and the two patrons who commiserated with me about "the stuff you guys have to put up with" were both black.

Some might take this as a tale of how awful the general public is. I instead choose to take it as an example of one end of the bell curve, evidence of how many people who come through our doors, and there are thousands after thousands after thousands, who do not behave like people who are biologically incapable of living successfully among other human beings. Wheee! This is why I love working the arena!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Start Again

Two years later and I'm back where I started. My weight is back up, and I don't think I could finish a 5K without walking now. My breathing problems worsened, and I couldn't and still can't find a solution. The working theory now is allergies, but a year of allergy shots did nothing for me, and none of the over-the-counter allergy medications does me any good, so I've been coasting along, hoping it will get better on its own. But it hasn't. Also, I fell trying to jump over a barricade to get to the port-o-potties before the start of the Turkey Trot 5-Miler and bashed my knee. I still ran it, but I had about a month of knee pain that helped me rationalize a long stretch of eating, drinking, and being merry while not exercising at all.

So, yeah, I'm fat and out of shape again. Time to start over. Again. I'm not going to count calories, though. I refuse. I hate it, and I never maintain it. I'm going to focus on eliminating alcohol (again) and exercising. I plan on mixing the running with other activities to keep me from getting burned out on it, which was also a problem over the last year. Now that I have a smartphone, I'm going to try RunKeeper to track my runs and I've linked it to Fitocracy which lets me track other exercises and earn points. I don't think the points get me anything except the satisfaction of rising through levels, Dungeons & Dragons style. Maybe I can be a level 13 Neutral Evil Human Ranger by the end of the year.

I think I'll remove all of the runs and weight info on the right side panel. It's getting cluttered, and clearly I haven't been updating it anyway.

Here's to a new year.
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