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Archive for January, 2009

The World's Most Famous Fire Picture

The World's Most Famous Fire Picture

Here in the turgid but not bursting offices of The Curmudgeon, things have been at a fever pitch since the election of our new President, Barack Obama.  Firstly, I had to leave the ship awhile and leave the mice at the helm, as I attended the inauguration festivities in Washington, D.C.  It was inspiring and a lot of fun.  Obama moonwalking with a lampshade on his head had the whole room rolling, until Michelle passed out with her face in the ice cream, at which point the party broke up and we went back to our suites at the Watergate.

The point is, I have seriously neglected this space which I hope to remedy now, though I’m going to cheat.  One thing I did manage to do is get out the old brain and excercise my literary writing muscles with a short memoir titled The Boy Who Played With Matches.  I had a bit of a fire problem when I was younger, and this is a recounting of those times.  It’s funny with a sweet undertone that, for some reason, makes people cry, first with laughter, but then for some reason they are at a loss to explain.  Some nostalgic remembrance of their own childhood, I guess, but what the hell do I know.  I consider that a success.

Here then, is a short excerpt.  If you like it enough, I invite you to read the piece in it’s entirety via the link I will provide below.  I also, as always, invite you to share your thoughts, insights, abusive language, insults, sexual come-on’s, opinions and criticisms–constructive or otherwise.

The Boy Who Played With Matches (excerpt)

He was only 5 years old. He had been told not to play with matches, of course, for his parents were good people. They made him eat his vegetables and limit his desserts. He wasn’t a firebug. Not really. Not a budding arsonist. No pyromania smoldering in his tiny brain. No incendiarism waiting to be struck on the emery. But humans have had a long and intense fascination with fire and so it was with this boy. It certainly wasn’t one of the usual motives for fire raising: there was no animosity, no vandalism, no psycho pathological factors, no crime scene concealment, no profit, and no political objectives, like demanding less brussel sprouts and more ice cream.

No, it was just your garden variety fascination with all things “grown-up.” The desire to be an adult. It was probably all that family talk about being descended from Davey Crockett, which may or not be true, but he just had to live in the woods, wear a coonskin cap and hunt bear, and all possible descendants of Davey Crockett know you can’t do those things if you can’t build a campfire. It’s instinctual. Maybe not for you, but it is for all possible descendants of Davey Crockett. And just maybe fire made him feel a tiny little tingle in his tiny little pecker, but I don’t really remember, for that 5 year old boy was I.

Into the Woods

There was a great expanse of woods behind our house. It was probably actually something like a copse of woods, but to me it was a forest. There were rickety tree-houses, labyrinth paths, foxholes, and secret tunnels hastily dug by the children, made all the better by the constant danger of collapsing and suffocating the little explorer within. Countless lush memories were grown in its fertile soil.

There was the time the people a mile or so down the road had their pet monkeys escape, about eight of them. My parents read about it in the paper, so we hiked down the road in the direction I had never been before, and there they were, monkey’s swinging in the trees just like in the Tarzan movies. I still don’t understand why those people had all those monkey’s, but at the time all I knew is there were monkeys in the trees. So you can take your copse of woods and shove them up your arse. I’ve got a forest. There are monkeys in the goddamn trees.

And so when the neighbor kid and I came across the carton of matches in his garage, where else would we go to practice our campfire skills but to my forest, the one with the tree houses, paths, foxholes, tunnels, and goddamn monkeys.

The Campfire in Awry

Murphy’s law says that whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. He could have said it will go wrong immediately. We carefully constructed our campfire. A clearing was chosen, clear of any stuff that might accidentally catch fire, and built a ring of stones. Our kindling was stacked neatly in the center with larger sticks piled nearby for when our campfire got going. Neither man nor beast remembers who struck the match and held it to the brittle tender.

What happened next was astounding. The fire paid no attention to our ring of stones at all and immediately began spreading across the ground like…well…wildfire. Frantically we ran round and round the burning ring stepping on flames, children performing a macabre clog-dance of death. The fire simply scooted round our tiny feet, proceeding on its merry way. Clearly, even in duress I could see that we were getting nowhere but fast. I turned to my compatriot and…there was nobody there. The bastard had bailed on me.  I did what any 5 year-old boy would do.  I ran.  I ran and I ran.  I ran faster than I had ever run before.   I ran like a 5 year old possible descendant of Davey Crockett with a tingling pecker runs from a bear.   Straight home to mommy.

(end excerpt)

If you enjoyed it, I invite you to read it in it’s entirety by following this link:  The Boy Who Played With Matches.

Thats it for now.  I promised Michelle I’d call her and give her my grandmother’s recipe for chicken and dumplings, which is for sure the best.  She’s kinda hot.  Uh…Michelle…not my Grandma.

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Photo by haveN / flickr

Photo by haveN / flickr

In the comfortable but not overly cushioned offices of The Crusty Curmudgeon, this item came across my virtual desk in silence. Gone are the old days when the news teletype wire in the corner sprang to life with its clackety-clack, heralding the arrival of important news. Nevertheless, the item captured my undivided attention: The producers of Speed the Plow by David Mamet have filed a grievance with Actor’s Equity Association (the actor’s union) against Jeremy Piven.

Piven dropped out of the show just two months after it opened to favorable reviews, claiming that mercury poisoning was the culprit, causing him to collapse in his home. The rumor-mongers said otherwise, claiming instead that Piven was out late partying and had grown bored with the play. I am not here to argue whether or not Piven was sick or bored, or whether he was on his death bed puking up rancid bits of raw seafood. If that is why you are here, go suck down some raw fish instead.

No sir, I am here to argue—well, actually, I am not here to argue at all. I am here to simply tell you how it is. The show must go on.

I don’t care if you’re puking your jellied guts out…the show must go on. I have done performances where everyone had food poisoning, and we were all running off stage and throwing up every chance we got. I remember one time most explicitly when I had been decapitated. I still did my performance of Hamlet that evening…headless!—my head filled in as Yorick, the skull—and THEN, and only THEN I went to emergency and had my head reattached. Because the show must go on.

If Piven is bored with Speed the Plow, he should pack his theatrical bags and skedaddle back to Hollywood, because I have never known an actor to become bored with Mamet that fast. Mamet dialogue is full of intricate nuance. It is like playing on a Steinway Grand when you are used to Casio. It provides a challenge to an actor akin to…well…performing Hamlet without your head attached (I got great reviews that night.)

And one more thing. The role Piven vacated has been occupied by William H. Macy. Macy is one of the finest actors working today. He is an actor’s actor. This is such a monumental improvement that it seems suspicious.

I’m thinking the producers poisoned Piven on purpose…to get rid of him. That’s what I would do.

THE SHOW MUST GO ON.

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drama masks painting by GotMeAMuse / flickr

drama masks painting by GotMeAMuse / flickr

On Tuesday, the Curmudgeon offices were bustling but not tumultuous over the new season of American Idol beginning later that night. I had, in fact, never seen American Idol before, but I did not share this information, for fear of sounding superior and raining on their parade of anticipation and joy.

I do not understand the hubbub this show creates in its millions of loyal viewers. I do watch other similar shows—in as much as it can be said I watch television at all. I turn the TV on to a program I like, but then I don’t watch it. I am compulsive I’m afraid, compelled to write, so I do, glancing at the television here and there. One such show is America’s Got Talent, another is Dancing with the Stars (first season) and the like, but I always give up on the show before the season is over. That is because the wrong people for the wrong reasons get moved along to the next round.

This happens when the producers, in all their wisdom about attracting viewership and keeping them, eschew the very point of the show, which is to reward talent, not freakishness, not mediocrity, and not downright embarrassment, which in the world of reality television has become a marketable commodity. If they only promoted the people with real talent, the audience would leave in droves, or as Yogi Berra once said, “If fans don’t come out to the ballpark, you can’t stop them.”

So I watched American Idol—Ok, parts of it—and saw instantaneously that this show is the same as the others (and in fact I guess it can be said that Idol is the mother of the others.) So, I won’t, I don’t think, be a regular viewer of Idol either. But I finally saw that the reason I find these shows ultimately worse than distasteful is that they are not merely manipulative and contrary to their own premise (although, they DO move the really good ones along too. After all, there is a recording contract at the end of this and lots of money to be made) but they are really about crushing dreams.

I have been there. I was a very good and semi-successful actor. I have worked professionally in show business since I was 16 years old, pretty much exclusively. I went to a Theatre Conservatory-acting training program, and then to the National Shakespeare Conservatory in New York. I lived in a roach-infested apartment, went to the cattle calls, traveled the country in search of the next paying job, and damn did I have fun. I have had my share bad auditions. Oh, Lord, have I ever. I have met people in real life whose sole (soul?) dream was to “make it” as an actor, but who had not even a modicum of talent or ability. They thought they were good. So wrapped up in this dream were they that reality was invisible to them. They couldn’t see that they stunk up the joint.

Idol and it’s offspring is the sad exhibition of holding a dreamer up in front of us so that we may throw sticks and stones and spit on them. The nerve that guy has, to have a dream like that. Who does he think he is? Is that why we hate them? That they have dreamed in futility? When they are finally dashed on the jagged rocks of reality, we cheer their demise, their arrogance, and their human desperation.

I have been there to see the torn and beaten corpses on the sharp stones.

It breaks my heart.

Don’t get me started on the bikini girl.

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scottgibsoncarney / flickr

scottgibsoncarney / flickr

Here in the din of the Curmudgeon offices, where it may be tumultuous but it ain’t Babel, we’ve been cogitating coconuts over the kidney conundrum, namely that a New York doctor wants the kidney he donated to his wife back as part of their divorce settlement.

It’s a familiar story. Man and woman fall in love.  Man gives his kidney to his wife. Sometime later, she began having an affair (according to him,) and four years later she files for divorce (after 15 years of marriage.)  Let us suppose that this story is true. How would you react if you were either one of them?  On Oprah, they would ask, “How do you feel?”   Apparently, it made him feel downright crappy…and vindictive.

And, oh yeah, he did say he would settle for 1.5 million dollars in compensation. Ok.   The guy’s a doctor, so he’s probably not stupid.   He couldn’t have imagined he actually get his kidney back (but you gotta admit, it would be pretty cool if they did give it back to him.)  I’m sure the money had some influence, but he’s already rich (according to him) so I’m thinking it’s more punative.  You know, “you really hurt me,” and “I loved you so much,” all the way to “I gave you my kidney, you fucking whore!

I’ll Show You My Scar if You Show Me Yours

We were in a million-dollar home, I was a full-time surgeon, full-time father, and a dedicated husband.  And I saved her life and there’s nothing bad about what I did, I’d do it again.   But the pain is unbearable,” the doctor told the media.  Hey,  I told you he was hurt.

Since he’s a doc, and a rich one (according to him) he just might have an idea of just much money a kidney goes for these days.  But why trust him?   Not when you have the Curmudgeon to roam the back, trash-strewn alleys among the wretched in every pitiable country on the planet. So I did, solely for your benefit, of course.  And never-you-mind about the substance I purchased from that murky fellow lurking in the shadows of the Rue Illegal Substance in the Casbah.

Will that be Cash or Credit?

Keep in mind, that there was no kidney available via traditional means.   Here’s what it would cost you to purchase a kidney on the black market and get it installed:  It’ll run you around $7000 just to buy the thing.  Then there’s $1,000 for your round-trip to Cape Town, South Africa, or some similar place.  Don’t forget the round-trip ticket to the guy who has gone bankrupt and needed the money right when you need his kidney.  How very generous of him.  So that’s another $1200 for the kidney-giver, who will fly in from Sao Paulo, Brazil (or somewhere) to meet you in Cape Town.

Now, you both gotta live somewhere while playing General Hospital, so it’s $1,422 for your hotel and $732 for his.  I’m not adding in incidentals, such as food, transportation, and a bottle of Rum to see how the thing took to it’s new home.  So that comes to $11,354. bucks.  Hey, that’s a bargain…like a Going Out of Business sale at the auto parts store!

Compare that to what it would cost to undergo dialysis every day, connected to tubes and machines for the rest of your life.  You couldn’t afford it.  It’s a shame it had to be done that way, but it had to be done, so more power to him.  So that brings back to Dr. Kildare wanting $1.5m for his.  Clearly, his kidney was overpriced.   But he is getting just what he wanted for it and she is seeing that nothing is ever really free.

What he is really getting is that he has made her look really bad while he looks like a saint. And isn’t that what we all really want of the people who really hurt us?   To show the world that you are good person and they are a bad person?  Hell, it’s what we’ve all wanted since we were “knee high to a grasshopper.”   I am good; you are bad.   And now everybody knows it.

Especially of the people whom we once loved.   Oh, to stick the knife in and twist it, over and over, for that is what you did to me, my love. It was a bold gambit.  He could have just looked the foolish cuckold, but instead, he had his wife and he ate her too (or something like that.)

Sidenote to the  black-market kidney guy:  Hey, pal, how’s that kidney thing working out for you?  Good luck.

To view the whole story on the black-market kidney, go here.

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hamlet-poster

A Great Nation Deserves Great ArtNational Endowment for the Arts

Yes it does. Here in the optimistic but not Pollyannaish offices of The Crusty Curmudgeon, we’ve been discoursing, in the great tradition of the master thinkers—Sophocles, Aristotle, and…I don’t know…lots of smart people—the Obama administration and what, if anything, will change regarding funding of public art. This was prompted by an article in the current issue of Newsweek by Jeremy McCarter.

The article makes several valid points, among them that “cultural issues, which aren’t a top priority for new administrations even in the best of times, will have trouble climbing very high on the Obama agenda.” Sad, but true. But it needs to. Nay…it must.

We are facing so many obstacles and challenges—on a multitude of levels nearly unprecedented in the short history of the country—that it’s hard to imagine any attention given to the arts at all. Dwarfing such crises as Wall Street and the auto club’s need for a cash transfusion, is the infernal war in Iraq. According to the Washington Post, we have spent over $600 billion on this embarrassment (currently spending 12 billion per month) and the total will surely surpass 1.5 trillion, and some now estimate the total reaching 3 trillion when all is said and done. And we don’t even blink.

Do You Think I am Easier to be Played on than a Pipe? (Hamlet, Act III, scene 2)

Let us not forget—never, ever sweep this knowledge under your personal carpet—that reliable pre-war estimates pegged the total cost at $100 to $200 billion, to which Rumsfeld said, “Baloney,” and the White House countered with a figure of $50 to $60 billion. Either the Bush Administration and Friends are the biggest liars to ever run this country into the ground (yes, they are) or they are the undisputed Idiot-Kings of any land, time immemorial (yes, that’s true also.)

Imagine what we could accomplish with that money? I say it’s time to get the hell out of Iraq. The USA has been embarrassed and disgraced, our heretofore righteousness and nobility of purpose lessoned in the eyes of every respectable nation in the world. We did not do that, you and I, but rather the Bushies and their cronies (Your Rumsfelds, Cheneys, Kenny Boys, Haliburton, et. al.) did.  Na, na-na, na, na, naaa!

That it Should Come to This (Act I, scene 2)

We must cut our losses and come home. It is not shameful to admit that we, as a people, were hypnotized and guileless for a few years, and we let the religious zealots who are only worried about praying in schools and saying “One nation, under God” where others can see them, take over for a bit, but we’ve got our heads back on straight and we will regain our former compassion, altruism, and your respect. You know, the stuff God really wants us to do.

Which brings me back to support of the arts. We’ve done it before during trying times. Arts funding was part of the New Deal. When FDR signed the Works Progress Administration into law in 1935, it included provisions for four arts programs: Theatre, writing, music, and art ($418 million in 2008 dollars.) This was a wise move. Arts organizations are highly labor-intensive, quickly creating new jobs, not to mention its effect on the public mood. Plus, it’s art, for chrissake!

But can Obama do it?

To Be or Not to Be: That is the Question (Act III, scene 1)

Well, he is arguably the hippest president ever (Ok…Clinton was pretty hip) and used the INTERNET like it had never been used in politics before. Appearing on Meet The Press, Obama told Brokow that he and his wife want to host “jazz musicians and classical musicians and poetry readings in the White House, so that once again we appreciate this incredible tapestry that is America.” Ok. So he has an interest in the arts too.

It should also be noted that the implementation of his Health Plan initiatives will do a great deal for the arts peripherally (kind of the opposite of collateral damage.) After all, when an artist can devote time to their craft, they become better artists, benefiting the human race all the more, because you can’t devote your time when you have to keep your day job just for the dental plan. And don’t forget education: the arts programs are always the first to be cut, while we keep football, basketball, cheerleading. What the hell are they thinking?

Neither a Borrower nor a Lender Be? (Act I, scene 3)

He’ll have to ask for more money. The NEA’s budget is $144 million, off from its all-time high but far from the maddening days of the War on the Arts with General Jesse Helms. Obama will have to shout it from the mountain tops. As McCarter points out, Obama would be wise to get some of his high-profile Hollywood friends involved—Quincy Jones, George Clooney, etc—and dispatch “them as special emissaries to draw attention to various expressions of American creativity around the country. Along these lines, it’s also possible to imagine Obama kicking off, with a single phone call to Oprah, the literacy project to end all literacy projects.”

So let’s get the hell out of Iraq and get started on fighting the war right here at home. The war against ignorance, culture, and creativity. The war for theatre, music, writing, and art.

And Shakespeare.

Hey.

A great country deserves great art.

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Georgia O'Keefe

Georgia O'Keefe

Here in the over-sexed but not wanton offices of the Curmudgeon, we are, all of us, open minded about such things as pornography when it’s by, of, and for adults. We have a “whatever floats your boat,” or “blows up your skirt,” outlook, believing that whatever adults choose to do in the privacy of their own homes is okey-doke with us.

That’s not to say we all sit around watching porn together, which would just be weird (but lots of fun.) I’m sure a couple of the gals down the hall have watched some sexy celluloid with their boyfriends or at pajama parties or wherever it is gals do these things. And then there’s that guy who comes into my office on his hands and knees, fiddles around under my desk, and then crawls back out again. He never touched me, I swear. I asked someone who he is once and was told he is the IT guy, just doing his job, making sure our computers and connections are all working properly. You know he watches porn, and probably has figured out a way to get on all the pay sites for free, which I think is a computer geek requirement.

And I wouldn’t be surprised if the French guy, Jacques (pronounced zhah-kweez) has actually performed admirably in a couple. Naturally, Suzie from Indiana is exempt, since in all her corn-fed, fresh-faced innocence, still thinks we come from storks.

Was It Good For Me?

No. This is for everybody else. Those who think porn is bad and dirty and sends you straight to hell (of course they have to watch it to know just how bad and dirty and damnable it is, but that’s beside the point.) Well I am here to tell them that not only is this not so, but that it is actually a good thing, and that a U.S. Government bailout of the Porn Industry would be a smart move, and in fact will stimulate and lift our economy, firm our resolve, stiffen our upper lip, lubricate commerce, satiate our hungry banking industry, and cause such an orgiastic release of our collective tensions that we’ll all be reaching for the metaphorical cigarette of peace and contentedness.

Seriously. Think about it. Studies have shown over and over (and again, and again, and again) that orgasm is an ultra-healthy release of harmful tensions and anxiety, good for the mind and the body, and what causes more tension than a depression? Unemployment, bankruptcies, heating expenses, food costs, medical care…awwww…it’s enough to make you dig up the old collection of 8mm stag movies that you haven’t seen since you got married.

What would happen without porn? Armageddon, my friend, Armageddon, that’s what. Unemployment, up! Layoffs, up! Crime, up! Murder, up! Spousal abuse, up! Rape, up! Up, up, up! Our minds turgid and roiling with pathology, ready to burst at the seams of an already severely worn fabric.

Yea, But Does It Swallow?

So don’t let the porn movie go the way of the dildo…er…Dodo. Don’t let the lifestyles of the porn stars go flat. Don’t let the producers want for hot-tub cleaning supplies (do you realize how many gooey scenes they shoot in those hot tubs?). What did the banking industry ever do for you besides charge you exhorbitant usury fees? What did the automobile industry ever do, other than charge you too much for their products which break down constantly and gulp expensive fuel?

Your DVD of Hairy Plotter and the Order of the Phallus never gave you an overdraft charge, and The Curious Case of Benjamin’s Butt actually does run on electricity, so don’t tell me those industry’s are worthy of a government bail-out and porn is not. Your reasoning does not hold a big wad of truth.  Bailing out porn would be like Viagra for the economy.

You Put Your Tongue Where?

OK, this has all been tongue in cheeks, but it seems to me as though these companies are in trouble because they have conducted their businesses stupidly. The porn industry will survive in spite of the government as it has always done, as will the entertainment industry in general, since in a depression people seek the fantasy and relief that movies offer.

This, at least, is a fact: Susie really does think we come from storks, and for all I know she may be right.

Now, where did I hide those 8mm films?

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Darwin Bell / flickr

Darwin Bell / flickr

I write to you from my deathbed, not in my home, but in my suite at the mournful but not morose Curmudgeon offices. Yes, I have a bed here, so I can come in even when I am dying and be master of my domain (even in the Seinfeld sense.) I am not really dying, but feel like I’m dying due to a case of food poisoning.

While I am not your typical whiny male whenever I get sick, I do moan a lot. I moan loud. Deep, mournful, forlorn, elephants are stepping on my toes loud. The staff is less than sympathetic—except for Suzie from Indiana, who is always ready to whip up some homemade chicken soup or bake a loaf of herb, Parmesan-crusted bread—and they make fun of me by dressing all in black and parading by my bed with lit candles, whispering to each other, “He was a bastard…but I loved him.

And that is how I have come to be rereading all my old “Word of the Day” emails—four per day—which pile up in my mailbox unread, unused, and unlearned. Let me tell you, four per day is too many for me. I can’t keep up with them and learn them before the next batch comes in, and then the next and the next, piling up on top of each other like dried beans dropping into a mason jar (I was gonna go with “like the guests at a Caligula party,” but thought that might be pushing it.)

I have found that the “Word’s of the Day” come in several categories, all of which can be classified as the Good, the Bad, or the Ugly. That is a personal decision however, so I’ll let you determine which it is according to your sensibilities. So let’s get to it.

Words That You Thought You Knew

CANDOR: We all know this word to mean unreserved, honest, or sincere expression. But that is actually its third definition. The first is whiteness, brilliance. I like this kind of word, where you think you know it and then find out it has this totally different use you have never thought of. I think the next time I’ll write, “The day began with a stunning candor.”

Words You Know but Never Use

SHILLY-SHALLY: Hesitantly, irresolutely. This works for me because although we know what it means, we—or I, at least—never think to use it. Getting it in my mailbox reminds me that it is out there to be called upon when some levity is desired. I’ll remember to use this word more often. Without further shilly-shallying, we come to…

Words That Suck and Then They Don’t

GUDGEON: A small European fresh-water fish. Now, why the heck would I need to know this? I don’t fish and I especially don’t fish when I am in Europe. But then you read on and find that the word also means bait and a gullible person. Ahh…that’s different. This opens up new possibilities. “Don’t be such a gudgeon! Stand up like a man!”

Words You’ll Never Use and Then You Will

ABSQUATULATE: To leave in a hurry; to flee. What kind of pompous ass would use this word? “The house is on fire! I’m going to absquatulate!” But then you find out it is a Mock-Latinate formation. It’s meant to be funny. If that’s not enough for you, Elenore Roosevelt used it when she said, “If you try to absquatulate again, I’ll sic the FBI on you.” That’s instant credibility, man.

Words You’ll Never Use and Then You Still Wont

AVENACEOUS: Relating to or like oats. Really. Who do they think reads these things? Maybe if you’re a scientist at Monsanto or something, but I personally have no use for this word. I’ll bet you couldn’t get even one farmer—a guy who grows oats—to use it. I’m not going to even talk about it. It was a waste of time then, and it’s a waste of my time now.

So, it’s time to absquatulate from this article. I have shilly-shallyied enough and can only hope that tomorrow will shine with candor. No longer shall I play the gudgeon. Perhaps I’ll make some Quaker Avenaceous porridge. But that homemade soup and fresh-baked bread is starting to sound good. I wonder if Suzie would think I was whining if…naw…she won’t mind…

Susie! SUZIE! Would you come in here a minute, pretty please???? I dying here…”

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