More Beatlemania

Originally published January 14, 2003

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If Horace Dalrimple was the first Beatlemaniac I was to meet, my little sister Jean was the second. 7-years-old, little brat she was. Sometimes late at night after bedtime, sister Jean would lay there in her dark second-story bedroom. Then she’d open up her window, stick her head out the window and shout into the night sky:

“John!  Paul! George! RINGO!”

And always in that order: “John!  Paul! George!  RINGO!” Yelling into the black sky, in the direction of the railroad tracks and the school playground behind our back yard.  I’d hear her voice echoing off the red brick school.

Then she’d close her window and go back to sleep.

To me, it was the Saturday morning “Beatles Animated Cartoon Show” that really got me. They were like the most fun toy of all, them Beatles. They sure looked like they were having great fun. And there was something zany about them. That had that extra ZING about them. I mean, you could argue that the Beatles were manufactured and marketed to us by the media. But there was something organic about the whole process. It went way beyond mere hype. For Horace, sister Jean, and me — and millions of other American kids just like us — responded immediately to the Beatles. We didn’t have to be TOLD that we should buy this. We went after it, hooked from the beginning.  It was a strange confluence of the Beatles, the Baby Boomers and the burgeoning Mass Media all tri-secting at the same place.  To the point where it was hard to tell which was creating which.

I still remember the opening bit of The Beatles Cartoon Show. It started with the 6 open-tuned notes of an acoustic guitar. Later, I would remember that when I learned to tune my guitar as an adult. The Beatles were putting out some high-wattage material, and much of it would stick to us for a lifetime. And you never knew precisely which pieces would stick.

The cartoon Beatles were like superheroes, in a way, and their guitars were their super-weapon. Whenever the guitars came out, the reality amped up and the Beatles took control. Instant Fun. Later, with their psychedelic kiddie cartoon “Yellow Submarine” the Beatles would amp up the theme of the superhero Beatles and their super guitars battling the evil Blue Meanies. But always, the Beatles stood for The Good, doing battle if not against the Forces of Evil, then against the Forces of Dullness. Of drabness. They were like sunshine. Candy. And the battle was against the old farts, the stodgie ones, the ones that wouldn’t let you play, that told you you had to get to work. Clean up your room. Do your homework. The Beatles always appealed to the kids in all of us — and especially when we were in fact kids. One thinks of the scene in “Hard Days Night”, the bitter, cranky old guy, the stone-faced guy. Contrasted to the free and easy Beatles. That was always their image. On top of it all. And yet with just a bit of the cheeky rascal in them. But even that was always done in the name of good; never in maliciousness; they were just trying to liven up the party and have some fun. They were presented to as like four Cat in the Hats. Four Bugs Bunnies; the Beatles cartoon toy. You always sensed that about the Beatles. That they were big kids who just wanted to cut loose. And what kid didn’t.

And what fun they were having! Millions of girls chasing after them. Love! Love! Love! That was another thing that separated the Beatles toy from most of the other toys. They were amping out this message of Love! Love! Love! in a way that the other toys didn’t. The other toys were much more quiet. Even the Barbie toy, romantic-slut that she was, had a very dignified, regal air about her. She never got sloppy with that LOVE LOVE LOVE stuff. She always seemed to play it pretty cool, even with Ken. You couldn’t imagine Ken shouting “Barbie I LOVE YOU LOVE YOU LOVE YOU! ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE LOVE LOVE, BARBIE.” Nah, Ken was a little too uptight for that. And he was kind of a fag to boot. Every hair in place. You could never imagine Ken making fart-noises with his hand, but you could always imagine the Beatles doing that. Especially John. 

The GI Joe toy, on the other hand, was the stoic, quiet type. “Just doin’ my job.” You couldn’t imagine GI Joe being much fun at parties. And Barbie’s parties were even duller. Sitting around drinking tea out of little china cups and talking about shoes.

You could argue, I suppose, that the Beatles toy was in fact an improvement over the Barbie toy and the GI Joe toy. GI Joe glamorized war and violence and killing and Vietnam. Barbie glamorized shallow fashion and image and mindless consumerism and cock-tease sexuality.

In that context the Beatles toy was a breath of fresh air. A celebration of wholesome, exuberant, cleancut FUN! At least on the surface.

Of course a lot of people remember where they were when the Beatles appeared on “Ed Sullivan.” Our whole family gathered around the family television set on that fateful night. The five children and Mom and Dad. We had this big television set, as big as a cabinet with a tiny black and white screen. We had all gathered around that television set a year earlier when Kennedy had been shot. My mother had taken me out of school, 2nd grade, and brought me home. She was convinced the Russians were going to start nuking us at any second. We had a dusty cellar stocked with cans of food in the event we’d need an emergency shelter. Anyway, now I was in the 3rd grade and it was the Beatles. Paul McCartney would later describe the effect they had on America: “It was probably the haircuts more than anything else. To most people we probably seemed like four singing marionettes.”

And that was exactly it. For the Beatles were the coolest most vibrant new toy in the toy-chest. These cheeky, smiling, singing marionettes. “WOO!” Singing joyous songs of LOVE LOVE LOVE! What was not to like.

But there was something very odd about the Beatles toy.

There was something very different that set the Beatles toy apart from the Barbie toy and the GI Joe toy and almost all the other toys in the toy-chest. The Beatles toy was real. For the Beatles were real people.

This would play out in many odd and surprising ways over the next few years. For one thing: many of us didn’t out-grow our Beatles toy. In fact, unlike the other toys, the Beatles toy kept growing along with us, one step ahead of us.

IT WAS ALIVE!!

Counterculture Casualties

Here’s an excerp from SURVIVING ON THE STREETS: How to Go Down Without Going Out:

Chapter Twenty One

Another new development over the last thirty years is the emergence of the counterculture casualty. There are lineages on the street scene that have been around since bums immemorial: the Skid Row Wino lineage, the Hobo/Tramp lineage, the Gypsy lineage, etc.   But since the ‘60s, a relatively new and virulent strain has emerged: the Counterculture-Casualty lineage.

Much of today’s modern street scene spawned out of the ‘60s hippie counterculture, and continued on with the ‘80s punk counterculture. So it might be worth it to take a quick look at some of the values and assumptions that came out of this. As well as some of the pitfalls you might want to avoid stepping into. Because one thing you will definitely have to survive on the street scene is The ‘60s, man!

Kerouac was the forerunner, Kesey and the Merry Pranksters created the prototype, and then the Haight-Ashbury was the explosion. And kids have been dropping out ever since in search of that elusive countercultural dream. Every year I’ll see a new crop of dazed street kids looking for it. The hippie kids looking for Rainbow Hippie Village. Or the punk kids looking for Punk Scene USA. Where is that cool scene they’ve read about in all the cool books and magazines anyway?

Now it’s certainly a reflection of something seriously lacking in the mainstream culture, that so many people seem to be seeking an alternative in the first place. And I certainly don’t have space here to do justice to the whole Counterculture vs. Mainstream Culture debate.

All I’m trying to point out here is what you’ll most likely find, on the street level, when you come looking for the counterculture:

Very, very little.

Let’s face it. This world just doesn’t need any more hemp-jewelry makers, or hardcore punk-rock bass guitarists. So cut your hair and become a yuppie, okay?

(And what exactly is wrong with being a yuppie, anyway? Can anyone explain the universal scorn I keep hearing being heaped on “yuppies” these days? It just means you’re young, you live in the city, and you’ve got a fucking job. That makes more sense to me than this phony “counterculture rebel” pose I see so many kids trying to live out.)

All I’m saying is: If you decide to drop out of straight society, BE PREPARED TO PAY THE CONSEQUENCES. “Living in the moment” might sound nice if you’re nineteen and picking up Zen for the first time, but many of you may be unprepared for the truly tenuous nature of day-to-day existence on the street scene.

Take me for a tragic example. You want to talk drop-out?

I haven’t driven a car in 25 years. I haven’t been to a doctor or a dentist in twenty years. I haven’t had a bank account in fifteen years. I haven’t watched a TV show in ten years. I haven’t lived in anything that would remotely be considered a “home” in six years. (Which reminds me of the old street person joke: “What does the street person do when he gets sick? He dies.” Ha. Ha.)

Now if you want to try and exist without the security of the corporate tit, that’s fine (and it may be an illusion that such a thing as “security” even exists in this ever-changing world of ours). I’m just trying to warn you here about the reality that’s waiting for you, as opposed to the highly romanticized counterculture myth that you’ve been fed by the media.

Now it could be I’m overreacting here with the scorn of a lover betrayed. Because, at one point, I shared most of the values of the counterculture. I was certainly one of those kids who tried to live out the whole countercultural dream. For several years in the early ‘90s my work appeared every month in both High Times (the bible of the hippies) and Maximum Rock’N’Roll (the bible of the punks). An accomplishment I’m still not sure if I should be proud of, or embarrassed by.

Which reminds me of something else. A lot of people seem to think there was a big difference between the hippies and the punks. But what’s the difference between Sid Vicious and Jerry Garcia? That one of the dead junkies was “positive”?Speaking of media myths: It cracks me up when I hear these so-called “’60s-icons” congratulating themselves for the greatness of the ‘60s (and the greatness of themselves for bringing us the ‘60s). This would be all well and good, aside from one niggling detail: Virtually every aspect of American life has gotten worse since the ‘60s. Much worse.

In a radio interview, cartoonist R. Crumb talked about coming to the Haight-Ashbury in ‘67 right before the so-called Summer of Love. He mentioned what a beautiful city San Francisco was then: the streets were clean and safe, the people were friendly, housing was cheap and plentiful, living was easy, etc. And he mentioned an idea that was very much in vogue then amongst the countercultural set: How much more wonderful the city (and the world) would be when the Age of Aquarius set in and all the old farts died off and all the groovy hippies took over.

Well, I’m here to tell you, all the old farts did in fact die off, and all the hippies (including me) did in fact come tramping through the city. And it was hardly improved by our presence. But here’s the funny part. These “’60s icons” seem to think it’s still 1967 and that they should be judged on all the groovy, idealistic things they intended to do, as opposed to the actual effect they’ve had. I think it’s getting a little late in the game for that.

In the ‘50s, Oakland was averaging about twelve murders a year. After the ‘60s it started averaging about 150 murders a year. What would we have done without all the “love” the hippies invented in the ‘60s?

I think we all could benefit from an honest appraisal of what actually went down in the ‘60s. Lord knows we still haven’t sorted it out. Lord knows this society is schizo in its attempts to assimilate the counterculture into the mainstream.

I think of the day Jerry Garcia died. The mayor of San Francisco gave a heartfelt eulogy and lowered the flags at City Hall to half-mast in honor of this Great Man. And then, after shedding a few tears, went back to his Matrix program of busting and throwing into jail any of the street freaks dumb enough to try and emulate the example of this Great Man.

Which reminds me of George Carlin’s great joke about Jerry’s death: “It’s a sign of the great progress we’ve made since the ‘60s that rock stars are no longer O.D.ing in hotel rooms, but they’re now O.D.ing on the way to detox centers.”

My opinion? LSD is garbage, Jerry Garcia was an idiot, and the ‘60s was bullshit. The ‘60s was basically a dead-end we went staggering down. The ‘60s impacted on the modern street scene in several devastating ways:

1. Drugs (need I say more?)

2. The sloppy sexual unions that came out of the so-called “sexual liberation” movements – and the shattered family structures and the generation of orphans (especially in the black community) that resulted from that.

3. The romanticized notion of being against the mainstream society. Number three is probably the most devastating, because usually the street person starts out feeling alienated enough from society to begin with. Then the counterculture ethos feeds him this romanticized notion of the Hip Rebel Outsider, which locks him permanently into this state of alienation. Why try and integrate yourself into society when your alienation is your badge of honor, the very source of your identity.

Criticizing certain aspects of this world is one thing. Hating the world is another. It’s one of the most damaging things for the human psyche to endure. And all too often, the counterculture encourages and justifies this sense of alienation from society. Over and over I’ll hear these Counterculture Casualties give me a big speech about how they’re “against the multinational corporations, man.” That’s fine, except for one thing: the corporations own virtually everything. What world are you planning to live in? Well, the sidewalks, I guess.

What does it actually mean when you say you’ve “dropped out of the corporate system?” Most of the food you eat, the clothes you’re wearing, the beer you’re drinking, 95% of the media you’re consuming, all the electricity you’re using, all the money in your pocket… all these things were produced by big, big corporations. All you’re saying is: you’ll consume, but you won’t produce. Does that somehow make you more noble?

The ‘60s was a noble experiment, perhaps. All I’m saying is, the time has come to clearly assess the results of that experiment. I’m not looking to go back to the ‘50s. Maybe what I’m looking for is a counter-counterculture. In the meantime, beware of the pitfalls of the generation that preceded you.

“The Beatles! Love You Yeah Yeah Yeah!”

Originally published January 13, 2002

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John Lennon was my first Acid Hero. I can still remember how it all started. 1964. I was in the 2nd grade, 7 years old. High Bridge, New Jersey: a little cow-town in the middle of the Jersey sticks. I was bouncing my basketball down the sidewalk, across the bridge and over the railroad tracks on my way to the playground at High Bridge high school.

Horace and Helen Dalrimple lived in a big old house on the corner right in front of the school. Horace was standing on the sidewalk in front of his house playing with a toy as I approached him. He seemed very excited.

“The Beatles!” he shouted. He kept shouting that: “THE BEATLES!” Horace had a mouth on the side of his face, and he spit when he yelled.

“Horace, what are you yelling about?” I said.

“The BEATLES!” he yelled happily. “Love you, YEAH YEAH YEAH!!”

Horace was semi-retarded, he really was a loony little guy. He was two years younger than me, a punk first-grader. His sister Helen was in my grade, and she was a little subnormal, too. Horace talked out of the side of his mouth — all the Dalrimples for some reason had mouths on the sides of their faces — and he spit when he talked. Especially when he was excited and happy. He was a real loon, that Horace.

“Listen to this!” said Horace.

He was holding up a little transistor radio. It was making this loud, vibrant, electric noise. I put my ear to the transistor radio. It was making this tinny, chiming, high-pitched, high-energy, joyous noise. The song was going: ” She loves you, YEAH YEAH YEAH!” It was singing out of the little transistor radio toy. Vibrating.

“What the heck is that?” I said.

“The BEATLES!” shouted Horace. He was very happy and excited about all this. This exciting new toy, the transistor radio, that was making this cheerful, happy, chiming sound. Yeah yeah yeah.

Pretty soon, both me and Horace were singing/shouting along with the transistor radio: “Love you YEAH YEAH YEAH!” Probably the first song lyric I ever remembered in its entirity. We’re standing there in between the transistor radio really having a good time. Punk first and second graders, rocking out for the first time.

Horace was laughing like a loon. He was a goofy little putz. He laughed like a frog belching. And his mouth was on the side of his face. He kept repeating:

“THE BEATLES!” and “Love you YEAH YEAH YEAH!” with the transistor radio jammed up to his ear, practically into his cranium.

Horace suddenly ran up to his porch and rushed into his house, slamming the door behind him. Then he came running back out to the sidewalk.

“The BEATLES!” he shouted.

It was like he was drunk or something. Horace Dalrimple; first-grade punk. Horace ran off into his backyard, shouting like a loon: “THE BEATLES!” Crazy fucker.

I went on my way to the playground. Bouncing my basketball. Just another sunny afternoon in American Graffiti-land, 1964. And I really didn’t give it a second thought. The Beatles. Love you, yeah yeah yeah.

September 11, 2001

They say that everyone will Remember Where They Were on the Date of 9-11. The day that will live forever in infamy (or at least until its replaced by subsequent even more infamous days). It was a sunny morning in Berkeley, and Willow, a middle-aged street woman, came rushing up to me. “You won’t believe what just happened!” she gushed.  “They just bombed the Pentagon!”

“You’re kidding?”  I said.

“No, I just saw it on TV.” She was almost gleeful. Something exciting had finally happened in our boring lives. “I think the CIA did it,” she said.

I walked across the street and looked in the window of Raleigh’s, a local sports bar. On the TV screen above the bar I could see the smoldering World Trade  Center building. Then they switched the picture to the smoldering Pentagon building. It occurred to me that this was all happening live as I stood there.

Later that evening there was a big, candle-light peace demonstration on the campus. A young woman with a folk guitar kicked off the demonstration with a flat version of “Imagine” by John Lennon. (Oh no, I thought, my worst fear realized: this could launch another generation of folk singers!).

My friend J___ was in the back of the crowd, drunkenly raving to himself at the candle-lit demonstrators. “FUCKING PEACENIKS! WE SHOULD BOMB THE HELL OUTTA’ THEM FUCKING AYE-RABS FOR WHAT THEY DONE!” J___ was a long-time, long-haired, anti-cop, hippie radical type. It occurred to me that the battle-lines were being re-drawn. And that this would not be “another Vietnam.”

I took a seat on a park bench to the side of the peace demonstration. Today’s newspaper was sitting there on the bench. September 11, 2001. It was the early-morning edition, so there was nothing in the paper about the World Trade Center bombing. It was like seeing the last note from the old era, before we entered this new age, whatever it was.

The frontpage headline was about a guy in Sacramento who had went on a bloody rampage the day before. He had killed 5 or 6 people and then he held two other people hostage; forced one guy to hold a videocamera and videotape his mad spiel. Than he shot the person on camera and gave the videotape to the second person and told her to deliver the tape to the local Eye Witness News. “THIS SHOULD GET ME ON THE NEWS FOR AT LEAST THE NEXT TWO WEEKS!” he crowed, before blowing his own brains out. (His murderous rampage was inspired in part by the Columbine Killings and other high-profile media killers who he was jealous of).

THE DUMB FUCK, I thought. His story had been completely wiped off the front page by 9-11.  The dumb fuck can’t even do THAT right.

I walked over to Hate Camp, Hate Man’s circle of street people. They were all sitting around a candle, quietly lost in thought.

“So, whats happening?” I said happily.  “Anything much in the news today?”

“Hee-haw,” groaned Scooter.

I dreaded what I knew was coming next: Having to spend the next few weeks listening to everyone checking in with their very important opinions on world affairs (I made a mental note to remember the correct pronunciation of “Bin Laden” and “Al Qaeda.”)

I walked down the street. There was no wind, but it seemed like there was an unseen, swirling madness in the air. The weirdest thing of all was; each person I passed on the street, every person I could see in every direction, I realized we were all thinking about the exact same thing at the same time. It was a surreal, almost quasi-mystical feeling of unity amidst the shattering, fragmented alienation of the day’s events.

I realized that everything had changed just like that. Before 9-11 everything was really, really weird. And now, after 9-11, everything would be really, really weird.

It could have been worse:  My birthday is on September 12…

The sidewalk circus

March 11, 2008Google Earth street view of 2400 Telegraph Avenue Berkeley

The streets are a stage.  A circus.  A freak show.  Or a clown show.

The other day it rained.  So Food Not Bombs set up under the awning of Amoeba Records on Telegraph Ave.  This local wing-nut  — I call him Crash Helmet Dude because he always wears a shiney, silver crash-helmet on his head —  got into a weird scene.  He’s an ass and I got into a low-level violent confrontation with him once at Hate Camp on the campus a couple years ago.  I forget what started it, probably him grabbing too many slices of pizza from our table.  Hes a classic grub and mooch. I remember tossing his bicycle at him, and him circling around me making crazy, threatening sounds.

I don’t know what his ethnicity is.  He looks like a bad cross between White, Puerta Rican, and Mongolian. He’s got thick, coke-bootle lens glasses that accent his crazed bug-eyes.  He’s a bum with attitude.  A weasel, okay?  He made his presence felt immediately on this day, by bumping into me as I waited on line, as he reached for the box of day-old bananas.  Grabbed as many as he could carry.  Flits around you like a ball of nervous energy.

Anyways, he set his lunch on top of this portable plastic garbage can in front of the tattoo shop.  One of those things with a lid, like the blue recycling bins.  And, of course, he’s got 5 times as much food as he can eat laid out on top of the lid.  Day-old sandwiches and fruit and bread and a heaping plate of Food Not Bombs food.  And he’s standing there stuffing it into his face, in between his manic, nervous, high-pitched patter (which you can never quite understand, and don’t wanna’ take the trouble to find out).

But then  — as usual with this wing-nut  — a complication develops.  A worker from the tattoo shop comes out and wants to put a bag of their garbage into their garabage can.

Crash Helmet Dude is righteously indignant, as always.  He’s just standing ther minding his own business trying to enjoy his lunch.  And this asshole wants to put garbage into their own garbage can.  It is The Clunky Street Person scenerio yet again.  Some bum, who shouldn’t be living there in public in the first place, who is always in the wrong place at the wrong time, doing the wrong thing.  But it is always the other party who is the offensive one.  Who is the offending party.  The classic bum-with-attitude scenerio.

Crash Helmet Dude stands there in outraged disbelief.  Then he starts pacing around the garbage can like a headless chicken.  He can’t believe this oaf is actually asking him to move all the food he has carefully arranged on top of their can.

Wise-guy Fernando is standing nearby. And he starts braying at Crash Helmet Dude in a mocking tone.

“Clown show!  HA-HA-ha-HAH!!”

“Clown show!  HA-HA-ha-HAH!”

He repeats this about 5 or 6 times right in Crash Helmet Dude’s face, accenting the mockery with a leering grin and a machine-gun blast of HA-HAs,  Elmer Fudd-style.

“Hey, fuck you, man!” squawks Crash Helmet Dude.  So now the two of them are jawing back and forth.

Meanwhile, the tattoo worker is still standing there with his bag of garbage.

“C’mon, man, you gotta’ move your food.”

I forget what happened next.  I think Fernado flipped the lid up and splattered the food all over the sidewalk.

Now, Crash Helmet Dude is really mad.  He’s buzzing around like a hornet and moving towards Fernando in a threatening manner like he’s going to start throwing punches.

“Go ahead and swing on me,” says Fernando with his leering smile.  “So I have an excuse to beat your bitch ass. C’mon.  Do it!  You’re nothing but a clown show.  HA-HA-ha-HAH!!!!”  They start dancing around , feinting punches at eachother.

Then the tattoo guy gets into it.  Tells Crash Helmet Dude he’s got to clean up the mess. So it keeps escalating.  Crash Helmet Dude is righteously indignant, so he takes the garbage can and knocks it into the middle of the street.  Cars are veering to avoid hitting it.   Then he  knocks another garbage can into the street.  A woman from the tattoo shop comes out and starts yelling at Crash Helmet Dude.

“I guess you can see why he always wears that crash helmet,” I said to Fernando.  “People are always trying to bean him over the head.”

Then, one of the Berkeley activists (a tree-sitter) gets into the middle of it, and I don’t know if he’s trying to play at being the big Hippie Peace Maker or if he’s giving Crash Helmet Dude a stern lecture about his civic duty.  But it just keeps going from bad to worse for Crash Helmet Dude.  Its like a Curious George misadventure.  An endless regression.  Now, somebody else is yelling at him, threatening to call the police.

“Go ahead and call the police, you fucking assholes!” yells Crash Helmet Dude in a manic squawk.   Now he’s flitting all over the place like he’s defending himself from attacks from every direction and trying to rouse an offense. He jumps out into the middle of the street, right in front of a big, on-coming street bus.  Which slams on the brakes just in time and comes to a screeching halt inches away from Crash Helmet Dude, who looks momentarily stunned, and then resumes his headless chicken routine.

I look up and notice Fernando is sitting inside the Caffe Med at the window seat, like he’s got front-row seats at a play, with a big smile on his face, enjoying the street theatre that he helped instigate.

Now, Crash Helmet Dude is across the street with all his food set up on the sidewalk  But somebody is hassling him over there.  Then two cops start walking towards him real slow.  Crash Helmet Dude starts backing away slowly, waving his umbrella in front of himself like a sword.  Then, he starts back-pedalling faster, until he’s running around the corner.  With the cops in hot pursuit. So now we’ve got a Keystone Kops routine.  Soon, there are cop cars fanning out in every direction, circling around the block in pursuit of Crash Helmet Dude, public enemy number one.

Meanwhile, Fernando comes out of the Caffe Med and says to me with a smile.  “Hey, isn’t that Crash Helmet Dude’s bicycle that he left there by the pole.  Thats a pretty nice bike.  I know somebody that could really use a bike like that.  HA-HA-HA-HAH!!”

Its so weird, some of these wing-nut street people.  They come to these free meals like Food Not Bombs, and all they have to do is shovel the food into their faces.  They don’t have to buy it.  They don’t have to cook it.  They don’t have to clean up afterwards.  All they have to do is sit there and eat it.

And some of them can’t even do that right.

Caffe Mediterraneum 2476 Telegraph Ave. Berkeley, CA

 

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