Category Archives: lifestyle

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

My financial situation needs no reprise, so let me start by saying that toward the end of August I was faced with something of a dilemma. My then current situation was bordering on the untenable, in that I had funds enough for September’s rent, but no more, and with no job on the horizon, despite countless applications and targeted cover letters I needed to make a decision. The details are for a future post ( See “Back On The Chain Gang”), but I secured a job in the nick of time and set about finding somewhere to live within my means. Opportunities were limited, and to cut a long story short, I ruled out a place in a complex not too far away on the basis that it would be a near run thing to make the rent every month. I also ruled out a place within a ten minute walk of my then current home on the basis that it was dark, half-buried and lacked a washer and dryer. I would have to drag my laundry to and from a shed in the next building to use coin-op machines and hope that they were available. Foxtrot Tango Sierra.

I found a place online that my sweetie also found, and set up an appointment. I’d pretty much made up my mind before seeing the unit, but as it was only five square feet smaller than where I was living, had an extra powder room downstairs and two parking spots within 75 feet of the door, I was pretty much sold before I stepped inside. The leasing agent was obviously desperate, and when I said I could move in in two days and had no pets,  she was so pleased I was surprised (and not a little disappointed) that she didn’t blow me on the spot. At $700 a month less than my current place, it was a no brainer.

I started moving my stuff in on the Saturday, as I’d already started boxing up books, etc. and was able to make three or four runs a day in the car. Of course, like last time ( See “The Boxer”), I chose to move in the middle of a heatwave. I spent the best part (worst part, surely?) of two weeks schlepping boxes, small appliances and furniture to my car in order to move them to my new place. Needless to say, I was pounding down pints of water at every opportunity, and yet it seemed to do me little good. It is easy to lose enthusiasm when you develop a sweat rash around your waist, and being coated in a layer of evapourating water becomes the norm. It’s a rather unpleasant experience to bend over in order to pick up a box and feel rivulets of sweat stream down your cheeks and off the end of your nose. Nevertheless, I managed to move all but the largest pieces of furniture unaided, and considered myself fortunate not to have suffered any permanent injuries.

I had lived in my old place for three years, and hardly anyone had given me the time of day, but miracle of miracles, once I started my beast of burden impression, every Chatty Kathy within range began asking “Oooh, are you moving?” Fuck off. Seriously, just fuck off. I started out pretty well organised, but by the end I was simply throwing things in boxes or directly into the back of the car. This was in part due to the distance involved, but also my desire to just GTF out of Dodge as soon as humanly possible.

It’s now been a few weeks since I moved in. I hung my art, the T.V. is on the wall thanks to the sterling assistance of my son and I’ve already had  more interaction with my  new neighbours than I had with my old ones in three years. The place was built in the Seventies, and it shows, but all in all, I’m pretty happy with my move. I’m beginning to settle into a routine, and the kids and my sweetie like the place . For the minute though, lacking sufficient bookshelf space, I had to  improvise, laying the banker boxes on their sides, setting them in their lids and stacking them three deep to provide impromptu shelving. My sweetie bemoaned their college dorm room appearance, but as I explained to her, being able to see my books brings me comfort in the same way that being able to see her books brings her comfort. It has made me realise though, that I need long, low bookcases rather than the tall, standard type to make best use of the space under the breakfast bar and also leave as much wall space as possible available for art.

In the weeks since I moved in I have experimented  with placement, cupboard organisation and making the best use of every cubic inch of space. You see, much as I moaned about my last place, it had more cupboard space in the kitchen than I needed, whereas my new place is woefully deficient in that department. The fridge is much smaller as well, making it an issue when I go shopping. In fact, I don’t so much walk into the kitchen as put it on, it being a galley, and in fact, narrower than most hallways. Mind you, it sure as hell beats living in the car.

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Left To My Own Devices

During my regular morning perusal of Theguardian.com I came across a rather depressing story. I know there have been many of late, but this  had nothing to do with the daily flood of diarrohea from SCROTUS. On the technology page I read that Apple has stopped making the iPod Nano and Shuffle, the last two stand – alone MP3  players in their catalogue. I am sure that this item didn’t create even the tiniest blip on the personal radars of most people, but it took the edge off my day for a number of reasons.

I should point out that I understand why Apple did this: they want the iPhone to be all things to all people, and want everyone to rely on their little block of plastic, glass and silicon for everything.  From an economic perspective it makes sense, as simplifying product lines improves efficiency and simplifies the supply chain, but it left me feeling cold. Let me explain:

I’m an alien. I was born on the planet analogue and for many years lived a conventional life among humans, blending in ( apart from the Aspergers) and getting by. I had a very large vinyl collection, and it gave me great comfort. to quote the band Cornershop, “Everyone needs a bosom for a pillow, mine’s on the 45”, even though it occupied more of my bedroom than I did. I ignored CDs until it was too late,and managed to survive the 90’s by pretty much ignoring contemporary music. My life changed when my then Father In Law bought me a third generation iPod after my then wife asked him what version would be best for my commute.  I was faced with the opportunity to put more  music in my shirt pocket than I could put in my bedroom, and I embraced it without question. I was stunned, don’t get me wrong, but the ability to hold 30 days of non stop music in my hand was more than I could believe.

In my youth I owned a Walkman. Every Saturday I would have to decide which four tapes  I  would put into the pockets of my Italian army combat jacket  before I took the train into Liverpool to spend my money on music. It was not a simple task: : picking the wrong tape meant I would be stuck listening to something for which  I wasn’t in the mood, and let’s face it, that really stinks. The iPod gave me the opportunity to change my mind and to create playlists longer than half a dozen compilation tapes. Lest you think I put my past behind me, think again. I have two large boxes stuffed with C 90 tapes stored in the closet and three, yes, count ’em, three functioning Walkmen, as well as two boom boxes.  My first iPod had a duff battery, but the second one lasted well, especially after my son replaced the corrupt hard drive that after almost 10 years finally gave up the ghost. I also bought one of the last generation models, as 160 GB should keep me going for some time, and when I bought it, I regarded my 80 GB model as beyond repair. I also have  a couple of shuffles, a 1GB and a newer 2GB model which I used to use exclusively for podcasts on my commute. I could clip the iPod to the headphone cord, and if wearing earbuds, it took up almost no space in whatever bag or Eastern European military map case I happened to be using that day.

It seems to me that the life cycles of electronic devices are getting shorter. We have become as accustomed to the concept of this year’s iPhone model as we have to the idea of this year’s new car model. A practice, I hasten to point out, which began in the 1920’s once sales began to level off. I mean, do we really need a new model phone every year? I’m still using a Galaxy 3, and it serves me darn well. In fact, I don’t even use all the functions, so in some respects, it is more than I need.

Phone batteries have a crappy lifespan, and the fact that I get a weeks’ worth of normal use out of  my iPod between charges is something I appreciate. I also appreciate the fact that it is a single function device, and therefore is subject to the inverse law of “The less there is to go wrong, the less there is to go wrong” I now have four devices that should last me a good 20 years between them, and I wonder how many of you can say the same things about your new iPhone? Do you know anyone who still uses a first generation iPhone? No, you don’t.

You’ll have to excuse me. I’m in the mood to listen to some original recordings of Caruso, but I just can’t find the right wax cylinder.

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Colony.

In September of 2014 I moved  into an intentional community. Based on “One Earth” principals, ( i.e. how could we all live if we only had one Earth to live on?”, it offered a sustainable, low impact lifestyle whilst offering a high level of walkability. I expected and assumed that most of the people who chose to live there would be doing so based on wanting to shrink their carbon footprint, reduce the amount of driving in their lives and reduce their levels of consumption and possessions. I wasn’t expecting a latter day New Lanark, or some Herbert Morrison style socialist paradise with everyone living in yurts and knitting their own yogurt,  but I imagined an open, collective-minded community with a strong spirit of identity.

Alas, this is far from the case. Most of the home owners appear to be empty nesters who sold their McMansions , bought something smaller and pocketed the difference. I think they were less motivated by the solar panels, ductless heat pumps and superb insulation than by the chance to trouser a substantial wad of cash, move into a new home and still be within a few minutes walk of the throbbing groin of Downtown.  To be honest, despite my jokes about the neighbours when I moved in, the overwhelming stench of Pachouli, stewed lentils and unwashed armpits would have been preferable.

Instead what we have  is society writ small. The owners already look down on we renters, as indeed do the developers, who distributed guest parking passes to the owners, but not to us.

There are a number of ways to spot members of the chattering classes, and I’ve seen several examples over the last few months: There are a  considerable number of young children here, not a bad thing in itself, but having to dodge abandoned toys and the like is irritating, especially in the dark, or when wheeling groceries from the car to the house. Indeed, an email was circulated asking parents to deal with the issue of bikes, toys etc left lying on the lawn and pathways overnight as well as the damage caused to someone’s garden bench by crayons and paint.

Now, if you were brought up by parents like mine, you would have been expected to tidy your things away at the end of the day and would have been taught how to be a decent member of society and be aware of other people. Guess what? These people aren’t like that. Their solution, so as not to spoil the creativity of their little darlings –  precious snowflakes all, no doubt – was to form a “Circle” , i.e. a Kaffee Klatsch to discuss the issue. This is their solution to all issues, though we never  seem to hear of any resolution. It appears to me that the circle jerks decide what they want, and the rest of us can go to hell.

The worst example of this is the parking. Each residence is allocated one spot with four guest spots available.  The Politburo – the biggest circle jerks of all –  has now decided that each person will be given a designated spot allocated allegedly on the location of their home and size of their car. When I read the initial email I had one hell of a job getting fragments of exploded bullshit detector out of the walls, believe me.  No doubt the best and most convenient spots will go to those who made the decision and their friends.

This, however, is not enough for some people.  Despite  being well aware of the parking situation before moving in, one couple recently announced that they would like to rent a second spot in the lot, and are willing to pay $50 – $75 a month. Yes, your eyes aren’t deceiving you – A MONTH. You can’t find bicycle parking for that price. I knew that most of the residents were self important pricks with a sense of entitlement, but this just takes the biscuit. Preferably one that’s just been in a circle. I’m not sure who the people in question are, but I don’t think I’ve seen the husband. The guy must need a wheelbarrow to push around his enormous balls, and I’m sure I would have noticed that.

So what do I do? the kids love the place. On their first weekend here, my daughter walked to the library three times just because she could. They live in an area with no sidewalks and miles from downtown so I can’t say I blame her. It’s safe to let them go out on their own, and downtown is small enough that they can’t go far anyway. It’s handy for the boat and I love being able to walk to the store. In my previous house, any trip involved the car and if I forgot something I just had to do without, whereas here there is no hassle in popping out again, indeed, I often end up going to the store twice in one day. There’s no way I could find a place this new in a similar location for the same price, and moving off island would increase my gas costs and make it harder to see the kids during the week.

I realise that some of this is down to me ( see “I’m Coming Out”), and it’s been 18 months, so it’s a bit late to start making the effort, although I’m trying my best to be friendly to people. I’d hate to have to move if I can’t find a job before the money runs out, (see “Black Coffee In Bed”) but it might come to that. Despite what I’ve said, I really like living here – it suits my needs and is incredibly convenient and it’s the nicest place I’ve ever lived, apart from the kid’s house. I don’t have an upbeat ending for this post, sorry. Let’s just hope my next housewarming party doesn’t take place in a discarded refrigerator box. “Spare a talent for an old ex leper” anyone?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Street Life.

I apologise for posting so soon, but as I have four already lined up, I’d rather just get on with it.

Like most people, I inhabit two  worlds : that of home and that of work. We all change hats several times a day between parent, partner, co worker, friend etc, over the course of the day, but I have a very distinct split between the two physical spaces I inhabit on a daily basis. I live in a pretty small town and to say that they roll up the sidewalks at seven pm would not be too much of an exaggeration. My morning 15 minute walk to the boat is along  a gravel path and then the main drag. The only other people I encounter are fellow commuters and the occasional delivery guy dropping off supplies at any one of the numerous “Downtown” stores. It’s a quiet walk along a well maintained and clean pavement  with uninhabited doorways all the way down. On the boat, my fellow passengers are decked out in durable outerwear and The North Face, Arcteryx and REI labels abound. They sit chatting or reading, often from screens whilst sipping ( I assume  shade grown, fair trade organic) coffee from travel mugs or from Thermos flasks that resemble nothing so much as post – modern artillery shells and eat whatever they have brought for breakfast.

Upon reaching the other side, one is faced with two options: One can either be assailed by the stench of stale urine, or by taking a different route, a host of Somali town car drivers touting for business. The choice is yours. I go for the urine free route as it is not only quicker but also less upsetting. This doesn’t last for long however as the first sight that greets me upon leaving the terminal is that of someone sleeping underneath the eaves of the Subway outlet wrapped in the sort of felt blanket used by movers to protect furniture. It gets worse. after crossing the road the first thing I see is a small dome tent set up underneath the viaduct, the guy ropes held in place by concrete blocks and a wheelchair parked outside. Just dwell on that for a moment. This tent along with a couple of others nearby seem to be permanent fixtures, and I can’t even begin to imagine what life must be like for their residents. Nor do I really want to, if I am being honest.

The rest of the walk is fairly uneventful as the residents stir from their doorways and collect in small huddles in the park or near the day center front doors, waiting for them to open. There are a couple of exceptions: namely the scrawny individual in heels, fishnets and leather mini skirt who was several yards ahead of me one morning. Lets’ face it, most people aren’t dressed like that at 7 AM and my first reaction of “That’s a dude” proved disturbingly accurate. The other is the man camped in the corner doorway at the last light before my office who on at least two occasions last week greeted the new day by hurling abuse at someone only he could see.

The evening walk is sometimes offers more more interesting sights, including the old guy, naked from the waist up throwing various items of clothing into his open suitcase which was lying in the road to the obvious amusement and bemusement of the onlooking police officer waiting for his backup to arrive. Or perhaps the woman who seemed to be engaged in a mixture of interpretive dance and traffic direction despite the lack of either music or traffic. Other locals are in full vigour and never seem to miss a chance to hit someone up for money. I will admit that they are always polite, and begin with “Sir, sir!” before introducing themselves and inquiring about your general well being before asking for enough cash (often $10) to pay for a bed at a certain local hostel. Now, I realise that Christians can be a pretty uncharitable group at times, but I find it very difficult to believe that even they would charge a homeless person $10 for a bed. Needless to say I avoid such encounters as much as I can, as not only do I not carry much cash, (due largely to not having much anyway) but I’m not as green as I’m cabbage looking, and earphones and a brisk walking pace also help one avoid most interactions.

I realise this all sounds a bit harsh, but what am I supposed to do? Any money I give will no doubt be used to buy either a hit or a 40 ouncer, and I’m just not going to support that. Within 45 minutes of leaving work I am back home, in my slippers and ready to enjoy dinner. I know my commute sounds a bit like a case of “Cheap holidays in other people’s misery” but how many of us are absolutely sure that we are not just one financial disaster away from standing on a street corner with  a message on a piece of cardboard in one hand and a used soda cup in the other? I’m damn sure I’m not.

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Food Glorious Food.

As most of you are aware, I like my food, and it shows. I have always appreciated a well stocked larder, especially now as I live in an active earthquake zone. The old house had a huge Sub Zero brand refrigerator which pretty much set the standard for fresh food storage. My current place came with a Hotpoint of indifferent appearance and lacking even an ice maker though I managed somehow. Initially I was having a heck of a problem with ice buildup in the freezer compartment, though this problem was solved by the maintenance guy plugging the hole in the rear of the unit which provides access for the water pipe to the non existent ice maker. Problem solved, or so I thought.

Not only did ice continue to build up, this time around the door rather than the rear, but the fridge compartment was not cold enough to even stop the butter from softening. Once again I put in a maintenance request and after the usual game of phone tag spoke with the coordinator we agreed that as I am now out of the house 12 hours a day ( see “Career Opportunities”) I would empty the fridge, putting the perishables in coolers on the kitchen counter and that he and his team would replace them once the work was completed. This seemed fair as the job would involve removing the old fridge and bringing in a loaner while repairs were undertaken, especially as they would have to lug loaner up the stairs.

Having removed the bookshelves and shoe rack from hallway the previous evening, I dutifully packed the coolers and left them on the counter before heading off to work. Little did I know that the coordinators’ words would be so prescient: when making the arrangements, he said “Everything will be back in the fridge, just not in the right place” Ooooh, how half right he was.

I returned 36 hours later, having spent the previous evening with my sweetie and barely had time to drop off my bags before heading out to pick up the kids for dinner when my eyes were greeted by guess what? The full coolers sitting on the counter where I had left them a day and a half previously! Let me repeat that. The entire contents of my fridge had been      left  un-refrigerated  for 36 hours.  As you can imagine, this made me very unhappy as I now had absolutely nothing to give the kids for dinner. At least the trip to and from their house gave me a chance to calm down a bit. I called the guy in charge and was greeted by his voice mail. I didn’t swear, largely because the kids were in the room, but I made  clear in no uncertain terms my anger and outrage at the situation. I also made it patently clear that the management company would be paying not only for the full replacement cost of the contents, but also any meals I had to buy as a consequence.  I believe the phrase “Epic fail” was used several times in my message, but I was so angry I can’t give an accurate count.

After we returned from the diner, “Moe” (not his real name) called, apologised and admitted full culpability, which assuaged me somewhat, as did his promise to “Take care of things”.  I took the opportunity to email him and his boss regarding what I expected, and was met with no resistance at all. I think it fair to say that I was abrupt, direct and forthright in my email, but at least I managed to avoid obscenity or the use of outright threats, which is quite an achievement, considering the circumstances.

It took me about a week and a half and several trips to replace the contents, made easier by the fact that I’d made sure to document every spoiled item before making trips to the dumpster  and email the list to the interested parties. Leaving aside the time, mileage, wear and tear and general mental anguish, the total came to $480. I know this sounds like a lot, and it is, but as I was buying new to replace used, as it were, it all added up. I can’t really walk into the store, buy a quart of milk and then ask the checkout guy to pour out 2 1/2 pints, can I? Of course, I kept all my receipts both for shopping and meals so that I could back up my claim. I expected a quick resolution, but it took a little over three weeks for the cheque to arrive, and only then after I’d dropped all attempts at humour and understanding and threw a bit of snippiness into my third email on the subject.

Needless to say, I could have done without all the grief involved in all this, but at least I ended up with a fridge full of brand new food and in rather more quantity that prior to the “Great melt” of ’15.  I suppose I should be grateful that I lost only the contents of my fridge and not the contents of my drinks cabinet. Had the latter occurred, not only would I have been considerably angrier, but the replacement cost would have run well into four figures, something for which I’m sure the property managers are extremely grateful.

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Space Oddity.

As you may remember (see “The Boxer”) I had to move out of my old place before the new one was ready, and so it was that in mid September I was finally able to move in, in fact, I started the process the day after returning from Kauai (See “Une Ile”), so at least I was well rested. Rather than struggling alone, I bit the bullet and paid for professional movers to do the literal heavy lifting. There was no way I could play the beer and pizza card again with friends, and never even considered it, and in addition, I have one very special piece that I wouldn’t even dare move without professional help. It’s a fully restored Danish Mid-century Modern wall cabinet in Rosewood which I bought from a friend as a suitable home for my extensive and expensive booze collection, and it looks as good as it sounds.

As promised, two hefty lads turned up in a moving van and proceeded to load up while I filled the car with all the random crap that always takes an age to move. Yes, I know, but seeing as it was costing me $105 an hour, I felt it to be a worthwhile use of my time.  After the main items were in the house, including the bedroom set which had to be carried up two flights of narrow stairs with tight turns, the fun began: unpacking.

I say “fun” in a sarcastic way because one of my new places’ failings is the lack of storage space. It has a number of others, but I won’t go into all that now, except to say that reality fell far short of promise. Apart from the kitchen cabinets and pantry the only storage in the whole house consists of a small closet in each bedroom. I’ve spent much of the intervening four weeks finding interesting and creative ways to put a quart into a pint pot. It feels like everything I own is inside something else, like some huge, bizarre Matryoshka doll. The spaces under both beds are packed with essentials, largely spare bedding still in the packaging and the closets are organised in a manner that would make a Tetris world champion proud. In fact, it is only recently that the spaces under the coffee tables have not been crammed with banker boxes, although the only way to store my brewing gear was to stuff it into the bottom of the pantry.

On the upside, though, the move gave me the opportunity to get rid of a lot of stuff. I’m not a pack rat, but I am a sentimentalist, although it was the pragmatist in me that walked two boxes of old soccer magazines down to the recycling bin. I’ve built up quite a stash since 1992,  but even I have to agree that if you haven’t read something in 0ver 10 years, it’s time for it to go.

I also took the opportunity to donate a very large bag of clothes. I’ve lost quite a bit of weight over the years, and many of my clothes whilst in good condition are far, far too big for me (see “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion” and “Sharp Dressed Man”), so it was no great loss to bag up the 3XLT flannel shirts, 2XL polo and short sleeved shirts as well as all the old 38″ waist dockers that have been languishing in my closet for so long. I even got rid of some of the tee shirts I brought with me from England, including my Oscar Wilde and Sir Ian Hunt tee shirts, although even I have to admit that they were well past their best and not fit to be worn in public.

In the end, a certain level of harmony was achieved, and I can now move around the house without having to resort to the sort of gyrations that would put an Olympic gymnast to shame, or move every box just to find a single item. The only minor issue is what to do with my books. Having filled the only bookcase I have, and used both demising walls at the top of the staircases, I’m left with six large plastic storage bins crammed with books taking up a corner of the dining area that I can ill afford to lose to storage. Oh, and before you even think it, no, I’m not getting rid of them. Someone else can deal with that once they’ve nailed down the coffin lid and prised my last read out of my cold, dead hands

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My Death.

Lest you all start popping champagne corks and bursting into spontaneous renditions of “Happy Days Are Here Again”, let me assure you that I am in excellent health. Having turned 50 I recently underwent a  couple of medical tests and whilst they were both positive in their findings, they resulted in me spending more time than usual contemplating my mortality. Most people my age have college age kids, and most people with kids the ages of mine are a good ten to fifteen years younger than me, so this leaves me in a sort of generational netherworld.

I’m being purely selfish here, in that I often wonder if I will live long enough to see my grandchildren. Yes, I know how petty that sounds, but I see how much my dad enjoys spending time with my kids, and my mother just adored my daughter so it makes me jealous to some extent. My son is twelve and if things pan out as I hope, he will go on to get some sort of engineering PhD after graduation. He may well have to invent the particular branch of engineering in question, so at best, it may be 20 years before he starts a family. My daughter is only 9, so twenty years doesn’t seem unreasonable for her either, seeing as she is as needle-sharp as her brother. I hope that I will be a hale and hearty seventy year old, but one never knows what will happen. There is an old joke that goes: “How do you make God laugh? – tell him your plans”.

Whilst unpacking in my new home ( see “Space Oddity” – coming soon) I found a couple of old photographs: one was of my son when he was not yet two years old, the other of him and his sister taken a little over a year later. Not to get maudlin, but both pictures showed two adorable, sweet, happy and contented children and I couldn’t help but think about their development over the intervening years and how much wonder, joy, satisfaction and pride I’ve enjoyed in seeing them flourish. That sweet little round cheeked boy has now turned into a sensitive, intelligent, handsome young man and his sister is an insightful thinker, artist, soccer player and equestrian who is, I am sure, bound for greatness in at least one of those fields.

It breaks my spirit to think that I may not live long enough to see my putative grandchildren reach the age my children are at now. I’m pretty sure I won’t be around for their college graduations unless medical science makes some significant advances in the next two decades. Grandchildren are the payback generation, in that we put in immense amounts of physical, emotional and financial resources to ensure that our kids have as fulfilling a childhood as possible in the knowledge that when they themselves become parents we can sit back, reminisce about the early years and dote on our grandchildren who will never know what it was like to be a parent at the start of the century.

I think also that grandchildren are the ultimate validation of our parenting skills in that they are proof that we raised well rounded human beings who were fully aware of, and integrated into the world so that they had the skills to raise children who would be better human beings than their parents, as their parents were compared to their own parents. I know I should be living in the moment and enjoying seeing my kids turn into young adults, and I do, but there is part of my brain that just can’t let go of the thought of all that I will be missing.

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