I remember / je me souviens
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For those limbic bursts of nostalgia, invented by Proust, miniaturized by Nicholson Baker, and freeze-dried by Joe Brainard in his I remember and by Georges Perec in his Je me souviens.

But there are no fractions, the world is an integer
Like us, and like us it can neither stand wholly apart nor disappear.
When one is young it seems like a very strange and safe place,
But now that I have changed it feels merely odd, cold
And full of interest.
          --John Ashbery, "A Wave"

Sometimes I sense that to put real confidence in my memory I have to get to the end of all rememberings. That seems to say that I forego remembering. And now that strikes me as an accurate description of what it is to have confidence in one's memory.
          --Stanley Cavell, The Claim of Reason


Saturday, March 27, 2021

I remember that in addition to seeing To Tell the Truth being taped we also went to see Robert Morse's musical TV show That's Life being taped.  I'd never seen the show on TV -- hadn't even heard of it -- but liked it a lot.  Partly because Ruth Buzzi, from Laugh-In was the guest star.  She sang a song about her loneliness and how she wouldn't even object to the come-ons of someone like Tyrone on Laugh-In, whom she always hit with her purse when he sidled up to her on a park bench.   I remember we were told that the rooms on the set were far deeper than they would be in real life, because the TV screen wouldn't flatten them out.  I got to watch a little of the show, and it was true.   We actually went to see a taped dress rehearsal, but they explained that if any scenes in the rehearsal were better than the actual taping they'd be swapped in.  I liked that idea.  Also our teachers told us that we had to laugh or applaud when the appropriate signs were lit. I liked it that there was a real place in the world i could go to that would later be a fictional place on the small TV screen.



posted by William 3:59 PM
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Monday, March 01, 2021

I remember the low-grade but odd and ambivalent excitement evinced by my parents when Fifth and Madison were made one-way avenues.  We were driving towards the East Side, probably to see the Herings (whose wonderful phone number I loveds: FI8-8888 -- FIvr 8's), probably in a cab, and I think they were anticipating the new navigation we'd be undertaking (the Herings lived a couple of blocks north of the 84th street exit of the transverse road).  Since we were going east on a one-way street anyhow, I didn't quite get what they were talking about -- most streets were one way, and I didn't have much of a sense of the difference between streets and avenues. Without thinking about it, I took their width or narrowness as local and variable, like that of a stream.  But it must have felt to them like a major change in their idea of the city they'd grown up in.  When my father and his father went to tell my grandmother, at her doctor's office on Fifth, that her elder son had been killed in action, Fifth was a two way avenue.



posted by William 3:33 PM
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Saturday, February 06, 2021

I remember seeing, in bright sunlight, my mother cup her hand one day under a kitchen counter and sweep the crumbs she'd brought together into her cupped hand.  I thought this was astonishingly elegant -- the flat counter, the poise of her hand, all her fingers curving together, extending the arc of her curved palm.



posted by William 11:25 AM
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Monday, February 01, 2021

I remember that Sonny Fox (who just died of Covid) used to have the kids in the studio audience line up to tell him jokes.  (As I mentioned before, my friend Marc Bilgray got to see him live!) The one joke I remember went like this:

KID: Why did the chicken cross the road?

SONNY FOX: I don't know.  Why?

KID: To get The Daily News. (Beat.) Get it?

SONNY FOX: No...

KID: Neither do I!  I get The New York Times!



posted by William 12:06 PM
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Friday, December 25, 2020

I remember the feeling of not being at ease on visits to Nellore, the stark difference between that and the joy and comfort of my other grandparents, as I grew older, the guilt of feeling that way. I remember everything being slightly stifling: the weather, the lack of real bookstores or cable TV, the badly lit wallpapered bedroom, the unbearably hot front room where the women socialized, and the cordial but formal interactions with my grandparents.



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Wednesday, November 11, 2020

 I remember that the afternoon shadows against the wooden furniture -- cabinets and chests of drawers -- at my uptown grandmother's house were like nothing at home.  She had patterned gauze curtains, which we didn't, and the patterns cast their light shadows against the slightly tempered sunlight on the peaceful wood surfaces.  The curtains would sway just a little, which would make the shadows seem not so much to move as to modulate their lightness, make the lightness feel even more essential, made the wood seem there to be the perfect surface for these modulations.  It wasn't quite hypnotic, but it did make the whole room, not only the "visual room" (as Wittgenstein calls it) but the room around me, the windows and curtains and walls and the courtyard outside and the buildings around the courtyard and the sky, seem a single, calm, unhurried afternoon space, as unhurried as the modulations of the shadows on the smooth, seasoned wood.



posted by William 11:30 AM
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 I remember my downtown grandmother, who had an enlarged heart, wasn't allowed to eat salt.  There was a bakery near their building that sold salt-free bread.  I loved bread more than pretty much anything, but the salt-free bread was terrible.  I couldn't believe that something that looked like bread and smelled like bread could be that disappointing, that undesirable.



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Monday, September 07, 2020

I remember my grandmother would collect jokes from magazines, which she'd retell at bedtime during our Hyderabad visits. I think those were the only times I've ever laughed to sleep.

I don't remember if she clipped them or copied them out, but there was a notebook. When I started to learn to read Telugu, I'd clumsily try reading them, but with the great effort it took, the punchline was usually disappointing. 



posted by sravana 11:48 PM
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Sunday, August 02, 2020
I remember reading a comic, maybe Mad Magazine, maybe Superman, where someone asks someone else on a blistering summer's day, "Hot enough for you?"  I didn't get the question -- it was obviously too hot -- but later I saw it in a movie, and then heard people say it, and it became a natural American idiom to me, the sort that as a New York Jew I had to learn through observation.


posted by William 11:49 PM
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Thursday, July 16, 2020
I remember taking an interest in figuring out who the shills were in the three-card-monte games in my neighborhood, usually when I was walking downtown on Broadway. I'd pass several different cardboard box kiosks. The shills would pick the wrong cards although we marks could see what the right card was, as was always confirmed.

After watching a bunch of games for a while I figured out that the three-card-monte teams had to be making less than minimum wage since it really took the four of them (dealer, two shills and lookout) an average of an hour or so to take some rube for $20. Usually the dealer and the lookout were people of color, but there would sometimes be a better-dressed white shill whom the tourist-rubes assumed had to be for real (partly because they couldn't imagine teamwork among this heterogeneous group; but I loved it).

I remember one shill in particular, maybe sixty (the dealer was probably twenty-five), wearing a coat and tie, but often unshaven. I got interested in the whole thing after I noticed him there every time I passed this particular game. He always looked like he was late for something, checking his watch because he really had to go, but always staying for one more deal. Occasionally he'd win, picking the card we would have picked, and the dealer would pay him off very graciously, reassuring the marks.

I remember that early on I was taken myself. I lost $5, the only money I had. The brilliant dealer (he was so good) wanted me to keep playing. He was theatrically skeptical when I said I had no more money. "I don't believe you, man. Show me your empty wallet and I'll give you your ten dollars." So I pulled out my wallet, triumphantly in front of all those witnesses. But I had a slip of paper and some receipt in it, and "That's not empty!" he said, affecting offense that I had lied to him. I grinned appreciatively, and he smiled back, and I went on my way.


posted by William 6:56 PM
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Saturday, June 20, 2020
I remember that after reading an old reprint of a Batman comic (the older comics were reprinted in large paperback format, like Calvin and Hobbes now: I hated the lantern jawed Superman from before my time; mine was much more dashing and elegant, and I liked, after being surprised by it the first time I read the D.C. comics, the steel-blue highlights in his hair) -- I remember learning from that comic how Batman's parents were killed one evening and he was left an orphan, which catalyzed his decision to fight against crime.  Within the next couple of evenings my parents told me they were going out to some event or party, and I got very frightened that they would get murdered.  My father, was half-dressed.  He always changed when they went out in the evening, and I remember his tuxedos in general but the time I speak of I was too young to have noticed how formally he was dressing, only that he was getting ready to go out.  I remember this scene occurring in the bathroom in our old apartment (2G) where he was shaving or putting on cologne or aftershave.  He stopped what he was doing and took a lot of time to reassure me, sitting on the closed toilet so that his face was at my height, and his comforting worked.  Since I don't have many memories of feeling concern for him as a small child -- I felt much more fear than love for him -- I am very glad to have this memory, both of anxiety on his behalf and of relief, gratitude, and love for his authority.


posted by William 11:48 AM
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Friday, June 19, 2020
I remember my father wouldn't let me go to sleep without taking off my watch. But James Bond (Sean Connery) slept with his watch on!


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Sunday, May 10, 2020
I remember Lucy telling Linus, "You'll see. Ask her [grandmother?] and she'll say 'Everyday is children's day." Then Linus talks to someone off-frame: "Why is there a Mothers' Day and a Fathers' Day but no children's day?" And in one of the rare strips when an adult speaks, the speech balloon pointing out of the frame: "Every day is children's day."  I didn't think it was true, but I kind of liked that they had a grandmother [?] they knew and whose characteristics they could rely on, just as I could.


posted by William 11:40 AM
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Saturday, May 02, 2020
I remember that radios were supposed to be better if they had more tubes, and then later if they had more transistors, and watches were supposed to be better if they had more jewels.


posted by William 7:47 PM
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Monday, April 13, 2020
I remember that we'd often have Thomas's English Muffins on weekends.  My parents would split them with a fork.  (This is before they came fork-split.). I thought this was some strange and superannuated old-world custom of theirs, especially since Tommy's family, when I had English muffins there, didn't buy Thomas's and split the brand they did buy (Pepperidge Farm?) with a knife.  This was akin to their having pancakes from time to time, which we never did.  Tommy's parents felt more American, more in touch with America's customs (as seen on TV), than mine.  My parents would also toast the English muffins twice!  One time in the toaster wasn't enough.  (I remember seeing them do this when I was even younger, and we were still going to Stormville, which we stopped doing when I was seven.)


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Monday, April 06, 2020
I remember learning four-letter words from Hugh.  One day, probably in third grade, I was at their house on 89th street.  He and his older sister Gloria (three years older than us, I determined today) were sitting in the kitchen and in an excess of candor I asked them what fuck meant.  They both replied simultaneous incredulity, as in a Shakespeare play where two speech prefixes precede the same line, "You don't know what fuck means?"  I assured them that I knew what shit meant, but they weren't even slightly impressed.  Gloria had Hugh take me to the other room to explain.

I was troubled and told my father about the bizarre process that Hugh had sketched out. He told me it was true.  I couldn't believe it.  (Later he told me he was a little unhappy that I'd learned the facts of life from Hugh.). I tried to imagine what that would be like.  I wondered whether I could really pee -- since I imagined it had to be something like peeing -- on command in that situation.  It all seemed very implausible.  But my father assured me it wouldn't be, later on.

Today came the news that Gloria died ten days ago of Covid-19.


posted by William 8:31 PM
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I remember:

that viruses straddle the definition of life

a sketch in a textbook of a diamond atop a spider

the hushed lies and fear of HIV

that only people in fiction got measles

bathing in calamine and neem

something about a milkmaid



posted by sravana 1:35 AM
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Sunday, March 29, 2020
I remember that I was puzzled that when you dug a deep enough hole in the sand at the beach you hit water.  So what was holding the beach up?


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Saturday, January 25, 2020
I remember that when I used to get up very early, at six or seven at six or seven (a.m., years old respectively) when I was staying at my uptown grandparents' house I would sometimes see lots of crumbs on the counter in the raking early morning sunlight that came through their eastward facing kitchen window.  This clashed with my sense of my grandmother's tidiness, but merely as surprise.  It wasn't that she was untidy, but that the sun was even more relentless in its exposures than she was in her evening kitchen-cleaning, or maybe that the dazzling early morning sun and the crumbs had a kind of relationship -- the stark, inhuman fact of being there -- that transcended anything you could think of as domestic and familiar.

Later, when my grandmother was bustling around in the kitchen, all had returned to the comfortable familiarity of the evening before.


posted by William 8:47 AM
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Friday, October 04, 2019
I remember
remembering Diahanne Carroll.


posted by William 5:31 PM
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Saturday, July 20, 2019
I remember that in the spring of 1969 we talked in school about the risk that the lunar surface would turn out to be made of a sand or dust that wouldn't support the weight of the lander.  I remember that I thought it was funny that it was called LEM, because I had a friend named Lem who was a lot like Linus in Charlie Brown and I assumed everyone made the same connection.  I remember that we were away in Europe when the landing occurred, with no TV, but that we saw a bit of it on a TV in an airport passageway -- but we were being rushed along.  I remember, like everyone else, not getting why Armstrong said "for man" since "man" there sounded like a synonym for "mankind."  I deeply regretted that he didn't say "a man."  I remember people worrying about how sterile moon rocks would be, or whether they would introduce some horrendous diseases we weren't immune to.  I remember that the moon landing didn't seem like such a big deal to those of us who grew up on science fiction -- Star Trek, and earlier Flash Gordon, and of course some of those old movies, including the one with the stowaway woman whose weight destroyed the flight dynamics and insured that she and the astronaut would die, romantically.  I remember that I was much more passionately interested in the Mets, who came back form nine-and-a-half games back in early August (I remember my father just shrugging and saying that it was over to them) to destroy the Cubs and clinch in September -- this was the season when Jimmy Qualls broke up Tom Seaver's perfect game (in June) with one out in the ninth.  I remember (as I've said before) that Tommy Agee and Cleon Jones looked at each other shaking their heads as the line drive hit right between them.  I remember that the most interesting things about the moon missions were the delay over 237,000 miles, so that you heard the echo of what was said about two seconds after it was said; and the slingshot flight of Apollo 10, where they went around the moon, seeing its dark side for the first time.  I thought this was very cool, but also a frustrating missed chance for those astronauts.  I remember feeling sorry for Michael Collins for the same reason.


posted by William 4:54 PM
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Wednesday, July 10, 2019
I remember reading Jim Bouton's Ball Four when it came out in paperback.  I knew very little about professional baseball then, but the book was fascinating.  I was prepared to hate it, just as I hated Curt Flood, because I wanted to think only the best of baseball as an institution.  But then I liked it.


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Monday, July 01, 2019
I remember that my father would refer to my grandmother in conversation as "my mother" (i.e. his mother).  With me he used to call her by her nickname (Omama), but that slowly faded, and of course with my own mother he always called her "my mother."  There was something strange about this: it was fine for him to call my grandfather "my father," and fine for my mother to call her parents "my mother" and "my father."  But it didn't quite seem right for my father to have a mother the way I did, someone he called "my mother."  I think the reason that the other three terms didn't bother me was that he was my father, so calling his father "my father" couldn't really overcome that eclipse.  And of course my mother's father had nothing to do with the paternal side of my family.  As to my mother's mother, I think my mother was so clearly my mother, and her mother was so clearly not, that it just didn't come up.  Or maybe it was that my father had these relations to two mothers -- one my real mother, and the other an old, antiquated crone, waiting to tell me stories of the past, or maybe waiting for the past to come back, for the old antiquated days to come crushingly to life.


posted by William 7:13 PM
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Tuesday, June 25, 2019
I remember my father ordering something from the Government Printing Office.  (I believe it was a poster of some sort, and I believe it was for me, but I have only the dimmest memory of what it would have been.)  That made me notice that he got lots of mail from the Government Printing Office, and I was very impressed by him, very impressed that the Government Printing Office looked on him as a worthy correspondent and peer.


posted by William 12:06 AM
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Thursday, June 06, 2019
I remember posting
this fourteen years ago.   I remember finding out more since, from my father about the death of his brother, two days before his birthday, which was D-Day, when he would have turned 19.  My father got home from school.  He was twelve.  The elevator operator in his building was horsing around with the kids there.  His hand had been mangled somehow, and he and the kids would play games: maybe he'd pretend to scare them, or they'd pretend to be scared.  My grandparents and their children (but Willy was off in the Pacific) lived on the ground floor, near the lobby (in an apartment I knew as a young child) so they didn't have occasion to use the elevator: they'd walk by it and up three stairs into a hallway where the mailboxes were.  The elevator operator flagged my father down to say that they'd received a telegram.  Everyone knew what that meant, but both my father and the elevator man pretended they didn't, and he went back to scaring the screaming children.  My father went to get my grandfather who was doing something a few blocks away -- I am not sure why he wasn't at work, down at the Empire State Building.  My grandfather came home, opened the telegram, and then took my father downtown and to the East Side, to the doctor's office where my grandmother had an appointment on East 81st street I think.  He said to her, "Willy je pao," Willy has fallen.  That's where the story ends, or maybe it isn't, since my grandmother mourned ferociously the rest of her life.  In his old age, my father thought more and more of his brother, who was I think the last person he thought still loved him completely, the last person who represented his memory of a hope for the future.  Not the future he lived and died in, where he was close to his grandsons and loved the rest of us still, even if not as much as when he could boss us around, a bossiness that was his way of presenting the world to us as a gift, a universe to enjoy while the enjoying was good.  But a future that was what the US must have meant to all of the when they escaped Europe and started a new life free from the murders then devouring the rest of their friends and family.  His brother was that older, new-world teenager, the good and protective big brother, and then he died and the latest born and first dead of the family that had escaped to America.  But his photo and his memory helped my father through his own last years and months, helped him sustain a tenderness which had disappeared everywhere else.


posted by William 4:13 PM
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Wednesday, June 05, 2019
I remember that we heard the news about RFK's shooting on TV, but went to bed not knowing whether he would live or die.  The Times was delivered the next morning -- I looked at it immediately -- and it said that he had been critically wounded.  (I remember that he said, "No, no, please don't move me."  I liked that he said "please.")  The Daily News, which I would often look at on the way to school (since
the prejudiced lady always had me buy it for her when I walked her dog), also said that he was in critical condition.  We heard in school that day that he had died -- I remember a look of concern on the face of a kid named Barry whom I have a sense of as a presence in sixth grade but have no other episodic memory of -- but there was a way in which I wasn't going to believe it till the Times confirmed it.  The next morning the Times had a banner headline about the aftermath of his death (and they must have had a story about Sirhan Sirhan).  But we never got the actual headline saying that he'd been killed.  This was a newspaper my father wouldn't be able to save.  RFK went from being critically wounded to having been dead since the previous day.  This made me think that newspapers were less authoritative then I had been thinking of them as being.  The sequence of headlines didn't tell the story.  Of course a later edition of the Times did say he'd been assassinated, but I didn't realize then that there was more than one edition.  I didn't like that either.  The world was not an orderly place, conforming to a sequence of facts that could be made into a coherent story with what would eventually be a happy ending.  Humphrey was a nobody, and our only hope.  And Nixon was elected.


posted by William 5:28 PM
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Monday, June 03, 2019
I remember my mother teaching me to play chess.  This was in
Stormville, so I was no older than seven, and probably five or six.  Like everyone, I was intrigued and surprised by the way the knight moved.  I was also surprised that the Queen had so much more power than the King.  Although in our house mother and father were pretty much equal, it was a novelty not to see the King acknowledged as the lord and master on the chess board.  The Kings were so different from Kings in checkers, a game my father taught me to play.

In fact he taught us all the games we played: he knew how to turn the rules, printed on the back of the top half of a game box, into an actual game.  He'd read the rules and understand them and turn them into something fun!  This was one of the traits that I most valued in him: how a new game could be something we were playing after just a few minutes.

I recognized immediately that chess was the superior game -- I think I may have already known this in fact, which was why I wanted to learn to play chess.  And my father didn't know how to play, but my mother did.  So that the Queen's superiority in chess seemed appropriate: my mother knew how to play chess and my father didn't, and the Queen could range the board, while the King was stuck (maybe a bit like my father on the toilet in his long morning monopolization of the bathroom).

And I remember in the very first game I played with my mother, one of probably less than a dozen games total, I took her Queen with my Knight!


posted by William 2:39 PM
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Thursday, May 30, 2019
I remember my mother explaining the concept of the lost-and-found to me.  I didn't understand it, but it seemed magical.


posted by William 11:04 AM
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Sunday, May 26, 2019
I remember that when I read To Kill a Mockingbird I admired Jem as a kind of young authority -- the older brother who was the most accurate pointer to who the good adults were.  That means I was considerably younger than him, so I must have read To Kill a Mockingbird at about age ten.  It's no wonder I missed so many literary allusions!


posted by William 12:00 PM
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Sunday, May 19, 2019
I remember that Marjorie Morningstar was the first novel for adults that I read. I remember how much I liked the line "Like a crooked arm," and how I argued that this was so much better than "Like Noel's crooked arm."  Then I read The Caine Mutiny, and my father told me Queeg's balls were shit (or maybe the psychologist in the book says that?).  Then Youngblood Hawk and The Winds of War, though I'm not sure I finished it. And This is my God, which (along with The Source and The Chosen) inspired a phase of religious mania. The last Herman Wouk I read was a novel about a guy who buys a Caribbean inn and thinks he's going  to live a life of  leisure and finally read Ulysses, "that difficult book." My father had a copy, I had seen, so I grabbed it, read the preface with Judge Woolsey's decision finding it not obscene, and started in. It was difficult. Dashes instead of quotation marks made it hard to say when speeched ended! I read it over the next year. About a hundred pages in, I asked my father whether Bloom was Jewish. Obviously a lot more difficult than Wouk!


posted by William 12:56 AM
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Saturday, May 11, 2019
I remember the first time I heard the phrase "hurry up" -- in the hallway outside our apartment. We were late for something. I remember the phrase was somehow thrilling to me, because I didn't quite know what it meant. But it was certainly urgent -- I knew what "hurry" meant -- so somehow I'd have to hurry to do whatever hurrying up meant. The only thing I could do was both run and button my coat at the same time. That seemed to be what was wanted.


posted by William 12:58 AM
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Wednesday, March 20, 2019
I remember we used to call it the measles.  And we used to think that we'd all had it or that our friends had, but in fact we'd all had the German measles instead, because thankfully the measles had been eliminated through vaccines.


posted by William 1:17 PM
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