Ribs!

You go to Memphis, you eat ribs.  That’s just what you do. Now I sound like a Geico commercial.

Friday night David and I went out for ribs at Charlie Vergos’ Rendevous, considered by many to be the best place for authentic Memphis barbecue.  That description works for me.

The Rendevous is on 2nd St, which is a main thoroughfare in town, but you have to walk around the back and down an alley to get in–I thought I was going to have to know the password, too.

The restaurant has been here for many years, and is decorated in totally eclectic style. There are football helmets, long guns, collections of liquor bottles and glass Budweiser Clydesdales.  In fact, there is just stuff everywhere you look.  The red checked tablecloths carry out the theme, this is a weird, funky, fun joint.

The small portion of pork ribs, with beans and slaw.

The small portion of pork ribs, with beans and slaw.

I went for the classic–pork ribs.  This is the small portion, and it was plenty.  Memphis style is a dry rub, so the meat is not dripping with sauce, although there are two kinds of sauce on the table to suit you tastes.  The flavor is serious and meaty, not all sweet and vinegary like the wet rib places.  The cole slaw is not mayo based, but tart and spicy hot.  I was a happy camper.

Lamb riblets

Lamb riblets

David had the lamb, which was even better.  The rub enhances the lamb without overpowering it.  Definitely worth a try.

Another benefit of the dry rub:

Dinner is over and his shirt is still clean!

Dinner is over and his shirt is still clean!

There isn’t much in the way of variety at the Rendevous.  You can’t get un-sweet iced tea, so I had to have a beer. They have a moderate selection and I chose a Fireside pale ale from the Memphis Made Brewing company.  Since the last beer I had was in Germany over a year ago, I’m not much of an expert but it tasted good to me.

Memphis Made Brewing Company Fireside pale ale

Memphis Made Brewing Company Fireside pale ale

You’d think they would have a selection of desserts to finish off such a manly meaty beery meal, but you’d think wrong.  Eat your ribs, drink your beer and hit the road, Jack.  What the hell, prices are reasonable, the atmosphere is fun and the food is good.  What more do you need?

From there we went a few blocks down to the famous Beale Street to see the crowds and listen to some blues,  The cops block off the street every night, there are bars cheek by jowl for two or three blocks each with live music blasting out, people celebrating life, stores selling mementos and tchotchkes, street performers busking and bars that sell booze right on the street, like New Orleans.  BB King’s blues hall is on the first corner, to set the tone of one of the great music streets in the nation.

And that was the end of a very long day.  I’ll sleep when I’m dead.

Death by lunch

David and I spent today sightseeing, and the first thing we did was drive south to Mississippi and have lunch.  He found a place called Dale’s, which has been there for 44 years in a burg called Southaven, so that’s where we went.

Dale’s is a monument to southern cooking, but I think I have to live on salads for a week to atone for what I did to my body at lunch.

The restaurant has plastic coated tablecloths and an old fashioned look you don’t see in California.

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Sugar shaker and lots of Sweet’n’low.  I hate Sweet’n’low.

Observe the packages of “butter”.

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Buttery taste spread. Another phrase for yellow salty grease.

The menu has more fried food than I have ever seen.  This is the appetizer section:
arkansas-37We ordered the Fried Green Tomatoes, and loved them.  They come with ranch dressing, and “Lillie’s tangy tomato sauce”, which is kind of like russian dressing with horseradish.  I really liked it.  In fact, the fried green tomatoes were probably the hit of the meal.

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Fried green tomatoes with ranch dressing and Lillies tangy tomato sauce.

Picking an entree was more difficult, but I managed to pass up on this one:

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Chicken Fried Chicken was just too much for me.

I had the fried (what else?) catfish, which came with hushpuppies, creamed corn and candied yams.

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The hushpuppies were fantastic, the best I’ve ever had.  The catfish was tasteless, the candied yams were like a bowl of sugar and the corn wasn’t much better.

In fact, if you gave a 2 year old a bowl of sugar and a spoon he couldn’t eat as much sugar as this meal contained.  The cornbread was sweet. All the food was sweet. I know sugar can be used as a preservative, so perhaps I will now live forever.

David had the fried chicken, and got the largest chicken leg I’ve ever seen.

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Fried chicken, fried okra and mac n cheese.

The chicken was good–David gives it an 8.5.  The yellow stuff on the plate tasted like macaroni and Velveeta.  I don’t want to know anything about fried okra.

We had to try dessert, because what better way to top off a huge meal of grease and sugar?  I had the lemon ice box pie, which is some sort of lemon pudding in a graham cracker crust with cool whip on top.  Didn’t care for the cool whip, liked the rest.

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Lemon Ice Box pie

David opted for the strawberry pie.

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Fresh strawberries, strawberry jam, graham cracker crust and undefined white stuff on top.

The very best thing about Dale’s, though, was our waitress, Keke.  Pretty, bright, funny, helpful, not too scornful of a couple of rubes from the left coast, we fell in love with Keke.

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The best waitress in Mississippi

If you’re ever just over the border from Memphis and hungry, head for Dale’s.  Ask for Keke, get the fried green tomatoes and extra hushpuppies.  You can’t go wrong.

Dale's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

My life as a roadie

We landed in Memphis after midnight, and were up at 6:15 to make the 2 1/2 hour drive to Batesville, AR.

Eastern Arkansas is flat and rural.  I saw more tractor and farm equipment dealers than car dealers, and the car dealers inventory was 80% pick up trucks.  The fields are all low crops–they grow soy beans, rice and some corn in this area.  Land here is still cheap, which leads to roads with wide grassy shoulders, even small houses on large lots and broad sweeping cloverleafs for minor exits.  Traffic moves along swiftly and there are darn few police on the highway.

We got to Batesville, population around 11,000.  They have a Kroger and a WalMart, lots of churches and 4 motels. Lyon College was founded in 1872, and is the oldest independent college in the state.

The address we had was for the office of the Family Violence Prevention, Inc., (FVPI) the parent organization of the shelter.  The shelter itself, Taylor House, does not publish its address as there is considerable confidentiality associated with the building and its residents.  David made a call and we drove a few minutes to an older brick home in a quiet area, and found our location.

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The shelter is a 3 bedroom house that once belonged to a doctor.  When he passed away, his family donated it to FVPI, and they decided to create a shelter for male victims of domestic violence.  After receiving the necessary funding, they managed to turn the building around in 6 weeks and create a facility that can house up to 9 persons.  Open less than 1 year, they have already served 17 clients and their usage rate is growing.

People laughed when I said I was coming here to work on a documentary about domestic violence against men, but those who work in the field know that domestic violence knows no gender, and there is as much abuse directed at men as there is against women.  It just doesn’t fit the narrative of “men are abusers”, and therefore isn’t talked about.

We were there to interview the director, Patty Duncan, and the manager, Bill Miller.  They are experts in the field, and run a very professional operation where the clients are not just given housing but a complete program to help them rebuild their lives.

David is making a documentary, titled “What about the men?” addressing the vast issue of domestic violence aimed at men.  I was there to carry things, a task I am well suited for.  We set up his video camera and he proceed to spend a couple of hours conducting in-depth interviews with Patty and Bill regarding the genesis, operation and philosophy of Taylor House.

 

I made sure the lights were on and the fans were off.  I’m very good at my job.

Although there are some shelters for women that will accept men, Taylor House is currently the only shelter in the US dedicated to assisting male victims of domestic violence.  That is changing, and there are a few more coming line as awareness increases.

Taylor House accepts men from anywhere, but they have no funding to bring clients in.  Still, some of their clients have come from considerable distances (although the nearest intercity bus station is 30 miles away in Newport) and they have received phone calls from as far away as the west coast.  The demand is out there, the supply must follow.

After we “wrapped” (that’s show biz talk for finishing up) Patty took us out to lunch at the good barbecue place in town.

I drove back in the rain the long slow way, through countless town of 100 to 600 people, noticing dozens of churches, past more auto dealers with yards full of trucks, stopped at a gas station where the cashier was covered in needle marks and had teeth rotting away in “meth mouth”, saw dozen of silos full of rice or beans and yet there were almost no political signs in front of the houses.  We saw one car with a Trump/Pence bumper sticker.

Taylor House is an impressive achievement that fills a crying need.  Arkansas is lucky to have it, and the organization that created it.  This being a roadie is fun–maybe there can be more shelters for men so David and I can do it again.

The vicissitudes of travel


Here I am in LAX. I met up with David and we’re about to have a bite to eat before we get on the flight.

I noticed my bag was hard to pull. Looking down I see that the trusty Hartmann bag is finally falling apart as the wheels are shattering.


Fortunately this is an outer covering to a hard inner wheel so I can still roll the bag.  I’ll get it fixed later. 

LAX is an insane beehive of people, but the quality is the dining establishments has improved immensely. We had fish tacos for dinner and are now prepared to be crammed into an aluminum tube to hurtle across the country. Oh joy. 

Another adventure 


On board a mostly empty Delta flight to LA, there to meet with brother David and head off to the wilds of Batesville Arkansas. 

He’s making a documentary about domestic violence and we’re going to one of the very few shelters for abused men. Yes, men. They exist, and in larger numbers than you think.   I’m going along to tote that barge and lift that bale helping out. 

If there’s time, we’ll check out Graceland, too. We fly in and out of Memphis to get to Arkansas. 

This looks like an interesting weekend. Stay tuned. 

Where art grows

Gail and I went off today on an excursion to the home and studio of Leslie Safarik, a ceramic artist who lives in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood off Fruitvale Avenue in Oakland.

It’s just another house from the street, but walking into the front door is walking into an explosion of her craft and others, filling the walls, floors and shelves wherever you look.

 

Leslie was born in the Bay Area, lived in Europe and South America, came back to go to college at California College of Arts and Crafts (now CCA, they dropped the “crafts”) and has for over 35 years made a career of being an artist–she has never held another job.

Leslie Safarik

Leslie Safarik

 

You’d expect someone whose life work centered around form and color to have some interesting choices in clothing, and you’d be right.

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In the back of the house, in what was once a 1 car garage, is her studio.  Tidier than most, well equipped to make the relatively large pieces she favors, it’s a professional workspace.

The large collection of glazes necessary to produce her colorful work.

The large collection of glazes necessary to produce her colorful work.

 

The rest of the backyard is garden and outdoor installation.  Artists gotta make art, and it’s easy to get a backlog.  I really like how they are all placed, not just stacked up.

 

We didn’t go with the intention of purchasing anything, this was purely a social visit.  Still, something caught my eye.  Never having been much of a dog fancier, I was surprised to find myself drawn to this piece.  Gail and I think it will work perfectly sitting quietly beside the fireplace in the den–every fireplace needs a dog, don’t you think?

My new pet.

My new pet.

 

 

Blow the roof off

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Twilight is the time to be here.  Notice the partially open roof.

There’s a new place in town, right at the corner of North Main and Mount Diablo.  We’ve talked about the Spanish place Teleferico on the second floor, and last night Gail and I went with BJ and Larry to Rooftop, the new hip joint  on the third level.

Rooftop is beautiful, with a retractable roof so you can enjoy the beautiful warm evenings while they last.  Lots of windows, umbrella shaded tables on the balcony, gorgeous diffused lights on the tables, Rooftop is one of the nicest looking restaurants I’ve ever been in.

The bad news is that it is LOUD.  Real loud.  Jet engine in your ear loud.  Rap concert loud. Brick walls, concrete floors, metal chairs, big sound system, my God I’m going deaf loud. We were the oldest people there, and I don’t think we are the target demographic.

Let’s talk about the food.  Larry and I had been at a lecture; when we got there BJ and Gail had ordered appetizers.

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Castelvetrano olives spiced with hot peppers.

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Smoked trout rillette

The olives were excellent and the trout rillette (a dip made with trout, creme fraiche and dill) was wonderful.  As usual, the accompanying “crostini” was just yesterday’s bread toasted until it was hard and tasteless.  Ritz crackers would have been much better, but the dip was first rate.

The wedge salad sounded good:
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The menu lists a blue cheese vinaigrette, but that thick creamy stuff sure isn’t it.  Maybe not bad, but decidedly not what’s on the menu.

I chose the ahi tuna tartare as an entree, although it is considered a first course.  The portion was quite sufficient, and the presentation delightful.

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Tuna tartare and sesame rice crackers

Gail had the lamb meatballs, which is really an appetizer but the portions here are plentiful:

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Just as an artist chooses a palette of complementary colors before beginning a painting, a chef decides on a flavor profile for the restaurant, so that the dishes will fit together and the overall menu will flow smoothly.  Unfortunately, it seems to me that the operating principle of the Rooftop flavor profile is ‘bland’.

Tuna tartare normally has a zing or a kick. but mine didn’t. It purportedly has ginger and spicy sambal, but their flavor does not shine through.  Gail’s meatballs were good, but not great.  Larry had a lamb chop that also fit in with the ‘bland’ genre.  There isn’t anything wrong with the food, it just needs more punch.

We had a couple of the side dishes, and enjoyed them both.

Crispy smashed potatoes

Crispy smashed potatoes

I never pass up the fried brussels sprouts.

Seriously good sprouts

Seriously good sprouts

The portions are very good, and the prices are more than reasonable.   Service was pretty good, too.

Overall, I think I like Rooftop, but it’s just too damn loud for me.  I don’t like having to shout to be heard.  The facility is simply beautiful, the food is decent if a bit on the dull side, prices and portions are quite favorable.  If they do something about the noise level Rooftop will be a winner.

How to not watch a baseball game

For a guy who doesn’t care much about sports, it’s an odd situation that I have spent two consecutive Saturday nights at the Oakland Coliseum complex.  Last week the fights, this week an A’s game.

Sally Woolsey is a huge baseball fan, holder of Oakland A’s season tickets.  Once a year she and Kit rent a suite and invite their friends; last night was the night.  Gail and I were privileged to be on the guest list. Gail was glued to the Olympics and couldn’t be budged, but I never say no to a party and off I went.

Paul McDaniel was at will call with the ticket, and then we had to walk to the complete other side of the building where the suite entrance is.  There are 3 or 4 floors of suites, and I think we walked them all before we found the right place.  I now have done my exercise for the month.

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Her shirt says “boom” because it was fireworks night

The crowd was friends and family, with a strong emphasis on family.  Especially this cutie:

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Granddaughter Juliette and her dad.

Juliette’s big brother, Judah

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Judah in front, the baby having fun with the mirror.

Yes, there are fine comfortable seats in a suite. Sometimes you just don’t want to use them.

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The hostess is entitled to the best seat in the house.

I’m a bridge player first, and a baseball fan 32nd.  I could watch a ball game, or sit with this crowd and talk bridge:

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Chip Martel, Lew and Joanna Stansby and Jan Martel. Kit Woolsey was to the right

For a bridge player like me, this was the tall cotton.  I got to sit there for three hour and talk (mostly listen) to high level bridge and bridge gossip.  That’s about as good as it gets for me.

There was a buffet with hot dogs (of course), BBQ pork, chicken, potatoes and veggies.  Huge fruit trays.  Fresh cookies arrived.  Chips and dip, popcorn, peanuts in the shell. Wine, beer, soft drinks.  The Coliseum does a good job of provisioning a party.

OK, a couple more kid pictures, just because I like them.

It’s always nice to see couples who still like to be close.

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Spending a few minutes actually watching the game.

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Okay, there was a baseball game going on, too.  Oakland was playing Seattle, and I think Seattle was the winner.  Here’s the most baseball thing that happened:

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The Wave.

I had a great time.  I spent hours with my friends, ate too much, did the Wave and went home happy.  Thanks Sally.  Thanks Kit.

 

I’m a bad boy

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Too sexy to print

 

I don’t understand the world.  I guess that’s OK, the world doesn’t understand me, either.

When we are sending out invitations, we often have a stamp made to complement the invitation.  You can go to photo.stamps.com and have legal US postage made of most images–your new car, your grandkids, lots of things.

This week, I tried to use the image above, of a marble sculpture in our shower.  Within 24 hours I had an email from them that the “image did not meet our guidelines” and they would refuse to print the stamps.

Now I may be more liberal than most in matters of art and nudity, but it’s hard for me to think that anyone would be offended by this piece of sculpture Even the stuffiest of prudes should recognize this as art not porn.

Still, I don’t get my stamps.  The next plan is to take a photo of the back of the piece and see if I can slip that through their blue-nosed system.  Some people just don’t have enough to do in this world.

 

Saturday night at the Fights

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Big fight in Oakland Saturday night, light heavy challenger Andre Ward was facing Alex Brand in a tune-up for a November 19 title shot against current belt-holder Sergei Kovalev.  This was expected to be a walk over for Ward, and indeed it was, as he won every round although unable to put Brand on the canvas even once.

Saturday came around and I had no plan at all of going to the fight, but then I got to looking at tickets on StubHub and found a floor seat for a not-awful price.  Gail wanted to stay home, watch the Olympics and do jig saw puzzles, so a few clicks later I was printing my ticket, getting my camera and heading out.

Entering the Coliseum was the usual idiocy.  They are very concerned about cameras, even the little Sony I was carrying.  I know they won’t allow a big camera with an interchangeable lens, so I carry the pocket size one, and still the bozo wanted to know how far the lens extends (3″ is their utterly arbitrary and nonsensical limit) and if it takes videos.  Every single person in the auditorium was carrying a cell phone that takes excellent video, but he was worried about my camera–which also takes video but if I admitted that he would make me take it back to my car.  He also wanted to know if I had a selfie-stick in my bag, which was plainly impossible.  Not all the bozos work for the TSA.

The seat was pretty decent, on the corner of the ring and close.  I was right next to the media pit, so I could see as well as many of the elite press, except for TV lights, cameras and monitors placed at the corner and blocking the view.

The view from a seat in section G

The view from a seat in section G.

I got there about 4:45.  The main event was to begin at 7:30.  There were pre-lims, but nobody was in any hurry; plenty of time in between fight to walk around and spectate.

The area where the fighters walk into the arena was on the far side of the ring; I went exploring to find a place to get some good photos.  That didn’t work, the ushers chased me off.  But I heard my name and found my friend Kunio Okui sitting in a great seat, dead center and about 7 rows up so he could see over the ring ropes.  Kunio is a huge sports fan who makes all the Warriors home games sitting right behind the bench. He owns seats in row A2, but often sells them because, as he says, he “can’t afford to sit in them”.  The Warriors sent him two tickets to the fights because he is a great customer, and he was sitting in the best seats in the house until somebody kicked him out.  I decided to join him.  Life is who you know.

It’s a funny thing about fights–regardless of where you sit, the best view is straight up, on the Jumbotron hanging over the ring.  Here’s a shot of the first fight I saw, featuring two women.  The one from San Francisco won all four rounds (it’s never a surprise when the home town girl/boy wins the fight)

Home town girl in pink.

Home town girl in pink.

With lots of time between bouts, there was socializing.  Kunio and I got to know the women in front of us.  People are friendly here.

Kunio is the one in the middle.

Kunio is the one in the middle.

The preliminary fights included two first round KO’s, one of which left the loser out cold for quite a while a team of doctors made sure he wasn’t more severely injured.  The crowd cheered when he got up and walked out of the ring on his own power.

More people watching.  This mother and daughter were in the front row of their section.  They just caught my eye, and were quite amenable to having their picture taken.

Just a quiet mother/daughter evening.

Just a quiet mother/daughter evening.

Daughter won the prize for shoes, too.

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Now the travelling road show that is big time boxing started to move into high gear.  The media pit had filled up with the top writers from around the country.  The HBO hosts were taping inserts.  And the great Michael Buffer, the greatest boxing announcer of all time, was in the house in his white tuxedo.

The great Michael Buffer

The great Michael Buffer

The big lights on the ring went out and dramatic spotlights flashed around the arena, providing a dramatic backdrop for the HBO announcers to introduce the fight:
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The fight was on HBO, so the very loose timing became very tight.  The honor guard brought in the flag, some local singer struggled through the Star Spangled Banner, or most of it because she skipped a few verses.  The fighters made their entrance to a now very crowded ring.

Referee Jack Riess checks Alex Brands gloves

Referee Jack Riess checks Alex Brands gloves

 

Buffer introduces Andre Ward

Buffer introduces Andre Ward

The fight started.  The crowd went wild with every punch from Andre.  His nickname is S.O.G., son of God.  Ward is a straight shooting, church going family man without a hint of the evil, excess and corruption that so often has accompanied boxers.

Three minutes of action, a minute of rest and a chance for the Corona ring girls to strut around, pose for the crowd and sell a few beers.

A bit of eye candy to keep the crowd occupied

A bit of eye candy to keep the crowd occupied.  Lots of picture taking going on.

Plenty of action in the fight.  Ward is measured and scientific, the epitome of a boxer rather than a puncher.  Brand is wilder, reaching in with his punches trying to land a big one but never being able to seriously get past Ward’s defense.

Ward facing down Brand

Ward facing down Brand

The 12 rounds flew by, the scores were tallied and Andre Ward, as expected, pitched  12 round shutout and won by the unanimous score of 120-108.

There were still some things to see.  HBO commentators Jim Lampley and Bernard Hopkins were wrapping it up:

Boxers want to watch the stars, too.  The kid with the bright red hair in this photo is an up and coming 20 year old who is now 10-0 after issuing a devastating first round KO in the pre-lims.

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I’m not very good at recognizing celebrities.  There were any number of people I saw last night being besieged by the crowd to pose for pictures, and I have no idea who any of them are.  Here’s an example:

 

The guy on the left is some semi-important boxer.  I think.

The guy on the left is some semi-important boxer. I think.  Took photos with many, many people.

 

The bad part of being in the good seats is getting out–you’re the furthest from the doors and behind the crowd.  Being in no hurry I got to wander around, watch the happenings, find an elevator and head home at my own unhurried pace.  I even found a place to take a shot of the rapidly emptying arena, collapsing like a leaky balloon with all the energy of the evening flowing away.

After the ball is over...

After the ball is over…

The November 19 title bout with Kovalev will likely be in Las Vegas.  I wonder if Kunio can get great seats?

 

 

 

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