Monthly Archives: April 2010

The power of paper…

Sure, I’ve gently knocked email and texting plenty of times – in a good natured way, mind you – because no matter how you slice it, there is just something correct about words on paper.

Paper has power.  It has tactile qualities that are felt in its weight, texture and dimensions.  It is meant to be unfolded, held, is eminently transportable, can be toyed with by the hands or even (in my wildest imagination) caressed and treasured.  You could go so far as to say the recipient might be mindful that what they have in their hands is a one-of-a-kind thing.  That paper says more than the sentences and paragraphs inkjetted or hand-lettered on its flimsy surface; someone cared enough to send their very best.

Paper is indicative of an investment of time.  Ellen and Reid and my parents and whoever else is on the receiving end of the single pages deserve a palpable demonstration of my interest in them.  That is abundantly clear if they read between the lines.

Skeptics would say, and no doubt will, why couldn’t Ellen and Reid just print off the letters as email attachments?  Sure they could.  But it wouldn’t be the same.  It would defeat the point of me creating, their anticipation that something is about the arrive at their door, the opening of the envelope and the reading at a time and place of their choosing.  It is a process where all the worthy steps are defined.

Somewhere in some dusty paper mill, a worker goes about their job creating the bright white sheets of bond paper that I load into a printer.   They cannot possibly realize they do me the greatest of favors: they create a medium that allows me to do what I am compelled to do.


It’s Friday.  Here is this morning’s 545 word letter to my parents, Ralph and Barb.

April 30, 2010

Mom and Dad: The calendar says today is Arbor Day, and if I had a semblance of a yard I’d be tempted to add a tree.  If I had to plant one, it would be a crape myrtle.  They are incredibly beautiful smooth skinned trees, and they have a long blooming season.  People prune them way back to near nothingness in the spring and that just forces it to send out new branches.  There’s one out back and I gaze at it quite a lot.  The canopy of trees behind the house is complete and full and thus shields my place from the apartments behind me.  If I chose to do so, I could prance in my birthday suit in the house and there would be no one to see it, not that they’d miss anything.

Met for coffee with the coordinator of the community college (Central Piedmont Community College) course  I am ostensibly to teach this fall.  The topic is pleasure writing although the topic in the course catalog is writing for blogs.  Rather than a full semester, I get two hours one night a week for eight weeks or so.  If it doesn’t fill up they might pull the plug on the course.  My blog is going along just fine, and next week will mark the 50th post although no one besides me will be jumping up and down about it.  There’s no grades handed out, and I just hope the few students that sign up will stay awake during class.

Ellen’s battling a bad sore throat and pretty clearly she’s been burning the candle at both ends and probably the middle, too.  She just runs herself ragged.  I told her, half in jest, that she needs to visit North Carolina for a rest although I am not sure my request registered with her.  She’s going back full time with the property management company which pays fine but she will try to keep tabs on the local teaching scene to grab something if and when it pops up.  I worry that the longer she stays out of teaching the more she will be compelled not to return to it.  The school scene down here is very bleak with teaching jobs and classes all being cut drastically.  Public education just doesn’t seem much of a priority in these parts.  If you can afford it, private school is the option of choice for most parents, and that’s too bad.

Reid is really trying to connect with the higher-ups in the agency.  He proposed some twists to the in-house networking gizmo (which I do not fully understand) and it’s caught the eye of some bigwigs who are meeting with him about it.  Let’s hope they see the potential in this young dynamo and keep him around for a lot longer and in a better position than what he’s in now.  He bends my ear about his big ideas and although I don’t always fathom what he’s talking about, it’s good to see him use his brain power.

The tomato has transcended the three foot ceiling but you need to tell me when to stop, and then restart, Miracle Gro.  When it begins to set fruit do I pour on more fertilizer?  I understand that the feeding should stop right about now to avoid too much foliage, but I’m just dense enough to not know when to start up again.  Quite a gardener, huh?


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My dislike of Susan Torgleson…

Hate is too strong a word, so dislike will have to suffice to describe my deep-seated distain for Susan Torgelson.

Whenever someone asks ‘why don’t you hand write your letters?’, Susan Torgelson invariably comes to mind.

She was my 2nd grade tormentor at Springville Elementary on the north side of Omaha.  Whenever we had a handwritten assignment (which seemed all day, every day) she waltzed through with sickeningly perfect penmanship.  She sat straight across the aisle, she with her perfect posture and perfectly formed letters that abutted, but never escaped, the double lines on elementary school paper.  Her letters were a mirror image of the perfect alphabet painted atop the chalk board.  Me, on the other hand, raced at all speed to get the job done but I never once finished before Susan, who would smugly lay her perfect pencil down on her perfect paper and cast me the evil eye as I labored to scribble semi-circular ‘Os’ or a legible lower case ‘t’.  The best I could do was seek my revenge at dodge ball during recess.

The girl drove me nuts.  The harder I tried to keep up, the worse my lettering became.  She must be to blame for my ingrained habits.  Susan forever ruined handwriting for me. I can’t recall what I had for lunch yesterday but more than 50 years later Susan Torgelson’s name is synonymous with poor freehand.  I have been reeling ever since.

Even doctor-penned prescriptions surpass my feeble efforts at longhand.  I would love to pen a letter in flowing cursive that my kids and other recipients would ooh and aah over.  Hell, I can’t even read my own writing.  MicroSoft Word fills the ever-widening clarity gap for me.

No doubt Susan Torgelson’s perfect handwriting vaulted her to the top of the handwriting world.  I wish her no harm.  Maybe she became a steelworker or a cement mason.   Now that would be poetic justice yet I’m sure she made something of herself thanks to her accursed neatness.


Since today is Wayback Wednesday, here is an oldie but goodie (you be the judge) to Ellen and Reid.

Sept. 25

EB/Reid: Well, we’ll put these letters back on a Monday schedule.  Here’s hoping this finds you both hale and hearty.

The weather here continues to be unbelievable.  Warm and toasty.  I keep waiting for the onset of fall with full colors, crisp air, a hint of winter.  But the foliage is still green, it’s humid, flowers are blooming.  This will take some getting used to.  Hey, as long as there’s no shoveling of snow, then I can get used to this real quick like.

Close on the new house this Friday, knock on wood.  I’m excited about it.  With the bedroom and two big pieces for the living room out of the way, now it’s on to accessories and such, which would be like lamps, rugs, end tables, some art for the walls.  I’m not into pillows and cushy stuff, but the women in the office are incessant in wanting to coach me, help me, guide me on that sort of item.  ‘Oh, go here for the best rug deals’ says one.  ‘No, go to this flea market for the cheapest lamps’ says another.  Hell, I saw a great woolen rug next to the peanut butter and cereal displays at Sam’s Club this weekend.  What’s wrong with that?  Like people are going to say, ‘hey, didn’t you buy that rug at Sam’s Club?’  I don’t think so.

My stuff is scheduled to arrive in the van next weekend.  I can’t wait.  Living out of a suitcase isn’t my cup of tea.  And while the apartment is close to work and convenient, I just want a place of my own.  Wish I had a bit of yard for a garden.  That’s the one downside to a townhome.

Found a good blues place and have been going there with some regularity.  Went to see Aimee Mann ( this past Thursday.  She was wonderful.  Kristin saw her at Austin City Limits a week or so ago.  This is the first concert I’ve been to in I don’t know how many years.  At least the crowd was mostly my age.  You can tell when people start to turn up their hearing aids and you can see lights shining off their balding domes.  That goes for the women, too.

Mom says Henry is getting as big as a horse.  She sent a picture but I couldn’t open it.  Sounds like he’s going to be one big boy.  No more little piles of poop like Scooter, rest his soul.

Will go to Omaha for T-day with Grandma and Grandpa.  May get back there for Christmas, too, but not sure on that yet.  Wouldn’t mind just vegging here, either.  Heck, I may be able to play golf since they don’t close the courses down.  Go to Dallas next week for banking school – ha, me a banker.  That’s real.  There are about 150 people on the attendee list, and they make you take tests and stuff.  I’m slowly getting into the groove here at the office.

Played golf yesterday, and shot a 79.  Now, if I could just putt.  There’s just a ton of golf down here, and while I don’t think I’ll join a club anytime soon, I’m beginning to keep a list of the nicer courses.  It will just be a lot cheaper to bounce around from course to course without paying the monthly fees.  They won’t let you walk the courses.  Bummer.  That’s half the fun for me.  As it is, I’m still working out 6 days a week.  After the enormous pasta dinner I whipped up last night, I mean a real big gut-busting portion, I’ll need to work out for 4 hours tonight.

Well, gotta run.  Keep me posted on going’s on.  EB, your job situation for $__K sounds pretty good, if you ask me.

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Parenting never stops…

You have no doubt laughed (to yourself) at comments by parents of soon-to-be-college-bound teens who proclaim that once the kid is gone, they’ll be empty nesters.  By extension, they assume some of their duties as parents will fall by the wayside.

Hence the chuckle.  We never stop being parents.  Sure, our progeny may be on their own, but as Friday night’s 60 minute call with Reid will attest, they still need a sympathetic ear, a sounding board or, as Reid said to conclude our call, “Thanks for letting me vent.”

Vent away, kid.  That’s what dads are for.  And moms, too.  The idea of a weekly letter is part and parcel of that concept.  My letters have evolved from largely entertainment value in their college years to minor life lessons and reminders that I am here – as is their mother – to provide for at least their emotional needs as well as all those points noted in the paragraph above.

Ellen and Reid are well into their twenties .  They toil at self sufficiency and climbing the job ranks.  Because they are there and I am here, it doesn’t mean I will abrogate my parental responsibilities.  The lengthy phone call was one method, but the weekly letter, with its soft sell approach and short takes on this and that (including my myriad mistakes, perhaps for them to learn by), is a viable part of parenting, too.  None of us ever outgrow our parental roles.  Completely an empty nester?  In your dreams.


Here is last Monday’s letter to the twenty-somethings.

April 19, 2010

Ellen/Reid: The Romaine lettuce that is thriving on the front porch has been quite good with a vinaigrette/soy sauce/garlic/olive oil salad dressing of my own making.  The concoction comes out a little different each time but is pretty good.  The tomato adds a few inches a week, and the basil, oregano and parsley are growing like weeds, which they essentially are.  Ellen, it would be a travesty if you and Tim did not plant a garden in that good black dirt in your back yard.  You would have produce to kill for, and it wouldn’t take much doing to have a bumper crop.  The old square foot gardening routine would work well for you, and some Heritage red raspberries would be succulent in the fall.  Better get moving on it.

Your mom asked me if I’d chip in with some of my time share points toward your impending visit to Tahoe sometime next winter.  I’m mulling over the possibility although to be candid about it, it is high time I got off the snide and used Hilton Head or other spots myself.  But it is still a consideration for you guys.

The skin doctor didn’t quite rake me over the coals last week but he got his points across: wear broad brimmed hats, plenty of high SPF sunscreen, and limit my overall daily intake of sun.  Once he was done scorching my ears with liquid nitrogen, he made it clear I would be on an every-four-months visitation schedule.  He’s a young guy and knows what he’s doing.  I’m already down the wide hat regiment, but there’s still room for improvement.  He is especially concerned once he learned your uncle Ralph had melanoma.

Both of you have short newspaper articles about the insidious presence of plastic in ocean waters.  It’s incredible that we can allow small islands of floatable trash and plastic junk to swirl around in the seas.  What is wrong with us as a species?  I still try to recycle virtually anything that is plastic from the little stoppers and caps on orange juice cartons (plus the paper) to plastic spoons used for my lunchtime yogurt and the thin plastic strips that hold caps atop gallon milk jugs.  Call me weird but it’s just a fetish of mine.  Same goes for most paper.

Here’s hoping Tim has the coveted new job at 3M by the time you get this letter.  He deserves to be in a spot where his work is valued and the company values him.  That would be cause for celebration.  I said a couple of words on his behalf in church yesterday, but based on the prayers I heard yesterday, our pleas are well down the pecking order.  But we shall see.  Of course, call me instantly with any good news.

Sorry about the Cubs, Reid.  They stink.

My neighbor Mike and I installed most of the floor and crown molding in the bathroom on Saturday morning.  My advice is: if you ever try to self-install crown molding, don’t.  The cuts and angles are always weird and opposite of what you think they should be.  We made more mistakes than you can count.  At one point we totaled up our years of college because we couldn’t believe two educated men couldn’t make heads or tails out of the geometry of the woodwork.  We went up and down the three flights of stairs more than 30 times, easily, to cut and re-cut the timber.  Mercifully, we ran out of good wood and I had to beat a hasty retreat to Lowe’s to retrieve one final board which should be installed tonight.  At that point the bath will officially be done and I will total up the final blood loss (money wise) and share the grand (or not to grand) total with you.  You guys never did guess.  $25 to the closest estimate by this Sunday night.  Hope your math is better than mine.  How can it not be?

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Thomas Jefferson’s seeds…

As I preview the topical landscape (i.e. the yellow sticky pad stuck to my office wall with assorted notations for next Monday’s letter) I am struck, yet again, by the trivial nature of most of what I propose to write about.  Nothing too weighty, hardly anything of real consequence.  The lack of substance is reflective of my daily reality.  Sure, there are some big things, but plenty of little things, too.

One would suppose real life is all about the mundane and the sublime.  Both coexist rather peacefully.  To select and embellish only the grandiose for publication would stretch the truth to a breaking point.  So the stuff worth trumpeting and the lesser-light/also ran material all goes into the melting pot which is the single page.  It’s always been this way and always will be for me and my two.  Would my truism serve you in the event you follow my yellow brick road of letters?  As they say in advertising, your results may vary.

Yet history records that men (and women) of note did not always write on things of gravity.  Thomas Jefferson beat me to the punch when it came to mentioning dull events.  Take this passage from his letter in 1796 to a dear friend: “…I enclosed in two of them some seeds of the squash as you desired. Send me in return some seeds of the winter vetch, I mean that kind which is sewn in autumn & stands thro the cold of winter, furnishing a crop of green fodder in March. Put a few seeds in every letter you may write to me. In England only the spring vetch can be had. Pray fail not in this. I have it greatly at heart.”

Thanks, Thom, for assuring me that its okay to mix the minor in with the major.


As I always do on Friday, another letter was prepped and sent this morning to my dear parents. 

April 23, 2010

Mom and Dad: If the newspaper delivery person crunches the lettuce one more time I’m going to have a cow.    This is the third time the paper has squashed the greenery but perhaps there is a message there that the pot needs to be moved.  At least that will give me something to do tonight.  Other than ink stains on the leaves, it’s doing pretty well, all things considered.

In a couple of weeks you’ll get to see both kids, and I’ll be interested to hear what your thoughts are.  Ellen is really into house-mode; rugs, furnishings, etc.  She sent me a cell phone photo of the daffodil blooms from bulbs we planted last Thanksgiving just days before the ground froze.  Luckily they survived the wintry blast.  I’ve encouraged her to plant a garden because the dirt out in their back yard is pitch black.  I would kill for such earth in lieu of the red gunk we have.  Not altogether sure if gardening is her thing but it wouldn’t hurt to get her hands filthy now and then.

Reid sent me a text message last night from a going away party for his supervisor who is moving on to Google in San Francisco.  This might open some spots for him at the agency but he is typically tight-lipped about any and all possibilities.  He’s having a pretty good time in Chicago, which pretty much is a town made for good times.

Have been firing up the bike lately although speaking of dirt, it is as dirty as it has ever been in the last decade.  I think tomorrow morning it will get a good washing to remove the accumulated soil and dried bugs and other road debris which is stuck all over the frame and fenders.  It still runs like a top but it’s going to need some mechanical TLC in the relatively near future.  The old girl has a lot of miles on her but has more left in the tank.

The crown molding is finally up in the master bath.  Now there is the minor matter of filling the cracks with putty and giving it a quick sanding and coat of paint.  My neighbor Mike has a spiffy miter saw which made quick work of things although it took us forever to figure out the angles and the cuts.  We goofed up on several longish pieces so it was back to Lowes for more material.  No job is ever easy, and this just proved that yet again.

I feel bad about not coming back to the Midwest this week.  But the trip just wasn’t in the cards right now.  There are enough credit card points piled up to finance a couple of trips and I think that’s what we should plan on.  Maybe something toward the end of May or early June.  We won’t need to worry about volcanic eruptions interrupting this sort of travel.  Maybe we can yank your other son over to Omaha.  He’ll give us an easy foil to pick on.

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y shld i txt?

It should be abundantly clear that when it comes to commonly used acronyms for text messages, I haven’t the foggiest about what’s in vogue.  It is a language unto its own.

Disclaimer: I have nothing against texts.  The technology is available and people use it.  End of discussion – sort of.  According to informed sources, American’s send 4.5 billion text messages each and every day.  That is a paltry sum compared to the humongous 210 – 247 billion emails we transmit daily (as reported here not so many days ago).  Those are old numbers – 2009 – so who knows how much of this stuff is gumming up the public airwaves as we speak.

I say ‘end of discussion – sort of’ because it is worrisome to me that generations of 20-somethings, Gen Xers and tech-heads willfully cut language and word use corners for the sake of expediency.  Some of that thinking already permeates my work place.  Instant messages are plagued by acronyms; and some emails, too.  What, people can’t think in complete words or full sentences, let alone punctuation?  My high school English teacher, Ms. Dietrich, is doing a slow burn in her grave, if she’s not already spinning.  Communication is all about the sharing of ideas and concepts and full thoughts, none of which is abetted by shaving a letter here and there.  (Disclaimer II: my own letters/blog postings are riddled with spelling/punctuation errors, hence my reference to Ms. Dietrich who routinely excoriated this poor student for my for rampant mistakes.)

People can text to their heart’s content.  No problem-o.  But for crying out loud, learn to use honest-to-God vocabulary, real words, full spelling and figure out a way apply it to other life situations.  Well thought out memos, non-corporate-ese presentations – and letters – come to mind.  People hobble themselves with poor writing skills.

enuf syd

Yesterday’s old-ish letter was a bonus.  Because today is the real Wednesday, not the faux Wednesday yesterday that was actually Tuesday, here is another note to Ellen and Reid from days gone by.

May 3

EB and Reid:

Yeesh, by the time you read this, we’ll just about be there for THE BIG GRADUATION CEREMONY.  I’ll wear a coat and tie, your mother will be in her finery, as will Nonnie, grandma and grandpa.  We’ll be armed with cameras and handkerchiefs.  The real excitement is that we remembered where the heck we’re staying: The Embassy Suites downtown.  What a relief.

Already, we’ve argued about meals.  My suggestion was that funky, upscale place where we took both of you, Brian and that other girl.  Can’t remember the name of it, but your mom thinks we ought to go to the pizza place downtown, and maybe that down-home spot on Meridian.  Whatever.

As for you, Reid, I’ll pull up in the van and we can load things up sometime late Thursday or Friday.  If you want to, you can stay with us downtown.  Won’t that be a good time.

It is just so hard to fathom that you, EB, are graduating.  Just yesterday we were dropping you off in front of Indian Hills.  The time really screams by.  Now it’s on to the next chapter, whatever that is.  It will be good, too.

Took out a bunny (i.e. pesky rodent) this morning.  They can do anything they want, just don’t eat the peas.  He crossed the line and he had to pay.  Twice, actually.  He was wounded and I had to go outside to finish the job.  Amy ___ was watching from her back yard but I had to go about my business in a cold-hearted manner.  There’s a lesson there for other cottontails, but it’s not like I put his head on a stick as a warning.

Remember to call your mom this Sunday.  It’s Mother’s Day.  She thinks and talks about you guys a lot.

Working at home is working out for the time being.  It’s kind of relaxing to be here without the noise and bustle of the other office.  So, why am I wearing nice pants and a pressed shirt if I’m just walking from the kitchen to my office?  Wouldn’t shorts and a T-shirt do the job?

Hope to hear something this week from ____________.  Not yet a done deal, but at least we’re still talking about things.  I gave them a one-page job description this morning, and they seemed to like it.  We’ll see.  Would be a good gig as a contractor for them.  Lots of duties from editing news materials to writing speeches and training people how to write in news fashion.  We need to keep our fingers crossed.

The weather has stunk around here, as you have no doubt noticed in Indy.  April came in like a lamb and went out like an elephant.

Well, we’ll see you in the not-too-distant future.  It’ll be fun.  Just take some patience pills because the flash bulbs will be a-poppin’.

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Coffee can’t wait…

Some days it just doesn’t pay to do anything, much less write a blog column, without first getting a whiff and a couple of strong gulps of high-octane, fully leaded, adults-only coffee.

Today was one of those days.

For some odd – very odd reason – when I greeted the world this morning at 5:05, it occurred to me that “today is Wednesday, so it’s time for another blog entry.”  Only today wasn’t Wednesday, it was Tuesday and this throws my Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule for posts utterly out of whack.  Thus please accept my humblest apologies for clogging your inbox with another post – a day early, no less.

I’ll set the coffee pot on a timer from here on out.  Sorry.


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Deja vu all over again…

Today is Wayback Wednesday, the day we reach into the archives to pluck out a letter sent years ago during Ellen’s early years in college or when she and her brother were both in school at the same time and thus draining college funds, and parental patience,  simultaneously.

A while back someone asked if I would do this same letter thing all over again.  It wasn’t a trick question, but there is a two part answer when it comes to the doing and to the way things were done.  Answer #1: yes, without equivocation I would write to her/them.  Answer #2: I am not sure if I would approach it in quite the same way.

As has been noted in this space earlier, when Ellen darted off to school, I resolved to not let her befall the same fate of loneliness that made the freshman year of many college students – me included – so tortuous.  So, yes, a letter was in order.  As for how I went about things, perhaps that could have improved.  Maybe there could have been longer letters, or letters that contained more lectures or were devoted to single topics.  But as with many things involving parents and children, you do the best you can at the time.  The period of judgment comes only after the fact.  To this day, the letters remain a work in progress.  Without exaggeration, a single page can be in the mail only a few minutes when I wonder ‘what could I have done differently?’  That is the penalty of hindsight.  And with deep apologies to the great Yogi, most days it feels like deja vu all over again.

As promised, and by custom, here is a letter to Ellen from years ago.

March 21


It was good to have you around this past week.  Your grandmother and grandparents in Omaha sure enjoyed seeing you.  We won’t blame you if you want to stick around Indy for Easter.  That drive is a drag.

So now it’s on to job searching.  I’d go after every school district within 50 miles of Indianapolis.  The reason butler wants you to apply to 40+ schools is that it becomes a numbers game at some point.  The more you apply to, the greater the odds of you landing a job.  I think it’s a great idea to put yourself on the substitute list.  A lot of schools want people with that flexibility and who knows, it could lead to full time work.

I know you don’t want to hear this, but you might think about some schools out of state.  It makes some sense that districts try to diversify the colleges they pull their teachers from.  Maybe Ohio or Illinois or Michigan districts should be on your target list.  You wouldn’t be too far from Indy in that case.

We didn’t do much after you left.  Dinner with Holly and Dana on Sat. nite and then it was just sort of resting easy.  Worked out Saturday afternoon.  It was hard and the mirrors in the bathroom make it clear that there’s a long want to go.

I go to Bend, OR next Tuesday for 5 days of consulting with Rand and Sue ______ and to visit a client out there, ______, that is giving us a free window at the back of the family room.  That will save quite a bit of dough.  I’ll write about the project as they create and install it.

Bend has a ton of good qualities but we are confused about the potential of investing in a condo or town home there.  When would we really have a chance to stay there for any length of time?  When it’s nice there it’s nice here, too.  And we want to enjoy Des Moines during the nice months.  And Florida is okay, but it’s all about gated communities and staying inside your own little cocoon.  It’s tough to get insurance because of all the hurricanes, and the state is obsessed with mold in new housing construction and existing homes.  And it’s such a conservative state, a little too much so for me.  But the weather sure is nice.  Maybe Arizona is a good possibility.  But it’s crowded down there as well.

I’m really ready to get the Harley out of mothballs but the weather just doesn’t look too promising, at least until the return from Bend.  Got a couple of longish trips plotted out for the summer.

Will also go to NY the week after Bend on a junket paid for by some PR firm.  They want me to review products and get some hands-on experience with power tools.  Right, me and power tools.  What a combo.  You be good, have fun with your shower, and we’ll see you before much longer.

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