Robin Russell (rrussell8) Fri 6 Feb 09 10:53
Plus that piece contains the only deployment I can recall of the evocative "pisscutter", outside of the Shoot games we played in Brisbane in the the early 1970s.
Ed McClanahan (clammerham) Fri 6 Feb 09 20:34
Well dang, Robin, I've looked and looked for the elusive little pisscutter (or, as Beth's computer has no doubt rendered it, "p*sscutter") in that piece, and I swear to g*d I can't find it. But the term was ubiquitous in my youth, so I'm sure it must be there somewhere, since I was never one to let a nice salty vulgarity go to waste. The piece, as it appeared in Playboy and even more so as rendered by Beth's computer, is (in both instances) a pretty severely mutilated version of the original. For starters, Garcia's lines, the ones that seem so oddly intrusive in the computerized text, are supposed to be italicized, to make them visually separate and distinct; they're meant to be perceived as a sort of refrain, almost as if Jerry were singing his musings--a quasi-musical verbal/vocal motif that holds the disparate parts of the story together, not at all as these seemingly almost rude interruptions that bust them all asunder. And there was, in the original, a six-page, line-by-line explication, grad-student style, of the lyrics of New Speedway Boogie, broken into three shorter chunks, which were intended not only to serve (like the Garcia quotations) as a sort of verbal stickum, but, far more importantly, to add a measure of gravitas to my story, as well as a bit of credibility to my characterization of myself--a struggling young academic at the time--as narrator. (Hey Scott, there's a sentence for you!) The stream-of-consciousness biz was anything but spontaneous; to tell the truth, it took for-fucking-ever to write those passages. The idea was to try to make the prose, the rush of impressions, replicate the experiences I was having. The act of writing about them came later ... and a whole lot harder. Anyhow, Wellfellers, if you're so inclined, you can read it all, absolutely intact, As It Was Meant to Be, in My Vita, If You Will, still available (at least in that bogus but identical print-on-demand edition) at fine booksellers everywhere. Oh, and if I still have your ear, I'll mention that "A Brief Exegesis of Certain Socio-philosophical Themes in Robert Hunter's Lyrics to 'New Speedway Boogie'" appeared all by itself in The Last Supplement to the Whole Earth Catalog, edited by Kesey and Paul Krassner, in 1971.
Steven McGarity (sundog) Fri 6 Feb 09 21:06
>it is the train great article. Thanks.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Fri 6 Feb 09 21:31
And should there be any doubt that your "New Speedway Boogie" exegesis cuts to the piss? I found that most of your published stories deal with adolescence or coming of age with small-town Kentucky looming large. This is, as you've described, a great wellspring for your rich humor. In O the Clear Moment, the story, Another Great Moment in Sports, deals with your involvement in an anti-war protest at Stanford in 1968. As such, it is one of the few examples of writing (along with the Playboy piece on the Dead) that ventures away from the coming-of-age focus. In this Stanford story, you do a wonderful job of capturing the gradations of political radicalism that existed at the time in response to the unpopular war in Vietnam. On anti-war protesters singing We Shall Overcome for the umpteenth time, you state: Sincerity is a virtue, but these folks have ODed on it; they should continue this march straight down El Camino to the local detox center. When I had the pleasure to meet you in Eugene in early November, we agreed that Divine Rights Trip by your fellow Kentuckian and friend, Gurney Norman is the consummate hippie novel, not politically-charged or didactic, but an outstanding slice-of-life portrait of a fictional 21-year-old couple in a VW microbus named Urge trying to find their path by returning to Kentucky in the aftermath of the violent Altamont rock festival of late 1969. (Speaking of "New Speedway Boogie). At one point in O the Clear Moment, you refer to yourself as a thoroughly unreconstructed old hippie. During those tumultuous, complex times that are so exceedingly difficult to capture in prose with a ring-of-truth, did you ever try to write an extended fictional piece on the counterculture, such as Norman did?
Ed McClanahan (clammerham) Sat 7 Feb 09 07:50
Well, when I add up all the odds and ends--"Furthurmore" plus "Grateful Dead I Have Known" plus "Another Great Moment" plus several pieces in Famous People and several others in My Vita--, I find that, in fact, I've written fairly extensively about the Sixties, the counterculture, etc. But Gurney and Tom Wolfe are unquestionably the 800-pound gorillas; theirs are, for my money, by far the two most important books to come directly out of that cultural milieu. For the record, I was fairly closely involved in the inception of both books. I've written, in an afterword to the Gnomon Press edition of Divine Right's Trip, about how, in the late Sixties, Gurney and I occupied more-or-less-adjacent offices in an old downtown Palo Alto building, and how I was thereby privileged to watch that great novel take shape and grow almost before my very eyes. And when Kesey was on the lam in Mexico, I suggested to my late friend Henry Robbins, who was then Tom Wolfe's editor at Farrar Straus & Giroux, that he try to interest his hot young writer (whom I had never met, by the way) in doing a story about the celebrated fugitive. "Thanks a lot," Ken said trenchantly when I reminded him of this "favor" many years later.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Sat 7 Feb 09 09:07
!!! In my mind, you keep piling up all these awards, Ed. The Best-Longest-Sentence-from-the-Counterculture prize, and now The-What-Are-Good- Friends-For-Award. Even though the Pranksters had a visible public scene with the Acid Tests, and a 1964 cross country group "trip" in a painted bus, this had all taken shape before the mediain 1967 and in a mostly pejorative fashionslapped the label "hippie" on all the young participants in a bourgeoning Psychedelia. You guys were inventing things as you went. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test concludes its biographic meanderings in late 1966, and Wolfe only used the word "hippie" twice in its 400 or so pages. I view the Pranksters as proto-hippie; and you guys helped set the stage and provided connective social tissue between the Beats and the Hippies. However, it wasn't until after 1968 and Wolfe's publication of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test that Kesey and the Pranksters gained such an iconic stature within the counterculture. I think, in addition to EKAT being a fascinating way for a VERY curious mainstream to peek inside all the crazy goings on with America's youth at the time, the book also served, inadvertently, to identify a "leader" within a largely leaderless phenomenon. The Pranksters were certainly engaged in a turned on, live-your-life- as-art scene, and Kesey's acclaim as a literary heavyweight was well established, but there was never any sense that Kesey wanted to live his life as a mainstream public celebrity in the manner that Timothy Leary, Abbie Hoffman, or Jerry Rubin did. Ed, you actually get to the heart of this, I think, in your story about Ken Kesey (and Jean Genet) in the collection, Famous People I Have Known, when you have Kesey exclaiming that "fame is a wart".
Linda Castellani (castle) Sat 7 Feb 09 15:28
Ed, after immersing myself in that Playboy article for however long it took to read it - I stopped trying to keep track of the time - I have to thank you. I am truly, well, grateful, for it, mutilated or not, because it finally demonstrated to me what it was like to have been there. More than that, it showed me what it was like to be *in* there. I've always regretted having arrived late on the scene (1992) and until now I could only imagine what I might have missed. So, thank you.
Ed McClanahan (clammerham) Sat 7 Feb 09 17:28
Tell you what, Linda, I'll trade you those 25 years, straight up! My age for your age, whaddaya say? (But thank you kindly for the compliment. I do appreciate an appreciative reader!) And here's a funny co-inkydink, Scott: I just read your last posting (above), and then picked up the current New Yorker, the Updike tribute issue, and opened it at random, and there was the following passage from Updike's novel "Three Illuminations in the Life of an American Author," about a writer named Henry Bech: "The phone rang and it was a distant dean, suddenly a buddy, inviting him [Bech] to become a commencement speaker in Kansas. 'Let me be brutally frank,' the dean said in his square-shouldered voice. 'The seniors' committee voted you in unanimously, once Ken Kesey turned us down.'" So that's the price of fame, I guess; it gets you in the New Yorker, where the ghost of John Updike can make light of you. I think Ken was actually sort of torn about the consequences of his own fame. On the one hand, he often likened it to having the back of one's neck constantly in someone else's crosshairs; on the other, he very much enjoyed its perks and privileges, and happily took full advantage of them. I never knew him to turn down some admirer's offer of a toke or a free drink or a nice steak dinner. The fact is, it was his very nature to be the center of attention; he literally couldn't help it. "You'd draw a crowd in the middle of the desert," his dad, Fred, used to say of him, grumpily and perhaps a bit despairingly. In Spit #7, there's a story by my friend Pat Monaghan about what turned out, in retrospect, to be a seminally important stage production of Cuckoo's Nest, long before it became a movie, at the Sacramento high school where Pat was a sometime-drama teacher. As it happened, Ken and I and two or three friends of ours were traveling through Sacramento on opening night, on our way to Oregon, and I managed to persuade Ken to stop and see the play. The house was packed, and our little group arrived, pretty much unnoticed, just as the curtain was going up, and took seats in an obscure corner at the back of the hall. It was a terrific little production, and when Pat, who directed it, came out to take his bows, he said from the stage, "And we're truly fortunate to have in our audience tonight the author of the novel ..." Ken, way in the back of the still dimly lighted auditorium, obediently rose from his seat. Somehow, instantly and almost instinctively, the audience's attention found him and illuminated him as if he were glowing in the dark, or standing in the eye of a spotlight ... and this modest little high school lighting system had no spotlight! He just couldn't help it, Fred, he really couldn't.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Sat 7 Feb 09 20:20
Speaking of your work eulogizing Ken Kesey, when I asked you in Eugene to sign my copy of Spit In the Ocean #7, you told me that you are as proud of this collection as you are of any of your own written works. It must have been yeomans work to harness the writings from so many key and notable people in Kens life, such as Wavy Gravy, Gus Van Sant, Paul Krassner, George Walker, Bill Walton, Ken Babbs, Wendell Berry, Hunter S. Thompson, Larry McMurtry, Tom Wolfe, John Perry Barlow, Gurny Norman, Robert Stone, Robert Hunter, and many more, whew Can you elaborate on why you think of this collection so highly, and tell us what was involved in orchestrating that effort as the editor?
Ed McClanahan (clammerham) Sun 8 Feb 09 17:49
The idea of doing a seventh and final issue of Spit in the Ocean actually surfaced on the day of Keseys funeral, when Ken Babbs, as I recall, mentioned that he and some other Prankster personnel had been talking about it, and someone had suggested that I might be the right person to edit it. I caught a red-eye flight back to Kentucky after the funeral, and thought about the possibility all the way home. By the time I got off that plane the next morning, I knew I wanted to do it. The first six issues of Spit had beenI think even Ken himself would acknowledge thisrather, uh, slapdash propositions, by and large. Nobody was paying a lot of attention to such finicky considerations as proofreading, and although there was always good reading in each issue, a lot of the writing was pretty raw and haphazard. I had always had an itch to edit an issue myselfeven if only to apply a little of my school-marmish sensibility to the task. Production values, I believe the filmmakers call them. (I could be missing something, of course, but so far Ive found exactly one typo in Spit 7and, irony of ironies, its in the piece called The Day the Lampshades Breathed, by Ed McClanahan!) More importantly, though, I wanted the book to read like, well, like a BOOK, dammit, not just a catchall grab-bag of incidental, disparate odds and ends. I knew perfectly well, of course, that most of its readers would be bathroom readers, folks whod read it in short stints, flipping it open at random and reading whatever caught their eye. Nonetheless, I wanted to make it most rewarding to read the book straight through, front to back, cover to cover, the way one reads a novel; I wanted it to have form, shape, purpose. Here, from my introduction to Spit 7, is the best metaphor I managed to come up with for the sort of book I had in mind: While we were putting Spit 7 together, someone suggested that we were making a sort of pointillist portrait, in which many small points of color and light come together to form the Big Picture. That reminded me of a portrait of George Washington Id seen somewhere years ago, made up of hundreds of postage stamps, each of which bore a tiny portrait of George Washington! This final issue of Kens magazine aspires to add up in just that wayto constitute, in sum, an affectionate portrait of its founder, one which both honors him and bids him a fond farewell. There are fifty-some-odd contributors to the book, many of whom are writers by profession. Many others, though, had wonderful stories to tell but had never in their lives written a single word for publication, and I certainly didnt want their work to suffer by comparison with their professional neighbors in the book; so I was obliged to undertake a huge amount of word-by-word revision of prose and re-shaping of narratives, just to make sure that nobody got embarrassed by the distinguished company they were keeping. Also, there needed to be what my friend and editorial cohort Tom Marksbury calls interstitial tissueleitmotifs, little tricks on the order of the Garcia quotations Id used as stickum to hold Grateful Dead I Have Known together. For instance, I wanted from the very beginning to feature, and to honor, Keseys legendary friendship with Babbs, so instead of one long story about the two of them, we salted four of Babbss little stories throughout the book, and used Babbss own Sky Pilot logo to identify and distinguish them. And we did the same thing with four separate stories (by four different authors) about the 1964 bus trip, using a little puttering-along bus logo. Which is already far more than anyone wanted to know (although far less than I could tell, if anyone wanted to listen) about that whole editorial effort. I will say, though, that when it was finished, I felt that Id had a hugely satisfying artistic experienceexactly as if Id just written a book that I liked very, very much.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Sun 8 Feb 09 23:30
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Mon 9 Feb 09 01:32
I always imagined Spit-in-the-Ocean as a description of you Pranksters on an intrepid tour of the Sea Lion Caves (on a wind-free day we hope) hawking up loogies to unload into the Pacific below. However, I loved this line from the Eugene Register-Guard's obituary in 2001: "It was as if Kesey and Oregon were one, like saltwater and freshwater at a river's mouth, nothing to define where one started and the other ended but clearly part of one another." This evocation also helps me (ever slow on the uptake) to conjure a mythic spot west of the Willamette Valley farm where Furthur rusts. This place sits across the evergreen-thick Coast Mountains beside the brackish estuary of the Wakonda Auga River. Visible nearby are the dunes where sink holes left by decaying underground trees are known to consume a man. Along with Chief, McMurphy, Big Nurse, and the Stamper Clan, a colorful enourtage/troop/bus (choose one) of Pranksterswith manifest destiny reverberating back into their collective wilderness of mindenjoys a sandy spit jutting into the Pacific. Ed McClanahan is as much of Kentucky, as Ken Kesey is of Oregon. Yet, along the way, both of you managed to discover the shifting shoals of California. In fact, author Gurney Norman, the outstanding environmental writer Wendell Berry, poet James Baker Hall and you were all Kentuckians that went to California in the early 1960s to participate in the creative writing program at Stanford University. This rather amazing congregation of writers also included Larry McMurtry, Robert Stone and, of course, Ken Babbs and Kesey. The word parallelogram has been used to describe you, Norman, Berry and Hall as literary peers from Kentucky. You are all very different writers, but do you see attributes and perspectives that you share in common? And, how would you describe what this connection to the Stanford program has meant to the four of you as writers?
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Mon 9 Feb 09 01:35
(BTW, when in doubt, always choose the Bus)
Ed McClanahan (clammerham) Mon 9 Feb 09 08:55
I think I was the first to use the word "parallelogram" to describe the four of us, but I was in fact clumsily misquoting Wendell, who had called us (much more aptly) "an elastic trapezoid," because of the way we all kept bouncing hither and yon (from Kentucky to California to Oregon to Seattle to New York to Connecticut), each of us constantly stretching the boundaries, but always rebounding, somehow, to Kentucky. Wendell, of course, was the first of us to re-anchor permanently here, ca. 1963, and then the rest of us drifted back one at a time over the next couple of decades. We had met at the University of Kentucky in the 1950s, where Wendell, Gurney, and Jim had all been undergraduates, and where, by 1956, Wendell and I were both grad students. (I had somehow weaseled my way into grad school at Stanford in 1955, but bombed out ingloriously in the spring of '56.) UK boasted two great creative writing teachers, Hollis Summers and Robert Hazel, during those years, and the four of us were mainstays in their classes, wrote for and edited the literary mag (Stylus), tippled at the same beerjoint (the Paddock), and became friends, compatriots, and, eventually but inevitably, brothers. And then, of course, off we all trekked to Stanford--first Wendell, then Jim, then Gurney, and finally, bouncing back in 1962 like a bad 1955 penny, me. And while we were out there, each of us got great daubs of California and Stanford and Stegner on himself, along with varying quantities, from dollops to gobs to (in my case) whole pitchforksful, of Kesey. Thus was our brotherhood nourished and nurtured, and thus did it grow and flourish. Hey, don't that sound biblical!
Gary Burnett (jera) Mon 9 Feb 09 09:51
I had no idea of the Wendell Berry connection!
Strangest I Could Find (miltloomis) Mon 9 Feb 09 09:54
I'll add one more little point to the pointillistic portrait of Kesey. When I left San Francisco State in 1964 and moved to the then-small suburb of Lafayette to become a newspaper person and earn a living, I followed the chaotic developing scene in SF with great interest and envy. I had two or three friends who were student teaching in the English dept. at SFSU and when I heard Kesey was going to speak to a group of English students there (this was maybe in 1965 or so?), I of course had to attend. It was more than worth the drive, even while battling a flu, and the bit that has stuck in my mind all these years was: Kesey (accompanied by several Pranksters, I believe Paul Foster among 'em) regaled the English students with how he now no longer felt writing was the important thing for him, but that his life should be his work of art. When Kesey opened it up for questions, one bewildered fellow in the back of the room plaintively (and somewhat irritatedly) asked "But what if you feel that writing IS the important thing? Should you give that up?" Something to that effect. Kesey smiled and told the fellow that no, if writing was your thing you should go for it 100% ... He explained that he wasn't prescribing a way of life, just sharing his personal take. The student looked somewhat mollified, but still puzzled. I think he found it hard to believe that a writer so talented could talk of taking another path. But like all the rest of us, he was fascinated, drawn like a moth ... For what I remember most about seeing Kesey up close was the aspect that you describe: There was no way he could not attract attention. He seemed to pulse with energy like a strobe light. He did all his talking off the cuff, and seemed to be in that realm of spontaneous prose of which the beats wrote ... but in his case it was spontaneous LIFE writ large. An amazing personality and hard for me to describe beyond that. Another memory is of him at the Trips Fest crawling around through a spaghetti of cables trying to solve some technical problem ... his spontaneous writing projected on a screen over it all ... Sometimes a Great Notion is my favorite of his books. It triggered one of those AHA! flashes in my life that helped open me up and come out of my introvert's shell. All this just an aside to this great discussion. I read the Web-posted version of the GD story and loved it, Ed. Now will pursue obtaining the full version. Thanks for the brilliant capturing of a time and mindset I sometimes still re-experience, as when reading this piece. It was a rich and exciting era, fraught with possibilities and for me sometimes no little paranoia. I'd do it all again if I could. For me it was the psychic equivalent of the thrills other folks get from taking physical risks. Kesey was a major cultural father-figure for me, whether he would have wanted to be or not. Now, of course, I am what they call retired and simply blather on the Web ... ;^)
Strangest I Could Find (miltloomis) Mon 9 Feb 09 09:56
P.S.: I still have the Kesey SITO issue ... it's one of the best pieces of writing/journalism/remembrance I've ever read. Thanks, too, for all that effort!
Melinda Belleville (mellobelle) Mon 9 Feb 09 14:57
Hello Ed - I'm really enjoying the discussion here. I'm a fellow Lexingtonian and have been honored to meet both Wendell and Gurney through my classes at UK. You and I shared the same space at Lynagh's at the Kesey tribute a number of years ago now, but I've never had the honor of being introduced. And apropo of how small town Lexington really is, I just met your lovely daughter, Kris, at my accupuncturist last week, where she was observing. I find it interesting that all y'all have wandered back here over the years more or less to stay. While I look forward to spending the winter months someplace warm after I retire, I know I never want to leave Kentucky permanently. And I know people, and I'm sure you do to, who wouldn't leave if you gave 'em a million dollars. It's a special place here and those of us born here seem to have it in our blood somehow. Can you elaborate on why you think Kentuckians are as loyal to our state as we are, despite it's many problems and specifically, why you chose to return and why you stay?
Steve Silberman (digaman) Mon 9 Feb 09 15:44
Great stuff here, Ed, thank you -- it's so invigorating to read your voice in this humble little medium <smile>. I once saw Kesey pull an act of writerly aikido so deft I would never doubt his mojo again. He was a writer in residence at Naropa University, the place that Ginsberg et. al. created with a Tibetan lama named Chogyam Trungpa in Colorado. That was the year that "Twister" was on the road, and the performance didn't go over well in Boulder. In addition to the usual Prankster pandemonium, there were AIDS jokes and whatnot in the script, and the half of the audience that didn't walk out stuck around to boo and demand an apology from Kesey for his alleged racism and homophobia. The next day, committees were formed, and so forth. When I found Kesey in repose with a joint on the floor of his classroom to inform him gingerly of these developments -- not as a spokesman but as a peacemaker -- he snarled, "If I have to take on 16 dykes, send 'em over!" Rumors were going around that Kesey and crew would be asked to leave before his scheduled reading that night. The atmosphere at the reading was tense. The story that Kesey read that night (forgive me for forgetting the title) was a trickster tale that involved him putting on a kerchief and speaking as an old grandmotherly figure at some point. The reading was beautiful, but even more than that, somehow the spectacle of Kesey dressed up in this wise old-woman shamanistic drag so utterly disarmed his critics that everyone was happy that night, and Kesey left town as a hero.
Steve Silberman (digaman) Mon 9 Feb 09 16:31
By the way, with all this blathering I've been doing about Famous People You Have Known, I haven't been talking enough about your new book, which is wonderful. One of my favorite paragraphs in it is your marvelous description of the Hamm's Beer sign in the Elbow Room -- "a horizontal electric mandala for contemplative drunks." (!!) I also think the song "Drowning in the Land of Sky-Blue Waters" has the makings of a classic. :)
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Mon 9 Feb 09 16:52
Classic, indeed. When I read the "Drowning in the Land of Sky-Blue Waters" stanzas, I immediate thought of them as perfect lyrics for Mr. Gans to put to music, (that is if the Sometimes a Great Jug Band of Merry Pranksters hasn't done so already)!
Steve Silberman (digaman) Mon 9 Feb 09 16:57
I thought of that too.
Ed McClanahan (clammerham) Mon 9 Feb 09 22:42
I particularly loved ol' Paul Foster, Milt; he was, I think, one of the unsung geniuses of the age. One of my favorite bits in "Furthurmore" is a Paul Foster theorem: "Since the number of people now alive is greater than the total of all now dead, it follows that death has been reduced to a 50 percent probability. And since the world's population is still increasing, the odds are inevitably going to improve ... " And it was even better if you heard Paul p-p-pro-p-pounding it in p-p-person. Steve, I heard Ken's own account of his triumph in the Naropa rumble, which was essentially the same as yours, except (characteristically) he wasn't at all interested in portraying himself as having won the day by changing hearts and minds with the brilliance of his performance. According to his version, he was scheduled to go on after Ginsberg, but--having got wind (from you, no doubt) that a walk-out was in the works--he waited until the last moment and then insisted on going first ... meaning that if they walked out on him, they'd be walking out on Allen too, which he knew perfectly well they wouldn't do. Then, of course, he nailed them to their seats with a great performance, but he barely mentioned that. What really delighted him was that he'd Pranked 'em fair and square, and there wasn't one goddamn thing they could do about it! I have to admit that the Hamm's Beer sign description is a favorite of mine too--but I'll have you guys know I'm a member of ASCAP (I really am), so don't you be rippin' off my song, now, or you'll find union goons on yer doorstep. Melinda, your question requires more wisdom than I have at my disposal at this hour of the night, so I'll tackle it first thing tomorrow. Or better yet, let's me and you just go down to Lynagh's and have a beer, and I'll tell you all I know, and a good deal more besides!
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Tue 10 Feb 09 00:29
I looked "Pranked" up with both a capitalized and lower-case "p" and, until the Merry "P"s got into action, the word likely had never been used as a verb. Very funny. Amazing what a touch of alternative perspective can bring to a story! As for Mr. Gans, David is an ASCAP artist in his own right. (Not sure actually. BMI perhaps). We're simply suggesting collaboration on the up and up--no rock'n'roll payola even. (Gans does wonders with ugly fruit and vegetables, imagine what he might do with beer!) http://www.jezebelmusic.com/1742/juicy-folk/
Melinda Belleville (mellobelle) Tue 10 Feb 09 07:53
>let's me and you just go down to Lynagh's and have a beer, and I'll >tell you all I know, and a good deal more besides! Anytime, Ed. Always look forward to good tales spun out over a pint! And I await your take on the loyalty this state engenders.
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