One High Fever, Unabridged

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I’m no Dale Carnegie, God knows, but I recently stumbled upon a principle of mental health that no person wishing to retain his sanity should ignore. In short, it is this: Never open a dictionary unless you have a specific word, a particular verbal destination in mind. To do otherwise is to play Russian roulette with your faculties, the difference being that with a dictionary there is, so to speak, a bullet in every chamber. I speak from bitter, brutal experience.

Just this morning I was searching Random House’s dictionary for clupeid, that is, “kloo’ pe id, n., any of the Clupeidae, a family of chiefly marine, teleostean fishes, including the herrings, sardines, menhaden and shad.” I read through that definition 19 times. It had a rhythm as compelling as any by Bob Marley and the Wailers. By the time “clupeid” had burned pinholes in my pupils, I had forgotten why I had looked the word up in the first place. Luck had been on my side, though. I had set out to locate a single word and had done so without bringing shame to myself or my family (a family of chiefly marine, teleostean fishes, by the way). I had been able, after some effort, to avert my gaze to an especially informative advertisement for women’s undergarments in a nearby mail-order catalog belonging to my wife. Where was she now, the traitor? Shopping, probably; leaving me here alone with the Random House Unabridged. As well to leave a child in the same room with a man named Guido.

I opened the volume and quite by chance stood goggling at the same page where, in my innocent youth, I had looked up “clupeid.” The hair at the back of my neck slowly stiffened with repulsion. I had landed full force on clypeus (klip’ e es), “the area of the facial wall of an insect’s head between the labrum and the frons, usually separated from the latter by a groove.” Think of that! On the facial wall of every last vermin in the world, the clypeus was separated from the frons by a mere groove! Who could bear it? I ran a trembling index finger down the column, hoping for a soothing adjective, a prosaic noun to calm my nerves.

Instead, the final word on the page transfixed me. Cnidocyst (ni’ de sist), It had a foul, almost sinister sound. I repeated it several times in spite of myself. Cnidocyst. Cnidocyst. What it was I didn’t know, and I didn’t want to know. But it was too late for squeamishness. I read on.

Why, a cnidocyst was nothing but a nematocyst! It said so right there in black and white. How foolish I had been after all. And a nematocyst was…well, a nematocyst was simply a…a…what was it, anyway? According to the ghouls at Random House, a nematocyst is “an organ in coelenterates consisting of a minute capsule containing a thread capable of being ejected and causing a sting, used for protection and for capturing prey.”

A more flimsy tissue of euphemisms would be impossible to concoct. “Capable of being ejected,” the man says. I’d like to see the one that isn’t ejected! “Used for protection and for capturing prey.” Indeed. It’s used for making a damn nuisance if I know my coelenterates — and I think I do. If I had a nematocyst to my name those coelenterates wouldn’t be swaggering like psychotic sailors, capturing helpless prey and causing wholesale carnage, no sir. There wouldn’t be a coelenterate standing in the joint when I finished with them. I could lick ’em all, I could — I checked myself before complete hysteria had hold of me.

I was beginning to wish I had stayed with “cnidocyst.” Innuendo was preferable to outright horror. I felt a compulsion to turn back to “cnidocyst,” praying that the sight of a familiar word, however nauseating, would take my mind off the chilling implications of “nematocyst.”Any port in a storm. On the way to “cnidocyst” I paused among the “D’s” long enough to pick up another happy zoological term, “dulosis,” or “the enslavement of an ant colony or its members by ants of a different species.” Slavery, right here in modern North America! What next?

I made it back to “cnidocyst” all right, but there was little relief in the reunion. It sounded as ugly as ever, and if a cnidocyst was a nematocyst and vice versa, any preference of mine amounted to a choice of evils, no more. Lost in thought, my gaze wandered. I gaped at the word above “cnidocyst.” It was “cnidocil,” obviously a close relative. There was the same squinty, pinch-faced look, the same unctuous air of authority. Cnidocil (ni’ de sil), “a hairlike sensory process projecting from the surface of a cnidoblast, believed to trigger the discharge of the nematocyst.”

“A hairlike sensory process” — again, the words were vague but the images they conjured up were not. I had the desperate certainty that if I encountered a hairlike sensory process, even a small one, I would be incapable of any reaction except screaming myself into a dead faint.

I noted the stock journalistic jargon, “believed to trigger the discharge of the nematocyst” (my italics). It’s considered poor form among journalists, and I suppose, by extension, among the compilers of dictionaries, to prejudice a case by making direct accusations against any of the parties involved, even when their guilt is a public fact. Thus we have “suspected” assassins, “confessed” kidnappers, and cnidocils “believed” to trigger the discharge of the nematocyst.

But in analyzing this nicety I was forgetting a very important factor, the word just above “cnidocil” — “cnidoblast,” or in plain Pig Latin, “the cell within which a nematocyst is developed.” Clearly I had situated myself within a massive web of intrigue, a conspiracy of international proportions. The cnidocil was a trigger man, a gunsel working for the cnidoblast, who was shielding the nematocyst, alias the cnidocyst, alias the “cnida” (from the Greek word for nettle). Paranoid psychosis nearly had me in its grip. I was sinking fast. I fought to maintain consciousness as I babbled like Gertrude Stein, “A cnidocyst is a nematocyst is a cnida is a nematocyst is a –” Then, mercifully, I passed out.

The touch of a cold, wet cloth on my forehead brought me to. I recoiled at first, then allowed my face to be stroked by a pair of delicate feminine hands. It was my wife, back from her shopping spree.

“I told you never to drink before sunset,” she chided me. “You never listen, do you?”

“Easy, hon, or I’ll sic my nematocyst on you,” I said.

“What were you drinking — alcohol or chloroform? Come on now, get your head up. Let me show you what I found at the mall: A brand new hair extension!”

“You mean a hairlike sensory process,” I said. She let my head fall back on to the tile and went to mix herself a double Scotch and soda, no ice.

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Hot Dogs: Crisis in America

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When it comes to hot dogs, Americans aren’t getting what they need.

It is estimated that over 44 million working Americans and their dependents do not have access to hot dogs, while another 38 million have inadequate or limited access. Together, these figures comprise nearly one-third of the United States population — an overwhelming chunk of Americans daily forced to ponder: what if someone I love needs hot dogs? What if I need hot dogs?

It is a vicious cycle for these have-nots. More citizens each day, already hungry and sick, are being forced into physical and economic destitution without hot dogs. Routinely will those without Hot Dog Plans (HDP’s) simply avoid the acquisition of hot dogs altogether, despite what their bodies tell them. This self-enforced neglect has culminated in higher overall hot dog costs, as those without HDP’s generally do not get hot dogs until it is too late, thus often requiring costlier forms of hot dogs. Meanwhile, the countless dollars pumped into uncompensated hot dog treatment fall in the form of higher federal taxes on the doorsteps of those who are fortunate enough to possess hot dog assurance, intensifying the economic divide such that hot dogs are fast becoming considered a luxury rather than a basic human right.

But does the hot dog problem really have to exist? The majority of hot dog-assured Americans receive their benefits through employer-instituted plans (nearly 120 million people). The second-largest sector of hot dog-assured Americans receives coverage from the government under the Hot Dog-Care and Hot Dog-Aid programs (both ultimately boons to the American taxpayer, costing billions of dollars per year to maintain). Yet for that unfortunate one-third of the population, accessibility to hot dog care is at the whim of an employer or, in the case of federally funded programs, is limited or outright denied due to strict governmentally-dictated eligibility requirements.

Whether assured or unassured, the average American is being led down a treacherous path by those in control of hot dog-supply distribution and hot dog-program management. With the price of prescription hot dogs skyrocketing in recent years, more employers have been forced to pass costs along to workers in the form of higher-premium HDP’s and smaller, less frequently distributed pay raises. Many employers are also denying workers family hot dog coverage to further cut expenditures.

In most cases, this is being done not out of desire, but necessity. Smaller businesses in particular face grim chances for survival in light of rising hot dog costs, forcing them either to lay off workers or limit coverage for existing workers — either instance driving deeper the wedge into this ever growing economic chasm. And all the while, the Hebrew Nationals and Oscar Meyers of the world are reaping the profits.

Unsurprisingly, these very same companies are backing a questionably effective approach to this national emergency in the form of Hot Dog Savings Accounts (HDSA’s), which are growing in popularity with employers. An HDSA works like a normal savings account, wherein an initial sum of money is deposited by the employer and gains interest over time. HDSA’s are helping many smaller companies cut down on monetary contributions and are even being touted by the government as a viable option for hot dog reform in the face of the hot dog crisis. But this argument is specious, at best.

What HDSA’s fail to take into account is that depending on the hot dog needs of an individual — whether, for example, one needs multiple hot dogs, needs to add chili or cheese, to upgrade from generic to premium condiments, or standard to kosher — the amount within a given HDSA simply might not be enough to cover costs. The potential success of HDSA’s relies upon the dangerously utopian premise that the need for expensive prescription hot dogs more often than not befalls the elderly, who have earned enough through employer contributions and compounded interest to cover any hot dog needs. And this is not always true.

What HSDA’s really do is lower the bar on hot dog care. When the child of a single working mother possesses a congenital condition requiring hot dogs, or when one half of a dual-income household is stricken with terminal hot dog need, daunting questions arise: are these persons to be held economically accountable for having coverage, but not having enough? And furthermore, in the end, who will pay?

Americans must ask themselves if this country is truly on the road to hot dog reform, or on a different, darker road altogether. We must look outside our own borders at alternative hot dog systems, such as to the north, where Canada has implemented Universal Hot Dog Care to staggering success. The rising costs not only of hot dogs, but of ketchup, mustard, relish, onion, and other such hot dog-related goods, can no longer be footed by the impoverished while hot dog companies grow richer and continue to wield their indomitable lobbying influence on Capitol Hill. It is time to question the relationship between the government and hot dog care, to ensure all Americans the rights of life, liberty, and everything else in this world that cannot be fully enjoyed without hot dogs.

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Ask Doctor Drummond

By:
helmutluchs@sbcglobal.net

Dear Doctor Drummond,

If you ever met anyone who would stay up late to watch a Jerry Lewis picture on Turner Classic Movies, you have either met Jerry Lewis or my wife. If the person wore a hybrid wig of porcupine quills and crabgrass, it was my wife.

Jerry is her new idol and she is constantly mugging at me asking if she looks like the original Nutty Professor. She does — and always has — but what really brands an ugly scar in my mind is when she sings songs from his pictures. This morning she was singing “I Lost My Heart at a Drive-in Movie,” and that is what prompted me to write this letter.

It has not always been like this, and I believe I can recall what accidents preceded her peculiar sense of humor; but I know only you can set me on a course for sanity.

It started several weeks ago, on a very unusual evening. My wife and I were engaged in a pillow fight (not unusual) that was to determine who would get the bed and who would sleep in the corner on the bearskin rug (jokingly referred to as “the bare-skin rug” ever since my wife accidentally doused it with hair-remover instead of carpet cleaner). The one who remained conscious would get first choice.

I was feeling soft-hearted that night and had decided to make it easy on the old lady, for the fighting often lasted into the night, exhausting her completely. So I had slipped a couple dozen quarters into my pillowcase, to hasten the outcome. She obviously felt good-natured too; for while I was gathering up quarters from the bottom of my drawer, I saw her from the corner of my eye, adding silver dollars and a small rock collection to what now looked more like a sack of potatoes than a pillow.

My wife is quick on her feet and strong in her arms. She used to be an athletic coach at a nearby college, and had even won a trophy in the Women’s Shot Put competition at the State Fair. It always rested on the shelf just above her bed. Funny, though – where was the trophy now? “Oh well,” I thought, “she has just stuffed it away somewhere.”

As you may have guessed, with this lack of concentration on my part she landed the first blow, and what no doubt would have been the last if I had not been wearing my souvenir World War I doughboy helmet. The helmet was now badly dented on one side, with the rim wedged into the plasterboard and streams of cracks running from ceiling to floor.

After the feathers had settled to the floor I opened my eyes only to find I was not in heaven and had perhaps been cast into the extremes. My wife stood gawking over me, scratching her head. Silver dollars were scattered along the floor, while near my feet lay the missing trophy.

The pillow was my wife’s prize possession because she had won it at a carnival by guessing the number of feathers it held. The point of this recollection is that upon restuffing the pillow we found that a feather was missing. It was one of the smaller ones, but a feather nonetheless. My theory is that this feather found lodging in my wife’s left inner ear. She often giggles while scratching the left side of her head. This is fairly conclusive evidence as to how she acquired her unusual and provoking sense of humor.

However, there is another, equally justifiable theory. A few days after the pillow incident my wife was in the basement doing the laundry. She is almost always doing the laundry nowadays. She says that washing has become easier and almost fun, ever since she found a new liquid detergent. It’s called Seagram’s Seven Crown, but I do not necessarily recommend it. My clothes come out as dirty – or dirtier – and smell more like compost than fabric softener. But I did not write to give my testimonial on behalf of any detergents, and mention the laundry only because that was what my wife was about to do when she had her accident.

You see, burglars have been breaking into our basement and sneaking upstairs to use our washroom and an electric toothbrush left behind by some previous tenant of the house.

I wired a simple explosive charge to the toothbrush, then for the stairway I designed an ingenious burglar alarm and had the neighbor boy install it. It consists of marbles spread in an even layer over every third step. I’ll admit it’s devilishly simple, and that it wouldn’t take a mathematical burglar to walk two, hop one; but from the thuds and wailing screams that echo upstairs at night, I surmise we are dealing with the dying breed of Homo Invertus, a race of men who walk on their heads — or do they think with their feet? Anyway, they are a dying breed, and for obvious reasons. Still, I was awakened one night by an explosion that more than likely came from our washroom. Oh, well. If I ever see a smart burglar with no teeth, I’ll have him put away on the double.

My wife is the one person whose tumble down the stairs leaves me with remorse. To a superstitious man her fall would indicate that she is actually a burglar. But I find it sufficient to say she belongs to a dying breed which I need not name.

Just how she fell I’m not certain, but I remember seeing her disappear around the corner to the stairs with a load of laundry in her arms and a small bottle of detergent in her teeth. She now giggles while scratching both sides of her head, and has taken to freestyle diving down the stairs. She says it smooths down the hard lumps that grow under her wig. I often kid her about it, saying “I’m more concerned with the soft spots,” and insisting that I could remove them with an ice cream scoop.

But don’t let me kid you, Doc — it’s true.

Sincerely,

Corby Jenkins

P.S. — If you happen upon a smart burglar with no teeth, call me and hold him until I get there.

Dear Mr. Jenkins,

In reading your letter, it becomes obvious that neither you nor your wife have any sense of humor whatsoever. Your wife is under extreme stress because of it.

You live common lives and have the common hopes and fears of most Americans. Your lives are too predictable and leave no room for absurd or frivolous activities. For this reason, your wife has turned to outside influences to relieve tension. Discovering Jerry Lewis was like finding a needle in a haystack and sitting on it. It makes no sense to find the needle unless you intend to avoid it.

My suggestion is that you look into yourselves for comic relief. Find something funny in your everyday environment. I can think of something right off: your wife’s hybrid wig of porcupine quills and crabgrass. My wife has one of porcupine quills and another of crabgrass, but who would ever think of combining the two? Isn’t that a riot!?!

Yours truly,

The Doc

P.S.– I’d appreciate your sending me a few bottles of that detergent for experimental purposes.

*****

Dear Doctor Drummond,

I am writing you from the Morgue County Prison. It seems either the world or I have gone mad and I trust solely in your opinion.

Last month my wife and I decided to rent out the second floor of our house. An unpleasant couple answered our online ad. The man looked harmless enough and as fragile as an eggshell, but his wife was enormous and appeared deadly powerful. The man wore a large shapeless overcoat and the woman wore a wig that would take a taxidermist’s skill and a poet’s pen to describe. Despite my presentiments, I took a gamble and a thousand dollars for the first month’s rent. To ask more would have been unjust, for there was no washing machine and we would have to share the upstairs bathroom. Well, I have read every Believe It or Not book and am now certain I could write a few of my own.

The couple that moved in seemed to possess the notion that they had bought the house, and were entirely unaware of their landlords downstairs. They would have fights that lasted late into the night. They threw rocks and money around and God knows what else. We couldn’t even get to the washroom upstairs. They put marbles on the stairway and I fell, hurting myself badly several times, but no one came to my aid. In fact, when I did make it to the washroom my toothbrush exploded in my face like a trick cigar.

We never saw the husband after the first night, but every day his wife would fall downstairs with laundry in one arm and a bottle of whiskey clenched in her teeth. For reasons best known to her, she would run the wash through our trash compactor several times and then stumble back upstairs or go to sleep in the oven with the heat on low. We put up with this for a whole month until their rent was due again. I summoned my courage and crawled out the window and around to the front door. I was determined to tell them they could not stay another day.

It was the husband that answered my reluctant knock. He looked startled at first, but then his expression grew calm and his lips curled into a wry smile. “Oh honey,” he said, “look who’s here.” His wife came in from the kitchen and she too was unaccountably startled. She looked to her husband and they nodded in understanding. This unnerved me somewhat and I probably showed it. I was about to explain my reasons for coming but the husband cut me off. “Like to use our washroom?” he asked. “No, thank you, I’ve come to –” I didn’t have time to finish my sentence. His wife had snuck up behind me and her thick-boned arm closed on my neck like a nutcracker. “It’s him, all right. Look, he has no teeth!” she hissed. “Hit him with the detergent bottle!” yelled the husband. I smelled whiskey, and then a spark of fire ran through my head and darkness closed in.

I woke up under bright lights with a package of smelling salts broken and stuffed halfway up my nose. It was Morgue County Police asking an endless stream of questions about breaking and entering the house of a local citizen. I answered no to all the questions I could understand. Then one of them waved the remains of a toothbrush in my face and asked, “Have you ever seen this before?” “Of course,” I said. “Thanks, that’s all we wanted to know. Take him away, boys.”

Please advise me on my next move. I’ve been sitting rigid for three or four days in fear that if I move they’ll think I’m either trying to escape or to kill the guard.

Desperately,

J. Binkly

Dear Mr. Binkly,

I have read your letter quite thoroughly. Please forgive me if I say that I laughed the whole way through. I have compared your letter with the one written by Mr. Jenkins and come up with the obvious conclusion that you, too, are suffering from the lack of a sense of humor. How can you be so wretched and woebegone when you have living with you this first class pair of prize jokers? They have been teasing you all along, trying to pull a smile out of that tightly-drawn mouth of yours. You are as tough as a turtle shell not to have been laughing the whole time. It is my advice that if you have not foolishly wasted your one allotted call on a lawyer, you should ring up those clowns and invite them over for a party. They will surely bail you out and your troubles will be over.

Yours (or someone’s),

Doc Dummond

P.S. — The next time you smell whiskey, try to give me a better idea of the precise location. Otherwise I cannot begin to help you, and you are probably doomed. Best of luck to you.

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UFOs: The Secret Air Force Files

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Through a top-level security leak at the Pentagon, we were able to gain access to the most guarded information in the world, the Air Force’s file on unidentified flying objects. Up until now these reports were known only to the Russians and the Chinese, and then only in very poor translations. At last the truth can be told.

*****

INCIDENT: March 17, 1962. Three giant cigar-shaped objects were sighted over New York City, flying in formation with a huge ashtray. Millions of seemingly normal citizens witnessed one of the objects blow a definite smoke ring over Manhattan and then flick some ashes on Brooklyn. Then, within seconds the entire formation had lifted away, signaled a left turn and vanished, never to be seen again.

EXPLANATION: In this case the observers are fictional, not the UFOs. It is common knowledge that there are no actual human beings living in New York. The humanoid apparitions you see on the streets and in office buildings are optical illusions caused by the action of the sun’s rays on blacktop. If you blink, they will disappear.

*****

INCIDENT: On Thursday, December 14, 1989, Enoch Waffler, a beet farmer in Spastic Colon, North Dakota, had this experience:

“I was walking along this here furrow, planting beet seeds with a rivet gun, when this big sorta flying bedpan whizzes by at 100,000 miles per hour, shooting sparks and making a noise like a coon hound with its tail caught in a door. I know it was 100,000 miles per hour because 15 minutes later he had circled the Earth completely and was back at my place asking directions to the Crab Nebula. I say ‘he’ but I mean it was a little feller — oh, about two or three feet tall in his socks — with eyes like silver dollars and hands like pliers with tiny golden beaks. Well, we got to talking, and I gave him some corn whiskey, which he spit right up again. But he did drink a whole five-gallon can of kerosene. Got mad as a killer bee when I couldn’t find him any dry ice. Then he was off again, looking for a gas station that stayed open all night and sold plutonium. But first he posed for some snapshots and I got the whole thing on a recorder which I talk into while planting beets, to keep from going crazy.”

EXPLANATION: Mr. Waffler was the victim of a well-rehearsed prank. What he thought was an extraterrestrial visitor was most likely a little neighbor boy in a homemade costume. The boy then invented a nuclear-powered starship capable of speeds up to 100,000 miles per hour to complete the hoax. Either that or he stopped the Earth from rotating on its axis so it would look as though he were going 100,000 miles per hour. In either case the boy is very clever and should be watched. Waffler should have caught on, though, when the “alien” asked how to get to the Crab Nebula. Everybody knows it’s closed on weekdays.

*****

INCIDENT: Saturday, June 28, 2003, Albert Schmecker, a part-time glue-sniffer, returned to his home in Peoria to find it surrounded by a pulsating mass of airborne lights. He then heard a piercing shriek, and would’ve run away had he not realized it was his own. He fell to his knees, trembling. An awesome shape loomed out of the unearthly glare. He later described it as “one of those synthesizers with the color charts on the keyboard and the rhythm section that plays by itself.” The synthesizer played a medley of old favorites while the lights flickered softly as if in response, and soon Schmecker was lulled into a deep sleep. When he awoke his house was gone, with only a slight indentation in the grass to show where it had once stood.

EXPLANATION: He was behind in the payments.

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Cumberland Theatre Is Making Waves!

By:

May 1st, 2006

This is a watershed year for Cumberland Theatre. After five years of performing in more than 17 venues around the city, we’ll finally have a home to call our own! As of May 20th, 2006, Cumberland Theatre will be setting up shop at the Barrington Street Bathhouse, the city’s former swimming pool complex! What some might see as an eviction notice, we choose to see as a brand new start.

Former patrons of the historic bathhouse will be happy to know that the city has agreed to clean the premises AND drain the pool at no extra charge, following last month’s unfortunate ritualistic suicide. But before they do, Cumberland Theatre will be opening the doors on May 10th for an orientation and pool party! Snacks and refreshments will be served courtesy of our very own treasurer, Phyllis Riley. Members and non-members alike are invited to attend as we celebrate a full seven months of “keeping our heads above water!” For those of you who recall last year’s Cumberland Jamboree, Phyllis has assured us that this time around her famous Chicken Treats will be cooked all the way through, “no doubt about it” (Sorry Mr. Johnson!)

We’ve learned a great deal in our five years of operations, particularly in some unexpected areas like arson and the dangers of working with untamed animals (Speedy recoveries Jeff and Tal!) We can’t wait to apply that knowledge to our new space. I think I speak for all of us here at C.T. when I say that the unique acoustic challenges of performing in a swimming pool is something we can’t wait to tackle headfirst (pun intended!)

Take the plunge with us into our new space. By renewing your $15 membership, you’ll not only be helping us in our move, you’ll also be helping us to pay off a certain lingering lawsuit. Although court orders prevent us from discussing the issue any further, let’s just say that all of our incoming directors will have to have AT LEAST two letters of recommendation, no matter how much their parole officer might vouch for them!

Best of all, you’ll be supporting great local theatre. We’ll be making the most of our space in the year ahead with a Titanic-sized line-up of nautical productions! Hold on to your bathing cap for presentations of Lifeboat, Old Man and the Sea, and our very own toe-tapping musical version of Heart of Darkness. If you like your theatre with a hint of chlorine in the air then you can’t possibly do better than the all new C.T.! I think Phyllis put it best when she said “We’re going to be like Seaworld, but without the whales.”

Your generous support has kept us afloat. Now the exciting part of the journey begins. Help us make a splash!

Dramatically yours,

Buddy Riggins

Buddy Riggins,

Artistic Director

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