Chapter 29. More bonus time!! 2007-2008
Old age is mostly reruns. In this eighth bonus year of my life, my public record needs only a few entries from my journal. First, a note about Hermes: some readers have inquired about my admiration (worship?) of this ancient pagan god. Why does an atheist have a household deity?
I do not “believe in” Hermes (Latin Mercury ) as most Christians, Jews and Muslims believe in their deities. When I salute Hermes, you can read LUCK. Hermes is my reification of the importance of LUCK in my life.
* * *
January, 2007. Watching the movie Billy Elliot, I am moved to tears that a cold father learned to show love for his son, despite the ugly struggles of a miners’ strike. I missed fatherly love in my childhood, and still feel the loss.
For four years now, I have shared the wisdom of the ancient playwright Sophocles, who gave up sex at 70, observing: At last I am free of a cruel and insane master. Sex certainly drove me to many a foolish risk. Yet, I got away with it.
On sunny days I go skiing in the park with Angus. On cold days I remain inside all day, chatting on the phone or watching TV. What a treasure trove of videos and DVDs the Toronto public library holds! And all free.
February. My son Peter visited. We shared a long intimate talk and at least five hugs. He seems a happy man. I told Peter again how much I admire the person he has become.
March. I shovelled snow three times today, with rest breaks. My energy is limited, my lung peak flow reading down to 450, and my mouth aches with abscess. I wonder if I should leave on May 24? (Hermes’ ancient holy day).
At a conference on gay aging, a fellow speaker explains why he has never had a lover: “I cannot depend on another for my happiness.” How terrible, to fear the risk of commitment.
March 24: Today I raked leaves in the garden, shut off the furnace, and started my fireplace. My snowdrops are blooming. Allan and his wife Jean are visiting overnight. I am so thankful for Allan’s friendship since 1952. “We are still on the same page and still respect each other.”
April. So peaceful to sit in my living room in darkness, with the fire going. It’s a year now since Chloe died. How I miss her.
I’ve discovered that my invention of “lovestyles” (1973) has a huge list of hits on Google.
May. Quakers have sent me a very touching card, signed by many, about concern for my health.
Bob J. picked me up in my old convertible and treated me to lunch in the Mill district. So kind! Today I cut up my old, much-repaired trip canoe and made it into memorials in the front and back gardens. Fifty-five years of wilderness canoeing now ended. I still have my solo canoe.
Johanna and I continue to have dinner together once a week, and chat on the phone every day. She is a loyal and caring friend.
May 24, 2007. Hermes’ day. I celebrated my life with champagne and decided to go on, as long as I am mobile and can keep my garden. One of my ad callers explained that he cannot eat dinner with me twice a week (my minimum demand) because he is too busy at work: “My life is not my own.” What a sad way to live.
June. So many smog days! I treated Bob J. to “an evening with Gore Vidal.” There were lots of old gay faces there, but Vidal said not one word about his gay life.
June 21. Summer solstice. Dear old Gerda and Dorothy (Quaker friends) came for lunch and enjoyed my roses in glorious bloom.
Pride Day but not for me. I canoed with Angus instead. Being gay is irrelevant to an old man. Though my eyes still enjoy male beauty my libido is silent. Yet I am not ready to choose death. Why not? Why am I still here?
As if the gods answered: on the Rouge River I dumped, and felt a great fright when Angus got trapped under the overturned canoe. A young man ran from the beach to help. Another narrow escape! I am lonely but still lucky.
Sunday July 1. Thirty years since the Canada Day at Hanlan’s Point when I met Dane. I sometimes think of contacting him, but what would we talk about? We have nothing in common except memories. We were lovers, never friends.
Jean accused me of sending her an anonymous letter about her skin. “When is the last time I ever did anything anonymously?” I asked.
I’ve been watching dozens of Johanna’s discarded videos, then burying them to shore up sunken paths in the garden. Won’t some future owner have fun?
Whenever I feel really low, there is someone else’s condition to remind me of my good fortune. Harold was supposed to come to dinner but has excused himself after two anxiety attacks today.
August. More than 100 interviews and still I cannot find someone reliable, who wants to live with me. Trying to enjoy Kairos alone is like one hand clapping. I’ve altered my ad to read: Are you good dinner company for a retired U of T prof?
As I pack for Peter’s cottage holiday, a defining moment: I do not want to travel any more. I want to sleep only in my own bed. That’s aging for you! Former housemate Robert drove me north and Allan Millard returned me home. At the cottage I slept in a gritty shed, but enjoyed fine times with Peter and his family, especially listening to Laura read a book well beyond her years.
During a canoe trip round the lake I asked Peter for the next convenient window when I could end my life. “In April, after my term ends.” Peter is a miracle, a son who befriends but also respects and honours his father.
74th birthday: thought experiment: If I died on my 73rd birthday, and came back now, what would I have regretted missing in the past year? In earlier years I’d have regretted missing Peter’s wedding, Tuscany, the Amazon, even meeting Markus, but in the past year, what?
September 21. Tonight, dinner by the first fall fire. Angus is always a cheerful wonder. I am lonely with my dog, but he is not lonely with me.
October. Little bits of good luck still bless me, like losing my keys, and finding them in a most unlikely place. I brought in nicotania plants so as not to lose the seed I got years ago from Timothy Findley’s Stone Orchard.
David, my grocer and the hardest-working man I know, came over for a drink. In this savage capitalist economy he is barely surviving.
November. While Johanna is in Europe, Bob J. has been calling me regularly to make sure I’m OK. Sweet. A good question on TV: How do we know when we are happy? One sure sign for me is to suddenly find myself humming a favourite tune.
The fireplace is so efficient it keeps the house at 18 Celsius when the outside temperature is 5C. A roaring fire is my elderly version of wilderness camping. Tonight I dined with my two delightful lesbian neighbours.
December. I am listening with great interest to the audio tapes of my six months of therapy in 1998. I just had a sentimental flashback to a high school job that lasted only two days. I was supposed to make the first string setting of piano boards in a factory, using tuning forks, My boss soon discovered I have no clear pitch. Yet I’ve enjoyed a lifetime of classical music.
Five inches of snow now decorate my garden. I shovelled the driveway, then skied down the street to the ravine.
While Johanna was here for dinner I had all the lighting effects on. What a joyful remnant of my training in architecture. How can I learn to take more joy from simply being in this lovely house?
Sunday December 16. (Written in a scrawled hand). I cleared a foot of new-fallen snow from the driveway, then set out to ski down the street. Suddenly my chest was in a visegrip of hot pain, which then shot down my left arm. I struggled indoors, called Johanna and then my lesbian neighbour. Fortunately both were available.
I also called Allan in Orillia. It was impossible for him to do anything but talk with me. (Roads impassible). “This may be goodbye” I said. Nausea racked me but I refused to call an ambulance. “I will not allow the doctors to take control.” Now pain pills have kicked in, and I’m going to sleep.
December 19: No entries for three days. I rested, ate little, fed the dog, and slept many hours. Lots more snow. Today my former roommate Robert arrived by surprise and shovelled my drive. He offered to be on call if I needed anything. I called my massage therapist to cancel my visit, and he also offered to come if I need him. Steven K brought dinner and stayed the night. Friends are so kind!
December 23. Today I climbed the stairs once too often, it seems, and felt an angina pectoris in chest and arm. I am certainly getting lots of warnings to prepare for my end.
December 24. Lionel picked me up, and we attended Quaker Dan’s potluck. Lionel brought me home. Sweet!
December 25. Johanna and I dined at Jean’s place with some of her neighbours and relatives. I was quite weak and fell asleep after eating.
New Year’s Eve. Johanna hosted dinner for Jean and I. Again I fell asleep in my chair.
Roger, my physician, after viewing my lab tests: Judging by your symptoms, I’m amazed you’re not dead. The question now is: How many more warnings will I get before I become incapacitated? Death would be fine, but if I lose my ability to end my own life, that would be the worst possible fate.
I am greatly satisfied with myself for resisting the temptation to call an ambulance. I now feel confident that I have the courage to go through with the final choice when I have to. I am also pleased that my dear friend Johanna did not urge me to get medical aid.
January 12. My longtime neighbour Pat Wenger sent over a superb dinner in a basket! Allan Millard stayed here overnight. After 53 years we are still on the same page.
January 22. Orson Wells: If you want a happy ending, that depends on when you stop your story. Tonight my lesbian neighbours brought over a delicious stew for my dinner.
I want to return these kindnesses by finding a housemate I can help, but without taking on too much stress. After 130 interviews, still no one suitable. Weird.
January 25. Relief; in fact to be honest good news. Dane (my long-time partner, 1977-91), is dead of AIDS. He lied, left me, and refused my offers of friendship. Worst of all, he was a living threat to Kairos. He was waiting for more money when I sold this house. But I did not sell. I have outlived a man who once loved me, then betrayed me. To celebrate, I created a lovely stained-glass box for Johanna, who is a true friend, absolutely loyal.
February 3. I actually feel well today. No pain for the first time in weeks. My luck still holds.
February 12. My massage therapist Richard here for dinner. He’s become a good friend. Peter is now phoning more often, bless him.
Irony: I am lucky Dane refused to stay in contact with me; I would have felt obliged to help him in his sick and dying days. Did he ever realize that his nastiness did me a favour?
February 24. I’m told that everyone enjoyed my presentation today to Quaker teens, about my convictions of atheism and evolution.
March 8. O blessed hands! From my early teens building a rec room at Oakwood, to the Langley renovation, and so on for many years, my hands have served me so well, and again today, creating a stained glass window for Peter and Lucy.
March 13. Downtown to meet Jean and take her to Canada Blooms for her birthday. By good fortune we met dear old Vince and Kathleen (1955) Tonight Abe called from Bali the other side of our planet and 7 am tomorrow!
March 21. Lionel surprised me by coming for dinner on his way to his country house. Very kind. Babysitting two-year old Serena while Rob and Ann went out, I was exhausted after five hours and glad to see them back. But I was successful; Serena hugged me goodbye.
March 31. Furnace off, fireplace started today, and my greenhouse. Two of my favourite spring rituals.
April 1. What a tragedy that humans can land a vehicle on Triton, moon of Saturn, but cannot manage our own planet sanely.
April 6. Good old Quaker Charlie here for dinner. He really likes me, and gave me a big hug.
April 10. If TV news does not remind me daily of the madness of the world, callers to my ad certainly do. Today a caller with no phone left his e-mail address. I asked Jo to reply, and he replied to her with actual threats. I won’t repeat this error.
April 12. Clipped Angus, who is much more cooperative in old age. Rob came over to study in the quiet here, and I went there to babysit, so Ann could go out. The greenhouse is now full with 18 trays and I’ve got 7 more in the bedrooms. Not bad for an old man with a dicky ticker.
April 17. Smog alerts have begun. Rob came to rebuild a fallen garden wall. He brought firewood too. Then Lionel came over to help. With the aid of friends, I am coping almost as well as before my heart attack.
April 22. Smog alert on “Earth Day!” Jeremy H helped in the garden. I watch many videos and live TV programs about the devastation of this lovely blue planet, but not one speaks a syllable about human overpopulation. Recently I had to leave the movie Up the Yangtze after an hour; it is so heartbreaking. But I enjoyed the great joke about a Chinese leader turning his limo right, “with the left indicator on.”
April 30. I’m having more mental lapses. Today I got a $30 ticket because I put the parking slip on the seat, not on the dash. Now I’m sitting on my deck in the quiet evening, as a fine rain descends. Perfect serenity. [Later the tag authority responded to my letter by returning my payment. A kindly bureaucrat, and another example of my frequent good luck].
May 5. Quaker Gordon called. I actually told him I am glad to be alive today. I can see why so many people want to believe in God; it’s less lonely. But for me, even plants are better company than most people. Some TV characters are great company, such as Michael Kitchen in Foyle’s War (BBC series). Like the soldiers who “made it” through the war and came home alive: I MADE IT THROUGH LIFE.
May 8. Sometimes I stumble dumped a whole tray of plants today. Went with Lionel to 10th anniversary of a gay youth group. No one spoke to me and I felt very out of place, but pleased that liberated gays can be so open and cheerful.
May 10. Alex and Andrew here for dinner very kindly. Peter called for a good chat. Lilac fragrance fills the garden air.
May 22. I’m constantly fighting off melancholy, using the methods of cognitive-behavioural therapy. Today I helped Bill E. cope with his anxieties. He is “stuck” in midlife and unsure where to go next. Bill was fulsome with his thanks. The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality.
May 24 HERMES DAY. I was planning to leave life today if I could not cope with the garden. But I have, so I will stay a little longer.
June 1. There’s an old song that says:
June 6. Steve K for dinner, and help on the roof. He may be interested in living here. A great 40-minute call from Peter. First rose of summer. Watched video, The Four Feathers , which I last saw at a cinema for 25 cents, at age 12. Wartime propaganda, but the subtext (showing courage without joining the army), had a lasting effect. “My son will never be the son of a soldier.”
June 12. I’m delighted to see how well mounted is the U of T exhibit of Queer Canlit. My 1964 poem, The Upper Room , is properly annotated both in the showcase of Pioneers, and in the catalogue.
June 16. Peter called for Fathers Day. Angus has just come for a cuddle.
June 24. Over dinner, Johanna said “I’m glad you are in my life.” I am deeply grateful that she is in mine.
June 25. Great lunch at Quaker Dorothy’s place. Lionel and Stephen here for dinner. Lionel encouraged Stephen to live here and cut his costs (he’s unemployed).
The wonder of a lifetime journal is proved again! Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, a story by Ambrose Bierce, affected me deeply when I saw the film many years ago. It got edited out of my website, like nine-tenths of my journals. Now I’ve seen the video, and I was able to find my first viewing in my journal books. I saw it with Franz in August, 1967, and recorded how I mentally encouraged the hanged man in his desperate struggle to enjoy every moment of life. Now, forty-one years later, I look back to my first impressions of Bierce’s story, and rejoice with Rilke that I have “lived life to the limit”
Canada Day, July 1. Always a memorable day for me, and it is again: Stephen called. He has decided to live here. At last I can cancel my ad, after 191 phone interviews and 29 in person. Another exhausting search is over.
July 4. Downtown to Fringe Festival for four plays, at my age!
July 13. Last winter I assumed I would never ride my bike again, but today I felt so well I went for an hour’s ride, with Angus. He was as thrilled as me. I guess I’m not quite ready yet for Edna St Vincent Millay’s poignant lines:
July 19. SMOG ALERT for three days now. Jo and Jean here for dinner, great talk. Jean freely admits she was “liberated” by my decision to be gay. She does not regret our marriage.
July 23. Robert Windrum of the Gay Archives here for dinner and a tour of the garden, and my art. I’m impressed he’s a real gentleman.
July 24. Steven K has moved in. A new adventure begins. Boxes everywhere but I’m not upset; age has mellowed me.
July 27. A serene bike ride with Angus in the park. Saw a memorial plaque: “The set of the sails and not the gales determines the way we go.” I note that “being organized” is not on my list of demands for a housemate. That’s a good thing. Anyway, I am organized enough for ten people.
July 30. Every gift is also a trap (Mauss). Steve moving in has bound me into staying alive longer. Reasons to enjoy living: my body is recovering well. I have great friends, a terrific son, a wondrously companionate dog, and now a housemate. I love my home, Kairos, and I have enough money. If I’m going to be here, what is there left worth doing?
August 7. My former housemate Rob E here for dinner and (I hope) helpful talk. He left in good spirits. Got a thrilling call from a former student: “ At the time I thought many of the things you said in class were impossible and weird . But with time, and not a lot of time, much has come true and is happening to me. I’ve read your website. I am inspired. Of all my profs you stand out, and I often think of you.”
August 8. Peter is here for a visit, and we’ve had some true I-Thou encounters. (Buber).
August 9. A great day with Peter. I am much impressed with his self-awareness, and his continued affection. We canoed, and gathered gooseberries. We constructed a doorway into the TV room. Working together was intensely reminiscent of our collaboration thirty years ago, renovating Logan House.
August 13. A sad day. Immigration has ordered Jeremy and his wife and children deported to the U.S. where he will face military prison. No one else at Quakers seems ready to act, so I must do something, though it deeply contradicts my gloomy view of the future of civilization. I guess the Gentiles who hid Jews in Nazi Europe must have felt the same need to defy all the omens of futility.
August 15. Peter, Lucy and my grandchildren, Laura and Alice, came for lunch, play, and drawing. They are fortunate to be such a happy family. Peter made a bemused offering to my shrine of Hermes, for sunny weather. A cottage is no fun in the rain, and this summer has had record rainfall.
August 18. I’m feeling postpartum blues after the high of Peter’s visit, but my luck still holds. En route to the park with Angus, a car came within six inches of hitting me broadside. Totally his fault. No wonder I dislike driving now. Coming home, I had this magical sensation of having lived for decades with a protective bubble around me Fates, Hermes, Guardian Angel, call it what you will. I’ve lived an adventurous life for 75 years, yet never suffered a broken bone or even a torn muscle.
August 19. I’ve begun to talk with other Quakers about civil disobedience if necessary, to prevent deportation of American war resisters. Various reactions, of course, and deep inner contradiction between my latter-year “Buddhist” detachment from public life, and my earlier militant activism. I got away with my defiance when I was young, with a lot to lose. Why should I hesitate now, at the end of life, with nothing to lose?
August 24. I don’t expect Peter to become “a believer” but when he phoned his birthday greetings I reminded him that he’s enjoyed a record this summer ten consecutive sunny days! Hermes = sheer good luck. A heartwarming birthday dinner with Johanna.
August 25. The beginning of my 76th year, so totally unexpected. My housemate Steven secretly organized a dinner party for my birthday and I really was surprised when guests arrived. What a wonderfully fortunate life I have lived.
September 4. Today I asked my new housemate why he has not installed himself. After two months. many boxes remain unpacked, stacked in his room and throughout the house. My question provoked a revelation: he’s been looking for another place ever since moving here. Why?
“Well, we are not a good match.” So he has played a charade of “housemate” when this was merely a temporary stopover. I growled: I agree with you. Please move by the end of September.
September 11. Today I joined my ex-wife Jean for a fine dinner to observe the fiftieth anniversary of our wedding – after 44 years of divorce. Wonderfully civilized !
September 15. The stench from Steven’s two pet rabbits is driving me crazy, and he has not begun packing. I encouraged him, by packing all his kitchen equipment in labelled boxes.
September 20. Relief; Steven is now packing boxes into his car. Twice he has left little “thank you” notes: “Hi John. I’ll be out soon. Thank you for your patient.” (sic).
September 22: As Steven carried belongings downstairs I reminded:“I need a day’s notice of your movers so I can clear the halls.” He replied “I’m not going to use movers. A friend with a van is coming to move my big stuff.” He continued to the lobby with his flat TV. Other electronic gear was already there.
Suddenly I had a hunch, and deadlocked the front door. “John, I can’t get the front door open.”
That’s right, Steven. I asked you several times to spare five minutes to talk about moving day. Now is a good time.
“I’m moving this afternoon.”
In that case, I want my money now.
Don’t be cute, Steven.
“I’m not paying.”
I threw up my hands in surrender, and unlocked the door.
With a triumphant smile he lugged the TV out to his car. Of course I promptly locked the door behind him. As he rang the bell wildly, I went out the (self-locking) back door and round to the front. He began to chide, but I cut him off: I’m not arguing with you. Tell your lawyer to talk to my lawyer. Then I put Angus in my car and left for the library.
He returned later. I went round the house again. Yes Steven?
“I’ve got the money.” He was holding a stack of ATM $20 bills. “How much do you want?”
I’ve told you already; you owe me $396.
“How about $300?”
Well, since you’ve had the good sense to get the money, I’ll settle for $350.
He handed me the cash, and left with a carload: “I’ll be back at 2 o’clock.”
I instantly phoned round to get a friend to be with me when Steven returned. Even at the college, I’ve found that a potentially explosive confrontation can be calmed if a neutral third party is present. Alex proved his loyalty:“I’ll be over before 2.”
Steven returned alone, driving a U-Haul van. He was polite once he saw Alex, and loaded the van with everything he could carry. At 5 pm. his friend arrived to help. At 7 pm Steven came to us at dinner: “I’m going now.”
Goodbye, and good luck.
“But I don’t have a bed yet in my new place, so I’ll be back later to sleep here.”
No, Steven. You can sleep with your friends. You are finished here. (End of Journal 49).
September 26. Allan stayed overnight. What a great comfort!
September 30. This was a stressful month, but now I relax by my beloved fireplace, recalling joyful years of campfires. Lionel, concerned for my psychological survival, is now calling almost daily.
October 15. Charlie called to say the Quaker ad hoc committee I initiated on sanctuary wants me to halt release of publicity previously agreed on. I composed a protest, quoting Bonhoffer’s famous dictum about a train heading in the wrong direction, and sent it to twenty Friends.
October 17. Rob came to prune my cedars. I worked too hard; my heart is pounding.
October 20. Now my mouth is roaring with pain. Over dinner with Johanna, I cautiously warned that I want to die soon. I’ve discovered a website by one Professor Sibulkin of Brown University: (Geocities. com/empmor/termination). He argues that a rational person should recognize when life’s balance of pleasure and pain has tipped irreversibly past one’s “termination point.” For me, that “T point” was my heart attack last December. I knew it subconsciously at the time. I did not call an ambulance.
I’ve written Peter a long letter, suggesting he look at the website. I’ve directed Allan to it, and learned that he can be with me between November 18 and 20th if I want to terminate.
October 24. One can only be certain of an optimal time by retroactive calculation. For example, you can be sure you sold your house for the best price, with the market at peak, if the market falls soon after, and continues to fall. I have carefully reviewed my 2008 journal to date, and found that unhappiness and pain have strongly outweighed the pleasures of this year. December 16, 2007 was probably my optimal time to die.
October 28. At the Quaker ad hoc meeting at Tartu, only Judy Gilbert took my protest letter seriously. I have been solitary among Friends for many years. Perhaps it is time to resign.
One last hurdle in choosing to die: I hate to kill a plant that is still in flower, so how can I kill Angus, who is still a cheerful friend? Angus , by the way, is the name of the Celtic God of love.
October 31. Planted more than 100 bulbs, so Kairos can be beautiful next spring.
November 3. My son Peter phoned from Pittsburgh; he has looked at the Sibulkin website. He urged me to postpone action until he has one last visit, at the end of his college term. His voice was very loving.
November 6. Since I can’t act yet, I’ve seen a dental surgeon. My dear friend Lawrence accompanied me. The surgeon agreed with my dentist that there is little to be done about my teeth and gums. They are the legacy of childhood malnutrition.
November 8. A magnificent triple-bloom rose on a six-foot stem brings my 2008 garden to a close. Ex-housemate Rob has been very generous with help in preparing Kairos for winter.
November 15. A month ago, when I planned to terminate, I arranged one last glorious art event with Jean -- a ballet at the new opera house. We splurged on front orchestra seats --$168 each! Today we enjoyed the event immensely. “A very special day,” Jean said. Me: Yes, it’s too bad it can’t be my finale. Now I have to arrange something else.
November 23. Angus seems to feel my loneliness and comes to comfort.
December 4. I’ve completely recovered the old couch with new fabric over the past ten days. It looks great. Had a long kindly chat with F/friend Dorothy. Installed coloured lights for Hermes and Kairos--a sweet annual ritual.
December 10. To a great film with Lionel, about the love of Don and Christopher Isherwood.
December 13. Peter is here. We’ve had a most amazing day exceeding any possible expectation. He understands that this is probably the last time he will see me alive, and has shown great affection. Johanna joined us for lunch and we talked about coordinating their joint execution of my estate. I went through the Executor Kit I have prepared, step by step. Later Peter and I sorted trays of old slides, choosing those of his childhood to take back to England.
Peter was wonderfully transparent about his feelings, and his lack of close friends. We talked about how this could be changed.
December 15. A truly miraculous weekend is over. Leaving for the airport, Peter gave me two great hugs and said:“It’s been wonderful to know you.”
This has been my most intense emotional experience since Dane left, and ironically, has turned 2008 into a positive year. I no longer have a clear sense of my T-point. I hope our encounter has helped Peter too,
December 18. Johanna has left for Brazil. I’ve asked Lionel to stay in daily contact while she is gone. [He kept his word].
December 24. Yesterday Lionel came for dinner then drove us to a Moliere play; tonight he drove us to a Quaker potluck.
December 25. A fine dinner in the McIntosh family tradition with Jean and her relatives.
December 28. Rob and Ann here for dinner. It was a most unusual day -- no pain at all for the past 24 hours. [That didn’t last long].
December 30. Abe took me to lunch then to a movie, The Reader. Very kind.
December 31. To complete the year I washed and clipped my dear friend Angus, then chortled at the very last Air Farce. Thirty-five years ended! Stuart called for a fine chat.
I have lived a glorious life, but why am I still here?
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