So every now and then I dig back into my photo archives from the high school days, looking for reference material for A Coming Out Story. It’s the little things, like how the doorways were and the tile on the walls next to the floors. How those old metal desks looked, and the desk/chairs for students. How the window frames looked. Stuff like that. And as I go through the photos looking for reference material, I also see stuff that I think would be fun to share on our high school Facebook page. So periodically that page gets a photo dump from me.
And then the real fun starts, when my classmates start chiming in about who’s in the shots, and various memories start happening. And what really strikes me almost every time is hearing about who was dating, or had a crush on who, because I was such an oblivious little nerd back then. And I read things and my jaw drops, but in a fun way.
Part of the story I’m telling in ACOS is how unaware I was of what was happening to my peers, hormone wise, because I was so unaware of what was going on with me. In episodes 17, 18 and 19 I tried to describe why that was, how the awful sex ed class I had in junior high filled my head with so much ignorant junk about gay people that I became convinced that I couldn’t possibly be that, even as I was crushing massively on a classmate.
Just a little while ago one of my classmates posted a comment on one of my photos about how she got butterflies whenever she saw one of the guys in that shot. That would happen to me too, whenever I caught sight of the object of my affections. But thanks to that sex ed class, and the relentless stream of abuse hurled at gay people in the popular culture, I could never really see that for what it was. I know that’s probably hard to believe, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m doing my story.
So I spent most of my teen years absolutely hating the whole idea of dating and everything to do with high school romance. And whenever the topic came up I did what I learned so well how to do in Vacation Bible School…I tuned it out and disappeared into my own private thoughts about something, anything, else. Now at least I get to finally see what was going on with my classmates back then, even if it’s 45 years after the fact. It’s kinda fun in a way, to almost feel like I’m walking those halls once again with them, but this time not quite so completely oblivious.
Eventually, almost at the last minute of my school days, I woke up to it. This December 15th would make it 45 years since that moment when I finally had to admit to myself what I was feeling. And luckily it didn’t destroy me like it did so many other gay guys of my generation. Because I was in love and it felt like the most wonderful thing in the world. It was stunning. It was magical. And I knew right then and there that everything my gym teachers had said about gays in that sex ed class was bullsh*t.
There’s a well known line in Brokeback Mountain, where Jack Twist tells Ennis Del Mar I wish I knew how to quit you! It’s kinda sad actually that this one line is all most folks know because that entire scene is a good read, if painful for some of us gay guys of a certain age. But poor Jack just needed to use a little imagination on the problem. Quitting someone is easy. You just find the right button and you push it and then he quits you. Problem solved.
This came across my Facebook news feed yesterday…
Heck…I did it in five: Did you really get jealous?
Yeah he did. Or something like it. It was a pattern with him by then. I’d come visit and he’d get all cranky if I was paying more attention to the other guests than to him. Once I told him I would leave him alone that visit because he’d said previously that he was too busy to chat anyway. So I left him alone that visit, but decided at the last minute to at least go say a quick goodbye. We would always say goodbye. He’d tell me to have a safe trip home. But that time when he saw me standing in the doorway he gave me a cold stare…twice. When I asked later what he was angry about he claimed he never saw me standing there. But someone else was reading those emails by then and that was the other problem that had developed. So who knows who he was actually talking to. It was becoming suffocating. But I am no Jack Twist.
That day it was a co-worker who was going to take the big American road trip when his tour of duty was over, so I spent a bunch of time showing him my road trip photos and giving him tips on places to visit. Next thing I know a certain someone is getting all irritated and angry faced and finally he ducks out without even saying goodbye like he always does and even his co-worker is mystified by his behavior.
And I had enough.
Lessee…which button…there are So Many to choose from…ah…that’s the one… So I spoke of things I wasn’t allowed to, but here on my blog which he always said he never reads, and he read it right away like I figured he would and he got even more cranky like I knew he would and we finally had the break up fight we should have had back in high school because it just wasn’t a good fit. I won’t be controlled like that and he still wants to have his cake and eat it too.
In a manner of speaking.
But no. Get yourself out of your own fixes. Nobody rides for free.
Nobody rides for free.
Nobody rides for free.
Sorry if this spoils A Coming Out Story for some of you folks still hanging in there waiting for updates. But I am still determined to carry it through to the end, because there’s something there that needs to be told about how us gay kids were treated back then, and how for some of us it will always be a time before Stonewall. And I promise to keep the sense of humor and perspective that I started it with. I began that cartoon story years before I found him again, and it was basically a story I was telling myself to help me make sense of what had happened back then and how it became a part of me and made me what I am now. Nothing about any of that really has changed other than I know how it ends now and I didn’t when I started it. So stay tuned, there is a new episode and mini story arc coming soon.
If Facebook is good for nothing else, it keeps your memories from being gaslighted pretty damn well…
Funny how so many of my gay male rites of passage revolve around a certain someone. I didn’t say at the time who it was that called me that, but it didn’t occur to me at the time to wonder why he would occasionally lapse into gay guy talk so easily around me.
This graph I saw just now on Facebook says it all. Mostly.
Why I blog.
I don’t get interrupted in the middle of answering a question or explaining something.
I don’t get told to make it brief. I can make it as long or as short as I feel it needs to be.
I can think about what I want to say, write it out, and then tweak it until I’m satisfied with it.
I can put it out there and not have to worry about what people actually understand; because some will and some won’t but either way I got it out there and I’m happy with it. (This also applies to my artwork and photography)
People who think I’m over verbose or don’t like what I have to say don’t have to read my blog. Unlike how Facebook and Twitter decide what you will see in your newsfeed or tweet stream, you actually have to go visit my website to read my blog. It’s an active not a passive activity. So if my words are not to your liking then you can completely ignore my blog and be welcome. There are cats and Willy Wonka memes out there you probably haven’t seen yet.
It gives me a record of my life and thoughts I can look back on to better understand where I’ve been and where I am now.
Another reason I blog: It’s taken me decades to claw my way out of the shell I left Jr. High School in due to bullying, plus that closet those of us who were growing up gay in the late 60s and early 70s inevitably shut ourselves into. And while I’m still not the free and cheerful kid I once was I’m better at just being Me now than I’ve been since I was a teenager. But some days when it feels like I’m being shoved back into that cocoon again for various professional and personal reasons, I know I can always turn to my blog, and my artwork, and get it out one way or another. This is how some of us, who’ve never found our significant other, computer nerds mostly I reckon, cope with trying to be understood.
I’ve said here before, this is a life blog. That’s something blogs just were before they became a media for political expression. Nowadays there are probably as many blogs out there as reasons people blog. Facebook, Twitter and other social media have cut into what was for a while a vibrant blog culture based around blogrolls and readers, but for those of us who have a need to get it out there in our own voices blogging is still an ongoing thing. Just recently a writer I follow, Jim Wright, had a post he put up on Facebook taken off after some unknown jackasses complained about it. The post in question was a heartfelt and angry reflection on the anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, so you can see why it might not have been to everyone’s liking. But Wright is a thoroughly decent man, a retired US Navy Chief Warrant Officer and he knows how to make himself clear even to nitwits. Eventually Facebook put it back up and apologized, but you could always read it on his personal website,Stonekettle Station. This is why it’s a good thing blogs are still out here.
Facebook likes to throw these little “See Your Memories” things onto your news page. They can be fun…like all those memories of past road trips…or they can be achingly bad…like the bleeding painful posts I left when Claudia got run over. This one came up a few days ago…
A certain someone who works there, whose nickname I will not speak (Hi!), had urged me to come down after I told him I wasn’t much interested in theme parks. We were having one of our hour+ long phone conversations. I was all about the road trip I told him. Just the year previously I’d written in a blog post “My favorite form of vacation is to just throw my maps and my cameras and my luggage in the car and just drive. I love taking long cross-country road trips.” “Come on man,” he said, “it’s your heritage. Baseball, Apple Pie and Mickey Mouse. What’s wrong with you?”
So it was that 7 years ago I checked in to Walt Disney World for the very first time. I wanted to see him again after all those years, but I was also very intensely curious about this second of the great Walt Disney theme parks Walt Disney created, or at least envisioned before cigarettes killed him: what eventually came to be was not the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow that he’d imagined.
Even so, it is huge…absolutely huge. I was feeling overwhelmed the moment I drove through those Mickey Mouse gates. But I’d done my research, and bought tickets with the park hopper option so I could wander around like I knew I was going to want to. Several years later while at a private Gay Days party at Typhoon Lagoon I discovered how much fun the water parks are. I’ve had the deluxe annual pass ever since. Then three years ago I rented someone’s DVC points and stayed at Boardwalk and before that vacation was even over I’d joined DVC.
And so it was, and so it is. I’m old enough to remember watching Wonderful World of Color when Walt Disney was still alive, and the moment I walked into Epcot it all came back to me, and I’ve been returning every year since. For a while back in March (Hi Thomas!) I figured my stays there were at an end. But A Certain Someone was right after all…it is my heritage. And more than that…it’s my reminder of that future I looked toward back when I was a kid. I’d forgotten how much of that was crafted by Walt Disney. I’d forgotten how much of a Disney kid I really was. He had one foot in Main Street USA and the other in Tomorrowland. People forget that about him. In a time when one of our two major parties turns itself into the party of white supremacy, threaten the foundations of the republic, and a Donald Trump can be in reach of sitting in the oval office with the nuclear button close by, I really need that reminder of the human status.
I have a job now helping to build that future. And Reckon I will probably keep making the trip to Walt’s World for as long as I can.
I’ve seen some Facebook posts lately that friends should not “defriend” friends over mere political disagreements. Well…okay… But mere political disagreements are not always as mere as they seem.
I once had someone in my friends list over there who I’d known for many years. We worked together back in the day and then went our separate ways, only to find each other once again on the social media pastures. I’d always thought of him as a nice guy, basically decent, thoughtful, intelligent, even though his taste in newspapers tilted toward the Murdoch zone. I felt it was something I could just let slide. It lasted all the way up to the riots in Baltimore over the Freddy Gray verdict, when I saw him venting that maybe closing the city food banks would teach them a lesson. And in the next instant he was off my friends list. No warning, no theatrical unfriending announcement given. I pushed the button and that was that.
I appreciate that we Americans need to talk to each other about the issues. I appreciate that if we can’t talk to each other nothing can get done. But there are limits to the scope of that discussion. If your idea of justice is taking food out of the mouths of poor people and their families well then I hope the ghosts come to visit you Mr. Scrooge and I hope you learn from the lessons they teach, but I want nothing more to do with you. Because “friend” is more than a line item on a social media list of names, it’s a connection…between mutual souls of a kind, birds of a feather, cut from the same cloth, comrades…and you just told me we are not that at all.
I was 17, and me and mom were in her car fleeing westward to California and the half of my family tree I’d never seen, and never known. I won’t go into the details of the family tensions at that moment, just that they were huge and mom was making a heroic effort to keep them away from me. She felt it was time for me to get to know my father. And in truth, she still loved him very much. All I knew was I was born in California, and it had called to me my entire life. I ached to be there. Now, hopefully I would finally walk its ground and see the people who were the other half of my bloodline.
I’d had my driver’s license by then. I was driving, mom was resting in the front seat beside me, it was night and we were on the interstate driving through Ohio, into the darkness beyond the headlights, driving to whatever was ahead. I had the radio on. In those days the radio was all you had to keep you company on the highway. The radio stations faded in and then faded out as the miles passed. I had a classical music station tuned in. This began playing.
Somehow, it just captured my emotional state just then. It was as if the composer wrote it just for me, just for that moment, driving from one world I knew, into an unknown one. Fleeing the relentless iron grip of one, but into what?
As soon as I could I began searching for this music. All I heard from the radio was “…Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra…” Eventually I learned the name of the composer. He was a Russian…Dmitri Shostakovitch. And it was his first symphony, as performed by the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra. I later learned he composed it when he himself was a teenager. I have always imagined listening to it, that this was his statement on coming of age, and finding himself in a country where the artist’s only duty was to the State. Somehow, raised in a rigidly authoritarian faith that was nothing like the state imposed atheism of the Soviets, and yet everything like it, I could relate. The Man was a soul sucking bastard whichever side of the iron curtain you were on.
This is intense, amazing music. It aches. It burns. It is sarcastic, ironic, broken hearted and proud and defiant. Shostakovitch became my musical companion through the rest of my adolescence and young adulthood. He went on to compose 15 symphonies, all of them masterpieces of 20th century music. And his music never lost that bitter, ironic, defiant bite. His 8th symphony, composed during the siege of Leningrad is the most perfect expression of the soul crushing inhumanity of war I have ever listened to. (Get the version by Kyril Kondrashin and the Moscow Philharmonic.) Later, I discovered Vaughan-Williams and Rachmaninoff. They speak to my heart in a different, more settled and romantic way. But some days I dig into my collection of Shostakovitch because nobody expresses this feeling of bitter, laughing resolve better, and especially the piece he composed while a teenager, in Joseph Stalin’s Russia.
Note: only the Russian conductors seem to really understand Shostakovitch, and especially this piece.
Some days I read something in the news and it angers me or depresses me but my vision of the human status withstands it and I put it somewhere it belongs, filed away in some sort of hierarchy of categories of bad things which are outweighed by the good and beautiful things, and I carry on. But some days, like today, I read something that so profoundly disturbs and depresses me that I just can’t. I won’t say which story it was but it really did me in. I really don’t like staring into that Pit. I really don’t like losing my sense of the human status. But this afternoon I did.
So a someone or someones did something truly evil, and against the advice of some inner voice telling me to beware I read the entire account. And it leaves me without any inner resources. I just can’t come to terms with it. I can’t find some place to put it where it makes any sense in the grand scheme of things. I can’t help imagining myself seeing these events unfolding, over and over again in my mind’s eye, and being shocked and horrified over and over and over. Wishing, imagining, I could have done something to prevent it. Knowing, logically and rationally there is nothing to be done for it. Oh yes, we can bring the perpetrator(s) to justice…sort of. Guilt can be pronounced, verdicts read, sentences handed down. But what of it? How do you punish crime that is so utterly beyond the pale that no amount of retribution can ever adequately punish the guilty? Death sentence? Maybe if you believe in hell. I don’t. As far as I can tell, death removes the possibility of punishment entirely. Oh you can argue that at least the dead won’t reoffend. Yes, but they feel no pain either. It’s the living that feel it. And will, always. Life in a torture chamber? Leave aside that torture dehumanizes both the victim and the torturer together, reason enough to turn away from it, the fact is you just can’t do that to a flesh and blood human being for very long without the human eventually succumbing to madness or death, and so release from punishment happens anyway. The bitter fact is the guilty go free eventually, the living never.
But even if it were not so, what would a perfectly tailored punishment for such crimes really accomplish? Really? The dead do not return to us. Their last moments will always be what they were. None of it can be erased. Punishment is irrelevant. There is only prevention, and even that is hard to come by. Jail yes, but is that ever a sure thing? Parole, forgiveness, rehabilitation…some people will always be a danger, and some crimes telegraph that fact with certainty. And yet they can and often do go free, to kill again. Death penalty would surely prevent at least that much, but an institutionalized death penalty is bound to catch an innocent in its wake, and then it commits exactly the crime against humanity it stands to avenge. Then what? And if torture degrades the human soul, what of institutionalizing deliberate killing. George Will, whose conscience I have little regard for, wrote once that while some people see a death penalty as addressing the deepening coarseness of human behavior, others see it as encouraging it. So it turns out that even punishment can turn on us, dig us deeper into the Pit the initial crime threw us into.
The despairing truth is some crimes against humanity can never be adequately punished. The darker dismal truth is they can’t even be prevented always. I heard it said once, during a retelling of crimes of the Holocaust, that evil sometimes gets its turn at bat, and hits a good one. And you can’t stop it from happening. You come to realize that evil leaves scars in the world that just don’t heal. And then you find yourself wondering if all the good humanity is capable of actually really does outweigh the bad. You find yourself tarrying with misanthropy. Surprising considering the work I do, the thing I participate in every working day. I’m on the long walk into old age now, and that is not what I want to become. But age has its way with you. It’s not the lines in my face that worry me, so much as the lines in my heart.
I’d tentatively planned to take a wee road trip up into Pennsylvania this holiday weekend, but the hurricane is getting in the way of that. As I write this it looks like central Maryland won’t take a direct hit like it was looking earlier, but the thing is now predicted to stall off the Jersey coast and dump tons of rain, mostly on the coast, but also it seems, here in Charm City. So instead of a road trip, I’m going to stay home and pretend for three days to be a working artist. No seriously, I’m going to put my nose to the grindstone on some projects I have going, including the next two episodes of A Coming Out Story, and try to make some progress. I also have a fun thing about how visits to the doctor get creepier the older you get I’ve been plinking with off and on for way too long. It’s a stand alone strip I am thinking about submitting somewhere, most likely to a gay comic if I can find one taking submissions from unknowns. Paul Cameron makes a cameo appearance.
I’m also hoping to get some time in with my oil paints…
But mostly I’m really needing to make some progress on A Coming Out Story. There are fun things to come, if I can just get past the current block. So when I get up tomorrow I’m going to start my day as if I’d been doing this for a living all my life.
And because…deep down inside…I’m really hurting. And the more it hurts, the more I need to go find that life I dreamed of first, when the world was new and everything seemed possible.
A blogger I gained some measure of unexpected respect for, when he turned around from being a supporter of forcing teenagers into ex-gay therapy to being in opposition when confronted by the evidence of what it was actually doing to those kids, wrote a brief-ish blog post critical of this new paper (he called it a study that isn’t a study and you may notice I’m not calling it a study either because it isn’t) asserting that there is no scientific evidence that gay folk are born not made, but seemingly agreeing, or at least he quotes someone who agrees with, the conclusion that “social stigma” is an insufficient cause for the higher than average mental health issues gay people in general experience.
I would like anyone who thinks you can bundle the stresses imposed on gay people, and in particular on gay kids, into a tidy little package labeled “social stigma” to take a step back and appreciate just how hard it is to grow up gay, even these days, let alone try to live a whole and happy life as a gay adult. It isn’t just “social”, it’s “family”. The stories I’ve heard from other gay people about growing up in a unsupportive family environment, let alone a hostile one, would make a brick cry, if not a fundamentalist. Here’s one from my own past I’ve posted about before…
Perhaps we were just not right for each other after all. The hard lesson to learn about love is you can find someone who is just right for you, who seems to complete you in all the places you never even knew were empty, until you met that one person, saw them smile into your eyes. And yet even so you may not be right for them. They may have a completely opposite feeling about you. Ask me how I know this. Perhaps we were not right for each other.
Or perhaps it was something he told me one night as we lay together, in a very quiet, emotionless voice. About the day he came out to his parents. About how the next morning before dawn his father had gone into the household office, fired up the computer, and created a brochure filled with verses condemning homosexuality and what God does to nations that tolerate that which is an abomination in His eyes. About how his father printed up dozens and dozens of copies of the brochure and as the sun rose, walked around their neighborhood and put one in every door of every house, for blocks around. Then he told his son what he had done.
I ended that one with these words…please pay attention: What gay people know is this: strangers can beat you, can take your life away from you, but only family can chew your heart up, and spit it back out.
You can’t write “social stigma” on that knife to the heart and say you understand anything about how deeply it cuts.
Anti-equality organizations are enthusiastically promoting a new study on sexual orientation and gender, hoping it will be new culture war ammunition.
The study by Dr. Lawrence Mayer and Dr. Paul McHugh appears in “The New Atlantis,” a journal co-published by the right-wing Ethics and Public Policy Center and the Center for the Study of Technology and Science, which shares an address with EPPC. The New Atlantis is not a peer-reviewed journal, and has critiqued peer review, widely considered the gold standard in scientific publishing.
I first caught wind of this from a headline on a religious right website that appeared in my Google news page. I did a search to see what I could find out about it. There wasn’t much at that point, and I got less than a page of hits back. But Every Single One was to a religious right website, or a political website deeply aligned with the religious right.
That’s telling. A real science paper will appear first in the science journals and then percolate out from there into the commercial press depending on the popular interest in its topic. But for some time now what we’ve seen is that junk science from the anti-gay industrial complex first hits some right wing vanity publication with a sciencey sounding name, or a small journal easily compromised by a big right wing foundation with buckets of money, and at the same exact time it also hits one or more of the big players in the religious right echo chamber, and from there it spreads; first via the usual suspects like World News Daily, and talk radio, and then into the commercial press when it smells a controversy. That was the pattern with the Mark Regnerus paper on children (allegedly but actually not) raised by same sex couples. What this is telling you is that the paper is part of an orchestrated campaign. Real science doesn’t work like that. Religious right junk science only works like that.
I haven’t read the paper yet, but the press releases say it makes two basic points. You need to understand that both of these points are actually long standing religious right anti-gay tropes: First, that there is no evidence that a homosexual orientation is innate at birth…Second, that social stigma does not account for how mentally unstable homosexuals are. These have both been a part of the homophobe chorus since at least the 1970s.
The first simply digs in its heels and refuses to accept any of the mountains of evidence that sexual orientation is innate, at least in part if not wholly genetically determined, and cannot be changed through any kind of therapy. And that, as I read the first wave of reviews, is what this paper does, although it seems to acknowledge that the twins study does indicate a genetic “predisposition”, but that is homophobe doublespeak. The dogma is homosexuality is a perverse sexual addiction that people are either lured into or fall into through godlessness, bad habits and low morals, and which they can always choose to not act on. These arguments quickly start sounding like arguments about creationism versus evolution, and that is no coincidence. It is the same exact mindset.
The second point the paper makes neatly dovetails with the idea that homosexuality is a mental illness and removing it from the list of known mental illnesses only happened because militant homosexuals pressured the psychiatric profession into it. This knife in the back mythology as to how the understanding of homosexuality and sexual orientation evolved and changed among social scientists and professionals has a long, long history, and it is a foundational belief among the few still practicing reparative therapy like Joseph Nicolosi and his organization NARTH.
Which makes the smarmy dedication Lawrence Mayer places at the beginning of the paper he co-authored all the more loathsome…
In his preface, co-author Mayer dedicates his work to the LGBT community, “which bears a disproportionate rate of mental health problems compared the population as a whole,” and to “scholars doing impartial research on topics of public controversy.” He declares himself a supporter of equality and opponent of anti-LGBT discrimination.
You have never had spit flung in your face so sweetly. This bullshit about being an LGBT supporter is also one with a long pedigree, going back to every 1950s movie with a sick and pathetic faggot character and a plea for sympathy for the mentally ill…
“And here I was and I couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t stop. I thought if I could have just one night, I could get it out of my system. Just one more time…”
We should not be cruel to these poor sick creatures, they can’t help themselves… But to say you disagree with abusing the mentally ill is not to say you are supportive of LGBT people, let alone our civil rights, let alone the pursuit of science. There is nothing wrong with us. The science has been demonstrating that for decades now. If you can’t see that it’s because you are not interested in the science.
Which the two men who wrote this paper manifestly are not. They did not publish in a respected peer reviewed journal but in a right wing vanity publication in tandem with what was clearly a prepublication publicity campaign in the religious right echo chamber. That is not how science works.
But it’s how the kultar kampf is waged in the kook pews. There is a pattern to this that is becoming routine. A new paper is published in some science publication nobody has ever heard of before, that refutes the last 50 years of research on homosexuality and sexual orientation. The echo chamber picks up on it and next thing you know the entire religious right is trumpeting this new research that proves homosexuality is a cancer on society, or at the very least a tragic mental illness a civilized society should find a cure for, but certainly not grant special rights to. From there it moves into the popular press, and suddenly it’s in all the papers and news broadcasts.
Now it starts getting the critical attention it had been avoiding in the vanity press. But no matter that: critical attention always lags behind that first exuberant wave of publicity. Debunking takes time, and usually demands the attention of the reader more than the initial sound bite headlines the paper has already generated. So several news cycles, maybe even a year can go by before the debunking takes hold. In the meantime the homophobes have the stage practically all to themselves. This is what happened with the Regnerus study.
And then…it stops. The sails lose their wind. The curtain is drawn back. The lies are exposed. The commercial press moves on. Gay folk and our allies learn how to debunk the latest round of religious right junk science. The public conversation turns away from the latest faux controversy…
…and the haters duck back into the shadows…back into the echo chamber…repeating the same lies to themselves over and over…embellishing them even…holding onto them as long established truths that no amount of fact checking can touch…because in the gutter the only facts that matter are the ones prejudice and hate tell them that matter…
Soon there will be a new study…another paper…another round of it to go with the human gutter. Ask the Jews how long they’ve been dealing with it. Ask your black neighbors. Ask any hated minority. They say love always wins. Perhaps. But hate never gives up. Because it has nothing else.
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