Rocks from the Moon – 20 Years’ Worth

 

moon-collision-amnh

This is one of those “gotta use words” moments.

Today marks a 20 year anniversary of not drinking. It’s a big milestone for  me (and I don’t know if I’ll get another quite so significant).

I’ve not been the best member of the group that helped me so much initially (A.A.) , but they’ve never left my consciousness. Every day, there is a chance to use what I heard and learned there.
I was fastidious about going to meetings the first five years. 3 a week, a weekly meeting with my sponsor every Saturday morning for breakfast.
Aside from taking a daily job out of town which all but prohibited attendance (excuses, excuses), I found myself drawn to another path, another life line. That was Tibetan Buddhism.

 Dzogchen tantra
I was surprised to find out how much A.A. and the basic, beginning, practices of Buddhism had in common.
There was a common surrendering or “taking refuge” decision that had to be made. And maintained.
When I asked my teacher at the Buddhist temple about what to do about a “higher power” (a necessity in A.A. which often takes the form of your version of God, Supreme Being, or just something bigger than yourself), he said “pray to your intuition”.
You have to keep in mind that teachings and guidance from a Buddhist teacher are very specific to the student and for someone else might have been quite different (maybe more concrete!?)

Over the last two decades, many aspects of my life rose and fell, went to hell and came back. I managed to stay off the drink, but found that was no guarantee everything was going to be smooth sailing.

I’m reminded of a documentary I saw about Ron Sexsmith  (“Love Shines”) in which Steve Earle says (snipped a bit):

“I think melancholy and despair are both components of the blues. You know, at the opposite, dark, deep end of the blues is despair. And, you know, you can’t stay there. Its just, we’re not constructed to stay there. Melancholy can be befriended and be tamed and can be harnessed. For artists, the advantage that we have is that beauty comes out of our melancholy and even our despair. But you have to be able to bring the rocks back from the moon… or nobody knows that you were there.”

The Loneliest Place on Earth

I think that if there was anything big to learn from 20 years of sobriety, it would be a sense of obligation to report honestly on the dark places you can get into – and then let others in the same boat know that there is a coming back. For those lucky enough to never have gone there, one can make an attempt to describe and explain what it’s like. In my experience, this is never completely achievable.

At this point, there’s not much in this world that really gets me going. This world has its laws and rules and mechanisms for “success.” There are only so many combinations of sinking balls on a pool table.

Success can be measured, reasoned out, and measured again. Your life’s report card may be money, status, power, love life, artistic acclaim. To me, they all seem like a distraction or a way to get high.
Which doesn’t mean to imply I that I don’t need a bit of those things to get by. Render unto Caesar and all that.
It’s just that I don’t put a lot of value on them. They’re impermanent and there is no solid ground, really.

I’ve got 20 years worth of moon rocks. Not all are fit for public consumption. It’s been a roller coaster ride. Neither the ups or the downs are to be taken too seriously.

So, I’ve been asked “how do I feel, 20 years on?” The answer: better.
Mostly, so very grateful to those who have always been around to support me. Thank you.

dave_ricelake

It’s the only game you win by giving up.

Today’s Listening:

1. On the Cool Side by Ben Sidran fr: “On the Cool Side”
2. Cotton by The Mountain Goats fr: “We Shall All Be Healed”
3. Wind by Circus Maximus fr: “Circus Maximus”
4. Ghost Town / Poem for Eva by Bill Frisell fr: “Ghost Town”

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FIFA Flags – Watch THIS, Spot.

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I had a chance to see the Argentina/Netherlands Word Cup football/soccer game last Wednesday. It was the first one I’d ever seen.

And what a great way for a non-sports fan like me to watch it. I was visiting a friend in the country, far away from the choked streets teeming with FIFA Galactic Cruisers and their horns and flags. Nightmare stuff for me.

 Fifa car traffic st clair

There were large glass doors beside the television where I could look out and take in a bucolic view of trees and fields and chickens and hummingbirds. Lovely evening.

The game itself didn’t hook me but I found it kind of useful.

It let me slip into some day-dreaming about the FIFA fans and their unabashed promotion of their favourite teams. All those whipping flags on all those little cars a-wavin’ in their exhaust. The horns honking as if their Honda Civics all had Tourrette’s Syndrome.

 Fifa car flag st clair

Let me tell you, I have no interest in football/soccer.
I do have an interest in other people being interested.

Fifa streetcar 

And here is the crux of the business: I was experiencing what Kenneth Burke called “Perspective by Incongruity”.

In brief: You put together two things that don’t normally belong together and you get an enriched perspective of the two elements

The Mona Lisa framed in potato peelings. Foreground and background.

So while the TV was blasting out the game, my attention was drifting out the window, just openly aware of nature on a summer afternoon. (Sky Meditation is possible during a televised football game, after all.)

I thought that, as much as I cannot tolerate sports, I have a love of books. When an author like Dennis Lehane writes a book such as “The Given Day“, I don’t even mind if a large part of the subject matter is sports.

I’ve come to think of book awards as sporting events. You’ve got your draft picks, your regular season, your play-offs, and your trophy. The only difference is that with, real sports, the players get to duke it out themselves. With book awards, you get the panels. Poor devils who don’t have the time to read all the entries anyways.

And there are the literary blog sites which could not exist without the word “award” on their pages. (Even if they are called “Shadow Awards”)
You may have gathered by now that I don’t give a damn about book awards. In fact, I think they have a backwards effect of making writers write for awards. Besides, the books that win are never books I admire are almost always awful. Where do they get those panelists from?

Not to be ruled out as a total crank, however, I would like to join in with the spirit of the World Cup fans and suggest the following:

Authors’ Flags!

Why don’t literature aficionados do what their ball-kicking brethren do and stick authors’ faces on flags?

We’d have pictures of poets and novelists attached to people’s cars and bundle buggies. Heck, stick them on dog coats as they drive, walk and shop around the Annex and Riverdale. Not just on the occasional postage stamp.

Why aren’t books as good as soccer? Why don’t people tip over cars and fight in the streets and bars over the Giller Awards?
Why?

FIFA fans vote with their Hondas.  And I will give sports one break – they may be the only unscripted media events going.
Sure, there are rules and uniforms but how the teams get to the ending is always uncertain. That’s why we have bookies.
In the meantime … 

richard w on dog coat 2 murakami on dog coat margaret and alice on chickens

Get the picture?

Today’s Listening:

1. Dear Diary by The Moody Blues fr: On the “Threshold of a Dream”
2. Mr. Apollo by The Bonzo Dog Band fr: “Tadpoles” (and various anthology albums)
3. Mad Men’s Season 7 Episode 6 “The Strategy” closing credits music originally composed by Jean Constantin for the Francois Truffault film: The 400 Blows. This version was arranged by David Carbonara (Mad Men’s incidental music composer).

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Joni is as Iconic as a “Smell Mall”

 

And just as “Award-Winning”, too!

Tell me, does this:

Iconic Joni RED

equal this: ???

Iconic mall RED

Allow me to elaborate:

Every day I hear someone’s name prefixed by “iconic and award-winning”. It’s just gotten stupid.

Iconic Chronic Abuse

When a radio host is introducing a guest to me they shouldn’t start off by making me angry. But they do, every day.

Unfortunately, I’m hearing it on my dear old CBC Radio.
I hear it daily on “Q”, although I generally like Jian Gomeshi. I hear it on “The Next Chapter”, although I generally like Shelagh Rogers’ show, too.
Heaven forbid, I’ve heard it on Current Affairs and News shows. They should know better.
(Let me say that I’ve never heard the deplorable word on “Writers and Company” with Eleanor Wachtel. )

Is it to impress the audience? Is it to puff up the guests on these shows? How great and special do they feel when everyone, and I mean everyone, gets the “I and A-W” treatment?

iconic a-winning Jeep

“Iconic” is a word that has gone recently from being inaccurate to being meaningless.

Do people even remember what the word “icon” means? Can you even call an icon “iconic”?

Iconic Intelligent Life

“Award-Winning” is the PhD of the media world. If “iconic” is a kind of description, then “A-W” is the credentials.

Billboard Magazine even has an Icon Award – in case there weren’t enough categories already.

Iconic Billboard Prince

But it gets mundane very quickly. 

Gomeshi and others use the same stock phrases over and over again, day in day out.  “award-winning” “iconic” etc.
Why would he repeat himself so much? Is it part of his signature style or is it unconscious. Is it laziness?

It’s not just Jian.  Repetition is the sin that every media genre is committing.

Repetition is not reinforcement.

Repetition is marketing torture or laziness or unimaginative. Or something in the DSM-5.

Reinforcement (a strong skill in radio) is used properly to remind an audience (especially in the world of “live”, no-rewind, no skip-back radio) of something that is of key importance. Even then, reinforcement can be achieved without using the same word or phrase. How do you it? The answer is: care, attention, imagination and diligence.

It’s the difference between the journeyman skills of a writer/speaker  and an art.

If the idea is to sound “hip”, then they’ve failed. “Hip” becomes pedestrian when these expressions become automatic conventions. A droning effect.

When everything is “award winning” and “iconic”, nothing is.

Can’t things be made to sound interesting without using tropes?

Iconic HiltonNo Surprises?

I had a classmate in grade 8 who was hopeless with English composition. He didn’t care, except that he wanted to pass.  To encourage him, our teacher assigned him a very short essay in which he’d have to use  a word he’d never used before. For some reason, Edward found and used the word “desolate”.
Come the day when he had to read his composition to the class, Edward used “desolate”about seven times in three pages of writing. His house was “desolate”, he felt “desolate”, the walk to school was “desolate”. I don’t know, maybe his hometown was called Desolate, too.

It was bizarre. Then it was annoying. Then it was rather pathetic.
That’s what I think of when I hear “iconic” and “award-winning” today.

tweet ADHD

My Challenge: to Broadcasters and Marketers and Copy Writers Everywhere

Do a whole radio show, or article, without mentioning “awards” or saying “award winning” once and without using the word “iconic”.

If that’s too hard, could we have a rating system? An announcement at the beginning of talk shows such as: The following program uses the word “iconic” x amount of times.
We could call it the “iRating” (!)

In George Orwell’s “1984”, the destruction of words is predicted:

“In the end the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only six words — in reality, only one word. Don’t you see the beauty of that, Winston?”

I vote for “iconic”. If it’s award-winning.

Iconic Elvis cropped

Today’s Listening: (not Elvis):

1. I Do It For Your Love by Toots Thielemans and Bill Evans fr: “Affinity”
2. Dreamsville  by Henry Mancini fr: Peter Gunn soundtrack
3. Something’s Wrong by The Walls fr: Hi-Lo
4. Mustt Mustt (Lost in his Work) by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan & Michael Brooks fr: “Mustt Mustt”

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Dinah

 

Jan 14, 1998 – June 24, 2013

Who was taking care of who?

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dinah_kitten2  dinah_2007_1407_1_resize

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Hope to see you next time around, my sweet friend.

Today’s, and Every day’s, Listening:

How I Remember You – Michael Franks

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City Chickens, Country Chickens

City Chickens
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Country Chickens
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City Chickens are wired – right to the ground Country Chickens are wire-less, but well-grounded.
   
City Chickens live in Condos or Co-ops Country Chickens live in coops (no hyphen)
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Sideways City chickens have no room for a soul
country chickens_0121
Country chickens have souls and giblets

 

Oscar city chicks_0033 (3)

City chickens don’t taste very good

chickens buy happiness

Today’s Listening:

1. When Sly Calls by Michael Franks fr: Passion Fruit
2. Until the Real Thing Comes Along by Fats Waller
3. Ooh Child by Valerie Carter fr: Just a Stone’s Throw Away
4. I Will by Alison Krauss and Tony Furtado

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Helena’s Menu

I know so many people having birthdays this month. I was just looking back in my journal (now digital) and seeing what my first April entry was. It was on this date! 39 years ago! 39 – the age Jack Benny said he always was.

The entry for April 17, 1974, was a scanned image. No text.

It’s a scan of an order slip. The kind waiters used to drop on your table in Chinese restaurants and on which you were expected to write down what you wanted for dinner.

Helenas_Menu_resize

This one brings back some great memories of food and friendship and makes me laugh.

My girlfriend, Helena, would take me into these “hole in the wall” restaurants and introduce me to stuff that you’d never find on the English menus. Still won’t.

The usually gruff waiter would slap down a piece of paper and a pencil and stalk off into the kitchen. Helena wouldn’t consult me, but often say “you probably won’t like this” and apparently write down an order for something mysterious. I don’t think I was ever disappointed.

We lived in different towns in 1974. I was in my first year of university and she was in her last year of high school. So what was I to do if I wanted this great Chinese food and she wasn’t around?

My solution was to carry around copies of these order slips in my wallet and produce them when served in a restaurant. It took more than one waiter aback that I nonchalantly handed him my order written out in Chinese characters. What I didn’t know at the time was that the writing had a distinctly feminine style to it. More baffledom for the waiter.

The old technology dictated that  I had to photocopy these slips. And in the early 70’s, even photocopiers were not that easy to find.

That order slip is from one of the last times I saw Helena, but not the restaurants and the staff working in them.

One thing I learned is that there is a great loyalty from customers to the cooks and even the waiters in the Chinese restaurants of those days. Chefs come and go – waiters, too.

After Helena:

Last night I was sitting in my favourite hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant eating a dish that is not on the English menu. Most of what I order is not on the English menu.Flourish Restaurant front

Not many Anglos come here. Not many Anglos know about it. Not that much has changed in 39 years.

The woman that runs this traditional BBQ restaurant always tries to talk me out of ordering what I want. “Canadians don’t like this!”.

The first time, I had a real fight on my hands. In other restaurants, I have been flatly refused or told they couldn’t make it. Now, 20 or so years after successfully ordering this dish in the Flourish Restaurant, the Flourish Lady (as I’ve always called her) still gives me the run around. She tries to talk me out of it, even after she has yelled my order to the back kitchen!

Every time, for decades. Our bit of fun.

Oh, and Helena? Another scanned image I put in my journal from those days is this one:

image

Today’s Listening:

1. Wouldn’t It Be Loverly by Diana  Panton
2. I Wish We Had Our Time Again by John Hartford
3. Made in Japan – Gojo Ohashi Bridge by Amos Garrett
4. Can I Make It Last (Or Will It Just Be Over?) by Boz Scaggs

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Glints

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At the end of winter, new, strange, glints of light are catching my eye.

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It’s a twixt time. Transitioning between the grey, black atmosphere of true winter and the clear blue yellow light of spring.

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When you know, but can’t see, the maple sap is rising. The squirrels and birds seem to know. They are digging and beginning to sing.

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All I know is that the light is different. Will it take?

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The tricks that all these transitional states play upon one’s mind – as in the place between dreaming and waking, falling asleep.

glint oakville glint oakville 2006resize

I see these glints in unusual places, like below in the corner of a kitchen window.

 Glints Winnett Mar 14 13_0036_resize

Not so much the usual sunsets and panoramas, but in the details of artificial objects like office building glass, hallways, a bit of flooring.

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My working class reflections of consciousness.

 

    glint winnett mar 14 13_0035_resize

 

Today’s Listening:

1. As If By Magic by Glenn Cardier fr: Stranger Than Fiction
2. Have You Met Miss Jones? by George Van Eps fr: Mellow Guitar
3. Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most by Betty Carter fr: The Audience
4. Bar Inglese by Marcos Valle fr: Jet-Samba

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Books by Fruit

 

 

fruit book apple

 

I just got back from the Indigo store at the Yorkdale Mall and I feel sick.

How is it possible to spend over an hour in a bookstore and not find one book to buy? Good Lord, there is no end of books. Why so few that I’m interested in?

Is it because they don’t stock any authors I like?

Usually they don’t. Or if they do, it had better be on a bestsellers list or won some award. Or fit nicely into some easily digested category such as “Lifestyle”.

Is it because it’s more of a fashion boutique than a bookstore?

A little bit, yes. Well, a lot, yes.

The merchandise seems to be as important as the books judging by the prominent places reserved for displaying soap, candles, bags, novelty items etc.

I’ll admit it bothered me no small amount that I had to line up behind someone screaming at the cashier about returning a pair of socks. In a bookstore?

Is it the calibre of writing these days?

Unfortunately, that’s the conclusion I’ve come to.

Walking down the maze of aisles and shelves, I began to get into a fugue state. It was a bit like when your mother took you to a department store as a small child and told you to wait in a chair while she checked out the ladies department.

I was briefly lifted out of this delirium by a bright little yellow paperback with the word “lemon” in it’s title. I thought it was absurd and forgot about it till I got home.

I had actually brought a list of new books and writers that I’d make note of from radio interviews and CBC podcasts, notably Writers and Company and The Next Chapter. Indigo stocked none of these.

In the end, I picked up a mystery novel by a writer I knew and trusted.

The cashier asked if I had “Plum Rewards Card”. More fruit.

But when I got home, the “lemon” thing came back to mind. For the heck of it, I searched Amazon for books with “lemon” in their titles.

The result was 496 book titles in fiction and literature alone.

Some of my favourite titles include:
1. Vampires in the Lemon Grove (by Karen Russell)
vampires in the lemon grove cover

2. The Sour Lemon Score: A Parker Novel ( by Richard Stark) Sour_Lemon_Score 2
This was published in 1969 and would now feature a cell phone as well as, or instead of, a handgun. As the gun was indispensible to American TV shows (still is), the cell phone is now de rigueur.

And I really like this one:

3. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: A Novel (by Aimee Bender) particular sadness of lemon cake cover 2

– the blurb says: “On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake.”

Good grief!

4. Lemon Meringue Pie Murder (by Joanne Fluke)
Lemon-Meringue-Pie-Murder-cover

– I can see a whole series happening here along the lines of the “Rabbi who..”and “the Cat who…”

Now, I wrote this before checking it out, thinking the fruit “series” idea was too nuts, but, lo and behold, Ms Fluke has already done it:

– Apple Turnover Murder,
– Red Velvet Cupcake Murder,
– Strawberry Shortcake Murder
– Peach Cobbler Murder
– Cream Puff Murder (where’s the fruit, Joanne?)
– Gingerbread Cookie Murder (ginger is a rhizome, not a fruit – Joanne is breaking her training now)
– Cherry Cheescake Murder
– Key Lime Pie Murder
– Plum Pudding Murder
– Carrot Cake Murder
There’s more, (14 of them, I think) and that’s more than enough. Interestingly, these mysteries are written by someone who also writes cook books and you’d think she would know better than to serve up endlessly repetitious themes to her customers.

Perhaps a palate freshener would be the curiously titled “Fruit: A novel about a boy and his nipples” by Brian Francis

. fruit-a-novel-about-a-boy-and-his-nipples

Perhaps not.
(actually, I’m told this is really a pretty good book)

 

Let’s make one big book and get it done with.

Something with “vampire/coming- of-age/murderous childhood/set in Italy/fruit name/colour name/survivor…” kind of book.

Indeed, this sort of thing was done by Alan Coren in his 1976 collection of comic essays: Golfing for Cats.

golfing for cats 2

A little something for everyone.
But not at the Indigo. I checked.

I would have been better off if I was in the market for socks. Or body lotion. I mean, a bookstore is where you go to buy that stuff, isn’t it?

Maybe  I need something like “Chicken Soup for the Jaded Reader” – like a hole in the head, I do.

Today’s Listening:

1. August Day Song – Bebel Gilberto
2. Girl Talk – Ben Sidran
3. The Nights are Cold – Richard Hawley
4. Treasure Island – Bob James

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Fifty Shades of Grey

Name them.

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Rainy Days and Tuesdays

 

This may be the last perfect day of summer. Of the warm season. I’m sure it will be.

This is not a hot summer day, it’s not a fall day. It’s a transition day.

And today is Monday, a beautiful day that doesn’t get me down. Not like it did for Paul Williams who wrote the  lyrics to the song or Karen Carpenter who sang it.

Cedarvale_0100_resize

 

But if it’s rainy days we’re talking about, then it has to be Tuesdays.

Because every Tuesday this summer it’s rained.  Just about.

I checked: 15 out of the last 18 Tuesdays since May 22 it rained.

And every Tuesday, I go to a place in the country to write. Here it is:

Gazebo_0114_resize(picture not taken on a Tuesday)

I’ve been going there for about 5 years.
It hasn’t always been Tuesdays, but it became Tuesdays on a regular basis when I started having a weekly appointment on Tuesday mornings.
I was living in the burbs and my appointments took place in the next abutting burb town. From there it was an easy scenic drive up to my friend’s country home, and 10 acres of fields and wild critters. And quiet.

Up until this summer, I would sit and fry in the sun, preferring to sit on the steps of his deck. I could just spread my notebooks, pens, stuff, out there better.

But this summer – rain.  Almost every Tuesday.
Often the only day of the week.

I’d look at the weather channel and see the next seven days all represented by little orange suns – except one. A little grey cloud with cute drops falling from it, and the word: Tuesday.

That’s ok. I can be happy inside with a moody view of the trees and fields in their grey tones.

Meadowlark Grey_1410_resize
It’s very cozy. Just like winter.  Not being able to sit outside and having no distractions, I am sitting Inside trying to get stuff Out.
I’ll make my own Outside.

It only gets a bit awkward when the cleaning lady comes. Then, I either have to move around with my materials – table to sofa to an outbuilding that is sheltered.
That still means a walk in the wet to reach it – and a walk back.
It’s not so bad as I write longhand and don’t need electricity.

My only activity outside is taking pictures of moss.

It’s become something of an obsession. The family pieces, bits, of moss on the rock fence in the back are like my pets. (Ghia pets?)
What do you call a grouping of moss? A clump, a cushion, a mat.

The upside of the rain is the almost instant explosion of moss,

emerald (in cloud, on Tuesdays):

emerald moss_0022_1_resize

and peridot (in sun):

peridot moss_1233_resize

I feel like I need to have a word with Nature.
Could we schedule the rain for a different day of the week?

I was checking my Daytimer, and it says it’s time to order a new refill.
Since when did Nature use a Daytimer?

Well.
I’m going out there tomorrow and it’s supposed to rain

shg_FreewayRainHappyTuesday

Today’s Listening:

1. Rainy Days and Mondays  – performed by Pat Metheny from the CD: “What’s It All About”
2. Long Hot Summer – The Style Council
3. Before the Rain     –   Lee Oskar
4. Garden in the Rain – Dan Hicks from the CD: “It Happened One Bite”
5. Antonio’s Song (The Rainbow) – Michael Franks from the CD: “Sleeping Gypsy”
6. The Gentle Rain  – Astrid Gilberto from the CD “Verve Masters 9”

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