Summer House: 200 Eyes


200 Eyes

Two hundred eyes stare
at the front of the room
where I stand, baring
ideas, insights,
and thoughts.

Eyes judge
to find wanting,
searching for cracks,
fissures open to

Eyes long
to desire, wanting,
owning, dressing
and undressing,

Eyes admire
to respect, idolize
and capitalize,
buying a piece
of belonging.

I run from the lectern,
stand on the bluff,
in the wind, raw,
escaped the gaze
of two hundred eyes.

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Forgotten Art: Jasper – Seth 7

A reply to: A letter from Seth


Dear Seth:

Thank you for your letter, and my apologies in my late reply.

My receipt of your letter was delayed. You see, I left town for a spell, on a personal mission of sorts.


While I was away, I asked a friend to collect my mail. Which he did, faithfully. He delivered it when I returned, all except for your letter, which had fallen behind his TV stand, and which, since my friend rarely cleans house, was not discovered until yesterday. By now so much time has elapsed since you wrote. I suspect you may have immigrated to a completely new universe, as I feel I have.

I trust all is well? Have you been able to build upon the honesty with Sarah that you described in your last letter?

I hope so, and that you and Sarah are both healthy and reasonably happy.

I am both–happy and well.


My personal mission was a complete success, surpassing even my optimistic hopes.

My life and family have expanded since I last wrote.

My nephew Norm got married. I was fighting a flu (the flu won, temporarily, though I’ve emerged the victor now, with a robust immune system fairly bursting with antibodies for that specific virus. Three cheers for white blood cells! Warrior lymphocytes to the rescue!), so I did not attend the ceremony, but by all reports, save for my nontraditional niece Meadow’s, the wedding was a smashing success. A good time had by (nearly) all!


A few other expansions have happened within my own nuclear family, too. I won’t bore you with the details at present. Suffice it to say that the old aphorism, “Open doors lead to happy homes” holds true.


I have been busy.

You live with another, so you must be well acquainted with ways that conversation tracks through the daily routine. When I lived alone, I seemed to have plenty of time for everything–when I wanted to talk, I called a friend, invited someone over, or strolled to the coffee vendor in the plaza. Conversation happened on my terms.

But now? Now conversations seems to happen at any odd moment!

I am not complaining, merely stating that I’ve been busy, busy talking.


Of course, the frequent chatter makes the moments of quiet more valued. Do you find that?

I had forgotten the simple joy of spending silent time in the presence of another, the joy of living alongside other living beings.


To hear someone breathing beside you, to hear another’s unexpected laughter, to feel that body warmth that can stretch even across the distance of a couch pillow. And socks. I had forgotten what another person’s dirty socks smell like! How odd that this, too, would be a source of contentment.


I’ve been expanding my culinary repertoire. Have you or Sarah ventured much into the vast territory of recipes containing cheese? Not fancy cheese, mind you, what some may call “stinky cheese,” or “ew, gross cheese!” But good plain cheddar, preferably white. Simple, white cheddar.

It is amazingly versatile and, from all reports, even makes broccoli taste “delish!”


I’ve always considered myself to be a happy man, except, of course, during those crises when falling apart or mired in the depths of grief. Even a happy man experiences different flavors of life, sometimes–those undercurrents and shadows that ground the high tones. The basso continuo to life’s merry melody.

But now, I am happy at a new level. Maybe it is deeper? Or maybe, it is that it can be shared. When happiness contributes to the happiness of another, it becomes happiness squared.


Forgive me if I don’t answer all your questions. I find, on a typical day, I now spend about three hours answering the questions of another. And so my capacity and energy for question-answering is taxed.

I will skirt around one of your questions, though. You asked about dreams. I won’t tell you about my dreams. But I will tell you about an experience that was as rich as dream and as profound.

This happened shortly before the expansions in my household I’ve referred to. I took a walk through the city, winding up near a public festival in the Arts Quarter. It was a thinking walk, so I kept apart from the crowds, wandering the back alleys. I’d been talking to Bess in my thoughts, as I do, especially when I feel I am approaching crossroads.

The full moon shone down. I looked up, and, like a romantic, asked for a sign. A breeze from the bay. The silhouette of a jet across the moon. And the pink explosion of fireworks followed by a thundering boom.


Confirmation. The path of energy is anything but stagnant. It’s OK to seek a new constellation.


And a new constellation is what I now find myself in.

Seth, I hope your and Sarah’s lives lead you to happiness, expansion, and the rich fullness of breathing the same air.

Your friend,


<< Jasper’s Previous Letter

HFH: Some Changes, Sometimes


I always wanted life to stay the same, once my dream of living in a big house with all my friends came true. Then I met Elder, and my dream changed. We had Free. Some of our friends moved out. Emelia came to live with us. More friends moved, until the only adults left in the big house were Tani, Elder, and me. We adopted Roxie, and then we all moved out here, to this new home on the bay, a home that fits like it was made for us.

Now that we have Caroline, the kids out-number the grown-ups.

But I was OK with that. I was ready to accept this as the new dream.

Tani is such good aunt to Caroline, and having her around made four kids almost manageable.


Once Free-Jon adjusted to the new house, he assumed the role of Super Brother. He’s become so responsible. He washes the dishes…


collects the laundry…


finishes his homework…


and reads bedtime stories to his little sister. I don’t think she minds that he reads from his math book.


I wonder where my wild child has gone.

That is, until I watch his sister! She has enough wildness for a tribe of hippie kids.


She gave us a real scare when we took the kids to the Game-Con in the city. Aya, who was working there as a volunteer with her game club, invited us, and we looked forward to an afternoon with the gang.


Emma met us there, too. She, Elder, and Emelia entered the Virtual Tournament.


Emelia held her own. It looked like she might win.


I cheered Emelia on while Caroline played at a Lego table nearby. I turned back to look at her, and she was gone. Nowhere in sight.

“Caroline!” I called.

Elder jumped out of his game, and we both scoured the plaza for her. At last, a Princess Leia cosplayer walked towards us, holding Caroline’s hand.

“Missing an ewok?” she asked.

Elder scooped her up. “Where did you get to?”


I was a little more firm.

“Caroline,” I said, “you really mustn’t wander off. When I ask you to play near me, I mean to stay near me.”

“But over there,” Caroline explained, “not over here. I have to go. So I go. There. You here. It’s OK, Mom. You no worry.”


When we got home, she raced to Auntie Tani.

“Tani,” she said. “I have adventure! I big ghost, now!”


Of course, Caroline wasn’t the only one to have misadventures. Emelia had become obsessed with the science station. Somehow, she created a combustible compound and set the thing on fire.


I grabbed the fire extinguisher and dashed over.

“Get out, Em!” I yelled. “Run to safety!”

She remained, finishing her notes in the smoke while I put out the flames.


It was such a different dream–but I loved it. I was ready for this to go on forever, or at least until the kids graduated from high school.

But Tani changed everything.

“I think I should move out,” she told me.

“What?” I couldn’t believe it. “Why? Tani. I thought we were going to share a home forever!”

“I think it’s best,” she said. “Simplest.”

“But you can’t. I mean, you can. Of course, you can. You can do whatever you want. But Tani! Weren’t we going to grow old together? In the same house?”

“Everthing is different now.”

She let it drop for a few days, and I thought that maybe the whim had passed.


But one Sunday, after breakfast, she followed me as I changed the sheets on the beds. Everyone else was outside, playing in the morning sun.

“I really do need to leave,” she said. “Things are getting complicated.”

“I know we have a lot of people in the house,” I said, “but you’re such a help, Tani. Besides, I’d miss you.”

“It’s too hard!” she said, plopping onto Roxie’s unmade bed.

“Are you sad?” I asked. I sat on the floor facing her. “What’s wrong, Tani?”

She told me that she’d developed feelings for Elder, and she wasn’t even sure it was one-sided, anymore. She was picking up on a spark between them.

I tried to tell her it was okay. It really was okay with me. I must not be wired like most people. I know that Elder doesn’t belong to me. I trust him. I know that even if he were to share affections with someone else, it wouldn’t lessen his feelings for me. We can love more than one person. I tried to explain that to Tani.

“I’m not made that way,” she said. “It’s not OK with me. It hurts every time I see him with you. Every time I’m alone with him. And even if I could work my mind around it–around sharing him–with you–which I can’t–what would other people say? What would the kids think? What would their teachers say? Their classmates? Besides, I’ve got an important job in the community. I can’t do it. I’ve got to be a role model. I guess I’m not really a hippie, after all,” she confessed.

We let it go for the time being. That evening, I noticed her forced smile while Elder elaborated on his latest theory about time and the missing mass in the universe. She looked unhappy behind her clenched grin.


“All right,” I conceded. Caroline slept, and we sat whispering in the room she and Caroline shared. “If you feel it’s best to move, go ahead.”

“It’s simplest,” she said. “And I’ve already found a place! It’s just down the hill, by the wharf! It’s so cool. You’ll love it. Emelia wants to come, too.”

What? I had only just come to accept that Tani would move out–but Emelia? She had traveled through space, time, and hard-drives to come live with us.

I asked her before bed.

“Do you really want to move out with Tani?”

“Of course!” she said. “Tani and I are that close! And you don’t want Tani to be alone, do you?”

“No, but. Maybe Tani should stay?”

“It’s a really neat house,” Emelia said. “And it’s just down the hill! We’ll be over every day! And besides, I don’t really want Free-Jon to grow up thinking of me as a sister, know what I mean?”


I did know what she meant. She and Free had a rare connection–they’d found each other across the impossible. If I had a connection like that with someone (which I do), I wouldn’t want him to think of me like a sister, either (which he doesn’t). Family, yes–sibling, no.

So it was decided–just like that.

A month later, I sat with Emelia while she did her homework on her last night in our house.

“You sure you’re ready for this, Em?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said. “You’ll see. We’ll all get closer through this, not farther apart.”

She turned back to her assignment. I hoped she was right. We’d stayed close with Emma, Forrest, Aya, Alex, and Gray, even though we didn’t all live in the same house anymore.


We’d stay close with Emelia and Tani, too.

I guess family is more than sharing a roof. I hope so. I don’t know how I’ve come to find myself living such a traditional life, a wife and mother, with a husband and three kids. It’s not what I dreamed, all those years ago.


But dreams can shift sometimes, can’t they? And maybe it was the spirit of the thing I was after: that spirit of a house full of love, full of friends, full of freedom, to love, to be, to choose. And I can have that in a house full of family, can’t I?


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Author’s Note: This concludes A Houseful of Hippies. The story will continue in a sequel, Houseful of Kids. Watch for the first chapters to be released in Summer 2018!

Forgotten Art: Norman – Mel 6

A reply to: A letter from Mel


Dear Mel,

First, an apology. I am sorry I haven’t written sooner. I wanted to write to tell you the good news, but life got busy.


In your last letter, you wrote:

“I see that you now refer to Aari as your stepdaughter. Is it what I believe it means, or would my celebration be premature?”

Well, truth is, in my last letter, I referred to her that way as a type of short-hand. Or maybe it was wishful thinking. Or maybe, some combination of both.

But by now, and this is part of the reason for me writing so late, she is, officially, my stepdaughter.

Yup, her mom and I got married.

And, your premature celebration was right on time! You always have been good luck for me. Thank you, Mel.


It was a real wedding, with Ira looking story-book, and all our friends and family in attendance. Well, almost all. My uncle Jasper was coming down with a flu and didn’t want to spread the germs, so he stayed home.

Everybody there had a great time. Everyone except my sister, that is.

She wore her grumpiest face throughout the ceremony and even during the party after.


Ira said she cornered her before the reception to ask philosophical questions about the institution of marriage, like, “Isn’t it a patriarchal relic?” And how does she reconcile it with her feminism?


But Ira was too happy to let Meadow’s cultural analysis stifle her mood.

We danced til dark.


After all the guests left, Ira insisted on doing the clean-up herself.

“We can hire someone to do this tomorrow,” I said.

But she wouldn’t hear of it.

“But is this how you want to spend your wedding night?” I asked.

“I want to get us off on the right start,” she insisted, “and leave nothing undone. Besides, this won’t be how I spend the whole night. This is just the opener.”


I never saw a more glorious dishwasher. Of course, I stayed up with her to dry and put the dishes away.

I’ve seen her face first thing when I wake for many a morning. But now, it feels different. It feels permanent, somehow, and like maybe, it’s a step towards undoing–or at least getting past–all the bad things that happened to her and all the lonely selfish days of my own youth. We’re a couple now, official-like.


I was happy to hear about your horse. I hope both your boys are healthy and that Gari’s ear infection cleared up OK.

In other news, the family business is going well. We’ve got more investors than we need now. I guess solar energy is all the rage these days, and I’m busy. All the staff we kept are working hard, and we’re even hiring new folks. We are, even after our previous set-back, ahead of schedule.


I got a lot to be thankful for, Mel. Sometimes, I stop and think about who I was when we first started writing–a lonely guy, struggling with my business, struggling to find connections, struggling to do right.

Now, I’ve got the business on track, in good shape financially and, more important to me, in line with my environmental ethics. No more windmill raptor deaths in the Windenburg hills! Solar power firing up our town.

My home life is on track, too, more full than I ever imagined it could be.

I’m not sure how much time I’ll have for writing in the busy future. Each day seems more full than the next. Aari has said that she would like to write to you, so if you’re able to write back, maybe you would have the patience to read a letter from her. Or maybe she could write to your boys, and you could read over their shoulder to learn what’s up with us.

I don’t suppose I’ll ever know how to thank you for being a friend and bringing me good fortune. But I bet that you can see into my heart, so look close. All this shining rose color? That’s for you. Thank you.


Wishing you lasting happiness, good health to you, your boys, and your horse, and…

Love always,


<< Norman’s Previous Letter

Summer House: Ch. 5


“I hear somebody hasn’t accepted her contract yet.” Denny calls. “Patrice in the English office was worried it was because of me. Was it my MeToo moment?”

“You didn’t have a MeToo moment, Denny. You caused one. And it wasn’t a moment.” More like a lifetime, I think. I’m outside, grateful for the slice of ocean beyond the bluff. The breeze reminds me to keep my cool. “It wasn’t you,” I say.

As we talk, I realize that I’ve come to my decision. I won’t be signing my contract. I won’t be returning to teaching full-time, face-to-face. I’m moving onto something new.

I have options. I will sell the condo in the city. The duplex is paid for, the only expenses utilities, taxes, and insurance. I won’t need a car, living on the island, where everything is walking or biking distance. I can rent out the other half. I can pick up a few online classes from the county community college. I can sell some landscapes in the gallery. I’ve put in enough years to qualify for a pension, and if I hold off for another six years before drawing on it, I’ll have plenty to meet expenses then. Until then, I’ll stitch together this and that to make ends meet.

“Why aren’t you coming back, then?” Denny asks. “Burned out?”

“No. Too many eyes,” I say. “Take care, Den. Come visit anytime. I’ve got a spare couch in the music room.”

Turtle, the dalmatian, races towards me, her tail bent like a rudder. She tackles me, paws on my shoulders, and I rub her back. I’ve got three anachronisms now. The water spaniel, who I call Dixie, also let me coax her to come live with us.

I must have already made up my mind when I took in these three strays. Of course they’d never have a happy life back in the city. I must have decided I’d be staying, only I didn’t realize it yet.

I’ve been in the netherworld, moving without conscious thought, wading through memory, through dream, through feeling, waiting to see where I would emerge.

I’ve emerged. The call with Denny helped me see. I’m here, and here is where I’m staying.

Tomorrow, I’ll email Patrice and the department chair. No, better yet: I’ll call. I’ll tell them I won’t be returning. I’ll put in a good word for some of the part-time instructors to cover the classes already been assigned to me. I’ll let them know they can share my email with students who might ask after me.

And after the phone calls, I will have walked into this new life.

Crystal stretches and leans against my leg. Dixie races out the house, chasing Turtle. I pick up frisbee and follow the dogs to the meadow.

The otters, with their dens in the marsh, the gulls, with their nests on the rock-islands, are safe now. The strays live with me, and I live on the island, here in my home, where I can lose myself and find myself and need never hide from watching eyes.

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S-Boys: Episode 12 – Training


We’ve been training. I’m talking pre-dawn dance practice, all-day singing practice, work-outs in-between, and no rest for the idol.


Yeah, training’s important. But the skills, essential as they are, aren’t main benefit of the training. The magic is in the bonding.

You try dancing all morning, every morning, with the four guys you live with, and you’ll find you end up with four close friends, too.


If I’ve learned anything about boy-bands, it’s that it’s the friendships that make the band.

Fans crave that. They want to watch those candid moments and see some genuine affection. That’s what brings them into the magic circle, and that’s what we’re aiming to do. We want to make people happy. Make them feel like they belong. And the only way to do that is with love, and love can’t be faked.

Vee-Jay wants to make music. Of all the guys, he’s the one who puts his heart and soul into it. He works the hardest. After everyone else has moved into the kitchen for vegan tofu breakfast wraps and hot coffee, he’s still on the dance floor, lost in the song he’s writing, feeling it move through him. This maknae’s gonna be our best dancer yet.


Now Joey, he’s focused on being an idol. It’s not the music, it’s the adoration of the fans that drives him.

“I’ve got the look, right, Tony?”


“You gotta nice, smile, bro. Cool mustache. You got the swag. But you could use more definition.”

“Hey, man. I am definition. I am the definition of swag!”

“Not the kind of definition I mean, Joey.”

Tony has taken on the role of fitness coach for Joey.


He’s the most qualified.

But Joey? I’m not sure if he’s got the discipline and dedication his coach demands.


As soon as the scent of fresh popcorn wafts up the stairs to the gym, he runs down the stairs and sits himself behind a mega-bowl.

“I think tank tops are over-rated, don’t you, Akira?” he said. “Where’s the cool? Vest, scarf, sleeves–know what I’m talking about?”

Akira winked at me and began to chuckle.

“Working out is for more than muscle definition,” I told Joey. “You need stamina if you wanna be an idol.”


I heard singing coming from the great room.

“That a new song?” I asked Akira.

“It’s one of Vee-Jay’s. He’s working on a unit for him and Rylan.”


Rainbow Apollo,
Down where
the river flows

You go
where I go
Rainbow Apollo


It was a ballad.

The boys stopped when they saw me.

“Oh, Sierra,” said Vee-Jay. “I’m still working on it. It’s not done. I’m kinda stuck.”

“I’m sure you’ll get it,” I said.

“I’m not. I was kinda hoping… I shouldn’t ask. But, you think you might want to write it with me?”

“Co-write it?”

“It’d be an honor,” he said, shyly.

“The honor would be mine,” I said, and I meant it.


Rainbow Apollo
Sun spots
and ice flow

Iris calls you back
with a message
for the hero.

Will you go
where I go

Rainbow Apollo?


We worked for a few hours. I hadn’t felt that jazz of inspiration for decades, not since writing songs for my own albums.

We’re getting closer. Everyday, we’re getting closer, and Vee-Jay keeps pulling that debut date towards us with his great big stage hook.

It’s gonna take a lot of pots of coffee, but we’re getting there, and quicker than I thought.


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Summer House: Ch. 4


The sedges rustled at the edge of the marsh, and my pulse quickened. I held my breath. The river otter spilled out of the low trail, onto the beach, racing towards the shore. The sedges rustled again. Could it be her pup?

I’d been watching the otter for the past several mornings, stealing down to the alder at the marsh’s end. She crawled out from the trail most mornings, sometimes alone, sometimes with her pup. But this was different. She never raced out like this.

I jumped at the sharp bark of a dog, and a bloodhound crashed through the sedges. What of the pup?

By now, the otter was in the ocean, and the bloodhound raced up and down the shore, howling.

I called the dog, ran after her, thinking to pull her off the hunt, but she took off down the shore, towards the bluffs where the sandpipers nested.

As soon as I got home, I called the island Animal Control, which happened to be the Sheriff’s office.

“You say it was a bloodhound?” the officer said. “Yeah, she’s already been in. In and out.”

“What do you mean?”

The officer explained that the island had a spay/neuter-and-release law for strays, both cats and dogs.

“But this is a reserve,” I explained. “Down on this side of the island. There are breeding otters, seals, shorebirds. You can’t let predators loose here!”

“It was passed by the voters,” the officer said. “We just don’t got room here for sheltering the strays. Choice was, put ’em down, or fix ’em and set ’em free. Voters chose to set ’em free. Only humane choice, if you ask me.”

“So you’re just going to let them decimate the breeding populations?”

“Hell, if it matters so much to you, adopt ’em. You do something. Our hands are tied. Tell you what–you lodge a complaint that she’s hunting livestock, and we can shoot her. If you don’t like that option, take her in.”

I couldn’t believe it. This part of the island has always been protected. Most summers, for the past twenty years, I’ve been keeping informal censuses of the breeding birds and mammals. The colonies were strong, but a few summers with dogs and cats roaming would destroy most of them. The gulls and other ground-breeding shorebirds were especially vulnerable.

Dogs seem to be an extension of people–bred by them, developed right along with them, from the time when people made “taming” nature their mission. Dogs were tools to hunt rodents, birds, rabbits, deer, and bears, tools to herd cattle and sheep. They belonged to that time when people sought dominion.

Now that people’s places are shifting, and it’s time for us to establish harmony with nature, where does that leave dogs? They don’t fit with our new mission.

But it wasn’t this bloodhound’s fault. There was no way I’d lodge a false complaint that would result in her getting shot. And there was no way I could leave her prowling the summer breeding grounds. It didn’t leave me much choice.

I found her the next morning rummaging through a pile of fish heads near the dock. I squatted about eight feet away and spoke softly. She looked up, cocking her head.

When I was a child, I’d longed for a dog. Finally, when I was twelve, my parents bought me a Bedlington terrier. We became instant friends. I always kept her on a leash when we roamed together, for she had a habit of catching scent of small mammals and taking off, and it might be days before we’d find her at last. One summer, my cousins took her out with them on a walk.

“Keep her on the leash!” I told them. They promised they would. They came back a few hours later, without her.

“She was only off the leash for a second,” they said.

That was all it took. I found her on a rock island in the bay. The tide had been out, and she’d walked the low-tide land bridge to it. Her mouth was bloody and on the ground near her lay a gull chick, its neck broken.

In a blind moment, I’d wanted to smash her with the canoe paddle. I gritted my teeth and swallowed the urge. She looked up at me, cocked her head. I fastened her leash onto her collar, she hopped into the bow of the canoe, where she liked to stand while I paddled from the stern, and we slowly made our way to the beach.

How could I reconcile my love of birds and all wild things with my love of this dog of mine, a hunter through and through, who hunted not to eat, but for the pure joy of the kill that had been bred into her?

I paddled through the waves, the wild sea on one side, the cove on the other. I couldn’t keep myself distant from my terrier–we were too closely bound together, and so she became this extension of me that I kept leashed, this terrifying history of what it meant to be a person on this planet.

The bloodhound looked up at me from the pile of fish heads. Of course she smiled. Of course she wagged her tail.

“I guess some things we can’t escape,” I told her. “So. Do you want to come with me?”

It didn’t take long to make friends, and soon, she walked by my side, back to the summer house.

I have a dog now. I call her Crystal. There are two other strays I’m planning to adopt, both females, a dalmatian and a water spaniel. Those are the only other stray dogs I’ve seen on this end of the island. I don’t know what I’ll do if there are more. Maybe campaign to have that law repealed, see if we can come up with a better solution.

It’s impossible not to love this dog. Her eyes, when she looks at me, are kind, her jowls smile beneath those folds, and she has the most delicate feet for a hound that I’ve ever seen. I love her as much as I’ve loved.

The otter’s OK. So’s her pup. I saw them both frolicking in the cove a few days after I took in Crystal. The mother rolled onto her back, and the pup climbed onto her stomach, and they floated in the cove, gently stroking each other.

I know that nature can be as violent as it can be gentle. I don’t begrudge the eagle, wolf, or raccoon their prey, even when their prey are the gull chicks I’ve been counting and watching over. But it’s different when the hunter is something that people bred for that purpose.

Maybe Crystal is an anachronism. And I seem to be about to try to bring two more anachronisms into our household. There is something deep in me that loves a dog–it’s the species’ memory. This is how we grew.

So, I’ll keep my anachronism contained in our fenced back lot, keep her on a leash when we’re out.  We’re stuck between times–the old ways no longer fit, and the new ones haven’t yet been fashioned.

It’s not Crystal’s fault. I’ll do my best to give her the best life she can have, without letting her enact the destruction she was bred for.

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