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Post Hoc

I keep telling myself I'm going to write a big post about the events in Ferguson, Missouri, which have occupied a huge part of my brain for the last week or two, but every time I start trying to say something that holds together, there's a new development that makes me newly enraged and incoherent, and I'm back to square one. Maybe next time.

To keep myself from wallowing in inchoate rage, luckily, I've had old friend Tony Plutonium helping me recall more pleasant days, thanks to his recent series of posts about Rhythm Alley, the Chapel Hill club that he and his bride, Jenny Slash, used to own. (The retrospective begins here in mid-1985 and continues on through August of 1986, when they sold the club.) I was actually working at the Alley before they bought it, serving as bouncer (yes, honest) and sometime bartender for Judy, who had bought the place from Dave Robert when he moved his own Cat's Cradle club from its location up the alley behind Mama Dip's (just across the alley from Tijuana Fats restaurant). Tony & Jenny were regulars at the Alley and at the C.H. club scene in general, so I knew them and was excited to have them take over the place when Judy bailed out.

By that time, I'd more or less quit working at the club except as a musician. My various bands had already played a number of shows there; Terminal Mouse performed first as an opening act for the Pressure Boys (October and New Year's Eve of '84) and later as a headliner. Though our guitarist, Ronnie "Buck" Parks, was a professional graphic artist, I took on a lot of the work making posters for our gigs--probably because it was my senior year at UNC and I was the only one in the band who didn't have a day job. And when Tony did his retrospective and casually asked whether I had any posters from those days... let's just say the answer was yes.

May 25 PC 001.jpgThe above is, obviously, a complete rip-off of the classic National Lampoon "Buy this magazine or we'll kill this dog" cover, but it does demonstrate the general level of smart-ass whimsy that I brought to the job of publicizing Terminal Mouse and my other groups, such as the world's only Wall of Voodoo tribute band, Great Wall of Doo Doo. For that, I put on my cartoonist hat and devised the artwork below, which both showed the band members' aliases (though no one has ever actually called me "Spittoon" to my knowledge) and provided reasonably accurate caricatures of Bryon Settle, Dan Munger, Mike Beard, John Plymale, and me. I believe it was Mike who insisted on including "Hence" on the poster:

Sep 28 Wall 001.jpg
I made use of anything I could find as far as collage and lettering went, and any posters that I didn't put up might end up serving as raw materials for the next one. Sometimes I'd be inspired after making one poster and make another one for the same gig, as I did here for our show on Friday, September 13th, 1985:

Sep 13 001.jpg

Sep 13 Jason Crop.jpg

As you might expect, that particular change reflected TM's creation of a new song, "Cows from Hell," which rapidly became our signature tune. It also led me to incorporate cows (and Hell) into our promotional materials wherever possible, even to the point where they may perhaps have obscured the overall point of the posters, which was to let the general public know about this particular musical act that was performing at this particular place on this particular date at this particular time and how much they would just LOVE for members of that public to drop what they were doing and come to the show, preferably bringing large sums of money to spend on food and beverages at the location where the band was performing. Here's probably the most egregious example of that, advertising one of our shows at Halby's, a delicatessen in Durham that probably didn't have much business trying to be a venue for live music:

Mar 14 Halby's 001.jpgAs things progressed, however, Terminal Mouse was starting to fall apart--I'm not sure we ever officially broke up--and I was heading off into such things as married life. Tony & Jenny had become good friends with both Kelly and me by then, so when we needed a place to throw a combined bachelor/bachelorette party, they graciously offered us the Alley, where we gathered on Thursday, July 10th, with a host of our friends, some of whom had brought instruments. The expected jam session never really materialized, largely because I got into the beer rather early and was unable to do much more than wander onstage, pick up my electric, and amble through a drunken version of Robyn Hitchcock's apocalyptic country anthem "Ye Sleeping Knights of Jesus." From there it was off to Tijuana Fats, where Wes Naprstek and T Davis plied me with mezcal until I ate the worm, and then later to oblivion, and then eventually to the altar.

But that didn't mean I quit playing music, or making posters. Bryon and I assembled a music-and-sometimes-performance-art duo (called, creatively, either "Elmo & PC" or "PC & Elmo," depending on the day) that elevated eclecticism and indecision to art forms, and I like to think our posters accurately reflected our aesthetic principles. Also, I got to keep putting on my cartoonist hat, which I considered quite handsome:

July 5 Hardback 001.jpgI even managed to arrange a few solo shows, probably because Bryon was still playing with the Pressure Boys and actually bringing in audiences and maybe even making money, and those posters ended up becoming some of my favorites. My first solo show prompted me to provide a resume, for some reason, but at least it also inspired me to draw myself in an inflatable suit:

May 26 Hardback 001.jpg

And then there's this one, which I love almost purely because of the dog photo. I swiped it from (I believe) an issue of the Washington Post Magazine, and if I knew who the photographer was I would praise his name to the heavens, because it's just a fabulous picture.

June 27 Hardback 001.jpgSo, thanks to Tony, I'm in a considerably better mood now than I would have been otherwise. Perhaps soon I'll be able to offer a cogent critique of American society and its enduring legacy of racism, but for the moment, I think I'll just have to think calming thoughts. Maybe I'll imagine myself in a pasture. Oh, look. There are cows.

2:08 PM

A Month of Somedays

If you keep saying, "I'll write a blog post... someday," you will eventually discover that an entire month has passed without a blog post. That month was filled with quite a bit of activity, mind you, but there's still no good reason for me to have spent such a long time not writing. I do go through cycles of what I call input and output, however, which may explain things to some degree. In an output cycle, I'm writing all kinds of stuff, here and in various online fora, and sometimes for print, in effect pouring my brain's contents out for whoever would like a cup of them; at some point, however, I'm running on empty and have to brew up another pot of brain java, so I take some time to fill my head with new stuff: books, articles, music, movies, travels, performances, experiences, etc. Basically, the early part of the summer was a heavy output phase, where I was working to sell the book, to contact people, to put stuff out, and by midsummer, it was time to put in a new filter and start brewing. And here we are.

So what have I been brewing? Well, there's been continued use of the Shenandoah National Park's offerings. Following my trips with Kelly & her mom and with Mary Stevens, I've used my annual pass to make three more forays into the SNP's territory. The first was a delightful, if physically challenging, hike from the Skyline Drive, near the top of the Blue Ridge, down to the bottom of White Oak Canyon. Kelly and I met Mary at the bottom parking lot, took her car to the Ridge, hiked 2400 feet down to our car, and drove back up to drop her off. This driving-intensive strategy allowed us to see all three of the canyon's big waterfalls, which was unexpected, as I'd seen only the Lower Falls and was under the mistaken impression that there were only two of them.

It was also by far the most painful hike I've taken in a long time. Long stretches of flat trails, or even up-and-down trails, can leave me a little sore all over, and a long uphill (like the return hike after viewing South River Falls) can leave me badly winded, but the WOC descent was the longest sustained downhill I've ever done, and its demands were made not so much on my cardiovascular system but on my joints and particularly on my calves. Basically, when you clamber down five miles of trail, you spend three hours with your toes pointing down and your calves contracted, and when you're done, it's hard to do so much as raise your toes off the ground. Our hike took place on Saturday the 19th, and it was Wednesday before Kelly and I were able to walk more or less normally. The bad news was that my camera battery died before we even got to the trailhead, though I did get this pic of Mary next to the biggest orange fungus we'd ever seen:

A week later, having recharged my camera, I went back to the park with my brother to spend a Friday night at the Big Meadows campground. This was a chance for us both to get out of our routines and spend some time together alone, which we haven't been able to do in a very long time. Both of us have busy family lives and jobs that eat our brains and our calendars; though I at least get long breaks and Dave gets to work from home a great deal, it's rare that our schedules overlap well enough to make a get-together possible, and when they do, we almost always commit to a big family get-together of some sort. I honestly can't recall the last time he and I got to spend an extended period where it was just the two of us, but a few months back he decided we should make such a time and agreed to drive up if I arranged the camping logistics.

Big Meadows is one of three designated campsites in the park, with about 200 sites; each has a firepit, and there are communal dumpsters, water spigots, and toilets, as well as a small camp store with firewood, ice, laundry facilities and pay showers. (You can do backcountry camping in most other areas of the park, but there you're on your own, and you have to hike in.) We arrived with our coolers full of goodies at lunchtime on Friday and set up camp, which was still relatively uncrowded at that point.

DSC01999.JPGAs you can probably guess from the photo, we'd picked an absolutely spectacular day, sunny and clear, and thanks to the Blue Ridge's traditional ten-degree difference from the lowlands, it was only about 75 degrees at mid-day. From the campsite, we took the car a few miles down Skyline Drive to the head of the Rose River Trail, a loop that Kelly and I had taken a few summers back. The trip was four miles in total, but before we took the fire road back to the parking lot, we took a brief 0.2-mile spur trail to the bottom of the eighty-foot Dark Hollow Falls, which may be the prettiest fall I've yet seen in the park.

DSC02037 Crop.jpgWhat can I say? Cashwell men like grey.

A lengthy battle with the firepit ensued, ending with enough flame to cook some Hebrew Nationals, and we retired in the darkness, where the overwhelming understanding eventually came through that I desperately needed a thicker sleeping pad between me and the ground. I was up well before dawn, and when the light finally broke, it did so in perhaps the foggiest conditions I've seen since my days in Scotland. The titular Big Meadows were particularly thick with the stuff, and though we did log my FOY House Wren during our walk through them, the visuals were often almost silly:

DSC02047.JPGFrom there we headed back down to the flatter part of Virginia and split up so Dave could get back home in time for his son's swim meet, while I made preparations for my next trip: a day hike with Kelly's brother David and niece Sara, who arrived from Fayetteville, NC, on the following weekend. Thanks to my previous four visits to the park, I had a pretty good idea what would work for two visitors without hiking boots, and on Monday we returned to the friendly confines of the Limberlost Trail, where, naturally, I got them to pose with the same weird volcanic rock formation I'd noted on every previous hike:

DSC02082.JPGThe rock formation, however, is not the main element that every trip through the SNP shares. No, that element is dark and furry and carnivorous, because the SNP is the best place in the eastern U.S. to see a Black Bear in the wild. Before this summer I'd seen them in several locations--Old Rag Mountain, White Oak Canyon, and the trail near Matthews Arm campground--but this summer has been an ursine bonanza. Mary and I saw one from the car returning from our birding trip, and another appeared while Mary and Kelly and I were driving to our White Oak Canyon trailhead. David and Sara and I heard from other hikers that there was one the trail ahead of us, but though David thought he heard something snorting in the woods, we never saw anything... until we returned to the parking lot, where a woman was standing beside her car, calmly eating a banana dipped in peanut butter.

"There's a bear over there," she said, immediately making all of us wonder why the hell she was standing so close to a hundred-pound carnivore while basically offering it food.

DSC02085.JPGOnce the bear had wandered off, we grabbed a quick lunch at a less foggy Big Meadows--dining at the same picnic table where Mary and I had eaten on our birding trip weeks before--and returned home to rest up for the next day's trip to a more urban setting: Richmond.

Neither David nor Sara had ever been to the 'Mond, so we planned a big day: shopping in Carytown, meeting Dixon for lunch at Burger Bach (where David, bewildered by the voluminous list of microbrews, asked the waitress for "an American beer"), a trip to the Fan Tastic Thrift Store (where Sara bought a Santa's sack full of stuff and Dixon found a few items you can see below), and a visit to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, where an old friend of Sara's was working. Thanks to having an insider there, we were able to go behind the scenes in the museum library (where Kelly had to bite her lip to prevent herself from properly organizing the as-yet-unfiled documents) and get a look at some special materials, including a stunning collection of insect prints by E.A. Seguy.

DSC02117.JPGEventually we ended up at the VCU Chili's to meet with Ian and our other RVA-based relative, Kelly's/David's niece Memory, which led to this photographic family portrait:

DSC02121.JPGMemory led us to a restaurant in a north Richmond neighborhood we hadn't visited before, a lively (if a tad noisy) joint called Dot's Back Inn, which served us a variety of delicious foodstuffs and capped off the family reunion well.

Not that we were QUITE done with the input phase. There was still our congratulatory dinner with Anna Grey Hogan, Woodberry Class of 2014, who goes off to pursue a theater degree at VCU in less than a week. As a surprise, we brought along her buddy Dixon, who posed with her outside Thai Culpeper in the shirt and shoes he had purchased at Fan Tastic:

DSC02141.JPGAnd then it was time for Kelly and me to pack up for the big event of the summer: the Pressure Boys reunion show in Chapel Hill. On Friday and Saturday the 8th and 9th of August, the P-Boys headlined a two-night benefit gala for the Be Loud! Sophie Foundation, which of course involved nearly every human being we knew from Chapel Hill. To no one's surprise, they were great, even if we didn't pogo as furiously throughout the show as we might have in 1987; to the surprise of most of us, however, they wrapped up the final encore not with a furious ska-punk send-off, but with a soft four-part vocal performance using only Jack Campbell's bass and Rob Ladd's tiny hand drum to accompany their voices. Mind you, I knew what the song had to be once I saw them gathering with Bryon Settle and John Plymale to sing, and sure enough, I was right: the last track from the Specials' debut album, "You're Wondering Now." And when Je Widenhouse stepped up to deliver a beautiful trumpet solo, I knew the night and the month of whirlwinding from trail to home to city to home to club was over.

DSC02161.JPGAnd maybe, just maybe, it's time to start pouring cups again.

At least until New Year's Eve.


10:59 AM

By the Numbers

In case you're wondering, yes, getting a review in Slate does have an effect on a book's Amazon ranking. I'm still not quite at best-seller status, but there's no question that seeing your rank go up by an order of magnitude does make for a more chipper attitude. I also had a brief email exchange with Eleanor Davis, who created the artwork that accompanied the review, and she turns out to be incredibly cool and happy that I was so pleased by the art.

(If nothing else, working on this book has allowed me to meet three of the most talented and personable artists I've ever encountered: Ursula Vernon, Shawn Smith, and now Eleanor, whose upcoming book, How to Be Happy, should go on all your advanced-order lists now. Since I usually hang out with writers, educators, musicians, and theater folks, I feel lucky to have had such a run of exposure to people working in the visual arts.)

Today's big number, though, is 28.

Why? Because 28 years ago, on a remarkably hot and sticky day in Fayetteville, NC, I married Kelly Dalton, and thereby redeemed every stupid decision I have made or will ever make in the future.

One thing I've been doing this week, when I haven't been obsessing over my Amazon ranking, is scanning old photos, particularly those from our trip to Italy back in the spring of 2003. I think Kelly would join me in saying that our visit to Civita di Bagnoregio was one of the highlights of that trip, and this photo of the two of us sharing coffee in the garden at Antico Forno is one of my favorites.

Civita 043.bmp
Happy anniversary, hon.

12:37 PM

On the Slate

A new review of Along Those Lines from Slate:

It's fun to spend a few hours in the presence of an amateur geographer whose brain is crammed with birds and pop songs and bits of string. The end effect of Along Those Lines is of having dipped into a long-running notebook, a very pleasant one, from a person who would truly like to know how all the human systems work but has also accepted that perfect knowledge will never come. He's going to do his best and not pretend to have all the answers. Cashwell doesn't have a focused thesis about human territoriality. He wants us to open our eyes to borders, but he doesn't tell us what to do about them. Just seeing them is enough, perhaps.

Plus there's this cool illustration by Eleanor Davis:

Slate review illo.jpg

The subhead is "A Delightful and Curious Book About Borders, Boundaries, Fences, and Lines." I think I can work with that.

1:53 PM

The Home Front

The rush of book promotion having finally ended, I've been able to get a little time at home over the last week or so, and I must say it's been welcome. I've had the chance to get some sleep, hit the gym, get back on my low-carb diet, read some books, and occasionally venture out into nature. I have also, thanks to a self-imposed moratorium on social media, been able to quit stressing myself out on Facebook and Twitter (where the Supreme Court was not doing my blood pressure any good...) and get some writing done, which I haven't been able to do for some time.

Come with me on a brief tour of late June/early July:

Here's a shot from my reading at the Fountain Bookstore in Richmond:

I apologize for the fact that Fountain owner Kelly Justice and I are wearing two fabrics that ideally will not be in the same city, let alone the same photograph:

DSC01929.JPG(Note: In the background you can see my sometime birding partner Nick Morgan and my former student Jacob Geiger.)

A lovely little story, told in children's book covers, that I found at the Fountain.


Kelly's mom spent a week with us, and we took her up into Shenandoah National Park for a trip around the Limberlost Trail loop. Here we pose at the Hemlock Springs overlook on Skyline Drive:

The very next day, I made a return trip to SNP and Limberlost with longtime birding partner Mary Stevens, who also enjoys digging under logs for salamanders.



We also took the hike down to Lewis Falls, where Mary posed in triumph atop the wall of the observation platform:

Naturally, I was compelled to do likewise:

And on our return trip, we spotted a first-of-the-year species we'd only hoped for: Ursus americanus, the American Black Bear:

After I made it home, we were visited by a couple of other interesting things. First, Kelly spotted this young female in our carport:

DSC01970.JPG(That's a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird, if you were wondering.)

And a few days later, we were visited by first a growly afternoon thunderstorm and then this lovely bit of weather:

All in all, not a bad way to start the summer.

10:19 AM

Donna Seaman reviewed Along Those Lines for the July 1st issue of Booklist:

"Birding state-by-state got Cashwell (The Verb 'To Bird,' 2003) thinking about lines and boundaries geographical, social, scientific, and cultural and the problematic if intriguing divide between concept and reality. A zesty storyteller, creative thinker, and energetic researcher, who chases obscure facts as ardently as dreamed-of birds, Cashwell brings his inquiry into the meaning and influence of lines to the practice of map-making, exploring the role politics plays in creating borders and our insistence on fighting wars over these largely arbitrary divides. Cashwell's love of language and particular interest in naming inform his consideration of how we delineate everything from species to musical genres to the geometries of religious tenets and the demarcations of time. Fascinated by all border skirmishes, Cashwell shares arresting thoughts about our longing for clear categories when it comes to gender and the phases of life as well as natural death and forced extinction. Crossing into sunnier territory, Cashwell enthusiastically, humorously, and shrewdly conducts his line-seeking investigation in the realm of sports and takes a foray into the LEGO craze. Intellectual reveling at its finest."

I am, as you might expect, pleased with this review.

8:02 AM

Can You Hear Me Now?

"Oh, no!" you cry. "I was trapped under a large boulder yesterday afternoon and therefore unable to hear PC discussing Along Those Lines and sharing his thoughts about boundaries on WMRA's 'Virginia Insight'! How can I live with myself?"

Lucky you. Not because of the large boulder, obviously, but because I have the answer to your problems right here in this link:

PC's appearance on Virginia Insight

Click above, then click "Listen," then kick back for about an hour and enjoy. Just watch out for boulders this time, okay?

5:15 PM

Radio, Radio

Just a reminder: this afternoon (Monday, June 23rd) I'll be chatting about Along Those Lines on WMRA's "Virginia Insight" with Tom Graham at 3:00 p.m.

You can tune in in a variety of ways, including live streaming at , or by using the more traditional radio dial:
103.5 FM Charlottesville
  91.3 FM Farmville
  90.7 FM Harrisonburg and the Shenandoah Valley
  89.9 FM Lexington
  94.5 FM Winchester

Listen in... call in at 888-WMRA TALK... or leave comments live on Facebook at

It'll be a blast.


8:51 AM


I'll be reading from Along Those Lines, answering questions, signing books, and generally shooting the breeze starting at 6:30 p.m. Bring friends, relatives, and anyone with disposable income!

anteater.jpg(Note: PC is not and never has been an anteater. No anteaters were harmed in the making of this blog post. No accounts of this anteater may be reproduced with the express written permission of Major League Baseball. Consult a physician before beginning any anteater program. Side effects may include aardvarks, echidnas, honey badgers, and tool-using chimpanzees. Offer void in Nebraska.)

6:27 PM

Old North Statements

As some of you may know, I got to do my first reading/signing for Along Those Lines at McIntyre's Books in Fearrington Village, NC, back on Saturday, and I had a blast. This was not unexpected, as I'd had a similar good time at my last McIntyre's appearance, and it's always helpful to know there will be friendly faces in the audience. In this case, those faces included those of family (my parents, my aunt, my brother and my nephews), family friends from decades past (the Haigs and Nebels), schoolchums (Ginny and Bruce and Tom and David and Laura), and friends of more recent vintage as well.

Rather than reading length sections of a book, I tend to view readings as a chance to provide both snippets of the text (for those who haven't read any of it yet) and answers to questions (for those who have read some). This also allows me to go back to the book when someone asks a question that the book itself answers, and I will thus often end up reading a passage that I hadn't originally intended to read. I guess it's sort of like showing up with a set list and also taking requests. (No, this is not an excuse for you to yell, "Free Bird!" when I call for questions.)

In any case, the reading went well, and the one audience member who suggested that the book was basically just free-associating (which is at least partially true) was followed by another who praised my ability to seemingly go off on endless tangents before suddently, right at the end of a chapter, bringing the audience back to the original point (which is something I definitely try to do.)

After about an hour of reading and talking, I settled in to sign some books and take a couple of photos, including this shot of some of the CHHS crowd, taken by emeritus professor Sterling Haig:

DSC01848.JPG(Standing are three members of my own 1981 class,Tom Cell, Bruce Cairns, and David Nelson, while Laura Thomas '82 sits on the arm of my chair.)

I spent the rest of the weekend relaxing with my folks, watching the NBA Finals (in which Danny Green became, if I'm not mistaken, the 14th former Tar Heel to play on an NBA champion team) and the World Cup, and zipping around town to catch up with friends, several of whom generously bought me beers and/or meals.

But on Monday afternoon, my mother and I packed up our water bottles, met my friend Tom, and headed out into the heat to the Moral Monday protest outside the NC legislature. Organized by the state NAACP and its president, the Rev. William Barber, Moral Monday has become a regular feature of the summer landscape in Raleigh, and after Mom attended a rally last year, I thought this might be a good opportunity to join her. Thanks to the arrival of Governor Pat McCrory and a host of his Republican brethren, Raleigh has become a source of concern for me because of the damage they are doing to my home state and its people. Whether it's turning down a Medicaid expansion that could save lives, encouraging ecologically dangerous policies (shielding power companies from coal ash cleanups, refusing to acknowledge climatologists' predictions in making policy, and even making it illegal to reveal what fracking companies are pumping into the ground), or even trying to shut down the Moral Monday protests themselves, the GOP majority is doing its level best to turn the South's most progressive state into its most regressive one. I figured the least I could do is show up and offer my support to my fellow North Carolinians.

Despite the brutal heat--a good 95 degrees when the speakers began at 5:00--the 800-1500 attendees on the mall were treated to a string of strong speeches from a variety of perspectives; we heard from a lawyer, a union organizer, a rabbi, a teacher, a couple of fast food workers, and a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman, all of whom kept the crowd focused on the injustices caused by the policies enacted across the street. Then Rev. Barber himself took the lectern, and I'm hear to tell you: the man can speak. Despite his frail health, when he gets his teeth into an idea, he pulls on it with power, and he's not afraid to spit blood in the process.

DSC01867.JPGIn some ways, though, I was most impressed when he stepped forward to interrupt another speaker (seen above). He cut in after she had said only a few words, and he did so in order to scold some members of the audience who were conversing among themselves. It was important, he argued, that they give their undivided attention to those at the lectern, because their words were so important to understanding the stakes of this fight. And since the woman speaking was a young single mother working at Wendy's--and thus both too poor for insurance or Obamacare, yet unable to get Medicaid thanks to NC's refusal to expand it--her tale of struggling with cervical cancer was one that the crowd absolutely did need to hear. That was the act of a man who is more than an orator; it was the act of a man who intends to educate, and to bring about change through that education.

Following the rally, we filed across the mall and into the legislature's rotunda, where we did some chanting and singing, and where Judge Carl Fox's recent smackdown of the NCGA's rules about what can/cannot be said in the building was apparently ignored by law enforcement officials. About 20 people were, according to their own plan, arrested downstairs for their civil disobedience, though Mom, Tom, and I were not among them. (Instead, we withdrew the cooler confines of Gravy, a very nice Italian restaurant, where we rehydrated, caught the tail end of the USA/Ghana game, and were treated to dinner by Tom.)

If you're interested in fighting the good fight, and in hearing some remarkable oration in the process, I'd urge you to consider visiting Raleigh some Monday. Visit the NAACP/North Carolina's website and get more information about supporting and/or participating in this democratic (small D) effort.

The people of North Carolina would appreciate it. I would appreciate it as well.

Keep 'em flying, folks.

5:27 PM


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