I Know There’s Something Going On

Yesterday I got notified that one of my favorite comic book runs, DC’s 1988-1992 Starman, is now available digitially on Comixology. I may have squealed like an excited little gay boy. This version of Starman, which came after the Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot, was one of my absolute favorite comic series of all time. As a birthday gift to myself, I bought and downloaded the first two issues. I am really looking forward to reading this series again in its entirety. I hope it’s as good as I remember. It never really took off, and was eventually cancelled for low sales, which was a real pity. I’m curious to see what I think about it now that I’m older.

Yesterday was one of the most miserably hot and humid days in New Orleans that I can remember. I took a shower after my workout yesterday morning–and then another after running errands. The thing about humidity that you tend to forget is how it sucks the life right out of you; it’s exhausting navigating and operating and trying to function in it. I have nothing but the utmost sympathy for those who have to work outside in August in New Orleans–meter maids, mail carriers, construction workers, etc.

And last night, we went to see Dunkirk.

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The story of the mass evacuation of the Allied forces at Dunkirk is one that has always stirred me; had the evacution/rescue of the British/French forces there not happened, the war would have been over and Nazi Germany would have won. The way the ordinary British people stepped up, in the face of incredible danger and possible death, and sailed personal boats across the English Channel to help rescue their army is one of the greatest war stories of all time. As soon as I heard that Christopher Nolan was making a film about it I knew I wanted to see it.

And while it took a while for me to go, we finally saw it last night.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more affecting film about the horror of war before.

Nolan’s film is a completely immersive experience, and everything about the movie is designed to keep you anxious and on the edge of your seat the entire running time of the movie. There are only a few, brief moments where you can actually sort of relax; and those brief seconds of respite immediately fade into another rush of tension and adrenaline and anxiety. There is very little dialogue in the movie, and almost all of the emotion is conveyed by the faces of the actors, which is even more affective than over-the-top histrionics would have been.

One of the things I learned from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was that the reality is far harsher and much more horrifying to witness in person than to see on television or on film; the reason Spike Lee’s documentary When the Levees Broke is so affecting is the film of the aftermath, after the water was gone and what was left behind, triggers the memories inside my own mind from when I returned and drove around to see the  devastation for myself. A film camera is limited–even in IMAX–to how much it can capture in a shot; the reality of the flood aftermath was immersive; you couldn’t look another direction and not see horror.

As immersive an experience as Dunkirk is, it therefore stands to reason that the horrors faced by the soldiers and sailors and the British citizens in their pleasure boats sailing the channel and watching as war planes flew overhead, witnessing ships being bombed and torpedoed in front of them, was at least a thousand times worse than watching a fictionalized film version in an IMAX theater in Harahan. The choice to show the story from three different perspectives–a soldier wanting to get home, an RAF pilot, and the crew of the private boat Moonstone crossing the channel to answer the call–and to not show those stories unfold in the usual timeline but rather at different times–was a calculated risk that could easily could have failed, turning the movie into a mess that made no sense–but superb editing and cross cuts made it quite effective in unsettling the viewer and ramping up the tension and terror. (I predict many, many technical Oscar nominations for this movie–from sound editing to editing to cinematography–and it will probably win more than a few of them.)

It’s an amazing achievement in film.

Is it historically accurate? Probably not; it leaves the viewer with the sense that it happened over the course of a day or so when it was really a little over a week; all the soldiers and sailors seen on camera were all  white; and obviously some of the characters, if not all of them, were fictional. But…when the credits rolled I was emotionally drained and exhausted, and I am still processing the images I saw.

It also occurred to me, as we drove home in a downpour, if ever there was a time for TCM to schedule a World War II film festival–after the events of the last week or so, it’s now, as some people need, apparently, to be reminded of the horrors that were Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

Have a lovely Sunday, every one.

Shame on the Moon

I have, as an almost fifty-six year old gay man, witnessed some history throughout the course of my over half a century on this planet. When I was young, I used to hear about the great wisdom you acquire with age; I’m still waiting for that to happen. I remember when Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were shot; I remember the Tet offensive and when the first man walked on the moon. I remember the Watergate break-in, the scandal that followed, and how a newspaper toppled a corrupt presidency that was abusing its power. I remember the Iranian revolution and the taking of American hostage in the embassy in Teheran; I remember the slaughter of Israeli athletes in the Olympic Village in Munich. I remember watching my gay brethren die from AIDS while the political establishment laughed and made jokes about the right people dying; and I remember the Towers falling that beautiful September day in 2001. I watched CNN non-stop while a military coalition liberated Kuwait,  when the Berlin Wall fell,  when Communism in eastern Europe collapsed.

There have been times in my life when I’ve shaken my head over the actions of my government, the ruling of our courts, and at legislation debated and passed by Congress.

But never did I imagine, in my wildest dreams, that I would bear witness to Nazis marching with torches in a college town in support of white supremacy, bigotry, anti-semitism, racism, misogyny, and homophobia in the United States of America in 2017–or that scores of people would be defending them.

Have I been a good ally to the oppressed people of this nation? I don’t know, but I tend to doubt it. I tend to focus, as most people do, on my own rights and that of my community; I’ve spent most of my adult life fighting for my rights as a gay man but have always advocated for people of color and women, because I do recognize that the oppression of one is the oppression of all; that none of us are truly equal until we are all equal. I’ve studied history; I’ve studied civics; I’ve studied the Constitution. The entire point of learning and studying is history is to learn from the mistakes of the past so as not to repeat them.

Sinclair Lewis was an extraordinary social critic and fiction writer who probably isn’t remembered, and studied, as much as he should be in this modern day.  I’ve not read enough of Lewis; most of his canon remains, sadly, unread by me. But I did read Elmer Gantry about ten years ago, and was stunned by how true it was; and how it still applied in so many ways today. Shortly after that I read It Can’t Happen Here, which is one of his lesser known works and considered to be highly flawed in terms of being a novel. The point of the book, written and published in the 1930’s, was that so many Americans of the time didn’t believe what was going on in Italy and Germany could happen in the United States; Lewis, ever the social critic and commentarian, took that as a challenge and titled his book that, and wrote a novel detailing exactly how fascism could rise in the US and take over our government. It was chilling reading it, in the wake of some of the laws and executive orders passed in the wake of 9/11. I don’t really remember much of the story, frankly; the days when I could remember plots and characters and quotations from every book I read have long passed. But it is, I think, due for a reread.

We often wonder how the good German people allowed what happened there to happen. It is easy  for evil to persuade basically decent people to take its side, and how, when things are going well, incredibly easy it is for people to only look at the good and turn their heads away from the bad. The towns near the concentration camps, who claimed they didn’t know what was going on? Bitch, please. You never noticed the smell? You never wondered what that smell was? But, hey, I’m prospering and we don’t have to worry about where our next meal is coming from and how to keep the lights on, and aren’t the streets clean and the trains running on time? I don’t believe those stories we’re hearing about what’s happening to the Jews! And since they’ve been oppressed, look at how much better things are!

That’s how it happens, people.

I will do better. We all must do better. No one is free and equal until we are all free and equal.

In 2006 I was invited to speak at the Virginia Book Festival in Charlottesville. I was given a tour of the town and a tour of the University of Virginia campus; I was shown where Edgar Allan Poe lived when he was a student there and other landmarks. I was not only impressed with how beautiful the town and campus were, by how friendly and welcoming the people who lived there were. I always meant to go back again, to spend more time there–I didn’t get to see Monticello–and it was with horror that I watched the news over the weekend, seeing what was going on in the lovely little town I remembered, appalled and ashamed that this was being broadcast to the entire world.

This is unacceptable. The state of the union is unacceptable.

I have to do better. We all have to do better. As a nation we can do better by our most vulnerable citizens, and we must.

The eyes of history are on us.

Have you ever wondered what you would do if you’d been a German in the 1930’s? What you would do during the Civil Rights era of the 1950’s and 1960’s?

This is your chance to find out who you are as a human being and as an American.

This is Heather Heyer, who gave her life on Saturday to oppose evil. May she never be forgotten.

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Baby, Come to Me

Yesterday was had a rather intense storm here in New Orleans; there was flash flooding all over the city, cars ruined, water inside buildings; that sort of thing. I don’t know if my street flooded or not (guess I’ll find out if my car got ruined tomorrow morning when I am ready to go to work), but we certainly were lucky and didn’t get water inside of our house. The rain is going to continue some today; there’s an advisory for everyone to stay inside and off the roads, just in case. We get these kinds of storms and flash floods every once in a while–the price of living in a low lying city surrounding by water where parts of the city used to be swamp and are now floodplains, and our pumping system tends to get overwhelmed when we get a lot of water in a short period of time. I’ve been caught out in these storms before, having to wade through water up to my hips at times. My car was flooded when I was on my way home from work the first year we lived here and I got caught in one of these storms. There’s no point in railing against these storms and short-term floods; they happen periodically and you have to deal with them, unfortunately. Last night was also supposed to be White Linen Night, an annual event every August in the Arts District where all the galleries serve food and alcohol, booths are set up on Julia and Magazine streets to sell food and drink, and people wearing white go from gallery to gallery looking at (and hopefully buying) art. Satchmo Fest was also this weekend; clearly, both annual events were cancelled yesterday because of the deluge. I ran my errands early–thank God–and so intended to spend the rest of my day inside and working on the line edit, doing some writing, and reading as well. I did no line editing and no writing yesterday; instead, I was caught up in the last half of Lyndsay Faye’s staggeringly brilliant The Gods of Gotham, and could not put it down until it was finished.

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When I set down the initial report, sitting at my desk at the Tombs, I wrote:

On the night of August 21, 1845, one of the children escaped.

Of all the sordid trials a New York City policeman faces every day, you wouldn’t expect the one I loathe most to be paperwork. But it is. I get snakes down my spine just thinking case files.

Seriously, is there anyone who enjoys paperwork?

The Gods of Gotham is the perfect historical crime novel. I’ve read a number of them, and there are some truly excellent ones (one of my favorite novels of all time is The Affair of the Blood-Stained Egg Cosy, set in the 1930’s), but I’ve also staggered my way through some seriously bad ones. But even with the bad ones, I always have tremendous respect for the writer for even trying; I can’t imagine trying, much as I love history, because there are so many gaps; so many things to research, from small to large, intricate intimate details that may be impossible to find out–or you might find them out when it’s too late. To be truly successful, a historical piece of fiction has to be completely immersive; the author has to bring that world to life but make the reader understand it and how it was to live in that period without giving in to the temptation to put everything you’ve researched into the book/story, aka hitting the reader over the head with a history lesson. Writing a convincing, involving story with characters the reader can identify with, appreciate, and root for, is hard enough without setting it in another time period.

Lyndsay Faye has managed this incredible juggling feat, and pulled it off with aplomb. The Gods of Gotham is set in New York City (obviously) in the late summer of 1845; when the city has newly created a police force, identified by the copper stars they wear (which, obviously, is where the slang term copper, and its derivative, cop, came from; this is clearly made obvious throughout the story without Faye stopping to explain; a lesser writer certainly would have made that egregious take-the-reader-out-of-the-story error). Our hero, Timothy Wilde, is a bartender when the story opens; his older brother, Valentine, is a good-time Charlie who likes to get wasted, frequents whorehouses, and also works as a fireman. The relationship between the brothers isn’t great; they lost their parents to a fire when they were children, and they butt heads alot. Valentine is also involved with the Democratic Party. After an enormous fire leaves Timothy jobless and homeless and broke, he rents a room from a widowed German baker, Mrs. Boehm, and is then pressured by his brother into becoming a copper star; a beat cop in the newly formed city police, which not everyone in the city wants or approves of. Soon, Timothy is wrapped up in a bizarre mystery involving a child prostitute he runs across one night; wandering the streets in a nightdress, covered in blood; and soon the investigation expands to involve a possible serial killer of child prostitutes. Politics, nativism, religious and ethnic and racial bigotry all play a part in this tale; as do sexism.

The truly great historical novels not only shine a bright light on the past, but thematically show how little has changed over time. The Gods of Gotham could easily be set in the present day, with Timothy Wilde as a modern police detective. The bigotry against the Irish and Catholics could easily be translated to Middle Eastern refugees and Muslims; it is truly sad to read and see how we as a society and a people fail to learn from the mistakes of the past, repeating the same errors over and over to our own disgrace. Faye has brought New York of 1845 vividly to life with careful brush strokes that never are too big or too broad or invasive to the story; her city streets are alive with noise and people and sights and sounds and smells. Her characters are all-too-real; even the worst of her villains (particularly the diabolical madam, Silkie Marsh) are believable three-dimensional and live and breathe on the page.

I hated seeing the book end, quite frankly; but there are two more Timothy Wilde novels to savor and look forward to, as well as her Edgar nominated Jane Steele (The Gods of Gotham was also an Best Novel Edgar finalist), and her Sherlock Holmes work. (And yes, my recent interest in Holmes was triggered by Lyndsay’s interest in Holmes…and there were times when this book itself reminded me of, in the best possible ways, of Nicholas Meyer’s Holmes pastiches from the 1970’s, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution and The West End Horror.)

The Gods of Gotham, if you haven’t read it yet, needs to be added to your TBR pile immediately.

Down Under

So, I started writing a new Scotty book yesterday.

It was, I have to confess, simply so I wouldn’t feel guilty about not working on the line edit, but it also felt good to be back in familiar waters again. There’s something comforting, at least to me as a writer, to going back to a series; I know this world intimately, the characters and the relationships and, of course, the city. And of course, this Scotty isn’t completely new; it’s a reboot of something I’d already written, published, and then withdrawn from sale: the second Paige novel, Dead Housewives of New Orleans. I never felt like that book did what I wanted it to do; I wrote it very quickly, and never believed afterwards that I’d had the time to say what I wanted to about reality television and the types of people that are drawn to appearing on it. I thought, at first, when I decided to reboot it as a Scotty novel that I’d be able to just switch the point of view and add some more things to it…but a reread of the original quickly made me realize the best thing to do was keep the original framework–the reality show itself, and the characters I’d created for it–and just completely start over from scratch. So, it’s not the same book.

I am pretty confident that it will be, actually, a much better one.

The good news is I woke up this morning without any back pain. It’s still a bit stiff–I’m aware something went wrong back there–but it’s clearly muscular, not spinal, which is an enormous relief. My hips–which also ached yesterday–also seem to be fine this morning. Of course, I am staring down a long day of office and then bar testing; twelve hours, woo-hoo! So I imagine tomorrow I will also be waking up sore and achy and tired. Yay! Can’t wait.

I also worked on the line edit yesterday; I guilted myself into it. I actually was enjoying writing the Scotty book, frankly, and I thought, see, writing is fun, remember? and then realized that I really need to stop procrastinating on the line edit. And this morning, waking up feeling rested and not in pain? I am going to tear through that bitch as much as I can today, and  see how much Scotty progress I can make at the same time. Huzzah! Maybe I can even get a first draft of Scotty finished in a month. Stranger things have happened.

I did not, unfortunately, have time for any reading of the brilliant Gods of Gotham. It is, without question, one of the best historical novels I’ve ever read. Clever and sly, witty, with some incredibly strong social commentary that certainly can be applied to today’s world, it is also strongly written and the main character, Timothy Wilde–well, it’s kind of hard not to love him; he’s such a good guy, and even his character flaws only serve to enhance his character. Lyndsay Faye is a towering talent–and she has at least another six books for me to read! HUZZAH!

And on that note, ’tis back to the spice mines with me. Here’s a Tuesday hunk for you:

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Billie Jean

So, I didn’t get any writing done yesterday because I sat down with Lyndsay Faye’s The Gods of Gotham at long last, intending to read only one chapter–and then the next thing I knew it was time to make dinner and I was on page 100. Reluctantly I put the book down and made dinner; after which we watched Orphan Black, Game of Thrones, and the first episode of Amazon Prime’s The Last Tycoon before repairing to bed for the evening. Lyndsay’s book is extraordinary and exceptional; I’m both sorry and glad that I waited so long to read it–glad because I am clearly going to love every word of it; sorry that I could have savored it so much sooner. Heavy sigh.

So many books, so little time.

I am greatly enjoying this season of Game of Thrones, and am very curious as to how it is all going to shape up. Last night’s episode was terrific; when the credits started rolling I was like, “it’s over already?” That’s always a good sign, frankly; and Dame Diana Rigg’s final line as Lady Tyrell was just absolutely perfect.

We then switched over to Amazon Prime to try out The Last Tycoon. I’ve never read the Fitzgerald novel because, frankly, it was unfinished, and God knows I’d never want anyone to read anything of mine after I die that was unfinished. But I was curious to see this, as a sucker for old Hollywood. The show is set during the era of the big studios and their star system; where the studios crafted very careful images of their stars and turned out movie after movie after movie. My fascination with this time began when I was a kid and read Bob Thomas’ biography Selznick; I went on to read Tracy and Hepburn, biographies of stars like Spencer Tracy, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, and Clark Gable, amongst many others; histories of Hollywood, and so forth. I’ve always wanted to write about that period; it’s really a great time for noir and crime, but again–research. Anyway, I was curious to see how the show was, and I was more than a little impressed. Fitzgerald had first-hand experience with Hollywood and the old studio system, and clearly the character played by Matt Bomer (who is just breathtakingly beautiful, and would be stunning in black and white) is based on Irving Thalberg; the genius producer with a heart problem who is aching to make the perfect film before he dies. Kelsey Grammer is also good, as always, as the studio boss, and the rest of the cast, none of whom I really recognized, are all good in their parts. There was also a big plot twist at the end of the first episode that I didn’t see coming, so kudos to that! It’s also filmed beautifully; the sets and costumes are spot on and everyone looks like they just stepped off the set of a 30’s movie. I am really looking forward to seeing more. I hope it’s not disappointing!

All right, back to the spice mines. Here’s a Monday hunk to get your week off to a great start!

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Turn to You

Very tired this morning; a late night of bar testing concluded my twelve hour day yesterday and there is nothing like walking ten blocks on a sultry, steamy New Orleans night to stand in the upstairs of a bar whose a/c is set to “Econo”, and then walking ten blocks back.

I changed my socks three times yesterday.

But I have a short day today; only four hours to put in today, and I don’t have to be at the office until four. Huzzah! I also get to go in a little later tomorrow, and don’t have to work a full eight hour shift then, either. So, I get to sort of ease my way in to the weekend, which is lovely. I am making a Costco run this morning, making a grocery run tomorrow, and then I get to only leave the house to go see Wacky Russian Saturday morning. I do rather have to get motivated, though, which isn’t easy when you’re already tired. But if I have another cup of coffee, do my morning stretching, and then hop in the shower, I will be good.

One can hope, anyway.

My short story continues to putter along, and man, is it all over the place. I am trying very hard not to stop myself and correct the narrative–I’m just trying to get the story down, do the polishing and reorganizing on the next go round, but it’s kind of slow going. I kind of have a vague idea of what the story is and how it’s going to end, and I am writing a lot of chaff that will have to be separated out later, and the voice is all over the place as well. Ah, well, the great joys of being a writer; this constant internal struggle between confidence, over-confidence, and NO confidence. The Three Faces of Greg, as it were.

I’m still reading A Feast of Snakes; it’s very short, and I should be able to finish it soon. But I am going to absolutely reward myself with the latest Rebecca Chance, Killer Affair, when I am finished with this one. (I need a break from the Southern Gothic, frankly, but I’ll be jumping back in right after.) My copies of Barry Hannah’s Airships and Raymond Carver’s Will You Please Be Quiet Please arrived, so I also have more short stories to read, and of course, there are more stories in Faulkner’s Knight’s Gambit to read as well.

I think it’s very important for a writer to read as widely as possible. I read scifi, fantasy, horror, romance, ‘literary’, ‘popular’, and historicals, in addition to social history and commentary, literary criticism, and biographies, as well as history. I also love comic books. But I’ve been reading almost exclusively crime novels for a very long time, and as such, there’s been such a narrow focus in my reading that I need to expand out a bit; I am enjoying the Southern Gothic reading I’ve been doing–some of which could be defined as crime fiction, which makes it all the more fun–and it also makes me realize that reading all these different types and styles of fiction should be helping make me into a better writer.

I am hoping to get back to the serious chore of the final edit of the WIP this weekend; one of the reasons I want to get all this errand running finished over today and tomorrow is so that I won’t be too tired on the weekend to get this accomplished.

And on that note, I need to get the day going.

Here’s a Throwback Thursday hunk for you, Constant Reader:

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Robert Kelker-Kelly, from Another World and Days of Our Lives

If She Knew What She Wants

Paul got home last night, later than expected, as there were delays in Dallas due to inclement weather–which I kind of figured would happen. I went to bed shortly after he got home as I was falling asleep in my easy chair–I’d rewatched Batman v. Superman, and was watching a really bad documentary called Aliens in Egypt, which was one of those wonderfully tacky documentaries about how the Egyptians didn’t build the pyramids, the Sphinx is actually much older than anyone thinks it is, etc. etc. etc. A tell in these things is that no one is ever attributed to anything; “some archaeologists believe” or “according to a prominent Egyptologist”. Don’t get me wrong–the theory of ancient aliens influencing the rise of Egypt is fascinating to me; when I was a kid I read all of Erich von Daniken’s books, from Chariots of the Gods on, and there are always points made that seem consistent with the theory; but there are also other points where it is obvious some stretching was made to have facts fit the theory. I’ve also read some of Graham Hancock’s books–I have a copy of his book about the age of the Sphinx somewhere, but I read the one that theorizes that the Ark of the Covenant is actually in Ethiopia and has been for millennia, and greatly enjoyed it.

I also greatly enjoyed Holy Grail Holy Blood, the book that attempted to prove that Jesus married Mary Magdalen and their bloodline still exists in France–even though I saw many holes in their logic and many logical leaps to make the whole thing hang together. (This theory was the basis, of course, for Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, so I wasn’t surprised the way so many of its readers were.)

I wound up not reading Tomato Red yesterday as I had originally planned, I did some light cleaning after I got home, and was, for some reason, really tired. I repaired to my easy chair and, feeling a little mentally fatigued, watched some television before deciding to look for something to watch, finally settling on a rewatch of Batman v. Superman. I enjoyed the movie the first time I saw it, in the theater, but I also liked Man of Steel, which seems to be a minority position. While I grew up a fan of comic books, and have gone back to them at various times in my adulthood, I am also not a fanatic, and I am always interested in seeing the characters I grew up with taken in new directions. I also love Henry Cavill; have since The Tudors, and enjoy seeing him. I also like Amy Adams’ take on Lois Lane, and found Ben Affleck to be less offensive as Batman as I feared he would be. The movie is grim, of course, a bit grim for a Superman movie; Superman the character was always about hope, and there was little to none of that in this film (Wonder Woman, on the other hand, is all about heroism and hope; which is why it resonated so much more than this one did–and I am hoping that DC Films take the hint and go more in this direction in the future).

So, what am I up to today? Well, in a moment I am going to take the recycling out, and then I am going to make another cup of coffee and repair to my easy chair so I can finish reading Tomato Red and a Faulkner short story I started reading yesterday (Faulkner wrote some mystery short stories; collected in a book called Knight’s Gambit, that I’ve always meant to read; Tomato Red has inspired me to dip back into the Southern Gothic well). Once I am finished with these, I am going to come back to my desk and finish writing the first draft of “For All Tomorrow’s Lies” and (maybe) another rewrite of “Death and the Handmaidens,” which I’ve actually renamed “This Thing of Darkness.” This, by the way, is a complete rewrite; I am retaining some of the characters, but changing everything about the story outside of the shell–a hotel bar, a gathering of people who don’t see each other frequently, and a murder victim that everyone would like to see dead. I think the reason the story never worked was the details I filled into that framework didn’t work, and I know I didn’t delve deeply enough into the main character and who she was. The revision idea I have is pretty good, I think, so I am going to try that. I also have another story I’d like to revise, called “Cold Beer No Flies”, that I think could be really good.

And so, Constant Reader, it is time for me to depart. Here is a lovely shot of one Henry Cavill, to get your day off to a nice start.

 

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