There’s a signpost up ahead…

February 19, 2019 Leave a comment

Editor’s Note: I originally wrote this five years ago. It’s horrifying that I haven’t really progressed much beyond where I was then. I keep thinking I’ll see Rod Serling in my rear view mirror.

You know that feeling of getting lost while driving? You know, you are driving along and make a turn or two or three, things start to look a bit unfamiliar but you keep driving because that little voice in your head keeps telling you that you’re doing fine and you’re going in the right direction. Suddenly, you get a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach that you are lost. Hopelessly lost. You pull over and take stock: you are miles from your destination and have absolutely no flipping idea of a.) how you got there; and b.) how you’ll get to where you want to go.

That’s my life.

One day I was rolling along in life, things going pretty well, every task directed at helping provide happy and successful lives for my children, and at paying my bills and doing my best to prepare for and maybe, just maybe, to enjoy the autumn of my life. The next day, I was divorced, in foreclosure, car repossessed, living paycheck to paycheck despite working 60-hour weeks in a professional job, and buried under a pile of debt the amount of which is too obscene to speak out loud.

I tried moving out-of-state to allow me and my kids to recover. It worked, for the most part. The kids are thriving. I am grateful for that. I went back to school 30 years after my undergraduate studies and in 19 months, earned a master’s degree. I am proud of that. Then, after spending four years living 2,000 miles away from my extended family, friends and everything familiar to me, I moved back home. It wasn’t alone – it was with the promise of a new partner and with him a new life, new adventures, a new home, and even a half of a plan for a happy retirement.

Seven years later, here I am, all of those promises unfulfilled,  the only adventure being that I am still trying to live paycheck to paycheck. The added wrinkle (pun intended) is that now, at nearly 62, I’ve been fired because of my age and I am working as an office manager – something that is not in my wheelhouse. I need to work. I need to have something that will sustain me, pay some of the bills, keep my head above water and maybe, if at all possible, give me some small measure of satisfaction. To do this, I must compete with professionals who are 25 years or more younger than I am. There’s nowhere to hide the crow’s-feet, the double chin or the brown age spots on my hands, never mind the 39 years of work experience that somehow tends to make me a little jaded and a lot crabby. Those whippersnappers have a way of making you feel as if you should have just gone out with the dinosaurs. Besides, I can’t even get a job interview these days. And never mind thinking about meeting someone new to grow old(er) with.

It doesn’t help to know that many friends and family my age are already retired, and hopefully, worrying less and waking up looking forward to each day instead of still having to think about how to pay the bills. Retirement? Yeah. I am thinking that there will only be six people at my retirement party: three on each side of the casket.

So, I am still at the side of the road that is my life wondering out loud, “Where the hell am I? How did I get here? How in God’s name do I get home?” The only response is a tinny GPS-style voice in my head repeating, “Recalculating…”

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Trying to tell the story

February 12, 2019 2 comments

I’ve had this story in my head for more than 30 years. I’ve told pieces of it to my friends and acquaintances. I’ve written three or four chapters of a novel that I hoped would allow me to finally get everything committed to paper (well, to laptop). But I’ve never been able to finish it.

I’m nearly 62 years old. My memory isn’t what it used to be. When I was young, my brother Sean could call me at one a.m. from a bar and ask me a sports trivia question and I always had the answer – so he always won whatever bet he had with one of his drinking buddies.

This week, though, while I could probably still win a bet about Miguel Cabrera’s lifetime batting average (.316), I discovered that my memory isn’t reliable enough to make book on anything else. Here at work the archivist found a story I wrote for the Grosse Pointe News in 1989. It was a 2,000- word story, plus numerous photos I took myself, about the merger of St. Ambrose Parish with two other Detroit parishes. I must have interviewed 30 people. I know I worked hard on the story because I read it and it wasn’t bad.

But I have absolutely NO memory of the story. I don’t recall writing it, doing the interviews, taking the photos or showing up at three churches for the three ceremonies involved in the merger. It’s like someone else did it. There’s just a big blank in my memory. So I got scared and decided I’d better start writing again. At least to get into the habit of it – with the overall goal of finally telling my story before I forget it.

Then again, I hope I wouldn’t forget everything about my story. Some of those memories are pretty strong:

Later that night, we were awakened by the sound of Mom having a severe asthma attack. There really isn’t anything on earth that compares to that sound. It was terrifying. Hearing it, we’d rocket out of our beds and out to the living room to help our mother. Gasping for breath, Mom would be standing holding on to the back of a chair. She would take short, quick breaths trying to fill her lungs with air. Her petite body would heave with the effort of holding on – literally – to life. Her eyes would be opened wide and if one of us stood in front of her trying not to look scared, she would stare deeply into that person’s eyes. And what was in her eyes? Fear, to be sure. But more. Determination? Fierceness? Love?

We’d be bustling around her, waiting for her to tell us what to do. “Don’t call the fire department yet,” she would sometimes say. “Bring me more hot water. When I tell you, squeeze my (atomizer) pipe into my mouth. Bring me a bucket, I have to urinate. Guess you’d better call the firemen now, it’s not getting better. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, please help me. Claire, please brush my hair so I don’t look so bad when I go to the hospital. I’m sorry, kids. I’m so sorry,” she’d say, struggling to breathe as she held on to the chair. As if she could help it. As if she could change any of it.

So, bear with me. I hope to write every day. And I would love someone to read what I write and give me some suggestions on how to make it better. Because trying to tell the story – THE story – is harder than you’d think.

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Can you hear me now?

February 11, 2019 1 comment

“Order a new phone system,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said.

In June, after putting up with two years of awful phone service, my workplace set about finding a new phone system. Well, actually, the Boss said: “Peggy, get us a new phone system.” On my first day.

Our provider at the time was Grid4, a company that could not a.) keep the phones running 24/7 and b.) could not help provide us with T1 or Ethernet service because they were not compatible with the copper lines that existed in the parish and in many other places.

My boss wanted new phones because the phones would be non-operational for days and weeks at a time. Since Grid4 could not do the job, we looked into Comcast. Grid 4 agreed to let us out of our three-year contract and then Comcast engineers came out and researched our system and told us they could handle the job. Their exact words were “no additional work will be needed to implement this solution. We would estimate 2 – 3 weeks from the date we submit your order to installation. There will be about 5 – 15 minutes of downtime which can be eliminated by forwarding your main line to a cell phone until installation is complete.”

WRONG.

In August, Comcast installers came out to install and found they could not do so. The phones are internet-based phones (VOiP) and our IT system was actually not a system at all. It was a 6 or 7 little modem-connected hubs all around our two buildings. The hubs didn’t talk to one another and sometimes they didn’t work at all (kind of like a dysfunctional family).

So, we hired an IT firm to come in and do a survey and scope of work proposal. The proposal to build a new network with two pathways – one for data and one for voice – was something in the neighborhood of $18,000. “What else can we do?” the Boss said. Tin cans and string wouldn’t suffice, so we went for it.

In September, the IT firm (SecureSolutionsIT) came in and worked hand-in-hand with Comcast installers. At some point during that original set up of 22 phone lines, Comcast discovered that our two buildings were not connected with any working cable. The only cable was underground and that would be extremely costly for the IT company to access and use for the new IT system (including tearing up concrete we had just paid to repair and replace last summer).

So…Comcast went back to the engineers who decided that we needed to break up the phone/data installation into two separate projects. We agreed. That second installation took place in October. It, too, did not go well. In all, the two installations took more than three months and throughout, the phones would go down sporadically. Except for the Boss’s phones. They stop working nearly every day, often for days at a time. In the meantime, the Boss also asked for his old phone number back. We called Comcast to get them to do that (when they installed the new phones, they gave all the phones a new number).  The Boss wanted his number of 30-years returned to him. Comcast says they’d love to do that, but Grid4 has taken possession of the old numbers and won’t let them go (or “port them out”). We make more phone calls and schedule more service visits, fill out online request forms, follow up with calls, and threaten legal action.

Finally, Grid4 releases the numbers – which don’t belong to them anyway. Good news: the Boss gets his number back. Bad news: it doesn’t work all the time. Telemarketers (“we see you are due for a new back brace”) get through, but no one else does. We call Comcast service again. A technician comes in, does a little digging and then tells us that the problem is not theirs but the fault of the new IT system.

We call the IT company. They come and do some more digging and find out that no, it is indeed a Comcast malfunction. We call Comcast again. They tell us they can’t schedule a technician for a week. The IT company says their work is done, but they agree to come back whenever we call to fix little things at no extra cost. They do, but all of the phones still don’t work.

In the meantime, we continue to work on getting all the alarms connected and operating at peak efficiency. We call the alarm company and they have teams of engineers from two outside companies come and tell us what we need to do. But first, they recommend that we install new cellular phones since fire systems need to have two communication methods and one can’t be VOIP. They give us an estimate of $3,800 to do that work. They also state that they cannot install the “pre-work” that needs to be done. That our people need to do it. And it’s not easy or cheap:

  1. Customer will need to provide a penetration point going down in to the basement needing an 1 ½” hole with an 1 ¼” PVC sleeve going to a 4×4 weatherproof box.
  2. Customer will need to install a 4×4 weatherproof box.
  3. Customer needs to get an electrician to provide a dedicated outlet near the fire panel to be on the same circuit as the fire panel.
  4. Electrical permit will be pulled and a post-installation inspection will be mandatory.

At this point (last week) all the phones (except the Boss’s ) are working. But the fire alarms aren’t Then Comcast comes back and tells us that they will send us a subcontractor to work on the alarms because there is no reason we need to spend all that money that ADT wants us to spend. The subcontractor comes and works all day on the lines. During that period, the polar vortex causes the 96-year-old building’s boiler to create enough steam to replicate the set for the horror movie, “The Fog.” Plumber comes to fix that. Then we discover that after the fog, none of the phones in our buildings (all 22 of them) work. Comcast says it doesn’t know why. Subcontractor says it doesn’t know why. ADT says it doesn’t know why. IT company says it doesn’t know why but will help figure it out. Ten days, 13 emails and 11 phone calls later, many of those phones still don’t work (the ones in the office do). At this point, no one is scheduled to come look at the problem, although we have two phone calls and an email out requesting service.

We have invested more than $25,000, eight months (not counting the previous two years of terrible phone service) and hundreds of Peggy-hours of time and frustration in this project – and have been held hostage by no fewer than 9 different companies, subcontractors and consultants – and we still have a phone system that is just one step above the tin cans and string – barely. Today alone I spoke with Comcast four times and all they did was tell me that we need to get the IT Company back to fix the stuff they worked on. “So, can we help you with anything else today?” the last Comcast rep says. As if.

Sigh.

Prayers to St. Jude are most welcome.

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I was ‘ghosted’ and all my heart got was this lousy T-shirt

July 15, 2016 4 comments

So, a year ago today, I was “ghosted” by a man I loved and trusted and to whom I was engaged – hell, he actually moved across the country with me. That day in July 2015 – after buying $450 in concert tickets for me and my sisters to see the Eagles – Max left for work and never came back, never called, or texted or even said ‘goodbye’. It has taken a year, but I think I am finally out of the deep and almost paralyzing fog I was in after he disappeared. Without giving a person like that too much credit, I will say that while it takes a LOT to really shake me up, that did, big time.

What’s ghosted, you ask? Well, this article in the Huffington Post explains it the best:

“The term “ghosting“ (sometimes known as the “slow fade”) refers to the anecdotally pervasive act where one dater ends a relationship by simply disappearing. The ghost does not give an explanation of any sort, leaving the ghosted wondering where he or she went wrong. This phenomenon isn’t new, of course — prehistoric daters sat by their curly-corded phones waiting for their ghosts to call, and assumed that call must have come when he or she was out of the house. (The Discovery Channel has yet to confirm the anecdote, but current 20-somethings speculate as much.)”

I mean, who does that? Who just walks away without a word to the person he promised to marry, to love, to retire with, to spend the rest of his time on earth with? Who treats people like that? That kind of shit is life-changing…and not in a good way.

I didn’t see it coming, that’s for sure. And there’s no way to prepare for it anyway. One morning, you kiss your formerly significant other goodbye and go to work and the next day, you have to start right at 5:00 a.m. to figure out what the hell happened to your life.

Oh, I kept going…mostly. But when a woman who lost her father at age 11 and has had to deal with abandonment issues through a couple of different relationships and a marriage over the next 47 years actually IS abandoned, it’s not something she gets over in an hour. Or a day. Or maybe ever. At least that’s how it has felt for the last 365 days.

Then on Wednesday, I was sitting by the lake listening to a free concert and I found myself singing the words to John Denver’s “Country Roads”  – yes, Country Roads – for Lord’s sake. Out loud. Out of tune. And enjoying the experience. I thought about that all evening that night at home and came to the conclusion that I felt better. Lots better. As in “Max who?” better.

Lorraine, a friend at work who prays for me a lot, says that “letting go” is the best and most difficult thing we humans ever do. “Peggy,” she says. “How you gonna hold on to a ghost anyway? I mean, hell, girl!”

Annnyyyy-whooo, I think I’m good now. I really do. Which doesn’t mean that I am not still ticked as hell; I wouldn’t mind it a bit if any of my Seattle peeps “ran into” him and maybe, accidentally of course, kicked Casper’s ass. All in good fun, of course. All in good fun. 😉

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I used to be a writer

September 9, 2015 3 comments

me and jimmyWhile looking stuff up yesterday, I came across some other, better stuff that I nearly forgotten about. Something I wrote 30 years ago (30, yikes!!). When I used to be a writer.

In 1985, the crappy little weekly where I worked went out on a limb and paid big bucks to fund a working trip for two to write a feature about a local hockey player who was just 4 months from being drafted 2nd overall in the National Hockey League. So intrepid photographer/reporter/columnist Tom Greenwood and I went to Montreal. In January. It was cold. It was snowy. It was a blast.

I interviewed and questioned and watched and talked to folks for 3 days. Then I wrote my little story. A few months later my little story won a little journalism award. Four years later I quit journalism because I wasn’t making any money and I wanted to have kids and kids cost money. And I forgot about it all. Until Google reminded me.

I read it again on my lunch hour at work. Then I read it again. Sigh. Then I got a little embarrassed and more than a bit melancholy. Guess it’s good that I gave up journalism. I was then, as I am now, a bit too wordy. But hey, overall, it’s not that bad a story. See what you think.

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One is a very odd number.

One is a very odd number.

March 22, 2014 1 comment

Yesterday, Michigan’s ban against same-sex marriage was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge. There was lots of cheering in my home state and around the country. In my living room, as I watched the news, there was a little shout of joy. Straight from my heart. My first thought was, “Finally, Michigan, you’ve done something right.” My second thought was “Good. Now there won’t be so many people alone.”

I know that’s a simplistic way to look at this news. And marriage is certainly no guarantee against loneliness. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But when your heart tells you that you want to be with someone and one of the things in your way is a ridiculous law that tries to tell you that you can’t, having one less barrier is always a good thing.

Besides, we humans create plenty of obstacles to happiness all by ourselves. Without the government’s help, thank you. I don’t know much about constitutional law and I am the furthest thing from an activist, but I am all for anything that allows 1 + 1 to equal 2…no matter what the chromosome police say.

Selfishly, I feel this way because “one” is not fun. I have come to know this fact intimately in recent months. Oddly (to me, anyway) at age 56, I suddenly find myself pretty much alone. It’s not something I’ve ever really experienced. And now that I have, I must admit that I am not a fan.

You see, I have spent most of my life in the very close company of others. I grew up a member of a family of six in a two-family flat. The other family – three of my father’s sisters — always had company. Always. Sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, friends, grandchildren. One year, an entire family of cousins spent most of the school year — an amazingly fun and memorable school year — in our home. Depending on the time of year, anywhere from eight to 15 people could be found roaming around the O’Connor compound. It was fun. It was noisy. Sometimes, we ate in shifts, gathered around hectic but happy tables. It was occasionally very, very crowded (only two bathrooms in the whole place). But it was never, ever lonely.

Bedrooms were also in high demand; I didn’t have my own room until I was 25 years old. That lasted only 4 years, but it was okay with me. Night times are so much better when you are comforted by the sound of the rhythmic breathing of someone you love sleeping nearby.

I got married and had two kids. Busy, active, engaged, noisy, complicated, brilliant, high-maintenance-but-amazing kids. They filled the house with laughter and tears, joy and frustration, dirty clothes and missing homework, and all of the comedy and tragedy that is part of growing up. And I was happy. Exhausted and stressed out sometimes, but happy. And never alone. Now they are gone, off to college and marriage and all the stuff grownups are supposed to do.

Recently, because of some complicated issues, I have found myself in a place where I have three bedrooms, two bathrooms, two empty living room couches and a very empty bed all to myself. There’s plenty of room on the bathroom shelves. Only the closets are full (in addition to enjoying being around other people, I love to buy clothes and shoes). There’s also lots of space in the refrigerator because, I have discovered, cooking for one can be a little depressing. On Sundays, I buy enough groceries for four people, freeze a lot, poach some chicken or bake a pasta dish, and call it dinner for the week. Not much reason to go to any more fuss than that.

As oxymoronic as it seems, I am an introvert who loves to be with people more often than not. I have never done “alone” very well. Ever. I was used to waiting my turn for the bathroom, cleaning up after other people’s messes, yelling at people to turn down the TV or the music. I enjoyed finding the toilet seat in the “up” position. I loved the happy (and occasionally unhappy) chaos that is created by the thoughts, needs and actions of other people packed tightly into the same living space. I like it even more now that it’s gone.

Now, I work at home. Alone. I eat at home. Alone. I mow the lawn and shovel the snow. Alone. I watch TV and read at home. Alone. I watch the news and debate the issues with myself (at least I always win). It’s not as much fun to watch my beloved Detroit Tigers play baseball or catch a Red Wings’ game on TV because when the Wings score when I am in the other room and I run in to see what happened, no one answers my question, “who got the goal?” I just listen to the echo of my own voice and wait for the replay.

I guess I should learn to deal with being alone. As Jean-Paul Sartre said,  “If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.”  And maybe someday, I will come to accept it or at least be comfortable with it. In the meantime, I can live with merely being secretly happy, from afar, for all of those other people who now have one less reason to be alone.

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Oh, Danny Boy


Like many Irish writer before me, I get lazy and stop writing. And then I have to rest on my laurels and republish my old work. So there you have it. Enjoy…

What Once Was...Write

Those who know the Sean-Peggy-Claire-Kevin-Patty version of the O’Connor Family of Detroit, know that we’re not exactly big fans of the Irish tune, “Danny Boy.”

Having been to a funeral or fifty in our time and having heard “Danny Boy” played, sung, cried, mimed, signed, whistled and bagpiped beyond all recognition, we’ve come to despise the song. “Cheap sentiment,” my brother Kevin growls, rolling his eyes upon hearing the church organist crank it up once again. “What’s wrong with having dry eyes in the house?” asks my sister Claire, as she dabs away Danny Boy-induced tears, cursing. “Wonder what’s for funeral lunch,” Sean says in a stage-whisper.

Over the years, the five of us have planned several funerals together, including those of our parents. We have not, will not and plan to NEVER request “Danny Boy” to be played in any way, shape or form. We’ve spent too much time…

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How much love fits on a Post It note? You’d be surprised

Categories: Uncategorized

How much love fits on a Post It note? You’d be surprised

May 13, 2012 9 comments

My mom, Ann Ryan O’Connor, died 39 years ago last month. It was the Tuesday after Easter, 1973. She choked to death during an asthma attack. In the hospital. During a respiratory therapy treatment.

As the first of my family to get to the hospital (at age 15, I drove there on a learner’s permit while my hapless Aunt Bert wept and worried in the passenger seat), I remember seeing my mom’s still-warm body lying in the hospital bed. The look on her face was amazing: she was at peace – muscles relaxed, her tortured breathing finally quiet, her long battle with the disease that had robbed her of many normal things finally over. Her beautiful mouth was shaped into a tiny “O” – as if she was surprised by her sudden death. Later that day, we found out that was not the case.

That evening, as we wept and planned her funeral and dealt with annoying and overwrought relatives who were already fighting over who would take custody of the baby, our 4-year-old sister, Patty, my older brother Sean showed us something he’d found in the bottom of Mom’s purse that day. It was a set of hastily scrawled little notes in our mother’s handwriting. There was a fervent prayer on one: “God, please let me be their mother a little while longer.” The other five were individual notes addressed to each one of us.

Each one was a gift – her last  – to us. She wrote about how proud she was of each of us, how much she loved us, and how we should keep living our lives. She told Sean and Kevin that she knew they would grow up to “be the men that their father, Patrick O’Connor” was and would want them to be. She called her baby, Patty, the “gift that replaced a gift.”  We’ve kept the notes, treasured them, learned from them, and even framed them. The original set now lives in a lovely frame on Patty’s nightstand.

For a long time, I refused to look at my note. I can’t really remember when I was strong enough to read it, but eventually I did. I can’t say I have always done what she asked me to in that note, but at least I have tried. I haven’t looked at the notes in years (they always make me cry), but I don’t need to. I know what they say. I know what they mean. More importantly, I can feel the incredible depth of love and fear and courage and sadness in her heart when she wrote them, knowing somehow that she was not going to be around us much longer, yet feeling that she had to teach us one more thing, to be our mother just a little while longer.

As a mother myself now, I have a hard time imagining that I would ever have the courage to face the fact that I would not be alive long enough to raise my children to adulthood. I would have wept and screamed and tried to bargain with God and would probably have been filled with despair that I would not be around to see my children grow up. I am not sure I would have had the wherewithal to write my children love notes.

Then again, my mother was an amazing human being. She had faith. She WAS faith. She believed that everything happened for a reason, that God was good and would always be there to protect us, and that she had been given many incredible gifts in life – including the illness that eventually killed her, which she said taught her patience. She truly believed that the meaning of life was to be kind and happy and loving, and to spend our time treating others well because our real place, our real purpose, was to be with God in heaven. It was just that simple for her. And she carried that faith to the last moments of her life, I think, as evidenced by those little notes.

So, when life treated her poorly (like the day she had to remove her wedding and engagement rings because the government guy at the food stamp office denied her food stamps and  told her that the rings signified that she had enough money to feed her kids, despite being a penniless widow with no job), she did what the guy said. And later, she prayed for the man because, after all, “he was just doing  his job.”  When her husband of 15 years (only 15 years!) died suddenly and left her with four children and pregnant with a fifth, she grieved. Then, knowing the task she had before her, she trusted in God, called upon her faith, continued to laugh and sing and smile, and went on with her life as Mom, treasuring her last baby as a “gift that replaced a gift.”

She was only my mom for 15 years, but there’s not an event in my life that happens where I don’t stop and think about how Mom would have handled it. She never got to hold my babies in her arms, but she taught me how to love and teach and discipline my own children, who have grown into thoughtful, intelligent, generous, funny and sensitive people. Mom never got to see me graduate from high school and college and she never went to college herself, but she taught me how important it was to always be open to new ideas, to learning and to using the things I’ve learned in life.

I see her face every morning when I look in the mirror, even though I really don’t look like her. And while she has been gone more than twice as long as I had her with me, she is everywhere.

I see her gentle humor and her natural grace and ease with talking to people in my son Patrick, who is mature and poised and charming, easily friendly and comfortable with most people he meets. I see Mom’s beauty and her determination and her resilience against many odds in my daughter Erin, who has fought and won so many battles already in her short 18 years. I hear her joyous laugh and feel her warmth and her love of life whenever my sister Claire laughs and sings. I feel her kindness, her sense of fairness and justice and her belief that everyone deserves to be treated well no matter where they’ve come from in my brothers, Sean and Kevin, who live out those characteristics every day of their lives. And I see her pure joy at being a mom – not to mention her beautiful eyes, her soft voice and her amazing smile –  in my sister Pat. (And it’s okay, Pat, as you get frustrated with your own daughter today, even Mom lost patience with us more than once in a day!)

But even though she is always “with” me, I can’t put my arms around her on a day like today, Mother’s Day, and tell her how much I love her and miss her and am grateful for everything she did, for everything she was.

So I wrote her this note.

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