Best Marriage Games End in a Tie

A wise man once told me he makes all the important decisions in his marriage, while his wife makes all the unimportant decisions.

Then he added, “And my wife decides which decisions are important and which ones are unimportant”.

Underlying that facetious remark is a universal truth. Good marriages are about compromise and joint decision-making. To me compromise involves reaching an agreement that neither side wants, but both sides can live with – without resentments. Such a compromise thus constitutes a joint decision.

I can speak with some authority on the matter, since my wife and I have used the formula to craft 30 years of marital bliss. I need to mention that those happy years are not consecutive. They’re spread out over 51 years together.

Here’s the breakdown. We met in our mid-teens and had five years of new-love joy until we married. We remained giddy together in the beginning, until the reality of keeping ahead of advancing bills became ever-more difficult, especially once our son was born. At that juncture our cost of living rose by 33-1/3 percent and our gross income dropped by 50 percent.

The disparity in our relationship soon grew faster than the differential on our budgetary balance sheet.

Now I was the sole bread earner and my wife was, in effect, the single parent raising our child…and me.

We can skip the details here. Most marrieds-with-children know the story: Entitled moneymaker vs. underappreciated domestic engineer. My attitude was that my responsibility to the family ended once I turned over the paycheck and that her responsibility encompassed everything else.

Her attitude? She didn’t like my attitude.

Yet, we’re still together. Obviously, something has changed.

My attitude.

A combination of a role reversal as I became the primary caregiver and she joined the work force, abandonment of self-destructive practices in my early 40s, my ripening awareness of equal rights for women (starting at home) and a sea change toward my share plus a little extra, slowly led to alterations in my marital demeanor.

At that point, I recalled another wise man telling me that happiness comes from what you bring to a relationship, not from what you take from it.

Incrementally I began doing little things I previously had ignored, most noticeably staying in touch while I was out in the world, rather than going “incommunicado” for hours on end. I started coming home closer to the time I said I would and calling if I was going to be late. Basically, I just would remember to do what I had promised her.

Sure, bringing home flowers occasionally is a sweet thing. But it’s nowhere as appreciated as picking up the dry cleaning without being asked, buying milk for her coffee even though I don’t drink either, or filling her car with gas whenever I drive it.

In short, I inched toward doing the kinds of things for her that she always had done for me, such as never leaving a Marshalls without buying something to freshen my wardrobe, cooking food that matches my crazy dietary restrictions and picking up my endless trail of crumbs after I’ve already cleaned up.

As the years have passed, we have learned a fairer way of partnering that goes far beyond mere peaceful coexistence.

In our dyad, my wife is the CFO, handling all the bills, keeping track of the bank accounts and checkbooks. God bless her for serving as steadfast guardian at that gate. What I do is file all those paid bills, put stamps and return addresses on the envelopes and go to the post office much of the time.

She still does the major share of the cooking, but I’ll sometimes make the salad. I generally wash the dishes and empty the dishwasher and drainer. She handles the bulk of the shopping but I schlep in the bundles and uncomplainingly dart out at first request if she needs a forgotten item during meal prep.

I have no problem most of the time being the support staff in our marriage (well, okay, my male ego still rebels on random occasions but not nearly so often anymore). The growth for me is that I no longer feel I’m in second place. Nor do I believe, as I did early in our marriage, that I had to be the top dog.  

We’re equal shareholders in the firm of Peters & Peters. We each contribute in our own way and don’t keep score of who did what. The latest proof arose earlier this month when we did our taxes without a punch or sarcastic punch line being thrown.

Sure, we had tense moments when something was misplaced in the piles of paper we sifted through or when the same list of numbers produced a different total each time we added them. In those situations, though, we exhibited what Hemingway called “grace under pressure”.

We got the taxes filed on time and not only are we still sleeping in the same bed but we’re enjoying our time together more each day.

 

Note: This is the corrected version. Please read this version.

I used to say the secret to our marital longevity could be stated in two words: Yes, Dear. Now that I finally have learned to pick up cues, I know those two words sound condescending (that’s because – I hate to admit it – they are), I no longer use that blow-off phrase.

I do, however, still agree with the Yes, Dear philosophy. Since we’re a team, and since she wants to do something a certain way at a certain time, why not accommodate her? As I said, this is a true partnership, not a competition.

What I remind myself constantly is how lucky I am to have her in my life. I mean, I certainly wouldn’t want to be married to me, so I must be grateful that she remains willing to be.

Oh, and one more ingredient needs to be added to this story:

Love.

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Best Marriage Game Ends in a Tie

A wise man once told me he makes all the important decisions in his marriage, while his wife makes all the unimportant decisions.

Then he added, “And my wife decides which decisions are important and which ones are unimportant”.

Underlying that facetious remark is a universal truth. Good marriages are about compromise and joint decision-making. To me compromise involves reaching an agreement that neither side wants, but both sides can live with – without resentments. Such a compromise thus constitutes a joint decision.

I can speak with some authority on the matter, since my wife and I have used the formula to craft 30 years of marital bliss. I need to mention that those happy years are not consecutive. They’re spread out over 51 years together.

Here’s the breakdown. We met in our mid-teens and had five years of new-love joy until we married. We remained giddy together in the beginning, until the reality of keeping ahead of advancing bills became ever-more difficult, especially once our son was born. At that juncture our cost of living rose by 33-1/3 percent and our gross income dropped by 50 percent.

The disparity in our relationship soon grew faster than the differential on our budgetary balance sheet.

Now I was the sole bread earner and my wife was, in effect, the single parent raising our child…and me.

We can skip the details here. Most marrieds-with-children know the story: Entitled moneymaker vs. underappreciated domestic engineer. My attitude was that my responsibility to the family ended once I turned over the paycheck and that her responsibility encompassed everything else.

Her attitude? She didn’t like my attitude.

Yet, we’re still together. Obviously, something has changed.

My attitude.

A combination of a role reversal as I became the primary caregiver and she joined the work force, abandonment of self-destructive practices in my early 40s, my ripening awareness of equal rights for women (starting at home) and a sea change toward my share plus a little extra, slowly led to alterations in my marital demeanor.

At that point, I recalled another wise man telling me that happiness comes from what you bring to a relationship, not from what you take from it.

Incrementally I began doing little things I previously had ignored, most noticeably staying in touch while I was out in the world, rather than going “incommunicado” for hours on end. I started coming home closer to the time I said I would and calling if I was going to be late. Basically, I just would remember to do what I had promised her.

Sure, bringing home flowers occasionally is a sweet thing. But it’s nowhere as appreciated as picking up the dry cleaning without being asked, buying milk for her coffee even though I don’t drink either, or filling her car with gas whenever I drive it.

In short, I inched toward doing the kinds of things for her that she always had done for me, such as never leaving a Marshalls without buying something to freshen my wardrobe, cooking food that matches my crazy dietary restrictions and picking up my endless trail of crumbs after I’ve already cleaned up.

As the years have passed, we have learned a fairer way of partnering that goes far beyond mere peaceful coexistence.

In our dyad, my wife is the CFO, handling all the bills, keeping track of the bank accounts and checkbooks. God bless her for serving as steadfast guardian at that gate. What I do is file all those paid bills, put stamps and return addresses on the envelopes and go to the post office much of the time.

She still does the major share of the cooking, but I’ll sometimes make the salad. I generally wash the dishes and empty the dishwasher and drainer. She handles the bulk of the shopping but I schlep in the bundles and uncomplainingly dart out at first request if she needs a forgotten item during meal prep.

I have no problem most of the time being the support staff in our marriage (well, okay, my male ego still rebels on random occasions but not nearly so often anymore). The growth for me is that I no longer feel I’m in second place. Nor do I believe, as I did early in our marriage, that I had to be the top dog.  

We’re equal shareholders in the firm of Peters & Peters. We each contribute in our own way and don’t keep score of who did what. The latest proof arose earlier this month when we did our taxes without a punch or sarcastic punch line being thrown.

Sure, we had tense moments when something was misplaced in the piles of paper we sifted through or when the same list of numbers produced a different total each time we added them. In those situations, though, we exhibited what Hemingway called “grace under pressure”.

We got the taxes filed on time and not only are we still sleeping in the same bed but we’re enjoying our time together more each day.

I used to say the secret to our marital longevity could be stated in two words: Yes, Dear. Now that I finally have learned to pick up cues, I know those two words sound condescending (that’s because – I hate to admit it – they are), I no longer use that blow-off phrase.

I do, however, still agree with the Yes, Dear philosophy. Since we’re a team, and since she wants to do something a certain way at a certain time, why not accommodate her? As I said, this is a true partnership, not a competition.

What I remind myself constantly is how lucky I am to have her in my life. I mean, I certainly wouldn’t want to be married to me, so I must be grateful that she remains willing to be.

Oh, and one more ingredient needs to be added to this story:

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Settling into Near-the-Endgame

I’m okay with getting old. I really am.

Sort of.

I’m fine with the passing of the years, physically. I’m very fortunate to be healthy as I chug toward the end of my seventh decade.

I’m grateful my hair is mostly gray rather than mostly in the sink.

I’m blessed I’m to be with my “first wife” after 51 years as a couple. Our longevity, I assure you, has everything to do with her patience and tolerance.

And I’m fortunate my family and cadre of old friends continue to put up with me, shenanigans and all.

 The hard part about getting older is the emotional adjustment.

 I’m reminded daily that this is no longer my world. Thankfully, the Baby Boom ensured that enough fogeys would still be around to make catering to the senior set worthwhile for some movie makers and merchants. Otherwise, we would be totally disenfranchised.

 To a much larger extent, though, the business of everyday life is geared to the young, as it should be. The planet and beyond belong to them. My job is to learn to accept that reality. My challenge is to remember that I was once they.

When I was very young, I thought my parents were really old and my grandparents were ancient. I listened to them because I believed that with age came wisdom. Besides, I’d get grounded if I didn’t heed them.

In my pubescent-adolescent years, I became convinced that everything in my sphere was the biggest and best ever – Ted Williams, JFK , Cinerama and color TV, along with the big-finned, V-8 behemoths I dreamed of owning one day.

By my late teens, in the mid-1960s, I latched on to the hippie war cries: “Never trust anyone over 30” and never, never believe Big Government. Ah, the simple-minded bliss of knowing I was right and my parents’ generation was categorically wrong, always.

Once I turned into an “over-30” myself, I tried to make time stand still by hiding in a substance-enhanced bubble that let me think I was forever young and cool. Now that I am no longer young, I realize that I never was nor will I ever be cool.

As I stumbled into my 40s, I began a decade-long mission to screw my head back on in order to see what was in front of me and I made my first honest effort at joining life. Grudgingly, at first, I admitted I was getting older and began striving to make my thinking match my wrinkling. This process took a full 20 years. By the time I retired, my brain body were nearly in alignment.

Today I find myself playing the back nine on This Is Your Life Country Club and have to get acclimated once more to the changes being made to the course every round. What I must deal with is the fact that I’m not part of the redesign. My job is to find serenity in acceptance of the ever-changing layout.

My adjustment process is hardly a new concept. I’m certain that every Caesar thought he was smarter than his predecessor, that each philosopher believed his or her worldview was best, that all new employees know they will be better than the people they replace.

 To some degree, such self-confidence is healthy. In my case, though, I had reshaped confidence into hubris, absolutely positive that my way was not just the best way. It was the only way.

Now the task is to accept that I can’t reach the greens on the new, longer holes and that there is wisdom in laying up and pitching on.

Okay, time to ditch (I can’t bring myself to say bury) the metaphors.

In order to make the most of the rest of my life, I have to face the inevitable. I’m a passenger now, not a driver (oops, another metaphor). I acknowledge that the world is galloping past me. I can’t run fast enough to keep up with it and I can’t do a thing to slow it down.

What I can do is go at my own pace and put on a sweater so I don’t catch a draft.

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Talk among Myselves — a 3-Part Disharmony

So here was my operating hypothesis, or delusion, in starting a blog in the first place:

If I had feelings about a certain topic, then other people must also have experienced similar feelings in a parallel situation.

In other words, I desperately want to believe that your reactions to events are as crazy as mine. Comfort in numbers, n’est pas?

With the above verbose intro, let me forthwith plunge into today’s mishigas:

I believe that when we attempt to make a point, whether to another person or in a presentation or formal discussion, we really are involved in three conversations – the one we plan to say, the one we actually say and the one we wish we had said.

I’m not talking about daily banter with the cashier at the supermarket or the easy chit-chat we engage in to exchange information. I am talking about those times when we want to be clear about what we want, or when we are  put in a position to direct, instruct and entertain others or to set them straight (as if we ever had that kind of power).

Time for specifics, before I lose you altogether.

I was privileged this past week to facilitate a discussion before an audience of 100 about a film we all watched together.* I approached the task with the fervor of someone writing a master’s thesis. I explored the sociological and psychological impact of the film as well as all the technical aspects (cinematography, soundtrack, lighting, etc.).

I typed out seven pages of information, including quotes from the film’s writer, comments from critics worldwide and personal prompts to remind myself to cover material the audience needed to know. I easily could have filled two hours with the meaty morsels I had gathered, the opinions I had formed through my research, and the incisive observations I had planned to impart, all of which would have made the film’s “metamessage” obvious to the unwashed masses I was about to enlighten.

Then there was the actual talk I gave….

 My job as the facilitator was to sprinkle my factoids around audience comments. These people had a great deal to say over the allotted 45 minutes, meaning that I didn’t get to disseminate half of what I had prepared. Don’t get me wrong. Everyone said I had provided excellent information and that I had done a fine job.

But, it’s that third conversation – the one still playing and ever-growing in my brain – that is driving me bonkers. I keep flagellating myself over the vital tidbits I left out, the things I should have said, the dots I failed to connect for them.

Ah, the hubris!

And here’s the universality. I think most of us plot out what we want to say in given situations but we don’t always get to say what we planned, or at least we don’t remember to say everything we had set out to expound upon.

The main reason we don’t follow our preset script is that the persons receiving our words have the temerity to possess their own thoughts, ideas and opinions (the nerve of them!). The truth is that our interaction with others is far more useful and impactful than our singly focused, preconceived plan for how the conversation will go. Also, the end result is so much better than if we were allowed simply to preach. Being self-centered, though, we (okay, I) often leave such situations unhappy that we (I) didn’t get to finish what we (I) wanted to say.

My recent film presentation was merely the latest example. I find that I experience this three-conversation conundrum often, several times a week, in fact.

What I’m slowly coming to realize is that TCS (Three Conversation Syndrome) is an inherent component of the human condition. I don’t need eight sessions of psychotherapy to deal with my TCS. I just need to accept that what I planned to say was a helpful foundation for what I wound up saying and that what I didn’t get to say either wasn’t necessary or can be said at another time.

Been there, felt that?  

 

The film is Wadjda, the first movie ever made inside Saudi Arabia and the first ever written and directed by a Saudi-born woman. It is both historic and rich with insights into Saudi life, a glimpse at the world of a winsome 10-year-old girl who actively seeks personal independence in a very traditional culture. It’s available online through Amazon.com.

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Chemistry’s Simpler than Formula for Sleep

Chili fries. Ugh!

I’ve had trouble sleeping for decades. Finally, I went to my doctor last year and got a prescription for a mild sedative. The pill helps me drop off to dreamland most nights, but not that evening last week when I decided to medicate my bruised ego with an impulse purchase of chili fries to accompany my take-out dinner order.

Being a show-me-and show-me-again-and-again kind of guy, though, I tried a dose — an overdose, actually – of the greasy “comfort food”, which led not only to a night of tossing and turning but also a large, daylong serving of heartburn, with a side order of self-loathing.

Foolish me. I hardly needed help getting another session of fitful sleep. I sleep quite discomfortably without help, thank you. What I do need, perpetually, is what doctors call good sleep hygiene.

The specialists state that the bed should be used for just two purposes, and one of them involves sleep. The operating principle is that the body and brain must be trained to recognize the bed as the place for sleep; any other use of the slumber couch confuses the easily distracted mind. Watching TV, web surfing, reading, texting/talking on the phone or midnight munching should be done elsewhere

 The other keys to good sleep hygiene include abstaining from food after 8 p.m. (ideally after 6); eating the smallest meal of the day at suppertime; not drinking caffeine after dark; and avoiding exercise or stimulation (I’m talking about action movies, TV shows, video games or upsetting conversations) before sleep. In other words, prepare yourself for bed the same way you would a child – by providing a calm, quiet environment for the vital rest that restores the body’s hormones during deep, continuous sleep. And, of course, get to bed early and sleep eight hours, the pros advise us.

If the above sounds like a primer, it is…for me. I need to say it, write it, repeat it constantly so that someday I actually will follow my own advice (hmm, practice what I preach; now there’s another blog topic).

Chili fries aside, I generally eat healthy food in reasonable quantities at dinnertime and don’t snack late at night. I don’t use my phone near bedtime, I refrain from Words with Friends and other online games in the boudoir. I don’t drink caffeine, ever, and I don’t exercise after dark. I even build in quiet time for prayer and journaling before shutting the light.

As for the TV part, though, well, I don’t follow the doctors’ orders. The TV is our nightlight and white-noise machine throughout the wee hours. My wife maintains that the sonorous stories on Murder She Wrote drown out my snoring and allow her to fall asleep. Unfortunately, as an up-and-down sleeper awake every two hours and find myself falling into those silly plots. Or worse, they insinuate themselves into the next dream when I nod off again. I’m not ready (and hope never to be) to sleep in a separate room, so that’s not part of a potential solution.

Now, about those frequent interruptions in my sleep. It seems to matter not a whit whether I did or did not drink fluids close to bedtime; I simply have to use the bathroom anywhere from two to five times a night (my record was 16 in a six-hour period one long-short night recently). The sleep medication usually helps me get through a couple of potential wakeups but never all of them. Not ever.

I was seriously considering replacing my aging plumbing with PVC tubing but I’m still too attached to my original equipment to take any such action. In truth, I’ve been to several urologists and have tried a number of medications with no success.

For me, poor sleep (when not chili-fry-induced) is all about anxiety. And not even capital “A” anxiety, either. The issue could be something as simple as knowing I have to be up early for an appointment or meeting. Even though I have my alarm set, my brain will ring out intermittently during the night, directing my eyes to the digital clock to check the time. Given my hair-trigger worry-ometer, any pending or unresolved big problem will assure me a yo-yoing night’s sleep.

I’ve tried all the remedies; I know all the tricks. I simply have to accept that this is the way my model came off the assembly line.

  Oh, and going to bed at a reasonable hour surely would help. But, again, that’s a whole nother blog (as is the ungrammatical term “a whole nother”). If you don’t hear from me soon, it means I fell asleep on the keyboardddddddddddddddddddddddddddddzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

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Creative…or Clueless? You Decide

Creativity (n.) –The inability to do the same thing the same way twice.

Don’t go to your dictionary looking for the above definition; it’s mine.

 I realize that definition gives creativity a bad name. The conventional wisdom is that creativity involves learning to do things “by the book” and blue-skying from there.

 My definition surely does not apply to any of the great minds throughout history.  They all employed a solid knowledge base as a springboard to original ideas.

 Sir Isaac Newton, for instance, didn’t suddenly spew out his laws of motion because he ate a mushroom growing under the tree where the apple fell on his head. He was 44 years old, had a earned a master’s degree from Cambridge and had already invented the reflecting telescope, figured out that a prism decomposes white light into a rainbow of colors, formulated the empirical law of cooling and studied the speed of sound before setting down his eponymous Three Laws of Motion.

 No, I’m hardly a Newton or an Einstein, a Freud or a Jung. I’m just a jamoke, like 99.9 percent of the other 7-plus billion peeps on the planet (you can look up “jamoke” on your own, since several of the usages are unsavory and discussing them could lead to a digression that will never lead back to my theme; the use of the word here connotes only the universal meaning of “bloke”).

 My creativity juices flow from an ADD-ish inability to stay on task and a previously stated memory problem, as in: How did I do this thing I’m working on the last time and what was I doing just before I asked myself that question?…What question?

 In my life, creativity comes in scrambling to pull together a potential disaster; since I can’t remember where I’ve been and have no idea where I’m going (like right now writing this post), I need to bail as fast as I can to keep this ship from sinking. And if I’m able to stay afloat at the end of the given task, some view my effort as creative. Others, though, see the job I’ve just done for what it often is: gasping for air.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m thankful for having a “clever” gene installed in my model; I just can’t afford to sell myself on the notion that this facility for self-rescue should be classified as ingenious.

 On the one hand, I wish I could follow directions, plans and blueprints; such an ability would make life so much easier, especially when trying to read directions (both for assembling a product and for driving from one place to the other…and why do I ignore my GPS, thinking I know a “faster” way?).

 The reality is that I too often delude myself into believing I have a better solution to problems than the ones than that work. So for me, then, creativity is frequently about arrogance and a need to freelance rather than about humility and willingness to color inside the lines.

 

Hmm. Sounds like yet another column.

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Saying Uncle to Predictions

Uncle Abe was a detail guy. He lived by a routine. He worked the same job for four decades, never married and ate in the same few restaurants all those years. four decades, never married and ate in the same few restaurants all those years.

What he couldn’t control was the wildly changing weather in his home town of Buffalo.

As retirement approached, he did a thorough, pre-Google search to find a place with the “perfect” climate. He then packed up and moved to San Diego, where – by his figuring – the mean temperature, day/night/year-round, was 64 degrees.

He was a man who did not like surprises, a man who didn’t gamble, didn’t playthe stock market, didn’t rely on the Farmer’s Almanac and surely didn’t read his daily horoscope. 

In short, Uncle Abe controlled what he could and let the chips fall where they might without using them to bet on his future. 

It’s taken me 25 years since his passing to Uncle Abe’s life lesson: There are no sure things so don’t play the sucker’s game. I need look no further than the daily weather forecasts to soak in Uncle Abe’s wisdom. Since I don’t live in San Diego I’m subject to the vagaries of warm and cold fronts, storms, heat, humidity and anything else that emanates from the atmosphere. If my local meteorologist predicts rain, I still dig out my Gore-Tex ® suit but I no longer put it on the night before in preparation for the deluge.

Instead, I poke my head out the door in the morning and dress according to what’s happening at the moment, but throw the Gore-Tex® in the car, just in case.

On a larger scale, I stay away from risky ventures (funny, but for a guy who is such a bleeding heart liberal politically, I’m an ultra-conservative when it comes to my money). Yeah, yeah. I know I lose money by keeping my funds in scarce-interest savings accounts but I don’t run the chance of losing it all in a market crash either. I’ll never get rich this way but I also won’t end up in the poor house. I’ll never get rich this way but I also won’t end up in the poor house.

 Yes, I do buy insurance and, yes, I know I am wagering against myself. My rule, though, is to buy whole life insurance – which comes with the assurance that my family will receive an inheritance once my whole life is done – rather than to toss dough at a term-life policy which assures only that I will have to pay a premium every month till death doth me part, or else lose all.

With other types of policies, I understand and accept that I’m trapped into buying insurance if I want to put a car on the road or get a mortgage. In other situations, I simply need to protect myself if…if the computer seizes after the warranty elapses or if I can’t cover huge medical bills. Under such circumstances, I realize that paying out money I’ll probably never get back is simply the real-world definition of “the cost of living”.

 But actually gambling, well, that’s a whole other matter. The closest I come is buying a lottery ticket (one) when the jackpot goes over eight figures. Somebody’s gotta’ win, right? But I’m not spending my winnings first then waiting for the ping pong balls to fall my way. I long ago determined through painful experience that I’m neither smart nor lucky enough to win any money; the only way I can come out ahead is to leave my money back home.

Many years ago, when I was a sports writer, my job called for me to make predictions in print for upcoming games; the editors of the newspapers I served wanted my “professional opinion”. I remember writing a column about my that professional opinion, freely admitting I had no real idea of who would win or lose. The problem, I pointed out, was that predictions are based on numbers, probabilities and tendencies while the games hinged on the performance of imperfect humans facing unforeseeable occurrences playing under unpredictable circumstances.

 Last time I checked, life doesn’t follow the script. So, follow that hunch at your own peril; gamble at your own risk; take a flyer but bring along a safety net. And don’t forget your Gore-Tex®, or at least an umbrella.

Thanks for the blog, Uncle Abe. Hope you’re hovering eternally over San Diego. 

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