the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: July 2012

Trucker Bob from Nashville

I had pre-booked my American Airlines seat for the aisle seat, row 17, seat D.  When I arrived at it, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I was seated next to an attractive woman in her thirties in middle seat E. She was reading a fashion magazine, and dressed in a funky blue and white striped cotton dress. I imagined her to be a model travelling to Nashville to star in a country music video.

“I should strike up a conversation with her,” I thought.

This was surely a bright spot in what was the worst scheduled flight of my life – leaving LAX at 11PM, a stopover in Nashville at 4AM, and arriving at LGA at 9AM. American AAdvantage Frequent Flier Program, what has become of you? Was this the only available flight that I can take on the most travelled route in your system, Los Angeles to New York? Did you give away too many free miles, and now, after years of excess, are you punishing your own customers?

I glanced over to see if the woman in seat E was wearing a ring. She was not.

The window seat to her left, seat F, was for now, empty.   Across the center aisle, there were another three seats in the row.  In window seat A was a young college male college student.  In middle seat B, was his girlfriend.   In aisle seat C, directly across from mine, sat a gentleman with a grey beard.

The center aisle was busy with boarding passengers.  An older woman with dyed-red hair appeared from nowhere.

“Are you here alone?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“My husband and I were split up into different rows,” she sputtered, pointing to the bearded gentleman across the center aisle. “There were no seats together,”

The bearded man smiled at me, shyly.

“I have an aisle seat a few rows backs,” continued the wife. “Would you mind if we switched so I can be closer to my husband?  It’s another aisle seat.  It shouldn’t make any difference to you.”

I glanced over at the beautiful woman to my left.  She was reading some article in her fashion magazine about “Pleasing Your Man in Bed.” I did NOT want to move my seat. No, not at all.

The wife hovered over me and I started to cave.

“Let’s be honest,” I thought. “You’re never going to talk to this beautiful woman sitting next to you. What does it really matter where you sit?”

“Fine,” I told the wife. “I’ll switch with you.”

“Thank you so much! You’re so nice!” she said.

I grabbed my black Everlast carry-on bag from overhead, took one more quick glance at the beautiful woman, and retreated to the back of the plane, passing the restless, angry, bitter, sleepy coach travelers, all vainly struggling to shove their too-large carry-ons into the too-small overhead compartments.

It wasn’t until I reached my new seat that I understand my horrible, terrible mistake. I had just traded in my perfect aisle seat next to the hottest woman on the flight for an aisle seat in the back, one row in front of the bathroom. My seatmate was a sweaty, overweight man, barely able to contain his hefty body in his narrow seat.

“How ya doin’?” he asked in a Southern accent. His arm completely extended over the common arm rest and his elbow practically poked me in the ribs.

“I’m Bob!” he said.

Let me be perfectly clear. I don’t believe that larger-sized people should be penalized for their weight, or be forced to pay for two seats on an airplane. No, the villain is the airline industry. Airline seats are designed to fit twelve year old Japanese girls, forcing Americans to buy business class. I’m thin, and I can hardly fit comfortably in my coach seat. And God help me if the person in front of me slides his seat back. Flying coach today is reminiscent of how my poor European immigrant family came to this country by ship in 1917.

Bob was not only a big man. He was a garrulous Southerner, way too friendly for my East Coast self.

“You flying home?” he asked, eating some peanuts he had hidden in his pocket. Bob was about fifty, with thinning black hair and a tiny nose like a rabbit.

“Yeah,” I said, limiting myself to one syllable.

“Me too,” he said. “Just came to LA to attend my Grandma’s birthday party at the nursing home by my sister’s house in Reseda. Of course, my sister said it wasn’t necessary for me to come. But I told her, this is my beloved grandma too! I’m coming faster than a Navy private in a hooker’s hooch!”

I reached into my lime green khakis and took out my iPhone. I made believe that I was sending important messages back to my office. In truth, I was on Twitter, asking for advice on how to survive this flight.

I stood up to stretch, and looked over at my old God-given seat, the one that I had reserved weeks earlier, and was now occupied by the red-haired woman.

There was now a passenger in row 17, seat A, the window seat next to the beautiful woman with the fashion magazine. He was a strong-jawed man with a cowboy hat. He was confidently chatting it up with her. I could hear her laughing.

“I see you’re using one of those new phones,” said Bob, jolting me out of my thoughts. “You should save the battery until the flight.”

“I’ll be OK,” I said.

“Are you sure?” he replied. “I work as a trucker. So recently, I’m driving with my buddy, Duke, who is always playing these games on his phone. One day, he’s playing so much that his battery runs out. And it just happens that on that day, his wife calls him and can’t reach him, so she gets all freaked out, thinking the truck crashed and he got killed. So when we get back home, his wife is waiting for him, and whoa, did she kick his ass that night!”

“Uh, yeah, those mobile games are pretty popular,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

“You play these games on the phone?” he asked.

“Not really. I mostly read stuff on the phone.”

“Yeah. I like reading. You ever read “In Cold Blood?”

“No, but I know what it is. I saw the movie.”

“Read the book.”

“I’ll check it out,” I said, hoping that this conversation was reaching the end.

I closed my eyes, and faked that I was asleep. The plane departed LAX.  Bob really fell asleep, his head resting on my shoulder.

“Why am I such a sucker?” I asked myself as we flew over Nevada. “Why did I switch my perfectly good seat for this awful one? Sure, I was being nice. But “nice” is now the biggest insult in the word, according to some article I recently read, worse being called an asshole. At least an asshole “knows what he wants.  Soon, the beautiful woman and the cowboy will be sneaking off back here, into the bathroom together, having mile high sex, and I’ll be hearing it all from my seat!  And if I wasn’t such a fool, that could have been ME!  Instead, I am stuck with… Bob.”

Bob woke up from his nap, drooling on my shirt. He saw that I was awake, and was in a talkative mood.

“Hey, where in Nashville do you live?”

“I live in New York. I’m just stopping over in Nashville.”

“Oh. New York. New York. If you can’t make it there, you can’t make it anywhere. Except it is a bad place to drive a truck.”

I closed my eyes and faked sleeping for a second time.

We landed in Nashville. The moment the light flashed green, I was up, the seatbelt flying open. I grabbed my black Everlast carry-on bag from the overhead compartment.

“See ya, “ I told Bob, and ran like hell, pushing aside old and pregnant women to exit first.

I had ninety minutes to kill in the Nashville airport, so I did a little exploring. It was a nice airport, making LGA look like a Greyhound terminal. It was clean, bright, and country music stars like Randy Travis greeted you on the loudspeaker, suggesting you visit the local tourist spots, like the zoo.

I thought about my experience with Bob on the plane, and how I frequently sabotage my own potential. I was about to attend a blogging conference in a few days. I promised myself not to make the same mistake that I just did on the plane when I attended this conference. I needed to focus on networking with the right people, those who can get me work, success, or advancement, the beautiful and talented artists and entrepreneurs of the world — not the Trucker Bobs of the world, those who offer me nothing but useless conversation, wasting my precious time.   If the beautiful woman on the plane symbolized success and power, Trucker Bob represented despair.

There was an announcement on the speaker system, interrupting Shania Twain talking about Nashville’s famous music clubs. It was a voice from American Airlines.

“Would the passenger who just flew in from Los Angeles, flight 17, and who has the black Everlast carry-on bag, please come to Gate 2. You have the wrong bag.”

I looked down at my bag. This WAS my bag. Or at least I thought so, until I opened it. Inside, I found an assortment of XL tank-tops, dirty crew socks, a razor, and a copy of “In Cold Blood.”

When I arrived at Gate 2, I saw Bob standing with an American Airlines attendant. I handed him his bag.

“I’m so sorry,” I said, blushing, worried that Bob would think I stole his bag. “Who would guess that we would have identical carry-on bags?”

“No problem,” he laughed, smiling goofily. “Honest mistake.”

The attendant said my bag was already in the lost and found. I should wait there while she retrieved my bag. Bob remained behind, standing at my side.

“You don’t have to wait for me,” I told Bob.

“No problem,” he said. “I just want to make sure you get your bag, like I got mine.”

“Thank you,” I replied.

“It’s such a weird mistake,” I said, trying to be friendly.

“Yeah, like one of those Alfred Hitchcock films where there are switched suitcases, and one of them is from a spy.”

“Exactly!” I laughed, surprised that Bob knew that reference. “Do you like Hitchcock films?”

“Of course,” he said, and told me his favorites. “Rear Window. Strangers on a Train. Psycho.”

“Which is the movie with the mixed up suitcases?” I asked, not remembering.

“North by Northwest?” he asked.

“No, definitely not,” I said. “I’m not even sure it happened in a Hitchcock film. Maybe we are thinking of Charade, which wasn’t by Hitchcock.”


I glanced at the overhead clock to make sure I was doing OK with time. I still had 45 minutes.

“Hey, you want to grab a cup of coffee and apple fritter before you take off for New York?” asked Bob. “I know a good place in the terminal.”


Bob and I went to have a cup of coffee and apple fritter.

“Why’d you take such a bad flight to New York? Nashville at 4AM?” he asked, munching on his treat.

“Stupid American Airlines frequent flier program. This was the only flight I can get.”

He understood. It was the same reason he was taking the flight.

“I can’t believe how bad American Airlines has become,” said Bob. “They used to be the best!”

“The reason I still fly American is that my father would ONLY take American Airlines when he flew. He thought they were a class act.”

“Mine too!”

“We’re American Airlines…. Doing what we do best.”

We both sang the long-running commercial jingle from American Airlines. We laughed. We bonded by mocking American Airlines, and how far they’ve fallen, suggesting that their only hope was to be bought by some Chinese airline. We talked about our fathers. I learned that Bob was divorced in 2000. I promised him that I would read “In Cold Blood.” I showed him how to use Twitter.

It was the best forty-five minutes I’ve ever had in the Nashville airport.


Facebook Chat from last week with my blogging friend, Jill, mother of three.


Neil:  Hi, Jill.

Jill:  Hey, Neil! What’s up?

Neil:   Can I talk to you about personal stuff?

Jill:  Sure.

Neil:  Sophia and I got our papers back from the court today. We are officially divorced. We went out to Yogurtland for some peanut butter frozen yogurt. And that’s that.

Jill:  Wow.

Neil:  I haven’t told anyone. Not my friends. Not my mother. But I need to tell someone. And I saw you on Facebook chat.

Jill:  Wow. That’s some news.

Neil:  I know. Bombshell. Biggest personal news ever.

Jill:  But to be honest. I thought you were already divorced.

Neil:  No, we were just separated.

Jill:  I see.

Neil:  I know.  My personal life is confusing.

Jill:  Are you absolutely sure that you and Sophia weren’t divorced already?

Neil:  No.  No divorce.

Jill:  I could have sworn you were already divorced.   I’ve been reading your blog for a long time.

Neil:  No, just separated.

Jill:  Separated.   So all this time — for the last seven years — you’ve been separated?

Neil:  Something like that. On and off.  Even though we lived together.

Jill:  Wait a minute. I thought you live in New York now.

Neil:  No, now I’m in Los Angeles again.

Jill:  With Sophia?

Neil:  With Sophia.

Jill:  So you live together now?

Neil:  For now.

Jill:  Call me crazy, but I could have sworn I remember you writing a post saying you got divorced and then you threw up outside the court?

Neil:  No, that was when I filed the papers. That’s when I threw up.

Jill:  You’re right. It’s all very confusing. But maybe it’s for the best.

Neil:  Sure. It’s still sad.

Jill:  I can imagine. I’m not really sure what to say.

Neil:  Maybe you can give me one of your famous vitual {{hugs}} that you always give online to people in need.

Jill:  You want me to give you virtual {{hugs}}?

Neil:  Well, I am feeling a little sad.

Jill:  Hmm. I’m not sure I feel comfortable giving you {{hugs}}.

Neil:  Why not?

Jill:  I’m a married woman. And you’re a divorced man.

Neil:  But you’ve given me {{hugs}} before! Remember when I accidently deleted all those instagram photos! You gave me {{hugs}} then.

Jill:  Yeah, never with a man who JUST got divorced. I know how men get after they are divorced. I don’t want to lead you on or for you to think I’m available to you with my {{hugs}}.

Neil:  I don’t want to date you. I just want one of your comforting internet {{hugs}}!

Jill:  Just the {{hugs}}? That’s all? Are you sure that’s all you want. Nothing more?

Neil:  I’m depressed. I just experience one of the most dramatic moments of my life! You’re the first person I’ve talked to all day. You’re my lifeline.

Jill:  Oh wait. My husband just walked in. He’s crying over the news.

Neil:  Over my divorce?

Jill:  No, they just traded Jeremy Lin to the Houston Rockets. Let me ask him if I can give you {{hugs}}.

Jill’s Husband:  Hello.

Neil:  Jill?

Jill’s Husband:  No, this is Jill’s husband.

Neil:  Hi.

Jill’s Husband:  Don’t hi me.  Are you trying to f**k my wife?

Neil:  What?!

Jill’s Husband:  Just answer. Are you trying to f**k my wife?

Neil:  I have no interest in your wife. She’s just a friend. I’m just trying to get a little ol’ internet {{hugs}} from her?

Jill’s Husband:  Internet {{hugs}}? What is that, hipster slang for a blowjob?

Neil:  No! It’s just a virtual {{hugs}}.  You know, with the brackets standing in as as the arms doing the hug.   An emoticon.

Jill’s Husband:  What are you talking about?  Has Jill given you these {{hugs}} before?

Neil:  Jill gives {{hugs}} to everyone. She is a freaking {{hugs}} machine. It means nothing.

Jill’s Husband:  So you don’t want to f**k her?

Neil:  No!

Jill’s Husband:  You don’t find her attractive?

Neil:  Of course she’s attractive. But she’s just a friend. A mom who I’ve met at BlogHer a couple of times.

Jill’s Husband:  OK, then. Fine. Here’s Jill.

Jill:  Hi, Neil. It’s me.   My husband said it was OK to give you {{hugs}}.

Neil:  Thanks.  So, he understands that we’re just friends.

Jill:  No, it wasn’t that.  When he heard that you’ve attended BlogHer a few times, he assumed you’re gay.

Neil:  Fine. Just do it already.

Jill:  {{hugs}}

Truth Quotient:  25%

Three Attempts at Writing the About Page

I’ve been blogging since 2005 without an “about page.” I was advised by a close friend that I NEED ONE before BlogHer.

“It is even more important that having pretty business cards and comfortable shoes,” she said.

I’m terrible at writing about myself.

My right brain tells me that “I am superior to most of humanity.”

My left brain says, “You’re the same as everyone else.  No better, no worse… OK, probably worse.”

My solution to this dilemma — get someone else to write my “about page.”   I know that I could hire someone to do it, but yes, I’m too cheap.   Instead, I asked a family member and two close friends to write it for me.

Which “about page” would best entice new readers to come to this blog, or interest corporate sponsorship?


Neil Kramer
About Page
(written by Neil’s mother)

Neil was a frequent “citizen of the month” throughout grade school. He continues that fine tradition today by always helping the elderly across the street and rarely using filthy language in public discourse.  He believes in diversity,  liberal ideology, and he befriends all, no matter what the race, religion, or class.  He respects women.  He loves his mother. He’s a real mensch.  If you are on Twitter, you should follow him.  If you are a big company which offers good medical insurance, you should hire him.  If you a nice girl, you should date him.  Jewish preferred.  He is a good writer.  I still have the robot story he wrote in eight grade!


Neil Kramer
About Page
(written by Rhonda, VP, Anderson Public Relations, Santa Monica)

Neil is a brilliant writer and iphoneographer. He went to TWO prestigious and very expensive private universities and has worked at some pretty cool media-oriented companies that will make you go, “Whoa, he is someone worth knowing on Twitter”  He has written for television, and frequently jets back and forth between New York and Los Angeles, like a bigshot.  He is the blogosphere’s equivalent of Mr. Big.  His world-famous blog is immensely popular, and is visited by some of the most influential people online.  At BlogHer 2011, The Pioneer Woman came up and said hello TO HIM, not the other way around, and he then told her, “I’ve never read your blog.  What’s the link?” Now that’s cool!  What confidence!   Neil is six feet tall, still has his hair, and was once told by someone online that he gives “the best sext on Gtalk EVER.”


Neil Kramer
About Page
(written by Jennifer, PhD Candidate, Feminist Theory and Media Studies, McGill University)

Neil is a heterosexual white male who owes all of his accomplishments to his excessive privilege, the only true hardship he ever encountered being his barbaric circumcision. As an only child, his parents pampered him and paid for his education, his sole financial contribution during college being a work/study job as a stockboy at the university library, where he goofed off in the stacks and read political science books, taking the position away from marginalized students of color who truly needed it. Most of his future jobs were attained either through nepotism or connections within the “old-boy” power structure.  Blind to his own sexism and racism, his frequent use of the obsessive “male gaze” in his iphoneography adds fuel to our society’s repression and violence towards women.  Despite his frequent calls for diversity in the blogosphere, his blogroll does not contain a single link to a transgender writer, nor has he ever dated one.  Neil’s yearly presence at a conference geared for the advancement of women signals a continued need for male domination and female subordination in the cultural realm of creativity and intellectualism.  He has been heard, more than once, arrogantly calling American’s Native Americans as “Indians.”

The Dark Side of the Pill

Popular wisdom says a blog must have a niche, or a focused theme, and today I found it — anxiety.  I walked into Walgreen’s, headed straight for the pretty Vietnamese pharmacist with the sour face, and without hesitation or shame, handed her a presciption for Buspar.

“It’s a mild anti-anxiety medication,” I said.

“I know what Buspar is.  I’m a pharmacist,” she replied, sourly.

I know my mother is going to call me in ten minutes and tell me NOT to take this pill.  She is so fearful of pills that she would be booted out of BlogHer today for being a bad mother to me when I was a child. When I had the flu, she would give me less than the suggested dose of any medication.  If it was a fever, she would cut the aspirin and give me half.  If I was coughing endlessly, she would give me a teaspoon of cough medicine.

“Mom, Robitussin says to give me a TABLESPOON, not a TEASPOON. Cough Cough Cough.”

I was an avid reader at an early age, and was fond of reading cereal boxes and cough medicine bottles.

“You don’t need a full tablespoon. You can get HOOKED on this and then you will be in the street, drinking cough syrup.”

“Yuch.  It’s too sweet. It’s like the Manischevitz wine at Passover that no one likes.  Who is going to get hooked on cough syrup?”

“That’s what they ALL say before it starts to become a problem.   Just drink more tea and honey.  That will make you better.”

My mother was like a Jewish version of a Jehovah’s Witness/Scientologist, who didn’t believe in modern pills.  It was always tea and honey.  And chicken soup, the cure-all.  I’m lucky I never broke a leg.

“Here, put some chicken soup on your leg.”

Her anxiety over medications became my anxiety over medications.

And drugs.

Remember when everyone laughed at Bill Clinton when he said he smoked pot, but never inhaled?  I never laughed.  I did that ALL the time when I was thirteen years old, hanging out with Scott and Phillip in Phillip’s room after school, when his mother was still at work.  Phillip would take out his nickel bag hat he bought from his older sister and then crank up Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon on his expensive, wood-grained Sherwood stereo that he saved up for by working at his father’s store.

“This album is the fucking best!” announced Scott.

He always said that, just as “Money” started to play.  And yes, Pink Floyd nuts, I realize that “Money” is the first song on the B-side, but Phillip always played the second side first.  That’s how we rolled in Flushing, Queens.

I like Pink Floyd now.  But I didn’t like them at all when I was thirteen.  I found “The Dark Side of the Moon,” one of the best-selling albums ever,  slow and depressing. I secretly listened to the more upbeat, funkier, Commodores back at home, but never mentioned it to anyone else.

“Pink Floyd rocks!” I would say as Phillip would turn the bass up so high that it distorted the sound.

Note:  I made up that last quote where I say, “Pink Floyd rocks!”  Recently, there was a scandal where a blogger was caught making up details about his life, and I feel the need to kowtow to the pressure to be authentic.  I don’t really remember what I said in Phillip’s  during those good ol’ days, but I am positive that peer pressure had an even bigger effect on me back then, which would have forced me to say that I liked this album more than I did. (Albums, ha ha! How quaint! One day, I will talk about how important it was to have the right speakers and stereo system. We used to talk about it like kids talk about smartphones today.)

Money, get away
Get a good job with more pay
And your O.K.

Money, it’s a gas
Grab that cash with both hands
And make a stash

New car, caviar, four star daydream
Think I’ll buy me a football team

Money get back
I’m all right Jack
Keep your hands off my stack

Money, it’s a hit
Don’t give me that
Do goody good bullshit

I’m in the hi-fidelity
First class traveling set
And I think I need a Lear jet

Money, it’s a crime
Share it fairly
But don’t take a slice of my pie

Having just recalled the lyrics to “Money,” it doesn’t surprise me at all that my pot smoking friend ended up working on WALL STREET, rolling in the dough,  while I’m still lulling away the hours, fantasizing about the woman extolled by the Commodores in — (take it Lionel Richie)

She’s a brick—-house
Mighty mighty, just lettin’ it all hang out
She’s a brick—-house
The lady’s stacked and that’s a fact,
ain’t holding nothing back.

If you are a parent, watch what your children listen to when they are thirteen years old. It will determine their future more than what fancy school they attend.

Back to the pot.  I loved the smell of pot.  But I was my mother’s son.  I was afraid of getting lung cancer at age thirteen.  Why risk it just to get high?

“You can’t get lung cancer from pot,” said Phillip.

I researched this in the library, and Phillip was right.  But again, why take the chance?

I was not anti-marijuana.   I laughed when they had that school assembly where they brought in that former drug addict who told us that pot was his “gateway drug” to heroin. The “potheads” that I knew in school seemed way too lazy to go out and buy a needle.

I faked smoking pot with Phillip and Scott.   Of course, sometimes the smoke would get into my lungs.  It took some skill to fake smoking pot, because you were supposed to hold it in for what seemed like ten minutes to get the “full effect.”  At one point, Scott bought a bong, which always seemed to me like a Mr. Coffee for potheads.

Phillip and Scott would get high, grooving to Pink Floyd.  I never could understand how his parents never figured out what we were doing after school.  The entire room smelled of pot.  Perhaps they smoked pot themselves?

It was never much fun being the one friend who wasn’t high.    Phillip and Scott found everything funny, and there is nothing less funny than people who think they are funny.

Phillip: “If you reflect a magnifying glass just right, you can get this rainbow effect like on the album cover.”

Scott: “I love this album cover.”

Phillip: “You going to get the new Kiss album?”

Scott: “Kiss is for faggots.”

Phillip: “Yeah.  Ha Ha Ha.”

Scott: “Imagine kissing Shari Diamond.”

Phillip: “Oh yeah!

Scott: “Call her. Tell her to come over.”

Phillip: “Look at the wall! It’s like vibrating.”

Scott: “Fuck.”

I know I might seem like a wallflower, but I wasn’t.  I would participate in the conversation, too.

Neil: “Do you think the social studies test is going to be hard on Friday?”

Phillip: “What are you talking about, Neil?”

Scott: “Mellow out, Neil. Look at the wall.”

Neil:  “OK.”

Phillip:  “You see it?”

Neil:  “Yeah.  Cool.  (to self) Morons.”

2012, many years later.  Scott is on Facebook.   Phillip is missing.  My musical taste has not improved (see Kelly Clarkson?!)  And sadly, my anxiety remains.  Lately, I haven’t been myself.  I’ve been having trouble dealing with work and money and divorce and whether or not to make new business cards for BlogHer.

“Why don’t you take some Buspar?” said Dr. Fish, my primary care doctor who I went to because I had a pain in my shoulder.  Diagnosis: Tendonitis.

“I don’t need it.”

“Sophia said it might be good for you?”


I remembered that we had the same doctor and Sophia had just gone to Dr. Fish two days earlier for her yearly checkup.  I felt like I was being pushed into something I didn’t want to do.

“I don’t like pills.”

“It’s not a big deal. You take it.  If you don’t like it, you stop.”

“I’m not sure I have “real” anxiety.  It’s just a temporary thing.  I’m not afraid of people.”

“Not all anxieties are the same.”

“Well, come to think of it, I AM afraid of most people.  But I’m not crazy or anything.”


Mom, are you calling me now?

“Don’t take it, Neil.” I can hear her saying.   “Don’t take pills.   Finish this divorce already, and you will be OK.”

But I am an adult.  I need to stop listening to Sophia, Dr. Fish, AND my mother, and do what is best for my mental health.

The package of Buspar is sitting on the desk, next to the computer.  I’m still a little scared of taking one. Will I become a Stepford zombie? Will my penis shrink?

Maybe I should download some Pink Floyd on iTunes so I can create the right mood.

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