7 – Blog 18 – As-salaam ‘alykum

Swimming in Lake Geneve ends with a mini riot when I sing an old punk rock song with David Bowie. The song is hectic and the kids run wild. I approach Freddie Mercury’s Lake House with nervous trepidation that my old boss John Landis and his wife Debbie will be waiting to see me there. Yesterday’s visit reduced me to confusion and tears from confronting a past I do not remember. Luckily, they have yet to appear.

It is Bowie’s Turkish friends and fellow musicians, just arrived from Berlin. We will perform the song ‘Yassassin’ that Bowie recorded with them last year. I call it Turkish Reggae. All of us will perform it tomorrow after Friday noon prayers at the Lausanne Muslim Cultural Center.

‘Come meet my friends,” Bowie, drags us over to them. “They will dance and sing with me.”

He introduces Samir on drums, Mustafa on keyboard and Gul a skinny guitarist (compared to the other two). My bongo and MOOG skills will not be needed.

“Are there many Turks in Germany?” I innocently ask.

“Too many,” chubby Samir laughs. “Are there any in Switzerland?”

“Es ist verboten,” I answer.

“Sprechen sie Deutsch?”

Nein. Ich spreche Neuenglisch,” I contend.

“Neuenglisch?”

“Was Sie verstehen.” (understand)

“Das ist gut.”

“Meet Amir. He lives here and will dance to the song you play.”

“Traditional dance?”

“Ja, er ist Sufi, un wirbelnde Derwisch.”

“Derwiasch? Ist gut. Allein?”

“Allein? Was ist Alle? Alien?”

“Nein. ‘By himself?’”

Mike comes over.

“Das ist Michel, un American wirbelnde.”

Ah. Tolle dreadlocks.“

“What’s he saying?“

“Cool dreads.“

“Tolle, man,“ Mike tries New English.

We agree to practice the song after lunch. Jim has the grill fired up and adds bratwurst to the menu.

Duncan, hanging onto his dad, looks ignored and bored.

 Mike grabs him; we all jump into the pool. Duncan has learned to hold his breath under water and comes up without screaming. He strokes to the side.

“See, Da,“ he tells Bowie, “I’m learning to swim.“

“Good show, my man,“ David is a good dad.

“Can I dance with Mike and Amar in tomorrow’s show?”

“Ask Amar. He’s in charge of the dancing.”

Duncan grabs a burger and sits with Amar. They are thick as thieves.

Maybe it is wrong to stereotype Arabs as thieves.

“David, are we both singing. With the band here you may want someone with an authentic Turkish accent?”

“I like the call and response duet we’ve been doing. You don’t want to perform?”

“I always want to perform but this is the band you recorded the song with.”

“Playing live trying to reproduce the sounds of the Casbah will keep them too busy to do vocals.”

“Don’t you want as many Arabic faces as possible?”

“No. This song shows that Westerners appreciate Eastern music. Do your best on the vocals. We can try various voices when we practice. Why are you acting insecure?”

“Yeah. I have some issues, but Mike keeps me grounded.”

He gives me a knowing look. “Mike is much happier now that he has a friend his age.”

“He really likes the whirling. I’ll never match his dance moves.”

“That’s his trademark. Yours is being Boss.”

We laugh and get lunch. David has the bratwurst and sits with the Turks.

After eating, the adults decide to hit the pot pipe in anticipation of band rehearsal. Mike, Amar and I walk to the Lakefront and hangout with the local kids. They kid Amar that he is a celebrity. He shows some of the dervish moves with Mike joining in. I tell them I need to meet my LA friends and walk to the hotel.

It turns out that John is off with Brian meeting City officials about possible location sites in Lausanne and the permits required. Debbie meets me in the lobby. She seems nervous and apologetic about yesterday.

“Don’t sweat the little things. Mike got me back on track after dinner. Did you like the performance of the Monster  Mash?”

“John thinks you want to hijack his ‘Werewolf’ movie.”

“It’s just a spoof. He said he wants the movie to be more comedy than horror.”

“Can you forgive me for being so silly, crying and all?”

“Of course. I just don’t have those deep feelings that are normal for people our age. I’m learning to get over being dead.”

“Your doctor was right to keep you from learning about your past. I had no right to expect you to remember me.”

“I still want to know you now. Do you have kids?”

“Not yet. We’re trying. It is hard with John away so much.”

Might this be a reason she needs to ‘mother’ me?

“Do you work with John on his movies.”

“I’m a costume designer. You came up with the Toga  party in ‘Animal House.’ Oops. I’m sorry. I did it again.”

“I designed togas?”

“No. But you suggested we use bedsheets.”

We both laugh. No memories of togas.

“Let’s not reminisce,” I suggest.

“Your friend Mike is nice. He seems familiar. Is he American?”

“Can you keep a secret?”

“Is he hiding out from the law?”

“No. Just his mean old dad.”

“If he’s not in danger, I’ll keep my big mouth shut.”

“It’s not that dire. He’s Michael Jackson.”

“That cute little kid?”

“He’s my age now. We can’t let his father know where he is.”

“Can I tell John. It sounds like your life will make a great script.”

“You want to come meet all the kids at the Lakefront? Mike and Amar are there.”

We walk through the city center. Montreux is quaint and lacks all the hustle and bustle of bigger Lausanne. I show her the Casino and Taboo (she wants to go into the gay club but it is only open at night). Everyone is still at the Lake. The kids think I’m cool showing around an ‘older woman.’ She is 26.

Soon it is time to go rehearse at the Lake House. Amar shows Debbie how to use the pay phone and connects her to the hotel. She leaves a message for John on her whereabouts. Rehearsal goes well. The Turks are professional musicians. They love having Sufi dancers for their song. Bowie and I trade lyrics. Having Debbie there ups my game. We sound like a professional duo. Duncan tries to spin and twirl with Amar and Mike. They finally swing him around by the arms. Working with the Turks we create a long coda for the end of the song, without lyrics. Amar is totally transported, flying with Mike but not in a trance. At the end of the song, Bowie and I both stretch out the title: ‘Yas-sas-sin.” As the whirling reaches its climax, the boys collapse in a heap. The musicians thunder to an ending. Bowie shouts, ‘Long Live’.

After several hours of rehearsal, we sit around the studio and try to figure some statement we can make after we perform tomorrow.

“How does it feel when you are transported, Amar?” I ask.

“Like I have left my body and am floating.”

“But what are your emotions?”

“I am in awe, free from petty feelings, untouched by people around me and their everyday cares.”

“I’ll ask the iman to talk about Sufism, how it is separate from the political turmoil between Sunni and Shia factions. It is a spiritual side to Islam,” Bowie decides.

“I’m not sure the song talks about politics,” I reflect. “It is more the plight of the immigrant in Western countries.”

“Yes,” David exclaims. “That is why it was written in Berlin.”

“So many Turks in Germany,” Samir reflects, “all feeling like aliens from Mars.”

“The Spiders from Mars.” I remember.

“Yes. When we met David there, we knew he understood us, how alienated we all are.”

“There is a great fear that the plight of Iran will ignite a worldwide revolution,” David expresses his fears. “Western culture doesn’t understand the many levels of Islam. My song is a bridge of that gap.”

“Will Americans get what you’re saying?” I ask. “We’re a nation of immigrants who have no sympathy for newly arrived ones.”

“I wanted friends so badly,” Amar recalls. “But until Mike and Laz showed how American kids accept each other, nobody knew how to be my friend. Now I’m popular after you showed how Black and White can be friendly. David was singing his ‘Young Americans’ song.

Needing no excuse, I jump up, pulling Debbie up with me and we sing for our supper.

John arrives in time for our song. He has been standing by the door to the studio.

“Hey. That’s my woman,” he shouts. “Hands off.”

“You snooze, you lose,” is my answer.

Jim has been speaking with the three Turkish musicians.

“Dinner will be a treat tonight, a classic Mediterranean menu including Kuzu güveç.”

“What is that?”

“Lamb,” Jim explains, “Plus rice pilov and other delicacies. It will be ready in two hours.”

“First we eat American hamburgers, today German bratwurst, and tonight Arab kebabs,” Roger complains. “Will we have to sit on the floor and eat with our hands?”

“What are we having?” I ask Amar.

“Lamb stew. It’s good.”

John and Debbie prepare to leave, not wanting to crash our dinner party.

“You can’t leave so soon,” Freddie rushes to stop them. “We hope Debbie will dance at the feast.”

“Dance?” Debbie asks.

“You know, belly dancing,” Freddie laughs.

“I need to get my belly dancing costume,” Debbie bows out gracefully.

“I have just what you need,” he drags her to his master bedroom.

Better rush to her rescue,” I advise John. “Freddie’s from Zanzibar. He may make her join his harem.”

John runs to catch up.

Mike needs a nap, so we pile onto a large couch in the lounge, all four kids, including Amar and Duncan. We sleep until the meal is ready. My brain is revived while my belly aches for nourishment. The feast is laid out on several large metal trays

Jim provides plates and silverware for those uncomfortable eating with bread and their hands – all the English musicians except for Bowie. They fill their plates and sit at the table. The Landises, Freddie, David, the Turks and all four kids squat on the floor and dig in. When anything runs out, Jim is ready with fresh platters. Wine (beer for the English) flows easily. Amar and Duncan are given sodas. The Turks brought fresh baklava from Berlin. Nobody finishes hungry. Dark espresso coffee is served.

A recording of Turkish dancing music plays. Debbie and Freddie appear in belly dancing outfits. The shake their hips and breasts (or, non-breasts) at us and circle the guests.

It lasts less than three minutes. Everyone is entertained. We slap John on the back, congratulating his potential for bedroom escapades. The heavy eye makeup, many bracelets and flowing skirts make the performance somewhat authentic. Amar and Mike jump up and whirl around the room. I grab Duncan and swing him by the arms as Amar and Mike circle the guests.

The Queen and Knobs musicians invite the Turks to accompany them to Taboo. David and Duncan take Amar home; they will invite his parents to the Muslim Cultural Center show, but not his obnoxious sisters. I tell Mike that John and Debbie know who he is. We decide to accompany them back to their hotel. Mike needs allies in his coming battle with his evil father over his career. He hopes his role as the Scarecrow in ‘The Wiz‘ may propell him onto the A list of Hollywood actors. (Sadly not to be).

We settle into the hotal bar.

“I thought you looked familiar, Mike.”

No secrets in their marriage.

“Why do you need to hide?” Debbie solicitiously asks.

“I’m considering my options.”

“Can we help?”

“Best to not let anyone know where I am.”

“Certainly, but eventually people will find out.”

“Being here has taught me so much. Wait ‘til you see me dance tomorrow.”

“I can see how happy you are,” Debbie smiles.

“Laz is the first friend I’ve ever had. We really click.”

They give each other knowing looks.

“It’s not like that,” I dispute what their looks imply. “We’re best friends. It’s not gay.”

“Why would they think that?” Mike asks me.

“I have a bad reputation with everyone in my past.”

“That’s why you were so upset last night.”

“I was upset because I don’t feel the way I did when I knew John and Debbie before my ‘death.’ They still love me, and I don’t feel anything. It’s upsetting.

“Yeah. You cried a lot.”

“Mike’s my best friend. He calmed me down.”

“We’re learning to love Laz. Take as much time as you need to love us back.”

I hug them both and then hug Mike.

“He wanted to love you but didn’t remember you,” Mike explained. “I’d never seen him cry before.”

“I’m back, no more crying,” I declare. “It’s not that I want to forget all my memories. I just need to find my own way. Can we talk about something else?” I implore.

 Being under the microscope is distressing.

“Why did you start a swim school?”

“The kids who hangout at the lakefront saw Mike and me swimming like dolphins when Bowie sang the dolphins line in ‘Heroes.’”

“Bowie sings at the Lake?”

“The Swiss idolize him. It was a one-off spontaneous thing. Every day more and more kids come hoping to see him. They were let into the Casino show and danced to all the new Queen songs. Afterward we came here, and the kids keep coming back. We also teach them how to sing.”

“You must be exhausted. Shows every day.”

“Naw. The shows fire me up. It is Mike that wears me out.”

He punches my shoulder. I fake looking pained. No need to discuss sleepovers at our age.

John decides to discuss his negative opinions about ‘The Wiz.’ It is mostly to do with directorial control over minor details. He also criticizes Diana Ross for playing Dorothy ‘at her age.’

Mike jumps to her defense. “Don’t say that. I idolize her. She’s like my godmother.”

“Why didn’t you hide with her?” John asks.

“David came to a cast party. We spoke and he said he was going home to Switzerland. I impetuously asked to stay with him. He is so nice.”

“The Swiss are not celebrity hounds. They let us be ourselves,” I add.

“Why are you hiding, Laz? You may be a musical wunderkind, but you’re not famous.”

“I apologize, but I can’t explain a lot of what is happening. Maybe someday I’ll feel comfortable to go back to my old life, but not until I figure out why I think and act like I do. Some of it is just personality and some is actual character.”

“You are a character,” John laughs.

“I go back to Hollywood and John has to be in London this weekend,” Debbie reveals.” We promise to not let anyone, even family, know about your ‘revival.’”

“I have family?” I realize.

“It’s obvious that Laszlo’s family is here. Let me know when you are ready to know more,” John promises not to reveal my past.

Mike and I walk back to the Lake House. Mike is unusually quiet. I sling an arm over his shoulder.

“What’s up butt fuck? You’re so glum you’re no fun.”

“It’s okay. Just been a busy day.”

I look at him and realize it is more than exhaustion.

“Don’t try to kid a kidder.”

“It’s just I thought you promised not to tell anyone who I am.”

Oh, no. Mr. Big Mouth strikes again. He shrugs my arm off his shoulder, turns to look at me, and pulls me into a solid hug.

“It’s okay. I know you trust them. But Hollywood is notorious for spreading gossip. My family issues can’t be in the news.”

“I wanted to show I trust them,” I gulp and almost swallow my excuse. I exposed him for my own selfish reasons. Life keeps getting more complicated.

We walk in silence to the house. Only Jim is there. He is surprised that I brought Mike. He expected I would sleep with Freddie. I continue to mess up for my own selfish reasons.

“You two sleep on the couch. When the rest of the gang returns, I wake you if there is an empty bed. He knows we only need one. He brings in a couple of blankets as we settle onto the couch. Mike choses to sleep head to foot, like nervous kids. My heart is breaking, I wrap my feet around his. He sighs and does not pull away. We are asleep quickly.

We both wake early, changing into swimsuits and taking a morning swim. Last night’s anguish about betrayal is forgotten. We have a show to do at noon. Jim has croissants and coffee for us after the swim. He silently checks out our feelings and is relieved that whatever bothered us is forgotten. We walk to the lakefront, arriving before ten when swim lessons begin. I tell the group that there will be no music lesson today as we have a show in Lausanne at noon. They ask to come but lose interest when I say it is at the Muslim Cultural Center. They don’t like culture. A few kids quiz Amar as he has brought whirling dervish robes for him and Mike. They assume he has arranged the show. I know not to encourage their attendance as Bowie does not want any teenage disruptions to his effort to reach out to the Muslim community. So complicated.

David  brings Duncan for his swim lesson. He is over the moon to learn Amar’s mother made him his own robes. We promise to bring him and Freddie to Lausanne before noon.

Jim drives the Rolls. When I realize I will be doing a duet with Bowie, I finally get excited about the show. I practice pronouncing ’Yassassin’ with Amar to get my pronunciation better.

“You still sound American.”

It will have to do.

Friday noon prayers is traditionally the most popular services of the week. Amar’s father is there and shows us how to prepare to attend the services – removing shoes, washing hands, and kneeling on our heels on rugs arranged like church pews. Amar’s mom leads Debbie to the women’s section. John insists he stay with them, the perfect feminist. We follow the ups and downs of prayer, listening to the Iman, and mirroring those real Muslims near us. At last, the Iman closes with instructions in French that there will be coffee and baklava at the Cultural Center and a musical performance by the pop singer David Bowie. It causes a stir. We hustle back to the center where the Turkish musicians are set up, anxious to play. Mike, Amar and Duncan use an empty classroom to change into their robes. Duncan complains about the leg wrappings. Amar keeps him under control. They plan to appear as soon as we start playing the long intro. The hall quickly fills up. John is sitting in the women’s section with Debbie and Amar’s mother. He looks fully comfortable, a traitor to male chauvinism. It is time to start.

The Iman gives a long introduction. I hear everyone’s names. A long description about the song follows. My New English is not up to task of understanding Arabic, just another example of Western privilege.

I do remember my one Arabic phrase and step up to Bowie’s mic after the Iman sits down.

“As-salaam ‘alykum,” I wish god’s blessing on them, on us, and on the world (in my own mind).

The greeting is returned by many voices.

The band starts with the oud guitar sound and the percussion which follows makes the room into a casbah.

The boys troop out from behind the band in their robes and tall brown caps.

They are barefoot. The crowd oohs and aahs, finally breaking into applause. Let the whirling begin as the band slowly ups the tempo and the dancers whirl faster.

David motions me to the mic for my call and his response.

‘Yassassin – I’m not a moody guy
Yassassin – I walk without a sound
Yassassin – Just a working man, no judge of men
Yassassin – But such a life I’ve never known’

I step back as David sings the verse

‘We came from the farmlands
To live in the city
We walked proud and lustful
In this resonant world

You want to fight
But I don’t want to leave
Or drift away’

I step back and join David for more call and response

‘Yassassin – I’m not a moody guy
Yassassin – I walk without a sound
Yassassin – Just a working man, no judge of men
Yassassin – But such a life I’ve never known

Look at this – no second glances
Look at this – no value of love
Look at this – just sun and steel
Look at this – then look at us’

The audience is clapping as the whirling picks up speed. The band increases the tempo as well. Duncan is the first to stumble and fall. An older Turk grabs him and raises him over his head; the robes flow and float above the other dancers.

David sings the final verses alone; then I join him for the final chorus

‘Yassassin – I’m not a moody guy
Yassassin – I walk without a sound
Yassassin – Just a working man, no judge of men
Yassassin – But such a life I’ve never known’

The band continues with a long coda. More dancers come up on stage, circling and encouraging the whirling Dervishes in robes. It is unchoreographed symmetry.

The band stops, but the audience continues to clap the rapid whirling rhythm.

Bowie motions for the dancers to stop and speaks to everyone.

“Long live,” Bowie translates, “Vive. Vie duree.”

“Vive,” the crowd responds.

“Ma chanson est pour les immigrants. Pour vous. Pour moi. Pour tous la monde. For everyone who does not belong.”

“Encore, encore,” the crowd demands.

Bowie motions for the band to start again. The dancers droop from exhaustion. The second the music restarts, they are back on their feet and whirling. Many in the audience cannot resist joining the whirlers on stage. At the end of the second call and response with Bowie, I grab Duncan , raise him over my head and do my barely adequate whirling moves. His head is in outer space propelled by the billowing robes.

The band continues for a good five minutes after Bowie is finishes singing. Duncan has that look on his face that he is about to vomit. I rush him to the restroom where there is a line for toilets. He barfs into the sink, looks up and smiles at me – Wowie Stardust. We collapse on stage beside his dad; Amar and Mike join us, looking otherworldly but not ready to vomit.

The Iman takes the mic and a long hearing ensues, again beyond New English translation.

“He says we are all immigrants,” Amar translates. “Too easily we give up our culture and become part Eastern and part Western but mostly lost. Reconnect with the spiritual side of Islam and reconnect with the Prophet’s miraculous experience of the Isra and Mi’ra or night journeys that the Prophet experienced in Mecca and to Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Mike listens to Amar’s explanation of the Iman’s sermon and is spiritually lifted away in a dream he later calls a journey. He forgives me my betrayal and says he was able to see his father mourning the loss of his favored son, Mike. My best friend is moved by the experience and resolves to move his relationship with his father forward.

“I thank you for telling the Landises who I am. I needed the fear of exposure to risk reconnecting to my family,” he hugs me and refuses to let go. Amar and Duncan join the group hug. Those near us believe we are still transported by the whirling. Perhaps they are right.

Looking out from the stage, I see bodies lying exhausted, spent by their spiritual experience. I think how all have their own journeys but this is definitely a group experience. The Iman invites all the westerners and Amar’s family to recover in his office. Coffee and baklava proves to be an excellent cure-all. Everyone, except me, seems to have had a spiritual awakening. We all agree to return to Bowie’s chalet to recover and discuss what the next move is. I wonder if I am the only one who remains clear-eyed.

John and Debbie come to say goodbye. They are leaving that night. They decline to further investigate our group experience with Sufi spirituality.

“We’re Jewish,” John remarks. “We tend to be skeptical.”

“I feel the same way. Maybe spinning Duncan around is not the same as actual Sufi dizziness,” I state my skepticism. “At least Mike says he needs to reconcile with his dad now.”

“Well, that’s a step forward,” Debbie agrees.’

“He’s been so mad at me since he found out I told  you who he is,” I admit. “Please keep it a secret even if he now plans to return to his family.”

“Our lips are sealed,” John jokes. Debbie breaks out into a song I don’t recognize.

“What song is that?”

The Go-Go’s. I redid their New Wave look this Spring. They’re from Hollywood and are Number One.”

“I feel like number Two,” I moan.

“Oh, poor boy,” John laughs. “Too much baklava?”

“Too much too much,” I laugh.

“That should be your New Wave band’s name, ‘Much 2 Much.’”

“I thought I was punk?”

“New Wave is Punk Plus,” Debbie observes.

“We’ll see you back in LA, soon I hope.” John predicts. ‘Your duet with Bowie was pretty good. Now go be a star in your own right.”

Good advice, especially if my best friend is going home to the Valley. How do I know about the Valley?

He hands me his business card with their home number written on the back. ‘for when you come back to Hollywood.”

I do not ask why I would ever want to do that.

As we are leaving a photographer rushes up to Bowie asking to do a group photo as a record of our ‘strange’ one song concert. We all gather around him attempting to look like serious ambassadors to the land of Allah and Alladin .

We retire to Bowie’s chalet, feeling odd to be done performing in midafternoon. David has music business news.

“RCA has agreed to put out a single 45 of Yassassin. A picture containing diagram

Description automatically generatedIf we get good reviews we may go on tour of the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has said they ‘may allow a live concert there.”

The Turks have obviously hit the hookah and get disjointedly rowdy at the thought of touring with Bowie.

“What about the dancers,” I ask.

“Duncan has school. And I understand he threw up after the performance,” Bowie is in Dad-mode.

“Ah,da. Laz made me throw up. He’s a waster at whirling.”

“You’re too young to go on tour. You can come for special appearances”

“That’s shite, da.”

“Words, Duncan.”

I almost feel sorry for him. Almost.

“If Amar comes, I’ll hire his dad to train other dancers,” Bowie knows real talent.

“Can we talk about today’s show. Some of those rug heads were really moved by the song. They felt it was about their lives.” I forget to not be derogatory.

I get pelted by the Turks with whatever they can find to throw. Luckily their aim is not true.

Mike has detached himself from our post-performance ego stroking.

“What’s up?” I ask, knowing he’s freaked by his vision of his missing dad. I hold his hand. He moves over and falls asleep on my lap. Everyone laughs. I refrain from an explanation, knowing my big mouth is not appreciated. I walk him back to his room. He is out on his feet. I am out in his arms once we are in bed. Ever since my crying jag it has been on an emotional rollercoaster.

Saturday morning starts sunny and warm. My LA friends have departed, taking with them my anxiety about unknowns from my past popping up. The possibility of going on tour with David Bowie excites me. I hope Mike will be on tour as well. Even Amar might be on the tour, although being accompanied by his father is not ideal. He does not trust me ever since I kissed Freddie on stage. Jeez, it was just part of our act. Having no choice at Freddie’s Lake House other than sleeping with Freddie, has me hoping to stay with Bowie and friends. The Turkish musicians seem fun. They do smoke pot a lot, but all musicians seem similarly deviant. When did I get so judgmental?

Mike soon wakes up and smiles at me. He has the biggest whitest teeth I’ve ever seen. Maybe they are a Hollywood special effects.

I try to pull the teeth out of his mouth. He lays there while I work on him. I finally give up.“What are you trying to do?” he asks.

“Just checking to see if your teeth are real.”

“You think I’m a horse?”

“Yeah, the famous Mister Ed!”

“’A horse is a horse of course of course
And no one can talk to a horse of course.
That is of course unless the horse
Is the famous Mister Ed!’”

We roll out of bed and find everyone else up, on the phone and trying to contain the furor over our private show at the Muslim Cultural Center.

London’s calling

CAA talent agency is calling

The NME is calling

Angie Bowie is demanding Duncan be sent to her home; she has given up her custody rights but is threatening to sue

Worst is Mike father is calling

I call Henri at the Casino. He promises to send a press agent to Lausanne to handle the calls. The phone is taken off the ‘hook’, until help arrives.

“No good deed ever goes unpunished,” I quip.

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