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Scott Wannberg—In Memoriam: California Poets Part 5, Twelve Poems

Scott Wannberg (1953-2011)

December 22nd, 2022

California Poets: Part V

Scott Wannberg

Twelve Poems

A Tribute to Scott Wannberg

by S.A. Griffin

Scott David Wannberg arrived February 20, 1953, at Santa Monica, California, the youngest of three boys, to Ernest and Mary Wannberg. Although he spent much of his youth in the San Fernando Valley, Scott graduated from Venice High School in 1971, and received his Master’s Degree from San Francisco State University in 1977.

The true genius of our crowd, Scott’s genius lie not only in words, but in an irrepressible heart. A political junkie and avid student of history, Scott’s work was always born in the immediacy of the “ongoing moment” in which he lived and wrote, propelled forward by his compassion for the human condition and the state of the world in which he lived. His voice was uniquely his own– humorous, surreal, playful, ironic and unequivocally grounded in his empathetic experience of life. A truly compassionate man, he cared deeply about his fellow human beings, the state of the nation and our world, and did not understand how people just aren’t—aren’t good to one another, aren’t good to the world and everything within it.

Scott liked nothing better than being on the road, and like King of the Road Jack Kerouac, Scott had a driver’s license but didn’t drive, depending upon the bus or friends to get him wherever he was going.

A voracious reader, Scott worked the main room at Dutton’s Bookstore in Brentwood, California as a clerk and book buyer most all of his adult life, always keeping a stash of doggie treats behind the counter for his canine customers. A great letter writer, one of the best, Scott maintained a steady correspondence with actors, musicians, poets, writers and historians, including author and historian Page Smith and a lifelong correspondence with his college mentor, poet Daniel Langton of San Francisco.

A world class cinephile, Scott loved film, and according to the big man himself, “Instead of playing little league baseball on weekends, I usually was sitting in my neighborhood movie theater, munching on popcorn.” Without question, his favorite film was The Wild Bunch, his favorite actor, Strother Martin. Scott also loved television and was a huge fan of many popular shows including Combat!, Have Gun Will Travel, Homicide Life on the Street, Seinfeld, Wired, Jeopardy!, SCTV and Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Among many other things, we talked film, politics, poetry and process almost daily with great joy. He often called to read aloud whatever it was he was devouring at the time, or to share something fresh off the keyboard, or to hash over current events or the editorial musings of Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow or Bill Maher and called every day with his Final Jeopardy! answer to see which one of us would get it right first.

Sometime in his early 50s while he was still living with his dad Ernie, Scott was adopted by a neighbor’s cat Bob who appears in many of his poems, like the hilarious, satirical and politically savvy Emily Dickinson in Iraq. Scott related to animals as if they were fellow humans, treating them much the same in his poems by imbuing them with human characteristics and voices. Scott’s wise and wisecracking canine alter ego Sparky first appeared in his poem Outlaws in the Sun (August 26, 2004), and was published in Harvey Keitel, Harvey Keitel, Harvey Keitel (Rose of Sharon Press, 2005).

He worked the typewriter and computer like a piano keyboard with virtuoso speed and grace, always attempting to keep up with his unceasing stream of consciousness. I would guess that Scott easily clocked in at about 100-120 wpm. He almost always wrote while listening to music, many of his musical choices listed at the end of his poems, something he began to note in the last decade or so. During his lifetime he wrote thousands of poems, rarely editing any of his work. However, the last few years he was alive he began to edit some of his earlier work, posting the results on Facebook for the 4,000 or so that were following Scott and his work those last three years.

Scott died of congestive heart failure at 58 in Florence, Oregon on August 19, 2011. His ashes were scattered variously in Florence, Oregon, Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Venice, California, Red Rocks Canyon in Las Vegas, Nevada and at the Walt Whitman State Historic Site in South Huntington, New York. His ashes are also interred within Elsie the Poetry Bomb, an art object of mass discussion.

Scott’s first book, Mr. Mumps (Ouija Madness), was published in 1982 by his college pal poet David Smith (1955-2016). I was privileged to publish Scott’s second book, The Electric Yes Indeed (Shelf Life Press, 1989) and edit The Official Language of Yes! published posthumously by another close friend of Scott’s, Viggo Mortensen, on his Perceval Press imprint in 2015. His second book with Perceval Press, Tomorrow is Another Song edited by Henry Mortensen, was released within weeks of his death. Since his passing in 2011, Scott has continued in print in various periodicals and anthologies, appearing in every issue of Maintenant Magazine (Three Rooms Press) edited by Kat Georges and Peter Carlaftes in New York City, and Moon & Sun Review, published and edited by Richard Modiano in Venice, California. He is very prominently featured in Daniel Yaryan’s Sparring with Beatnik Ghosts Omnibus, Volume 1 (Mystic Boxing Commission), released in January 2022. Posthumous titles include All Your Misplaced Utopias (Bottle of Smoke Press, 2011), The Man from Now (Rose of Sharon Press E-Book, 2015), Scott Wannberg, the Lummox Years 1996-2006 (Lummox Press, 2016) and Dog Book (Red River Book #1, 2020) published and edited by John Dorsey and Victor Clevenger out of Missouri. In 2020 a series of amazing collages based on Scott’s work were created by artist Ray Swaney and published on Facebook.

Celebrated with a screening of 7 Men from Now starring Randolph Scott, one of Scott’s favorite films, accompanied by fresh popcorn in the lobby, on February 12, 2012, the bookstore at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center in Venice was renamed the Scott Wannberg Bookstore and Reading Room in his honor. As you enter the bookstore and look up at the facing wall, you’ll be greeted by a painting of Scott as rendered by Los Angeles artist Louis Metz. In the painting are Scott’s cat Dixie (in the doorway of the house), his cat friend Bob (the Orange Tabby), his alter ego Sparky (the dog), the Carma Bums’ 1959 Cadillac Farther at the ready, a dependable red wheelbarrow for William Carlos Williams and blank pages raining down all around Scott representing process, and all the poems yet to be written.

As I write this, war is raging in Ukraine as Putin destroys everything except the indestructible Ukrainian spirit. Here at home, partisan conflict rages within our political process as we face the midterm elections and President Biden faces unprecedented leadership challenges both foreign and domestic. An historic new Supreme Court Justice is about to be elevated to the bench in spite of the shameful juvenile dog and pony show hearings, as another Supreme Court judge is making history based on his questionable integrity. At the pump, gas prices are at an all-time high and product is disappearing on grocery store shelves. COVID remains the unmasked viral elephant in the room as March Madness distracts the masses, as the wisteria is in full bloom, as the first golden poppies of spring have begun to appear, as the violet rush of Jacarandas anxiously await to celebrate the season, and if you talked to anyone who knew Scott, or knows his poetry, they would all say the same thing, Man, if only Scott was here to write about all of this...

Nobody did it better, because like his favorite band the Grateful Dead, he may not have been the best at what he did, but he was the only one.

S.A. Griffin

Los Angeles, CA

March 27, 2022

Dumbo Trumpet, Esquire... A Sparking Narcissistic Ballistic Holistic Dumbo Trumpet, spewing! On my special NBC show FIRE shall eternally spring, and the lame and infirm will glow when I rub their navels with my super herculean fingers of Yankee wherewithal! Dumbo Trumpet, the biggest ass in a menagerie of ill-willed shills. Darling, I got a reality problem in my lunch pail's immaculate scar tissue. Dumbo Trumpet, Celebrity Appendages are the most endearing and endurable appendages. On my NBC special show planets will cry when I make their rivers freeze in awe. Dumbo Trumpet, in all his photogenic fury purity farts octaves of rambunctious sleazy sedition rendition late-edition yahoo good old boy o’ my darling frozen time yonder lies the Harvard wall the serfs need not try. Dumbo Trumpet takes no prisoners, or shit, rather he leaves shit everywhere he brushes up against you, And I make the trains cum on time, says Dumbo Trumpet, jerking off to the African back beat of love. Scott Wannberg 4/27/11 Listening to Hazel Dickens, Hard Hitting Songs for Hard Hit People

The War The War had its grandchildren over for the afternoon. They looked at the scrapbook, smiled, told one another jokes, ate well. The War told everyone it was going to wear brand new clothes but if you look close enough the labels are angrily familiar. The War knows where to buy food cheap but good stuff nonetheless. The War had a drinking problem but it got smart, joined AA, nothing but coffee now. The War came over to my apartment this afternoon to borrow a video. I don’t know as I should loan the War any of my things. It usually loses them, forgets to return anything. The War got on its knees, and prayed for more victims before turning in. Dear God, the War said, please let me go on and on and on, I am enjoying myself. The War is getting younger all the time. Nobody should look that young. Nobody. Scott Wannberg

Keep Those Fingers Crossed The strange days are coming, they want to know where I live. I’d like to help edit their story, but my number 2 pencil won't budge, and Kharis the mummy, he needs me to wash his bandages. The virile people are calling, they want to eat my phone. Their teeth shine all night long. Lost ships can smell the shore. Some days are clearer, some rules get bent. When the traffic goes to bed, I’ll cross my heart with the light. Soon it will be Christmas, every day of the year. All the blood does boil, especially when it’s on overtime. The new improved highway felt an urge to redirect itself to my door. All the tourists they seem benign, when they attempt to move in. The deranged days are in remission, they claim they have everything under control. I see them walking back and forth along the parking lot, but a storm is coming, I saw it on my news. A storm is humming, and I hope they know what to do. The strange days are here now, at least that's what I hear. Place your bets with deliberation, but always keep your fingers crossed, and your getaway car's engine running. Scott Wannberg 01/18/2011

twenty feet away always that afternoon of broken-down hearts we came to the meaning zone as the ways and means of the ongoing process of shrapnel all about us said our names but together we cleared the road together we bounded the music tonight, in the hospital of the head all of the outpatients need to learn humming while overhead in the angry sky thin governments spit out helicopters with search lights seeking the process they will seek for hours and days and years to come and we run stupid into the incognito evening we run without our calling cards we run for the rhythm that supposedly has a room waiting ahead for us a room big enough to fit our bodies and what our bodies think they are capable of here in the end zone of the world where the score is always hard to understand and time runs slow toward the border and time has no time for us or our music or our singing tonight, i bent over a dying desk and wrote a postcard that i intended to mail to you in whatever prison you live in these days i wrote very small and i even had trouble reading what it was i wanted to mail you there in whatever prison of the heart you live in these days and culture wears a large gun and is patrolling the highway outside this wounded room. culture is in a gang and they own the streets that make up this end of things. you were always interested in culture i read that much in your resume and now the sky is full of helicopters going all the ways they can go looking for the place where the music lives there is a knocking on my door there is a pattern at my door broken teeth and torn kneecaps call your name we have ways to make you burn we have ways to make you crawl the halls are endless they creep on and on down the halls we go singing ho ho ho and the borders are bewildered they are sinking as the Mediterranean hours of the spirit wind their way through the streets of who we might turn out to be in the final moment of the moment and now the sky opens up and begins to dance on our head it reaches into our lungs and names our longitude and latitude tonight, i heard your history all over the inner face of my working TV tonight, i saw your history hanging on the laundry line and in it i saw my own and in it i saw my own face leaning toward language they don't like you to know our language that well they try to mix you up with innuendo and subtle moves you have to ride the rhythm of the word for what it stands for you have to commit your dancing legs to the word and what is meant there tonight, across the weary shoulders of the language of the world i hear you tap dancing across shell holes of shit i hear you wandering through the museums of the lost you raise your hands against the seasons and say yes, I am a song and say yes, I am alive while all around us the armies fumble for their keys their car keys their apartment keys their reality keys all around us the armies fart and fuck and die and live and love their ability to be nothing more than armies and without armies, they say we would be lost and without a map and would not know ourselves so here comes your army here comes my army our armies merge across some stupid road they merge into one long piece of wounded cotton candy that the dancing people wave at the big carnival of love as the night walks across the carpet holding a large bottle of Wild Turkey 101 as the night begins to go through photographs of its early years its early friends remembering the lost remembering the loved ones gone now down the ongoing process of a hole and i find you at the edge of all the processes i find you teetering on the edge of all ongoing holes i am not a trapeze artist my throat is a strange city without a home learn it then learn the consequence of song the executioners are coming now with their grins and their road maps they are clean and comfortable and shine so well the executioners have come to give us their songs you reach up toward the stomach of the sky with your hands you reach up and say I am alive see us rolling see us crawling see us groping across the shrapnel claimed landscape of love you talk about the enduring history of bone you talk about the sacred hours of the heart the bullets begin to nod their tone the bullets kick in and laugh yes, i was alone once i had food and a dog i saw the city burn the dog looked at me and coughed up blood it wasn't my doing i was just following my sign i was just skateboarding on flesh i didn't make it happen i fit the uniform proud i shone in the unmitigated night the children tore their skin off for free they climbed the resonance they called out for the wounds of love to claim their hair you rub your bewildered city against my back the waters of the lost are calm now the winter is an ongoing tale did you see the end of the world last night? they had it safely wrapped in a large yellow box the news anchors stared at it through microscopes they called it whole they called in wondrous you put your ear to the end of the ground all the grounds have grounded in earth in earth we shall learn the music that teaches upstairs over real strong black coffee we watch as the airplanes explode you point at one particular explosion see that is fire, you say, and smile see we all have emerged finally through the fire the helicopters land on top of one another they begin to grind their hips to the music they begin to fuck their way for love through the music the governments are walking across water now they have skin disease and loud fears pick your government tonight time is slow pick any government tonight and we will make the late late show where the animals laugh because they cannot run for president where the animals wear clothes and top hats and sign treaties hello, this is another treaty i found it drunk at my door it has a knife in its throat let it sing to you anyhow across the tired shovels of the oncoming dawn i see the future gleaming we break our backs for love we break our hearts for love i call you on the skylight i call you on the world i call you world you are the days i am lost in you are the days i wear together we mean business together we hear the hours singing together we are hours singing you reach down and pick me up by my brain you reach down and pick me up by my heart we are coming home now as the armies kill one another slow we are going to Bagdad we are going to Belfast we are going to Beijing we are going for the gold we are going for the gusto we are going insane we are going for the love another twenty or so feet away as the bullets begin to name us as the bullets begin to land another twenty or so feet away we are going for the... and tonight, the fire is in front of the TV tonight, the fire has a new job tonight, the fire is precise in its intent through this unmitigated fire we reach for one another and land Scott Wannberg 11/28/90

Outlaws in the Sun Society went up in flames and the fire brigade was at a great party and could not be reached in time to put it out. Sparky the dog would have slobbered on the fire and put it out, but there recently was this new ordinance outlawing dogs named Sparky from slobbering on anything, let alone a society going up in flames. Sparky is very law abiding. When asked by sad eyed reporters, what breed are you, Mr. Sparky? Sparky wagged his tail and said, I'm just a mutt. Are you sad about society going up in flames, Mr. Sparky? those intrepid reporters ask. We must move forward, barked Sparky. We must move toward the sun. We are all outlaws in the sun, don't you know. Sparky doesn't really mean all that. I told him to say that. We were downing Guinness on tap in an Irish bar and I said, Sparky, the next time sad eyed would be reporter types ask you if you are sad about any aspect of this hell we call the world, just wag your tail and say we are all outlaws in the sun. Is that free or is it going to cost me? Sparky mumbled, lapping up Guinness with a smile. The highway went to sleep. New ways of feeling get their credit revoked. Somehow, though, we go forward. Outlaws under some sun. Enigmas to some. Too damn understandable for others. Somewhere in between is where the next act allows its curtain to rise. I left my lines back at the checkpoint. Improvise, damnit, snarls Sparky. And we do. Scott Wannberg 8/26/2004 Listening to Warren Zevon

keep the motor running there's blood in the holy water and sirens inaugurate the night circumspect men and women are trapped in mirrors keep your motor running they say the second coming just got stopped at the border everyone swears they were out of town when the body fell lucid people talk sideways and the yo-yo divorced its string they just came out with a very nicely bound directory of how and when to go mad you pick your terrain and let fly there's a civilization in the lint trap you got to take it out for a walk i'll set the table once we find the food my shoulder sometimes falls apart but i always come back for more i saw the head of all the classes he seemed a bit soiled in his magnificence could have been the pain could have been the light it gets in when you think you're alone it grabs your heart and talks very fast there's insanity in the health food and lunch swears that one day soon it will treat us the town sleeps on its feet and gasoline hasn't much to say keep your spirit working i feel all of us are not to blame you crawl at the legal pace avoid angry weather the oasis is more than proud to confess its water makes you strange i had nothing to lose i'd seen enough victors to make me sick for awhile a man can only strut so much before he gives his secret away keep your heart at home somebody's coming maybe even me about this time of the night everyone looks the same i'll hobble up the ladder i'll even swallow rain my capacity for imploding is endless and sometimes the giraffes wish they didn't have to stick their necks out Scott Wannberg May 4, 2009 Listening to David Munyon, Code Name: Jumper

Let Everybody Come In I’m too dense and stupid, I suppose to understand the rabid hatred and fear people have for people they don’t know. Relationships are difficult countries you file your citizenship papers and hope for the best in a world of killing and war. How can love be an evil? Doesn’t matter if the love is between a man and a woman, certainly, doesn’t matter if it’s between a man and a man, or a woman and a woman. Love is just too damn hard to find on a planet bent on ethnic cleansing, racial hatred and murderous intent in the name of whatever God you break bread with. One should bow down, applaud, when love walks by. The heart is a torn planet spinning out of control at times. I’m just too dense and stupid, I suppose when hate filled fearful people tell me God wants certain humans to go to hell for following their hearts. They claim they read it all in some bestselling book. Man shall not lay with man, they snap. Somewhere in the same book, guess it depends on your translation, it says do not kill, and love your neighbor. Okay, I guess the book is schizo and uneven, maybe it needs editing and clarifying. Is God Ahab bent on harpooning all humans that look to him like Moby Dick, or is God the daddy of Jesus who said you gotta give it up and love? Can God give it up and love? Ye shall not do this and that. If I see 2 men or women in love it makes my worn-out heart smile. Let everybody into the party, it’s not going to be going on forever. Ye shall pull back your venom. Ye shall examine your own spirit. Has anger, fear, and hate gnawed on you enough that you’ve become a shrill foghorn in the opaque night? Dan White killed Harvey Milk and George Moscone in a city reportedly famous for its tolerance, they said Twinkies were the reason. In that book these angry people keep referring to it says nothing about Twinkies giving you the right to kill others. Later Dan White would kill himself. Harvey Milk, George Moscone, and Dan White deserved to live to be old toothless hermits wandering the lost highways of our weaving lives. It’s time to find a better book, a book that condemns no one for being true to themselves and their feelings. God, I guess created psychiatrists because poor humans have difficulty in their feelings. I’m too dense and stupid, I know, but people in love give our species hope. A man has a right to love a man, a woman has a right to love a woman. I never read any book that said love was evil, if I did, I’d send it back to the publisher and ask for a refund. Everybody can come to the dance, the band will implode soon enough. There are a thousand and one ways to hate and die every day. If you see love, jump for joy and shout as loud as you can, you might not see it again for a long time. When you’re done reading this ramble, reach out to the one you love and sing them a song. If you haven’t anyone to love, sing to yourself, sing it loud and deny books that preach hate and violence no matter its position on the bestseller list. I’m dense and stupid and empathetic and goofy as I bump against the walls singing mostly John Prine a ‘Capella. The heart is a torn planet, it needs mending daily. This poem goes out to all lovers; heterosexual, homosexual. Love comes, goes, builds a house, runs away. The species rolls across the earth, I guess you could call it exercise. Exercise the heart, be who you are. Rock Hudson had to live a double life, it’s hard enough living one life. No more reasons to cover yourself up under the tarp, the rain may be coming down. Raise yourself up and feel it on your face, nobody can truly plan the weather for tomorrow, but I want to see you out there bopping to the rhythm section of your soul. Scott Wannberg February 24, 2009 Listening to A Bigger Piece of Sky, Robert Earl Keen

It Takes All Kinds Rub those cold shoulders of alone. Tell the rescue party not to come home late. Traffic’s going to get easier, trust me on that. Something usually will go bump in the night, you can sometimes even choose to hear it. Trust your own ears on that, it takes all kinds. Whimsy hasn’t been outlawed, just yet. Hand me something strong to drink. The professionals are landing any minute, their hairs are supposedly serene. Hard luck stories run out of stories to tell. Which one of us will go to the store for a refill? I came home too early and hurt myself trying to learn how to not stay late. It takes all kinds, you can see it whenever you see anything. Maybe that time is coming soon. It takes all kinds. The death certificate of man hasn’t been signed, not quite yet. Learn how to bruise easy. Learn how to scream. Let the love pour through you. Let that ever-loving love in. Bad weather coming. Nobody has any guarantee. I hear your heart ringing. I hear your heart on my line. Scott Wannberg

Another One of Those L.A. Poems Educated people tell me Los Angeles is a shitty place to be caught living, that you can’t really live if you find yourself living there that it’s semi-life, as opposed to (depending on who tells me this) New York where the world actually got born or San Francisco where the world might die but oh a death so cosmopolitan a death so sweet and fine. Living in L.A. brings out the pity in them, they look sad, understand and sympathize most affectionately, with a sideline sneer rummaging around the edges; for them, living in Los Angeles is worse than committing adultery, lying to your kids, their song plainly sings that if Los Angeles is a woman she is ugly, feisty, a bitch big-mouthed, full of smog, dull-headed; such an ugly, feisty bitch, with a big mouth and dull head is not an easy image to embrace in dance. I haven’t tried too successfully to hide, however, from dull-headed big-mouthed feisty bitches because at times I’m able to halfway know myself, to meet the dull-headed big-mouthed feisty bastard that chuckles and chortles inside me which makes the marriage sacred in a sordid but beautiful way. Scott Wannberg 1982

When It Hits 1. The circus, outlawed in this end of the province, rolls its tired face across the latitude and longitude of longing. Tall buildings with no particular place to go blot out that sun we wanted to find. The army, tired from pretending to be invulnerable, closes in on itself in the darkened back room. The food, though, is better than ever. You can't ever argue too loud or too long with the food. 2. The diseases talk among themselves quietly as the water runs out. Well-dressed men discuss the latest rags, buy drinks for one another, debate whether love is still probable in certain parts of this town. 3. When it hits, I'll be plugged into your weird, for it gives me the necessary belief and strength to roll my face across this anxious rhythm. When you sculpt wildernesses of words that just might actually fly, I'd be a fool not to pay heed. When it hits, and it will, none of us will be able to successfully fit through that tiny escape hatch they made so much noise about when we first landed here. The national dance hall is locked up for the summer but its unyielding back beat screams through our skin. When it hits, I will hold onto you as if I truly see you and nothing will ever pull me away, unless you yourself let go. Scott Wannberg 07/31/2011

This Is Where We Came In Phil Gramm kicked my door in. He bitch-slapped me, told me to kill my mental recession. Quit whining, you fucked up poet, he snarled. I'd turn my attack dog on him but he's on tour. Dennis Kucinich keeps fighting the lonely fight. This is where we came in. Obama glides toward center position. Only your best profiles, folks. Football got John McCain through his prison days. The Constitution gets butt fucked out back while we get evicted. That lonesome whistle promises it'll blow. It's just temporarily out of gas. Security demands we pick up our feet when we pace. When will the waitress take our order? Torture, the new summer blockbuster. Waterboarding for dollars. Hello, America, this is your bastard son. I'll be landing in broad daylight, whatever that is. All the forgotten children are throwing a mixer, upstairs. It’s BYO. We'll dance with the ones that we know. We won't be sober for days. There's a recession in Phil Gramm's ass which masquerades as a brain. On such nights like this the moths soar right into the flames. I'll try and hold up my end if you spell my name right. The show's really big number is just about to happen. We've seen it plenty of times, no matter how it tries to hide. Don't jump off ten story buildings unless you can fly. Scott Wannberg July 11, 2010 Listening to Slaid Cleaves, No Angel Knows

Waiting for the Coffee to Announce Itself I wait on the coffee to announce itself. The weather today seeks a lover. I look through the window, see the kids, out of school, dressed up for a holiday, waiting to be whisked off to visit an uncle, maybe a grandmother. I listen for your melodious words as afternoon slowly wanders through me. They've named this day on a yearly basis. They call this day Thanks. I listen to your wound fly. I hear your timing when it rises. I put on a shirt with buttons. Wedge my feet into the one pair of "good" shoes. I'd like to take you sailing on water which doesn't know freezing. I'd like to take you singing through some song that refuses to bleed. But all songs bleed something, it makes them hummable. And water does freeze if you run away with the heat. The coffee finally announces itself. I'm here, I reply, and the weather still asks all lovers to come out and play. Scott Wannberg 7/02/2011


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