Vintage Sesame Place swag and memories

This is a story I meant to share a while back, but I didn’t have the time to actually write it up. Now, with the big kerfuffle between Steve Whitmire and seemingly everyone else Steve Whitmire has ever met, it seems like a good time to actually post it. Hopefully this reminds folks that while the people operating the Muppets may be flawed and sometimes shitty human beings, what the characters teach us still makes a difference.

A few weekends ago, I spent some time at Denver Comic Con. I enjoy conventions for one major reason: vendors.

I’ve had conversations about this. About the fact that I’m paying admission just to go buy things…and about the fact that anything I’ll find there will be available — in some way — online anyway. And, really, I can’t argue with that. But I keep going, every year. Sometimes I’ll hit other conventions as well. I think part of the appeal for me is the feeling that comes with being part of an event, but there’s also the more logistical appeal: seeing the vendors in person, with their inventories spread out before them, allows me to browse.

Sure, whatever books or DVDs or figurines I pick up at Comic Con are exactly what I could find online later. But would I find them online? As much as I love Amazon (and I do love Amazon), I still like spending hour after hour in physical book stores. That’s because Amazon is a great service when I know what book I want, but bookstores are great for browsing…for when I have some approximate concept of what I’ll enjoy, but am otherwise open to new titles, new authors, new experiences I can’t even imagine yet.

Comic Con, to me, offers a vast array of great experiences I might never find it I didn’t have the chance to browse. And every year I come home with a bag of stuff I didn’t know existed. Rarely am I disappointed with my haul; not everything I find there will change my life, of course, but I always feel at least a little more enriched for having read, seen, or listened to whatever it is I discovered.

This year I did my normal thing of walking around the various booths, seeing what was on offer before I spent any money. You can count on seeing largely the same kinds of products from year to year, but sometimes there’s a surprise. And fairly quickly I found my first and favorite surprise of the year.

What caught my eye was a big banner with the Sesame Place logo on it. One guy sat behind the table, and there were stacks of books in front of him. Just seeing that banner brought back a lot of memories I don’t often think about. They’re from my childhood, so they get excluded along with much of what I actively try to forget.

For those of you who don’t know, Sesame Place is a Sesame Street theme park in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. I’ll always remember the name of that town, because I grew up in Southern New Jersey and remember seeing the commercials constantly. Here’s one I remember quite well. It was my first experience of the song “Short People,” by the way, and if you watch this video maybe you’ll understand just a bit of my shock the first time I heard the actual song on the radio.

Langhorne, Pennsylvania seemed like a special place. Had Sesame Place existed in Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, the town name wouldn’t have registered the same way. We knew those cities already. They were just places on a map that contained things. But Langhorne wasn’t a name I ever heard in any other context. Langhorne was Sesame Place. And that was magical.

At some point, I got to go. I’d guess I was around 10 years old. I could have been 8. It was me, my brother, and my mother. We were joined by our neighbor and her two kids, Jennifer and Brian. According to Google Maps, Langhorne was a drive of an hour and a half from where I grew up. As kids it felt like much longer, or maybe that was the anticipation magnifying everything. I remember playing a game in the car that I don’t think I played at any other point in my life. We’d take turns using our fingertips to “draw” on somebody else’s back, and they’d have to guess what we drew. These were definitely the days before I had a Game Boy.

By this time, I’d been to Disney World, which is unquestionably the larger and more significant family theme park. But…I didn’t love Disney. I had nothing against it, and of course I could recognize Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck easily enough, but I wasn’t actually a fan of any of their films. To be honest, I’m still not. It wasn’t until the Disney Afternoon introduced me to Duck Tales and Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers that I became an active fan of anything Disney. The Muppets, on the other hand…I loved those guys. And I was excited about the trip.

So, of course, I went over to the table and talked to the man selling books. He introduced himself as Guy Hutchinson, one of the authors of Images of Modern America: Sesame Place.

If you’ve traveled around America, you’ve probably seen books with this identical cover design everywhere. I don’t think I’ve ever picked one up prior to this, let alone purchased one, but they’re out there. Visit a decent-sized town or city and there will be some equivalent of this book with photos of old railroad bridges, buildings that are no longer there, significant construction projects…you get the picture.

I always figured they were more souvenir than anything. You’d pick one up as a memento, the same way you would a refrigerator magnet. I didn’t really care. Then again, I didn’t really care about railroad bridges or construction projects in general. The Muppets, on the other hand…

Guy — who shares his name with a Sesame Street Muppet — started to tell me about Sesame Place. Not specific facts or trivia about the park, but rather a very basic introduction to the fact that it exists. He likely wasn’t expecting many people in Denver to know about it. He’d have to start with Sesame Steet‘s familiarity and move on from there.

But I told him that I knew about it, and that I’d been there. He was clearly enthusiastic, and I wasn’t trying to deflate him as much as I was trying to let him know that he could skip the introduction and get right to the really exciting stuff.

And he showed me his book. Which was, I admit, really exciting.

Again, I haven’t picked up other books in this series, but this seems to support my assumptions about them. There’s very little straight writing…in keeping with the Images of Modern America theme, they’re almost entirely visual, with very informative cutlines.

To be frank, I think I could have read and loved a 500 page book about the history of Sesame Place whether or not it contained photos at all…but I understand that I’m mentally ill and other people might prefer pictures of the rides.

I immediately knew I’d buy the book, but we talked for a while longer. He talked about how cooperative everybody was at the park, how they provided photos and information for him, how they described attractions that were planned but never made it to the public.

This book might be a souvenir, but it was also a fascinating one…and just talking about it transported me back to that trip I took as a child…one of which no photos exist. But the book — broken down into eras in the park’s history — provides the next best thing to me.

One of the things the park provided to Guy was master artwork of Buford T. Higgenbottom, a Muppet who was created specifically to serve as the park’s mascot. Guy used this to have stickers made — among other things — and he very kindly gave me one.

That might not sound too interesting on its own, but while Buford has a page on the Muppet Wiki, there’s no image of him there. And a Google image search turns up completely dry as well. The park was really his only hope for getting that art, as it doesn’t seem to exist in any quality anywhere on the internet.

Of course, now Noiseless Chatter will show up in a search for it, which WAS MY PLAN ALL ALONG.

I told him about my few memories of the park. About a clear little rubber ball with Big Bird and the Sesame Place logo inside that I had for many years and finally lost. And mainly about one particular attraction, which I’ve always wondered about.

Remember, I was a kid, so my memory is not reliable. But I recall some kind of attraction in which you had to cross a long, narrow platform, suspended a terrifying height in the air. I remember there was water below, and I think more was falling down like a fountain. I remember the platforms being yellow and, for some reason, I remember it being themed after Count Von Count. In my mind, it was a very dangerous activity and I was afraid I’d fall and die. That’s not the work of excited imagination, mind you…that’s the work of actual fear. I was scared while navigating that attraction and still retain an image of what it looks like in my memory.

He wasn’t sure what attraction I was remembering, but he did tell me about a Count-themed Halloween show that evidently was scary enough to earn the park some complaints.

I told him I’d buy a copy of the book, and he smiled and said, “I’ve got some swag to share with you, too.”

One bit of that swag was another, more general, Sesame Place sticker:

Then he gave me some really cool things.

Evidently when the park launched, there was — for lack of a better term — an arcade. There may still be one, I don’t know, but it was less of a traditional arcade than it was a computing area, where kids could learn and work at computer stations. Something like that would be much less of a novelty today than it was in the late 80s, but it was apparently pretty cutting edge at the time.

Guy gave me four tokens from that computing area. While doing his research, the park revealed that they had buckets of them collecting dust. That was a lucky find for him, and then again for me.

Those are really great. They’re all the same design; I just flipped two of them over to show off both sides. But even better were these season pass badges:

These are two different designs: Big Bird and Super Grover. They are slightly different sizes and colors in addition to the different character, so I don’t know if one entitled the wearer to more perks than the other, or if you just got to choose which one you liked best when you bought a season pass. I don’t know if Sesame Place even has season passes anymore, but if they do I’m sure they’re just little cards you keep in your wallet.

But…man. These things are incredible. They’re beautiful. I love these.

When he gave me these, I laughed. Grover was my favorite character as a kid, and I loved his Super Grover persona. In fact, when I was little I had a Grover doll that was almost as big as I was. Here’s a photo of that and proof that I used to have hair:

Guy told me that Grover was the one everybody liked, and nobody involved with the park or the show seemed to realize it. I’d believe him. He said that the park wanted the badges to feature Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, as they were assumed to be the two most popular characters. But somebody had the idea to actually ask people which character they liked best…and we ended up with Grover.

I didn’t want to eat up Guy’s entire morning, but I thanked him for his kindness, and for some really incredible vintage goodies I never would have expected to have in my entire life. It was like getting a chance to visit the park again in 1986 or whenever I went and having the foresight to keep all these little things you never would have thought would matter to you. It actually meant a lot to me, and I told him he made my day.

He signed my book before I left, and drew Cookie Monster. Why Cookie Monster? Because, according to Guy, he’s the only character you can draw without worrying about his pupils. If you draw Big Bird or Bert or Elmo or somebody and their pupils are slightly off, they look wrong. But with Cookie Monster, who has crazed eyes that wander constantly and asynchronously whenever the puppeteer moves, you can put the pupils anywhere and they’ll look right.

I felt really lucky to meet Guy that day. Not only was he a friendly and interesting person, but he clearly loved the work he had done. And he relished the chance to share it with someone who could appreciate it. I hope he met a lot of those someones over the course of the weekend.

What I do know is that he reminded me of a positive childhood memory, and gave me vintage trinkets that, miraculously, survived the decades that passed since the park was founded.

I hope he enjoyed speaking with me as well…if only because I could then feel like I repaid the favor somewhat.

I have a friend who is pretty busted up about the whole Steve Whitmire thing. About the negativity that’s been passed around among people he admires. About the ugly underside to what are supposed to be comforting and reassuring productions. About the fact that it’s impossible to know who’s in the wrong…Steve Whitmire, or everybody else who’s ever lived?

But meeting Guy…interacting with him…listening to him talk and watching him get excited about an amusement park…this is what the Muppets are all about. Someone who grew up loving them so much he wrote a book about them, and someone else who grew up loving them buying that book. The two of them meeting and sharing memories. Two strangers who may have nothing else in common in the entire world sharing a moment over something that’s given them both so much joy. That’s offered such valuable escape. That’s guided them through difficult times and helped shape them into who they are today.

The Muppets have allowed me to connect with and bond with more people than I can probably count. (Ah, ah, ah!) Those of us who grew up with them remember them not as characters on some shows we used to watch, but as early friends who helped us understand that however different we are, whatever our strengths or weaknesses, however small we might feel at times, we each had something unique to bring to the world.

Guy reminded me of that.

He could have sold me his book and moved on. I wouldn’t have blamed him. That’s what vendors do.

Instead he showed me great kindness long before I expressed interest in buying anything.

That’s more valuable than the book could have been to me or the money could have been to him. In scary, uncertain times, it’s important to remember that there are still little rafts of sunlight out there to find. I credit the Muppets. And no amount of behind-the-scenes idiocy will change that.


The book is available for purchase from Amazon here, if you’re interested.

H-H-H-Hank and Dean, Venture Brothers

I love The Venture Bros. You know that. It’s one of my all-time favorite shows, and even if I thought this past season was a bit shit tbh I can’t say that my love or appreciation of it has been diminished at all.

I’d like to say that I realized something when rewatching it lately…but I haven’t been watching it. I’ve just been living my life, going about my business, and a thought occurred. I’ll share that with you in a moment, of course, but here, now, I want to point out that that’s part of what makes The Venture Bros. so incredible to me in the first place. Sure, you can watch it over and over again and find things you missed…but you can also just let it sit. Let it simmer. Let your mind go where it will…and you’ll still find new ways to appreciate it, and new things to consider about it.

Compare that to ALF. I haven’t rewatched that shit either, but I sure as hell don’t catch myself in the middle of the day realizing that “Don’t it Make Your Brown Eyes Blue?” is secretly brilliant.

Okay, so, anyway: late in season one, The Venture Bros. has what might be its first masterpiece: “The Trial of The Monarch.” It harvests seeds that had been passively planted by previous episodes to incredible effect, tearing apart a central relationship and positioning The Monarch — the show’s main villain — as its emotional core. No mean feat, and the episode that accomplishes it is tense, beautiful, hilarious, and unexpectedly heartbreaking.

In short, it’s fantastic stuff, and it’s still one of my favorites.

The titular Venture brothers themselves don’t do much in the episode, but it opens with a fantasy sequence that sees them in costume. Hank is dressed as Indiana Jones, and Dean as Thomas Magnum, from Magnum, P.I. You can see the boys in the screengrab above. And, for reference:

Fine. Everyone knows this. Hank and Dean are dressed as those characters. Few people overlooked that fact; it’s pretty obvious.

But…where did Hank and Dean get those ideas? From the movie and from the TV show, obviously.

…except that in season four’s best episode, “Everybody Comes to Hank’s,” we learn that Hank doesn’t actually know who Indiana Jones is. He wears the iconic hat…which came with a whip that he assumes is a “detective’s whip.”

So Hank wears part of an Indiana Jones costume in that episode, and in doing so he reveals that he doesn’t know Indiana Jones. Odd, as he dressed as the character three seasons prior. Dean may or may not know Thomas Magnum, but that’s academic; Hank doesn’t know his character, and that’s enough to question things in The Venture Bros., where continuity between episodes is important.

Indiana Jones and Magnum, P.I. are a pretty odd pairing. They come from different media and don’t have a clear relation to one another. They come from different worlds and time periods, and they don’t pursue or desire the same things.

They fit Hank and Dean well enough, of course. Indiana Jones is brash and daring, and Magnum is (relatively) focused and methodical. The adventurer and the detective. Hank and Dean.

But Indiana Jones and Magnum, P.I. on their own merits don’t really go together, and it’s not a pairing we’d ever see outside of this fantasy sequence.

Or…would we?

That’s right. The Venture Bros. paired up these two characters in 2004, but Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers did it in 1988.

Rescue Rangers was a very popular show, airing during the enormously successful Disney Afternoon programming block. And while Chip and Dale were already established characters by that point, it was Rescue Rangers that dressed them respectively as Indiana Jones and Magnum, P.I.

And that is interesting.

The same odd pairing of characters happened twice, and it doesn’t strike me as coincidental. Combine this with the fact that Hank doesn’t recognize an Indiana Jones costume when he actually encounters one, and I start to wonder if Hank and Dean in “The Trial of The Monarch” are actually dressed as the Rescue Rangers.

That’s a show they’re likely enough to have seen, and there’s a little more in common as well. Hank, Dean, Chip, and Dale are all four-letter names. It’s always Hank and Dean, as opposed to Dean and Hank…just as it’s always Chip and Dale as opposed to Dale and Chip. Hank and Chip are both Indiana Jones, and Dean and Dale are both Magnum, P.I. Each pair is part of a larger team that goes on new adventures week to week…

I have to wonder if that’s a subtle nod there. The joke being less that they’re dressed as two famous characters and more that they’re dressed as two different famous characters aping source material unfamiliar to the boys.

The Venture Bros. gives us a lot to consider, even in its silliest moments. It’s an impressively layered and incredibly well-written show. And the fact that I can still find new things in a thirteen-year-old episode (holy crap…) is incredible.

Oh, also: I just realized that the episode title “Powerless in the Face of Death” refers not to being unable to revive the boys, but rather to the blackout Dr. Venture accidentally causes. That’s some lovely misdirection I didn’t even notice. There’s still so much to find in this show…

Check out this ALF syndication trifold!

Yeah, I know, my post title sucks, but I don’t really have a running feature on the blog I can tie this to. It’s just a piece of pretty cool television history that I can’t find anywhere on the internet. For all I know, I have the last surviving copy and am therefore morally obligated to drop it into a volcano.

But, what the hell, I’ll archive it for future generations instead.

I saw this at a convention, and Casey Roberson was nice/vindictive enough to buy it for me. The vendor described it as a piece of promotional material sent to networks to see if they wanted to air ALF. He wasn’t wrong, but I assumed he meant for its initial run. Instead this was distributed in 1989, toward the end of the show’s run, promoting the availability (starting fall of 1990) of ALF for strip syndication.

Strip syndication refers to a show’s reruns airing at a fixed time across the entire week, thereby showing up as a long “strip” when laid out on a TV schedule.

Of course that also means the trifold gets to play into the naughty definition of “strip” and present ALF as a Playmate centerfold. This means I own the only official piece of ALF pornography ever produced.

Now you see why I’m bothering to archive it!

Anyway, I’m including pictures, but since I just have an iPhone I’ll also transcribe the text. I intend to be as accurate as possible, right down to any typos or punctuation issues. Feel free to point out any you see in my transcription, though, just in case they’re my own.

I have seen some of the details here in other places (such as ALF’s favorite Melmacian TV shows) but since I can’t find a copy of this anywhere, I assume there was just some overlap with copy found in other materials.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the Tanners aren’t mentioned here at all. This is trying to sell a show without even paying lipservice to four of the five main characters.

That’s our ALF!

Anyway:

Front: The Centerfold


The centerfold features ALF lying naked on a beach. You’re welcome.

The only text is “CELEBRITY OF THE MILLENNIUM” and “MR. TELEVISION.”

There’s also a “Love, ALF” signature. Thanks to this and the next page, we have the best look at his handwriting we could ever want. Analyze away, graphologists!

The copyright notice in the lower right reads:
ALF is a Registered Trademark of Alien Productions ®
© 1987 Alien Productions. All Rights Reserved.

Yes, I know the copyright notice says 1987 and I said it was circulated in 1989, but you’ll see where I got that date later. This must just be the copyright date for the image, as the text is clearly selling the show for syndication in 1990, which is not something they would have been doing in 1987. The text, therefore, may not be copyrighted at all, so feel free to use it to advertise your own show about a farting puppet.

Inside Left: Celebrity Data Sheet


This page features three promotional photos of ALF and one from “Don’t it Make Your Brown Eyes Blue?” where he’s dressed as legendary womanizer Elton John. We also get some definitive MELMAC FACTS regarding his birthday, but I don’t get whatever joke they’re trying to tell by giving him two of them. Then there’s the insight nobody expected that he wants to fuck the cat from the 9Lives cans. (And, I guess, Mr. Ochmonek.)

Anyway, the text:

CELEBRITY DATA SHEET

NICKNAME: ALF REAL NAME: Gordon Shumway
HEAD SIZE: 33″ WAIST: 33″ HIPS: 33″
HEIGHT: 3’2″1”’ WEIGHT: ‘Till the Sun Shines, Nellie
BIRTH DATE: August 12 and October 2, 1757 PLANET: Melmac (Lower East Side)
FAVORITE EXPRESSION: “Curiosity Killed the Cat” (Usually followed by the expression “Pass the Plum Sauce”)
TURN-ONS: Morris the Cat, High Nielsens, Hawaiian Shirts
TURN-OFFS: Empty Fridge, Short Jokes, Alien Task Force
FAVORITE MOVIES: “It Came From Outer Space”, “Mars Needs Women Now” and “Hair”
A GOOD WOMAN IS: Friendly, Funny and Furry
SECRET FANTASY: To be a regional sales manager for Meow Mix

Inside Center


THE HOTTEST THING IN PRIME TIME IS AVAILABLE FOR STRIPPING.

Inside Right: Interview


He’s hip, he’s hot, he’s ALF, the biggest thing to hit television since the remote control. On the occasion of his highly successful NBC-TV prime time smash being made available for strip syndication (starting fall ’90), we interviewed the old ALFer.

We caught up with ALF at the refrigerator on the set for a candid, far-reaching conversation.

Q: Thanks for taking the time from your busy schedule to do this interview.
ALF: No problem. Mind if I eat a pot roast while we chat?
Q: Not at all. Were you ever on television before you got your own series?
ALF: Yes. I was a contestant on Melmac’s most successful game show, “Wheel of Cheese.” I won a sofa, a set of mock luggage and a styrofoam goat.
Q: Pretty impressive. Were you the biggest winner?
ALF: No, actually Tyrone Split was the biggest winner. He was seven foot three and weighed three-hundred and forty-seven pounds. Ha! I kill me!
Q: And us as well. Are you the only Shumway to enter show business?
ALF: Oh, no! My Uncle Goomer Shumway was a famous actor. He starred in great Melmacian movies like “Cat on a Hot Tin Griddle,” “Gone With the Fish,” and “Luncheon Counters of the Worse Kind.”
Q: Let’s talk about your amazing success on television. Your popularity on NBC has been growing stronger each week, your demographics show that you have a perfect audience composition, and now you are destined to become a hit in syndication. Why do you think that you made such a huge impression on our whole planet?
ALF: I hit it pretty hard when I crash landed. Hey, if I wasn’t wearing my seat belt, I’d look like Sean Penn.
Q: What do you think of earth television?
ALF: Hey, by watching television I learned that the world was black and white before 1953! But television on Melmac was funnier. Shows like “I Dream of Homer,” “Bowling for Rice,” and “As The World Explodes.” Even though the last one hits a little close to home now.
Q: Sounds interesting.
ALF: It does? Is this going to take a lot longer? I have a drumstick here that’s growing bacteria!
Q: Just a few more questions. You’re entering the syndication marketplace next to shows like “Cosby” and “M*A*S*H.”
ALF: I can see the line-up now. Huxtable, Hawkeye and Hairball! Ha! I kill me!
Q: You’ll be making lots of money.
ALF: Yes, but it’s only paper. On Melmac we paid with fur. If you over-spent, you went bald. And we don’t want station managers going bald. I realize in some instances we may be a bit late.
Q: Well, ALF, I’ll wrap this up. You’re an alien who has it all. A hit network show, the admiration of millions…
ALF: This drumstick that’s hardening before my eyes…
Q: But what’s next for ALF? What are your dreams?
ALF: I do have one recurring dream about showing up for work and realizing that I’m not wearing any pants. But then I remeber that I don’t work and I never wear any pants.
Q: Thanks for your time, ALF. Many thanks for this revealing interview.
ALF: My pleasure. Sure you don’t want some pot roast?
Q: No, thanks. There’s no silverware.
ALF: So?

ALF
alien productions

LORIMAR™
SYNDICATION
A LORIMAR TELEPICTURES COMPANY

So, yeah, there you go! It’s actually pretty cool. It was wrapped in plastic when we bought it, so I didn’t get a good look at it until later. The Playboy similarities are pretty tame, and it’s nothing a child would recognize, so I can imagine this was a really nice take-home for station managers whose kids loved the show. It’s a cool bit of very rare memorabilia, and if I had gotten my hands on it as a kid I would have thought it was great.

Does anyone else know more about this? I wonder what other bits of ALF ephemera are lost to the ages.

It’s laminated like a restaurant menu, which means it’s stayed in pretty good shape through the years, and I’m both happy to have it and thrilled that I get to be the one to preserve it online. Mainly, though, I hope you are as upset as I am that this is the third different “here’s what Melmacians used for currency” joke. Whoever wrote this should be FIRED FROM ALF.

ANNOUNCING: Larryoke – A Perfect Stream

As two or three of you know, I used to review ALF. It made me the most famous person on the internet. Anyway, some dope decided to review Perfect Strangers, and he’s halfway through the run, meaning he’ll get his life back sometime in the mid-2030s.

To celebrate / pity this milestone, he’s hosting a live stream of six episodes, various surprise goodies, and the requisite profane chatroom. It will be fun, and I’ll be there for sure. There’s also Larryoke, in which Casey, myself, and a few other familiar names get together to sing Perfect Strangers parody lyrics over the backing tracks of popular songs. It’s a great idea because I had it.

It all goes down at 8 p.m. EST on Friday, April 14. As ever, you can sign up to the Facebook event to let it do the timezone calculating. It will also remind you to join us for a terrible 80s sitcom we all still kinda love anyway.

Definitely tune in. Even I’m looking forward to it, and I hate everything.

GO READ: On Balki Hosting Saturday Night Live

This week’s big post is actually on another site! For Valentine’s Day, perfect stranger Casey Roberson asked me to do several things that I wasn’t comfortable with, so we compromised and I reviewed an episode of Saturday Night Live instead.

Did you know that Bronson Pinchot hosted that show? I sure didn’t. That’s probably because Saturday Night Live had just weathered some massively shitty years and took a serious blow to its cultural cachet…but Bronson was lucky enough to host just as the show started to experience an upswing.

The episode is an interesting time capsule of a sketch comedy show just starting to find its second wind, but it’s not very good. It’s mainly notable for Bronson assuring audiences nationwide that he is a massive fucking dick at both the top and bottom of the episode. Dude had a message to convey, apparently.

Anyway GO READ.

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