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Bare with me, I’m gonna talk about my local for a long minute. Probably because I’m trying to write whilst not being able to. But I’m pretty focused on the beauty of so many misfits coming together:
The first time I cried in there, two years ago, the barmaid wrote “We love you” on a coaster and slid it across the bar to me. I hadn’t really spoken to anyone in there at that point. But I guess she recognised my face. I still have that coaster, mounted on my fridge, in fact.
I was still new to the neighbourhood when one of the barmen took my credit card, saw my name, and said “You Turkish?” I froze. Honestly kinda panicked. Then he said his name—Turkish first and last. “There aren’t many of us in Bed Stuy,” he told me.
A week later I saw him on the G train, curly haired, wearing only a leather jacket when it was snowing outside. I recognised him, and thought, “Remember this moment. This man will matter to you.”
I was right. As the months went on he poured me endless wine and talked to me about Turkish politics on the quieter nights. He became one of my best friends in the whole world. And, since, when I mentioned the train journey, he said he remembered seeing me too & knowing the same.
There was a night, last summer, when he was so drunk it took me three hours to get him four blocks back to sleep on my sofa. I chased him up and down the road until I lost my temper, and he said he got scared cos I sounded like every Turkish aunt he has.
Then there’s the other barmaid, a little firecracker whose first words to me were about her friend having just been murdered by the girl’s father. She necked shots that night. And put on a fundraiser to raise money for her chinchillas...
Then there’s the owner. Long haired, awkward, with a dog called Poops McGee, a frenchy who sits in the bar with us. The only time I’ve been on a motorbike was the back of his, and we arrived smelling of petrol.
There was a night when I argued with the owner about something stupid, and he poured my glass of wine over the bar. And into my handbag. And the following week he gave me a drink to pour over his head, by way of apology, and oddly we became friends from that point.
But his girlfriend slept with his business partner. And every week they break up about it, then get back together. And sometimes she weeps uncontrollably on my shoulder when they argue, and he leaves the bar to let her do it.
Then there was the night the other barman’s dad died. And one of the locals, Zaza—the rich Sicilian dude who spends weekdays living in a Brooklyn hotel with his crazy racist mistress, and weekends with his wife and kids in New Jersey—bought the whole bar pizza to raise spirits.
He did the same thing the night of the Kavanaugh trials, when we all gathered, inconsolable and angered. Shared pizza slices across the bar, and no one could talk about anything else.
But Zaza hates his mistress. “Hey, Brexit,” he calls me, “she fucking follows me everywhere. She’s the actual devil.”
His mistress once told me she hates Muslims. She couldn’t understand me when I told her I am one. I guess I didn’t fit the mould. But then her hair caught on fire when she leant into a candle. She barely flinched. “I told you, she’s from hell and nothing can burn her,” Zaza said.
Then theres Beans. The doorman who is the all-seeing-eye. He knows your business before you do.

One time, a young girl cried so hard about her ex, he brought her to me. “You’re good with words,” he said, “can you talk to her?”

Her & the ex sit at opposite ends of the bar now.
Of course, there’s The Pickle. Named as such cos of an argument involving a stuffed pickle toy. He’s the guy who won’t shut the fuck up about being a satanist, and calls himself a “vaginatarian”.
Two nights ago he said, “You look sad, let me cheer you up.” Then proceeded to tell me a story about fingering a girl at the bar.
“You we’re sitting five seats away,” he told me.

I was not cheered up.
Then there’s the guy who looks like an old Jared Leto, and always wears a trilby and smart shoes. He’s started dating a girl in there after months of being alone. I smile whenever I see them together, and watch the way he looks at her.
There’s the white guy who wore a daishiki. He got shouted at by my friend once and hasn’t worn it since.
And there’s the guy who raped a girl who used to drink here. But it’s meant to be her secret. And he sits at the end of the bar alone, dressed all in black, headphones on. And no one knows what to do with him, when we’re not meant to know.
And there was the night the Turkish barman fell so hard on his face it was swollen for two months. We were scared. We still are.

But one time he drove past me in a van, when I was buying groceries in my pyjamas, and shouted at me in Turkish until I saw him.
And then there’s PD. Nicknamed as such for looking like Pete Davidson. Who I started to fall in love with, but ultimately had to accept was emotionally unavailable and going through his own shit, so I ended it.
And the first time we met he brought over a chair for me when I was looking to sit down in one, and said, “This chair has an agenda, I just really wanted to talk to you.”
And we would meet during the week, almost daily, to watch Jeopardy on the small tv in the bar together. And me and PD would hold hands and I’d get all the answers wrong, when he got them mostly right.
And now we sit next to each other at the bar and watch Jeopardy, and crack the same jokes, and I pretend Im not hurting or still falling in love. Because, hey, we’re just friends now. But it kills me inside not being able to hold his hand whilst I’m shit at general knowledge.
And one night we found out one of the locals had died. And no one really talked that night. We sat on our phones and everything was silent for a moment.
Then there was the night Jimmy The Albanian had a fight in there. Whilst his dad was trying to hit on me. Jimmy got thrown out, then tried to drive a car through the front door.
And sometimes I think we are just a room full of broken drunks. But that is a cheap shot. Because I have never seen so many people connect, and feel, and try, simply because we were cornered into a space together.
And sometimes, when PD isn’t there, I stare at the door and hope he walks in. Even though we’re over, even though I ended it. Cos at least when hes there he still chooses to sit next to me, & remind me about conversations we had when we were together, & touch my arm sometimes.
And it hurts. His stupid wide grin, his dumb fake London accent when he’s trying to make me laugh still. But I’m starting to get more answers to Jeopardy right. I guess the questions are starting to make sense.
And sometimes I just go in there to cry. Or read. Or edit the entirety of The Good Immigrant USA. But more often than not I show up to see people I didn’t plan to, but still know will be there.

And honestly, it’s the only thing keeping me sane at the moment.
Because three nights ago I felt so lost, and too ashamed to call anyone and ask them to make time for me. But instead, I could just show up at the bar. And there was a row of people already sat there waiting for me and each other.
And PD walked in after me, sat down, and said something about knowing where to always find each other.

And for an hour we laughed about the rumour that The Pickle put a piece of candy up a girl’s arse. And I think it’s a Candy Corn, but PD reckons a lollipop.
And he took one of those cocktail umbrellas and put it in my hair. And I wanted to ask, “Do you still have feelings for me? Because I regret ending things.” But I didn’t. Because I don’t want to know the answer.
And when he left, before Jeopardy, “Changes” played. & I cried because my brain doesn’t feel like my brain at the moment.

And my Turkish barman friend walked over & hugged me in silence. & I left without saying a word. Because you can do that somewhere ure always going back to.
I ought to also tell you about Randy. The homeless guy who sweeps the road outside for money. And the night The Owner nearly ran him over with his motorbike, when he thought it would be funny to drive it through the bar, but Randy had materialised from nowhere.
This was the same week the Turkish Barman got run off the road on his bike, and he showed up at noon to drink through his bruises. On days like that I sit beside him with a book and listen to him slur rants in half Turkish sentences.
And sometimes, when we’re both in good moods, he plays Turkish music loudly—Hal Hal, and Emrah are his favourites—and we sing them at the top of our voices to each other across the busy bar.
And I know the days PD is there when I’m not. Because often he’ll message me about something stupid and I wonder if it’s because he arrived expecting to tell me in person.
And when I see the Turkish Barman I tell him Im only gonna stay for one, that I plan to head out of there early before PD leaves work and shows up. Because it’s tough to just be friends.

But of course I feel someone standing behind me, and it’s PD having left work early.
And he sits beside me on his laptop as I scroll through my phone, all the while poking fun at everything and nothing at once. And the Turkish Barman shrugs knowingly and fills up my wine.
“My life has been jinxed since the day I met you,” PD tells me. And I say, “Why do you still sit with me then?” But he presses keys on his computer until I forget I even asked.

“Your eyes,” he eventually says. “I think because of your eyes.”
And outside Zaza shouts, “Hey Brexit,” as me and PD stand with our hoods pulled up. And PD steps as if he’s gonna kiss me but instead says, “You ended things.” And we have an argument about something else instead, as though that is the kindest thing to do in such a situation.
But Jeopardy is barely audible because one of the speakers is bust. So we all stare at the screen, and talk over the static instead.
I drop my laundry off across the road, and come in to get away from the snow. Roads are blocked with traffic around us and the guy with the mullet, and a different girlfriend every week, complains about his journey over.
The guy next to me asks what the name of my book is. There is a running joke in this bar that whenever I take my book out some guy asks, “So, what are you reading?” The bartenders now shout it at me in jest whenever they see me with a book.
I don’t engage. But he’s already got his phone out and is saying, “I’m a writer actually. Poetry. Can you read this poem for me?”
It is terrible. But I don’t tell him. Nor do I tell him that I am a writer for a living. That I used to teach poetry. That I published a collection. I don’t want to fuel the fire.

It’s not like these guys ask women about themselves anyway, so it’s easy to avoid saying anything.
“This fucking snow,” another guy is saying. “Welcome to another six months of this.”

Paint It Black plays. I think it is the live version. I leave before PD can arrive.
The Pickle convinces a woman to sit next him, to protect him from the bad energy that he feels will come through the door due to the moons positioning.
They go home together. Of course they do. And two hours later The Pickle comes back and tries to tell me about it.

“I don’t want to know, man.” I say.
And I haven’t before mentioned the Dog Whisperer. And maybe it’s cruel we called him that, because one time he starred a little too intensely at my friends dog. But he met his girlfriend in the bar and now they’re moving in together.
I’m reading my book when she says, “You’re friends with PD, right?” Before introducing herself. “I recognise you because PD would talk to me about you. You never took his shit. He liked that. He spoke differently about you to anyone else he’d dated.”
“Well, we’re just friends now.” I say.

The Dog Whisperer rubs her shoulders and she tells me about her recent abortion. “It’s my first day back in the bar.” She says. “I don’t know why I told you that.”

I tell her, “This place has that kind of affect on us.”
The guy who wears all black, his black headphones around his neck, is talking to a girl. And we’ve all got one eye on him, because whilst we’re not meant to know he raped a girl, we do.
And there was that one Halloween, where he kissed a woman in a French Maid’s outfit and then screamed at her when she wouldn’t go home with him. And he towered over her until she had leant so far back into my lap.
And we pulled her away from him, one arm around her, another against him demanding he just fuck off and go home. And everyone was in costume but him.
But two nights ago PD shows up, and tells me, “My problem with you is that I’ve never had such good back and forth with anybody. It’s unprecedented. And, honestly, I have mixed feelings about walking in here and seeing you...
...There’s a part of me that thinks, fuck, I’m not looking to do this. But then there’s the side of me that knows I’m always going to sit next to you because I have the best time with you,” he says.

But this is not a love story.
“You ended it twice,” he complains. “Youre not in a place to commit,” I say, “and I started to fall for you.”

“Don’t,” he tells me, sad, “just don’t.”
I don’t have to ask for a drink when I walk in. They put a white wine with ice and a straw in front of me when I sit down.

They overpour and under charge. That’s how you know you’re a proper local—when your bill is only a quarter of what it should be.
Now that The Good Immigrant cover and contributor list has been revealed, let me tell you about the final edits:

How I turned physical page after page scanning for stray commas. How I sat in the bar for days on end, and everyone knew to leave me alone during those long hours.
Sometimes I would call the Turkish Barman over and read out my favourite lines to him. “Listen,” I would say, “listen to how beautiful this sentence is.”
And when I was five pages away from the final edit, Turkish Barman and the barmaid with the chinchillas asked enthusiastically, “are you nearly done?”

And when I was, I shouted FINISHED across the bar. And they poured us all shots. And they toasted to the book.
There’s a whole bunch of immigrants in here too. Or kids of. Or misfits. Or people just looking to find a home elsewhere.
Thanksgiving eve sees the same usual suspects, only earlier in the day.

PD moves bar stools around to sit with me. No one mentions the conversation from the last time we met.
The Pickle hits on a girl half his age and Zaza hugs me from behind and says, “Hey, Brexit.”

When I go to the bathroom, Zaza’s friend takes my chair and PD gets so mad at the guy I think there’s gonna be a fight for a moment.
He asks me to wrap my arm around his neck and pull, so as to release a muscle in his shoulder.

I catch Turkish Barman’s eye and he mimes snapping PD’s neck. I laugh so hard, squeeze to tight, and nearly choke PD out.

He is red and breathless and laughing.
“Don’t ask a Turkish woman to do that,” Turkish Barman tells him. “That was always gonna end badly for you.”
The Owner, dressed head to foot in velour says he broke up with his girlfriend again. Same shit different week. I start to tell him off and Turkish Barman gives me a shot to shut me up.
A girl comes in with a fake $50 note and Turkish Barman chases her out but loses her somewhere on the street. “Fucking Thanksgiving eve and they pull this shit,” he complains.

PD kisses my forehead when he leaves.

The weather changes outside. Everything is too cold to feel.
On the weekends, typically, it feels like a different bar. People from elsewhere show up and it turns into a sprawling pick-up joint.

Usually a group of unremarkable interchangeable women play ABBA on the jukebox. Which I pretend to hate.
But the Friday after Thanksgiving is practically empty, apart from much of the usual suspects, sat in a line at the bar.

The Dog Whisperer and his girlfriend are fighting.

The guy who dresses all in black has his big headphones around his head and taps away on his laptop.
Rambo, the guy who works at the chip shop across the road, comes in to do a shot.

The Owner tells me the guy PD nearly fought over my chair two days earlier, is his business partner who slept with The Owner’s girlfriend. “I just leave him to his own shit when he’s here.”
The Pickle sits in his usual stool at the end of the bar. “Chim,” he calls me, “do a shot with me.”

I don’t like The Pickle. He is nearing 50, small, weedy almost, and wears metal t-shirts with the sleeves cut off.
PD often refers to The Pickle as the Newman to his Seinfield. There is palpable irritation whenever he shows up. “He whistles when he speaks,” PD repeatedly points out. “That fucking whistle.”
The Pickle hits on girls half his age, and when he’s not talking about satanism, he’s telling you endlessly about how much of a tough Sicilian Staten Island guy he is, which we all know is bullshit.
But this place teaches you to care in places you never thought you would.

“Spent my thanksgiving in hospital with my dad,” he tells me. “Looks like he’s not gonna make it.” And he shows me a picture of his old man in a hospital bed.
I hug him. Because we’re all just looking for the same shit in this place.

And he pushes his chair back and tries to start a fight with an unresponsive man, “Step outside, buddy,” he says, before giving up.
The barback stumbles over my feet and I apologise prefusely. The Owner smirks at me like I’ve said something out of character. “I’m a lot nicer to people I don’t know,” I say.

“Yeah,” The Owner laughs, “because you haven’t worked out how to hurt them yet.”
He watches The Pickle hit on a woman who says to him, loudly, “I’m going to need you to stop talking to me.”

The Owner ties his long black hair into two braids, his fingers tattooed appropriately with the words LAST CALL.
“I spent thanksgiving in here,” he tells me.

“You didn’t go home?” I ask.

“Where is home?” he says knowingly.
Three weeks away from Brooklyn, I finally return, jet lagged and tired.

I am back for only an hour when I walk into my bodega, and see PD buying cigarettes.

Shocked, I think about walking out, when the guy behind the counter shouts, “My friend! Long time!”
PD turns to see who he is talking to, and seems startled for a moment.

“What are you doing here?” He asks. “I still live here.” I say.
We leave the shop and intuitively walk to the bar together, as though magnetically, or an unspoken rule. As though there is only one place we know where to be in these moments.
PD orders two shots for himself, then another. I wonder how much of that is nerves.

The Pickle is hitting on a young girl and barely notices us sitting there.

The room smells like hot apple cider.
A day earlier Zaza phoned The Owner at 9am and asked him to open the bar for him.

“I need a drink,” he told him, head in his hands.
The night before that, Zaza’s mistress got angry with another girl looking at him.

She took his car keys, left the bar, and crashed his car into an Uber.
“I had to take $400 out at 4am to pay this guy. What the hell am I going to tell the wife?”

He went home later that day with a puppy. He nearly bought two.
Jeopardy comes onto the small screen above us, but PD and I are laughing too much to watch it.

Later, PD puts his coat on to leave and leans forward to kiss me.

I move away. “Sorry,” he says, and kisses me on the forehead and walks out.
The Owner hugs me, “Wasn’t sure I’d see you before I went away for the holidays. Welcome home,” he says.

I wonder if by home he means Brooklyn, or the bar.
I feel a lightness when ABBA’s SOS plays in here, which is often. It reminds me of the night me and The Owner and another bartender started hanging out properly. A few of us had to carry The Owner upstairs and put him to bed, fully clothed, and walk his dogs for him.
That summer was a particularly reckless one. It was the same summer a guy threatened to shoot me and a friend for shouting at him when he groped me. He fell over in the rain and we ran down the street, and the police never came even though we called them.
That was the same summer that the good looking personal trainer asked me out on a date. He’d disappear to Long Island for a few weeks at a time to train Ryan Seacrest, and one of the Hadid’s. Then he’d come back to Brooklyn and drink in the bar on his days off.
His family are well known in Bed Stuy. They’ve been here forever and are good people. One day his cousin came in and was asking around if anyone had seen him. He’d been missing for months, the cousin said, and his family hadn’t heard a thing.
A few of us texted him. I did, The Owner, The Owner’s girlfriend, Turkish Barman. We all got the same message back from the network saying the number was no longer in use. All his social media was gone too.

It’s been about six months and there’s still no sign of him.
This was all before I even knew who PD was. And I’ve never been quite sure how we’d spent two years in the same small place but don’t recall ever seeing each other.

My first clear memory of him is still that time in the backyard when I saw him staring when I walked out.
He had his shirt unbuttoned down to his naval, with a chain, and I thought what an absolute dick.

But then he brought a chair over, launched into the most self deprecating humour, and then left.
I couldn’t quite shake the thought of him for the rest of the day, until we both ran back into each other at the bar later that night.

Thinking about it, there’s not been a single time since that we haven’t sat together.
Even the first time I saw him after I ended things. He had walked in and sat at the other end of the bar. “Go say hi and be the bigger person,” Turkish Barman said. And I did. And I asked if he’d like to join me and he said, “No. I’d rather be alone.” And that really stung.
But a few moments later he picked up his things and came and sat in the seat next to me anyway.

But that was months ago. And I sometimes think about texting him when he’s not here. “We know where to find each other,” he once said. What’s the point beyond that.
Zaza is in his mid 40s. He’s a sturdy well fed Sicilian from Bensonhurst—land of Saturday Night Fever—with an accent to fit.

He’s good friends with The Owner, and The Pickle, bonding over Sicilian and Italian upbringings, with The Owner being half Italian himself.
I shouldn’t like Zaza. I shouldn’t like him for being a man who calls his wife of twenty years a queen, but stays in Brooklyn with his mistresses. I shouldn’t like him for having a mistress even he says is the devil.
I shouldn’t like him for voting for Trump, because he came from nothing but made his money, and wanted to keep it that way. I should really dislike him. But I don’t. It’s hard to not have a fondness for Zaza. He is big hearted and warm and endlessly generous.
Because that’s the thing about being made to spend time with people you otherwise wouldn’t. You learn what it is that makes a person. You learn that you feel safe and happy around people you never could have considered being happy and safe around otherwise.
And there was a night recently when Zaza was throwing dry ice in the back yard. And the noise it made sounded like gunshots popping off and someone called the police.

The Owner laughs and remembers a time they tried to shoot a drone down from the bar with a BB gun.
I love listening to them talk. All awkward in their own way. And The Pickle says to me, “Chem, you gonna write a book about me? About all my escapades with women in bars.”

Id rather not fucking think about it, I tell him. And he laughs. Even these days I don’t hate him so much.
Many of the usual suspects are sitting in a line at the bar—The Owner, Zaza, The Pickle, Dog Whisperer and his girlfriend, The Older Looking Jared Leto, Turkish Barman—when PD walks in. He’s late for Jeopardy, but I didn’t know any of the answers anyway.
A group of men show up with Nazi slogans on their jackets and PD starts a fight with them. I stand next to the biggest guy and ask him to calm down when he starts back on PD. “Hit me, you racist,” PD says, “I’m dying to smack you back.”
Later, “They don’t get it,” PD says to me, “I grew up with a German grandfather who was forced into Nazi shit as a kid, and a grandmother who kept Nazi shit around the house. I lose my shit when I’m around it.”
For a moment we forget we are only friends. For a moment we hold hands. Everything calms. A song he likes comes on and he dances to it, until we are both drunk enough that the inevitable comes up.
“You weren’t ready to be with anyone,” I tell him, “and you carelessly made jokes about other women and it hurt.” And suddenly I am crying. And suddenly I don’t feel like I can stop.
“You didn’t deserve that,” he says. “I just wanted to make you jealous when you ended things.”—And I am dipping in and out of what he is saying, as he keeps going—“We have the best time together. I love you. You’re one of my favourite people in the world.”
I know the following day he wont remember. I know the following day it is all I will think about.

Instead, I give him a cheap beaded bracelet I found that looks like the one he had broken. “I can’t tell you how happy this makes me.” He keeps saying. But I won’t look at him.
Zaza is shouting the Turkish word for turtle, kaplumbağa, having just learnt it from Turkish Barman. Only, he pronounces it “kapoomba” and everyone laughs. I am peaceful here.

I think of all the different ways we love. I think about all the different ways PD might have meant it.
Turkish Barman has been sober for a month. He times it so it coincides with the year anniversary of when he fucked up his face, swollen, on the sidewalk outside. We all saw the video footage of him, last year, as he fell hands by his side, and broke the fall with his own face.
He gets less angry when he’s sober. That is to say, he’s less Turkish. Whatever that means. So now I bring my backgammon board to the bar and we play as he sips his soda, and spoons out avocado from the shell.
We’ve been through it all, me and him. I’ve watched him switch from alcohol a thousand times already. “Aunty,” he calls me, even though we are the same age, “you’re the only person that scares me when I get too drunk and don’t behave.”
I have picked him off the floor a hundred times. I have pushed him into cabs & chased him around them when he has immediately left from the other door. I have carried his weight onto my sofa to sleep. I have stopped the fights with men that deserve to be punched, but shouldnt be.
On the night I was punched in the back of the head outside the bar by a stranger, its him I called. Its him who cycled from his house & hugged me whilst I cried. “If I see him,” he told me, “I will kill him.” And I suppose I know this about Turkish people who become your family.
He watches the security footage of the Nazis that PD started a fight with so he can recognise them if they ever come in again.

The Pickle is surprised white supremacists showed up to Bed Stuy. “They’re Nazis,” I say, “they already don’t have shame.”
A few seats down sits Sal, The Owners business partner who slept with The Owners girlfriend. Sal is in a fireman’s uniform. He has just come from the funeral of another firemen, Stephen Pollard, who fell off a part of the Belt Parkway whilst on duty.
All the firefighters across the city go to the funeral, they tell me, and then they get really drunk all day afterwards. “Staten Island ferry is going to be carnage on the way home.” The Pickle says.
The Owner shows me texts from the woman he says is catfishing him. They started talking on Instagram but she won’t call him, and something always comes up when they’re meant to meet.

It’s probably in my best interest to mention that me and The Owner used to date. A while ago.
That when he threw a drink in my bag, and I threw a drink over his head, it was during the midst of it all. The beginning, in fact. And so it was that we have always been better at being friends.
When PD arrives The Owner will give him his seat. But before this, PD uncharacteristically ignores me. I watched him look at me through the window, then go and sit elsewhere. Eventually he will pick up his drink and walk over to me.
PD is distracted. Guarded. Agitated and hard to engage with. He had thought for a moment another man in the bar was his exes ex. “I wanted to walk up to him and say, buddy did she suck the fucking life out of you too?”
He gets caught in his own thoughts. He forgets who his audience is, or perhaps doesn’t care. “She came in here recently with her new guy. I was like, really? Of all the places? This is quite clearly my bar.”
He is smoking outside by now, pacing, still going. “I see my best friends posting pictures hanging out with her. I can’t fuck with those people. I lost my friends in that too. She can’t take the bar as well.”
It is clear that each & every local began to come here alone when we didnt want to be. And so it happened that in our loneliness we grew a community. That we helped each other heal a little. That we learned each other’s lives, collected the stories piece by piece, over the time.
“I was so drunk the other night, I don’t remember a thing,” PD is saying. In fact, he has said it a few times by now.

I want to scream these words: You don’t remember saying you love me? You don’t remember saying I’m one of your favourite people?
Instead, vaguely, I ask, “You don’t remember anything you said to me?”

“Oh god. No. Was I mean or did I overshare?”
I feel myself disconnecting from the room. “Don’t worry about it,” I say, “you said absolutely nothing.”

He is still wearing the bracelet I gave him.

I don’t look in his direction when he says goodbye.
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