Home Up Alone


Book One:





Written by Rick Archer

  2015, Richard Archer




It was October 1965, my Sophomore year in high school.  I was 15.  It was late in the afternoon. 

I was headed back to the locker room after P.E. (Physical Education).  Harold and his two cronies filed in right behind me.

"Hey, look everybody, look who's here.  It's Dead-Eye Dick, the Clearasil Kid!  Hey, Dickless, did anyone ever tell you are one hell of a creepy loser kid?!

'Ha ha ha!' roared his buddies.

My back was turned, but I knew who it was.  It had to be Harold.  Who else?  I felt my shoulders tense with resentment. 

Harold had gotten under my skin repeatedly, but this was worse than usual.  Harold had never taunted me to this extent before.  I saw no point in retaliating.  With my face covered in a sea of red pimples, this was no time to exchange words.  I was far too ashamed of my grotesque appearance to act cocky.  In addition, with a three to one disadvantage, slugging it out with Harold seemed out of the question.

With my temper barely under control, I kept walking towards the locker room seething with rage... and helplessness.   I despised being unable... or unwilling... to fight back.

Sad to say, I halfway agreed with the jerk.  I felt exactly like a creepy loser kid.  I was so angry at the world that I wanted to hurt somebody in the worst way possible.  And if Harold didn't shut up, I wanted to start with him.

I felt so alone.  I had no father in my life, no mother to speak of, few friends, and my face was covered ear to ear with the worst case of acne imaginable. 

I hated my life worse than my tormentor could ever conceivably imagine.

Slowly but surely I got my temper back under control.  I said nothing and just kept walking with my back turned to them.

I was forced to absorb the insult just like I always did.  What exactly was I supposed to do, turn around and get into a shouting match?  With my clown mask of red and these three boys taking turns taunting me, what were my chances of winning that argument?

They had the upper hand.  After all, I was the one who looked like a monster. 

I turned into the locker room where I expected the taunting to stop.  It turned out I was wrong.  Harold was on a roll.  Three minutes later when I walked naked into the shower room with a towel on my shoulder, Harold and his boyfriends were already there waiting for me.  I winced.  Harold had obviously rushed to the shower so he could greet me and continue his heckling.

When Harold saw me enter, sure enough he grinned with delight.  Grinning, Harold exclaimed, "Hey, Dead Eye Dick, why don't you go use the other shower?  We don't want to catch your disease!"

That's all the excuse I needed.  I walked over to him.  He expected me to say something, but instead I surprised him.  I clapped my hands hard over both his ears, stunning him. 

Then I punched Harold in the throat with my fist.  Hard.  As he doubled over in pain clutching his throat, I lifted my knee to catch Harold on the chin, snapping his head back.  I hurt him badly.  Harold crumpled to the wet floor in agony.  I started to kick him in the face, but barely managed to stop when Harold covered his face in fear. 

Harold was finished. 

Now I turned to the other two boys.  The other two boys were in no mood to rush to Harold's defense.  As they stared at their henchman on the shower floor covered by spray, they were stunned to see him moaning in pain.   Now they gaped back at me in startled fear.  Here at this posh, exclusive prep school, neither of them had ever seen this kind of violence before... me neither for that matter.  Boys didn't fight with their fists at this school; everyone was far too well behaved.  We were supposed to fight with clever words and witty put-downs like "Dead Eye Dick", "Clearasil Kid" and of course Harold's favorite, "Creepy Loser Kid".

Not today.  I had broken the unspoken gentlemen's code.

Now I glowered at them to see if they were going to make a move at me.  There I was stark naked, dripping wet, red face and shaking with Hulk-like ferocity.  No doubt my red mask of pustules made me appear even more dangerous.   The two boys remained frozen with terror.  Convinced Harold wasn't getting back up, they weren't so brave anymore. 

Deciding they were no threat, I took a quick rinse, grabbed my towel and left.  I smiled contemptuously as the two boys ran to Harold who was still crumpled on the wet floor.  Served him right.

Harold would live.  In fact, after he had dressed, he demanded I meet him after school to settle this.  I simply ignored him.

My own personal Psycho shower scene was over.  I would have never guessed it at the time, but this would be the last serious fight for the rest of my life.  I don't believe in fighting, but this guy had crossed way too far over the line. 

There was a real finality to the incident.  Harold would never say another word to me.  For that matter, despite his threat to meet him after school, Harold must have had second thoughts.  Harold never came near me again. 

Phys Ed was the last class of the day.  I got dressed, got my books, got on my bicycle and rode home.  Once I was sure no one was looking, I cried uncontrollably the entire way home. 

I was an only child with just one parent.  Consequently I spent a great deal of my childhood alone.  Today was no different.  The only one in the apartment to greet me was my beloved border collie Terry.  Thank goodness for Terry; he was usually the only friend I had in those days.  

The adrenaline refused to leave my body.  Desperate to find some way to shake off my agitation, I got back on my bike.  Terry ran alongside me over to Cherryhurst Park, my sanctuary.  While Terry ran around chasing squirrels, I spent the afternoon shooting basketball while I cooled off.  I saw my mother when she came home from work that evening, but I didn't tell her. This wasn't something I was proud of.  Besides, we didn't talk much about school.  Or anything for that matter.

In the days to follow, I was never punished by the school's administration.  I have no idea whether they knew or not.  All I know is that no one, be it student or teacher, ever said a single word to me about the incident.

As for the vicious teasing, it stopped.  No one else ever challenged me again. I have to assume that whatever rumors were spread behind my back at school worked in my favor.  For the remaining two and a half years of high school, no St. John's student ever taunted me again.

So in this crazy, mixed-up world there are millions upon millions of unhappy children at any given moment.  Why would anyone ever want to spend their valuable time reading my story about another creepy loser kid? 

Sad to say, some creepy loser kids massacre the innocent at Columbine or Sandy Hook.  Other creepy loser kids shoot John Lennon or John Kennedy. 

On the other hand, this particular creepy loser kid - yes, me - went on to create a special dance studio that would teach half a million people how to Twostep, Tango, and Waltz.  Thanks in large part to my studio, someday Houston would become the Western Dance capital of the country.

More importantly, my studio created fun and happiness for countless numbers of people. At least 300 marriages developed at the dance studio.  Today I imagine a thousand children walk the streets of Houston because my dance studio helped their parents find each other through dancing. 

So why does one deeply disturbed kid go off the deep end while another misguided kid goes on to become a person whose main goal in life is to contribute to society?

I will offer a hint.  When I was 28, a very important person said this to me:

"Rick, it is beyond amazing how a simple act of kindness turned my entire life around. I don't want you to ever forget the importance of kindness."




Rick Archer's Note: 
Before we begin, be forewarned I intend to speak of my parents in a distinctly candid way.  I apologize for my candor in advance, but clearly the story makes better sense this way.

Out of respect for my parents, I waited till they passed on before writing this memoir.  However, now that they are deceased, I see no reason to disguise or distort the truth.  Although my parents deserve credit for their role helping me obtain a fine education and of course for giving me a home, beyond that they came up woefully short. 


My mother Mary came from a solid home in mid-Pennsylvania

Mary's father William was the district supervisor for a Pennsylvania oil company.  She grew up in a comfortable, upper-middle class home atop a hill in a rural area located near Reading, Pennsylvania. 

There were two boys and two girls in the family.  Mom was extremely close to her younger brother Dick, but she always felt inferior to her older sister Gwen who was quite beautiful.  Mary on the other hand was plump, plain and and always wore thick glasses.

Unfortunately Mary's mother Lenore was a nag.  Her mother constantly berated her daughter about her looks.  She asked why Mary couldn't try harder to be pretty like her older sister.  Do your hair, use some make-up, but for heaven's sake, do something!  Mary grew up feeling like the ugly duckling.

Mary wasn't particularly athletic or social.  On the other hand, Mary was extremely bright and excelled in school.  Her books were her best friend.


So what about Dad?   My father Jim came from a lonely existence in mid-Ohio.  He and his mother moved to Reading, Pennsylvania, when he was thirteen.

The nicest thing I can say about Jim is that he was a very smart guy and brilliant in his field.  Unfortunately, he was also a superficial man who lacked character.  He was soft.  I think the world knocked him down at an early age and he never completely got back up.  For the rest of his life, he always took the easiest way out of any dilemma.  Dad spent most of his life hiding behind the skirts of domineering women.

The parallels between my father's childhood and my own are disturbingly similar.  Dad was an only child who didn't get along with his strange mother.  Interesting. 

Like me, my father lost an eye due to a childhood accident. 

Like me, he had a serious bout with acne, although not nearly as bad as my problem. 

Jim lost his father at age six.  His father died from appendicitis.  While my father didn't exactly die on me, he did more or less remove himself from my life at age ten. 

Dad grew up a very lonely, insecure young man who turned to books as his escape route.  Hmm, so did I.  Dad told me how much he missed having a father.  How ironic.  I often wondered if Dad realized he was making me suffer the exact same fate he did.

My father caught a lucky break in World War II.  Practically on his first day of action, a German sniper popped him in the hip while he was on patrol during the Battle of the Bulge.  Although Dad was unable to walk for a while, it was a non-threatening wound that left an impressive scar. By the time the wound healed, the war was over.  Dad collected his purple heart and began his free ride to college paid for by Uncle Sam.

However, Uncle Sam didn't pay for room and board and my father was penniless. 


My mother came from a wealthy family in my father's hometown.  Although Mom was plain and lacked confidence, Dad needed a meal ticket and Mom was a good catch. 

Dad had a strange mother who at times related to her son more as her "companion" than son.  Coming from a terrible home, I suspect my father had some character issues.  On the other hand, he was a good-looking man and extremely bright.  Plus I can't imagine my mother had a wide range of marriage offers.  I expect she decided to take a chance on him.  I have no idea whether either of them loved one another, but based on what I saw, I doubt it.

Dad received his training as an electrical engineer from Drexel Tech in Philadelphia.  Mom dropped out of college to support him.  Dad started his career a year before I was born in 1949.  My first home was in Bethesda, Maryland.  Dad worked as a salesman for Square D, a manufacturer of fuse boxes and equipment used to control and distribute electric power.

The company transferred Dad to Houston when I was six.

Dad was good at sales, but yearned to put his engineering talent to better use.  While I was in college, Dad moved over to Kranco, a company that built massive cranes.  Kranco is where my father made his mark. 

During his career at Kranco, Dad was finally able to show the world what he could do. He became the go-to guy for large and difficult projects that called for unusual solutions. 

My father was frequently called in to handle the toughest assignments.  For example, he designed the electrical system for a rocket-launching crane at Cape Kennedy meant to hurl astronauts into space.  Another time he designed the electrical system for a crane that removed spent tie rods from a nuclear reactor. 

One of my father's best pieces of work was succeeding at a job where others had failed.  He designed the electrical system for a crane that needed to work in sub-zero temperatures at a lumber mill up in far northern Canada.  The Canada project is where he showed his special talent.  Several engineers had worked on this assignment previously, but couldn't overcome the problem of the bitter arctic temperatures.  Dad nailed it. 

After that, my father's fame spread.  He was known as the guy who could succeed where others couldn't.  Consequently he received several impressive new projects.

Dad's most interesting project was designing a crane to handle a secret prototype aircraft for the military.  Asked to work strictly from specifications, Dad was never allowed to see the actual plane itself in New Mexico. 

Dad loved talking about that project.  Consumed with curiosity, Dad was positive his crane was being used for a plane with stealth technology or some sort of UFO. 

The Civil War was my father's favorite preoccupation, but my father was also very interested in the unexplained.  Considering the proximity of that airbase to Roswell, New Mexico, that UFO story was right up his alley. 

For Christmas one year, Dad gave me a book on Edgar Cayce, the sleeping prophet of Virginia Beach.  Dad would explain to me how Edgar Cayce would go into trances and magically come up with amazing cures for very sick people.  Mr. Cayce also raised the prospect of reincarnation as a fact of life, not just some mumbo-jumbo Hindu philosophy. 

Dad used to say Edgar Cayce interested him more than any other person.  Due to some strange college experiences, I would come to agree with him. 

I have spoken that coincidences have played an important role in my life.

When I was six, Dad and I shared one very frightening moment.  Dad had recently been transferred to Houston from Bethesda, Maryland, by his company.  At the time, I was still walking around with a patch over my left eye.  Two months earlier I had cut my eye with a kitchen knife. 

One night Dad took me to a carnival on South Main.  Afterwards, we were going to attend a stock car show on a race track located behind the carnival.  Dad let me play games for a while - ring toss, baseball toss, haunted house, house of mirrors, etc - but then he became impatient and said it was time to go see the stock car show.  I could have cared less about the cars, but that was what Dad was interested in so I tagged along willingly.  

As we began making our way to the race track at the back of the carnival, I could hear the loud roar of the powerful car engines.  The drivers warmed their cars up by barreling around the track. 

However, I couldn't see the cars; they were hidden behind an eight foot wooden fence.  All I could hear was the thunderous roar.

Suddenly I stopped in my tracks and told Dad I wanted to play one more game. 

We had just come up to some game where I could shoot wooden ducks with an air rifle that used corks for bullets.  Don't ask why, I just had a sudden irresistible urge to play. 

Dad said, "No, you've had enough. We're going to be late as it is."

But I wouldn't take no for answer.  I grabbed his arm and insisted. 

"C'mon, Dad.  Just this one last game, Dad, please??"

Just as the word 'please' left my mouth, we were both startled by the sound of a loud crash.  We had been standing there debating for no more than 8-10 seconds when we were jolted by a crash on our left.  Since we were both blind in our left eyes, we had no idea what had happened.  As we both whirled our heads in panic, we screamed as we saw an enormous metal car hurtling straight at us through the wooden fence.  We were sitting ducks!  That flimsy fence had not slowed the powerful car one bit; we had no time to dodge the giant flying vehicle.

Something had caused the car to leave the ground.  It was literally flying at us.  At that speed, there was nothing we could do to protect ourselves.  The car missed us by no more than five feet.  The displaced air knocked us both down with a rush. 

Moments later the car crashed violently into a telephone pole ten feet to my right.  The impact was brutal; the driver was killed instantly.  He had paid the ultimate price for losing control of his car.  As we scrambled to our feet, we heard a snapping sound.  We stared in shock the phone pole broke in two and fell on top of the crumpled car.

Dad was in shock.  I suppose I was too.  I couldn't get over that poor lifeless driver slumped over the wheel in the car.  I started to cry.

Dad stared at me funny.  He had the weirdest look on his face.

"Son, if you hadn't stopped us, we would both be dead now."

My father was right.  We had missed death by an instant.  Had we continued walking, we would have been right in the path of that speeding car.  I was too young to fully understand the metaphysical implications, but Dad was convinced some higher force had intervened to save us.

    "It seems to me your Guardian Angel was watching out for both of us."

That strange incident took place back in the days when my father and I had been close.  I think Dad liked me a lot, or at least he did in the beginning. 

As for me, when I was a little boy, I worshipped the guy.  I remember watching in awe as he built his incredible train network.  Up in the attic, Dad had covered a giant table with interlocking train tracks.  He added mountains, tunnels, bridges and split levels where one train would pass over the other.  This amazing complex took up nearly one third of the attic. 

I was absolutely mesmerized as two different trains crisscrossed the complicated tableau without ever crashing into each other.  I beamed.  I had the smartest father in the world!


One time when I was 8, Dad showed his love for me in a curious way.  We had just moved to Sharpstown, a brand new development at the far western edge of Houston.  We lived one house in from the corner.  Our next door neighbor was a grouchy old guy who lived and died for his beautiful St. Augustine grass.  Every time I walked past his house, he was working on his lawn.

I had just gotten my new puppy Terry.  One day as Terry and I came home from a nearby field, this old man screamed at me for walking across his lawn.  My mistake was using a dirt path that cut diagonally across his lawn instead of the corner sidewalk.  As I cringed in fear, the man pointed to the barren path where his precious lawn had been damaged by neighborhood boys doing the same thing I did.

"From now on, kid, use the sidewalk!  And while you're at it, I want you to keep your damn dog from doing his business on my lawn!" 

That night when I told my father what had happened, he was furious. Dad had a very unusual way of getting even.  He immediately drove to the hardware store and brought back three sacks of fertilizer.  That night after I went to bed, I heard Dad  doing something in the garage.  So I went and peeked through the door.  Dad got out that fertilizer and sprinkled some of it on the man's yard.  Dad did this every night for two weeks.  Sure enough, that man's grass began to grow like crazy.  For the next four months, that poor man was forced to mow his lawn practically every day in the hot sun.  Dad thought it was the funniest thing he had ever done.


My first eight years were idyllic because I had the best father in the world.  Not only did I love him with all my heart, Dad was very fond of me.  Aunt Lynn once told me that back when I was a little boy, my father used to watch me with a look of pride that touched her deeply.  Lynn said, "Your father absolutely adored you."  I completely agreed with Aunt Lynn.  That was my memory too.  When I was young, things were very special between my father and I. 

Dad and I had a grand adventure when I was eight.  We embarked on a cross-country summer camping trip that took us all the way to the Grand Canyon.  One night in some obscure, completely deserted park in Arizona, we were awakened by two bears who got into our trash outside the tent.  Uh oh.  Dad had left some food out.  Unfortunately, we were the only ones at the campground.  There was no one around to save us if the bears came after us. 

Boy, was I scared, especially when the bears growled!  As we cowered in our tent, I can still remember Dad pulling out his prized Bowie knife.  Dad told me not to worry; he was ready to defend me.  I wasn't so sure that knife was going to be enough, but fortunately the bears never bothered us as we remained huddled and quivering in our tent.  We eventually made a run for our car and drove to a motel.   When we returned the next morning to pick up our gear, there were bear tracks all around our tent.  We were both pretty shaken by he ordeal.

Not surprisingly, Dad was done with camping. We stayed in motels for the rest of the trip. Oh, so what?  Bears or no bears, that was a great trip!  Dad and I had a wonderful time together.

Sad to say, that 1958 trip was our last real moment of happiness together.  We were so tight that his later abandonment made it that much harder to understand.  How does a father go from idolizing his son to forgetting his son?   Why would a man go from caring to not caring?




Not long after we returned home from Arizona, serious marital problems developed.  My parents began arguing every single night of the week. 

I am an only child.  As many an only child can attest, 'only' and 'lonely' rhyme for a reason.  At age eight, I was terrified when my parents began fighting practically any time they looked at each other.  Their raised voices during the nightly arguments reverberated throughout the house. 

I would run to my room, but no walls could contain the sounds of their anger.  Consequently I spent many a night crying myself to sleep.  I was very frightened.  That was about the time I learned to depend on Terry, my year-old border collie, for security.

I had no idea why my father had become such an angry man. He had gained weight and grown distant.  When he wasn't arguing with my mother, he spent his nights locked in his study reading or solving math problems. 

Personally, I wish he had stayed in his study.  When he did decide to come out, Dad turned into something straight out of the Shining.  Here's Jimmy!!

My memory is that Dad started the fights.  He liked to pick on my mother.  He found fault at the drop of a hat.  Dad's favorite trick was to come home and inspect the house.  Seriously, Dad would walk in the door, put his briefcase down, hang up his hat and immediately stroll around the house. 

It was obvious he would keep looking until he found an excuse to start an argument.  Eventually Dad would find something to criticize my mother over.

Game on.  Now the fireworks would begin.

Dad loved to tell my mother how lazy she was.  I suppose he was right.  Mom was not big on housework and she was quite comfortable with clutter.  On the other hand, the house wasn't "that bad". 

My father didn't see it that way. He expected the house to look perfect.

Why the hell should he have to work so hard every day and come home to a dirty house?  What did she do all day, watch TV?  Read magazines?  Damn it, get off your fat ass and do a little work sometime, woman.

Terry is in the middle.  Duke is Mom's dog.
Mom gave the other puppy away.

Those were fighting words and a major battle quickly ensued. Pretty soon things would escalate and some really mean things would be said.  

In my opinion, my father was totally off base.  Whatever he objected to was hardly worthy of a screaming match.  In addition, my father had conveniently forgotten this was the same woman who had sacrificed her own education so that he could get his.  Now that he didn't need her any more, my father began to tee off on Mom nightly. 

My parents couldn't care less that I was standing there watching them in horror.  When their voices began to rise, I soon learned to run to my room for shelter.  I would grab Terry and pull the bed covers over my head. 

When the arguing got too intense, I would start crying in the solitude of my room.  I had only my dog Terry for comfort.  It didn't matter that Terry was little more than a puppy; he was the only friend I had.

Once I ran to my room, the door stayed closed for the rest of the night.  Neither parent ever came to check on me after the battle was over.  That was a really rough year for me.  That was about the time I became a major disruption at public school and my grades plummeted.




My early childhood was good.  I was a happy kid until I turned nine.  That's when the fighting began at home.  

Now I began having trouble in my 3rd grade public school class.  My school grades were lackluster at best and my discipline marks were abysmal.  I had become a constant disruption in my classroom.

Each morning I would take a seat in the back of the class room.  I would draw extensive tableaus of two armies complete with tanks, hand grenades and bazookas.  I would then spend the rest of the morning blowing up every soldier complete with boom boom boom sound effects and excruciating death moans. 

For variety, I would draw spaceships and destroy them too... yes, complete with eerie ray gun zap zap zap sound effects. 

Then I switched to dinosaur battles.  I wasn't quite sure what sounds dinosaurs made, but growls were sufficient.

I must have been a load.  Looking back, I feel so sorry for my poor teacher.  I thought I kept my noises muffled, but since the teacher could hear them up front, apparently not.  She would ask me to be quiet, but the battle would soon resume. 

My noisy pitched battles were just the tip of the iceberg.  I had a smart mouth too.  I talked back all the time.  I was becoming a cold, surly, angry kid.  Not surprisingly, I received the lowest marks possible for discipline.

What a difference a year makes. 
I had turned into an angry, unhappy kid

One day I brought a note home from school to be signed. 

The note said that I was an enormous disruption in my 3rd grade class.  It was time for my parents to visit the principal.  The principal made it clear to my parents that I would be suspended if they couldn't get me under control. 

My parents were also very concerned over my poor grades in school.    My parents had always thought I was smart, but after seeing my most recent report card, they were seriously beginning to have their doubts.  Since their own childhoods had been accompanied by an unending series of superior school marks, I imagine their pride was shaken to see their only child had barely mustered a C average.

At the time, my parents were busy trying to save their marriage.  They had been in therapy with Dr. Mendel, a noted psychiatrist here in Houston.  After the principal's warning, they asked Dr. Mendel to take a look at me too.  Maybe the eminent doctor could explain why my grades were so poor and why I was so angry all the time. 

Well, now that I think about it, I suppose my parents knew full well why I was angry.  What they didn't know was what to do about me. 

After some testing, Dr. Mendel told my parents they didn't need to worry about my intelligence.  In his opinion, I was a smart child.  As for the anger, I was simply acting out due to the tension at home.  He also suspected I was terribly bored in school.  He told my parents that I desperately needed a challenge, a school with a faster pace, something to focus my unharnessed energy on.

Dr. Mendel knew exactly where I would find that challenge.  He suggested my parents put me into St. John's, a private school where his own two boys were current students.  He had been very pleased with the progress of his sons.  Dr. Mendel was convinced this school for gifted children was just what I needed.

My father was opposed from the start, but finally relented and allowed to let the school test me.  To be honest, I think he expected I would do poorly and let him off the hook.   Then he wouldn't have to be the bad guy.  However, to his surprise, I did well on the test and was given an acceptance letter.

Now my father began to seriously object.  My father was reluctant to send me there.  Too expensive.  This idea was a big waste of money.  Public school had been good enough for him and it would be good enough for me.

However, my mother insisted.  Mom had an ace up her sleeve... she had a strong suspicion Dad was having an affair with his secretary. 

When my parents decided to divorce, Mom told her husband to his face that she knew full well he was seeing another woman and had proof.  She said she would make this divorce very ugly unless Dad did the right thing. 

Mind you, Mom was bluffing, but she said my father folded like a wet blanket.  After Dad caved in, Mom knew she was right about the affair.

So there you have it, my mother successfully blackmailed me into St. John's.  The divorce settlement included my father's agreement to send me to St. John's for three years... 4th, 5th, and 6th grades.  

At the time, I had no idea about any of this drama.  Neither parent had the guts to tell me.  Instead they packed me off to spend the 1959 summer at Aunt Lynn and Uncle Dick's house in Northern Virginia just outside of Washington DC.  My parents wanted me out of town while they sold their house.  They also preferred to let Dick and Lynn break the sad news. 

The summer of 1959 marked the start of a new life.  I gained a school and lost a father.  I would barely see my father for the rest of my life. 

Now I was in for a rude surprise.  I quickly learned my mother was unable to cope on her own.  Things went south immediately.  Considering the erratic behavior of my mother, at the tender age of ten, I was forced to grow up on my own.  Thank goodness for Terry or I would have never made it.  






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