Archives for category: Profile

The Quirky Brilliance Of The Head Guru

Haresh Shah

mrspeak_02

I have just swiped my card and entered the sixteenth floor through the glass door. I see Arthur sitting by himself through the glass wall of his office across the atrium – the bank of offices we have come to call the fish tank, overlooking the square. I hurry to my office, remove my outer garments and pick up the phone and dial Arthur’s three digit inter-office number. Might as well get it out of the way before I chicken out. Having to call Arthur is something of an ordeal, because you never know what kind of mood you might catch him in. But there is nothing I can do about it. I am the one who needs him. Most of our telephone conversations would go something like this:

‘Good morning Arthur!’

‘What’s so good about the morning?’

Or

‘Hi Arthur. How are you?’

‘Why do you want to know?’

Or

‘Hi Arthur. This is Haresh.’

‘I know who you are!’

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Flying Free Like A Hawk

Haresh Shah

ballance
“You’re doing a good job if you manage to piss us off fifty percent of the time, and piss our partners off another fifty.” Our boss Bill Stokkan would often tell his managers, usually during one of his pontification sessions. More true of his international divisional heads who had not only to deal with the products but also with the cultural nuances of the people from several countries. In my case, it also worked to my advantage that I was not an American born American. Especially the people I worked with from the non-European and Asian countries felt that I understood them better just because I was born and grew up in India. That I brought a different sensitivity to our working together. Equally so with my American management, because by then I had spent as many years in the West. As difficult as it could be sometimes, I had developed a close rapport with the people on both ends and had earned their confidence and the respect.

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I Went Home And Cried

Haresh Shah

bea
Sitting across from me in a small windowless meeting room of the Holiday Inn in Warsaw is stunningly beautiful Beata Milewska. She is dressed in a conservative grey dress with the sharp U shaped neckline, trimmed with black satin ribbon. Underneath the geometric U are black brass buttons that run down to and below her breasts. Blonde, she wears fashionably shorter hair, reaching down just a little above her neck. Her eyes are sparking blue and smiles are amused but slight and measured. I guess her to be in her late twenties or the very early thirties.

Sitting next to her is Tomasz Raczek – supposedly to translate from English, but Beata herself is quite proficient in the language, so other than some whispered consulting, Tomasz is there more as an observer who would eventually be the editor-in-chief of the Polish edition. On my left is our Hungarian Publisher Deszo Futasz and on my right is Rolf Dolina, the man who has gotten us together in hopes that I would be positively impressed by Beata and her ability to gather a qualified team of professionals to create the Polish edition of Playboy.

After landing in still the old and the dilapidated Warsaw-Okecie Airport, as we drive into the city, I witness the remnants still of the city heavily bombed first by the German Luftwaffe in 1939, and then by the Russians in 1944 to quell the Warsaw Uprising. Both sides of the road are lined with the communist era’s drab and dark harsh apartment blocks. Making them further sinister is the shroud of the cold and the cloudy month of January. I cringe at the thought of the lives lived and of deaths and destruction and the dismay that still must permeate the day-to-day lives of its citizens. After all, it’s just little over a year since the fall of the Berlin wall.

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The Reverse Migration To El Sur

Haresh Shah
fiercelatina

Had she submitted today, a polaroid wearing only a tan and mascara, just to see if I could make the cut, she certainly would have been considered seriously and most probably made it as Playmate of the Month in the U.S. Playboy. In the year 2015, with the dramatically altered demographics and with the both political parties wooing the ever growing Latino population, what could be better than to have a born in Glendale, California of Mexican parents, a natural beauty, raven haired, five feet tall with voluptuous hourglass figure, the dark brown eyes, seductively and invitingly looking back at you? At 24, she is in her prime and has already been a part of a study program at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and has earned her B.A. in Theatre Arts from Whittier College. A perfect fusion of beauty and the brain – an ideal girl next door.

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Too Good For His Own Good

Haresh Shah

travelagent
I am sitting in the Lufthansa city office in the center of Barcelona across from the petite German blonde staring at her computer screen while leafing through my four-booklets-thick-stapled- together ticket. She is tap taping her keyboard accessing my original itinerary and then checking it against my neatly handwritten used and the remaining ticket coupons. She looks confused and she looks amazed. One thing she doesn’t look is sure of herself. I have been on the road now for almost three weeks and have practically been around the world with my original itinerary that reads: March 25, 1979, Chicago-Los Angeles-Santa Barbara-Los Angeles-Sydney-Melbourne-Sydney-Bombay-Rome-Zürich-Barcelona-Munich-Düsseldorf-Frankfurt-London-Chicago. April 12, 1979.

I am on the final lag of my journey and am there to re-route my flight back to Chicago via Munich and Frankfurt instead of via Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, London. Normally a simple switchover. But that’s not the problem. It’s no restrictions ticket valid for twelve months.

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Always Ready For A New Business

Haresh Shah

 

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Must have been early 1990 when landed on my desk is an impressive corporate brochure of Autraco Holdings based in Vienna, Austria. In the cover letter signed by its CEO Rolf Dolina, he expresses his desire to want to publish Playboy magazine in Czechoslovakia. But we are already in negotiations with Vladimír Tichý of the Gennex Corporation, the publishers of magazines, books, films and video that included the Czech language edition of ComputerWorld. That in itself wouldn’t have stopped me from entertaining another option, especially because the Autraco Holdings boasts of its wide reach in the former eastern European countries that include Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland. The countries where they are sole distributors of Memorex USA, Honda automobiles and Fuji films. Enclosed with the letter are some issues of the Czech language version of Germany’s Burda Moden, widely distributed and hugely popular women’s magazine – similar to the Simplicity patterns in the United States. The magazine he was publishing with Hana Wagenhofer – his Prague based business partner in several joint ventures. And it is mainly for Hanna that he is so keen on doing Playboy. It would give her a stronger presence on the Czech publishing scene.

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There Is An Endless Story

Haresh Shah

nudievan2
One of the first times I met with Patrick Magaud is him walking into the offices of the French editor-in-chief Patrick Eynaud at Euredif headquarters located in a highrise in the thick of Paris’ Quartier Chinois. Accompanying him is not only a stunningly beautiful photo model but also a baby tiger on a leash being lead in by Patrick as if this adorable little cub were his pet dog. Not an unusual sight in the French editorial offices to find a dog snoozing under one of the editor’s desks or cats curled up at their feet. But a tiger? Well, because it’s Patrick.

Patrick is an idea man. The man who is perpetually excited about life. A daring one at that. He is known for pulling off stunts – the kind no one else would even dream of. Like the one he would tell me about over a dinner once we got to know each other better. He tells me about how once he rented a mini van, packed it with his photographic gear, an assistant by his side and a couple of gorgeous females, already unrobed, styled and made up and ready to jump in and out of action and proudly and provocatively pose in the front of the Paris streets and the landmark monuments.  Such as walking in the middle of  ChampsÉlysées with Arc de Triumphe in the background, biking topless around Café de Flores with a couple of baguettes sticking out of the career, prancing at the foot of the mighty Eiffel Tower, two of hem flaunting their wares from a Ferris wheel rotating in the Tuileries, jet skiing in the river Seine, frolicking at the curve of the iconic restaurant Fouquet’s.

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Haresh Shah

My Not So Intimate Encounters With Italy And France

bestfoodwinewomen

The first time I landed in the land of Ciao Bella and O sole mio, they dumped our baggage on the tarmac next to the aircraft, barely said sorry and told us we would have to carry it to the terminal ourselves – that the ground personnel had just decided to go on a strike. A bit different story when I first arrived at Charles de Gaulle in Paris. I am met at the airport by Gerrit Huig and the editorial assistant Ann Scharffenberger. They talk me into and I unwittingly agree to drive us through the city in our rented little Citroën. Though I had taken lessons in driving a car with manual transmission, this is my first time trying it out without an instructor sitting next to me. I haven’t yet gotten the knack of synchronizing the gears with the accelerator and the breaks. The car would shudder, stall and come to an abrupt stop in the middle of swirling rush hour traffic. Happens several times on the Arc de Triumph round-about. I get furious faces, obscene yelling  that I don’t understand, French version of the finger and then silly mocking giggles from my two passengers. But I somehow manage to survive both welcomes. Not exactly j’taime.  

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The Beginning Of The Longest Cocktail Party

Haresh Shah

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Dieter (Stark) is tickled pink. He s standing behind the kitchen island, swinging the stainless steel cocktail shaker back and forth in his hands. Equally as handsome, he looks like Tom Cruise would behind the bar years later in his movie Cocktail. Surveying the scene and the mood of the night. He is feeling absolutely no pain. His face wears a glow of amazement at the mission accomplished as he looks down at all those bottles of booze lined up in front of him like miniature Chicago skyline. Most of them are half gallon bottles of just arrived Kentucky Bourbon, Scotch Whiskeys, Bombay Gin, Bacardi Rum, Absolut Vodka. There are smaller ones of the mixers containing of red and white Martinis, Crème de Menthe, Grenadine, Tonic water. Open cartons of orange juice, some Coke and 7-up bottles stand ready to be poured in whatever cocktail he would end up concocting. He must feel like a kid let loose in the liquid candy store. Innumerable possibilities, the night not long enough!

●●●

Dieter and I worked together as repro photographers for Burda Verlag in Offenburg, Germany. My early days living and working in the town of Offenburg in southern Germany were some of the loneliest. It didn’t help that I spoke no German yet and the little bit that I did, I misunderstood more than did I understand. I must give credit to the people I worked with in doing their best to communicate with me. But by and large, I was lost like a babe in the woods in that provincial south western German town that boasts of being the gateway to the picturesque Black Forest.

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The Impossibility Of Being Christie Hefner

Haresh Shah

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‘What do these conferences mean to us?’

It’s a legitimate question. I have gotten to the meeting room earlier as usual to make sure things are set before everyone else begins to stumble-in in another half an hour. Only other person fussing around is Mary (Nastos), and then there is Christie Hefner. The two of us standing in the middle of the conference room on the lower floor of The Pontchartrain Hotel, New Orleans’ old European charm. I have been organizing Playboy International Publishing’s conferences now for years and no one has ever asked me the question. It was something that was handed down to me when I was re-hired by Lee Hall ten years earlier in 1978. I hadn’t given any serious thought to the question Christie posed – now the president of Playboy Enterprises.

‘Well, it’s mainly for all our editions to come together with their counterparts from around the world and discuss the year since they met last and establish some understanding of what lay in the future. From these meetings some international projects of common interest have been born and accomplished. The Soccer World Cup pictorial in 1986, which we produced in the host country Mexico and the Miss Playboy International Beauty Pageant, broadcast live in Hong Kong.

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Scattered Gems Of Practical Wisdom

Haresh Shah

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The train pulls up at some unknown station. The peacefulness of the night turns into a little puppet show for those few minutes. The flickering dim gaslights illuminate the platforms, the guard blowing his whistle, the signal man running in front of the locomotive with his red and green flags, the tea and food vendors reciting their sales pitches, “chai garam babuji, chai garam, garam garam bhajia, khalo saab, aisi puri bhaji aage nahin milengi, pani, thanda pani. (hot tea, hot hot fried dumplings, have some, you won’t find them as delicious at the next stop, cooled water)The people getting off the train and running to the water fountains to fill up their water flasks with fresh drinking water, some sipping the piping hot delicious local chai in clay cups, some savoring the spicy puri bhaji. Sudden burst of activity, the train will pull away in a few minutes, the station would doze off once again. If there is another train arriving in an hour or so, they would just sit around puffing on their chillums, and the next puppet show would begin at the sight of another approaching express. It’s amazing to watch all those people moving around in such synchronized harmony, like in a well choreographed musical. Everyone has his own place, his own kind of product to sell, his own price, his own lyrical voice to recite and get his product to his consumer’s ears and eyes who only have seconds to make up their minds. Make a quick sale. And then once again, they disappear, they fall asleep. The train moves on.

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The Spanish Civil War Looped Into A Gaze

Haresh Shah

cognac_revise_2

Sebastian Martinez is my first encounter with Spain. We have never met before, but he seems to have recognized me instantly as I emerge from the customs’ sliding doors of Barcelona’s yet old but functional airport. It’s the summer of 1978, scant two some years after Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s death. The air is still thick with the repressive regime of Franco that lasted for almost forty years. Trampled and suppressed during his ruthless decades, supported full heartedly and under the stringent conservative principals of the Catholic Church, it would have been impossible to even dream of the existence of an edition of the “derelict” Playboy in Spain. But the times they do a change!

By now I speak good Spanish. Sebastian welcomes me with bien venido a España, as much to welcome me as to test my Spanish. I answer with plain gracias. He has been told by Lee (Hall)  that I speak the language fluently. But Sebastian is not the one to take anyone’s word for it. It takes him a couple of days and me speaking in Spanish with the people he introduces me to, does he admit that I indeed do. If with a bit of a soft lilt in the way the Mexicans speak it. I myself have a hard time getting used to Spanish Spanish or the way it’s spoken by the Catalans. I find Mexican Spanish sweeter. Well! Sebastian might question my taste as he does everything. In this case, it would be the way British dismay at the way they demolish their language across the pond in America. He is the most skeptical person I have known. He would never accept anything on its face value.

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The Domestic Arrangements South Of The Border

Haresh Shah

aztecqueen

I met Pepe Morales during a Playmate promotional jaunt in Acapulco. Our publishers have hired Pepe to cover the event – a young Mexican photographer and socialite of some renown . He seems to know everyone we run into and is greeted with the warmest abrazoz and pats on the back, while he bumbles around following the Playmates and documenting the weekend, with me taking additional photos whenever I am able to sneak some shots without neglecting my duties that of the Playboy executive on site.

Pepe and I hit it off right away. When back in Mexico City, we meet one evening for dinner. We have fat juicy steak dinners at Barbas Negras during which we drown three bottles of Los Reyes. Feeling absolutely no pain, Pepe asks:

‘What would you like to do now?’

‘I don’t know. This is your town. Maybe go cunt chasing?’

‘Why not? Let’s just get out of here and together we’ll paint the town red,’ he proclaims.

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Paparazzi In His Own Backyard

Haresh Shah

peepers

It’s only once in a life time that you meet someone like FHG. The initials stand for Franz Hermann Gomfers from the little BIG town of Wachtendonk, tucked away near the Dutch border of Venlo in Germany’s lower Rhine region. He spoke only German in the Niederrhein with frequently punctuating with nicht wahr? And yet his house on Feldstrasse 29 would be bursting with smatterings of languages and the people from all around the globe. His curiosity knew no bounds, which was always topped with his patience with a common friend going back and forth between him and his new acquaintances, translating and interpreting. Something about him was fraulich,  in which he would dig out all the gory and juicy details from the person and would bring him or her to a confessional mode, with the seriousness on his face that would betray earnestness even that of Herr Doktor Freud. Because he is genuinely interested in their lives and what they have to say. And yet, he was a little boy like mischievous prankster to the core. The plotter, the match maker, the eternal flirt, frequently crossing his boundary to the utter dismay of his dear Lizbeth. And then getting away with a coy and guilty but a hearty laugh, just like not so innocent Tom Sawyer.

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Haresh Shah

My Close Encounter With An Angry Nobel Laureate

The Original Unabridged Version Of FACE TO FACE WITH GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ MARQUEZ

It’s October 29, 1982.  The master of magical realism – Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez has just won the Nobel Prize.  Playboy magazine has in its inventory a recently concluded interview with him, conducted by the veteran journalist Claudia Dreifus.  The interview has been transcribed from hours and hours of time Ms. Dreifus spent talking with García Márquez in his Paris apartment.  It has been edited and ready to go – almostPlayboy has promised García Márquez that it would show him the edited version, mainly to check facts and to point out inaccuracies.. As a matter of policy and editorial integrity, the magazine does not give the interview subjects right of approval.  Normally, Playboy closes most of its issues three to four months in advance.  García Márquez would make the trip to Stockholm in December to accept the Prize.  The interview must appear as close to the Nobel ceremony as possible.  This means, the scheduled February interview had to be pulled and be replaced by García Márquez interview.  The problem is; the elusive Nobel laureate is nowhere to be found.   On the day following  the announcement and during the following day, he is met by the press at his home in Mexico City.  Several frenetic phone calls from Playboy editors to his house are answered again and again by his Mexican maid.  He has gone away on a month long vacation, leaving behind strict instructions that he didn’t wish to be reached.

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Haresh Shah

Happiness Is A Piping Hot Croquette

automat

Art directors are a breed unto themselves. Crazy as they come. Crazy as in creative crazy, in positive sense. They are normally temperamental, egocentric and a proud clan. Starting with the Godfathers of them all, Art Paul and Tom Staebler of the U.S., Rainer Wörtmann of Germany, to Milan Hlaviček of Czech Republic and Andrzej Pągoski of Poland – these masters of the visual communication  are also the purveyors of good taste, dressed in their own individual style, be it the beat up pair of blue jeans, or wrinkled khakis and equally as wrinkled shirts and jackets. Or the designer suits and long fancy rain coats. The category in which, the first Dutch art director, Dirk de Moei falls.

Always impeccably dressed in his light crème suit and his longish off white trench coat, his trademark tortoise shell red framed glasses with inquisitive and confusing looking set of smoky green eyes peering through tinted lenses, Dirk is flamboyant, no taller that 5’9”(175 cms), his rusty brown hair isn’t too long, nor short, his round face makes him look no different than Mr. middle of the road from the planet earth.  The man of good taste in clothes and food and he carries the most expensive Smythson of Bond Street, thick as a paperback address book, he is the man about town. To the editor-in-chief Jan’s (Heemskerk’s) somber personality, he is the fleshy one of the duo that arrived in my Chicago office in early 1983, to learn the ropes.

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 Haresh Shah

The Spookiness Of The Creative Mind

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It’s It the Easter Monday in Italy. I am on an over crowded train going back to Milan from Pontremoli. Everybody is returning from the long holiday weekend and as squeezed together as we are, I have managed to find a “comfortable” corner of my own where I get to stand for all three hours of the train ride without being crushed.

This is the first time I am alone face to face with myself since the fateful late Monday night of the week before. I am reading Andy Warhol’s autobiographical excerpts, while the conflicting thoughts rush through my mind, they collide with each other to the rhythm of the oscillating motion of the train piercing  through  the still night of the Italian country side.

I have just spent a very pleasant and a relaxing weekend with Rainer (Wörtmann) and his wife Renate in their newly acquired  old mill in Italian country side. It’s a beauty, standing proudly in a little village called Mulazzo near Pontremoli. It stands forlorn in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by a stream and rocks and a cluster of trees. The place is to serve as a retreat from their hectic lives in Munich. It also turns out to be a great and timely escape for me in the aftermath of the week before.

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Haresh Shah

The Real Man Eclipsed By His Image

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The questions I am asked often are:

Have you met Hefner?

Have  you been to Playboy mansion?

What is he like as a person?

The answers to the first two is YES. As for the third, I don’t know. But I do have a certain feelings about him. And I have personal opinions.

●●●

Soon after I was hired by John Mastro, I met with Lee Hall, the man who would be my real boss. At the end of our introductory meeting, he hands me a leather covered ring binder, which weighed a ton.  The rounded spine measured almost three inches (6.6 cm.) overflowing with typewritten pages inside.

‘For  you to read on the plane.’ It was Playboy Style Book.  The volume defined raison d’être of every single page of the magazine in the minute details from the typeface of the head, subhead, the body, the positioning of page numbers, the direction the Rabbit Head must always face (left), the positioning of the little Rabbit Head slug  to mark the end of features. The concepts and execution of the Playmate, all minutely explained. And as importantly, the concepts of each section from Playboy After Hours, to Dear Playboy to the Playboy Interview, the cropping of the photos, capturing and freezing of the most dramatic expressions on their faces,  the quotes that  appear right underneath them and the exact format defining the philosophy, the word counts and the positioning of the major and the minor features. Fiction and non-fiction.  Lead pictorial and back of the book pictorial.  It talked at length about  “the pacing” – the rhythm of how the text features, illustrations, photos should follow, the presentation of it all while continuously striving for  harmony in diversity. The surprise element and the elements that would challenge and provoke readers.

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Haresh Shah

Bonding Over Beer And The Blue Eyed Bitch

 

rockshowcolor

Life is what happens to you when you’re too busy planning it.

John Lennon

Things happened at the lightening speed. Instead of a three week vacation in California, I am checking in at the Lufthansa counter at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport for their Frankfurt bound flight on my way to Munich. Everything seems to have fallen in place smoothly. My lifelong dream of working for Playboy has come true. Better yet. I will be working for them in Europe. I am elated.

I won’t bother you with details such as cancelled flights, delays, lost baggage and such. Their significance has long been lost. So is that of the icy reception upon my arrival in what would be my stomping grounds in Munich and Essen, West Germany.  But what is still significant in telling of this tale is that how swiftly my joy of having landed my dream job had vanished at the realization of being dropped off smack dab in the middle of the debris of the hostile war zone. That I was neither wanted nor welcomed in the job they had hired me to do.

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Haresh Shah

If Only I Could See Through The Depth Of Those Eyes

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Not knowing what it is I want for lunch, I walk over to Briennerplatz and my feet automatically take me down the steps to Ristorante Positano. Just a few blocks away from Playboy offices in Munich.  It’s a little before two. The place looks deserted. Thinking perhaps they have already closed for the afternoon, I am about to turn around and leave when I hear some shuffling in back of the wardrobe room. A young woman emerges from the dark.

‘I’ll be just two minutes.’ She says, holding up her hand with three middle fingers raised. While I am mulling over why exactly “two minutes”, I notice her open palm. Didn’t she say two? Confused only for a flash, she turns her palm around, looks at it and slowly retracts one of the fingers.  A self-conscious smile breaks out on her face. From what I can tell, she looks Eurasian, with her narrow fish eyes, her smooth round face, and her silky smooth pitch black hair. I see something mysterious hidden behind the depth of those eyes, further intensified by the ambience of that dark corner of the restaurant. This is the image that has remained with me all these years later.

I stop to talk on my way out.

‘Where are  you from?’ I ask. California.’ She answers. This strikes me a bit odd, as if California were an independent  nation. Might as well have been because I have never been there and all that I have heard about it so far tells me that it must be a place like no other.

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